Home > Reviews > MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season 7 Overview

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Season 7 Overview

After the daring and deconstruction of season 5, season 6 of Mission: Impossible returned to the more formulaic approach of seasons 2-4.  The seventh and final season continued in much the same vein.  It still focused mainly on domestic crimefighting, though the team did travel abroad a bit more often than in season 6 and had more than one episode involving espionage or terrorism.  As in season 6, there’s also less focus on gadgets and meticulous preparation than in previous seasons and more emphasis on roleplaying and manipulation.  As a result of this, as well as the reduced cast size, Greg Morris and particularly Peter Lupus were both able to show off their acting chops more than before.  Although it was somewhat more expansive in content, the final season was more consistent in quality than the preceding one, with fewer bad episodes but fewer superb ones.

The finest episode of the season — in fact, the finest since season 5 — is without a doubt “The Question,” a marvelous mindgame thriller that would’ve fit right into the inventive, ambitious fifth year.  Second-best is “The Deal,” with its multilayered plan and character tension.  Both of these were scripted by year 7’s story editor Stephen Kandel (known to Star Trek fans as the creator of Harry Mudd, and a future MacGyver producer).  “Speed” is also a high point for its extensive San Francisco location shooting and a strong story that diverged from formula.  “Two Thousand” stands out for its post-apocalyptic flavor and striking location work, and “Leona” for strong characterization.  Most of the rest of the season, I’d say fully half the episodes, hovered around the same modestly-above-average level, routine but reasonably effective.  “Kidnap” stands out as the season’s only off-book mission, but feels disappointingly routine for it, and suffers from a half-hearted attempt at continuity.  “Cocaine” is a modestly effective episode undermined by a flawed, overly cluttered plot.  “Hit” is a decent try that’s damaged by serious flaws.  “The Fountain” is a contrived and awkward mess.  “Incarnate” is silly and borderline racist, and “The Western” is awful, a bizarre patchwork that consists mostly of useless and disconnected subplots.

The season was strongly affected by Lynda Day George’s pregnancy and maternity leave.  “Two Thousand,” “Leona,” “Underground,” and “Speed” were apparently the first ones filmed, late in George’s pregnancy; her role in these was diminished and she was shot only from the shoulders up when she appeared at all, and in “Leona” and “Speed” Casey was mostly in disguise, played by different actresses.  Practically the whole plot of “Speed” was written around George’s diminished presence.  Casey is missing entirely from ten further episodes: She is replaced by Barbara Anderson as Mimi in “Break,” “The Deal,” “TOD-5,”  “Cocaine,” “Movie,” “Hit,” and “Ultimatum”; by Marlyn Mason as Sandy in “Crack-Up”; by Elizabeth Ashley as Andrea in “The Question”; and by no one in “Imitation,” the only episode of the season with no female team member.  So George only participates in a major way in eight episodes this season: “Kidnap,” “The Puppet,” “Incarnate,” “Boomerang,” “The Fountain,” “The Fighter,” “The Pendulum,” and “The Western.”  These eight must have been shot after her return from maternity leave.  However, the episodes were broadcast in a very different order, presumably to spread out the non-Casey episodes rather than have them clumped together.

But this season features a first for M:I — a modicum of concern for continuity.  In past seasons, changes of team composition were never explained, except by the expedient of the dossier scenes showing the team leader choosing the participants.  Regular characters missing from an episode were almost never mentioned, except for one or two early episodes where Barney was not present but was referenced as the builder of a gadget employed in the story.  But here, Casey’s absence was explained by having her on assignment in Europe, and in most of the episodes without Lynda Day George, passing references were made to Casey making an offscreen contribution, either creating a mask used in the episode or carrying out a Europe-based part of the plan.  The only episodes in which Casey was not referenced were “Ultimatum,” “Crack-Up,” and “Imitation.”  Mimi is also the only regular or recurring team member to get an origin story explaining how she came to join the IMF.

In addition to the female agents listed above, the core team of Jim Phelps, Barney Collier, and Willy Armitage was assisted by the following individuals:

02 Two Thousand: Det. White (Don Diamond); actors playing Sergeant (Barry Cahill), Admiral (Harry Lauter), Marshall (Mort Mills), and others; police chief cooperates
03 The Deal: Repertory co. incl. Lt. Blair (Paul Gleason); Casey assists offscreen
04 Leona: Driver (uncredited), laundry truck driver (uncredited, Ed McCready?); cooperation from cops incl. Plainclothesman (Dick Valentine)
05 TOD-5: Repertory players incl. Green (James McCallion); Casey assists offscreen; population of Woodfield cooperates
06 Cocaine: Cooperation from Frank Fallon, police, government
07 Underground: Police cooperate
08 Movie: Voice impersonator Dave (Walker Edmiston); police cooperate
09 Hit: Impersonator Jack (uncredited); prison warden & police cooperate
10 Ultimatum: Large task force incl. announcer Carl (Fred Holliday), operator Lisa (Judith Brown), & actor Jack (Dale Tarter); police incl. Patrolman Frank Daggett (Vince Howard) and Sergeant (Bob Legionaire)
11 Kidnap: Dowager (Monty Margetts)
12 Crack-Up: Dr. Adler (Arthur Franz), Orderly (Michael Masters, uncredited)
13 The Puppet: Impersonator Hank (Richard Devon); actor Khalid (Joseph Ruskin); possibly travel agent (Shirley Washington)
14 Incarnate: Group of “voodoo” dancers; unidentified actor impersonating Robert O’Connell (Solomon Sturges)
15 Boomerang: Impersonator Bert (uncredited)
17 The Fountain: Unidentified extras; police cooperate
18 The Fighter: Voice impersonator Dave (Walker Edmiston)
19 Speed: Driver (George P. Wilbur); police and Ramsay Sanitarium staff cooperate
20 The Pendulum: Telephone operator (Beverly Moore); impersonator Manny (Don Reid); ensemble including Arab (Peter Mamakos)
21 The Western: Driver (Troy Melton), stuntman (uncredited)
22 Imitation: Impersonator/jeweler Duval (Ray Ballard, uncredited); electronics store clerk (uncredited)

