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E-books on the rise?

October 31, 2011 2 comments

I recently signed on to the Simon & Schuster Author Portal, which among other things (that I haven’t gotten around to investigating yet), allows us authors to see sales figures on our books and e-books published by S&S and its imprints.  The specific sales figures are confidential, of course, but I’m noticing an interesting trend.  While the overall sales figures of my books are much higher in print form than in e-book form (since all my Trek novels are available in e-editions as well), in recent weeks the e-book sales numbers are generally competitive with and often higher than the print-book numbers.  In fact, I didn’t really count them precisely, but the impression I get from the latest week’s figures is that the majority of my backlist titles sold more electronic copies than print copies.  Which would seem to confirm that e-reader use is significantly on the rise, at least for older books that might not be readily available on store shelves (though would still be available for purchase online or through special order at bookstores).  It’ll be interesting to see how the print and electronic sales figures for next year’s DTI: Forgotten History compare to one another.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that my two Marvel Comics novels, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, apparently aren’t available in e-book form.  I’m quite proud of both of those novels, but they’re not selling very actively these days, and maybe they’d be doing better if there were e-editions available.   (Although of course I’m hoping that by mentioning them here and posting purchasing links I’ll prompt a few more sales.)

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Image”/”Committed” (spoilers)

October 30, 2011 1 comment

“Image”: Aging gangster Emil Gadsen (George Voskovec) and his son Tony (future Hill Street Blues star Daniel J. Travanti) are visiting Emil’s partner, a gangster with the unlikely name of Thor Coffin (Warren Stevens).  They’re partners in what the Voice on Tape later calls the biggest “vice operation” in the Northeast, but Emil’s fleeing to Tangiers (no extradition treaty) to escape prosecution, leaving Thor to run the business.  However, he’s keeping the list of corrupt officials that’s the source of his power.  It’s an uneasy partnership; Thor badly wants to possess Emil’s list, while Emil wants to use Thor’s multimillion-dollar stamp collection to launder his money, but neither man will give up his prize possession.  Jim’s mission, as he’s told by the tape in a pipe room somewhere, is to get the list.

Jim distracts Thor by trying to sell him some stamps while Willy breaks into Thor’s wine cellar through the sewer and makes his way to the room behind Thor’s safe, breaking into it from the rear and stealing Thor’s stamp collection.  Willy gets caught by a guard on the way out but soon knocks him out, and this doesn’t materially affect the plot since the theft was supposed to be discovered.  Meanwhile, Barney adopts the identity of Caribbean psychic Revalier (with the real one’s cooperation) and pretends to give Emil a tarot reading, claiming that someone “closer than a brother” will be a source of danger to him.  Once getting the skeptical Tony out of the room, Barney drugs Emil and hypnotizes him with a series of post-hypnotic suggestions that will be triggered by showing him the Death tarot card.

Anyway, a guest impersonator named Dave Scott (Paul Marin) masks up to look like Emil, but instead of replacing Emil, his job is to convince Emil that he’s a long-lost twin brother.  They meet by chance in a restaurant, and Dave claims to be a professor from the old country with Casey as his daughter.  Remembering Barney’s warnings, Emil invites them over for cocktails later, but the “professor” is kidnapped by masked gunmen who are actually Jim, Willy, and guest muscle Tom Hawkins (George McCallister Jr.).  The posthypnotic suggestions are used to make Emil think he’s feeling what the professor feels as he’s knocked out, beaten, and tortured, and a doctor working with the team, Charles Berk (David M. Frank), teams with Barney in convincing Emil that the professor is actually a Siamese twin he never knew he had (conveniently Emil has a scar from an accident in infancy) and that they’re joined by a “Corsican Brothers”-style psychic link, so that Emil will die if the professor dies.  Barney’s psychic readings suggest that Thor is the kidnapper, and even though Tony’s still a skeptic, he agrees when Emil tells him to go investigate at Thor’s.  Tony forces one of Thor’s guards to take him to the wine cellar and he finds the professor there being worked over by Willy and Tom.  Callously, he leaves the professor there and comes back to report to daddy.

Meanwhile, Jim has tried to sell Thor’s stamps to a dealer with ties to Emil, so Emil finds out that there’s a way past Thor’s awesome security system and pays Jim to take him in.  They find the professor “dead” and then Jim uses the tarot card to trigger Emil’s final attack.  Now skeptic Tony is convinced his father’s dying and he insists that Emil give him the secret list (oh, what a saint).  Emil reveals it’s hidden in his watch, and Tony runs off with it, leaving Emil there.  But as soon as he gets outside with Jim, he finds the police waiting.  As does Emil a minute later when Willy revives him and leads him out.

Wow, just reading through all that again prior to posting made me shake my head in bewilderment at how thoroughly ludicrous this episode’s premise was.  What a mess.  I have the same problem here as in “The Miracle” — if Barney has such amazing hypnotic powers, why not just hypnotize Emil into revealing where the list is?  Why go through all this convoluted deception to convince the guy of something entirely bizarre?  Making a guy think he’s psychically linked with a long-lost Siamese twin has got to be the weirdest way yet of getting to the bad guys in this show.  It’s just so silly.  And it’s hard to believe you can hypnotically manipulate a guy into having the fake physical reactions Emil has here.  All in all, this is the worst one of the season so far.

“Committed”: Nora Dawson (Susan Howard) is in a cell at the state mental hospital, babbling incoherently.  (She must’ve seen the last episode.  Or maybe written it.)  Turns out she’s being drugged into that state by the evil and extremely rotund Dr. Carrick (Robert Miller Driscoll) on orders from the crooked lieutenant governor Harrison (Alan Bergmann), in order to keep her from testifying against Harrison’s boss Chandler (Bert Freed).  At a Western-themed kiddie park, Jim retrieves what’s supposedly his nephew’s lost lunchbox from an employee, and the tape inside tells him to rescue Nora and deliver her to court the next day in a coherent state.  In the apartment scene, it’s explained that Nora can’t be released because her husband (Jack Donner) is in Harrison’s pocket.  Joining the team is Wilson (James B. Sikking, our second future Hill Street Blues star in as many weeks), the prosecutor on Chandler’s case; he promises the full cooperation of the DA’s office.  Jim explains that the mental hospital is a converted prison basically controlled by Harrison, and they’ll face the same problems they would with breaking someone out of prison, especially since it’s on an island.

The first step is to get Casey committed.  Jim plays her uncle who’s eager to get rid of her, and Casey pretends to be insanely jealous of the women in his life, including the women he photographs for fashion spreads (though she insinuates something less respectable).  Carrick calls in the hatchet-faced but kindly-voiced Nurse Brophy (Anne Francine), part of the criminal clique, to take Casey for evaluation (and Lynda Day George gets the chew the scenery something fierce, and looks kinda hot playing crazy).  Meanwhile, we cut to a painfully expository scene between Harrison and Chandler — at one point Harrison actually says “As lieutenant governor of this state…”.  Beyond stiltedly recapping what we already know, the scene explains why they didn’t just kill Nora as Chandler wants: she’s already testified against Harrison and he needs to discredit her.  Harrison mentions Mr. Dawson’s cooperation, and afterward Chandler has his goon Lusk (Geoffrey Lewis) kill Dawson (lest he talks), then orders him to kill Nora.

Willy comes near the prison island in a boat, using a megaphone to tell the tower guard that his engine’s broken down, while Barney scubas ashore and climbs in through the sewer, rigging the boiler with a radio-controlled device.  Casey freaks out and attacks a Rorschach-blot screen with a knife to get herself thrown in isolation, conveniently in the cell right next to Nora’s (are there only the two?).  On hearing of this, Jim fakes a fainting spell so he’ll be placed in a room to recover, then disguises himself as a hospital employee and makes his way to isolation, where he helps Casey don a Nora mask and inflate a Casey blow-up doll in her bed (not that kind of blow-up doll — the camera angle clearly shows it’s not anatomically correct), then blasts a hole in the wall between cells (concealed by the padding).  When Nora is brought back from her last crazymaking treatment (which leaves her muttering random nouns one after the other, one of the stranger depictions of psychosis I’ve seen on TV), they knock out Nurse Brophy and sneak Nora out, while Casey stays behind so the bad guys won’t know Nora’s gone.  Barney’s gadget triggers a boiler overload so Maintenance Man Jim can sneak Nora out through the boiler room, where Barney came in.  (And I think it’s the same location where the previous episode’s tape scene was filmed.)  He’s given Nora an antidote shot to restore her sanity, but she breaks down crying and Barney has to comfort her.  Jim then knocks out the tower guard so Willy’s boat can come back and retrieve them.

But Lusk comes after Casey/Nora, who signals Jim with a beeper in her hospital bracelet.  She fights off Lusk as best she can, but this is 1972 TV so of course she needs Jim to arrive in the nick of time and save her.  They hide Lusk and the evidence of the fight before Carrick and Brophy arrive to collect Casey/Nora.

In court, when Nora is called to the stand, she acts rather crazy, and the defense smugly insists that she’s insane.  But ADA Wilson shockingly reveals that it’s not Nora, pulling off the mask to reveal Casey, and accusing Carrick of the crazymaking.  He then has the real Nora come in and testify that Chandler murdered a senator while Harrison watched (though the way she phrases the latter might constitute hearsay).

All in all, a decent but uneven episode.  The unmasking in court seemed a bit gratuitous, but I guess the idea was that it was the only way to ensure Nora reached the stand safely, so I can live with it.  And aside from the theatrics, the courtroom procedure felt fairly authentic to me — though it was weird to see an M:I episode turn into a courtroom drama for the last five minutes.  I guess the main appeal of the episode is Lynda Day George’s scenery-chewing.  Susan Howard (who played the first female Klingon we met in Star Trek) is pretty much wasted as the mostly incoherent Nora.  And the episode loses points for the ultra-stilted exposition between the bad guys.  So it’s watchable, but mediocre overall.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “The Bride”/”Stone Pillow” (spoilers)

“The Bride”: We meet Joe Corvin (James Gregory), a very angry mobster who specializes in funneling mob money to Swiss banks, but who’s accusing his intended diplomatic courier of ripping him off.  The courier gets tossed down an elevator shaft by Corvin’s enforcer Richie (Charles Dierkop, who played a minor member of Butch’s gang in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid even though he looked far, far more like the real Butch Cassidy than Paul Newman did), so now Corvin has to find another way of getting millions of mob money to Switzerland.  That sounds like an opening for the IMF; Jim gets the assignment to put Corvin out of business when he retrieves the tape from a locker in a college swimming pool’s office.

Once again, Casey substitutes herself for someone the mark hasn’t met, namely Corvin’s Irish mail-order bride; he wants a nice, demure, convent-trained girl from the old country, and he treats her like his property, expecting complete obedience. But she shows signs of “illness” and erratic moods.

Meanwhile, Barney is meeting with Corvin’s mob contact Mellinger (Brad Dexter), pretending to be the boss of the murdered diplomatic courier and offering to move the mob’s money for less than Corvin charges — and sooner, because Corvin is still searching for a new way to do it.  This gets him questioned/threatened by Corvin, but he has some “in the event of my death” evidence locked away to keep him alive.

While Corvin’s off dealing with Barney, Richie follows Casey to a clandestine meeting with Jim, where he finds him giving her heroin.  Joe is outraged to find she’s a junkie and wants nothing more to do with her.  But he’s intrigued to find that Jim is a smuggler who uses his airline job to get stuff through customs.  Now Mellinger won’t need Barney.  Corvin makes arrangements with Jim.

But Casey takes a pill to fake her death from a drug overdose.  Corvin sends her to the funeral home run by Collins (Woodrow Parfrey), who disposes of the occasional corpse for him.  But Jim calls to let him know that security’s tightened at the airport (due to fear of terrorists, 30 years before 9/11) and their plan won’t work because even Jim’s luggage would be searched.  But the team arranges for Corvin to see a coffin with a diplomatic seal being loaded without inspection.  Corvin calls Collins to stop him from cremating Casey, ordering her embalmed instead.

Of course, Casey’s still alive, so Barney keeps Collins busy on the phone as an overly inquisitive customer while Willy knocks out Collins’s assistant Harris, who’s replaced by his near-lookalike, guest team member Bob Roberts (both are played by Gwil Richards).  Hey, I’m noticing a pattern.  The last guest impersonator was named Bill Williams.  (Although both surnames are only in the credits; only the first names are used onscreen.)  They revive Casey and swap her out with a dummy.  Barney also sabotages their hearse so a new one rigged by the team can take its place.  Once Corvin (with a nervous Mellinger watching) loads the money into the coffin’s pillow (under the “dummy” of the dead Casey, whose eyes are visibly moving, which is problematical on two levels) and the coffin is loaded into the hearse, Bob knocks out Collins.  In the back of the hearse, Barney emerges from a secret compartment, takes the money out of the coffin, and replaces the diplomatic seal he broke with a new one, then slips out of the bottom of the hearse.

The coffin is rigged to fall off the conveyor and break open, revealing the dummy of Casey and the lack of the money, which makes Mellinger suspicious of the bewildered Corvin.  Jim says Corvin asked him for two tickets to Miami, creating more suspicion.  Mellinger takes Corvin and Richie home — and finds a very much alive Casey holding two tickets to Miami.  Mellinger sends Casey away, then holds Corvin over the same elevator shaft seen in the beginning, demanding to know where the money is.  Corvin is… understandably confused.

I was expecting more from this episode, since it was scripted by Jackson Gillis.  But it’s a fairly average episode.  There are some decent bits of writing and characterization, particularly Collins’s slow burn when Barney won’t let him off the phone, but it doesn’t add up to anything exceptional.  Also, this is another episode that credits a composer (Richard Hazard) but that doesn’t have any new music as far as I noticed.

One good thing about the lack of a regular male “master of disguise” character this season — the way they’re bringing in a different impersonator each time based on their resemblance to the desired target makes a lot more sense than having just one guy do all the impersonations, or having a lot of the impersonation subjects just happen to resemble the team’s usual makeup guy (or gal, in Casey’s case).

“Stone Pillow”: Crooked PI Larry Edison (Bradford Dillman) is blackmailing Vincent Vochek (Robert Ellenstein), the biggest gangster west of Chicago, with a film that places him at the site of a murder.  He’s going to prison for some unrelated crime, but before he does, he wants to ensure he’ll get 5 grand a month for the rest of his life — promising that the film will stay buried as long as nothing happens to him.  He tells Vochek they should both wish Edison outlives him.  Cut to Jim getting the tape from a forest ranger and being offered the mission of getting the film from Edison so the perenially stymied Conventional Law Enforcement Agencies can prosecute Vochek.

