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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Affair, Episodes 13-18 (Spoilers)

“The King of Knaves Affair”: Investigating a mysterious effort to buy uranium and the abduction of the racketeer making the offer, Solo and Kuryakin travel to Rome, where UNCLE HQ is situated behind the local branch of the Del Floria’s tailor franchise. (Clever to have identical UNCLE HQs all over the world, so the same standing sets can be used everywhere.) The local agents include Gemma (Arlene Martel, best known as Spock’s betrothed in Star Trek‘s “Amok Time”), who poses as Illya’s wife when they go undercover, and a receptionist who doubles as a dancer at the nightclub they investigate (played by belly dancer Tania Lemani, who uses a lot of the same dance moves she’ll use a few years later in ST’s “Wolf in the Fold”). The club’s proprietor is Fasik, a deposed Middle Eastern monarch played by the decidedly non-Middle Eastern Paul Stevens (a frequent Mission: Impossible guest, often playing characters impersonated by Martin Landau, whom he resembled). It turns out he’s building an army and recruiting allies as part of a genuinely clever multipronged plan to undermine the credibility, finances, and military strength of the populists who deposed him in order to pave the way for his reconquest. The innocent-of-the-week is Miss Pepper (Diana Millay), whom Solo suspects is a rival agent but who turns out to be a notary seeking the abducted racketeer’s signature on some document so some person back home won’t be rendered destitute — the explanation is very convoluted and not that important, mostly playing out in the background while Illya fights off an assassin on Solo’s balcony. It’s a fairly interesting episode overall — the villain’s plan really is most ingenious and alarmingly credible — but the show’s insistence on shoehorning an innocent civilian into every adventure is already starting to wear thin after just a baker’s dozen of episodes. It’s the sort of thing I feel would work better if they only did it when there was a good reason for it, rather than having to concoct all these contrived excuses to drag civilians into things every single time.

The episode makes effective use of the MGM backlot, including a castle courtyard set that we haven’t seen before on the show, though I expect we’ll see it again sometime. Jerry Goldsmith gets the music credit again, and this time I’m certain it’s a mostly or wholly original score. Some of the motifs are familiar, but from the thematic unity of the overall score and the way the music fits the action and editing, I’d say it’s not stock music, but Goldsmith developing his established motifs further. It’s a solid, effective score with a classic Goldsmithian flavor to the rhythms.

“The Terbuf Affair”: In a subtle bit of continuity, Napoleon and Illya are still in Rome on vacation, implicitly in the wake of their last mission. Napoleon is approached by old flame Clara (Madlyn Rhue, best known as Khan’s love Marla in ST: “Space Seed”), who seeks his help getting a “Gypsy” named Emil (Jacques Aubuchon) out of the Balkan country of Terbuf with proof of the corruption of its leader Col. Morisco (episode writer Alan Caillou). Clara is married now, but Solo still has a thing for her, and Illya determines he needs to go along to keep Solo anchored. But Clara confides in her husband Stefan, who turns out to be loyal to Morisco and tells him of the plan. Morisco doesn’t return his loyalty, having him imprisoned and ordering the smarmy Major Vicek (Albert Paulsen, whom I liked in his several Mission: Impossible appearances) to impersonate her husband, with the real Stefan held hostage to force her cooperation. Illya uses his familiarity with Roma culture to infiltrate the suspicious local “Gypsies” and convince them they can trust Solo with Emil. It’s an elaborate tale of plots, counterplots, false identities, arrests, abductions, rescues, and a couple of de-pantsings.

All in all, an entertaining story of intrigue, making further good use of MGM’s really impressive backlot (although I recognized one of the outdoor locations from the Kurt Russell episode, and it used the same interior prison set we just saw in “King of Knaves”). It makes up for last week’s contrived insertion of “the innocent” by having the innocent be the one who instigates the story in the first place. There are lots of familiar faces in the cast, including two more future Trek guests, Michael Forest and Rex Holman. The portrayal of the Roma is actually relatively positive for ’60s TV despite the use of the “Gypsy” label. And there’s a solid score (mostly new, I think) by Goldsmith and Walter Scharf.

Best of all, this episode is the strongest showing Illya’s had since episode 3, I’d say. Usually, even in episodes where Illya’s on the mission with Solo instead of sidelined back at HQ or whatever, he’s nonetheless been very much a second banana, with most of the focus being on Solo and his interaction with either the innocent or the villain. Here, though, he’s equal in prominence and importance to Solo, and we get a good feel for their friendship, the way their contrasts make them a good pairing. It’s not so different from the relationship Kirk and Spock would have in a little show that came along a few years later. It’s nice to see, and I hope it’s a harbinger of things to come.

“The Deadly Decoy Affair”: They’re playing with the opening again. There’s new music, and after the usual sequence of the shadowy figure shooting at Solo and cracking the pane of bulletproof glass in front of him — whereupon we usually get a freeze-frame for the episode title and then cut right to the main titles — instead Solo strolls out from behind the glass and gives the audience a little verbal teaser for the upcoming episode. Weird. I half-expected him to segue into talking about the sponsor’s product. Anyway, this is followed by a slightly modified arrangement of the main title theme, with the main melody a bit more clearly articulated than before. IMDb says Morton Stevens did the new arrangment.

The story is a comedy of errors as Solo and Kuryakin try to escort captured THRUSH lieutenant Stryker (Ralph Taeger) to Washington past a gauntlet of THRUSH agents trying to retake him, while Waverly leads a decoy intended to draw their fire, which proves unsuccessful — or does it? The way the innocent-of-the-week, Fran (Joanna Moore), gets dragged into the chase is the biggest contrivance yet, although I guess it’s forgivable since they were going for comedy. Illya gets left behind on a train and it becomes a three-person show as Solo and Stryker flirt with Fran and the three of them try to shake the relentless pursuers, and there’s a plot twist that became obvious to me about half an hour before it was revealed.

Kind of mediocre overall, with an underwhelming guest cast (and not just because it’s short on faces I find familiar). Its best feature is an all-new Walter Scharf score, the first one he’s done for this show that I’ve been impressed by, reminding me of some of his Mission: Impossible work.

“The Fiddlesticks Affair”: No talking to the audience this time, but we still get the Stevens arrangement of the main theme. The episode is another one that could be considered a proto-Mission: Impossible story: a casino heist to destroy THRUSH’s Western-hemisphere treasury, with Napoleon and Illya recruiting allies to form a team. They even have Lalo Schifrin doing the music, and his scoring during the heist portions is very reminiscent of some of his future M:I work. However, their recruits aren’t of the caliber that the IMF used. Their main specialist is a safecracker named Rudolph (Dan O’Herlihy) who gets pressured into helping and who’s more than willing to betray them to score points with THRUSH. The other is Susan (Marlyn Mason, herself a future M:I guest team member), a perky Midwestern girl trying to make a break from her wholesome life and do something scandalous, making her ripe for recruiting by Solo. (Though it’s rather startling that they’d draw a civilian into such danger rather than using a professional agent. What they need is some kind of, I dunno… girl from UNCLE, maybe. They should look into hiring one.)

Despite the sketchiness of the situation, it’s a fun, solid episode due mainly to a strong and clever script by future Columbo and Deep Space Nine scribe Peter Allan Fields. The character interplay and badinage between Napoleon and Illya is a lot of fun; this time out, we get the sense that the normally stoic Russian somewhat resents that Napoleon hogs the womanizing part of the mission all to himself. I didn’t care for some of the ridiculously implausible spy gadgets they used, though. For instance, a “treated” 100-dollar bill which, when placed in the casino vault, can somehow detect the turning of the combination lock and transmit the numbers to Solo’s receiver. Or a magnetic coating which, when rubbed onto ordinary dice, allows a special watch to control their rolls. Even with microcomputers and nanotechnology, that would be hard to pull off. In 1965, even with the sci-fi tech many spy shows used at the time, it’s just preposterous.

There’s a scary moment in the scene where Illya’s coercively recruiting Rudolph: David McCallum shoves O’Herlihy back onto the hotel-room bed, and it looks like O’Herlihy just misses hitting his head fairly hard on the corner of the bedside table. A centimeter more to his left and he could’ve really been hurt. He reaches back and puts his hand on the back of his head and goes “Sh…”, but then he recovers and they both just carry on with the take. A real trouper, O’Herlihy. And it makes the scene a lot more convincing.

“The Yellow Scarf Affair”: Oh, dear. It’s Napoleon Solo and the Temple of Doom, as Solo (without Illya) takes on the so-called Thuggee cult in India, replete with Western stereotypes about Hinduism, a lot of talk about how indigenous Indian culture is a relic of the past and how enlightened modernity equals Westernization, and plenty of non-Indian actors in brownface. It embraces the traditional media image of the Thuggees as a cult of assassins who preyed on travelers as a sacrifice to the “death” goddess Kali — in this case, a revived and modernized version in which they arrange plane and train crashes and the like and steal the victims’ valuables, including a top-secret lie-detector that an UNCLE agent had been bringing back home. Now, what I recall from Indian History class is that such cults of murderous fanatics were largely invented, or at least had their prevalence greatly overstated, by the British Raj in order to paint indigenous peoples as violent savages who needed British rule and Westernization to “civilize” them for their own protection. Even if they were real, they were an extreme fringe group whose practices were falsely held up as symbolic of Indian religion as a whole, and this episode is a classic example of that, implying that the Thuggee cult is synonymous with traditional Indian culture in order to paint that culture as primitive and well-forgotten.

The episode has other problems. For instance, the McGuffin’s case is said to have a nitroglycerin self-destruct capsule–quite implausible because the slightest jolt could set it off. What’s more, it gets jolted plenty in the climactic fight and nothing happens. Not to mention that Solo’s stunt double in said fight looks nothing like Robert Vaughn and there’s hardly any attempt made to conceal his face even by the standards of lower-resolution ’60s TV sets and broadcasts. Plus, while Morton Stevens’s music is generally good, he bizarrely uses a faux-Middle Eastern musical style to establish the Indian setting, presumably on the principle that American audiences would consider all things “Oriental” to be interchangeably exotic.

There are a few decent things about the episode, mainly Kamala Devi as the “innocent,” a flight attendant who helps Solo. Not only is she the only actual Indian performer playing an Indian character, but she’s quite lovely and delicately appealing, though she doesn’t show a lot of range as an actress. (And it’s quite silly seeing Murray Matheson standing next to her as her uncle — it just throws his cheesy brownface makeup into sharp relief.) There’s also an entertaining turn by Linden Chiles as the world’s most affable THRUSH agent, alternately competing and cooperating with Solo to retrieve the McGuffin from the cultists (a formula the show has used before). But my favorite part is probably Madge Blake’s brief appearance at the beginning, passing the McGuffin to the ill-fated agent. Aunt Harriet is a secret agent! The aunt from UNCLE! How awesome is that?

“The Mad, Mad Tea Party Affair”: Time for a bottle show, set mostly on the standing sets of UNCLE HQ and Del Floria’s tailor shop. UNCLE is preparing for a secret summit of world leaders, and a THRUSH mole within HQ, Riley (Peter Haskell), is planning to blow them all up — following a plan masterminded by Dr. Egret (Lee Meriwether), who’s narcissistic enough to demand that Riley join her in narrating the entire plan for the audience’s benefit, a deeply awkward scene. But a third party, an eccentric older man named Hemingway (Richard Haydn), is launching his own campaign against HQ, a series of seemingly harmless but high-tech pranks that expose some serious gaps in their security system — and it’s not hard to guess that that’s his whole intention. One of his pranks is to trick a random innocent, Kay (Zohra Lampert, whose voice I found very annoying), into the changing booth at Del Floria’s and through the secret HQ entrance therein. Kay is initially terrified, since for some reason UNCLE, the spy agency whose agents constantly go around telling people who they are and discussing secret missions at crowded parties, and whose HQ location is already well-known to their enemies, are suddenly so hyper-secretive that they refuse even to tell Kay who they are and where she is. But Kay turns out to be the second innocent in the past three weeks (and at least the fifth this season) to be tired of her ordinary life and thrilled by the chance to get involved in excitement and intrigue. It’s getting a bit repetitive, guys!

So yeah, you can tell I’m not enthralled by this one. It has some decent ideas, but the execution has a lot of flaws — particularly in the climax, where the bomb’s trigger device, which is supposed to be innocuous and understood to be a detonator only by Riley himself, is shown sizzling and smoking for a good 20 seconds or more, long enough that anyone could figure it out. Plus it criminally underuses Lee Meriwether, who’s only in one scene plus a voiceover later.

The music is credited to Goldsmith and Stevens, and is mostly built around familiar motifs, but at least some of it seems newly arranged and tailored to the scenes.

Interview on The Chronic Rift

Keith DeCandido’s interview of me from New York Comic-Con in October is now up on The Chronic Rift’s webpage:

http://chronicrift.com/node/3136

It’s mainly about Only Superhuman, but also covers my Trek novels, other original stuff, and my reviews on this blog, among other things. Naturally, the Star Trek project I couldn’t talk about then is Rise of the Federation.

TOPKAPI (1964): The proto-MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE? (Not exactly…)

In the comments to my recent review of Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, I mentioned (not for the first time on this blog) that the original Mission: Impossible TV series was partly inspired by the 1964 heist movie Topkapi.  Since I’ve run out of M:I episodes to recap/review (until I can get my hands on the DVDs of the ’88 revival, which Netflix is taking its good time getting in stock), it occurred to me to check out Topkapi as a sort of adjunct to my review series.  Fortunately, it is available for streaming on Netflix.

Topkapi was written by Monja Danischewsky, based on the novel The Light of Day by Eric Ambler, and directed by Jules Dassin.  It stars Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximilian Schell, and Robert Morley.  Ustinov won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

And it’s very different from what I expected, very different from M:I.  It’s more of a screwball comedy, opening with Mercouri talking directly to the audience to explain her goal, to steal a priceless emerald-encrusted dagger from the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.  (Hey, I like it that she’s into emeralds.)  Her character, going by the name Elizabeth Lipp, is a thief, but one who’s never been caught, nor has her old flame Walter Harper (Schell), whom she recruits to help her steal the dagger and replace it with a replica she’s created.  He insists that they need to recruit a team of amateurs, people who also have no police records, since if a heist of this magnitude succeeds, the cops will be looking at the high-end thieves, all known.  Here we can see the ancestry of the M:I trope of assembling a team of “amateur” spies — magician, supermodel, engineer, professional bodybuilder — for off-book, deniable missions too sensitive to leave a paper trail back to the government (though this implied concept was abandoned by the show soon enough).

The team they assemble consists of  eccentric inventor Cedric Page (Morley) — sort of the “Barney” of the operation in M:I terms, though more like a spiritual ancestor to Blade Runner‘s Sebastian — plus the volatile strongman Hans (Jess Hahn) and the mute acrobat Giulio the Human Fly (Gilles Segal), who reminds me of the non-English-speaking contortionist in the George Clooney Ocean’s Eleven.  (How many movies borrowed tropes from this movie, anyway?)  The last “recruit” is the unwitting patsy (or “schmo,” as they call him) — Arthur Simpson (Ustinov), the world’s most hapless tour guide, whom they hire to drive a valuable rented car across the border to Istanbul, with some of their heist gear hidden in the door.  They don’t plan on Simpson having an expired passport that gets him questioned and his car inspected at the Turkish border, revealing the hidden rifle and smoke grenades.  The Turks arrest him, thinking he’s part of a terrorist plot to attack a major meeting of important officials, but his bumbling defense convinces them that he’s probably a dupe, so they let him prove it by spying for them, carrying on his assignment as though nothing happened.  Once he delivers the car to Cedric, a cop working for the government tells Cedric that only the registered driver can drive the car under Turkish law, so Cedric is forced to bring Simpson with him to meet the other plotters.  There’s a bunch of character-based wackiness that doesn’t amuse me, largely involving a drunken, incoherent male cook (Akim Tamiroff) who keeps coming onto Simpson and picking fights with Hans, or else involving the rather unattractive Mercouri playing a seductive vamp who claims to be a nymphomaniac.

It isn’t until nearly halfway through the movie that the heist begins to unfold and we begin to see some more elements relating to M:I.  A notable one is when, before the heist, a fight with the cook leads to Hans getting his hands crushed in a door so he can’t play his part — a trope used with Wally Cox’s safecracker character in the M:I pilot.  This requires them to bring Simpson into their confidence so he can fill Hans’s role of lowering Giulio into the museum on a rope.  So Simpson lets slip that Turkish Security thinks they’re terrorists and is watching them, so they have to adjust the plan.

I guess the heist sequence itself, which kicks in during the final half-hour of the movie, is the main part that inspired M:I — and not just the show, as it was a direct inspiration for the famous lowered-on-a-wire sequence in the first Tom Cruise M:I movie.  The meticulousness with which the planning and execution are shown step-by-step is the main inspiration.  But at the same time, there’s a lot that’s different.  These thieves are less of a well-oiled machine than the IMF, with lots of stumbles and hitches and improvisations and barely averted disasters as they execute the heist.  The sequence is carried out with very little dialogue, like M:I, but with no music whatsoever throughout the entire heist, very unlike M:I.  And the plan turns out to have one tiny but fatal flaw, so the outcome is rather different than it is in M:I.

Bottom line, I wasn’t crazy about the film.  Even aside from not being the kind of film I was expecting, it was a little too weird and eccentric, and I really disliked Mercouri as the lead actress.  And too many of the plot points depend on these supposed master thieves making stupid decisions.  If they were going to pick Simpson as their dupe, they should’ve researched him more first and made sure his passport was valid.  Worse, their decision to bring him aboard as a replacement for Hans makes no sense.  We were shown that the team was assisted by at least one member of a carnival that had set up shop next to the Topkapi Museum (which, come to think of it, may have inspired the similar use of a carnival in M:I’s first two-parter “Old Man Out”), so if they needed a strongman, why not recruit one from the carnival, instead of pinning the success of their plan on a flabby middle-aged coward whose involvement brings them close to disaster time and time again?  The plot just doesn’t add up.  Maybe it’s not supposed to, maybe these characters are intended to be bumblers attempting something beyond their abilities, but that’s hard to reconcile with the premise that the masterminds are too good to have ever gotten caught.  So it just didn’t work for me.  I almost wish I hadn’t seen the film at all.  The only thing I really gained from the experience was having my misconceptions about the film clarified.  It’s not nearly as much a spiritual ancestor of Mission: Impossible as I was expecting.

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M:I: GHOST PROTOCOL: At last, an actual MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie

This week I got my semi-annual royalty check from my publisher, and it was a lot bigger than I expected (yay!), so I celebrated by going out to a bookstore and a movie.  The movie I picked was Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which I’ve been looking forward to, since I’m a big fan of its director Brad Bird’s previous films The Iron Giant and The Incredibles (and to a lesser extent Ratatouille), and I was eager to see what he could achieve in live action.

And Bird didn’t disappoint me. This is the best M:I movie ever. It was the kind of movie I’d expect from an animation genius like Bird, full of richly imaginative visuals and action composition — and I don’t just mean action in the sense of fights and chases, but in the sense of cause and effect, one thing leading to another, like the delightful touch of the progression of Ethan’s goggles from the Burj Khalifa climbing scene through the meeting scene to the sandstorm scene. And it had a lot of Bird’s wonderful sense of humor as well, full of marvelously funny action gags (like Ethan going back to smack the phone when it didn’t self-destruct in five seconds, or trying to use the retinal scanner on the moving train car) and character bits (mainly Simon Pegg’s Benji and Jeremy Renner’s Brandt, who have a good comic interplay). It wasn’t as deep with the characters and emotions as The Incredibles was, but it was highly entertaining, with lots of inspired set pieces. I actually didn’t find the much-touted Burj Khalifa sequence to be the highlight of the film. There were so many other sequences that were just as cleverly scripted, designed, and executed, just as frenetic and intense. If anything, it was a little too much — I felt a bit overloaded by the end of it.  But it was too much of a good thing.

Best of all, it’s the first Ethan Hunt film that really feels worthy of the title Mission: Impossible.  Previously, this film “series,” if you can even call it that, was three radically different spy films reflecting their respective directors’ sensibilities more than they reflected each other or the television series they were named for.  Brian De Palma made a De Palma-style paranoid thriller with some trappings of Mission: Impossible.  John Woo made a Woo-style action thriller with even fewer trappings of M:I.  J. J. Abrams made Alias: The Movie with a pretty good M:I pastiche or two in the middle.  But Brad Bird actually went and made a Mission: Impossible movie.  Granted, it’s also an Ethan Hunt movie, with the characteristic wild action and agent-on-the-run tropes of that protagonist’s prior screen adventures.  And it’s the first of the Ethan Hunt films to actually feel like a continuation from its predecessor; sure, a lot had changed since the previous film, but at least those changes were explained, and there were character threads growing out of what the third film established (which makes sense, since Abrams produced this one).  But Ghost Protocol had more of the original M:I television series in its genetic makeup than any of the previous films — though it’s definitely filtered through Bird’s own voice and sensibilities as a filmmaker.

It started with the main titles. Not only did Bird bring in the iconic fuse-lighting motif as part of the actual action, which was inspired, but he used it to segue into a main title sequence that took the same basic concept as the original series’ titles — the burning fuse superimposed over a progression of scenes from the story we were about to see — and amped it up into a very dynamic, visually imaginative, Pixaresque sequence. Then there’s Michael Giacchino’s music with its liberal use of Lalo Schifrin’s main title theme and an excellent use of Schifrin’s “The Plot” motif leading into and during the Kremlin sequence (though it’s a shame he didn’t use “The Plot” anywhere else in the movie), not to mention peppering the score with Schifrinesque bongos and violin vibratos, so that it felt more like an extension of the original series’ music than any of the previous films’ scores. But it felt like the original M:I in content as well as style. It’s the most team-driven of the movies, not just Ethan plus his support group, but a full ensemble piece throughout like the original was (though with a smaller team size than the series usually had in its first five seasons).  It’s also the first of the movies that didn’t have a romantic subplot per se for Hunt, so the focus was more heavily on the progression of the mission, as it was in the show (there were occasional M:I episodes that gave the leads romances, but such personal involvements were rare exceptions, not the rule they’ve been onscreen).  The IMF is still implicitly a much larger, more centralized bureaucracy as it’s been in the films, but the storyline keeps it mostly off-camera, letting the film feel more like the series, where the team was never seen in any kind of official headquarters and their superiors were invisible and implicit.  (Okay, we actually met “the Secretary” here, a major subversion of the show’s conventions, but it was brief.)  It’s a good compromise between the established realities of the movie universe and the flavor and approach of the show.

And some of the gambits they used were right out of the show. The idea of hiding from guards behind a projection screen, as Ethan and Benji did in the Kremlin hallway, is a modernized, amped-up, much more convincing (and funnier) version of a gambit the original series used in “The Falcon, Part 3.” Controlling the elevators to direct the mark to a duplicate room a floor away from the real one was used in “The Double Circle.” Intercepting both parties in a meeting, having them respectively meet different team members in adjacent rooms, was a gambit they used in “Orpheus” and probably other episodes. And the way Benji helped Brandt get into the server room was in the spirit of the sort of behind-the-scenes stuff Barney and Willy routinely did in the original show, using clever, high-tech equipment to sneak through tunnels and shafts and so forth.  Sure, having the tech go wrong so often was a subversion, something we infrequently saw in the show, but even as a subversion it felt like a reaction to the series’ defining tropes more than those of the movies.

Although Agent Carter, despite sharing a surname with Cinnamon Carter (and I didn’t catch onto that until after the film), was something of a subversion as well, in that she tended to have a much more brute-force approach than was standard in the original series, beating answers out of people instead of tricking them, and she almost fumbled her seduction assignment (though she looked really good in that green dress at the party — not quite as striking as Maggie Q’s dress in the third movie, but almost).  Aside from Hunt, she was the main thing that felt more like part of the movie universe than the TV universe.  But she felt like an outsider trying to adjust to the more clever and devious way of doing things, so that still makes it feel (at least to me) like the movie is treating the show’s approach as the standard.

I had a nice little experience in the final scene of the film. When Brandt was starting to confess to Ethan about the thing he was all angsty over (I don’t want to spoil it), I realized what the upcoming surprise revelation was going to be, and I gasped in delight and leaned forward in anticipation. And then a few lines later, just before the reveal, a woman in the row in front of me — whose face I could see now that I was leaning forward — gasped in realization just as I had.  It was nice to (sort of) share that moment with someone else. Sometimes, even in this age of cell phones and relentless chatter and shoddily run, overpriced theaters, there’s value to seeing a movie with an audience rather than alone at home.

(And no, this isn’t the kind of detailed analysis I did for the TV series.  Maybe someday, I’ll do that for all four movies, just to be thorough, but not yet.)

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1966-73): Full series overview

December 3, 2011 2 comments

Well, it’s been a long run — seven seasons, 171 episodes, 163 distinct adventures.  And the series went through a lot of changes over the years.  Appropriate, perhaps, since it was conceived with constant change in mind.  Let’s try for some highlights:

Season 1

Regulars:  Government agent Dan Briggs (Steven Hill), fashion model Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), engineer Barney Collier (Greg Morris), and strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus).  Actor-magician Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) is de facto regular despite being listed as “Special Guest Star” throughout.

