MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Invasion”/”Blues” (spoilers)
“Invasion”: A pair of agents watches as Whitmore Channing (Kevin McCarthy with a ’70s moustache) goes into
the Lubitsch Building his apartment building. Inside, he turns on a tape player — and for a second I was expecting him to get a secret self-destructing message, but it’s just music. But then he gets a phone call from Paris (the city in France, not the former IMF member); he says he’s planted secret info in a drop, and the bad guys in Paris will be picking it up in Los Angeles the next day at 5. Holy cow, it’s an actual spy mission again! And that’s not the only unusual thing. Jim is introduced in a unique way: he’s on a date, and a waiter interrupts him and tells him there’s a phone call for him about an appointment he has tomorrow. Jim goes into the booth and finds the tape player waiting for him. That’s the first time in six seasons that we’ve ever seen the tape come to the IMF leader unexpectedly, rather than the IMF leader going to a prearranged drop. No doubt this is because of the urgency of the mission: earthquakes have left crippling holes in the US’s Distant Early Warning radar line and Channing has stolen the locations, so if the information isn’t retrieved before 5 the next day, America goes up in smoke like a self-destructing message tape. Or maybe it’s a function of the fact that the IMF has switched to domestic law enforcement these days and getting an actual intelligence mission is no longer routine for them. (This is the first time this season that the tape doesn’t use the “conventional law enforcement agencies” line, but despite being an intelligence mission, the “Secretary will disavow” line does not return from extinction.)
Channing lives in Los Angeles, and interestingly, in the apartment briefing, Jim says they need to fly out there. That’s the first indication that the IMF isn’t based in LA as I’ve always kind of assumed. Where do Jim Phelps and the team live, then? New York? DC?
The scheme this time is practically a remake of “Operation Rogosh” from way back in season 1: make the mark think that it’s some time after his plans succeeded and his side took over, but that his side doesn’t know he’s on their side and is about to execute him, so that he’ll prove himself loyal by revealing secret information. And as with “Rogosh,” the team is unaware that the enemy has sent an assassin to take out the mark before he can talk. But this episode has its own twists on the formula.
First, Casey distracts Channing with a phone call informing him of the “suicide” of his superior (whom he actually murdered in order to steal the DEW line info) while Barney breaks in and rigs his oven knob to give him an electric shock (he had a whole box full of rigged knobs and handles and chose the one that Willy, peeping through the electrical outlet, saw that Channing was using at the time). Then Willy shoots Channing with a knockout dart and he, Barney, and Casey fake things in Channing’s apartment to make him think he’s been out for over a day, as well as rigging his TV and radio with tapes that inform him of the success of the invasion and the surrender of the US. (The voice of the radio announcer is Barney. Apparently Vic Perrin was no longer being used by the show.) And hey, the invaders are our old pals the European People’s Republic from season 4’s “The Numbers Game,” the last time they used the “make the bad guy think war’s broken out” trick. Oh, and this is another of those “secret” missions that has abundant cooperation from the authorities; the city’s had the whole block evacuated to sell the illusion. Which makes it easy for the assassin (Scott Walker) to slip in. The gunman, aptly named Shewitt (say it fast), is just about to
shewitt shoot Channing when Willy arrives as an EPR officer and takes Channing away in a van. Shewitt follows.
They end up in the abandoned courts building, where Channing watches as ruthless tribunal head Jim summarily condemns Barney, Casey, and others to execution with no mercy. When Channing’s turn comes, he protests that he’s on their side and provided them with the info that let their invasion happen. When asked for specifics about where his message drop was, he demurs, as the team knew he would. Once he reveals that he used “Drop B,” Jim pretends that’s all he needed to know. He then locks Channing back up and everyone pretends to leave. After a moment, Channing catches on that this was a scheme, but that’s the idea — to let him know it’s a scheme, but mislead him about what information was sought, so that he’ll spill the real info they want. He breaks the ancient lock easily enough and calls the airport (actually Casey) to page his contact, thereby giving the team the airline, flight number, and code name of the contact, which is what they really wanted. Luckily it’s not until then than Shewitt breaks in and fires at Channing. Jim takes him out, but Channing is wounded. He thinks it’s part of the charade, but Jim tells him they’ve already got what they need.
Willy IDs the contact, Novak (Ted Gehring), at the airport, then tails him to the drop, where there’s a big fight between Willy and Novak’s goon, and finally Jim and Barney get the drop on Novak and retrieve the microfilm. Novak’s glum expression looks less like a spy thwarted in his plans for global conquest and more like a kid who just lost a game of hide-and-seek.
Despite being practically a remake, this is one of the strongest episodes of the season. It’s refreshing to once again see an M:I episode where the stakes are global rather than just being about getting evidence against a mobster or breaking the syndicate’s hold on some industry (although it remains strictly US-based, aside from a couple of scenes of Novak in Paris). The opening twist on the tape scene was very interesting, and actually makes more sense than the usual approach. The threat of the assassin added some spice, although it fizzled out at the end. And it was a strong (no pun intended) Willy episode, since he got to play two different roles (including a fun bit as an airline clerk) and have a big knockdown fight at the climax.
