Archive for October 24, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Encounter”/”Underwater” (spoilers)

October 24, 2011 3 comments

“Encounter”: Pretty standard opening — bad guys do something (arson as part of a protection racket, getting one of the arsonists killed), Jim gets the mission to dig up the evidence to put them away because Conventional Law Enforcement Agencies are useless in the M:I-verse.  (The tape is in the office at a kiddie train ride, and Jim gets the key from the conductor after claiming to be from the board of safety.)  But what follows is pretty interesting.

The team’s focus is on Lois Stoner (Elizabeth Ashley), wife of mob lawyer Martin Stoner (Lawrence Dane, who was impressive in “Commandante” back in season 4), who works for Frank Brady (Val Avery — and that’s three weeks in a row with bad guys named Frank).  Lois can’t handle the awful things her husband’s involved with, but can’t bring herself to leave, so she’s sunken into an alcoholic haze and become a complete wreck.  Casey has been studying her, planning to replace her, and she feels sorry for Lois.  But there’s no substitute for direct observation, so Jim picks her up in a bar while Casey watches her (and Jim tosses in a staged fight with Willy for some reason), then takes her to an apartment where Casey watches some more from behind a one-way mirror, studying her mannerisms.  By the time a spiked drink renders Lois unconscious, Casey has donned a mask and become Lois’s double.  It’s the first time in Casey’s tenure that she’s worn a mask, and it’s the last we’ll see of Lynda Day George until fairly late in the episode, since the mask is incredibly resilient.  Meanwhile, Jim takes the real Lois to a sanitarium for treatment (and confinement, with Barney supervising).

Casey/Lois makes a scene in Brady’s office while Stoner’s there, and plants a bug while she’s at it.  Brady warns that she’s a liability he may have to get rid of, and Stoner is harsh to her when he gets home, pretending to spread his arms for a hug and then smacking her hard (and the mask is completely unharmed).  She pleads for another chance, offering to check into a rehab center that provides group therapy.  Stoner agrees and informs Brady, who instructs his hitman Dekker (William Smith) to infiltrate the group and make sure “Lois” doesn’t say too much.  The rest of the group consists entirely of actors working for the IMF, with Jim as the therapy leader.  They guide things so that Casey/Lois gets progressively closer to admitting her husband’s crimes, all while Dekker watches.  The team’s goal is to make Casey an assassination target — and then make sure she survives it.

Meanwhile, Willy plays the brother of the dead arsonist, come to look for payback, though luckily for Brady, he only wants literal payback, since his “brother” was sending money back to their folks and he wants that to continue.  Peter Lupus actually does some fairly solid acting here, compared to his work in the past.  The advantage of the reduced cast is that he and Greg Morris are getting to stretch a lot more.  Anyway, Willy gets himself hired in the dead guy’s place and learns about an upcoming job to bomb an uncooperative business.  He notifies the team, and when Casey/Lois has a “breakthrough” in group, she reveals knowledge of the upcoming operation.  When Dekker tells his bosses, Stoner insists he never told Lois about it, but Brady’s unconvinced.  Anyway, he orders Lois hit, and Stoner raises only a token objection.

Dekker contracts the job out to another hitter, who forces one of the other group participants, Evie (Arline Anderson), to lure Casey/Lois to her room, then ties her up.  But Evie manages to kick over a lamp and warn Casey just in time.  A chase through the woods ensues, with the hitman chasing Casey and Jim trying to catch up — but Jim is too late to prevent Casey from being shot!  Holy cow!  Jim subdues the gunman and checks on Casey, finally removing her Lois mask.  It’s just a shoulder wound, the kind of TV-land bullet wound in the shoulder that’s only a minor inconvenience and doesn’t restrict her arm movement in any way, unlike the real thing which can cause crippling nerve damage or life-threatening blood loss.  Still, there’s a nice bit when Jim asks Casey if she’s okay and she says she’s more surprised than anything; she hadn’t really been expecting to get shot.  Later, though, when the doctor at the sanitarium takes a look at her, Casey refuses any treatment, even a bandage, since the bullet wound will add verisimilitude to the next stage of the plan.

