Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Boomerang”/”The Question” (spoilers)

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Boomerang”/”The Question” (spoilers)

“Boomerang”: The lovely Eve Vayle (Laraine Stephens) meets her husband Johnny (Charles Guardino) at an airstrip, tries to trick him into giving her sensitive documents he’s carrying, then has her hired killer club him with a wrench when that doesn’t work.  The killer flies him up in his small plane, bails out, and sets off a bomb.  At the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Jim gets the mission to retrieve the incriminating documents from Eve.  Jim intends to create the illusion that Johnny is still alive.  But nobody’s in the apartment briefing except the core foursome, so who’s going to wear the mask?  We later find it’s a guest agent named Bert, but the actor is uncredited.

Barney shows up at Johnny’s funeral as a cop who’s rude and confrontational toward Eve and her henchman Homer Chill (Walter Barnes), whose cousin Joe is wanted in Gotham City in connection with the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  But that’s not important now.  Homer is a henchman inherited from Johnny, but he actually reports to the head of the organization, Luchek (Ronald Feinberg).  After the funeral, Eve meets with Luchek and blackmails him with the incriminating documents: regular payments and Eve’s continued safety will ensure the originals stay hidden.  To think I held you when you were born, Luchek says, but Eve counters that it wasn’t too many years later that Luchek killed her father.  Luchek backs down and pays the money.

Willy rigs a tripwire at Eve’s door so that she falls just as someone takes a shot at her.  Detective Barney detains the unseen shooter at gunpoint and brings him inside as he questions Eve, and we see the shooter was Jim, who’s playing it cool and cheerful and is even polite to his intended victim.  Eve refuses to cooperate with Barney or explain why she was targeted, so he takes Jim away.  Eve has Homer do his own investigation and they track hitman Jim down; he’s been released by virtue of a transfer of funds from his pocket to Barney’s.  Eve offers to double his fee if he’ll kill the man who hired him, and when Jim hesitates, she invites him to dinner.  Once sufficiently romanced, Jim confesses that he doesn’t know who hired him; he got the money and instructions from a courier.  But she convinces him to try tracking the man down.

Willy sneaks into Eve’s bedroom and takes some money from the stacks Luchek paid her, leaving a copy of Johnny’s thumbprint on the safe dial.  When Eve pays Jim the agreed-on amount, which by lucky happenstance is exactly one bundle’s worth, Jim finds it’s 2 grand short.  (Is this something the team could’ve reasonably predicted?  Jim said he was offered $12,500 for the hit.  Maybe he expected Eve to double that because it’s fairly routine, or maybe he would’ve haggled if she hadn’t offered that off the bat.  And maybe $25,000 is the standard size of a bundle of cash of this denomination, and maybe it was reasonable to expect that mobsters would routinely deal with such bundles.  Still, it seems the plan relies a bit too much on factors outside the team’s control.  Unless I’m remembering the timing wrong and Willy broke the safe and passed the details on to Jim before he started talking money.)  Checking all the bundles, Eve finds more money missing, and is bewildered since only she and Johnny knew the combination (and apparently, despite being a criminal, it’s never occurred to her that a safe can be broken into).  Jim uses face powder to bring out the thumbprint, and there just happens to be a copy of Johnny’s driver’s license complete with thumbprint in the safe, and Eve just happens to be sufficiently expert in dactyloscopy (look it up) to make a positive match by sight alone.  Jim says it must be a fresh print or it would’ve dried out.  But Eve is certain Johnny’s dead.

At least until she finds out that Johnny’s jacket was delivered to her home (by Willy), and Casey calls pretending to be the laundry and saying it was supposed to go to another address.  Eve and Jim go to that address and find Casey, along with duplicates of Johnny’s possessions found on his body (as well as some rather weird abstract cat art decorating the place).  Jim intimidates Casey into confessing she’s working with Johnny, though she says she hasn’t seen him in days.

