MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “The Field”/”Blast” (spoilers)
“The Field”: Interestingly, this episode’s teleplay (and story, in collaboration with Judy Burns) was written by actor Wesley Lau, whom we saw earlier this season as Maur in “My Friend, My Enemy” and as Dr. Thorgen in season 4′s “Doomsday.”
At what an onscreen title tells us “An island in the Adriatic Sea,” in an installation protected by a minefield, General Marin (Barry Atwater) watches the successful launch of a rocket (that looks oddly like stock footage of an American Saturn rocket, with a voiceover from a Russian-accented Vic Perrin), announcing that the world is in for quite a surprise. Cut to a recycled tape scene, where Jim is told of the launch of a nuclear satellite by “a hostile nation” (wouldn’t it help him to know which nation?) planning to use it for global blackmail, and is advised of the impenetrable minefield around the control installation, a field designed by American defector Norris (Denny Miller). His mission, should he choose to accept it (and you know he will), is to destroy the satellite. Cut to titles, and it’s a Doug episode.
The plan is to get Barney into the base to substitute a circuit board in the satellite’s guidance computer, kicking it out of orbit and burning up its missiles harmlessly in the atmosphere. But first they have to get him past the minefield, and conveniently nobody at the base has met Norris, so Paris can impersonate him without needing a mask (he says he couldn’t use a mask because the body type is too different — and yeah, Denny Miller is a significantly bigger guy than Nimoy). Before that, though, they need to swipe the minefield plans from Norris’s office. Barney’s playing frogman to get onto the island, so Jim is the one who breaks into enemy HQ (played by the familiar Paramount office building) and uses a neat x-ray gizmo to image the safe’s lock from the inside, plus a little box of developer for the exposed film.
Paris and Doug go to Norris’s apartment, but troublingly, there’s no sign of him. Turns out he’s with his girlfriend Kathrine (Patricia Priest), whom he’s just confessed something to. She promises to keep his secret, but the moment he leaves, she’s on the phone to somebody. He comes back in, denounces her as a traitor, and shoots her dead. When he gets back home, the team knocks him out and arranges for Paris to take his place, blissfully unaware that someone has just found the body he dumped.
Barney fires some mortars to set off a few mines, then hides. Thinking it’s a malfunction, Marin calls in “Norris” to fix it. Once Paris is in, he orders the “malfunctioning” sector shut down, so that Barney can get across and do the component swap.
Meanwhile, amusingly, Jim and Dana are just blithely squatting in Norris’s apartment, drinking his tea, when the cops show up. The team hides while Inspector Koder (Milton Selzer) and Detective Lt. Rab (Michael Baseleon) break in and look for Norris (and hey, there’s the Saurian brandy bottle in the background again). It turns out Kathrine was an agent working for Koder, spying on Norris. And Koder exposits that he met Norris when he ran his security check. He orders Rab to have Norris brought in from the missile base, and they leave. At the base, Paris is quite surprised when he’s suddenly placed under arrest for murder and flown back to the mainland. And Barney’s done his work but is stuck on the wrong side of a minefield.
So the team has to make new plans in a hurry. Jim has Doug awaken Norris and make him think he’s having a heart attack; then Jim dons a local accent and plays interrogator, refusing to let kindly Dr. Doug save Norris until he confesses. Norris explains that he was going to, err, re-defect to Asia for the money and he figured out Kathrine was onto him. He tells where he hid his gun and her purse (taken to make it look like a robbery). When Paris arrives at police HQ (played by the oh-so-familiar Lubitsch Building), Jim and Doug arrange for Koder to have an accident on the stairs so he won’t reveal Paris as an impostor. Rab interrogates Paris, who insists on his innocence (really, what else can he do, since he genuinely doesn’t know a thing about the crime?) and demands to know what proof he has. Rab smugly says he has a witness to the deed. He opens the door — and it’s Dana! She tells a damning story that fits all the evidence, and it seems like she’s sending her own teammate up the river. But Paris trusts his partner, and soon catches on. She’s playing a jilted lover of his, and Paris seizes on the subtext she gives him, accusing her of killing Kathrine out of jealousy and trying to pin it on him. He browbeats her until she tearily confesses to the crime — and tells Rab where the gun and purse can be found, presumably so that the real Norris can be put away for his crime after this is over. Doug comes in as a guard just in time to be ordered to escort her to a cell, and the exonerated Paris calls the missile base to get them to shut down the minefield sector again so Barney can get away. While the rest of the team drives off, Barney goes back into the water, after watching the satellite re-entry which is conveniently timed to take place directly overhead (although they did set that up with exposition while Jim and Dana were drinking Norris’s tea).
