Archive for November 24, 2011

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (S7) Reviews: “Speed”/”The Pendulum” (spoilers)

November 24, 2011 1 comment

Yes, now we speed the pendulum, for the end draws ever nearer… umm….  Never mind.

“Speed”: We open in San Francisco — not just for the tape scene, but the whole episode this time.  Two men in a truck rip off a chemical company and report to mobster Sam Hibbing (Claude Akins) that they’ve now cornered the speed (amphetamine) market.  Jim gets the tape in a trainyard (I guess they don’t need a San Fran landmark when the whole episode’s set there) and is tasked with finding the amphetamine stash before it hits the street and putting Hibbing out of business.  Hibbing intends to auction the stolen speed off to the highest-bidding distributors.  Like last week, Jim’s plan involves using the gangster’s daughter, this time Margaret Hibbing (Jenny Sullivan), an avid motorcyclist who’s also become a speed addict to escape from the pain of her regular beatings at her abusive father’s hands, and to punish him at the same time.  Margaret is being pursued romantically by Snelling (Ross Hagen), the man who devises clever ways of delivering Hibbing’s drugs to the buyers; but Margaret doesn’t reciprocate his interest (logical, given her history of abuse by the dominant male in her life).  Barney’s mustache is back and Casey spends the apartment scene with her body hidden behind a movie projector — was this shot early in the season (while Lynda Day George was still pregnant) and held back until nearly the end?

Barney plays a New Orleans mob representative making a deal with one of Hibbing’s regulars, Dayton (Charles Bateman), to provide financial backing for the auction.  Meanwhile, Willy rigs Margaret’s motorcycle before she goes out for a ride, and all the exterior location shooting makes a point of showing off that they’re honest and for truly in San Francisco, complete with a shot of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.  Out in front of a location which IMDb informs me is the Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum, Jim triggers the gizmo Willy planted to knock out her motorcycle engine, so they can knock her out and replace her with Casey disguised as Margaret.  She rides to meet daddy Hibbing and let him see how high she is before leading him on a lengthy chase through the streets of San Francisco (gee, that’d make a cool name for a TV show), as if they hadn’t already driven home enough that they’re actually shooting there.  The chase culminates with a staged crash that leaves Casey-as-Margaret “injured” on the pavement, but Hibbing is only concerned with removing the drugs from his daughter’s handbag so the cops won’t find them.

The hospital scene that follows is on the soundstage back at Paramount, but they’ve stuck a backdrop of San Fran in the window, with the Palace of Fine Arts serving as the highly visible landmark du jour.  Hibbing takes his time coming to visit, and is only concerned with checking “Margaret” out so she won’t reveal anything incriminating while on medication.  He discovers that “Margaret” has seen the light and a friend of hers — Jim — is going to help her get clean.  But Hibbing sends Jim away and threatens “Margaret” with being sent away somewhere hellish if she doesn’t behave.  Casey is surprised when a disreputable-looking biker type shows up at her door and leaves upon seeing Hibbing there.  Casey can only say she doesn’t know him.

But he comes back later and it’s clear he’s not only Margaret’s pusher but her lover, and he conveniently refers to himself in the third person so we and Casey know he goes by Zinc (Jesse Vint).  And he must be high himself, since he can’t tell from kissing “Margaret” that she’s wearing a latex mask.  He gives her drugs and pushes her (so to speak) to take them while he watches, which apparently is his fetish.  Luckily, Jim was alerted about this guy when Casey called earlier, and he now arrives to confront Zinc.  A fight ensues.  Zinc flees and Jim pursues, but loses him.  He goes to the real Margaret for information about Zinc, but she won’t tell him, no matter how much he urges her that he’s trying to help her — and he’s disappointed when she asks for drugs in exchange for the information.  It’s always nice to get these rare moments when the team members engage honestly with people rather than trying to trick them.

Once Casey/Margaret gets out of the hospital, Hibbing sends Phalen to investigate the air shipping service Jim’s character owns, and learns from disgruntled employee Willy about Jim’s money troubles and his violent temper which got him a decade in Leavenworth for killing a fellow officer in a fight.  (When Phalen asks how long Willy’s been with Jim, Willy answers, “on and off, two, three years.”  Would’ve been a nice in-joke if he’d said six years, on and off.)