The IMF’s plan hinges on Larry’s secret girlfriend Leona, who has just died in an auto accident (self-inflicted, no foul play) but confessed on her deathbed to be Larry’s accomplice (though died before she could reveal the film’s location).  They’ve kept her death secret so that Casey can impersonate her.  But that’s a later stage of the plan.  First, they get the cooperation of the governor’s office and the Department of Corrections to let Barney take over as temporary warden (with frosted temples to make him look older) along with Willy as a guard and Casey as a prison psychiatrist.  But Vochek probably has people on the inside so they can’t reveal their true identities to the prison staff.  Barney rejects the attempts of guard Fort (Arthur Batanides) to get Larry placed in protective custody against unspecified enemies, and it’s pretty easy to guess that Fort is Vochek’s inside man even before it’s confirmed.  Instead, Willy puts Larry in a cell with inmate Jim, who’s playing a loquacious, philosophical, chess-playing sort called the Professor.  It’s a nicely written scene, one of several provided here by scripter Howard Browne.  Professor Jim says he’s in stir for breaking a window — going on to elaborate that “the window was in an armored car containing 84 thousand dollars.”  He and Larry bond, but Jim lets Larry discover that he’s hiding some sort of plans inside the foot of his bed.

Willy rigs a squib to make it look like someone took a shot at Larry, but Warden Barney and Dr. Casey still rebuff Fort’s insistence that he be put in protective custody (since Casey argues that isolation would be harmful to his tenuous mental state).  Larry feels he has to get out, and he confronts Jim about the escape map he’s been drawing.  When Jim refuses to cut him in, Larry angrily sweeps his chessmen to the floor, discovering the tiny gun and bullets hidden within them.  Larry threatens to expose Jim’s plans if he isn’t cut in, so Jim agrees.  (There’s no way Jim could’ve predicted that Larry would trash the chessmen at that point.  How did he intend to get Larry to this point without it?)

At Casey’s group-therapy session the next day, Jim and Larry pull the gun on Casey and escape after knocking out a guard.  (Whom they leave unconscious in a room containing several hardened inmates, which doesn’t strike me as a good idea.)  Willy has arranged to be at the guard post overlooking their escape route and fires some token shots to make it look good.  When the three get to a waiting car, Larry is about to force Casey into the car, but Jim knocks him out and sends her off to stall their pursuers (though she doesn’t actually appear to do anything that slows them down significantly).  Jim drives them to a second car, moves the unconscious Larry into it, then douses the first car in gasoline, sends it over a hill, and triggers a charge to blow it up.  He then injects Larry with a syringe that says “live virus vaccine,” which made me wonder if part of the plot was to make Larry sick — but apparently it’s just a sedative and the label is  a prop-department glitch.

So Larry awakens to find it’s the next day and his death has been faked.  He’s eager to call Leona to find out if she sent the film to the DA, but there’s no answer.  Casey isn’t at her place yet, but it is being searched by Vochek’s men, because Larry smuggled out a letter that Fort intercepted and delivered to Vochek (who then resealed it and sent it to its proper address).  Later, Casey does arrive in a Leona mask (and for the duration she’s played by Brooke Mills, who has an oddly stiff and robotic way of moving), finds the letter, and is confronted by Vochek’s men, who warn her to give up the film.  She contacts Barney to alert him to the complication, but they proceed with the plan.  When Larry reaches Casey/Leona, she tells him she already sent the film to the DA — but Professor Jim is suspicious and calls a “friend” in the DA’s office (actually just calling Willy in the van), “learning” that the DA has never heard of any such film.  Leona must want the blackmail money for herself!  Larry goes to confront Casey/Leona, who’s ready with a blank-filled gun.  When she tries to shoot Larry, Jim fake-kills her, though she calls some imaginary accomplice on the phone before “dying” to convince Larry that Jim isn’t her accomplice.  Still, Larry grabs her gun and forces Jim to stay behind once he retrieves the key to where the film is hidden.  Barney and Willy drive off after him, but can’t do anything about Vochek’s men who are in closer pursuit.  Larry gets the film from a warehouse and gets into a shootout with Vochek’s men, whom the IMF takes down.  Larry tries to shoot Jim but discovers his gun is full of blanks.  He has no choice but to hand over the film.  Conveniently, Vochek has personally accompanied his men on this pursuit, which seems like a pretty stupid way of giving himself deniability, and is done only so we can see him arrested at the end.

Well, the story here has some weak points, but the dialogue is lively and clever, making this a very enjoyable episode.  In other news, Casey is a redhead now, which can’t be related to her impersonation of the redheaded Leona, because in that role she wears a full wig over her own nearly identical hairstyle.  Huh?

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Run for the Money”/”The Connection” (spoilers)

October 28, 2011 1 comment

“Run for the Money”: Gangster Trask (Richard Jaeckel), who works for bigger gangster Mason (Herb Edelman), goes into a shop with a sign reading “TOBACCO’S” [sic], which is a front for an illegal gambling parlor.  Trask leaves his briefcase there, and it blows up the parlor and its occupants as he and Mason drive off (and their driver rather stupidly drives them right by the store two seconds before it blows up).  Jim then takes forever driving up to and walking through a miniature golf course before getting the tape out of the windmill and being tasked with breaking up the Mason-Trask partnership and ending their betting operation that funnels millions to the mob.  The team is assisted by jockey/trainer Nick (William Harmatz) and a champion racehorse named Lucky Lady.

To be honest, I had a hard time keeping track of the specific plot beats this time.  The plan is to convince Trask, who aspires to own a champion racehorse but doesn’t have the knowledge or skill to pick a winner, that a horse named Red Sand (actually Lucky Lady in disguise) is a champion out of nowhere.  Jim is the owner of the horse, and Casey is trying to buy it from him, though she turns out to be fronting for someone else.  All this is played out before Trask to catch his attention, and Casey arranges an involvement with Trask so she can be on hand to use a Barney gizmo in her purse to slow Trask’s stopwatch so he thinks the horse is a lot faster than it is, while Jim insists that the horse is no good.  (There’s a scene where they go on a date, interrupted by Trask taking her to the stables so he can take a sample of hair from Red Sand’s forehead mark, but the next day he talks about keeping her out late — could she have actually slept with him?)

Meanwhile, Barney breaks into Mason’s high-tech gambling parlor to swap out a computer circuit, making it look like a failed robbery to throw them off.  Trask finds out the hair sample was bleached, and determines that it’s actually Lucky Lady, who was reported stolen recently.  Also that Casey is fronting for someone, and she stages a meeting with Mason to make Trask think it’s him.  Trask wants the horse, so he has his goon threaten Casey into calling Jim and telling him that Mason withdrew his bid.  The odd thing here is that Trask was actually on the phone in Jim’s apartment, standing right next to Jim, when he instructed his goon to threaten Casey into lying to Jim.  Huh?  How is that supposed to have worked?

So anyway, Trask now owns the horse.  But Jim gets Mason’s attention by placing a big bet on Mason’s horse King’s Friend, and convinces him that Red Sand is a dud, admitting he gimmicked Trask’s stopwatch to con him.  Once Mason’s hooked, Jim triggers Barney’s planted computer circuit to explode, preventing them from altering the 40-to-1 odds on Red Sand after learning that someone (actually the team) has bet 100 grand on her (disguised as twenty $5000 bets in various cities).  Mason’s worried enough to have his goon be ready with a sniper rifle to shoot any horse (or jockey?) who comes close to rivalling King’s Friend.  Huh?  I guess the idea is that the race will be forfeit and nobody will get paid off, but still, it seems an oddly public action to take.

So anyway, Lucky Red Sand Lady takes the lead and sniper guy is ready to snipe, but Barney just coincidentally happened to see him climbing a ladder and manages to tackle him in time.  Redlucky Ladysand wins the race, to Trask’s delight.  Mason orders another goon — or actually a Thug, according to the credits — to call the betting parlor and halt the payoffs.  And let’s pause to acknowledge that the Thug is the only credited M:I role (though the second of three in all) for the great character actor Charles Napier, who sadly passed away not long ago.   Jim gets the drop on Charles Napier (who, this being the ’70s, is wearing a pink shirt under his suit jacket) and keeps him from stopping the payoff.  Mason has lost $4 million of the mob’s money, and he blames Trask.  The team watches as Mason and his men collect Trask and take him away to a no doubt grisly fate.  They then do the usual thing of getting into their own car and driving off into the final freeze-frame — except they seem to be driving directly toward a fence at some speed.

Well, this was a bit of a mess, which perhaps isn’t surprising from a script by Edward J. Lakso, author of the infamously bad Star Trek episode “And the Children Shall Lead.”  It was a fairly ordinary caper overall, but with some elements that didn’t make a lot of sense.  There’s not a lot of consistency to the character Casey plays; the script even comments on how mercurial and random her actions and choices seem to be, and the only defense she can offer is “Who understands women?”  And yet it’s her character who’s the linchpin of the entire plot — both in the sense of the IMF’s plot and the plot of the story we’re watching.  So it doesn’t have a very cohesive feel to it.  It also makes limited use of Barney and practically no use of Willy.  And one odd thing: it credits Robert Drasnin with a new score, but all the music sounded like familiar stock cues to me.

“The Connection”: We meet Dolan (Anthony Zerbe) as he takes over a meeting that New York mobster Clegg (Joe Maross) was supposed to have with another heroin supplier whom Dolan has killed in order to take over his operation.  He’s taking over the heroin trade for the entire East Coast, getting his supplies from Malot, an island off Northwest Africa.  Jim is informed of this in the announcer’s booth at what looks like a college running track — and for the first time in a couple of seasons, he gets the message on a phonograph record rather than a tape!  Now, there’s a blast from the past.

Clegg gives Dolan a million bucks to pay his supplier on Malot, a woman Dolan hasn’t met, and whose identity Casey assumes.  Dolan flies to Rome to catch a private plane to Malot, so for the first time this season, the IMF travels abroad in order to meet Dolan at Rome.  But their flight will actually take him to a part of Georgia that matches Malot’s climate; they gas Dolan and his men and reset their watches to conceal the flight time (though, oddly, they set their watches forward rather than back).  Unknown to them, though, Clegg has sent his man Finch (Bruce Watson) to keep tabs on Dolan, and he’s hidden aboard the plane.  The gas knocked him out too, but his watch didn’t get reset, so he’s suspicious as soon as they arrive.

Casey, quite fetching in a short red wig and a reasonably good (or at least nice-sounding) French accent,  provides Dolan and his men with the equipment to process opium poppies into heroin, and once he’s satisfied, he calls his supplier, a call which Jim has traced with the help of Simone (Francoise Ruggieri), a local telephone operator whose French accent is part of the illusion that Dolan is in Francophone territory.  The Rome police intercept the shipment and Barney delivers it to the house in “Malot.”  They also track down Dolan’s employer in Istanbul when he calls.

But Finch intercepts one of Dolan’s men, questioning him about the time discrepancy, then killing him when it turns out he knows nothing.  The team is alerted that there’s a wild card in the mix and begins searching.  Eventually Finch attacks Casey in her room and Jim drives him off.

Once Dolan’s satisfied with the drugs, he contacts Clegg in New York, and the team tracks the call.  They send Willy to Clegg to try to make a separate deal, and Clegg learns that Dolan’s boss in Istanbul never got the money Dolan sent him — Clegg’s money.  Or something — I’m probably misremembering the order these things happened in, but the gist is that the team is making Clegg think that Dolan’s double-crossed him.  Willy takes a beating until he finally “breaks” and admits he got the drugs from Dolan’s supplier (the one Casey’s impersonating).  Clegg accompanies Willy to Rome where they meet Barney’s plane to go to “Malot”/Georgia (courtesy of more knockout gas).

So Clegg coming to confront and accuse Dolan goes as planned, but Finch has figured out it’s a scam, courtesy of a gas station he came across that just happened to be festooned with signs declaring it to be in Georgia.  (Now, really, what are the odds?  A small-town gas station like that, off the beaten path, probably wouldn’t get many customers who weren’t local.  So there’d be no need to announce what state it was in.)  So Finch breaks in and confronts Jim in the basement processing lab, holding him at gunpoint and interrogating him.  Luckily, operator Simone is in the next room and overhears this, so she rings the phone in the lab, distracting Finch enough for Jim to jump him.  A fight ensues until we get the old “gun goes off between them” gag, and naturally Finch is the one killed.  Jim flees through the window as Dolan and Clegg come down and find the body.  Then they hear the police sirens converging on them.  The team (not counting Simone) assembles at the airstrip and flies away.

A fairly average episode — another one by Edward Lakso, along with Ken Pettus this time — but with some nice touches.  It’s good to see an episode with at least a slightly international flavor again, and Finch poses a persistent and credible threat to the team’s plans.  It’s unclear why they had to base the scam in Georgia, except to serve the season’s mandate to keep things domestic.  They had the cooperation of several countries’ law enforcement agencies, so couldn’t they have mounted the scam somewhere closer to Malot?  And the endgame isn’t very strong.  The key successes are gained simply by tracing Dolan’s calls and identifying the members of the drug network.  I’m not sure what getting Clegg to accuse Dolan of a double-cross actually accomplishes, since their relationship was brand new and it’s not like Clegg had a lot of trust in him to begin with.  And with the police coming at the end — what will they be arrested for?  Neither of them shot Finch.  I guess being found with the drug equipment could be pretty damning, except that the IMF set up that drug equipment for them, so it’s entrapment.  It could be that they were going to be arrested anyway for the crimes they’d already been linked to through the phone traces, but again, that means the important stuff happened without ceremony earlier in the episode and the climax doesn’t really amount to much.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

On sincerity and the Great Pumpkin

October 28, 2011 5 comments

I’ve just read the following Peanuts strip and it sparked a thought:

http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/2011/10/28

The strip is part of a series involving Linus’s obsession with the Great Pumpkin.  I’m sure everyone knows about this, but to sum up, in Linus’s heterodox belief, the Great Pumpkin is the Halloween equivalent of Santa Claus, giving presents to children at Halloween.  In this strip, we see Linus carefully preparing his pumpkin patch and explaining to Charlie Brown that “[e]ach year the ‘Great Pumpkin’ rises out of the pumpkin patch which he regards as the most sincere.”  Linus asks Charlie Brown whether his pumpkin patch is sincere enough, and Chuck gives an encouraging but not particularly sincere reply.  Of course, we longtime readers know that, like Charlie Brown’s quest to kick the football or win a baseball game, or just about any other personal quest in Peanuts, Linus’s desire is doomed to remain unfulfilled.  Of course, most would say this is because the Great Pumpkin is merely a figment of Linus’s imagination.

