MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “The Double Circle”/”Submarine” (spoilers)
“The Double Circle”: IMDb lists this as episode 10 of the season, but Netflix has them in broadcast order, and it’s more convenient to go with that.
After doing some girl-watching at an outdoor swimming pool, Jim gets into a car and we get the usual stock footage of an 8-track briefing tape, even though the rest of the sequence is new. The mission pits them against a man named Victor Laszlo, a resistance leader who’s trying to obtain some stolen exit visas from a man named Rick Blaine so he can get his wife and himself out of Casablanca — uhh, no, wait, sorry, this isn’t that Victor Laszlo. This Laszlo (James Patterson) is an art lover who for some reason has collaborated with thief Dunson (Jason Evers) to steal a secret McGuffin formula that the enemy (the United People’s Republic from the season premiere, the first time a fake country name has been reused) wants destroyed, since they already have it but America doesn’t (apparently the creator didn’t make copies). The team has to get the formula back before the bad guys pay him to destroy it, but his safe will blow up if tampered with. The dossier sequence introduces two guest agents, only one of whom is present in the briefing: Gillian (with a hard G) Colbee, played by — ohmigosh — Anne Francis from Forbidden Planet! The other, Erickson, is a nonspeaking role, a guy who runs an air-conditioning business and helps out Willy.
Gillian’s role is to play an art dealer representing a certain “party” that wants to buy the formula from Laszlo with a priceless lost treasure, the Peking Buddha. She says she represents “the people most likely to possess the Peking Buddha,” one of the show’s oblique references to Communist China. But Dunson follows her and figures out (as planned) that she’s actually an American agent. When confronted, Gillian says the deal is still on the table, and sweetens it with 10 million bucks. Laszlo still says no, since he’s afraid of reprisals by the UPR.
But the team has rigged a duplicate of Laszlo’s apartment on the floor below, plus a duplicate Laszlo (Paris), and through various tricks, including a faked surveillance film, they persuade Dunson that Laszlo has moved the formula from his safe to a secret room behind the bookcase. Thanks to a rigged elevator, Dunson ends up in the duplicate apartment and sees the Buddha in the secret room, then overhears Paris/Laszlo and Gillian conspiring to tell the UPR reps that Dunson stole the formula.
Meanwhile, Willy and Erickson have cut a slit in the roof so they can slide a fake wall over the recessed wall containing Laszlo’s safe, and Barney hides behind it to work on the real safe. Luckily, this is while Jim is turning Dunson, and Dunson mentions that Laszlo’s installed an extra security device this morning. Jim is able to warn Barney just in time, but Barney has to wait and listen to what Laszlo does with the fake safe in hopes that he can suss out how to open the real one safely. Naturally, when Laszlo opens the fake safe, it’s empty and he insists the formula was stolen. Dunson, believing Laszlo’s about to blame him, “exposes” his double-cross and shoots him, then tries to show the secret room to the UPR guys — but of course there is no secret room in the real apartment, so he gets shot too. Barney figures out the safe and walks away with the formula.
A mediocre episode overall. The attempt to introduce a complication to the plan would’ve been more effective if it hadn’t been a rehash of the complication from “Nicole,” i.e. the bad guy having added a new security system to the safe that morning. And the idea was used better there than here. Otherwise, the idea of cutting through the roof to lower a fake wall was clever, though I have a hard time believing that Laszlo wouldn’t notice his safe alcove was suddenly a yard shallower. The main point of interest is Anne Francis. Of the female guest agents so far, she’s the one who most reminds me of Cinnamon, but she’s a good deal prettier. It’s a shame she only appears this once.
“Submarine”: Jim gets the briefing in a warehouse office: Nazi war criminal Stelman (Stephen McNally) has been in the custody of the bad-guy East European Republic for 25 years, refusing to divulge the location of a hoarded Nazi treasure that will be used to fund a Neo-Nazi resurgence if he’s released. Even the enemy’s top interrogator Col. Sardner (Ramon Bieri) has failed to break him. The team must get the location from him before Sardner or the Neo-Nazis do. The dossier sequence informs us of the return of Lee Meriwether’s Tracey and the Hartford Repertory Company (whose brochure once again shows the faces of its members already in the costumes they will be wearing in the upcoming scam). Unusually, there are no gadget demonstrations in the apartment scene; it’s all about strategy. The episode revolves around a single big gadget, which we’ll get to in a bit.
