Archive for February 28, 2010

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Snowball in Hell”/”The Confession”

February 28, 2010 2 comments

“Snowball in Hell”: The briefing tape is hidden in an out-of-order phone booth. The mission: the head of a notorious, now-closed prison (Ricardo freakin’ Montalban!!) has for some reason obtained the “formula” to a substance called “cesium-138” which is the key to making cheap nukes. Which shows the writers didn’t do their science homework. First off, there’s no isotope of cesium with an atomic weight of 138; they must’ve meant cerium-138. Second, cesium is a chemical element. The formula for cesium is “cesium.” Period.

But the prison is actually the fort location that used to be out at Vasquez Rocks, and was used in many ’60s shows and films; Trekkies know it as the Cestus III compound from “Arena.”  (At least the initial establishing shot was of the Vasquez Rocks fort.  I think the  actual shooting was done elsewhere, possibly at the Culver City “40 Acres” backlot, which was often used in M:I.)

The dossier scene debuts new photos of Barney and Willy — no longer the Collier Electronics brochure and the “World’s Strongest Man” article, but just color glossies of the actors.

The plan involves fancy gadgets including a superstrong electromagnet so that Dan and Willy can find out where to dig into an escape tunnel that a former inmate has clued them into, and an ahead-of-its-time robotic crawler with built-in refrigeration for the “cesium” — which apparently is a liquid that turns dangerously explosive if it gets over 70 degrees. And the prison is in hot climes somewhere in the Mediterranean-ish. There’s also a simpler trick that’s really neat — sticking an adhesive sheet on a windowpane to break it without noise.

The plot is convoluted. Rollie and Barney pretend to be doing a photo essay on the prison to get inside and open the tunnel so Dan and Willy can break in and sabotage the generator. Barney also pretends to be a former inmate in order to hold the attention of the sadistic Sefra (Montalban). With the generator broken, Sefra must take the McGuffin juice to the local hospital’s freezer, where Cinnamon has set up equipment and Rollin is hiding inside some boxes. They steal the boom juice and load it into the cute robot thingy. But then the plan calls for Sefra to discover the theft and Barney to tell him the boom juice is in the escape tunnel — so that he’ll meet up with the robot, now set to “hot,” and get blown up.

Uhh, what? All that convoluted stuff to steal the explosive from him just to give it back and set it off? Okay, they had to eliminate Sefra as a threat because he knew the “formula” for the stuff and could make more. And they had to blow it up underground so it wouldn’t take innocent lives. Still, it seems like a pretty overcomplicated way of bumping the guy off. Why not just shoot him? Why even bother with the fancy robot that must’ve been hugely expensive?

Still, it’s an entertaining episode thanks to Montalban, who’s… well, he’s Ricardo Montalban in full villain mode, what else is there to say? And this episode debuted just two days after Montalban appeared on Star Trek as Khan. It’s hard to say how the shooting schedules corresponded, but Montalban must’ve done the two shows fairly close together.

Also, thanks to the Mediterranean-ish setting, most of the stock music is recycled from Gerald Fried’s terrific score to “Odds on Evil,” most of which hasn’t been used since that episode. It’s good to hear again, and good that there weren’t as many familiar stock cues being repeated this time.


“The Confession”: The briefing is in a photo studio’s darkroom this time, conventional tape with destruction by Dan throwing it in water. The mission is rather surprising for its politics. A US senator has been assassinated and the murderer Solowiechek (David Sheiner), believed to be a Communist agent, caught. The senator’s hardline supporters, led by McMillan (an overly hammy Pat Hingle), are clamoring for war. But the Secretary believes the (implicit) Soviets aren’t behind it; it’s too reckless a move for them. It’s suspected that McMillan himself killed the senator to make him a martyr and promote global war. Intriguingly, the threat to global peace this week is a red-baiting American hawk. That’s not the sort of angle I would’ve expected on a spy show.

