Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “Lover’s Knot”/”Orpheus” (spoilers)

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “Lover’s Knot”/”Orpheus” (spoilers)

“Lover’s Knot”: No tape, dossiers, or apartment scene this time; we jump right to the scene of a murder, and then establishing shots of London.  In the past, episodes that have opened sans tape have either involved “off-book” or unplanned escapades or have started near the end of a mission in progress and been about what happens after it goes wrong.  But this one features a planned mission and starts at the beginning; it just takes an unconventional approach.  In lieu of the apartment scene, we see Jim, Paris, and Barney (Willy is absent for the first time this season) at the US Embassy, briefing their contact Marvin Rogers (Jerry Douglas), an embassy official who’ll be helping with the mission.  The assignment is to expose a European spymaster known as “K,” by going through his operative Lady Cora Weston (Jane Merrow), the trophy wife of the much older Lord Weston (John Williams — the venerable British actor, that is, not the composer who was still going by Johnny at the time).  Cora seduces American personnel and gets them into compromising positions so they can be blackmailed.

Jim and Paris both set themselves up as her targets, though not at the same time.  Jim is the obvious target at first, presenting himself as a luckless gambler, while Paris’s job is to seduce her and get close to her even though she isn’t assigned to him.  Once the bad guys make Jim lose big bucks at a rigged craps table and blackmail him into stealing a code descrambler for them — one tuned by Barney to pick up only fake conversations between Rogers and the prerecorded (faked?) voice of US intelligence director Stone (voice of Vic Perrin) — the fake messages tell them that Stone suspects Paris’s character of embezzling money meant to pay off intelligence assets.  (The tapes of Stone are played by a tech guy named Ross (Ford Lile) back in the US.)  So Cora has to seduce Paris now, and Paris and Jim set up a fake fight where Jim fake-dies (and gets fake-burned up in a fake furnace rigged by Barney a few feet in front of the real one, the third time this season he’s used that trick) so that Cora and her comrades can blackmail Paris into turning to their side — but he demands to speak to the mysterious K in person, leading the team there with a homing-device cufflink (sloppy of the bad guys not to check for that) and discovering — to my complete lack of surprise — that K was Lord Weston all along.  (Not that hard to figure out given the limited number of guest stars, and the fact that they wouldn’t cast an actor as prominent as John Williams for a single scene.)

That all sounds pretty straightforward, but what complicates it is that Paris begins to develop real feelings for Cora, and vice-versa.  This is an unusual episode in more than just the opening, for throughout it, we get scenes of the team out of character, interacting with one another and showing emotion.  There’s no open conflict, but Paris is clearly having some unprofessional feelings and is conflicted about how he’s using Cora, and Jim and Barney exchange some worried looks over it.  However, it doesn’t really go anywhere too dramatic; despite his misgivings, Paris carries out the mission properly until near the end.  Once the team has tracked down Weston, Jim orders Rogers to get him out courtesy of another faked Stone message that clears Paris of all charges and orders him assigned to an important conference, so that Weston will want his new double agent in place.  So Paris is on the way out, but Weston gets a call from an agent of his in the US State Department, telling him that the real Stone died minutes before that phone call was made.  He orders Paris intercepted at the gate, but Jim, Barney, and Paris take out Weston’s men.  Scotland Yard is on the way, but Paris insists on going back for Cora.  Rather than arguing, Jim goes with him, and they have a very civilised confrontation with Weston, who gives up when informed that the Yard is on its way and allows Cora to leave — and then shoots himself off-camera.  Cora tells Paris she was done, that she’d grown tired of the lies and manipulation and wanted out.  Paris tells her it’s too late.

All in all, a nice attempt at a format-breaker, bringing back some of the character focus within the team, the “behind-the-scenes” glimpses of the team being themselves when alone together, that we’ve rarely seen since the first season.  The music consists primarily of Lalo Schifrin cues reused from “The Short Tail Spy,” which told a rather similar story; that particular romantic theme seems to have become the standard motif for M:I romances by this point, in much the same way that “The Plot” is the standard motif for the team enacting its schemes or Barney building gadgets.  But ultimately this isn’t as good as “Short Tail” or last season’s romantic episode “Nicole,” since the character focus has so little payoff.  We never get to see Jim confronting Paris about whether he can fulfill the mission, or arguing about whether to go back for Cora.  It’s all left as subtext, so it’s not much of a departure from the usual format.  So while it was refreshingly non-routine, it wasn’t non-routine enough to be fully satisfying.  I also wasn’t too crazy about Jane Merrow as Cora; she was pretty enough, but I found her acting rather stiff and stagey, like she was reciting her lines rather than really feeling them.  (Interestingly, a few years earlier, Merrow had guest-starred in an episode of The Avengers entitled “Mission… Highly Improbable.”)

