Home > Cats, Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “The Seal”/”Charity”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “The Seal”/”Charity”

“The Seal”: An unremarkable tape scene, except that for the first time the mission briefing is on a cassette tape; Jim brings the player with him on a shoulder strap.  (It’s worth noting this was considered cutting-edge technology at the time, and was the inspiration for the Star Trek tricorder.)  As I think I remarked before, it’s odd that cassette tapes were so rarely used on this show even after they became commonplace.

The mission: Industrialist Taggart (Darren McGavin) has purchased a jade statuette which is the stolen royal seal of Kuala Rokat, a nation important to America’s strategic interests in Asia.  His refusal to give it back risks driving the country into the Soviet bloc.  The team must get it out of his possession by any means.  Their plan hinges on Rusty, a ginger tomcat who’s been trained to fetch things.  This is the second episode to feature a cat prominently, the first being last season’s “The Diamond.”  This time, the cat is one of the good guys.  (But really, a plan depending on a cat deigning to follow instructions?  What were they thinking?)

Cinnamon plays reporter to interview Taggart while Jim pretends to be a subcontractor whom Taggart Aviation has been overpaying for his rivets — the perfect bait to make Taggart’s accounting department eager to bend over backward to “help” him.   In this way, he sabotages their computer with a doctored punch card.  He’s also slipped a fake punch card into the phone’s autodialer (the ’60s version of speed dial, where you had to insert a punch card encoded with the number to be dialed) so they’ll reach Barney when they call computer repair.  Willy sneaks in Barney and Rusty inside a replacement computer, then fakes Jim’s signature on the signout sheet to hide the fact that Jim’s still inside.  He couldn’t so easily hand back two security badges, so he uses a gadget to stick two together for several minutes, then reveal the hidden badge shortly after a security alarm has been sounded due to the badge discrepancy.  This little trick gets the poor security guard fired by his mean boss.  Congratulations, IMF!  You’ve just ruined this poor guy’s life!  Now his wife’s going to leave him and he’ll descend into drink and wrap his station wagon around a telephone pole!

Anyway, Taggart spins this whole tale about how the jade seal has been stolen so many times throughout its history that its rightful owner is whoever happens to possess it at the moment.  Conveniently, he concludes that if anyone steals it from him in turn, they’re welcome to it — thus sort of absolving the IMF for the crime they’re in the process of committing.  Cinnamon concocts a legend of a curse that will kill Taggart in six hours if he doesn’t return the seal.  He doesn’t fall for it, but he’s amused enough to let Cinnamon invite in a visiting professor from Kuala Rokat (Rollin in subtle but profoundly unconvincing “Oriental” makeup) to tell him about the curse.  Rollie performs magic tricks to make it seem he has mystical powers (spouting some Orientalist rubbish about how such things are commonplace in the East).  This culminates in Rollin making himself disappear (making a sheet appear to levitate with a helium balloon he somehow smuggled in and inflated silently–huh?) in order to sneak to the vault and pretend to be electrocuted by its door (he’s wearing a special gizmo that protects him from the current).  While the security system is shut down to save him, Barney’s able to drill through the wall and use another balloon to insert a strip of material that emits a harmonic to neutralize the sound detectors once the security system is turned back on.  Interestingly, he uses magnets on one side of the wall to catch the drill dust on the other side, since the vault floor will go off if even a few ounces’ weight lands on it.

Rusty almost ruins the plan by playing with the fishies in Taggart’s fish tank, but is caught in time.  Barney inserts a telescoping rail for Rusty to walk along and sends him instructions through a headset attached to his collar, goading him to retrieve the jade and bring it back.  Naturally, Rusty takes his time.  I wonder how many dozens of tries it took to compile enough bits of footage to make it look like the cat was following instructions.  But eventually Rusty brings the jade out, and Jim and Barney sneak out by switching clothes (at gunpoint) with the paramedics who’ve come in to take the “electrocuted” Rollin to the hospital (serves them right, since they were apparently too unskilled to tell he was faking).  So the day is saved, the team drives off in the stolen ambulance, Rusty gets the last word, and they all have a good laugh at their morally questionable and illegal activities against a US government contractor in the name of some tenuous gain in the mad game of brinksmanship that was the Cold War.  But there was a cat involved, so I guess that makes it okay.

——

“Charity”: The DVD calls it “Sweet Charity,” but other sources disagree.  Anyway, it’s a weird episode.  The mission this week involves busting a charity scam.  That’s right, not a malicious foreign government or a spy ring or a powerful crime syndicate, just an unhappily married couple, the Hagars, who have bilked various rich people out of their money on the pretense of funding charities.  You really have to wonder why the IMF is being given such a minor case.  I mean, they already know somehow that the Hagars have the stolen money in the form of platinum bars hidden under their pool table.  Why can’t the authorities just arrest them on the basis of that knowledge?  Okay, they’re living on the French-Italian border, but America’s on friendly terms with those countries, so what’s the problem?  (And their home happens to be the same Pasadena location used for Stately Wayne Manor in the ’60s Batman, at least in exteriors.)

Anyway, the plan is very convoluted for such a minor mission.  Cinnamon plays a wealthy recluse (wearing an odd feather swim-cap thing that makes her look like a baby bird or something) who gets acquainted with Erik Hagar (Fritz Weaver) while Jim pretends to be a doctor attracting the attention of the man-hungry Catherine Hagar (Hazel Court).  Willy, as Cinnamon’s chauffeur, “accidentally” damages the grill of Hagar’s car, so Cinnamon has him drive the car into town for repairs.  Hagar lets him have it without question, thus proving himself incredibly trusting for a career con man.

