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

October 22, 2011 2 comments

“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.

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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.

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