MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “The Rebel”/’Squeeze Play” (spoilers)
“The Rebel”: We begin in medias res as Jim and Dana, posing as archaeology professor and student on a dig in a region called Kefero, drive into the mountains to meet a band of rebels led by Alex Khora (played by champion surfer Bob Purvey with his voice dubbed by Vic Perrin for some reason — perhaps because it was only his second acting role), in order to retrieve his late father’s notebook on bacteriological warfare before it can be found by the Keferan (Keferonian? Keferese?) government (which seems to be Communist). Dana spots a glint from watchers in the hills, and she and Jim convince the rebels to act casual and let them drive away, but one rebel, Klos (David Roya), claims to see someone in the bushes and opens fire. In the ensuing chaos, Jim is shot in the arm and Dana, Klos, and Alex’s girlfriend Irina (Davana Brown) are arrested by Colonel Bakram (Mark Lenard). Cut to new titles with Doug.
Jim wanders onto a very soundstagey monastery ruin, where he’s confronted by Alex and his rebels and asks about the notebook. Alex says Irina is the notebook; she has it memorized. Meanwhile, the prisoners are thrown into a cell, where Dana immediately starts looking for a bug. Bakram’s men take out Klos for interrogation, but we discover that Klos is a spy, who’s convinced Irina knows where the notebook is. The plan is to torture Dana and pretend to torture Klos until Irina breaks. (This is on the theory that she’d be strong enough not to save herself but would talk to save someone else. For some reason, they believe this is specifically a female trait.)
Jim tries to convince the rebels to do things his way rather than going in shooting to save the prisoners and probably getting them killed. He has Barney and Doug airlifted in with supplies, and there’s a nice bit of character tension where Dr. Doug (whose full name is given here for what I believe is the first time in the series when Jim introduces him to the rebels) insists that Jim needs treatment for the bullet in his arm that he’s been dismissing as a minor inconvenience, while Jim is adamant that he doesn’t have time to be vulnerable. It’s perhaps the first time we’ve ever seen a team member stand up to Jim and argue him down, and it gives Doug more personality than he’s had in the rest of the season combined so far, even if that personality seems pretty much cribbed from Leonard McCoy. Anyway, Jim has a plan and convinces Alex to go along with it, but Alex’s lieutenant Haratch (Richard Sheffo) is more eager to attack and agrees to wait only until 6 PM the next day.
Paris comes in separately and presents himself to Bakram as an information minister from the government. That’s right, it’s Spock and his father together again, although I admit I didn’t even think of it that way until after the show. Paris convinces Bakram that if he wants to win the hearts and minds of the people, he has to show more tolerance toward their religious faith, however irrational the state finds it to be. Then Barney and Doug drive in pretending to deliver a statue of a saint somewhere and having their truck break down. Paris convinces Bakram it’d be a good gesture to let them leave the statue in the town square while the truck’s repaired, and he agrees. The purpose is twofold. One, it rests the hollow-based statue right over a sewer grate so that Jim and Alex inside can sneak into the tunnels and dig through to the prisoners’ cell. (How do they know which cell they’re in? Is there only one?) Two, the statue resembles a destroyed statue of Kefero’s patron saint, so the people react to it as a miracle. Paris and Bakram try to convince local priest Father Sebastian (Jonathan Goldsmith, billed as Jonathan Lippe) to go along with it, but he sees it as a hollow (heh-heh) propagandistic gesture and refuses. That’s just the thing to convince Bakram to let the statue stay even after the truck is fixed, which is good news for Barney and Doug, since Bakram’s lieutenant was forcing them to raise it and almost reveal the open grate below.
But the villagers respond well to the statue, seeing it as an affirmation of their faith, and an adorable little girl (Diane Holly) asks very adorably if the father will bless it, so he agrees.
In the cell, Dana’s been getting suspicious of Klos, so she stops Irina from talking to the guards. When they hear Jim and Alex digging through the wall, Dana clocks Klos with a stool before he can warn them. Paris convinces Bakram to relocate the statue to the monastery just in time for Jim, Dana, Alex, and Irina to climb back into its base and be driven away by Doug and Barney, just before the deadline Haratch set for his attack. Seeing that Jim’s plan worked after all, albeit at the last moment, Haratch calls off the attack.
