Here we are… the final two episodes of the final season of the original Mission: Impossible. Here we go:
“The Western”: Van Cleve (Ed Nelson) and his partner Royce (Barry Atwater) have robbed a priceless historical relic from an implicitly Mexican museum. Royce wants to dissolve their partnership and take his half of their loot, but Van Cleve anticipated this and arranges to blow up Royce using stock explosion footage from “The Bunker” back in season 3. Jim gets the tape from a maintenance guy at a large fountain in a public square (at least the second time this has been done this season, but it kinda makes sense that a fountain would be a good place to listen to a secret message without being overheard). The mission is to retrieve the treasure from Van Cleve so it can be returned to its rightful owners — by which they mean the government founded by the Europeans who stole the statue (and the continent) from its original owners. (The only name the villain is given is “Van Cleve,” and Royce calls him “Van,” but the team refers to him throughout as “Van Cleve” as though that’s just his surname. Maybe he’s Van Van Cleve?)
Jim flies out to Miami and works with a pair of performers to stage a scene for Van Cleve: one of them bumps into VC while wearing a skull-like “death mask,” then walks out in front of a van (not Cleve) driven by the other performer and gets “killed,” pulling the mask off so it seems like a premonition. Then, on the plane (where future Blade Runner star Joanna Cassidy has a bit role as a stewardess), VC is seated next to Casey, playing a student of probability who’s been bitten by the gambling bug. She uses a trick handbag to let VC see a pile of money in her bag, and then have it “disappear” when she opens it again. (At least, it’s supposed to be the same kind of double-compartment trick bag as the attache case in “The Puppet,” but I see no way the bag as shown could accommodate a hidden compartment; instead it’s cheated by editing.) Casey suggests that he’s precognitive. Yes, it’s another entry in the annoying M:I subgenre of capers revolving around convincing a skeptic of something paranormal, which always strikes me as a bizarre approach.
Jim and Barney arrive on VC’s land and get shot at by his ranch manager (or whatever you call it) Ed — and hey, it’s Michael Ansara in a role that almost totally wastes his talent. They explain they’re geologists, and as it happens, VC is an expert in geology, so he quizzes them and they know enough technical jargon to convince him they’re legit. Barney’s actually playing the senior geologist, but Jim’s role is still the pivotal one; he acts shifty (and gets shushed by Barney), putting the idea in VC’s head that they’re keeping a secret. VC calls up a government contact to look into them, and finds that their survey is top-secret.
VC has Ed follow Jim to the casino, where he turns out to be a compulsive and losing gambler. (Willy’s running the roulette wheel and is probably rigging the outcome so Jim keeps losing, but we’re not told or shown how.) So VC drops in on him and offers to pay his debts in exchange for the secret info about the survey. Jim says he’ll think it over. Meanwhile, at the craps table, Casey has won (again, no specifics how), and she shows VC the money in her handbag, just like in his “vision” on the plane. VC invites her to dinner at his ranch. While Jim and Barney rig his bedroom with hydraulic jacks under the furniture to simulate an earthquake (plus tape players in his bedside and car radios), Casey keeps him occupied by offering a rational explanation for his visions, saying that he has a computer brain that can calculate probabilities in advance. Which I suppose ameliorates the silliness of the “convince the skeptic” approach a bit. Anyway, VC soon sets aside the intellectual stuff and gets on with the making-out-with-a-pretty-girl part — but outside, someone is raising a gun to the window. Is it one of the team? No — it’s Royce! He’s alive, though his face is burned (or at least pretty badly scraped). And VC and Casey are in his line of fire!
But they move at the last second and the shot misses. As VC and Casey hide, Royce bolts for it and Jim and Barney pursue, with VC’s men following farther behind. Royce and the IMF boys get to their respective cars and a chase ensues — and then there’s a complete non sequitur where Royce just happens to drive into a “ghost town” (read: Western backlot), get out of his pickup, and exchange gunfire with Jim and Barney for a couple of minutes before ditching his gun and driving off again. This is the only part of the episode that has anything to do with the title, and it’s a completely random insertion into the plot. Its only relevance is to allow the team to get prints off his gun, but that was completely unnecessary. Royce’s photo was included in Jim’s briefing packet, so they could’ve just had Jim get a look at his face as he fled the ranch. This whole lengthy action sequence, the thing the whole episode is named after, serves no purpose except as padding.
