Archive for September, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “The Amateur”/”Hunted” (spoilers)

September 30, 2011 2 comments

“The Amateur”: We open in medias res in “Ransdorf, East Europe,” though the signage in the stock footage is clearly German.  Eric Schilling (Anthony Zerbe), a bar owner and petty con artist, is rolling a drunk customer while his hectoring but hot girlfriend, the bar’s cigarette girl Clara (Lisa Pera), looks on.  We follow them back into the bar as they bicker, and in the background there’s a waitress taking a photo of a customer.  Oh, it’s Dana!  And she’s using the photo to pass rendezvous instructions to the team’s contact, Max.  Max burns the photo as he leaves through the back, but a curious Eric follows him out and finds the remnant of the photo (and the fire has conveniently burned around the message Dana wrote — plus I think the surviving part is the corner of the Polaroid in the long shot and the lower middle in close-up).  We cut to Jim and Barney meeting Max, who’s driving up to deliver a new enemy weapon, which is inexplicably called the “rocket laser.”  (A laser for shooting down rockets?  A laser ignition system for fusion rockets?  More likely they just slapped together two words that sounded advanced and dangerous.)  But somehow Max tipped off the state police, and is killed in the ensuing shootout while Jim and Barney flee in the car.  (Max is not wearing a red shirt, but he might as well be.  Does a red car count?)

The auto chase is interrupted by the main titles (new arrangement, with Doug) and then resumes.  Apparently they expected to use the car, since they already have a van prepared with Paris at the wheel; they drive into the back, lift the ramp, and elude the cops.  Later, they discuss their plan to get the rocket-laser-scissors out of the country by breaking it into five easily concealable parts, one for each team member.  Dana gets the smallest piece, hidden in a cold cream jar.  If any one piece gets left behind, the rocket laser oscillation overthruster will be useless to both sides.

Meanwhile, the East German European spy chief Col. Eckert (Ronald Feinberg), a massive bear of  a man with a broken-nosed countenance and a humorless, intimidating presence, is determined to lock the country down and let no one get away.  He backtracks Max’s contacts, leading him to Eric’s bar, where he questions Eric (who’s been flirting with Dana trying to find out what shenanigans she was into, earning Clara’s jealousy) about his former customer Max, informing Eric that the man is dead.  “I’m sorry,” Eric says.  Eckert: “He was an enemy of the state.”  Eric: “In that case, I withdraw my condolence.”  Eric catches on that Dana was Max’s contact, but he plays it close to the vest, not wanting to tip off Eckert.  But of course, being (as the title says) just an amateur, he does exactly that with his smarmy evasiveness, and Eckert orders him surveilled.

Meanwhile, Jim and Doug need to get to their other contact in-country, Father Bernard (Peter Brocco), and warn him about Max’s cover being blown, as well as retrieving his list of Western agents.  They come to the church disguised as a priest and a monk, respectively.  But Eckert’s men are searching the place, and they reveal that Bernard has had a stroke and is on his deathbed.  Doug is apparently a brilliant enough doctor to make a complete diagnosis just by having the father watch his hand move back and forth once, and even though Bernard does this perfectly well, Doug confirms that he’s at death’s door.  The suspicious guard (Don Eitner, I think) prods Jim to deliver last rites, which Jim does reluctantly, partly to cover the act of recovering the Bible which, according to Bernard’s eye gestures, contains the secret list.  The guards search Jim & Doug’s suitcases while the sacrament is delivered, and clear them.  Once they get away with the list and retrieve the parts of the teenage mutant rocket laser from bus lockers, Jim says he’ll call the monsignor and ensure the proper sacraments are spoken by someone qualified.

Eric clumsily searches Dana’s stuff and breaks open the cold cream jar, substituting another one in her purse and then finding the guidance system in the broken one.  Clara’s getting impatient with his interest in Dana, so he confides in her about what’s going on, boasting about how his cranium contains not just a creaky old sausage factory, but a Geiger counter that senses something hot.  Ohh-kayyy… anyway, his Geiger counter is telling him to sell the guidance system to the American spies, since Eckert would just take it and give him nothing.  It also tells him to take out his antique WWII-surplus Luger pistol, which he clumsily loads while Clara warns him that he’s an amateur out of his league.  She says Eckert will kill him, and although she’s constantly criticizing him and insulting him, she loves him and doesn’t want to see him hurt.  So she tells him she’s going to Eckert herself and walks out.  Then a shot rings out, quite loud and startling, and Clara falls dead, shot in the back… by Eric.  He doesn’t even seem upset by her death.  It’s a shocking moment, perhaps because the shot is so loud and there’s no prior warning, perhaps because it’s just so casually ruthless an act from a character who’s been a comic antagonist and seemingly an empty threat until now.  But of course it was a clumsy and amateurish thing to do, and when he carries out Clara’s body (which has no trace of blood or even a bullet hole in her coat), Eckert’s men watch every move.

Paris and Barney are sneaking out by joining a cross-country bike race from Ransdorf to Dornburg, where the airport is.  They ride through the streets of the Paramount backlot, which are getting very, very familiar to me by this point.  (I miss seeing the Desilu backlot in Culver City.)  But Paris has a blowout and wrecks his wheel.  He tells Barney to go on; he’ll find another way.  Just after Barney rides on, a helpful cop offers to give Paris a ride to Dornburg.  While Barney is still chugging along on his bike, the police car drives by, and Paris waves smugly to Barney and says “See you in Dornburg!”  It’s a fun moment of character interplay within the team.

In Dornburg, we see four of the five pieces of the Rocket Laser Megazord — and a jar of cold cream.  Dana knows Eric must have the guidance doohickey, but there’s no time to make a round trip to make a deal with him before their flight gets in from London.  So Dana calls him to invite him to Dornburg, pretending to continue their budding romance — though Eckert has Eric’s phone bugged and sees right through it (Eric’s line about wanting “50,000 kisses” from her is kind of an easy code to decipher).  So Eckert’s men take over airport security.

Eric is waiting for his contact at a closed ticket window when Paris arrives Laugh-In style by opening the doors over the window.  He’s wearing the same gray wig and moustache he wore in “Decoy” last week, and he gives Eric the payoff in exchange for the fifth component.  Then they just have to sneak it past Eckert and get away themselves.  Paris drops off the component and eludes Eckert’s men while Jim retrieves it, and everyone eventually rendezvouses in an airport van where they don disguises — with Dana donning a black pixie-cut wig that makes her look rather fetching in a Nicole deBoer kind of way, though the big glasses undermine it some.  They use a trick they’ve used before, getting out of (or into) somewhere by pretending they’ve just arrived (or left) and being sent back.  They blend in with the passengers from the incoming London flight, pretending to be employees of the “English Television Network” (I guess that’s a competitor for last season’s English Broadcasting Service), but Paris previously faked a call from a government official telling the airport administrator that their visas had been revoked because their network had insulted the East German European government.  So they have to get “back on” the plane they were never on in the first place and fly away.

