Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews (S2): “The Slave” Pts. 1 & 2

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Reviews (S2): “The Slave” Pts. 1 & 2

This review is dedicated to the memory of Peter Graves (1926-2010).  Good night, Mr. Phelps.

——

“The Slave”: This 2-parter opens with Jim walking through a park, but then we cut to a very fakey studio set of a few trees in front of a hilly cyclorama, where Jim opens a box marked “Fire” (for an emergency phone?) to get the message.  The mission: King Ibn Borca (Joseph Ruskin, previously seen in “Old Man Out” and one of multiple Star Trek guests in this one) leads a fictitious country on the Persian Gulf that’s the only one in the Mideast where the slave trade hasn’t been abolished.  The assignment is to oust Ibn Borca and his supplier de Groot (Warren Stevens, Rojan from ST: “By Any Other Name”) and make sure that Borca’s successor, his brother Prince Fasar (David Mauro), ends the slave trade thereafter.

The dossier sequence is quite padded, making us watch as Jim prepares a drink, ponders, looks out the window, ponders some more, then goes over to a locked case, takes it over to his table, unlocks it, and then pulls out the dossiers, which he goes through even more slowly than usual.  In addition to the usual team photos in color and rejected photos in black & white, for once there’s an actual dossier in the dossier stack, a report by Akim Hadramut, an expert on the slave trade in the region.  Akim (Steve Franken, a ubiquitous TV guest star of the era and still active today) is the extra team member this time.

What follows is an episode liberally populated by white people painted dark and pretending to be Arabs.  Not only do most of the team members impersonate Arabs at some point, but just about all the “actual” Arabs, including Akim, are Caucasian actors in makeup.  Nobody seems to find it odd that Akim and the “Arab” Interpol agent played by Rollin have vivid blue eyes.  Rollin is there to observe Borca for a later impersonation, and to establish ties with Fasar, a benevolent character who nonetheless trusts his brother, since somehow Borca has been able to render the slave trade on which his country’s whole economy depends entirely invisible.

Meanwhile, Barney goes undercover as one of the slaves captured by de Groot, and for some reason nobody bothers to search him or strip him of his possessions before throwing him in a cell.  So he’s able to change his disguise to look like a prison guard, complete with a fake gun that’s actually a camera, which he uses to take reference pictures of the cell for later use before springing the lock and sneaking out under cover of pursuing the escaped slave.

At the same time, Jim is playing a disreputable tough guy who hooks up with de Groot and his partner Jara (Percy Rodrigues, Commodore Stone from ST: “Court-martial”), letting them know he has a rare prize, a blonde English singer (Cinnamon), for sale as a slave.  This is his ticket into Borca’s slave auction, but just one phase of the larger plan.  (It also serves to get de Groot’s car to the palace in time to facilitate Barney’s escape from the dungeon beneath, using a harness that Rollin, disguised as an old beggar, had previously attached.)

Here’s where it gets a little dark and interesting.  Nice-guy Prince Fasar is married to a refined Englishwoman, Amara (Antoinette Bower, Sylvia from ST: “Catspaw”).  Rollin, Barney, and Willy employ a convoluted plan involving lowering sleeping bats (kept under by cold — since when were bats ectothermic?) into Fasar and Amara’s fireplace, where they warm up (represented crudely by an offscreen stagehand shaking the pole the actually dead or fake bats are hanging from) and flutter through the room.  Fasar and Amara fling open the window, letting Willy sneak in and kidnap Amara in the confusion.  They stick her in the replica cell built from Barney’s photos, making her think she’s been kidnapped by the slavers.  The team shows some moral qualms about putting an innocent woman through this hell, but they do it anyway.  It’s an effective and intriguingly dark ending to Part 1.

As with “Old Man Out,” the recap at the start of Part 2 is incredibly long, a full 6 minutes and 33 seconds.  When we finally get back to the story, Rollin as Borca comes to “inspect” the abducted Amara, revealing that he knows who she is and is deliberately selling her into slavery.

Meanwhile, when de Groot shorts Jim on the payment for Cinnamon (getting 5000 pounds from Borca but telling Jim he only got 3000), Jim pretends he only finds 1000 in the envelope, giving hima pretext to chase after de Groot and Cinnamon.  The car chase evidently occurs in that part of the Middle East that looks exactly like the back roads of the hills around Los Angeles (really, they couldn’t even bother to go out to the desert this time?).  Cinnamon shuts off de Groot’s engine and snaps off the key to stop him, so de Groot prepares to make his stand, getting Jim in his rifle sights, but Willy gets the drop on him.  Jim retrieves Cinnamon, and Willy drives off de Groot in the latter’s car, which is conveniently working again without explanation.  Jim and Cinnamon go back to Jara and claim to be a husband-and-wife team who’ve muscled de Groot out of the business, i.e. killed him.  Jim almost gets shot in the back by de Groot’s former henchman Musha (played by perennial henchman Sid Haig, previously seen in “Fakeout” and destined to return as 6 more characters in M:I’s future), but Jara recognizes he’s better off with a live slave supplier than a dead one and shoots Musha.  Jara is surprised at Jim’s ruthlessness when he says he’s honoring his deal to sell his wife into slavery (though not half as surprised as Cinnamon pretends to be).

