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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Western”/”Imitation” (spoilers)

November 30, 2011 1 comment

Here we are… the final two episodes of the final season of the original Mission: Impossible.  Here we go:

“The Western”: Van Cleve (Ed Nelson) and his partner Royce (Barry Atwater) have robbed a priceless historical relic from an implicitly Mexican museum.  Royce wants to dissolve their partnership and take his half of their loot, but Van Cleve anticipated this and arranges to blow up Royce using stock explosion footage from “The Bunker” back in season 3.  Jim gets the tape from a maintenance guy at a large fountain in a public square (at least the second time this has been done this season, but it kinda makes sense that a fountain would be a good place to listen to a secret message without being overheard).  The mission is to retrieve the treasure from Van Cleve so it can be returned to its rightful owners — by which they mean the government founded by the Europeans who stole the statue (and the continent) from its original owners.  (The only name the villain is given is “Van Cleve,” and Royce calls him “Van,” but the team refers to him throughout as “Van Cleve” as though that’s just his surname.  Maybe he’s Van Van Cleve?)

Jim flies out to Miami and works with a pair of performers to stage a scene for Van Cleve: one of them bumps into VC while wearing a skull-like “death mask,” then walks out in front of a van (not Cleve) driven by the other performer and gets “killed,” pulling the mask off so it seems like a premonition.  Then, on the plane (where future Blade Runner star Joanna Cassidy has a bit role as a stewardess), VC is seated next to Casey, playing a student of probability who’s been bitten by the gambling bug.  She uses a trick handbag to let VC see a pile of money in her bag, and then have it “disappear” when she opens it again.  (At least, it’s supposed to be the same kind of double-compartment trick bag as the attache case in “The Puppet,” but I see no way the bag as shown could accommodate a hidden compartment; instead it’s cheated by editing.)  Casey suggests that he’s precognitive.  Yes, it’s another entry in the annoying M:I subgenre of capers revolving around convincing a skeptic of something paranormal, which always strikes me as a bizarre approach.

Jim and Barney arrive on VC’s land and get shot at by his ranch manager (or whatever you call it) Ed — and hey, it’s Michael Ansara in a role that almost totally wastes his talent.  They explain they’re geologists, and as it happens, VC is an expert in geology, so he quizzes them and they know enough technical jargon to convince him they’re legit.  Barney’s actually playing the senior geologist, but Jim’s role is still the pivotal one; he acts shifty (and gets shushed by Barney), putting the idea in VC’s head that they’re keeping a secret.  VC calls up a government contact to look into them, and finds that their survey is top-secret.

VC has Ed follow Jim to the casino, where he turns out to be a compulsive and losing gambler.  (Willy’s running the roulette wheel and is probably rigging the outcome so Jim keeps losing, but we’re not told or shown how.)  So VC drops in on him and offers to pay his debts in exchange for the secret info about the survey.  Jim says he’ll think it over.  Meanwhile, at the craps table, Casey has won (again, no specifics how), and she shows VC the money in her handbag, just like in his “vision” on the plane.  VC invites her to dinner at his ranch.  While Jim and Barney rig his bedroom with hydraulic jacks under the furniture to simulate an earthquake (plus tape players in his bedside and car radios), Casey keeps him occupied by offering a rational explanation for his visions, saying that he has a computer brain that can calculate probabilities in advance.  Which I suppose ameliorates the silliness of the “convince the skeptic” approach a bit.  Anyway, VC soon sets aside the intellectual stuff and gets on with the making-out-with-a-pretty-girl part — but outside, someone is raising a gun to the window.  Is it one of the team?  No — it’s Royce!  He’s alive, though his face is burned (or at least pretty badly scraped).  And VC and Casey are in his line of fire!

But they move at the last second and the shot misses.  As VC and Casey hide, Royce bolts for it and Jim and Barney pursue, with VC’s men following farther behind.  Royce and the IMF boys get to their respective cars and a chase ensues — and then there’s a complete non sequitur where Royce just happens to drive into a “ghost town” (read: Western backlot), get out of his pickup, and exchange gunfire with Jim and Barney for a couple of minutes before ditching his gun and driving off again.  This is the only part of the episode that has anything to do with the title, and it’s a completely random insertion into the plot.  Its only relevance is to allow the team to get prints off his gun, but that was completely unnecessary.  Royce’s photo was included in Jim’s briefing packet, so they could’ve just had Jim get a look at his face as he fled the ranch.  This whole lengthy action sequence, the thing the whole episode is named after, serves no purpose except as padding.

Not to mention that Van Cleve figures out on his own that it’s Royce because his men recover a 9mm shell casing and VC knows that Royce swears by a 9mm Mauser.  (Now, a few minutes earlier, we saw Barney duck behind a horse trough whose thin wooden wall, no more than an inch thick, was sufficient to shield him from a bullet fired from Royce’s gun.  But now, Ed says that a Mauser could “put a slug through a 4-inch slab of green oak.”  Make up your mind, episode!)  Casey relays this info to the team, making the whole fingerprint thing even more pointless.  Jim says that if Royce kills Van Cleve — the only one who knows where the treasure is — the whole mission is shot.  And so the team proceeds with their mission. moving up the timetable, but otherwise taking no action of any kind to watch out for Royce or stop him.  Huh?  Huh?!

Jim shows up at VC’s door and accepts the bribe, telling him that they’ve discovered a fault line that’s about to set off a major earthquake which will destroy a nearby dam and flood the entire valley.  He offers credible explanations for why the dam can’t be drained or reinforced.  (Whatever this episode’s other flaws, writers Arnold & Lois Peyser sure seemed to know their geology.  But that’s a flaw in itself, if the writers are more preoccupied with geological jargon than cohesive storytelling.)  As soon as Jim leaves, Barney activates a rig in VC’s pool that roils the water, causes a crude dummy of a drowned VC to rise to the surface, and then dissolves it.  It’s a vision of his watery demise!

Now, you’d think that this would be enough, along with Jim’s warnings, to convince VC to race to his treasure stash and move it somewhere safer.  But no, we still have half an act left and haven’t gotten to do the earthquake gimmick yet!  So VC inexplicably sets aside these life-threatening concerns and goes sleepy-bye.  And the team waits three hours to let him settle — again, doing absolutely nothing to guard against Royce breaking in and killing the one guy who can lead them to the McGuffin.  So when they finally trigger the earthquake gimmick and the fake radio reports and scare VC into bolting for his stash, Royce is following right behind in his pickup, ahead of the team.  Oy.

So VC gets to the cave where he hid the statue — and even though they tried to disguise it by shooting from a different angle and through some brush, it’s obviously the same cave VC blew up in the first scene!  Oy oy oy.  And as it turns out, it conveniently didn’t matter that the team just ignored the Royce problem, because Royce doesn’t get into the cave until after VC has unearthed the treasure.  And Royce deliberately shot to miss before to spook VC into going for the treasure.  So this whole big threat Royce posed for half the episode wasn’t actually a threat to the mission at all.  *sigh*  So the team comes in and gets the drop on Royce before he can shoot VC, and that’s the anticlimactic end of the episode.

Oh, dear.  What an awful mess.  So much of it was unnecessary.  And not just the pointless Western shootout that inexplicably gave the episode its name.  The whole precognition thing was unnecessary too.  They could’ve gotten VC to lead them to the treasure strictly by using the geologist/earthquake ploy.  And while the precog gimmick wasn’t as silly as usual in these cases, since Casey provided a rational-sounding explanation with no appeal to the supernatural, it’s still a hoary cliche of this series and it’s strictly there to pad out the story and give Casey a role.  It’s like they had an idea too straightforward to fill an hour so they just tossed in whatever leftover bits they could to pad it out, without really bothering to fit them together cohesively.  This is hands down the worst episode of the season yet.  And it’s a shame to see it so close to the end of the series, especially when most of the season has maintained a pretty even keel in terms of quality, not superb but generally okay.  I just hope that the series finale is better than this.

“Imitation”:  An armored car is heisted by a gang of men led by Eddie (Thalmus Rasulala).  After fleeing the scene (with the sound effects editors really overplaying the screeching of tires as the cars slowly pull out and drive away), Eddie hands the goods off to a woman in the back of a limo, who opens the case to reveal a set of crown jewels.  In a stock tape scene (the one inside an office from “The Fighter,” but without the preceding exterior shot), Jim is informed that the loot is the Marnsburg crown jewels, scheduled to go on display at the UN in 3 days, and the suspect is master criminal Jena Cole (Barbara McNair — and the character name may have been chosen to suggest Lena Horne, whom McNair somewhat resembles).  Jim must retrieve the jewels within 72 hours.  (And Jena is pronounced like “Jayna.”  She doesn’t show any sign of Wonder Twin powers, however.)

The team’s plan involves switching the jewels with imitations, and breaking into the Marnsburg consulate’s safe.  They can’t cooperate openly with the embassy, both because Marnsburg is less than friendly to the US and because the embassy’s code chief Dunson (Lew Brown) is on Jena’s payroll.  They’re assisted by Duval (Ray Ballard), evidently a jeweler with sleight-of-hand skills.  And they are not joined by Casey, who’s completely absent from the episode with no explanation and no substitutions.  This is the only episode of the season with no female team member.

And maybe that’s because this time the mark is female.  At Jena’s establishment the Kit Kat Klub (or Kit at lub, depending on how literally you take the sign out front), Barney’s job is basically to play Casey’s usual role, the pretty face to hook the mark.  He brings a letter of introduction supposedly from her late brother and claims to have been his final cellmate, providing enough details to convince her.  The letter said to take care of him, and he straight up asks for a thousand bucks, which Jena obliges out of her brother’s memory.  This is so the sonic sensor device in Barney’s pocket can remotely overhear the safe tumblers and get the combination.  She says she has a 30-day return policy on loans with 20 percent interest, and gives him $800 and tells him she expects a thousand back in 30 days.  That’s actually 25 percent interest.  If she expected an 120% return on her loan to equal $1000, then the loan should’ve been $833.33.  Anyway, Jena has another kind of interest in Barney, as she notes to her henchman Boomer (Pernell Roberts).

While Jena’s backer Stevens (Charles McGraw) pressures Jena to hand over the jewels — which she won’t do until she gets paid — Barney breaks into her office and swipes 12 grand from her safe.  She discovers the theft and has her contact in the police department ID the fingerprints — it’s Barney.  Boomer and Eddie go to his apartment and find his safecracking gear and a blueprint of the consulate safe.  They realize he’s planning to rob the crown jewels, unaware that Jena’s men have already done so.  Meanwhile, Jim shows up following Barney, and when Jena brings him in for questioning, he says Barney owes him a lot of money and will be dead if he doesn’t repay it in a week.

But the team has sent the consulate a fake teletype saying that the stolen crown jewels were fakes sent in anticipation of a heist, and the real ones will arrive shortly.  Willy arrives as the Marnsburg official with the real jewels and puts them in the vault.  Dunson tells Jena about the alleged fakes, and the team replaces Jena’s jeweler with Duval, who swaps out the real jewel they bring him for a copy to “prove” the ones Jena has are fakes.  And her backer is still pressing her to turn over the jewels.  So she brings in Barney and persuades him to partner with her.  She tells him that if he’s loyal, there’s nothing she won’t do for him — and if he betrays her, there’s nothing she won’t do to him.

That night, Barney breaks into the consulate, with Dunson standing by to run interference with the guards.  The case Willy put in the vault with the fake crown jewels contains a radar-dish thingy that rises out of the lid (and there’s no way the thingy and its lifting motor could fit in the case as shown) and somehow lets Barney read the combination from the inside, or something.  So he gets in and removes the fake jewels that Jena thinks are real.  He takes them back to Jena, but insists on calling Jim and arranging to  hand over the jewels in exchange for not being killed, which is understandably urgent for him.  Jena tries to persuade him to wait and do it her way instead, telling him she loves him (that was sudden) and doesn’t want him to go.  But he’s all cold and insensitive, which somehow makes her like him more, or something.  She seems to accede and takes him out to the bar for a celebratory drink while Boomer guards the case — though Boomer actually swaps out the “real” (fake) jewels for the “fake” (real) jewels behind Barney’s back.  Then they let Barney walk out with the real jewels, thinking they’re sending him out with the fake jewels and signing his death sentence.  Jena’s somewhat conflicted, but her greed comes first.  Then Barney’s a bit conflicted as he sees Stevens and his goons arrive, no doubt to kill Jena when she hands over the fakes.  But he doesn’t do much about it.  The cops drive up and arrest everyone — off camera — and then Barney goes over to “take a look” and exchanges one final meaningful stare with a still-alive Jena before the cops take her away.  And that, abruptly, is the end of the episode and the end of the original Mission: Impossible.  (It’s also the last time we’ll ever see Willy Armitage, though Jim, Barney, and Casey will all return at least briefly in the 1988-9 revival series.)

Well, it’s better than “The Western,” to be sure.  Not a top-notch episode, but a moderately good one, which is pretty representative of the season as a whole.  It was a rare episode for this season in that it tried to establish a bit of a romance for one of the main characters (the last time a team member actually bonded with a mark, it was a guest agent in “The Question”), but it’s very half-hearted about it, more a slight loss of detachment than the deeper involvements we’ve occasionally gotten in seasons past with episodes like “Elena,” “The Short Tail Spy,” “Nicole,” “Lover’s Knot,” “Decoy,” “Squeeze Play,” or “Cat’s Paw.”  So it’s not up to the level of those excellent episodes, but it’s a plus by this season’s standards.  And Barbara McNair is a major plus as well, a lovely actress with a lively, dynamic performing style that’s enjoyable to watch.

So there you have it — the last episode of the series.   It’s not really the end, though, since there’s still my season overview to follow, and a full-series overview after that.  And it’s only a couple of weeks until the first season of the 1988 revival comes out on DVD, so hopefully Netflix will make that available before long.  And who knows?  I might even cover the movies at some point, although they have very little in common with Mission: Impossible beyond the title.

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Home again, home again

I’m back home now, and the drive back was almost as bad as the drive out.  I had a few hours of clear skies in Maryland and Western Pennsylvania, but it was raining by the time I got off the Turnpike and it just got worse from there.  Just before dark fell, I reached Cambridge again and tried to get a room at the same motel as before, but they wouldn’t take the coupon from the booklet you can pick up at freeway rest stops, and the baseline price was more than twice as much.  The clerk told me that none of the area motels would take the coupons that day because of the imminent start of hunting season in the area (yikes).  And I already had a takeout meal cooling in the car in expectation of having a motel room to eat it in.  So I had to drive to a nearby parking lot, eat my dinner, then drive for another half-hour or so in the rain and dark, an experience I do not recommend, before reaching Zanesville and trying my luck with a motel there.  Hooray, they honored the coupons, although it wasn’t as good a place to stay as the other motel — no wifi, no continental breakfast.  (It did have a fridge and microwave, but I didn’t need them.)  And I didn’t get much sleep.  After that, I was only about three hours’ drive from home, but what with increasingly bad rain and fatigue, it wasn’t a pleasant journey, and I took a couple of long rest-stop breaks (one of them had to be long since I had to wait for the piping-hot vending-machine tea to cool down).  I couldn’t even listen to a CD to help keep me alert, since there was too much noise from the rain and my squeaky wipers.  I finally made it home, but I got rained on during the three trips it took to unpack my bags and bike from the car, and the strap broke off of a bag I liked because I put too much weight in it (which is why I needed three trips instead of two).  It was the reusable tote bag that came with my new printer as a greener alternative to plastic/foam packing.  A cool idea, but not too durable.

At least I had consistently good weather during my visit with family, though that just makes the horrible weather on both drives seem more unfair.  It was a good visit, but I’m glad I don’t have to deal with any more huge meals for a while.  I ate entirely too much over the trip, and not just due to Thanksgiving dinner and the Thanksgiving-leftovers brunch.  On Saturday I met my sister, my cousin, and their respective families in town for a museum visit preceded by lunch at a tapas bar, which involves getting a succession of small servings of stuff that are shared among the diners or kept to oneself as preferred.  I ordered at least one more course than I should have, and came away rather stuffed.  But just a few hours later came cousin-in-law Mark’s early birthday dinner, which entailed a large number of German foodstuffs.  Even though I’ve lived my entire life in Cincinnati, a town that’s historically had a large German population, this was my first exposure to German cuisine.  A lot of it, while surely well-prepared, wasn’t really to my taste, but I really enjoyed the sauerbraten, which was wonderfully tender beef in what was described to me as a kind of sweet-and-sour sauce.  I never liked Asian sweet-and-sour sauces, so I wasn’t expecting to like this, but it was excellent.  Still, on top of everything else, I was full to bursting by the end of it.

And then this morning, after leaving the motel, I made the mistake of going to Denny’s for breakfast.  Don’t get me wrong, the food was excellent; I ordered a pair of seasonal pumpkin-pie-flavored pancakes and they were delicious, as one would expect from pumpkin-pie-flavored pancakes.  But there was just too dang much of it.  There are limits to how much good food I can stand.  I think I’m going to try to eat very lightly for the next few days.

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Tired after Thanksgiving

It’s been an eventful few days.  I set out on Tuesday to drive the 500+ miles to the family Thanksgiving gathering, and it was horribly rainy the whole time, much more so than the weather forecast suggested.  I almost decided to turn back and try again the next day, but it’s just as well I didn’t, since it was still rainy Wednesday — though not as bad.  I only made it four hours Tuesday before the rain started to get even worse and I stopped at a motel, but on Wednesday I managed to make it to cousins Barbara & Mark’s house just around sunset, and in time for dinner, which was my first experience with jambalaya.  Now I know what that is.

Well, if I remember.  The subsequent couple of days have been kind of a blur.  A big group breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, then the huge dinner, which was very early in the afternoon so we could wait a while and then have pie.  In addition to all the various traditional fixings at dinner, including roasted and smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, creamed pearl onions, cranberry relish, etc., there were four kinds of pie — pumpkin, apple, mincemeat, and pecan.  I had a half-sized slice of each.  Quite an impressive feast.

And then we had a lot of it again at brunch this morning, which was an even larger group than the 11 we had last night, since one more cousin and her husband and son dropped by.  That included turkey hash and pumpkin coffee cake.

This afternoon, to burn off some of those calories, a half-dozen of us went on a bike ride, for which I brought my bike with me in the car.  I haven’t ridden in a while, so I’m out of shape, but I actually managed to complete two rides — a one-and-a-quarter-mile “warmup” ride with lifelong cyclist Uncle Harry, and then another ten miles with the group, mostly on a hiking path through the woods.  There were some rough patches that scared me a little, but I only almost fell down twice.  It was a much more challenging ride than I’d anticipated, and it was exhausting, but I’m impressed at myself that I pulled it off.

And it’s good that I burned off a lot of calories, since we had another big group dinner (only 9 of us this time) tonight, consisting of turkey stew (or maybe a very hearty soup) and bread with brie.  And then more pie.  That was good.

But it’ll be a relief not to have a big organized breakfast tomorrow.  And some of us will be eating out for lunch — at something Spanish called a tapas bar, which will be my first experience with that — followed by a museum visit.  Then another big meal, apparently, to celebrate cousin-in-law Mark’s birthday (though I think it’s being celebrated early while the folks are in town).

I’ll probably be setting out for home again on Sunday — and the forecast calls for more rain for my ride home, even though it’s been beautiful and sunny since I arrived.  Well, the forecast on the way up greatly underestimated the precipitation; hopefully this one is overestimating it.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Speed”/”The Pendulum” (spoilers)

November 24, 2011 1 comment

Yes, now we speed the pendulum, for the end draws ever nearer… umm….  Never mind.