But Bakram discovers the prisoners are gone and presumably backtracks the tunnel to the grate beneath the statue. We then cut to the monastery, in a painfully lengthy shot where the stage lights above the fake-outdoors set are blatantly visible at the top of the frame. But Bakram’s jeeps (on location) are approaching the monastery (on a soundstage), so the rescuers and rescuees can’t safely get out of the statue base without being seen. Father Sebastian sees the worried looks between Doug and Barney and puts that together with an earlier scene where the cute little girl said her dog was acting like something was beneath the statue. So he has the townsfolk gather close around the statue and offers a prayer phrased to tip off the people inside that they need to get out pronto, which they do. The team and the rebels get away, and Bakram smashes the statue open, finding nobody in it. And finding that his credibility with the people has been smashed as well, because he appears to have gratuitously re-destroyed the miraculously restored statue of their saint.
This episode has some nice moments, but it has problems too. For one thing, I had the hardest time figuring out what part of the world this was supposed to be in. The character names tend to the Slavic, except for Bakram, which sounds more Central Asian. The original score, by I Dream of Jeannie composer Hugo Montenegro making his sole M:I contribution, has an ethnic sound that’s hard to pin down; it uses the pentatonic scale of South Asian music, but the instruments sound more Eastern European, and the casting is consistent with that as well. It doesn’t help that the show has largely given up using fake accents; the characters here all speak with American accents. My best guess is that it’s somewhere in the Balkans or thereabouts. Aside from the ethnic bits, Montenegro mostly reuses a not-very-pleasant arrangement of the main title theme under most of the team’s activities, over and over again with little variation, and it gets really tiresome after a while, seriously undermining my enjoyment of the episode (and now I’ve got it stuck in my head). He may be the only M:I composer who makes no use of “The Plot” in his score, although we do hear that motif in some stock cues a couple of times in the episode. Also, I’m disturbed by the implication that the US was trying to get a notebook on bacteriological warfare. I guess the intent was only to keep it out of enemy hands, though, or at least that’s what we’re supposed to assume.
Then there’s the irritating dubbing of Alex’s voice. The technology they had at the time didn’t let them mix a dubbed voice to match an outdoor or even soundstage ambience, so it always sounded blatantly fake; not to mention that Perrin’s voice was just too announcery, too clear and polished, to fit the character. And while the actor playing Klos used his real voice, he wasn’t particularly well-cast.
I guess the strength of this episode is the character work. As noted, the Jim-Doug scene gives good insight into both characters, and it’s good to see how clever and resourceful Dana can be. But we’re past the point where I can be impressed by a story about the mission going wrong and the characters getting in trouble or being forced to improvise. That’s the new normal now. This is the second episode in a row where a team member has been shot in the teaser, and it’s the second time this season that Dana’s been arrested by the bad guys. By the raised standards of this season, this is an average story, with below-average execution. But the above-average character work redeems it somewhat.
“Squeeze Play”: At the mansion of elderly Mediterranean (implicitly Sicilian) drug lord Albert Zembra (Albert Paulsen in his fifth and final M:I role), a representative of his French competitors tries to convince Zembra to sell out to his syndicate before he dies. Zembra is outraged and has his henchman take the emissary out to be shot. Outside, his granddaughter and ward Eve (the lovely Victoria Vetri, who posed for Playboy as Angela Dorian) is playing with her German shepherd, looking all sweet and innocent, and clearly distraught by the sound of the gunshot. Later, at a marina’s locker room, Jim is given his mission: Zembra is preparing to choose a successor to whom he will hand over the secrets of his drug empire, and the team must get hold of that secret info and bring down the syndicate. (New titles/Willy. I think at this point it’s unlikely the old theme arrangement will return. Too bad; I prefer it.)
