MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season 2 Overview
In my first-season overview, I said that the season started out more interesting than it ended up, gradually settling into a formula where the early variety of storytelling and substantive characterization were downplayed. Overall, the second season displays the same uniformity in spades. The team composition rarely varies, the characters are complete ciphers, and the missions almost never go significantly off-plan. As a result, the season overall is rather disappointing, though it rallies toward the end.
There were only three episodes this season that I’d rank as excellent: “Echo of Yesterday,” “The Town,” and “Trial by Fury.” Notably, one of those, “The Town,” was the season’s greatest format-breaker, abandoning the usual planned-mission premise altogether, while “Trial by Fury” was a departure in that the mission depended more on improvisation and personal confrontation than playing out a well-planned, clockwork scheme. Episodes I’d count as good include “Trek,” “The Condemned,” and “The Phoenix,” with “The Survivors,” “The Emerald,” and “Recovery” counting as decent. Most of the rest was mediocre to weak, with “Charity,” “The Counterfeiter,” and “The Killing” being the weakest. It’s worth noting that the majority of the best episodes are toward the very start or the latter half of the season; however, two of the three weakest are in the back six.
The team composition is far more consistent than in the first season, with the same team on virtually every mission, even when they served little purpose or when different specialists would’ve been better choices. Jim Phelps and Rollin Hand were in all 25 episodes. Barney Collier and Cinnamon Carter were in 24 episodes each, sitting out “Echo of Yesterday” and “The Condemned” respectively. Willy Armitage was in 22 episodes, sitting out “Trek,” “The Money Machine,” and “Trial by Fury.” So every episode featured at least four of the five regulars, and 80 percent of the episodes featured the entire regular team. The core team was joined by additional team members or assistants in the following episodes:
01 The Widow: Dr. Premel (George Tyne)
02 Trek: puppeteer Bob Field (Jack Donner)
04 The Bank: reformed bank robber Paul Lebarre (Pierre Jalbert)
05/06 The Slave: slave trade expert Akim Hadramut (Steve Franken)
07 Operation “Heart”: Dr. Owen Siebert (Robert Karnes)
08 The Money Machine: Ghalean finance minister Paul Giroux (Rockne Tarkington) assists
09 The Seal: Rusty the trained cat
11/12 The Council: plastic surgeon Dr. Emerson Reese (Stuart Nisbet); gangster Jimmy Bibo (Nick Colasanto) grudgingly assists
14 Echo of Yesterday: a team of movers
15 The Photographer: magazine editor Fran Williams (Kathleen Hughes) assists
20 The Counterfeiter: Dr. McConnell (Noah Keen)
24 Trial by Fury: Red Cross worker Valesquez (Edmund Hashim)
So it looks like they were initially trying to keep up some vestige of the original concept of recruiting specialists for each mission, despite the increased focus on the regular team. But by the back half of the season, the formula settled on the established team with only infrequent assistance, usually in minor or peripheral roles. The ones who played the most integral roles were Hadramut, Valesquez, and Rusty the cat. (Seriously. Rusty was the linchpin of that whole mission, and the others’ tasks were merely to get him into position and provide distractions.)
And yet in terms of the storytelling, it seems the producers and writers quickly settled into a rut of mediocrity. Fortunately, as the season wore on, they began to mix it up a little and add some freshness and variety, breaking the monotony and raising the level of their game, if inconsistently so. I wonder if the improvements and experiments in the back half of the season were a response to criticisms of the first half.
Ten episodes featured at least some original music: 3 by Gerald Fried (the third with very little original music), 2 by Walter Scharf, a 2-parter by Robert Drasnin, a 2-parter (mostly part 2) by Jerry Fielding, and 1 episode (“Echo of Yesterday”) by a composer who wasn’t specifically credited; I’m tentatively assuming it was Lalo Schifrin because his theme-music credit did appear. (I’m confident the music in that episode is original rather than just something I’ve forgotten from the first season, because the cues are used in their entirety and match the action onscreen.) That’s four fewer original scores than in season one, and only five of the first six episodes feature scores consisting primarily or exclusively of new music, with the rest being a mix of new and stock cues. The episodes with original music were #1-7, 11-12, and 14; as with S1, all but one are in the first half of the season. First-season stock cues were absent for the first half or so of the season but became more commonly used toward the end. The best scores of the season: “Trek” (Fried), “The Council Part 2” (Fielding), and “Echo of Yesterday” (Schifrin???).
Of the season’s 25 episodes and 21 distinct, official missions, 12 featured new tape scenes. Seven of those used the standard reel-to-reel tapes in one form of player or another. Two used vinyl records, one used an 8-track in a car dashboard player, one used a standard cassette tape in a portable player brought by Jim, and one used a miniature reel-to-reel tape or wire player. As the numbers indicate, 9 of the 12 sequences were reused. At least two of the sequences featured the phrase “Please destroy this recording in the usual manner” (actually quite unusual) instead of the familiar “This message will self-destruct in five/ten seconds.” Two episodes featured off-book missions or unplanned adventures with no briefing. Of the 21 official missions, 20 had dossier sequences, though no more than half of those really needed them. (This translates to 23 episodes with tape scenes and 22 with dossier sequences, since the 2-parters repeated both in the part-2 recaps.)
So that’s the second season of Mission: Impossible. Right now, I’m wondering if I’m going to bother reviewing the third. The second season had few highlights and the later ones I’ve seen were similarly routine and flawed. Assuming the third season isn’t a great exception, it seems it would be pretty much more of the same from now on. So is there really any point in continuing to do detailed reviews of such a formulaic series? Is this a mission I should choose not to accept?
I don’t have to decide right away; I’ll probably rent the third season from Netflix eventually, just to satisfy my completist impulses, but not too soon. Perhaps I’ll only review the standout episodes. Or perhaps I’ll do briefer reviews instead of the detailed recaps. In any case, I don’t think the rest of M:I really warrants the level of effort I’ve been putting into it.