I seem to go through phases in my writing — sometimes I get in a groove and the words just pour out of me, but then I inevitably lose it and end up at a point where it’ s a struggle to figure out a single sentence and I just slog forward, and I keep getting distracted by other things. I’ve been in the latter phase lately, though I’ve been making a bit more progress since the start of the month (I have to, since my deadline’s the end of the month). I’ve had a couple of decent-to-good days so far, but today wasn’t shaping up to be one of them. I was at a point where I wasn’t sure what came next, since the outline was vague on it. I managed to piece about a 900-word scene together, but I didn’t know how to move forward from it, and my mind resisted focusing. So I’d reached the point where I was ready to just give up for the day and watch more Mission: Impossible.
But I decided to wash the dishes first, since I had two days’ worth accumulated in the sink. And while I was doing that, which took quite a while, I started to think about what I would do in the next scene, presumably tomorrow. And I had an idea or two, and with those seeds it started to coalesce a little. So I decided I’d sit down and write down at least those bits I’d come up with. So I did that, but once I had the beginning, it gave me a foundation to build on and I kept going. And so I finished the whole scene. And then I was going to stop but I already had in mind how to start the next scene, so I wrote the start of it, and then I kept going. And by the time I was done, an hour and a half had passed and I’d added another 1600 words to the count. And I’m through that whole vague portion of the outline and ready to get on with the next bit.
The only downside is that it’s now 11:30 PM, later than I wanted to stay up. I’ve been having trouble getting to sleep the past few days, and I was just starting to get over it last night. Now I might’ve thrown off my sleep cycle again. Which means I should stop typing and go to bed.
“Fool’s Gold”: Heffalumps! The briefing tape is in a cart near the elephant enclosure at the zoo. The mission is to stop Minister Stravos (Nehemiah Persoff) of the latest People’s Republic of the week, a Federated one this time, from bankrupting the nation of Bahkan in order to soften it up for conquest. He’s printed up enough flawless counterfeit currency to drain their treasury when the FPR requires them to redeem it for gold. I don’t understand how this plan is supposed to have worked; if Bahkan was on the gold standard, they would have never printed more money than they could redeem, could they? So it should be obvious going in that it’s counterfeit. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The team must destroy the counterfeits, recover the plates, and neutralize Stravos as a threat.
The dossier sequence introduces the guest agent of the week, Beth (Sally Ann Howes). She’s playing the bored, disreputable wife of Jim, who’s playing a very stiff and proper Bahkanian (Bahkanese?) baron who won’t let her have any fun. The baron is there to verify the authenticity of Stravos’s currency, as determined by his expert, Paris, who’s playing his smarmiest (and best) character yet. Beth and Jim stage a fight in front of Stravos, and afterward Beth offers Stravos dirt on Paris if he’ll take her out to a scandalous bistro. Turns out Paris is a counterfeiter, and he has news for Stravos: Bahkan has twice as much gold as it claims, so he’ll need to make twice as much funny money to bankrupt them. But apparently Stravos wants to keep this secret from his premier (David Opatoshu) so he can collect the extra gold for himself. (I think the premier doesn’t know about the counterfeit money. It’s a little confusing.) Paris suggests blackmailing Baron Jim into getting the gold for him and making a secret exchange. But Jim’s planted file paints him as incorruptible. Stravos suggests that Paris seduce the eminently seducible Baroness Beth and get it on film. Paris is reluctant since the Baron will probably kill him, and insists on a full partnership and half the gold if he’s to go through with it. He gets a good line when Stravos asks if he’s serious: “I am very serious when it comes to risking my life. I don’t know what I would do without it.”
Meanwhile, Barney and Willy (in a Groucho-esque moustache and glasses) go through various maneuvers to get the vault combination, hack the time lock, and plant a very implausible device in with the phony currency: a small box from which a very, very long tube extends to ignite a flame. (We saw a device along similar lines in “The Cardinal” that actually worked in reality, but this one is blatantly fake and impossible; the box just isn’t big enough to contain the necessary machinery, and the tube too solid to be collapsible. It’s obvious that a stagehand is pushing the tube up through a hole underneath the box.) Willy places this right under the sprinkler in the vault. Later, they slip the vault combination to Paris so he can break in and switch the perfect printing plates for ones with an obvious flaw. The inner vault containing the plates is protected by intense ultrasonic sound which only Stravos can order shut off, so Paris has to wear a special headphone thingy to keep his brain from being turned to guacamole. There’s suspense and peril as the noise begins getting through the headphones and Paris must struggle his way back to the exit before it’s too late. (This sequence contains the only original music in the episode, credited to Lalo Schifrin, although the first bistro scene has what may be a new source-music arrangement of Schifrin’s theme from “The Short Tail Spy.”) Paris brings in Barney and Willy in new roles (this time Barney has the facial hair) as his assistants, and while they print up the flawed counterfeit money, they also rig up a barrel of acid to the sprinkler system and use the impossible gadget to set it off, so that the perfect counterfeits are dissolved while Stravos sits unaware in the vault next door watching the flawed counterfeits being printed (and Paris slips in a genuine note a couple of times to fool him). When the World Bank officials (or whatever fake name is used) arrive to verify the authenticity of the currency, Paris convinces Stravos it’s easier to show them this new stack of bills rather than the other one which is the same quantity. So the officials find the money is fake, and the perfect counterfeits are dissolved into mush. The team leaves, and the angry premier hands Stravos a gun and implicitly expects him to use it on himself. But we don’t get the usual thing where we hear an off-camera gunshot while the team is walking away.
