MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S3) Reviews: “The Freeze”/”The Exchange” (spoilers)
“The Freeze”: Jim is briefed by the old 8-track in a parked car trick: Inmate Raymond Barrett (a young Donnelly Rhodes, best known as Doc Cottle in the Battlestar Galactica remake series) is actually an armored-car thief who’s dodging prosecution for his real crime by pretending to be someone else and serving out a shorter sentence, just long enough to wait out the statute of limitations and get the 10 million bucks free and clear. (How he fooled the criminal justice system into thinking he was somebody else is unexplained.) The mission is to get him to reveal where he hid the loot before the statute runs out in two days. We get a dossier sequence, since the mission involves recruiting the prison’s doctor and Barrett’s cellmate, whose cooperation is obtained with a reduced sentence. We also discover here that Jim apparently plays a role in the gadget design himself, since he’s seen working on a sketch for a gadget involved in the mission before he selects his team.
The plan is to convince Barrett that he has a terminal illness, and at the same time have him happen to discover that a local doctor (Jim) is working on a cryogenic process to freeze people until cures can be found for their diseases (yup, that concept was already around by 1968). Dr. Jim pretends to be reluctant because it’s illegal to freeze him while he’s still alive (he can’t wait because his imaginary disease is progressive and would be incurable if he waited), but Barrett is allowed to find out that Dr. Jim”s being “blackmailed” by Willy because he illegally froze his terminally ill wife (good grief, he’s Mr. Freeze!), so that gives Barrett leverage to force him to do the procedure. It’s one of those episodes where the team goes to great lengths to appear to be discouraging the mark from doing what they want him to do, on the assumption that he’d get suspicious if they pushed him toward it too obviously. But this guy’s no great brain, and he’s not at all suspicious about being told he has a terminal illness just after he encounters the cryonics doctor. They didn’t have to go to so much trouble to avoid tipping him off. (And I’m positive I’ve seen the cryogenic chamber in some other show, though I’m not sure if it was in Star Trek.)
Anyway, Barrett wakes up to find himself in the fabulous future world of… 1980! There are futuristic concept cars in the parking lot, and his hospital room is dominated by what looks uncannily like a modern flatscreen TV. There’s a bank of small cartridges that contain video recordings that play on the screen. It’s kind of striking how prophetic it is. But then Rollin and Cinnamon come in wearing clear plastic raincoats over their hospital scrubs, and suddenly prophetic gives way to B-movie hokey. But the sequence redeemed itself when Rollin told Nurse Cinnamon to administer “5 ccs of cordrazine.” Rollin’s a Trekkie!
Rollin tells Barrett about the wondrous changes in the future, including the fact that paper money has been replaced by credit cards and that much of the world he knew has been torn down and rebuilt. Barrett checks and finds that the cemetery where he hid the money is due to be torn down any day, so that gives him an incentive to break out.
But of course, when he breaks out, he sees that the whole thing was a scam, that he wasn’t really in the future. But he goes after the money anyway, since he sees a fake newspaper saying it’s one day after the statute expires. Meanwhile, the cellmate has been snitching to Barrett’s accomplices so they’ll track him down and confront him just as he gets the money. The accomplice gloatingly tells Barrett that there are ten minutes left on the statute. Barrett attacks him, takes his gun, and shoots him just as the cops drive up. So they not only have him on the theft, they have him on murder. He laughs as he’s taken away.
This episode is fraught with problems. First off, if Barrett could fool the courts into thinking he was somebody else, surely he could’ve found a more comfortable way to wait out the statute than sitting in jail on a lesser charge (although I guess the idea was that in jail, he was safe from the accomplices who wanted to get the location of the money out of him). Second, the statute of limitations doesn’t actually work the way it’s shown here. Under federal law, statutes of limitation don’t apply to anyone actively fleeing from justice, specifically so criminals can’t game the system in just this way. He hasn’t physically fled, but he has disguised his identity, which does count as a deliberate effort to evade prosecution. (And that statute was enacted in 1948, so it would’ve applied at the time of the episode.) Third, why the hell is this an IMF case? The only thing that’s at stake is 10 million dollars. There’s not even a token attempt to concoct some lame national-security excuse for involving the team. Fourth, what was the point of faking a trip to the future just to reveal it as a hoax? Why would he still go after the money once he realized that someone was trying to trick him into revealing its location? Wouldn’t he just lay low a while longer until the heat was off? And if the final step in the plan entailed making him think it was one day after the statute expired, why even bother with the 1980 routine? They could’ve just, say, had his cellmate beat him up and then have him wake up and be told it was two months later and his sentence — and the statute — were up. The plot is far more clever and convoluted than it needed to be (a problem with the previous episode, “The Bargain,” as well).