Willy’s job is to find out when and where the bombing is, then tip off the team.  But the arsonists meet him in person and give him no chance to make a phone call (oh, there are so many story beats that cell phones and texting have rendered obsolete),  so Willy has to deal with it on his own, sneaking away to reconnect the silent alarm so the cops will arrest the arsonists.

With the failure of the arson, Brady is convinced that Stoner tipped off his wife and she gave it away to the cops.  He wants them both hit now, and Willy offers to do the job.  Casey/Lois confronts Stoner about the attempt on her life, then Willy drives in and throws a grenade at them, aiming to miss, of course.  Stoner wants to flee the country, but Lois says they can’t run forever and persuades him to get some evidence he can use to blackmail Brady.  So Stoner drives to the bank where he keeps his microfilm records.

However, the real Lois has knocked out her nurse and escaped the sanitarium, and is back to barhopping, making it hard for the team to find her.  She calls Brady’s office looking for her husband, after Willy has reported that he successfully killed both Stoners.  Aware that the hit failed, Brady and Dekker head to the bank to intercept Stoner.  They shoot him right there in the bank and retrieve the microfilm, but Jim gets the drop on them and takes it from them.  (Really, what were they thinking?  That they could avoid criminal prosecution by committing a murder in a public place with multiple witnesses and armed guards present?  This is the one part of the episode that just plain doesn’t work.)  Finally, Barney tracks down Lois, who’s hit rock bottom.  He tells her it’s over.  She desperately pleads, “Help me,” and Barney kindly says, “I will.”

Well, this was an impressive episode, on a par with the work they did in season 5.  There’s strong character work, and there’s a good sense of danger and suspense as things go wrong with the plan.  What’s intriguing is how much the episode relies on Elizabeth Ashley in the dual role of the real Lois and Casey-as-Lois.  Ashley is a very engaging performer with a very distinctive delivery, kind of like an edgier Kate Jackson.  She’s intriguing to watch and carries the episode very well.  And the idea of building so much of the caper around a group-therapy session is a bit offbeat, and the exercises Jim leads them in are a bit weird, but I guess it was trying to tap into the trends of the early ’70s when therapy and self-examination were coming into vogue.  And it helps serve an episode that’s mostly a character study of Lois and a showcase for the considerable talents of Elizabeth Ashley.  Despite its occasional odd bits and an action climax that doesn’t make sense, I’m calling this the best episode of the season so far.

“Underwater”: On a small pleasure boat, Hoffman (Jeremy Slate) has murdered a courier with a briefcase full of stolen diamonds cuffed to his wrist.  He weighs down the corpse and sinks it, diamonds and all, then blows up the boat.  But the man he and the courier worked for, Berlinger (Fritz Weaver in his fourth and final M:I role), catches Hoffman and begins torturing him to discover where the diamonds are hidden.  Jim’s mission is to retrieve the diamonds and put Berlinger out of business.  The IMF is getting lazy by this point; the tape player and photos are simply mailed to Jim’s post office box.

Berlinger’s man Hawks (Robert Yuro) is heading up the search for the diamonds, and his men intercept scuba instructor Jim, who claims to be just swimming in the area.  Later, Casey arranges for Hawks to notice that she’s wearing a huge diamond ring that’s a match for one from the stolen shipment.  Hawks breaks into her apartment, chloroforms her, and absconds with the ring.  (And he parks by a fire hydrant!  The scoundrel!)  Hoffman isn’t breaking, so Berlinger hopes Casey can tell him where the diamond came from.  She points him to scuba Jim, whose character this week has a terrible fashion sense, but who’s willing to take Berlinger to the source for his diamonds for 5 million bucks.