Zembra’s successor will be one of two men: Carlos (Nico Menardos) and the American Paul Corrigan, who’s had plastic surgery since he visited Zembra a decade before and thus can be substituted by Paris once the team abducts the genuine article at the airport. Paris has done his homework and convinces Zembra, and he’s quite taken with Eve, to whom the real Paul was a mentor when she was a girl. But Carlos is suspicious of his changed face, and has his henchman let Eve’s dog out to test him. But Paris is wearing Paul’s coat, so the scent of it appeases the dog. (Really? Wouldn’t the dog still notice Paris’s foreign scent under it? Is Paul that smelly?) Paris and Carlos turn out to be competitors in more than one way, for Zembra has arranged for Carlos to marry Eve, while she’s swiftly falling for Paul/Paris.
The rest of the team tries to sever the strong bond of loyalty between Zembra and Carlos. Barney sneaks in as an assassin whom Paris saves Zembra from, and then manages to escape via a plastique charge he had on him. This serves to undermine Zembra’s trust in Carlos, who’s responsible for his security. The problem is, the team didn’t really pull any elaborate tricks to create the illusion of Carlos’s ineptitude; Barney only got in and out because the security on Zembra’s estate really was lousy. It was too easy.
Anyway, Jim and Willy play French mobsters trying to make a deal with Carlos, who resists. But Dana plays a klepto nurse so Carlos will blackmail her into digging up Zembra’s secrets, and she tips him off to a conversation heard over an open intercom of Zembra telling “Paul” that he’s the chosen successor and Carlos is an idiot — which is actually Paris doing both voices after nurse Dana slipped Zembra a Mickey. Now Carlos is willing to hear out Jim’s plan, which involves luring Zembra out of his *snerf* impregnable fortress by abducting Eve. They arrange a meeting at a warehouse, but when Paris goes in ahead to “check things out,” he finds that Eve has penetrated his disguise. He made an elementary mistake earlier: when she surprised him by coming into his room through a secret passage, he pretended he’d only forgotten about the passage, when in fact it wasn’t installed until after Paul was there. Paris convinces her not to tip Zembra off, not by appealing to their relationship but by forcing her to confront the truth she’s been in denial about, that her father destroys countless lives by dealing heroin.
So Carlos wheels Zembra in to talk terms, and then Willy appears with a gun pointed at Zembra and advises Carlos to get out of the way — which Carlos does. As Zembra reacts in betrayal, Paris comes in and starts shooting at Jim and Willy (blanks, no doubt), scaring them off (and Dana picks them up and drives them to safety). Zembra personally shoots Carlos, and then gives Paris the secret microdot in his ring, deciding it’s time to retire from crime and be the doting grandfather Eve sees him as. Eve knows the truth now, but she tells Paris that she still feels an obligation to her grandfather for all he’s done for her.
This is an average episode with some significant plot flaws. It’s mainly salvaged by Victoria Vetri and her relationship with Paris. Vetri is gorgeous here, and convincing as a sweet, innocent young woman untouched by her grandfather’s murderous profession — which is ironic considering that, as of this writing 40 years later, Vetri is serving a prison sentence for the attempted murder of her husband.
By the way, it’s been alleged — and a lot of websites treat it as fact — that Vetri was the uncredited actress who played the human form of Isis in Star Trek: “Assignment: Earth.” But the evidence for that claim is inconclusive (basically some guy heard that Isis was portrayed by a Playboy Playmate and decided that Vetri, herself a former Playmate, had a similar appearance, and he posted his theory online without any confirmation). And after watching Vetri here, I really don’t think it’s true. In “Squeeze Play,” Vetri had a distinctive speck of pigment on the white of her left eye, and from the pictures I can find online, it looks like it was probably there prior to 1968 as well. But the Isis actress doesn’t have the speck. Also, her eyes are gray or green while Vetri’s are a rich brown. And while “Isis” has a similar bone structure to Vetri, Vetri has a more girlish, innocent look, kinda like Dawn Wells from Gilligan’s Island. Not to mention that, err, “Isis” doesn’t seem to have quite as ample a chest as Vetri. So I just don’t think it’s her. Unfortunately the speculative claim has been reported on IMDb as fact, since IMDb has pretty poor fact-checking sometimes.