MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Break!”/”Two Thousand” (spoilers)
Now begins the final season of the original show…
“Break!”: The past two season’s use of cold opens has apparently been dropped; we start right off with the main title theme. It’s a new arrangement again, with some bars dropped and others repeated. It sounds a bit awkward. But we still have an opening scene before the tape sequence, this time a rather slow-paced scene in New Orleans where bad guys Dutch Krebbs (Carl Betz) and Press Allen (Robert Conrad), who control the gambling rackets in the South, are watching a colleague called “Toledo” clean up at pool; he then stays behind when they leave the pool hall, going upstairs to take photos of their books with his superspy watch, but they come back in, catch him, and shoot him. “Too bad,” Dutch says. “He was one sweet pool player.” Cut to Jim trading code phrases with an artist sketching a large domed building which I believe is San Francisco City Hall. He gets the mission to find Toledo’s body and his camera watch before the microfilm deteriorates. How the authorities know that Toledo took the photos before dying is unexplained; they must’ve read the script.
We cut to Jim and Barney demonstrating a system that will help Jim win at pool, an inertially guided, remote-controlled cue ball that will let Barney give Jim a 5-percent edge and diminish his opponents’ success commensurately. Casey is absent, but they’re joined by Mimi (Barbara Anderson), Press’s old girlfriend who’s out on parole. Jim warns her of the dangers of getting involved, but she’s eager to play her part.
First off, a ski-masked Jim and Willy steal a shipment of money from Press, both to make him look bad and to make Krebbs think his rival Sharkey (Robert Mandan) is behind it. Then Willy arranges to get a bodyguard job with Krebbs, first by beating up a current bodyguard whose name, weirdly enough, is Mork (famed stuntman Hal Needham), then by getting Mork’s parole revoked (whereupon I assume he was shipped back to the Ork Federal Penitentiary). Meanwhile, Barney rigs a local pool table with the rigged cue ball and its control plate. Thus, when Jim shows up with Mimi on his arm, he’s able to sweep the table. The timing gets a little compressed here, because as soon as Jim has sunk a mere two shots, the bar owner calls up Krebbs to alert him to this new pool prodigy. (And most of Jim’s pool shots, except for the very trickiest ones, are visibly performed by Peter Graves himself. They must’ve written the episode around his existing talent.) Krebbs sends Press to scout Jim out, leading him to a reunion with Mimi, whom he convinces (with a payoff) to convince Jim in turn to take on Krebbs as his manager.
But Jim makes time with one of the waitresses in Krebbs’s establishment, making Mimi jealous. Eventually she lets Krebbs and Press in on the secret of the remote-controlled cue ball, operated by Barney in the role of Jim’s partner. Krebbs is convinced he can clean up. But after another IMF-staged robbery puts Press still further in the doghouse, Barney offers Press a side deal. They go to Sharkey, revealing the trick to him, and agree to arrange things so that Jim will lose to Sharkey’s man. Things are heading that way, but then at the last minute, Barney knocks out Sharkey’s goon and drives the control van away, and triggers the control plate to vaporize while Willy switches the real cue ball back. The final shots are left to Jim’s own skill, and he wins the game.
When Sharkey tries to accuse Krebbs of fixing the game, he finds the cue ball is genuine. He thinks Press has double-crossed him, and tells Press he’s a dead man. Then Jim suggests to Krebbs that Press was the one who tipped Sharkey off, so Krebbs also tells Press he’s “just bought a contract.” Press fears he’s doomed, but Willy tells him that his employers will pay Press good money for Toledo’s camera watch. Unusually for M:I antagonists in this position, Press doesn’t go for it and pulls a gun on Willy, but Mimi runs interference long enough to let Willy get away. Press then goes to Sharkey and offers him the watch if they unite against Krebbs. So they go to the cemetery and Press digs up Toledo’s body. Yes, he digs it up. Even though the episode is supposed to be set in New Orleans, where they don’t bury bodies in the ground because the water table’s too high. Bit of a research failure there. Anyway, he gets the watch, and Sharkey’s about to shoot him for it, but Barney and Willy get the drop on all the bad guys.