Meanwhile, Eckert has found Eric, who agrees to make a “deal” with Eckert and tell him everything.  He tries to pin the whole thing on Clara, though of course Eckert knows Eric murdered her.  He also tells Eric the money he was given is counterfeit.  (That doesn’t make sense.  Where did the team get so much counterfeit money on such short notice?  Why not simply pay him in good faith?)  The disguised Dana looks right at Eric as the team walks past, but he doesn’t quite recognize her.  He asks Eckert about their deal; in return for his cooperation, he asks for his life.  “What is that worth?” Eckert snarls.  “Amateur.”  And Eric is taken away as the team’s plane flies off.

This was a really fine episode, the first of four M:I installments written by Ed Adamson.  It’s an interesting conceit, exploring an IMF caper from the viewpoint of a bystander who stumbles into it.  It might’ve been interesting to see the whole thing from the bad guys’ perspective — just see the team members introduced one by one and have to figure out what’s going on along with the viewpoint characters, or maybe ahead of them because at least we’d know who they were.  But then we wouldn’t have gotten the interesting character bits with Jim and the priest or with Paris and Barney.  The setup is a little odd, in that the IMF’s mission didn’t seem to involve retrieving the rocket laser framizam potrzebie in the first place, just getting it out of the country afterward.  Usually both ends would’ve been their responsibility.  Still, it was explained that Max had high security clearance; maybe he was the only one who could get to it.  And given what a scary and capable antagonist Eckert is, it’s believable that getting the components past him and out of the country would be the “impossible” part.  But the most fun is following Eric, a delightfully smarmy and self-deluded character, boasting about his computer brain and convinced he’s destined for his big score, but hopelessly blind and out of his league every step of the way.  Anthony Zerbe does a fine job making Eric a contemptible but charming creep.   Eckert is the mastermind the team has to watch out for, but Eric is the wild card, his sheer clumsiness and overconfidence making him an unpredictable complication.  It’s a clever and effective twist.  This season so far is all about telling stories where things go wrong with the team’s missions, but this is a particularly interesting way of going about it.

“Hunted”: For the first time this season, the episode begins with the tape scene (though still in a cold open before the titles), in an RV at a park.  The mission is to rescue the Nelson Mandela-like anti-apartheid leader Kolda from the hospital where the South Africa surrogate country of “East Victoria” is holding him, refusing him treatment so he’ll die.  The plan is to get him out of the country so he can form a resistance government in exile.  But that’s the easy part, a simple matter of Doug and some unfamiliar orderly (Dick Dial, Peter Graves’s stunt double) sneaking into Kolda’s hospital room, with Doug checking his vitals while the other guy burns through the window bars and lowers a canvas slide that Jim and Paris secure at the lower end.  Then they just slide the unconscious Kolda down to ground level and drive off with him in the van.  Unfortunately, an official arrives just then to question Kolda and sets the guards after Doug and the orderly.  Doug gets away, but the orderly is shot in the leg and limps into the black district, where he ends up in the shop of a seamstress called Gabby (Ta-Tanisha) and passes out before he can say anything.  Gabby comes to his aid and is surprised to find that his Caucasian face is a mask — and under it is Barney!  (Cut to titles, still the new arrangement.)

Barney awakens under Gabby’s care and discovers she’s deaf and mute.  Her cousin Luddy (future Battlestar Galactica co-star Herbert Jefferson Jr.) shows up and tells her about the man who helped Kolda escape, saying he’d gladly turn him in for the reward.  Gabby plays dumb (so to speak) until he leaves, then finds that Barney has bolted.  She tracks him down as he hides from the police, then helps him limp away as he pretends to be drunk (by singing rather amusingly).  They bond rather sweetly as she treats his wound under his guidance, though it’s not a romance; the actress was only 17 at the time.  He even uses his superspy supersmarts to teach himself sign language in a matter of minutes, though she can read lips just fine.

The team gets Kolda to a helicopter, but they all agree to stay and search for Barney until the window closes.  Since the police, led by Banco (Ivor Barry), are looking for a white man, Paris goes off to be a conspicuous injured white man to draw them away from Barney’s probable location.  He holds up a drugstore for morphine, and the white pharmacist delays while his wife calls the cops from the back room.  But their black clerk comes out and warns Paris that the cops are on the way — and it’s future Eureka star Joe Morton in his television debut!  How about that?

Barney learns that Gabby’s real name is Maryana, with “Gabby” a nickname mocking her muteness.  She’s the daughter of one of Kolda’s fellow resistance leaders, a man killed by Banco himself (a revelation that never gets any payoff), and Barney suspects her deafness and muteness are psychosomatic and can be treated if she comes with him to the US.

While Paris drags out his diversion a ridiculously long time, Jim and Doug dress up as cops, divert the real cops from the area, and search it themselves.  Jim comes to  Maryana’s shop searching for Barney, who’s hidden behind the fireplace, but Maryana thinks he’s a real cop and is ready to stab him with scissors if he stumbles on Barney’s hiding place.  But Jim misses it — and somehow Barney fails to hear him talking even though he’s listening carefully at the hidden door when Jim is a foot away from it.  Barney then asks Maryana to go to the team’s rendezvous point to contact them, but she’s scared away by the police.  Dana, watching through a window, sees her approaching and notices that she doesn’t react to the police siren until she sees a cop.  When Jim checks in, she tells him about the girl, and Jim realizes it’s the same deaf girl he met in town.

Luddy comes back and finds Barney’s bloody clothes, so he calls the cops.  Maryana fights him, but Jim, Doug, and Dana come in and Jim knocks him out while Dana convinces Maryana they’re Barney’s friends.  The reunited team and Maryana get away just ahead of Banco’s forces, and a lengthy car chase ensues.  Meanwhile, Paris has gotten into a fight and cracked some ribs, and he’s too weak to make it to the rendezvous point — although he happens to be next to a dam with a tower on top, so he and Jim arrange by radio that once the chopper picks the rest of them up, it’ll pick up Paris from the top of the tower.  And that’s what happens, while Banco’s men fire at them from the ground level.  It’s a really impressive action sequence with spectacular visuals from the top of the tower.  They must’ve really blown their budget on this one.

This is a very strong episode, with a nice touching story between Barney and Maryana and a spectacular action climax.  It does have a couple of minor strikes against it, though.  Paris spends way too much time being the decoy — it’s illogical (pardon the expression) to put one teammate at such great risk of capture in order to rescue another.  He should’ve just put on the act long enough to draw the cops away and then vanished.  And while it’s nice that the episode portrayed a deaf-mute girl as a heroic character, it undermines it that they treated it as something to be fixed rather than accepted.  And tying her backstory to Banco and Kolda was kind of gratuitous, since it didn’t lead to anything.  She was important enough as a character just for being kind and brave; she didn’t need to be linked to the mission.  Although at least it implies the eventual happy ending of her reunion with Kolda, whom she knew when she was a child.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

All done!

