MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Kidnap”/”Crackup” (spoilers)
“Kidnap”: Mobster Andrew Metzger (John Ireland) meets a pair of henchmen at a tennis tournament and points them to two men whom we know as Jim and Barney, saying Jim is their target. The two IMF members are on vacation (albeit using fake names, like on their last vacation together in season 4′s “Death Squad”), and there’s a nice, if brief, bit of characterization where Jim is meticulously planning a campaign to defeat their tennis opponents and Barney tells him to relax and enjoy the vacation. Barney is paged to the lounge, and once he’s gone, the henchmen knock Jim out and drag him to their car. Metzger approaches Barney and says his men have Jim. Apparently he’s connected with the Aquarius Casino from last season’s “Casino” and identified Jim and Barney from security tapes. That’s right, this is M:I’s only sequel. But don’t expect much in the way of continuity. The only things here that actually track with “Casino” are the name of the casino and the use of a few film frames from that episode as surveillance photos. Otherwise, the two episodes contradict each other pretty badly. The characters herein who were supposedly employees or patrons at the Aquarius were nowhere to be seen in “Casino.” And in that episode, the team stole the daily take from the casino’s gambling tables, totalling just over half a million dollars, and framed the casino’s owner for it to trap him into turning state’s evidence; but here, it’s claimed that the team stole $4 million in “skim money” as well as incriminating records. I can understand wanting to keep the connections minimal, given the realities of ’70s TV, but it’s odd that they’d alter incidental details like this.
Anyway, Metzger has a different mission for Barney. As with season 1′s “The Ransom,” the bad guy wants the IMF to do their thing for him, specifically to get an incriminating letter away from his former protege and now-rival Connally (Charles Drake) if they ever want to see Jim alive again. (The fact that Jim is the captive probably has something to do with the fact that this is Peter Graves’s directorial debut on the series. When series regulars become first-time directors, they generally do so with stories that minimize their screen time so they can devote more time to directing.)
The planning scene with the diminished team is run by Barney in Jim’s absence. It’s an interesting opportunity to see Barney as the team’s second-in-command, though there’s some precedent for that in episodes like “Trapped” (the episode right after “Casino”). Casey is back (we won’t see Mimi again) and apparently has added pickpocketing to her repertoire of skills. In fact, both she and Willy seem to be fulfilling what’s historically been Barney’s standard role, providing and explaining the equipment they’ll be using in the caper.
Jim is taken down to an air-raid shelter and tied up with wire. His head abductor, Hawks (Jack Ging), explains that one of the others, Proctor (Geoffrey Lewis), was head of security at the Aquarius Casino and lost his job, so now he really wants Jim dead.
Connally’s letter is in a safety-deposit box and he won’t give the key to the feds until he gets his guarantee of immunity. Casey goes to the bank to request a safety-deposit box to put her jewelry in, then fakes an asthma attack long enough to make a key impression of the lock in Connally’s box, the one that goes with the bank’s key (and the method she uses, injecting a fast-drying plastic, wouldn’t actually work). Willy’s repertoire now includes locksmithing, and he makes a duplicate key from the mold, then the team arranges to get Connally’s second key. Barney pretends to be the elevator repair guy to get to the controls, then Willy and Casey coordinate with a hitherto-unestablished guest team member credited as “Dowager” (Monty Margetts), an old woman who signals Barney by radio when Connally and his federal babysitters leave. Once they’re all in the elevator, Barney stops it, and Casey fakes a panic attack long enough to get the key out of Connally’s pocket and make an impression of it. With the two keys made, Casey goes back to the bank and gets the letter from Connally’s box, while Barney delays Connally and the feds. Casey gets the letter, but Hawks (tipped off by a bank employee who’s been watching for team members from the casino security footage) intercepts her outside and steals the letter before they can duplicate it (the plan is to deliver one copy to Metzger to save Jim and the other to the feds to put Metzger away). Barney learns that Metzger doesn’t have the letter; Hawks must be acting on his own, stealing the letter to blackmail Metzger. So Barney decides to forge the envelope, guiding Casey to remember every detail. Somehow they’ve managed to collect all necessary supplies for that forgery in a matter of minutes.
