Archive for July 30, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S3) Reviews: “The Mind of Stefan Miklos”/”The Test Case” (Spoilers)

“The Mind of Stefan Miklos”: In an abandoned movie theater, Jim is briefed: US agent Townsend (Jason Evers) was found to be a double agent and fed false information, but his contact Simpson (Ed Asner) found out it was fake and denounced Townsend as a traitor.  Aware that Simpson doesn’t like Townsend, the enemy has sent their most brilliant man, Stefan Miklos (Steve Ihnat), to determine whether the information is good.  So whereas in “The Diplomat,” the mission depended on convincing the enemy that real intel was fake, here it depends on convincing them, or rather Stefan, that fake intel is real.

Since Stefan is a brilliant man, this is another one of those episodes where the goal is to work against the obvious, to get him to believe one thing by trying to convince him of the opposite and let him catch the flaws.  They start by swapping out the information drop he’s getting in a statue at an art gallery (curated by Vic Perrin, the Outer Limits Control Voice in a rare on-camera role), substituting Rollin’s picture for Simpson’s (along with some forged  documents).  Meanwhile, Rollin goes to Simpson as Stefan, gets the proof from him, and convinces him he’s been compromised and needs to plan to leave the country.  Simpson is a different type of character than I’m used to seeing Ed Asner play, an insecure, stammering milquetoast and compulsive, nervous talker, but with an undercurrent of bottled contempt and bitterness.  It’s a nicely scripted role and a bit of a showcase for Asner.

Simpson leaves just in time, for the real Stefan arrives, and now it’s Rollin’s turn to play Simpson to Stefan, even adopting Simpson’s shy, nervous mannerisms, and telling him the proof will take a day to get there.  (I thought I caught a major error here; Rollin has studied to pass as left-handed in order to impersonate Simpson, but Stefan doesn’t notice that Rollin’s watch is on his left wrist.  My impression is that left-handed people generally wear their watches on the right wrist.  However, a bit of web research reveals that that’s not always the case.)  So Stefan goes to search Townsend’s apartment and finds a hidden picture of his “secret girlfriend” Cinnamon, a picture that conveniently contains just enough information to let Stefan track her down and determine that she’s planning to leave the country with Townsend.  Stefan intercepts Townsend at the airport and takes him away.

Now, here’s the cool part.  Jim and the team are listening in via a bug in Townsend’s shirt collar, and it seems like Stefan has bought their fake evidence that Townsend’s a traitor.  Jim is worried that he was too clever, that the clues he planted to make Stefan doubt the setup were too subtle.  It’s a rare case where there’s some genuine tension that the team’s plan might fail.  But just before Stefan shoots Townsend, the latter’s pleas of innocence call his attention to a minor discrepancy.  That gets him noticing the rest, and thanks to his photographic memory (which the team was relying on), he recalls a couple of other clues — “Simpson” and Cinnamon with the same matchbook, Cinnamon’s home containing a painting that was at the gallery.  He goes to the gallery and discovers how the documents were switched.  So he becomes convinced that Townsend was framed by the Americans to make Stefan think that the information was fake; therefore it must be real.

And that leads to a nice moment in the coda.  Stefan speaks to the still-bugged Townsend, content in his “victory”; but he says he wishes he could meet the American mastermind who came up with the frame.  He says the man is brilliant, but Stefan pities him; he played the game well, but he lost, and that will destroy him.  As Jim, the real victor of the game, listens in, we see on his face that he feels the same regret about Stefan.

So I wasn’t expecting much from this episode going in; the setup seemed too similar to “The Diplomat,” and some aspects of the scheme seemed too obvious for something that was supposed to be subtle.  But it turns out that was a feature rather than a bug; Stefan was supposed to figure out that he was being led on.  Ultimately we got an episode with some nice bits of characterization and some genuine suspense.  We need more episodes like this, ones where the villains are just as much on the ball as the heroes so that the outcome isn’t a foregone conclusion.

Oh, and there’s a largely original score here too, this time by Richard Markowitz making his M:I debut.  Markowitz did a number of TV scores over the years, but the shows he contributed to the most were The Wild Wild West in the ’60s and Murder, She Wrote in the ’80s.  His score here is nice, but doesn’t really stand out.

“The Test Case”: The briefing is a blast from the past, a vinyl record in a listening booth in a music store, instead of the tape that’s been standard all season.  The mission: Dr. Beck (David Hurst) has developed an airborne virus (or bacterium, the script can’t decide) that causes instant meningitis, killing in minutes and then becoming harmless, a potent battlefield bioweapon.  The team must discredit and eliminate him as well as retrieving the culture.  The risky plan involves infiltrating a demonstration of the bioweapon for the enemy nation’s top brass (a general played by Bart La Rue, the second time in two weeks that a major Star Trek voiceover artist makes an on-camera appearance), replacing the political-prisoner guinea pig with Rollin, who has to hope Barney can rig the test chamber and swap out the lethal stuff in time.  Meanwhile, Cinnamon plays a reporter who’s actually a spy offering Beck a half-million-dollar bribe to hand over his culture.  Once Jim has replaced the doctor sent to observe the test, he tells the bad guys that he was approached too and describes Cinnamon and Willy (I hope Willy doesn’t find out that Jim called him a “thug type,” though Cinnamon would be flattered that he lopped a decade off her age and described her as “late twenties”), so they’ll monitor Cinnamon’s calls.

Everything goes smoothly at first, with Barney installing a balloon in the test chamber and cutting a hole in the mechanical dumbwaiter’s shaft so he can swap out the bioweapon cylinder with knockout gas.  The plan is to catch the gas in the balloon for later release while Rollin takes a capsule Barney also hid in the chamber in order to fake the symptoms of meningitis up to and including death.  But a minor mechanical fault leads a technician to go into the test chamber, where he sees the balloon.  Once again, something genuinely goes wrong with the plan.  It forces Rollin to improvise; he feigns a panic attack, lashing out at the tech and knocking him out.  Dr. Jim wheels the tech out and ensures he’s kept under.  But Rollin’s improv causes a new problem; his hands are cuffed and he can’t get the capsule into his mouth.  So he drops it on the floor, falls to the floor himself, and scoots over until he can grab it in his teeth (eww, way past the five-second rule there!).  Rollin “dies” and is taken to autopsy, but Dr. Jim “discovers” he’s still alive — and releases the knockout gas so the enemy brass guys seem to fall ill with (non-fatal) meningitis themselves.  Jim accuses Beck of fraud and treason, and Beck pulls a gun on him.  This time, it’s all part of the plan, though Jim’s lucky that Beck wasn’t trigger-happy.  Beck is convinced his only way out is to take Cinnamon’s bribe, so he calls her tapped phone and retrieves the culture from storage — allowing Barney to swap it out for a fake through the dumbwaiter again.  The bad guys confront and shoot Beck, and Jim puts the fake culture back on the dumbwaiter to return it to storage — and of course it’s a bomb that destroys all the cultures.

A fairly routine episode overall, but there were some nice moments where the plan went awry and the characters were forced to improvise.  I think the producers were starting to catch on that they needed to include more uncertainty and suspense into these plots, that the minor snags that cropped up 30 seconds before the commercial and were resolved by 30 seconds after it weren’t enough.

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