Overall, a pretty mediocre episode with some logic holes. And the formulaic bit about the mission parameters including making sure that the bad guy is never again a threat — i.e. arranging his death — feels particularly tacked-on and gratuitous in this case. Indeed, Persoff plays the character somewhat comically and endearingly, so even though he’s written as an unrepentant villain (when blackmailed Baron Jim asks if he has any decency, he bluntly says “No”), he comes off more as a comedically insecure schemer who doesn’t deserve such an extreme sanction. But the episode’s humor is its greatest strength. It doesn’t entirely redeem the episode, but it provides some refreshing moments of entertainment.
“Commandante”: This is another one where Netflix disagrees with other sources on the title, calling it “Commandant.” The tape’s in a bowling alley, and opens with “Good morning, Jim” instead of the usual “Mr. Phelps.” The mission: Father Dominguin (Arthur Batanides) is leading a good-guy populist revolution against a Latin American dictator, but the Communist “SMV” (a China stand-in) has sent in puppet revolutionaries of its own, Commandante Acero (Lawrence Dane) and Martillo (M:I stalwart Sid Haig), to supplant him. They’ve placed him under arrest and the team must save him before they figure out a way to kill him without angering the common people. It’s only the four regulars this time, an all-male group with no guest agents.
Acero, charismatically played by Dane (an actor who reminds me of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Marc Alaimo), is the kind of M:I antagonist who’s really smart and clever and is allowed to think he’s outsmarting the team even as they’re outsmarting him. Jim arrives as a representative of the Friends of Religion, a group that Acero suspects of being a front for US intelligence. Jim lets him think that by agreeing to his demand to supply guns & ammo in exchange for Dominguin’s freedom, a deal a religious organization would only agree to (and could only deliver on) if they were a spy front. He and Dominguin discuss an escape plan, aware the priest’s cell is bugged, and Acero knows they know he’s listening so they won’t do what they say. He follows evidence planted by Willy to find out what they’re “really” doing: namely, Barney has been painstakingly assembling a helicopter he and Willy smuggled in the supply truck bringing the guns.
Meanwhile, Paris has arrived playing Major Shen of the SMV (the real Shen’s in custody). By modern standards, it’s a ridiculously crude attempt to pass off a Caucasian (well, Ukrainian) actor as Chinese — aside from slicked-back hair and small “epicanthic fold” appliances at the corners of the eyes, it’s basically just Nimoy squinting, speaking in a Charlie Chan accent, and otherwise more or less playing Spock, a very stoic and controlled persona. But I suppose it’s possible that the vintage-1969 Latin American characters he’s interacting with could fall for it. Anyway, he’s there to side with Martillo, the more hotheaded, lower-class revolutionary who resents the educated, condescending Acero, and convince him that Acero is a dangerous megalomaniac.
Acero comes up with the brilliant plan the team has led him to: by sabotaging the helicopter and letting Dominguin and the US agents escape in it, he can kill the priest and make it look like an accident, the fault of US intelligence. He has Barney lured away from the helicopter by a staged rape attempt, complete with the girl’s dress half torn off, although this being ’60s television, the girl immediately defends her date-rapey boyfriend as soon as Barney clocks him one. Meanwhile, Acero’s henchman sabotages the chopper. When Jim, Willy, and Dominguin are released, Acero takes the local mayor to see that the priest is in with US intelligence, although it’s really so he can witness the priest’s “accidental” death when the chopper crashes. Acero is smug in his success, but Martillo discovers there are no bodies. Paris/Shen examines the takeoff site and “finds” what he knew would be there: a trapdoor that let the escapees ditch the chopper under cover of the dust cloud at takeoff, plus a remote control (with only three on/off switches and nothing else) and an air tank for inflating dummies. Then, as a finishing touch, the team uses a bomb in the ammo they delivered to blow up the revolution’s entire supply of weapons, leaving them powerless. “Shen” tears into Acero as a failure and orders him removed from leadership. A furious Acero is about to shoot Paris in the back when Martillo shoots him — a rare case of the villain’s death at another villain’s hands being on-camera. In the final drive-away scene, Barney reveals that the henchman botched the helicopter sabotage, and Barney had to undo his work and sabotage it properly.
A pretty good episode, with an effectively smart and charismatic antagonist in Acero. That compensates somewhat for the lack of anything going off-plan and for the racially tone-deaf attempt to pass Nimoy off as Asian. ”Commandante” also features an excellent score by a newcomer, Richard Hazard (who did three M:I episodes in all and who contributed many scores to Mannix, the other drama series Herb Solow developed for Desilu after M:I and Star Trek). The score does some clever things with the standard Schifrin motifs, notably combining “The Plot” with the “dun, dun, dun-dun” ostinato of the main theme, as well as providing some lyrical Latin-styled music for Dominguin and the villagers who look up to him.
The first few days of this month, the weather here got as hot as it’s been all summer, with forecast temperatures reaching 100 F (not sure about actual temps). But the heat wave seems to have broken (I hope). The projected high today is 68, and mostly 70s for the week ahead. I’m now enjoying the refreshing cool air from my open windows.