Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “The Condemned”/”The Counterfeiter”

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S2) Reviews: “The Condemned”/”The Counterfeiter”

“The Condemned”: For the first time in Jim Phelps’ tenure, the second time overall, we get an episode that doesn’t open with a mission assignment from the Secretary.  And for the first time in the series, we get the opening credits shown over the action instead of over the dossier, since there’s no dossier scene.  This is a personal mission for Jim; a friend of his, Webster (Kevin Hagen, who was the heroes’ nemesis Inspector Kobick in Land of the Giants), has been falsely convicted of murder in a south-of-the-border country (implicitly Mexico, given the quick travel time).  For unexplained reasons, perhaps because saving the world keeps him so busy, Jim doesn’t arrive until the day before the execution, so he has very little time to find the real killer of the late George Corley.  He calls in Rollin, Barney, and Willy, but tells them it’s strictly a volunteer mission with nothing at stake but the life of his friend.  Naturally they all agree to help.  It’s the first time we get any real inkling of Jim Phelps as a person or his relationship with the others.  Nothing very substantial, but it’s a humanizing moment in a show that’s chosen to avoid them for the most part.

While Barney taps the phone of Webster’s girlfriend Louisa (Marianna Hill, aka Helen Noel from Star Trek‘s “Dagger of the Mind,” though she’s gone blonde here), who testified against him and apparently helped set him up for the crime, Rollin and Willy come to Webster’s cell disguised as priests, to administer last rites.  In fact, Willy has some lightweight steel panels under his robe that match the walls of the cell.  They erect a fake wall about a foot in front of the real one, and after they leave, Webster hides behind it, making the guards think he’s escaped.

Meanwhile, Jim searches Corley’s house and finds a hidey-hole containing a box filled only with shredded Greek newspaper.  He’s surprised and captured by Constantine (Will Kuluva), who’s looking for a priceless antique crown stolen by Corley; he thinks Webster was Corley’s accomplice.  Jim pretends to be a private eye hired to help Webster but suspecting a double-cross on hearing of Webster’s “escape,” and thus willing to work with Constantine to track him down.

Rollin masks up as Webster and goes to confront Louisa, who confesses at gunpoint that she set him up as a scapegoat for Corley’s murder.  But she doesn’t know anything more, so Rollin leaves, “scared off” by the fake siren Jim and Willy set off.  Louisa calls her partner, Warner (Peter Donat, who was Mulder’s father in The X-Files and the main villain in the 1993 series Time Trax), and the bugged phone gives Barney the number.  Jim and Willy follow her to her meeting with Warner, who stole the crown but is unwilling to leave town until his face is “ready.”  When Louisa confesses that she doesn’t trust herself not to spill the beans, Warner kills her.  Spotting Jim, he prepares to shoot him as well, but rather ignominiously falls prey to a broken railing and plummets to his death with a very Wilhelm-like scream (though not the actual Wilhelm).  With her dying breath, Louisa reveals that Warner was actually… George Corley!  The murder victim had his face blown off, and DNA testing was a long way away (though the fingerprint issue wasn’t addressed).  So Corley got away with faking his death and was in the process of adopting a new identity.

Willy finds the stolen crown, but just giving it back to the cops won’t clear Webster, since they can’t prove Corley wasn’t killed (at the time).  So Jim needs another plan.  He approaches the cops as an insurance investigator looking for the crown; he says he’ll put out the word that he’s willing to pay a million bucks for the crown’s return, no questions asked, and thus lure Webster in.  He gets the cops interested enough to bug his hotel room — where he’s visited by Constantine.  Meanwhile, Rollin is disguising himself as Corley — pre-surgery, so he’ll be recognized.  He uses the recording from the phone tap to learn Corley’s voice, then calls Jim’s room to arrange a meeting.  Pre-surgery Corley is a different actor (Jon Cedar), and oddly they just electronically deepen his voice rather than dubbing Donat’s over him.  It’s weird.  Yet Constantine, the partner Corley betrayed, recognizes it as Corley’s voice, and the cops hear him say so over the tap.  Also, the team left a replica of Corley’s glasses (with a rare prescription) by Louisa’s body.