“Speed”: We open in San Francisco — not just for the tape scene, but the whole episode this time.  Two men in a truck rip off a chemical company and report to mobster Sam Hibbing (Claude Akins) that they’ve now cornered the speed (amphetamine) market.  Jim gets the tape in a trainyard (I guess they don’t need a San Fran landmark when the whole episode’s set there) and is tasked with finding the amphetamine stash before it hits the street and putting Hibbing out of business.  Hibbing intends to auction the stolen speed off to the highest-bidding distributors.  Like last week, Jim’s plan involves using the gangster’s daughter, this time Margaret Hibbing (Jenny Sullivan), an avid motorcyclist who’s also become a speed addict to escape from the pain of her regular beatings at her abusive father’s hands, and to punish him at the same time.  Margaret is being pursued romantically by Snelling (Ross Hagen), the man who devises clever ways of delivering Hibbing’s drugs to the buyers; but Margaret doesn’t reciprocate his interest (logical, given her history of abuse by the dominant male in her life).  Barney’s mustache is back and Casey spends the apartment scene with her body hidden behind a movie projector — was this shot early in the season (while Lynda Day George was still pregnant) and held back until nearly the end?

Barney plays a New Orleans mob representative making a deal with one of Hibbing’s regulars, Dayton (Charles Bateman), to provide financial backing for the auction.  Meanwhile, Willy rigs Margaret’s motorcycle before she goes out for a ride, and all the exterior location shooting makes a point of showing off that they’re honest and for truly in San Francisco, complete with a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  Out in front of a location which IMDb informs me is the Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum, Jim triggers the gizmo Willy planted to knock out her motorcycle engine, so they can knock her out and replace her with Casey disguised as Margaret.  She rides to meet daddy Hibbing and let him see how high she is before leading him on a lengthy chase through the streets of San Francisco (gee, that’d make a cool name for a TV show), as if they hadn’t already driven home enough that they’re actually shooting there.  The chase culminates with a staged crash that leaves Casey-as-Margaret “injured” on the pavement, but Hibbing is only concerned with removing the drugs from his daughter’s handbag so the cops won’t find them.

The hospital scene that follows is on the soundstage back at Paramount, but they’ve stuck a backdrop of San Fran in the window, with the Palace of Fine Arts serving as the highly visible landmark du jour.  Hibbing takes his time coming to visit, and is only concerned with checking “Margaret” out so she won’t reveal anything incriminating while on medication.  He discovers that “Margaret” has seen the light and a friend of hers — Jim — is going to help her get clean.  But Hibbing sends Jim away and threatens “Margaret” with being sent away somewhere hellish if she doesn’t behave.  Casey is surprised when a disreputable-looking biker type shows up at her door and leaves upon seeing Hibbing there.  Casey can only say she doesn’t know him.

But he comes back later and it’s clear he’s not only Margaret’s pusher but her lover, and he conveniently refers to himself in the third person so we and Casey know he goes by Zinc (Jesse Vint).  And he must be high himself, since he can’t tell from kissing “Margaret” that she’s wearing a latex mask.  He gives her drugs and pushes her (so to speak) to take them while he watches, which apparently is his fetish.  Luckily, Jim was alerted about this guy when Casey called earlier, and he now arrives to confront Zinc.  A fight ensues.  Zinc flees and Jim pursues, but loses him.  He goes to the real Margaret for information about Zinc, but she won’t tell him, no matter how much he urges her that he’s trying to help her — and he’s disappointed when she asks for drugs in exchange for the information.  It’s always nice to get these rare moments when the team members engage honestly with people rather than trying to trick them.

Once Casey/Margaret gets out of the hospital, Hibbing sends Phalen to investigate the air shipping service Jim’s character owns, and learns from disgruntled employee Willy about Jim’s money troubles and his violent temper which got him a decade in Leavenworth for killing a fellow officer in a fight.  (When Phalen asks how long Willy’s been with Jim, Willy answers, “on and off, two, three years.”  Would’ve been a nice in-joke if he’d said six years, on and off.)

Barney’s financial backing (with undetectable counterfeit money) lets Dayton win the auction, but Barney insists the drugs be in New Orleans by morning, a tricky proposition.  Hibbing needs to call in Snelling for the special job.  But Casey, getting a signal from Barney, has already called Snelling and invited him over, pretending that Margaret has finally warmed to him romantically.  When Snelling arrives, Casey signals Jim and then starts acting ultra-trippy.  Jim barges in and finds her spacing out with Snelling, then finds her pills (presumably the ones Zinc gave her, now repurposed).  She claims Snelling provided them, and Jim beats the crap out of him, then injects him with that old standby, the drug that simulates death.  With Snelling “dead,” Hibbing has lost his delivery man and is potentially out millions of dollars — but he has Jim on the hook for murder and pressures him to deliver the goods in Snelling’s place.  This will let Jim and the team follow him right to the drugs.  And the location porn isn’t done yet, since they’re in a warehouse near the east end of the Bay Bridge.

However, the plan is in danger of Zinc poisoning.  (Come on, I had to make a zinc pun somewhere.)  Mr. Zn sneaks into the Hibbing house and starts aggressively making out with a reluctant Casey/Margaret, clutching her head hard enough to pull off the edge of her mask.  Hibbing shows up and is outraged at Zinc’s presence — until Zinc rips Casey’s mask off.  Casey’s stunt double makes a break for it, crashes through the window, and runs away; Zinc pursues, but she eludes him.  But Hibbing now knows there’s a sting going on, and he rushes to the warehouse to intercept Jim.  He gets the drop on Jim, but Barney and Willy were hiding in Jim’s van and come out with guns drawn, shooting both Hibbing and Phalen.  But we cut to a headline saying “Hibbing indicted,” so it must not have been a fatal shot.  Margaret is “no longer afraid” now that daddy’s put away, so she’s made a conveniently sudden recovery and is ready to turn her life around, just like that.

Okay, that last scene was way too easy, but it’s what you expect from ’70s TV.  Otherwise, this is a very strong episode, written by Lou Shaw.  It has a lot of elements that raise it above the routine: the extensive San Francisco location filming, the presence of Zinc as a dangerous spoiler to the team’s plans, the out-of-character moments with the team, and the Jim-Margaret confrontation adding some honest drama.  It’s very clear, however, that this episode was written around Lynda Day George’s pregnancy.  We only see her face in a few scenes at the beginning and end, and the only time we see any part of her below the shoulders (in the very final shot), it’s pretty apparent that she’s massively pregnant.  So this episode must’ve been shot very early in the season — probably the last one produced of the episodes with Casey in a diminished role and Barney with a mustache, and the first one before the Mimi (and Sandy and Andrea) episodes.  It also stands to reason that the San Francisco shooting would’ve been done at the same time as the season’s tape scenes (recall that the tape scenes are generally shot all at once and then cut into the episodes one by one), which would presumably have been early in the season.  So it’s odd that they delayed airing this episode until so near the end of the season.

“The Pendulum”: Okay, I have to confess before starting to watch the episode that I’m almost hoping it’s awful so I can say “‘The Pendulum’ is the pits!”  But that would be a Poe excuse for humor.

Dean Stockwell plays Gunnar Malstrom, who’s appropriately named, since his first act is to gun down US general Weston (Frank Maxwell) and bury him, abetted by his secretary/hitman Bock (Scott Brady).  He reports to a terrorist organization called the Pendulum Group, run by the Leader (Jack Donner), whose position Malstrom covets.  One of their members has gotten plastic surgery to look like the late Weston.  They’re ready to begin an operation code-named Nightfall, which will let them take over the US military.  Jim’s mission is to find out what Nightfall is and stop it.  The tape scene, surprisingly, takes place near Los Angeles City Hall, and is an extended version of the tape scene from, I believe, “Leona,” which actually seems to be in a winery or something rather than a bar as I thought at the time.

Casey’s already been on a date with Malstrom before the apartment scene, and on their second date, she confides that she’s recruiting him for her organization — though Willy shows up and tells her she’s overreaching herself, and she leaves a very confused Malstrom behind.  The next day, Barney shows up at his office and asks to be put in contact with the Pendulum leader (and plants a bug).  Malstrom denies knowing anything about it, and after Barney leaves, he has a henchman check him out.  The operator at Barney’s hotel, working with the team, takes a bribe from the henchman to let him hear Barney making plans with international allies, which leads Malstrom to send Bock out of the country to investigate.  Unable to get details on Barney, Malstrom goes out with Casey again (at the same restaurant owned by Mike Apollo from “Leona,” at least in the establishing shot) and convinces her to take him to her organization’s HQ (which is represented in exteriors by the UC San Diego library).  The team arranges for him to overhear Barney talking about killing him, so he sneaks out.  He ends up in an office overlooking an auditorium where Willy is speaking to a bunch of multinational extras about their operations, which involve stirring up war and crisis to drive their arms sales.  Malstrom is discovered and taken prisoner.

Malstrom is strapped to a chair (that’s secretly a polygraph) and Barney grills him, but then Casey comes in as his defender.  The polygraph registers his reactions to the various names and entities they mention, tipping them off that Nightfall is targeted at the military.  Indeed, the Pendulum leader and the fake Gen. Weston are arranging a meeting of the joint chiefs at Weston’s home.  But then Bock shows up to see them and says that Malstrom’s acting suspicious, going off to meet with Casey’s group as soon as he thought Bock was in Europe.  The leader orders Bock to go after Malstrom and kill him.  They then rig a briefcase bomb to blow up the military chiefs once they arrive.

The team keeps questioning Malstrom until the polygraph registers rises at the mentions of assassination and General Weston.  Then they bring him in to see “Chief” Jim, who casually drops this information to Malstrom’s surprise, and says that Pendulum’s plans get in the way of his group’s competing plans for US takeover.  He wants to acquire Pendulum and install Malstrom as its leader, if he’ll call off Nightfall.  Malstrom won’t cooperate, but he lets slip that Nightfall is already pretty far along.  With time of the essence, Jim advances to Phase 2, which will involve arranging Malstrom’s escape and rescue by a Bock impersonator, who if I interpret the credits right is named Manny (Don Reid).  The team doesn’t know the real Bock is outside closing in.  This could get complicated.

Casey tries to win Malstrom over and slips a tracker/mike under his lapel when she gets affectionate.  Oddly, from this point to the end of the act, over 2 minutes, is missing on the Netflix stream, although I found a more complete (though time-compressed) version on YouTube.  (And the “Report Problem” screen on Netflix doesn’t include an option for “part of it is missing.”)  While Willy takes Malstrom back to his cell, Jim goes in person to warn the man he thinks is Gen. Weston of the plot, although Jim’s using a fake name and credentials for some reason.  Fake-Weston and the Leader decide to ask Jim to sit in on the meeting so he’ll be blown up with the rest.

The Netflix stream picks up with the military leaders assembling in Weston’s study.  Back to the UCSD library, Bock is closing in and the Bock-postor is getting ready.  Real Bock spots fake Bock, then stalks fake Bock, then clocks fake Bock.  So when he starts shooting at Malstrom (and conveniently missing), Willy and the guards think it’s just part of the scheme and Willy fires back with blanks — until a guard gets shot and Willy realizes it’s the real Bock firing real bullets.  So he swaps guns and takes down the real Bock, apparently nonfatally.  Malstrom gets away in a car as planned and heads for the meeting, with Casey and Barney following.

Worth noting: during the meeting, one of the military chiefs says that one of the main issues on the table is the monitoring of “the Soviet submarines at Petropavlovsk.”  This is the first and probably only mention of the Soviet Union in the entire series.  In the past, various fictional People’s Republics have stood in for it.  But that just underlines the futility of trying to construct a coherent alternative geopolitics for the M:I universe.

When Malstrom arrives and demands to see the general, the fake Weston takes the opportunity to activate the briefcase bomb and head out with the Leader.  They confront Malstrom, who urges them to call off Nightfall, but they say the bomb is seconds away from detonating, and then, believing he’s defected to the rival group, they shoot him.  Hearing this through the bug, Barney alerts Jim, who identifies the briefcase as the bomb and tosses it out the window.  Cut to Malstrom getting taken into an ambulance, looking up to see the team staring down at him.  The end.

This is a moderately effective episode.  As I’ve said before, it’s a nice change in these last couple of seasons when they get away from the organized-crime stuff and do stories with an espionage/political/fate-of-the-world focus, even if it means concocting domestic terrorist groups.  I think season 6 only had one such episode, but there have been several in season 7.  And there’s some nice suspense, with Bock infiltrating and threatening the plan and with Jim unknowingly showing his hand to the bad guys.  It’s always cool when the bad guys are a step ahead of the IMF.

I also want to note that its use of a polygraph was unusually credible for TV.  They didn’t embrace the myth of the polygraph as a “lie detector,” but instead treated it as what it really is, a means of detecting stress reactions.  By noting his reactions and evaluating them in the context of their interaction, they’re able to identify what terms and concepts evoke a strong reaction.  It’s maybe a little more reliable than it would really be, but it’s still a much more plausible portrayal of a polygraph than we usually see on TV.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Fountain”/”The Fighter” (spoilers)

“The Fountain”: Matthew Drake (Cameron Mitchell) is in a computer center — no, wait, it’s a crime computer center, maintaining the syndicate’s records in a state-of-the-art way (keeping in mind that in 1973, state-of-the-art computers meant big wall banks with spinning tape reels).  On behalf of the organization, he’s auditing the activities of Tom Bachman, an aging rival gangster who’s not happy about the scrutiny.  Bachman is played by George Maharis in blatantly fake makeup to make him appear middle-aged, so it’s a safe bet that this caper will somehow involve the team temporarily de-aging him somehow as they did with William Shatner in “Encore” (so we can guess what fountain the title is referring to).  But that’s getting ahead of the story.  Bachman and his men pull guns on Drake and the techs, and Bachman steals two reels of incriminating computer records (after helpfully giving exposition to the audience about what’s on them), locks everyone in the back room, then sets off a bomb (while his henchmen are still in the room).  Later, in one of the many novelty shops where Jim has received tape briefings (this one featuring a lot of tall, slender cat statues), Jim is told that Drake was only injured and is hunting for Bachman and the records.  The team must get the records before Drake does.

This is the third episode this season to be set outside the US, though just barely, in Northern Mexico.  The team has tracked Bachman there and they intercept the pilot hired to fly him back to the US, with Barney taking the pilot’s place and meeting Bachman in a local bar.  In a rather contrived setup for later, Bachman asks what kind of plane Barney has and Barney describes it right down to the color, while the barman listens in.  They fly off and Barney fakes engine trouble, then knockout-needles Bachman; upon landing, they partially rouse him and play a tape of plane-crash sounds.

Drake, whose left hand has been crippled and covered by a black glove, follows Bachman’s trail to the bar and pays the barman to tell what he heard, though Drake’s henchman Dawson (Luke Askew) would rather beat it out of him.  The barman tells all about the yellow single-engine plane that Barney so contrivedly described earlier.  Drake clenches his single gloved hand and professes his desire to hunt down Bachman and take revenge.  “He tasks me, and I shall have him!”  Well, no, he doesn’t actually say that, but with the one glove it is kind of a Khan-like moment.

Bachman awakens near the simulated wreckage of the plane and sees Barney bandaging a simulated broken leg and making a crutch from a (not-simulated) branch.  They limp through the woods and Barney leads them to a mansion where the rest of the team (and at least one extra) are pretending to be members of some sort of religious retreat.  Jim and Casey tell Bachman that Barney’s being tended to, but they don’t need doctors.  They say they’re members of the Fellowship of the Golden Circle, which is actually a “Moebius circle” with no end — though Lynda Day George pronounces it as a “Mowaybus circle.”  After Bachman comments on Casey’s old-fashioned name (she’s going by Charity) and she says it was common when she was a girl, Willy comes in with a “wounded” raccoon (actually drugged) and Casey feeds it some special water locked in a cabinet (actually injecting it with an antidote out of Bachman’s sight), and the raccoon has a miraculous recovery.  After they leave, Bachman checks a dusty old book Casey was holding (they’re in a rather lovely library set that I don’t recall them using before, perhaps borrowed from some other series) and finds a picture of her in it; the copyright date is 1861.

Bachman confronts Casey about this, but she’s evasive.  Everyone here is evasive, but very bad at it, since they keep leaving proof of their miracles lying around.  Willy has a photo of himself as a WWII pilot (though it’s an obvious cut-and-paste job, and I mean that in the literal pre-Photoshop sense), and when pilot Barney shows up with his broken leg healed, Jim tries to claim his leg was never broken.  Eventually Bachman spies on Casey going through a secret panel and follows her down to a grotto containing a spring.  He gets her to confess that the water gives healing and immortality provided she drinks every 48 hours, otherwise she swiftly reverts to old age and dies.  So she has to stay here, but she would like to leave with Bachman if they take some special water with them.  Jim shows up and, seeing that he’s onto the secret, lets him drink the water (after warning him that it’s a complex chemical compound with side effects).  Plus a knockout pill (the side effects) so they can dye his hair and inject paraffin into his wrinkles to make him look younger for a week.  And Casey puts on a mask of extreme mummification (probably a reuse of the makeup from “alien” Casey in last season’s “The Visitors”) under a mask of her normal face.

Meanwhile, Drake’s men have found the plane wreck and tracked down the mansion, and shortly after Bachman awakes and sees his new youth, the henchmen barge in and hold them all at gunpoint.  But this isn’t actually a disruption of the plan, since Bachman’s intention is to mend fences with Drake by offering him the water to cure his hand.  He goes with them and brings Casey and a sample of the water as proof.  Even though an earlier scene had Drake implicitly giving the bloodthirsty Dawson permission to kill everyone but Bachman, the goons simply leave without harming anyone, making the whole thing a fakeout.  The team follows them to Drake’s place.  Drake disbelieves Bachman’s story, but Bachman proves it by denying Casey the water.  While no one’s looking, she sprays her outer mask with a chemical that dissolves it and exposes the mummy mask beneath, and takes a pill to feign death.  Convinced, Drake agrees to mend fences, and Bachman agrees to hand over the records.  They go to where the records are hidden, but the team has followed and Jim and Barney come in with the cops.

This was the second episode in a row written by Stephen Kandel, and it’s bewildering that he’d go from the brilliant “The Question” to this mediocre caper.  The story doesn’t make a lot of sense.  How did they know that Bachman would be willing to make amends with Drake once he found a way to heal Drake’s hand?  I mean, this is the same guy who recently tried to kill Drake and sacrificed two of his own henchmen to do so.  I guess the idea is that it’s to get Drake to call off his vendetta, but still, how could they really have known he’d go for it?  It just seems like a ridiculously convoluted way to find Bachman’s hiding place.  And the subplot of Drake’s men hunting down the team felt like a cheat, because it ultimately played right into the plan as though Jim had intended it all along, and the threat of the bloodthirsty Dawson turned out to be toothless.  Overall, it’s rather disappointing, and coming right after the best episode of the season — by the same writer, no less — makes it even more of a letdown.

“The Fighter”: Boxer Gunner Loomis (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.) is unhappy with the mobsters who control his contract, the ruthless Braddock (Joe Maross) and his weak-willed partner Mitchell (William Windom), and foolishly tells them he’ll talk to the feds if they don’t release him from his contract.  Unluckily for him, Braddock has already called in a hitman to take care of him.  (He tells the hitter to “make it look like a hit-and-run,” which is odd, given that Loomis is killed in the shower.)  Jim goes into a big white Greco-Roman building to get the tape in an office; it might be San Francisco City Hall again, but I’m not sure.  And wouldn’t a government building be a strange place for a secret government agent to get a secret message?  Anyway, the mission is to get the goods on Braddock and Mitchell.  Mitchell is the weak link, a formerly honest promoter whom Braddock corrupted.  And his daughter Susan (Jenifer Shaw) is in love with one of Braddock’s boxers, Pete Novick (Geoffrey Deuel).  Jim plans to take advantage of that relationship, while protecting the two young innocents.

