Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “The Code”/”The Numbers Game” (spoilers)

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “The Code”/”The Numbers Game” (spoilers)

And here we go with Season 4, introducing Leonard Nimoy as The Great Paris and a succession of guest actresses instead of a regular female lead:

“The Code”: The briefing’s in a closed merry-go-round.  The mission: the country of Nueva Tierra is planning to invade neighboring San Cristobal with backing from the United People’s Republic, the USSR surrogate of the week (wow, the imaginary countries actually have names now!).  The team must intercept and break the coded UPR message giving the detailed instructions for the invasion, and must shatter the alliance between the aggressor nations.  In a slight break from the past, Jim doesn’t turn the tape off before it self-destructs; he just stands there and waits for it to go poof.  We get a dossier sequence showing pictures of the new cast members.  Paris’s picture, with no explanatory text, is already unceremoniously laid out alongside pictures of Barney and Willy; we get no more introduction to him than that.  But we see Jim picking out the lady of the week, Lynn, and the guest star’s name (a lovely young blonde named Alexandra Hay) is shown over her photo.  It’s a safe bet this will be standard practice throughout the season.

The briefing scene does surprisingly little to establish the new characters.  Paris is mostly sitting and listening throughout, with less dialogue than the rest, and Lynn isn’t even there, except on film; she’s already in Latin America and the bad guys have been intentionally tipped off that she’s a spy.  Paris goes undercover as El Lider, a Che-like revolutionary from San Cristobal who’s been missing for years; he hijacks the plan Lynn is on and forces it down in Nueva Tierra!  (He’s got a gun right there in his carry-on attache case.  Inconceivable in these days of invasively thorough airport security.)  Paris is taken to meet President Bravo (Harold Gould), who thinks “El Lider” can be helpful with the planned invasion.  Meanwhile, Lynn has a much harder job.  Remember last season when I said it seemed to me that a couple of episodes were implying that Cinnamon Carter was getting strip-searched on more than one occasion?  Here it’s not implicit at all.  When Bravo’s security men are questioning Lynn on the plane, their head Lacerda (Nate Esformes) threatens to search her, telling her with leering innuendo that they’re “quite thorough.”  The next time we see her, she’s actually naked except for a blanket wrapped around her!  Holy cow, that poor kid.  Turns out the secret message the bad guys were supposed to find is in her contact lens; Lacerda is tipped off by the lens case in her purse.  Why didn’t the guards search her purse before stripping her naked?!  Well, I can guess why, and it’s a disquieting thought, considering that Lynn remains in their custody off-camera for the rest of the episode (and though we hear Bravo order her released once the invasion is underway, we never see it happen).

Meanwhile, the team’s contact in-country, played by a young A Martinez, helps them subvert Bravo’s security in a clever way: he messes with an official car and swipes its flag, getting its driver to chase him, whereupon Jim drives away the car and Willy drives in an exact duplicate, minus the flag, but plus Barney in a compartment inside the back seat, hidden from the standard search.  Barney’s job is to send a motorized camera car through the pipe above the code room (where it drills a peephole) so the team can see the coded orders when they arrive.  Poor Lynn was a Trojan horse — the microdots on her contact lens contain information important enough that Bravo’s people will encode it and send it to the UPR, and since the IMF knows what the message says, that’ll give them a Rosetta stone for breaking the code when the attack orders arrive soon thereafter.

Paris/”El Lider” meets with Bravo and his UPR puppetmaster Janos (Michael Constantine), planting a bug so Jim can listen in and working to turn the two bad guys against each other.  This is Nimoy’s first chance to show his roleplaying chops, and it doesn’t even start until 20 minutes in (not counting commercials).  He does a reasonably good job, though maybe not with quite the same flair as Martin Landau.  But he certainly gives a more expressive and colorful performance than he did as Spock.   I suspect he took this role, where he got to play a different character every week, specifically in order to distance himself from being typecast as an unemotional being.  (And there’s a certain irony, if that’s the word, to the fact that Landau turned down the role of Spock before it was given to Nimoy, because he was uninterested in playing an unemotional character.  Although I think he missed the point, because Spock was anything but unemotional; it’s just that his emotion was mostly internalized, which is a great challenge for an actor.)