But it occurs to me that even by the rules of his own delusion, Linus is condemning himself to failure.  Consider: what defines a “sincere” pumpkin patch?  Presumably it means a pumpkin patch that’s cultivated for no other reason than the cultivation of pumpkins — one whose nominal function is its only function.  But if Linus is cultivating his pumpkin patch not merely for the pumpkins themselves, but as a means to the end of luring the Great Pumpkin, then he has an ulterior motive and his patch can never be truly sincere.  So by the very act of trying to attract the Great Pumpkin, Linus is ensuring that he never will.  But he’s so obsessed with his quest that he can’t see the self-defeating contradiction in his own premise.

As with a lot of things about Peanuts, I think maybe that says something philosophically significant.  Something about the difference between trying to look righteous and pious in pursuit of personal favor and genuinely practicing a moral, spiritual life without any thought of personal gain.  Of course it could have secular applications as well, but Linus is a pretty spiritual character so it’s easy to look at it in those terms.  Although Linus usually seems to be one of the savvier, wiser characters in the strip, so it’s a bit odd to see him on the self-deluded side of a spiritual allegory here.  Unless I’m reading too much into it.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

In an octopus’s garden

Here’s a fascinating article about octopus intelligence and the ways in which it’s profoundly different from ours:

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6474

As a science fiction fan and author, I’m always fascinated by research revealing that other sapient species probably exist right here on Earth — be it apes, dolphins, elephants, whatever.  And the “smarter than we ever imagined” club keeps broadening.  Now it’s grown to encompass birds and cephalopods like octopus and squid.  (And yes, the plural of octopus is octopus, octopuses, or octopodes, not “octopi.”  It’s from Greek, not Latin; -pus means “foot” and its plural is -podes.)  This article is particularly interesting to me as an alien-builder in its discussion of how radically different the octopus’s senses and perceptions are, and how different are the reasons behind its evolution of intelligence.  It might be premature to read consciousness into the octopus’s behavior, but it might be so alien that it’s hard to define what is or isn’t conscious.

Although it’s kind of heartening that, even across such a gulf, the article describes such a bond of affection between human and octopus.  Even though octopus aren’t particularly social, and often fight with rival octopus, some of them do seem to show affinity or at least interest toward certain humans.  We often assume in SF that the gulfs between different sapient species might be too great to surmount if they’re different enough (see Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels, for instance).  But I tend to think maybe the opposite might be true.  We often get along better with other species than we do with our own kind.  Like the way dolphins are famously benevolent and protective toward humans even though they’re often quite aggressive toward other dolphins.  I think it’s because members of other species are rarely our rivals in the same way that members of our own species can be, so there’s less incentive for fear and hostility.  And I think it’s because intelligent minds have a natural tendency to reach out to other intelligent minds.  At least that’s true with mammalian and avian species, whose intelligence arises from the need for complex social interaction and communication.  But this article says that octopodan intelligence didn’t come from social needs, but may instead have come from the need to be adaptable in strategies for pursuing various forms of prey, fleeing various forms of predator, and dealing with the changing environment of the sea.  So what, in that case, could be the incentive driving this form of intelligence to connect with others?  Perhaps simple curiosity.  Perhaps an intelligent mind can recognize that another intelligent mind, particularly an alien one, is something it can learn new things from.  And if a species’ intelligence arises from the need to adapt and innovate in order to survive, then surely there would be a survival imperative to seek new knowledge, new insight.  Even if we have nothing else in common with another intelligence, we may have curiosity and the willingness to learn in common.  That could be the basis for understanding with even the most alien intelligences.

In any case, this article makes me rethink my assumption that all intelligent species would be social species.  Certainly many would be, and those would be the aliens that we could probably get along with the most easily, the ones most likely to join into interstellar federations and commonwealths and leagues and whatnot.  But there could be others as well, species that evolved a less social form of intelligence.  It’s doubtful that they’d have much in the way of civilization, though, if they couldn’t cooperate and organize.  But maybe they’d find a way.  It’s certainly interesting to think about.

Categories: Science Tags: , ,

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “The Visitors”/”Nerves” (spoilers)

“The Visitors”: Hey, it’s Stately Wayne Manor!  The familiar location, a residence on South San Rafael Avenue in Pasadena, is serving not as the home of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward Dick Grayson, but as the abode of newspaper publisher Granger (Steve Forrest), whose reporter is telling him about an expose he’s planning that exposes the syndicate’s control of key positions throughout his state.  When he reveals that he has no copies of the sensitive evidence he’s brought, Granger, who’s actually in with the mob though the reporter doesn’t know it, has his chauffeur Leonard (Jack Donner doing a bad British accent) sabotage the reporter’s helicopter so he and his pilot go kaboom.  The now-familiar smash cut from a killing to a close-up of the tape player is used, and it’s the first stock tape scene of the season, reusing the sequence that was shot in the pharmacy set from “Hunted” but used in the fifth-season finale.  The tape reveals that Granger has used his power as a publisher to promote and protect mob candidates and they’re days from gaining statewide power in an election.  The mission is to expose Granger and his fellow mobsters before the election.

The plan is to take advantage of Granger’s eccentric beliefs.  He’s a fitness nut who craves immortality, and he’s believed in UFOs ever since a light in the sky led him and an acquaintance named Helen to find a boy lost in a well 25 years earlier, beginning his career as a journalist.  He’s mainly a rational, intelligent man, but narcissistic enough to believe that a higher, alien power has been guiding his rise to greatness.  (There’s a slight problem here, since 25 years earlier would’ve been 1946, and “flying saucer” beliefs didn’t begin to emerge in pop culture until the Kenneth Arnold sightings of 1947, with the term “UFO” being coined in 1952.  And the idea that “flying saucers” represented alien spaceships didn’t catch on until sometime after ’47, which is why the US military could call the crashed vehicle from Roswell a “flying disc” and then identify it as a weather balloon without there being any retraction or coverup involved — since at the time, the term hadn’t yet acquired any connotations of extraterrestrial origin but just meant “unknown roundish thing in the sky.”  However, perhaps Granger’s belief that the light represented an alien force emerged in the years following his experience — as UFO lore evolved in popular culture, his retroactive interpretation of his 1946 experience evolved with it.)

First, Barney impersonates an ex-con (adopting the record of a real, reformed felon who’s cooperating in exchange for a fresh start) and makes contact with Kellog (Frank Hotchkiss), Granger’s assistant and mob handler, seeking work.  Then the team arrests Leonard and makes it look like he robbed Granger’s safe and fled.  Kellog hires Barney to fill the job opening, and Barney wastes no time delivering a paralytic toxin to Granger via a “mutant bee” (intrinsically harmless but hyperaggressive) that he blows down the chimney into Granger’s study.  Granger’s doctor, Laurence, (Richard Bull) can’t identify the toxin so he contacts a venom center, which is actually Jim doing a fake accent and asking Dr. Laurence to send the bee remains and a blood sample.

But that night, while Granger’s paralyzed in bed but fully conscious, Barney fakes lights and smoke outside his window while Willy activates a gizmo that screws up TV/radio signals for miles around and spams the police switchboard with taped calls (mostly the voices of Jim, Casey, and Barney) reporting UFO sightings.  After Barney drove the samples to the “venom center,” he smuggled Jim and Casey in, and now they descend from the roof and suddenly appear in Granger’s room, dressed in white and carrying weird equipment.  They order Dr. Laurence to leave and Kellog makes him.  Then “nurse” Casey, wearing a raven-haired wig with a streak of white just like Helen from 25 years ago, puts weird gizmos on Granger’s chest, letting him see a birthmark on her hand that matches Helen’s.  They scan him with a flashy-light box that sounds like a Star Trek shuttlecraft interior, and Jim injects him with a counteragent using a futuristic injector gun that sounds like a cross between an ST hypospray hiss and starship-door sound effect (which, in fact, was the sound of an air rifle played backwards).  Then they “vanish” by going out the side doors and climbing back up to the roof, so nobody sees them leave.  Granger is completely recovered in minutes, and a well-timed special report on the radio (which doesn’t seem to be cued by the team but just conveniently happens) informs him of the citywide sightings.  Was he saved by aliens?

Later, when Granger’s heading for the newspaper office, Barney fakes engine trouble, and while he and Kellog are examining the engine, Casey shows up and gets in the back seat with Granger, warning him that their blood tests found leukemia and asking him to stay close to home.  He asks “Helen” how she can be unchanged after a quarter-century, but she doesn’t answer then.  Yet she’s already at his home when he gets back, and she uses oogy-woogy senses to detect the bug Kellog has in Granger’s office (which the team actually found earlier when they robbed the safe — I wonder what they did with the money they took?).  This gets Granger to fire Kellog.  Casey then tells Granger she was sent to offer him immortality, but he resists and accuses her of fraud, so she tells him they were wrong to choose him 25 years ago.  She drives off, but as planned, Kellog’s firing has gotten his mob bosses back in NY to order him to kill Casey.  He pursues her with Barney at the wheel (and they drive under a distinctive viaduct, a location I remember from season 4’s “The Numbers Game”), and Barney makes sure Kellog’s shots miss and that their pursuit is delayed long enough for Willy to rig a fake crash of a duplicate of Casey’s car.  Meanwhile, alien doctor Jim has come to Granger seeking Casey/Helen, saying she’s in danger (and this is just after Dr. Laurence called to say the “venom center” reported signs of leukemia to him).  They drive off after her and come upon the crash scene.  Kellog flees, leaving Barney behind, which is a glitch in the plan.  Jim and Granger descend to find Casey supposedly thrown clear of the crash but with a mask simulating a mummified appearance.  Jim has Granger drive them to a hidden HQ containing a healing tube that Jim puts Casey into.  The tube fills with smoke, and I assume the idea is that Casey is switching masks under cover of the smoke, but oddly, we see a film dissolve from her “mummified” mask to a hairless mask (not sure whether it’s meant to suggest “cadaver” or “alien”) before the smoke fills up and then clears to reveal Casey’s normal face.

Now convinced that the “aliens” and their healing tech are genuine, Granger asks them to cure his leukemia.  But Jim says he betrayed them by turning to crime and corruption, and refuses to help him.  Granger offers to come clean, to expose the mob-owned candidates in the upcoming election, and Jim uses a disguised phone in his super-spacey control booth to let Granger call the radio station he owns and get hooked in to make a live announcement, naming all the corrupt candidates and promising to reveal more in future broadcasts.  For some reason, though, the IMF leaves during the broadcast.  And somehow Kellog has tracked Granger here, no idea how, and he shoots Granger.  This seems to diminish the team’s victory; will just a single uncorroborated broadcast really be enough to ensure all the named candidates lose?  I suppose it could prompt investigations that would expose them, but the election’s only a day or two away.  Logically, the team should’ve kept Granger safe so that he could deliver hard proof to the authorities and the public.  Still, his shooting allows for a rather striking conclusion — as Granger lies on the floor, dying, he strains desperately toward the “healing tube,” and the final freezeframe comes just before his hand can reach its activation button.

Well, I was expecting an M:I episode about a faked alien visitation to be quite lame and gimmicky.  The fact that Harold Livingston scripted it didn’t encourage me, since his previous season 6 script, “Encore,” was overly gimmicky and unbelievable.  But while this story has some logic problems in the final act, it’s mostly a solid episode with well-written dialogue and a rather poetic conclusion.  Even the new musical score is a pleasant surprise.  It’s the only M:I contribution of George Romanis, who would later contribute my least favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation score (“Too Short a Season”), but Romanis does good work here, reminding me somewhat of the style of Ray Ellis’s music for the Filmation cartoons I grew up with in the ’70s.  All that and Stately Wayne Manor too!  So all told, this is a much more enjoyable episode than it had any business being.

“Nerves”: Criminal Wendell Hoyes (Christopher George, husband of Lynda Day “Casey” George) has stolen a canister of nerve gas from the Army and threatens to release it in a populated area if his brother Cayman (Paul Stevens) isn’t released.  But Cayman is on his deathbed.  The only hope of finding the canister is Jim Phelps, who gets the tape from a fisherman at the pier in the early morning.  There’s a timing issue here, since Wendell gives the Warden 24 hours to comply in the teaser (unless I’m misremembering), but Jim gets the briefing in the morning, and in the apartment scene, guest team member Bill Williams (Peter Kilman) says he’s been studying Cayman’s voice all night, suggesting yet another day has passed since the tape scene.  And in the apartment, Barney says the nerve gas canister is defective and the gas will corrode through in 43 hours.  (This being TV land, they can predict precisely when a material failure will occur.)  And Wendell himself is violently paranoid and unstable (so the episode title has a dual meaning).

The first stage is to put Casey in as a prisoner alongside Wendell’s girlfriend Saretta (Tyne Daly — gee, I thought she looked familiar!), cuffing them together, and then staging a jailbreak.  Casey’s getaway route is blocked by police (cooperating with the team), so Saretta takes over and makes Casey drive them to Wendell’s hideout in a winery, with Barney tracking them via a bug in the getaway car.  Wendell is suspicious of Casey and has his partner Tully (Rafer Johnson) check her out through his mole in the prison, a guard named Campbell (Ron Masak).  But the warden has cooperated with the team to fake Casey’s record, and when Cayman dies, the prison doctor agrees to cover that up too.

Once Casey’s bona fides are established, Wendell tries to force himself on Casey, to Saretta’s displeasure as well as Casey’s.  But Saretta’s evidently used to his turbulent ways and is good at calming him and reassuring him of her love and devotion — which one senses is a skill she had to learn as a defense mechanism, because he’s violently unstable.

When Wendell calls the prison, Jim plays an official empowered to release Cayman (actually Bill in disguise) in exchange for the canister, but Tully pulls an expected double-cross, driving off with Bill/Cayman and leaving Jim in the lurch.  (Cayman is Paul Stevens’s fourth M:I role, and every single one of his characters has been the subject of a mask impersonation by an IMF team member.)  The team has now infiltrated two of their own into Wendell’s organization, but they’re still no closer to finding the nerve gas.  So when Wendell tells Bill/Cayman that he plans to sell the gas to a terrorist, Bill tries to convince him that he’s going too far and should keep his bargain with the government instead.  But Wendell accuses Bill/Cayman of going soft and vehemently insists on doing it his way.  Saretta and Tully agree, so Bill and Casey have no choice but to play along and hope Wendell will take them to the canister before it ruptures.  But when they go out to get the canister, Wendell’s in no hurry.