Well, this was a fun one. The “things go wrong” variation has become the new normal this season, but this was a particularly clever and multilayered iteration of it, and a suspenseful one to boot. It helped that there was a touch of genuine mystery to it, in that we didn’t quite know at first why Norris committed the murder. Suspense isn’t just about characters in danger, but can be about having unanswered questions. And combining the spy stuff with mystery/procedural elements gave it a fresh flavor. If it has a flaw, it’s the oddity that the ultra-high-stakes mission of saving the world from nuclear death raining down from the sky ended up being such a small part of the story. Also that Barney had to spend most of the second half just sitting around waiting for the mines to be turned off. Oh, yeah, and the idea of a minefield that can be switched on and off from a control center is a bit odd. That seems like a vulnerability that would be easy to exploit even by other means than this. Still, this is the most enjoyable episode since “Hunted” seven weeks ago. So far the second half of the season hasn’t been as good as the first, but hopefully things are starting to look up again.
“Blast”: We open on four bank robbers wearing identical masks of, I suppose, some ’70s celebrity I don’t quite recognize (I want to say Wayne Newton, but I’m not confident of that). One of them gets himself blown up rigging his explosives, and the others flee with the loot. In a rerun of the pigeon-feeding tape scene from earlier in the season, Jim is told that the leader of this gang is Tolan (Henry Darrow), a revolutionary committing thefts to fund an attempted overthrow of the US government. The mission is to find his unknown sponsor, calling himself Jonathan Brace, and defeat the movement. Cue titles, and it’s Willy’s turn again.
The plan is to let Tolan and his men commit a heist of the Drake Armored Service and follow the money back to Brace. The trick is to do that without endangering civilian lives. One plus is that the heist is planned for a Sunday. Also, they have Drake’s cooperation, in the person of Hendricks (Pitt Herbert). Jim and Dana take the place of two accomplices when they fly in: Jim replaces the new demolitions guy, while Dana assumes the role of a disgruntled Drake employee who can shut down the security system. The one person who knows what the real ones look like is the pilot who dropped them off just before the switch was made, and Willy follows him to make sure he flies away. Jim and Dana are introduced to Tolan’s goons, mercenaries who are just in it for the money, not the cause: Klinger (Kevin Hagen doing a Brandoesque creepy voice), a trigger-happy gunman, and Sheels (Larry Haddon), the driver. Jim warns that if there’s any killing, he’s out. Tolan promises to keep it clean per Brace’s instructions — he’s very loyal, owing the man his life — but Klinger doesn’t seem convinced.
Dana and Willy play Drake counting-room employees along with Hendricks, and they have the appropriate alarms shut off, but not all the alarms. Jim fake-knocks out guard Barney and steals his key, and the gang breaks in and holds Willy and Hendricks at gunpoint while Dana helps them load the money. (Why did the team even allow Hendricks to be there, placing a civilian at risk?) Willy does a little playacting, asking Dana how she could betray them, but that provokes Klinger to try to shoot them. Jim pushes his rifle aside, and it breaks a window, setting off the alarm. Here’s the catch: the IMF didn’t notify the police what was going on. So the gang, with Dana and Jim, has to make a run for it with the cops on their tails. Quite a lively chase ensues; the first time I saw this episode, I figured this must be stock footage from some movie, but now I see it’s entirely on the extremely familiar streets of the Paramount backlot. Eventually they end up on a real LA street with upscale houses and pull into a driveway to elude the cops. But Paris is tracking their car with a bug Jim planted.
