Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “The Ransom”/”A Spool There Was”/”The Carriers”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “The Ransom”/”A Spool There Was”/”The Carriers”

“The Ransom”: Oh boy, the first Very Special Episode! Instead of getting a mission from the Secretary, Dan is approached by a mobster who’s abducted the daughter of a friend of Dan’s to force Dan to break out a mob witness from police custody before he can testify. Interesting to see a variation on the formula so soon. It’s surprising, and somewhat implausible, that he’s able to pull together this whole large team and rig everything needed in a matter of hours.

The team includes all the usual suspects, plus two minor players: the doctor who previously helped out in “Operation Rogosh,” and a nameless, wordless guy played by none other than perennial Star Trek bit player and Shatner stand-in Eddie Paskey, aka Lt. Leslie. I laughed out loud when I discovered that his role in the caper was to be a stand-in — to take the place of the witness when the switch was made practically before the police lieutentant’s eyes. Given that the team members are recruited from all walks of life based on their professional skills, I can’t help entertaining the fantasy that Dan Briggs recruited the actual Eddie Paskey to do what he did best — stand in for another guy. Though apparently he was called “Steve” in the script, according to IMDb. This is actually Paskey’s second M:I appearance, after a bit part in the pilot, but this time he gets to be one of the privileged folk who get their photos in the big black dossier folder.

This episode boasts a bumper crop of future Trek guests — in addition to Paskey, we have William Smithers, Michael Barrier, Don Marshall, and an uncredited Jack Donner and Vic Tayback. That’s gotta be a record.

The story unfolds a bit unusually, not only due to the nature of the caper, but because it doesn’t go entirely smoothly; in contrast to the usual story beat where the team encounters a slight obstacle and quickly gets past it, much of the first two acts of the episode is devoted to several failed attempts to get the first phase of their plan to work, as they rig a system to deliver a knockout drug into the plumbing of the witness’s hotel room just before he takes a drink, but he instead swallows his sleeping pills dry and they have to try two additional gambits (including sabotaging the whole hotel’s air conditioning) to get him awake and thirsty. It was also unusual in that the antagonist, a mobster named Egan, knew exactly who Dan was. There was a lot more of Dan out of character here than usual. But he’s still as much of a hardcase as usual, maybe more so, since This Time It’s Personal.

What they don’t explain is how Egan knows of Dan Briggs and what he’s capable of doing. I would speculate that Dan ran some earlier mission where Egan was the target, and Egan found out about him during or after the mission. Dan claimed he only recognized Egan from the papers, but that could’ve been a cover story before he learned how much Egan knew. But the IMF didn’t run domestic missions at this point in the series.

Which makes me wonder if this episode was written as a money-saver, allowing the use of LA locations and standard US-style sets rather than fake overseas locations. At this point in the series, they would’ve needed unusual circumstances to justify doing an episode set stateside.

The biggest implausibility is the x-ray table they use to make the switch from the witness to Eddie Paskey. It’s rigged to flip over so one man can be quickly substituted for another. I have a hard time believing that such a gimmick could be rigged in the short time frame available here, or that it could be done in a hospital whose personnel weren’t in on the scam. Also, given what we were shown of where the x-ray plate slid in beneath the table, there’s no way it should’ve been able to flip as shown.

One more implausibility makes its debut here: the perfect impersonation. Rollin impersonates Egan in the climax, and it’s not Landau in a mask, it’s pure William Smithers, right down to the voice. Although to make it slightly more convincing, they gave Egan the conceit of wearing sunglasses all the time, which makes him look a bit like Agent Smith from The Matrix. At least they cast an actor who was a similar physical type to Landau.

Again, though, the score is a high point. Walter Scharf returns with a great jazzy score. God, I miss the days when TV shows had music this lavish.

——–

“A Spool There Was”: The mission briefing this time is in a hotel room where Dan finds a phonograph record and a row of developing trays with undeveloped photos in them, which then develop once he lifts a cover off the trays. I’m not sure if they were meant to burn out once he turned the regular light back on. But instead of “self-destructing,” the recording said “This material will decompose sixty seconds after the seal is broken.”  (I checked — it took 1 minute, 53 seconds. If it had gone up in 60, there wouldn’t have been time to complete the message!)

This is an unusual episode in that the team consists solely of Rollin and Cinnamon. They need to find a recording that another agent hid before being killed, and he’s hidden it so brilliantly that nobody can find it.  So they send in Rollin to deliberately put him in the same situation where he’s running for his life from the bad guys, so that he’ll be forced to think like that agent would’ve thought and be able to figure out where the recording was hidden.