Jim appears to make some mistakes with his cover story, so Catherine catches on that he’s a fake.  However, that’s part of the plan; his real game is to pretend to be someone Erik hired to distract his wife so he could go after Cinnamon (or rather, her millions of dollars).  Catherine is sufficiently smitten with Jim that she tells him to “earn your money.”  Turns out the gigolo biz only paid 300 bucks a weekend back then.

Meanwhile, Barney and Willy are doing the old “cut open the floor from the basement” trick and stealing the platinum from under the pool table, replacing it with an inflatable set of fake platinum bars.   Also meanwhile, Rollin barges in on Erik’s naptime, holds him at gunpoint, and tells him to take off his tie and shoes and lie back on the bed.  Just as it looks like it’s going someplace really disturbing, Rollin sets the blanket on fire to make it look like Erik died in a smoking accident.  As the world’s slowest-burning blanket gives off smoke, Rollin tells Erik that his wife arranged the hit, and Erik pays him off to switch sides.  He then pretends to try to suffocate Jim and Catherine with natural gas, but the branch he’s used to barricade the door is pre-scored so Jim can break through easily enough. Jim convinces Catherine that her husband is out to bump her off for her money, and they need to run away with the platinum first.  She shows him where the (now fake) platinum is, and then trustingly leaves him to take care of moving it to their car so they can run away with it.

But the real platinum is back at the garage where Barney & Willy are fixing Erik’s car — by way of melting down the platinum and molding it into a replacement grille and headlights for the car!  They return it just in time for Erik to see his wife and her gigolo driving away with his ill-booten gotty, so he can drive off in pursuit of them.  Jim gets across the border because his trunk is empty save for a deflated balloon whose resemblance to platinum bars goes unnoticed by the border guard, but Barney arranges to be driving a van that crunches Erik’s grille for the second time today, so that when the guards inspect it, they discover it’s platinum and arrest him for smuggling.

This episode is full of holes.  Aside from the question of why the authorities couldn’t just arrest these guys, or publicize their scam so people wouldn’t be taken in, there’s the question of why this convoluted plan would work.  Okay, they can arrest the guy for having platinum on his car, but what about the subsequent investigation?  There’s no way to prove he knowingly turned his car grille into platinum, since he didn’t, and a warrant for his house will turn up nothing now.

And the Hagars are very unimpressive antagonists.  They’re not hardened killers, not physically dangerous at all (so the whole “If any of your IM Force are caught or killed” line is rather incongruous).  They don’t have some vast organization or Soviet-bloc government protecting them.  They’re just a couple of con artists working alone, and barely functioning as a team at all, since they clearly hate each other and are easy to turn against each other.  And they’re really quite gullible and easily manipulated.  I kind of feel sorry for them, going up against a crack spy team that’s overthrown governments and saved the world from weapons of mass destruction time and time again.  The Hagars are completely out of their league.  And they should’ve been beneath the IMF’s notice.  The very existence of this episode doesn’t make sense.

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  1. bellevue16
    October 26, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    It’s Ill-gotten booty, firstly.

    Second, this is one of the finest of all M:I episodes.

    It moves along well, exciting, plot is relevant to, even today, and everything is well-executed.

    Obviously, the ruse is to, more than anything, cause great shame, to the Hagars, not just get the platinum from them.

    Many episodes feature embarrassing or ridiculing the villain, in addition to bringing them, to justice.

    Who better, than the IM team, to thwart, even a charity scam?

    So, there were specific reasons, why Jim chose this mission.

    It cannot be stated strongly enough, how loathsome people are, who bilk people out of money, ostensibly for charity, then do not provide the money to the charity.

    But remember, that, in that era, and location, authorities would likely have done little, if anything, had they found the platinum in the home, and had learned of the scam.

    That is why, it was so crucial, to entice
    them, to come to the border.

    All crimes at, or crossing international borders, are far more serious.

    It had to be done this way.

    One of my favorite episodes.

    • October 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      “It’s Ill-gotten booty, firstly.”

      I guess you’re not a M*A*S*H fan.

      “Who better, than the IM team, to thwart, even a charity scam?
      So, there were specific reasons, why Jim chose this mission.”

      Jim doesn’t choose the missions; they’re assigned to him by the Secretary, or perhaps by the Voice (since in the movies, the voice is that of the IMF administrator). He only chooses whether to accept them or not.

      And this was years before the IMF became a crimebusting organization. At this point, their bailiwick was to deal with highly sensitive matters of national or global security — affairs so dangerous or important that they had to be dealt with off the books and so difficult that it took extraordinary measures to deal with them (hence the name “Impossible Mission Force”). There are plenty of nasty criminals in the world, but they weren’t the IMF’s department. There’s no incentive for the US government to assign its most secretive and extralegal espionage team to a couple of nonviolent thieves and scammers who posed no threat to the security of the United States or the free world.

  2. December 8, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    One thing to bear in mind regarding the ambulance attendants in “The Seal”, is that true “paramedics” were virtually unheard of in civilian environments, prior to the 1970s. The ambulance attendants at the time this episode was filmed were usually nothing more than guys who transported sick or injured people to a hospital emergency room, so the patient could be evaluated by the staff there. The most treatment someone could expect from ambulance personnel, was possibly first aid, if they were even trained to administer that much.

  3. KRW
    May 26, 2017 at 1:07 am

    I recall an interview with Martin Landau mentioning that he turned down the role of Spock because playing an unemotional character did not appeal to him. I think we got a preview in The Seal of what he may have looked (and even acted) like. Check out those eyebrows!

    • May 26, 2017 at 6:46 am

      I always felt Landau missed the point of Spock. He was hardly emotionless; he was just emotionally internalized. Finding a way to convey a depth of emotion with a minimum of outward expression is quite an acting challenge. Although it would’ve been a departure for the expressive Landau.

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