Archive for November 8, 2011

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.

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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.

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