While sweet, innocent Susan gleefully watches her boyfriend and another man inflict cumulative, incurable neurological impairment on one another, Jim and Barney rip off the syndicate’s payroll.  Later, Barney shows up in Braddock’s office with an offer to buy out Pete’s contract, and the amount he offers is the exact amount just stolen.  Yes, he’s moving in on Braddock’s operation and is aggressive about it.  (And, bizarrely, he’s using the alias “Spanner.”)  Meanwhile, Casey plays reporter to interview Pete, and while he may be an “innocent,” he’s kind of a jerk, blowing off a date with sweet, innocent Susan to take the seductive blonde reporter up to his pad for an, err, interview.  (Also he’s got a “look the other way” policy toward his promoters’ corruption.)  But Willy’s rigged Pete’s car with remote servos and given Casey the controller, and she sticks him with a drug that makes him woozy for exactly 2 minutes and then knocks him out (oh, come on!), just long enough to see motorcyclist Willy speeding headlong toward him and then passing out as Casey remote-steers the car out of Willy’s way.  They stage an accident scene which Casey photos, and then she comes to him the next day to tell him he killed the guy and she’s blackmailing him on Barney/Spanner’s behalf.  He goes to Braddock and Mitchell for help and they say they’ll take care of it.  Then Willy shows up as a federal agent who warns them about Spanner’s aggressive new organization and wants them to testify against him, turning to them as the lesser of two evils.  Braddock will have none of it, but Mitchell is curious.  (And Braddock needs a better secretary.  Both Barney and Willy were able to barge into his office after he refused to see them.)

Later, Susan comes to Pete, angry at him for missing their date, but he confides in her about the “dead” biker and she’s devastated.  (Nasty thing for the team to do to these innocents.)  She goes to her father Mitchell for help, but Mitchell doesn’t want her dating this tainted boxer and demands she leave him.  After she leaves, he asks Braddock to go ahead and let “Spanner” have Pete’s contract, but Braddock decides he’d rather kill Pete, a decision Mitchell’s uneasy with.

The team has Braddock’s phone lines tapped, so when he tries to call someone whom I guess you’d call a talent agent for hitmen, they intercept the call — and we see the return of voice artist Walker Edmiston to the team.  And though he’s credited as “Rawls,” Jim calls him “Dave,” which is the same name he used back in “Movie” (where he was credited as Dave Waley).  So I think we can count Dave as a recurring team member, the first since Mimi.  Dave says Braddock’s preferred hitman is on vacation or something, and sends in Jim as a substitute.  As if bringing Edmiston back weren’t enough, we get another bit of the continuity that’s unique to this season: the alias Jim uses, hitman Dave Riker (another Dave), is the same identity he used back in “Boomerang.”

Jim agrees to kill Pete, and Braddock wants to come and watch just to make sure of the new guy, insisting the reluctant Mitchell come as well.  Jim arranges to blow Pete’s house up with a bomb.  But elsewhere, Willy and Barney intercept Susan and take her in for “questioning,” and Casey dons a Susan mask and goes to Pete’s house, to the horror of the watching Mitchell.  Casey knocks Pete out and Willy carries him to safety just before the bomb blows, but as far as Mitchell knows, Braddock’s hit has claimed his daughter’s life.  (By the way, isn’t it rather rude of the team to save Pete’s life by destroying all his worldly possessions?  I hope the government compensates him.)

You’d think this would be enough to get the devastated Mitchell to testify, and Willy comes to make the offer, but he still won’t do it.  Not until Jim shows up for his payment from Braddock and drops a comment about another hit he was asked to do.  Braddock thinks it’s just a mixup, but Mitchell thinks the hit was meant for him.  To prove otherwise, Braddock promises to kill Jim and asks Mitchell to go get him.  But Jim intercepts Mitchell at gunpoint and takes him into the empty boxing arena, telling him Braddock did hire Jim to kill Mitchell.  But Braddock comes in and almost spoils things by shooting Jim; Willy intercepts him just in time and the shot goes wild, and then Willy comes in so it seems to Mitchell that Willy fired the shot.  With Willy holding hitman Jim at gunpoint, Mitchell promises to testify.  So his daughter’s death didn’t do it, but a threat to his own life did?  Some loving father.  (Did I mention he smacked her when they argued earlier?)  Anyway, we wrap up with the team explaining things to the young couple, saying that Mitchell will still need to do time but it’ll be easier for him if he gets to see his daughter.

Another routine episode, but a reasonably well-written one.  It’s yet another Stephen Kandel script (this time in collaboration with Nicholas E. Baehr), and it’s certainly an improvement over last week’s, though nowhere near the level of “The Question.”  Still, it’s a solid outing overall.

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Thoughts on DOCTOR WHO: LOST IN TIME

I’ve just belatedly finished watching the Doctor Who: Lost in Time: The Hartnell Years DVD I have out from Netflix.  I’ve already watched the first of the two Patrick Troughton discs, but then I learned about the Hartnell one and figured I should see that right away, because it should’ve come first (Hartnell, of course, was the original Doctor, Troughton the Second Doctor).  Anyway, the set is a compilation of the surviving fragments of DW serials that were erased by the BBC back when they did that sort of thing.  The Hartnell disc contains one complete story, “The Crusade,” though only the first and third episodes survive and the other two are only in reconstructed audio form (without even any production clips or text descriptions).  I tried reading the relevant portions of the novelization as I listened, so I’d know what was going on, but it didn’t work well; even though the novelization was by the same person who wrote the episodes, David Whitaker, it substantially restructured the story and the dialogue so I couldn’t really follow along.

Still, “The Crusade” is a very impressive serial, surely one of the finest DW serials of its day if not in general, and it’s a shame the whole thing doesn’t survive.  It’s one of the pure historical adventures that they did roughly every other serial in the Hartnell era, with the Doctor and his companions encountering King Richard the Lion-Hearted and Saladin during the Third Crusade.  Whitaker’s writing for the historical figures in the story is borderline-Shakespearean, not quite iambic pentameter but very elegant and poetic and clever.  And the actors, including Julian Glover as Richard, Jean Marsh as his sister Joanna, and Bernard Kay as Saladin, are definitely Shakespearean in their training and performance.  It’s a delight to watch, not just for the classy performances and beautiful language, but the richly drawn characters and intense drama among them.  It’s such a striking departure from the clunkiness of a lot of the more sci-fi-oriented serials of early DW.  In fact, the downside of “The Crusade” is that it becomes a lot less interesting when the focus turns away from these grand historical figures and their worldshaking concerns to the more petty escapades of the Doctor and his companions, which by necessity unfold on the periphery of historical events.  It’s like we’re getting to see scenes from an unwritten Shakespeare play about Richard I, but then we don’t get to see the final act because we have to focus on the Doctor and companions getting reunited and back to the TARDIS.  It’s kind of a letdown.  But it’s still an impressive serial overall.

The drawback with “The Crusade,” of course, is that it features Arab/Mideastern characters played by white actors in makeup, and there are plenty of Orientalist stereotypes on display, such as the evil emir who abducts Barbara and the desert bandit who tries to kill Ian.   Saladin himself is written and portrayed as a nuanced, dignified figure (and Richard as a flawed, often petulant man), yet the makeup on Bernard Kay, the dark face paint and angular eyebrows, makes him look more like a 1960s Klingon than a believable Salah ad-Din.  (One nice touch is that when the actors say “Saladin,” they emphasize the third syllable so that it does sound a lot like “Salah ad-Din.”)

The DVD also contains the only three surviving episodes of the 12-part epic “The Daleks’ Master Plan” and the final episode of the rather silly “The Celestial Toymaker.”  It’s a shame that so much is missing, but we do get to see surviving footage of Adrienne Hill as Katarina, the first companion to die (though she was only in 3-4 episodes in all); Nicholas Courtney (the future Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) in his first DW role as Bret Vyon; and Jean Marsh (again) as Bret’s sister Sara Kingdom, the second companion to die (though she was only in this storyline so it’s questionable whether she was officially a companion).  It’s good to be able to see these characters in action after only reading about them before.  The villain, Mavic Chen (Kevin Stoney), is not so impressive, however.  The concept of his makeup design was interesting; he was evidently conceived as a man of the year 4000, a mix of all modern ethnic types — he had tightly curled blond hair, dark skin, and epicanthic eyes.  Unfortunately the makeup was no more convincing than Saladin’s, and it still comes off as an Orientalist stereotype, or at best kind of silly-looking.  There’s also a council of alien villains who are kind of bizarre, but interestingly differentiated by body language as well as makeup — one walks with his arms stuck out to the sides, one has a peculiar bouncing gait, etc.  Some are a bit silly in execution, but still, I’m surprised none of the books or audios have followed up on any of these races.

Not much to say about the “Toymaker” episode.  Judging by the novelization and other stuff I’ve read, the serial was rather weak and fraught with problems; it was caught in the transition between script editors and producers and thus went through several very different drafts, and it was written in such a way as to cover up Hartnell’s absence (probably due to his increasing illness by this stage) through the rather silly expedient of having the titular Toymaker, a godlike trickster anticipating Star Trek‘s Q, render the Doctor invisible and inaudible except for a badly double-exposed hand to  move the pieces on a game board.  It’s really only notable in that the Toymaker was played by Michael Gough, the future Alfred from the Burton and Schumacher Batman films.

Some of the best stuff is in the special features, especially the compilation of “off-screen” footage (meaning footage obtained by pointing a film camera at a TV screen) which includes fragments from various episodes.  The compilation includes several key departures that I’m glad to have seen.  First is a portion of one of the missing “Daleks’ Master Plan” episodes, specifically the very intense moments leading up to Katarina’s self-sacrifice; the actual moment itself is lost, but the buildup is powerful stuff, knowing what’s going to happen.  There’s also a portion of “The Savages” with companion Steven deciding to leave the Doctor and saying his goodbyes — and, most importantly, the last moments of “The Tenth Planet” leading up to the Doctor’s first regeneration!  It’s remarkable to finally get to see that pivotal moment in TV history, the very first time the Doctor regenerated (or “renewed himself,” as I think it was called at the time).

I wish they’d make more complete sets of these.  I gather that every missing episode of Doctor Who has been fully reconstructed in audio, thanks to fans tape-recording the show off the air.  And I’ve seen reconstructions using production photos or stills taken from TV (“telesnaps”).  I gather there have been audio CD releases of all the missing episodes with narration added, but I’d like to see video reconstructions with the complete soundtracks, stills, surviving film fragments, and text descriptions as needed — to get as close to the original experience as possible.

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Watch ya gonna do?

The wristwatch I’ve had for a number of years now was a Casio “G Shock,” a brand of watch that was sold to me on the grounds that it was extremely durable, firefighters swore by it, etc.  (Although the instruction book said not to get it wet, as it turned out.)  I’m not a firefighter or a particularly rough-and-tumble person, but I was sick of watches that invariably broke at the points where the band connected to the watch, so I got it for the much sturdier construction at that point.

However, the wristband itself was made of a resin that wasn’t nearly as durable.  I’d long since had to replace the little cuff thingy that kept the longer part of the band from flapping around with an elastic hairband, and the material between the peg holes was tearing through so that the watch kept getting looser on my wrist.  I tried going to the place I bought it to see if I could get it repaired, and they said they’d have to send it to the manufacturer.  I tried a jewelry store, the one that successfully managed to disassemble it to put a new battery in (which turned out to be far more difficult than the jeweler anticipated), and they said they couldn’t do it.

Then I decided to see if I could find a replacement wristband online and maybe do the replacement myself.  And as I began examining how the band connected to the watch, I realized it was familiar.  I remembered that I’d replaced the band once before.  The original band had broken too, but in a different way — I remember now that it cracked laterally, across the width of the band.  And I’d replaced it with the band that was coming apart now.  I don’t even remember how long ago it was, but I bought the watch in July 2002, so I’ve been through two wristbands in nine years.

So I found the replacement band online, but I couldn’t order it yet, because I was missing something I needed: a precision screwdriver, a Phillips head small enough to undo the screws on the watch.  The last time I changed the band, I realized, I must’ve used the set of precision screwdrivers my father had — a set of steel-handled screwdrivers of various sizes, all in a plastic box with a clear lid.  I always figured they must’ve been fairly expensive tools, and I was hoping I could find something reasonably similar for a more modest price.  As a long shot, when I was at the grocery store, I decided to check the hardware aisle — and there I found a set of precision screwdrivers just like my father’s, costing a grand total of… $3.99.  Oh.  Okay.  You learn something new every day.

So with the screwdrivers obtained, I ordered the watchband, and it came yesterday.  I began trying to take apart the watch this morning.  It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get one of the band halves free… but then other pieces of the watch’s casing started to break off.  I guess they’d grown brittle with age and were being held in place by the adjoining bits, so when I loosened those bits, they fell off.  There was no way of putting them back together.  They didn’t impair the watch’s function any, but I figured losing bits of the casing might let moisture and stuff get in.  And there was just so much accumulated gunk inside the pieces where the band connected…

Anyway, I figured I should just go ahead and buy a new watch.  So I went to the department store and did so.  I wasn’t sure what kind of band I wanted; I don’t trust resin anymore and metal is uncomfortable.  The clerk at the jewelry counter offered me a watch that had a fabric band with a Velcro closure.  I was skeptical at first, but it was pretty comfortable, and I realized it would be infinitely adjustable — and there’s no little cuff thingy that could break off.  So I went for it.  Although now it’s not feeling so comfortable.  I belatedly realized the fabric of the band is a little rough, and I hope it doesn’t irritate my skin too much.  I’d hate to have to return it and try to make another decision about what watch to buy.  It’s not easy to do.

But I should be able to return the replacement watch band I turned out not to need.  At least, the receipt says “Returns are easy!”  Hopefully that will turn out to be true.

By the way, I’ve just tried the backlight feature, and instead of lighting up the background behind the digits, it lights up the digits themselves.  Maybe that saves power?  Anyway, it’s kind of weird seeing the digits in negative like that.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Boomerang”/”The Question” (spoilers)

November 17, 2011 1 comment

“Boomerang”: The lovely Eve Vayle (Laraine Stephens) meets her husband Johnny (Charles Guardino) at an airstrip, tries to trick him into giving her sensitive documents he’s carrying, then has her hired killer club him with a wrench when that doesn’t work.  The killer flies him up in his small plane, bails out, and sets off a bomb.  At the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Jim gets the mission to retrieve the incriminating documents from Eve.  Jim intends to create the illusion that Johnny is still alive.  But nobody’s in the apartment briefing except the core foursome, so who’s going to wear the mask?  We later find it’s a guest agent named Bert, but the actor is uncredited.

Barney shows up at Johnny’s funeral as a cop who’s rude and confrontational toward Eve and her henchman Homer Chill (Walter Barnes), whose cousin Joe is wanted in Gotham City in connection with the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  But that’s not important now.  Homer is a henchman inherited from Johnny, but he actually reports to the head of the organization, Luchek (Ronald Feinberg).  After the funeral, Eve meets with Luchek and blackmails him with the incriminating documents: regular payments and Eve’s continued safety will ensure the originals stay hidden.  To think I held you when you were born, Luchek says, but Eve counters that it wasn’t too many years later that Luchek killed her father.  Luchek backs down and pays the money.

Willy rigs a tripwire at Eve’s door so that she falls just as someone takes a shot at her.  Detective Barney detains the unseen shooter at gunpoint and brings him inside as he questions Eve, and we see the shooter was Jim, who’s playing it cool and cheerful and is even polite to his intended victim.  Eve refuses to cooperate with Barney or explain why she was targeted, so he takes Jim away.  Eve has Homer do his own investigation and they track hitman Jim down; he’s been released by virtue of a transfer of funds from his pocket to Barney’s.  Eve offers to double his fee if he’ll kill the man who hired him, and when Jim hesitates, she invites him to dinner.  Once sufficiently romanced, Jim confesses that he doesn’t know who hired him; he got the money and instructions from a courier.  But she convinces him to try tracking the man down.

Willy sneaks into Eve’s bedroom and takes some money from the stacks Luchek paid her, leaving a copy of Johnny’s thumbprint on the safe dial.  When Eve pays Jim the agreed-on amount, which by lucky happenstance is exactly one bundle’s worth, Jim finds it’s 2 grand short.  (Is this something the team could’ve reasonably predicted?  Jim said he was offered $12,500 for the hit.  Maybe he expected Eve to double that because it’s fairly routine, or maybe he would’ve haggled if she hadn’t offered that off the bat.  And maybe $25,000 is the standard size of a bundle of cash of this denomination, and maybe it was reasonable to expect that mobsters would routinely deal with such bundles.  Still, it seems the plan relies a bit too much on factors outside the team’s control.  Unless I’m remembering the timing wrong and Willy broke the safe and passed the details on to Jim before he started talking money.)  Checking all the bundles, Eve finds more money missing, and is bewildered since only she and Johnny knew the combination (and apparently, despite being a criminal, it’s never occurred to her that a safe can be broken into).  Jim uses face powder to bring out the thumbprint, and there just happens to be a copy of Johnny’s driver’s license complete with thumbprint in the safe, and Eve just happens to be sufficiently expert in dactyloscopy (look it up) to make a positive match by sight alone.  Jim says it must be a fresh print or it would’ve dried out.  But Eve is certain Johnny’s dead.

At least until she finds out that Johnny’s jacket was delivered to her home (by Willy), and Casey calls pretending to be the laundry and saying it was supposed to go to another address.  Eve and Jim go to that address and find Casey, along with duplicates of Johnny’s possessions found on his body (as well as some rather weird abstract cat art decorating the place).  Jim intimidates Casey into confessing she’s working with Johnny, though she says she hasn’t seen him in days.

Eve and Jim are getting rather lovey-dovey, and Homer wonders if she’s falling for him, but she assures him that doing business sometimes demands actions that resemble affection.  Eve then goes to the hotel where Johnny’s killer is lying low.  The team intercepted him days ago, and desk clerk Willy tells Eve he never checked in.  It’s starting to look like the man she saw parachuting out of that plane was Johnny.  Which is reinforced when Bert breaks into her room that night and injects her with a needle.  There’s nothing in the needle; it’s just cosmetic for later.  The trick here, bizarrely, is that Willy previously swapped out her sleeping pills for ones calibrated to make her sleep for a precise amount of time.  (Seriously, again, who is the IMF’s pharmaceutical designer?  A drug like that could make millions for the insomnia market.)  Why not just leave her sleeping pills alone and have Bert inject her with adrenaline, if he’s going to inject her anyway?  Well, in any case, she wakes up just in time to see Bert-as-Johnny say “I got what I wanted” and leave.

Corrupt cop Barney shows up and takes Eve to see “Johnny’s” body, freshly killed by Barney.  He says they were partners; Johnny pentothalled her into revealing where the documents were and was going to… umm… do something nefarious with them; I missed that part.  But Barney decided to kill him and muscle in on Eve’s blackmail scheme, taking 3/4 of the payments for himself.  He shows her (a duplicate of) Johnny’s briefcase to confirm he has the documents.  Eve goes to Jim and tries to seduce him into killing Barney (gee, that’s her solution to everything, isn’t it?), but Jim is skeptical of Barney’s story, saying Johnny would never have actually brought the documents.  They have to be sure.  She takes him to where she hid the documents, and describes the site well enough that the eavesdropping Homer is able to repeat it to Luchek, who recognizes where it is.  At the site, she finds the documents are still there, and then pulls a gun on Jim, not needing him anymore.  I would imagine the plan at this point was for Barney and Willy to jump out with guns drawn, but Luchek gets there first, and Eve takes a bullet to that ever-popular wound location, the shoulder.  Jim punches out Luchek and his goon, and that’s when Barney and Willy finally arrive and reclaim the evidence.  Eve looks hurt to realize Jim was playing her all along, but it’s not like she was doing any different.

