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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “The Choice”/”The Martyr” (spoilers)

September 16, 2011 2 comments

Last two of the season!

“The Choice”: The briefing’s in an office somewhere, and the mission is to stop the Rasputin-like Emil Vautrain, a fraudulent mystic who’s enthralled and manipulated Duchess Teresa (Nan Martin), ruler of the Duchy of Trent.  Vautrain has made Teresa sick and is planning to kill her as soon as she names him her successor, but she’s too in love to see it.  There’s no dossier scene since it’s just the core foursome, and the plan revolves around the fact that Vautrain bears an uncanny resemblance to Paris (he’s played by Nimoy in a wig and beard, doing a scratchy voice that’s electronically raised).

The team gets Vautrain’s attention by putting on a macabre stage show in which Jim hosts and Paris plays a “convict” who miraculously survives a real electric chair, thanks to fake rubber hands and a wire running through his coat to divert the current.  When Vautrain’s henchman Goujon (M:I stalwart Sid Haig, this time with his whole head shaved) discovers Jim trying to sabotage a podium Vautrain is scheduled to speak at so that it will electrocute the speaker, Vautrain has Jim and Paris brought in and pulls off Paris’s blatantly fake wig and beard to reveal the other fake wig and beard beneath that make him a dead ringer for Vautrain.  (One wonders why he stopped there.)  Vautrain guesses that they’re working for his rival, Minister Picard (Arthur Franz), a former confidante/lover of Teresa’s who futilely tries to free her from Vautrain’s thrall.  (Yes, Leonard Nimoy is playing a character whose rival is named Picard.  Insert obligatory Star Trek in-joke of your choice.)  Jim and Paris play along, revealing that the plan was to have Paris replace Vautrain and fake surviving the assassination attempt, convincing Teresa he’s immortal, only for Picard to expose the fraud and discredit him.  Vautrain decides to carry out the plan with the modification that he’ll replace Paris afterward and finger Picard for the assassination attempt.  But the team has his office bugged and is ready for his plan to kill Jim and Paris afterward.  They switch Paris and Vautrain, knocking out the latter, who wakes up in a prison van with Jim, who stages their escape and makes sure Vautrain gets a gun with blanks in it.  Vautrain confronts Paris-as-Vautrain in Teresa’s office and shoots him, with Paris making it look like he survived being shot thanks to the squibs and evidence Barney planted earlier.  The real Vautrain gets hunted down as an impostor and shot (on Paris’s order, essentially).  But then Paris-as-V admits to Teresa that he’s been using tricks to make himself seem immortal, then tells her he’s leaving and that she can trust Picard from now on.  Outside, Picard says to Paris, “Whoever you are, thank you.”

A pretty routine episode, nothing special.  The premise of the target looking just like Paris is one that would’ve worked if this had been Paris’s first mission — for instance, that’s why Rollin Hand was recruited to the team in the pilot episode — but it’s hard to swallow this close to the end of the season, especially since it’s at least the second time this season that the impersonation subject has been a lookalike/soundalike for Nimoy.  Nan Martin was perhaps the one standout here; I’m used to seeing her as a much older woman, but here at age 42 she was a fairly handsome woman, and it makes me wonder what she would’ve been like in her prime.  Still, her character is an ineffectual dupe, more a plot device than a person.

There really was a Duchy of Trent (or Tridentum) until 1802, located in what’s now Northern Italy and ruled by the Germanic Lombards.  The Duchy of Trent in “The Choice” is Francophone, however — yet,  as with “The Crane,” all the Europeans have American accents, or English in Martin’s case.

“The Martyr”: The tape’s in a closed novelty shop, and gives Jim the rather nebulous mission of stopping/exposing the repressive rulers of the People’s Democratic Republic of Carinthia, Premier Rojek (John Larch) and his chief enforcer Czerny (Scott Marlowe), before Rojek can convince the nation’s youth organization to endorse his rule.  We cut right to the mission with no dossiers or apartment scene, but the core team is assisted by folk singer Roxy (Lynn Kellogg) and Dr. Valari (Peter Brocco), who helps implant a receiver in Jim’s ear and assists Barney in hypnotizing Jim as a defense against truth drugs.

