Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Memory”/”Operation Rogosh”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Memory”/”Operation Rogosh”

The second episode, “Memory” by Robert Lewin (directed by Charles Rondeau), is another interesting one. I get the impression from these two episodes that the intended format of the show was sort of a guest-star showcase, with the regulars surrounding and supporting a specialist of the week who was the dramatic focus. In the pilot, both Landau (who was only a guest star at the time) and Wally Cox filled that role. Here it’s Albert Paulsen (whom I’ve seen as villains in a couple of later episodes) as Joseph, an alcoholic memory expert who’s being asked to basically throw himself to the wolves by impersonating a dead agent as part of a plan to discredit a warmongering Eastern European leader. There’s an extended sequence of Dan Briggs training Joseph for his role, and there’s a strong emphasis on Joseph’s struggles to overcome his weakness for liquor and stay focused on the mission, as well as the team’s uncertainty about whether he’ll come through (though it’s mostly conveyed with worried looks rather than overt dialogue). I got the impression that Dan and Joseph were friends from the old neighborhood or something, but that too was left implicit.

The format is interesting. First off, there’s no recorded mission briefing; Dan gets his assignment printed on a card handed to him by a street photographer. Second, there are essentially two missions, kind of. They successfully complete their mission to get Joseph arrested and stage a failed breakout attempt to make his story implicating the bad guy look convincing. But Joseph has seen and memorized a list of all the country’s European spies, intelligence that requires his rescue. So after security has been tightened, they have to break in again and rescue him for real. That’s a neat story. It puzzled me for a while, though, since Landau got a guest credit in the dossier sequence, but his dossier went on the reject pile and he wasn’t part of the original mission team. I was confused until they brought him in briefly to impersonate Joseph for a short film made to fool the security cameras. (I wonder, did he happen to be in Eastern Europe already on an acting gig, or was he on some kind of reserve team that accompanied them, or did they have access to the world’s fastest jet?)

So not without a plot hole or two (for instance, having the security guy take out a list of all his agents and leave it lying on the table where Joseph could see it was very contrived, even granted that the man didn’t know about Joseph’s photographic memory), but effective and interesting.

One thing that’s also interesting to me as a lifelong Star Trek fan is the music. This show was produced by the same studio as ST, starting in the same year, shot on adjacent soundstages and with some of the same behind-the-scenes people, as well as plenty of shared guest stars. But even though most of the composers were different, the music reminds me strongly of ST’s music. Not in style so much as in the sound of the orchestra. And I realized — the music was probably performed by most of the same musicians, even the same instruments, and recorded and mixed on the same equipment. So there’s no wonder it sounds so familiar. I never thought about it before, but I suppose it’s possible for different orchestras to have different sounds depending on their performers and instruments — as well as their conductors, of course, who can make the same orchestra sound totally different. And according to my father, the recording equipment used can have a significant effect on the sound as well. Anyway, it’s interesting to be able to hear that connection between the shows. And it’s enjoyable to listen to new music that sounds so much like the ST music I grew up with.

A final note: In the M:I universe, there was a truly staggering number of nameless enemy countries dotting Eastern Europe and Central America.  But some early episodes were a little more overt about geography.  In “Memory,” the bad guy they were trying to discredit was described as “the Butcher of the Balkans.” So at least we knew what part of the world he was from. And I freeze-framed on the shot of the list of that country’s spies in Europe. I was expecting a gag list made up of the production crew’s names, since it was only on camera for a couple of seconds and not really legible at normal resolution (I used my DVD’s zoom function), but it was actually a credible list of Balkan-type names along with the names of various European countries rendered in what seem to be their own languages (Dania for Denmark, Polska for Poland, etc.).

——

“Operation Rogosh” is another effective one. Fritz Weaver is Imre Rogosh, an enemy agent who leaves mass death in his wake and who’s been sighted in LA. Dan Briggs’ mission (delivered on an 8-track tape in a car!) is to get the unbreakable Rogosh to reveal his plans for destruction before they come to fruition. So they capture him and make him think it’s three years later, he’s amnesiac, and he’s in a prison in his homeland, accused of being an American agent. Subtly, without pushing and tipping off the brilliant Rogosh, they must maneuver him into revealing what he knows. “Let him do the work,” Dan reminds his team at one point. It’s interesting to watch the team playing it this way, holding themselves back, hiding their reactions, resisting the temptation to ask what they’re dying to ask.

A major complication arises when Rogosh’s colleague tracks down where he’s being held captive and is ordered to assassinate him before he can talk. Dan spots the assassin in time and manages to shield Rogosh with his body long enough for Willy to take out the assassin without Rogosh getting shot or the ploy being revealed. Maybe a bit convenient that Dan saw the shooter, but there was more tension to this than to a lot of the complications in later episodes, which were often fakeouts or too easily resolved.

The real twist happens at the climactic moment when Rogosh has been maneuvered into giving away his plan to prove his “innocence.” He reveals having hidden four bacteriological weapons in reservoirs around LA, and just as he’s revealed the third and is about to reveal the fourth, in his eagerness he knocks over a chair — and sees the tag for the LA furniture rental company it came from. Oops! (I bet the team will be more careful about that in the future.) I was wondering how they’d ever get him to reveal where the fourth device was. But Dan knocks him out and he wakes up back in his cell — with three bacteria bombs sitting right next to him! Ouch!

This is the first episode that doesn’t fit my hypothesis that M:I was originally meant to be about a group of off-the-book agents doing questionable assignments to give the government deniability. Here, they’re on the phone to the authorities constantly to let them know what they’re discovering about the threat. Given the nature of the mission, that’s not surprising. I guess the real idea is the one that’s right up front in the title: this is a team that does missions deemed impossible by conventional means. It’s on a volunteer basis (“Should you choose to accept it”) because the missions are so challenging and dangerous. The teams are put together using unconventional operatives rather than standard spies because they’re unconventional missions.

And the team composition is pretty unconventional. In addition to the usual suspects in the dossier sequence, we see a pamphlet for the Horizon Repertory Company. Dan hired a troupe of actors to fill in the roles in this large-scale deception. I gather we’re going to see them used again a few times before the idea is forgotten. The focus is still on the guest star of the week, but this time it’s on Fritz Weaver as the villain rather than on a member of the team.

All in all, an effective episode, and the template for more than one later episode in which the team would try to convince a bad guy that he was in another time. A late-season episode in which they convince an enemy agent he’s in a post-nuclear year 2000 in order to trick him into revealing a stolen plutonium cache is practically a remake of this one, though less subtle and with a sci-fi twist. Then there’s the episode where they reverse it and try to convince William Shatner that he’s back in the past. Neither of those handled the concept as well as this one did.

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