Initially an anthology-style show, with highly variable team composition and focus on guest agents of the week, though the focus soon shifted more to the regulars.  Briggs’s role gradually diminished due to conflicts of Hill’s Orthodox Judaism with series shooting schedule.  Briggs sometimes assembled teams but did not join them in the field.  Landau became the effective series lead despite not being a regular.  No cast member appeared in every episode.

Stories were initially more character-driven, often featured plots going wrong, team improvising.  By late season, had become more formulaic: characters were ciphers, plans more often proceeded like clockwork.

Only a couple of episodes dealt with stateside organized crime, and one of those was not a government mission.

Originally “tape scenes” used many recording formats (once even a printed card), often needing to be destroyed by Briggs rather than self-destructing.  “This tape will self-destruct” line emerged late-ish.  Several tape sequences reused.

Dossier scenes introduced — useful due to variable team composition.  Major guest stars (especially Landau) often credited over their dossier photos.

Team members were not pro agents, drawn from all walks of life.  Briggs evidently running unofficial black-ops missions with deniability for government.  Even this early, though, the team sometimes cooperated openly with government agencies, a trend that would only increase over time.

Foreign missions usually in unnamed foreign countries, sometimes leading to awkwardly evasive phrasing in tape briefings.

At first, prosthetics handled relatively plausibly: convincing impersonations required actor resembling subject, altered with prosthetics; full-face masks were limited in effectiveness.  By mid-season, masks allowed perfect imitations but one couldn’t eat in them.  By end of season, masks could be lived in for days, sweated through, even survive electroshock therapy undamaged.  This fanciful approach was norm for rest of series.

  • Best Episodes: A lot to choose from, but I’d say “The Short Tail Spy,” “Pilot,” and the 2-parter “Old Man Out,”  in roughly that order.
  • Worst Episodes: I’d say the morally distasteful “Shock,” followed by the ludicrous “Zubrovnik’s Ghost” and the geopolitically problematical “Action!”

Season 2

Regulars: Government agent Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), Rollin Hand,  Cinnamon Carter, Barney Collier, Willy Armitage.

Although Landau had effectively become the lead by late season 1, he was only willing to commit on a season-by-season basis, so Graves was brought in as the new star when Hill left.

Routine and formulaic season, more standardized team composition.  Some efforts to vary formula toward end of season.

Tape scenes more standardized; nearly half were reused.  From now on, the season’s tape scenes would all be shot ahead of time and cut into episodes at random.  Still various delivery methods.  Dossier sequences remain to introduce team variations and guest agents (less prominent than before); only Graves and Landau are in every episode.

More episodes focusing on domestic crime.

Two “off-book” missions, one personal, one accidental.  The next couple of seasons would continue to have only a couple of significant departures from formula per season, always in the latter half.

  • Best Episodes: “Echo of Yesterday,” followed by “Trial by Fury” and “The Town.”
  • Worst Episodes: “Charity” is the most weak and pointless episode, followed by “The Killer” and “The Counterfeiter.”

Season 3

Regulars: No change.

Still mostly routine, but stronger, with more danger, uncertainty, very occasional humanizing of regulars.

Tape scenes pretty standardized, fewer reuses.  Still various recording formats.  Dossier scenes used only in the seven episodes featuring guest team members beyond the core cast.  Only Jim, Rollin in every episode, but only one episode, “Nicole,” featured fewer than four of the regulars.

A third of season set in United States; comparable organized-crime focus to S2.

While several earlier episodes involved exploiting supernatural beliefs, this season began the trend of faking science-fictional premises, and of trying to convince skeptics of paranormal claims.

  • Best Episodes: “Nicole,” followed by “The Mind of Stefan Miklos” and “The Interrogator.”
  • Worst Episodes: “The Freeze,” followed by “The Bargain,” and a toss-up between “The Elixir” and “Nitro.”

Season 4

Regulars: Jim Phelps, impersonator/magician The Great Paris (Leonard Nimoy), Barney Collier, Willy Armitage.  First season where Barney is in every episode.  Only one episode lacks one of the four regulars (Willy).

No regular female lead; featured roughly a dozen guest female agents, with only Tracey (Lee Meriwether) recurring. Dossier sequences thus returned weekly, usually crediting guest actresses over their photos.  Hartford and Globe Repertory Companies added for missions requiring large groups of players.

Tape scenes all featured magnetic tapes (reel-to-reel or 8-track cartridge) that self-destructed.

Trend toward US-based and organized-crime episodes reversed, with only two of each (only one that was both).  Most consistent overseas-espionage focus since season 1.  Otherwise, a fairly formulaic season, though with a few notable departures.

Fictitious foreign countries now usually named instead of nameless.  Lots of People’s Republics.

Last season to have multi-part episodes, including the series’ only 3-parter.

  • Best Episodes: “Submarine” by a landslide, followed by the 2-part “The Controllers” and the 3-part “The Falcon.”
  • Worst Episodes: The season finale “The Martyr” hands down, followed by “Terror” and “Mastermind.”

Season 5

Regulars: Jim Phelps, Paris, Barney, agent/actress Dana Lambert (Lesley Ann Warren, billed as Lesley Warren) all in every episode.  Willy reduced to semi-regular, more or less alternating with Dr. Doug Robert (Sam Elliott), but both listed as main-title regulars when they appeared.

A formula-breaking season that reverted to the approach of early season 1: more exploration of character, more serious disruptions of missions or unexpected twists.  Jim, Paris, and Barney all got episodes delving into their pasts or personal lives.  We more often saw the team as themselves rather than subsumed in roles.  There seemed to be a conscious effort to question, subvert, and deconstruct the familiar conventions of the series.  If anything, this was overdone in the first half, with the second half reverting more often to more conventional cases, though still fresher, deeper, more suspenseful, less formulaic than in past.

Record number of US-based episodes and of organized crime episodes.  Fewer fictitious country names, but several real countries cited.  Only season to have an episode based in East Asia, aside from the teaser of the S6 finale.

New main-title theme arrangement in majority of episodes.  New, more contemporary music style in several episode scores.

Teaser/cold open added before main titles; introduction to villains preceded tape scene.  No variation in recording devices.  “Secretary will disavow” line dropped from US missions and season finale.

Dossier sequences permanently dropped, despite frequent use of supporting team members.  Nearly a third of episodes began in medias reswith no tape or apartment briefing.  (Note that season 4′s “Lover’s Knot” anticipated many season 5 changes: an opening scene before the tape, the lack of an apartment briefing, a story with personal involvement and a hint of intra-team conflict.)

  •  Best Episodes : This could be a long list, but “The Amateur” surely tops it.  “The Innocent” is a strong second, and I’ll give third place to “The Party,” though it has plenty of competition.
  • Worst Episodes: Nothing’s really bad, but the only two weak-ish ones are “Kitara” and “The Rebel.”

Season 6

Regulars: Jim Phelps, Barney Collier, actress/makeup expert Casey (Lynda Day George), Willy Armitage.  Doug Robert made one final appearance.  First season where Willy appears in every episode; only season where all credited regulars appear in every episode.

Focus shifted from international espionage to fighting organized crime in US. The only partial venture outside the US was part of a crimefighting case, and the sole espionage mission was in Los Angeles.

With the reduced cast, Barney and Willy more often called on for core role-playing rather than technical assistance or supporting role-play; thus the focus shifted away from mechanics/logistics, more toward interpersonal manipulation and deception.

Teasers still in use.  Theme music back to original arrangement (or nearly so).

Tape sequences standard, except for one phonograph record.   “Secretary will disavow” line permanently gone;  “conventional law enforcement agencies” line now standard. Cooperation of police, authorities, and multiple supporting players  now standard, rendering secret, self-destructing tape drops rather pointless.

  •  Best Episodes: “Encounter,” followed by “Nerves” and “Double Dead.”
  • Worst Episodes: “Image,” followed by “Run for the Money” and “Encore.”

Season 7

Regulars: Jim Phelps, Barney Collier, Willy Armitage.  Lynda Day George still billed as regular but spent much of season on maternity leave, so Casey “reassigned to Europe.”  Ex-con Mimi (Barbara Anderson) joins on recurring basis, plus two one-shot female agents.

Focus still on domestic crimebusting, with abundant cooperation from authorities, bit players.  However, three episodes set outside US, roughly a half-dozen involving domestic terrorism or international intrigue.

No more pre-credits teaser, but intro scene before tape still used.  Episode credits now shown over/before tape scene.  Series logo no longer included with episode credits.  “Conventional law enforcement agencies” line used intermittently.

Studio-bound feel gives way to more striking location work.  Many tape scenes shot around San Francisco landmarks.  “Speed” shot largely on location in San Francisco.

New main title theme arrangement.  Very little original music in season.

First season with continuity: Casey’s absence, Mimi’s addition explained, a few episodes referenced past events or characters.

  • Best Episodes: “The Question” is the best of the past two seasons.  “The Deal” comes second, followed by “Speed.”
  • Worst Episodes: “The Western,” followed by “Incarnate” and “The Fountain.”

Mission: Impossible started out as a series in which music played a central role.  Like CSI today, a lot of its content consisted of scenes of experts doing slow, meticulous work to the accompaniment of prominent musical passages.  Although most of this music was built around only two Lalo Schifrin leitmotifs — the main title theme and “The Plot,” the standard motif for the team’s machinations — it had a great deal of variety and was provided by a number of skilled composers, primarily Schifrin but including Walter Scharf, Gerald Fried, Jerry Fielding, Robert Drasnin, Richard Markowitz, and others.   The early seasons featured the largest number of original episode scores, but as the series went on and its budget was trimmed, the music budget suffered and the series became more reliant on stock cues.  The fifth season is notable for introducing a new, more contemporary musical style in several of its episodes, but the final two seasons’ music is largely repetitive and unimpressive.   It’s an unfortunate trend.

List of M:I’s composers by number of episode scores (plus episodes where they were credited but I noticed no new music):

  • Lalo Schifrin:  c. 21 scores (c. 23 credited), seasons 1-7
  • Richard Markowitz: 9 scores, S3-4
  • Robert Drasnin: c. 7 scores (8 credited), S2-3, 5-6
  • Gerald Fried: 6 scores, S1-4
  • Jerry Fielding: 6 scores, S2-4
  • Walter Scharf:  5 scores, S1-2
  • Benny Golson: 4 scores, S5-6
  • Richard Hazard: 3 scores, S4-5 (+1 credited, S6)
  • Robert Prince: 2 scores, S5-6
  • Jacques Urbont: 1 score, S1
  • Don Ellis: 1 score, S1
  • Harry Geller: 1 score, S5
  • Hugo Montenegro: 1 score, S5
  • George Romanis: 1 score, S6
  • Duane Tatro: 1 score, S7
  • Herschel Burke Gilbert & Rudy Schrager: 1 original song, S3
  • Uncredited source music/new arrangements (possibly by music supervisor Kenyon Hopkins): 1 episode each, S4, 6-7

My favorite composers were Scharf, Fried, and Fielding, though Drasnin did some impressive work, and Schifrin certainly deserves recognition for defining the show’s musical style.  Least favorite is Hugo Montenegro.

Note that although M:I was the sister production of Star Trek and had a fair amount of overlap in cast and crew, the only composers on this list who ever worked on ST are Fried and Fielding, who worked on the original series around the same time they were doing M:I, and Romanis, who did one ST:TNG episode in its debut 1987-8 season.  The only one of these composers to work on the ’88 M:I revival series is Schifrin, who scored the premiere episode and whose themes (main title and “The Plot”) were used as consistently there as in the original series.

So how would I rank the seven seasons of M:I?

1) Season 5: The best writing, the most imaginative and versatile storytelling, the richest characterizations.  No season had more surprises and twists or made the characters work harder for their victories.  However, it works largely as a reaction to the formulas that came before, so it should be watched in that context rather than by itself.

2) Season 1: The one that started it all and showed what the series could’ve been if it hadn’t been taken over by formula.  If the whole season had been on a par with the first half, it would take the lead over season 5, due to a stronger cast, better music, and the more flexible, diverse team compositions.  But instead it trended downhill and ended up locking in the formula that would define the majority of the series.  It established both the best and the worst of what M:I would be.

3) Season 3: Though generally formulaic, it handles the formula solidly and effectively, with excellent scripting, production values, direction, and music.  It also deserves recognition for its upward trend; as the season progressed, it added more suspense and danger and pitted the team against worthier adversaries.

4) Season 4: An uneven but generally satisfying season, largely routine but with a few impressive format-breakers and multi-part epics, and featuring “Submarine,” one of the finest episodes of the entire series.  Also benefits from strong music.

5) Season 7: Comfortably routine, with few real gems but few duds.  Mostly entertaining if uninspired, but it includes one episode, “The Question,” that’s as good as almost anything in season 5.  The weakest season musically.

6) Season 6: This is a close one.  More standout episodes than season 7 (though nothing equalling “The Question”), but more middling to weak episodes as well, so the average is slightly lower, the season less consistently satisfying as a whole.

7) Season 2: The most routine, formulaic, and mediocre season overall.  It just didn’t bring as much interest to the formula as the other formulaic seasons did. However, it’s one of the strongest seasons musically.

For the heck of it, here’s a list of regular or recurring IMF team members by number of episodes, counting only cast members from the original series and not the 1988 revival.  (Nor am I counting Barney and Casey’s appearances in the revival, since they were not technically IMF team members in those stories.)

  • Barney Collier: 166 (plus at least 1 offscreen assist)
  • Willy Armitage: 147
  • Jim Phelps: 143 (plus 35 episodes of revival)
  • Rollin Hand: 76
  • Cinnamon Carter: 71
  • The Great Paris: 49
  • (Lisa) Casey: 34 (plus 6 offscreen assists)
  • Dan Briggs: 27 (only on mission in 20)
  • Dana Lambert: 23
  • Doug Robert: 13
  • Mimi Davis: 7
  • Tracey: 6 (4 distinct missions)
  • Dr. Green (Allen Joseph): 2 (plus 1 offscreen assist)
  • Dave (Walker Edmiston): 2

Also, the Voice on Tape (Bob Johnson) is heard in 157 episodes, although 8 of those are recaps in multiparters, so it comes out to only 149 distinct tape briefings — plus all 35 episodes of the ’88 revival.

Some comparisons of the different team members:

Best Team Leader: Candidates: Dan Briggs, Jim Phelps

Dan was in some respects a more interesting and edgy character, but tended to be somewhat colder and capable of considerable ruthlessness.  Jim was more whitebread, but it was easier to like him as a series lead and to believe he could win and hold the team’s loyalty.  He could also play a wide range of character types more effectively than Dan.  The vote goes to Jim.

Best Second-in-Command: Candidates: Rollin Hand, Barney Collier

Rollin took over as team leader when Dan was written out of “Action!” and when Jim was abducted in “The Town.”  Also, Rollin was effective field leader in several first-season episodes where Dan stayed behind.  Barney filled in as team leader when Jim was missing in “Trapped” and abducted in “Kidnap.”  Both performed effectively in the role, so it’s a tough call.  But I’m inclined to give the vote to Barney, given that the naturalness with which he fell into a leadership role was impressive for someone who was nominally an engineer — and for an African-American character in a 1960s-70s show.  Even when he wasn’t in a leadership role, his intellect and discipline always made him the linchpin of the team.

Best Master of Disguise: Candidates: Rollin Hand, Paris, Casey

Most of the team members engaged in roleplay, but these were the three whose expertise was primarily in impersonation, makeup, and voice mimicry.  The vote goes to Rollin, for Martin Landau was simply the most versatile and effective character actor of the three.  Leonard Nimoy did his best to show his range as a character actor and get away from Spock, but he felt like an inadequate substitute for Rollin, though at least in season 5 there was some attempt to give him a distinct personality of his own.  The deck is stacked against Casey in the disguise role since the producers were reluctant to do stories that involved hiding her gorgeous face, so she tended to do her makeup work on behalf of others or got to play characters who happened to look enough like her that she didn’t need a mask.  She was a very effective roleplayer and character actress, however.

Best Tech Guy: Barney Collier by default.  Who else do you need?

Best Regular/Recurring Female Agent: Candidates: Cinnamon Carter, Tracey, Dana Lambert, Casey, Mimi

Yes, it’s a bit chauvinistic to treat “female agent” as a category, but that’s the way the role was defined in the show (except to an extent for Casey).  If this were a beauty contest, Casey would win hands down.  And Tracey, who was played by an actual Miss America, would score pretty highly too.  But in terms of overall quality… hmm.  Cinnamon could be quite strong or quite seductive when she chose to be.  She was certainly impressive in the first season.  But as the series went on, Barbara Bain seemed to get less invested in the role and phoned in her performances more.  Some of her characterizations didn’t work well for me; the cold, professional women she played all too often were too flat of affect to be very engaging, and when she got emotional or tearful, she reminded me too much of Lucy Ricardo.  Casey was more bland and Barbie-ish overall than Cinnamon, but that means she had fewer negatives as well as fewer strong positives.  Dana is also a strong candidate in terms of performance, personality, and range, and benefitted from being in the season with the best writing; her roles started to feel a bit repetitive as the season wore on, but then, so did Cinnamon’s.  Aww, heck, let’s say the best is first-season Cinnamon, followed by Dana, then Casey, then later Cinnamon.  Of the two recurring women, Tracey was lovelier, but Mimi was more engaging overall and got more to do.

Best One-shot Female Agent: I won’t list all the candidates, but my favorite guest female agent was Crystal Walker (Mary Ann Mobley) from season 1′s “Old Man Out.”  The runners-up would include Andrea (Elizabeth Ashley) from “The Question” (S7) and three agents from season 4: Gillian (Anne Francis) from “The Double Circle,” Lisa (Michele Carey) from “The Brothers,” and Monique (Julie Gregg) from “Amnesiac.”  Though I might be ranking Monique higher than she deserves because of Julie Gregg’s wonderful performance in a different role in S5′s “Decoy.”

Best “Other Guy”: Candidates: Willy Armitage, Dr. Doug Robert

Of course, a muscleman and a doctor aren’t really comparable roles, but in season 5 the producers intermittently replaced Willy with Doug and considered making it permanent, so it’s worth comparing the two.  Willy wins by a landslide.  Certainly having a doctor on the team on a regular basis was a useful idea, but even though Doug was added with the evident intention of replacing the fairly taciturn, limited acting of Peter Lupus with someone more verbal and involved in the roleplaying, Sam Elliott at the time turned out to be a pretty weak character actor, no more emotive than Willy and utterly dreadful at the foreign accents the team was called upon to adopt (though that might not have been a problem if he’d been added to the cast a year later).  And in the final two seasons, when the smaller cast required Willy to broaden his role and do more acting, Lupus rose to the occasion fairly well.  So there’s simply no contest here.

Best One-shot Male Agent: There were few male guest stars who played significant roles on the team, due to the nature of the show.  The most memorable candidates would pretty much be Joseph Baresh (Albert Paulsen) from S1′s “Memory”; Akim Hadramut (Steve Franken) from S2′s “The Slave”; the reluctant Jerry Carlin (Christopher Connelly) from S5′s “The Innocent”; Steve Johnson (Lawrence Montaigne) from S6′s “The Miracle”; and Khalid (Joseph Ruskin) from S7′s  “The Puppet.”  But only Baresh and Carlin stand out as interesting characters.  I’ll give Baresh the edge on the strength of the actor.

As always, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of this blog.  Please dispose of this post in the usual manner.  Good luck.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season 7 Overview

After the daring and deconstruction of season 5, season 6 of Mission: Impossible returned to the more formulaic approach of seasons 2-4.  The seventh and final season continued in much the same vein.  It still focused mainly on domestic crimefighting, though the team did travel abroad a bit more often than in season 6 and had more than one episode involving espionage or terrorism.  As in season 6, there’s also less focus on gadgets and meticulous preparation than in previous seasons and more emphasis on roleplaying and manipulation.  As a result of this, as well as the reduced cast size, Greg Morris and particularly Peter Lupus were both able to show off their acting chops more than before.  Although it was somewhat more expansive in content, the final season was more consistent in quality than the preceding one, with fewer bad episodes but fewer superb ones.

The finest episode of the season — in fact, the finest since season 5 — is without a doubt “The Question,” a marvelous mindgame thriller that would’ve fit right into the inventive, ambitious fifth year.  Second-best is “The Deal,” with its multilayered plan and character tension.  Both of these were scripted by year 7′s story editor Stephen Kandel (known to Star Trek fans as the creator of Harry Mudd, and a future MacGyver producer).  “Speed” is also a high point for its extensive San Francisco location shooting and a strong story that diverged from formula.  “Two Thousand” stands out for its post-apocalyptic flavor and striking location work, and “Leona” for strong characterization.  Most of the rest of the season, I’d say fully half the episodes, hovered around the same modestly-above-average level, routine but reasonably effective.  “Kidnap” stands out as the season’s only off-book mission, but feels disappointingly routine for it, and suffers from a half-hearted attempt at continuity.  “Cocaine” is a modestly effective episode undermined by a flawed, overly cluttered plot.  “Hit” is a decent try that’s damaged by serious flaws.  “The Fountain” is a contrived and awkward mess.  “Incarnate” is silly and borderline racist, and “The Western” is awful, a bizarre patchwork that consists mostly of useless and disconnected subplots.

The season was strongly affected by Lynda Day George’s pregnancy and maternity leave.  “Two Thousand,” “Leona,” “Underground,” and “Speed” were apparently the first ones filmed, late in George’s pregnancy; her role in these was diminished and she was shot only from the shoulders up when she appeared at all, and in “Leona” and “Speed” Casey was mostly in disguise, played by different actresses.  Practically the whole plot of “Speed” was written around George’s diminished presence.  Casey is missing entirely from ten further episodes: She is replaced by Barbara Anderson as Mimi in “Break,” “The Deal,” “TOD-5,”  “Cocaine,” “Movie,” “Hit,” and “Ultimatum”; by Marlyn Mason as Sandy in “Crack-Up”; by Elizabeth Ashley as Andrea in “The Question”; and by no one in “Imitation,” the only episode of the season with no female team member.  So George only participates in a major way in eight episodes this season: “Kidnap,” “The Puppet,” “Incarnate,” “Boomerang,” “The Fountain,” “The Fighter,” “The Pendulum,” and “The Western.”  These eight must have been shot after her return from maternity leave.  However, the episodes were broadcast in a very different order, presumably to spread out the non-Casey episodes rather than have them clumped together.

But this season features a first for M:I — a modicum of concern for continuity.  In past seasons, changes of team composition were never explained, except by the expedient of the dossier scenes showing the team leader choosing the participants.  Regular characters missing from an episode were almost never mentioned, except for one or two early episodes where Barney was not present but was referenced as the builder of a gadget employed in the story.  But here, Casey’s absence was explained by having her on assignment in Europe, and in most of the episodes without Lynda Day George, passing references were made to Casey making an offscreen contribution, either creating a mask used in the episode or carrying out a Europe-based part of the plan.  The only episodes in which Casey was not referenced were “Ultimatum,” “Crack-Up,” and “Imitation.”  Mimi is also the only regular or recurring team member to get an origin story explaining how she came to join the IMF.

In addition to the female agents listed above, the core team of Jim Phelps, Barney Collier, and Willy Armitage was assisted by the following individuals:

02 Two Thousand: Det. White (Don Diamond); actors playing Sergeant (Barry Cahill), Admiral (Harry Lauter), Marshall (Mort Mills), and others; police chief cooperates
03 The Deal: Repertory co. incl. Lt. Blair (Paul Gleason); Casey assists offscreen
04 Leona: Driver (uncredited), laundry truck driver (uncredited, Ed McCready?); cooperation from cops incl. Plainclothesman (Dick Valentine)
05 TOD-5: Repertory players incl. Green (James McCallion); Casey assists offscreen; population of Woodfield cooperates
06 Cocaine: Cooperation from Frank Fallon, police, government
07 Underground: Police cooperate
08 Movie: Voice impersonator Dave (Walker Edmiston); police cooperate
09 Hit: Impersonator Jack (uncredited); prison warden & police cooperate
10 Ultimatum: Large task force incl. announcer Carl (Fred Holliday), operator Lisa (Judith Brown), & actor Jack (Dale Tarter); police incl. Patrolman Frank Daggett (Vince Howard) and Sergeant (Bob Legionaire)
11 Kidnap: Dowager (Monty Margetts)
12 Crack-Up: Dr. Adler (Arthur Franz), Orderly (Michael Masters, uncredited)
13 The Puppet: Impersonator Hank (Richard Devon); actor Khalid (Joseph Ruskin); possibly travel agent (Shirley Washington)
14 Incarnate: Group of “voodoo” dancers; unidentified actor impersonating Robert O’Connell (Solomon Sturges)
15 Boomerang: Impersonator Bert (uncredited)
17 The Fountain: Unidentified extras; police cooperate
18 The Fighter: Voice impersonator Dave (Walker Edmiston)
19 Speed: Driver (George P. Wilbur); police and Ramsay Sanitarium staff cooperate
20 The Pendulum: Telephone operator (Beverly Moore); impersonator Manny (Don Reid); ensemble including Arab (Peter Mamakos)
21 The Western: Driver (Troy Melton), stuntman (uncredited)
22 Imitation: Impersonator/jeweler Duval (Ray Ballard, uncredited); electronics store clerk (uncredited)

Note that Walker Edmiston (who had done many prior uncredited voiceover roles) appears twice as Dave, although he’s credited in “Movie” as Waley and in “The Fighter” as Rawls.  This might be a case where the role was scripted as a different character but the director or actors chose to inject a touch of continuity by using his previous character’s name.  Dave is the first recurring minor team member we’ve had since the first season’s Dr. Green (Allen Joseph), who appeared twice and was referenced as an offscreen participant once.  I’m not counting the Hartford and Globe Repertory Companies since no specific characters were ever established for them and I’m not aware of any credited actors who recurred as company members (though some extras probably did).