September 30, 2011 2 comments

I’ve just turned in my manuscript for Star Trek: DTI: Forgotten History, right on deadline.  My target length was between 75-85,000 words, and the draft I just turned in clocks in with a word count of 84,998 words according to WordPerfect.  (MS Word pegs it at over 86K, but I think it may be counting headers and footers.)  That’s only the second time I haven’t run over the target length range on a Trek novel (the first was Greater Than the Sum, which was toward the lower end of the target range).  And yeah, I could’ve tweaked it to get exactly 85K, but I actually achieved that yesterday.  I needed to do a bit of minor tweakage for consistency with another Trek novel, though, and that cost me two words.  But I decided it wasn’t worth bothering to toss in two more words just to meet an arbitrary goal that I already met.  Getting that close to the maximum target length is still just about unprecedented for me.

So am I satisfied with how it turned out?  Yeah, I think so.  I got to include a lot of stuff I’ve wanted to write about for a long time.  And I think it holds together pretty well overall.

But now I’m just glad to put it behind me, think about other stuff for a while.  I can catch up on the DVRed shows I haven’t watched yet this week because I was too busy working.  And stuff like that.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “Butterfly”/”Decoy” (spoilers)

September 28, 2011 3 comments

“Butterfly”: In Japan, we see a martial-arts demonstration which American businessman Kellem (Russ Conway) is watching intently.  Toshio Masaki (Hawaii Five-O‘s Khigh Dhiegh), a rich and powerful man and a racist who’s considered his sister Mioshi his “enemy” since she married Kellem, stabs her to death and frames Kellem for the deed, with help from his man Shiki (James Shigeta).  Kellem makes the frame-up easy, since the first thing he does on finding his wife’s body is to pick up the knife for no clear reason and get his fingerprints on it.

On a long pier, Jim makes contact with a guy in a boat by pretending to offer to buy it and take it for a test drive, though the pretense hardly seems necessary since there’s nobody remotely near earshot.  The tape instructs Jim to clear Kellem and stop the vehemently anti-American Masaki (which the Voice mispronounces, putting the stress on the last syllable) from scuttling a new US-Japan trade agreement.  No self-destruct line; Jim just tosses the tape in the water.  The producers finally seem to have caught on that it makes no sense to say “Please destroy this tape in the usual manner” when it happens so unusually.  We get the old theme arrangement and Willy’s in the credits, reinforcing my hypothesis that there’s one theme arrangement for Willy episodes and another for Doug episodes.

Since there’s somehow no physical evidence linking Masaki to the crime (which I guess was more plausible decades ago, when forensics was less advanced), and since Masaki is kind of a latter-day feudal lord who has everyone in his pocket except the one honest cop Akita (Benson Fong), the team’s goal is to make Masaki incriminate himself.  Jim poses as Kellem’s lawyer and gets him to tell every last detail he remembers — though not until after we see Kellem’s daughter Nobu (Helen Funai) reject his pleas of innocence and denounce him.  The purpose of Jim’s interview is to recreate the moments leading up to the murder in order to create a blackmail film.  This is done by having Paris and Dana don masks of Masaki and Mioshi and sneak into Masaki’s estate while Barney films them from a nearby hill.  As a distraction, Willy challenges Masaki’s undefeated jujitsu champ to a match.  Before this, we saw Willy training with a jujitsu master to learn to last as long as possible.  Since he needs to drag it out, he kinda lets Masaki’s fighter pound the tar out of him — and his ordeal is made even worse because the impostors are delayed by some guy taking a smoke break.  Eventually Jim gives Willy the signal that the deed is done and Willy says uncle.

Dana contacts Masaki to tell him she happened to film the murder and wants money to keep quiet.  He has Akita trace her second phone call (not telling the honest cop what it’s about) and raids her place, but only gets half the film.  He has it enlarged, convinced it’s a fake, and confronts Dana about the lack of an identifying scar on his wrist, but Dana creates doubt by pointing out the graininess of the film.  He’s still on the hook.

Meanwhile… and here’s where the episode’s credibility takes a serious hit… Paris is impersonating a famous kabuki actor who strikes up a friendship with Nobu, who’s staying with Masaki.  Masaki finds her mixed blood offensive, but hopes she can be redeemed.  Anyway, blackmailer Dana contacts Nobu as well, creating suspicion in her that Masaki killed her father, and Paris convinces Nobu to go to the cops about it.  So she shows Akita the phone number the blackmailer gave her, and Akita notices it’s the same number Masaki had traced.  So he follows Dana to Masaki’s place and comes in just as he’s starting the film.  Akita insists they continue.  Just before the moment of the murder (which isn’t on the fake film, of course), Masaki stops the film, exposing his guilt — and he then conveniently admits he killed her.

Oh, and before Akita came in, Masaki’s jujitsu expert took Dana away to be killed, but of course Jim and Willy broke in to rescue her and Willy got his rematch with the fighter, redeeming himself by clobbering the guy.

This is the most conventional M:I episode so far this season, a standard caper with no significant departures from the old formula and nothing going wrong with the plan that isn’t resolved within moments — and as I said in my last review, that’s actually kind of refreshing after so many format-breaking episodes in a row.   Yet it still does something new; I’m fairly certain that it’s the first ever M:I episode (and the only one, at least in the original series) to be set in East Asia.  And for the most part, by ’70s standards, it’s a pretty authentic and respectful depiction of Japanese culture, with all the Asian characters played by Asian actors (except for Khigh Dhiegh, who was actually of North African descent and born in New Jersey, and whose real name was Kenneth Dickerson).  Plus there’s another fairly good Robert Drasnin score, which has a somewhat Asian sound at times without sounding stereotypical.  And yet it features the entirely ridiculous conceit of Paris successfully passing himself off as Japanese.  It was one thing in “Commandante” where his impersonation of a Chinese officer only had to fool some Latin Americans who might not have had much contact with Asians.  But a hawk-nosed Westerner wearing blatantly plastic-looking epicanthic-fold makeup (much more obvious than his “Commandante” makeup) managing to convince Japanese people that he’s Japanese?  Particularly the racist Masaki, whose reaction to Nobu shows that he’s keenly attentive to departures from “pure” Japanese physiognomy?  That just doesn’t make any sense.  And it’s so unnecessary, since Paris’s only roles in this episode — to let Masaki know about Willy’s jujitsu chops (so to speak) and to convince Nobu to go to the cops — could probably have been fulfilled without him.  At the very least, the reasonable thing for Jim to do would’ve been to recruit an actual Japanese person to fulfill this part of the plan.  Having Paris do it is simply a bad idea.  (Although it is kind of fun to see Nimoy in full kabuki makeup.)  The sheer wrongness of it drags down what’s otherwise a borderline-excellent episode, as routine M:I episodes go.

“Decoy”: In the cold open, Anna Kerkoska (Julie Gregg, who played one of the guest agents last season) rushes in to stop her brother Alexi (the Martin Landau-esque Paul Stevens, who’s previously appeared in “The Council” and “The Cardinal” as characters impersonated by Rollin Hand) from killing himself, conveniently arriving before he does the deed.  He tells her that the new regime in their Communist country (apparently we’re back to the countries being anonymous) is about to start a purge of everyone associated with the former premier, their late father.  He says he wants to kill himself before that happens, and rejects her proposal to turn to the Americans for help, saying they wouldn’t be interested.  “Unless,” he suddenly and conveniently realizes — they can successfully defect if they give the Americans a list placed in Anna’s safekeeping by her father, naming government officials sympathetic to the West.  By the time Anna goes off to contact the US embassy, it’s already obvious that Alexi is playing her, but then they drive it home by having police chief Petrovich (Michael Strong, a frequent M:I guest) come in and gloat that she’ll lead them to the list.

