Archive for July 14, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S3) Reviews: “The Heir Apparent”/”The Contender”

Yes, it’s the return of my Mission: Impossible reviews! Several things have converged to revive my interest: The release of the trailer for the upcoming film Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (produced by J.J. Abrams, who made the only good M:I movie to date, and directed by Brad Bird of The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille) has got M:I on my mind again; Netflix has begun streaming the entire series online; and I finally have fast enough download speeds (for now, at least) to take advantage of same.  So on to season 3, though I don’t know if I’ll go into as much detail as I did before.  But as usual, be aware of spoilers ahead.

“The Heir Apparent”: The tape sequence uses the old “out-of-order phone booth” trick, in a park this time.  The mission is to stop an evil general, Qaisette (Charles Aidman), from taking over an Eastern European monarchy, Povia, and making it a dictatorship.  Power to name a leader rests with the Archbishop (Torin Thatcher), who refuses to appoint Qaisette.  But he’s old, and I guess the fear is that once he’s gone, Qaisette can seize power.  Or something.   Anyway, the plan is to pass Cinnamon off as the long-dead heiress to the throne, who died with the rest of the royal family in their ouster decades ago — basically a riff on the Anastasia legends.  But the clever thing is, they know Qaisette will never buy it, so they use his skepticism as part of their plan, admitting to him that she’s a fake but getting him to play along with them at convincing the Archbishop that she’s legit — knowing that once that’s done, he’ll expose her as a fraud and discredit the Archbishop, clearing his path to power.  Rollin pretends to be an elderly doctor who treated Anastasia Princess Celine just before her death, giving Qaisette the one piece of medical evidence that conclusively proves her to be a fraud.

There are some really clever bits to the scheme here.  The final test of Celine’s identity is a puzzle box that only she knew how to open.  Barney and Willy get themselves thrown in jail (together in solitary confinement, since apparently the people of Povia have a different definition of “solitary”) so they can dig through the catacombs to get to the royal vault, so Barney can use his brainy smartness to solve the puzzle box.  The clever bit, though, is that they use a quick-hardening liquid to mark the box with a series of Braille-like raised dots that tell Cinnamon what sequence to use to open the box.  But the really clever part is what’s happening with Rollin.  The “elderly doctor” is in the audience, on hand so Qaisette can use his testimony to discredit Celine if she passes all the tests.  But while everyone’s attention is raptly fixed on “Celine” solving the box, Rollin is able to slowly, carefully remove his makeup and pieces of his jacket right in front of everybody, so that when Qaisette finally turns to him, the doctor is gone and only this young stranger remains.  Now, that’s chutzpah.  And a marvelous illustration of a real psychological principle; they’ve done experiments where someone has changed appearance like that when someone looked away for a moment, and the observers didn’t notice the change (even when one person was quickly switched for a different one).  I once saw an online video that told you to focus on a card trick, so that you failed to notice that the color of the backdrop, the tablecloth, the performer’s shirt, etc. was being changed right in front of you.

Naturally, Qaisette has a last-act freakout from having his plans foiled, and confesses that he knows Celine’s dead because he personally burned the palace down.  So he and his minions get hauled away, and the Archbishop names Cinnamon/Celine the new monarch — though he quietly tells her he knows she’s a fake and is grateful to her for saving his country.  And naturally she makes a speech declining the throne and asking the Archbishop to appoint a young leader the people approve of.  I was relieved she didn’t actually declare Povia a democracy, which would’ve been taking the team’s meddling a little too far.

A pretty good start to the season, thanks to those really clever ploys in the endgame.  Still, not perfect; for instance, with all these tests of “Celine”‘s identity, why did nobody think to check whether her grey hair was a wig and her wrinkles makeup?  (Logically, it would’ve made more sense for the IMF to recruit a woman of the right age to play the role.)  And it had the perennial M:I problem of giving us complications just before the commercial and then revealing that they were part of the plan all along.  Worse, they had Jim trading worried expressions with his teammates to sell the illusion that something was going wrong, which is just plain cheating.  I’ve said before that these episodes would be a lot more interesting if things actually would go wrong with their plans for more than 30 seconds and force them to improvise.  And I’m sure I’ll say it again.

“The Contender,” Parts 1 & 2: Jim rents a little pleasure boat (from show creator Bruce Geller)  and goes out on a pond to receive the most ludicrously rationalized mission yet.  They have to stop a criminal, Buckman (Ron Randell), who’s taking over and fixing all pro sports in America, because if he succeeds, America will be ostracized in the global sports community and our enemies wil gain a propaganda victory.  Yes, apparently fixing boxing matches abets the global march of communism.  Jim disposes of the recording “in the usual manner,” something that only seems to be said when he uses an unusual manner, which in this case is just to toss it in the pond (where it merely sinks rather than dissolving like they usually do when tossed in water).

So Jim recruits an ex-boxer, Lemoine (Ron Rich), whose hands were burned in the Army, to help them train Barney (whom he resembles) to take his place.  Lemoine is reluctant to participate in the scam until Jim assures him no fights on the actual record will be fixed by Jim’s team.  This being a 2-parter, we get a lengthy training sequence for Barney (this was before the invention of the training montage, so it’s fairly spread out and intercut with other stuff), with a cameo by The Wild Wild West‘s Robert Conrad (himself an ex-boxer) as Barney’s trainer (called Bobby, so he might be playing himself).  Meanwhile, Cinnamon ingratiates herself with Buckman’s pet fighter so she can move up to Buckman himself, and Jim stages an accident so he can save the life of Buckman’s associate Whelan (John Dehner) and get a job in his gambling operation.  They fix one non-competition fight, letting Barney-as-Lemoine win to convince Buckman to take him on, and then rely on Buckman having the other guys take dives so the underdog Lemoine (Barney) will rise — and eventually be required to take a dive himself once he’s the favorite.  Of course, once that championship match actually comes, Barney doesn’t take the dive, and beats the reigning champ fair and square (taking quite a chance there, huh?).  Meanwhile, the team has a woman go around and place big bets on Lemoine, then make it look as though it was Cinnamon in disguise and convince Whelan that she was working for Buckman, so that Whelan will assume he’s been double-crossed and kill Buckman.  Then the real Lemoine switches with Barney in the dressing room and announces his retirement.  It’s presented as a moment of triumph for him even though he’s taking credit for someone else’s achievement.

Okay, so it’s problematical conceptually.  On top of the rest, it’s an odd way to do a Barney focus, to put him in a purely physical role in contrast to his usual role as the brains of the team.  Not to mention the oddity that he and Rollin use makeup to simulate Lemoine’s moustache, even though the training presumably takes long enough that he could’ve easily grown a real one.  Also, typically of M:I 2-parters, it’s very padded; it brings back the dossier sequence (which was skipped in the premiere), and as usual, the recap of part 1 is nearly 7 minutes long.  But on the plus side, it’s a bit of a change from the usual formula because success depends on skill (Barney’s) rather than trickery and is perhaps less assured as a result.  It’s got an interesting Lalo Schifrin score (so far all three scores have been his) with some nice jazzy bits during Barney’s training.  And the direction by Paul Stanley is taut, moody, and effective.

I’m always on the lookout for familiar elements from Star Trek in M:I, since they were contemporary shows shot on adjacent soundstages, but here I noticed something that may have shown up in a later ST series.  Behind Buckman’s desk was a statue of two men wrestling that looked like the same one the art department of Star Trek: The Next Generation modified into a statue of the Klingons Kahless and Morath.  It’s certainly possible, since studios rarely throw props away, and you never know when something old might get recycled.

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