Note that Walker Edmiston (who had done many prior uncredited voiceover roles) appears twice as Dave, although he’s credited in “Movie” as Waley and in “The Fighter” as Rawls.  This might be a case where the role was scripted as a different character but the director or actors chose to inject a touch of continuity by using his previous character’s name.  Dave is the first recurring minor team member we’ve had since the first season’s Dr. Green (Allen Joseph), who appeared twice and was referenced as an offscreen participant once.  I’m not counting the Hartford and Globe Repertory Companies since no specific characters were ever established for them and I’m not aware of any credited actors who recurred as company members (though some extras probably did).

As mentioned above, continuity was a new feature this season.  For the first time, we had episodes referring back to elements of previous adventures.  “Kidnap” was a nominal sequel to season 6’s “Casino,” though it contradicted many of the particulars of that episode.  In “Incarnate,” Jim used the name of a gangster who appeared in “Movie” as a character reference; and for the first time (as far as I recall), a team member adopted the same false identity on two separate occasions, with Jim playing hitman Dave Riker in both “Boomerang” and “The Fighter.”  Okay, it’s the barest bones of continuity by today’s standards, but it was a novelty for Mission: Impossible, whose episodes generally had so little continuity that they might as well have been in alternate universes from one another.

Another new feature this season, and an outstanding one, is the impressive location work.  The past few seasons felt very studio-bound, with the Paramount backlot becoming very familiar and the Paramount office buildings showing up in slightly redressed form almost every week.  Season 7 took the production out of the studio far more often, making extensive use of varied and striking locations.  In particular, most of the tape sequences of the season and the majority of the episode “Speed” were filmed on location in San Francisco (probably around the same time).  This would imply that Jim Phelps and the team were based in San Francisco, since it stands to reason that Jim would get the tape drops near his home.  However, he seems to have the same apartment he had in previous seasons where the tape drops were recognizably in Los Angeles, and there’s at least one tape drop this season that’s near LA City Hall.  Again, we may need to invoke alternate universes.

As before, the tape messages this season lack the line “If any of your IM Force are caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”  That line was abandoned near the end of season 5 and will not be heard again until the 1988 revival.  However, the references to “conventional law enforcement agencies” which were used in most 6th-season episodes are only in around 13 episodes this season. All in all, there were 19 distinct tape scenes this season, two of which were partially used twice; only one episode, “Kidnap,” had no tape scene. Twelve of the tape scenes were shot in exterior locations, mostly San Francisco landmarks.  Two others combined an exterior “arrival” shot with an interior tape sequence.  All the tape scenes used the standard small reel-to-reel tape except for “TOD-5,” which used a phonograph record (so I guess it wasn’t really a tape scene).  It’s worth noting that only one episode in the entire series, season 2’s “The Seal,” ever used a standard cassette tape to deliver the briefing.  This is odd, since I’m sure cassettes were in standard use by the last couple of seasons.  All the tape scenes this season featured self-destructing media.

Speaking of locations, while only a portion of one sixth-season episode took place outside of the US, three 7th-season missions took place mostly or entirely overseas: “The Deal” and “Incarnate” on fictitious Caribbean island nations (Camagua and Jamada, respectively), “The Fountain” in Northern Mexico.  There are also five episodes that, while US-based, depart from crimefighting to deal with terrorism or international intrigue: “Two Thousand,” “TOD-5,” “Ultimatum,” “The Question,” “The Pendulum.”  (“The Deal” is a hybrid mob/intrigue story, about mobsters backing an overseas coup.  One could also count “Imitation” as a borderline case, since a small part of the episode deals with infiltrating an unfriendly nation’s embassy, and since there are international stakes if their crown jewels are lost.)  So while the season continued the previous year’s format of the IMF as primarily a mob-busting team, it featured more of the kinds of cases the organization was formed to handle.

Musically, this is by far the least impressive season of M:I.  Only two episodes featured full original scores: “Underground” by Lalo Schifrin and “Ultimatum” by one-time composer Duane Tatro.  Both are decent but unremarkable.  “The Puppet” had a small amount of new music, I believe.  Several other episodes credited Schifrin as composer but featured no new music that I could discern.  Conversely, “Incarnate” had new source music and atmospherics but no credited composer.  There is also a new arrangement of the main title theme, making this the only season other than the 5th to use a variant arrangement.

So that’s the end of the original Mission: Impossible.  All in all, it’s a reasonably good wrap-up.  While it’s far short of the heights of seasons 1 and 5, it’s more stable in quality than the preceding season. It consists mostly of routine, but then, so did most of the series, as it turned out.  And as formula-dominated seasons go, it holds up relatively well — not brilliant (except in “The Question”), but generally well-executed and not unpleasant.  At least I can say that the show avoided any major deterioration in overall quality toward the end, and even went up a bit on average from its penultimate to final year, even if there were fewer outstanding episodes.  It didn’t go out with a bang, but I wouldn’t call it a whimper either.  It just stayed the course until it stopped.

Still to come, a retrospective of the entire original series.

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