Barney also slips a secret message to Maria Malik (Anna Lee), widow of the beloved former premier Anton Malik, whom the Carinthian youth idolize.  Malik is held prisoner in the state mental hospital (actually the Paramount Studios office building, which has been featured before this season, usually as the bad guys’ headquarters), and Barney fires the message through the bars of her window.  We see a close-up of the decoded message, and thanks to freeze frame I could tell that it was actually a valid substitution cipher where each letter was represented by a pair of letters of numbers (though there was at least one typo).  Which wouldn’t be too hard to crack; substitution ciphers (cryptograms) are pretty easy to break, and it wouldn’t have been too hard for a cryptographer to notice that the shortest word was four letters long, that they all had an even number of letters, and that pairs of letters or numbers recurred throughout.  (Sorry, an interest in cryptography kinda runs in the family.)

Anyway, Jim contacts a known double agent as a way of tipping off the government that the Maliks’ son Peter is actually alive and in the country in the guise of Paris — the twist being that he doesn’t know he’s Malik’s son and has grown up being a rabid supporter of Marxism and Rojek’s regime.  Rojek, worried about the “Malik cult” among the youth movement, realizes he can use Paris/Peter to denounce Anton Malik’s memory and score a propaganda victory.  But first he must interrogate Jim to make sure this isn’t a trick, and that’s where Barney comes in.  After Roxy sings “The Times They Are A-Changin'” at a reception, Paris denounces her American hypocrisy, and Barney, looking groovy in sunglasses and a medallion and acting the part, starts a fight with him.  Guard Willy takes him downstairs to a holding cell, wherein he breaks out, Spider-Mans up the building to plant a bug in the office of the evil doctor who’ll interrogate Jim, then climbs back to his cell and uses a radio hidden in a book (which Willy arranged for him to keep in his cell) to send instructions to Jim.  This is what the hypnosis was for: to ensure that Jim would respond only to Barney’s voice while under truth serum.

So Rojek is convinced that Paris is really Malik’s son and wants to denounce him, and he makes a big public announcement of the fact — whereupon Dr. Valari calls him and reveals the proof that Peter Malik is really dead.  Rojek realizes “Peter” is an impostor planning to denounce him, and expects that Maria will endorse him as her real son, rallying the Malik-loving youth against Rojek.  So he decides to bring Maria to the youth rally so that, once Paris denounces and Maria endorses, Rojek can reveal the fraud and discredit the Malik cult.  (The rally is held in a small indoors room even though there are thousands of youth gathered in the stock footage outside, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Money must’ve been tight this late in the season.)  Instead, Paris praises Rojek and denounces Malik, and Maria is the one to denounce Paris as an impostor (as Barney’s note instructed her to do at this time).  Somehow, this triggers a youth uprising (with a bit of rabble-rousing from Roxy) and stock-footage chaos reigns in the streets while the team and Maria drive to freedom and Rojek stands at the podium looking comically ineffectual.

Between this and “Ghosts,” it seems the producers of M:I were trying to tap into the whole “youth movement” thing going on in the ’60s — giving the team missions that put them on the side of activist youth and opposed to the oppressors and liars of the older generation.    Of the two, this was by far the more blatant attempt to connect with the youth movement, and the more embarrassing one.  It’s silly to see Paris and Barney, played by men in their late 30s, pretending to be members of a youth group (at one point Barney is dismissed as a crazy young person by a guard who isn’t much older than he is, if not younger).  Roxy contributes virtually nothing to the mission, and her presence is a weak excuse to get folk singer Lynn Kellogg, apparently a minor celebrity of the time, into the show.  And the whole plot about winning the hearts and minds of the youth was rather vague and weakly handled.  If Rojek was such a tyrant, how could his nation’s youth be so unaware of it that they could be easily won over to his side by a single speech?  Alternatively, if the unrest was so great that all it took was one exposed lie of Rojek’s to trigger a revolution, why did he imagine he had any chance of winning them over?   If a revolution is indeed what happened.   It’s not at all clear what the team has actually achieved here.  Did they get Rojek to trigger his own overthrow, or did they simply embarrass him?  With the whole plot revolving around the pursuit of nothing more than a PR victory, the sense of tangible stakes was too low, the outcome too nebulous.  This was a feeble exercise in pandering and a weak conclusion to the fourth season.

Overview to follow!