Now, what’s the upshot of all this?  Rollin and Akim tell the prince that his wife Amara was taken by the slavers and will be auctioned off.  They tell him he can’t go charging in but must infiltrate the auction.  They say that Borca will have her appearance changed so she won’t be recognized.

So Cinnamon goes into Borca’s cell as the prize piece of merchandise at the upcoming auction.  Meanwhile, Amara is sedated and has her hair, makeup, and clothing changed to match Cinnamon’s look as exactly as possible.  We’ve seen that Barney’s rigged a cart with a concealed cavity for smuggling a person.  The plan, clearly, is to switch out Cinnamon for Amara, so that Prince Fasar will find his wife on his brother’s auction block.

The plan is almost scuttled when a buyer notorious for his interest in slaves of a, err, non-domestic nature makes a pre-emptive bid before the auction and Borca agrees.  Jim has to convince Borca to go through with the auction as planned, and he succeeds too easily.  It’s the kind of “snag in the plan” that became all too common in M:I, the kind that crops up just before an act break and is then resolved in moments at the start of the next act.  I prefer those rarer episodes where the plan actually goes seriously wrong and the team has to improvise.

But this time, once the minor snags are dealt with, the plan unfolds perfectly.  Rollin and Akim sneak Fasar into the auction, though it’s not adequately explained how they could find it now when Fasar couldn’t find it before.  He has his proof that the slave trade is real.  But apparently this isn’t enough to achieve the team’s goals.  He has to recognize his wife on the block and confront his brother.  Borca, of course, denies it, since he’s recognized it’s not the same woman he saw go into the cell, but Amara’s testimony convinces Fasar his brother is a liar.  And a moment later, his brother is lying again… lying dead on the ground, shot by Fasar, who angrily declares that the slave trade is ended.

We then get a copout ending wherein Amara and Fasar have apparently been told the whole account of what really happened and are perfectly okay with it.  Amara says she’d gladly go through the whole ordeal again to achieve the same result, so the moral ambiguity of what the team chose to do is simply swept under the rug.  It’s quite a letdown after the ending of part 1.

Ultimately, the whole convoluted scheme seems unnecessary.  Once the team found the location of the slave market, why couldn’t they just tip off Fasar and let him see for himself without going through all the rigmarole and the abduction of his wife?  It would’ve worked better if they’d established that Fasar was either too devoted to his brother to even consider the possibility that he was evil (a frequent M:I plot device) or too self-absorbed or dissolute to be bothered to care about the slave trade until he had a personal stake in the matter.

All in all, a flawed but interesting 2-parter.  Peter Graves is effective as the mean, surly, aggressive slave trader; I’m not used to thinking of him as a heavy, but he played the type well.   The production makes extensive use of the “Arab Village” section of the Desilu 40 Acres backlot in Culver City, seen in Star Trek as the Rigel fortress in “The Cage” and the Organian village in “Errand of Mercy” and as numerous Mideastern or North African locations in M:I.  The music is by a first-time M:I composer, Robert Drasnin — a name I’m familiar with from various ’60s shows, though I’ve never gotten to know his work well enough to recognize a distinctive style.  His score here didn’t impress me much the first time I watched, but it grew on me the second time.  There are some nice variations on the main theme and “The Plot,” some rather interesting use of percussion during the chimney-bats sequence, and some “Arab music” cues that range from very nice (mainly the ambient music in Jara’s cafe) to rather cliched.  I’m sure his renderings of the Schifrin motifs will get heavy usage as stock cues throughout the season.

Side note: Ibn Borca’s aide is played by Peter Lorre, Jr.,  although his voice is dubbed over, and I’m fairly sure it’s by Walker Edmiston, who did various uncredited voiceover roles for Star Trek.

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  1. December 4, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    Just saw this 2-part episode on the Mission-Impossible-a-Thon… did anyone catch the “MOSLEMS” only sign? Interesting.

    According to the Center for Nonproliferation Studies,”Moslem and Muslim are basically two different spellings for the same word.” But the seemingly arbitrary choice of spellings is a sensitive subject for many followers of Islam. Whereas for most English speakers, the two words are synonymous in meaning, the Arabic roots of the two words are very different. A Muslim in Arabic means”one who gives himself to God,” and is by definition, someone who adheres to Islam. By contrast, a Moslem in Arabic means”one who is evil and unjust” when the word is pronounced, as it is in English, Mozlem with a z.

    http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/524

    • December 4, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      Interesting. I knew the old “Moslem” spelling had fallen out of favor, but I figured it was just a matter of accuracy.

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