Meanwhile, after Willy sneaks him into Berlinger’s building in the guise of an air conditioning part, Barney breaks into the elevator shaft… and we get the third use of a stock “Barney in the elevator shaft” sequence that’s been seen twice before (in season 3’s “Doomsday” and season 4’s “The Falcon, Part 3”).  He sneaks into the torture room through the false ceiling and knocks out Berlinger’s torturer (Sanford and Son‘s Demond Wilson), telling Hoffman he’s here to rescue him and using an insta-mask kit to make himself a double of the torturer.  We also discover that Barney has suddenly acquired an ability to perfectly mimic other people’s voices, unlike his prior impersonations, where he’s remained mute.  He uses this new superpower to call down to the building guards and summon help getting Hoffman out.  But Hawks finds the unconscious torturer and alerts the guards.  Barney and Hoffman get away with the guards shooting at them, and there’s some nice cinematography courtesy of a handheld camera inside the escaping car (which is fleeing the same garage seen last week in “Encounter,” an underground garage somewhere on the Paramount backlot).  Barney claims to be an insurance investigator wanting to split the finder’s fee with Hoffman.  He takes Hoffman to Casey to find out what she knows, but Willy fake-snipes her to fake-death, and a spooked Hoffman is convinced to help Barney get the diamonds before whoever hired the sniper does.

So we end up with Barney tracking three different blips closing in on the diamonds: Hoffman (via a transmitter Barney stuck on his scuba tank), Willy, who’s following Barney’s directions underwater, and Jim, who’s guiding Berlinger’s people via Barney’s directions in his earpiece. (Barney deploys a buoy with an underwater antenna.)  At this point, it becomes increasingly obvious that the scuba scenes are actually shot in a public aquarium somewhere.  There’s only one big rock formation that all the divers keep swimming over time and time again (seriously, they don’t even try to disguise it with different camera angles), and once you notice that the windows on the aquarium walls are visible in some shots (and that others are shot through those windows, sometimes with the window frame visible), you can’t un-notice it.  And while Barney’s blip-tracking screen seems to be showing an overhead view when Willy follows Hoffman, it portrays blip-Jim’s descent from the surface as though it’s showing a side view.

Anyway, Barney rigged Hoffman’s scuba mask with knockout gas, which takes him out once he cuts the diamonds loose from the corpse, and Jim takes the case while Willy deals with getting Hoffman and the body up to the surface and into police custody (on the same pier from “The Miracle” two episodes ago).  Berlinger plans to kill Jim once he hands over the diamonds, but Jim gave most of the diamonds to Willy underwater and insists that Berlinger pay him at Jim’s “pad” before he’ll have his friend bring the gems.  This forces Berlinger to contact his buyer and convince him to attend the meeting, so once they’re all together, Jim calls in the cops and the bad guys are busted.

A pretty ordinary episode, helped a bit by some good cinematography (including a smoldering close-up of Casey when she’s bargaining with Berlinger), but undermined by the ridiculously fake diving scenes, the elevator-shaft stock footage reuse, Barney’s sudden acquisition of voice-mimicry powers, and Jim’s highly unflattering wardrobe.

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Gradually getting better

Well, I’m just about a week into my cold and I’m starting to feel more like myself again.  My sniffles have largely cleared up, I can breathe almost normally, and my hoarseness is starting to subside — I can almost speak normally again.  For a few days there, my throat was so sore/congested that I couldn’t speak except in a very deep, gravelly register or sometimes a low falsetto.  Just as well I haven’t actually had to speak to anyone.  I’m getting some of my energy back too, although within limits; sometime after breakfast this morning I lay down to read in bed, read for a while, then spent the next couple of hours half-asleep.  I wasn’t able to drift off entirely (I can almost never sleep in the day), but I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I spent a fair amount of the time in a hypnagogic (half-dreaming) state.  I’m still pretty sleepy now.

Which may be a sign of something I often have to watch out for after I’ve been sick for this long.  I reach a point where it’s hard to tell whether my lack of energy is due to being ill, in which case I should keep resting, or just due to having been sedentary for so long, in which case I should start being more active and getting my metabolism up again.  I think I’m still on the former side of the equation for now.  But it’s something to keep in mind over the next few days.  Especially since the chores are piling up.

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