Worse, the corrupt guard Campbell has discovered the real Cayman’s body in the morgue, and though the absence of cell phones in 1971 impedes his efforts, he eventually manages to notify Tully (who’s stayed behind due to car trouble) of the deception.  Jim, Barney, and Willy follow Wendell, Bill, and the women (whom Wendell intends to kill later, feeling he only needs his beloved brother) to the Griffith Park Observatory, but Tully’s close behind, and soon warns Wendell that his brother’s dead and he’s brought an impostor.  Wendell takes Bill to the crate that held the canister, but it’s empty.  Wendell attacks Bill and then orders Tully to shoot him, and since he was a bit player I was wondering if he might actually get killed, but Jim arrives just in time to save him, shooting Tully in the shoulder (which, of course, does virtually no damage — see “Encounter” earlier this season). Wendell runs for the canister, determined to set it off and make Them pay for killing his brother, and when Tully tries to stop him (afraid for his own life), Wendell shoots him, but Tully shoots back and wounds him.  Wendell then climbs up into the observatory dome and starts shooting at Jim and Barney from that high vantage.  We’re in the final two minutes of the episode and the team still doesn’t know where the nerve gas is hidden.  But just before Wendell succumbs to blood loss and falls dead, he fires several shots that Jim realizes weren’t aimed at him.  He and Barney climb to where they hit and find the canister. The last scene of the episode is the team watching as the canister is encased in cement.

Well, this was a very effective episode, written by Henry Sharp and Garrie Bateson.  All too often in M:I, the team is on top of the situation from the start and there’s little doubt of their success.  But here, they go through virtually the entire episode without any real sense of gaining ground toward their goal — not because of any shortfalls on their part, but because the situation is so heavily stacked against them.  M:I capers rely so much on predicting the behavior of their targets, so their methods can fall short when dealing with someone as unstable and unpredictable as Wendell.  And the exposure of Bill in the last act added even further to the already effective suspense.  The script didn’t make it at all easy for the team to achieve its goal, and up until literally the last minute of the episode, there was an effective sense of uncertainty that the team would be able to succeed.  Of course it was a given that they would, but it wasn’t at all obvious how they would.  The episode is further enhanced by an effective new score by Robert Drasnin, who gives Wendell a suitably edgy, staccato leitmotif, counterpointed by a softer flute motif for Saretta.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

Humans are getting less violent!

October 27, 2011 2 comments

I’ve read a couple of articles lately about a new book by Harvard social scientist Steven Pinker, who’s done research showing that, contrary to what a lot of people and a lot of dystopian science fiction tends to assume, human society has actually become less violent over time.  Here are some excerpts from an article in New Scientist:

I was struck by a graph I saw of homicide rates in British towns and cities going back to the 14th century. The rates had plummeted by between 30 and 100-fold. That stuck with me, because you tend to have an image of medieval times with happy peasants coexisting in close-knit communities, whereas we think of the present as filled with school shootings and mugging and terrorist attacks.

Then in Lawrence Keeley’s 1996 book War Before Civilization I read that modern states at their worst, such as Germany in the 20th century or France in the 19th century, had rates of death in warfare that were dwarfed by those of hunter-gatherer and hunter-horticultural societies. That too, is of profound significance in terms of our understanding of the costs and benefits of civilisation.

How do you explain the decline in violence?
I don’t think there is a single answer. One cause is government, that is, third-party dispute resolution: courts and police with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Everywhere you look for comparisons of life under anarchy and life under government, life under government is less violent. The evidence includes transitions such as the European homicide decline since the Middle Ages, which coincided with the expansion and consolidation of kingdoms; the transition from tribal anarchy to the first states. Watching the movie in reverse, in today’s failed states violence goes through the roof.

Do you think commerce helps too?
Commerce, trade and exchange make other people more valuable alive than dead, and mean that people try to anticipate what the other guy needs and wants. It engages the mechanisms of reciprocal altruism, as the evolutionary biologists call it, as opposed to raw dominance.

What else has contributed to the decline?
The expansion of literacy, journalism, history, science – all of the ways in which we see the world from the other guy’s point of view. Feminisation is another reason for the decline. As women are empowered, violence can come down, for a number of reasons.

I’m not entirely sure about all his points.  I’ve gathered that pre-agrarian, hunter-gatherer societies tend to be fairly peaceful on the whole, the idea being that it’s when we settle down and don’t need to hunt for food as much that our predatory instincts go unfulfilled and get misdirected into war, conquest, oppression, rape, etc.  Also I wonder if he’s reading too much into percentages — the percentage of the population touched by violence may be declining simply because there are so many more people around.

Still, I think there’s a lot of merit to his position, at least with regard to the period since civilization began.  I’ve had the same impression myself for a long time: that states and societies in the past were far more prone to resort to killing, torture, and the like, and that these things are a lot less acceptable now as we’ve developed better alternatives, more ethical justice systems and bodies of law.  When people in the past would resolve disputes with duels to the death, today they’d resolve them with litigation or smearing their opponents in the media.  Either of which can get ugly, but it’s better than the alternative.

What’s nice about this model is that it’s nonpartisan.  It says government helps reduce violence, which should make lefties happy, but it also says commerce and business do the same, which should satisfy those on the right.  Which fits what I believe, that it’s a healthy balance between the two institutions, government and business cooperating and curbing each other’s excesses, that works the best.   Both can certainly be abused and mishandled, but both have the potential to do great good with the right approach.

So why does it seem to us that the world is so much more violent?  Pinker says that as violence becomes more uncommon, those acts of violence that do occur stand out more and are more shocking.  They don’t blend into the noise the way they once would have.

Pinker says the changes are more likely social/environmental than evolutionary, which makes sense, since it’s only been a few thousand years since civilization began, hardly a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms.  Still, it seems to me that if a society has come to see violence as unacceptable, then that could influence evolution, because people more prone to violent behavior could come to be seen as less desirable mates.  Not to mention that people leading more violent lives might be more likely to get themselves killed off, or locked away without access to prospective mates, and thus would make less of a contribution to the gene pool.  So it might not be a factor now, but if civilization continues along these lines for long enough, then it could affect our evolution over the next few millennia or so.  (Which also says something about alien civilizations in science fiction.  If they’ve been civilized for tens or hundreds of millennia, they could also have evolved to be less aggressive.)

This is heartening for me to read about, since it reinforces what I’ve always believed about humanity’s potential to improve.  It makes the optimistic future seen in Star Trek, and the one I seek to depict in my original fiction, more credible.  Maybe it will persuade other SF writers to explore more optimistic futures as well, or at least not be so quick to default to dystopias.  And who knows?  Maybe if people in general can recognize that civilization is heading in a positive direction, it will inspire them to work for further improvement.

Almost well

I’m almost feeling back to normal now.  Still a bit sniffly, but I actually felt up to going for a walk in the park today, albeit a slow walk.  I think I mentioned a few weeks back that they’d put in a new sidewalk; now they’re in the process of putting in another one, so that basically the big grassy area will now have walkways all the way around its perimeter, which is nice and convenient.

I also did the laundry today, and it’s warm enough outside to have the windows open and get some air circulation, so hopefully that will clear out some of the lingering germs hereabouts and help me recover.  And I finally got just about completely caught up on washing the dishes last night.  And I paid my bills for the month.  I still need to get some groceries, but I guess that can wait another day or two.  I’m not completely back to normal yet.

One thing I haven’t managed to get back to yet is writing, though I have been starting to think about it again, so hopefully I’ll make some progress soon.

Categories: Uncategorized

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Invasion”/”Blues” (spoilers)

October 25, 2011 8 comments

“Invasion”: A pair of agents watches as Whitmore Channing (Kevin McCarthy with a ’70s moustache) goes into the Lubitsch Building his apartment building.  Inside, he turns on a tape player — and for a second I was expecting him to get a secret self-destructing message, but it’s just music.  But then he gets a phone call from Paris (the city in France, not the former IMF member); he says he’s planted secret info in a drop, and the bad guys in Paris will be picking it up in Los Angeles the next day at 5.  Holy cow, it’s an actual spy mission again!  And that’s not the only unusual thing.  Jim is introduced in a unique way: he’s on a date, and a waiter interrupts him and tells him there’s a phone call for him about an appointment he has tomorrow.  Jim goes into the booth and finds the tape player waiting for him.  That’s the first time in six seasons that we’ve ever seen the tape come to the IMF leader unexpectedly, rather than the IMF leader going to a prearranged drop.  No doubt this is because of the urgency of the mission: earthquakes have left crippling holes in the US’s Distant Early Warning radar line and Channing has stolen the locations, so if the information isn’t retrieved before 5 the next day, America goes up in smoke like a self-destructing message tape.  Or maybe it’s a function of the fact that the IMF has switched to domestic law enforcement these days and getting an actual intelligence mission is no longer routine for them.  (This is the first time this season that the tape doesn’t use the “conventional law enforcement agencies” line, but despite being an intelligence mission, the “Secretary will disavow” line does not return from extinction.)

Channing lives in Los Angeles, and interestingly, in the apartment briefing, Jim says they need to fly out there.  That’s the first indication that the IMF isn’t based in LA as I’ve always kind of assumed.  Where do Jim Phelps and the team live, then?  New York?  DC?

The scheme this time is practically a remake of “Operation Rogosh” from way back in season 1: make the mark think that it’s some time after his plans succeeded and his side took over, but that his side doesn’t know he’s on their side and is about to execute him, so that he’ll prove himself loyal by revealing secret information.  And as with “Rogosh,” the team is unaware that the enemy has sent an assassin to take out the mark before he can talk.  But this episode has its own twists on the formula.

First, Casey distracts Channing with a phone call informing him of the “suicide” of his superior (whom he actually murdered in order to steal the DEW line info) while Barney breaks in and rigs his oven knob to give him an electric shock (he had a whole box full of rigged knobs and handles and chose the one that Willy, peeping through the electrical outlet, saw that Channing was using at the time).  Then Willy shoots Channing with a knockout dart and he, Barney, and Casey fake things in Channing’s apartment to make him think he’s been out for over a day, as well as rigging his TV and radio with tapes that inform him of the success of the invasion and the surrender of the US.  (The voice of the radio announcer is Barney.  Apparently Vic Perrin was no longer being used by the show.)  And hey, the invaders are our old pals the European People’s Republic from season 4’s “The Numbers Game,” the last time they used the “make the bad guy think war’s broken out” trick.  Oh, and this is another of those “secret” missions that has abundant cooperation from the authorities; the city’s had the whole block evacuated to sell the illusion.  Which makes it easy for the assassin (Scott Walker) to slip in.  The gunman, aptly named Shewitt (say it fast), is just about to shewitt shoot Channing when Willy arrives as an EPR officer and takes Channing away in a van.  Shewitt follows.

They end up in the abandoned courts building, where Channing watches as ruthless tribunal head Jim summarily condemns Barney, Casey, and others to execution with no mercy.  When Channing’s turn comes, he protests that he’s on their side and provided them with the info that let their invasion happen.  When asked for specifics about where his message drop was, he demurs, as the team knew he would.  Once he reveals that he used “Drop B,” Jim pretends that’s all he needed to know.  He then locks Channing back up and everyone pretends to leave.  After a moment, Channing catches on that this was a scheme, but that’s the idea — to let him know it’s a scheme, but mislead him about what information was sought, so that he’ll spill the real info they want.  He breaks the ancient lock easily enough and calls the airport (actually Casey) to page his contact, thereby giving the team the airline, flight number, and code name of the contact, which is what they really wanted.  Luckily it’s not until then than Shewitt breaks in and fires at Channing.  Jim takes him out, but Channing is wounded.  He thinks it’s part of the charade, but Jim tells him they’ve already got what they need.

Willy IDs the contact, Novak (Ted Gehring), at the airport, then tails him to the drop, where there’s a big fight between Willy and Novak’s goon, and finally Jim and Barney get the drop on Novak and retrieve the microfilm.  Novak’s glum expression looks less like a spy thwarted in his plans for global conquest and more like a kid who just lost a game of hide-and-seek.

Despite being practically a remake, this is one of the strongest episodes of the season.  It’s refreshing to once again see an M:I episode where the stakes are global rather than just being about getting evidence against a mobster or breaking the syndicate’s hold on some industry (although it remains strictly US-based, aside from a couple of scenes of Novak in Paris).  The opening twist on the tape scene was very interesting, and actually makes more sense than the usual approach.  The threat of the assassin added some spice, although it fizzled out at the end.  And it was a strong (no pun intended) Willy episode, since he got to play two different roles (including a fun bit as an airline clerk) and have a big knockdown fight at the climax.

“Blues”: Back to the usual crimebusting grind.  We open with crooked music promoter Stu Gorman (William Windom) refusing to let his singer Judy (Gwenn Mitchell) out of her recording contract — calmly, playfully threatening her in a way that’s not what you expect from Windom.  She threatens to sic the police on him and his mob associates, running for the phone on her balcony when he unplugs her main phone.  He wrestles with her on the balcony and then quite intentionally, and still playfully, tosses her over the edge.  Her screams as she falls blend into the screams of a couple of girls on a playground slide, a nice transition to the tape sequence.  Naturally the mission is to put Gorman out of business, since his control of the music industry provides a lot of revenue for the syndicate.  The team has the assistance of the police, mainly the primary on Judy’s murder, Lt. Don Eckhart (Vince Howard), as well as vocal impersonator Art Warner (John Crawford).

Jim plays a police sergeant who, along with Eckhart, questions Gorman along with his mob accountant Belker (Ed Flanders) and his goon Tanner (Alex Rocco), but they all form a united front.  Later, Gorman’s auditioning new talent at the recording studio (since he kinda has an opening now after murdering his star), and Barney comes in — whoa, wait, is Barney gonna sing?  Good grief, Barney’s singing!  And it’s not some tricky gadget where he’s lip-synching to a prerecorded tape, it’s actually Barney Collier straight-up singing.  The guy just keeps accreting new skills this season.  And yes, it’s unmistakably Greg Morris’s own voice, though the lip sync between his on-camera performance and the audio track is terrible.  The song itself takes a cue from Hamlet, or specifically The Murder of Gonzago; it’s called “Judy’s Gone Now” and is a bluesy lament about how “he’s still here” while Judy was “pushed into the night.”  The song’s the thing wherein Barney catches the conscience of the promoter, or rather, catches his attention: when Gorman calls him in to talk, he says he has proof that Gorman killed Judy and expects a standard “rich and famous” contract in exchange for his silence.  (And yes, folks, I’ve referenced Hamlet and The Muppet Movie in the same paragraph.  You got a problem with that?)

Of course, the team has to fake the “proof.”  Judy was recording a song when Gorman arrived, but turned off the machine.  The team’s goal is to create the illusion that she left it on, so Willy and Casey do some Foley work to collect the appropriate sound effects, and then Casey and Art Warner mimic the voices of Judy and Gorman.  Gorman and Belker eventually get Barney to confess that he has this tape, and Belker bribes policewoman Casey into giving him the (faked) evidence photos showing that the “record” light on Judy’s tape deck was on.  So they try to figure out how to get the tape from Barney.  But Belker’s a bit distracted when his car blows up — a shaped charge designed to ensure Belker survived.  The police “arrest” Willy for the bombing but he’s not talking.  Later, Belker bribes Casey again to get the bomber’s address, but when he gets there, Willy is (fake) shot in a drive-by, and in his “dying” breath he confesses that Gorman arranged the hit on Belker.