As mentioned above, continuity was a new feature this season.  For the first time, we had episodes referring back to elements of previous adventures.  “Kidnap” was a nominal sequel to season 6′s “Casino,” though it contradicted many of the particulars of that episode.  In “Incarnate,” Jim used the name of a gangster who appeared in “Movie” as a character reference; and for the first time (as far as I recall), a team member adopted the same false identity on two separate occasions, with Jim playing hitman Dave Riker in both “Boomerang” and “The Fighter.”  Okay, it’s the barest bones of continuity by today’s standards, but it was a novelty for Mission: Impossible, whose episodes generally had so little continuity that they might as well have been in alternate universes from one another.

Another new feature this season, and an outstanding one, is the impressive location work.  The past few seasons felt very studio-bound, with the Paramount backlot becoming very familiar and the Paramount office buildings showing up in slightly redressed form almost every week.  Season 7 took the production out of the studio far more often, making extensive use of varied and striking locations.  In particular, most of the tape sequences of the season and the majority of the episode “Speed” were filmed on location in San Francisco (probably around the same time).  This would imply that Jim Phelps and the team were based in San Francisco, since it stands to reason that Jim would get the tape drops near his home.  However, he seems to have the same apartment he had in previous seasons where the tape drops were recognizably in Los Angeles, and there’s at least one tape drop this season that’s near LA City Hall.  Again, we may need to invoke alternate universes.

As before, the tape messages this season lack the line “If any of your IM Force are caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”  That line was abandoned near the end of season 5 and will not be heard again until the 1988 revival.  However, the references to “conventional law enforcement agencies” which were used in most 6th-season episodes are only in around 13 episodes this season. All in all, there were 19 distinct tape scenes this season, two of which were partially used twice; only one episode, “Kidnap,” had no tape scene. Twelve of the tape scenes were shot in exterior locations, mostly San Francisco landmarks.  Two others combined an exterior “arrival” shot with an interior tape sequence.  All the tape scenes used the standard small reel-to-reel tape except for “TOD-5,” which used a phonograph record (so I guess it wasn’t really a tape scene).  It’s worth noting that only one episode in the entire series, season 2′s “The Seal,” ever used a standard cassette tape to deliver the briefing.  This is odd, since I’m sure cassettes were in standard use by the last couple of seasons.  All the tape scenes this season featured self-destructing media.

Speaking of locations, while only a portion of one sixth-season episode took place outside of the US, three 7th-season missions took place mostly or entirely overseas: “The Deal” and “Incarnate” on fictitious Caribbean island nations (Camagua and Jamada, respectively), “The Fountain” in Northern Mexico.  There are also five episodes that, while US-based, depart from crimefighting to deal with terrorism or international intrigue: “Two Thousand,” “TOD-5,” “Ultimatum,” “The Question,” “The Pendulum.”  (“The Deal” is a hybrid mob/intrigue story, about mobsters backing an overseas coup.  One could also count “Imitation” as a borderline case, since a small part of the episode deals with infiltrating an unfriendly nation’s embassy, and since there are international stakes if their crown jewels are lost.)  So while the season continued the previous year’s format of the IMF as primarily a mob-busting team, it featured more of the kinds of cases the organization was formed to handle.

Musically, this is by far the least impressive season of M:I.  Only two episodes featured full original scores: “Underground” by Lalo Schifrin and “Ultimatum” by one-time composer Duane Tatro.  Both are decent but unremarkable.  “The Puppet” had a small amount of new music, I believe.  Several other episodes credited Schifrin as composer but featured no new music that I could discern.  Conversely, “Incarnate” had new source music and atmospherics but no credited composer.  There is also a new arrangement of the main title theme, making this the only season other than the 5th to use a variant arrangement.

So that’s the end of the original Mission: Impossible.  All in all, it’s a reasonably good wrap-up.  While it’s far short of the heights of seasons 1 and 5, it’s more stable in quality than the preceding season. It consists mostly of routine, but then, so did most of the series, as it turned out.  And as formula-dominated seasons go, it holds up relatively well — not brilliant (except in “The Question”), but generally well-executed and not unpleasant.  At least I can say that the show avoided any major deterioration in overall quality toward the end, and even went up a bit on average from its penultimate to final year, even if there were fewer outstanding episodes.  It didn’t go out with a bang, but I wouldn’t call it a whimper either.  It just stayed the course until it stopped.

Still to come, a retrospective of the entire original series.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Western”/”Imitation” (spoilers)

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.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Speed”/”The Pendulum” (spoilers)

November 24, 2011 1 comment

Yes, now we speed the pendulum, for the end draws ever nearer… umm….  Never mind.

“Speed”: We open in San Francisco — not just for the tape scene, but the whole episode this time.  Two men in a truck rip off a chemical company and report to mobster Sam Hibbing (Claude Akins) that they’ve now cornered the speed (amphetamine) market.  Jim gets the tape in a trainyard (I guess they don’t need a San Fran landmark when the whole episode’s set there) and is tasked with finding the amphetamine stash before it hits the street and putting Hibbing out of business.  Hibbing intends to auction the stolen speed off to the highest-bidding distributors.  Like last week, Jim’s plan involves using the gangster’s daughter, this time Margaret Hibbing (Jenny Sullivan), an avid motorcyclist who’s also become a speed addict to escape from the pain of her regular beatings at her abusive father’s hands, and to punish him at the same time.  Margaret is being pursued romantically by Snelling (Ross Hagen), the man who devises clever ways of delivering Hibbing’s drugs to the buyers; but Margaret doesn’t reciprocate his interest (logical, given her history of abuse by the dominant male in her life).  Barney’s mustache is back and Casey spends the apartment scene with her body hidden behind a movie projector — was this shot early in the season (while Lynda Day George was still pregnant) and held back until nearly the end?

While Barney plays a New Orleans mob representative making a deal with one of Hibbing’s regulars, Dayton (Charles Bateman), to provide financial backing for the auction.  Meanwhile, Willy rigs Margaret’s motorcycle before she goes out for a ride, and all the exterior location shooting makes a point of showing off that they’re honest and for truly in San Francisco, complete with a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  Out in front of a location which IMDb informs me is the Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum, Jim triggers the gizmo Willy planted to knock out her motorcycle engine, so they can knock her out and replace her with Casey disguised as Margaret.  She rides to meet daddy Hibbing and let him see how high she is before leading him on a lengthy chase through the streets of San Francisco (gee, that’d make a cool name for a TV show), as if they hadn’t already driven home enough that they’re actually shooting there.  The chase culminates with a staged crash that leaves Casey-as-Margaret “injured” on the pavement, but Hibbing is only concerned with removing the drugs from his daughter’s handbag so the cops won’t find them.

The hospital scene that follows is on the soundstage back at Paramount, but they’ve stuck a backdrop of San Fran in the window, with the Palace of Fine Arts serving as the highly visible landmark du jour.  Hibbing takes his time coming to visit, and is only concerned with checking “Margaret” out so she won’t reveal anything incriminating while on medication.  He discovers that “Margaret” has seen the light and a friend of hers — Jim — is going to help her get clean.  But Hibbing sends Jim away and threatens “Margaret” with being sent away somewhere hellish if she doesn’t behave.  Casey is surprised when a disreputable-looking biker type shows up at her door and leaves upon seeing Hibbing there.  Casey can only say she doesn’t know him.

But he comes back later and it’s clear he’s not only Margaret’s pusher but her lover, and he conveniently refers to himself in the third person so we and Casey know he goes by Zinc (Jesse Vint).  And he must be high himself, since he can’t tell from kissing “Margaret” that she’s wearing a latex mask.  He gives her drugs and pushes her (so to speak) to take them while he watches, which apparently is his fetish.  Luckily, Jim was alerted about this guy when Casey called earlier, and he now arrives to confront Zinc.  A fight ensues.  Zinc flees and Jim pursues, but loses him.  He goes to the real Margaret for information about Zinc, but she won’t tell him, no matter how much he urges her that he’s trying to help her — and he’s disappointed when she asks for drugs in exchange for the information.  It’s always nice to get these rare moments when the team members engage honestly with people rather than trying to trick them.

Once Casey/Margaret gets out of the hospital, Hibbing sends Phalen to investigate the air shipping service Jim’s character owns, and learns from disgruntled employee Willy about Jim’s money troubles and his violent temper which got him a decade in Leavenworth for killing a fellow officer in a fight.  (When Phalen asks how long Willy’s been with Jim, Willy answers, “on and off, two, three years.”  Would’ve been a nice in-joke if he’d said six years, on and off.)

Barney’s financial backing (with undetectable counterfeit money) lets Dayton win the auction, but Barney insists the drugs be in New Orleans by morning, a tricky proposition.  Hibbing needs to call in Snelling for the special job.  But Casey, getting a signal from Barney, has already called Snelling and invited him over, pretending that Margaret has finally warmed to him romantically.  When Snelling arrives, Casey signals Jim and then starts acting ultra-trippy.  Jim barges in and finds her spacing out with Snelling, then finds her pills (presumably the ones Zinc gave her, now repurposed).  She claims Snelling provided them, and Jim beats the crap out of him, then injects him with that old standby, the drug that simulates death.  With Snelling “dead,” Hibbing has lost his delivery man and is potentially out millions of dollars — but he has Jim on the hook for murder and pressures him to deliver the goods in Snelling’s place.  This will let Jim and the team follow him right to the drugs.  And the location porn isn’t done yet, since they’re in a warehouse near the east end of the Bay Bridge.

However, the plan is in danger of Zinc poisoning.  (Come on, I had to make a zinc pun somewhere.)  Mr. Zn sneaks into the Hibbing house and starts aggressively making out with a reluctant Casey/Margaret, clutching her head hard enough to pull off the edge of her mask.  Hibbing shows up and is outraged at Zinc’s presence — until Zinc rips Casey’s mask off.  Casey’s stunt double makes a break for it, crashes through the window, and runs away; Zinc pursues, but she eludes him.  But Hibbing now knows there’s a sting going on, and he rushes to the warehouse to intercept Jim.  He gets the drop on Jim, but Barney and Willy were hiding in Jim’s van and come out with guns drawn, shooting both Hibbing and Phalen.  But we cut to a headline saying “Hibbing indicted,” so it must not have been a fatal shot.  Margaret is “no longer afraid” now that daddy’s put away, so she’s made a conveniently sudden recovery and is ready to turn her life around, just like that.

Okay, that last scene was way too easy, but it’s what you expect from ’70s TV.  Otherwise, this is a very strong episode, written by Lou Shaw.  It has a lot of elements that raise it above the routine: the extensive San Francisco location filming, the presence of Zinc as a dangerous spoiler to the team’s plans, the out-of-character moments with the team, and the Jim-Margaret confrontation adding some honest drama.  It’s very clear, however, that this episode was written around Lynda Day George’s pregnancy.  We only see her face in a few scenes at the beginning and end, and the only time we see any part of her below the shoulders (in the very final shot), it’s pretty apparent that she’s massively pregnant.  So this episode must’ve been shot very early in the season — probably the last one produced of the episodes with Casey in a diminished role and Barney with a mustache, and the first one before the Mimi (and Sandy and Andrea) episodes.  It also stands to reason that the San Francisco shooting would’ve been done at the same time as the season’s tape scenes (recall that the tape scenes are generally shot all at once and then cut into the episodes one by one), which would presumably have been early in the season.  So it’s odd that they delayed airing this episode until so near the end of the season.

“The Pendulum”: Okay, I have to confess before starting to watch the episode that I’m almost hoping it’s awful so I can say “‘The Pendulum’ is the pits!”  But that would be a Poe excuse for humor.

Dean Stockwell plays Gunnar Malstrom, who’s appropriately named, since his first act is to gun down US general Weston (Frank Maxwell) and bury him, abetted by his secretary/hitman Bock (Scott Brady).  He reports to a terrorist organization called the Pendulum Group, run by the Leader (Jack Donner), whose position Malstrom covets.  One of their members has gotten plastic surgery to look like the late Weston.  They’re ready to begin an operation code-named Nightfall, which will let them take over the US military.  Jim’s mission is to find out what Nightfall is and stop it.  The tape scene, surprisingly, takes place near Los Angeles City Hall, and is an extended version of the tape scene from, I believe, “Leona,” which actually seems to be in a winery or something rather than a bar as I thought at the time.

Casey’s already been on a date with Malstrom before the apartment scene, and on their second date, she confides that she’s recruiting him for her organization — though Willy shows up and tells her she’s overreaching herself, and she leaves a very confused Malstrom behind.  The next day, Barney shows up at his office and asks to be put in contact with the Pendulum leader (and plants a bug).  Malstrom denies knowing anything about it, and after Barney leaves, he has a henchman check him out.  The operator at Barney’s hotel, working with the team, takes a bribe from the henchman to let him hear Barney making plans with international allies, which leads Malstrom to send Bock out of the country to investigate.  Unable to get details on Barney, Malstrom goes out with Casey again (at the same restaurant owned by Mike Apollo from “Leona,” at least in the establishing shot) and convinces her to take him to her organization’s HQ (which is represented in exteriors by the UC San Diego library).  The team arranges for him to overhear Barney talking about killing him, so he sneaks out.  He ends up in an office overlooking an auditorium where Willy is speaking to a bunch of multinational extras about their operations, which involve stirring up war and crisis to drive their arms sales.  Malstrom is discovered and taken prisoner.

Malstrom is strapped to a chair (that’s secretly a polygraph) and Barney grills him, but then Casey comes in as his defender.  The polygraph registers his reactions to the various names and entities they mention, tipping them off that Nightfall is targeted at the military.  Indeed, the Pendulum leader and the fake Gen. Weston are arranging a meeting of the joint chiefs at Weston’s home.  But then Bock shows up to see them and says that Malstrom’s acting suspicious, going off to meet with Casey’s group as soon as he thought Bock was in Europe.  The leader orders Bock to go after Malstrom and kill him.  They then rig a briefcase bomb to blow up the military chiefs once they arrive.

The team keeps questioning Malstrom until the polygraph registers rises at the mentions of assassination and General Weston.  Then they bring him in to see “Chief” Jim, who casually drops this information to Malstrom’s surprise, and says that Pendulum’s plans get in the way of his group’s competing plans for US takeover.  He wants to acquire Pendulum and install Malstrom as its leader, if he’ll call off Nightfall.  Malstrom won’t cooperate, but he lets slip that Nightfall is already pretty far along.  With time of the essence, Jim advances to Phase 2, which will involve arranging Malstrom’s escape and rescue by a Bock impersonator, who if I interpret the credits right is named Manny (Don Reid).  The team doesn’t know the real Bock is outside closing in.  This could get complicated.

Casey tries to win Malstrom over and slips a tracker/mike under his lapel when she gets affectionate.  Oddly, from this point to the end of the act, over 2 minutes, is missing on the Netflix stream, although I found a more complete (though time-compressed) version on YouTube.  (And the “Report Problem” screen on Netflix doesn’t include an option for “part of it is missing.”)  While Willy takes Malstrom back to his cell, Jim goes in person to warn the man he thinks is Gen. Weston of the plot, although Jim’s using a fake name and credentials for some reason.  Fake-Weston and the Leader decide to ask Jim to sit in on the meeting so he’ll be blown up with the rest.

The Netflix stream picks up with the military leaders assembling in Weston’s study.  Back to the UCSD library, Bock is closing in and the Bock-postor is getting ready.  Real Bock spots fake Bock, then stalks fake Bock, then clocks fake Bock.  So when he starts shooting at Malstrom (and conveniently missing), Willy and the guards think it’s just part of the scheme and Willy fires back with blanks — until a guard gets shot and Willy realizes it’s the real Bock firing real bullets.  So he swaps guns and takes down the real Bock, apparently nonfatally.  Malstrom gets away in a car as planned and heads for the meeting, with Casey and Barney following.

Worth noting: during the meeting, one of the military chiefs says that one of the main issues on the table is the monitoring of “the Soviet submarines at Petropavlovsk.”  This is the first and probably only mention of the Soviet Union in the entire series.  In the past, various fictional People’s Republics have stood in for it.  But that just underlines the futility of trying to construct a coherent alternative geopolitics for the M:I universe.

When Malstrom arrives and demands to see the general, the fake Weston takes the opportunity to activate the briefcase bomb and head out with the Leader.  They confront Malstrom, who urges them to call off Nightfall, but they say the bomb is seconds away from detonating, and then, believing he’s defected to the rival group, they shoot him.  Hearing this through the bug, Barney alerts Jim, who identifies the briefcase as the bomb and tosses it out the window.  Cut to Malstrom getting taken into an ambulance, looking up to see the team staring down at him.  The end.

This is a moderately effective episode.  As I’ve said before, it’s a nice change in these last couple of seasons when they get away from the organized-crime stuff and do stories with an espionage/political/fate-of-the-world focus, even if it means concocting domestic terrorist groups.  I think season 6 only had one such episode, but there have been several in season 7.  And there’s some nice suspense, with Bock infiltrating and threatening the plan and with Jim unknowingly showing his hand to the bad guys.  It’s always cool when the bad guys are a step ahead of the IMF.

I also want to note that its use of a polygraph was unusually credible for TV.  They didn’t embrace the myth of the polygraph as a “lie detector,” but instead treated it as what it really is, a means of detecting stress reactions.  By noting his reactions and evaluating them in the context of their interaction, they’re able to identify what terms and concepts evoke a strong reaction.  It’s maybe a little more reliable than it would really be, but it’s still a much more plausible portrayal of a polygraph than we usually see on TV.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Fountain”/”The Fighter” (spoilers)

“The Fountain”: Matthew Drake (Cameron Mitchell) is in a computer center — no, wait, it’s a crime computer center, maintaining the syndicate’s records in a state-of-the-art way (keeping in mind that in 1973, state-of-the-art computers meant big wall banks with spinning tape reels).  On behalf of the organization, he’s auditing the activities of Tom Bachman, an aging rival gangster who’s not happy about the scrutiny.  Bachman is played by George Maharis in blatantly fake makeup to make him appear middle-aged, so it’s a safe bet that this caper will somehow involve the team temporarily de-aging him somehow as they did with William Shatner in “Encore” (so we can guess what fountain the title is referring to).  But that’s getting ahead of the story.  Bachman and his men pull guns on Drake and the techs, and Bachman steals two reels of incriminating computer records (after helpfully giving exposition to the audience about what’s on them), locks everyone in the back room, then sets off a bomb (while his henchmen are still in the room).  Later, in one of the many novelty shops where Jim has received tape briefings (this one featuring a lot of tall, slender cat statues), Jim is told that Drake was only injured and is hunting for Bachman and the records.  The team must get the records before Drake does.

This is the third episode this season to be set outside the US, though just barely, in Northern Mexico.  The team has tracked Bachman there and they intercept the pilot hired to fly him back to the US, with Barney taking the pilot’s place and meeting Bachman in a local bar.  In a rather contrived setup for later, Bachman asks what kind of plane Barney has and Barney describes it right down to the color, while the barman listens in.  They fly off and Barney fakes engine trouble, then knockout-needles Bachman; upon landing, they partially rouse him and play a tape of plane-crash sounds.

Drake, whose left hand has been crippled and covered by a black glove, follows Bachman’s trail to the bar and pays the barman to tell what he heard, though Drake’s henchman Dawson (Luke Askew) would rather beat it out of him.  The barman tells all about the yellow single-engine plane that Barney so contrivedly described earlier.  Drake clenches his single gloved hand and professes his desire to hunt down Bachman and take revenge.  “He tasks me, and I shall have him!”  Well, no, he doesn’t actually say that, but with the one glove it is kind of a Khan-like moment.

Bachman awakens near the simulated wreckage of the plane and sees Barney bandaging a simulated broken leg and making a crutch from a (not-simulated) branch.  They limp through the woods and Barney leads them to a mansion where the rest of the team (and at least one extra) are pretending to be members of some sort of religious retreat.  Jim and Casey tell Bachman that Barney’s being tended to, but they don’t need doctors.  They say they’re members of the Fellowship of the Golden Circle, which is actually a “Moebius circle” with no end — though Lynda Day George pronounces it as a “Mowaybus circle.”  After Bachman comments on Casey’s old-fashioned name (she’s going by Charity) and she says it was common when she was a girl, Willy comes in with a “wounded” raccoon (actually drugged) and Casey feeds it some special water locked in a cabinet (actually injecting it with an antidote out of Bachman’s sight), and the raccoon has a miraculous recovery.  After they leave, Bachman checks a dusty old book Casey was holding (they’re in a rather lovely library set that I don’t recall them using before, perhaps borrowed from some other series) and finds a picture of her in it; the copyright date is 1861.

Bachman confronts Casey about this, but she’s evasive.  Everyone here is evasive, but very bad at it, since they keep leaving proof of their miracles lying around.  Willy has a photo of himself as a WWII pilot (though it’s an obvious cut-and-paste job, and I mean that in the literal pre-Photoshop sense), and when pilot Barney shows up with his broken leg healed, Jim tries to claim his leg was never broken.  Eventually Bachman spies on Casey going through a secret panel and follows her down to a grotto containing a spring.  He gets her to confess that the water gives healing and immortality provided she drinks every 48 hours, otherwise she swiftly reverts to old age and dies.  So she has to stay here, but she would like to leave with Bachman if they take some special water with them.  Jim shows up and, seeing that he’s onto the secret, lets him drink the water (after warning him that it’s a complex chemical compound with side effects).  Plus a knockout pill (the side effects) so they can dye his hair and inject paraffin into his wrinkles to make him look younger for a week.  And Casey puts on a mask of extreme mummification (probably a reuse of the makeup from “alien” Casey in last season’s “The Visitors”) under a mask of her normal face.

Meanwhile, Drake’s men have found the plane wreck and tracked down the mansion, and shortly after Bachman awakes and sees his new youth, the henchmen barge in and hold them all at gunpoint.  But this isn’t actually a disruption of the plan, since Bachman’s intention is to mend fences with Drake by offering him the water to cure his hand.  He goes with them and brings Casey and a sample of the water as proof.  Even though an earlier scene had Drake implicitly giving the bloodthirsty Dawson permission to kill everyone but Bachman, the goons simply leave without harming anyone, making the whole thing a fakeout.  The team follows them to Drake’s place.  Drake disbelieves Bachman’s story, but Bachman proves it by denying Casey the water.  While no one’s looking, she sprays her outer mask with a chemical that dissolves it and exposes the mummy mask beneath, and takes a pill to feign death.  Convinced, Drake agrees to mend fences, and Bachman agrees to hand over the records.  They go to where the records are hidden, but the team has followed and Jim and Barney come in with the cops.

This was the second episode in a row written by Stephen Kandel, and it’s bewildering that he’d go from the brilliant “The Question” to this mediocre caper.  The story doesn’t make a lot of sense.  How did they know that Bachman would be willing to make amends with Drake once he found a way to heal Drake’s hand?  I mean, this is the same guy who recently tried to kill Drake and sacrificed two of his own henchmen to do so.  I guess the idea is that it’s to get Drake to call off his vendetta, but still, how could they really have known he’d go for it?  It just seems like a ridiculously convoluted way to find Bachman’s hiding place.  And the subplot of Drake’s men hunting down the team felt like a cheat, because it ultimately played right into the plan as though Jim had intended it all along, and the threat of the bloodthirsty Dawson turned out to be toothless.  Overall, it’s rather disappointing, and coming right after the best episode of the season — by the same writer, no less — makes it even more of a letdown.

“The Fighter”: Boxer Gunner Loomis (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.) is unhappy with the mobsters who control his contract, the ruthless Braddock (Joe Maross) and his weak-willed partner Mitchell (William Windom), and foolishly tells them he’ll talk to the feds if they don’t release him from his contract.  Unluckily for him, Braddock has already called in a hitman to take care of him.  (He tells the hitter to “make it look like a hit-and-run,” which is odd, given that Loomis is killed in the shower.)  Jim goes into a big white Greco-Roman building to get the tape in an office; it might be San Francisco City Hall again, but I’m not sure.  And wouldn’t a government building be a strange place for a secret government agent to get a secret message?  Anyway, the mission is to get the goods on Braddock and Mitchell.  Mitchell is the weak link, a formerly honest promoter whom Braddock corrupted.  And his daughter Susan (Jenifer Shaw) is in love with one of Braddock’s boxers, Pete Novick (Geoffrey Deuel).  Jim plans to take advantage of that relationship, while protecting the two young innocents.

