MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “The Amateur”/”Hunted” (spoilers)
“The Amateur”: We open in medias res in “Ransdorf, East Europe,” though the signage in the stock footage is clearly German. Eric Schilling (Anthony Zerbe), a bar owner and petty con artist, is rolling a drunk customer while his hectoring but hot girlfriend, the bar’s cigarette girl Clara (Lisa Pera), looks on. We follow them back into the bar as they bicker, and in the background there’s a waitress taking a photo of a customer. Oh, it’s Dana! And she’s using the photo to pass rendezvous instructions to the team’s contact, Max. Max burns the photo as he leaves through the back, but a curious Eric follows him out and finds the remnant of the photo (and the fire has conveniently burned around the message Dana wrote — plus I think the surviving part is the corner of the Polaroid in the long shot and the lower middle in close-up). We cut to Jim and Barney meeting Max, who’s driving up to deliver a new enemy weapon, which is inexplicably called the “rocket laser.” (A laser for shooting down rockets? A laser ignition system for fusion rockets? More likely they just slapped together two words that sounded advanced and dangerous.) But somehow Max tipped off the state police, and is killed in the ensuing shootout while Jim and Barney flee in the car. (Max is not wearing a red shirt, but he might as well be. Does a red car count?)
The auto chase is interrupted by the main titles (new arrangement, with Doug) and then resumes. Apparently they expected to use the car, since they already have a van prepared with Paris at the wheel; they drive into the back, lift the ramp, and elude the cops. Later, they discuss their plan to get the rocket-laser-scissors out of the country by breaking it into five easily concealable parts, one for each team member. Dana gets the smallest piece, hidden in a cold cream jar. If any one piece gets left behind, the rocket laser oscillation overthruster will be useless to both sides.
Meanwhile, the East
German European spy chief Col. Eckert (Ronald Feinberg), a massive bear of a man with a broken-nosed countenance and a humorless, intimidating presence, is determined to lock the country down and let no one get away. He backtracks Max’s contacts, leading him to Eric’s bar, where he questions Eric (who’s been flirting with Dana trying to find out what shenanigans she was into, earning Clara’s jealousy) about his former customer Max, informing Eric that the man is dead. ”I’m sorry,” Eric says. Eckert: “He was an enemy of the state.” Eric: “In that case, I withdraw my condolence.” Eric catches on that Dana was Max’s contact, but he plays it close to the vest, not wanting to tip off Eckert. But of course, being (as the title says) just an amateur, he does exactly that with his smarmy evasiveness, and Eckert orders him surveilled.
Meanwhile, Jim and Doug need to get to their other contact in-country, Father Bernard (Peter Brocco), and warn him about Max’s cover being blown, as well as retrieving his list of Western agents. They come to the church disguised as a priest and a monk, respectively. But Eckert’s men are searching the place, and they reveal that Bernard has had a stroke and is on his deathbed. Doug is apparently a brilliant enough doctor to make a complete diagnosis just by having the father watch his hand move back and forth once, and even though Bernard does this perfectly well, Doug confirms that he’s at death’s door. The suspicious guard (Don Eitner, I think) prods Jim to deliver last rites, which Jim does reluctantly, partly to cover the act of recovering the Bible which, according to Bernard’s eye gestures, contains the secret list. The guards search Jim & Doug’s suitcases while the sacrament is delivered, and clear them. Once they get away with the list and retrieve the parts of the teenage mutant rocket laser from bus lockers, Jim says he’ll call the monsignor and ensure the proper sacraments are spoken by someone qualified.
Eric clumsily searches Dana’s stuff and breaks open the cold cream jar, substituting another one in her purse and then finding the guidance system in the broken one. Clara’s getting impatient with his interest in Dana, so he confides in her about what’s going on, boasting about how his cranium contains not just a creaky old sausage factory, but a Geiger counter that senses something hot. Ohh-kayyy… anyway, his Geiger counter is telling him to sell the guidance system to the American spies, since Eckert would just take it and give him nothing. It also tells him to take out his antique WWII-surplus Luger pistol, which he clumsily loads while Clara warns him that he’s an amateur out of his league. She says Eckert will kill him, and although she’s constantly criticizing him and insulting him, she loves him and doesn’t want to see him hurt. So she tells him she’s going to Eckert herself and walks out. Then a shot rings out, quite loud and startling, and Clara falls dead, shot in the back… by Eric. He doesn’t even seem upset by her death. It’s a shocking moment, perhaps because the shot is so loud and there’s no prior warning, perhaps because it’s just so casually ruthless an act from a character who’s been a comic antagonist and seemingly an empty threat until now. But of course it was a clumsy and amateurish thing to do, and when he carries out Clara’s body (which has no trace of blood or even a bullet hole in her coat), Eckert’s men watch every move.