A run-of-the-mill but fairly entertaining episode.  The main point of interest is Laraine Stephens, a striking actress who resembles a more delicate-featured Elizabeth Montgomery, but whose dainty, girlish looks are belied by a smoky, brassy, New York-tinged alto that sounds like its owner has been around the block a few times.  There are some moments where it seems they’re trying to play this as a real romance for Jim, but if so it’s a superficial pretense, since both of them are merely playing each other.  This could’ve been a more potent episode if Eve had been more sympathetic, though it’s hard to see how that could’ve been done in the context of the story they were telling.

The episode credits Lalo Schifrin for the music, but this time I’m certain there’s no original scoring, except maybe for some source music in the restaurant scene — though if there’s no other original music, that’s probably stock as well.

“The Question”: What do you get when you multiply six by nine?  No, that’s a different question.  The question is, why does Gary Lockwood have such an unflattering haircut?  He’s barely recognizable as Nicholas Varsi, a foreign assassin who’s arrested meeting his contact at the airport and tells the arresting officer, Nelson (Jason Evers), that he wants to defect.  Atop a skyscraper, a surly guy adjusting a TV aerial hands off the tape to Jim, whose mission, “should you agree to undertake it,” is to determine whether Varsi’s defection is on the level, since he won’t reveal his assignment and might be passing false information from the enemy (hey, another spy mission).  There’s some interagency conflict here, since he’s in the custody of the Federal Intelligence Service, which may have been infiltrated by a mole, so the IMF has to abduct Varsi without FIS cooperation.  (To add to the alphabet soup, Varsi is an operative for the “KGN.”  Subtle…)

This is another episode that must’ve been shot during Lynda Day George’s maternity leave (they sure are spacing those out), since Casey’s allegedly working in Europe again and the lady agent of the week is Andrea, played by Elizabeth Ashley, who was so memorable in last season’s “Encounter.”  In a sense, this is her second time playing an IMF team member, since she spent most of “Encounter” playing Casey in disguise.

Varsi is being held by the FIS in a condemned building (with rather sedate grafitti saying “LOVE” and “KOOKIE KOURT”).  There’s a scene — no doubt the latest of many — in which Nelson and Varsi go back and forth: Varsi won’t reveal his assignment until he has a guarantee of a new identity, the FIS won’t give him a guarantee until they can prove his story of defection.  It’s a nicely written scene by Stephen Kandel, a lively and clever exchange.  Finally the FIS agents tire of it and leave, though evidently a cameraman stays in the room with him, since on the agents’ security monitor the camera freely pans, dollies, and tracks to follow Varsi’s movements.

Barney throws a firebomb into the building, then Jim and Willy show up as cops (supposedly members of the standard round-the-clock patrol of the building) and pretend to participate in the investigation, actually planting another couple of bombs as a diversion.  They enter Varsi’s room, distract him with the classic “Look out!” ploy, and knock him out, then put a Willy mask on him.  The real Willy climbs out the window and Jim makes it look like Varsi-as-Willy-as-cop has been shot.  So Barney and Andrea come in as an ambulance crew and take Varsi out.  But when the FIS agents can’t find Varsi, Nelson catches on and sends them after the ambulance.  A chase ensues until Willy releases some barrels in the pursuing car’s path (they were ready for anything).  But Nelson arranges a police search with the assistance of a captain played by George O’Hanlon, best known today as the original voice of George Jetson.  Captain Jetson doesn’t do much except periodically tick off the percentage of the area that’s been searched.

Varsi awakens in an abandoned winery where he’s interrogated by Jim in the role of the local head of KGN operations.  Varsi claims he was pretending to defect as a response to his arrest, but Jim is unconvinced and demands details of his assignment, which Varsi refuses to give.  He’s allowed to see a sobbing Andrea, who’s supposedly just been tortured by Willy.  Later, she’s thrown in the storeroom with him — and her blouse is unbuttoned, suggesting somethng more than torture was going on.  But Varsi’s a savvy agent and realizes this might be just more of the game; he’s already found the bug in the room (the one he was allowed to find).   The next round of cat-and-mouse ensues: is she really the captured FIS agent she claims, or a KGN agent sent to sound him out?  Is he really a defector or a loyal assassin?  They both distrust each other and they both acknowledge it freely.  It doesn’t stop Varsi from making out with her, though.

Their conversation is monitored by a voice-stress “lie detector” of Barney’s, which gives inconclusive results: either Varsi’s honestly a defector or he’s a very controlled liar.  We see the team discussing where they stand, the kind of “behind-the-scenes” discussion that’s become rare again this season.  The gadget didn’t work, so it comes down to Andrea.

Jim tells Varsi they used a lie detector on him, but claims they were convinced by its results.  As a final test, they hand him a gun and tell him to kill Andrea.  He apologizes to her and pulls the trigger, but the chamber’s empty (though he calls it a blank).  Convinced of his loyalty, Jim gives him a car and supplies for his assignment.  Varsi asks for Andrea to come with him as a driver and hostage.  He’s still wary — he may have guessed that the gun would be empty.  If he’s a defector, he’ll prove it by taking Andrea to the FIS; if he’s not, he’ll prove it by killing his target and her.  Anyway, the team evacuates the winery just before the cops close in on it.  Farewell, Captain Jetson.

The team tracks Varsi’s car by homing transmitter, but he stops at an electronics store and buys a bug detector, finding the bug in his own shirt collar.  He ditches the bug and drives off, but Andrea turns on a spare bug in her barrette when they stop for gas.  But the nosy gas station attendant (remember when they had those?) plays with the bug detector and reveals the second bug, which Varsi destroys.  Now Andrea’s on her own.  The team splits up to search.

Varsi now has Andrea tied up in a hotel room, where a sniper rifle has been left for him.  He carries Andrea into the bedroom, gags her, and tells her to be quiet; he’s meeting his superior Kemmer (whom he’s apparently never seen), who might kill her if he finds her.  While Varsi assembles the rifle, Andrea wriggles her way over to the phone, lifts the receiver and dials Jim’s car phone with her hands behind her (lucky for her it’s a touch-tone phone), and taps Morse code into the receiver with her fingernails, tipping Jim off to her location.  She gets back on the bed just before Varsi comes back in, but sees she’s left the receiver slightly ajar.  I was expecting the phone to start making that noise it makes when you leave it off the hook too long, thereby tipping Varsi off, but that didn’t happen; maybe they didn’t do that yet in 1973.  Varsi doesn’t notice the phone and Andrea is safe — for now.

When Kemmer arrives, it turns out to be Nelson — which didn’t surprise me at all, given that Jason Evers usually played bad guys.  He says he ran Varsi’s interrogation to make sure of his loyalties.  But then Varsi reveals his loyalties, pointing his rifle at Kemmer/Nelson; he really is a defector and his plan was to smoke Kemmer out and hand him over to the authorities.  But like virtually everyone in this whole episode, Kemmer is thinking a move ahead, and he already sabotaged Varsi’s firing pin.  Varsi’s gun doesn’t work; Kemmer’s does.  Kemmer then goes into the bedroom and carries Andrea out.  (Lucky for Lockwood and Evers that Elizabeth Ashley is a dainty woman.  I’m reminded of Gielgud’s advice about playing King Lear: “Get a small Cordelia.”)  Turns out that, for whatever reason, Kemmer didn’t kill Varsi, just lightly wounded him.  He has Andrea tie Varsi up, then ties her back up and replaces the rifle’s firing pin.  We see now that the hotel room is just across from a government building of some sort and a motorcade is arriving.  Kemmer prepares to shoot the unspecified Important Person arriving with the motorcade — and a really nifty joint operation begins to come together.  Varsi scoots across the floor and starts moving a side table with his feet.  Andrea helps him move it with her feet.  Outside, Jim arrives, sees the rifle sticking out of the window, and climbs the outside of the building.  Varsi and Andrea tip over the table, distracting Kemmer just in time for Jim to leap in and beat up Kemmer (which is quite a coincidence, since they didn’t know he was coming).  Kemmer holds his own, but finally Willy bursts in and gets him in a full nelson (fittingly).  Barney’s the only one left out of this impressive climactic dogpile.

As Varsi is wheeled into the ambulance, Andrea gladly says that they know who he is now.  But who is she, he asks?  Wistfully, she tells him that will have to stay a question.

This is without a doubt the finest episode of the season so far, and with only six left, it’s unlikely to be surpassed.  It’s the first episode this season that feels like a season 5 episode, with the team being “out of character” for much of the story, things going wrong with the plan and building suspense, a team member developing a real relationship with a guest character, and strong, clever writing throughout.  The rare return to an espionage-themed caper also adds to that fifth-season flavor.  All the characters here are on the ball, keeping each other guessing, seeing through each other’s ploys, and anticipating each other’s moves, and nobody knows what side anybody’s on until the end — just what you want in a good intrigue thriller.  It’s always more interesting on M:I when the guest characters are smart enough to know they’re being played, even to play back, and almost everyone here is playing on the same high level.  On top of which we even get a rare hint of genuine romance.  It’s a bit odd that the dramatic core of the episode revolved around two guest stars, although that’s kind of in keeping with the original format of the series back in the very early episodes.  And I note that this is the second time they’ve brought in Elizabeth Ashley for a script that made considerable demands of its lead actress.  If it weren’t for Mrs. George’s maternity leave, I’d wonder if they lacked faith in her dramatic chops.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Puppet”/”Incarnate” (spoilers)

November 16, 2011 1 comment

Sometimes these paired titles in my review headers make interesting phrases.  “The puppet incarnate?”  Wasn’t there a Twilight Zone episode or two along those lines?

“The Puppet”: Ooh, look, it’s Roddy McDowall!  I know already I’m going to enjoy this.  He’s playing Leo Ostro, a young, Ivy League-educated gangster who’s arguing with his more pragmatic older brother Paul (John Crawford) about a new plan he has for the family business, one that Paul considers naive and reckless and says will only go forward over his dead body.  Leo contemplates for a bit, then says, “Paul?” in that classic McDowall tone of thoughtful innocence masking mischief, and when Paul turns, Leo shoots him.

Cut to Jim in a novelty shop or something (did their San Francisco location budget run out?), being told that Paul Ostro recently suffered severe facial injuries in a hunting accident, whereupon talk began to emerge about the Ostro crime family preparing to institute a new plan of some sort.  The team’s rather nebulous mission is to discover the nature of the plan and the reason for the change in policy.  There’s no mention of why “conventional law enforcement agencies” can’t handle this task, or even why it’s so important to define the mission in this particular way.

But Jim quickly catches onto what’s already evident to the audience — that the heavily bandaged Paul recovering from “facial injuries” may be an impostor, the titular puppet for someone else.  Jim’s gambling that he can pretend to be someone Paul knows — either the recovering “Paul” is an impostor or he’ll be drugged enough to be confused.  The regular foursome (including Casey, who’s looking more like her old self again) are joined by Hank (Richard Devon) and Khalid (Joseph Ruskin); both actors are familiar faces from M:I episodes past, but this is their first time playing good guys.

The team arranges a family emergency for the Ostros’ chef (I don’t want to think about how) so that Barney can take over the job (and he’s studied up on cuisine so he can pass Leo’s vetting).  Meanwhile, various mobsters are meeting in “Paul”‘s bedroom, and since “Paul” can barely talk, Leo takes over explaining “Paul’s” new plan — or rather, not explaining the details, just asking them to invest a million each with the promise of a twelvefold return.  Gault (John Larch), a rival wishing to take over the Ostros’ operation, resists investing blind, but “Paul” vouches for Leo, and the mobsters trust his word and hand over the money.

Jim and Casey arrive at the mansion, with Jim insisting he and Paul have been business partners for months.  “Paul” doesn’t recognize him, but once Jim “reminds” him of the details of their plan — a deal with a Middle Eastern minister to get their hands on half a million tons of “misplaced” oil — “Paul” and Leo are inclined to go along with it, though Leo insists on meeting the minister (Khalid, of course) to get the details; he wants to be convinced the deal’s legit before he invests the million bucks that Paul supposedly promised.  Jim insists the minister can’t be seen going to the Ostro mansion, so Leo goes to him.  Jim and Casey arrange for Casey to stumble and expose track marks on her arm to Leach (Val Avery), Gault’s spy in the Ostro home.

Barney spikes “Paul”‘s liquid meal with a drug to induce a fake heart attack, letting Willy come in as a doctor and take photos of “Paul”‘s tattoo, as well as collecting the tape recorder in Barney’s watch, which has a sample of “Paul”‘s voice for Hank to imitate.  Barney’s been called to the bedroom by the returned Leo, who’s instantly suspicious that “Paul” was poisoned — which makes sense if it’s a perfectly healthy impostor.  Leo makes Barney drink the rest of the spiked concoction, and Barney does so and stands calmly until Leo’s satisfied — then races to the kitchen to drink the antidote in time.  (Why didn’t he take it in advance?  Or have a vial ready in his pocket?  Good to inject an element of suspense/danger, but it shouldn’t be so contrived.)

Leach tips Gault’s men off about Casey, so they abduct her and tempt her with drugs until she tells them that Leo and Jim have arranged to abscond to Zurich with $4 million.  Gault’s man following Jim to the travel agency finds corroboration for this story.  (Is the travel agent that Gault’s man questions part of Jim’s team, or just an innocent?  There’s no indication of the former, but I’d be surprised if Jim left that element to chance.)

When Dr. Willy returns, he insists on being left alone with Paul, then he and Barney swap out Leo’s “Paul” for Hank, and Willy and Hank break open the safe and extract the mobsters’ money, which Willy then transfers to a briefcase in Khalid’s room just in time for Leo to show up.  (Meanwhile, Barney and Casey remove the bandages from “Paul” and confirm that he’s an impostor.)  They show Leo the papers confirming the oil deal and put them in the trick briefcase so he can take them to experts for verification.  But then Gault’s men grab Leo and Jim at gunpoint and take them back to the mansion, where all the gangsters meet in Paul’s room.  When they open the trick briefcase, it opens on the compartment containing their money and two tickets to Zurich.  Leo insists he’s been framed and turns to “Paul” for support, but Hank-as-Paul claims to know nothing of this.  Leo denounces him as an impostor, so the mobsters cut off the bandages — and surprise, surprise, under the bandages Hank has on a mask of the real Paul with heavy facial burns.  He tells them Leo shot him and kept him drugged and controlled.  To save himself, Leo has to explain his whole plan to the other mobsters: learning that South African currency was printed in the US, he arranged the means to make flawless counterfeits and is ready to start distributing them globally.  He takes them down to the subbasement to prove his story by showing them the printing equipment — and the watching Barney signals Willy to bring in the cops, catching all the bad guys with the evidence.

A pretty routine mission overall.  In theory it’s slightly more interesting than usual in that the team is trying to solve a couple of mysteries, rather than having all the answers and being in control from the start as they too often are.  But the “mystery” of Paul’s imposture is obvious from the start (they gave it away with that opening scene), so it doesn’t work so well.  Although the reveal of Paul’s face under Hank’s bandages is a nice twist, one they did a good job of misdirecting us away from.  Mainly the strength of the episode is Roddy McDowall’s presence; he’s always fun to watch and listen to, even when his material is fairly mediocre.  There’s also a small amount of new music by Lalo Schifrin, but not much.

“Incarnate”: Robert O’Connell (Solomon Sturges) is hiding a stolen gold shipment in a cellar furnace when he’s confronted by his mother Hannah — and holy cow, it’s Kim Hunter, just a week after Roddy McDowall’s guest spot!  First Cornelius, now Zira!  (But alas, Maurice Evans isn’t in the next episode.)  Turns out Hannah stole the gold and Robert stole it in turn from her, then testified against her so he could have it to himself.  He’s willing to shoot his own mother to keep the gold — but she shoots him first, without hesitation, though she cradles him in her arms afterward.  In another shop, Jim gets the tape out of a roll-top desk and is told that Hannah and her other, more loyal son Thomas (Robert Hogan) have fled to the Caribbean (according to the good old “conventional law enforcement agencies,” and I think this is the first time a tape message has referred to something the C.L.E.A. did accomplish rather than something they couldn’t).  The US can’t kidnap her from foreign soil, so Jim’s mission is to get her back to the US and find the gold.  Jim’s plan involves playing on Hannah’s superstitions, and is built around voodoo, which Jim describes as a “primitive” religion throughout the Caribbean.  Arrgh.  Oh, the seventies, what am I going to do with you?  They intend to create the “ghost” of Robert using what Barney mispronounces as “hellagraphic” projection (which I guess is like holographic, but more hellish?).

Interestingly, the episode is plotted and co-scripted (with story editor Stephen Kandel) by Buck Houghton, the producer of the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s taking a supernatural tack, however misguided.

The team’s already tricked out the house Hannah’s rented on the Caribbean isle of Jamada; the house is the same one that would later be Mr. Roarke’s house on Fantasy Island.  That makes this the second episode this season (the other being “The Deal”) where the bulk of the episode takes place in a foreign country, and in both cases the countries are in the Caribbean.  Housekeeper Casey greets Hannah and Robert with the apology that the household staff has disappeared because they’re a bunch of superstitious primitives scared off by “the drums.”  Sigh.  Thomas scoffs, but Hannah insists voodoo is real, and Casey chimes in with a story about the house being used for voodoo rituals and a whole army division disappearing overnight (gee, good thing she’s not the realtor).

That evening, Jim shows up as a pilot/smuggler seeking to get the O’Connells’ participation in a drug smuggling operation into the States; he insists he can get in and out without the US authorities noticing.  Thomas is intrigued, but Hannah shows him the door.  Interestingly, Jim establishes his underworld bona fides by dropping the name of Benjamin Dane, the powerful East Coast mob boss from the earlier episode “Movie.”  This is only the second time that an M:I episode has shared any continuity with an earlier episode that wasn’t part of the same multiparter.

That night, when Hannah turns in for bed, Casey slips some kind of hypnotic or whatever into her cocoa to amplify the effect of the holo — sorry, hellagraphic visitation by Robert’s angry ghost.  The next day, Barney plays a shopkeeper in town and contrives for Hannah to find a duplicate of Robert’s unique ring, which Barney pretends to get an omen of “death in water” from.  That night, Casey flirts with one of Hannah’s guards and knocks him out, and the next morning they find him apparently drowned to death in the pond outside (though of course it’s the old “drug to fake death” routine).  Willy shows up as the local doctor, who has the hots for Casey, but she only has eyes for Thomas.  (Poor Willy.  I don’t think he’s ever gotten a romance this whole series, even as part of a scheme.  Which is weird, given how popular Peter Lupus was with female viewers.)

