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

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

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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  1. March 24, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    The Malik family pic is actually Nimoy and his Dad with Anna Lee photoshopped in

  2. March 24, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    It was interesting that the Malik family portrait was Nimoy when he was a kid

  3. January 22, 2023 at 9:33 pm

    Been many years since the last comment but here goes. In “The Choice” btw, it’s not Goujon that discovers Jim sabotaging the podium but someone with hair. Also, was the plan during that scene for Jim to be discovered, although it seems like had he finished the job of electrifying the podium they could have just let Vautrain electrocute himself and be done with him.

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