Not to mention that Van Cleve figures out on his own that it’s Royce because his men recover a 9mm shell casing and VC knows that Royce swears by a 9mm Mauser. (Now, a few minutes earlier, we saw Barney duck behind a horse trough whose thin wooden wall, no more than an inch thick, was sufficient to shield him from a bullet fired from Royce’s gun. But now, Ed says that a Mauser could “put a slug through a 4-inch slab of green oak.” Make up your mind, episode!) Casey relays this info to the team, making the whole fingerprint thing even more pointless. Jim says that if Royce kills Van Cleve — the only one who knows where the treasure is — the whole mission is shot. And so the team proceeds with their mission. moving up the timetable, but otherwise taking no action of any kind to watch out for Royce or stop him. Huh? Huh?!
Jim shows up at VC’s door and accepts the bribe, telling him that they’ve discovered a fault line that’s about to set off a major earthquake which will destroy a nearby dam and flood the entire valley. He offers credible explanations for why the dam can’t be drained or reinforced. (Whatever this episode’s other flaws, writers Arnold & Lois Peyser sure seemed to know their geology. But that’s a flaw in itself, if the writers are more preoccupied with geological jargon than cohesive storytelling.) As soon as Jim leaves, Barney activates a rig in VC’s pool that roils the water, causes a crude dummy of a drowned VC to rise to the surface, and then dissolves it. It’s a vision of his watery demise!
Now, you’d think that this would be enough, along with Jim’s warnings, to convince VC to race to his treasure stash and move it somewhere safer. But no, we still have half an act left and haven’t gotten to do the earthquake gimmick yet! So VC inexplicably sets aside these life-threatening concerns and goes sleepy-bye. And the team waits three hours to let him settle — again, doing absolutely nothing to guard against Royce breaking in and killing the one guy who can lead them to the McGuffin. So when they finally trigger the earthquake gimmick and the fake radio reports and scare VC into bolting for his stash, Royce is following right behind in his pickup, ahead of the team. Oy.
So VC gets to the cave where he hid the statue — and even though they tried to disguise it by shooting from a different angle and through some brush, it’s obviously the same cave VC blew up in the first scene! Oy oy oy. And as it turns out, it conveniently didn’t matter that the team just ignored the Royce problem, because Royce doesn’t get into the cave until after VC has unearthed the treasure. And Royce deliberately shot to miss before to spook VC into going for the treasure. So this whole big threat Royce posed for half the episode wasn’t actually a threat to the mission at all. *sigh* So the team comes in and gets the drop on Royce before he can shoot VC, and that’s the anticlimactic end of the episode.
Oh, dear. What an awful mess. So much of it was unnecessary. And not just the pointless Western shootout that inexplicably gave the episode its name. The whole precognition thing was unnecessary too. They could’ve gotten VC to lead them to the treasure strictly by using the geologist/earthquake ploy. And while the precog gimmick wasn’t as silly as usual in these cases, since Casey provided a rational-sounding explanation with no appeal to the supernatural, it’s still a hoary cliche of this series and it’s strictly there to pad out the story and give Casey a role. It’s like they had an idea too straightforward to fill an hour so they just tossed in whatever leftover bits they could to pad it out, without really bothering to fit them together cohesively. This is hands down the worst episode of the season yet. And it’s a shame to see it so close to the end of the series, especially when most of the season has maintained a pretty even keel in terms of quality, not superb but generally okay. I just hope that the series finale is better than this.
“Imitation”: An armored car is heisted by a gang of men led by Eddie (Thalmus Rasulala). After fleeing the scene (with the sound effects editors really overplaying the screeching of tires as the cars slowly pull out and drive away), Eddie hands the goods off to a woman in the back of a limo, who opens the case to reveal a set of crown jewels. In a stock tape scene (the one inside an office from “The Fighter,” but without the preceding exterior shot), Jim is informed that the loot is the Marnsburg crown jewels, scheduled to go on display at the UN in 3 days, and the suspect is master criminal Jena Cole (Barbara McNair — and the character name may have been chosen to suggest Lena Horne, whom McNair somewhat resembles). Jim must retrieve the jewels within 72 hours. (And Jena is pronounced like “Jayna.” She doesn’t show any sign of Wonder Twin powers, however.)
The team’s plan involves switching the jewels with imitations, and breaking into the Marnsburg consulate’s safe. They can’t cooperate openly with the embassy, both because Marnsburg is less than friendly to the US and because the embassy’s code chief Dunson (Lew Brown) is on Jena’s payroll. They’re assisted by Duval (Ray Ballard), evidently a jeweler with sleight-of-hand skills. And they are not joined by Casey, who’s completely absent from the episode with no explanation and no substitutions. This is the only episode of the season with no female team member.
