“The Controllers” Parts 1-2: Well, Netflix calls it “The Controller,” but every other source I checked says “The Controllers,” and that makes a bit more sense in context.
Jim gets the briefing by parking in a freeway toll booth and giving a special token to the attendant to get into the booth. So he’s blocking traffic to get his secret mission briefing — not only a bad way to avoid attention, but kind of rude. (Well, it is morning and the road seems pretty empty, so maybe it’s okay. And it’s a nice location, with a big suspension bridge in the background.) The mission is to stop an enemy scientist, Turek (David Sheiner), from perfecting a mind-control drug whose current formula leaves its victims as “useless catatonics” (as opposed to the useful kind, I guess). We get what I think is a first — the self-destructing tape is accompanied by both the standard “self-destruct” music stings, one followed by the other. The dossier scene introduces guest female agent Meredyth (Dina Merrill), who’s evidently a scientist or researcher of some kind, since she’s holding test tubes in her dossier photo.
Jim and Meredyth impersonate Arthur and Vera Jarvis, two American scientists who’ve defected and gotten plastic surgery. The real Jarvises have been arrested and their “after” photos sent to the enemy have been intercepted and replaced with our folks’ photos. Turek, an edgy man who reminds me strongly of House‘s Peter Jacobsen crossed with Don Adams (plus a moustache), has a history with Vera, and she’s the one who convinced her husband to defect to help Turek perfect his drug, B-230. But Jim, as the fake Arthur, has convinced the project’s supervisor Col. Borodin (Alfred Ryder), a bitter rival of Turek’s, that he’s developed a superior drug, Voliticon (as in volitional control, I suppose, though it sounds like the name of a character from Transformers). Meanwhile, when Turek (who obviously has feelings for Vera) comes to see the fake Vera (I’ll call her that since her real name doesn’t really matter), she leads him to conclude that she’s being forced by her husband and Borodin to claim that B-230 doesn’t work. She admits that Voliticon works too, but costs considerably more.
But of course, Jim has to prove his drug works. Barney’s able to break in and rig the computer to give it the thumbs-up (while Jim tries to stall a vice premier who’s in a great hurry), but they also need a human test subject. This was arranged in an earlier scene, in which Paris and Willy used a clever way to get past the military base’s security — Paris called the gate guard, impersonating a base official, and told him that if he caught a major who’d just left (Paris), he should tell him to come back in because he’d picked up the wrong film cans. That let him get himself, Willy, and their “film cans” of equipment inside without needing clearance. Later, when Turek’s assistant Lorkner (H. M. Wynant) was sent to get the test subjects, Barney arrived first and sent the guard off to pick up the prisoner, and then Paris impersonated the same guard and pawned off Willy as the prisoner for Lorkner. So that same guard got punked twice by the team. I felt sorry for him.
Anyway, Lorkner’s van contains two other prisoners, who by coincidence are both played by actors who, 18 years later, will play Starfleet engineers in the early first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation — Brooke Bundy and (an uncredited but very recognizable) Stanley Kamel. And I had no idea Bundy was so pretty back in 1969. Lorkner notices it too, and is leering and pawing at her for the rest of the story. Jim has arranged for Willy to be his test subject, so Willy is put in an isolation cell across the hall from the other two, and gets a nice bit of humanization as he’s forced to look on and stew as Lorkner psychologically terrorizes these young people, mainly Bundy’s character, Katherine.
Jim and Willy fake a successful test of their drug, but Turek demands the acid test — have the mentally enslaved Willy shoot himself. It’s a tense moment as Jim hands Willy the gun and orders him to shoot, but of course Jim has removed the clip, saying he didn’t want to waste an ideal test subject. Turek’s antagonism has backfired, since his suggestion helped prove the effectiveness of Jim’s drug, and Borodin is ready to abandon Turek’s drug — and Turek — altogether. Turek goes to “Vera,” who tells him that Jim stole her notes on how to fix B-230, and that he and Borodin are scheming to ruin him. She maneuvers Turek into concocting a plan to drug Jim and have him shoot Borodin, then drive them both off a cliff so the evidence of the drug in Jim’s system will be burned up. All this goes as planned, except that “Vera” has substituted a tranquilizer dart for the bullet, so Borodin is only knocked unconscious. The team’s plan is to put Turek on trial for attempted murder, with Borodin as the star witness.
But just as Jim is leaving the compound with the drugged Borodin in the trunk (and Barney hiding in the back seat), Lorkner is sleazily taunting Stanley Kamel about how obedient Katherine is under B-230 and how “exciting” the research can be. Stanley snaps, attacks him, and breaks out with Katherine, leading Lorkner to sound the alarm. Lorkner then shoots and kills Stanley, but the guards out front have been alerted by the alarm and shoot at Jim as he drives out. Part 1 ends on a dynamic freezeframe of the car’s grille crashing through the gates. The recap, as usual, is enormously long, 7 minutes and 17 seconds this time before we see the rest of the sequence, with Jim racing away as the guards shoot at his car. And once he and Barney get to safety, they discover that a bullet penetrated the trunk, killing Borodin for real! Their plan depended on Borodin’s testimony against Turek. Now it’s in critical danger of failure.
Although we’re only allowed to think that for a couple of minutes before Jim gets an idea for how to salvage things, so the plan proceeds with some adjustment. Jim sends the car over a cliff and bails out (not in that order), then lets himself get arrested. General Zagin (Harry Davis) is determined that the trial be fair, so he has the computer pick the best candidate to defend Jim — and when Paris and Willy broke into the military base in part 1, Paris planted a punchcard and file ensuring that he would be chosen as the defender.