Paris and Barney are sneaking out by joining a cross-country bike race from Ransdorf to Dornburg, where the airport is. They ride through the streets of the Paramount backlot, which are getting very, very familiar to me by this point. (I miss seeing the Desilu backlot in Culver City.) But Paris has a blowout and wrecks his wheel. He tells Barney to go on; he’ll find another way. Just after Barney rides on, a helpful cop offers to give Paris a ride to Dornburg. While Barney is still chugging along on his bike, the police car drives by, and Paris waves smugly to Barney and says “See you in Dornburg!” It’s a fun moment of character interplay within the team.
In Dornburg, we see four of the five pieces of the Rocket Laser Megazord — and a jar of cold cream. Dana knows Eric must have the guidance doohickey, but there’s no time to make a round trip to make a deal with him before their flight gets in from London. So Dana calls him to invite him to Dornburg, pretending to continue their budding romance — though Eckert has Eric’s phone bugged and sees right through it (Eric’s line about wanting “50,000 kisses” from her is kind of an easy code to decipher). So Eckert’s men take over airport security.
Eric is waiting for his contact at a closed ticket window when Paris arrives Laugh-In style by opening the doors over the window. He’s wearing the same gray wig and moustache he wore in “Decoy” last week, and he gives Eric the payoff in exchange for the fifth component. Then they just have to sneak it past Eckert and get away themselves. Paris drops off the component and eludes Eckert’s men while Jim retrieves it, and everyone eventually rendezvouses in an airport van where they don disguises — with Dana donning a black pixie-cut wig that makes her look rather fetching in a Nicole deBoer kind of way, though the big glasses undermine it some. They use a trick they’ve used before, getting out of (or into) somewhere by pretending they’ve just arrived (or left) and being sent back. They blend in with the passengers from the incoming London flight, pretending to be employees of the “English Television Network” (I guess that’s a competitor for last season’s English Broadcasting Service), but Paris previously faked a call from a government official telling the airport administrator that their visas had been revoked because their network had insulted the East
German European government. So they have to get “back on” the plane they were never on in the first place and fly away.
Meanwhile, Eckert has found Eric, who agrees to make a “deal” with Eckert and tell him everything. He tries to pin the whole thing on Clara, though of course Eckert knows Eric murdered her. He also tells Eric the money he was given is counterfeit. (That doesn’t make sense. Where did the team get so much counterfeit money on such short notice? Why not simply pay him in good faith?) The disguised Dana looks right at Eric as the team walks past, but he doesn’t quite recognize her. He asks Eckert about their deal; in return for his cooperation, he asks for his life. ”What is that worth?” Eckert snarls. ”Amateur.” And Eric is taken away as the team’s plane flies off.
This was a really fine episode, the first of four M:I installments written by Ed Adamson. It’s an interesting conceit, exploring an IMF caper from the viewpoint of a bystander who stumbles into it. It might’ve been interesting to see the whole thing from the bad guys’ perspective — just see the team members introduced one by one and have to figure out what’s going on along with the viewpoint characters, or maybe ahead of them because at least we’d know who they were. But then we wouldn’t have gotten the interesting character bits with Jim and the priest or with Paris and Barney. The setup is a little odd, in that the IMF’s mission didn’t seem to involve retrieving the rocket laser framizam potrzebie in the first place, just getting it out of the country afterward. Usually both ends would’ve been their responsibility. Still, it was explained that Max had high security clearance; maybe he was the only one who could get to it. And given what a scary and capable antagonist Eckert is, it’s believable that getting the components past him and out of the country would be the “impossible” part. But the most fun is following Eric, a delightfully smarmy and self-deluded character, boasting about his computer brain and convinced he’s destined for his big score, but hopelessly blind and out of his league every step of the way. Anthony Zerbe does a fine job making Eric a contemptible but charming creep. Eckert is the mastermind the team has to watch out for, but Eric is the wild card, his sheer clumsiness and overconfidence making him an unpredictable complication. It’s a clever and effective twist. This season so far is all about telling stories where things go wrong with the team’s missions, but this is a particularly interesting way of going about it.