While sweet, innocent Susan gleefully watches her boyfriend and another man inflict cumulative, incurable neurological impairment on one another, Jim and Barney rip off the syndicate’s payroll.  Later, Barney shows up in Braddock’s office with an offer to buy out Pete’s contract, and the amount he offers is the exact amount just stolen.  Yes, he’s moving in on Braddock’s operation and is aggressive about it.  (And, bizarrely, he’s using the alias “Spanner.”)  Meanwhile, Casey plays reporter to interview Pete, and while he may be an “innocent,” he’s kind of a jerk, blowing off a date with sweet, innocent Susan to take the seductive blonde reporter up to his pad for an, err, interview.  (Also he’s got a “look the other way” policy toward his promoters’ corruption.)  But Willy’s rigged Pete’s car with remote servos and given Casey the controller, and she sticks him with a drug that makes him woozy for exactly 2 minutes and then knocks him out (oh, come on!), just long enough to see motorcyclist Willy speeding headlong toward him and then passing out as Casey remote-steers the car out of Willy’s way.  They stage an accident scene which Casey photos, and then she comes to him the next day to tell him he killed the guy and she’s blackmailing him on Barney/Spanner’s behalf.  He goes to Braddock and Mitchell for help and they say they’ll take care of it.  Then Willy shows up as a federal agent who warns them about Spanner’s aggressive new organization and wants them to testify against him, turning to them as the lesser of two evils.  Braddock will have none of it, but Mitchell is curious.  (And Braddock needs a better secretary.  Both Barney and Willy were able to barge into his office after he refused to see them.)

Later, Susan comes to Pete, angry at him for missing their date, but he confides in her about the “dead” biker and she’s devastated.  (Nasty thing for the team to do to these innocents.)  She goes to her father Mitchell for help, but Mitchell doesn’t want her dating this tainted boxer and demands she leave him.  After she leaves, he asks Braddock to go ahead and let “Spanner” have Pete’s contract, but Braddock decides he’d rather kill Pete, a decision Mitchell’s uneasy with.

The team has Braddock’s phone lines tapped, so when he tries to call someone whom I guess you’d call a talent agent for hitmen, they intercept the call — and we see the return of voice artist Walker Edmiston to the team.  And though he’s credited as “Rawls,” Jim calls him “Dave,” which is the same name he used back in “Movie” (where he was credited as Dave Waley).  So I think we can count Dave as a recurring team member, the first since Mimi.  Dave says Braddock’s preferred hitman is on vacation or something, and sends in Jim as a substitute.  As if bringing Edmiston back weren’t enough, we get another bit of the continuity that’s unique to this season: the alias Jim uses, hitman Dave Riker (another Dave), is the same identity he used back in “Boomerang.”

Jim agrees to kill Pete, and Braddock wants to come and watch just to make sure of the new guy, insisting the reluctant Mitchell come as well.  Jim arranges to blow Pete’s house up with a bomb.  But elsewhere, Willy and Barney intercept Susan and take her in for “questioning,” and Casey dons a Susan mask and goes to Pete’s house, to the horror of the watching Mitchell.  Casey knocks Pete out and Willy carries him to safety just before the bomb blows, but as far as Mitchell knows, Braddock’s hit has claimed his daughter’s life.  (By the way, isn’t it rather rude of the team to save Pete’s life by destroying all his worldly possessions?  I hope the government compensates him.)

You’d think this would be enough to get the devastated Mitchell to testify, and Willy comes to make the offer, but he still won’t do it.  Not until Jim shows up for his payment from Braddock and drops a comment about another hit he was asked to do.  Braddock thinks it’s just a mixup, but Mitchell thinks the hit was meant for him.  To prove otherwise, Braddock promises to kill Jim and asks Mitchell to go get him.  But Jim intercepts Mitchell at gunpoint and takes him into the empty boxing arena, telling him Braddock did hire Jim to kill Mitchell.  But Braddock comes in and almost spoils things by shooting Jim; Willy intercepts him just in time and the shot goes wild, and then Willy comes in so it seems to Mitchell that Willy fired the shot.  With Willy holding hitman Jim at gunpoint, Mitchell promises to testify.  So his daughter’s death didn’t do it, but a threat to his own life did?  Some loving father.  (Did I mention he smacked her when they argued earlier?)  Anyway, we wrap up with the team explaining things to the young couple, saying that Mitchell will still need to do time but it’ll be easier for him if he gets to see his daughter.

Another routine episode, but a reasonably well-written one.  It’s yet another Stephen Kandel script (this time in collaboration with Nicholas E. Baehr), and it’s certainly an improvement over last week’s, though nowhere near the level of “The Question.”  Still, it’s a solid outing overall.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Boomerang”/”The Question” (spoilers)

“Boomerang”: The lovely Eve Vayle (Laraine Stephens) meets her husband Johnny (Charles Guardino) at an airstrip, tries to trick him into giving her sensitive documents he’s carrying, then has her hired killer club him with a wrench when that doesn’t work.  The killer flies him up in his small plane, bails out, and sets off a bomb.  At the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Jim gets the mission to retrieve the incriminating documents from Eve.  Jim intends to create the illusion that Johnny is still alive.  But nobody’s in the apartment briefing except the core foursome, so who’s going to wear the mask?  We later find it’s a guest agent named Bert, but the actor is uncredited.

Barney shows up at Johnny’s funeral as a cop who’s rude and confrontational toward Eve and her henchman Homer Chill (Walter Barnes), whose cousin Joe is wanted in Gotham City in connection with the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  But that’s not important now.  Homer is a henchman inherited from Johnny, but he actually reports to the head of the organization, Luchek (Ronald Feinberg).  After the funeral, Eve meets with Luchek and blackmails him with the incriminating documents: regular payments and Eve’s continued safety will ensure the originals stay hidden.  To think I held you when you were born, Luchek says, but Eve counters that it wasn’t too many years later that Luchek killed her father.  Luchek backs down and pays the money.

Willy rigs a tripwire at Eve’s door so that she falls just as someone takes a shot at her.  Detective Barney detains the unseen shooter at gunpoint and brings him inside as he questions Eve, and we see the shooter was Jim, who’s playing it cool and cheerful and is even polite to his intended victim.  Eve refuses to cooperate with Barney or explain why she was targeted, so he takes Jim away.  Eve has Homer do his own investigation and they track hitman Jim down; he’s been released by virtue of a transfer of funds from his pocket to Barney’s.  Eve offers to double his fee if he’ll kill the man who hired him, and when Jim hesitates, she invites him to dinner.  Once sufficiently romanced, Jim confesses that he doesn’t know who hired him; he got the money and instructions from a courier.  But she convinces him to try tracking the man down.

Willy sneaks into Eve’s bedroom and takes some money from the stacks Luchek paid her, leaving a copy of Johnny’s thumbprint on the safe dial.  When Eve pays Jim the agreed-on amount, which by lucky happenstance is exactly one bundle’s worth, Jim finds it’s 2 grand short.  (Is this something the team could’ve reasonably predicted?  Jim said he was offered $12,500 for the hit.  Maybe he expected Eve to double that because it’s fairly routine, or maybe he would’ve haggled if she hadn’t offered that off the bat.  And maybe $25,000 is the standard size of a bundle of cash of this denomination, and maybe it was reasonable to expect that mobsters would routinely deal with such bundles.  Still, it seems the plan relies a bit too much on factors outside the team’s control.  Unless I’m remembering the timing wrong and Willy broke the safe and passed the details on to Jim before he started talking money.)  Checking all the bundles, Eve finds more money missing, and is bewildered since only she and Johnny knew the combination (and apparently, despite being a criminal, it’s never occurred to her that a safe can be broken into).  Jim uses face powder to bring out the thumbprint, and there just happens to be a copy of Johnny’s driver’s license complete with thumbprint in the safe, and Eve just happens to be sufficiently expert in dactyloscopy (look it up) to make a positive match by sight alone.  Jim says it must be a fresh print or it would’ve dried out.  But Eve is certain Johnny’s dead.

At least until she finds out that Johnny’s jacket was delivered to her home (by Willy), and Casey calls pretending to be the laundry and saying it was supposed to go to another address.  Eve and Jim go to that address and find Casey, along with duplicates of Johnny’s possessions found on his body (as well as some rather weird abstract cat art decorating the place).  Jim intimidates Casey into confessing she’s working with Johnny, though she says she hasn’t seen him in days.

Eve and Jim are getting rather lovey-dovey, and Homer wonders if she’s falling for him, but she assures him that doing business sometimes demands actions that resemble affection.  Eve then goes to the hotel where Johnny’s killer is lying low.  The team intercepted him days ago, and desk clerk Willy tells Eve he never checked in.  It’s starting to look like the man she saw parachuting out of that plane was Johnny.  Which is reinforced when Bert breaks into her room that night and injects her with a needle.  There’s nothing in the needle; it’s just cosmetic for later.  The trick here, bizarrely, is that Willy previously swapped out her sleeping pills for ones calibrated to make her sleep for a precise amount of time.  (Seriously, again, who is the IMF’s pharmaceutical designer?  A drug like that could make millions for the insomnia market.)  Why not just leave her sleeping pills alone and have Bert inject her with adrenaline, if he’s going to inject her anyway?  Well, in any case, she wakes up just in time to see Bert-as-Johnny say “I got what I wanted” and leave.

Corrupt cop Barney shows up and takes Eve to see “Johnny’s” body, freshly killed by Barney.  He says they were partners; Johnny pentothalled her into revealing where the documents were and was going to… umm… do something nefarious with them; I missed that part.  But Barney decided to kill him and muscle in on Eve’s blackmail scheme, taking 3/4 of the payments for himself.  He shows her (a duplicate of) Johnny’s briefcase to confirm he has the documents.  Eve goes to Jim and tries to seduce him into killing Barney (gee, that’s her solution to everything, isn’t it?), but Jim is skeptical of Barney’s story, saying Johnny would never have actually brought the documents.  They have to be sure.  She takes him to where she hid the documents, and describes the site well enough that the eavesdropping Homer is able to repeat it to Luchek, who recognizes where it is.  At the site, she finds the documents are still there, and then pulls a gun on Jim, not needing him anymore.  I would imagine the plan at this point was for Barney and Willy to jump out with guns drawn, but Luchek gets there first, and Eve takes a bullet to that ever-popular wound location, the shoulder.  Jim punches out Luchek and his goon, and that’s when Barney and Willy finally arrive and reclaim the evidence.  Eve looks hurt to realize Jim was playing her all along, but it’s not like she was doing any different.

A run-of-the-mill but fairly entertaining episode.  The main point of interest is Laraine Stephens, a striking actress who resembles a more delicate-featured Elizabeth Montgomery, but whose dainty, girlish looks are belied by a smoky, brassy, New York-tinged alto that sounds like its owner has been around the block a few times.  There are some moments where it seems they’re trying to play this as a real romance for Jim, but if so it’s a superficial pretense, since both of them are merely playing each other.  This could’ve been a more potent episode if Eve had been more sympathetic, though it’s hard to see how that could’ve been done in the context of the story they were telling.

The episode credits Lalo Schifrin for the music, but this time I’m certain there’s no original scoring, except maybe for some source music in the restaurant scene — though if there’s no other original music, that’s probably stock as well.

“The Question”: What do you get when you multiply six by nine?  No, that’s a different question.  The question is, why does Gary Lockwood have such an unflattering haircut?  He’s barely recognizable as Nicholas Varsi, a foreign assassin who’s arrested meeting his contact at the airport and tells the arresting officer, Nelson (Jason Evers), that he wants to defect.  Atop a skyscraper, a surly guy adjusting a TV aerial hands off the tape to Jim, whose mission, “should you agree to undertake it,” is to determine whether Varsi’s defection is on the level, since he won’t reveal his assignment and might be passing false information from the enemy (hey, another spy mission).  There’s some interagency conflict here, since he’s in the custody of the Federal Intelligence Service, which may have been infiltrated by a mole, so the IMF has to abduct Varsi without FIS cooperation.  (To add to the alphabet soup, Varsi is an operative for the “KGN.”  Subtle…)

This is another episode that must’ve been shot during Lynda Day George’s maternity leave (they sure are spacing those out), since Casey’s allegedly working in Europe again and the lady agent of the week is Andrea, played by Elizabeth Ashley, who was so memorable in last season’s “Encounter.”  In a sense, this is her second time playing an IMF team member, since she spent most of “Encounter” playing Casey in disguise.

Varsi is being held by the FIS in a condemned building (with rather sedate grafitti saying “LOVE” and “KOOKIE KOURT”).  There’s a scene — no doubt the latest of many — in which Nelson and Varsi go back and forth: Varsi won’t reveal his assignment until he has a guarantee of a new identity, the FIS won’t give him a guarantee until they can prove his story of defection.  It’s a nicely written scene by Stephen Kandel, a lively and clever exchange.  Finally the FIS agents tire of it and leave, though evidently a cameraman stays in the room with him, since on the agents’ security monitor the camera freely pans, dollies, and tracks to follow Varsi’s movements.

Barney throws a firebomb into the building, then Jim and Willy show up as cops (supposedly members of the standard round-the-clock patrol of the building) and pretend to participate in the investigation, actually planting another couple of bombs as a diversion.  They enter Varsi’s room, distract him with the classic “Look out!” ploy, and knock him out, then put a Willy mask on him.  The real Willy climbs out the window and Jim makes it look like Varsi-as-Willy-as-cop has been shot.  So Barney and Andrea come in as an ambulance crew and take Varsi out.  But when the FIS agents can’t find Varsi, Nelson catches on and sends them after the ambulance.  A chase ensues until Willy releases some barrels in the pursuing car’s path (they were ready for anything).  But Nelson arranges a police search with the assistance of a captain played by George O’Hanlon, best known today as the original voice of George Jetson.  Captain Jetson doesn’t do much except periodically tick off the percentage of the area that’s been searched.

Varsi awakens in an abandoned winery where he’s interrogated by Jim in the role of the local head of KGN operations.  Varsi claims he was pretending to defect as a response to his arrest, but Jim is unconvinced and demands details of his assignment, which Varsi refuses to give.  He’s allowed to see a sobbing Andrea, who’s supposedly just been tortured by Willy.  Later, she’s thrown in the storeroom with him — and her blouse is unbuttoned, suggesting somethng more than torture was going on.  But Varsi’s a savvy agent and realizes this might be just more of the game; he’s already found the bug in the room (the one he was allowed to find).   The next round of cat-and-mouse ensues: is she really the captured FIS agent she claims, or a KGN agent sent to sound him out?  Is he really a defector or a loyal assassin?  They both distrust each other and they both acknowledge it freely.  It doesn’t stop Varsi from making out with her, though.

Their conversation is monitored by a voice-stress “lie detector” of Barney’s, which gives inconclusive results: either Varsi’s honestly a defector or he’s a very controlled liar.  We see the team discussing where they stand, the kind of “behind-the-scenes” discussion that’s become rare again this season.  The gadget didn’t work, so it comes down to Andrea.

Jim tells Varsi they used a lie detector on him, but claims they were convinced by its results.  As a final test, they hand him a gun and tell him to kill Andrea.  He apologizes to her and pulls the trigger, but the chamber’s empty (though he calls it a blank).  Convinced of his loyalty, Jim gives him a car and supplies for his assignment.  Varsi asks for Andrea to come with him as a driver and hostage.  He’s still wary — he may have guessed that the gun would be empty.  If he’s a defector, he’ll prove it by taking Andrea to the FIS; if he’s not, he’ll prove it by killing his target and her.  Anyway, the team evacuates the winery just before the cops close in on it.  Farewell, Captain Jetson.

The team tracks Varsi’s car by homing transmitter, but he stops at an electronics store and buys a bug detector, finding the bug in his own shirt collar.  He ditches the bug and drives off, but Andrea turns on a spare bug in her barrette when they stop for gas.  But the nosy gas station attendant (remember when they had those?) plays with the bug detector and reveals the second bug, which Varsi destroys.  Now Andrea’s on her own.  The team splits up to search.

Varsi now has Andrea tied up in a hotel room, where a sniper rifle has been left for him.  He carries Andrea into the bedroom, gags her, and tells her to be quiet; he’s meeting his superior Kemmer (whom he’s apparently never seen), who might kill her if he finds her.  While Varsi assembles the rifle, Andrea wriggles her way over to the phone, lifts the receiver and dials Jim’s car phone with her hands behind her (lucky for her it’s a touch-tone phone), and taps Morse code into the receiver with her fingernails, tipping Jim off to her location.  She gets back on the bed just before Varsi comes back in, but sees she’s left the receiver slightly ajar.  I was expecting the phone to start making that noise it makes when you leave it off the hook too long, thereby tipping Varsi off, but that didn’t happen; maybe they didn’t do that yet in 1973.  Varsi doesn’t notice the phone and Andrea is safe — for now.

When Kemmer arrives, it turns out to be Nelson — which didn’t surprise me at all, given that Jason Evers usually played bad guys.  He says he ran Varsi’s interrogation to make sure of his loyalties.  But then Varsi reveals his loyalties, pointing his rifle at Kemmer/Nelson; he really is a defector and his plan was to smoke Kemmer out and hand him over to the authorities.  But like virtually everyone in this whole episode, Kemmer is thinking a move ahead, and he already sabotaged Varsi’s firing pin.  Varsi’s gun doesn’t work; Kemmer’s does.  Kemmer then goes into the bedroom and carries Andrea out.  (Lucky for Lockwood and Evers that Elizabeth Ashley is a dainty woman.  I’m reminded of Gielgud’s advice about playing King Lear: “Get a small Cordelia.”)  Turns out that, for whatever reason, Kemmer didn’t kill Varsi, just lightly wounded him.  He has Andrea tie Varsi up, then ties her back up and replaces the rifle’s firing pin.  We see now that the hotel room is just across from a government building of some sort and a motorcade is arriving.  Kemmer prepares to shoot the unspecified Important Person arriving with the motorcade — and a really nifty joint operation begins to come together.  Varsi scoots across the floor and starts moving a side table with his feet.  Andrea helps him move it with her feet.  Outside, Jim arrives, sees the rifle sticking out of the window, and climbs the outside of the building.  Varsi and Andrea tip over the table, distracting Kemmer just in time for Jim to leap in and beat up Kemmer (which is quite a coincidence, since they didn’t know he was coming).  Kemmer holds his own, but finally Willy bursts in and gets him in a full nelson (fittingly).  Barney’s the only one left out of this impressive climactic dogpile.

As Varsi is wheeled into the ambulance, Andrea gladly says that they know who he is now.  But who is she, he asks?  Wistfully, she tells him that will have to stay a question.

This is without a doubt the finest episode of the season so far, and with only six left, it’s unlikely to be surpassed.  It’s the first episode this season that feels like a season 5 episode, with the team being “out of character” for much of the story, things going wrong with the plan and building suspense, a team member developing a real relationship with a guest character, and strong, clever writing throughout.  The rare return to an espionage-themed caper also adds to that fifth-season flavor.  All the characters here are on the ball, keeping each other guessing, seeing through each other’s ploys, and anticipating each other’s moves, and nobody knows what side anybody’s on until the end — just what you want in a good intrigue thriller.  It’s always more interesting on M:I when the guest characters are smart enough to know they’re being played, even to play back, and almost everyone here is playing on the same high level.  On top of which we even get a rare hint of genuine romance.  It’s a bit odd that the dramatic core of the episode revolved around two guest stars, although that’s kind of in keeping with the original format of the series back in the very early episodes.  And I note that this is the second time they’ve brought in Elizabeth Ashley for a script that made considerable demands of its lead actress.  If it weren’t for Mrs. George’s maternity leave, I’d wonder if they lacked faith in her dramatic chops.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Puppet”/”Incarnate” (spoilers)

Sometimes these paired titles in my review headers make interesting phrases.  “The puppet incarnate?”  Wasn’t there a Twilight Zone episode or two along those lines?

“The Puppet”: Ooh, look, it’s Roddy McDowall!  I know already I’m going to enjoy this.  He’s playing Leo Ostro, a young, Ivy League-educated gangster who’s arguing with his more pragmatic older brother Paul (John Crawford) about a new plan he has for the family business, one that Paul considers naive and reckless and says will only go forward over his dead body.  Leo contemplates for a bit, then says, “Paul?” in that classic McDowall tone of thoughtful innocence masking mischief, and when Paul turns, Leo shoots him.

Cut to Jim in a novelty shop or something (did their San Francisco location budget run out?), being told that Paul Ostro recently suffered severe facial injuries in a hunting accident, whereupon talk began to emerge about the Ostro crime family preparing to institute a new plan of some sort.  The team’s rather nebulous mission is to discover the nature of the plan and the reason for the change in policy.  There’s no mention of why “conventional law enforcement agencies” can’t handle this task, or even why it’s so important to define the mission in this particular way.

But Jim quickly catches onto what’s already evident to the audience — that the heavily bandaged Paul recovering from “facial injuries” may be an impostor, the titular puppet for someone else.  Jim’s gambling that he can pretend to be someone Paul knows — either the recovering “Paul” is an impostor or he’ll be drugged enough to be confused.  The regular foursome (including Casey, who’s looking more like her old self again) are joined by Hank (Richard Devon) and Khalid (Joseph Ruskin); both actors are familiar faces from M:I episodes past, but this is their first time playing good guys.

The team arranges a family emergency for the Ostros’ chef (I don’t want to think about how) so that Barney can take over the job (and he’s studied up on cuisine so he can pass Leo’s vetting).  Meanwhile, various mobsters are meeting in “Paul”‘s bedroom, and since “Paul” can barely talk, Leo takes over explaining “Paul’s” new plan — or rather, not explaining the details, just asking them to invest a million each with the promise of a twelvefold return.  Gault (John Larch), a rival wishing to take over the Ostros’ operation, resists investing blind, but “Paul” vouches for Leo, and the mobsters trust his word and hand over the money.

Jim and Casey arrive at the mansion, with Jim insisting he and Paul have been business partners for months.  “Paul” doesn’t recognize him, but once Jim “reminds” him of the details of their plan — a deal with a Middle Eastern minister to get their hands on half a million tons of “misplaced” oil — “Paul” and Leo are inclined to go along with it, though Leo insists on meeting the minister (Khalid, of course) to get the details; he wants to be convinced the deal’s legit before he invests the million bucks that Paul supposedly promised.  Jim insists the minister can’t be seen going to the Ostro mansion, so Leo goes to him.  Jim and Casey arrange for Casey to stumble and expose track marks on her arm to Leach (Val Avery), Gault’s spy in the Ostro home.

Barney spikes “Paul”‘s liquid meal with a drug to induce a fake heart attack, letting Willy come in as a doctor and take photos of “Paul”‘s tattoo, as well as collecting the tape recorder in Barney’s watch, which has a sample of “Paul”‘s voice for Hank to imitate.  Barney’s been called to the bedroom by the returned Leo, who’s instantly suspicious that “Paul” was poisoned — which makes sense if it’s a perfectly healthy impostor.  Leo makes Barney drink the rest of the spiked concoction, and Barney does so and stands calmly until Leo’s satisfied — then races to the kitchen to drink the antidote in time.  (Why didn’t he take it in advance?  Or have a vial ready in his pocket?  Good to inject an element of suspense/danger, but it shouldn’t be so contrived.)

Leach tips Gault’s men off about Casey, so they abduct her and tempt her with drugs until she tells them that Leo and Jim have arranged to abscond to Zurich with $4 million.  Gault’s man following Jim to the travel agency finds corroboration for this story.  (Is the travel agent that Gault’s man questions part of Jim’s team, or just an innocent?  There’s no indication of the former, but I’d be surprised if Jim left that element to chance.)

When Dr. Willy returns, he insists on being left alone with Paul, then he and Barney swap out Leo’s “Paul” for Hank, and Willy and Hank break open the safe and extract the mobsters’ money, which Willy then transfers to a briefcase in Khalid’s room just in time for Leo to show up.  (Meanwhile, Barney and Casey remove the bandages from “Paul” and confirm that he’s an impostor.)  They show Leo the papers confirming the oil deal and put them in the trick briefcase so he can take them to experts for verification.  But then Gault’s men grab Leo and Jim at gunpoint and take them back to the mansion, where all the gangsters meet in Paul’s room.  When they open the trick briefcase, it opens on the compartment containing their money and two tickets to Zurich.  Leo insists he’s been framed and turns to “Paul” for support, but Hank-as-Paul claims to know nothing of this.  Leo denounces him as an impostor, so the mobsters cut off the bandages — and surprise, surprise, under the bandages Hank has on a mask of the real Paul with heavy facial burns.  He tells them Leo shot him and kept him drugged and controlled.  To save himself, Leo has to explain his whole plan to the other mobsters: learning that South African currency was printed in the US, he arranged the means to make flawless counterfeits and is ready to start distributing them globally.  He takes them down to the subbasement to prove his story by showing them the printing equipment — and the watching Barney signals Willy to bring in the cops, catching all the bad guys with the evidence.