Anyway, Paris manipulates things so that it will seem to Bravo that “El Lider” has made a side deal with Janos, so when the code is broken and San Cristobal’s forces move to pre-empt the invasion, Bravo will accuse Janos, the only other person who had the intel (as far as he knew), of tipping El Lider off to the invasion plans, and Janos accuses vice-versa, leading to the usual thing where one villain kills the other, though in this case we don’t know which, and Jim says it doesn’t matter.

The plot mostly proceeds without complication; there are two instances where evidence of Barney’s activities comes close to being discovered, but the guards are so inattentive that they simply miss it.  The only significant (or interesting) complication is that Jim’s first attempt to break the code fails; he figures out just in time that the photo the code is combined with contains an extra encryption clue, the time in a clock face.  That’s a nice touch.

A mixed bag of a debut episode, about average at best.  The only positive thing that stands out about it is its largely original Gerald Fried score (though there’s a good deal of stock music too), though it’s not one of Fried’s best.  It’s not a particularly strong introduction to Paris, but then, maybe it wasn’t the first episode produced this season.  And it treats the guest female agent quite badly, as a mere plot device who’s gratuitously placed in a sexually vulnerable position and then discarded.  They’d never do that to a regular cast member.  Alexandra Hay never even interacts with any of the other team members, except to trade a glance with Nimoy on the plane.  It sets a bad precedent for the role of the guest female team members in the season ahead.  On the plus side, though, Willy gets more dialogue this time around; perhaps with one less regular, he’ll be given more to do from now on.

“The Numbers Game”: It’s the old “briefing tape in an out-of-order tourist telescope” trick.  The mission: deposed General Gollan (Torin Thatcher) is planning to invade and retake his country, Luxania, before he dies, and he’s paying the army with funds from his Swiss bank account.  The team must get the account number and bankrupt the general before the invasion.  The dossier scene again features the guest actress’s credit over her photo; this time it’s the debut of Lee Meriwether as Tracey, the only female agent who’ll appear in more than one story this season (though there’s one other who’s in a 2-parter).  The dossier scene also establishes the involvement of Dr. Ziegler (Karl Swenson) and the Hartford Repertory Company, last seen in the 3rd-season finale.

Ziegler, another one of the M:I guest doctor characters who apparently missed the “do no harm” bit of the Hippocratic Oath, makes Gollan sick as part of the plan. Gollan fears he’s dying, but trusts his wife Eva (May Britt) to carry out his invasion plans with the money she inherits.  Eva is just a golddigger who wants the money for herself, but Gollan’s second-in-command Major Denesch (Don Francks) is unable to convince him to disinherit Eva and make Denesch his heir instead.  Ziegler plays a remarkably large role in the caper, tending to Gollan and earning his trust while Tracey serves as his nurse, switching out Gollan’s radio for a fake that plays taped news reports of a military buildup by the USSR surrogate of the week, except this time it’s called the European People’s Republic.  (I often think each of these episodes takes place in an alternate timeline from the others.  It would explain the lack of continuity and the impossibly large number of European and Latin American countries.)  Meanwhile, the team breaks into the underground bunker whose only proper entry is via an elevator from Gollan’s bedroom.  Once they’ve set up, Ziegler knocks out Gollan and takes him down to the bunker while Tracey uses a handy-dandy Inflato-Dictator under an oxygen tent to serve as a decoy Gollan.

Down in the bunker, the team puts on an elaborate show to convince Gollan that nuclear war has broken out and the bunker’s been captured by forces loyal to Luxania’s democratic government.  The captain, Jim, has no use for Gollan and wants to use the limited supply of penicillin to save a captive he wants to interrogate, despite all of Ziegler’s protests that Gollan needs it to live.  Paris plays a disaffected soldier who hates Capt. Jim (heck, why not, he just spent three years taking orders from a captain named Jim) and is greedy enough for Gollan to make a deal with, wealth in exchange for killing the captain and giving Gollan the penicillin.  Since the war’s rendered money useless,  his only bargaining chip is the gold in his Swiss vault. Just to make sure, while Gollan’s alone, the team fakes a radio report that Zurich’s destroyed, so he has nothing to lose by giving up the account number, so long as Paris thinks it’s real.