Hannah goes back to Barney for more spiritual advice, but he’s reluctant, since he senses evil around her.  He warns that something inside her is dead and seeks death — by water, by air, and by fire.  He intimates that there’s a ceremony to exorcise the demon, but doesn’t want anything more to do with her.  But later, she finds her other guard hanged (not really, of course — the team grabbed him a bit earlier), and interprets that as “death by air,” or rather the lack thereof.  Now she’s determined to do the ceremony, and Barney agrees to lead it.  He’s assisted by a bunch of locals or performers who do the drumming and dancing and whatnot.  Back at Mr. Roarke’s house, Casey is making time with Thomas when jealous Willy bursts in, drawing a gun;  a fight ensues and Casey hands that gun (loaded with blanks) to Thomas so he’ll “kill” Willy with it.  Now he needs to flee back to the states, and he goes with Casey to steal Hannah’s buried stash of money (paper, not the gold).  The plan is for Casey to accompany him back to the US.  But apparently she’s not as irresistible as the team was banking on, since Thomas knocks her out and goes off on his own.

When Jim finds this out, he sends Willy to the ceremony to keep an eye out for Thomas — but Thomas spots Willy first and knows something’s up.  As the ceremony climaxes, the hellagram of Robert appears in the bonfire and says his soul won’t rest until she tells him where the gold is.  Then Barney knockout-needles her and swaps out her bullets for blanks.  When she awakens the next morning, she’s allowed to “accidentally” see that one of her “dead” guards is still alive.  Back at the house, she confronts Barney at gunpoint until he “confesses” that Thomas hired him to arrange the scam, and that she spilled the whole thing to Thomas during the part of the previous night she can’t remember.  So she shoots Barney, who fake-dies, and she calls up smuggler Jim to arrange a trip back to the US.  Thomas is still out there, a potential spoiler for the plan, but it’s resolved way too easily when Barney spots him through the window and goes out to beat him up.  So Jim (who’s wearing the same ugly striped shirt he used in “Underwater,” but as part of an overall ensemble that isn’t quite as bad) flies her back, and the gold turns out to be in the same place where Robert was burying it (which must be why she caught on that the “ghost” was a fake).  Hannah has a gun hidden in the stash and is preparing to shoot Jim, but she telegraphs it and he disarms her, and then the cops arrive to arrest her.

This wasn’t great.  Cool to see Kim Hunter, but the caper is mediocre and the condescension toward Afro-Caribbean religion and culture is unpleasant.  It’s weird that the episode would play up Hannah’s superstitious nature to such an extent (and it really is rather caricatured) but then have the caper rely on her catching on that the hauntings were a trick.  And all the stuff with Thomas goes nowhere and is basically just padding.  There is some new music here, mostly source drums, but some of the accompanying and surrounding cues seem new; however, there’s no composer credited.  Yet I’m fairly confident by now that the musical style I heard there was Schifrin’s.  Perhaps the music credit for Schifrin on “The Puppet” (which I couldn’t swear had any new music at all) was meant to go on this episode instead?

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FORGOTTEN HISTORY copyedits done

November 16, 2011 1 comment

I just e-mailed the copyedits for Star Trek DTI: Forgotten History off to my editor.  For all my loyalty to WordPerfect, I have to say, MS Word’s Track Changes and Compare features really streamline the copyediting process.

However, I wish the copyeditors of the world would catch onto two things:

  1. There’s nothing wrong with using “which” instead of “that” in a defining relative clause (e.g. “the planets which they visited” instead of “the planets that they visited”).  It may be a little old-fashioned or formal, but just because one guy wrote a book a while back proposing that “which” shouldn’t be used interchangeably with “that,” that doesn’t mean it’s actually ungrammatical.  And sometimes it flows better or fits a character’s voice better than using “that.”
  2. The word “spacetime” is not hyphenated.  Dictionaries of lay usage may hyphenate it, but in scientific usage (such as the dialogue of scientist characters in fiction), it’s a single unhyphenated word.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Kidnap”/”Crackup” (spoilers)

November 15, 2011 3 comments

“Kidnap”: Mobster Andrew Metzger (John Ireland) meets a pair of henchmen at a tennis tournament and points them to two men whom we know as Jim and Barney, saying Jim is their target.  The two IMF members are on vacation (albeit using fake names, like on their last vacation together in season 4’s “Death Squad”), and there’s a nice, if brief, bit of characterization where Jim is meticulously planning a campaign to defeat their tennis opponents and Barney tells him to relax and enjoy the vacation.  Barney is paged to the lounge, and once he’s gone, the henchmen knock Jim out and drag him to their car.  Metzger approaches Barney and says his men have Jim.  Apparently he’s connected with the Aquarius Casino from last season’s “Casino” and identified Jim and Barney from security tapes.  That’s right, this is M:I’s only sequel.  But don’t expect much in the way of continuity.   The only things here that actually track with “Casino” are the name of the casino and the use of a few film frames from that episode as surveillance photos.  Otherwise, the two episodes contradict each other pretty badly.  The characters herein who were supposedly employees or patrons at the Aquarius were nowhere to be seen in “Casino.”  And in that episode, the team stole the daily take from the casino’s gambling tables, totalling just over half a million dollars, and framed the casino’s owner for it to trap him into turning state’s evidence; but here, it’s claimed that the team stole $4 million in “skim money” as well as incriminating records.  I can understand wanting to keep the connections minimal, given the realities of ’70s TV, but it’s odd that they’d alter incidental details like this.

Anyway, Metzger has a different mission for Barney.  As with season 1’s “The Ransom,” the bad guy wants the IMF to do their thing for him, specifically to get an incriminating letter away from his former protege and now-rival Connally (Charles Drake) if they ever want to see Jim alive again.  (The fact that Jim is the captive probably has something to do with the fact that this is Peter Graves’s directorial debut on the series.  When series regulars become first-time directors, they generally do so with stories that minimize their screen time so they can devote more time to directing.)

The planning scene with the diminished team is run by Barney in Jim’s absence.  It’s an interesting opportunity to see Barney as the team’s second-in-command, though there’s some precedent for that in episodes like “Trapped” (the episode right after “Casino”).  Casey is back (we won’t see Mimi again) and apparently has added pickpocketing to her repertoire of skills.  In fact, both she and Willy seem to be fulfilling what’s historically been Barney’s standard role, providing and explaining the equipment they’ll be using in the caper.

Jim is taken down to an air-raid shelter and tied up with wire.  His head abductor, Hawks (Jack Ging), explains that one of the others, Proctor (Geoffrey Lewis), was head of security at the Aquarius Casino and lost his job, so now he really wants Jim dead.

Connally’s letter is in a safety-deposit box and he won’t give the key to the feds until he gets his guarantee of immunity.  Casey goes to the bank to request a safety-deposit box to put her jewelry in, then fakes an asthma attack long enough to make a key impression of the lock in Connally’s box, the one that goes with the bank’s key (and the method she uses, injecting a fast-drying plastic, wouldn’t actually work).  Willy’s repertoire now includes locksmithing, and he makes a duplicate key from the mold, then the team arranges to get Connally’s second key.  Barney pretends to be the elevator repair guy to get to the controls, then Willy and Casey coordinate with a hitherto-unestablished guest team member credited as “Dowager” (Monty Margetts), an old woman who signals Barney by radio when Connally and his federal babysitters leave.  Once they’re all in the elevator, Barney stops it, and Casey fakes a panic attack long enough to get the key out of Connally’s pocket and make an impression of it.  With the two keys made, Casey goes back to the bank and gets the letter from Connally’s box, while Barney delays Connally and the feds.  Casey gets the letter, but Hawks (tipped off by a bank employee who’s been watching for team members from the casino security footage) intercepts her outside and steals the letter before they can duplicate it (the plan is to deliver one copy to Metzger to save Jim and the other to the feds to put Metzger away).  Barney learns that Metzger doesn’t have the letter; Hawks must be acting on his own, stealing the letter to blackmail Metzger.  So Barney decides to forge the envelope, guiding Casey to remember every detail.  Somehow they’ve managed to collect all necessary supplies for that forgery in a matter of minutes.

Meanwhile, Jim has been working on his escape, getting free of the bed he was tied to and getting his bound hands in front of him.  Eventually he manages to melt the wire by touching it against the heating element of an electric space heater.  By the time the team gets there with their forged envelope (claiming the letter’s in a safe place as security for Jim’s release), Jim has his escape plan ready.  Metzger and Proctor (who’s been butting heads with Jim all episode) escort them to see Jim, then Hawks shows up with the real letter and holds them all at gunpoint, planning to kill all the witnesses.  Jim has a can full of flammable liquid he found in the shelter’s cabinets, and he tosses it into the space heater, creating a diversion so the team can beat up the bad guys and lock them in, taking the letter to give to the feds.  Jim tells Barney they can just make their 5:30 tennis court reservation.

Despite being the first “off-book” mission we’ve had for a while, and despite the atypical situation of Jim’s captivity, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill caper.  The idea of actually doing an episode that follows up on the consequences of the team’s actions in an earlier episode is a welcome novelty, but the inconsistencies with the episode it’s supposedly a sequel to undermine that.  And it doesn’t serve Casey well in her big return episode that her chief roles are to suffer an asthma attack and a panic attack — though the part with Barney relying on her memory to reconstruct the envelope is good.  Watching Jim try to MacGyver his way out of  captivity is interesting, and it’s good to see Barney as leader, a role he fits into well.  And there are one or two nice directorial touches on Graves’s part, like having Proctor reflected in a wall fixture to reveal that he has the drop on the team.  Still, despite those nice touches, I didn’t find the episode all that engaging.  Though maybe that’s just because I was distracted from trying to compare it against “Casino.”

“Crackup”: Peter Cordel (Alex Cord) comes out of a chess club and is met by his brother Harry (Peter Breck), who gives him a gun which Peter says he doesn’t expect to use.  He breaks into the upper-story bedroom of a woman who controls important stock options, and after explaining to the terrified woman why he was hired to kill her, he pistol-whips her (so he used it after all, kind of) and tosses her off the balcony.  Cut to a plaza with a fountain, where Jim gets the tape from a guy fixing his motorcycle and is told that the IMF is certain Cordel is a top assassin even though he’s so brilliant that “conventional law enforcement agencies” (which haven’t been mentioned for a while) have never been able to arrest him or identify his employer (so how does the IMF know this?).  Jim’s mission is to achieve both those goals.  The team is again Casey-less, but instead of Mimi, they’re joined by one-time team member Sandy (Marlyn Mason, not to be confused with Marilyn Manson) and Dr. Adler (Arthur Franz).

Jim passes himself off as a psychiatrist and chessmaster with help from Barney’s chess computer and a bone-conduction mike in his glasses (the chess computer is portrayed unrealistically as calculating only one move at a time instead of modelling several moves ahead, just as in season 2’s “A Game of Chess”), and squirts a hypnotic drug onto Cordel’s chessmen before they play.  After the game, Jim hypnotizes Cordel at his car while Dr. Adler keeps another patron away by blathering on endlessly about the game.  Then, once Jim’s given Cordel a whole series of hypnotic suggestions and triggers (yup, it’s one of those episodes), Adler comes up to Cordel and provokes an argument, then uses a trigger phrase to put Cordel in a trance.  He then uses fake blood to make it look as though Cordel blacked out and killed Adler with the latter’s cane (he takes a pill that’s supposed to simulate death, but Cordel doesn’t even check the body and the pill wears off moments later).

Cordel races away from the scene and goes to the bar where he’s arranged to meet Leslie Harper, courier for a mobster trying to recruit him away from his current employer.  But Willy is on hand waiting to intercept Harper.  The plan hits a snag when Harper is late, and Willy calls Sandy, who instructs him to proceed as normal with the plan.  (Odd that someone we’ve never seen before is giving the orders.)  Anyway, she shows up just before Harper arrives, and Willy spirits Harper into a back room and knocks him out just seconds before Cordel arrives.   He retrieves Harper’s proof of identity and slips it in Sandy’s bag; she takes advantage of Harper’s androgynous name to take his place as Cordel’s contact, adding an element of seduction to her sales pitch.

Later, in a scene shot entirely as a reflection off a convex parking-garage mirror, big brother Harry is met by their employer’s goon (familiar Desilu/Paramount voice artist Bart La Rue in an uncredited role) who shows him the news of Adler’s supposed death and says he should keep Cordel away from the chess club for a while.  (Seriously, the rate at which newspapers in the M:I-verse have to print retractions must be staggering.)  Harry goes to his brother to warn him about that and about what “the Man” might do if Cordel defects to the rival team, but Cordel will have none of it.  Sandy shows up just as Harry storms out, and offers to “sweeten” the deal, wink wink nudge nudge.  Down in the lobby, Harry sees police detective Barney drive up and head for the elevators (ignoring the “All Visitors Must Register At Desk” sign — gasp!), but when Harry calls Cordel to warn him, Sandy has him too, err, occupied to answer the phone.  But not too much to answer the door when Barney arrives to question him about the chess club murder.  Sandy lies to alibi him, and Barney appears to accept it.  Sandy then leaves Cordel to prepare for his chess match — but outside, Harry grabs her and says to stay away from his brother or he’ll kill her.

Later, before their next chess game, Dr. Jim psychs Cordel out by telling him about a patient, a soldier whose job of killing took over his dreams and led to delusions that drove him to kill.  Despite supposedly being a master chessplayer, Cordel doesn’t recognize this obvious bit of maneuvering for what it is, and nervously postpones the game.  Outside, Barney intercepts Cordel while Willy runs interference with the watching Harry.  Barney says the bartender busted Cordel’s alibi and confronts him about the murder, then uses the hypnotic phrase to entrance Cordel while he plants a gun in his hand and douses himself with fake blood.  Cordel wakes to find himself standing over Barney’s “body” just as a crowd — and Harry — arrive.  He flees to his apartment, finding Sandy there.  Harry arrives to confront him, but Sandy delivers the trigger phrase and Jim punches Harry out; then they repeat the fake-murder trick and make Cordel think he’s killed his brother, just before Sandy sticks a knockout needle in his neck.

Cordel awakes in what Jim tells him is the prison psych ward.  Jim promises to help treat him, and encourages him to turn to friends and family, but Sandy is the only friend he has (or so he thinks).  Once Jim leaves, a burly orderly (Michael Masters) comes into Cordel’s room and tries to smother him with a pillow (and there are a couple of moments during the fight where Cordel’s short hospital gown fails to provide adequate coverage, but I assume he had a flesh-colored undergarment on and I sure wasn’t interested in freeze-framing to check).  But the orderly dangles the call button where Cordel can grab and press it, and then flees, and orderly Willy dismisses Cordel’s claims as a paranoid delusion before mentioning that Sandy’s here to see him.  Afraid for his life and sanity, Cordel turns to Sandy as the only person he can trust, saying his employer wants to silence him before he talks, and telling her how to contact his employer to convince him to call off the hit — or else he will name names.  Sandy goes to the arranged meeting and is picked up by a chauffeured limo.  She asks the man in back the chess question Cordel gave her to confirm his identity, but the man in back passes it on to the driver, the real top man.  But just then, the driver gets a call from Harry, who’s overpowered his guard and warns him that Sandy’s up to something.  The bad guys get her at gunpoint and drive off, but just then they’re surrounded by cop cars.  You’d think some kind of standoff would result with Sandy as a hostage, or at least that they’d shoot her right off to ensure she couldn’t reveal which man was the real boss.  Instead, the car stops, Sandy gets out and tells the cops who the boss is, and she drives off with the team, an implausibly easy resolution to the climactic crisis.

Still, up until the weak ending, it’s a pretty decent episode.  It’s certainly a damn sight better than their previous hypnosis episodes like “The Miracle” and “Image.”  In those episodes, hypnosis was portrayed as having the power to induce complex behavioral changes in the subjects, leading to the credibility question of why they used it to stage ridiculously elaborate hoaxes to get the information they needed rather than just hypnotizing the subjects into revealing the information.  Here, though, the hypnosis doesn’t make Cordel do anything except freeze into a trance state on hearing the trigger phrase and wake up again on hearing his name.  Everything else is orchestrated by the team while Cordel is entranced.  So that makes it a lot more credible.  Plus the story overall is reasonably entertaining, and Marlyn Mason is a fairly alluring femme fatale.  That helps make up for the stagey feel of the production.  The early part of this season was full of fresh and unusual locations, but this was almost entirely on the backlot and standard locations like a very familiar tunnel in the mountains.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

The power of positive thinking

November 14, 2011 3 comments

Lately I’ve been feeling kind of depressed, which I figure to be the result of a variety of things — I was sick and feeling awful for a couple of weeks, and I’ve had trouble making any progress with writing so I’m frustrated, and the change back to standard time has thrown off my sleep and eating cycles, which is disruptive to my mood.  And it was all getting to be a bit much for me.  And then I just decided to try thinking about the stuff in my life that gives me reason to feel good, like the fact that I sold my first original novel and it’s only 11 months now until publication.  And it’s working.  I got myself into a pretty good mood this morning, though it’s faded a little by now.  Still, it’s a good start, and hopefully I can keep it up.

Well, on the plus side, it’s only a bit more than a week before I head to the DC area for the family Thanksgiving dinner at Cousin Barbara’s, my second time there.  That should help with the positive mood, assuming the trip is trouble-free.  So far I’m planning on driving, since it’s a lot cheaper than flying and I can’t write this off as a business trip.  (I’ll be going via the PA Turnpike, which should be better than the more mountainous route I took last year.)  But I might change my mind depending on the weather forecast.

The downside is that for some strange reason, my high school class’s reunion committee scheduled the 25-year reunion (good grief, it’s been that long?) for Thanksgiving weekend, so I won’t be able to attend.  I imagine a lot of other alumni would have to pass it up for the same reason, so I’m puzzled that they’d schedule it for then.  (But I’m glad I caught the conflict before I sent in the money for the reunion.)  It’s a bit of a shame, since I’d been looking forward to boasting about my novel, but it’s not like I had any real expectation of seeing old friends there.  Nobody I was really close to attended the 10th or 20th reunion.  So given the choice between that and the family get-together, the decision was easy.  Still, it would’ve been nice if they’d scheduled the reunion for a more convenient weekend.

Categories: Uncategorized

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Hit”/”Ultimatum” (spoilers)

“Hit”: We meet syndicate boss Sam Dexter (Dane Clark) making out with his girlfriend Vicki (Barbara Rhoades).  Both of them engage in very stilted expository dialogue for the audience’s benefit.  “Sam, I can’t believe you’re about to go to prison!” “Yeah.   A year on tax evasion charges.”  They might as well turn to the camera and address us directly.  Sam wonders who ratted him out.  Just then, they get a call from corrupt ADA Reynolds (Robert Reed), and Vicki asks, “How’d he know you were here?”  then turns to the camera (not really) and adds, “My place?”  Reynolds’s timing is contrived, since he’s calling to answer the question Sam just asked: it was Vicki who ratted him out.  So Sam sneakily cuts Vicki’s brake line (it’s the same green car we’ve seen several times on M:I over the past three seasons, the one with no engine under the hood, though it seems to have a brighter paint job now, or maybe it’s another car of the same model).  When he sees her off, he surreptitiously wipes his fingerprints off the door handle, though he didn’t seem to have a problem with getting his prints on the brake line.  Her car races out of control down the steep mountain road (and I wonder if this might be partly stock footage from “The Missile” in season 5), then flies off a cliff — and like so many cars going off cliffs in TV, it blows up in midair before it actually hits anything.

Cut to San Francisco harbor before dawn as the camera pans across the skyline.  Jim gets the tape in a boat cabin.  Dexter’s organization is still active despite his imprisonment, under the direction of a partner known only as “The General.”  The team must identify the General and prove Dexter killed Vicki to shatter the organization once and for all.  For the second week in a row, there’s no line about “conventional law enforcement agencies” being unable to get the job done.  Maybe by this point the producers figured the crimebusting role of the IMF had been sufficiently established that they no longer needed to rationalize it.  This is another Mimi episode, with the usual passing reference to Casey assisting offscreen (this time to create Mimi’s cover identity).  The other guest team member is mask performer Jack, who’s uncredited and won’t be seen with his own face outside the apartment scene.