Meanwhile, Jim has been working on his escape, getting free of the bed he was tied to and getting his bound hands in front of him. Eventually he manages to melt the wire by touching it against the heating element of an electric space heater. By the time the team gets there with their forged envelope (claiming the letter’s in a safe place as security for Jim’s release), Jim has his escape plan ready. Metzger and Proctor (who’s been butting heads with Jim all episode) escort them to see Jim, then Hawks shows up with the real letter and holds them all at gunpoint, planning to kill all the witnesses. Jim has a can full of flammable liquid he found in the shelter’s cabinets, and he tosses it into the space heater, creating a diversion so the team can beat up the bad guys and lock them in, taking the letter to give to the feds. Jim tells Barney they can just make their 5:30 tennis court reservation.
Despite being the first “off-book” mission we’ve had for a while, and despite the atypical situation of Jim’s captivity, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill caper. The idea of actually doing an episode that follows up on the consequences of the team’s actions in an earlier episode is a welcome novelty, but the inconsistencies with the episode it’s supposedly a sequel to undermine that. And it doesn’t serve Casey well in her big return episode that her chief roles are to suffer an asthma attack and a panic attack — though the part with Barney relying on her memory to reconstruct the envelope is good. Watching Jim try to MacGyver his way out of captivity is interesting, and it’s good to see Barney as leader, a role he fits into well. And there are one or two nice directorial touches on Graves’s part, like having Proctor reflected in a wall fixture to reveal that he has the drop on the team. Still, despite those nice touches, I didn’t find the episode all that engaging. Though maybe that’s just because I was distracted from trying to compare it against “Casino.”
“Crackup”: Peter Cordel (Alex Cord) comes out of a chess club and is met by his brother Harry (Peter Breck), who gives him a gun which Peter says he doesn’t expect to use. He breaks into the upper-story bedroom of a woman who controls important stock options, and after explaining to the terrified woman why he was hired to kill her, he pistol-whips her (so he used it after all, kind of) and tosses her off the balcony. Cut to a plaza with a fountain, where Jim gets the tape from a guy fixing his motorcycle and is told that the IMF is certain Cordel is a top assassin even though he’s so brilliant that “conventional law enforcement agencies” (which haven’t been mentioned for a while) have never been able to arrest him or identify his employer (so how does the IMF know this?). Jim’s mission is to achieve both those goals. The team is again Casey-less, but instead of Mimi, they’re joined by one-time team member Sandy (Marlyn Mason, not to be confused with Marilyn Manson) and Dr. Adler (Arthur Franz).
Jim passes himself off as a psychiatrist and chessmaster with help from Barney’s chess computer and a bone-conduction mike in his glasses (the chess computer is portrayed unrealistically as calculating only one move at a time instead of modelling several moves ahead, just as in season 2′s “A Game of Chess”), and squirts a hypnotic drug onto Cordel’s chessmen before they play. After the game, Jim hypnotizes Cordel at his car while Dr. Adler keeps another patron away by blathering on endlessly about the game. Then, once Jim’s given Cordel a whole series of hypnotic suggestions and triggers (yup, it’s one of those episodes), Adler comes up to Cordel and provokes an argument, then uses a trigger phrase to put Cordel in a trance. He then uses fake blood to make it look as though Cordel blacked out and killed Adler with the latter’s cane (he takes a pill that’s supposed to simulate death, but Cordel doesn’t even check the body and the pill wears off moments later).
Cordel races away from the scene and goes to the bar where he’s arranged to meet Leslie Harper, courier for a mobster trying to recruit him away from his current employer. But Willy is on hand waiting to intercept Harper. The plan hits a snag when Harper is late, and Willy calls Sandy, who instructs him to proceed as normal with the plan. (Odd that someone we’ve never seen before is giving the orders.) Anyway, she shows up just before Harper arrives, and Willy spirits Harper into a back room and knocks him out just seconds before Cordel arrives. He retrieves Harper’s proof of identity and slips it in Sandy’s bag; she takes advantage of Harper’s androgynous name to take his place as Cordel’s contact, adding an element of seduction to her sales pitch.