Barney’s financial backing (with undetectable counterfeit money) lets Dayton win the auction, but Barney insists the drugs be in New Orleans by morning, a tricky proposition.  Hibbing needs to call in Snelling for the special job.  But Casey, getting a signal from Barney, has already called Snelling and invited him over, pretending that Margaret has finally warmed to him romantically.  When Snelling arrives, Casey signals Jim and then starts acting ultra-trippy.  Jim barges in and finds her spacing out with Snelling, then finds her pills (presumably the ones Zinc gave her, now repurposed).  She claims Snelling provided them, and Jim beats the crap out of him, then injects him with that old standby, the drug that simulates death.  With Snelling “dead,” Hibbing has lost his delivery man and is potentially out millions of dollars — but he has Jim on the hook for murder and pressures him to deliver the goods in Snelling’s place.  This will let Jim and the team follow him right to the drugs.  And the location porn isn’t done yet, since they’re in a warehouse near the east end of the Bay Bridge.

However, the plan is in danger of Zinc poisoning.  (Come on, I had to make a zinc pun somewhere.)  Mr. Zn sneaks into the Hibbing house and starts aggressively making out with a reluctant Casey/Margaret, clutching her head hard enough to pull off the edge of her mask.  Hibbing shows up and is outraged at Zinc’s presence — until Zinc rips Casey’s mask off.  Casey’s stunt double makes a break for it, crashes through the window, and runs away; Zinc pursues, but she eludes him.  But Hibbing now knows there’s a sting going on, and he rushes to the warehouse to intercept Jim.  He gets the drop on Jim, but Barney and Willy were hiding in Jim’s van and come out with guns drawn, shooting both Hibbing and Phalen.  But we cut to a headline saying “Hibbing indicted,” so it must not have been a fatal shot.  Margaret is “no longer afraid” now that daddy’s put away, so she’s made a conveniently sudden recovery and is ready to turn her life around, just like that.

Okay, that last scene was way too easy, but it’s what you expect from ’70s TV.  Otherwise, this is a very strong episode, written by Lou Shaw.  It has a lot of elements that raise it above the routine: the extensive San Francisco location filming, the presence of Zinc as a dangerous spoiler to the team’s plans, the out-of-character moments with the team, and the Jim-Margaret confrontation adding some honest drama.  It’s very clear, however, that this episode was written around Lynda Day George’s pregnancy.  We only see her face in a few scenes at the beginning and end, and the only time we see any part of her below the shoulders (in the very final shot), it’s pretty apparent that she’s massively pregnant.  So this episode must’ve been shot very early in the season — probably the last one produced of the episodes with Casey in a diminished role and Barney with a mustache, and the first one before the Mimi (and Sandy and Andrea) episodes.  It also stands to reason that the San Francisco shooting would’ve been done at the same time as the season’s tape scenes (recall that the tape scenes are generally shot all at once and then cut into the episodes one by one), which would presumably have been early in the season.  So it’s odd that they delayed airing this episode until so near the end of the season.

“The Pendulum”: Okay, I have to confess before starting to watch the episode that I’m almost hoping it’s awful so I can say “‘The Pendulum’ is the pits!”  But that would be a Poe excuse for humor.

Dean Stockwell plays Gunnar Malstrom, who’s appropriately named, since his first act is to gun down US general Weston (Frank Maxwell) and bury him, abetted by his secretary/hitman Bock (Scott Brady).  He reports to a terrorist organization called the Pendulum Group, run by the Leader (Jack Donner), whose position Malstrom covets.  One of their members has gotten plastic surgery to look like the late Weston.  They’re ready to begin an operation code-named Nightfall, which will let them take over the US military.  Jim’s mission is to find out what Nightfall is and stop it.  The tape scene, surprisingly, takes place near Los Angeles City Hall, and is an extended version of the tape scene from, I believe, “Leona,” which actually seems to be in a winery or something rather than a bar as I thought at the time.

Casey’s already been on a date with Malstrom before the apartment scene, and on their second date, she confides that she’s recruiting him for her organization — though Willy shows up and tells her she’s overreaching herself, and she leaves a very confused Malstrom behind.  The next day, Barney shows up at his office and asks to be put in contact with the Pendulum leader (and plants a bug).  Malstrom denies knowing anything about it, and after Barney leaves, he has a henchman check him out.  The operator at Barney’s hotel, working with the team, takes a bribe from the henchman to let him hear Barney making plans with international allies, which leads Malstrom to send Bock out of the country to investigate.  Unable to get details on Barney, Malstrom goes out with Casey again (at the same restaurant owned by Mike Apollo from “Leona,” at least in the establishing shot) and convinces her to take him to her organization’s HQ (which is represented in exteriors by the UC San Diego library).  The team arranges for him to overhear Barney talking about killing him, so he sneaks out.  He ends up in an office overlooking an auditorium where Willy is speaking to a bunch of multinational extras about their operations, which involve stirring up war and crisis to drive their arms sales.  Malstrom is discovered and taken prisoner.