So Belker goes to Barney’s apartment and finds him (in his persona as a drug addict) just about to shoot up with heroin (or some sort of opiate, since he’s referred to as a “hophead”).  He grabs the drugs and makes the desperate-for-a-fix Barney tell him where the tape is; it turns out to be with his partner in the blackmail scheme, Sgt. Jim.  So Belker goes off to meet Jim, which is according to plan.  What’s not according to plan is that Tanner the thug has been hiding in the closet.  He emerges, holds Barney at gunpoint, and calls Gorman to tell him about the tape, and about Belker not telling Gorman about it.  Gorman orders him to take Barney “somewhere safe” and kill him.  Gorman then calls Sgt. Jim and tries to bribe him into giving up the tape, which tips Jim off that something’s wrong — Gorman wasn’t supposed to know Jim had it.  When Barney doesn’t answer the phone, Jim sends Willy to look for him — which proves totally pointless, since all Willy can determine is that Barney isn’t where he’s supposed to be.  Later, just before Tanner shoots him, Barney drops the withdrawing-junkie act and (his stunt double) beats Tanner up.  Why the heck didn’t he do that earlier?

So Belker meets with Jim and makes a deal for the tape.  He says Gorman must’ve tried to hit him because he’s a corroborating witness, able to confirm the authenticity of the tape.   He and Sgt. Jim need each other.  So Jim agrees to the deal and gives Belker the tape.  Belker then summons Gorman to the recording studio and plays the tape for him, confronting him about his attempted hit — but Gorman laughs and tells him the tape is a fake, that the words are wrong.  While he’s at it, he happens to state explicitly that he killed Judy, which is something he probably shouldn’t have done while standing in a recording studio, because Jim’s just taped his confession.  Oops!

Not a bad episode, though the ending’s a little weak; it’s rather a coincidence that Belker happened to arrange the final confrontation in a recording studio so that the team could get the confession.  Surely there were other places he might’ve gone to play the tape?  And though the plan genuinely goes wrong when Tanner captures Barney, it’s resolved too easily and is kind of incidental to the story.  But there’s an effective new musical score by Benny Golson, including some nice, subtly jazzy variations on “The Plot,” and including the song Barney sings about Judy.  (There’s also the song Judy sings, but I’m not sure whether that’s original or not.  And Barney/Greg Morris sings a cover of Otis Redding’s “The Dock of the Bay.”)  Oddly, the episode runs about a minute shorter than usual, making me wonder if there was another song that was cut from the DVD release for licensing reasons.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Encounter”/”Underwater” (spoilers)

October 24, 2011 3 comments

“Encounter”: Pretty standard opening — bad guys do something (arson as part of a protection racket, getting one of the arsonists killed), Jim gets the mission to dig up the evidence to put them away because Conventional Law Enforcement Agencies are useless in the M:I-verse.  (The tape is in the office at a kiddie train ride, and Jim gets the key from the conductor after claiming to be from the board of safety.)  But what follows is pretty interesting.

The team’s focus is on Lois Stoner (Elizabeth Ashley), wife of mob lawyer Martin Stoner (Lawrence Dane, who was impressive in “Commandante” back in season 4), who works for Frank Brady (Val Avery — and that’s three weeks in a row with bad guys named Frank).  Lois can’t handle the awful things her husband’s involved with, but can’t bring herself to leave, so she’s sunken into an alcoholic haze and become a complete wreck.  Casey has been studying her, planning to replace her, and she feels sorry for Lois.  But there’s no substitute for direct observation, so Jim picks her up in a bar while Casey watches her (and Jim tosses in a staged fight with Willy for some reason), then takes her to an apartment where Casey watches some more from behind a one-way mirror, studying her mannerisms.  By the time a spiked drink renders Lois unconscious, Casey has donned a mask and become Lois’s double.  It’s the first time in Casey’s tenure that she’s worn a mask, and it’s the last we’ll see of Lynda Day George until fairly late in the episode, since the mask is incredibly resilient.  Meanwhile, Jim takes the real Lois to a sanitarium for treatment (and confinement, with Barney supervising).

Casey/Lois makes a scene in Brady’s office while Stoner’s there, and plants a bug while she’s at it.  Brady warns that she’s a liability he may have to get rid of, and Stoner is harsh to her when he gets home, pretending to spread his arms for a hug and then smacking her hard (and the mask is completely unharmed).  She pleads for another chance, offering to check into a rehab center that provides group therapy.  Stoner agrees and informs Brady, who instructs his hitman Dekker (William Smith) to infiltrate the group and make sure “Lois” doesn’t say too much.  The rest of the group consists entirely of actors working for the IMF, with Jim as the therapy leader.  They guide things so that Casey/Lois gets progressively closer to admitting her husband’s crimes, all while Dekker watches.  The team’s goal is to make Casey an assassination target — and then make sure she survives it.

Meanwhile, Willy plays the brother of the dead arsonist, come to look for payback, though luckily for Brady, he only wants literal payback, since his “brother” was sending money back to their folks and he wants that to continue.  Peter Lupus actually does some fairly solid acting here, compared to his work in the past.  The advantage of the reduced cast is that he and Greg Morris are getting to stretch a lot more.  Anyway, Willy gets himself hired in the dead guy’s place and learns about an upcoming job to bomb an uncooperative business.  He notifies the team, and when Casey/Lois has a “breakthrough” in group, she reveals knowledge of the upcoming operation.  When Dekker tells his bosses, Stoner insists he never told Lois about it, but Brady’s unconvinced.  Anyway, he orders Lois hit, and Stoner raises only a token objection.

Dekker contracts the job out to another hitter, who forces one of the other group participants, Evie (Arline Anderson), to lure Casey/Lois to her room, then ties her up.  But Evie manages to kick over a lamp and warn Casey just in time.  A chase through the woods ensues, with the hitman chasing Casey and Jim trying to catch up — but Jim is too late to prevent Casey from being shot!  Holy cow!  Jim subdues the gunman and checks on Casey, finally removing her Lois mask.  It’s just a shoulder wound, the kind of TV-land bullet wound in the shoulder that’s only a minor inconvenience and doesn’t restrict her arm movement in any way, unlike the real thing which can cause crippling nerve damage or life-threatening blood loss.  Still, there’s a nice bit when Jim asks Casey if she’s okay and she says she’s more surprised than anything; she hadn’t really been expecting to get shot.  Later, though, when the doctor at the sanitarium takes a look at her, Casey refuses any treatment, even a bandage, since the bullet wound will add verisimilitude to the next stage of the plan.

Willy’s job is to find out when and where the bombing is, then tip off the team.  But the arsonists meet him in person and give him no chance to make a phone call (oh, there are so many story beats that cell phones and texting have rendered obsolete),  so Willy has to deal with it on his own, sneaking away to reconnect the silent alarm so the cops will arrest the arsonists.

With the failure of the arson, Brady is convinced that Stoner tipped off his wife and she gave it away to the cops.  He wants them both hit now, and Willy offers to do the job.  Casey/Lois confronts Stoner about the attempt on her life, then Willy drives in and throws a grenade at them, aiming to miss, of course.  Stoner wants to flee the country, but Lois says they can’t run forever and persuades him to get some evidence he can use to blackmail Brady.  So Stoner drives to the bank where he keeps his microfilm records.

However, the real Lois has knocked out her nurse and escaped the sanitarium, and is back to barhopping, making it hard for the team to find her.  She calls Brady’s office looking for her husband, after Willy has reported that he successfully killed both Stoners.  Aware that the hit failed, Brady and Dekker head to the bank to intercept Stoner.  They shoot him right there in the bank and retrieve the microfilm, but Jim gets the drop on them and takes it from them.  (Really, what were they thinking?  That they could avoid criminal prosecution by committing a murder in a public place with multiple witnesses and armed guards present?  This is the one part of the episode that just plain doesn’t work.)  Finally, Barney tracks down Lois, who’s hit rock bottom.  He tells her it’s over.  She desperately pleads, “Help me,” and Barney kindly says, “I will.”

Well, this was an impressive episode, on a par with the work they did in season 5.  There’s strong character work, and there’s a good sense of danger and suspense as things go wrong with the plan.  What’s intriguing is how much the episode relies on Elizabeth Ashley in the dual role of the real Lois and Casey-as-Lois.  Ashley is a very engaging performer with a very distinctive delivery, kind of like an edgier Kate Jackson.  She’s intriguing to watch and carries the episode very well.  And the idea of building so much of the caper around a group-therapy session is a bit offbeat, and the exercises Jim leads them in are a bit weird, but I guess it was trying to tap into the trends of the early ’70s when therapy and self-examination were coming into vogue.  And it helps serve an episode that’s mostly a character study of Lois and a showcase for the considerable talents of Elizabeth Ashley.  Despite its occasional odd bits and an action climax that doesn’t make sense, I’m calling this the best episode of the season so far.

“Underwater”: On a small pleasure boat, Hoffman (Jeremy Slate) has murdered a courier with a briefcase full of stolen diamonds cuffed to his wrist.  He weighs down the corpse and sinks it, diamonds and all, then blows up the boat.  But the man he and the courier worked for, Berlinger (Fritz Weaver in his fourth and final M:I role), catches Hoffman and begins torturing him to discover where the diamonds are hidden.  Jim’s mission is to retrieve the diamonds and put Berlinger out of business.  The IMF is getting lazy by this point; the tape player and photos are simply mailed to Jim’s post office box.

Berlinger’s man Hawks (Robert Yuro) is heading up the search for the diamonds, and his men intercept scuba instructor Jim, who claims to be just swimming in the area.  Later, Casey arranges for Hawks to notice that she’s wearing a huge diamond ring that’s a match for one from the stolen shipment.  Hawks breaks into her apartment, chloroforms her, and absconds with the ring.  (And he parks by a fire hydrant!  The scoundrel!)  Hoffman isn’t breaking, so Berlinger hopes Casey can tell him where the diamond came from.  She points him to scuba Jim, whose character this week has a terrible fashion sense, but who’s willing to take Berlinger to the source for his diamonds for 5 million bucks.

Meanwhile, after Willy sneaks him into Berlinger’s building in the guise of an air conditioning part, Barney breaks into the elevator shaft… and we get the third use of a stock “Barney in the elevator shaft” sequence that’s been seen twice before (in season 3’s “Doomsday” and season 4’s “The Falcon, Part 3”).  He sneaks into the torture room through the false ceiling and knocks out Berlinger’s torturer (Sanford and Son‘s Demond Wilson), telling Hoffman he’s here to rescue him and using an insta-mask kit to make himself a double of the torturer.  We also discover that Barney has suddenly acquired an ability to perfectly mimic other people’s voices, unlike his prior impersonations, where he’s remained mute.  He uses this new superpower to call down to the building guards and summon help getting Hoffman out.  But Hawks finds the unconscious torturer and alerts the guards.  Barney and Hoffman get away with the guards shooting at them, and there’s some nice cinematography courtesy of a handheld camera inside the escaping car (which is fleeing the same garage seen last week in “Encounter,” an underground garage somewhere on the Paramount backlot).  Barney claims to be an insurance investigator wanting to split the finder’s fee with Hoffman.  He takes Hoffman to Casey to find out what she knows, but Willy fake-snipes her to fake-death, and a spooked Hoffman is convinced to help Barney get the diamonds before whoever hired the sniper does.

So we end up with Barney tracking three different blips closing in on the diamonds: Hoffman (via a transmitter Barney stuck on his scuba tank), Willy, who’s following Barney’s directions underwater, and Jim, who’s guiding Berlinger’s people via Barney’s directions in his earpiece. (Barney deploys a buoy with an underwater antenna.)  At this point, it becomes increasingly obvious that the scuba scenes are actually shot in a public aquarium somewhere.  There’s only one big rock formation that all the divers keep swimming over time and time again (seriously, they don’t even try to disguise it with different camera angles), and once you notice that the windows on the aquarium walls are visible in some shots (and that others are shot through those windows, sometimes with the window frame visible), you can’t un-notice it.  And while Barney’s blip-tracking screen seems to be showing an overhead view when Willy follows Hoffman, it portrays blip-Jim’s descent from the surface as though it’s showing a side view.

Anyway, Barney rigged Hoffman’s scuba mask with knockout gas, which takes him out once he cuts the diamonds loose from the corpse, and Jim takes the case while Willy deals with getting Hoffman and the body up to the surface and into police custody (on the same pier from “The Miracle” two episodes ago).  Berlinger plans to kill Jim once he hands over the diamonds, but Jim gave most of the diamonds to Willy underwater and insists that Berlinger pay him at Jim’s “pad” before he’ll have his friend bring the gems.  This forces Berlinger to contact his buyer and convince him to attend the meeting, so once they’re all together, Jim calls in the cops and the bad guys are busted.

A pretty ordinary episode, helped a bit by some good cinematography (including a smoldering close-up of Casey when she’s bargaining with Berlinger), but undermined by the ridiculously fake diving scenes, the elevator-shaft stock footage reuse, Barney’s sudden acquisition of voice-mimicry powers, and Jim’s highly unflattering wardrobe.

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Gradually getting better

Well, I’m just about a week into my cold and I’m starting to feel more like myself again.  My sniffles have largely cleared up, I can breathe almost normally, and my hoarseness is starting to subside — I can almost speak normally again.  For a few days there, my throat was so sore/congested that I couldn’t speak except in a very deep, gravelly register or sometimes a low falsetto.  Just as well I haven’t actually had to speak to anyone.  I’m getting some of my energy back too, although within limits; sometime after breakfast this morning I lay down to read in bed, read for a while, then spent the next couple of hours half-asleep.  I wasn’t able to drift off entirely (I can almost never sleep in the day), but I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I spent a fair amount of the time in a hypnagogic (half-dreaming) state.  I’m still pretty sleepy now.