Jim plays a federal prosecutor who’s reopening the investigation into Vicki’s death, which we eventually learn was 9 months earlier.  He lets ADA Reynolds know he has a witness to the murder, and Reynolds’ gobetween Murdock (Frank Christi) tips off Dexter in prison.  Meanwhile, Willy and Barney have gone in as inmates.  Willy picks a fight with Dexter’s men and takes out his chief bodyguard, but Barney intervenes and takes Willy down, supposedly sending him to the hospital (whereupon he’s transferred out).  Dexter is grateful to Barney and wants to recruit him, but Barney will have none of it.  Dexter’s chief muscle Gordon notices that Barney was secretly doing a drawing on a pad of paper, and the old “rub a pencil on the sheet below” trick reveals an escape plan.  Dexter dismisses the plan as a pipe dream, but Gordon suddenly gets all weepy and melodramatic about what will happen to him when Dexter gets out in three months, and even though Dexter assures him he’ll get a lawyer to spring him, Gordon remains behind with quivering lip.  The scene is played as a big deal, but this is the last time we see Gordon, so it goes nowhere.  It’s very strange.

Anyway, Jim’s witness Mimi gives a deposition, and Reynolds realizes she’s lying when she claims she saw Dexter drive away from the murder scene (it was established in the opening that he didn’t bring a car there).  Reynolds goes to her apartment and confronts her about who hired her to “frame” Dexter, and when she won’t talk, he sends in Murdock to employ “less legal” methods of persuasion.  But Murdock is surprised to see his own double — Jack in disguise — and Jim takes him down.  (When Reynolds leaves and Murdock arrives, we see them in an elevator whose door has a frosted-glass top half so we can see them descending and ascending.  But we don’t see the top of the elevator car doing the same.  I suspect the actors were just crouching behind the door.)  The fake Murdock leaves just in time to get hit by a car driven by Willy, with Reynolds watching in shock.  Later, in the hospital, the fake Murdock tells Reynolds with his “dying” breath that the General hired Mimi and had him hit.  Reynolds and Jim go to Dexter in prison to let him know the General is moving against him, and Jim asks him to identify the General.  Dexter refuses, and when Jim leaves he tries to get Reynolds to take out a contract on the General.  Reynolds doesn’t want to get involved, but Dexter says he’s been paying Reynolds for years and expects — and just then Jim and the cops come in and arrest Reynolds, now that they have him incriminated on tape.

Dexter has no one left to turn to (since Gordon and his other henchmen have been transferred out of the prison offscreen — huh?).  So he goes to Barney for help in escaping.  His plan is to kill the General, then get back to prison before anyone knows he’s gone — the perfect alibi.  Jim and Willy get everything set up for Barney’s escape, knowing they’ll have to tail the escape car closely, since Dexter won’t leave Barney alive once he’s served his purpose.  But when Barney and Dexter escape into the drainage tunnels (through the same hatch Barney used to get in and out of the mental hospital in last season’s “Committed”), Dexter causes a cave-in and they have to find an alternate way out, miles from the arranged getaway car.  A teen couple drives up and goes off into the woods to make out, and Dexter forces Barney to steal their car (Dexter suddenly has a gun, with no explanation). The rest of the team has no idea where Barney’s going.  So Jim comes up with a backup plan. Willy awakens Murdock, claiming to be from a rival operation seeking to move in, and offers him a partnership if he’ll ID the General for them.  He refuses, but Willy gets a call supposedly saying they’ve found the General without Murdock’s help, then leaves.  Murdock gets free of his ropes and dials the General’s number, which the team intercepts; then they and the cops come in and arrest Murdock before his call goes through.

Dexter and Barney get to the General’s mansion and knock out his butler/bodyguard, finding him (Jan Peters) in a secret computer room behind his bar.  To keep Dexter from shooting the General, Barney stalls for time, getting Dexter to confess to killing Vicki, then revealing that he’s not really the convict he says he was.  It’s unclear how Barney thought any of this would save him, but just at the right moment, Jim, Willy, and the cops come in and arrest both criminals.  Barney shows Jim the General’s crime computer, and Jim is satisfied that it should let them bring the whole operation down.

This is the weakest one of the season so far.  A decent premise, but it has flaws in structure and execution that drag it down.  There’s a decent attempt to have things go wrong and create some suspense, but Jim’s solution has an air of familiarity to it, as does a lot about the episode overall (though this late in the series it’s hard for any episode to do something we haven’t seen before).  And it’s unclear how they really managed to get Dexter on Vicki’s murder.  Is Barney going to testify to his confession?  Can he even do that, given that he and the team seem to be deep-cover operatives who don’t even use their real names on vacation?  And if he did, would that be enough proof to put Dexter away?  Would it even be admissible under the circumstances, or would it constitute entrapment?  It’s a weak and inconclusive payoff.

“Ultimatum”: Rogue nuclear physicist Jerome Cooper (Murray Hamilton) and his wife Adele (Madlyn Rhue) drive up to LA City Hall, and Cooper goes inside with a satchel.  For some reason he has to go through City Hall to get to the sewer where he has a large bomb planted.  Once there, he attaches the detonator and timer.  Then Adele gives him a letter to send to the President.  At another landmark, Fort Point at the Presidio in San Francisco (not far from where Kim Novak leapt into the bay in Vertigo), Jim is informed by the tape that Cooper has planted a 50-megaton nuclear bomb under an unknown city and given the president until noon the following day (even though he set the timer to “6”) to replace several key officials with Cooper’s men and institute several major changes in US foreign policy.  Jim’s mission, obviously, is to find and stop the bomb.  Again the “conventional law enforcement” line is missing, this time for good reason.

By the way, this bomb is an enormous case of overkill.  At 50 megatons, it would be tied with the Soviets’ Tsar Bomba as the largest nuclear bomb ever made.   It wouldn’t only destroy the entire city of Los Angeles and many of its suburbs, but the fallout it generated would probably cause devastation over a huge swath of the country.  A much smaller yield would’ve been more than adequate to hold the city hostage, and it’s questionable how Cooper could’ve managed to obtain the materials to make a fusion bomb of world-record magnitude without drawing attention from the authorities.

For once, there’s no mention of Casey being involved in a Mimi episode, and nobody’s in the apartment scene but the core foursome.  However, the team has a huge task force working in an elaborate situation room with maps of all the prominent cities that might be Cooper’s target.  Could this be an actual IMF headquarters of some sort?  While the IMF started out seeming to be a sort of garage-band operation run out of Dan Briggs’s or Jim Phelps’s apartment, the ’88 revival series and the movies showed it as a larger, more institutionalized agency.  Maybe this is an intimation of that.

One of the task force members, operator Lisa (Judith Brown), calls Cooper and connects him to a phony presidential aide arranging a meeting with the Prez at the “Western White House” to negotiate a surrender to Cooper’s demands.  (This would seem to confirm that Richard Nixon or a close parallel was the POTUS at this time in the M:I-verse, since Nixon had a “Western White House” in southern California.)  Cooper drives off for the meeting, but not before arranging with Adele to ensure the bomb goes off at noon if he doesn’t contact her by ten.  They agree that their cause — whatever that may be — is more important than his life.

Somehow the team has rigged Cooper’s car radio to pick up their fake transmissions, with task force member Carl (Fred Holliday) breaking in as a radio announcer to report on a Bonnie-and-Clyde-style shootout and escape.  They’ve also rigged his car to blow its antifreeze line just outside a gas station/diner attended by Willy, who invites Cooper to go inside for some coffee while he repairs the car.  Meanwhile, the police put up roadblocks to contain the area.  Jim and Mimi arrive as the criminals and take Willy and Cooper hostage in the diner.  (Mimi frisks them, but overlooks the gun Cooper has hidden in his sock.)  An agitated Cooper tries to convince them to let him make a phone call, but Jim will have none of it.

When 10 AM passes with no call, Adele knocks out the grocery delivery boy and sneaks past the watching cops in his van, then calls her accomplice Morgan (Donnelly Rhodes in his third M:I role) and sends him to search for Cooper.  He runs into the roadblock and is told about the “killers” they have holed up, but that just prompts him to sneak by on foot and investigate.

In the diner, the fake news broadcasts tip Cooper off that the Prez has called a number of senior officials to a secret meeting.  Then a patrolman (Vince Howard) shows up and Jim orders Willy to act natural while the others hide in the kitchen.  The patrolman, according to plan, pretends to know Willy and shows him a picture of Cooper, saying the authorities are trying to locate him.  Once he’s gone, Cooper tries to convince Jim that he’s an important man and needs to make a phone call.  He draws his gun on Jim and Mimi, but Jim manages to disarm him pretty quickly.  Cooper tells them about the bomb and the blackmail and they begin to catch on that they could get rich from this.  They let Cooper call his accomplice Rogers (Vic Vallaro) and order him to disarm the bomb.  The team’s plan is to follow the accomplice to the bomb.  But Morgan is watching through binoculars, and calls Adele to let her know what’s going on.  So Adele kills Rogers when he comes out of his office.  Oh noes!

When Cooper hears of this on the radio, he realizes he’s the only one who can stop the bomb now.  He tells Jim there’s a failsafe only he can disarm, a secondary timer that will detonate the bomb after a week if the first timer is disarmed.  But as they prepare to leave, Jim notes a glint from a sniper rifle, and gets Cooper down just before Morgan shoots him.   Morgan pins them down, and Jim whispers to Willy to make a break for it so Jim can “kill” him and leave him free to go after the sniper.  But then Jim decides to go out after Morgan himself, presumably so Cooper won’t be left wondering what happened to the sniper.  Jim and Willy take him down together, and then Barney picks them up in a helicopter with half an hour to spare.

They arrive at City Hall and climb down into the sewers, with the literal ticking clock on the bomb superimposed.  (Now the alarm window says “9” instead of “6.”)  But Adele is still there, apparently fanatical enough to be willing to die for whatever the hell their cause is, and she shoots at Jim, Mimi, and her own husband.  Jim wings her, and Mimi tends to her while Jim and Cooper go for the bomb.  Cooper disarms it with five seconds to spare, then tells Jim that they rule the world now.  Adele arrives with Mimi, laughing at Cooper’s words, and points out the cops closing in.  Now, you’d think that at this point the 7-day secondary timer would be addressed, but it’s completely forgotten; the episode just ends with the Coopers being taken away.  Are we supposed to think Cooper disarmed both timers at the same time?  It’s very unclear (and no, that’s not a typo for “nuclear”).

So this is a moderately effective episode, despite some head-scratcher moments.  It’s always nice when they do a national-security story instead of a crimebusting story.  And there’s some moderately effective tension as Adele’s machinations jeopardize the plan.  Another plus is an original musical score, only the second of the season and the only M:I contribution by composer Duane Tatro.  But the premise is somewhat implausible, and it would help if we had some inkling of why the Coopers were doing this — what they hoped to gain and why Adele and Rogers were so willing to sacrifice their lives for it.

So I went back to the tape scene and freezeframed on the blackmail letter included in Jim’s briefing package, hoping it might fill in some of that missing background.  And boy, does it ever.  It includes the following paragraphs:

I, and my colleagues, have long been concerned about the growing corruption and decay in our nation.  We have been frustrated too long.  Now we have taken firm, decisive action.  We represent those millions of Americans who feel the need to change the destructive course that this nation is taking.  These are the first set of demands that we are making.  Demands that will begin to reverse our nation’s decline.

The following treasonous, corrupt government officials must be arrested at once:

[List of eight congresspersons and three senators]

In addition, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secretary of HEW and the Attorney General must be seized and held.  Furthermore, you must leave office at once, recalling our troops from abroad and halting the foreign entanglements which have weakened our nation for a generation.

Blackmail letter from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: "Ultimatum"

Wow.  That throws the whole episode into a new light, considering what I said earlier about the implication that Nixon was the president in-story as well as in reality.  So basically the Coopers were taking a stand against the corruption of the Nixon administration and the war in Vietnam.  They were on the right side of history, even though their methods were inexcusable.  I wonder, was scripter Harold Livingston, or whoever in the production was responsible for the text of the letter (since it’s not very well-written), trying to defend Nixon’s policies and paint his opponents as villains?  Considering that this letter would’ve been all but illegible to viewers at the time, I think not.  As far as viewers could actually tell, the Coopers’ cause was a complete mystery.  So maybe this letter was snuck in there as a subtle subversive statement of protest directed at Nixon’s administration and policies.  (Interestingly, all three figures mentioned in the last quoted paragraph above were later suspected or implicated in the Watergate cover-up, though I don’t think that had happened yet at the time of this episode.)

Anyway, it’s ironic that the Coopers and their “associates” went to such great lengths to try to root out the corruption in Nixon’s administration and end the war in Vietnam.  If they’d only waited a couple more years, matters would’ve resolved themselves.

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GREEN LANTERN and Cartoon Network’s Friday block

Last night was the premiere of Cartoon Network’s Green Lantern: The Animated Series, the first 3D computer-animated series produced by animation legend Bruce Timm.  I was wary about the 3D animation approach, and it was a bit off-putting at first, but I pretty quickly got used to it. For one thing, even though it looks a little too slick and plasticky, the character animation and storyboarding have a lot of vitality and artistry to them, feeling more fluid and in the vein of WB’s 2D animation, rather than the stiffer animation of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. (Although Bruce Timm’s excessively wasp-waisted female character designs look even more ridiculous in 3D — however, that’s only briefly a problem since, unfortunately, the show is rather lacking in recurring female characters, except for one of the Guardians and a ship’s computer.)

For another thing, the writing was fantastic, with lots of rich character work. It’s easy to look past the plasticky look of the characters if you can really connect with them as people. It was cool how even the guest characters — the local Green Lantern and his family — were given a lot of substance and contributed meaningfully to the story. And Hal Jordan was nicely drawn (figuratively drawn, I mean, in the writing sense). He’s impulsive and a bit of a renegade, but he’s deeply, sincerely dedicated to helping people and seeing the best in them. The most awesome part was when he got the ship’s navcomputer Aya to override her safeguards, not by hacking her or playing some logic game, but by appealing to her on a moral level, convincing her to help them do the right thing and take the chance to save lives. The fact that he defaulted to that as his first response says a lot about what kind of person he is.

Good voice work too. Josh Keaton did a great job as Peter Parker on The Spectacular Spider-Man for two seasons, and he’s just as good as Hal Jordan. The always-impressive Kevin Michael Richardson is in rare form as Kilowog. But then, they’ve got great material to work with.

I also have good things to say about the shows they aired earlier in the evening.  Generator Rex has always been a mixed bag for me, sometimes overdoing the irreverent teen-oriented attitude, but with a lot of interesting concepts, worldbuilding, and characterization.  And the past two episodes have introduced a major change in the series’ status quo that’s apparently permanent, as well as introducing a new antagonist, Black Knight, who’s a really neat character — initially seeming quite kind and reasonable, a much nicer boss than the stern, judgmental White Knight, but turning out to have an oppressive agenda beneath all the seeming good intentions (and it seems like the kind of oppression that comes from genuine good intentions getting out of hand, particularly given that Rex’s more-or-less nice-guy brother is a full and willing participant in it).  And this is right after introducing another permanent change of status quo in Rex’s partner Agent Six, who lost several years of memory and went from ultracool veteran to the novice of the group (though it remains to be seen how much that’s been retained in the six-month jump Rex just experienced).  It’s nice that the show is willing to make real changes in its storyline, though maybe it’s piling them on a bit too quickly for their consequences to be explored.

And Young Justice was excellent last night.  I’m not a big fan of Jack Kirby’s stuff, and the Forever People have got to be one of his most obscure and offbeat ideas — the sort of characters who’d fit better in Batman: The Brave and the Bold (and I’m surprised they haven’t shown up there already) — but scripter Andrew Robinson did a fairly good job of making them feel not entirely out of place in the serious, relatively realistic YJ universe.  Still, the real strength of this episode was in its scenes following up on last week’s episode, whose events inflicted serious emotional trauma on the team.  Now they’re having therapy sessions with Black Canary (who isn’t a psychological professional in the comics as far as I know), and those scenes were just superb, particularly due to Vanessa Marshall’s magnificent performance as Black Canary.   I never knew she could be that good.  She totally knocked it out of the park.  At this point I’d be happy to see a whole series of Black Canary, Superhero Therapist.

I wasn’t at all fond of the brief comedy shorts that were shown during breaks in Green Lantern.  Apparently these will be a regular part of the “DC Nation” programming block that’s about to premiere, minute-long segments using caricatures of DC heroes.  One of them was a clay-animated short produced by Aardman Animations (makers of Wallace and Gromit), which I was really looking forward to when I read that, but it turned out to be awful.  It was in the vein of their Creature Comforts short, with animation set to soundtracks of ordinary people talking, except in this case it was apparently small children rambling in character (theoretically) as Superman, Batman, Catwoman, and the Joker.  It was rather ghastly.  The other was something of a Teen Titans revival, except exclusively using the chibi-styled versions of their character designs and being only a “comedy” vignette about competitive belching.  Not great.

I’m not enjoying the current Star Wars: The Clone Wars story arc much either.  Too much combat focus for me, and the antagonist in the story arc, the Jedi general who’s consistently reckless and unreasonable in his decisions for no reason other than to place him in conflict with the clone soldier characters, is unbelievable and caricatured.  At least there’s only one week left in the 4-parter.

So is the KUNG FU PANDA TV series worthwhile?

Recently I mentioned discovering that Nickelodeon was doing a TV series called Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, spinning off from the Dreamworks movies.  It formally premiered about a week ago and has been airing daily, so I’ve now got a small but somewhat representative sample of episodes.  So is it anywhere near as good as the movies it’s based on?

Well, yes and no.  It’s often a pretty funny show.  The substitute voice actors are generally fairly good at approximating the movie actors’ voices (and Lucy Liu and James Hong reprise their movie roles).  It’s reasonably entertaining, most of the time.

But it sometimes doesn’t feel completely authentic to the films’ universe.  It occasionally does something the KFP films have made a point of avoiding — inserting modern anachronisms into the medieval-China setting.  For instance, a recent episode had Monkey using a “joy luck buzzer” to electrocute an unwitting Po.  How?  Where did the electricity come from?  Especially given that the thing was made of wood?  In a series built around that kind of anachronism, that would be okay, but it’s inconsistent with the world the movies built.

Also, Po doesn’t seem to have matured as much as he had at the end of the first film.  They’ve stuck him in the role of perpetual screw-up.  Then again, it seems to be set between the two films, so maybe one could interpret it as showing his learning curve toward the more capable, confident figure he is at the start of the second film.  Except I don’t see a curve so far, just a series of episodes that always start off with basically the same status quo.

One stylistic thing bugs me a little, but it’s very nitpicky.  The show makes a point of emulating the first film’s use of stylized 2D animation for certain sequences, but it uses it rather broadly, for flashbacks, daydreams, narrated stories both true and false, just about everything that isn’t present-day reality.  But between the two movies, it’s pretty clear that the 2D animation is meant specifically to represent Po’s dreams.  In the second film, the introductory flashback is depicted through shadow puppets instead, and (spoiler) when Po’s dreams of his childhood blossom into full memory, the 2D animation gives way to 3D.  (That is, the flat drawings give way to solid-looking computer models.  A different kind of 2D/3D than the kind that involves wearing glasses to see things pop out of the screen at you.)  So while the movies use different animation styles to represent different specific things, the show uses the 2D animation style for everything.  So it’s not quite the same.  It’s an imitation that isn’t on the same level as the films’ innovative stylistic experiments.