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S4) Reviews: “The Crane”/”Death Squad”

“The Crane”: Jim takes an inordinate amount of time wandering through an art gallery before going into the back room to get the tape briefing: The team must rescue rebel leader Constantine (Eric Mason, voice of Vic Perrin) from the ruling junta of Logosia (a Greek-ish country except with American accents, and incongruously Californian palm trees in one shot) before they execute him.  The junta is run by two men, General Kozani (Carl Betz) and his trusted aide Col. Strabo (Felice Orlandi).  Interestingly, the good-guy rebels are called the People’s Republican Army, the first time this show has used a name containing “People’s Republic” as anything but bad guys.  This is an all-male episode; the dossier sequence establishes Clay (Ralph Ventura), who’s basically extra muscle, and the Globe Repertory Company as participants in the mission.

Jim knows that when they try to rescue Constantine, Kozani and Strabo will be able to erect a dragnet they can’t penetrate.  So the plan is to hide Constantine in plain sight.  At a construction site, they use mines and squib “bullets” to stop the armored truck transporting him to his execution, knock out the occupants, and then hide the drugged Constantine (why they keep him knocked out instead of filling him in is unclear) in a hopper of some sort suspended directly over the attack site by the titular construction crane (a telescopic, vehicle-mounted type).  Then Paris and Barney try to elude the manhunt through the sewers and have a close call; there’s some effective suspense here.

Meanwhile, Jim breaks into Kozani’s office and holds him and Strabo at gunpoint, saying he was Constantine’s ally until Constantine made a deal with Kozani.  Willy comes in as a guard and knocks Jim out (supposedly), and the other guards take him to a cell for later questioning.  Kozani and Strabo are wondering why Jim would think they’d made a deal with Constantine.  Jim has also planted a device to intercept Kozani’s radiophone calls, so that when he later tries to call Strabo (who’s out overseeing the search by now), it goes to Willy at a warehouse.  But Willy can’t do perfect voice impressions, and Paris isn’t back yet, so poor Willy has to stall.  Finally, Paris-as-Strabo says he’s been contacted by Consty with a proposed deal and thinks Kozani should come meet with him.  Kozani and his aide Rafik (Don Eitner, who played the back of Kirk’s double’s head in Star Trek: “The Enemy Within”) find that out of character for Strabo, so Rafik goes to investigate and barely avoids getting blown up, suggesting the meeting was a trap for Kozani.  Rafik finds a flier touting an alliance between Strabo and Constantine!  Kozani persuades prisoner Jim that they’re both being betrayed, and they write up an agreement to end the conflict, contingent on Strabo’s execution.  Jim arranges to take them to meet with Constantine.

Meanwhile, after hours of futile searching, the real Strabo notices the crane overhead and is just about to investigate it when he gets a call from Paris-as-Constantine, who sets up a meeting with him.  Paris and Willy knock Strabo unconscious, make him up as Constantine, then force him to sit silently lest he be shot by Clay.  This is because Jim has brought Kozani there, getting him to clear out the police for their secret meeting with “Constantine” (but really so Barney can get the real Consty down from the crane and finally fill him in).  Kozani sees who he thinks is Constantine and tells him he’s making a mistake partnering with the treacherous Strabo, and shows him the agreement calling for Strabo’s death.  Before Jim leaves, he covertly opens a desk drawer so Strabo will see the gun inside.  Strabo seizes the gun and unmasks, saying he and Kozani have both been tricked but that he now knows where they stand.  As usual, the team hears a gunshot as they walk out, with the added bit of Constantine assuring Jim that his rebels can take care of Strabo.

A nice idea, and the hiding-in-plain-sight gimmick is clever.  There are a couple of nice moments where things don’t quite go as planned, lending some suspense.  But it feels a little overcomplicated, a bit hard to keep track of all the bad guys and all the shifting accusations.  Plus it’s one of their most blatant examples of setting up a bad guy to be killed.  True, they do that all the time, but here they literally bring Kozani to the slaughter and all but literally put the gun in Strabo’s hand.  It reduces the comfortable illusion of distance between the protagonists and the homicide.  All in all, it comes out as an average episode with a few above-average moments.