We cut to the familiar Paramount office lot, with the team reading a newspaper reporting Krebbs’s indictment. The Lubitsch Building is dressed up as the state house, and Mimi comes out and tells the team that her parole has officially been ended and she’s a free woman. Jim says he’s heard from the Secretary — the first time that particular individual has been mentioned in over a season, and the first time in many years that he’s been mentioned by anyone other than the Voice on Tape — and been informed that Casey will be on a series of special assignments in Europe, so he asks if Mimi will work with them from time to time, and she agrees. It’s the only time we’ve ever gotten an origin story for a recurring IMF team member, or an explanation for a team member’s absence.
Well, this was a fairly routine caper, but a moderately interesting one. Having Mimi actually be Press’s old flame, playing herself and using their real history against him, lent a bit more emotional interest than usual, though not much was done with it; she was no more conflicted about scamming Press than any other IMF femme fatale. But if nothing else, Barbara Anderson is rather lovely and a welcome substitute for Lynda Day George. And while all the pool “action” gets a little tedious and the pacing overall is rather slow, I respect the fact that Peter Graves did so many of the pool shots himself. All in all, a workmanlike and reasonably entertaining start to the season, with an interesting twist in the person of Mimi.
“Two Thousand”: We open with Joseph Collins (Vic Morrow) picking up a cash payoff hidden in a condemned building and getting a call from a European contact. They arrange for the contact to pick up a shipment of plutonium that Collins has stolen. Nearby, government agents are listening in, but they know Collins won’t talk if they arrest him. One of the agents says it will have to be dealt with another way. That way is Jim Phelps, who’s again picking up the tape at a striking San Francisco landmark, this time the Palace of Fine Arts, where he gets the tape from the photographer at a fashion shoot (and according to IMDb, the model is a young Joanna Cassidy). The mission, of course, is to retrieve the plutonium before the Europeans pick it up. It’s worth noting that even though this is more of a spy mission than a crimefighting mission, the tape still includes the now-standard reference to “conventional law enforcement agencies.”
The San Francisco settings of the last couple of tape scenes might answer my question raised last season by that episode that indicated Jim and the team had to fly to Los Angeles from wherever Jim lived. These episodes might be suggesting that he lives in San Francisco. Although that would seem to conflict with all those tape scenes filmed around LAX in earlier seasons. As far as I can tell, he still seems to be in the same apartment, though I haven’t looked too closely at the scenery.
Casey is present in the apartment scene, but her face looks kind of chubby and she’s seated with most of her body hidden behind a table and a tape deck. No doubt this was shot while she was pregnant. The other notable change is that Barney suddenly sports a moustache! Willy says they’ve arranged to use an abandoned area in Bridgeton that was ruined by an earthquake, and Casey familiarizes the team with various drugs and compounds that will be used in the caper.
While Jim and Willy are watching Collins’s apartment, Collins is listening to his radio — or actually a double planted earlier by Willy, with an internal cassette that begins playing fake news reports of a looming conflict in the Mideast. Then Larry Tate from Bewitched comes walking by. Or rather, David White is playing Max Bander, an attorney who calls Collins on a pay phone, alerting him to his watchers, and saying he represents someone US-based who wants to pay Collins double what the Europeans are offering for the plutonium. Collins asks for an hour to think about it, but then Willy shows up at his door along with Detective White (Don Diamond) and arrests Collins on a murder charge. Larry, err, Bander gets the license number and calls his contact in the police, a corrupt vice cop named Sager (Mark Tapscott), to get what information he can on the arrest. But Sager finds out there’s no record of the arrest and the car didn’t belong to the police.
At police HQ, the team takes Collins into a wing that’s closed for renovation (the chief is cooperating with the team and has arranged this, though the rest of the cops are in the dark). They’ve set up a room with a fake window showing a rear-projected city view (including Los Angeles City Hall), and somehow Collins can’t tell the difference between film on a screen and a live view. They let Collins call his law firm, but it goes to Casey as the operator telling him his attorney can’t be reached. (She’s in a black turtleneck and a loose outer shirt to hide her pregnancy, but apparently she’s not as far along as I assumed from the apartment scene. She looks very drawn and tired, though.) Then, as Willy and White interrogate Collins, faked newspaper and radio reports tell of a building global crisis, and then a bulletin announces that missiles have been launched — and Sager, who’s lowered a mike down the ventilation shaft, is bewildered to hear this. Collins watches through the “window” as a bomb goes off on the film, and at that moment, White drugs him unconscious. They take him into the next room to prepare him, and Jim says to call ahead to Bridgeton (the earthquake-damaged region).