Most of all, what bugs me about the show is that its characters are supposed to be heroes defending the Valley of Peace, but we almost never see them on missions.  Most of the episodes so far have started off with the characters doing something very routine and then having something bad happen to them because of some stupid thing Po does or some problem or villain they unwittingly stumble across.  We rarely see them actually helping or protecting people, except from problems that they had a hand in creating.

And maybe that’s partly a problem of the limited animation budget.  3D computer animation is expensive, and every new character or setting or prop has to be separately modeled, so a show done in this style is limited in the number of those things that it can include (which is one of the reasons I question the decision to do the new Green Lantern animated series, which debuts tonight, in 3D CGI).  I’m already getting tired of the bamboo-forest setting that’s practically the only outdoors location we ever see in KFP:LoA.  And if they can only use so many character models, maybe that limits their ability to show the heroes defending others instead of just themselves.  (Except the show seems to be using the same computer models from the movies; surely they have countless digital character, prop, and scenery models that they could recycle from the films.)

So to sum up: a reasonably funny and watchable show, but it falls short of the movies on several levels and doesn’t feel completely authentic to their world.  But maybe that’s just because the movies set such a high bar.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Underground”/”Movie” (spoilers)

November 10, 2011 2 comments

Hey, last season we had “Underwater,” now it’s…

“Underground”: Gunther Schell (H. M. Wynant) is being driven to prison when the Sheriff’s van is intercepted by a team of bad guys who liberate him — and hey, it sounds like new music accompanying the scene!  Jim gets the tape from a hostess at a Japanese garden restaurant — I wouldn’t be surprised if this is another San Francisco landmark — and then sits to listen to the highly secret tape just a few feet from where the patrons are coming in, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  His mission is to find Schell so as to track down the millions he has squirreled away for the mob.

In the apartment briefing — in which Casey and Barney’s moustache are both present — Jim explains that the gang that took Schell offers cons the promise of escape but actually brainwashes them into giving up their secrets, using a very dangerous truth drug.  (The “false promise of escape” idea was previously used in “Mindbend.”)  Jim will put himself in their clutches, but will be rendered immune to interrogation by a transmitter implanted in his ear and a post-hypnotic suggestion to respond only to Barney’s voice — a near-exact repeat of a trick they previously used in the season 4 finale “The Martyr.”  So far a lot about this one feels familiar.  Meanwhile, Lynda Day George seems to be struggling with her lines.  Was this a rough pregnancy?  It seems to have taken a lot out of her.

Jim’s picture is planted in the paper as a doctor sought for murder (gee, you’d think that’d come back to bite him), and Barney makes overtures to the gang’s contact.  He gets a meeting at the zoo with the gang’s leader, Clavering (Robert Middleton), a big, bearded man with sort of a bargain-basement Sidney Greenstreet quality, and arranges a meeting and payoff to get Jim out of the country.  Jim brings the money to the carousel meeting site, and Barney and Willy follow his tracking signal to a warehouse.  But Clavering insists on putting Jim in a lead-lined coffin in the back of a hearse (with an air/sedative tank), and the signal is lost.  For some reason, instead of watching the exit and following whatever vehicle emerges, Barney and Willy break into the warehouse and arrive too late.  As Barney says, “Jim’s on his own.”  Yeah, Barney, because you totally screwed up.

Jim is brought to another striking location, a park with white Arabesque buildings that’s representing the Lotus Hills Mortuary.  Clavering reports to the Director, who’s played by John Stephenson, a man whose voice is instantly recognizable to those of us who grew up with Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the ’60s or ’70s (he was the original Dr. Benton Quest, Fred Flintstone’s boss Mr. Slate, and the voice of Professor X in the 1989 Pryde of the X-Men pilot).  Schell is being interrogated by Dr. Hargreaves (Peter Mark Richman) in a spinning chair in a torture room filled with disorienting light patterns and noises, again like “Mindbend,” only more elaborate and intense.  (One of the sounds is the rattlesnake-like clicking of the Martian War Machines’ eyestalks from War of the Worlds.)  While this is going on, Jim wakes up, uses a lockpick hidden in his shirt collar to escape his room, and goes down to the basement, where he peels a patch off his arm and dumps some pills into the air conditioning system.  As explained in the apartment scene, the pills release a gas tailored to affect only diabetics like Schell.

Meanwhile, Barney makes contact with Schell’s boss Lutz (Dennis Cross), playing a private eye, and lets Lutz know about the kidnap/brainwash scheme.  He makes a deal to deliver Schell to Lutz once he gets him back.

Hargreaves and Clavering have no luck getting Schell to reveal where the money is.  They leave him for the nonce and go to work on Jim — who, without Barney speaking in his ear, can only choke silently.  Hargreaves realizes he’s hypnotized himself, and Clavering suspects he’s a spy.  But ironically the glitch in the plan saves Jim — Hargreaves argued that if he were a spy, he’d confirm his cover story, not just be silent.  (Come to think of it, reusing a trick the team has used before actually works in this context; since we’ve already seen how it’s supposed to go, that sets up its failure here.)  Hargreaves figures he can break the conditioning with a few hours in his wacky torture room.  There’s a fairly lengthy sequence of the torture/brainwashing with lots of spinning and flashing lights and noises, and I actually took the opportunity to go out and get a snack without bothering to hit the pause button.  So I almost missed the part where the henchman alerts H & C that Schell appears to be dying.  That’s Jim’s gas kicking in.  Hargreaves examines him, but he’s a psychiatrist, dammit, not an MD!  Clavering remembers that Jim supposedly is a surgeon, and pulls him out of brainwashing.  Jim uses the opportunity to insist on bringing in an anesthesiologist he knows, one who has his own crimes to cover up.  It’s Willy, and when the henchmen drag him there (with Barney and Casey following — Casey’s only role in the story is as a driver), he brings his little black bag — which contains a knockout-gas sprayer and mini-masks for Jim and Willy.  With the baddies all knocked out, the team rescues Schell.  Director Dr. Quest almost stops them, but Barney comes in and clocks him.

Then Barney notifies Lutz and they meet at Barney’s (supposed) PI office.  Schell can’t remember if he talked or not, so he and Lutz drive off to check on the stashed cash — and Willy’s planted a tracker on their car, so they follow them there and get the drop on them once they find the cash intact.  But Clavering has figured out that PI Barney is the one who clobbered Dr. Quest, so he’s followed them too.  Luckily Jim spots him in a mirror and the good guys duck and let the two groups of bad guys inflict some attrition on one another until the cops show up, arrest the survivors, and retrieve the dough.

Not sure what to make of this one, but I guess it tends toward the positive.  The plot feels somewhat recycled, but it holds together pretty well, except for the silly way the team loses track of Jim.  And the danger of Jim being on his own isn’t too great, since clearly the plan called for him to bring Willy in later anyway.  So that isn’t as strong a threat to the mission/the team as it could’ve been.  So let’s call it a mostly routine but reasonably well-executed caper.  Once again the location scout is proving to be one of the most valuable players this season, and we finally, refreshingly, get a complete original score, courtesy of Mr. Lalo Schifrin.  I wonder why they waited until episode 7 to pay for a new score.  I wonder how many others there will be.  (IMDb’s credits for this season are a bit lacking in thoroughness.)

“Movie”: Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with Tom Cruise.  We open at Pantheon Studios, where mobster Brent (William Smith) and his “guards” force the studio’s founder and head of production to sign over control of the studio.  We know who the guy is because his protests are painfully expository: “You can’t do this!  I’m head of production for this studio!  I created Pantheon Studios!”  Brent’s dialogue explaining how the founder got in debt is equally stilted, and it’s almost a relief when the conversation ends with the founder being tossed off a catwalk.  But there’s a nice transition from the falling studio head to a falling combatant in a karate practice session, with the thrower being Norman Shields (John Vernon, previously the villain in the 3-parter “The Falcon” in season 4).  Shields gets a phone call from Brent notifying him of the studio head’s “suicide,” and he then calls mobster Benjamin Dane (David Brian), who tells Shields that his kid brother Theo (Rhodes Reason) will be taking over the studio under Shields’s guidance.

Jim gets the tape in a hospital’s research lab, and all the mice and bunnies listen in as he’s asked to track down the ledger detailing how the syndicate is funneling money into the entertainment industry.  Instead of the “conventional law enforcement agencies” line, the Voice says that this information could let them smash the syndicate once and for all.  Well, at least until the next episode.

The team’s plan is to produce a movie, Portrait of a Murder, which is based on a murder Shields is suspected of and has details known only to him and the police (another “the play’s the thing” gambit?).  There’s another reference to Casey helping out offscreen, but Mimi will be going undercover as a freshly discovered actress in Barney’s film.  Jim will be impersonating Theo, whom Shields has never met — and faking Theo’s death to lure Benjamin to Hollywood.

Mimi gets the womanizing Theo’s attention on the flight to LA, then arranges to make sure they’re the last to deplane — except for Jim, who sneaks up and knockout-needles Theo.  Willy sneaks him out in the food-service truck.  But unknown to the team, Benjamin has sent a man to tail Theo, and the tail, Moore (Jerry Douglas), is surprised when Theo doesn’t get off the plane.  He pages Theo to the courtesy phone, surprising and worrying Jim.  (He sees Jim answer the page and knows he isn’t Theo.  Jim doesn’t see him, though.)  Luckily, the team has arranged to intercept the phone lines from the studio, so when Moore calls Benjamin, he gets the team’s voice impersonator du jour, Dave Waley, played by longtime M:I voiceover artist Walker Edmiston (and I think they’re actually letting him mimic the voices for real instead of overdubbing him).  Dave finds out where he’s staying, and that lets the team identify him by comparing the hotel register against the plane manifest.  But that doesn’t stop him from getting into the studio and intercepting Jim at gunpoint when he comes out of the Pantheon office building (actualy the familiar Lubitsch office building at Paramount — it’s the role it was born to play!).  Mimi sees this and drives at Moore; he fires at her car, and the noise attracts the studio’s mobster-guards, who shoot Moore dead, unaware that he was on their side.  So the main threat to the team’s plan is dealt with rather early.

Barney’s film disturbs Brent and Shields, since it’s way too close to reality and could harm Shields’s hard-earned good reputation in Hollywood.  But Jim/Theo refuses to shut it down, thinking only of the profits it will bring the studio.  Shields calls Benjamin, who tells him to get rid of Barney.  At the end of the call, the team cuts mimic Dave in to ask how Shields will do it, so they’re forewarned that he’ll use a bomb.  But they don’t know where or when. Barney searches the set the next day and doesn’t find it.  But just after the camera is reloaded, Brent hurries Jim out of the soundstage.  That gets Jim suspicious, but it doesn’t crystallize until he has a Dr. House moment while playing with a toy camera tchotchke on his desk.  He calls Barney and warns him the bomb is in the film reel that was just loaded.  Barney clears the set in a hilarious way, by staging a directorial temper tantrum and demanding that everyone leave at once.  He follows just before the bomb blows.

After Jim chews out Brent about the security breach, Willy shows up as Shields’s karate partner, saying the regular guy’s out of town.  He and Shields spar, and John Vernon does most of his own fighting, surprisingly.  Willy “accidentally” knocks Shields out and switches his gun with a remote-controlled, blank-firing duplicate.  Then Jim calls up Shields, pretending to be drunk, and demands they meet.  (It’s reputedly on Stage 31, and if that’s really where the scene was shot, then they’re in the soundstage where the starship Enterprise sets had stood just a few years before, back when it was called Desilu Stage 9.  That’s quite possible, since it would be right next door to the M:I soundstages.)  He confronts Shields, professing the intent to bring him down with evidence of his crimes, and provokes Shields to draw on him so he’ll hand over the evidence. Jim triggers the remote-controlled gun to fire and falls “dead” — and Barney’s up in the rafters filming the whole thing, with only the back of Jim’s head visible.  They then swap out Jim with the unconscious (and equally white-haired) Theo, who’s given a drug to fake death, with cooperation from the police to sell the illusion to Benjamin, whom Mimi calls to notify of Theo’s murder.  (Same as in “Stone Pillow,” the syringe is labeled “live virus culture” for some reason.)

When the surviving Dane arrives at the studio, having seen his brother’s “corpse,” Shields explains what happened, which is close to the truth except that he says Theo jumped him and the gun went off by accident in the struggle.  But Mimi tells Dane a different story.  Shields insists that Theo was going to ruin them with Barney’s film, and Dane demands to see it.  The film run in the screening room is instead the film Barney shot from the rafters, with an intro from Barney saying Theo asked for it because he was afraid of Shields.  But Dave has dubbed over Jim’s dialogue with new lines in Theo’s voice to make it look like an unprovoked murder.  Surprisingly, Dane doesn’t intend to kill Shields, but just orders him to leave the country.  First, though, he insists that Shields turn over the financial ledger so Dane can run the operation himself.  Willy watches from the projection room as Shields hands over his watch, which contains the ledger on a microdot.  Jim and Willy intercept Dane outside and take the watch at gunpoint.

All in all, a solid if unexceptional episode.  There are some moderately effective threats to the team, though the Moore problem is dealt with too easily — and if anything, the bomb isn’t dealt with easily enough, since it shouldn’t have taken so long for Jim to piece his suspicions together (and I could’ve done without the “noticing a random thing triggers a sudden epiphany” cliche).  Barney’s director freakout was great fun, and it was also fun to see the Paramount lot actually shown off as a movie studio for a change, letting us see parts of it that are usually hidden when they’re trying to pass it off as the outside world.  The depiction of filmmaking even seemed more authentic than what you usually see; for some reason, when film and television portray their own process, they tend to misrepresent it badly, but this felt closer to reality, with touches like scenes being shot out of order and an assistant director passing the director’s instructions on to the cast.  We’re back to stock music, but otherwise it’s a moderately satisfying episode.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “TOD-5″/”Cocaine” (spoilers)

November 9, 2011 3 comments

“TOD-5”: A government scientist named Morse…  Hey, that sounds like the first line of a limerick.  Ahem:

A government scientist named Morse
Has sold out his country—how coarse!
He stole a nerve toxin,
So he needs outfoxin’
By the Impossible Missions Force!

(Sorry for the meter in the first and last lines.  Best I could do.)  Anyway, Morse (Ross Elliott) is contacted by Holt (Peter Haskell), go-between with a domestic terrorist organization called the Alpha Group, which intends to buy a stolen canister of nerve gas TOD-5 from Morse.  They meet in a hotel in the small Southern or Southwestern town of Woodfield.  But Morse has hidden it and will need a day to retrieve it. Holt calls go-between Davies (Michael Conrad, the third future Hill Street Blues regular to show up lately) who “connects” him with the Alpha Group the old-fashioned way, by holding two telephone handsets against each other speaker-to-receiver.  The Alpha Group is led by Dr. Victor Flory (hey, it’s Ray Walston!), and they’re suspicious of Davies, for good reason, since we see him listening in on the conversation.  Flory orders Davies detained for a few days once he returns, after which it won’t matter.  Cut to Jim in an antique shop, getting the briefing on a vinyl record on an antique phonograph — only the second time in several seasons that something other than a reel-to-reel tape has been used.  The mission is to locate the Alpha Group.  As Jim explains in the apartment scene, it’s not enough just to retrieve the TOD-5, because Alpha has other bioweapons it plans to use in a major strike several days hence.  They have to get to Alpha and shut it down.  This is another Mimi episode; Jim explains that Casey is in Europe monitoring Alpha’s overseas branch.  Mimi’s job is to get close to Holt, and Jim gives her a tracking-device watch and warns her not to let anything happen to it.  What do you want to bet something happens to it?

Jim and Willy effortlessly take Morse out of action and retrieve the TOD-5.  Morse boasts that capturing him won’t stop the attack.  But then, he doesn’t know the plan.  Next morning, Holt arrives at the hotel to be told by a new clerk (who seems sweaty and unwell) that Morse was never there at all. Holt checks in and searches Morse’s room, finding nothing.  He tries calling Alpha, but an operator tells him the long-distance lines out of Woodfield were downed in a storm.  He goes to the garage where his car is parked and finds it won’t start.  Holt accuses mechanic Willy of sabotaging his car, and Sheriff Jim intercedes.  Just then, there’s a bloodcurdling scream from outside.  A man staggers into the street, his face covered in sores.  He collapses and an ambulance promptly arrives.  Jim keeps everyone back from the sick man, including waitress Mimi, who seems close to him.  Holt notices the ambulance crew (including Barney) have military-style khaki pants and boots.  Just as the ambulance drives away, the camera zooms in on a man in the background — it’s Davies!  Hmm, I’d figured he was the fed who notified the government and got the IMF on the case.  Maybe he represents a third party?

In the diner, waitress Mimi flirts with Holt (even though the guy who just “died” in the street was “sort of a boyfriend” of hers), and can’t tell him anything about Morse.  When he leaves, Davies comes in, claiming to have been hunting in the area, and starts asking questions about Morse, making Mimi and Jim suspicious.  Mimi slips Jim his beer glass so he can fingerprint it.  Later, Holt sneaks into the garage and finds Morse’s car under a tarp, with the (dummy) TOD-5 canister just sitting in the back seat.  He takes the car and tries to get out of town, but finds the roads blocked.  Sheriff Jim notices he’s not driving the car he came in, and orders him to take it back where he found it.

Back in town, Holt convinces Mimi to tell him what’s going on.  He’s figured out a lot of it: that there was a TOD-5 leak and the military took over the town, quarantining it to avoid a panic, even if it kills everyone in Woodfield.  He convinces Mimi to let him know the next time they come to take a sick person away.  Later she comes to him in his room and knocks him out long enough for the team to inject him with a drug that will fake the symptoms of the plague (seriously, who designs these perfectly tailored drugs they keep using?), and they set back his watch and rewind the tape player hidden in his hotel-room radio so he’ll think no time has passed when he recovers a few minutes later.  Mimi tells him another sick person is about to be picked up, and he follows the ambulance to a morgue outside of town, where he’s captured and questioned by GI Joe Barney.  (Sorry, I didn’t notice his rank.)  Barney confirms what’s happening, and that only a very few people are immune to the toxin.  And Holt isn’t one of them.  Barney hands him a mirror and lets him see the sores starting to form on his skin.  Panicked, Holt breaks free and rushes back to Mimi.  She tells him she has no symptoms, even though her boyfriend died a couple of days before.  Holt realizes she must be immune, and might be his salvation.  Sheriff Jim shows up at Mimi’s door, but collapses “dead” soon thereafter.  Mimi suggests taking his cop car out of town; with the siren running, it’ll be let through the roadblock.  Once they’re on their way, Mimi activates her signal watch.

But Davies (whom the team has now identified as an Alpha member) follows them out of town, going offroad in his Jeep to get around the roadblock.  He shoots out their tires and pins them down with gunfire.  Turns out he wants the TOD-5 for himself so he can sell it.  The team arrives, but can’t intervene without blowing the mission.  Holt pretends to cave and tosses out the duffel containing the canister and the money he was going to pay for it.  Davies is distracted by the shiny long enough for Holt to recover his gun and shoot Davies in the leg.  But Davies’ gun goes off and hits Mimi in — guess where — the shoulder.  We’re getting to the point where you’re not really an IMF agent until you’ve been shot in the shoulder at least once.  And, predictably, when she falls, she breaks her signal watch.  When Holt takes her away in Davies’s Jeep, the team’s only hope is that Davies is still alive and willing to tell where Alpha HQ is.  He is alive, but they threaten to end that condition by shooting open the (fake) nerve gas canister right next to him.  At the last second, he agrees to talk.

