MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews (Season 2): “The Widow”/”Trek”
Season 2 begins!
“The Widow”: We open at the Griffith Park Observatory as a car drives onto the scene. But wait, who’s this tall, grey-blond fellow getting out of the car? That’s not Dan Briggs! But he goes through the familiar motions, putting a coin in one of the tourist telescopes and unlocking a side panel to reveal the familiar tape recorder. Aha, the Voice on Tape addresses this unfamiliar man as “Mr. Phelps” and later “Jim.” Now we know who he is. (Assuming we didn’t read about the recasting in the newspapers before the premiere aired on September 10, 1967. Even before the Internet, people had some means of gaining advance information about TV shows. M:I was a popular show, so I’m sure there was some coverage of the cast change.)
Of course, Peter Graves was seen moments before in the main titles, so viewers knew he was now the series lead. But Martin Landau is now billed as a regular, listed second with his own “Starring” plus an extra “as Rollin Hand” — prestige credit that essentially gives him equal billing to Graves. (These days, such prestige billing would probably come at the end of the cast list, like Michael Shanks after he returned to Stargate SG-1.)
The dossier and team-briefing scenes are now in Jim’s apartment, and it all proceeds normally. There’s not the slightest hint that Jim Phelps is a new leader to the team. He selects the exact same team members Dan usually did, plus a doctor as an ancillary member, and they act as though they’re all familiar with each other. I guess we’re now in the alternate timeline where Jim led the team all along. (I’m starting to think that the Many-Worlds Interpretation might be the best way to deal with the total lack of continuity in most ’60s prime-time dramas.)
The mission is to stop a massive heroin sale taking place in Marseilles. According to Willy, the quantity is “enough to turn on half the addicts in the United States for a year.” Or all the addicts for six months. Or a quarter for two years. Or… anyway. The dealers are Cresnic (William Windom, previously seen in “The Train”) and his partner Walters (Joe Maross, previously seen in “The Ransom”). We see Cresnic (using a Hollywood German accent) forcing the international dealers to pay through the nose (heh) for his exceptionally pure product. (“Absolutely pure,” Walters stresses, making me expect to hear William Windom rant about “pure antiproton!“) “Pass it along to your customers,” Walters says, “what’s the problem?” Oh, no, the drug dealers are price-gouging! They must be bad guys! After the big customers grudgingly accept the deal, Cresnic wonders if they’ll have enough to sell to the smaller customers later. Walters says that product doesn’t have to be nearly as pure. Oh noes, they’re watering down their heroin! They must be bad guys!
Anyway, the plan is convoluted and hard for me to follow. Barney rigs an elevator to make Walters think it’s crashing. It’s an effective sequence directed by Lee J. Katzin, with the frenetically edited, panicky scenes inside the elevator interspersed with quick cuts to the exterior, showing the elevator completely stationary. Anyway, Cresnic is led to think Walters is dead, and his “widow” Cinnamon (who proves her identity with a laughably fake photo of her “standing next to” Walters — it looks they just just photographed her standing in front of a blown-up photo of him) has inherited control of his business. Meanwhile, Walters is in the hospital with faked damage to his eyes, so that he can’t tell that the “Cresnic” visiting him is actually Rollin doing a note-perfect voice impression (with Windom’s voice dubbed over his). Again, the show’s realism has gone downhill. In the first season, Rollin was rarely shown to be capable of such perfect vocal mimicry. At least they didn’t have him wear a William Windom mask too. Elsewhere, Rollin is playing a rival drug dealer muscling in on Cresnic’s operation. Jim has a supporting role as the chemist who makes Rollin’s heroin, cleverly disguised as bath salts to get through customs. Cresnic likes this enough to muscle in, steal Rollin’s supplies, and abduct his chemist to make the heroin bath salts for him.
Which gives Jim an opportunity to use a sneaky Barney-built gadget to vacuum up the real heroin he’s just processed into his right sleeve and switch it with powdered milk that sprays out of his left sleeve — thus becoming the Bart Simpson paradox, something that both sucks and blows. The greater paradox, though, is why he needed this fancy gadget to replace real heroin with fake heroin when he was the one who processed the heroin in the first place. Maybe there were random spot checks while he was working? And if the heroin’s already processed into fake bath-salts form and bottled when Cresnic first muscles in, why does he need Jim to process the whole thing over again? And why does the quantity of the stuff suddenly become much, much smaller when the time comes for Jim to switch it with the vacuum thingy?
The drug dealers in this episode have the standard Hollywood tongues that are able to do a thorough chemical analysis of drugs with a single taste. Which is convenient, because it’s necessary to make the buyers think that Cresnic has conned them so that they’ll kill him. Meanwhile, Rollin-as-Cresnic tells Walters about a plan to take the money out of Cresnic’s own safe through a hatch in the basement that Barney’s installed (and how he got the plans telling him where Cresnic’s safe was is unexplained). It’s timed so that when the buyers discover the fake heroin and force Cresnic to give them their money back, he opens the safe just in time to reveal Walters snatching the money from below. One of the buyers shoots Walters with one of those ’60s TV guns that kill without any bullet wounds or blood (or even smoke, muzzle flash, or recoil). Then the team makes its getaway while Cresnic is shot off-camera.