Which may be a sign of something I often have to watch out for after I’ve been sick for this long.  I reach a point where it’s hard to tell whether my lack of energy is due to being ill, in which case I should keep resting, or just due to having been sedentary for so long, in which case I should start being more active and getting my metabolism up again.  I think I’m still on the former side of the equation for now.  But it’s something to keep in mind over the next few days.  Especially since the chores are piling up.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Shape-Up”/”The Miracle” (spoilers)

October 22, 2011 1 comment

“Shape-Up”:  We open with Frank Delaney (Gerald S. O’Loughlin), who runs the docks for the Syndicate, getting ordered by his handler Morgan (Anthony Caruso) to murder one of his longshoremen for some reason.  So they immediately walk over and watch as Delaney’s henchman Mike (Christopher Stone), who’s somehow already in position to push a heavy crate onto the victim’s head, does so at Delaney’s nod.  Now, that’s some efficient thuggery.  Later, in a closed “Rug Crafters” store, the tape tells Jim that he needs to break the mob’s stranglehold on the docks by implicating Delaney in a crime before the grand jury investigation ends in 72 hours.  In Jim’s apartment, the team is joined by Lt. Bill Orcott (Lonny Chapman), a former childhood friend of Delaney’s, who’s working with the team to get him for the murder of their mutual friend Murphy seven years earlier.  We learn that the team has arranged with various warehouse owners and insurance companies to cover the damages they intend to inflict, that a shipping line is also cooperating, and that Jim has gotten a tape recording courtesy of the Actors’ Workshop.  And Casey apparently has the permission of Murphy’s daughter Martha to take her place (as always, she conveniently resembles the subject).  Practically the entire city and then some is cooperating with the team here.  Explain to me again why they still use a secret message drop and self-destructing tape?

So let’s see… Willy plays a man allegedly working for Morgan’s boss “Mr. C” (Robert Mandan), who tells hench-Mike that the organization is losing faith in Delaney.  Barney gets a job as a dock worker and starts sabotaging Delaney’s warehouses, doing things like turning up the temperature too high or setting off the sprinklers so goods will be ruined.  Casey as Martha comes to stay with her “Uncle Frank” and acts all weird, saying she senses her father’s presence and he’s still alive.  Jim plays the captain of a Swedish vessel that’s actually the same ship where Delaney killed Murphy, the Orion.  (For some reason, everyone stresses the first syllable of the name, like “Oreo.”  Oddly, that’s the same way it was pronounced in the animated Star Trek episode “The Pirates of Orion.”  Was this an early ’70s thing?  Or an early ’70s Paramount thing?)  The ship broke down and had to be towed in, and though Delaney wants it gone, Swedish Jim insists (with an accent almost as phony as the Swedish Chef’s) that it’s a cursed ghost ship and nobody wants to serve on it.

As things keep going wrong for Delaney, he begins to suspect that Casey/Martha is up to something, and he assigns hench-Mike to date her and try to find out what she knows while Delaney searches her room.   He finds an “in event of my death” letter revealing that “Martha” is trying to expose Delaney for her father’s murder.  He calls Mike and orders him to kill her, but Willy shows up and again suggests to Mike that Delaney is unstable.  Still, Mike gets Casey alone and starts to strangle her, but she uses a knockout-needle ring on him.  But the papers report her death and suggest Delaney’s involvement.  Morgan complains that Delaney’s getting sloppy, and Delaney can’t find Mike.  But he does find Swedish Captain Jim hanging from the yardarm, and when Lt. Bill shows up to investigate, he warns Delaney that Mr. C will be unhappy and Delaney’s life expectancy will be better if he talks to the cops.

Then comes a game of telephone tag — Barney gets the captured Mike to call Delaney to the Orion, then locks him a closet and fakes a call to Morgan revealing that he killed Capt. Jim on Morgan’s orders and will now do the same to Delaney.   The closet has the tools available to allow Mike to escape (coathanger to push the key out of the lock, newspaper to catch it) and go to warn Delaney after Barney leaves.  Barney then returns and calls Morgan to the ship, then uses the Actors’ Workshop tape of a faked Delaney voice to call Mr. C to the ship as well.  At the ship, Delaney finds a noose waiting and Mike comes to warn him that Morgan’s going to kill him.  Then Morgan shows up and Delaney kills him.  Then Willy shows up and demands to know why, and makes Mike take him to the alleged noose.  But Delaney stays when he sees Mr. C arriving, and Mr. C wants to know why Delaney shot Morgan.  And when Delaney takes C back to show him the ropes (as it were), the noose is gone, along with Mike and Willy.  And Captain Jim shows up alive and well.  Mr. C’s convinced that Delaney’s gone delooney, and orders his henchman to take care of him once C’s driven deniably away.  But before Henchy can shoot Delaney, Lt. Bill shows up and offers him a ride.  Delaney wisely accepts Bill’s offer.

An average episode, I guess.  Maybe I was too distracted by lunch and some work-related issues to give the episode my full attention, but it felt too complicated.  Yet at the same time it was a bit too simple; as with the assassination in the opening, every setup was immediately followed by its payoff, which made for awkward pacing and a lack of dramatic tension.  I don’t really have a strong opinion about this episode one way or another.  The one thing that stands out is that it seems to be another episode written largely around an available location, this time the docks and the ship.  Also, it’s good to see some of Barney’s traditional gadget-man function reappearing, balanced with his new roleplaying function (which is a good stretch of Greg Morris’s talents).

“The Miracle”: On a coastline in the Pacific Northwest (probably Washington — the car has a “Canada” sticker but a later scene shows US money), hitman Frank Kearney (Joe Don Baker) is showing a colleague where an upcoming heroin shipment is due to come in.  This is because his boss Taynor (Ronald Feinberg, who was so effective in last season’s “The Amateur”) knows that the colleague is a federal agent and wants him killed.  The agent offers Kearney (our second villain in a row named Frank) leniency if he cooperates, but that doesn’t work.  He fights for his life, but that doesn’t work either. Again we cut directly from a homicide to a closeup of the IMF tape player, though it’s not as effective as in “Mindbend.”  Jim’s in another seaside shoppe (with toys of starfish, shrimp, etc., it appears) when he’s tasked to find out where the heroin is coming in and get the goods on Taynor and Kearney.  The team is joined in the apartment scene by a pickpocket named Manny (Ollie O’Toole) and a fellow named Steve Johnson (Lawrence Montaigne) who’s filling the Rollin/Paris role this week.  (Appropriate, perhaps, since Montaigne played the guy who stole Spock’s fiancee.  Now he’s taking his job too.)  Jim explains that Kearney was raised in a Catholic orphanage (I think) but ran away at 14, rejecting the church (these days one might wonder if he was abused there, though in 1971 it was just meant to show he was a godless villain), but he still has some Catholic morality burned into his subconscious, and that’s what the plan depends on.

Casey plays a waitress and flirts with Kearney in a scene establishing that he’s a womanizer and hates wine and fish (gee, could that be symbolic of something?).  Meanwhile, Jim plays a California gangster who threatens Taynor and his henchman Lando Calrissian (actually it’s Benton, but he’s played by Billy Dee Williams) and says he’s muscling in on their operation.  Taynor brushes him off, but Jim sends Willy in to shoot Kearney in the restaurant — with a tranquilizer bullet, though Casey spreads fake blood on his jacket.  In the hospital (which is the first use I’ve noticed this season of the Lubitsch Building and adjacent parking lot which were so ubiquitous in season 5), Dr. Barney and his assistants fake a heart transplant.  As he “recovers,” Steve visits as a priest; Kearney makes it clear how much he hates anything Catholic and kicks Steve out, but not before Steve mentions that he gave last rites to the anonymous donor of Kearney’s new ticker.  Later, Barney and Casey brainwash Kearney into thinking he likes wine and wants to marry Casey.  The plan is to make him think the transplanted heart is changing his behavior, an idea Barney plants in his head when he’s discharged and Casey later reinforces with a faked news report on her radio.

Meanwhile, Jim shows up again and keeps putting pressure on Taynor’s gang, and then he comes to Kearney and offers him a share if he reveals where the heroin is coming in.  As he leaves the hospital, Lando is about to kill him on Taynor’s orders, but Willy stops Lando in time.  When he then shows Jim the gun, Jim is genuinely surprised — he didn’t see the hit coming.  Always nice to see the team taken by surprise, but this one was resolved way too easily.

Anyway, Kearney finds himself acting strangely on his release, ordering fish and wine at the restaurant, then being reluctant to play the swinger as Casey wants, feeling he should have a more permanent commitment.  He then gets a call from Jim and he pretends to agree to the deal, but actually he’s setting Jim up for a hit on Taynor’s behalf.  But pickpocket Manny intercepts him and switches guns, so when Kearney tries to shoot Jim at their meeting, the gun won’t fire.  Jim switches it out for another gun when he pretends to pick it up, and his gun — which Kearney thinks is the same gun — does fire, it suggests that Kearney lost his nerve.  Jim calls Taynor to let him know, and Taynor sends Lando to kill Kearney.  But Kearney’s getting Casey to tell him what church the priest is at (it’s actually closed for renovation), and when they get there, Father Steve reluctantly reveals that Kearney’s new heart came from a fellow priest.

On their way out of the church, they’re almost hit in a drive-by shooting by Lando, and then we see the bystanders coming out to examine the damage.  This bothers me.  There’s no indication that IMF has taken control of the whole block and populated it with extras.  These are apparently real bystanders who were endangered by real gunfire as a consequence of the IMF’s plan.  It’s a letdown after the episodes last season where we saw the team taking careful steps to make sure nobody was endangered but themselves.

Anyway, Kearney now thinks he’s lost his edge and needs to run for South America to escape Taynor.  He wants Casey to come with him, but she asks what they’ll live on.  So he takes her to the pier and intercepts the incoming heroin shipment.  Taynor and Lando arrive and confront him, and Lando’s about to shoot him when the feds and the IMF show up and get the drop on them.

Another mediocre one.  The plot is rather convoluted and weird, and its actual impact is rather vague.  It seems they could’ve found another way to get Kearney to reveal where the shipment was coming in.  Trying to convince him he was becoming a better person because he had a priest’s heart?  That’s rather… abstract.  And heck, if Barney could hypnotize him into changing his behavior and falling in love with Casey, why not just hypnotize him into revealing where the shipment was coming in?  Ronald Feinberg is still a very effective villain, but most of the focus is on Joe Don Baker, who’s not as impressive a screen presence, and whose character’s constant use of ’70s slang feels a bit forced.  The main point of interest is some eerie new Lalo Schifrin music in the hypnosis sequence, a somewhat ethereal arrangement of the main title motif.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

New version of DTI: FORGOTTEN HISTORY cover!

October 22, 2011 5 comments

The Simon & Schuster digital catalog has posted a new (but still not final) version of the cover to Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History, this time in color:

DTI: Forgotten History tentative cover (color)

I think if they’d stuck with a more monochrome look, it’d be a better match with the Watching the Clock cover, but maybe the colors will be tweaked in the final version.  And the image of the Enterprise is clearer, though it appears to be the pilot-era version — again, maybe that will be addressed in the final cover.

Ups and downs

Well, I had a good time on my trip to New York last week, and I was feeling really cheerful when it ended, but no sooner did I get home that I came down with a ferocious cold (or upper respiratory infection?), and I’ve been feeling awful ever since.  Urgh.  Well, at least I’ve been feeling a little less awful each day, so hopefully I’ll be recovered soon.  I’ve pretty much been loafing in front of the TV for most of the past four days, whether live TV or DVR or On Demand or DVD.  And some in front of the computer too, of course, but not as much, since I can’t lie down here.  (If I had wireless, I could take my laptop over to the couch or my bed and surf from there.  I should look into that.)

It’s lucky that I don’t have any demands on my time right now — aside from things like washing the dishes (I finally did a fair amount last night, though the sink’s still somewhat cluttered) and getting groceries (I’ll probably need to make a bare-bones trip this afternoon, once it gets warmer).  I probably should’ve gone to the pharmacy days ago and gotten something to ease my symptoms, but I wasn’t up to it.  (This is the problem with living in a different city from all of one’s friends and family.  I need to make more local connections.  Or move.)

I’ve accomplished effectively nothing creatively since getting home.  I’m just not up to it.  I read recently about how the brain is an energy-intensive organ, regularly consuming as much energy as your legs would need to run a marathon or some such.  I guess I don’t have that much energy to spare.  (If that were true, though, wouldn’t I lose weight when I sit in front of the computer and write?)

Among all that TV watching, I’ve discovered there’s a new half-hour cartoon coming out based on Kung Fu Panda, a movie franchise I’ve quite enjoyed.  It’s called Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. They showed a preview episode last night,  and the writing was pretty much on the same level as the movies.  (It’s executive-produced by Peter Hastings, who co-created Pinky and the Brain.)  They seem to be staying true to the approach of the films, keeping it in a world akin to medieval China and not littering it with modern Western pop-culture references.  None of the film’s voice cast seems to be involved, at least not in the episode I saw, but the soundalike actors they got did reasonably well.  (Wikipedia says that James Hong and Lucy Liu will be reprising their film roles, but they weren’t in the previewed episode.)  The biggest drawback is the animation.  As one would expect from a TV series, the CGI is a lot simpler and less fluid than in the movies, and worst of all, the action scenes are boringly choreographed, with mostly static camera work.  One of the best things about the KFP movies is that they work as full-fledged wuxia movies that just happen to be about animated anthropomorphic animals.  It doesn’t look like the series will live up to that, even if it’s otherwise pretty good.

Oh, wait, then again, Wikipedia says the show’s martial arts consultant is Sifu Kisu, the consultant for Avatar: The Last Airbender, whose martial-arts action was spectacular.  So maybe the problem isn’t with the action choreography, just the cinematography.  Hopefully they’ll learn to improve the camera movement.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “The Tram”/”Mindbend” (spoilers)

October 21, 2011 1 comment

“The Tram”: …is what we first see in the teaser and what will dominate the whole episode.  This is a clear example of a case where the location scout found them a cool place to shoot and they built an episode around it.   And it is a cool location, a cable-car tram in the mountains, where a mobster whose name I missed meets fellow crime bosses Johnny Thorne (Felice Orlandi) and Vic Hatcher (Victor French) before going up in the cable car toward the Evergreen Ski Resort where a mob summit (literally) is being held.  (It must be off-season, since there’s no snow on the mountains.  And oddly, the Evergreen logo is a T.)  They’re all amiable at first, although Johnny makes some disturbing innuendoes.  In the cable car, high above the mountains (and it’s real, no rear projection or mattes), they confront what’s-his-name about him bilking them out of a deal, and then toss him out of the car (it’s a dummy which the camera follows almost to the point of impact).  Vic has to take a pill to ease his heart, but Johnny says, “What’s there to get worked up about?  Everything’s beautiful.”  Cut to a boat dealership (I guess, since the boats aren’t in the water) where the tape informs Jim that the summit’s goal is to create a joint mob holding company that could seriously undermine the US economy, and that poor old Conventional Law Enforcement Agencies (maybe I should just call them C.L.E.A.) can’t deal with the problem.

