MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Odds on Evil”/”Wheels”
“Odds on Evil” is basically Mission: Casino Royale. The IMF goes after a Mediterranean prince (Nehemiah Persoff) with designs on invading an oil-rich neighboring country, their mission being to prevent his purchase of arms to scuttle the invasion plans. Lucky for them, the prince is a compulsive gambler, and their plan to swindle him out of his money and thereby halt the arms deal revolves around the baccarat table and Rollin’s facility for cheating at cards. It’s rather convenient that the prince turns out to be so fixated on winning that he’s willing to put his invasion plans at risk simply to avoid losing a single game of cards. How did they know he’d be that screwed up?
Cinnamon is especially sultry as a woman who doesn’t let her marriage of convenience get in the way of her seduction of the prince, which is set up so that her “husband” (an agent played by guest actor Nico Minardos) can “kill” her so that the prince will want to get her out of the country inconspicuously — enabling her to smuggle out the money that’s been hidden in the lining of her fur coat. Cinnamon also gets to be a woman of action at the end, holding her own in a fight against one of the prince’s thugs. It’s nice to see her capable of that end of things as well as the femme-fatale stuff.
There’s also a part of the plan involving a gizmo for cheating at roulette, a computer that can somehow scan the motion of the wheel and the ball (magnetically, I guess) and predict exactly where the ball will land despite all the bouncing around it does. This is implausible, but it’s an excuse for strongman Willy to be in the episode, since the gizmo weighs 90 pounds and has to be hidden in a vest. Anyway, the whole thing is to let the jealous husband win a lot of money at roulette so he can then blow it at baccarat. I think the idea was to drive up the stakes of the game so that when the husband left and it was down to the prince and Rollin, it would be easy to justify taking the stakes up all the way to a million five. And also partly to set up the fight between Cinnamon and the husband, I guess. Anyway, these plans are getting complicated.
Still, despite its convoluted aspects, this is an enjoyable episode, again largely due to the music — which this time is by Gerald Fried, a composer best known for his Star Trek scores (especially “Amok Time” and its legendary Vulcan fight music) as well as Gilligan’s Island and Roots. Fried actually did this score before moving over to Trek. It’s a rich, lovely score with all of Fried’s trademarks — the strong, catchy melodic lines with their distinctive Friedian chord progressions, the use of ethnic influences (Greek/Mediterranean here), the complex rhythms and counterpoints, and his characteristic orchestrations including lots of woodwinds and that bass electric guitar that played Spock’s theme so memorably in “Amok Time.” He also does fun things with Schifrin’s leitmotifs, particularly a jazzy, brassy variant of the main theme that accompanies the final car escape. (Fried did a total of 6 M:I episodes, ironically including one called “Trek.”)
This is the first episode on which Dan isn’t part of the team, disappearing after the apartment scene. It’s odd to see him absent so early in the series. What I’ve read always implies that Steven Hill didn’t start getting phased out until later in the season. I briefly wondered if this was produced later in the season and aired early, but assuming this show did things similarly to its sister show Star Trek, the fact that it has a full original score with hardly any stock music strongly indicates it’s from the first half of the season.
I looked up Nico Minardos to see if he was well-known at the time. Turns out he probably was, but for the wrong reasons. He was a fairly busy TV actor at the time, probably a familiar face, but less than a month before this episode aired, he was involved in a boating accident that killed a fellow actor. He failed to save the other boater and almost drowned himself. I’m surprised they didn’t delay the broadcast of this episode to give people time to get past that. Maybe such things weren’t as widely and instantly publicized then. (Minardos has had a colorful life. In the ’80s, he was one of the defendants in the Iran-Contra scandal, of all things.)
“Wheels”: We’re still getting more variations on the opening tape. This time, Dan got his briefing in a TV truck and disposed of the tape in a nearby incinerator.
This one has an interesting premise — the team has to “unfix” a rigged election by breaking into the compromised voting machines and tamper with them to cancel out the previous tampering, with matters being complicated when Barney suffers a gunshot wound. But there are problems with the execution that make it the weakest episode to date.
Once again we see Martin Landau cast in a dual role to justify Rollin’s impersonation of someone, but it makes less sense here than before. We see Cinnamon going through the files of this fairly small district to find someone who happens to be a match for Rollin, and she actually finds two, a highly implausible coincidence. Only one is a registered voter, so he’s the one Rollin has to impersonate. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, since the guy’s a devoted member of the opposition party and would’ve gladly helped out. The only justification is a passing reference in the tape scene — the Secretary instructs Briggs that no nationals of the country may be recruited to help, heaven knows why. As a result, Cinnamon has to trick the real guy into passing up his chance to vote, so she spends the day with a Martin Landau lookalike and has kind of a borderline romance thing with him. They’re kind of going overboard giving the married couple Landau and Bain a chance to do romantic scenes together. Without that one line in the tape scene, the story could’ve worked just fine with Cinnamon getting involved with a guest of the week. But apparently they feel obligated to work Rollin into every episode even though he’s nominally a guest star at this point.
And the plan doesn’t make a lot of sense. First, Dan and Willy impersonate guards to get “prisoner” Barney into the police station that holds the voting machines, so they can make molds of the keys they’ll need, and then they stage a mass breakout of protestors, which is where Barney gets shot. Later, they have Rollin fake a medical crisis in the voting booth so that Dan and Willy can come in as paramedics, with Barney hidden in the stretcher. Somehow, the evil leader and his evil police lackey (played by Trek guests Mark Lenard and Percy Rodriguez) don’t get suspicious about tampering even when several people are in the voting booth for several minutes unobserved. And somehow the police captain doesn’t recognize Dan and Willy as the guys who staged the breakout the day before. And somehow the cop who helps Willy with the stretcher where Barney is hidden doesn’t notice how heavy it is.
And the team creates a lot of trouble for this community, considering that they’re trying to help. In the course of their mission, they threaten an innocent doctor at gunpoint and tie him up, and then they cause an ambulance to crash so they can replace it. Okay, they didn’t actually hurt anyone, but still. And it wasn’t very admirable the way Cinnamon tricked the nice Rollin-lookalike guy and deprived him of his opportunity to vote. You could argue that Rollin cast the vote on his behalf, but still, that’s a bit discordant for a mission about defending democratic choice.
The main strength of the episode is its lively, lush, old-fashioned score by Jacques Urbont, making his only M:I contribution (and credited as Jack Urbont for some reason). Apparently Urbont’s most significant credit is the theme to the 1966 Iron Man cartoon series.
One thing I am liking is how Barney is being portrayed. It’s impressive to see a 1966 show depicting a black man as being this brilliant, well-spoken, tough, courageous, and charming. Star Trek gets praised for its inclusiveness, but Uhura and Sulu almost never emerged from the background, whereas Barney Collier is right up front on this show, in many ways the most indispensable member of the team.