We meet Stelman and Sardner in a nicely-written scene establishing that they’re the kind of enemies who’ve spent so much time together that they’ve almost become friends. The colonel pleads with Stelman to divulge his information before his prison sentence ends in two days, offering him a generous share of the hoard and warning that the alternative is probably assassination by the EER. But Stelman has held out for a quarter-century on sheer pride, and his ego won’t let him give up so close to the finish line. Col. Sardner has no choice but to order him driven back to prison. The route is changed each time so he can’t be intercepted and rescued (or abducted by the West).
But there’s a bottleneck toward the end of the route, and that’s where the team strikes. They cleverly stage duplicate truck accidents both in front of and behind the middle car in the convoy (holding Stelman) while it rounds a corner, so that both the lead and trailing guard cars assume Stelman’s on the other side of the truck, and by the time they figure it out, the team has knocked out the car’s occupants and driven it into an adjacent warehouse, tying up the guards in a nearby truck and laying out ramps to make it look like the car was hidden in the truck and then driven away. The colonel sets up roadblocks all around the area and orders a search pattern closing in around the point of the abuction, so that Stelman’s actual location is the last place he’ll look.
Stelman awakens in what appears to be a submarine, being taken to SS headquarters. Tracey plays a delirious prisoner of Col. Sardner’s who broke and talked, and it becomes evident that sub captain Jim and Neo-SS officer Paris want to interrogate her and find out what she knows before she dies. (At one point, Nimoy was clutching her head and telling her to “Think,” and for a moment I thought he was going to perform a mind meld.) When Capt. Jim decides she’s as good as dead, he orders her shot out the torpedo tube. And the camera follows through the tube to outside, where we see the “submarine” is an elaborate simulator mounted on gimbals and equipped with all sorts of control equipment that Barney is supervising.
Inside, Stelman begins to realize that the sub crew suspects him of spilling secrets to Sardner as well. But he’s smugly confident that once he gets to SS HQ, he’ll give them the Swiss account number of the Nazi horde, they’ll find it intact, and he’ll be cleared. But of course the team can’t wait that long, so they fake a destroyer attack by playing sound effects and shaking the simulator. Capt. Jim is so ruthless he even jettisons Paris and the rest of the crew to make the destroyer think the sub has been hit. Finally it comes down to Jim and Stelman, and they have to abandon the sub and swim for safety. Stelman realizes that at his age, his odds of surviving that aren’t as good as Capt. Jim’s. His pride compels him to ensure that his fellow Nazis know he didn’t break, so he insists on telling Jim (who feigns lack of interest) what the account number is just before Jim gets out through the escape chute.
The team then swiftly evacuates the warehouse, quick-changing into EER uniforms (Jim dried off awfully quickly) and faking a shootout that injures Paris so they can get through the police cordon on the pretense of going to the hospital. Col. Sardner and his men rush in to find the sub simulator — and Stelman climbing out the top, startled to see where he really is. Seeing Sardner, he congratulates his nemesis: “After twenty-five years, you finally got the information.” Recognizing that they’ve both been brilliantly duped, Sardner laughs long and loud.
This is a fine episode. A lot of the credit goes to the sub simulator, which is far too elaborate to have been built for one episode of a TV show. I assume it must’ve been left over from some submarine movie at Paramount and the M:I producers had this episode written specifically to take advantage of it. Still, it’s got a lot of other strengths, thanks to a great script by Donald James (an English screenwriter who unfortunately made no other contributions to M:I). The abduction sequence with the trucks is clever (even if it does look a little too much like it’s happening on the streets between the Paramount backlot and soundstages). There’s a full and effective original score by Lalo Schifrin. But the best part is the guest cast. Stephen McNally and Ramon Bieri are engaging antagonists who play off each other well, and Bieri’s Sardner in particular is a sympathetic and intelligent adversary that I wouldn’t have minded seeing as a recurring character, if this show had had any on the bad guys’ side. And it could’ve happened, since this episode defies the usual pattern — both bad guys are alive at the end. And I have to say, having one bad guy made to look like a fool and the other laughing in gracious acknowledgment of his defeat (or perhaps simply at seeing the proud Stelman broken at last) is a much more satisfying end note than the usual off-camera gunshot.