Holt arrives with Mimi at the small-town church housing the Alpha Group, deliberately exposing Flory and the rest to the plague to force them to find a cure.  He tells them not to hurt Mimi, since she’s immune.  Then he appears to drop dead, an effect faked by the drug, and Flory is about to autopsy him when the nurses interrupt him with the discovery of the transmitter in Mimi’s broken watch.  Just then, Holt wakes up, and for some reason the first thing he does is to brush at his facial sores, which are suddenly flaking off harmlessly.  Just then, the team bursts in on the shocked bad guys, and we get a rare instance of direct lethal violence on the team’s part, when Flory pulls a gun and Jim shoots him in self-defense (though Flory dies off-camera).  Cut to Mimi recovering in the hospital, where Jim tells her she’s no doubt happier to recover than Holt was.  (There’s no further mention of Casey’s activities in Europe against the overseas branch of Alpha.)

A reasonably effective episode.   Nice to see bad guys who aren’t mobsters, even if they are domestic.  And it’s an unusual touch that the episode unfolds mostly from Holt’s point of view and we don’t always know in advance what the team is doing or who’s working with them (though it seems pretty much the whole town had to be cooperating with them).  Davies’s agenda is something of a mystery for much of the episode too, adding an unpredictable element.  The location work is good too; wherever they found to shoot the Woodfield scenes was not your typical backlot, and the shootout and confrontation with Davies took place in an interesting mountain-valley location.  So far it’s looking as though a lot of the seventh season’s budget is going into novel location work — the San Francisco-based tape scenes, the earthquake-ruined hospital in “Two Thousand,” the boats and coastal/seagoing locations in “The Deal,” now this.  It’s a nice change from when practically every episode featured the same studio backlots or office buildings.

“Cocaine”: We open at an import company in Rio de Janeiro (judging from the stock footage of its harbor), where… is this a Shatner I see before me?  Yes, William Shatner is back, but he’s not the focus of this scene.  He’s alongside gangster Carl Reid (Stephen McNally), and they’re meeting with Laroca (Gregory Sierra) to view a seahorse sculpture they’re having shipped to America.  The artist Santoro (Miguel Landa) is shocked to discover they’re using it to smuggle drugs — though he must lead a very sheltered life, since he needs it explained to him that the powder is cocaine.  He walks off, naturally getting shot for his trouble while the other bad guys coolly close their deal for the largest cocaine shipment ever smuggled into the US.  We cut to Jim driving up to a bookstore just across the street from San Francisco City Hall — very near the location used in the season premiere’s tape scene.  “Your mission, should you accept,” is to seize the shipment.

The mark for this mission will be Shatner’s character, Reid’s right-hand man Joe Conrad (who probably has some kind of darkness in his heart).  Conrad is vain, arrogant, and fancies himself a swinger (so, totally against type for Shatner, right?).  He’s just joined a Playboy-style club run by men’s cosmetics mogul Frank Fallon, who’s recovering in Europe from a near-fatal plane crash and has had his face totally reconstructed.  Casey, still on maternity leave assignment in Europe, has secured Fallon’s cooperation so Jim can take his place.  Mimi has gotten a job as a “Fun Girl” at the men’s club.  (For some reason, she’s attired in a glamorous evening gown in the tape scene, instead of casual clothes.)

Barney plays a cop whose star is rising due to a huge drug bust he just made.  Reid and Conrad can’t figure out where the drugs came from, since Reid controls all cocaine in the city.  But there seems to be a link to Fallon’s club, so Conrad goes there and Mimi arranges to catch his attention, pretending to be high on the job and getting a rebuke from Jim-as-Fallon.  He convinces her to get together after work, and she invites him to her place.  (This is a reunion for Shatner and Barbara Anderson; she seduced him as Lenore Karidian in Star Trek‘s “The Conscience of the King.”)  He claims interest in getting high, and she’s just let him see the sooper-seekrit compartment where her stash is when Barney and his cops show up to search her place, missing the stash.  Once they’re gone, Conrad takes the stash, and shows only one small bag of it to Reid and his chemist Stanley (Milton Selzer), the latter of whom confirms it’s the purest coke he’s ever seen.  Reid then has Conrad meet with Barney and try to bribe him, but Barney pretends to think that Conrad’s working for Fallon and that he’s not interested in taking Fallon’s money “anymore.”  Between this and some fake financial records Willy plants at the credit union, they’re now convinced that Fallon is the rival drug dealer.

So Conrad bails out Mimi and demands to know where she gets the drugs.  She takes him to see Jim/Fallon, and Conrad offers to go into partnership.  Jim refuses and rebuffs Mimi.  Playing the woman scorned, Mimi tries to shoot him and the gun goes off between them, fake-killing Mimi.  Now Conrad has leverage over Jim, and forces him to take  them to his source.  It’s Willy, cast against type as a genius chemist who’s invented a machine to synthesize cocaine cheaply.  Conrad calls in Stanley to confirm its purity, telling him to keep it between them, but Stanley lets Reid know anyway.  After Stanley confirms the purity of the coke (actually government-seized drugs provided to the team), Barney bursts in and is about to arrest them.  But Conrad Shatners it up and urges Barney to think about the millions he could make from this drug-manufacturing process.  Barney agrees to a partnership, and pretends to kill Stanley (just knocking him out) to be sure he won’t talk.

Conrad arranges with his buyers — presumably the ones who were supposed to buy Laroca’s shipment — to meet him earlier that day at Fallon’s club and buy his coke for less.  But then Jim and Willy get the drop on the buyers (including the late Charles Napier again, though he’s uncredited) and the “dead” Mimi comes out to collect the money.  Barney doesn’t join them; it looks like he’s been set up along with Conrad.  After the others leave with the loot, the buyers discover the “drugs” are sugar.  One of them is about to shoot Barney as a warning to Conrad, but Barney talks his way out, saying Conrad can get them their drugs.  He’s bought Conrad time, but he has to get his hands on that shipment from Rio now.  So Conrad intercepts (then shoots) Reid’s courier and gets the location of the statue.  Reid’s man is tailing him, and the dying courier tells him the location.  Jim and Willy try to pursue, but Conrad nearly runs over a crossing guard leading a bunch of kids across the street, and Jim has to stop to avoid hitting them.  Luckily, the team has tapped Reid’s phone at some point (this was never shown), and Mimi overhears the location.  Conrad reaches the gallery and tries to buy the statue, then Reid and his men get the drop on him, then the cops and the team show up and get the drop on them all.  Conrad smiles ironically as he sees the team all together.

An okay episode — like the last Shatner episode, scripted by future Star Trek: The Motion Picture screenwriter Harold Livingston (from a story by Livingston and Norman Katkov).  Not a great one, though.  All the schemes and double-crosses are maybe a bit too convoluted, and some things are set up that don’t really have any payoff (like a whole scene of Reid and Conrad explaining to the courier about how he’ll be given a phone number in reverse, which sounds like it’ll throw off the team, but it has no effect on the story).  But again, one of its main strengths is an effective use of visually interesting locations beyond the backlot.  A street sign saying “2900 W 6th St.” visible in the last-act car chase let me identify a couple of the distinctive buildings, including the Central Civil West Courthouse and the nearby Church of the Precious Blood — and there actually is a school right next to the place where the schoolchildren were crossing the road.  (Although during the chase it looked like they went through the same intersection several times.)

After the election

I’d say this election turned out fairly well for me overall; a slight majority of outcomes aligned with the way I voted (though I don’t want to get into specifics).  Notably, it looks like Cincinnati will be getting a streetcar after all.  Streetcars are cool.  (Now I’ll be really thrilled if they bring the inclines back.)

But a couple of the most important issues didn’t go the way I wanted.  Disappointingly, a school levy was defeated, and the news is saying the school system may have to lay people off and postpone modernization plans.

Well, it’s an imperfect system, but the only way to make it work better is if more people participate by studying the issues and casting their votes.

Categories: Uncategorized

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “The Deal”/”Leona” (spoilers)

November 8, 2011 1 comment

“The Deal”: This time we open with Jim getting the tape — not at a landmark this time, just at a drive-thru bank, though the bank architecture has a Chinese influence, making me wonder if it’s still in San Francisco (although LA has a Chinatown too).  Jim gets the tape packet from the teller by asking her to change a $1000 bill — and he never gets his change, making this the most expensive tape drop ever for him.  In a new stylistic variation, the episode credits (producer, writers, director) are shown during the tape sequence, as Jim drives from the teller booth to a parking space to listen to the tape.  The mission: General Oliver Hammond (Lloyd Bochner) is about to launch a coup of the island nation of Camagua with $5 million worth of backing from mobsters Rogan (Robert Webber) and Larson (Peter Leeds), and Jim has to intercept the money and expose the deal.  The tape phrasing is a little different; the “conventional law enforcement agencies” line is missing, and the Voice says “The assignment, if you accept it,” rather than the standard wording.

There’s no apartment scene either; we jump right to Jim, Barney, and Mimi (in her second guest appearance) working with a team of extras to make a fake Camagua detention center and patrol boat at an abandoned US base on the Camaguan coast.  (According to a map seen later, Camagua occupies an imaginary island about halfway between Puerto Rico and Venezuela.)  That makes this a significant episode: it’s the first time since the fifth season that an entire mission  takes place outside of the United States.  Again, there’s dialogue explaining that Casey is away on a deep-cover assignment; it’s a shock to see this show actually explaining a cast change or absence, and now they’ve done it twice.  But Mimi says that Casey made a mask just before she left, so technically Casey is a participant in this caper.  Willy is already aboard Rogan’s yacht, searching for the key to the safe-deposit box with the mob money; if he gets lucky, the rest of the plan won’t be necessary.  Naturally he doesn’t get lucky.  He’s caught when his transmissions to Jim get intercepted by Rogan’s radio.  He fights his way free and jumps overboard, but gets shot in the upper chest.  The mobsters leave him for dead.  The camera pulls back to show the vast empty expanse of ocean in which Willy is lost, which is undermined when it pulls back so far that you can see the rail of the boat it’s being shot from.

The team’s fake Camaguan patrol boat rendezvouses with the yacht, and Rogan’s group expect to be greeted warmly by Hammond’s people.  But Barney places Rogan and his cronies — including Sanders (former Green Hornet star Van Williams), Chalmers (Robert Phillips), and his ladyfriend Marcy (erstwhile Bond girl Lana Wood) — under arrest.  Nearby, a Camaguan fisherman complains about the patrol boat fouling his nets and insists that someone in authority will get an earful.  Rogan and his people are informed that Hammond has been arrested and they’re being charged with abetting his coup.  The men get private cells, but the vulnerable Marcy has to share hers with Mimi, in the role of Hammond’s mistress.  (I wonder how Mimi, so recently paroled, feels about having to play a prisoner.  Not that we’ll ever find out.)  Meanwhile, the team searches the yacht thoroughly, but finds no trace of the key.  They don’t have time to tear the whole boat apart — so Jim says they must tear Rogan apart.

When Chalmers is taken away by Col. Jim for interrogation, he’s switched with a masked double (a nameless extra) who pretends to make a break for it and get shot.  Later, Marcy has to listen to the (faked) sounds of Mimi being beaten, after which guard Barney apologizes and says he’ll do what he can for her tomorrow.  Marcy figures out that Mimi and Barney have an escape plan.  Jim also interrogates Rogan and the Green Hornet about the fate of Willy, but they have nothing to say.

Meanwhile, Willy has managed to swim ashore and is captured by a Camaguan soldier.  General Hammond questions him and Willy improvises nicely, saying that Rogan has double-crossed him and fled with the safe-deposit key.  It’s night by now, so Hammond orders a search with infrared cameras.  He also notifies Larson, who flies out to join him.

After their trial, Jim sentences Marcy to prison and the two men to execution in the morning.  The team arranges for Marcy and Rogan to have a few seconds alone so she can tell him about the escape plan.  But a search plane overflies their position, and Jim is concerned that they may have to flee at a moment’s notice.  Back in the capitol, Hammond has gotten the fisherman’s report about the fake patrol boat.

In the morning, Sanders is taken out for execution, and Rogan is convinced it’s a bluff to make them crack and reveal where the money is.  Or so he thinks until he sees Sanders shot “dead” (with wax bullets containing tranquilizer darts and fake blood).  Rogan is now ready to make a deal with Jim.  He signs a confession in exchange for a prison sentence — but though Jim urges him to give up the safe-deposit key, Rogan still refuses.  He’s holding out for a deal with guard Barney: help escaping in exchange for a share of the $5 million.  Barney agrees and helps him break out.

In the hospital, Hammond’s colonel comes to Willy and gloats that the yacht has been found, nowhere near where he claimed, and Hammond and his troops are on the way there.  Now, usually in M:I, when someone gets shot in the shoulder or thereabouts, it doesn’t impede their movements at all.  This time, they’re a bit closer to reality; Willy’s left arm is mostly out of action throughout this episode.  Which lets him show off just how good he is when he knocks out the colonel and a guard one-handed, changes into the colonel’s clothes, and makes his way to the radio room to warn Jim of Hammond’s approach.  Luckily, Barney has gotten Rogan and the women out of the prison.  Rogan leads Barney to the yacht and reveals why nobody could find the key with metal detectors: because it’s a plastic key baked inside a flowerpot.  Barney tells Rogan he’s a free man and slaps him on the back — but of course that was irony, because he has the good ol’ knockout needle thingy in his palm.  He takes the key and the team hauls out on the patrol boat just as Rogan regains consciousness and rushes out to see Hammond and Larson arriving, just in time for the usual thing where the baddies realize they’re screwed and stare at each other in dismay.  Willy swims out to the patrol boat and is united with the team for the first time in the whole episode.

Well, this was a pretty darn solid episode, written by Stephen Kandel with the story co-written by George F. Slavin.  (Kandel is known to Star Trek fans for creating Harry Mudd, and he would later write for Wonder Woman and MacGyver among others.  This is his first of five M:I scripts.)  What’s refreshing about the plan is that it doesn’t have a single, specific endgame that it takes an hour of convoluted stuff to build up to; rather, the team makes multiple different tries to locate the key, and seeing each successive attempt fail helps build suspense.  It also improves the pacing in the first act to see the team’s preparations happening alongside Willy’s search of, and escape from, the yacht.  Willy’s capture and questioning give him the chance to shine and create an added element of peril, and Hammond’s search provides an effective ticking clock.  There’s also a touch of ambiguity, since Marcy is somewhat out of her depth here and probably doesn’t know much about Rogan’s plans; you feel a little bad watching the team force her to witness apparent executions and torture and be afraid it will happen to her.  There are moments where it looks like Mimi feels bad about it too and tries to make things easier on Marcy, but there’s no real payoff for that.  It would’ve been nice to see her confront Jim about what he was inflicting on Marcy.  But the episode was full enough as it was.  It’s still early in the season, but this is the best one so far.

“Leona”: A mobster with the unlikely name of Mike Apollo (Dewey Martin) is instructing an associate, Lou Parnell (William Boyett), on the particulars of a series of payoffs to state officials.  Searching for a lighter, Apollo stumbles upon a voice-activated tape recorder hidden in Parnell’s drawer.  Realizing Lou is a spy, he has him taken away for interrogation.  Cut to Jim entering a closed bar, where again the episode credits are shown during the tape scene.  (Including a credit for Barry Crane, an associate producer since episode 2, who’s now matured to full producer.)  “Your job, Jim, should you decide to accept it” (again a variant phrasing), is to locate Parnell and rescue him from torture.

Jim’s plan involves another mobster with the even more unlikely name of Joe Epic (Robert Goulet), a friend and ally of Apollo’s.  They run separate rackets, and despite their friendship, either would gladly move in on the other’s holdings.  The peace is kept by the grand old man of the region’s mob, Malta (Will Kuluva), who holds regular summit meetings.  Epic’s wife Leona (Beverly Ralston) recently died, drowning in the bath after mixing prescription barbiturates with alcohol.  Using a masked Casey, hidden speakers, and Leona’s rare perfume, the team makes Epic think he’s being haunted by Leona’s spirit calling for vengeance (though he accepts that it’s all in his head).  Meanwhile, Jim plays an insurance investigator who suspects Epic of killing his wife.  He plants suspicion in Epic’s head, first that Leona’s death wasn’t natural, then that she was having an affair — evidence that cabbie Willy and doorman Barney back up, leading Epic to a love nest where he finds pictures of Leona — and Apollo.  (Barney’s moustache is back, though it was absent in “The Deal” — these episodes are clearly being aired out of order.)  Jim simultaneously leads Apollo’s men to suspect he’s working a deal with Epic; he flirts with Epic’s secretary Edith (Pippa Scott), actually a spy for Apollo, and she seduces him into revealing that he and Epic are planning to move in on Apollo with the phony murder charges.

So Epic calls a summit meeting overseen by Malta, and lays his charges against Apollo.  This clash of mobsters plays out oddly like a courtroom scene as Epic calls witnesses Willy and Barney (who were “subpoenaed” at gunpoint) to lay out his evidence against Apollo.  But Apollo calls his star rebuttal witness, Jim, who’s been similarly coerced to appear by Apollo’s men.  Jim doesn’t say what Apollo expects, though, telling Malta he’s not sure which of the men killed Leona.  Things are looking bad for Apollo.  His only option is to call his alibi witness, the man he was with on the day of Leona’s death: Lou Parnell, the undercover fed his men are torturing.  He has Parnell brought in through an underground tunnel, and as soon as Jim sights their target, he signals Casey outside, who’s with the cops.  The cops charge in and rescue Parnell.  Jim takes enough pity on Epic to tell him that his wife wasn’t having an affair after all.

This was a pretty good one, written by Howard Browne.  Although Epic is nominally a bad guy, he’s a sympathetic character who genuinely loved his wife and misses her terribly, and Robert Goulet conveys his grief effectively.  I kind of feel sorry for him, being put through the wringer like that by the IMF just so they can foil a crime that he has no real connection to.  This isn’t the kind of episode that relies on a strong sense of danger and uncertainty, for the plan unfolds smoothly, or the kind that relies on really imaginative gadgetry and gimmicks.  So it needs good character work to generate interest, and it succeeds on that front.  There’s also some interesting cinematography here and there.

The one thing I’m missing so far this season is new music.  Four episodes in, the scores have been entirely stock.  Long-running shows tend to have their budgets cut in later seasons to stay on the air; we’ve already seen that with the cast-size reduction and the shift to a domestic focus (probably cheaper than creating a bunch of “exotic” locations, even if they did just recycle the same backlots over and over).  Now it’s looking like they didn’t budget for hiring composers at all this season.  It’s too bad; the music was one of the great strengths of the show’s early seasons.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

I voted today!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been first so sick, then so preoccupied with reading and other stuff, that I almost forgot Election Day was coming up.  But in recent years I’ve come to appreciate the importance of local elections, so I made sure to take the time to research the issues and candidates and get myself to the polls today.  I wish I’d taken more time with the research, but at least I did my part by voting, and I’m reasonably comfortable with the choices I made.  Although it remains to be seen which votes will go my way or not.

And it’s a lucky thing I remembered to double-check the information card from the Board of Elections before I went out to vote, because my polling place has changed.  It’s still in the same vicinity, and about the same distance away on foot, but I cross the street and head uphill at an intersection where previously I would’ve made a right and gone downhill.  It’s actually a bit easier to find than the old polling place was, though if I hadn’t double-checked, I would’ve had no idea where to look for it.

By the way, I’ve been amused by the fact that one of the city council candidates this year is named Kevin Flynn.  If only his slogan had been “I fight for the users,” he could’ve locked in the geek vote.

Categories: Uncategorized
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