“Hunted”: For the first time this season, the episode begins with the tape scene (though still in a cold open before the titles), in an RV at a park. The mission is to rescue the Nelson Mandela-like anti-apartheid leader Kolda from the hospital where the South Africa surrogate country of “East Victoria” is holding him, refusing him treatment so he’ll die. The plan is to get him out of the country so he can form a resistance government in exile. But that’s the easy part, a simple matter of Doug and some unfamiliar orderly (Dick Dial, Peter Graves’s stunt double) sneaking into Kolda’s hospital room, with Doug checking his vitals while the other guy burns through the window bars and lowers a canvas slide that Jim and Paris secure at the lower end. Then they just slide the unconscious Kolda down to ground level and drive off with him in the van. Unfortunately, an official arrives just then to question Kolda and sets the guards after Doug and the orderly. Doug gets away, but the orderly is shot in the leg and limps into the black district, where he ends up in the shop of a seamstress called Gabby (Ta-Tanisha) and passes out before he can say anything. Gabby comes to his aid and is surprised to find that his Caucasian face is a mask — and under it is Barney! (Cut to titles, still the new arrangement.)
Barney awakens under Gabby’s care and discovers she’s deaf and mute. Her cousin Luddy (future Battlestar Galactica co-star Herbert Jefferson Jr.) shows up and tells her about the man who helped Kolda escape, saying he’d gladly turn him in for the reward. Gabby plays dumb (so to speak) until he leaves, then finds that Barney has bolted. She tracks him down as he hides from the police, then helps him limp away as he pretends to be drunk (by singing rather amusingly). They bond rather sweetly as she treats his wound under his guidance, though it’s not a romance; the actress was only 17 at the time. He even uses his superspy supersmarts to teach himself sign language in a matter of minutes, though she can read lips just fine.
The team gets Kolda to a helicopter, but they all agree to stay and search for Barney until the window closes. Since the police, led by Banco (Ivor Barry), are looking for a white man, Paris goes off to be a conspicuous injured white man to draw them away from Barney’s probable location. He holds up a drugstore for morphine, and the white pharmacist delays while his wife calls the cops from the back room. But their black clerk comes out and warns Paris that the cops are on the way — and it’s future Eureka star Joe Morton in his television debut! How about that?
Barney learns that Gabby’s real name is Maryana, with “Gabby” a nickname mocking her muteness. She’s the daughter of one of Kolda’s fellow resistance leaders, a man killed by Banco himself (a revelation that never gets any payoff), and Barney suspects her deafness and muteness are psychosomatic and can be treated if she comes with him to the US.
While Paris drags out his diversion a ridiculously long time, Jim and Doug dress up as cops, divert the real cops from the area, and search it themselves. Jim comes to Maryana’s shop searching for Barney, who’s hidden behind the fireplace, but Maryana thinks he’s a real cop and is ready to stab him with scissors if he stumbles on Barney’s hiding place. But Jim misses it — and somehow Barney fails to hear him talking even though he’s listening carefully at the hidden door when Jim is a foot away from it. Barney then asks Maryana to go to the team’s rendezvous point to contact them, but she’s scared away by the police. Dana, watching through a window, sees her approaching and notices that she doesn’t react to the police siren until she sees a cop. When Jim checks in, she tells him about the girl, and Jim realizes it’s the same deaf girl he met in town.
Luddy comes back and finds Barney’s bloody clothes, so he calls the cops. Maryana fights him, but Jim, Doug, and Dana come in and Jim knocks him out while Dana convinces Maryana they’re Barney’s friends. The reunited team and Maryana get away just ahead of Banco’s forces, and a lengthy car chase ensues. Meanwhile, Paris has gotten into a fight and cracked some ribs, and he’s too weak to make it to the rendezvous point — although he happens to be next to a dam with a tower on top, so he and Jim arrange by radio that once the chopper picks the rest of them up, it’ll pick up Paris from the top of the tower. And that’s what happens, while Banco’s men fire at them from the ground level. It’s a really impressive action sequence with spectacular visuals from the top of the tower. They must’ve really blown their budget on this one.
This is a very strong episode, with a nice touching story between Barney and Maryana and a spectacular action climax. It does have a couple of minor strikes against it, though. Paris spends way too much time being the decoy — it’s illogical (pardon the expression) to put one teammate at such great risk of capture in order to rescue another. He should’ve just put on the act long enough to draw the cops away and then vanished. And while it’s nice that the episode portrayed a deaf-mute girl as a heroic character, it undermines it that they treated it as something to be fixed rather than accepted. And tying her backstory to Banco and Kolda was kind of gratuitous, since it didn’t lead to anything. She was important enough as a character just for being kind and brave; she didn’t need to be linked to the mission. Although at least it implies the eventual happy ending of her reunion with Kolda, whom she knew when she was a child.