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