A pretty routine mission overall.  In theory it’s slightly more interesting than usual in that the team is trying to solve a couple of mysteries, rather than having all the answers and being in control from the start as they too often are.  But the “mystery” of Paul’s imposture is obvious from the start (they gave it away with that opening scene), so it doesn’t work so well.  Although the reveal of Paul’s face under Hank’s bandages is a nice twist, one they did a good job of misdirecting us away from.  Mainly the strength of the episode is Roddy McDowall’s presence; he’s always fun to watch and listen to, even when his material is fairly mediocre.  There’s also a small amount of new music by Lalo Schifrin, but not much.

“Incarnate”: Robert O’Connell (Solomon Sturges) is hiding a stolen gold shipment in a cellar furnace when he’s confronted by his mother Hannah — and holy cow, it’s Kim Hunter, just a week after Roddy McDowall’s guest spot!  First Cornelius, now Zira!  (But alas, Maurice Evans isn’t in the next episode.)  Turns out Hannah stole the gold and Robert stole it in turn from her, then testified against her so he could have it to himself.  He’s willing to shoot his own mother to keep the gold — but she shoots him first, without hesitation, though she cradles him in her arms afterward.  In another shop, Jim gets the tape out of a roll-top desk and is told that Hannah and her other, more loyal son Thomas (Robert Hogan) have fled to the Caribbean (according to the good old “conventional law enforcement agencies,” and I think this is the first time a tape message has referred to something the C.L.E.A. did accomplish rather than something they couldn’t).  The US can’t kidnap her from foreign soil, so Jim’s mission is to get her back to the US and find the gold.  Jim’s plan involves playing on Hannah’s superstitions, and is built around voodoo, which Jim describes as a “primitive” religion throughout the Caribbean.  Arrgh.  Oh, the seventies, what am I going to do with you?  They intend to create the “ghost” of Robert using what Barney mispronounces as “hellagraphic” projection (which I guess is like holographic, but more hellish?).

Interestingly, the episode is plotted and co-scripted (with story editor Stephen Kandel) by Buck Houghton, the producer of the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s taking a supernatural tack, however misguided.

The team’s already tricked out the house Hannah’s rented on the Caribbean isle of Jamada; the house is the same one that would later be Mr. Roarke’s house on Fantasy Island.  That makes this the second episode this season (the other being “The Deal”) where the bulk of the episode takes place in a foreign country, and in both cases the countries are in the Caribbean.  Housekeeper Casey greets Hannah and Robert with the apology that the household staff has disappeared because they’re a bunch of superstitious primitives scared off by “the drums.”  Sigh.  Thomas scoffs, but Hannah insists voodoo is real, and Casey chimes in with a story about the house being used for voodoo rituals and a whole army division disappearing overnight (gee, good thing she’s not the realtor).

That evening, Jim shows up as a pilot/smuggler seeking to get the O’Connells’ participation in a drug smuggling operation into the States; he insists he can get in and out without the US authorities noticing.  Thomas is intrigued, but Hannah shows him the door.  Interestingly, Jim establishes his underworld bona fides by dropping the name of Benjamin Dane, the powerful East Coast mob boss from the earlier episode “Movie.”  This is only the second time that an M:I episode has shared any continuity with an earlier episode that wasn’t part of the same multiparter.

That night, when Hannah turns in for bed, Casey slips some kind of hypnotic or whatever into her cocoa to amplify the effect of the holo — sorry, hellagraphic visitation by Robert’s angry ghost.  The next day, Barney plays a shopkeeper in town and contrives for Hannah to find a duplicate of Robert’s unique ring, which Barney pretends to get an omen of “death in water” from.  That night, Casey flirts with one of Hannah’s guards and knocks him out, and the next morning they find him apparently drowned to death in the pond outside (though of course it’s the old “drug to fake death” routine).  Willy shows up as the local doctor, who has the hots for Casey, but she only has eyes for Thomas.  (Poor Willy.  I don’t think he’s ever gotten a romance this whole series, even as part of a scheme.  Which is weird, given how popular Peter Lupus was with female viewers.)

Hannah goes back to Barney for more spiritual advice, but he’s reluctant, since he senses evil around her.  He warns that something inside her is dead and seeks death — by water, by air, and by fire.  He intimates that there’s a ceremony to exorcise the demon, but doesn’t want anything more to do with her.  But later, she finds her other guard hanged (not really, of course — the team grabbed him a bit earlier), and interprets that as “death by air,” or rather the lack thereof.  Now she’s determined to do the ceremony, and Barney agrees to lead it.  He’s assisted by a bunch of locals or performers who do the drumming and dancing and whatnot.  Back at Mr. Roarke’s house, Casey is making time with Thomas when jealous Willy bursts in, drawing a gun;  a fight ensues and Casey hands that gun (loaded with blanks) to Thomas so he’ll “kill” Willy with it.  Now he needs to flee back to the states, and he goes with Casey to steal Hannah’s buried stash of money (paper, not the gold).  The plan is for Casey to accompany him back to the US.  But apparently she’s not as irresistible as the team was banking on, since Thomas knocks her out and goes off on his own.

When Jim finds this out, he sends Willy to the ceremony to keep an eye out for Thomas — but Thomas spots Willy first and knows something’s up.  As the ceremony climaxes, the hellagram of Robert appears in the bonfire and says his soul won’t rest until she tells him where the gold is.  Then Barney knockout-needles her and swaps out her bullets for blanks.  When she awakens the next morning, she’s allowed to “accidentally” see that one of her “dead” guards is still alive.  Back at the house, she confronts Barney at gunpoint until he “confesses” that Thomas hired him to arrange the scam, and that she spilled the whole thing to Thomas during the part of the previous night she can’t remember.  So she shoots Barney, who fake-dies, and she calls up smuggler Jim to arrange a trip back to the US.  Thomas is still out there, a potential spoiler for the plan, but it’s resolved way too easily when Barney spots him through the window and goes out to beat him up.  So Jim (who’s wearing the same ugly striped shirt he used in “Underwater,” but as part of an overall ensemble that isn’t quite as bad) flies her back, and the gold turns out to be in the same place where Robert was burying it (which must be why she caught on that the “ghost” was a fake).  Hannah has a gun hidden in the stash and is preparing to shoot Jim, but she telegraphs it and he disarms her, and then the cops arrive to arrest her.

This wasn’t great.  Cool to see Kim Hunter, but the caper is mediocre and the condescension toward Afro-Caribbean religion and culture is unpleasant.  It’s weird that the episode would play up Hannah’s superstitious nature to such an extent (and it really is rather caricatured) but then have the caper rely on her catching on that the hauntings were a trick.  And all the stuff with Thomas goes nowhere and is basically just padding.  There is some new music here, mostly source drums, but some of the accompanying and surrounding cues seem new; however, there’s no composer credited.  Yet I’m fairly confident by now that the musical style I heard there was Schifrin’s.  Perhaps the music credit for Schifrin on “The Puppet” (which I couldn’t swear had any new music at all) was meant to go on this episode instead?

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Kidnap”/”Crackup” (spoilers)

November 15, 2011 2 comments

“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.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Hit”/”Ultimatum” (spoilers)

“Hit”: We meet syndicate boss Sam Dexter (Dane Clark) making out with his girlfriend Vicki (Barbara Rhoades).  Both of them engage in very stilted expository dialogue for the audience’s benefit.  “Sam, I can’t believe you’re about to go to prison!” “Yeah.   A year on tax evasion charges.”  They might as well turn to the camera and address us directly.  Sam wonders who ratted him out.  Just then, they get a call from corrupt ADA Reynolds (Robert Reed), and Vicki asks, “How’d he know you were here?”  then turns to the camera (not really) and adds, “My place?”  Reynolds’s timing is contrived, since he’s calling to answer the question Sam just asked: it was Vicki who ratted him out.  So Sam sneakily cuts Vicki’s brake line (it’s the same green car we’ve seen several times on M:I over the past three seasons, the one with no engine under the hood, though it seems to have a brighter paint job now, or maybe it’s another car of the same model).  When he sees her off, he surreptitiously wipes his fingerprints off the door handle, though he didn’t seem to have a problem with getting his prints on the brake line.  Her car races out of control down the steep mountain road (and I wonder if this might be partly stock footage from “The Missile” in season 5), then flies off a cliff — and like so many cars going off cliffs in TV, it blows up in midair before it actually hits anything.

Cut to San Francisco harbor before dawn as the camera pans across the skyline.  Jim gets the tape in a boat cabin.  Dexter’s organization is still active despite his imprisonment, under the direction of a partner known only as “The General.”  The team must identify the General and prove Dexter killed Vicki to shatter the organization once and for all.  For the second week in a row, there’s no line about “conventional law enforcement agencies” being unable to get the job done.  Maybe by this point the producers figured the crimebusting role of the IMF had been sufficiently established that they no longer needed to rationalize it.  This is another Mimi episode, with the usual passing reference to Casey assisting offscreen (this time to create Mimi’s cover identity).  The other guest team member is mask performer Jack, who’s uncredited and won’t be seen with his own face outside the apartment scene.

Jim plays a federal prosecutor who’s reopening the investigation into Vicki’s death, which we eventually learn was 9 months earlier.  He lets ADA Reynolds know he has a witness to the murder, and Reynolds’ gobetween Murdock (Frank Christi) tips off Dexter in prison.  Meanwhile, Willy and Barney have gone in as inmates.  Willy picks a fight with Dexter’s men and takes out his chief bodyguard, but Barney intervenes and takes Willy down, supposedly sending him to the hospital (whereupon he’s transferred out).  Dexter is grateful to Barney and wants to recruit him, but Barney will have none of it.  Dexter’s chief muscle Gordon notices that Barney was secretly doing a drawing on a pad of paper, and the old “rub a pencil on the sheet below” trick reveals an escape plan.  Dexter dismisses the plan as a pipe dream, but Gordon suddenly gets all weepy and melodramatic about what will happen to him when Dexter gets out in three months, and even though Dexter assures him he’ll get a lawyer to spring him, Gordon remains behind with quivering lip.  The scene is played as a big deal, but this is the last time we see Gordon, so it goes nowhere.  It’s very strange.

Anyway, Jim’s witness Mimi gives a deposition, and Reynolds realizes she’s lying when she claims she saw Dexter drive away from the murder scene (it was established in the opening that he didn’t bring a car there).  Reynolds goes to her apartment and confronts her about who hired her to “frame” Dexter, and when she won’t talk, he sends in Murdock to employ “less legal” methods of persuasion.  But Murdock is surprised to see his own double — Jack in disguise — and Jim takes him down.  (When Reynolds leaves and Murdock arrives, we see them in an elevator whose door has a frosted-glass top half so we can see them descending and ascending.  But we don’t see the top of the elevator car doing the same.  I suspect the actors were just crouching behind the door.)  The fake Murdock leaves just in time to get hit by a car driven by Willy, with Reynolds watching in shock.  Later, in the hospital, the fake Murdock tells Reynolds with his “dying” breath that the General hired Mimi and had him hit.  Reynolds and Jim go to Dexter in prison to let him know the General is moving against him, and Jim asks him to identify the General.  Dexter refuses, and when Jim leaves he tries to get Reynolds to take out a contract on the General.  Reynolds doesn’t want to get involved, but Dexter says he’s been paying Reynolds for years and expects — and just then Jim and the cops come in and arrest Reynolds, now that they have him incriminated on tape.

Dexter has no one left to turn to (since Gordon and his other henchmen have been transferred out of the prison offscreen — huh?).  So he goes to Barney for help in escaping.  His plan is to kill the General, then get back to prison before anyone knows he’s gone — the perfect alibi.  Jim and Willy get everything set up for Barney’s escape, knowing they’ll have to tail the escape car closely, since Dexter won’t leave Barney alive once he’s served his purpose.  But when Barney and Dexter escape into the drainage tunnels (through the same hatch Barney used to get in and out of the mental hospital in last season’s “Committed”), Dexter causes a cave-in and they have to find an alternate way out, miles from the arranged getaway car.  A teen couple drives up and goes off into the woods to make out, and Dexter forces Barney to steal their car (Dexter suddenly has a gun, with no explanation). The rest of the team has no idea where Barney’s going.  So Jim comes up with a backup plan. Willy awakens Murdock, claiming to be from a rival operation seeking to move in, and offers him a partnership if he’ll ID the General for them.  He refuses, but Willy gets a call supposedly saying they’ve found the General without Murdock’s help, then leaves.  Murdock gets free of his ropes and dials the General’s number, which the team intercepts; then they and the cops come in and arrest Murdock before his call goes through.

Dexter and Barney get to the General’s mansion and knock out his butler/bodyguard, finding him (Jan Peters) in a secret computer room behind his bar.  To keep Dexter from shooting the General, Barney stalls for time, getting Dexter to confess to killing Vicki, then revealing that he’s not really the convict he says he was.  It’s unclear how Barney thought any of this would save him, but just at the right moment, Jim, Willy, and the cops come in and arrest both criminals.  Barney shows Jim the General’s crime computer, and Jim is satisfied that it should let them bring the whole operation down.

This is the weakest one of the season so far.  A decent premise, but it has flaws in structure and execution that drag it down.  There’s a decent attempt to have things go wrong and create some suspense, but Jim’s solution has an air of familiarity to it, as does a lot about the episode overall (though this late in the series it’s hard for any episode to do something we haven’t seen before).  And it’s unclear how they really managed to get Dexter on Vicki’s murder.  Is Barney going to testify to his confession?  Can he even do that, given that he and the team seem to be deep-cover operatives who don’t even use their real names on vacation?  And if he did, would that be enough proof to put Dexter away?  Would it even be admissible under the circumstances, or would it constitute entrapment?  It’s a weak and inconclusive payoff.

“Ultimatum”: Rogue nuclear physicist Jerome Cooper (Murray Hamilton) and his wife Adele (Madlyn Rhue) drive up to LA City Hall, and Cooper goes inside with a satchel.  For some reason he has to go through City Hall to get to the sewer where he has a large bomb planted.  Once there, he attaches the detonator and timer.  Then Adele gives him a letter to send to the President.  At another landmark, Fort Point at the Presidio in San Francisco (not far from where Kim Novak leapt into the bay in Vertigo), Jim is informed by the tape that Cooper has planted a 50-megaton nuclear bomb under an unknown city and given the president until noon the following day (even though he set the timer to “6″) to replace several key officials with Cooper’s men and institute several major changes in US foreign policy.  Jim’s mission, obviously, is to find and stop the bomb.  Again the “conventional law enforcement” line is missing, this time for good reason.

By the way, this bomb is an enormous case of overkill.  At 50 megatons, it would be tied with the Soviets’ Tsar Bomba as the largest nuclear bomb ever made.   It wouldn’t only destroy the entire city of Los Angeles and many of its suburbs, but the fallout it generated would probably cause devastation over a huge swath of the country.  A much smaller yield would’ve been more than adequate to hold the city hostage, and it’s questionable how Cooper could’ve managed to obtain the materials to make a fusion bomb of world-record magnitude without drawing attention from the authorities.

For once, there’s no mention of Casey being involved in a Mimi episode, and nobody’s in the apartment scene but the core foursome.  However, the team has a huge task force working in an elaborate situation room with maps of all the prominent cities that might be Cooper’s target.  Could this be an actual IMF headquarters of some sort?  While the IMF started out seeming to be a sort of garage-band operation run out of Dan Briggs’s or Jim Phelps’s apartment, the ’88 revival series and the movies showed it as a larger, more institutionalized agency.  Maybe this is an intimation of that.

One of the task force members, operator Lisa (Judith Brown), calls Cooper and connects him to a phony presidential aide arranging a meeting with the Prez at the “Western White House” to negotiate a surrender to Cooper’s demands.  (This would seem to confirm that Richard Nixon or a close parallel was the POTUS at this time in the M:I-verse, since Nixon had a “Western White House” in southern California.)  Cooper drives off for the meeting, but not before arranging with Adele to ensure the bomb goes off at noon if he doesn’t contact her by ten.  They agree that their cause — whatever that may be — is more important than his life.

Somehow the team has rigged Cooper’s car radio to pick up their fake transmissions, with task force member Carl (Fred Holliday) breaking in as a radio announcer to report on a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style shootout and escape.  They’ve also rigged his car to blow its antifreeze line just outside a gas station/diner attended by Willy, who invites Cooper to go inside for some coffee while he repairs the car.  Meanwhile, the police put up roadblocks to contain the area.  Jim and Mimi arrive as the criminals and take Willy and Cooper hostage in the diner.  (Mimi frisks them, but overlooks the gun Cooper has hidden in his sock.)  An agitated Cooper tries to convince them to let him make a phone call, but Jim will have none of it.

When 10 AM passes with no call, Adele knocks out the grocery delivery boy and sneaks past the watching cops in his van, then calls her accomplice Morgan (Donnelly Rhodes in his third M:I role) and sends him to search for Cooper.  He runs into the roadblock and is told about the “killers” they have holed up, but that just prompts him to sneak by on foot and investigate.

In the diner, the fake news broadcasts tip Cooper off that the Prez has called a number of senior officials to a secret meeting.  Then a patrolman (Vince Howard) shows up and Jim orders Willy to act natural while the others hide in the kitchen.  The patrolman, according to plan, pretends to know Willy and shows him a picture of Cooper, saying the authorities are trying to locate him.  Once he’s gone, Cooper tries to convince Jim that he’s an important man and needs to make a phone call.  He draws his gun on Jim and Mimi, but Jim manages to disarm him pretty quickly.  Cooper tells them about the bomb and the blackmail and they begin to catch on that they could get rich from this.  They let Cooper call his accomplice Rogers (Vic Vallaro) and order him to disarm the bomb.  The team’s plan is to follow the accomplice to the bomb.  But Morgan is watching through binoculars, and calls Adele to let her know what’s going on.  So Adele kills Rogers when he comes out of his office.  Oh noes!

When Cooper hears of this on the radio, he realizes he’s the only one who can stop the bomb now.  He tells Jim there’s a failsafe only he can disarm, a secondary timer that will detonate the bomb after a week if the first timer is disarmed.  But as they prepare to leave, Jim notes a glint from a sniper rifle, and gets Cooper down just before Morgan shoots him.   Morgan pins them down, and Jim whispers to Willy to make a break for it so Jim can “kill” him and leave him free to go after the sniper.  But then Jim decides to go out after Morgan himself, presumably so Cooper won’t be left wondering what happened to the sniper.  Jim and Willy take him down together, and then Barney picks them up in a helicopter with half an hour to spare.

They arrive at City Hall and climb down into the sewers, with the literal ticking clock on the bomb superimposed.  (Now the alarm window says “9″ instead of “6.”)  But Adele is still there, apparently fanatical enough to be willing to die for whatever the hell their cause is, and she shoots at Jim, Mimi, and her own husband.  Jim wings her, and Mimi tends to her while Jim and Cooper go for the bomb.  Cooper disarms it with five seconds to spare, then tells Jim that they rule the world now.  Adele arrives with Mimi, laughing at Cooper’s words, and points out the cops closing in.  Now, you’d think that at this point the 7-day secondary timer would be addressed, but it’s completely forgotten; the episode just ends with the Coopers being taken away.  Are we supposed to think Cooper disarmed both timers at the same time?  It’s very unclear (and no, that’s not a typo for “nuclear”).

So this is a moderately effective episode, despite some head-scratcher moments.  It’s always nice when they do a national-security story instead of a crimebusting story.  And there’s some moderately effective tension as Adele’s machinations jeopardize the plan.  Another plus is an original musical score, only the second of the season and the only M:I contribution by composer Duane Tatro.  But the premise is somewhat implausible, and it would help if we had some inkling of why the Coopers were doing this — what they hoped to gain and why Adele and Rogers were so willing to sacrifice their lives for it.

So I went back to the tape scene and freezeframed on the blackmail letter included in Jim’s briefing package, hoping it might fill in some of that missing background.  And boy, does it ever.  It includes the following paragraphs:

I, and my colleagues, have long been concerned about the growing corruption and decay in our nation.  We have been frustrated too long.  Now we have taken firm, decisive action.  We represent those millions of Americans who feel the need to change the destructive course that this nation is taking.  These are the first set of demands that we are making.  Demands that will begin to reverse our nation’s decline.

The following treasonous, corrupt government officials must be arrested at once:

[List of eight congresspersons and three senators]

In addition, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secretary of HEW and the Attorney General must be seized and held.  Furthermore, you must leave office at once, recalling our troops from abroad and halting the foreign entanglements which have weakened our nation for a generation.

Blackmail letter from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: "Ultimatum"

Wow.  That throws the whole episode into a new light, considering what I said earlier about the implication that Nixon was the president in-story as well as in reality.  So basically the Coopers were taking a stand against the corruption of the Nixon administration and the war in Vietnam.  They were on the right side of history, even though their methods were inexcusable.  I wonder, was scripter Harold Livingston, or whoever in the production was responsible for the text of the letter (since it’s not very well-written), trying to defend Nixon’s policies and paint his opponents as villains?  Considering that this letter would’ve been all but illegible to viewers at the time, I think not.  As far as viewers could actually tell, the Coopers’ cause was a complete mystery.  So maybe this letter was snuck in there as a subtle subversive statement of protest directed at Nixon’s administration and policies.  (Interestingly, all three figures mentioned in the last quoted paragraph above were later suspected or implicated in the Watergate cover-up, though I don’t think that had happened yet at the time of this episode.)

Anyway, it’s ironic that the Coopers and their “associates” went to such great lengths to try to root out the corruption in Nixon’s administration and end the war in Vietnam.  If they’d only waited a couple more years, matters would’ve resolved themselves.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Underground”/”Movie” (spoilers)

November 10, 2011 1 comment

Hey, last season we had “Underwater,” now it’s…

“Underground”: Gunther Schell (H. M. Wynant) is being driven to prison when the Sheriff’s van is intercepted by a team of bad guys who liberate him — and hey, it sounds like new music accompanying the scene!  Jim gets the tape from a hostess at a Japanese garden restaurant — I wouldn’t be surprised if this is another San Francisco landmark — and then sits to listen to the highly secret tape just a few feet from where the patrons are coming in, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  His mission is to find Schell so as to track down the millions he has squirreled away for the mob.

In the apartment briefing — in which Casey and Barney’s moustache are both present — Jim explains that the gang that took Schell offers cons the promise of escape but actually brainwashes them into giving up their secrets, using a very dangerous truth drug.  (The “false promise of escape” idea was previously used in “Mindbend.”)  Jim will put himself in their clutches, but will be rendered immune to interrogation by a transmitter implanted in his ear and a post-hypnotic suggestion to respond only to Barney’s voice — a near-exact repeat of a trick they previously used in the season 4 finale “The Martyr.”  So far a lot about this one feels familiar.  Meanwhile, Lynda Day George seems to be struggling with her lines.  Was this a rough pregnancy?  It seems to have taken a lot out of her.

Jim’s picture is planted in the paper as a doctor sought for murder (gee, you’d think that’d come back to bite him), and Barney makes overtures to the gang’s contact.  He gets a meeting at the zoo with the gang’s leader, Clavering (Robert Middleton), a big, bearded man with sort of a bargain-basement Sidney Greenstreet quality, and arranges a meeting and payoff to get Jim out of the country.  Jim brings the money to the carousel meeting site, and Barney and Willy follow his tracking signal to a warehouse.  But Clavering insists on putting Jim in a lead-lined coffin in the back of a hearse (with an air/sedative tank), and the signal is lost.  For some reason, instead of watching the exit and following whatever vehicle emerges, Barney and Willy break into the warehouse and arrive too late.  As Barney says, “Jim’s on his own.”  Yeah, Barney, because you totally screwed up.

Jim is brought to another striking location, a park with white Arabesque buildings that’s representing the Lotus Hills Mortuary.  Clavering reports to the Director, who’s played by John Stephenson, a man whose voice is instantly recognizable to those of us who grew up with Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the ’60s or ’70s (he was the original Dr. Benton Quest, Fred Flintstone’s boss Mr. Slate, and the voice of Professor X in the 1989 Pryde of the X-Men pilot).  Schell is being interrogated by Dr. Hargreaves (Peter Mark Richman) in a spinning chair in a torture room filled with disorienting light patterns and noises, again like “Mindbend,” only more elaborate and intense.  (One of the sounds is the rattlesnake-like clicking of the Martian War Machines’ eyestalks from War of the Worlds.)  While this is going on, Jim wakes up, uses a lockpick hidden in his shirt collar to escape his room, and goes down to the basement, where he peels a patch off his arm and dumps some pills into the air conditioning system.  As explained in the apartment scene, the pills release a gas tailored to affect only diabetics like Schell.

Meanwhile, Barney makes contact with Schell’s boss Lutz (Dennis Cross), playing a private eye, and lets Lutz know about the kidnap/brainwash scheme.  He makes a deal to deliver Schell to Lutz once he gets him back.