So the team has to get confessions from McMillan and/or Solowiechek. Rollin is sent in as a cellmate of Solowiechek; he breaks out with the assassin unwillingly along for the ride, and sets up a situation where the timid bomber has to confess his connection to McMillan. Meanwhile, Cinnamon and Dan (using their real names again) play a reporter and cover artist for a magazine, doing a portrait of McMillan to go with their exclusive scoop on his appointment to the senator’s post by “the governor” (Dan on the phone with a handkerchief over the mouthpiece). There’s a clever trick where a pre-made painting is covered with a white coat that’s dissolved by Dan’s fake paints, so he can pretend to be a painter.  (I think this is actually a reverse-filming effect.) The ruse is almost discovered when McMillan turns out to be a painter himself and tries touching up the portrait. It takes some fast (and unconvincing, except to McMillan) talk by Dan to explain why the yellow paint is showing up green. But the real reason for the act is to get Dan’s paint box there with a TV camera hidden inside, so that when Rollin and Solowiechek barge in, the whole confession will be broadcast on live TV.

But things take a surprising twist that I’m actually going to spoiler-code (highlight with mouse to read):
when Rollin and Solowiechek are having a hard time getting McMillan to confess, they’re confronted by the “dead” Senator himself! He’s the one who faked his own death to stir up war.
But the TV broadcast exposes the plan and the day is saved.

One notable bit in this episode: I believe it’s the first time (or at most the second) where the team members explicitly refer to “the Secretary” when talking to each other. Usually that’s just a throwaway bit of the opening briefing, but here it’s clear that it’s the Secretary’s belief about the nature of the assassination that’s driving the team’s efforts, and there’s a tense moment or two when it looks as if the Secretary may have sent them on a wild goose chase.

Hmm… Solowiechek. And the Desilu executive in charge of this show at the time (along with Star Trek) was Herbert Solow. I wonder if Solow is a shortened form of Solowiechek. Even if not, the name is clearly an homage (as was the name Sulu over on his other show).

It’s a cool story, but again the issue of fame raises its head, in two ways. I have a hard time believing that a well-connected American like McMillan wouldn’t recognize Cinnamon Carter, particularly when she uses her own name. This was a case where that could’ve worked, though, since she was playing a journalist. It might’ve been nice to have an exchange where McMillan recognized her as famous model Cinnamon Carter and she explained that she’d moved from modelling to reporting, but of course, no such luck. The other problem is Rollin appearing on live TV when the plot was exposed to the nation — 40 to 50 million live viewers, according to dialogue, which is far higher than the number of people that actually would’ve seen this episode the night it aired. Between this and his highly publicized appearance on worldwide TV in “The Trial,” how could he continue going unrecognized?

Just as the previous episode relied heavily on stock music that hadn’t been reused since its debut, this episode’s score is almost entirely a reuse of Walter Scharf’s jazzy score for “The Ransom,” which I’ve been eager to hear again.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “The Diamond”/”The Legend”

February 28, 2010 3 comments

“The Diamond”: Good grief, this show had boring episode titles most of the time. At least we get the occasional cool title like “A Spool There Was” and “The Reluctant Dragon.” But this is “The Diamond.” Whee.

This is one of those weeks where Dan has to give somebody a code phrase to get the briefing tape. The tape is the standard small reel-to-reel player, in a rare-book shop. The mission: A brutal (white) dictator of a small African country has stolen the world’s largest diamond from the Africans who found it, and intends to sell it and use the funds to conquer and oppress more of Africa. So the goal is to swipe his diamond (and return it to its rightful owners). The scheme is to convince him that the team has a method for creating exact duplicates of diamonds, so he’ll be greedy enough to entrust his huge uncut diamond to the machine, since duplicating cut stones would give away the secret. Much of the scheme is convincing him this is for real, and as is often the case, they do it by pretending to hide the information but dropping clues so he’ll figure it out himself. Oddly, this is another episode where the characters use their real names.

The dictator has brought a “small” cut sample of the diamond, only about two inches across, for the bidders at an auction in London. To pull off the trick, the team must photograph the diamond, get an expert to duplicate it in paste (somehow well enough to fool an expert), then switch the fake for the real one without them knowing, so that they can then pass the real one off as the duplicate. The switcheroo was the highlight of the episode. Barney and Willy got the hotel room next to the guy with the diamond, used knockout gas to put the occupants to sleep, then removed the wall outlets to gain access and used a really long pole with a cable-controlled claw at the end to swipe and replace the diamond. Which was going fine until the bad guy’s Siamese cat Josephine came into the room and started playing with the claw and the fake diamond before they could put it back! Wheee! Kitty wanna play! I can haz dyemund? Now, I could’ve watched that for the whole 50 minutes, but they used the gas to knock the kitty out and complete the switch.