“Blues”: Back to the usual crimebusting grind. We open with crooked music promoter Stu Gorman (William Windom) refusing to let his singer Judy (Gwenn Mitchell) out of her recording contract — calmly, playfully threatening her in a way that’s not what you expect from Windom. She threatens to sic the police on him and his mob associates, running for the phone on her balcony when he unplugs her main phone. He wrestles with her on the balcony and then quite intentionally, and still playfully, tosses her over the edge. Her screams as she falls blend into the screams of a couple of girls on a playground slide, a nice transition to the tape sequence. Naturally the mission is to put Gorman out of business, since his control of the music industry provides a lot of revenue for the syndicate. The team has the assistance of the police, mainly the primary on Judy’s murder, Lt. Don Eckhart (Vince Howard), as well as vocal impersonator Art Warner (John Crawford).
Jim plays a police sergeant who, along with Eckhart, questions Gorman along with his mob accountant Belker (Ed Flanders) and his goon Tanner (Alex Rocco), but they all form a united front. Later, Gorman’s auditioning new talent at the recording studio (since he kinda has an opening now after murdering his star), and Barney comes in — whoa, wait, is Barney gonna sing? Good grief, Barney’s singing! And it’s not some tricky gadget where he’s lip-synching to a prerecorded tape, it’s actually Barney Collier straight-up singing. The guy just keeps accreting new skills this season. And yes, it’s unmistakably Greg Morris’s own voice, though the lip sync between his on-camera performance and the audio track is terrible. The song itself takes a cue from Hamlet, or specifically The Murder of Gonzago; it’s called “Judy’s Gone Now” and is a bluesy lament about how “he’s still here” while Judy was “pushed into the night.” The song’s the thing wherein Barney catches the conscience of the promoter, or rather, catches his attention: when Gorman calls him in to talk, he says he has proof that Gorman killed Judy and expects a standard “rich and famous” contract in exchange for his silence. (And yes, folks, I’ve referenced Hamlet and The Muppet Movie in the same paragraph. You got a problem with that?)
Of course, the team has to fake the “proof.” Judy was recording a song when Gorman arrived, but turned off the machine. The team’s goal is to create the illusion that she left it on, so Willy and Casey do some Foley work to collect the appropriate sound effects, and then Casey and Art Warner mimic the voices of Judy and Gorman. Gorman and Belker eventually get Barney to confess that he has this tape, and Belker bribes policewoman Casey into giving him the (faked) evidence photos showing that the “record” light on Judy’s tape deck was on. So they try to figure out how to get the tape from Barney. But Belker’s a bit distracted when his car blows up — a shaped charge designed to ensure Belker survived. The police “arrest” Willy for the bombing but he’s not talking. Later, Belker bribes Casey again to get the bomber’s address, but when he gets there, Willy is (fake) shot in a drive-by, and in his “dying” breath he confesses that Gorman arranged the hit on Belker.
So Belker goes to Barney’s apartment and finds him (in his persona as a drug addict) just about to shoot up with heroin (or some sort of opiate, since he’s referred to as a “hophead”). He grabs the drugs and makes the desperate-for-a-fix Barney tell him where the tape is; it turns out to be with his partner in the blackmail scheme, Sgt. Jim. So Belker goes off to meet Jim, which is according to plan. What’s not according to plan is that Tanner the thug has been hiding in the closet. He emerges, holds Barney at gunpoint, and calls Gorman to tell him about the tape, and about Belker not telling Gorman about it. Gorman orders him to take Barney “somewhere safe” and kill him. Gorman then calls Sgt. Jim and tries to bribe him into giving up the tape, which tips Jim off that something’s wrong — Gorman wasn’t supposed to know Jim had it. When Barney doesn’t answer the phone, Jim sends Willy to look for him — which proves totally pointless, since all Willy can determine is that Barney isn’t where he’s supposed to be. Later, just before Tanner shoots him, Barney drops the withdrawing-junkie act and (his stunt double) beats Tanner up. Why the heck didn’t he do that earlier?
So Belker meets with Jim and makes a deal for the tape. He says Gorman must’ve tried to hit him because he’s a corroborating witness, able to confirm the authenticity of the tape. He and Sgt. Jim need each other. So Jim agrees to the deal and gives Belker the tape. Belker then summons Gorman to the recording studio and plays the tape for him, confronting him about his attempted hit — but Gorman laughs and tells him the tape is a fake, that the words are wrong. While he’s at it, he happens to state explicitly that he killed Judy, which is something he probably shouldn’t have done while standing in a recording studio, because Jim’s just taped his confession. Oops!
Not a bad episode, though the ending’s a little weak; it’s rather a coincidence that Belker happened to arrange the final confrontation in a recording studio so that the team could get the confession. Surely there were other places he might’ve gone to play the tape? And though the plan genuinely goes wrong when Tanner captures Barney, it’s resolved too easily and is kind of incidental to the story. But there’s an effective new musical score by Benny Golson, including some nice, subtly jazzy variations on “The Plot,” and including the song Barney sings about Judy. (There’s also the song Judy sings, but I’m not sure whether that’s original or not. And Barney/Greg Morris sings a cover of Otis Redding’s “The Dock of the Bay.”) Oddly, the episode runs about a minute shorter than usual, making me wonder if there was another song that was cut from the DVD release for licensing reasons.