Hargreaves and Clavering have no luck getting Schell to reveal where the money is.  They leave him for the nonce and go to work on Jim — who, without Barney speaking in his ear, can only choke silently.  Hargreaves realizes he’s hypnotized himself, and Clavering suspects he’s a spy.  But ironically the glitch in the plan saves Jim — Hargreaves argued that if he were a spy, he’d confirm his cover story, not just be silent.  (Come to think of it, reusing a trick the team has used before actually works in this context; since we’ve already seen how it’s supposed to go, that sets up its failure here.)  Hargreaves figures he can break the conditioning with a few hours in his wacky torture room.  There’s a fairly lengthy sequence of the torture/brainwashing with lots of spinning and flashing lights and noises, and I actually took the opportunity to go out and get a snack without bothering to hit the pause button.  So I almost missed the part where the henchman alerts H & C that Schell appears to be dying.  That’s Jim’s gas kicking in.  Hargreaves examines him, but he’s a psychiatrist, dammit, not an MD!  Clavering remembers that Jim supposedly is a surgeon, and pulls him out of brainwashing.  Jim uses the opportunity to insist on bringing in an anesthesiologist he knows, one who has his own crimes to cover up.  It’s Willy, and when the henchmen drag him there (with Barney and Casey following — Casey’s only role in the story is as a driver), he brings his little black bag — which contains a knockout-gas sprayer and mini-masks for Jim and Willy.  With the baddies all knocked out, the team rescues Schell.  Director Dr. Quest almost stops them, but Barney comes in and clocks him.

Then Barney notifies Lutz and they meet at Barney’s (supposed) PI office.  Schell can’t remember if he talked or not, so he and Lutz drive off to check on the stashed cash — and Willy’s planted a tracker on their car, so they follow them there and get the drop on them once they find the cash intact.  But Clavering has figured out that PI Barney is the one who clobbered Dr. Quest, so he’s followed them too.  Luckily Jim spots him in a mirror and the good guys duck and let the two groups of bad guys inflict some attrition on one another until the cops show up, arrest the survivors, and retrieve the dough.

Not sure what to make of this one, but I guess it tends toward the positive.  The plot feels somewhat recycled, but it holds together pretty well, except for the silly way the team loses track of Jim.  And the danger of Jim being on his own isn’t too great, since clearly the plan called for him to bring Willy in later anyway.  So that isn’t as strong a threat to the mission/the team as it could’ve been.  So let’s call it a mostly routine but reasonably well-executed caper.  Once again the location scout is proving to be one of the most valuable players this season, and we finally, refreshingly, get a complete original score, courtesy of Mr. Lalo Schifrin.  I wonder why they waited until episode 7 to pay for a new score.  I wonder how many others there will be.  (IMDb’s credits for this season are a bit lacking in thoroughness.)

“Movie”: Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with Tom Cruise.  We open at Pantheon Studios, where mobster Brent (William Smith) and his “guards” force the studio’s founder and head of production to sign over control of the studio.  We know who the guy is because his protests are painfully expository: “You can’t do this!  I’m head of production for this studio!  I created Pantheon Studios!”  Brent’s dialogue explaining how the founder got in debt is equally stilted, and it’s almost a relief when the conversation ends with the founder being tossed off a catwalk.  But there’s a nice transition from the falling studio head to a falling combatant in a karate practice session, with the thrower being Norman Shields (John Vernon, previously the villain in the 3-parter “The Falcon” in season 4).  Shields gets a phone call from Brent notifying him of the studio head’s “suicide,” and he then calls mobster Benjamin Dane (David Brian), who tells Shields that his kid brother Theo (Rhodes Reason) will be taking over the studio under Shields’s guidance.

Jim gets the tape in a hospital’s research lab, and all the mice and bunnies listen in as he’s asked to track down the ledger detailing how the syndicate is funneling money into the entertainment industry.  Instead of the “conventional law enforcement agencies” line, the Voice says that this information could let them smash the syndicate once and for all.  Well, at least until the next episode.

The team’s plan is to produce a movie, Portrait of a Murder, which is based on a murder Shields is suspected of and has details known only to him and the police (another “the play’s the thing” gambit?).  There’s another reference to Casey helping out offscreen, but Mimi will be going undercover as a freshly discovered actress in Barney’s film.  Jim will be impersonating Theo, whom Shields has never met — and faking Theo’s death to lure Benjamin to Hollywood.

Mimi gets the womanizing Theo’s attention on the flight to LA, then arranges to make sure they’re the last to deplane — except for Jim, who sneaks up and knockout-needles Theo.  Willy sneaks him out in the food-service truck.  But unknown to the team, Benjamin has sent a man to tail Theo, and the tail, Moore (Jerry Douglas), is surprised when Theo doesn’t get off the plane.  He pages Theo to the courtesy phone, surprising and worrying Jim.  (He sees Jim answer the page and knows he isn’t Theo.  Jim doesn’t see him, though.)  Luckily, the team has arranged to intercept the phone lines from the studio, so when Moore calls Benjamin, he gets the team’s voice impersonator du jour, Dave Waley, played by longtime M:I voiceover artist Walker Edmiston (and I think they’re actually letting him mimic the voices for real instead of overdubbing him).  Dave finds out where he’s staying, and that lets the team identify him by comparing the hotel register against the plane manifest.  But that doesn’t stop him from getting into the studio and intercepting Jim at gunpoint when he comes out of the Pantheon office building (actualy the familiar Lubitsch office building at Paramount — it’s the role it was born to play!).  Mimi sees this and drives at Moore; he fires at her car, and the noise attracts the studio’s mobster-guards, who shoot Moore dead, unaware that he was on their side.  So the main threat to the team’s plan is dealt with rather early.

Barney’s film disturbs Brent and Shields, since it’s way too close to reality and could harm Shields’s hard-earned good reputation in Hollywood.  But Jim/Theo refuses to shut it down, thinking only of the profits it will bring the studio.  Shields calls Benjamin, who tells him to get rid of Barney.  At the end of the call, the team cuts mimic Dave in to ask how Shields will do it, so they’re forewarned that he’ll use a bomb.  But they don’t know where or when. Barney searches the set the next day and doesn’t find it.  But just after the camera is reloaded, Brent hurries Jim out of the soundstage.  That gets Jim suspicious, but it doesn’t crystallize until he has a Dr. House moment while playing with a toy camera tchotchke on his desk.  He calls Barney and warns him the bomb is in the film reel that was just loaded.  Barney clears the set in a hilarious way, by staging a directorial temper tantrum and demanding that everyone leave at once.  He follows just before the bomb blows.

After Jim chews out Brent about the security breach, Willy shows up as Shields’s karate partner, saying the regular guy’s out of town.  He and Shields spar, and John Vernon does most of his own fighting, surprisingly.  Willy “accidentally” knocks Shields out and switches his gun with a remote-controlled, blank-firing duplicate.  Then Jim calls up Shields, pretending to be drunk, and demands they meet.  (It’s reputedly on Stage 31, and if that’s really where the scene was shot, then they’re in the soundstage where the starship Enterprise sets had stood just a few years before, back when it was called Desilu Stage 9.  That’s quite possible, since it would be right next door to the M:I soundstages.)  He confronts Shields, professing the intent to bring him down with evidence of his crimes, and provokes Shields to draw on him so he’ll hand over the evidence. Jim triggers the remote-controlled gun to fire and falls “dead” — and Barney’s up in the rafters filming the whole thing, with only the back of Jim’s head visible.  They then swap out Jim with the unconscious (and equally white-haired) Theo, who’s given a drug to fake death, with cooperation from the police to sell the illusion to Benjamin, whom Mimi calls to notify of Theo’s murder.  (Same as in “Stone Pillow,” the syringe is labeled “live virus culture” for some reason.)

When the surviving Dane arrives at the studio, having seen his brother’s “corpse,” Shields explains what happened, which is close to the truth except that he says Theo jumped him and the gun went off by accident in the struggle.  But Mimi tells Dane a different story.  Shields insists that Theo was going to ruin them with Barney’s film, and Dane demands to see it.  The film run in the screening room is instead the film Barney shot from the rafters, with an intro from Barney saying Theo asked for it because he was afraid of Shields.  But Dave has dubbed over Jim’s dialogue with new lines in Theo’s voice to make it look like an unprovoked murder.  Surprisingly, Dane doesn’t intend to kill Shields, but just orders him to leave the country.  First, though, he insists that Shields turn over the financial ledger so Dane can run the operation himself.  Willy watches from the projection room as Shields hands over his watch, which contains the ledger on a microdot.  Jim and Willy intercept Dane outside and take the watch at gunpoint.

All in all, a solid if unexceptional episode.  There are some moderately effective threats to the team, though the Moore problem is dealt with too easily — and if anything, the bomb isn’t dealt with easily enough, since it shouldn’t have taken so long for Jim to piece his suspicions together (and I could’ve done without the “noticing a random thing triggers a sudden epiphany” cliche).  Barney’s director freakout was great fun, and it was also fun to see the Paramount lot actually shown off as a movie studio for a change, letting us see parts of it that are usually hidden when they’re trying to pass it off as the outside world.  The depiction of filmmaking even seemed more authentic than what you usually see; for some reason, when film and television portray their own process, they tend to misrepresent it badly, but this felt closer to reality, with touches like scenes being shot out of order and an assistant director passing the director’s instructions on to the cast.  We’re back to stock music, but otherwise it’s a moderately satisfying episode.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “TOD-5″/”Cocaine” (spoilers)

“TOD-5″: A government scientist named Morse…  Hey, that sounds like the first line of a limerick.  Ahem:

A government scientist named Morse
Has sold out his country—how coarse!
He stole a nerve toxin,
So he needs outfoxin’
By the Impossible Missions Force!

(Sorry for the meter in the first and last lines.  Best I could do.)  Anyway, Morse (Ross Elliott) is contacted by Holt (Peter Haskell), go-between with a domestic terrorist organization called the Alpha Group, which intends to buy a stolen canister of nerve gas TOD-5 from Morse.  They meet in a hotel in the small Southern or Southwestern town of Woodfield.  But Morse has hidden it and will need a day to retrieve it. Holt calls go-between Davies (Michael Conrad, the third future Hill Street Blues regular to show up lately) who “connects” him with the Alpha Group the old-fashioned way, by holding two telephone handsets against each other speaker-to-receiver.  The Alpha Group is led by Dr. Victor Flory (hey, it’s Ray Walston!), and they’re suspicious of Davies, for good reason, since we see him listening in on the conversation.  Flory orders Davies detained for a few days once he returns, after which it won’t matter.  Cut to Jim in an antique shop, getting the briefing on a vinyl record on an antique phonograph — only the second time in several seasons that something other than a reel-to-reel tape has been used.  The mission is to locate the Alpha Group.  As Jim explains in the apartment scene, it’s not enough just to retrieve the TOD-5, because Alpha has other bioweapons it plans to use in a major strike several days hence.  They have to get to Alpha and shut it down.  This is another Mimi episode; Jim explains that Casey is in Europe monitoring Alpha’s overseas branch.  Mimi’s job is to get close to Holt, and Jim gives her a tracking-device watch and warns her not to let anything happen to it.  What do you want to bet something happens to it?

Jim and Willy effortlessly take Morse out of action and retrieve the TOD-5.  Morse boasts that capturing him won’t stop the attack.  But then, he doesn’t know the plan.  Next morning, Holt arrives at the hotel to be told by a new clerk (who seems sweaty and unwell) that Morse was never there at all. Holt checks in and searches Morse’s room, finding nothing.  He tries calling Alpha, but an operator tells him the long-distance lines out of Woodfield were downed in a storm.  He goes to the garage where his car is parked and finds it won’t start.  Holt accuses mechanic Willy of sabotaging his car, and Sheriff Jim intercedes.  Just then, there’s a bloodcurdling scream from outside.  A man staggers into the street, his face covered in sores.  He collapses and an ambulance promptly arrives.  Jim keeps everyone back from the sick man, including waitress Mimi, who seems close to him.  Holt notices the ambulance crew (including Barney) have military-style khaki pants and boots.  Just as the ambulance drives away, the camera zooms in on a man in the background — it’s Davies!  Hmm, I’d figured he was the fed who notified the government and got the IMF on the case.  Maybe he represents a third party?

In the diner, waitress Mimi flirts with Holt (even though the guy who just “died” in the street was “sort of a boyfriend” of hers), and can’t tell him anything about Morse.  When he leaves, Davies comes in, claiming to have been hunting in the area, and starts asking questions about Morse, making Mimi and Jim suspicious.  Mimi slips Jim his beer glass so he can fingerprint it.  Later, Holt sneaks into the garage and finds Morse’s car under a tarp, with the (dummy) TOD-5 canister just sitting in the back seat.  He takes the car and tries to get out of town, but finds the roads blocked.  Sheriff Jim notices he’s not driving the car he came in, and orders him to take it back where he found it.

Back in town, Holt convinces Mimi to tell him what’s going on.  He’s figured out a lot of it: that there was a TOD-5 leak and the military took over the town, quarantining it to avoid a panic, even if it kills everyone in Woodfield.  He convinces Mimi to let him know the next time they come to take a sick person away.  Later she comes to him in his room and knocks him out long enough for the team to inject him with a drug that will fake the symptoms of the plague (seriously, who designs these perfectly tailored drugs they keep using?), and they set back his watch and rewind the tape player hidden in his hotel-room radio so he’ll think no time has passed when he recovers a few minutes later.  Mimi tells him another sick person is about to be picked up, and he follows the ambulance to a morgue outside of town, where he’s captured and questioned by GI Joe Barney.  (Sorry, I didn’t notice his rank.)  Barney confirms what’s happening, and that only a very few people are immune to the toxin.  And Holt isn’t one of them.  Barney hands him a mirror and lets him see the sores starting to form on his skin.  Panicked, Holt breaks free and rushes back to Mimi.  She tells him she has no symptoms, even though her boyfriend died a couple of days before.  Holt realizes she must be immune, and might be his salvation.  Sheriff Jim shows up at Mimi’s door, but collapses “dead” soon thereafter.  Mimi suggests taking his cop car out of town; with the siren running, it’ll be let through the roadblock.  Once they’re on their way, Mimi activates her signal watch.

But Davies (whom the team has now identified as an Alpha member) follows them out of town, going offroad in his Jeep to get around the roadblock.  He shoots out their tires and pins them down with gunfire.  Turns out he wants the TOD-5 for himself so he can sell it.  The team arrives, but can’t intervene without blowing the mission.  Holt pretends to cave and tosses out the duffel containing the canister and the money he was going to pay for it.  Davies is distracted by the shiny long enough for Holt to recover his gun and shoot Davies in the leg.  But Davies’ gun goes off and hits Mimi in — guess where — the shoulder.  We’re getting to the point where you’re not really an IMF agent until you’ve been shot in the shoulder at least once.  And, predictably, when she falls, she breaks her signal watch.  When Holt takes her away in Davies’s Jeep, the team’s only hope is that Davies is still alive and willing to tell where Alpha HQ is.  He is alive, but they threaten to end that condition by shooting open the (fake) nerve gas canister right next to him.  At the last second, he agrees to talk.

Holt arrives with Mimi at the small-town church housing the Alpha Group, deliberately exposing Flory and the rest to the plague to force them to find a cure.  He tells them not to hurt Mimi, since she’s immune.  Then he appears to drop dead, an effect faked by the drug, and Flory is about to autopsy him when the nurses interrupt him with the discovery of the transmitter in Mimi’s broken watch.  Just then, Holt wakes up, and for some reason the first thing he does is to brush at his facial sores, which are suddenly flaking off harmlessly.  Just then, the team bursts in on the shocked bad guys, and we get a rare instance of direct lethal violence on the team’s part, when Flory pulls a gun and Jim shoots him in self-defense (though Flory dies off-camera).  Cut to Mimi recovering in the hospital, where Jim tells her she’s no doubt happier to recover than Holt was.  (There’s no further mention of Casey’s activities in Europe against the overseas branch of Alpha.)

A reasonably effective episode.   Nice to see bad guys who aren’t mobsters, even if they are domestic.  And it’s an unusual touch that the episode unfolds mostly from Holt’s point of view and we don’t always know in advance what the team is doing or who’s working with them (though it seems pretty much the whole town had to be cooperating with them).  Davies’s agenda is something of a mystery for much of the episode too, adding an unpredictable element.  The location work is good too; wherever they found to shoot the Woodfield scenes was not your typical backlot, and the shootout and confrontation with Davies took place in an interesting mountain-valley location.  So far it’s looking as though a lot of the seventh season’s budget is going into novel location work — the San Francisco-based tape scenes, the earthquake-ruined hospital in “Two Thousand,” the boats and coastal/seagoing locations in “The Deal,” now this.  It’s a nice change from when practically every episode featured the same studio backlots or office buildings.

“Cocaine”: We open at an import company in Rio de Janeiro (judging from the stock footage of its harbor), where… is this a Shatner I see before me?  Yes, William Shatner is back, but he’s not the focus of this scene.  He’s alongside gangster Carl Reid (Stephen McNally), and they’re meeting with Laroca (Gregory Sierra) to view a seahorse sculpture they’re having shipped to America.  The artist Santoro (Miguel Landa) is shocked to discover they’re using it to smuggle drugs — though he must lead a very sheltered life, since he needs it explained to him that the powder is cocaine.  He walks off, naturally getting shot for his trouble while the other bad guys coolly close their deal for the largest cocaine shipment ever smuggled into the US.  We cut to Jim driving up to a bookstore just across the street from San Francisco City Hall — very near the location used in the season premiere’s tape scene.  “Your mission, should you accept,” is to seize the shipment.

The mark for this mission will be Shatner’s character, Reid’s right-hand man Joe Conrad (who probably has some kind of darkness in his heart).  Conrad is vain, arrogant, and fancies himself a swinger (so, totally against type for Shatner, right?).  He’s just joined a Playboy-style club run by men’s cosmetics mogul Frank Fallon, who’s recovering in Europe from a near-fatal plane crash and has had his face totally reconstructed.  Casey, still on maternity leave assignment in Europe, has secured Fallon’s cooperation so Jim can take his place.  Mimi has gotten a job as a “Fun Girl” at the men’s club.  (For some reason, she’s attired in a glamorous evening gown in the tape scene, instead of casual clothes.)

Barney plays a cop whose star is rising due to a huge drug bust he just made.  Reid and Conrad can’t figure out where the drugs came from, since Reid controls all cocaine in the city.  But there seems to be a link to Fallon’s club, so Conrad goes there and Mimi arranges to catch his attention, pretending to be high on the job and getting a rebuke from Jim-as-Fallon.  He convinces her to get together after work, and she invites him to her place.  (This is a reunion for Shatner and Barbara Anderson; she seduced him as Lenore Karidian in Star Trek‘s “The Conscience of the King.”)  He claims interest in getting high, and she’s just let him see the sooper-seekrit compartment where her stash is when Barney and his cops show up to search her place, missing the stash.  Once they’re gone, Conrad takes the stash, and shows only one small bag of it to Reid and his chemist Stanley (Milton Selzer), the latter of whom confirms it’s the purest coke he’s ever seen.  Reid then has Conrad meet with Barney and try to bribe him, but Barney pretends to think that Conrad’s working for Fallon and that he’s not interested in taking Fallon’s money “anymore.”  Between this and some fake financial records Willy plants at the credit union, they’re now convinced that Fallon is the rival drug dealer.

So Conrad bails out Mimi and demands to know where she gets the drugs.  She takes him to see Jim/Fallon, and Conrad offers to go into partnership.  Jim refuses and rebuffs Mimi.  Playing the woman scorned, Mimi tries to shoot him and the gun goes off between them, fake-killing Mimi.  Now Conrad has leverage over Jim, and forces him to take  them to his source.  It’s Willy, cast against type as a genius chemist who’s invented a machine to synthesize cocaine cheaply.  Conrad calls in Stanley to confirm its purity, telling him to keep it between them, but Stanley lets Reid know anyway.  After Stanley confirms the purity of the coke (actually government-seized drugs provided to the team), Barney bursts in and is about to arrest them.  But Conrad Shatners it up and urges Barney to think about the millions he could make from this drug-manufacturing process.  Barney agrees to a partnership, and pretends to kill Stanley (just knocking him out) to be sure he won’t talk.

Conrad arranges with his buyers — presumably the ones who were supposed to buy Laroca’s shipment — to meet him earlier that day at Fallon’s club and buy his coke for less.  But then Jim and Willy get the drop on the buyers (including the late Charles Napier again, though he’s uncredited) and the “dead” Mimi comes out to collect the money.  Barney doesn’t join them; it looks like he’s been set up along with Conrad.  After the others leave with the loot, the buyers discover the “drugs” are sugar.  One of them is about to shoot Barney as a warning to Conrad, but Barney talks his way out, saying Conrad can get them their drugs.  He’s bought Conrad time, but he has to get his hands on that shipment from Rio now.  So Conrad intercepts (then shoots) Reid’s courier and gets the location of the statue.  Reid’s man is tailing him, and the dying courier tells him the location.  Jim and Willy try to pursue, but Conrad nearly runs over a crossing guard leading a bunch of kids across the street, and Jim has to stop to avoid hitting them.  Luckily, the team has tapped Reid’s phone at some point (this was never shown), and Mimi overhears the location.  Conrad reaches the gallery and tries to buy the statue, then Reid and his men get the drop on him, then the cops and the team show up and get the drop on them all.  Conrad smiles ironically as he sees the team all together.

An okay episode — like the last Shatner episode, scripted by future Star Trek: The Motion Picture screenwriter Harold Livingston (from a story by Livingston and Norman Katkov).  Not a great one, though.  All the schemes and double-crosses are maybe a bit too convoluted, and some things are set up that don’t really have any payoff (like a whole scene of Reid and Conrad explaining to the courier about how he’ll be given a phone number in reverse, which sounds like it’ll throw off the team, but it has no effect on the story).  But again, one of its main strengths is an effective use of visually interesting locations beyond the backlot.  A street sign saying “2900 W 6th St.” visible in the last-act car chase let me identify a couple of the distinctive buildings, including the Central Civil West Courthouse and the nearby Church of the Precious Blood — and there actually is a school right next to the place where the schoolchildren were crossing the road.  (Although during the chase it looked like they went through the same intersection several times.)

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Deal”/”Leona” (spoilers)

“The Deal”: This time we open with Jim getting the tape — not at a landmark this time, just at a drive-thru bank, though the bank architecture has a Chinese influence, making me wonder if it’s still in San Francisco (although LA has a Chinatown too).  Jim gets the tape packet from the teller by asking her to change a $1000 bill — and he never gets his change, making this the most expensive tape drop ever for him.  In a new stylistic variation, the episode credits (producer, writers, director) are shown during the tape sequence, as Jim drives from the teller booth to a parking space to listen to the tape.  The mission: General Oliver Hammond (Lloyd Bochner) is about to launch a coup of the island nation of Camagua with $5 million worth of backing from mobsters Rogan (Robert Webber) and Larson (Peter Leeds), and Jim has to intercept the money and expose the deal.  The tape phrasing is a little different; the “conventional law enforcement agencies” line is missing, and the Voice says “The assignment, if you accept it,” rather than the standard wording.

There’s no apartment scene either; we jump right to Jim, Barney, and Mimi (in her second guest appearance) working with a team of extras to make a fake Camagua detention center and patrol boat at an abandoned US base on the Camaguan coast.  (According to a map seen later, Camagua occupies an imaginary island about halfway between Puerto Rico and Venezuela.)  That makes this a significant episode: it’s the first time since the fifth season that an entire mission  takes place outside of the United States.  Again, there’s dialogue explaining that Casey is away on a deep-cover assignment; it’s a shock to see this show actually explaining a cast change or absence, and now they’ve done it twice.  But Mimi says that Casey made a mask just before she left, so technically Casey is a participant in this caper.  Willy is already aboard Rogan’s yacht, searching for the key to the safe-deposit box with the mob money; if he gets lucky, the rest of the plan won’t be necessary.  Naturally he doesn’t get lucky.  He’s caught when his transmissions to Jim get intercepted by Rogan’s radio.  He fights his way free and jumps overboard, but gets shot in the upper chest.  The mobsters leave him for dead.  The camera pulls back to show the vast empty expanse of ocean in which Willy is lost, which is undermined when it pulls back so far that you can see the rail of the boat it’s being shot from.

The team’s fake Camaguan patrol boat rendezvouses with the yacht, and Rogan’s group expect to be greeted warmly by Hammond’s people.  But Barney places Rogan and his cronies — including Sanders (former Green Hornet star Van Williams), Chalmers (Robert Phillips), and his ladyfriend Marcy (erstwhile Bond girl Lana Wood) — under arrest.  Nearby, a Camaguan fisherman complains about the patrol boat fouling his nets and insists that someone in authority will get an earful.  Rogan and his people are informed that Hammond has been arrested and they’re being charged with abetting his coup.  The men get private cells, but the vulnerable Marcy has to share hers with Mimi, in the role of Hammond’s mistress.  (I wonder how Mimi, so recently paroled, feels about having to play a prisoner.  Not that we’ll ever find out.)  Meanwhile, the team searches the yacht thoroughly, but finds no trace of the key.  They don’t have time to tear the whole boat apart — so Jim says they must tear Rogan apart.