Jim gets the tape from a camp counselor on a hike, and he’s given the assignment to help Anna defect — although somehow the IMF has psychically gleaned that it’s a trap by Alexi, so the team is forewarned.  (Honestly, how do they find these things out sometimes?)  We get the new theme arrangement, but it’s a Willy episode, so that blows my theory about the two theme arrangements out of the water.

We see Barney and Willy driving in their equipment disguised as consumer electronics, and Jim and Dana driving in as brother and sister (even though Peter Graves was 20 years older than Lesley Ann Warren).  This is to establish the only viable border crossing, a tunnel (familiar from countless TV shows shot in the Los Angeles hills) controlled with a sentry post and a heavy steel gate that’s mined to prevent anyone from smashing through.  Meanwhile, Paris flies in and goes to arrange a funeral (there’s some effective humor in the Paris scenes, first with a Joo Dee-like handler when he checks in and then with the snooty, mercenary funeral director), and then contacts Anna in the park (actually the “town square” portion of the Paramount backlot that has different regional styles of buildings in different directions, this time with the camera pointing toward the “Germany” side) in order to tip off the watching Petrovich (and his agent, M:I’s designated henchman Sid Haig in his ninth and, alas, final episode) that he’s the American spy they should follow.  This distracts their attention from Jim, who makes contact with Anna as an editor for a major publishing company.  The team makes it look to Petrovich as if the US agents have kidnapped Jim’s sister (Dana) in order to blackmail him into helping them get to Anna by pretending to work with her on a book about her father, the late premier.  I guess this is so they’ll be following the wrong guy, Paris (who “disappears” by shedding his old-guy disguise), while Jim is doing his work.

But what Jim doesn’t anticipate is that he and Anna fall in love with each other.  They go for a long walk (represented interestingly, but inexpensively, by having what I suppose are photo doubles walk through a real park while Graves and Gregg are double-exposed in close-up against a blank background) and Anna waxes lyrical about the complicated, contradictory man her father was, a despot and a loving family man, and how she loved and hated him at the same time.  It’s beautifully written dialogue and Gregg delivers it beautifully, if a bit broadly by today’s standards.  And it leads to Jim and Anna making out and Anna saying he’s the first man she’s ever loved.

Eventually the “kidnappers” contact Jim and tell him to get Anna and Alexi to the funeral home at an arranged time for their defection.  They can only take a few possessions, and Alexi gets suspicious when Anna refuses to part with a music box (that’s also a cigarette case — oy).  He wrestles her for it, it breaks open, and he realizes the list is encoded on the drum of the music-box mechanism, while she realizes he was scamming her to get to it.  Anna is further stunned when Jim karate-chops Alexi unconscious and an Alexi double (a masked Paris) drags him into the closet.  Anna is outraged to learn that Jim was using her just as Alexi was, but he assures her he does love her and convinces her that she needs to come with him.

Sid Haig is watching at the funeral home, though, so they have to sneak Jim and Anna out.  Hearse driver Barney brings in the coffin and hands Jim an inflatable Jim dummy, and then Paris/Alexi asks for Anna to be shown to the little girls’ room (which is labeled in French for some reason), allowing her to be switched with Dana and snuck out into the hearse with Jim.  Petrovich and Sid Haig discover the switch, with Dana playing the kidnapped sister and Paris still playing Alexi.  Willy positions himself as a policeman so that Petrovich orders him to take Dana and Paris away for questioning, and the bad guys chase after the hearse.  But a few miles down the road, the hearse stops and opens its back door… and a teeny little go-cart (that Barney and Willy were seen assembling earlier) shoots out the back and brazenly races right past Petrovich’s car in the other direction.  It vrooms down the twisty mountain roads of Los Angeles Eastern Europe, sometimes deliberately veering off the asphalt to dramatically fling gravel into the camera, while Petrovich pursues, all accompanied by Lalo Schifrin’s climactic car-chase music from the M:I pilot episode.  When the go-cart nears the border gate, the guards start firing.  Jim pushes Anna’s head down, but since she’s the hero’s love interest in a 1970 show, it’s an open question whether she’ll live through it.  But no, getting her out is their mission, and having the hero fail was even more anathema to the ’70s TV-adventure formula than having the hero in a committed relationship.  So the teensy go-cart zooms right under the steel gate and on to freedom.  Petrovich’s car pulls up just short of the gate; I guess they didn’t have the budget to blow him up.  Or maybe the network asked them to cut down on the violence.  It does seem more of the bad guys are surviving lately.

Anyway, Jim and Anna have a final scene together, backed by some of Robert Drasnin’s lovely score to “The Play,” in which they reaffirm their love but Anna decides she needs time to discover who she is as a free woman before they decide where to take their relationship.  Which is a convenient way to write her out of Jim’s life for the rest of the series, but it’s reasonably well-handled.

This episode is mixed, but mostly positive.  The plot seems a bit odd; why try to make Jim seem like an innocent to divert the villains’ attention, yet then drag him into the middle of the defection plot?  And why fool Petrovich and Alexi into thinking the US would use kidnapping and blackmail to bring about Anna’s defection when they know full well that she wants to defect already?  It seems contrived just to allow Jim to get close to Anna.  And how did the IMF know it was a trap?  It might’ve made for a more interesting episode if they hadn’t known, if the audience had been aware that the villains were a step ahead of the heroes, creating tension and danger.  Also, Paul Stevens’s overly broad and villainous performance makes it hard to take his scenes seriously.

But Julie Gregg is luminous and soulful as Anna, and John D.F. Black’s script has its finest moments with her dialogue.  Peter Graves isn’t especially convincing as a romantic lead, but I can believe that Jim could fall in love with this woman.  This would otherwise be the most mediocre episode of the season so far, but Anna and her portrayer make it a fulfilling experience.

Farewell, Sid Haig.  The show just won’t be the same without your stalwart henching.  But of course you’re moving on to bigger and eviler things, pursuing your long-term goal of galactic conquest.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

I wish I could forget how to be forgetful…

Last night I ran out of zip-top plastic bags, so I left the empty box out on the counter to remind me, and made a plan to go to the grocery store today. This morning I made a grocery list and tried to make sure I checked everything, because I knew there were several things I needed to remember I was out of. I came back from the store just now, and needed to clear a space on the tiny counter for my bags, and I was about to move the empty zip-top-bag box out of the way when I realized… D’oh! I forgot the very thing that prompted me to plan a grocery trip in the first place! Which I think is the second time in as many weeks that that’s happened. (Yeah, yeah, of course I should’ve written it down on the list as soon as I noticed I was out. But that would require being organized!)

