Archive for October 19, 2011

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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