Now the IMF need another plan to get to Brace, and also have to worry about the owners of the house, who could be back at any time. Jim suggests contacting Brace on Tolan’s portable radio, so that Barney can get a fix from the van outside, but Brace isn’t transmitting until the designated 4 PM checkin time. Jim proposes going out to steal a getaway car — and when trigger-happy Klinger tries to stop him, not trusting him, Jim gives him a beating and takes his overcompensatory gun from him — to which Klinger reacts like Linus losing his security blanket. Anyway, Jim goes out to the team and sets two plans in motion. He has Willy “find a hot car” for Plan A — and somehow Willy manages to pull this off in mere minutes, and I don’t even want to ask how. Meanwhile he sets Plan B in motion with Paris, and when Tolan’s gang rejects the getaway car idea as too risky, Jim uses a pocket signalling button (which he has to take out of his pocket so the camera can see it) to go ahead with Plan B.
And now, finally, the cops have been notified of the plan. They pull over the Millers, owners of the house, and bring them in. And, unexpectedly, Paris has brought in a second female agent, Grace (Susan Odin), to join him in impersonating the Millers, a middle-aged couple who are utterly devoted to their dog Genghis, a rather large show dog. (Strangely, the real Mrs. Miller is also named Grace.) There’s some fun business involving the Millers foisting the dog off on Paris. Paris and Grace (the agent) pretend to come home and be surprised by the gunmen in their house, and Jim suggests holding Grace hostage to force Paris to take the money to Brace. (So they’re using Grace to trace Brace to his place.) Tolan, after flirting heavily with Dana, goes off to wait for the 4 PM contact to run the plan past Brace. Soon the others gather in the room with him and hear Brace — whose voice sounds familiar if you think about it, and no, it’s not Vic Perrin — nix the plan, ordering Tolan and Dana to bring the money and the goons to kill the hostages. Barney is outside trying to get a signal fix, but even though Jim told him the frequency, he gets nothing.
After Tolan and Dana leave, Klinger and Sheels find the “Millers” gone, and then they get busted by Jim and the cops. With Tolan in the car Willy, err, appropriated and bugged, Dana’s a little too eager about being taken to meet Brace — it seems out of character for her to be so obvious — but Tolan’s too lovestruck to notice. He takes her into the same warehouse where he met her and Jim before. The team arrives shortly thereafter and Barney discovers a tape recorder in the base of Tolan’s transmitter. Brace’s voice was familiar because it was Henry Darrow’s voice. Brace is a fake persona invented by Tolan, someone to shift the blame to for unpopular decisions. He disguised his voice and recorded Brace’s lines in advance,then played them back to have a conversation with himself.
In the warehouse, Dana thinks she’s about to meet the mysterious Brace. Instead, the person they’re meeting is the pilot from before, and he pegs Dana as an impostor. All this time, I thought Tolan was leading Dana to her on purpose because he’d gotten suspicious and wanted to confirm she was fake, but in fact he’s taken completely by surprise. He really had fallen for her. But now he pulls a gun on her, crying “I really liked you!” But Jim gets the drop on him from the rafters and shoots him in the shoulder, while Barney covers the pilot. ”I really wasn’t gonna kill you,” Tolan insists to Dana. She seems to have caught onto the truth by herself, saying, “Who was going to do it? Brace?”
This was a pretty good one, another imaginative variation on a story about a wild-card element throwing off the plan and the team having to improvise. There’s some real humor with the Millers and their dog, unusual for M:I. And while Klinger’s characterization is too broad, there’s some decent character interplay that keeps things interesting. The main flaw is that the team’s failure to tip off the police to the plan at first seems gratuitous. As for Tolan falling for Dana, it doesn’t quite fit the criteria for a Dana romance episode like I was musing about in an earlier thread, since there’s no sign that she genuinely reciprocates. She’s been repeatedly portrayed as an object of desire, but never as feeling desire or love herself.
This may be the only episode of the entire series to feature two named female agents participating in a caper; however, Grace barely counts as a second agent since she’s little more than an extra. She’s playing Paris’s “wife” but Paris does all the talking. The dog gets more attention. I think it even gets more lines.