Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Shock”/”A Cube of Sugar”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “Shock”/”A Cube of Sugar”

“Shock”: Dan enters a closed pawn shop at night to get the recorded message, which strikes me as odd; to an observer, a strange man entering a closed shop would be more conspicuous and suspicious than a strange man entering an open shop during the day. Anyway, the message is on yet another unusual type of dictation machine, the third this season. This machine, IIRC, uses a loop of thin plastic tape about the width of a strip of modern cash-register receipt paper, which rotates in the machine kind of like a player-piano scroll but is read by a stylus sliding across its width, like an odd sort of cross between a phonograph and magnetic tape. They really must’ve been experimenting with all sorts of variant recording technologies back in the late ’60s.

Anyway, the mission: Carl Wilson (James Daly), an important US diplomat vital to the peace process with the anonymous country of the week, has been kidnapped by enemy agent Kiri (played by Boss Hogg himself, Sorrell Booke), and replaced with an impostor/assassin, Josef Gord (also Daly). He plans to use Gord to discredit Wilson and then dispose of the original. The mission is to find and rescue Wilson, whose whereabouts are unknown.

This is one hell of a convoluted episode, since the plan is to substitute an impostor for the impostor! Since Wilson/Gord’s bone structure is closer to Dan’s than Rollin’s, Dan goes in as the meta-impostor, letting them write Steven Hill out of most of the episode. They spend a lot of time showing Rollin applying the makeup to Dan in order to sell the concept that James Daly is actually Dan in disguise. In the scenes where Daly is playing Dan, his voice is processed to make it sound higher and more nasal, closer to Hill’s.

So basically we have James Daly pretending to be Steven Hill pretending to be Dan Briggs pretending to be Josef Gord pretending to be Carl Wilson. Got it? Good, neither have I. Let’s move on.

Once the team manages to switch out Gord for Dan under Boss Hogg’s nose, they take Gort to a phony mental institution they’ve set up in a warehouse. Here’s where the episode’s title comes into play, in more ways than one, since the things they do to Gord are rather shocking from an ethical standpoint. With the help of a neurologist played by Outer Limits Control Voice Vic Perrin, they subject Gord to electroshock treatment to wipe his recent memory and leave him disoriented and unstable. Then — this is the clever and less disturbing part — they try to convince him that he’s actually an accountant named Krol and the whole Josef Gord thing is a delusional fantasy he’s dreamed up. Rollin plays the kindly doctor trying to get him to talk through his delusion and tell them where the imaginary Gord is holding the imaginary Wilson. When he resists, they lock him in his cell and use recorded voices to make him think he’s hearing things. There’s some weird camera work in this sequence, distortion effects and a spinning room and all that, which was confusing; why would a simple audio playback do that to him? Was this an aftereffect of the shock therapy? Anyway, they don’t get lucky until they threaten him with another shock treatment. He decides he’d rather talk to the doctor.

So let’s get this clear: essentially, this is torture. They’re damaging the man’s brain and tormenting him psychologically, using the threat of agony and further brain damage to get him to cooperate. Shocking indeed.

Another ethically disturbing moment is a rather weird act break where a couple of local kids playing at the warehouse stumble upon the team, and the act ends with big, strong, musclebound Willy chasing after these two little boys. You have to wonder what he intends to do to them when he catches them. Of course, it turns out that he just does some vague “Please don’t tell on me, they’ll send me to jail” thing that for some reason works, but for a moment there, I had to wonder….

Ultimately it gets even more convoluted and even darker. Boss Hogg’s plan is for Gord-as-Wilson to denounce and kill a US State Department official at a reception, then retreat to the study where the real Wilson has been brought, then kill Wilson and escape, making it look like a murder-suicide. Of course, he’s telling this to Dan-as-Gord-as-Wilson. The team has learned the plan from Gord, and they manage to let the official know what’s going on and put a steel-lined book in his jacket to protect him from the gunshot. Meanwhile, they retrieve Wilson from the study and put the real Gord in his place. (Somehow, the unconscious Wilson spontaneously moves from the desk to the chair before Barney and Willy bring in Gord.) Dan-as-Gord-as-Wilson makes his denunciation of US policy and shoots the official (aiming for the book), then retreats into the study. And here’s where it gets really dark: our “hero” Dan Briggs murders the unconscious Gord in cold blood, shooting him in the head just as Gord intended to do with the real Wilson.  (!!!!)

Anyway, Boss Hogg and the guests come into the study to find “Wilson”‘s body, and Boss laments that “Wilson” just couldn’t live with the shame of America’s evil intentions. But then Dan (now out of makeup and played by Hill again) comes in and reveals that “Wilson” is an impostor — by pulling off his wig and makeup. That’s right — somehow Gord’s makeup survived all of his ordeals, including the electroshock therapy that was somehow applied right through the foam latex! Gee, and all this time I thought rubber was an insulator.

And why did Dan have to pull off the makeup at that moment? Surely an autopsy, or even a cursory police investigation, would’ve revealed the truth about the impostor.

Bottom line, this is one hell of a screwed-up episode. I wonder if, in their rush to concoct a story that let them minimize their use of Steven Hill while still having Dan Briggs involved in the mission, they got so caught up in the mechanics that they neglected to think about the ethics. Usually in this show, the heroes don’t kill anyone outright, though they often set people up to be killed by their co-conspirators or to kill themselves through their own actions. When we do see them shooting people, it’s usually in self-defense. But here we have the hero of the show not only assassinating someone, but doing it while he’s unconscious and helpless. And that’s after torturing him. Never have I felt so sorry for an assassin. And Doctor Vic Perrin apparently swore the Hypocritic Oath instead of the Hippocratic one. Early on, we hear him justify his participation in this ethical quagmire by saying “An assassin, eh? Well, maybe this will even do him some good.” Oh, sure, maybe the shock therapy would’ve “cured” his assassinosis and made him a better man — if Dan hadn’t murdered him in cold blood a few hours later!!!

