Archive for September 11, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “The Falcon” Parts 1-3 (spoilers)

September 11, 2011 7 comments

“The Falcon”: M:I’s only three-parter begins in a drive-in, where Jim is informed that Prince Stephan (Joseph Reale) of a Switzerland-like European country (judging from the polyglot character names) has been imprisoned by Sabattini (John Vernon), who’s faked Stephan’s death and is threatening to make it real to force his fiancee Francesca (Diane Baker) to marry Sabattini so he can become an heir to the throne.  Then he plans to kill them both and the current monarch, the childlike Nicolai (Noel Harrison), becoming king and allying his country with the Eastern bloc.  The dossier and apartment scenes reintroduce Lee Meriwether as Tracey, along with two other team members, a man named Sebastian who will be disguised as Paris (it’s Nimoy’s stand-in Frank da Vinci again), and a falcon named Lucifer.

Paris’s cover role is a magician named Zastro, whom Nicolai (a charming innocent with an obsession for antique clocks as well as magicians) has invited to perform at the palace along with his mentalist assistant Tracey and his roadie Willy, the latter of whom sneaks Barney in with the equipment and uses power tools to mask the sound of Barney cutting through the floor.  (I think the reception hall set is a redress of the gymnasium set from “The Brothers,” given its size and proportions, so it’s interesting that both episodes involve cutting through its floor.)  Jim plays a tourist visiting the crown jewels, which Sabattini and his henchman Vargas (Logan Ramsey) intend to break down and sell off to bolster the country’s treasury, which Sabattini has mismanaged.  Vargas wants to get financial and military assistance from Asian allies, but Sabs knows they’ll take over themselves rather than letting him rule.  Anyway, Jim plants some markers so Barney’s sensor will tell him where to cut through the floor from below in order to swap out the jewels for fakes.  Jim also plants a homing transmitter that draws Lucifer the falcon so he’ll set off the corridor alarm and mask the cutting noise again as Barney cuts out a segment of the floor — which he then has to struggle to hold up against a guard’s weight while the falcon is retrieved.

Meanwhile, Sabattini and Francesca are visiting Stephan in jail.  Stephan convinces Francesca she must go ahead with the marriage for their people’s sake — but then loses it when Sabattini gloats about fulfilling his marital duty to produce heirs with her.  Of course, he’s chained up, so he doesn’t accomplish anything.   Later, Paris sneaks across to Francesca’s room (and Nimoy in close-up is nowhere near as spry as his stunt double in the long shot), fills her in on the plan to rescue her and Stephan, and gives her a small pistol with one real bullet and one blank (in that order), plus a pill that will fake death and a fake blood pack.  But while Paris is trying to climb down to the ground, a trellis slat gives way and he dangles over a guard’s head.  And that’s the end of part one.

After 6 minutes, 8 seconds of recap in part 2, Paris recovers and pulls himself back in.  Meanwhile, Sabattini has called in the bishop (Marcel Hillaire) to perform the wedding, but Willy blows out his car’s tires, then shows up as a helpful local in a horsecart, and there’s some fun as he tries and fails to fix the bishop’s flat and then gives him a very slow lift that turns out to be going in the wrong direction, trying the bishop’s near-saintly patience.  Sabattini also shows a sense of humor; when Vargas tells him their trusted comrades have gathered for the wedding, Sabs says it must be a very small gathering.  He’s aware that Vargas is plotting with Buccaro (Jack Donner), a go-between with the Asian powers, who’s trying to convince him to kill Sabattini.

