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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season 6 Overview

Season 5 was a new beginning for Mission: Impossible, raising the bar of its storytelling to a new level of quality and innovation.  But that was beginning to slack off toward the end of the season in favor of a higher percentage of more conventional and formulaic, but still well-written, episodes.  And season 6 had a couple of strikes against it going in: the reduction of the regular cast to four members and the abandonment of international intrigue in favor of stateside crimebusting.  I’m not sure, though, that those changes can explain the degree to which the show lost its way this season.  The year started out rather weakly, and though it eventually settled at a decent enough level and had the occasional gem, it only infrequently approached the level of season 5 and mostly settled for a return to formula.

The top episodes this season were “Encounter,” “Nerves,” “Bag Woman,” and “Double Dead” — the first for its strong character focus and the performance of guest actress Elizabeth Ashley, the others for their effective sense of danger and suspense.  “Invasion” was almost as good, a refreshing return to the global stakes of past seasons.  “The Tram,” “Mindbend,” “The Visitors,” and “Stone Pillow” were strong as well.  “Blues,” “The Bride,” and “Casino” were reasonably good, while “The Connection,” “Committed,” and “Trapped” were decent yet flawed.  “Blind,” “Shape-Up,” “The Miracle,” and “Underwater” were mediocre, “Encore” and “Run for the Money” were awkward and problematical, and “Image” was downright ridiculous.  All in all, the average quality of the season is moderately good, though less than season 5.  But it’s wildly inconsistent.

While it’s unfortunate that they dropped Lesley Ann Warren from the cast (allegedly because she was too inexperienced), Lynda Day George is a worthy replacement.  She’s easily the most beautiful M:I female lead, though maybe a bit too Barbie-doll perfect for some of the characters she’s called on to play — but excellent for romantic interests, ingenues, and women with some eerie or unstable quality, and good at playing a fairly broad range of character types.  If anything, her beauty worked against credibility a bit, since it led the writers to contrive too many situations where the person she replaced happened to resemble her or was someone the mark had never met or hadn’t seen in a long time, so that they didn’t have to hide her pretty face.  Despite being the team’s makeup expert, she only wore a mask in, I believe, two episodes.  Conversely, the lack of a regular male mask performer worked in favor of credibility, since it made a lot more sense to recruit impersonators as needed based on their facial or vocal resemblance to the targets.

On the other hand, the loss of a regular character to take the place of Rollin and Paris meant that the remaining men on the team, particularly Barney and Willy, were sometimes called upon to perform tasks that would formerly have been outside their skill sets — like Barney suddenly acquiring perfect voice mimicry in “Underwater” or Willy turning out to be a card sharp in “Casino.”  On the plus side, though, it let both Greg Morris and Peter Lupus stretch themselves more as actors.

The diminished regular cast, and the shift to law-enforcement missions with cooperation from the authorities, meant that the core team had more assistance than ever before.  The only episode that doesn’t involve cooperation from someone outside the core team is “The Tram.”  Otherwise it’s a pretty hefty list of additional team members and cooperating parties:

01 Blind: Henry Matula (Tom Bosley) & Dr. Warren (Robert Patten) assist; agent Warren Hays (Glenn R. Wilder) cooperates
02 Encore: Dr. Doug Robert (Sam Elliott); Bill Fisher (Paul Mantee), actor/impersonator; unnamed repertory co. incl. Drunk (Sam Edwards)
04 Mindbend: Barney double Teague Williams (uncredited); police cooperate
05 Shape-Up: Lt. Bill Orcott (Lonny Chapman); Actors’ Workshop (audiotape); cooperation from insurance & shipping companies, warehouse owners
06 The Miracle: Steve Johnson (Lawrence Montaigne), actor; Manny (Ollie O’Toole), pickpocket; Nurse (Francine Henderson) and hospital staff cooperate
07 Encounter: Encounter group performers including Joe (Renny Roker), Evie (Arline Anderson), 2 others; hospital staff incl. Dr. Adams (Lauren Gilbert) and Smitty (Virginia Gregg)
08 Underwater: Police cooperate
09 Invasion: Large team of soldiers and actors incl. Wounded Man (David Bond), TV Newsman (Roy Rowan), Soldier (James Essex), and Second Soldier (Conrad Bachmann)
10 Blues: Police Lt. Don Eckhart (Vince Howard), police sergeant playing Pusher (Bob Bralver), vocal impersonator Art Warner (John Crawford)
11 The Visitors: Marty Dix & Helen Prescott (offscreen) allow selves to be impersonated; police cooperate
12 Nerves: Bill Williams (Peter Kilman), impersonator; assistance from police and prison staff incl. Warden (Russell Thorson) & Doctor (Shep Menken)
13 Run for the Money: Trainer Nick Pressy (William Harmatz) & jockey (uncredited); Lucky Lady, racehorse; cooperation from racing officials
14 The Connection: Simone (Francoise Ruggieri), telephone operator; Bill (uncredited), guard; cooperation from Dogana customs official (uncredited) and police in Georgia, NY, Istanbul
15 The Bride: Bob Roberts (Gwil Richards), impersonator
16 Stone Pillow: Cooperation from governor, Department of Corrections, police
17 Image: Dave Scott (Paul Marin), impersonator; Tom Hawkins (George McCallister Jr.), muscle; Dr. Charles Berk (David M. Frank); unnamed workman (extra); cooperation from restaurant owner Alfredo (uncredited) & police; psychic Revalier lets Barney use identity
18 Committed: Assistant DA Wilson (James B. Sikking)
19 Bag Woman: Dr. Bob Miller (Lew Brown), vet; impromptu assist from Dr. Walter Manning (Russ Conway)
20 Double Dead: Steve Wells (Hank Brandt)
21 Casino: Unnamed/unseen voice impersonator; cooperation from state attorney general Peter Wiley (Walker Edmiston)
22 Trapped: Actor’s Studio (off-camera voice impersonation); undercover police at airport

Indeed, given the abundant cooperation with law enforcement and other institutions, the whole practice of the secret message drops and self-destructing tapes ceased to serve any purpose beyond being a trademark of the show.  Even though the tape scenes should probably have been dropped altogether, the only change that was made (beyond the continued absence of the “Secretary will disavow” line which was dropped from stateside missions in season 5) was the addition of a new stock phrase, the assertion that “conventional law enforcement agencies” were unable to achieve the objectives in question, thus justifying the IMF’s involvement.  This was used in every episode except “Invasion,” the only espionage mission of the season.  As far as I could tell, all the tape scenes were new except the one in  “The Visitors.”  All used reel-to-reel tapes except “The Connection,” which used a phonograph record.  Quite a few, seven in all, were filmed at locations on the ocean front.  Several were at playgrounds or recreation areas, while a couple were at what appeared to be high-school or college sports venues.  As far as I recall, all the tapes self-destructed rather than needing to be disposed of by Jim.

The new main title theme arrangement from season 5 is gone; all 22 episodes use the original main-title arrangement.  Nine episodes have composer credits: two episodes each are credited to Lalo Schifrin, Benny Golson, and Robert Drasnin, one each to Robert Prince, George Romanis, and Richard Hazard.   However, the last two of those episodes (one credited to Drasnin, the other to Hazard) had no new music that I noticed, and one of the Schifrin episodes, “The Miracle,” had only a small amount of new music.  “Double Dead” did feature some new Hawaiian-styled source music and slightly altered arrangements of stock cues, but no composer was credited; music supervisor Kenyon Hopkins may have been responsible.  Also, “Blues” featured Greg Morris performing “The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and an original song by Golson (along with guest actress Gwenn Mitchell performing a song that might have been original or not, I couldn’t tell), and “Trapped” featured Lynda Day George performing the song “The Gentle Rain,” composed by Luiz Bonfa, with English lyrics by Matt Dubey.  All told, this season features less new music than any season to date, and little that really stands out.

There’s little point in doing one of my overviews of locations, since virtually the entire season took place within the United States, albeit in various different regions.  The only episode that featured the team travelling outside the US was “The Connection,” in which some of the team travelled to Rome (or at least its airport) for a portion of the mission.  Their only other overseas venture was to “the Islands” (implicitly Hawaii) in “Double Dead.”  A few other episodes depicted non-IMF characters at overseas locations: Paris in “Invasion,” Istanbul in “The Connection,” and Southeast Asia in “Trapped.”