Malstrom is strapped to a chair (that’s secretly a polygraph) and Barney grills him, but then Casey comes in as his defender.  The polygraph registers his reactions to the various names and entities they mention, tipping them off that Nightfall is targeted at the military.  Indeed, the Pendulum leader and the fake Gen. Weston are arranging a meeting of the joint chiefs at Weston’s home.  But then Bock shows up to see them and says that Malstrom’s acting suspicious, going off to meet with Casey’s group as soon as he thought Bock was in Europe.  The leader orders Bock to go after Malstrom and kill him.  They then rig a briefcase bomb to blow up the military chiefs once they arrive.

The team keeps questioning Malstrom until the polygraph registers rises at the mentions of assassination and General Weston.  Then they bring him in to see “Chief” Jim, who casually drops this information to Malstrom’s surprise, and says that Pendulum’s plans get in the way of his group’s competing plans for US takeover.  He wants to acquire Pendulum and install Malstrom as its leader, if he’ll call off Nightfall.  Malstrom won’t cooperate, but he lets slip that Nightfall is already pretty far along.  With time of the essence, Jim advances to Phase 2, which will involve arranging Malstrom’s escape and rescue by a Bock impersonator, who if I interpret the credits right is named Manny (Don Reid).  The team doesn’t know the real Bock is outside closing in.  This could get complicated.

Casey tries to win Malstrom over and slips a tracker/mike under his lapel when she gets affectionate.  Oddly, from this point to the end of the act, over 2 minutes, is missing on the Netflix stream, although I found a more complete (though time-compressed) version on YouTube.  (And the “Report Problem” screen on Netflix doesn’t include an option for “part of it is missing.”)  While Willy takes Malstrom back to his cell, Jim goes in person to warn the man he thinks is Gen. Weston of the plot, although Jim’s using a fake name and credentials for some reason.  Fake-Weston and the Leader decide to ask Jim to sit in on the meeting so he’ll be blown up with the rest.

The Netflix stream picks up with the military leaders assembling in Weston’s study.  Back to the UCSD library, Bock is closing in and the Bock-postor is getting ready.  Real Bock spots fake Bock, then stalks fake Bock, then clocks fake Bock.  So when he starts shooting at Malstrom (and conveniently missing), Willy and the guards think it’s just part of the scheme and Willy fires back with blanks — until a guard gets shot and Willy realizes it’s the real Bock firing real bullets.  So he swaps guns and takes down the real Bock, apparently nonfatally.  Malstrom gets away in a car as planned and heads for the meeting, with Casey and Barney following.

Worth noting: during the meeting, one of the military chiefs says that one of the main issues on the table is the monitoring of “the Soviet submarines at Petropavlovsk.”  This is the first and probably only mention of the Soviet Union in the entire series.  In the past, various fictional People’s Republics have stood in for it.  But that just underlines the futility of trying to construct a coherent alternative geopolitics for the M:I universe.

When Malstrom arrives and demands to see the general, the fake Weston takes the opportunity to activate the briefcase bomb and head out with the Leader.  They confront Malstrom, who urges them to call off Nightfall, but they say the bomb is seconds away from detonating, and then, believing he’s defected to the rival group, they shoot him.  Hearing this through the bug, Barney alerts Jim, who identifies the briefcase as the bomb and tosses it out the window.  Cut to Malstrom getting taken into an ambulance, looking up to see the team staring down at him.  The end.

This is a moderately effective episode.  As I’ve said before, it’s a nice change in these last couple of seasons when they get away from the organized-crime stuff and do stories with an espionage/political/fate-of-the-world focus, even if it means concocting domestic terrorist groups.  I think season 6 only had one such episode, but there have been several in season 7.  And there’s some nice suspense, with Bock infiltrating and threatening the plan and with Jim unknowingly showing his hand to the bad guys.  It’s always cool when the bad guys are a step ahead of the IMF.

I also want to note that its use of a polygraph was unusually credible for TV.  They didn’t embrace the myth of the polygraph as a “lie detector,” but instead treated it as what it really is, a means of detecting stress reactions.  By noting his reactions and evaluating them in the context of their interaction, they’re able to identify what terms and concepts evoke a strong reaction.  It’s maybe a little more reliable than it would really be, but it’s still a much more plausible portrayal of a polygraph than we usually see on TV.

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