Willy’s delay of the bishop is to postpone the wedding until after Paris’s magic show — improper to have the show before the wedding, but “Zastro” insists and thus so does Nicolai.  Paris calls Nicolai as a volunteer from the audience, using a switch between magic cabinets to pull off a substitution: stand-in Sebastian disguised as Paris drugs Nicolai and hides him in the base of the cabinet, and Paris comes out of the other cabinet in a Nicolai mask.  Unfortunately, this is done using the same ridiculous double-mask trick that I complained about Cinnamon Carter using in “The Bunker” — throughout the performance, Paris had been wearing a mask of his own face over a mask of Nicolai’s face, and he pulls off the outer mask to make the switch.  Anyway, Paris-as-Nicolai now helps arrange the rest of the performance as Tracey, using her best Natasha Fatale accent, comes onstage and makes some predictions that Vargas takes note of… including the prediction that the bishop has arrived, something Jim tipped her off to via her radio earring.  (I almost said it was her Miss Kitka accent from the ’66 Batman movie, but I think her voice characterization there was in a higher register.  And she really sounds a lot like Natasha Fatale here.)

So the wedding gets underway, and Paris-as-Nicolai “notices” that Francesca has a gun.  He wrestles with her, shooting a lamp with the real bullet and then fake-shooting her.  Vargas realizes this is what Tracey Fatale was predicting, and she makes other warnings that catch his attention.  He’s convinced she’s a legitimate psychic, and that she wants to help him survive the failure of Sabattini’s plans.  (He’s pretty stupid to fall for it — if she were a genuine precognitive of such power, why would she perform in magic shows rather than getting ultra-rich?)

Paris-as-Nic orders Francesca buried promptly in the palace tomb, wanting to get her out of sight before she wakes up.  The plan is for Barney to have drilled into the tomb to let her breathe and then free her — but Barney’s fallen through a rotten floor and been knocked out!  That’s the second time this season that’s happened to the poor guy.  And when he comes to, he’s nearly blind from the concussion.  He calls Jim on the radio, and Jim decides to direct him verbally using his maps of the palace.  As Barney struggles to get to the tomb, Francesca awakes and struggles to breathe.  Barney manages to get an air hose in just in time, then his vision returns and he cuts through the wall to free her.  They climb back up to the magician’s cabinet and get taken out by Willy (along with the still-unconscious Nicolai).

Sabattini’s plan is ruined without a royal he can marry, but still resists Vargas’s urgings to go with the Asians.  He’s contacted by Jim, whose calling card is one of the crown jewels Barney swapped out.  Sabs soon confirms that all the jewels are fakes.  Jim explains that Stephan stole the real ones weeks ago and planned to fence them to Jim, but then was apparently killed in an accident — but if he were still alive, Jim has vays of makink him talk.  They head off to the prison.  But Tracey convinces Vargas to stay behind, telling him Sabs wants him killed.  Her proof is Vargas’s name on an execution list in Sabattini’s safe, which Paris-as-Nic is just planting, and he radios the combination to Tracey once he breaks it.  But will he get the forged list back in the safe before Vargas reaches Sabby’s office?  That’s our rather anticlimactic cliffhanger for part two.

After another 6:53 of recap, Paris gets out of the office in time, and Vargas is convinced he’s marked for death.  He arranges with Buccaro to kill Sabattini — but they decide to plant a bomb that will kill “Nicolai” (Paris) as well!  Oh noes!

Meanwhile, the team fakes a gas leak in the prison to get Barney inside as a workman, and he begins tunneling through the walls and elevator shaft to get adjacent to Stephan’s cell.  (I’m positive some of the elevator-shaft footage is replayed from “Doomsday” last season.)  Jim pretend-interrogates Steph and tips him off that it’s a plan, while Barney burrows through the wall and inserts a pole across the cell, hidden from the guards’ view by an archway.  This will drop a screen on which a fake film of the cell, Jim, and a fake Stephan will be projected to mask the escape (how’d the IMF know what Stephan would be wearing??).  But first they have to get the guards distracted.