When Chalmers is taken away by Col. Jim for interrogation, he’s switched with a masked double (a nameless extra) who pretends to make a break for it and get shot.  Later, Marcy has to listen to the (faked) sounds of Mimi being beaten, after which guard Barney apologizes and says he’ll do what he can for her tomorrow.  Marcy figures out that Mimi and Barney have an escape plan.  Jim also interrogates Rogan and the Green Hornet about the fate of Willy, but they have nothing to say.

Meanwhile, Willy has managed to swim ashore and is captured by a Camaguan soldier.  General Hammond questions him and Willy improvises nicely, saying that Rogan has double-crossed him and fled with the safe-deposit key.  It’s night by now, so Hammond orders a search with infrared cameras.  He also notifies Larson, who flies out to join him.

After their trial, Jim sentences Marcy to prison and the two men to execution in the morning.  The team arranges for Marcy and Rogan to have a few seconds alone so she can tell him about the escape plan.  But a search plane overflies their position, and Jim is concerned that they may have to flee at a moment’s notice.  Back in the capitol, Hammond has gotten the fisherman’s report about the fake patrol boat.

In the morning, Sanders is taken out for execution, and Rogan is convinced it’s a bluff to make them crack and reveal where the money is.  Or so he thinks until he sees Sanders shot “dead” (with wax bullets containing tranquilizer darts and fake blood).  Rogan is now ready to make a deal with Jim.  He signs a confession in exchange for a prison sentence — but though Jim urges him to give up the safe-deposit key, Rogan still refuses.  He’s holding out for a deal with guard Barney: help escaping in exchange for a share of the $5 million.  Barney agrees and helps him break out.

In the hospital, Hammond’s colonel comes to Willy and gloats that the yacht has been found, nowhere near where he claimed, and Hammond and his troops are on the way there.  Now, usually in M:I, when someone gets shot in the shoulder or thereabouts, it doesn’t impede their movements at all.  This time, they’re a bit closer to reality; Willy’s left arm is mostly out of action throughout this episode.  Which lets him show off just how good he is when he knocks out the colonel and a guard one-handed, changes into the colonel’s clothes, and makes his way to the radio room to warn Jim of Hammond’s approach.  Luckily, Barney has gotten Rogan and the women out of the prison.  Rogan leads Barney to the yacht and reveals why nobody could find the key with metal detectors: because it’s a plastic key baked inside a flowerpot.  Barney tells Rogan he’s a free man and slaps him on the back — but of course that was irony, because he has the good ol’ knockout needle thingy in his palm.  He takes the key and the team hauls out on the patrol boat just as Rogan regains consciousness and rushes out to see Hammond and Larson arriving, just in time for the usual thing where the baddies realize they’re screwed and stare at each other in dismay.  Willy swims out to the patrol boat and is united with the team for the first time in the whole episode.

Well, this was a pretty darn solid episode, written by Stephen Kandel with the story co-written by George F. Slavin.  (Kandel is known to Star Trek fans for creating Harry Mudd, and he would later write for Wonder Woman and MacGyver among others.  This is his first of five M:I scripts.)  What’s refreshing about the plan is that it doesn’t have a single, specific endgame that it takes an hour of convoluted stuff to build up to; rather, the team makes multiple different tries to locate the key, and seeing each successive attempt fail helps build suspense.  It also improves the pacing in the first act to see the team’s preparations happening alongside Willy’s search of, and escape from, the yacht.  Willy’s capture and questioning give him the chance to shine and create an added element of peril, and Hammond’s search provides an effective ticking clock.  There’s also a touch of ambiguity, since Marcy is somewhat out of her depth here and probably doesn’t know much about Rogan’s plans; you feel a little bad watching the team force her to witness apparent executions and torture and be afraid it will happen to her.  There are moments where it looks like Mimi feels bad about it too and tries to make things easier on Marcy, but there’s no real payoff for that.  It would’ve been nice to see her confront Jim about what he was inflicting on Marcy.  But the episode was full enough as it was.  It’s still early in the season, but this is the best one so far.

“Leona”: A mobster with the unlikely name of Mike Apollo (Dewey Martin) is instructing an associate, Lou Parnell (William Boyett), on the particulars of a series of payoffs to state officials.  Searching for a lighter, Apollo stumbles upon a voice-activated tape recorder hidden in Parnell’s drawer.  Realizing Lou is a spy, he has him taken away for interrogation.  Cut to Jim entering a closed bar, where again the episode credits are shown during the tape scene.  (Including a credit for Barry Crane, an associate producer since episode 2, who’s now matured to full producer.)  “Your job, Jim, should you decide to accept it” (again a variant phrasing), is to locate Parnell and rescue him from torture.

Jim’s plan involves another mobster with the even more unlikely name of Joe Epic (Robert Goulet), a friend and ally of Apollo’s.  They run separate rackets, and despite their friendship, either would gladly move in on the other’s holdings.  The peace is kept by the grand old man of the region’s mob, Malta (Will Kuluva), who holds regular summit meetings.  Epic’s wife Leona (Beverly Ralston) recently died, drowning in the bath after mixing prescription barbiturates with alcohol.  Using a masked Casey, hidden speakers, and Leona’s rare perfume, the team makes Epic think he’s being haunted by Leona’s spirit calling for vengeance (though he accepts that it’s all in his head).  Meanwhile, Jim plays an insurance investigator who suspects Epic of killing his wife.  He plants suspicion in Epic’s head, first that Leona’s death wasn’t natural, then that she was having an affair — evidence that cabbie Willy and doorman Barney back up, leading Epic to a love nest where he finds pictures of Leona — and Apollo.  (Barney’s moustache is back, though it was absent in “The Deal” — these episodes are clearly being aired out of order.)  Jim simultaneously leads Apollo’s men to suspect he’s working a deal with Epic; he flirts with Epic’s secretary Edith (Pippa Scott), actually a spy for Apollo, and she seduces him into revealing that he and Epic are planning to move in on Apollo with the phony murder charges.

So Epic calls a summit meeting overseen by Malta, and lays his charges against Apollo.  This clash of mobsters plays out oddly like a courtroom scene as Epic calls witnesses Willy and Barney (who were “subpoenaed” at gunpoint) to lay out his evidence against Apollo.  But Apollo calls his star rebuttal witness, Jim, who’s been similarly coerced to appear by Apollo’s men.  Jim doesn’t say what Apollo expects, though, telling Malta he’s not sure which of the men killed Leona.  Things are looking bad for Apollo.  His only option is to call his alibi witness, the man he was with on the day of Leona’s death: Lou Parnell, the undercover fed his men are torturing.  He has Parnell brought in through an underground tunnel, and as soon as Jim sights their target, he signals Casey outside, who’s with the cops.  The cops charge in and rescue Parnell.  Jim takes enough pity on Epic to tell him that his wife wasn’t having an affair after all.

This was a pretty good one, written by Howard Browne.  Although Epic is nominally a bad guy, he’s a sympathetic character who genuinely loved his wife and misses her terribly, and Robert Goulet conveys his grief effectively.  I kind of feel sorry for him, being put through the wringer like that by the IMF just so they can foil a crime that he has no real connection to.  This isn’t the kind of episode that relies on a strong sense of danger and uncertainty, for the plan unfolds smoothly, or the kind that relies on really imaginative gadgetry and gimmicks.  So it needs good character work to generate interest, and it succeeds on that front.  There’s also some interesting cinematography here and there.

The one thing I’m missing so far this season is new music.  Four episodes in, the scores have been entirely stock.  Long-running shows tend to have their budgets cut in later seasons to stay on the air; we’ve already seen that with the cast-size reduction and the shift to a domestic focus (probably cheaper than creating a bunch of “exotic” locations, even if they did just recycle the same backlots over and over).  Now it’s looking like they didn’t budget for hiring composers at all this season.  It’s too bad; the music was one of the great strengths of the show’s early seasons.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Break!”/”Two Thousand” (spoilers)

Now begins the final season of the original show…

“Break!”: The past two season’s use of cold opens has apparently been dropped; we start right off with the main title theme.  It’s a new arrangement again, with some bars dropped and others repeated.  It sounds a bit awkward.  But we still have an opening scene before the tape sequence, this time a rather slow-paced scene in New Orleans where bad guys Dutch Krebbs (Carl Betz) and Press Allen (Robert Conrad), who control the gambling rackets in the South, are watching a colleague called “Toledo” clean up at pool; he then stays behind when they leave the pool hall, going upstairs to take photos of their books with his superspy watch, but they come back in, catch him, and shoot him.  “Too bad,” Dutch says.  “He was one sweet pool player.”  Cut to Jim trading code phrases with an artist sketching a large domed building which I believe is San Francisco City Hall.  He gets the mission to find Toledo’s body and his camera watch before the microfilm deteriorates.  How the authorities know that Toledo took the photos before dying is unexplained; they must’ve read the script.

We cut to Jim and Barney demonstrating a system that will help Jim win at pool, an inertially guided, remote-controlled cue ball that will let Barney give Jim a 5-percent edge and diminish his opponents’ success commensurately.  Casey is absent, but they’re joined by Mimi (Barbara Anderson), Press’s old girlfriend who’s out on parole.  Jim warns her of the dangers of getting involved, but she’s eager to play her part.

First off, a ski-masked Jim and Willy steal a shipment of money from Press, both to make him look bad and to make Krebbs think his rival Sharkey (Robert Mandan) is behind it.  Then Willy arranges to get a bodyguard job with Krebbs, first by beating up a current bodyguard whose name, weirdly enough, is Mork (famed stuntman Hal Needham), then by getting Mork’s parole revoked (whereupon I assume he was shipped back to the Ork Federal Penitentiary).  Meanwhile, Barney rigs a local pool table with the rigged cue ball and its control plate.  Thus, when Jim shows up with Mimi on his arm, he’s able to sweep the table.  The timing gets a little compressed here, because as soon as Jim has sunk a mere two shots, the bar owner calls up Krebbs to alert him to this new pool prodigy.  (And most of Jim’s pool shots, except for the very trickiest ones, are visibly performed by Peter Graves himself.  They must’ve written the episode around his existing talent.)  Krebbs sends Press to scout Jim out, leading him to a reunion with Mimi, whom he convinces (with a payoff) to convince Jim in turn to take on Krebbs as his manager.

But Jim makes time with one of the waitresses in Krebbs’s establishment, making Mimi jealous.  Eventually she lets Krebbs and Press in on the secret of the remote-controlled cue ball, operated by Barney in the role of Jim’s partner.  Krebbs is convinced he can clean up.  But after another IMF-staged robbery puts Press still further in the doghouse, Barney offers Press a side deal.  They go to Sharkey, revealing the trick to him, and agree to arrange things so that Jim will lose to Sharkey’s man.  Things are heading that way, but then at the last minute, Barney knocks out Sharkey’s goon and drives the control van away, and triggers the control plate to vaporize while Willy switches the real cue ball back.  The final shots are left to Jim’s own skill, and he wins the game.

When Sharkey tries to accuse Krebbs of fixing the game, he finds the cue ball is genuine.  He thinks Press has double-crossed him, and tells Press he’s a dead man.  Then Jim suggests to Krebbs that Press was the one who tipped Sharkey off, so Krebbs also tells Press he’s “just bought a contract.”  Press fears he’s doomed, but Willy tells him that his employers will pay Press good money for Toledo’s camera watch.  Unusually for M:I antagonists in this position, Press doesn’t go for it and pulls a gun on Willy, but Mimi runs interference long enough to let Willy get away.  Press then goes to Sharkey and offers him the watch if they unite against Krebbs.  So they go to the cemetery and Press digs up Toledo’s body.  Yes, he digs it up.  Even though the episode is supposed to be set in New Orleans, where they don’t bury bodies in the ground because the water table’s too high.  Bit of a research failure there.  Anyway, he gets the watch, and Sharkey’s about to shoot him for it, but Barney and Willy get the drop on all the bad guys.

We cut to the familiar Paramount office lot, with the team reading a newspaper reporting Krebbs’s indictment.  The Lubitsch Building is dressed up as the state house, and Mimi comes out and tells the team that her parole has officially been ended and she’s a free woman.  Jim says he’s heard from the Secretary — the first time that particular individual has been mentioned in over a season, and the first time in many years that he’s been mentioned by anyone other than the Voice on Tape — and been informed that Casey will be on a series of special assignments in Europe, so he asks if Mimi will work with them from time to time, and she agrees.  It’s the only time we’ve ever gotten an origin story for a recurring IMF team member, or an explanation for a team member’s absence.

Well, this was a fairly routine caper, but a moderately interesting one.  Having Mimi actually be Press’s old flame, playing herself and using their real history against him, lent a bit more emotional interest than usual, though not much was done with it; she was no more conflicted about scamming Press than any other IMF femme fatale.  But if nothing else, Barbara Anderson is rather lovely and a welcome substitute for Lynda Day George.  And while all the pool “action” gets a little tedious and the pacing overall is rather slow, I respect the fact that Peter Graves did so many of the pool shots himself.  All in all, a workmanlike and reasonably entertaining start to the season, with an interesting twist in the person of Mimi.

“Two Thousand”: We open with Joseph Collins (Vic Morrow) picking up a cash payoff hidden in a condemned building and getting a call from a European contact.  They arrange for the contact to pick up a shipment of plutonium that Collins has stolen.  Nearby, government agents are listening in, but they know Collins won’t talk if they arrest him.  One of the agents says it will have to be dealt with another way.  That way is Jim Phelps, who’s again picking up the tape at a striking San Francisco landmark, this time the Palace of Fine Arts, where he gets the tape from the photographer at a fashion shoot (and according to IMDb, the model is a young Joanna Cassidy).  The mission, of course, is to retrieve the plutonium before the Europeans pick it up.  It’s worth noting that even though this is more of a spy mission than a crimefighting mission, the tape still includes the now-standard reference to “conventional law enforcement agencies.”

The San Francisco settings of the last couple of tape scenes might answer my question raised last season by that episode that indicated Jim and the team had to fly to Los Angeles from wherever Jim lived.  These episodes might be suggesting that he lives in San Francisco.  Although that would seem to conflict with all those tape scenes filmed around LAX in earlier seasons.  As far as I can tell, he still seems to be in the same apartment, though I haven’t looked too closely at the scenery.

Casey is present in the apartment scene, but her face looks kind of chubby and she’s seated with most of her body hidden behind a table and a tape deck.  No doubt this was shot while she was pregnant.  The other notable change is that Barney suddenly sports a moustache!  Willy says they’ve arranged to use an abandoned area in Bridgeton that was ruined by an earthquake, and Casey familiarizes the team with various drugs and compounds that will be used in the caper.

While Jim and Willy are watching Collins’s apartment, Collins is listening to his radio — or actually a double planted earlier by Willy, with an internal cassette that begins playing fake news reports of a looming conflict in the Mideast.  Then Larry Tate from Bewitched comes walking by.  Or rather, David White is playing Max Bander, an attorney who calls Collins on a pay phone, alerting him to his watchers, and saying he represents someone US-based who wants to pay Collins double what the Europeans are offering for the plutonium.  Collins asks for an hour to think about it, but then Willy shows up at his door along with Detective White (Don Diamond) and arrests Collins on a murder charge.  Larry, err, Bander gets the license number and calls his contact in the police, a corrupt vice cop named Sager (Mark Tapscott), to get what information he can on the arrest.  But Sager finds out there’s no record of the arrest and the car didn’t belong to the police.

At police HQ, the team takes Collins into a wing that’s closed for renovation (the chief is cooperating with the team and has arranged this, though the rest of the cops are in the dark).  They’ve set up a room with a fake window showing a rear-projected city view (including Los Angeles City Hall), and somehow Collins can’t tell the difference between film on a screen and a live view.  They let Collins call his law firm, but it goes to Casey as the operator telling him his attorney can’t be reached.  (She’s in a black turtleneck and a loose outer shirt to hide her pregnancy, but apparently she’s not as far along as I assumed from the apartment scene.  She looks very drawn and tired, though.)  Then, as Willy and White interrogate Collins, faked newspaper and radio reports tell of a building global crisis, and then a bulletin announces that missiles have been launched — and Sager, who’s lowered a mike down the ventilation shaft, is bewildered to hear this.  Collins watches through the “window” as a bomb goes off on the film, and at that moment, White drugs him unconscious.  They take him into the next room to prepare him, and Jim says to call ahead to Bridgeton (the earthquake-damaged region).

This lets Sager cue Bander and his boss in to where Collins is being taken, and the boss assigns Bander to take a couple of men out to Bridgeton.  “Bridgeton” is actually the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar, California, which was badly damaged by a 1971 earthquake in real life.  Like “The Tram” last season, this is an episode that was clearly written around a striking location.  It’s an impressively ruined setting, but the team’s helpers are making it even worse by planting bombs.  Collins wakes up to find himself with a bunch of entranced old people on a crude assembly line canning emergency rations.  He discovers that he’s apparently become an old man himself, and has a major freakout before Jim, as a military general, has him taken to a cell occupied by Barney.  Using his stock Caribbean accent, Barney explains that Collins is a “Class 9,” a group of survivors from near Ground Zero who were shocked into a trance state and rarely come out of it.  He’s awakened in the year 2000, 28 years into an endless global war.  Across the hall, a group of other Section 9s are strapped into chairs and gassed to “death.”

But then the sound effects of an air raid kick in and Willy starts setting the charges off — while Bander and his men watch the show from a nearby road.  Collins’s cell is badly shaken by the explosions and partly collapses, which seems a rather dangerous tactic on the team’s part.  Anyway, it breaks the door open, and Barney and Collins try to escape but are frightened back to their cell by the voice of Jim ordering search parties — but not before Collins takes a fallen soldier’s gun.  He orders Barney to show him the way out, but Barney scoffs and says it won’t matter, since in two days he turns 65 and will be executed, like all Class 9s.  Still, Collins forces Barney at gunpoint, and they travel across the strikingly devastated location until they reach a command center where Jim and several other military leaders are discussing their situation and how hopeless it is now that they’re out of nuclear bombs.  When the guards find Collins, he pleads for his life, telling the joint chiefs that he’s a nuclear physicist and knows where they can find 50 pounds of plutonium.  Once convinced that they’ll keep him alive for his bomb-building skills, he tells them where to find the bomb — but Bander’s people are listening in with a parabolic mike and head off for the site ahead of the team.

But it turns out Collins’s European contact and his men are already there digging up the plutonium, and a shootout ensues between the two bad-guy factions.  By the time Jim, Barney, and Willy arrive, Bander and his men have been eliminated, and the team gets the drop on the Europeans.  Back at Bridgeton, Collins finds his cell door open and the whole place deserted, and his age makeup is coming off.  As a vintage-1972 police car drives up for him, he laughs hysterically amid the ruins.

This is a pretty solid episode.  It’s built on tropes we’ve seen in earlier episodes, such as the structure of “Operation: Rogosh” and “Invasion” (where a character is tricked into thinking it’s a postwar world and he needs to give up his secrets to save his life, while enemy agents threaten to foil the plan); the fake-war scenarios seen in those episodes and “The Numbers Game;” and the fake-future scenario seen in season 3′s “The Freeze” and its fake-past variation in season 6′s “Encore” (which, like this episode, was written by Harold Livingston and has a similar ending).  But seeing as how it’s year 7 of the series, we’re unlikely to see anything really new, and what matters is the execution.  Despite what I said in my “Operation: Rogosh” review, this episode isn’t nearly as much a remake of that one as “Invasion” was.  Its post-apocalyptic flavor gives it an interesting edge, and the complication posed by Bander, while an example of a recurring trope itself, doesn’t feel quite the same as other such complications, perhaps because he represents a wild-card third party that the team doesn’t even know about.  And as with “Invasion,” at this point it’s refreshing just to see an episode that revolves around national security and global intrigue rather than domestic organized crime.  Mainly, though, what lends the episode its impact is the striking, devastated Sylmar location around which the episode was built.  It’s good that they established in dialogue that the damage was the result of an earthquake in-story as well as in reality, since there’s no way the IMF — or a Hollywood TV crew — could’ve faked something like that.  It’s an exceptional sight to see.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season 6 Overview

Season 5 was a new beginning for Mission: Impossible, raising the bar of its storytelling to a new level of quality and innovation.  But that was beginning to slack off toward the end of the season in favor of a higher percentage of more conventional and formulaic, but still well-written, episodes.  And season 6 had a couple of strikes against it going in: the reduction of the regular cast to four members and the abandonment of international intrigue in favor of stateside crimebusting.  I’m not sure, though, that those changes can explain the degree to which the show lost its way this season.  The year started out rather weakly, and though it eventually settled at a decent enough level and had the occasional gem, it only infrequently approached the level of season 5 and mostly settled for a return to formula.

The top episodes this season were “Encounter,” “Nerves,” “Bag Woman,” and “Double Dead” — the first for its strong character focus and the performance of guest actress Elizabeth Ashley, the others for their effective sense of danger and suspense.  “Invasion” was almost as good, a refreshing return to the global stakes of past seasons.  “The Tram,” “Mindbend,” “The Visitors,” and “Stone Pillow” were strong as well.  “Blues,” “The Bride,” and “Casino” were reasonably good, while “The Connection,” “Committed,” and “Trapped” were decent yet flawed.  “Blind,” “Shape-Up,” “The Miracle,” and “Underwater” were mediocre, “Encore” and “Run for the Money” were awkward and problematical, and “Image” was downright ridiculous.  All in all, the average quality of the season is moderately good, though less than season 5.  But it’s wildly inconsistent.

While it’s unfortunate that they dropped Lesley Ann Warren from the cast (allegedly because she was too inexperienced), Lynda Day George is a worthy replacement.  She’s easily the most beautiful M:I female lead, though maybe a bit too Barbie-doll perfect for some of the characters she’s called on to play — but excellent for romantic interests, ingenues, and women with some eerie or unstable quality, and good at playing a fairly broad range of character types.  If anything, her beauty worked against credibility a bit, since it led the writers to contrive too many situations where the person she replaced happened to resemble her or was someone the mark had never met or hadn’t seen in a long time, so that they didn’t have to hide her pretty face.  Despite being the team’s makeup expert, she only wore a mask in, I believe, two episodes.  Conversely, the lack of a regular male mask performer worked in favor of credibility, since it made a lot more sense to recruit impersonators as needed based on their facial or vocal resemblance to the targets.

On the other hand, the loss of a regular character to take the place of Rollin and Paris meant that the remaining men on the team, particularly Barney and Willy, were sometimes called upon to perform tasks that would formerly have been outside their skill sets — like Barney suddenly acquiring perfect voice mimicry in “Underwater” or Willy turning out to be a card sharp in “Casino.”  On the plus side, though, it let both Greg Morris and Peter Lupus stretch themselves more as actors.

The diminished regular cast, and the shift to law-enforcement missions with cooperation from the authorities, meant that the core team had more assistance than ever before.  The only episode that doesn’t involve cooperation from someone outside the core team is “The Tram.”  Otherwise it’s a pretty hefty list of additional team members and cooperating parties:

01 Blind: Henry Matula (Tom Bosley) & Dr. Warren (Robert Patten) assist; agent Warren Hays (Glenn R. Wilder) cooperates
02 Encore: Dr. Doug Robert (Sam Elliott); Bill Fisher (Paul Mantee), actor/impersonator; unnamed repertory co. incl. Drunk (Sam Edwards)
04 Mindbend: Barney double Teague Williams (uncredited); police cooperate
05 Shape-Up: Lt. Bill Orcott (Lonny Chapman); Actors’ Workshop (audiotape); cooperation from insurance & shipping companies, warehouse owners
06 The Miracle: Steve Johnson (Lawrence Montaigne), actor; Manny (Ollie O’Toole), pickpocket; Nurse (Francine Henderson) and hospital staff cooperate
07 Encounter: Encounter group performers including Joe (Renny Roker), Evie (Arline Anderson), 2 others; hospital staff incl. Dr. Adams (Lauren Gilbert) and Smitty (Virginia Gregg)
08 Underwater: Police cooperate
09 Invasion: Large team of soldiers and actors incl. Wounded Man (David Bond), TV Newsman (Roy Rowan), Soldier (James Essex), and Second Soldier (Conrad Bachmann)
10 Blues: Police Lt. Don Eckhart (Vince Howard), police sergeant playing Pusher (Bob Bralver), vocal impersonator Art Warner (John Crawford)
11 The Visitors: Marty Dix & Helen Prescott (offscreen) allow selves to be impersonated; police cooperate
12 Nerves: Bill Williams (Peter Kilman), impersonator; assistance from police and prison staff incl. Warden (Russell Thorson) & Doctor (Shep Menken)
13 Run for the Money: Trainer Nick Pressy (William Harmatz) & jockey (uncredited); Lucky Lady, racehorse; cooperation from racing officials
14 The Connection: Simone (Francoise Ruggieri), telephone operator; Bill (uncredited), guard; cooperation from Dogana customs official (uncredited) and police in Georgia, NY, Istanbul
15 The Bride: Bob Roberts (Gwil Richards), impersonator
16 Stone Pillow: Cooperation from governor, Department of Corrections, police
17 Image: Dave Scott (Paul Marin), impersonator; Tom Hawkins (George McCallister Jr.), muscle; Dr. Charles Berk (David M. Frank); unnamed workman (extra); cooperation from restaurant owner Alfredo (uncredited) & police; psychic Revalier lets Barney use identity
18 Committed: Assistant DA Wilson (James B. Sikking)
19 Bag Woman: Dr. Bob Miller (Lew Brown), vet; impromptu assist from Dr. Walter Manning (Russ Conway)
20 Double Dead: Steve Wells (Hank Brandt)
21 Casino: Unnamed/unseen voice impersonator; cooperation from state attorney general Peter Wiley (Walker Edmiston)
22 Trapped: Actor’s Studio (off-camera voice impersonation); undercover police at airport

Indeed, given the abundant cooperation with law enforcement and other institutions, the whole practice of the secret message drops and self-destructing tapes ceased to serve any purpose beyond being a trademark of the show.  Even though the tape scenes should probably have been dropped altogether, the only change that was made (beyond the continued absence of the “Secretary will disavow” line which was dropped from stateside missions in season 5) was the addition of a new stock phrase, the assertion that “conventional law enforcement agencies” were unable to achieve the objectives in question, thus justifying the IMF’s involvement.  This was used in every episode except “Invasion,” the only espionage mission of the season.  As far as I could tell, all the tape scenes were new except the one in  “The Visitors.”  All used reel-to-reel tapes except “The Connection,” which used a phonograph record.  Quite a few, seven in all, were filmed at locations on the ocean front.  Several were at playgrounds or recreation areas, while a couple were at what appeared to be high-school or college sports venues.  As far as I recall, all the tapes self-destructed rather than needing to be disposed of by Jim.