“Death Squad”: It’s another Very Special Episode! We open with Barney on vacation in a city called Cuidamo, located south of the border (down Mexico way, or something of the sort) and dancing with Alma (Cicely Tyson), an artist he’s been seeing for the past couple of weeks.  A jealous man whom Alma rejected bursts in and attacks her, Barney defends her, and the guy goes out the window and lands on his knife.  The corpse turns out to be the brother of the ruthless local police chief, Corba (Pernell Roberts), who arrests Barney for murder — although he seems rather cold about the death of his own brother, and is just as ruthless toward other wrongdoers such as the petty criminal Riva (Leon Askin), who is terrified when he realizes he’s being locked up in the special cell block reserved for victims of Corba’s officially secret, but still infamous, death squad.  Barney, naturally, ends up in the same block.

Jim is on vacation along with Barney, though for some reason they’re both using fake last names even before anything goes wrong.  He gets Barney a lawyer, but Corba threatens the lawyer into dropping the case.  After interrogating the shyster, Jim knows that Barney has no chance unless the IMF rescues him, so he calls in Paris (who seems to be just getting home from a performance as a magician when Jim calls, judging from his attire) and Willy.  He explains to them that there’s no physical evidence to back up the death-squad charges against Corba so the governor won’t take any action against him.  They need to convince Corba to delay Barney’s execution, so Willy goes in as an Interpol agent and identifies Barney and Jim as suspects in a famous emerald heist the month before.  Corba wants those emeralds to finance his campaign for higher office, so he’s motivated to keep Barney around and persuade Jim to persuade Barney to talk to him.

Meanwhile, once Riva fills Barney in on how doomed they are, Barney MacGyvers up an arc welder out of the light fixture (well, maybe I should say he Barneys it up, since he was doing it while MacGyver was still in high school) and breaks out of his cell, freeing Riva too.  But the escape is foiled by the arrival of Corba’s hench-lieutenant Jocaro (John Shuck, later to co-star with Nimoy in two Star Trek movies), and Barney gets an offscreen beating for his trouble.  But he’s allowed to speak to Jim (with Corba watching), and Jim manages to tip him off to the basics of the plan.  Naturally Barney catches on fast.

Paris pretends to be a fun-loving officer transferring to Corba’s command, luring Jocaro to a party (i.e. the two of them, some booze and music, and a couple of hookers) and pretends to pass out drunk long enough for Jocaro to search his wallet and find clippings connected to the jewel heist.  Jocaro questions Paris, who reveals that one of Corba’s victims was the driver in the heist (corroborating something Interpol Willy said before) and had an emerald hidden in his pocketwatch.  This prompts Jocaro to go to the secret execution site to check out the belongings of the dead, with Jim and Willy tailing him.  They find Corba’s gallows and the acid bath where he disposes of the bodies.  While Paris collects the belongings of the dead as evidence, Jim and Willy rig the gallows so that when Barney (who’s refused to talk) and Riva are brought in and hanged, the nooses give way and the bottom drops out, dumping them safely in the basement on cushioning Willy set up.  The team flees the building and drives away, after Paris disables Corba’s car’s engine and radio.  Then Barney goes to Alma and personally escorts her to New York, presumably to get her away from Corba’s revenge, though he assures her that there’s enough evidence on Corba to hang him.

A nice format-breaker, though Barney’s romance wasn’t as major a part of the story as Paris’s in “Lover’s Knot” or Jim’s in last year’s “Nicole.”  Well, there were a number of emotional scenes with Alma and Barney or Alma and Jim, but still the focus seemed to be mainly on the plan.  It was a nice variation seeing the mission come together gradually, with Jim first piecing together the situation and then improvising a plan.  And it was nice to see Barney being resourceful on his own and bonding with Riva.  There was a funny metatextual moment when Barney was doing his usual thing of performing a slow, meticulous operation without saying a word, as we’ve seen in practically every episode, and then Riva says, “You sure are good at concentrating.”  I never expected to see this show hang a lampshade on one of its own cliches like that.  Though the best part was the payoff of their relationship, when they’re about to be hanged (they think) and Barney is all brave and stoic about it, and the cowardly Riva draws strength from his example.

I wish I knew why Jim and Barney were using fake last names, though.  Do they always do that?  Have they given up their original identities altogether in order to do IMF work?  Hmm, maybe that’s why the original dossier for Barney with the “Collier Electronics” brochure was replaced by just a photo.  But how does that work for Paris, who only uses one name and performs under it?

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