MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S3) Reviews: “Doomsday”/”Live Bait” (spoilers)
“Doomsday”: We get our first stock-footage opening of the season, recycling the park footage from “The Diplomat.” The mission is to stop industrialist Vandaam (Alf Kjellin), who’s obtained some weapons-grade plutonium-240 and intends to auction it off to whatever small country will pay the most, in order to save his overextended corporate empire from financial ruin. Oddly, there are only three nameless countries bidding: an Eastern European one represented by Kura (Arthur Batanides), an Asian one represented General Wo (Khigh Diegh, who played Wo Fat in the original Hawaii Five-O), and a Latin American one represented by Castillo, whose plane the team has intercepted so they can substitute Rollin in his place. The photo shown of Castillo in the apartment scene looks like the same photo used for the dictator Rollin impersonated (and Martin Landau played) in the pilot episode, but this time Rollin doesn’t use any makeup in his impersonation, an odd inconsistency. Meanwhile, Jim pretends to be an oil executive willing to double the amount of money at Kura’s disposal in exchange for special considerations. Cinnamon is his nuclear-physicist consultant, who advises Kura in the auction.
Of course, Barney’s job is to sneak into the vault and swap out the stolen Pu-240 for a fake. The bomb is kept in a highly secure vault and surrounded on four sides and below by electric eyes — yet somehow it never occurred to the security system’s designers to put sensors on the big ventilation grate which is directly above the bomb and inside the sensor beams! The grate accessible through a ventilation duct which connects directly to a private elevator shaft which Barney can get into by picking a simple lock. Okay, he has to do some risky climbing, but still, it’s a ridiculously convenient gap in the security system.
Remember what I said in the review of “The System” about wondering whether Barney would lower himself from the ceiling on a cable like Tom Cruise in the first M:I movie? Well, this is where he actually does that. He swaps out the Pu easily enough, but then we get the bonus of a genuine complication: Barney’s climbing rig pulls on the pipe it’s attached to, a screw comes loose, and some plasters fall on top of the bomb before he can get back into the vent. And Vandaam’s aide has left his clipboard in the vault, so he comes back and finds the plaster, tipping off Vandaam to the switch — though Vandaam decides to continue the auction anyway. But he orders a lockdown of the building, with Barney trapped inside. Barney breaks into an empty office and calls Jim, and they work on a revised escape plan. Yay, improvisation!
Anyway, Rollin delays the bidding process as long as possible (mainly by complaining about the delays), and he and Cinnamon manipulate things so Kura’s the winner. Kura’s henchman (recurring M:I player Sid Haig) collects Jim’s money from the bank, but Willy swaps the briefcase for another one using a trick suitcase, and when the money from the swapped briefcase is put in Vandaam’s safe along with Kura’s money, Cinnamon triggers a charge in the (fake?) money that burns it all up. Then Cinnamon demands to test the Pu again, forcing Vandaam to admit it’s been stolen. Kura demands his money back, and when he sees only ashes in the safe, he cries double-cross and shoots Vandaam. The team gets Barney out by clocking a few guards (a bit of an anticlimactic escape plan) and the day is saved.
A routine episode, marred by the blatant contrivance of the gap in the security system and the implausibly small number of bidders for the bomb, but redeeming itself somewhat by having things actually go a bit wrong for the team and forcing them to improvise. Also, the bomb prop itself was weird; I think it must’ve been a prop representing a torpedo or something, because it had a propeller on the nose cone.
“Live Bait”: The tape sequence is stock footage again, this time recycled from Peter Graves’s very first episode, the second-season premiere. The mission is twofold. Bad guy Kellerman (Anthony Zerbe) has captured an American agent, Marceau (Ed Gilbert, later an animation voice artist whose well-known roles included G. I. Joe‘s General Hawk, TaleSpin‘s Baloo, and BraveStarr‘s Shaman), and is trying to get him to confess that Selby (John Crawford), an American who supposedly defected to the other side and works in their intelligence office along with Kellerman, is actually a double agent. The team has to rescue Marceau and, if possible, preserve Selby’s cover.
They go about discrediting Kellerman with a convoluted plan whose details I had a hard time following since I was distracted by hunger (and then by eating), but it involved taking advantage of Kellerman’s naive aide Brocke, played by an amazingly young Martin Sheen. Brocke’s in love with Stephanie (Diana Ewing), an actress who’s apparently just using him to get close to the Minister of Communication to help her career, though he doesn’t see that. Rollin passes himself off as a state investigator (and Kellerman is too easily convinced of his bona fides) and has a conversation with him that’s being filmed through a one-way mirror. Barney uses split-screen tricks (and the tech for this is not authentically depicted, I’m pretty sure) to replace Rollin with Jim as an American agent delivering different lines. They then abduct Stephanie and allow her to see the fake conversation through a crack in a door (and why she can’t tell the difference between film projected on a screen and a live conversation right in front of her is unexplained), leading her to think Kellerman is a double agent who’s willing to sacrifice Brocke as his patsy. She’s allowed to escape easily through the window and she calls Brocke to come get her. Selby convinces Brocke he has to flee with Stephanie, but Kellerman has them captured and brought before him. He intimidates Steph, and since she cares less about Brocke than her own well-being, she lies and calls him the double agent.
Now comes the part where the team springs Marceau, which involves gassing the whole building with knockout gas planted by Rollin. Having earned Kellerman’s trust, he’s been shown where Marceau is held, and learns that Marceau is chained to an antipersonnel mine which will kill anyone trying to free him. This is presented as a surprise at the act break, but it turns out that the team prophetically anticipated this, right down to having the right size of funnel to strap around the mine so they can freeze it with liquid nitrogen. They free Marceau and drag Kellerman to the cell to implicate him in the escape. Rollin revives Brocke, who’s now more convinced than ever that Kellerman is the traitor and shoots him. Selby’s cover is safe and Marceau is free.
An okay episode, but more convoluted than it needed to be. There was also some added stuff about Kellerman finding out about American agents (which the team arranged for him to do, of course) and setting up a trap for them, using Brocke as a patsy, or something, and it was hard to keep everything straight. And some parts were less than convincing for the reasons I’ve discussed. It’s mainly of interest for its guest cast, notably Zerbe, Sheen, and Star Trek veterans John Crawford (Ferris, “The Galileo Seven”) and the lovely Diana Ewing (Droxine, “The Cloud Minders”). And Ed Gilbert for us animation buffs, but his was a small role. There’s also the first partly original score in a while, the second by Richard Markowitz — like his first, not bad, but not really standing out.
The weirdest thing about this episode was the set decorations. Throughout the government offices and on the street outside, there were a bunch of posters that looked like they were meant to imply Soviet Realism, with images of workers and tools and such, but were rendered as rather crude, almost childlike line drawings, as if they were just rough sketches of the art that was supposed to be there. Maybe they were meant to be semi-abstract, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of care was put into them.