The episode isn’t all bad, though. At the formal reception in the latter portion of the episode, Cinnamon shows up in a tight red dress, and she’s never looked sexier.

——

“A Cube of Sugar”: The tape’s in a wine shop, nothing special — except oddly Dan listens to the tape in the front of the shop. What if a customer comes in off the street?

Mission: A secret agent who’s also a jazz musician, Deane (Jacques Denbeaux), has been captured by bad guy Brobin (Francis Lederer), who’s drugging him to extract the location of a secret-containing microcircuit. Apparently Deane’s already infiltrated the local drug culture, since the circuit’s hidden in a psychedelic-laced sugar cube. The episode seems to be trying to say something about drugs, since it’s a running theme through the episode; I think it’s just a general “drugs are bad” message, combined with a garish and slightly grotesque portrayal of the ’60s culture of psychedelia and go-go dancers and such — an attempt to portray the counterculture from the perspective of someone on the outside who took a jaundiced view of it, I suppose. (Not that I disagree in the slightest with the idea of drugs being bad, but there was more to the counterculture than getting high.)

Dan is on the mission but in a reduced role as a diplomatic aide. The main heavy lifting is done by Rollin, who gets himself arrested and put in a padded cell next to Deane’s; through the magic of some offscreen doctor, he’s immune to narcotics for 7-10 days, and is thus unaffected by Brobin’s pharmacological interrogation methods. After demonstrating that his many skills extend to straitjacket escape (a trick which Landau does on camera seemingly for real, though maybe it was loosened for him), Rollin makes use of a handy-dandy escape kit which Dan slipped into his cell padding (Dan’s main function on the mission), which is kind of like a Swiss Army knife in its versatility. It has a blade for cutting the pads to expose the rear bars. It has a nifty unscrewy sort of tool for pushing the bars apart. It transforms into a slingshot and contains a pellet that eats a hole in the radiator to distract the guard. It contains a drug injector to fake Deane’s death, and another to be used later to knock out Brobin. It even has a Brobin mask hidden inside so Rollin can impersonate him for his final escape.

But meanwhile, Cinnamon has to find the microcircuit. Luckily, Brobin conveniently has Deane’s drug sugar stuff on his desk, so Cinnamon can use her handy magnetic ring to grab the circuit. As for Barney and Willy, they’re engaged in the longest break-in ever. They’re breaking into the cremation oven — which Brobin intends to use to cremate Deane’s “corpse” before it can be autopsied to reveal his interrogation drugs — and they spend most of the episode bypassing cables, cutting and bending pipes out of the way, digging through a thick wall, inserting a cutoff valve in the gas line, breaking through another wall, etc., just so Barney can hide in the oven and use a small torch to fake the flames while he sneaks Deane out through the back. Now, I know M:I’s trademark was its focus on the detailed execution of the capers, but this was a little tedious.

Also, why is it that the team always knows exactly what equipment they’ll need to pull off the caper? Here, Barney and Willy had to know in advance that they’d need to bypass those cables, cut through a wiring trunk, and install a manual cutoff valve on the gas line. The team had to know the design specifics of Brobin’s cells in order to provide Rollin with his escape kit (if they’d been conventional cells instead of freestanding barred cages with pads inside the bars, Rollie would’ve been out of luck). Cinnamon had to know that Brobin would have Deane’s sugar in his office at the time she was there. It’s all a bit too precognitive. This is often a problem, but it seems to be standing out more than usual here.

For the first time in quite a while, we have a partial new score, a somewhat discordant and surreal sax-heavy score to complement the disquieting drug imagery and psychedelia. The composer is Don Ellis, who would later score The French Connection. About half the score is stock, but emphasizing jazzy and sax-heavy cues from Walter Scharf’s and Gerald Fried’s earlier scores.

And a new Star Trek connection emerges here. For this and the remaining two episodes of the season, ST’s director of photography Jerry Finnerman takes over from Gert Anderson.

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  1. Lemmy
    March 4, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    So you’re wondering why “Shock” is such a “screwed-up epidose”? Check this article:

    http://classictvhistory.com/MiscArticles/laurence_heath.html

  2. Steff
    June 10, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Dan did not shoot Gord at the end of the episode. The gun was pointed away from him.

  3. Steff
    June 11, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    I just watched it on dvd. Do you think there is more than one version? The gun was pointed away from his head that was lying on the desk. I watched the ending 3 times.

  4. Steff
    June 11, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    My husband and I are watching all the seasons. I like reading your blog after the different episodes. Thanks for writing.

  5. Jalbert
    June 21, 2013 at 7:10 am

    “Shock’ is pretty rough. It did look like Dan faked Gort’s death at the end but they never mention it. It makes more sense though. There’s no reason to kill him. He’s so doped up that for Kiri, who expects to find a dead body, the illusion works.

    • June 21, 2013 at 7:21 am

      I hope you’re right, but it doesn’t make the earlier torture any better.

  6. Angela Obinger
    February 3, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Anyone notice the Day The Earth Stood Still reference here?

    I AM GORT!

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