But this is just the setup.  Jim and the cops are watching as Constantine arrives to meet “Corley” and kill him.  Rollin-as-Corley gets the drop on him, knocks him out, and drives off; the cops set off in pursuit.  But Barney’s rigged the car to run on remote control.  Rollin gets out of the car and puts the real Corley’s body (which must reek by now — odd that Constantine missed it) in the driver’s seat.  Barney drives remotely through an extended car chase — and his controller has much greater range than the ones the Mythbusters use.  The chase is scored with two of the big action arrangements of the M:I theme, first Jerry Fielding’s from the elevator climax in “The Council, Part 2,” then Gerald Fried’s climactic car chase cue from “Odds on Evil” — one of the few reuses of first-season music in season 2, and a welcome return.  Anyway, after dragging out the chase far too long, Barney sends the car off a cliff — and mercifully, the producers don’t assume that cars automatically explode when going off cliffs, since Barney’s remote has a “Destruct” switch to set off the explosion.  This burns Corley’s body enough to hide the plastic surgery and the real cause and time of death.  And the cops find the crown in the wreckage, in a Barney-designed blastproof case (though they don’t seem curious as to why Corley would’ve used such a container if he didn’t plan on being blown up).

So the team has used trickery and deceit to reveal the actual truth: Corley was a killer, Webster is innocent.  All that’s left is for Jim to send a signal to an earpiece worn by Webster, telling him it’s safe to come out from behind the fake wall.   That way, I guess, he doesn’t even get charged with the jailbreak, since he actually never left his cell.  But the guard is in for quite a surprise.

“The Condemned” is an interesting twist on the format.  For once, the team doesn’t have extensive knowledge and preparation up front, but has to improvise and figure things out as they go.  It’s nice to see them flying blind like that, since generally they’re way too much on top of the situation.  However, ultimately even their improvised scheme seems as elaborately prepared as their usual schemes.  It couldn’t have been easy, for instance, to rig a car for remote control in 1968.  And where did Barney get the blastproof container that so perfectly fit around the crown?  So a nice idea, a nice attempt to depart from the formula, but ultimately not managing to be different enough.

This episode is noteworthy as one of the four original-series episodes remade for the 1988 revival series.   In it, the role of Jim’s wrongly accused friend was rewritten as Barney himself, in the first of Greg Morris’s three return appearances.  And according to IMDb, the remake included the whole team including its female member (Casey Randall, played by Terry Markwell), whereas the original lacked Cinnamon.  I have a vague memory of the remake — I recall the scenes of Barney in prison, which were the first time I ever saw Barney Collier as far as I can remember.  I needed my father to explain to me that he was a member of Jim’s original team.  I remember the fake wall, but I think it was fabric or paper simulating a stone or plaster wall.  And I think I remember that the impersonation of the “escaped” prisoner (Barney in this case) was done, not by their Rollin counterpart, but by team regular Grant Collier, Barney’s son (played by Morris’s real son Phil Morris).  But I don’t remember what role Casey played.  My understanding was that the remakes were pretty much exact, since they were commissioned during the ’88 writers’ strike and rewriting wouldn’t have been allowed at the time, but this one has new writer credits according to online references, suggesting it was given a substantial rewrite after the strike ended.

——

“The Counterfeiter”: Another rerun tape sequence dubbed over with a new mission.  Again, it’s in the vein that became routine in later seasons, the team going after a domestic criminal that conventional law enforcement can’t stop.  Raymond Halder (Edmond O’Brien) is a medical-clinic administrator making a fortune selling worthless, counterfeit prescription pharmaceuticals.  (I guess that’s profitable because the fakes are far cheaper to make than the real things, but can be sold for the same price.)  Apparently that’s just a misdemeanor, or was in 1968, so while the government can fine him, they can’t stop him from killing thousands.  That’s where the IMF comes in, with help from Dr. McConnell (Noah Keen), a laser specialist, who helpfully asks the questions that let the team give the legal exposition in the apartment scene.