Overall, a mediocre start to the season, and an unimpressive debut for Peter Graves, who really isn’t given a lot to do besides playing a rather weak and ineffectual character. The main plus is a score by Gerald Fried, which is pretty good, though it’s not as cool as his “Odds on Evil” score. It features a variant of Schifrin’s “The Plot” accompanying Barney’s operations, with the main melodic line performed by what I think is a mix of piano and electric bass and punctuated by a timpani, a very Friedian arrangement.
I’ve recently had the thought that Mission: Impossible and CSI have something in common: they both feature lengthy, wordless sequences of characters performing slow, meticulous work accompanied by music. And in both cases, it would probably be very tedious to watch without the music.
“Trek”: “Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. Should any of your IM force boldly go where no man has gone before, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of their actions.”
Naahh. Actually, the mission (delivered in a phone booth) is to retrieve some stolen Inca gold which a poor, fictional South American country needs to sell to avoid bankruptcy. The thief has been caught, but alas, the colonel who holds him is a traitor who wants the gold for himself. The team must retrieve the gold and get it into the hands of the government.
Okay, so the title “Trek” may be coincidental (then again, it may be a deliberate homage to Herb Solow’s other baby), but there are a number of Star Trek connections beyond the usual Desilu staffers. Mark Lenard (previously seen on M:I in “Wheels”) plays the traitorous colonel. Jack Donner (Tal from “The Enterprise Incident” and a Vulcan priest from ST: Enterprise) plays a puppeteer who helps the team rig a fake Rollin for a “death” stunt that’s more elaborate than it needs to be, making him rather superfluous. Lev Mailer (aka Ralph Maurer), who was Bilar in “Return of the Archons” and a spear-carrier in “Patterns of Force,” plays a spear-carrier here. The music is again by Gerald Fried. And the prison where the first half of the episode is set is the fortress at Vasquez Rocks, used in “Arena.” More tenuously, the thief, Cole, is played by Dan O’Herlihy, whose brother Michael directed “Tomorrow is Yesterday” and whose son Gavan played Maje Jabin in Voyager: “Caretaker.”
So basically, Cardoza (Lenard with a cheesy stereotypical Latin accent, or rather accents, since the one he uses in his early scenes is even more cariactured than the rest) is supposed to meet with an accomplice to arrange for getting the gold out of the country. Jim takes the accomplice’s place (how the real accomplice is waylaid is unrevealed) and convinces Cardoza to let him stage Cole’s escape, with Cardoza taken “hostage,” so that Cole will lead them through the desert to the gold (the titular trek). The plot is complicated by the fact that Cole is a heartless, bloodthirsty bastard who keeps trying to shoot everybody he lays eyes on, even when it’s against his best interests to do so, not to mention against the best interests of the IMF. Seriously. Jim has to talk Cole out of shooting: 1) Cardoza, 2) Jim himself, and 3) Cinnamon, and fails to stop him from shooting two hapless prison guards (again with one of those bloodless TV guns). Jim probably only prevents Rollin (impersonating an Indian whose horses they need to steal after Barney’s clockwork-timed minigun in Cardoza’s car blows the radiator) from getting shot by fake-shooting Rollin himself.
The other complication is that Cardoza tortured Cole by forcing him to stare into the sun (there’s a rather effective POV shot of Lenard blocking the sun from the camera with his head, then moving it aside and letting the sunlight wash out the screen). Cole’s eyes are weakened, and too much time in the bright desert leaves him blind. Even so, the idiot’s default response is to try to shoot Jim and Cardoza, never mind that he’ll never get out of the desert without help. Anyway, Jim helps fake Cardoza’s death at Cole’s hands, and then he and Cole go to find the treasure with Cardoza following. Meanwhile, Rollin has found the good-guy general whom Cardoza’s betraying and is leading them in pursuit, so that Cardoza will be exposed as a traitor and the gold recovered. Fittingly, Cole is shot with his own gun as Cardoza tries to stop him from drawing it. He who lives by the sword… (Naturally, this being the ’60s, the ethics of selling off pieces of Inca history and culture to help fund the government are unaddressed, even though Rollin’s supposed to be playing an Indian.)
All in all, a much more effective episode than the season premiere. It’s a suspenseful story, thanks to the complications in the plan and the danger posed by the loose cannon Cole. It’s also a much better focus episode for Peter Graves, since Jim is very much the linchpin of this mission and needs to use all his wits and persuasiveness to keep Cole’s itchy trigger finger from ruining everything. (I gather that this was actually the first episode Graves filmed; it’s too bad it didn’t air as the season premiere, though maybe it didn’t because Willy isn’t in it.) The desert locations are effective and there’s some good direction by Leonard J. Horn. And Gerald Fried’s score is richer and livelier than his score for “The Widow,” very much of a piece stylistically with Fried’s Star Trek work in the same year, but with some nice Latin touches here and there.