Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “Phantoms”/”Terror” (spoilers)

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “Phantoms”/”Terror” (spoilers)

Ooh, a scary theme to the titles!

“Phantoms”: In a stock tape scene (though one that I think begins a little earlier in the footage this time), Jim gets a briefing about Premier Vorka (Luther Adler), an Eastern-bloc dictator about to launch a purge of his country’s young artists, devastating a generation friendly to the West.  The team must remove him from power before the purge begins.  The dossiers include actress Nora Bennett (Antoinette Bower) and broadcaster Edmund Moore (Ivor Barry) of the BBC English Broadcasting Service.

Jim takes the place of a writer, the latest in a line of writers whom Vorka has pretended to mentor but actually plagiarized and killed, publishing their works as his own.  Jim’s addition to the real writer’s manuscript involves Lisa, a woman Vorka loved back in the ’40s and bore a son with, but who then joined the resistance and was killed in Vorka’s prison, with the son disappearing.  Moore’s role is to do a puff-piece interview of Vorka, allowing his tech guy Barney to plant an infrared projector and speakers in Vorka’s study, cleverly concealed from Vorka’s view by the bright klieg lights and the removal of his glasses, which Barney switches for an IR-sensitive pair.  Once he’s alone, he begins seeing projected visions of Lisa’s ghost (played by Nora, made all woogly by having the camera pointed at a reflective sheet Willy is flexing), who tells him that Zara (Jeff Pomerantz), the main artist/protestor targeted by the purge, is actually his long-lost son.  When Vorka investigates, files planted by Paris lead to Paris in disguise as the elderly man (and it’s a really bad age prosthetic) who brought the young Zara to the orphanage where he grew up.  Old-guy Paris gives details that convince the dictator that Zara is his son — including the claim that the boy had Zara’s congenital heart condition.  Vorka orders Zara brought to him, but Willy intercepts the car and rescues Zara while Paris dons a Zara disguise and goes in his place.  He rejects Vorka’s claim of fatherhood and provokes Vorka to lash out, causing Paris/Zara to “die” of a heart attack, whereupon the real Zara with the team positions himself so that when he stands up in the projection, it looks like his ghost is rising out of his body.  (Which doesn’t really make sense, since they’d have to know exactly where Zorka was standing to align it properly.)  Zara and Nora go all “J’accuse” on Vorka, who shoots at the ghosts, bringing in his men, who realize the old guy’s flipped his wig.  He’s eased into retirement and his more moderate deputy premier takes power.

This is a fairly good one.  Vorka is a well-drawn character, a reprehensible mass murderer, liar, and hypocrite who nonetheless has the regrets and longings of an aging, lonely man who laments for all he’s lost, and who can be swayed by remorse for a lost love (even though he killed her) and the wish for a son to love.  He’s smart, too; after the first “haunting,” he’s canny enough to order his study searched for anything that might’ve created the illusion, but Jim is lucky enough to be on hand and “borrow” the book in which the projector is hidden (with the lenses of the projector and the spy camera hidden inside the “O”s in the title and Vorka’s name).  Another effective player is Michael Baseleon as the head of Vorka’s KGB-equivalent; he’s delightfully menacing and reptilian as he interrogates Zara.  Antoinette Bower is rather underused, since outside of the apartment scene she has nothing to do but make woo-woo ghostly pronouncements.

I’ve complained before about the team’s fondness for plans with SF/fantasy elements, but the script justifies it here by establishing that Vorka grew up in a community that believed in supernatural things, so he’s already receptive to the possibility even though his Marxist convictions say he should reject it.  It’s also hinted that he’s going a little senile anyway and didn’t need much of a push.  The episode does rely too much on the usual fakeout cliffhangers where what seems like a dangerous moment passes with no harm done, but there is one effective act break where Vorka, panicking after a ghostly visitation, points a gun at Jim and demands to know if he saw it too.  Vorka’s erratic enough at that point, and ruthless enough in general, that the threat to Jim is very real and believable, even if it is resolved effortlessly in the next act.

“Terror”: The tape is in a parked car on a road near the airport (they seem to have shot a lot of these around LAX this season), though inside the car it’s the usual “8-track tape briefing” stock footage.  The mission: noted terrorist El Kabir (Michael Tolan) is about to be released from prison by his secret ally in the goverment of Suroq, Vassier (David Opatoshu), and the team has to stop it before he can lead his terrorist army to do more terrorizing.  Yup, the “Arab terrorist” stereotype existed even in 1970, though back then it was probably seen as a more local phenomenon.  There’s nobody in on the plan except the four leads, so no dossier sequence is needed.

Barney steals a dynamite truck from the army, then dons a fez (he must’ve heard they were cool) to play a deserter who wants to sell it to El Kabir’s lieutenant Atheda (Arlene Martel, best known as Spock’s bride-to-be in Star Trek: “Amok Time,” though she shares no more than a few seconds of screen time with Nimoy here).  Meanwhile, Paris and Jim play officers coming to question El Kabir about the dynamite theft, with Jim being placed in the opposite cell as an undercover agent (so they tell the prison warden), then convincing EK he’s working with Vassier and warning him that the government intends to have him shot “trying to escape.”  Meanwhile, Paris in a Vassier mask goes to Atheda to tell her the same thing, so she’ll see no choice but to buy Barney’s dynamite to blow him out, courtesy of a secret system of ancient tunnels that Paris/Vassier tips them off to.  (Jim says in the apartment scene that the tunnel map was compiled from historical records and that the tunnels were built by the ancient Mycenaeans, suggesting that Suroq is located along the eastern Mediterranean coast, making it a stand-in for Syria or Lebanon.)  But dynamite won’t work in that space; Barney and his partner Willy have to extract the nitroglycerine from it, a delicate operation made more risky by a sudden thunderstorm (and I think I recognize some of the lightning footage from the Gilligan’s Island titles).  Honestly, Jim has got to stop devising plans that require handling nitroglycerine!  Is he trying to get Barney killed?

Anyway, the real Vassier almost scuttles the plan by having El Kabir released too early, so Paris and Jim vamp until the explosion goes off.  But Jim “overheard” the location of the cave they’d be emerging from, so the military cuts them off.  EK makes Willy give him the leftover nitro, which he uses to threaten the military.  Paris goads him into throwing it, and it lands harmlessly since Willy swapped the bottles.  Oddly, one soldier reacts to the complete lack of danger El Kabir poses at this point by shooting him dead.  The rest of the terrorists are taken into custody, and Paris and Jim claim Barney and Willy as army deserters and take them away for “interrogation.”  Willy assures Jim he disposed of the real nitro in “the aqueduct,” though why exactly that’s safe, or what the hell aqueduct he’s talking about, is unclear.  Maybe he means he poured it into the water?  Will there be a commensurate drop in heart attacks as a result?

All in all, not too coherent an episode.  The setup is confusing.  How is Vassier’s agreement with El Kabir a secret when he’s talking openly with other officials about his intent to release him?  And how is Vassier discredited at the end?  EK shouts something about how Vassier was behind all of this, but he gets it wrong, stating the false story that Vassier intended to assassinate him rather than the truth that they were in cahoots.  So Vassier isn’t actually dealt with at the end, as far as I can tell.  The whole thing’s kind of a jumble.

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