Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “A Game of Chess”/”The Emerald”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “A Game of Chess”/”The Emerald”

“A Game of Chess”: Rerun opening footage of Jim getting the mission in a phone booth — though this time the “self-destruct in five seconds” bit is replaced with “ten seconds” to better fit the timing of the visuals.  The mission’s kind of convoluted — gold meant for the resistance in a Soviet-bloc country has been stolen by the government, but there’s a chess player who wants to steal it for himself, and the team has to steal it from both of them.  But none of that really matters.  Ultimately this is simply a heist story, with the underlying politics as the flimsiest of excuses.

The dossier scene starts a bit unusually for a change, with Jim looking at a book on chess before he picks his team, but it’s the same damn team as always.  Anyway, the chess grandmaster they have to beat is Nicholas Groat, who has arranged for the main bank in Countryoftheweekia to be burned down, so that the stolen gold is to be stored in the next-safest location, the vault of the hotel where the chess tournament is being held.  Groat is played by Don Francks, whom I know mainly as the voice of Sabretooth in the ’90s X-Men animated series, though his highest-profile gig seems to be as one of the leads in the La Femme Nikita TV series, which I never watched.  He’s also noteworthy as the first person ever to play Boba Fett, in the cartoon short that was the only watchable part of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special.

Rollin plays Groat’s opponent, but he’s cheating with a couple of gadgets that were sci-fi for the time, but not anymore: one, a brooch worn by Cinnamon, containing a tiny gem-sized video camera to spy on the match, and two, a computer able to play chess infallibly.  Jim sends the moves to Rollin over his hearing aid.  Rollin makes a point of showing Groat that he’s deaf without the hearing aid, but then after he wins the first match, he makes the “mistake” of taking his earpiece out and then responding to Cinnamon calling his name from behind.  Groat has caught on that he’s cheating, and he follows him to his room and finds out about the computer.  Rollin offers him a partnership, with proven chess champion Groat as the front man to throw off suspicion, but Groat’s pride won’t allow it.

The computer’s operation doesn’t strike me as very realistic, nor does the game play.  It’s presented as proceeding one move at a time, with nobody knowing that a mate is approaching until immediately beforehand.  A master chess player, let alone a chess computer, should be able to anticipate a mate several moves in advance.

Groat’s using some spy tech too, though less advanced than what the team has.  His sidekick is Mueller, played by William Wintersole, who was the sympathetic prison guard in the first season’s “Old Man Out.”  He uses a film camera hidden in a briefcase to film the opening of the hotel safe, then develops the film in his room to get the combination.  But then he finds out that the bank is installing a time lock, so that knowing the combination will be useless.  Uh-oh!

But it so happens that, while Rollin and Barney were showing the computer to Groat, they mentioned that its electronics mess with people’s watches.  Groat discovers his watch is several hours fast.  Hey, what if those guys’ chess computer could speed up the time lock…?

So the team lures Groat into a partnership, though at first they pretend to be reluctant to cooperate, so that Mueller has to hold them at gunpoint.  Groat gets the best line of the episode: “You have one minute to decide whether we do it with or without your cooperation.  And I remind you: my watch is running very fast.”  Of course, the team is only reluctant because Groat doesn’t have an adequate plan.  They agree to the partnership so long as they call the shots.

Thus, we get the odd situation of the entire IMF team cooperating as a team openly in front of the marks, basically letting the bad guys see their entire operation and participate in it, the only remaining deception being which side they’re on (and what their names and nationalities are, of course, though Martin Landau seems to be doing a Mid-Atlantic accent that changes longitude by the second).  It’s not enough to accelerate the time lock; they need to isolate the hotel and neutralize the government guards watching the gold.  They do this by contaminating the water supply with something that simulates the symptoms of typhoid fever and quarantining the hotel.  Rollin, who just lost the tournament to Groat (as a courtesy, and also due to not having the computer running), shows up in a different disguise as a doctor and gives injections that knock out the guards.

This is where the insistence on using the same cast every week falls apart.  Rollin playing two characters interacting with the same group of people just minutes apart is totally unbelievable, given how simple his makeup is in both cases.  And Cinnamon barely needed to be involved at all.  It’s also implausible that Groat wasn’t suspicious when the same woman who called out to Rollin and gave away the hearing-aid scam turned out to be a member of Rollin’s team.  A gifted chess player like that should’ve been able to see that he was being maneuvered into a trap.  They should’ve brought in someone else to play the doctor, and left Cinnamon out of the team as it was presented to Groat and Mueller.  Maybe left Cinnamon out altogether and hired a local actress to stage the hearing-aid reveal.

Anyway, with the guards knocked out, Barney hooks up a gadget that doesn’t look much like the chess computer at all (huh?), and uses it to speed up the time lock in the vault.  He says it’ll speed up about 20 times, which means it should still take over half an hour, but they’re all still standing in the same places when it opens.  Anyway, Groat uses the combination, and he and Mueller rush into the safe to ooh and ahh over the gold bars (which I’m betting are the same props as the platinum bars from “Charity,” just repainted).   The team then moves in to “help” them take the gold out of the vault, but Rollie pulls a gun on them and forces them to stay inside, and the team closes the door on them.  It’s a rather abrupt and anticlimactic ending.  And the question of whether they have enough air in there to survive until the time lock disengages again is unaddressed, but it seems unlikely.