Eve and Jim are getting rather lovey-dovey, and Homer wonders if she’s falling for him, but she assures him that doing business sometimes demands actions that resemble affection.  Eve then goes to the hotel where Johnny’s killer is lying low.  The team intercepted him days ago, and desk clerk Willy tells Eve he never checked in.  It’s starting to look like the man she saw parachuting out of that plane was Johnny.  Which is reinforced when Bert breaks into her room that night and injects her with a needle.  There’s nothing in the needle; it’s just cosmetic for later.  The trick here, bizarrely, is that Willy previously swapped out her sleeping pills for ones calibrated to make her sleep for a precise amount of time.  (Seriously, again, who is the IMF’s pharmaceutical designer?  A drug like that could make millions for the insomnia market.)  Why not just leave her sleeping pills alone and have Bert inject her with adrenaline, if he’s going to inject her anyway?  Well, in any case, she wakes up just in time to see Bert-as-Johnny say “I got what I wanted” and leave.

Corrupt cop Barney shows up and takes Eve to see “Johnny’s” body, freshly killed by Barney.  He says they were partners; Johnny pentothalled her into revealing where the documents were and was going to… umm… do something nefarious with them; I missed that part.  But Barney decided to kill him and muscle in on Eve’s blackmail scheme, taking 3/4 of the payments for himself.  He shows her (a duplicate of) Johnny’s briefcase to confirm he has the documents.  Eve goes to Jim and tries to seduce him into killing Barney (gee, that’s her solution to everything, isn’t it?), but Jim is skeptical of Barney’s story, saying Johnny would never have actually brought the documents.  They have to be sure.  She takes him to where she hid the documents, and describes the site well enough that the eavesdropping Homer is able to repeat it to Luchek, who recognizes where it is.  At the site, she finds the documents are still there, and then pulls a gun on Jim, not needing him anymore.  I would imagine the plan at this point was for Barney and Willy to jump out with guns drawn, but Luchek gets there first, and Eve takes a bullet to that ever-popular wound location, the shoulder.  Jim punches out Luchek and his goon, and that’s when Barney and Willy finally arrive and reclaim the evidence.  Eve looks hurt to realize Jim was playing her all along, but it’s not like she was doing any different.

A run-of-the-mill but fairly entertaining episode.  The main point of interest is Laraine Stephens, a striking actress who resembles a more delicate-featured Elizabeth Montgomery, but whose dainty, girlish looks are belied by a smoky, brassy, New York-tinged alto that sounds like its owner has been around the block a few times.  There are some moments where it seems they’re trying to play this as a real romance for Jim, but if so it’s a superficial pretense, since both of them are merely playing each other.  This could’ve been a more potent episode if Eve had been more sympathetic, though it’s hard to see how that could’ve been done in the context of the story they were telling.

The episode credits Lalo Schifrin for the music, but this time I’m certain there’s no original scoring, except maybe for some source music in the restaurant scene — though if there’s no other original music, that’s probably stock as well.

“The Question”: What do you get when you multiply six by nine?  No, that’s a different question.  The question is, why does Gary Lockwood have such an unflattering haircut?  He’s barely recognizable as Nicholas Varsi, a foreign assassin who’s arrested meeting his contact at the airport and tells the arresting officer, Nelson (Jason Evers), that he wants to defect.  Atop a skyscraper, a surly guy adjusting a TV aerial hands off the tape to Jim, whose mission, “should you agree to undertake it,” is to determine whether Varsi’s defection is on the level, since he won’t reveal his assignment and might be passing false information from the enemy (hey, another spy mission).  There’s some interagency conflict here, since he’s in the custody of the Federal Intelligence Service, which may have been infiltrated by a mole, so the IMF has to abduct Varsi without FIS cooperation.  (To add to the alphabet soup, Varsi is an operative for the “KGN.”  Subtle…)

This is another episode that must’ve been shot during Lynda Day George’s maternity leave (they sure are spacing those out), since Casey’s allegedly working in Europe again and the lady agent of the week is Andrea, played by Elizabeth Ashley, who was so memorable in last season’s “Encounter.”  In a sense, this is her second time playing an IMF team member, since she spent most of “Encounter” playing Casey in disguise.