Later, in a scene shot entirely as a reflection off a convex parking-garage mirror, big brother Harry is met by their employer’s goon (familiar Desilu/Paramount voice artist Bart La Rue in an uncredited role) who shows him the news of Adler’s supposed death and says he should keep Cordel away from the chess club for a while. (Seriously, the rate at which newspapers in the M:I-verse have to print retractions must be staggering.) Harry goes to his brother to warn him about that and about what “the Man” might do if Cordel defects to the rival team, but Cordel will have none of it. Sandy shows up just as Harry storms out, and offers to “sweeten” the deal, wink wink nudge nudge. Down in the lobby, Harry sees police detective Barney drive up and head for the elevators (ignoring the “All Visitors Must Register At Desk” sign — gasp!), but when Harry calls Cordel to warn him, Sandy has him too, err, occupied to answer the phone. But not too much to answer the door when Barney arrives to question him about the chess club murder. Sandy lies to alibi him, and Barney appears to accept it. Sandy then leaves Cordel to prepare for his chess match — but outside, Harry grabs her and says to stay away from his brother or he’ll kill her.
Later, before their next chess game, Dr. Jim psychs Cordel out by telling him about a patient, a soldier whose job of killing took over his dreams and led to delusions that drove him to kill. Despite supposedly being a master chessplayer, Cordel doesn’t recognize this obvious bit of maneuvering for what it is, and nervously postpones the game. Outside, Barney intercepts Cordel while Willy runs interference with the watching Harry. Barney says the bartender busted Cordel’s alibi and confronts him about the murder, then uses the hypnotic phrase to entrance Cordel while he plants a gun in his hand and douses himself with fake blood. Cordel wakes to find himself standing over Barney’s “body” just as a crowd — and Harry — arrive. He flees to his apartment, finding Sandy there. Harry arrives to confront him, but Sandy delivers the trigger phrase and Jim punches Harry out; then they repeat the fake-murder trick and make Cordel think he’s killed his brother, just before Sandy sticks a knockout needle in his neck.
Cordel awakes in what Jim tells him is the prison psych ward. Jim promises to help treat him, and encourages him to turn to friends and family, but Sandy is the only friend he has (or so he thinks). Once Jim leaves, a burly orderly (Michael Masters) comes into Cordel’s room and tries to smother him with a pillow (and there are a couple of moments during the fight where Cordel’s short hospital gown fails to provide adequate coverage, but I assume he had a flesh-colored undergarment on and I sure wasn’t interested in freeze-framing to check). But the orderly dangles the call button where Cordel can grab and press it, and then flees, and orderly Willy dismisses Cordel’s claims as a paranoid delusion before mentioning that Sandy’s here to see him. Afraid for his life and sanity, Cordel turns to Sandy as the only person he can trust, saying his employer wants to silence him before he talks, and telling her how to contact his employer to convince him to call off the hit — or else he will name names. Sandy goes to the arranged meeting and is picked up by a chauffeured limo. She asks the man in back the chess question Cordel gave her to confirm his identity, but the man in back passes it on to the driver, the real top man. But just then, the driver gets a call from Harry, who’s overpowered his guard and warns him that Sandy’s up to something. The bad guys get her at gunpoint and drive off, but just then they’re surrounded by cop cars. You’d think some kind of standoff would result with Sandy as a hostage, or at least that they’d shoot her right off to ensure she couldn’t reveal which man was the real boss. Instead, the car stops, Sandy gets out and tells the cops who the boss is, and she drives off with the team, an implausibly easy resolution to the climactic crisis.
Still, up until the weak ending, it’s a pretty decent episode. It’s certainly a damn sight better than their previous hypnosis episodes like “The Miracle” and “Image.” In those episodes, hypnosis was portrayed as having the power to induce complex behavioral changes in the subjects, leading to the credibility question of why they used it to stage ridiculously elaborate hoaxes to get the information they needed rather than just hypnotizing the subjects into revealing the information. Here, though, the hypnosis doesn’t make Cordel do anything except freeze into a trance state on hearing the trigger phrase and wake up again on hearing his name. Everything else is orchestrated by the team while Cordel is entranced. So that makes it a lot more credible. Plus the story overall is reasonably entertaining, and Marlyn Mason is a fairly alluring femme fatale. That helps make up for the stagey feel of the production. The early part of this season was full of fresh and unusual locations, but this was almost entirely on the backlot and standard locations like a very familiar tunnel in the mountains.