The new main title theme arrangement from season 5 is gone; all 22 episodes use the original main-title arrangement.  Nine episodes have composer credits: two episodes each are credited to Lalo Schifrin, Benny Golson, and Robert Drasnin, one each to Robert Prince, George Romanis, and Richard Hazard.   However, the last two of those episodes (one credited to Drasnin, the other to Hazard) had no new music that I noticed, and one of the Schifrin episodes, “The Miracle,” had only a small amount of new music.  “Double Dead” did feature some new Hawaiian-styled source music and slightly altered arrangements of stock cues, but no composer was credited; music supervisor Kenyon Hopkins may have been responsible.  Also, “Blues” featured Greg Morris performing “The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and an original song by Golson (along with guest actress Gwenn Mitchell performing a song that might have been original or not, I couldn’t tell), and “Trapped” featured Lynda Day George performing the song “The Gentle Rain,” composed by Luiz Bonfa, with English lyrics by Matt Dubey.  All told, this season features less new music than any season to date, and little that really stands out.

There’s little point in doing one of my overviews of locations, since virtually the entire season took place within the United States, albeit in various different regions.  The only episode that featured the team travelling outside the US was “The Connection,” in which some of the team travelled to Rome (or at least its airport) for a portion of the mission.  Their only other overseas venture was to “the Islands” (implicitly Hawaii) in “Double Dead.”  A few other episodes depicted non-IMF characters at overseas locations: Paris in “Invasion,” Istanbul in “The Connection,” and Southeast Asia in “Trapped.”

So what more is there to say?  Season 6 was a letdown after the exceptional season 5, but there were still several episodes that held onto the quality of season 5 and a number of others that managed to be solid, if routine, capers.  However, there was also a significant number of duds and absurd premises.  There’s no telling where the show will go from here.  Season 7 will have no radical changes in cast or format from season 6, aside from the temporary substitution of Barbara Anderson’s Mimi in place of Casey during Lynda Day George’s maternity leave.  So will it be about the same in quality as well?  That remains to be seen.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Casino”/”Trapped” (spoilers)

November 2, 2011 1 comment

Last two of the season!

“Casino”: We open in, shockingly enough, a casino.  It’s run with something of an iron fist by Orin Kerr (3-time Columbo villain Jack Cassidy), but that doesn’t stop Kerr from getting called on the carpet by his mob superior Cameron (Richard Devon), who’s discovered that Kerr’s accountant was an undercover cop.  Kerr kills the cop at Cameron’s behest, but Cameron warns him about getting sloppy.  Cut to Jim getting the tape atop a lighthouse (it’s amazing how many of this year’s tape drops have been on the waterfront), where he’s told that Kerr controls gambling in “one of the West’s most popular resort cities” (which is probably M:I-speak for Vegas, or Reno, I guess).  There’s a bill before the legislature that would take the city’s gambling out of the mob’s control, but only if that control can be proven in time for — well, you know the drill, it’s all just an excuse for another “get the evidence by the deadline” mission.

The apartment scene focuses on a film demonstration of the fancy high-tech automated vault Kerr recently designed and installed, and explains that Cameron’s an old-school mobster suspicious of Kerr’s high-rolling lifestyle; they just have to give him a reason to turn on Kerr.  Jim begins this process by splicing into the wire for Cameron’s bug in Kerr’s office (and we see that he and Casey are using new slimline walkie-talkies, almost as small as a lipstick tube, instead of the boxier units they’ve been using for years).  Meanwhile, Willy gets himself a job as a blackjack dealer, and we see he has a hitherto-unsuspected talent for dealing — and cheating at — cards.  This is the kind of job that would’ve made more sense for Rollin or Paris in earlier seasons.  (We also see that behind Willy is a nudie painting, and there are a few shots where there’s actual nipple visible.  Talk about slipping things past the censors…)

Barney arrives as Kerr’s office, impersonating a representative of the Caribbean mob (now secretly under arrest) whom Kerr contacted to put out feelers about moving to the Caribbean.  But Jim sends a different audio feed to Cameron’s wiretapper, a tape of Barney and an unidentified actor impersonating Kerr, in which Kerr promises to deliver some money to Barney.  Meanwhile, Barney shows Kerr a newspaper headline about him — but planted at the bottom of the page is an item about a paroled train robber whose loot was never found, with an old publicity photo of Peter Graves identified as the robber in his younger days.  Since Kerr’s looking for money to let him buy into the Caribbean operation, this catches his eye.

Casey plays a compulsive gambler who writes a bad check and gets called into Kerr’s office; later she comes back with Jim, who repays her debt.  Kerr recognizes him from the news photo and asks about the 12-year-old heist, but Jim claims he was framed.  But the fake wiretap tape makes Cameron think that they’re arranging a deal with Kerr just as Barney was.  When Cameron and his man go to question Jim and Casey, Jim gets the drop on them and ties them up.  Jim and Casey then go down to the casino, where Kerr gets Jim drunk and has Willy cheat him so that he ends up 5 grand in debt.  This is to drive him to go get the stashed loot, whereupon Kerr will follow him.

But while Jim makes a distraction by accusing Willy of cheating, Willy and Casey swap out Willy’s cash box for a substitute in Casey’s handbag.  When the box is placed into the super-automatic vault, it turns out to be an amazingly nifty robot remote-operated by Barney in a truck below — it deploys a camera so Barney can see, then rolls off the conveyor onto the floor, landing upside-down — but its sides swing open so it can flip itself rightside-up and roll over to what I guess is the alarm box or something, which it drills into and then blows up.  It’s an awesome gadget, but I’m a little unclear on just what its purpose was.  Then, Barney uses another automatic gadget to burn through the thick metal floor of the vault, creating a hole through which he inserts a wide hose connected to a powerful vacuum pump in the truck.  He then literally sucks the money off its shelves in the vault (though the shots of the money getting sucked into the tube are clearly reversed footage of it being blown out and settling to the ground).

When Jim and Casey reach the ghost town they’re leading Kerr to, Barney has already arrived with the money, which he’s put in a mailbag so Kerr will think it’s from the heist 12 years earlier.  Meanwhile, Willy has called hotel security with a tip that leads them to the bound Cameron and his man, who find a map in the room that also leads them to the ghost town — but not before they check the vault and find all the money gone (though nobody notices the big hole in the floor or the cashbox robot).  Shortly after Kerr arrives and forces Jim to hand him the money bag, Cameron shows up and interprets it as Kerr giving his stolen mob loot to his partner.  The dates on the dollar bills, as late as Series 1969, confirm that it’s new money from the casino, not old money from a 1959 heist.  Kerr’s in deep trouble with Cameron.  Barney shows up and holds Cameron at gunpoint, locking him in a room and leading Kerr outside.  Kerr thinks he’s home free — but the limo Barney leads him to holds the state attorney general (a rare on-camera appearance for Walker Edmiston, who’s done plenty of voiceover roles on the show), who invites Kerr to testify against the mob.  Knowing he needs to neutralize Cameron to save his life, Kerr, in a classically suave Jack Cassidy moment, tells the AG that he’s had a sudden bout of civic-mindedness, that it’s awful the control organized crime has over gambling and somebody ought to do something about it.

This was a pretty fun episode, though not one of the greats.  It’s a pretty routine caper, but with some nice touches, particularly the robo-cashbox, which pretty much stole the show.  I’m still not sure what the heck it accomplished, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

I’m starting to have my doubts, though, about the recurring theme of getting a bad guy to testify against his fellow mobsters by making them turn against him.  I get that the idea is that he’s a dead man if he doesn’t go into protective custody and/or give testimony that will get his enemies put away.  But that kind of presupposes that the police/government will actually be effective at keeping him safe, and that the other mobsters will actually cease to be a threat once the mark testifies against them.  What about retaliation?  A mobster who’s been convicted on our guy’s testimony could easily order our guy hit in retribution.  I guess the witness protection program could come into play, but still, would a mobster placed in such a situation really believe that his safest option was to rat on the colleagues who already have him marked for death?  I’m not really sure one way or the other.

“Trapped”: The season finale opens on a US Army base in Southeast Asia with what looks like it might be an IMF caper already in progress, with some soldiers whose faces we don’t see putting fake signs on a warehouse to lure a truck off course.  But it turns out to be some bad guys heisting an Army payroll.  We cut to Jim getting the tape in a closed lifeguard station (again with the beachfront tape drops), informed that the theft was the work of the Stafford family, the elderly mobster Joe (Tom Tully) and his feuding sons Art (Jon Cypher) and Doug (Bert Convy).  The mission is to get the stolen money back.

Jim and Willy intercept a truck driven by the Staffords’ brother-in-law, then Jim and Barney show up at their home (the season’s second use of Stately Wayne Manor, though it’s just stock footage this time) claiming responsibility for the heist/abduction and saying they want a cut of the operation or else.  Later, Jim meets separately with Doug, the younger brother, who’s been a dissolute drunk and womanizer since losing the love of his life years before.  He convinces Doug to meet with him at the Club Tempo, where waitress Annette (Sharon Acker, previously seen in season 5′s Jim-backstory episode “Homecoming”) flirts shamelessly with Jim, and also warns him that Doug is an unstable man, quick to violence.  She dated him once and he beat her up when she didn’t act the way he wanted.  Jim appreciates her advice and her interest, but he has to carry out the plan.  Jim tells Doug that his group intends to take Art down and wants Doug to take over as head of the family’s operations.  Doug rejects the proposal, convinced that Art would never turn on his own family, no matter how much the brothers hate each other.  Jim leaves, but then Casey goes to work as a lounge singer, performing the song “The Gentle Rain” in the same style as Doug’s lost love.  (This may be a bit of an Actor Allusion, since that was the title song of a 1966 film featuring Lynda Day George, or Lynda Day as she was known at the time.  Ms. George performs it herself, and her voice is okay but a little faint and breathy.)  Her job is to get Doug’s interest and get her to come home with him.  (She’s using the name Lisa, which the ’88 revival series will later establish as Casey’s “real” first name.)

Ironically, even as Doug was insisting that Art would never turn on family, Art was sending his gunman Broyles (Rudy Solari) to hit Jim, not caring if Doug got in the way.  Broyles targets Jim as he leaves the club, and Jim suffers a bullet graze to the temple (a lot of that going around in recent episodes).  This being television, it naturally gives him amnesia, and he wanders around not knowing who he is, but unwilling to go to a hospital since he senses some need for secrecy.

Before Casey goes off with Doug, waitress Annette warns her about him, but Casey also has to play out the scheme.  At her place, a planted photo and a phone call (with a voice faked by an impersonator at “the Actors’ Studio”) make Doug think that Casey’s involved with brother Art.  He gets angry at her, but she’s spiked his drink, so he passes out.  He comes around in time to be accosted by “hitman” Willy, who gets “knocked out” by Casey (with a harmless prop statue).  Now Doug’s convinced that Art’s out to kill him, so he needs to turn to Jim and Barney for help.  But Barney has to handle it alone, since Jim’s missing.

But Jim remembers enough to lead him to the Club Tempo, where waitress Annette takes him under her wing, eventually taking him home with her.  Unfortunately, the club’s bartender Al (Walter Barnes), who looks kinda like a cross between Kenneth Mars and an older James Doohan, is an informant for Art, and he tips the older brother off that Jim still lives.  Broyles is sent after Jim to finish the job.

Barney and Doug make their deal, but Barney demands cash up front before he’ll give Doug the men he needs to win the “war” with his brother.  Doug agrees, but before they leave, Jim finds a matchbook from the hotel in his pocket and calls them up to ask if he’s registered there.  Barney catches the tail end of the conversation, but Jim hangs up too soon for them to connect.  Barney’s worried about Jim now, but has to proceed with the plan.  He takes Doug to the airport where they intercept the courier who’s brought in the $8 million in Indian emeralds.  Barney signals the undercover cops waiting nearby and they arrest Doug.  Art shows up in time to see this and runs, but Willy tackles him and then threatens him into cooperating in calling off his hitmen.  They get Annette’s phone number from Old Scotty the bartender, and Barney urges Jim to try to remember his team and his mission — though he’s hampered by his inability to speak too plainly about their secrets.  But Jim remembers just in time, and as soon as Broyles and his partner burst into the apartment, Jim morphs into a stunt double wearing a white wig and pounds them both.  Once he transforms back into Peter Graves, he’s got his memory back and tells Barney he’s okay.  Barney and Willy head off to rendezvous with him and Casey as the brothers are taken away.  Unusually, we don’t actually see the whole team reuniting at the end of the episode; the freeze-frame is on the brothers.

Well, it’s nice that they ended the season with an episode that wasn’t entirely routine, but it wasn’t as impressive a formula-breaker as “Bag Woman” or “Double Dead.”  It was pretty much just okay, a workmanlike episode but nothing spectacular.  Nothing much was really done with Jim’s amnesia beyond having him wander around and sound unsure of himself, and his absence didn’t have much of an impact on the plan, because they’d conveniently set it up so that Barney could easily take his place.  And the rapport set up between Jim and Annette doesn’t really go anywhere from a character standpoint; she’s just there to be helpful when he needs someone helpful.

So an adequate episode with some above-average aspects but not enough to make it exceptional.  That might be a fairly good representation of the season as a whole.  But that’s a matter for the overview post coming up next.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Bag Woman”/”Double Dead” (spoilers)

November 1, 2011 1 comment

“Bag Woman”: We see mob “button man” Luke Jenkins (Georg Stanford Brown) make a contact with a courier — a “bag man” — to deliver a payoff.  He notices the courier is being tailed by an undercover agent, whom he then intercepts and kills as Jenkins’s dog looks on.  Jim asks for directions at a garage and gets the tape, informing him that the mob controls a major politician in “a western state.”  The mission is to identify the politician, known only as “C6,” and gather evidence to bring him down.  We’re informed that Jenkins works for mobster Harry Fife (Robert Colbert of The Time Tunnel, but with Gabe Kaplan hair and moustache).

With the aforementioned bag man burned, Fife needs a new one, and Jenkins recruits a woman he knows to deliver the next payoff to C6.  The team arrests the woman so Casey can take her place, delivering the money to C6 so that she can secretly photograph and ID him.  Then they cooperate with Jenkins’s veterinarian Dr. Bob Miller (Lew Brown) to lure Jenkins into his office, knock him out, and cage his vicious dog so that Barney can take his place (Jenkins’s place, not the dog’s).  That way Barney-as-Jenkins can vouch for Casey and also empty Fife’s safe.  But unknown to him, before this happened, Fife confided in Jenkins that he put a bomb in the money case since C6 was getting too greedy.  When Barney vouches for Casey and sends her off — chained to the case at Fife’s insistence — he’s unwittingly signing her death sentence.  (Casey drives to LA to make the payoff, which suggests that the “western state” must be California.)

Barney’s almost tripped up when he doesn’t know about a bottle of rare scotch that Jenkins brought Fife as a gift before the substitution, but he barely manages to cover.  As Fife boasts about his plans over the drink, Barney pieces together that Casey’s life is in danger, and he says he has to go try to spring his dog from the vet.  It’s an ironic excuse, since the vet’s assistant left the dog’s cage unlocked and he’s broken free.  Barney opens Fife’s front door to see the dog barrelling toward him.  The dog attacks him, and his mask comes loose in the struggle.  Fife and his henchman question Barney, but he makes a break for it.  He gets away, but not before he sustains a bullet graze to the temple.  Concussed, he wanders the streets until he reaches the office of Dr. Walter Manning (Russ Conway) and gives him Jim’s number, warning him lives are at stake, before passing out.  Jim arrives to learn that Barney’s been taken to the hospital, and he convinces Manning to go there with him.

Meanwhile, Casey meets her contact and drives off with him, and Willy attempts to follow.  But he gets in a car accident that destroys his tracking receiver.  Casey’s on her own.  And Jim’s away from his radio phone so he doesn’t get the message.

At the hospital, Barney forces himself to consciousness and manages to tell Jim about the bomb.  Jim calls Willy and learns what’s happened.  So Jim needs to improvise a new plan if he wants to save Casey.  There’s an interesting scene where Jim is in the room with the unconscious, tied-up Jenkins, thinking to himself about how to proceed.  He begins to loosen Jenkins’s ropes, then has another idea, breaking a bottle on the floor, then injecting Jenkins with a stimulant and leaving him to free himself with the glass shards so that he’ll think he got away on his own.  Jim then calls on Fife as a senior gangster whose visit he’s been expecting (this was mentioned in the apartment scene, even though they didn’t know it would come into play), and drops hints that C6 is irreplaceable to the syndicate, so that Fife will have Jenkins go to a pay phone and call C6′s office (so the call can’t be traced to him).  Jim uses binoculars to get the phone number as Jenkins dials, then gets the address from the police and calls Willy.  But in the meantime, Casey is still in danger.  Alerting C6 and his man to the bomb also means alerting them that Casey’s working for law enforcement.  When she resists interrogation, C6′s man is about to shoot her when Willy bursts in and takes him down, arresting C6 in the process.  Finally, we cut to a shot of Barney emerging from the Paramount office building, which is once again being used as a hospital facade.  There’s a rather nice 360-degree camera move around the team as they read the news of C6′s indictment and Barney says he’s feeling fine.

This is a refreshing episode, co-written (with Norman Katkov) by Ed Adamson, who wrote the fifth-season high point “The Amateur.”  It’s a return to the fifth-season form where anything could go wrong with a mission and often did.  There’s a palpable sense of danger throughout, and it’s intriguing to watch Jim’s thought process at work as he ad-libs a new plan.  The one significant problem is the contrivance of Casey being chained to the case, something that various characters react to as an unusual modification of the plan.  If this isn’t the way it’s usually done, then it’s uncertain why Fife does it this time.  Maybe it’s a way to ensure that only C6 opens the bag, but that isn’t made sufficiently clear, so it feels like it’s contrived just to place Casey in danger.   Aside from that, though, this is one of the season’s strongest.

“Double Dead”: Aah big scary purple dog cyclops thing!!  Oh, it’s just a closeup of a rather ugly stuffed toy at a carnival.  Unusually for this season, we’re opening with Jim getting the mission tape.  Rudy Blake (Lou Antonio) and Ollie Shanks (Paul Koslo) are close friends who lead the loan-sharking operation on “the Islands” (presumably the Hawaiian ones) for the syndicate, and the mission is to relieve them of their 10 million dollars’ worth of profits to put them out of business and prevent the syndicate from getting a tighter hold.  We cut right to the mission in progress as the team knocks out a guard and uses a faked voice on the phone to pass Willy off as his prearranged replacement.  This lets Willy get into Blake & Shanks’s office, where he uses a latex glove with Shanks’s palmprint to open its safe and begin hiding the money in his jacket lining.  But Shanks chooses that moment to bring a horny ladyfriend up to his office, and Willy is discovered.  He tries to fight his way out of the building, but knocks himself out during an overzealous tackle.  Oh noes!  Cue titles!

The team — including guest member Steve Wells (Hank Brandt) — meets in an airport lounge to devise a new plan.  Of course Jim is all about completing the mission first and doing what they can to save Willy while they’re at it.  Plan B involves a baby leopard (called “Kitty”) that’s trained to run into Shanks’s house on cue, with its “owner” Casey following behind to arrange a meet-cute with the womanizing Shanks.  It’s funny watching Kitty steal the scene, going wild on her leash and quite literally chewing the scenery, while the actors do their best to carry on with their dialogue.

Jim takes the place of Mulvaney, one of two mobsters working for mainland syndicate head Mr. Bolt, the man expecting to get paid that $10 mil.  He says the other, Travis, had to stay behind.  After Blake and Jim meet Shanks and Casey and arrange a business dinner, Steve calls up Shanks and tells him a private plane he ordered has arrived.  Casey goes with him to pick it up, and when they celebrate with some champagne, it knocks Shanks out.  Barney and Jim arrive and take Shanks with them, breaking into his office (represented in the exteriors by the side of the Paramount office building) and using his hand to open the palmprint lock.  They have perennially bad timing this week; they’re interrupted by a guard (Wesley Lau in his last and smallest M:I role) who comes in to pilfer some of Blake & Shanks’s booze, but they manage to go undetected this time and complete the theft.  At this point, the nominal mission goal is complete; the rest of the scheme is all about finding Willy, though it takes a while to get there.

Jim then goes to the planned dinner with Blake, but Shanks is missing.  Blake has his man call the air service and Steve tells him there’s been an accident.  This leads them to the hospital, where Casey claims their plane crashed in the sea and she saw the sharks get Shanks before she swam to the seashore (where she sold seashells?).  But business comes first, and when they go to the office, Blake and Jim find the money is gone.  Jim suggests that Shanks may have faked his death to abscond with the loot, and Blake sends his man to watch Casey while he calls Mr. Bolt, who catches the next plane out.

Meanwhile, Blake has brought in Dr. Matier (Maurice Marsac) to interrogate Willy using a dangerous and painful truth serum.  Matier’s nurse, Penyo (Irene Tsu), is clearly distressed by the torture, and when they’re alone, Willy pleads with her to help him.  She says she owes Matier a debt of honor for saving her father from political imprisonment, and feels she must obey him even though she knows it’s wrong.  She pleads with Willy to cooperate before it’s too late.

Blake’s man follows Casey from the hospital to the air service, where she wakes up Shanks and takes him home, making sure she says as much while in earshot of the watcher.  So when they get home, they find Blake and Jim waiting for them and demanding to know where the money is.  Casey acts all guilty, but Shanks is confused.  He accuses Blake of being the thief, and Jim admits it’s a possibility.  Just then, Barney comes in and mock-shoots Jim and Casey to death, saying he’s Travis (the partner of the guy Jim’s impersonating) and that the others were cops.  Then Bolt (Vincent Beck) arrives, seeing the “corpses,” and says that Shanks’s parties are getting wilder.

Willy is still resisting the drug, and when Matier orders another dose dangerously soon, Penyo protests, earning a rebuke.  She complies with his order to prepare a syringe — but fills it with saline rather than the drug.  Willy’s pleas have begun to reach her conscience.

Bolt demands to know what happened to the money, and Blake & Shanks realize the only one left who might know is the guard they captured, i.e. Willy.  This lets the team follow them to where Willy’s being held.  Blake & Shanks order another dose of the drug, but Penyo’s had enough, and surreptitiously cuts Willy’s bonds with a scalpel.  He breaks free and flees with her to where the rest of the team is waiting with a getaway car.  (Why were they waiting outside instead of bursting in?  They couldn’t have known she’d free him.)  The mobsters have lost the loot and the prisoner, but Blake says to Bolt that at least he knows neither Blake nor Shanks stole the money.  “Do I?” Bolt asks, pointing his gun at them.

This was a good one, written by Jackson Gillis and Laurence Heath.  For the second week in a row we’re seeing the return of the fifth season’s Murphy’s Law approach, stories built around the plans going wrong and the team facing genuine danger.  It’s also like the fifth season in its more character-driven approach, giving Willy his first real dramatic focus of the series.  There was that subplot with Brooke Bundy in “The Controllers” in season 4, but he didn’t have any actual dialogue there.  This is the first time we’ve seen a story with Willy engaging someone with words, making a personal connection as a key part of the plot.  It’s long overdue.  And between his dialogue with Penyo and his reactions to the drugs and duress, it’s the most acting that Peter Lupus has been called on to do in the entire series, and he handles it well.

There’s a bit of new music here, in the form of some Hawaiian-styled source music and some slightly new arrangements of stock cues with ukulele riffs added.  There’s no composer credited; perhaps the show’s music supervisor Kenyon Hopkins handled the new cues.

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