Categories: Uncategorized

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “Flight”/”My Friend, My Enemy” (spoilers)

September 26, 2011 3 comments

“Flight”: Yay, John Colicos is back!  As Manuel Farrar, security chief of a Caribbean country, he’s in particularly menacing mode as he orders an assassin code-named Plato (Shepherd Sanders) to kill his country’s progressive president Rojas before he can sign a mutual aid agreement with the US, whereupon Farrar will take over the government.  Jim is briefed on this in a carnival ride (a fairly sedate one), and he actually takes a few moments to enjoy the ride before playing the tape.  His mission: find the identity of Plato, something only Farrar knows, before the assassination.  It’s the first time this season that the tape has included all the usual ritual phrases including the “Secretary” line, and we hear one of the conventional “self-destruct” music stings before going to titles.  The titles use the new theme arrangement and include Sam Elliott in place of Peter Lupus.  (The rest of the music is stock, and unfortunately the carnival music is not from Walter Scharf’s “Old Man Out” score from season 1.)

The scheme is to intercept Farrar when he boards a flight to the US separately from Plato.  I’m not sure why he’s on the flight, given that he plans to take over his country as soon as Rojas is dead.  But maybe he’s leaving the coup in the hands of his trusted right-hand man, police chief Diaz (Lloyd Battista, who played the dual title role in last season’s “The Brothers,” and who doesn’t know how the name “Manuel” is pronounced in Spanish-speaking countries).  Diaz plans to watch Farrar’s plane take off, so Barney distracts him by playing a temperamental flier who accuses Diaz of stealing his ticket.  Meanwhile, Stone (Tol Avery), a member of the repertory group assisting the core team, boards with a rough lookalike of Farrar who’s wearing a bald cap and glasses.  I think the lookalike is John S. Ragin (later of Quincy M.E.) and is named Butler.  Stone drugs Farrar and put the bald cap and glasses on him, and then Stone and Doug alert the stewardess that Stone’s “friend” has taken ill.  They take him off in an ambulance driven by Paris while Diaz is distracted.  But Paris almost causes a traffic accident, and they race away once it’s clear nobody’s been hurt.  But one of the involved parties writes down the ambulance’s license number and calls the cops.  Diaz learns there’s no such ambulance registered, and begins a search.

Farrar awakes on a fake plane cabin in a warehouse, and the team uses special effects to fake an engine fire and a plane crash.  Just before the crash, the captain’s voice (prerecorded, nobody we know) informs Farrar that they’re flying over the islands where a penal colony used to be.  Doug knocks him out again in mid-“crash,” and the team begins to strike the set before moving on to the next location.  So far, it’s been the most routine mission of the season.  But then Jim sees that Diaz’s cops are closing in, and the team bolts without dismantling the equipment.  But Dana has a moment of Lois Lane recklessness, going back to retrieve some incriminating tapes from Barney’s control console, and ends up getting captured.  The others have to drive away and hope she can fend for herself.  But Diaz is a very smart man, and he has the evidence from the warehouse.  He realizes they were trying to convince Farrar he was in a crash over the islands, and notes that the captain’s voiceover specifically called attention to the beaches, so he sends his men to search the coastline.  Yes, Chief Diaz has figured out that he’s in a Mission: Impossible episode!  This is what TV Tropes calls Dangerously Genre-Savvy.

So Farrar wakes up on the shore of this uncharted desert isle (so he thinks), with Gilligan, the Skipper too — no wait, it’s Paris and Jim as castaways in prison uniforms.  They and the repertory players pretend to be survivors of a prison plane that went down years ago, and they hold a court presided over by Jim to decide which of the two survivors, Farrar (who pretends to be a construction engineer) and Dr. Doug, deserves to survive, since they only have food for one.  Farrar argues that he deserves to survive more than a doctor, and when the votes are cast, it’s a tie.  Just before Lord Jim of the Flies can cast the tiebreaking vote, Farrar has a crowning moment of Colicosity: he intones, “Who are you, any of you, to stand in judgment over me?  I decide my own destiny!”  Then he picks up the gun on the table, shoots Doug (with a blank), and proclaims, “The deciding vote has been cast.”  Awesome.  Evil, but awesome.

Meanwhile, Diaz and Dana are playing psychological cat and mouse.  Dana pretends to be a hapless actress hired by unknown agents to play a stewardess in their scheme, and she tearfully tells him everything she knows and begs for her life.  But Diaz recognizes that she’s only told him the things he had already deduced, so he’s not buying her act.  So Dana drops the hysterics and becomes uber-cool spy gal, telling him essentially the truth about who she is and what the mission was, and convincing him that he needs to let her go so she can contact her people at the prearranged hotel, thereby bringing them into his clutches.  So Dana’s walking a tightrope here, having to participate in setting a trap for her own teammates in order to have any chance of freeing herself.  When Barney arrives at the hotel, she tips him off to the bugs, and Barney unscrews the light fixture and they hide in the hollow ceiling until Diaz’s people are thrown off the scent.

Paris plays an inmate sympathetic to Farrar, and allows Farrar to discover he’s Marcos, a real spy for Farrar from years back who died in a plane crash.  Farrar finds that Paris/Marcos is planning to escape on a raft because of what he’s learned: that Plato is a double agent for the US gathering dirt on Farrar and Diaz.  Farrar realizes they must get away instantly, and “shoots” a guard so they can escape.  But the noise brings down Jim and the rest.  Farrar wants Paris to stand guard while he escapes to warn Diaz about Plato, but Paris goes all cowardly and blubbery and useless.  But Farrar, as Jim explained in the apartment scene, is brave and loyal to his cause, so he’s willing to stay behind and cover Paris’s escape so he can deliver the warning.  So Farrar tells Paris who Plato is.  Jim radios the information to the authorities, and they set off an explosion to distract Farrar long enough to let them get away.  Plato gets arrested in the nick of time, and we see Farrar wandering the now-deserted “island” until he reaches the hilltop and discovers he’s still in his own country, with Diaz just driving up and wearing a hangdog look.

This is a strong episode with a strong script by Harold Livingston, who would later write the screenplay to Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  It gives us two effective villains, and while Colicos is in fine form as Farrar, he’s stuck in the formulaic dupe role while his subordinate Diaz gets to rise above the formula, see through the charades, and pose a formidable obstacle, ultimately coming out of it as the more impressive antagonist (although he got a bit slow on the uptake at the end so that Barney and Dana could escape).  As is the norm for this season so far, the episode moves beyond the usual formula and deconstructs it.  After four years on the air, the audience knows all the tricks, so it’s about time the bad guys started to catch on as well.  True, we’ve had the occasional episode before where the bad guys recognized that they were being tricked (“The Glass Cage” springs to mind), but they’ve rarely gotten as far as Diaz; and in the context of this revisionist season, it feels like another instance of the show commenting on its own tropes by having characters in the story recognize those tropes and call attention to them.  While Jerry in “The Innocent” stood for the cynical young viewer who questioned whether the show had relevance, Diaz stands for the genre-savvy fan who’s been watching long enough to see every move coming.  And the pressure from Diaz forces the characters to raise their game, just as pressure from the audience may have forced the show to raise its game.

