MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “Time Bomb”/”Amnesiac” (spoilers)
“Time Bomb”: It’s the old “feeding pigeons in the park” spy-meeting standby to deliver the tape, revealing that Malek (Morgan Sterne), an agent of an unspecified country who’s been deep undercover inside the Federated People’s Republic’s nuclear reactor center, has a terminal illness and has decided to go out with a literal bang, sabotaging the reactor to turn it into a bomb and thereby start WWIII. (This is, of course, impossible. A nuclear reactor is not capable of a nuclear explosion.) The team must stop the impossible explosion from happening (gee, that was easy). The dossier sequence establishes guest female agent Wai Lee (Barbara Luna, previously the Latina title character in the first season’s “Elena,” now passing for Chinese), and the acting troupe of the week, this time the Globe Repertory Company instead of the usual Hartford.
This is the second time a country name has been reused in M:I, since the Federated People’s Republic was previously seen in “Fool’s Gold.” However, the sign outside the reactor complex says EPR, like the European People’s Republic from “The Numbers Game.” But if it is the same Federated one, it’s evidently gotten a new premier, since this one’s voice, mimicked by Paris over the phone, sounds like Vic Perrin instead of David Opatoshu. This premier is a culture lover and has sent a stained-glass window to be installed in the reactor. This is how the team gets in, kidnapping the delivery crew and the artist, whom Jim impersonates by donning a cheesy wig and beard and an irritable, flamboyant temperament. They arrange for a supersonic jet to fly overhead and cause a sonic boom, both as an apparent cause for the window’s breakage and as cover for the smuggled-in Barney’s explosive sabotage of a structural beam in the basement. The broken window provides an excuse for calling the “premier” (Paris) and getting permission to bring in the model, Miasmin (sp?), whom he keeps in seclusion and allows no one to see. This allows Wai Lee to come in her place, and the team’s version of the window is modelled on Barbara Luna’s face (and the rest is a rather nicely rendered nude torso, though just cubist enough to get past the censors).
The reason for this is so that Wai Lee can pretend she’s a psychic who can sense Malek’s terminal illness and offer an “ancient Chinese secret” herbal cure. Again the plan relies on convincing a skeptic of something fanciful, which again strikes me as a bizarre approach, but I guess in this case the hope — however weak — was that a dying man would be desperate enough to try anything. Paris, playing a government inspector, slips Malek a drug that fakes terminal symptoms so he can be taken out of the complex, while Barney plays an inspector called in to examine the structural damage caused by his earlier sabotage, damage which requires the building to be largely evacuated. The unconscious Malek is taken to a team-built copy of the complex, where he awakens to find the building partly collapsed and “Miasmin” trapped, with only minutes before his bomb is set to go off. He’s fatalistic about his imminent death, but Wai Lee strives to convince him that she can cure him. This has got to be Jim’s suckiest plan ever, betting the fate of the world on the idea that Malek would buy Wai Lee’s flimsy promises based on virtually no evidence. But evidently Jim guessed right that Malek would have a strong enough will to live that he’d go to disarm the bomb in the hope that “Miasmin”‘s promises were legitimate. While he removes the bolts from the fake reactor chamber in the correct sequence to avoid triggering the bomb, Jim relays the sequence to Barney, who’s alone in the real reactor room on the pretense of inspecting it.
But wait! Unbeknownst to the team, earlier in the episode when Malek emplaced the bomb, he accidentally scratched the glass on the reactor cover’s clock (why would it have a clock?) with the manipulator arm. With only two bolts left, he notices that the cover he’s unbolting has no scratch! Jim figures out that he’s caught on and removed the last two bolts in the wrong sequence, so he tells Barney to do them the other way around, though he’s not certain he’s right. Barney trusts his judgment, though, and of course it proves sound. The reactor is safe, and Jim’s helpers pull open the wall of the set, giving Malek a Candid Camera moment.
Although portions of the plot are flimsy, this is a pretty good one overall. It’s one of those rare episodes where the plan doesn’t go smoothly, where there are obstacles and unpredictable accidents the team has to work around, and that heightens the tension at the climax. The plot lets Jim play a flamboyant character for a change, and of course it’s nice to see Barbara Luna looking glamorously exotic, even if her character is an Orientalist stereotype. I do wish there could’ve been more exploration of the implied reversal of the usual moral axis — presumably the F/EPR is a “bad guy” nation, implying that undercover spy Malek is from a Western-aligned power, which means that the team has to stop an allied agent and protect the enemy. That’s never really explored, though there is an interesting moment in the tape scene where Jim grimaces in regret on learning that Malek was planning this bombing. Given that the tape scenes are just generic frame sequences filmed in a block at the start of the season and then plugged randomly into episodes, it’s interesting that they were (serendipitously?) able to work that moment in there.
