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

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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