Other inconsistencies: The fake magazine where Barrett reads about Jim’s cryonics research is dated December 1968, but the newspaper he picks up at the end, which is supposed to be a day ahead of reality, is dated August 18, 1968. Now, magazines are often dated a few months in advance, since they’re really “display until” dates, but I think 4 months is pushing it. Maybe a fiction magazine could be dated that far ahead (though it would typically be more like 2-3 months), but I don’t think a news periodical would be. Besides, it was in a doctor’s office, so it would more likely have been the December ’66 issue. 😉 Also, there are photos of the completed cryogenic chamber in the fake article — so why are Barney and Willy only now assembling it and being worried about finishing it in time?
So basically, despite some fun bits in the fake-future sequence, this episode is a complete mess. Conceptually the weakest and most incoherent of the season so far, though I can’t fault the execution and it’s interesting to see a young Donnelly Rhodes.
“The Exchange”: The first formula-breaking episode of the season begins in medias res as Cinnamon breaks into a vault in an enemy country and snaps pictures of their spy-stuff documents, leaving a window open so she can toss the camera to Jim and Rollin below. But a pigeon flies in and sets off the electric eye on the window. Cinnamon tosses out the camera, completing the mission, but gets arrested. Is this the part where the Secretary disavows any knowledge of her actions? We’ll never know, since Jim and the team are determined to get her out. There’s no mention of reporting back to the Secretary or getting new orders — perhaps, implicitly, because the team knows those orders would be to abandon her. But they’re going to get her back, even if it means taking on their (implicitly West German) allies. They’re going to break out a prominent Eastern Bloc spy in “Western Zone” custody and exchange him for Cinnamon. But you can’t have ’60s TV heroes display too much moral ambiguity, so of course they’re going to break him and get his information first, and then trade him for Cinnamon, so that they serve both national security and friendship rather than having to choose one or the other.
Cinnamon gets interrogated by Strom (John Vernon), but won’t talk except to give a phony name. (Even though she’s a famous supermodel, the bad guys have absolutely no information on who she really is.) Strom’s medical advisor Gorin (Robert Ellenstein) notes a blip in her vital signs when Strom threatens solitary confinement, revealing that Cinnamon has the most common phobia of fictional heroes, claustrophobia. Seriously? I’m sure there must’ve been prior episodes where she had to hide in a small space or crawl through a duct, but she showed no sign of this. Then again, it was implied that it was more a latent fear that Gorin amplified with drugs. They work on Cinnamon for a while, and they get as far as extracting Jim’s first name from her.
Jim meets with Strom, pretending to be a Swiss official, and offers to exchange Cinnamon (under her fake name) for the spy Kurtz (Will Kuluva), an offer Strom is eager to take. While there, Jim surreptitiously snaps photos of Strom’s office. Meanwhile, Rollin sneaks Kurtz out of prison in the bottom of his motorized wheelchair, substituting an inflatable dummy in his place (and how the team got a lifelike inflatable dummy of a notorious spy on such short notice is never addressed). They take Kurtz to a warehouse and put him in a crate, then fake a drive across the border using sound effects and a hydraulic rig to make him feel like he’s on a moving truck (again, where did they get this on short notice?!). He ends up in the replica of Strom’s office, with Jim posing as Strom’s replacement, convincing him that Strom was arrested for treason and Kurtz had better report everything he did in the West if he doesn’t want to be found complicit in the treason. Once Kurtz finishes his report, the team reveals that he’s been tricked and take him to the exchange.
At the border checkpoint, the trade is about to take place when the Western Zone officials come up and try to recapture Kurtz. Rollin shows them half the information Kurtz gave and promises the rest after the exchange is complete, so they back down. The trade is made, and Jim gives Cinnamon a trenchcoat to keep her warm — and Strom strafes them with bullets before driving off. Naturally, the trenchcoat (and Jim’s) was bulletproof, so the team is all safe and reunited.
It’s a nice idea for a formula-breaker, showing something going seriously wrong with the assigned mission for once (although they still complete it) and forcing the team to go off-book and even work against their allies to rescue their teammate. Unfortunately it never really feels like an improvised rogue operation. Aside from Cinnamon’s torture scenes, it plays out too much like a routine episode, and the team’s ability to whip out all these elaborate gadgets and props perfectly tailored for this rushed, improvised mission is on a par with the Adam West Batman’s running-gag ability to pull impossibly apropos Bat-equipment from his utility belt as needed (and as it happens, the prison where Kurtz was held was represented by the same stock footage used for Gotham State Penitentiary in Batman). As for the torture scenes themselves, playing frightened/vulnerable/sad isn’t really playing to Barbara Bain’s strengths; when she cries and wails, she tends to remind me of Lucille Ball, undermining the sense of drama. And the really interesting angle of the team going against their orders and their allies to help their friend wasn’t sufficiently developed. So in the final analysis, “The Exchange” feels like a missed opportunity; what could’ve been an exceptional episode takes too few chances and turns out too ordinary.