But then, with the fake duplicating machine, the bad guy placed the diamond in the machine himself. It was out of his sight while it was in there. So why didn’t they just do the switch there instead of going to all the trouble with the claw the night before? The cat sequence was fun, but kind of unnecessary.

Also, the diamond forger working with the team said it’d take him a couple of days to duplicate the diamond from the photos, but then he seemed to have it within a few hours.

Anyway, once they convince the guy to take them to his country, set their machine up, and entrust his huge 7-pound rock to it, the team has Barney hidden inside to steal the diamond and pass it to Willy in a truck through a hole in the wall, and then they fake an overload of the machine and have Dan and Rollin slip out while a tape recording plays of them struggling to fix the machine from the rear. Inexplicably, even though the machine is clearly on the verge of exploding, the bad guys just stand there staring for over a minute and implicitly get killed in the blast. Which is kind of a “Huh?” ending. Just taking the diamond would’ve been enough to ruin the guy, and it doesn’t make sense that he would’ve been stupid enough to just stand there and wait to die. It’s an unnecessarily and illogically violent conclusion.


“The Legend”: The tape is hidden in the panel of an “out of service” elevator (which has the problem of many TV elevators in that you can see the floor is continuous with the hallway outside). It purports to self-destruct in 10 seconds (possibly the first time the phrase “This tape will self-destruct” has been spoken on this show), but then goes up no more than 3 seconds later.

The mission: Nazis again! For the second time this year, it’s up to the IMF to prevent the rise of the Fourth Reich. This time it’s not the sons of Hitler’s advisors, but actual veterans of the Reich, assembled by Rudd (Gunnar Hellstrom) on behalf of an unnamed “Commandant” who will spearhead the new Nazi Party. Dan uses age makeup to impersonate one of them, with Cinnamon as his daughter. (And the 1967 Steven Hill in old-age makeup doesn’t look much like Adam Schiff, though more than Captain Kirk in “The Deadly Years” looked like Denny Crane.) They’re shocked to discover that the Commandant is none other than Martin Bormann, Hitler’s secretary and right hand. In real life, Bormann was often suspected of having survived and gone into hiding in South America, and this story builds on that belief. (This was made before his remains were found, and well before they were genetically confirmed to be his.)

While the other team members stage distractions, Dan tries to break in and assassinate the invalid Bormann, hidden behind curtains in his sickbed — only to discover that it’s just a dummy and a set of tape recordings in Rudd’s own processed voice. Which would’ve worked better if “Bormann” hadn’t obviously been a dummy from the moment we first saw him. I assume the intent was to hide that revelation from the audience until Dan found out, in which case the makers of the episode failed miserably. That failure badly undermines the first half of the episode.

So Rudd is using the legend of Bormann to set himself up as the rightful heir to, uh, Fuhrerdom. In a way, he’s emulating the real Bormann, who gained great power by controlling access to Hitler, becoming, in some historians’ view, the de facto leader of Germany. Rudd is controlling access to his fake Bormann, but he has things all set up for “Bormann” to pass the reins on to him.

Plan B is to discredit Rudd, but security is too good to expose the dummy, I guess. So they bring in Rollin to impersonate Bormann, using Rudd’s own plot against him. The others are fooled, so when Rudd tries denouncing “Bormann” as an imposter, he undermines his credibility.

Meanwhile, Cinnamon has been trying to win Rudd’s trust to set him up. She tries seducing him in a cool, no-nonsense, Nazi-ish kind of way, but he proves to be totally immune to her charms. That and his Smithers-like devotion to the illusory Bormann kind of make me wonder if the writer intended to imply something about his sexual orientation, but maybe I’m reading too modern a notion into the story.

Anyway, she slips him a gun with blanks so he can “kill” Rollin-as-Bormann, and the team departs, leaving Rudd to the mercies of the other Nazis. Hellstrom gives an effective performance in his final scene as the others close on him and he, broken and weeping, pleads pathetically for them to “Let me be your Fuhrer.” It’s left unclear what then happens with those Nazis. Do they still pose a threat, or did the authorities nab them?