This lets Sager cue Bander and his boss in to where Collins is being taken, and the boss assigns Bander to take a couple of men out to Bridgeton. “Bridgeton” is actually the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar, California, which was badly damaged by a 1971 earthquake in real life. Like “The Tram” last season, this is an episode that was clearly written around a striking location. It’s an impressively ruined setting, but the team’s helpers are making it even worse by planting bombs. Collins wakes up to find himself with a bunch of entranced old people on a crude assembly line canning emergency rations. He discovers that he’s apparently become an old man himself, and has a major freakout before Jim, as a military general, has him taken to a cell occupied by Barney. Using his stock Caribbean accent, Barney explains that Collins is a “Class 9,” a group of survivors from near Ground Zero who were shocked into a trance state and rarely come out of it. He’s awakened in the year 2000, 28 years into an endless global war. Across the hall, a group of other Section 9s are strapped into chairs and gassed to “death.”
But then the sound effects of an air raid kick in and Willy starts setting the charges off — while Bander and his men watch the show from a nearby road. Collins’s cell is badly shaken by the explosions and partly collapses, which seems a rather dangerous tactic on the team’s part. Anyway, it breaks the door open, and Barney and Collins try to escape but are frightened back to their cell by the voice of Jim ordering search parties — but not before Collins takes a fallen soldier’s gun. He orders Barney to show him the way out, but Barney scoffs and says it won’t matter, since in two days he turns 65 and will be executed, like all Class 9s. Still, Collins forces Barney at gunpoint, and they travel across the strikingly devastated location until they reach a command center where Jim and several other military leaders are discussing their situation and how hopeless it is now that they’re out of nuclear bombs. When the guards find Collins, he pleads for his life, telling the joint chiefs that he’s a nuclear physicist and knows where they can find 50 pounds of plutonium. Once convinced that they’ll keep him alive for his bomb-building skills, he tells them where to find the bomb — but Bander’s people are listening in with a parabolic mike and head off for the site ahead of the team.
But it turns out Collins’s European contact and his men are already there digging up the plutonium, and a shootout ensues between the two bad-guy factions. By the time Jim, Barney, and Willy arrive, Bander and his men have been eliminated, and the team gets the drop on the Europeans. Back at Bridgeton, Collins finds his cell door open and the whole place deserted, and his age makeup is coming off. As a vintage-1972 police car drives up for him, he laughs hysterically amid the ruins.
This is a pretty solid episode. It’s built on tropes we’ve seen in earlier episodes, such as the structure of “Operation: Rogosh” and “Invasion” (where a character is tricked into thinking it’s a postwar world and he needs to give up his secrets to save his life, while enemy agents threaten to foil the plan); the fake-war scenarios seen in those episodes and “The Numbers Game;” and the fake-future scenario seen in season 3’s “The Freeze” and its fake-past variation in season 6’s “Encore” (which, like this episode, was written by Harold Livingston and has a similar ending). But seeing as how it’s year 7 of the series, we’re unlikely to see anything really new, and what matters is the execution. Despite what I said in my “Operation: Rogosh” review, this episode isn’t nearly as much a remake of that one as “Invasion” was. Its post-apocalyptic flavor gives it an interesting edge, and the complication posed by Bander, while an example of a recurring trope itself, doesn’t feel quite the same as other such complications, perhaps because he represents a wild-card third party that the team doesn’t even know about. And as with “Invasion,” at this point it’s refreshing just to see an episode that revolves around national security and global intrigue rather than domestic organized crime. Mainly, though, what lends the episode its impact is the striking, devastated Sylmar location around which the episode was built. It’s good that they established in dialogue that the damage was the result of an earthquake in-story as well as in reality, since there’s no way the IMF — or a Hollywood TV crew — could’ve faked something like that. It’s an exceptional sight to see.