So they’re deliberately putting him in extreme danger, the kind of danger that has already gotten another agent killed.  This gives some insight into why the mission tapes always say “Your mission, should you choose to accept it.”  Maybe the idea is that the missions are voluntary because they’re really, really dangerous and hard to pull off, the sort of thing you couldn’t in good conscience order anyone to do because the chances of success are so low.

It’s a story that could only have been made in the ’60s or earlier, back when they still used wire recorders. The late, lamented agent turns out to have hidden the wire in plain sight, stringing it onto a wire fence around some bushes. The first half of the mission is about Rollin and Cinnamon setting up their personae as lovers, with a pre-recorded tryst distracting the agents bugging their room while Rollin went out to get himself in trouble and find the wire. Naturally, this being ’60s TV, the recording consists of 42 minutes of Rollin and Cinnamon talking in character, and then once Rollie’s late, Cinnamon has to ad-lib a one-sided conversation until he returns. In a more realistic scenario, she could’ve bounced around on the bed and made moaning noises to fool the listening agents, but not on CBS in 1966.

Anyway, the rest of the episode is a comedy of errors as they try to get the wire. Rollin is about to snatch it away in plain sight, pretending to fix the fencing, when he’s called away to help the unsuspecting police. Then a boy finds the wire and takes it to fish with! Rollin tries to trade with him for a better fishing line, but he has to throw some enemy agents off, so he pretends to make the trade while telling the boy he’ll do it later, then leads the agents away. Later, Cinnamon follows the boy home and also pretends to get the wire from him, using a decoy wire and a fake drop to throw the locals off the trail. Then Rollie has to break into the boy’s home and snatch the wire from under the nose of the boy’s father, a local police officer. And then they have to make their getaway, using a whole lot of balloons as a decoy.

What upsets me is that Rollin just snatches the wire at the end. I was hoping he’d keep his promise and leave a roll of fishing line in its place. I mean, he’s supposed to be the good guy! What kind of cad breaks his promise to a little boy?

Otherwise, it’s a fun episode and an unusual one in its team composition. It’s the second episode where Briggs has been uninvolved on the mission, although his voice is heard on the decoy wire recording. Also, though Barney is absent too, he’s referenced as having rigged the fake camera holding the decoy wire.

It’s also the first episode of the series to date to make significant use of stock music beyond the usual dossier-sequence cue. It has a fair amount of original music by Schifrin, but also drops in some of Scharf’s score from “Old Man Out” and ends with Fried’s closing cue from “Odds on Evil,” and may feature some stock Schifrin cues as well, though it’s hard to tell given how much he reused the same motifs.

——–

“The Carriers”: A full-team mission, plus Mr. Sulu! George Takei guest stars as an epidemiologist to help scuttle an enemy mission to launch a biowarfare attack on the US using infiltrator agents. The story takes place in an enemy training facility designed to simulate an American town and train its agents — an idea also used in an Alias episode decades later. We’re introduced to “Willow Grove” in an idyllic montage with Lalo Schifrin going all-out with the folksy Americana music — then we pull back to see the fence and the guard post and the warning signs in Gellerese (the faux Eastern European language designed to be easily decipherable by English-speaking viewers), with the music taking a blaring turn to the dissonant. Quite funny, though broader than anything we’d see in a drama today.

Dan’s role is reduced again, but at least he’s on the mission, just in reserve for most of it. The team must intercept four enemy trainees and take their place (and quite a coincidence that three of them happen to be the right type to be doubled by Rollin, Cinnamon, and Barney, with Takei as the fourth), then find the bacteria cultures and neutralize them while making it look like they never got that far. They let themselves get caught so that Dan and Willy, disguised as enemy police, can “take them in for interrogation” and thereby free them.

But there’s a problem! Rollin accidentally gets exposed to the plague culture! The clock is ticking. Can they get away in time for Mr. Sulu to administer the antidote? Well, duh, and they really stretch the meaning of the word “immediately” to pull it off. Still, it’s a nice bit of suspense.

This is really Rollin’s episode, with Dan sidelined. He’s the one who’s figuring things out, doing all the clever stuff, getting his life endangered, earning the special enmity of the lead bad guy, played ironically enough by Arthur Hill of The Andromeda Strain. He’s even clever enough to sell his impersonation of a foreigner impersonating an American by “slipping” and bowing to Hill in an un-American way.

This episode marks the debut of the self-destructing reel-to-reel tape that became standard (this time in a photo booth), but it’s not entirely there yet, since the line is “This tape will destroy itself in five seconds” rather than “self-destruct.” I wonder, was the term “self-destruct” in common use yet in 1966? Is it possible that M:I invented or popularized it?

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