Overall, a pretty unimpressive episode, aside from that one really cool line.


“The Emerald”: This episode’s premise has a lot in common with the last one.  The tape scene is stock again, and the mission is familiar too; once again, there’s a vague political/espionage backstory for a plot that’s basically about using high-tech cheating and feigned partnership with the bad guy in order to get a valuable McGuffin out of a vault.  In this case, the McGuffin is, somewhat randomly, an emerald to which is attached a microfilm detailing a secret enemy plan for devaluating Western currency.  This emerald has accidentally fallen into the hands of a wealthy arms dealer, Tomar (William Smithers, previously seen in “The Ransom”), who doesn’t know about the secret information but just wants the emerald (which for some reason is blue, not green).  Enemy agent Petrosian (Michael Strong in his third M:I role) is also after the emerald, and the IMF must beat him to it and eliminate him.

The cheating gadget this time is again pretty sci-fi: a card-table cover with built-in sensors that can read the magnetic patterns of the ink in the cards laid upon it (at least the special cards the team switches out for the real ones on the gambling cruise where the episode takes place), allowing Barney to signal Jim using a speaker hidden in his glasses.

Barney plays a diplomatic attache and requests an armed guard on the cruise ship’s safe to protect a diplomatic pouch, so that Petrosian and his man Williams (Claude Woolman, previously seen in “The Legacy”) can’t break in.  And Tomar refuses to sell the emerald for any price.  A stymied Petrosian sees a ray of hope when he finds Rollin practicing his card-sharp tricks.  Rollin explains he’s not allowed to gamble for big money given that he’s a known “professional” (i.e. cheater).  But Petrosian suggests that he could control the cards at a poker game, give Tomar a seemingly unbeatable hand so that he’d be willing to wager the emerald, and then give Petrosian an even better hand; Petrosian would let him have the money.

But first they have to get Tomar to the table.  Cinnamon attracts Tomar’s interest, then she and Jim stage a scene where he cleans her out, winning a priceless bracelet from her, and she’s so distraught she almost flings herself into the sea until Tomar stops her.  She tearily convinces him to play against Jim in order to win back the necklace and humiliate him.  And when he gets to the table, Jim is playing against Petrosian and Rollin.

The poker games here are the usual kind seen in TV and movies where almost every hand features wildly high-scoring and improbable hands.  Nobody in fiction ever seems to win a hand with a pair of fours.  The climactic hand, after Jim has been cleaned out and Tomar has reached the point of betting the emerald, is a classic example, where it’s a full house, kings high (Rollin) vs. a straight flush (Petrosian) vs. four aces (Tomar).  Don’t ask me which one beats which one; I only know enough about poker to recognize the hands.  But I guess a straight flush is the best, since Williams is behind Rollin and signaling Petrosian that he’s good to go.  But Rollin double-crosses them, using an up-the-sleeve gizmo to replace his hand with a higher straight flush.  He takes his winnings and leaves, and while Jim detains Williams, Petrosian pursues Rollin.  Rollin lets slip that he’s an American agent, and Barney and Willy show up and overpower Petrosian, making him think he’s going overboard right before they drug him.

Here’s where it gets a little weird.  They set up a fake trawler cabin in Rollin’s stateroom  and let Petrosian wake up there, thinking he’s gone overboard.  He has the trawler crew (Barney and Willy) send a coded message to Williams to kill Rollin and retrieve the emerald.  Then they dismantle the fake cabin, drug Petrosian again, put a Rollin mask on him, and stick a fake emerald under his pillow.  Jim says this is necessary so that the enemy agents won’t pursue them, since they’ll believe they’ve gotten the goods and killed the opposition.  But it feels like a needlessly convoluted way to get Petrosian killed off without having the team kill him directly (something this show usually shuns, hypocritical as that is).

So two episodes in a row with strikingly similar premises, but somewhat different in the execution.  I think this one was a little more fun overall, but it lost its way in the final act.  I also think this one holds a record in having the most return guests so far, but I could be wrong.

By the way, I didn’t note when it started, but the logo at the end of the closing credits reveals that we’ve reached the point where Paramount had bought Desilu.  The Paramount logo here looks different from the one I recall seeing on Star Trek episodes from the same period; maybe one of them was changed for syndication?

  1. December 26, 2015 at 2:39 am

    I’d always ‘remembered’ references to a M.I. episode featuring a chess computer, but almost certainly didn’t see it when originally aired (being only 6 at the time). It was fun to finally see it tonight, and your comments about the chess ‘blunders’ are certainly correct. As a little sidebar, it would actually take another 30 (1996) years before a chess computer could compete evenly with the World Champion (“Deep Blue” beat Kasparov). Amazingly enough, now in 2015 it does finally appear that the best chess program *is* considered unbeatable … so the writers were simply ahead of their time by 50 years.

  1. November 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm
  2. May 13, 2014 at 8:34 am

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