Varsi is being held by the FIS in a condemned building (with rather sedate grafitti saying “LOVE” and “KOOKIE KOURT”).  There’s a scene — no doubt the latest of many — in which Nelson and Varsi go back and forth: Varsi won’t reveal his assignment until he has a guarantee of a new identity, the FIS won’t give him a guarantee until they can prove his story of defection.  It’s a nicely written scene by Stephen Kandel, a lively and clever exchange.  Finally the FIS agents tire of it and leave, though evidently a cameraman stays in the room with him, since on the agents’ security monitor the camera freely pans, dollies, and tracks to follow Varsi’s movements.

Barney throws a firebomb into the building, then Jim and Willy show up as cops (supposedly members of the standard round-the-clock patrol of the building) and pretend to participate in the investigation, actually planting another couple of bombs as a diversion.  They enter Varsi’s room, distract him with the classic “Look out!” ploy, and knock him out, then put a Willy mask on him.  The real Willy climbs out the window and Jim makes it look like Varsi-as-Willy-as-cop has been shot.  So Barney and Andrea come in as an ambulance crew and take Varsi out.  But when the FIS agents can’t find Varsi, Nelson catches on and sends them after the ambulance.  A chase ensues until Willy releases some barrels in the pursuing car’s path (they were ready for anything).  But Nelson arranges a police search with the assistance of a captain played by George O’Hanlon, best known today as the original voice of George Jetson.  Captain Jetson doesn’t do much except periodically tick off the percentage of the area that’s been searched.

Varsi awakens in an abandoned winery where he’s interrogated by Jim in the role of the local head of KGN operations.  Varsi claims he was pretending to defect as a response to his arrest, but Jim is unconvinced and demands details of his assignment, which Varsi refuses to give.  He’s allowed to see a sobbing Andrea, who’s supposedly just been tortured by Willy.  Later, she’s thrown in the storeroom with him — and her blouse is unbuttoned, suggesting somethng more than torture was going on.  But Varsi’s a savvy agent and realizes this might be just more of the game; he’s already found the bug in the room (the one he was allowed to find).   The next round of cat-and-mouse ensues: is she really the captured FIS agent she claims, or a KGN agent sent to sound him out?  Is he really a defector or a loyal assassin?  They both distrust each other and they both acknowledge it freely.  It doesn’t stop Varsi from making out with her, though.

Their conversation is monitored by a voice-stress “lie detector” of Barney’s, which gives inconclusive results: either Varsi’s honestly a defector or he’s a very controlled liar.  We see the team discussing where they stand, the kind of “behind-the-scenes” discussion that’s become rare again this season.  The gadget didn’t work, so it comes down to Andrea.

Jim tells Varsi they used a lie detector on him, but claims they were convinced by its results.  As a final test, they hand him a gun and tell him to kill Andrea.  He apologizes to her and pulls the trigger, but the chamber’s empty (though he calls it a blank).  Convinced of his loyalty, Jim gives him a car and supplies for his assignment.  Varsi asks for Andrea to come with him as a driver and hostage.  He’s still wary — he may have guessed that the gun would be empty.  If he’s a defector, he’ll prove it by taking Andrea to the FIS; if he’s not, he’ll prove it by killing his target and her.  Anyway, the team evacuates the winery just before the cops close in on it.  Farewell, Captain Jetson.

The team tracks Varsi’s car by homing transmitter, but he stops at an electronics store and buys a bug detector, finding the bug in his own shirt collar.  He ditches the bug and drives off, but Andrea turns on a spare bug in her barrette when they stop for gas.  But the nosy gas station attendant (remember when they had those?) plays with the bug detector and reveals the second bug, which Varsi destroys.  Now Andrea’s on her own.  The team splits up to search.