And I have to say, I’m really growing impressed with Lesley Ann Warren.  I’ve seen most of this season already, a couple of years back when I discovered it was available on cable, and at the time I wasn’t entirely satisfied with Warren, largely — I admit — because I didn’t think she was hot enough.  (She was very close to being hot, but a little too gaunt and freckly.)  But now, with the context of three seasons of Barbara Bain and one season of various guest actresses, I’m really appreciating the fresh energy and talent Warren brought to the show.  She was a good actress, more natural than Bain, and yes, better-looking too.  She was maybe a bit too young to be playing a career spy, only around 23-24 at the time, and perhaps was cast as part of the show’s evident efforts to make itself more youth-oriented; but as she showed here when confronting Diaz, she could project poise and strength beyond her years.

“My Friend, My Enemy”: Enter the Spockacycle!  Paris is riding a motorcycle along a back road in (what a road sign alleges to be) Switzerland when he’s run off the road and tranked by enemy agents.  The head agent, Maur (Wesley Lau), orders that Paris must never know he was captured.  We get the new main title theme with Doug (I’m starting to think the new arrangement is for Doug episodes and the old one is for Willy episodes), and then we go to veterinarian Paul Tabor (Peter Mark Richman), who’s actually a brainwashologist working with Maur.  Apparently Maur recognized Paris from a caper he pulled against Maur “last year,” and since Lau has been in M:I before, I was hoping Maur was an actual returning character, but no such luck; Lau did appear the previous year in “Doomsday,” but as Dr. Thorgen.  Anyway, Tabor plans to implant an electrode that will stimulate the “kill center” in Paris’s brain (oh, is that how it works?), and to establish his bad guy credentials, he demonstrates the principle with a German shepherd he’s programmed to turn against its owner, a hapless corporal.  (Don’t worry, he’s not physically hurt, but ohh, the heartbreak!)

But first Tabor has to hypnotize Paris to find out what his emotional triggers are, and it turns out that Paris has daddy issues that put Spock’s to shame.  Not only did his real father back in Cleveland drive his mother away, but his mentor/surrogate father, the magician Meerghan, killed Inga, the love of Paris’s life, out of jealousy.  Tabor uses this to brainwash him to kill his current father figure, his “control” (whom we know as Jim Phelps).

Meanwhile, Jim and Dana are concerned that Paris hasn’t checked in following the completion of a mission the three of them just pulled, so once Paris does call and say he was in an accident and needs some time to recuperate (having no memory of his brainwashing), the team follows standard procedure to clear him, calling in Barney and Doug.  Jim and Doug check in separately under assumed names to surreptitiously contact and test Paris (on the assumption he’s being watched) while Barney and Dana investigate the crash site.  Tabor’s apparently a better doctor than Doug, since Doug can’t find anything wrong.  Jim is content to let Paris have some time off until Barney & Dana finish up, and that gives Paris time to get acquainted with hot blonde tourist Enid (Jill Haworth), who happens to be the same type as his lost love Inga.  Naturally, she’s working for Tabor to help manipulate Paris into killing Jim.  As Tabor ramps up the brain implant to ease Paris toward the act of murder, it makes Paris increasingly hostile toward Jim, dismissing Jim’s suspicions about the girl.  And it made me laugh out loud to see Leonard Nimoy deliver the lines, “Can’t you understand real emotion?  Or have you become some kind of a machine?”

Meanwhile, it turns out Maur made the mistake of touching the broken-off headlight of Paris’s bike, which Barney finds and gets fingerprints from.  They also find German shepherd hairs on Paris’s clothes.  This leads the team to Maur’s office in Vienna, where Dana goes in undercover, uses a dog whistle disguised as a cigarette holder to confirm the presence of an angry canine, and “accidentally” leaves her purse behind so she can come back later to get her “asthma pills” and accidentally lay the purse on Maur’s windowsill, setting off the alarm so Barney and Doug can sneak in undetected.  They find the dog and figure out what’s been done to it.   Apparently Doug has heard of the brain’s “kill center” too.   (It’s allegedly the lateral hypothalamus — which is actually the brain’s hunger center.  It should’ve made Paris extremely peckish, not murderous.)

So Enid (whose real name is Marla) thinks the plan is to fake her death with a prosthetic bullet wound and pin it on Jim, but of course Tabor’s evil so he has his henchman Ernst (Bruce Glover) shoot her for real when she calls Paris and begs him for help.  Paris finds her body and Tabor switches his hunger, err, kill center from peckish to ravenous.  So Paris grabs the gun that Tabor left lying at the scene and goes after Jim, whom he sees as Meerghan.  Jim and Paris (and their stunt doubles) fight, and Jim tries to get through to Paris, telling him to fight the brainwashing.  Naturally, it works, and Paris utters a relieved, revelatory “Jim!” (“Your name is Jim!”  Nahh, that’s something else.)  Tabor confronts them both and says he’s underestimated them, then tells Ernst to shoot them, but Paris has recovered enough to use the gun on Ernst instead of Jim.  Tabor is captured.

Then we cut to the Paramount office building a hospital where a cured, de-brain-implanted Paris comes out and greets the German shepherd, who’s also been cured, in a cute happy ending.  (The dog’s name is Max, so I’m going to pretend that he went on to be Dr. Rudy Wells’s test subject and became Max the Bionic Dog from The Bionic Woman.)

A fairly effective episode, another attempt to add personality and backstory to one of the regulars and to create conflict within the team.  Just as Jim was being himself throughout “Homecoming,” so Paris is basically being himself here, brainwashing aside; although he uses a fake name with Enid, he’s off the clock and has no hidden agenda (that he knows of).  It’s reasonably effective, though it’s weakened by the fact that the conflict is entirely artificial.  And this episode is essentially something I’ve always wanted to see in this show: a story in which the IMF is confronted by their own mirror, an enemy team pulling a scam on them.  You’ve got Maur, the control (Jim); Tabor, the mastermind of the technology and medicine (Barney crossed with Doug); Marla, the femme fatale (Dana); and Ernst, the muscle (Willy).  And the evil Paris surrogate is Paris himself, though he doesn’t know it.

Other pluses include an excellent score by Robert Drasnin.  The cues when Paris’s brainwashing goes into high gear are reminiscent of the fine score from “Echo of Yesterday” in season 2, and the episode ends with a lovely “happy ending” variant of “The Plot.”  It’s also nice to see an episode set in real foreign locations instead of Fauxnameia or the Generic People’s Republic.