The apartment scene reveals that this is the first mission of the season to have only the four regulars involved; that the goal is to get the number to Vic’s Swiss bank account so the syndicate’s assets can be seized; and that Casey is now the one with the ability to mimic voices perfectly (though it’ll only be the voice here — the producers are paying a lot for that flawless face and they don’t want to hide it).

Step one of the plan is to stage a car accident to put Vic’s son-in-law Arnie in the hospital so he has to send his lieutenant to the summit in his place.  Jim arrests the lieutenant and takes the ring Arnie sent as his bona fides, as well as pictures of Vic’s grandkids; turns out Vic is a real family man whose criminal acts are all done to ensure his heirs are provided for. Awww.  Anyway, Jim, now impersonating Arnie’s man, rides the tram up to the ski lodge and sabotages the brakes just enough to get Willy called in as the repair guy.  Vic brings Jim in to introduce him to the group, but most of them are bit players who don’t matter, so the only one who actually gets an introduction is Johnny’s lieutenant Jennings (Tom Geas), who doesn’t trust Jim.

Casey calls up and mimics Johnny’s girlfriend to convince him to ride down in the tram, whereupon repairman Willy knocks him out on the way down and Barney takes him out from the bottom hatch, so the guards below never see him.  Willy tells the guard that Johnny went back to the lodge.  Meanwhile, Vic begins explaining the plan to form a holding company in South America where they’ll all be free from taxes and government oversight and will earn back ten times the half-mil that each of the eight participants is putting in — $4 million in all, which is collected in a suitcase and put in Vic’s safe.  Jim distracts Vic with the baby pictures long enough to put a gadget on the dial which will send the combination to Barney down below.

The mobsters catch on that Vic is missing, and Willy and Casey play the kidnappers.  They call Vic and demand $4 million in ransom, which the others react to as a suspiciously precise figure.  But Vic values loyalty first and wants only to get Johnny back; he takes the money and assures the others that they’ll get it back when they find the kidnappers, after Johnny is safely free.  But at the exchange site, Barney uses a recording of Johnny’s voice to lure Vic away from the valise and runs off with the money, which he swaps out for counterfeit.  Back at the lodge, Vic begins to wonder if Johnny had himself kidnapped to get the money.  But Jennings turns suspicion back on Vic, saying they didn’t actually see the money in the case he took.  They make him go to the safe and open it, and Vic’s shocked to find the money there (Barney rode up under the tram and put it back).  The gangsters turn on Vic, but Jim comes to his defense, and Barney (as Jim’s man) gets the drop on the others.  They and Vic get away in the tram.

Meanwhile, though, Casey has been working on Johnny, who thinks he’s been working on Casey.  (Lynda Day George is pretty good at playing the devious femme fatale.)  When Willy gets back with their cut from their boss, which is a fraction of what Johnny offered Casey to let him go, she and Willy argue about the boss, implying it’s Vic.  Johnny convinces Casey that he needs her alive to explain why he killed Vic, while Vic needs her dead to cover his role in the abduction.  She lets him go, and he’s about to stab her in the back with a letter opener when Willy calls from the other room and scares him off.  He heads back to the lodge and meets the guards.

So Vic is in the tram with Jim and Barney, and there’s an armed welcoming party at the bottom.  And Jim sprays a drug that will fake a heart attack in Vic, while Willy works the tram controls at the bottom and stops the car at a support tower.  Convinced he’s dying, Vic gives Jim the Swiss bank number so his grandkids will be provided for (awww).  Jim and Barney climb down the tower’s ladder while the bad guys fix the controls and bring the tram car down.  A shootout ensues and conveniently takes out both Vic and Johnny, and only them.

This is the first successful episode of the season so far.  It’s a pretty routine caper; we seem to be back in formulaic mode again, with no sign so far of the innovations that defined the fifth season.  But as routine capers go, it’s handled with style.  The mountain resort is a great location and it’s used well.  And the script is reasonably strong, with some good dialogue.  There’s no new music, apparently, but it makes good use of stock cues.  And Lynda Day George gives a good showing of her talents.  “The Tram” would’ve been an average episode at best for season 5, but a strong entry for any other season.

“Mindbend”: We open on a man being brainwashed with disorienting lights, scary pictures of a man’s face, and what sounds kinda like the score to Forbidden Planet.  When he’s triggered by his watch alarm, he fires three shots at a dummy of the man and then pulls the trigger against his own temple (but the gun is now empty).  He’s been brainwashed to kill by Dr. Burke (Leonard Frey), acting on the orders of rich & powerful bad guy Pierson (Donald Moffat).  In a nice bit of editing, we smash cut from his successful assassination attempt directly to a shot of the tape player delivering Jim’s briefing (on a boat again, but in a marina this time).  The Voice explains that Burke recruits fugitives by offering them plastic surgery, but instead brainwashes them into disposable killers for Pierson.  Since Burke destroys all his evidence and he and Pierson never meet, C.L.E.A. have been unable to get the goods on them.  The apartment scene establishes that the plan is for Barney to take the role of a fugitive who’s contacted Burke but has secretly been captured by the government and filled them in.  He’s got magic pills he can take to protect him against any form of brainwashing, one taken beforehand and one later as a booster.

Barney gets picked up and taken to a linen service building, with Jim tailing him.  Greg Morris gets to play a very different type as the flighty fugitive (no pun intended), and he gets drugged by Burke and wakes up in a white room with his clothes changed.  But he has a lockpick, tiny radio, and booster pill hidden under a fake skin patch, and he breaks out of the room to check out Burke’s brainwashing equipment, then radios the details to Jim.  But the brainwashery is starting to kick in and he signs off to take the booster pill.  But he spasms and drops the pill, and before he can retrieve it, Burke’s henchman Stambler (Rick Moses) comes in and accidentally crushes it.  Barney’s taken away to his next session with no protection.  Oh noes!

Meanwhile, Casey signs on with a modeling agency that provides pretty ladies to attend Pierson’s parties, and catches his attention with her knowledge of fine art, plus a valuable necklace he wants to buy from her.  She resists but shows some flexibility, inviting him to her apartment the next day.  While this goes on, she’s using her hidden purse-cam to snap photos of him.  Jim and Willy use the info Barney gave them to convert the photos to fit Burke’s slide format.

Barney’s cerebrum-scrubbing is completed and he’s sent out to kill the deputy mayor, just as Willy arrives and sneaks Jim in via a laundry bag, which is sent on a roller-coastery ride along the automatic rail thingy into the laundry room, where he sneaks out of the bag during the washerwomen’s lunch break.  He puts the team’s photos and mask of Pierson onto Burke’s brainwash rig, then gets discovered by Stabler, whom he knocks out and ties up in the white room.  With no sign of Barney, Jim radios Casey with instructions to make a Barney mask and call in a colleague named Teague Williams (an uncredited extra, though I’d imagine it’s probably Greg Morris’s stand-in) to double Barney.  Jim says he won’t leave until he’s found where Barney is.

When Pierson shows up at Casey’s apartment, Teague/Barney comes in, takes a couple of missed shots at Pierson, then jumps out the window (or rather, a stuntman looking nothing like Barney does), landing on cushions in the back of Willy’s truck, which then drives away and leaves our old friend the Barney dummy (last seen in the 5th-season premiere) lying on the ground, “dead.”  Pierson angrily questions Casey, who admits that Burke hired her to get him there but that she had no idea the intent was murder.  Pierson lets her live (the power of a pretty face, I guess) and goes to confront Burke.

Burke is rather stunned to hear that Barney targeted Pierson, and to see Pierson’s face on his slides and dummy.  He insists he’s been framed and the hit is still on, but Pierson has his men beat Burke.  Jim makes Stambler watch and threatens to turn him over to them unless he tells Jim who the real target is, which he does.  Jim alerts the team, and Willy stops Barney from firing just in time.  Later, we learn that Burke has gladly turned state’s evidence against Pierson, and in a total copout ending, we’re told that Barney has suffered absolutely no aftereffects from his harrowing ordeal and is completely, effortlessly back to normal.

This was a pretty good one.  It’s nice to see they haven’t given up on episodes where the plan goes wrong or where the  IMF are working from incomplete information and have to figure things out as they go.  The brainwashing scenes go on a bit long, but they give the episode a slightly Prisoner-ish flavor at times, helped by Robert Prince’s weird, uneasy score.  (The original music is mostly limited to the brainwashing and assassin scenes, with the rest being stock.)  Aside from the slow pacing and the too-easy ending, this is the most interesting one of the season so far.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Blind”/”Encore” (spoilers)

October 19, 2011 3 comments

Welcome to season 6 of Mission: Impossible, with a smaller cast and a switch from spy games to crimebusting.

“Blind”: Okay, we still have a teaser/cold open.  A man is searching a warehouse where another man is rigging a bomb.  The bomber runs off just before the other guy gets there, and the bomb goes off in the other guy’s face.  He clutches his burned face and says, “I can’t see!”  Who’s he talking to?  There’s nobody there!  Yet just in case his nonexistent audience wasn’t clear on the concept, he adds, “I’m blind!”

Cut to Jim Phelps getting out of his car in a hotel parking lot, then walking past the camera, which closes in on a glass elevator on the outside of the hotel, which Jim then enters a moment later.  A nice bit of composition.  Inside the great glass elevator, Charlie Jim learns that the man from the teaser, Hays, was an undercover agent in the syndicate run by Lawton (Harold J. Stone).  The Voice on Tape then changes the subject and talks about Deetrich (Jason Evers) and Matula (Tom Bosley), rivals seeking Lawton’s favor, with Matula actually being another undercover fed whose cover is in danger.  Jim’s mission, should he decide to accept it, is to preserve Matula’s cover and get him promoted.  What any of this has to do with Hays is unspecified.  We get the debut of a new stock phrase in the tape scenes when Voice says that “Conventional law enforcement agencies” are unable to protect Matula.  Okay, that kinda makes sense; hard for cops or the FBI to protect a man undercover inside the mob.  And as with the domestic cases last season, there’s no “Secretary will disavow” line.  It seems likely that it’s gone for good at this point.

In the main titles, the original theme arrangement is back (yay), but there are only four regulars now. New leading lady Lynda Day George gets an “Also Starring” before her name, and Peter Lupus has a very ’70s haircut now.

(Note: George’s character is named Casey, no other name, in the original series, although IMDb lists her as Lisa Casey.  This is because George guest starred in an episode of the ’88 revival series, but the original leading lady of that show, played by Terry Markwell, was named Casey Randall.  So when they brought back George, even though it was after Markwell had left the show, they renamed her character Lisa Casey to avoid confusion.  Odd, though, that they reused the name Casey for two different leading ladies.)

The team meets with Hays and Dr. Warren (Robert Patten) in the hospital, and Jim apologetically says that to make the plan work, they’ll need to drag Hays’s name through the mud, painting him as a washed-up drunk who’s been fired in disgrace.  Hays says he can handle it for as long as necessary, and that’s the last we see of him.  Warren explains the opaque implants he’s going to attach to Jim’s eyes to make him convincingly blind — Jim explains to Casey that he can’t risk slipping up and revealing that he can see.  He’ll need at least a week of recovery and adjustment time, but that’s enough for Casey to get established in her cover.

Lawton’s board of crime directors (I guess) meets, and we see Deetrich and Matula clashing.  Matula, who’s working with the team, calls Lawton’s attention to an article about Hays (with Jim’s photo) and suggests asking him who the leak is that tipped him off to the firebomb in the teaser.  Deetrich is unwilling because Hays is a cop.  As we’ll see over and over, he really doesn’t like cops.  After the meeting, Deetrich says how sick he is of Matula always going against him, and says “I’m just about filled up with you,” which probably means he’s had his fill, but it sounds oddly sexual.

Anyway, after a week has passed, Jim makes a scene at a bar Lawton’s people are frequenting, so they’ll see what a no-good drunk he is.  Lawton had Deetrich send his henchman Johnny Brown (Peter Brown, coincidentally) to follow Jim/Hays.  Then Barney shows up as a mob contact of Matula’s, in order to ingratiate himself into the organization.  This will take quite a while to pay off.

Johnny follows Jim to his boarding house, where he overhears landlady Casey pressuring Jim to pay his overdue rent.  The bosses order him to continue following the lead, so he gets a room in the boarding house and starts flirting with Casey, who flirts back.  After a few more scenes of Jim being falling-down drunk and broke, and almost getting hit by a cab (driven by Willy), Johnny offers him 500 bucks to get him the name of the undercover man who replaced Hays in the organization.  The team can’t just ask the department (FBI, I guess) for the name since that would tip Lawton off, so Jim has to actually break into the FBI offices and steal the info from their computer system, with Johnny as his eyes.   The team plans to let the agent know he’s been made as soon as they get the name.  A guard is drawn by the noise of the computer system and Jim and Johnny have to flee, and Jim trips over a cat on the stairs and takes a fall which serves only as an act-break fakeout with no real consequences.  (The cat takes no sides; earlier, it was complicit in getting them into the building in the first place, since the guard was distracted with feeding it.)

His bona fides thus established, Jim gets a meeting with Lawton, who offers him a job to ID the mole in his organization (the higher-up mole, i.e. Matula, not the low-ranking agent they’ve just exposed).  Jim agrees and gets introduced to the board of crime directors, but Deetrich refuses to shake his hand (did I mention he really hates cops?).  Later, while Casey has Johnny over for a drink, Jim shows up to pay his rent, and when Casey asks about the money, Jim (pretending to be unaware of Johnny’s presence) says he has a “research” job, but he already has the answer and just plans to milk it as long as he can.  So Johnny calls in Deetrich and they threaten Jim to reveal the name.  Jim says he doesn’t know who it is, but he could name anyone, even Deetrich to get him off his case.  Deetrich offers him a bundle to name his rival Matula as the mole.  He agrees.  Next door, Willy is taping the conversation.

They all meet in a warehouse, and Barney disarms and restrains Lawton’s bodyguard outside.  Jim fingers Matula to Lawton, but Lawton reveals he has the tape of Deetrich and Jim making the deal.  Deet’s fired and Matula has his job now. Mission accomplished, right?  Well, except Deet has Johnny in the rafters and orders him to kill everybody.  Johnny wings Lawton and Matula protects the boss while Johnny chases the very blind Jim.  Things seem bad for Jim, but Barney shoots Johnny (whose stunt double takes a very deliberate-looking leap off the beam he’s supposed to be falling dead from).  Lawton orders Barney to kill Jim, then leaves with Matula.  And in perhaps the most amusing moment of this episode (for a longtime viewer, at least), we get an inversion of a familiar M:I cliche — this time it’s the bad guys (well, one real and one pretend bad guy) walking toward the camera and hearing an offscreen gunshot that heralds the death (so Lawton believes) of their enemy.  Finally, we see Jim back in the hospital grinning at the rest of the team and echoing Phil Silvers’s trademark “Glad-a-see-ya” line.

