Archive for October 8, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S5) Reviews: “The Catafalque”/”Kitara” (spoilers)

“The Catafalque”: We once again open directly with the tape scene, and it’s the old standby of a photo booth at the carnival.  I don’t think we’ve seen a photo-booth tape scene for several seasons.  The mission: Premier Miguel Fuego (Will Kuluva) and his nephew/heir Ramon (John Vernon) of the Caribbean country of San Pascal have signed a treaty with “a hostile power” to install nukes in their country, precipitating “another Cuban crisis.”  The IMF must obtain and expose the treaty before the missiles are in place.  Instead of cutting from the self-destruct to the titles, we jump to the Fuegos visiting the titular catafalque, the glass coffin where the body of Ramon’s father Victorio lies in state.  It’s evident that Ramon cared deeply for his father.  There are four guards on duty at all times, facing ever outward at all four corners, and when the guard is changed after the Fuegos leave, the Captain of the Guard appears, and it’s a cameo role for Johnny Bench, who at the time of this 1971 episode was one of the biggest names in baseball as a member of my hometown Cincinnati Reds’ famous Big Red Machine lineup.  Anyway, as Johnny gives the marching orders, the camera tilts up to the ceiling and we see Barney and Doug peering through a ceiling panel.  What are they planning?  We’ll find out after the titles.

The equivalent of the apartment scene follows, but it’s in a basement in San Pascal, since Barney and Doug had to do their preliminary check first.  They report the guards are changed every hour, and what they plan to do will take just under that.  We also learn that the safe containing the treaty can only be opened by one of the Fuegos’ handprints — and Ramon is the one they’re going after.  Later, Paris confronts Ramon at gunpoint in his car and demands his help, claiming that Ramon’s father was killed, possibly by Miguel so he could become premier, and that Paris’s father has been in a closed-down prison, the Bastion, for 20 years because of what he knows about the crime, with Paris on the run from trumped-up murder charges.  Policeman Jim and two extras chase Paris off, and what Jim tells Ramon seems to support Paris’s story.   Meanwhile, Barney, Doug, and some no-dialogue assistants begin working at the Bastion.  When Ramon asks enforcer Col. Rodriguez (Ramon Bieri) about whether the prison might still be open, the colonel acts ignorant, as he does when asked about the police’s search for Paris.  Of course, this is because he genuinely is ignorant, but it makes Ramon think he’s lying.

Ramon comes out of the government HQ, and good grief, it’s the dang Lubitsch Building again!  They’re using it practically every single week!  Maybe they have been for years and it just took me a while to catch on.  Anyway, Dana’s in the car parked behind his and “accidentally” bumps his car.  He offers to move it for her, and she comes onto him “fast and physical,” as she described her approach plans in the briefing.  Pretty soon he’s following her to her place and they’re making out.  She’s startled when she feels his gun — yes, literally, get your mind out of the gutter — and sets it aside on the table, and her foot triggers a switch to swap it for a fake gun while other parts of her anatomy distract him.  Doug comes in as her cuckolded husband and pulls a gun, so Ramon grabs “his” gun and shoots, “killing” Doug.  Two fake cops come in and “arrest” Ramon, using the now-familiar knockout-needle device in the palm to send him to sleepybyeland.  (In fact it’s not a ring as I’ve claimed before, but a disk with a peg clamped between the middle and ring fingers and a needle in front.)

Ramon awakens in the Bastion and finds he’s been framed by Jim and Dana on orders from Uncle Miguel.  Paris, in disguise as the father of his earlier character, pushes through a loose stone block into Ramon’s cell, and his rantings hint that Victorio didn’t actually die, and that the truth is in a diary hidden someplace he can’t remember.  Ramon retreats with him into the next cell so the guards will think he’s escaped and leave his cell door open, then actually does escape — and as Jim expected, he selfishly forces Old Paris to stay behind.  He may love his father, but he’s a complete jerk otherwise.  This is good for the plan, though, since it lets Paris get back into his “son” identity and help Ramon escape.

Meanwhile, the premier and the colonel are figuring out that Ramon is missing and someone is trying to make him think he’s been arrested and escaped, and they begin a search.  But Barney and Doug are back at Victorio’s tomb, lowering hooks from the rafters to lift the catafalque up silently behind the backs of the motionless guards.  We get the kind of act-break cliffhanger that used to be routine, where a winch malfunction almost causes the wreath to fall off the glass coffin and alert the guards, but the problem is easily resolved after the commercials.  Barney & Doug swap out the real corpse for a waxwork fake.  And as it happens, Son Paris lets it drop to Ramon that Daddy Paris was a waxwork sculptor.  Ramon figures out that the body in the tomb is a waxwork and Daddy Paris’s lost diary is hidden inside it.  He breaks into the tomb and finds the fake diary, which leads him to a sanitarium where he meets an old lobotomized man who he becomes convinced is his father.  Now he’s determined to make Miguel and Rodriguez pay.  But the cops are looking for them — how do they get out of the country?  Paris suggests Ramon could blackmail them if he had some dirt on them.  So Ramon leads them through a secret passage to Miguel’s office and retrieves the nuke treaty.  Then Miguel and Rodriguez come in and try to convince him he’s been hoaxed.  Ramon asks Paris to back up his story, but Paris has quietly grabbed the treaty and slipped out the secret passage, reuniting with the team.

