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