Meanwhile, Willy is starting to get more involved with the role-playing.  He plays a bank official who keeps Eva busy while all this is going on, and we see how eager Eva is to get hubby’s money the moment he croaks.  But Denesch goes down to the vault to forge Gollan’s signature on the new will that gives him the money, and the team must knock out Gollan and scramble to evacuate the bunker before the elevator hits bottom.  As with last week, there’s a near-discovery beat that’s resolved by having Denesch simply fail to notice the piece of evidence (a helmet) left lying around, a rather lazy way to create and resolve suspense.  The stuff with Paris happens after this, with Paris pretending to kill Jim over Ziegler’s protests, and Gollan turns over the number just as Denesch takes Eva and Willy down to the bunker at gunpoint.  This leads to a nice, unusual ending, where Jim actually gets to look the bad guy in the eye as he realizes he’s been tricked, making the resolution a bit more personal.

This one’s definitely better than the premiere.  The scenario relies heavily on performance and role-playing by the team, so it’s a good opportunity for Graves and Nimoy to show off their acting chops (though Peter Lupus is clearly not on the same level, and Lee Meriwether is underused).  The mostly-original score is by Richard Markowitz and it’s his strongest one yet.   The scheme doesn’t fall prey to any serious complications, but the moment where they have to “strike the set” in a hurry to avoid discovery is a fun story beat.

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  1. March 13, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Wow, Martin Landau turning down the Spock role & Nimoy taking his place in this new season & your explication of the greater challenge to play Spock was a very interesting side bar, thanks for throwing it in.

    Cheers,
    -Marko

  2. May 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    To be fair to Landau, it may not have been apparent at that time to him or Roddenberry or even Nimoy when he took the role that Spock would turn out to be such a complex and interesting character.

  3. gopher_everett
    June 7, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I went through this entire episode (The Code) repeatedly reminding myself that El Lider was not a Vulcan. However, my attempts to separate the past from the present (or perhaps it should be, the distant future from the present, or—judging from the computer they were using to break the code—the distant future from the past) all came to not when El Lider pulled out his radio and said, “Jim, the courier has arrived. He’s early.”

    Hearing Paris/El Lider/Leonard/Spock begin a report to his “commander” on a handheld “communicator” (albeit one with a pull-out-before-using antenna) with the word “Jim” was just too much.

    Perhaps because I am such a Star Trek fan and have watched so many episodes and have, on so many occasions, heard Spock say the word, “Jim,” I will never be able to completely make the disconnect.

    That’s OK though. I like Leonard Nimoy and I like both series so I’ll just let it be—even though (as I am now going into Season 4) I anticipate frequent musings regarding the first name shared by both of Nimoy’s well-known superiors. (Maybe they are somehow connected in the stars…[Twilight Zone music].)

    Quiz: In what way does Festus fit into the above—sort of?

    • June 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm

      No idea. Festus was a character from Gunsmoke, wasn’t he? I’m not very familiar with that show.

  4. gopher_everett
    June 24, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    You are correct. Festus Haggen, played by Ken Curtis for 11 years in Gunsmoke,* also had a strong and respected superior— namely, Marshall Matt Dillon.

    Now here’s the interesting part:

    James Arness (1923-2011), who played Marshall Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years, was born James Aurness. And when his younger brother Peter Aurness (1926-2010) began acting, the latter (in order to avoid confusion) changed his name to Peter Graves whom we all know and love as Jim Phelps in the original Mission Impossible series.

    So that’s the interesting connection, albeit a somewhat convoluted one:

    Spock, a subordinate of Jim Kirk, becomes Paris, subordinate of Jim Phelps who, as Peter Aurness, grew up as sort of a sibling-subordinate (little brother) of Jim Aurness who, as Marshall Matt Dillon, had the devoted subordinate, Festus Haggen.

    * Gunsmoke, with 635 episodes, holds the record for the longest-running prime time, live-action drama in the United States. (Source: Wikipedia)

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