Without Borodin’s testimony, the best the team can do to create suspicion of Turek’s guilt is by having “Vera” write compromising diary entries that contradict Turek’s statement and support Jim’s story that they plotted to make him kill Borodin. There’s a funny bit as Zagin excitedly urges “Vera” to keep reading when she balks at reciting the graphic stuff (though it’s subtler than that makes it sound). Anyway, Paris Esq. calls for an adjournment and tries to convince the court to take Turek into custody, warning that he might be desperate enough to use his drug against the authorities in order to escape. This is a tougher sell than it would’ve been with Borodin as the star witness, but Zagin reluctantly agrees to protective custody.
For the plan to work, though, the team must make it look as though Turek has actually done this. So we get the return of two nifty gadgets we saw last season: The extendable hole-boring drill attachment from “The Mercenaries” and the really long mechanical claw from “The System.” Barney lowers these into Willy’s cell from the roof (after what seems like an early case of product placement — Barney sneaks inside in the trunk of a Mercedes 600 and the camera repeatedly focuses on its logo, and on its automatic trunk-opening latch, which I suppose was as impressive a feature in 1969 as voice-activated phones or GPS navigators are in today’s in-show automotive product placements ). Willy uses the former gizmo to drill a hole from his cell to the storage room for the B-230 (which is stored in powder form though administered as a gas) and uses the latter, with a suction hose attached, to unstopper the container, vacuum up the real drug, and substitute a fake. He then jimmies the lock and hands Barney the real drug before locking himself back in, so Barney can pour the drug into the base’s water tower to frame Turek. But here’s where the second big thing goes wrong: a ladder rung gives way and Barney falls to the catwalk of the water tower, stunned. Will he recover in time to put the drug in the water supply as planned?
Well, yeah. He’s only out for a couple of minutes. It’s basically the usual fakeout, the kind of crisis that has no real impact on the plan, but it’s somewhat more convincingly problematical than the usual stuff, especially in the wake of Borodin’s death throwing the plan seriously off-track.
Meanwhile, Lorkner has been continuing to experiment on the adorable Katherine, but we see that his boasts before were just that; although he clearly relishes the prospect of making Katherine his willing sex slave, it turns out the drug still renders her catatonic after only moments, and though he’s a pervert, he’s not enough of a pervert to want to do anything to her when she’s completely vegged out. Still, when the time comes for her final session, an increased dose which may well destroy her mind permanently, Willy decides he’s had enough. At least that’s how I choose to interpret it, since we’re never really told if he’s diverging from the plan at this point. After all, he has a guard uniform all ready and this is about the time he was supposed to break out. But before he leaves, he saves Katherine from being gassed and gets into a big fight with Lorkner which ends up with the latter trapped in the gas chamber and taking the double-sized dose (although it’s presented as an accident that happens when a guard knocks Willy into the activation lever, since Broadcast Standards usually insisted that the villains finish each other off instead of the team doing it directly). Willy and Katherine escape in a truck driven by Paris, who, ironically, is disguised as Lorkner (though Katherine doesn’t see this, not on camera). Saving Katherine may have been an improvisation on Willy’s part, but nobody else on the team objects. (I kept hoping, when they gave us all these scenes of Willy looking on in dismay as Katherine was mistreated, that he’d go seriously off-mission to help her and come into conflict with the rest of the team, but of course that wasn’t going to happen.)
So anyway, the drug in the water supply takes effect at dinnertime, and Paris-as-Lorkner arrives to set Turek free and tell him to get away in his car outside — but Paris has alerted the authorities to Turek’s (actually Barney’s) action and sabotaged the car. Turek flees the authorities on foot and gets shot off-camera.
Overall, “The Controllers” is an excellent 2-parter. Unlike last season’s “The Bunker,” it never has to resort to extreme padding and slow pacing to fill out two hours, since there’s quite a lot of stuff going on. I said before that “The Bunker” could’ve been stronger if they’d added more character interactions, and that’s what scripter Laurence Heath does here. There are a lot of characters doing a lot of different things, and we have the subplot with Willy, Katherine, and Lorkner running in parallel to the big stuff (even though Willy’s part in the subplot is achieved without a single spoken word, although he does speak in a couple of other portions of the story). Plus we get something that’s been exceedingly rare in the past two seasons, the actual failure of a portion of the plan, forcing the team to drop character and talk to each other as they try to figure out what to do next (or rather, as Jim figures it out and instructs the others or has them pass along instructions). It’s very successful at maintaining a steady pace and sustaining interest throughout. ( Oh yes, and there is an original score by Jerry Fielding, which is pretty good but consists largely of variations on cues he’s used in earlier seasons. )
But it does sort of fall apart at the end. As Jim told his team at the beginning, the danger wasn’t just from Turek, but from B-230 itself, a drug that was very close to being made viable as a weapon that could enslave the free world. So the mission, as he stated it, was to discredit the drug as well. I expected that to mean faking its failure. But the endgame of the plan involved using the drug to zonk out an entire military base and make it look like Turek did it to effect his escape. So doesn’t that prove to the enemy that B-230 is actually a very potent chemical warfare agent? True, with Turek dead, Lorkner a zombie, and the real Jarvises in custody, the enemy will have a harder time continuing their work with the drug, but surely they’d keep trying after such a successful demonstration of its tactical value — a demonstration that the IMF arranged. So haven’t they done the exact opposite of what they were supposed to do?