“Orpheus”: Jim boards a closed ferry to get the tape; the start of the sequence outside the ferry is on location, but then, unusually, Jim goes inside to what appears to be a studio set of the ferry interior, probably something left over from another production.  The mission is to stop the next job of the mysterious assassin Stravos (Booth Colman), who can only be accessed through his emergency contact Bergman (Albert Paulsen in his fourth M:I role).  The team must manipulate Bergman into bringing Stravos in before his next hit.  The dossier sequence introduces Jessica Walter as Valerie, but omits a pair of extras disguised as guards who will help the team later on.

The episode is one of those set in an “East Zone/West Zone” country that’s implicitly East and West Germany, though the signage is “Gellerese” rather than German.  Jim plays an American defector asking for money, but Bergman suspects he’s being played.  Bergman is a canny and engagingly cynical character, and best of all, he has a cat, an orange tabby called Bitsy.  Anyway, he sends his aid Deiter (a smarmy Bruce Glover — it should be “Dieter” from the pronunciation, but IMDb says “Deiter”) to collect Jim, who fakes a confrontation with his tail Willy and ends up “killing” him with blanks, convincing Deiter/Dieter to bring him in.  Bergman’s still unconvinced and has Jim interrogated.  Jim has taken a drug to fake heroin withdrawal, and counts on Bergman withholding the fix he demands until he gives up the information, since an injection of real heroin, in combination with the drug he’s taken, will kill him.

Meanwhile, Valerie comes in as a high-ranking investigator, and a friendly Bitsy almost exposes Barney, who’s in the file room hacking the teletype to verify Valerie’s credentials.  Barney rigs an electric spark to scare the poor kitty away.  Mean Barney!  Bitsy just wanted to play!  Anyway, Valerie orders Paris arrested and interrogates him, revealing to Bergman that he’s actually a man that Stravos was supposed to have killed months before but who instead was given plastic surgery and a new identity.  (The man is represented by a photo of Nimoy’s stand-in Frank da Vinci, who’s previously been glimpsed in “The Amnesiac” and “The Falcon”).  Valerie claims to suspect Bergman of being a traitor, so Bergman has to clear his name.  As it happens, Jim has admitted to his side paying off a prominent double agent called Orpheus, and the dates he gives implicate Stravos.  Bergman decides Jim has earned his heroin fix, and Valerie is barely able to stop his twisted act of kindness in time to save Jim.  She then arranges for the fake guards to take Jim and Paris away for “interrogation,” thereby freeing them.

Valerie pushes Bergman to contact Stravos and arrange a meeting right away, before the hit is scheduled.  The plan is for Valerie to order Bergman to stay behind while she meets Stravos herself (since Bergman’s loyalty is still suspect), while Paris disguised as Bergman does the actual meeting.  But Bergman informs her there’s a password only he knows, and he refuses to share it with her.  He has to make the meeting.  So the team has to improvise fast.  They arrange to switch the hotel room where Bergman was supposed to meet Stravos, so Bergman enters the darkened room and gives the password to Paris, whereupon he’s knocked out and Paris goes next door to give the same password to Stravos.  He barely manages to convince Stravos to reveal his target before the bomb he planted goes off.  I was wondering why there were so many hours between when he planted the bomb and when it went off, but it turns out it was timed to coincide with a meeting of several Western scientists.  The “West Zone” police get them all out in the nick of time.

Not a bad episode, particularly thanks to the always-engaging Albert Paulsen and the intelligence of the character he’s playing, which posed some challenges for the team.  And of course including a cat automatically makes it a superior episode.  Jessica Walter is pretty good in her stern investigator role.  But the plot has a couple of logic glitches.  One, Deiter/Dieter arranges to have Jim’s demand for cash fulfilled before their first meeting, but when Bergman is questioning Jim later on, Jim is demanding money in exchange for information as though he hasn’t been paid at all yet.  And two, Jim already knows in the apartment scene that they need to reach Stravos before 4 PM, even though they don’t know who the target is or how the hit will be carried out.  How could he possibly know that?  So it’s reasonably good, but not as satisfying as it could be.

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