And maybe that’s because this time the mark is female. At Jena’s establishment the Kit Kat Klub (or Kit at lub, depending on how literally you take the sign out front), Barney’s job is basically to play Casey’s usual role, the pretty face to hook the mark. He brings a letter of introduction supposedly from her late brother and claims to have been his final cellmate, providing enough details to convince her. The letter said to take care of him, and he straight up asks for a thousand bucks, which Jena obliges out of her brother’s memory. This is so the sonic sensor device in Barney’s pocket can remotely overhear the safe tumblers and get the combination. She says she has a 30-day return policy on loans with 20 percent interest, and gives him $800 and tells him she expects a thousand back in 30 days. That’s actually 25 percent interest. If she expected an 120% return on her loan to equal $1000, then the loan should’ve been $833.33. Anyway, Jena has another kind of interest in Barney, as she notes to her henchman Boomer (Pernell Roberts).
While Jena’s backer Stevens (Charles McGraw) pressures Jena to hand over the jewels — which she won’t do until she gets paid — Barney breaks into her office and swipes 12 grand from her safe. She discovers the theft and has her contact in the police department ID the fingerprints — it’s Barney. Boomer and Eddie go to his apartment and find his safecracking gear and a blueprint of the consulate safe. They realize he’s planning to rob the crown jewels, unaware that Jena’s men have already done so. Meanwhile, Jim shows up following Barney, and when Jena brings him in for questioning, he says Barney owes him a lot of money and will be dead if he doesn’t repay it in a week.
But the team has sent the consulate a fake teletype saying that the stolen crown jewels were fakes sent in anticipation of a heist, and the real ones will arrive shortly. Willy arrives as the Marnsburg official with the real jewels and puts them in the vault. Dunson tells Jena about the alleged fakes, and the team replaces Jena’s jeweler with Duval, who swaps out the real jewel they bring him for a copy to “prove” the ones Jena has are fakes. And her backer is still pressing her to turn over the jewels. So she brings in Barney and persuades him to partner with her. She tells him that if he’s loyal, there’s nothing she won’t do for him — and if he betrays her, there’s nothing she won’t do to him.
That night, Barney breaks into the consulate, with Dunson standing by to run interference with the guards. The case Willy put in the vault with the fake crown jewels contains a radar-dish thingy that rises out of the lid (and there’s no way the thingy and its lifting motor could fit in the case as shown) and somehow lets Barney read the combination from the inside, or something. So he gets in and removes the fake jewels that Jena thinks are real. He takes them back to Jena, but insists on calling Jim and arranging to hand over the jewels in exchange for not being killed, which is understandably urgent for him. Jena tries to persuade him to wait and do it her way instead, telling him she loves him (that was sudden) and doesn’t want him to go. But he’s all cold and insensitive, which somehow makes her like him more, or something. She seems to accede and takes him out to the bar for a celebratory drink while Boomer guards the case — though Boomer actually swaps out the “real” (fake) jewels for the “fake” (real) jewels behind Barney’s back. Then they let Barney walk out with the real jewels, thinking they’re sending him out with the fake jewels and signing his death sentence. Jena’s somewhat conflicted, but her greed comes first. Then Barney’s a bit conflicted as he sees Stevens and his goons arrive, no doubt to kill Jena when she hands over the fakes. But he doesn’t do much about it. The cops drive up and arrest everyone — off camera — and then Barney goes over to “take a look” and exchanges one final meaningful stare with a still-alive Jena before the cops take her away. And that, abruptly, is the end of the episode and the end of the original Mission: Impossible. (It’s also the last time we’ll ever see Willy Armitage, though Jim, Barney, and Casey will all return at least briefly in the 1988-9 revival series.)
Well, it’s better than “The Western,” to be sure. Not a top-notch episode, but a moderately good one, which is pretty representative of the season as a whole. It was a rare episode for this season in that it tried to establish a bit of a romance for one of the main characters (the last time a team member actually bonded with a mark, it was a guest agent in “The Question”), but it’s very half-hearted about it, more a slight loss of detachment than the deeper involvements we’ve occasionally gotten in seasons past with episodes like “Elena,” “The Short Tail Spy,” “Nicole,” “Lover’s Knot,” “Decoy,” “Squeeze Play,” or “Cat’s Paw.” So it’s not up to the level of those excellent episodes, but it’s a plus by this season’s standards. And Barbara McNair is a major plus as well, a lovely actress with a lively, dynamic performing style that’s enjoyable to watch.
So there you have it — the last episode of the series. It’s not really the end, though, since there’s still my season overview to follow, and a full-series overview after that. And it’s only a couple of weeks until the first season of the 1988 revival comes out on DVD, so hopefully Netflix will make that available before long. And who knows? I might even cover the movies at some point, although they have very little in common with Mission: Impossible beyond the title.