The problem, though, is that on top of all the other format-breakers this season, it’s too much too fast.  It may have been frustrating that the previous three seasons had only 2-3 exceptions to the formula per year, but at least when they came they felt special.  But here we are only six episodes into the season and we’ve had four format-breakers in a row.  How are they going to sustain this level?  I wouldn’t have minded having these episodes spread out more widely, with a fair number of more routine episodes between them — as long as they were the fresh, clever take on the routine that we saw in the first two episodes this season.   Too many “special episodes” at once makes them feel less special.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “The Innocent”/”Homecoming” (spoilers)

September 25, 2011 2 comments

“The Innocent”: No tape at all this time; the cold open drops us right into the middle of a mission at the Interoco chemical company in a nameless Mideastern country, as Barney and Willy break into a vault containing barrels of “Dehominant-A” (like a defoliant, but for people) while trying to break into a computer room next door.  But Willy’s a little clumsy and inadvertently opens the valve on one of the barrels, and Barney steps in the highly toxic chemical, which paralyzes his leg.  Willy tries to get him past the guard, claiming a sprained ankle, but a doctor shows up and realizes Barney’s been exposed.  Willy knocks out the guard and the doctor, but not before the alarm is sounded.  Barney can hardly move, so he tells Willy to get away and tell Jim.  Cut to the main titles — featuring a whole new arrangement of the main title theme, with very different percussion.  We also get a new composer contributing the incidental score, Harry Geller (no known relation to M:I creator Bruce Geller), who does a decent job in a more conventional style than the previous two episodes have featured.  No idea if he’s responsible for the new theme arrangement.

We see the rest of the team (except Jim) worrying about Barney — and among them, with no introduction or explanation, is the newest semi-regular, Dr. Doug Robert (Sam Elliott, who is not yet listed in the main titles).  Jim comes in and tells them he’s spoken to Washington; the mission must go ahead regardless of Barney’s status.  The local government and their implicitly Soviet backers are only hours from completing a new, deadlier Dehominant-B and unleashing it on a neighboring country.  Jim has a new plan, but with Barney out of commission, they have to recruit the only other person in the country able to reprogram Interoco’s computer: Jerry Carlin (Christopher Connelly), who’s brilliant but a “dropout” — not in the collegiate sense, but in the “turn on, tune in” sense, a hippie-type who’s turned his back on the system.  Dana tries to recruit him by honestly telling him what’s at stake, but he’s not about to help The Man with his petty international power squabbles, and when she falls back on plan B — offering money — he rejects that too.  Later, Paris and Doug arrive at Jerry’s place as local cops who plant heroin on Jerry’s girlfriend and arrest her; Paris then reveals himself to Jerry as an enemy agent who blackmails Jerry into going along with the IMF’s plan as their mole on the inside, in exchange for his girl’s freedom.  Jerry has no choice.

So the team, plus one, breaks in through the cooling pipes, with Paris and Doug wearing gas masks to hide from Jerry.   The folks in the plant choose that moment to flood the pipes with seawater, so the team has to run to get out in time, which they barely do.  Then they do the usual M:I stuff; Paris cuts into the pneumatic message-tube system to deliver fake IDs to the file room for later, and Jim calls up the dehominant’s creator Dr. Vazan (a toupeed, barely recognizable Robert Ellenstein), pretending to be a colleague interested in his pesticide research and setting up an interview with a colleague (Dana).  Jim then briefs Jerry on the computer he has to hack.  The cynical Jerry doesn’t see much difference between Their weapons and Our weapons, and Jim’s reassurances that they intend to destroy the dehominant rather than using it fall on deaf ears.  But Jim says that doesn’t matter, since they have a deal.  But when Paris and Doug come in, Jerry realizes he’s been had and sounds the alarm.  The team hides in the furnace and muffles Jerry’s cries until the searchers leave the room, and then they tie Jerry up and try to proceed without him.

Dana arrives to interview Vazan, while Paris dons a Vazan mask.  The familiar M:I routine is mocked by Jerry, who says the mask won’t fool anyone.  He asks Paris why they’re bothering to do this.  Paris says there are a lot of reasons, but the simplest one is that they’ve got a friend a hundred feet away who’ll be dead in 20 minutes if they don’t help him.  That gives Jerry pause to think.

Once Dana manages to get rid of the hyper-paranoid implicitly-Soviet agent Orlov (Larry Linville in his third M:I role, acting more Linvillesque than ever), she sticks a knockout-needle ring into Vazan’s neck — and Lesley Ann Warren gets this scary-ruthless look on her face that makes it clear you do not want to mess with this woman.   Willy brings in a collapsible filing cabinet that was hidden under Dana’s car, and they use it to sneak Paris into Vazan’s office and the real Vazan out.  So Paris-Vazan goes to interrogate the dying Barney and slips an earpiece into his ear so Jim can tell him what to confess — which is that the two guys currently manning the computer are his accomplices.  Then Barney fake-dies and Vazan orders him taken to the autopsy room where the team is hiding.  Doug manages to pull Barney back from the brink, but he’s in no condition to take on the computer, and with Jerry unreliable, Jim is willing to risk doing it himself.  But Jerry’s figured out that he won’t survive unless they do, so he agrees to help them, getting some instructions from Barney.  (And among the caged lab animals used to test the bioweapons, there’s a cute little white kitten!  How dare they hurt a kitten!  They must be bad guys!)

Orlov arrests the innocent computer techs (well, not innocent, since they’re complicit in making a chemical WMD and being mean to kittens), giving Paris-Vazan an excuse to bring in Jim and Jerry as the new techs, using the credentials Paris planted earlier to placate Orlov.  We then get to see how Jerry uses his advanced computer skills to accomplish the intricate programming task that nobody but he and Barney could’ve accomplished, which is done by… pressing three buttons.  He then deletes the formula by pressing two more buttons, which don’t correspond in the slightest to the procedure Barney explained to him.  This is intensely anticlimactic.  Explain again why Jim couldn’t do this?

So Jim hands Paris-Vazan a note saying “Split,” and there’s a funny line where Paris-Vazan shows Orlov the folded note and says “Read this and you’ll see what our next step is,” then TV-karate-chops him unconscious. The three of them walk out casually, joined by Willy, and head for the exit.  But standing at the guard post is the guard from the teaser, chatting to his friend about how he was just about to let the spy go when the doctor showed up, and then someone knocked him out from behind!  And then he looks over and there’s Willy standing right next to him.  And the poor schmo gets knocked out by Willy again, and the team makes a break for it, rendezvousing with Dana, who’s brought Jerry’s girlfriend for a happy reunion and concluding driveaway.

Well, first off, after the season opened with two stateside crime-related stories, it’s good to see they haven’t abandoned overseas espionage stories yet.  And it’s also great to see how determined they are to shake up, deconstruct, and reinvent the formula of the past few seasons.  Just about everything I liked about the early first season is back with a vengeance: stories driven by character interaction with the guest team member, stories where things go seriously wrong with the mission, moments of humor, the works.  We even get to see the characters make mistakes, unlike previous seasons where the only things that (rarely) went wrong were due to outside factors.  Barney only got poisoned and captured because Willy didn’t watch what he was doing.  And we get to see them being morally ambiguous when they use dirty tricks to maneuver Jerry into cooperating.  And it’s intriguing to see a story in which the characters have to work with someone who doesn’t want to be part of the mission.  It really brings a fresh slant to things.

Moreover, I have a feeling that Jerry was meant to be a surrogate for the members of the 1970 viewing audience who were growing suspicious of authority and less inclined to identify with a bunch of government spies playing dirty tricks on other countries.  And maybe also for those viewers who’d simply gotten tired of the formulaic, dehumanized storytelling and the implausible gimmicks like the masks.  Jerry questioned the team’s legitimacy and mocked their methods the way a critical audience member might, and this episode was the show’s way of trying to win those viewers over, to convince them it was still worth caring about these people and believing in what they did.  And it did a good job at it too.

