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

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

“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.

  1. April 29, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    “Why not just shoot him?” That would have meant about half of the 171 episodes would have been over in ten minutes! Actually, in the pilot (I think), the tape message tells Dan that assassination is out as a matter of policy or words to that effect.

    • April 29, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      That was true in the pilot, yes, but even if it was meant as a consistent policy, that doesn’t help here, because this was a straight-up assassination: they created, essentially, a bomb, and sent him to be blown up by it. Yes, often they dodged the letter of the no-assassination rule by setting the bad guy up to be shot by his own allies, but here it was their own actions that directly caused his death. Hence my complaint. If their plan was to assassinate him directly, then this was an absurdly complicated way of doing it.

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