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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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