So what more is there to say?  Season 6 was a letdown after the exceptional season 5, but there were still several episodes that held onto the quality of season 5 and a number of others that managed to be solid, if routine, capers.  However, there was also a significant number of duds and absurd premises.  There’s no telling where the show will go from here.  Season 7 will have no radical changes in cast or format from season 6, aside from the temporary substitution of Barbara Anderson’s Mimi in place of Casey during Lynda Day George’s maternity leave.  So will it be about the same in quality as well?  That remains to be seen.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S6) Reviews: “Casino”/”Trapped” (spoilers)

November 2, 2011 2 comments

Last two of the season!

“Casino”: We open in, shockingly enough, a casino.  It’s run with something of an iron fist by Orin Kerr (3-time Columbo villain Jack Cassidy), but that doesn’t stop Kerr from getting called on the carpet by his mob superior Cameron (Richard Devon), who’s discovered that Kerr’s accountant was an undercover cop.  Kerr kills the cop at Cameron’s behest, but Cameron warns him about getting sloppy.  Cut to Jim getting the tape atop a lighthouse (it’s amazing how many of this year’s tape drops have been on the waterfront), where he’s told that Kerr controls gambling in “one of the West’s most popular resort cities” (which is probably M:I-speak for Vegas, or Reno, I guess).  There’s a bill before the legislature that would take the city’s gambling out of the mob’s control, but only if that control can be proven in time for — well, you know the drill, it’s all just an excuse for another “get the evidence by the deadline” mission.

The apartment scene focuses on a film demonstration of the fancy high-tech automated vault Kerr recently designed and installed, and explains that Cameron’s an old-school mobster suspicious of Kerr’s high-rolling lifestyle; they just have to give him a reason to turn on Kerr.  Jim begins this process by splicing into the wire for Cameron’s bug in Kerr’s office (and we see that he and Casey are using new slimline walkie-talkies, almost as small as a lipstick tube, instead of the boxier units they’ve been using for years).  Meanwhile, Willy gets himself a job as a blackjack dealer, and we see he has a hitherto-unsuspected talent for dealing — and cheating at — cards.  This is the kind of job that would’ve made more sense for Rollin or Paris in earlier seasons.  (We also see that behind Willy is a nudie painting, and there are a few shots where there’s actual nipple visible.  Talk about slipping things past the censors…)

Barney arrives as Kerr’s office, impersonating a representative of the Caribbean mob (now secretly under arrest) whom Kerr contacted to put out feelers about moving to the Caribbean.  But Jim sends a different audio feed to Cameron’s wiretapper, a tape of Barney and an unidentified actor impersonating Kerr, in which Kerr promises to deliver some money to Barney.  Meanwhile, Barney shows Kerr a newspaper headline about him — but planted at the bottom of the page is an item about a paroled train robber whose loot was never found, with an old publicity photo of Peter Graves identified as the robber in his younger days.  Since Kerr’s looking for money to let him buy into the Caribbean operation, this catches his eye.

Casey plays a compulsive gambler who writes a bad check and gets called into Kerr’s office; later she comes back with Jim, who repays her debt.  Kerr recognizes him from the news photo and asks about the 12-year-old heist, but Jim claims he was framed.  But the fake wiretap tape makes Cameron think that they’re arranging a deal with Kerr just as Barney was.  When Cameron and his man go to question Jim and Casey, Jim gets the drop on them and ties them up.  Jim and Casey then go down to the casino, where Kerr gets Jim drunk and has Willy cheat him so that he ends up 5 grand in debt.  This is to drive him to go get the stashed loot, whereupon Kerr will follow him.

But while Jim makes a distraction by accusing Willy of cheating, Willy and Casey swap out Willy’s cash box for a substitute in Casey’s handbag.  When the box is placed into the super-automatic vault, it turns out to be an amazingly nifty robot remote-operated by Barney in a truck below — it deploys a camera so Barney can see, then rolls off the conveyor onto the floor, landing upside-down — but its sides swing open so it can flip itself rightside-up and roll over to what I guess is the alarm box or something, which it drills into and then blows up.  It’s an awesome gadget, but I’m a little unclear on just what its purpose was.  Then, Barney uses another automatic gadget to burn through the thick metal floor of the vault, creating a hole through which he inserts a wide hose connected to a powerful vacuum pump in the truck.  He then literally sucks the money off its shelves in the vault (though the shots of the money getting sucked into the tube are clearly reversed footage of it being blown out and settling to the ground).