“Amnesiac”: In a pool hall, the tape tells Jim a convoluted tale about how an enemy country’s Col. Vorda (Anthony Zerbe) ordered his subordinate Maj. Johan (Steve Ihnat) to steal a liquid called trivanium, which could allow small countries to develop inexpensive nukes. Johan stole it along with a man named Silff, but Silff was killed in an accident, perhaps one that Johan arranged (I forget), because Johan has taken the trivanium for himself and convinced Vorda it was lost. Vorda had agreed to trade it to our old friends the United People’s Republic (from “The Code” and “The Double Circle”) in exchange for help taking over the country, but Johan took it to sell to the highest bidder (which is yet another People’s Republic of the week, this time North Asian). Anyway, the team has to get the trivanium back from all the folks competing for it. The dossier sequence introduces team members Monique (Julie Gregg), the Globe Repertory Company, and stunt driver Jack Ashbrough (Victor Paul).
Monique and Paris arrange to convince Johan and the late Silff’s lover Alena (Lisabeth Hush), a fellow intelligence agent, that Paris is actually Silff, amnesiac and transformed by plastic surgery after his near-fatal accident. They drop clues that Alena will recognize, like a cigarette lighter, a favorite song, and Silff’s style as a caricaturist. Meanwhile, Willy uses a clever way to sneak Barney into the file room: he pretends to be taking a cabinet out of the file room without the proper paperwork, so the guard makes him take it “back” in. Of course, Barney’s in the cabinet, and he switches Silff’s photo onto a file with Paris’s fingerprints. The photo of Silff is actually of Frank da Vinci, Leonard Nimoy’s stand-in on Star Trek and evidently on M:I as well. Remember his face; you’ll be seeing it again in future episodes.
So Alena convinces Vorda that Paris might be Silff, and Vorda’s UPR contact Poltzin (Tony Van Bridge) pressures him to find out. The team has arranged press coverage touting Jim as an amnesia expert, so they call him in to use his special therapy to recover “Silff”‘s memory. (Jim gets a little cutesy with his fake name here, calling himself Dr. Lumin while his therapy involves bright lights.) Meanwhile, Johan has discovered a flaw in Monique’s story, which leads to a fakeout cliffhanger but of course was part of the plan all along. Monique says she knew Paris/Silff before his amnesia and knew of the theft, but since “Silff” forgot who he was and where the McGuffin juice was, she needed to smoke out his partner, whose identity she didn’t know. So her story had a flaw that Silff’s partner would recognize, and that’s brought Johan to her. She wants in on the deal, though I don’t recall what she offers to convince him to go along. Later, though, she and Willy make it look like she and Johan are being tailed; Vorda must be suspicious! Monique says that if Silff remembers where he hid the trivanium, it would resolve things without Johan being exposed. So he tells her where it is and sends her to tip off “Silff” so he can “remember” it for Vorda. Of course the room is bugged, so Barney and his team know where to go.
So while Paris is hamming it up and “remembering” through regression therapy — and fingering Johan as his co-conspirator — Barney & co. go to the warehouse, and Monique (in a new role as a general’s wife) and the stunt driver fake a crash that leaves Monique pinned, providing a distraction while Barney’s gang goes in and swaps out the big silver Christmas-tree ornament containing the trivanium with a duplicate filled with water. Afterward, Barney uses a couple of set-dressing tools to spin fake cobwebs and spray dust so it’ll seem the crate containing the big ball was untouched for two years. Then he escapes the warehouse by running across the roof and jumping into the team’s truck — no, wait, that’s a stuntman who looks nothing like Barney! Oh, well. Vorda hands the big ball over to Poltzin and then shoots Johan. It’s implied that Vorda will get his comeuppance once the UPR finds out he’s given them a ball of water.
Not bad. A routine kind of episode with no complications that weren’t intended by the team. Julie Gregg is appealing as Monique, not the best female lead they’ve had this season but one of the better ones. (She’ll be back next season in a different role, a love interest for Jim.) And it gives Nimoy a chance to ham it up quite a bit during the memory-regression sequences.