It’s an odd incongruity about this show — all their contemporary politics is either anonymous or pseudonymous, with real-life hostile powers almost never mentioned by name, but then we get episodes dealing with real Nazi figures like Bormann and overt references to Hitler, right down to actual newsreel footage of Hitler in this one. Of course it’s understandable, since the Nazis were no longer a contemporary threat and thus fair game; but it still seems kind of weird for M:I to be such an alternate geopolitical universe in most respects yet still include Hitler and Bormann and their ilk. (It’s also noteworthy in that this is presumably the only instance where Rollin Hand portrays someone who really existed.)

But that’s not a criticism, just an idle musing. I’m more critical of the fact that they did two Nazi episodes in one season. It would’ve been better to pace them more.

On the other hand, it’s nice to imagine that maybe Dan Briggs, like the actor portraying him, was Jewish and took great satisfaction in bringing down neo-Nazis.

Bertie Wooster, the Dark Knight?

Thanks to KRAD for pointing me to this, the funniest thing I’ve read in some time:

What if Bertie Wooster was also Batman?

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What I’ve been writing: followup

I fixed that awkward scene in my fantasy story — found a way not only to make it less awkward but to add a whole new level of creepiness (which in context is a good thing).  I’m not quite ready to submit it yet, since the scene before that bit is maybe a little too talky and I’m going to see if I can improve its flow.

I got to wondering something about the universe of “The Hub of the Matter,” my recent Analog story.  Namely, why do they risk sending live Hub scouts to test new vectors, a job that’s tedious and potentially lethal, rather than using robot probes?  I’ve thought of a couple of amusing answers, and I’ll try to work at least one of them into the next Hub story I write.

I reread “No Dominion” and concluded that it wouldn’t be too hard to rework the Default-verse history to incorporate it — but I just decided this morning that I don’t want to.  As I said, it has ramifications that would have rather sweeping impact on the Default-verse and limit my storytelling in some ways.  Also, on reflection, I think it maybe exaggerates the degree to which certain new technologies would spread through society, which works in the context of a single story exploring the possible ramifications of those technologies, but isn’t necessarily likely or inevitable in a larger future-historical context.  Part of my reason for wondering if I should incorporate “No Dominion” into the Default-verse was that I asked myself, “Why wouldn’t these technologies be adopted there too?”  And I realize now that, while they probably would be to some degree, I doubt they’d be as ubiquitous.  I may incorporate the ideas into the Default-verse to a degree that’s appropriate, but the story itself would still stand apart.  I’m a little concerned that if the same ideas show up in the Default-verse, readers might get confused about whether or not “No Dominion” is part of it.  But then, that’s what my website annotations are for.

What got me started thinking about this was reading the TV Tropes page about “The Moorcock Effect,” defined as “the tendency of long-lived genre authors to, at what is usually a later point in their career, combine two or more distinct series they’ve created into a single continuity.”  Like what Asimov did later in life by combining his Foundation, Empire, and Robot universes into one (and even hinting at connections to The End of Eternity and possibly Nemesis).  Or what Larry Niven did much earlier in his career to create the Known Space universe.  Or the way Poul Anderson combined his Flandry and van Rijn tales into a single future history.  What I always wanted was to have a big, unified continuity from the get-go, to plan it out in advance and keep it all cohesive, rather than start out with separate pieces and later mash them up, possibly creating continuity problems in doing so.

But what I’ve lately ended up doing instead is creating a bunch of different universes that can’t possibly fit together because their histories and physical laws are too contradictory.  It was easy enough for Niven, Asimov, Anderson, etc. to combine their various series that took place at different points in the future and reused similar physics and technologies.  I don’t have that option with most of my universes.  And that’s cool.  I enjoy the prospect of exploring several wholly different approaches to FTL travel, to the prospects of posthuman evolution, and so on.  It’s more creatively liberating than sticking with a single set of assumptions.

Still, the temptation to construct a grand unified theory tying it all together is there, even though it’s pretty much impossible.  That’s why I was tempted to fold “No Dominion” into the Default-verse — because it’s the one other “written world” I currently have that’s similar enough in its physics and broad history that it could potentially be folded in if certain storytelling adjustments were made.  But there’s no point restricting the storytelling of the whole universe for the sake of consistency with a single story.

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