The main scheme is pretty straightforward.  The faked drug in question, Dilatrin, is for treating primary vascular disease.  The team uses various means to induce the symptoms of the disease in Halder: they switch out his glasses to give him headaches, use an ultrasonic beam to make him dizzy, sabotage his blood-pressure cuff to make him think his pressure’s dangerously high, and finally use a subcutaneously focused laser beam to cause a harmless blood vessel rupture in his head.  Then they take him to one of his own clinics and try to give him his own fakes, so he’ll be forced to confess they’re fakes, with a handy tape recorder running in the drawer.

It’s unusual for me to sum up the whole key plot in one paragraph, but it really is that simple.  The rest is largely padding.  There’s a subplot where Cinnamon plays a drug company executive with the details on an anti-counterfeiting redesign scheme for the drug, making her someone Halder wants to get on his payroll so he can find out how to keep his counterfeits current.  (Cinnamon plays this character as rather cool and understated, but she has a curly hairstyle that’s unusually flattering and in general she looks far more glamorous and seductive than she acts.)  Jim and Rollin play corrupt cops who get her on a fake drug charge and offer to let her go in exchange for a payoff.  Halder pressures her into giving him the design secrets in exchange for making the payoff.  But none of this really contributes much to the “make Halder think he’s dying” scheme, beyond positioning him in the places he needs to be for the team to work their disease-faking mojo.  I suppose that is important; they couldn’t have pulled it off if they couldn’t control his movements.  But there ought to have been a simpler way to do that, and it just feels like an excuse to give the whole team something to do and fill out the hour.  There’s more padding than usual in other ways too, like an interminable scene where Halder takes his blood pressure twice and every step is shown in detail.

There’s also a major plot hole in the climax.  When Halder meets Cinnamon, he’s in the audience at a presentation where Cinnamon talks about the counterfeit Dilatrin pills and how to identify them.  So when he’s in his clinic at the end, he shouldn’t have to confess that he’s the counterfeiter in order to reveal his knowledge that the Dilatrin is counterfeit.  He could’ve just said “I was at this presentation and they explained how to tell it’s a fake.”  So the premise that they’ve forced him into a situation where he had no choice but to confess his guilt is unconvincing.

Still, it’s a nice touch at the end when the entire team shows up in his hospital room, literally surrounding him, and confronts him face-to-face to tell him just how screwed he is.  It’s more satisfying than the usual ending where they just drive off together with the villain none the wiser (or dead).  And as a nice, ironic touch, when Halder scoffs that all they’ve done is gotten him on a misdemeanor, Jim says that he’s confessed not just to making the pills, but to selling them, which is unreported income and will get him sent up the river for tax fraud, Al Capone-style.

The music is stock, of course, but it’s a nice eclectic selection of cues from both seasons so far.  There seems to be more first-season music getting tracked lately, especially in this episode.

By the way, whoever put the DVD menu together for the disc starting with “The Counterfeiter” made an understandable mistake.  The image accompanying the menu is a shot from “The Money Machine,” another episode about counterfeiting.  Easy enough to get them confused, I guess.

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  1. Analia
    July 11, 2010 at 1:54 am

    I love all Mission Impossible episodes in which Rollin appears. But what you tell us I’m completely agree, I like very much when the episode has something different to the usual. What I like the most is when Jim is captured by people of “the town” and they shows a little more of their lives apart from a mission and I love the way that Rollin take care of Jim, and he is such concerned in what had happened to Jim… Till he realize what that people was really doing with Jim, offcourse.
    By the way, have you seen any time, there is an episode in which, in little shots of the starting episode ( I can’t remember in which of them, now), appears Willy kissing passionately to a woman who wears a multicolor hat or beret. And never appears along the episode that scene. It is just a flash but you can see it if you pay atention. I’m going to look for it and tomorrow I will tell you which really is, but I know is in Rollin era, so it could be in section 1,2 or 3. I must look for it now.
    I love all that you know about Mission Impossible.

  1. May 7, 2014 at 3:04 pm

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