And the distraction is a doozy.  Vargas tells Tracey about the bomb and she convinces him to call it off, warning dire consequences if he kills Nicolai.  So he calls Buccaro to get him to stop.  This is the part where you’d expect the bombing to be called off in a typical episode.  But Buccaro actually goes through with it!  However, the ringing phone delayed him enough that Sabs was on his way out, so the bomb kills neither occupant of the room (the way this was depicted was unconvincing, since Sabs was really close to the bomb when it blew).  But Paris is knocked out and his mask is ruined!  Sabs realizes he and Tracey are fakes.  He shoots Vargas and Buccaro and has Paris arrested, but Tracey calls Jim at the prison and warns him before she too is captured.  Jim calls Willy and has him cut the prison phone lines, then he distracts the guards, drops the screen, and starts the projector (and sets off the prison alarm in an apparent malfunction so they won’t be worried when the real breakout happens).  He works on Stephan’s chains while Barney digs through the wall.

At the palace, Paris has the idea to trigger his falcon homing device, and Lucifer flies through the window and attacks a guard, while Paris takes out the other.  He and Tracey get away and head for the prison.  Jim and Barney get Stephan out, but his chain gets caught in the elevator shaft and he’s almost crushed by the elevator bringing Sabattini to his cell, but Jim pushes him flat to the floor (so they’re safe in the small amount of open space beneath the elevator).  They get out in the nick of time, and no sooner does Sabs discover the projection screen and the empty cell that he succumbs to his injuries and dies.  And so, once again, the day is saved, thanks to the IMF.

Well, that was a long one, wasn’t it? The setup doesn’t entirely make sense.  If Stephan’s a prince, then the royal line goes through him, not Francesca.  If she’s just his fiancee, then she wouldn’t be royalty yet.  So how does Sabs get to be heir to the throne by marrying her before she marries Stephan?  Maybe the original idea was that she and Steph were already married, but the censors balked at the implied bigamy theme so they had it redubbed as “fiancee” even though that didn’t make sense.  Anyway, it’s a minor detail, since the word “fiancee” is only used in the tape briefing (which we hear three times, however).  Overall, this is a strong one, with enough stuff going on that it doesn’t feel too padded as a 3-parter.  The space allows room for serious setbacks to the plan and for moments of humor, all too rare in this show.  And the final part is really exciting as the plan falls apart around the team and they struggle to recover while their nemesis closes in.  Although that’s undermined when Sabattini just spontaneously drops dead as a delayed effect of the bombing, which pretty much means that the team’s victory was a foregone conclusion.  Maybe the idea was that the shock and dismay of seeing Stephan’s escape was the final straw that overcame him, but it’s still kind of a weak ending.

The cast is pretty good.  Take John Vernon being his typically John Vernon-y self, add a beard, and the result is an extra-menacing villain.  Plus you’ve got such stalwart ’60s villain types as Logan Ramsey and Jack Donner to clash with him.  Noel Harrison is fun and endearing as the man-child Nicolai, though it’s unbelievable that Paris could impersonate him convincingly (for one thing, he visibly has straighter teeth than Nimoy).  And Diane Baker is appealing as Francesca, though she kind of disappears from the story about halfway through.  Joseph Reale as Stephan is rather bland, though, which is unfortunate since he’s the most heavily featured royal in the climactic episode.

This 3-parter also features the first new music in a while, an almost completely original score by Richard Markowitz.  It’s particularly strong in part 1, with some driving rhythms that reminded me somewhat of Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes score (or Lalo Schifrin’s for the TV series thereof).

Oh, and it had a kittycat!  Francesca had a white longhaired cat to comfort her in her room when Paris came.  Including a cat makes anything better.  Just as well the kitty didn’t interact with the falcon, though.

And about that falcon… given that the 3-parter was named after him, Lucifer didn’t really play much of a role in the story.  He only figured twice, as a means of setting off the alarm in part 1 and a distraction to rescue Paris and Tracey in part 3.   He wasn’t even in part 2 (recap aside).  His inclusion seems like more of an afterthought than something you’d build a whole 3-part episode around.

Unfortunately, this is our farewell to Tracey and Lee Meriwether.  She worked out very well as a recurring cast member, and it’s a shame that, for whatever reason, she didn’t get promoted to regular.

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