When Jim and Casey reach the ghost town they’re leading Kerr to, Barney has already arrived with the money, which he’s put in a mailbag so Kerr will think it’s from the heist 12 years earlier.  Meanwhile, Willy has called hotel security with a tip that leads them to the bound Cameron and his man, who find a map in the room that also leads them to the ghost town — but not before they check the vault and find all the money gone (though nobody notices the big hole in the floor or the cashbox robot).  Shortly after Kerr arrives and forces Jim to hand him the money bag, Cameron shows up and interprets it as Kerr giving his stolen mob loot to his partner.  The dates on the dollar bills, as late as Series 1969, confirm that it’s new money from the casino, not old money from a 1959 heist.  Kerr’s in deep trouble with Cameron.  Barney shows up and holds Cameron at gunpoint, locking him in a room and leading Kerr outside.  Kerr thinks he’s home free — but the limo Barney leads him to holds the state attorney general (a rare on-camera appearance for Walker Edmiston, who’s done plenty of voiceover roles on the show), who invites Kerr to testify against the mob.  Knowing he needs to neutralize Cameron to save his life, Kerr, in a classically suave Jack Cassidy moment, tells the AG that he’s had a sudden bout of civic-mindedness, that it’s awful the control organized crime has over gambling and somebody ought to do something about it.

This was a pretty fun episode, though not one of the greats.  It’s a pretty routine caper, but with some nice touches, particularly the robo-cashbox, which pretty much stole the show.  I’m still not sure what the heck it accomplished, but it was a lot of fun to watch.

I’m starting to have my doubts, though, about the recurring theme of getting a bad guy to testify against his fellow mobsters by making them turn against him.  I get that the idea is that he’s a dead man if he doesn’t go into protective custody and/or give testimony that will get his enemies put away.  But that kind of presupposes that the police/government will actually be effective at keeping him safe, and that the other mobsters will actually cease to be a threat once the mark testifies against them.  What about retaliation?  A mobster who’s been convicted on our guy’s testimony could easily order our guy hit in retribution.  I guess the witness protection program could come into play, but still, would a mobster placed in such a situation really believe that his safest option was to rat on the colleagues who already have him marked for death?  I’m not really sure one way or the other.

“Trapped”: The season finale opens on a US Army base in Southeast Asia with what looks like it might be an IMF caper already in progress, with some soldiers whose faces we don’t see putting fake signs on a warehouse to lure a truck off course.  But it turns out to be some bad guys heisting an Army payroll.  We cut to Jim getting the tape in a closed lifeguard station (again with the beachfront tape drops), informed that the theft was the work of the Stafford family, the elderly mobster Joe (Tom Tully) and his feuding sons Art (Jon Cypher) and Doug (Bert Convy).  The mission is to get the stolen money back.

Jim and Willy intercept a truck driven by the Staffords’ brother-in-law, then Jim and Barney show up at their home (the season’s second use of Stately Wayne Manor, though it’s just stock footage this time) claiming responsibility for the heist/abduction and saying they want a cut of the operation or else.  Later, Jim meets separately with Doug, the younger brother, who’s been a dissolute drunk and womanizer since losing the love of his life years before.  He convinces Doug to meet with him at the Club Tempo, where waitress Annette (Sharon Acker, previously seen in season 5’s Jim-backstory episode “Homecoming”) flirts shamelessly with Jim, and also warns him that Doug is an unstable man, quick to violence.  She dated him once and he beat her up when she didn’t act the way he wanted.  Jim appreciates her advice and her interest, but he has to carry out the plan.  Jim tells Doug that his group intends to take Art down and wants Doug to take over as head of the family’s operations.  Doug rejects the proposal, convinced that Art would never turn on his own family, no matter how much the brothers hate each other.  Jim leaves, but then Casey goes to work as a lounge singer, performing the song “The Gentle Rain” in the same style as Doug’s lost love.  (This may be a bit of an Actor Allusion, since that was the title song of a 1966 film featuring Lynda Day George, or Lynda Day as she was known at the time.  Ms. George performs it herself, and her voice is okay but a little faint and breathy.)  Her job is to get Doug’s interest and get her to come home with him.  (She’s using the name Lisa, which the ’88 revival series will later establish as Casey’s “real” first name.)