Varsi now has Andrea tied up in a hotel room, where a sniper rifle has been left for him.  He carries Andrea into the bedroom, gags her, and tells her to be quiet; he’s meeting his superior Kemmer (whom he’s apparently never seen), who might kill her if he finds her.  While Varsi assembles the rifle, Andrea wriggles her way over to the phone, lifts the receiver and dials Jim’s car phone with her hands behind her (lucky for her it’s a touch-tone phone), and taps Morse code into the receiver with her fingernails, tipping Jim off to her location.  She gets back on the bed just before Varsi comes back in, but sees she’s left the receiver slightly ajar.  I was expecting the phone to start making that noise it makes when you leave it off the hook too long, thereby tipping Varsi off, but that didn’t happen; maybe they didn’t do that yet in 1973.  Varsi doesn’t notice the phone and Andrea is safe — for now.

When Kemmer arrives, it turns out to be Nelson — which didn’t surprise me at all, given that Jason Evers usually played bad guys.  He says he ran Varsi’s interrogation to make sure of his loyalties.  But then Varsi reveals his loyalties, pointing his rifle at Kemmer/Nelson; he really is a defector and his plan was to smoke Kemmer out and hand him over to the authorities.  But like virtually everyone in this whole episode, Kemmer is thinking a move ahead, and he already sabotaged Varsi’s firing pin.  Varsi’s gun doesn’t work; Kemmer’s does.  Kemmer then goes into the bedroom and carries Andrea out.  (Lucky for Lockwood and Evers that Elizabeth Ashley is a dainty woman.  I’m reminded of Gielgud’s advice about playing King Lear: “Get a small Cordelia.”)  Turns out that, for whatever reason, Kemmer didn’t kill Varsi, just lightly wounded him.  He has Andrea tie Varsi up, then ties her back up and replaces the rifle’s firing pin.  We see now that the hotel room is just across from a government building of some sort and a motorcade is arriving.  Kemmer prepares to shoot the unspecified Important Person arriving with the motorcade — and a really nifty joint operation begins to come together.  Varsi scoots across the floor and starts moving a side table with his feet.  Andrea helps him move it with her feet.  Outside, Jim arrives, sees the rifle sticking out of the window, and climbs the outside of the building.  Varsi and Andrea tip over the table, distracting Kemmer just in time for Jim to leap in and beat up Kemmer (which is quite a coincidence, since they didn’t know he was coming).  Kemmer holds his own, but finally Willy bursts in and gets him in a full nelson (fittingly).  Barney’s the only one left out of this impressive climactic dogpile.

As Varsi is wheeled into the ambulance, Andrea gladly says that they know who he is now.  But who is she, he asks?  Wistfully, she tells him that will have to stay a question.

This is without a doubt the finest episode of the season so far, and with only six left, it’s unlikely to be surpassed.  It’s the first episode this season that feels like a season 5 episode, with the team being “out of character” for much of the story, things going wrong with the plan and building suspense, a team member developing a real relationship with a guest character, and strong, clever writing throughout.  The rare return to an espionage-themed caper also adds to that fifth-season flavor.  All the characters here are on the ball, keeping each other guessing, seeing through each other’s ploys, and anticipating each other’s moves, and nobody knows what side anybody’s on until the end — just what you want in a good intrigue thriller.  It’s always more interesting on M:I when the guest characters are smart enough to know they’re being played, even to play back, and almost everyone here is playing on the same high level.  On top of which we even get a rare hint of genuine romance.  It’s a bit odd that the dramatic core of the episode revolved around two guest stars, although that’s kind of in keeping with the original format of the series back in the very early episodes.  And I note that this is the second time they’ve brought in Elizabeth Ashley for a script that made considerable demands of its lead actress.  If it weren’t for Mrs. George’s maternity leave, I’d wonder if they lacked faith in her dramatic chops.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,
  1. Steve
    January 7, 2015 at 11:23 am

    In “Boomerang” the whole thing would have fallen apart if Eve had insisted on seeing the contents of the briefcase

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