Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “The Traitor”/”The Psychic”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews: “The Traitor”/”The Psychic”

Now the final two episodes of the first season:

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“The Traitor”: Dan gets the briefing record in what I think is just an unused portion of a soundstage. Maybe they were getting lazy by this point. The mission: US agent Hughes (played unpleasantly by Lonny Chapman) has defected to The Enemy and is hiding out at their embassy, run by Malachi Throne. He’s handed over an important McGuffin document but doesn’t know how to decode it. The team must get it back before The Enemy deciphers it and discredit Hughes so The Enemy won’t trust anything he’s already told them.

Rollin impersonates the cryptographer The Enemy has called in, once stewardess Cinnamon delays him by drugging his drink off-camera (I guess they couldn’t afford a plane scene). His job is to create suspicion of Hughes. But the real work is done by special guest agent Tina, a dancer/acrobat played by future Catwoman Eartha Kitt. Willy sneaks her into the ductwork in a piece of replacement pipe, and she does all the catburglarish stuff that the Mythbusters discredited a couple of years ago — crawling silently through ducts (which would be absurdly noisy), using mirrors to deflect photoelectric beams (would set them off) so she can slide slinkily across the floor under the mirror rig, and just generally being all lithe and catsuity. (Hmm… prophetic casting?) Not that it’s played for glamour; Jerry Finnerman’s photography has none of the soft focus on women that was one of his trademarks elsewhere. I guess the M:I producers wanted him to cleave to their more matter-of-fact style (though he did get to use another Finnerman trademark, heavy noir-style crosslighting, on Hughes to make him look more eeevil). And Eartha’s pretty sweaty and dusty by the time she’s done.

The coolest gadget Tina uses is when she breaks into Hughes’ room after Rollin has sleepy-gassed him. As he’s lying dead to the world, she unrolls a sheet from her belt, drapes it over Hughes on the bed, and inflates it; it flattens out and creates the illusion of an empty (though unusually high) mattress. Thus, when Ambassador Malachi Throne comes in, it looks like Hughes has fled the coop to meet with Dan, who’s set himself up as a higher bidder for the secret plans. After Catwoman’s stolen the plans, she removes the inflato-mattress and plants payoff money in Hughes’ pocket. Discredited, Hughes flees the embassy, and Dan is waiting with the cops to arrest him for treason.

Really cool use of the guest agent here. The last time we had a female acrobat as the guest agent, Mary Ann Mobley in “Old Man Out,” her job was basically just to be a sexy distraction and to train Rollin in doing the big physical stuff. Here, Tina is the linchpin of the whole operation, the one doing the hardest, trickiest physical work and putting herself in the most danger, while the others are in more of a support capacity. And her athletic skills and dainty build made her superb for this kind of burglary work. One wishes she could’ve become a recurring member of the team.

The set used for the embassy’s entrance hall and study is the same set used as Wilson’s house in “Shock” just two episodes ago. It’s probably been used plenty of other times, but I didn’t notice until now. I suppose it’s difficult to do a show like this, with no permanent locations other than Dan’s apartment. There are some sets they clearly reused over and over again, redressing them slightly to try to pass them off as different locations: prisons, hotels, hospitals, private apartments, and this private house set. It would’ve been more convincing when you saw only one episode a week, rather than one after the other on DVD.

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And now, the season finale, “The Psychic.” Dan goes to an empty drive-in theater to get the message on one of its speakers. The mission: Industrialist Alex Lowell (Barry Sullivan) has bought controlling interest in a company that provides arms to NATO and has fled to South America, where he intends to sell the stock and the concomitant military secrets, or something, to Enemy agent January Vornitz (Milton Selzer, not a Bond girl as the name suggests). The team must retrieve the stock before he can sell it and compromise national security in some vague and technically legal way. Dan briefs the team on the mission in his apartment as usual, but he doesn’t participate in the mission. The briefing scene is the last time we will ever see Daniel Briggs. Adieu, Mr. Briggs. We hardly knew ye.

First, a guest agent (Paul Mantee, star of Robinson Crusoe on Mars) approaches Lowell as a Syndicate heavy offering to buy the stock. He’s turned down; Lowell seems pretty committed to selling these secrets to The Enemy, though overall he just seems to be in it for the money, so it’s unclear why he’s so uninterested in the mob’s money. Anyway, this is to set up the fiction that the mob is out to kill Lowell for his rejection. This is paid off when Cinnamon arrives as a noted psychic (presumably adopting the identity of a pre-existing famous psychic, since Lowell has heard of her), introduced by a not-so-friendly friend of Lowell’s, a judge (Richard Anderson) who’s working with the team and helps sell Cinnamon’s psychic powers to Lowell. Barney plants a bomb in Lowell’s car and Cinnamon predicts the explosion. Somewhat ludicrously, instead of, oh, checking under the hood or something, Lowell goes to the trouble of MacGyvering up a remote ignition system, hooking some long wires into the car’s wiring and touching them together from a distance, blowing up his own car in the process. O… kay. And apparently the team knew he’d go to these ridiculous lengths, since Cinnamon has placed a sound-activated detonator on the window to break it when the bomb goes off, so Barney can sneak in and Lowell will assume the alarm was triggered by the bomb.

Anyway, Barney uses a magician’s mirror trick (impressively done for real, with no visual-effects trickery) to hide under a table until the room is empty (having a scare when Lowell’s dog almost exposes him). Then he sets up a card-cheating rig under the table and plants stripped cards in place of Lowell’s. Rollin shows up as a gangster who’s “killed” Paul Mantee for his failure and now wants to discuss the matter like gentlemen. Cinnamon, whom Lowell is now convinced is genuine, predicts that he will play a hand of poker for the stock and win, using Rollin’s cards. Meanwhile, Barney is discovered (intentionally?) by Lowell’s henchman (Michael Pataki, later to play Korax in ST: “The Trouble with Tribbles”), but Willy knocks out the henchman and Barney escapes. Investigating, Lowell finds that the cards have been switched. Forewarned, he’s confident he can play and win by cheating the cheater.

But the cards are just the first layer of deception that Lowell was supposed to master. The real trick is the switcheroo rig Barney installed under the table, allowing Rollin to switch the real stock certificates for forgeries and pass the real ones to Cinnamon, who walks out with them unsuspected. The team reassembles and drives off just as Lowell and Calendar Guy Vornitz discover they’ve been tricked, and the season ends.

There’s more of Jerry Finnerman’s style in evidence here. This time, Cinnamon is definitely shot in softer focus than the men. Overall, though, the lighting isn’t as noirish as usual for Finnerman.

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So that’s it for the first season. Next: an overview and post mortem for the season as a whole.

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