Ironically, even as Doug was insisting that Art would never turn on family, Art was sending his gunman Broyles (Rudy Solari) to hit Jim, not caring if Doug got in the way.  Broyles targets Jim as he leaves the club, and Jim suffers a bullet graze to the temple (a lot of that going around in recent episodes).  This being television, it naturally gives him amnesia, and he wanders around not knowing who he is, but unwilling to go to a hospital since he senses some need for secrecy.

Before Casey goes off with Doug, waitress Annette warns her about him, but Casey also has to play out the scheme.  At her place, a planted photo and a phone call (with a voice faked by an impersonator at “the Actors’ Studio”) make Doug think that Casey’s involved with brother Art.  He gets angry at her, but she’s spiked his drink, so he passes out.  He comes around in time to be accosted by “hitman” Willy, who gets “knocked out” by Casey (with a harmless prop statue).  Now Doug’s convinced that Art’s out to kill him, so he needs to turn to Jim and Barney for help.  But Barney has to handle it alone, since Jim’s missing.

But Jim remembers enough to lead him to the Club Tempo, where waitress Annette takes him under her wing, eventually taking him home with her.  Unfortunately, the club’s bartender Al (Walter Barnes), who looks kinda like a cross between Kenneth Mars and an older James Doohan, is an informant for Art, and he tips the older brother off that Jim still lives.  Broyles is sent after Jim to finish the job.

Barney and Doug make their deal, but Barney demands cash up front before he’ll give Doug the men he needs to win the “war” with his brother.  Doug agrees, but before they leave, Jim finds a matchbook from the hotel in his pocket and calls them up to ask if he’s registered there.  Barney catches the tail end of the conversation, but Jim hangs up too soon for them to connect.  Barney’s worried about Jim now, but has to proceed with the plan.  He takes Doug to the airport where they intercept the courier who’s brought in the $8 million in Indian emeralds.  Barney signals the undercover cops waiting nearby and they arrest Doug.  Art shows up in time to see this and runs, but Willy tackles him and then threatens him into cooperating in calling off his hitmen.  They get Annette’s phone number from Old Scotty the bartender, and Barney urges Jim to try to remember his team and his mission — though he’s hampered by his inability to speak too plainly about their secrets.  But Jim remembers just in time, and as soon as Broyles and his partner burst into the apartment, Jim morphs into a stunt double wearing a white wig and pounds them both.  Once he transforms back into Peter Graves, he’s got his memory back and tells Barney he’s okay.  Barney and Willy head off to rendezvous with him and Casey as the brothers are taken away.  Unusually, we don’t actually see the whole team reuniting at the end of the episode; the freeze-frame is on the brothers.

Well, it’s nice that they ended the season with an episode that wasn’t entirely routine, but it wasn’t as impressive a formula-breaker as “Bag Woman” or “Double Dead.”  It was pretty much just okay, a workmanlike episode but nothing spectacular.  Nothing much was really done with Jim’s amnesia beyond having him wander around and sound unsure of himself, and his absence didn’t have much of an impact on the plan, because they’d conveniently set it up so that Barney could easily take his place.  And the rapport set up between Jim and Annette doesn’t really go anywhere from a character standpoint; she’s just there to be helpful when he needs someone helpful.

So an adequate episode with some above-average aspects but not enough to make it exceptional.  That might be a fairly good representation of the season as a whole.  But that’s a matter for the overview post coming up next.

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Soup of the day (or two)

I came across an interesting new flavor of Campbell’s soup at the grocery store, an orange tomato soup.  No, it’s not made of oranges and tomatoes, but of an unusual orange variety of tomato.  By coincidence, I only recently discovered those existed; when I stayed with my friends Dave and Kara for New York Comic-Con, we had some in a salad, IIRC.  So when I saw there was a soup using them, I was curious.  It’s pretty interesting.  Orange tomatoes have a… well, I’m not sure my flavor descriptions are accurate, but they seem a bit sweeter and creamier, less acid and tangy than red tomatoes (although some of that may be the other soup ingredients).  Maybe even a bit like squash or even carrot, though maybe that perception is influenced by the color.  Anyway, they’re an interesting variation.  I was just at Findlay Market picking up a new head of Romaine lettuce, and I looked to see if they had any orange tomatoes, but apparently not.  Maybe they aren’t in season anymore, or they’re rare.  The Internet says they’re an “heirloom” variety, which would seem to mean both of those things are true.  Well, at least I have the soup.

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