This is the most conventional M:I episode of the season to date.  Aside from the variations in structure in the cold open and first act, and aside from the specific cast, it could’ve been a fairly solid third- or fourth-season episode.  Nothing significant goes wrong with the plan, there’s no external wild card or personal drama to make the team break character, and while the bad guys do become aware of the team’s actions and search for them, there’s never any real sense that it puts the mission in jeopardy.  Yet I don’t really see that as a problem.  Like I said several posts earlier, it can be good to have routine stories like this from time to time so that the formula-breaking ones feel more special.  And as routine episodes go, it is pretty strong, with some nice gimmicks (even if the catafalque heist employs basically the same huge hole in a security system that was exploited in “Doomsday” a while back) and some halfway decent characterization on Ramon (although it was inconsistent, for he seemed like a sympathetic character in the first half and only became a ruthless, self-centered cad when the plot required it).  Except there’s absolutely no reason for this to be a Doug episode instead of a Willy episode.  Doug does nothing the least bit medical here.

“Kitara”: In “Bocamo, West Africa,” John Darcy (Robert DoQui, RoboCop‘s Sgt. Reed) is on the run from white soldiers led by Col. Kohler (Lawrence Dobkin), who captures him and accuses him of being rebel leader Kitara, who’s stolen a truck of gold bullion.  A stock tape scene follows, though I think it’s edited differently, since there’s a code phrase exchange I don’t remember.  The mission is to free Darcy (who is Kitara, leader of a liberation movement resisting Kohler’s segregationist rule) and end Kohler’s reign of terror.  As with the last time this sequence was used, there’s no “self-destruct” line, and Jim throws the tape into the fire.  Also, it’s another of those rare instances where the tape begins with “Good morning, Jim” instead of “Mr. Phelps.”  Cut to titles, and it’s another Doug episode.

Jim and Doug somehow get themselves credentials as high-ranked military officials; Doug is an expert in “racial affairs,” i.e. ferreting out people with African blood who “pass” as white (since under this kind of segregationist thinking, even a single drop of African blood makes you black and thus inferior).  He spins a tale of a rare disease that darkens the complexion of such individuals.  Meanwhile Barney installs a special bulb in the UV sterilizing lamp in the fastidious Kohler’s bathroom, and Dana, playing a reporter interviewing Kohler, slips him a drug that makes his skin susceptible to its effects.  By morning, he’s become dark-skinned.  Yes, really.  They went there.  As Kohler hides away, Jim and Doug drop innuendos around his subordinate Capt. Maxfield (Rex Holman) suggesting that Kohler might be “passing” as white, and that his pregnant wife’s accidental death two years ago may have been murder to avoid exposure.  This is credible storywise because Kohler was an orphan, and because he conveniently keeps his head completely clean-shaven so it can’t be told how curly his hair is.  The execution doesn’t quite work, though.  The makeup to turn Lawrence Dobkin “black” is actually fairly subtle and natural-looking, about as good as it could be.  There are moments when, if you don’t look too closely, you could almost buy it.  But Dobkin’s facial structure, especially his nose, makes it unconvincing, and his vocal timbre doesn’t help much either.  Also, you’d think Kohler’s body hair would spoil the illusion; he’s got pretty hairy arms, at least.  Still, in such a racially intolerant and paranoid society, even an unconvincing illusion would probably be enough.

Meanwhile, Barney gets himself arrested and thrown into the hotbox next to Darcy, communicating with him via a tapping code (in Swahili) to convince him to tell Barney where the gold is, a necessary step in the plan.  Jim “interrogates” Barney, who gives the location in a verbal code — it’s an abandoned village, and Jim soon finds the gold in one of its huts.  Dana calls on the sequestered Kohler and tells him she’s found a photo from his childhood that matches one he showed her, except the grandparent is a black man.  (This is supposed to be a fake Paris made, but it’s obvious that this is the real one and the “real” one with the white grandparent is doctored.)  Dana takes Kohler to the shopkeeper (Paris) who sold her the photo, and he says that as 1/16 black himself, he knows all the tricks of “passing.”  He somehow doctors the real photo to turn the white grandfather black.  Then Dana deploys the knockout ring on the distraught Kohler, Doug injects a hypnotic, and Paris dons a mask of the black grandfather to create a false memory for Kohler, convincing him he really was born black.  Meanwhile, Kohler’s nosy butler has tipped off Maxfield, and when they show up at the shop, Paris pulls a gun on them and runs off with Kohler.  Jim shows up and tells Maxfield he’s learned something interesting about Kitara’s identity.  He leads Maxfield to the same hut where Paris told Kohler to hide, and when Kohler flees, Jim prompts Maxwell to search the hut and discover the gold whose location only Kitara knew.  So Kohler must be Kitara, hiding in plain sight!  A chase ensues with Kohler as the hunted, mirroring the opening chase with him as the hunter, and Maxfield catches him.  Jim and Doug take Barney and Darcy away for “interrogation” and also take the gold with them to “headquarters” — no doubt to be given to Darcy/Kitara when they part ways, in order to fund his liberation movement.

This one didn’t really work for me.  I appreciate that they’ve done two episodes this season with racist/segregationist African regimes as the villains, but this one falls flat with its heavyhanded “turn the white racist black” gimmick, which is never really convincing — and which is explained to us from the start so there’s not even the element of surprise for the audience.  And it’s hard to explain how Jim and Doug managed to fake such prominent positions, beyond a line about tapping into the government teletype line.  Aside from that, it’s the second episode in a row to portray a routine, old-style caper where nothing goes wrong with the team’s plan, and there’s nothing about it to make it really engaging.  Its only point of interest is a new score by Richard Hazard, with some African stylings.  But it didn’t catch my attention the way Hazard’s previous score for M:I did.  The one way this episode varies from the formula of previous seasons is that Kohler isn’t killed at the end.  The show seems to have moved away from that cliche this year.

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