“Homecoming”: No tape, no mission.  Jim is back in his hometown, reflecting on his past; we see a worn-out sign for “A. Phelps and Son Boat Rental,” and Jim has memories of himself as a child with his father back when the sign was more intact.  (This flashback will self-destruct in five seconds.)  He’s mending a fence on the edge of his family property when an old friend, Connie (Sharon Acker), drives by and waves hi.  Not far down the road, her tire blows out, and her spare is punctured.  A creepy voice whispers “Pretty girl” from the bushes and calls her by name; she sees someone with thick glasses hiding in the brush and runs back toward Jim, screaming.  He hears the screams and runs to intercept, but before he can get to her, we get the main titles, which are back to using the old theme arrangement.  Anyway, he scares off the assailant and finds Connie half-strangled.

Back in town, the townsfolk are harassing Norville County sheriff Brad Owen (Joe Maross) about his inability to catch the person who’s killed two women and nearly killed a third.  They call for Brad’s resignation, but Jim points out that wouldn’t solve the real problems, which are that the department is understaffed and has no crime lab.  Afterward, Jim is interviewed by reporter Stan (Jack Donner), who seems a little too inquisitive about Connie and happens to be wearing thick glasses.  But we quickly find he’s not the only suspect; the deputy has thick glasses too.  Which makes it odd that Connie’s willing to accept his guardianship until she can get out of town at Sheriff Brad’s suggestion (because her tires were intentionally punctured; she was targeted).  Then there’s Seth (Frank Webb), the young, PTSD-suffering Vietnam vet who also wears thick glasses.  Jim is in the bar belonging to old friend Midge (Loretta Swit), who fills him in on how Seth was the only survivor of his unit and came back troubled.  Suspecting him, Jim acts friendly to sound him out, but one of the locals, Joe (Fred Beir), picks a fight with Seth, during which an earpiece breaks off his glasses.

Later, Connie sneaks out on the deputy to meet with Joe, her lover (he’s married), but she gets killed and Seth’s earpiece is found at the scene.  This leads Jim and Brad to Seth’s home, where they find a list with the names of the three victims — all single women living alone — plus two other women who are married.  It’s enough to put out an APB on Seth.  Meanwhile, Jim calls in Barney in the role of a criminologist (and it’s suprising for an engineer to suddenly manifest CSI skills), and has the other team members standing by.  We see them at a party thrown by Dana; apparently they all socialize together (and Paris plays the piano).  Dana spends the first half of the episode in backless dresses, as if to make it even more obvious than usual that she doesn’t wear a bra.  Thank you, the ’70s!

Seth breaks into Jim’s place, clearly confused about whether he’s at home or in ‘Nam, and Jim talks him into coming with him to the sheriff’s office to make a statement about how the real murderers are the townsfolk who sent him off to kill.  This lets Brad get the drop on him and put him in a cell, but Barney’s convinced the killer is someone short with small hands and feet, much smaller than Seth.  Also Jim remembers that the glasses earpiece broke off in the bar before the murder; anyone could’ve picked it up.  Brad and the townsfolk are convinced it’s Seth, though, so Jim needs to call in the rest of the team.  Dana comes in and applies for the waitress job at Midge’s, with the intention of making herself fit the victims’ common profile — which basically comes down to flirting with Joe, who had affairs with all three victims (as Joe’s wife ultimately confesses to Jim) and is starting to look like a suspect.

But the townsfolk are ready to lynch Seth, leading Jim to make some Timely Social Commentary about how we sent our kids off to kill in Vietnam and turned on them when they came home.  Then Willy and a couple of extras (maybe from one of last season’s repertory companies?) sneak into the jailhouse to break out our Rambo-lite in a coffin that’s supposedly holding Connie’s body.  With the supposed killer on the loose, it’s a perfect opportunity for the killer to strike, and Dana’s the obvious target, at least after Paris comes into the bar as her drunk ex-boyfriend and blurts out to all the suspects that she spent the night with Joe (which is apparently not true).  Jim and Barney already happened to get themelves deputized as a delaying tactic while Willy snuck out Seth, so they work together to stake out Dana and catch the killer.  So Dana’s tending bar and the three men watch as the patrons gradually leave, and finally Midge leaves Dana to close up and tend to the last customer, heavy-glasses-wearing Stan.  She goes downstairs to get a new bottle of booze for Stan, and the whispery killer whispers at her and then attacks her.  Luckily, one of Jim’s childhood flashbacks that we’ve been seeing throughout the episode kicks in, and he remembers a tomboyish girl who beat the boys at sports.  He rushes in just in time to pull the killer off Dana — and it’s Midge!  Motivated by her unrequited love of Joe and her jealousy of all the unworthy tramps he slept with.  (And no, I can’t tell what they see in the guy.)

So this is yet another attempt to do something new with the show, humanizing Jim by delving into his past.  (We learn he was a high-school football star, he served in the Navy, and he takes his coffee black.)  It’s the first episode of the series where he never assumes a false identity.  It’s also a clear attempt to bring some social relevance into the show, in contrast to the spy-vs.-spy fantasy world of past seasons.  It’s interesting that such a radical format-breaker is written by Laurence Heath, who’s been a regular writer for the show since the first season.  Unfortunately, it’s the least effective episode of this revisionist season so far.  The murder mystery is a bit clunky, and Jim’s frequent flashbacks to childhood (and child Jim had a creepy-looking grin) are seriously corny.  The musical score by Robert Prince (another composer who, like Harry Geller, had previously worked with M:I producer Bruce Lansbury on The Wild Wild West) is mixed, with a lot of very hokey ’70s easy-listening stuff, although there are a couple of strong jazzy moments, particularly when Connie is murdered.  And Jim doth protest too much, methinks; there are too many times where he makes a point of going, “Well, I’m just a simple country guy who doesn’t understand any of these law-enforcement matters, but here’s exactly what you need to do.”  And I don’t know… even though I’ve found this season’s eagerness to break with formula refreshing, this one departs a little too much from feeling like a Mission: Impossible episode.  Murder mysteries, small-town drama and intrigue, Vietnam commentary… it’s the sort of thing a lot of other shows could do, and the M:I-style roleplaying and schemery is a minor component.  It almost seems like a script written for another show and adapted to fit this one.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

Bookmark liberation

I’ve now reshelved all the Trek books I had lying around as references while writing DTI: Forgotten History — including novels such as Ex Machina and Watching the Clock, nonfiction like The Making of Star Trek and the Star Trek Concordance, and various technical reference books and documents (including the “Enterprise” Flight Manual, a behind-the-scenes document created for actor reference on Phase II/Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which has detailed diagrams of the TMP consoles).   Things are somewhat neater around here now (though still a bit more cluttered than after my last big cleanup).  And the all-but-depleted pile of bookmarks next to my desk is now replenished.  Yay!