Hmm… an interesting idea, complicating the mission for Jim by blinding him.  But it’s unclear why it’s necessary.   Lawton and his men had little prior knowledge of Hays, and if the team could lie about him being fired and a drunk, why couldn’t they tweak the information released about his condition — say he had limited vision instead of total blindness?  Then things wouldn’t have been so rough for Jim.  Also, it’s a pretty weak episode for Barney and Willy, particularly Barney, whose gadget-man role is totally absent here; he’s playing a very minor role overall in an episode that’s mainly about Jim, Casey, and bad guy Johnny.   It makes sense to play up Casey in her debut episode, but I’d expect a season premiere to make better use of the overall team.  And aside from Jim’s blindness and the moderately effective suspense of Johnny hunting Jim at the end, it was a pretty routine caper overall.  Not a very strong start to the season.

Musically, we get a largely new score by Benny Golson, and it’s a mostly contemporary/jazzy sort of thing, in keeping with the new focus.

“Encore”: A big, oddly cheery-looking hitman, who we’ll come to know as Arthur (James Daris), plants a charge on the oxygen tank of elderly Gladys Collins just before the police arrive to interrogate her as a witness against New York gangsters Thomas Kroll and Frank Stevens.  The police want her to give evidence linking them to the murder of their rival Danny Ryan in 1937.  But they’re all blown up before she can reveal anything.  So in a firefighting museum, Jim gets the mission to expose the evidence against these mobsters that “conventional law enforcement agencies” have been unable to gather.  (I’m forced to wonder, if they’re just doing law enforcement now and there’s no Secretarial disavowal, then why do they even need the secret tape drops and the self-destructing messages?)

In the apartment scene, Dr. Doug Robert (Sam Elliott) is back for his only 6th-season appearance and his last in the series.   They’re also joined by a guest agent, Bill Fisher (Paul Mantee), whose job is to disguise himself as Stevens (Michael Baseleon) c. 1937 and thus won’t be seen much as himself.  We discover that Casey is now the one who designs and applies the makeup.  She’ll be playing the younger version of the late Gladys, but conveniently, it doesn’t have to be an exact doubling and the bone structure is the same, so Lynda Day George doesn’t have to hide her pretty face.  (And she is quite lovely, I have to say, though maybe a bit too Barbie-doll flawless — and I’m not certain that’s her original nose.)  The plan involves confining Kroll to a 6-block radius shown on a chart in Jim’s apartment, and the layout shown is actually that of the New York Street section of the Paramount backlot.

The team gets to Kroll when he comes in for his weekly haircut, and guess what, folks — it’s William Shatner!  Yes, Shatner finally makes it to M:I.  It’s a shame that he missed a reunion with Leonard Nimoy by just two episodes (plus a midseason hiatus).  Anyway, he’s wearing old-age makeup to play Kroll, who’s over 60.  Willy uses the hot towel to drug Kroll while the team makes the barber shop’s walls spin around to reveal their 1937 configuration, one by one, to make him think the present is dissolving into the past.  (Must’ve taken some doing to rig a real barbershop’s walls like this.)  Bill Fisher comes in as a gunman (using his own face) and pretends to shoot Kroll, at which point Willy knocks him out.  They take him to “Majestic Studios” (which the script implies to be on Long Island, I think, but toward the end we see the LA mountains in the background) and Doug injects paraffin into Kroll’s face to make him temporarily look younger (i.e. like Shatner’s real 1971 appearance), and gives him a shot to remove his limp and make him feel better/younger, all for about six hours.  His hair is dyed and trimmed too, and his clothes changed.

But they can’t find his pocketwatch, so Jim has to go back to his apartment to search for it.  Unknown to Jim, Kroll’s much younger girlfriend Carol (Janaire) is in the apartment and hears him come in.  He finds a jeweler’s claim check and calls the team at Majestic to tell them they need to keep Kroll under another 45 minutes (which will cut into their time to pull off the scam, Doug says).  Carol goes to Stevens to let him know that Kroll’s been taken, and Stevens sends Arthur to begin a search.  (He shakes his head at how Kroll, who’s older than he is, still manages to get the babes.  Well, he is the Shat, after all.)

Kroll finally wakes up in the studio replica of the 1937 version of the same barber shop, finding barber Willy “dead” on the floor.  He’s been saved because the bullet apparently hit his pocketwatch.  (Which is what really happened on the day they’re recreating — the pocketwatch bears a dent from the original bullet.  That’s why Jim needed it so badly.)  Jim and Barney come in as cops and question Kroll, although Bill also shows up as young Stevens.  They play out the script, suggesting that the hit was set up by Ryan.  But Kroll is still busy having a Shatneriffic freakout about waking up in 1937.  The unstable Kroll lunges at them with a razor, and they have to take him in to the station.  Barney notes that the razor incident didn’t happen in ’37, but they have to adapt.  Jim takes a modern pair of sunglasses off one of the extras on the street and tells him, “Squint.”

In the station, Kroll is questioned by detective Jim and officer Barney.  (A black NYC police officer in 1937 isn’t as implausible as it sounds; that color barrier was broken in 1911, or 1891 if you count Brooklyn before its incorporation into NYC proper.  Still, it seems it would’ve made more sense to cast Barney as the barber and Willy as the cop.)  Barney realizes he’s confused and may have hit his head.  He escorts Kroll to a cell where his drunken cellmate confirms it’s 1937 (though he has to act fast to hide a Kennedy half-dollar that falls out of his pocket when Kroll manhandles him).  Then Bill/Stevens springs him and takes him to his apartment.  Again, Bill plays out the script, trying to convince Kroll to join him in arranging a hit on Ryan, but Kroll’s still trying to cope with the impossibility of being back in time.  When Bill/Stevens suggests calling his old girlfriend Gladys, now Ryan’s girl, Kroll says Gladys is dead — that he and Stevens arranged her hit the week before.  He even gives details.  And Jim and the team are listening over a bug.

So that means they now have a recorded confession by Kroll of conspiracy to commit murder, including the homicide of several police officers.  That’s all they need to put him and Stevens away, isn’t it?  He even named the hitman for them.  By all rights, the episode should’ve ended here, 3/4 of the way through.  But for no good reason, the team ignores this confession to a fresh multiple homicide and continues trying to get Kroll to reveal where he hid Danny Ryan’s body 34 years earlier.  Casey shows up as Gladys, with a rather fetching ’30s hairdo, and Bill/Stevens tries to convince her to arrange a meeting with Ryan, swearing they’re just going to make peace.  Kroll is finally convinced he’s in the past when he sees a period airplane flying overhead (the team arranged for that, as well as somehow convincing the government to avoid overflights by modern jets for six hours), and now he’s fully involved with the plan, pressuring Gladys to go along with it.

While Kroll takes Gladys to the movies, the real Stevens manages to trace Jim’s call to Majestic and sends Arthur to investigate.  Arthur gets as far as locating and threatening Doug, but one quick Jim-chop later, he’s down for the count.  (The term “Jim-chop” works pretty well for this standard ’60s-TV knockout blow, since it can apply equally to Phelps, Kirk, West, and probably a few other Jims as well.)  When Arthur doesn’t report in, Stevens heads for the studio himself.

Finally the players and Kroll all assemble in the studio replica of Fallon’s Restaurant, while Barney and Willy investigate the real Fallon’s, waiting for Jim’s instructions.  Doug masked as Ryan comes in and gets fake-shot, and then the cops drive up on cue.  Kroll has the idea to hide him in a secret room in the basement, left over from Prohibition.  B&W find Ryan’s corpse in the real cellar, but Kroll can’t find it in the fake one.  Eventually he turns and finds “Stevens” and “Ryan” gone, and he runs up and out to find the whole area evacuated.  He keeps running, his limp and shortness of breath returning, his face starting to “melt.”  Even the hair dye is somehow temporary.  He runs wildly through the streets of New York until he looks around and realizes he’s in a Western town, an adjacent part of the backlot.  Real Stevens drives in just then and they stare at each other mutely for a while as Lalo Schifrin’s score (although new for this episode) plays out the umpteenth variation on “The Plot” and brings the episode to a close.

There are some nice touches in this script by Harold Livingston (who wrote both of Shatner’s M:I appearances and would later write Star Trek: The Motion Picture).  The complication of Kroll’s moll and the real Stevens’s search adds some decent texture, though the problems it creates are too easily resolved.  But mostly the story doesn’t hold together.  Why did they think they could convince this guy he was back in time?  Assuming they could, why did they think they could convince him to recapitulate what actually happened on the day they were recreating?  Why didn’t they just use the spontaneous confession he gave them for the recent murders — if they could convict him on that, why bother continuing to search for Ryan’s body?  And if they’ve known for 34 years that the body was hidden somewhere in Fallon’s, why didn’t they find it before?  Not to mention the implausible conceit that a film studio’s New York Street area could possibly be an exact match for the real New York, or that the buildings on a studio backlot could have actual furnished interiors rather than just being empty facades.  Not to mention that Kroll is a one-note thug who doesn’t really make good use of any of Shatner’s talents beyond hamming it up.   I wanted to like this episode, and it is clever in a screwed-up sort of way, but it just doesn’t hold together.

So that’s one mediocre episode with a novel but flawed conceit, and one ambitious failure.  Not a promising start to season 6.

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Home again

As I planned, I went in for one last day of New York Comic-Con, mainly with the hope of seeing a panel on Jim Henson.  But I underestimated how crowded the NYCC has gotten.  It’s become virtually impossible to get into the panels unless you camp out for hours.  Still, I got to spend a little more time hanging around with folks like Kevin Dilmore and Keith DeCandido, so it wasn’t a wasted trip.

This visit played havoc with my usual sleep and meal schedule, since Dave and Kara tend to do things later than I do and since their guest bed took some adjusting to, but I was starting to adapt after a few days.  I stayed up pretty late on Saturday night watching movies on their HDTV.  I’d caught the last hour or so of Avatar (the Cameron movie) the night before, so Dave found the movie on HBO HD On Demand and I watched the rest.  I actually prefer seeing it in that order, since the early world-building stuff is more entertaining than all the fighty-shooty-blowy-uppy stuff later on.  After that, we watched Megamind, which was a far more enjoyable movie than I ever would’ve expected.

After the con on Sunday, I made my annual visit to Midtown Comics to use the coupon I picked up at the con.  I got two cool things, a collection of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics (many by creators from the show, and even the ones that weren’t were often quite good) and the complete collection of the original comics version of The Middleman, which became one of my favorite short-lived TV series.

My trip home Monday was pretty smooth, except for it being my first time flying out from LaGuardia, so I had some confusion about what line to get into — plus the lunch I bought there was insanely expensive.  There was a mother and baby next to me on the plane, but the baby didn’t cry too much.  And there was actually a view this time; the weather was mostly clear, and it was quite interesting watching the landscape shrink so tiny and move by so (relatively) fast.  The coolest part was the approach to Cincinnati.  The jet flew over the central part of the city from the south before looping around to approach the airport from the north, and as it passed downtown and moved toward the university region, there was a point where I could literally see my apartment building.

Unfortunately, I guess it was somewhat inevitable that after being among all those gajillions of people at the convention and in the streets of Manhattan, not to mention breathing recirculated, germ-filled plane air, that I’ve now come down with a cold and a sore throat.  Ugh.  Luckily, I have no demands on my time so I can just lie on the couch and watch my DVRed shows.  (Plus a couple that the DVR failed to record but that were available On Demand.)

Well, except that I’m out of certain perishable items I didn’t want to buy before my trip, like bread and fruit.  So I’ll have to go shopping soon.  Hopefully I can hold out a day or two longer.  I’m pretty useless today.

Live from New York (finally)

Well, I’ve been in New York over two days now, but didn’t have the opportunity to get online until now.  On Thursday I was too occupied with getting settled in, going to Comic-Con, etc., and the thunderstorm Thursday night blew out my hosts’ wireless router, which has just now been replaced.

I was afraid of missing my 4:45 AM wakeup time, but I was wide awake by 3:30.  But it was necessary.  Even giving myself plenty of time to get to the airport, I still got to the plane with only minutes to spare.  Which meant I didn’t need to wait long.  The flight was uneventful and there were lots of pretty clouds to look at, though I’m sure they weren’t so pretty from below.  Took a while for my bag to be unloaded, though, and the bus from LaGuardia was late.

Staying with David Mack and his wife Kara has been nice.  I had a great time brainstorming with Dave about ideas for the new Star Trek project he’s working on.  It’s the first time I’ve done that kind of brainstorming with a fellow author in person rather than over e-mail, and it’s fun.

Comic-Con was hectic, but satisfying.  I got to hang out with a lot of my friends/fellow writers.  The book signing wasn’t well-attended, though, perhaps because it was during work hours on Friday.

Before that, I went down to visit my former Star Trek editor Marco Palmieri at Tor, where he now works, and where he’s helping out with editorial work on Only Superhuman.  Their Flatiron Building offices are pretty, err, cozy, but it’s a neat building to visit (the elevators, recreations from the original plans, are gorgeous).  Plus I got to pick up one of the advance bound manuscripts for Only Superhuman!

Only Superhuman Advance Bound Manuscript

Sorry, that’s a lousy photo.  But it’s a terrific feeling, getting to hold it in my hands in book form, even if it’s just the most preliminary form, before it’s even been properly copyedited.  It feels kind of like seeing a sonogram of one’s unborn child.  And it’s great seeing “Copyright 2012 by Christopher L. Bennett” instead of by Paramount or CBS or Marvel.

I didn’t go in to NYCC today; I needed time to recover.  But I’ll probably stop in once more tomorrow.  Then Monday I’ll be flying home.

Getting ready…

I’ve spent much of the day packing and making final preparations for my trip tomorrow, since I’ll have to be up very early and won’t have time to get stuff ready then.  In fact, I’ve just been checking bus routes to the airport, and to get there early enough to be safe, it turns out I’ll have to leave the apartment by 5:35 at the latest.  So I’ll need to be out of bed by 5 AM tomorrow.  Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!!!!!!!!

So that means early bedtime tonight; I’ve set the DVR to record Mythbusters.  And that means this will probably be my last post before I get to New York.

But I’m all set up for breakfast tomorrow.  I bought one of those single-serve cereal cups and a bottle of iced tea, plus a plastic spoon, so I won’t have any dishes to wash in the morning (or to leave dirty in the sink for 5 days).  And I’ll finish packing things up (including my laptop) tonight and lay my clothes out and so on, all in the hopes of getting ready as quickly as possible.

I’m starting to think it might’ve been less of a hassle to take a later, longer flight.  But it’s too late to change now.  (Well, unless I oversleep and have to take a later flight.)