Archive for May, 2014

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (’89) Reviews: “The Princess”/”Command Performance” (Spoilers)

“The Princess”: Written by Ted Roberts. We open with Grigor Caron (Robert Coleby) getting intel on the title princess from a nervous man who feels guilty about betraying his country — there’s some interesting dialogue and characterization bits in their exchange. Caron pays him with money in a briefcase that, predictably, blows him up. Jim gets the disc from a rowing coach who directs him to a racing shell, and we’re informed that the target is the princess of the tiny Monaco-like principality of Valence (pronounced the French way), an American ambassador’s daughter whose influence has persuaded her husband the prince to pull away from the Warsaw Pact and propose a US alliance. An Amurrica-hatin’ resistance called the Red Guard, led by Caron, intends to assassinate the princess as part of a terror campaign to prevent this. In the briefing, for once, Grant seems to be hearing things for the first time along with the rest, though Nicholas has some knowledge about Valence already. The princess refuses to leave the country because she’s sponsoring a film festival, so the team goes in as a film crew.

While movie-producer Jim and starlet Shannon schmooze at the festival, Nicholas — inexplicably using his full real name — makes contact with Caron and convinces him that he and Grant have a plan to mount an armored car heist. Since the Red Guard bankrupted itself hiring their assassin (and blowing up all that money in the teaser), this is an effective lure. They stage an actual armored car heist, orchestrated to ensure the guards are unharmed by using knockout gas, and then when Nicholas and Caron drive off in the hijacked car, the gas “accidentally” comes on again. Caron wakes up in the interrogation-cell set at Jim’s rented studio, and Jim and Max play brutal interrogators who “kill” Nicholas before Caron’s eyes, getting him to confess that he hired a noted international assassin called Coyote, whom he only knows through his female contact. Concluding they’ve learned all they can, Jim reveals the scam to Caron and has him taken away for the authorities to find. (I was surprised they didn’t just fake the entire armored-car heist, but I guess they wanted to implicate him in a real heist attempt to get him put away.)

Which leaves the new problem of identifying Coyote, and the beginning of the episode’s second caper. Two for the price of one! Grant researches Coyote and finds that though “he” leaves no evidence behind, all his assassinations are committed before large crowds; Coyote loves an audience. They decide to appeal to the assassin’s ego, so producer Jim announces that he’s abandoned the film he’d been touting before in order to do a new project based on the true story of the assassin Coyote — including the killer’s next crime, which writer Grant tells the press he’s been able to predict given all he knows about Coyote. A woman is watching — the “contact,” whom I’d already guessed was the real Coyote (Dale Stevens) — and she decides to pay them a visit and find out how much they do know.

Oddly, even though this whole thing was bait to lure in Coyote, Jim and the team are ill-prepared to respond when she takes the bait. It’s unclear what they actually planned to do, or why they didn’t anticipate that Coyote would be there waiting when they got back to their rented studio. The assassin prepares to shoot Jim, but Shannon senses the intruder and shoves Jim aside, taking the hit. Coyote then gets away without anyone seeing her. I was unclear on whether this was part of the scheme, but the next act begins with Shannon in the hospital and the team out of character, so somehow they really let the bad guy get ahead of them. Maybe it’s because they were forced to improvise, but Jim is usually so many steps ahead that this lapse is surprising. Anyway, Shannon’s in bad shape, so she can’t tell the team how she detected the intruder’s presence in a darkened room — except to mutter one word, “Camion.” I’d already guessed that Shannon smelled the assassin’s perfume, but I had the advantage of already knowing it was a woman. Grant and Max figure out that Camion is the name of that perfume through an Internet search — or since this was 1989, I guess it’s supposed to be a search of IMF Research’s database.

So Grant rigs a laser spectrometer to identify the unique chemical signature of that perfume interacting with Coyote’s skin chemistry (which he knows because she left some transfer traces on the things she touched at the studio). The plan is to scan every woman at the princess’s big speech — but gasp, Coyote is disguising herself as a male waiter! That’ll teach you to profile, Grant. But Grant catches a lucky break, since the “waiter” steps into the path of his spectrometer beam after planting a bomb on the podium. So Grant fingers her, the team chases after her, she jumps out a window, Grant throws the bomb out the same window, and she’s a victim of her own bomb — though her eyes are open and moving when we last see her, so it’s unclear whether she’s supposed to have died or not. Then there’s a very silly ’80s-ish jokey tag scene with Shannon and the team in the hospital.

Although there were some conceptual problems here, I really liked this one. There was some nice dialogue writing and characterization (still limited by today’s standards, but something), and I like these formula-breaking episodes where the team faces real crises and needs to adapt and improvise — even if lately the trend has been to use those as excuses for conventional action-adventure stuff, which was somewhat the case here. I would’ve preferred it if the second caper had actually played out longer rather than falling apart after the first move. Still, I found it enjoyable and effective. There was even a nice bit of music from Davis for a change, accompanying the parallel scenes of the assassin preparing her bomb and Grant explaining his spectroscope.

“Command Performance”: Written by Robert Brennan, but bearing similarities to one of my favorite first-season episodes, “Old Man Out.” A dissident runs from troops in uniforms bearing a generic swastika-esque insignia that I could swear I’ve seen in past M:I episodes, and manages to hide a gold cross he’s carrying before they shoot him. He gets to a church and tries to pass a message (the name David and the number 1769) to Father Thomas Vallis (Ivar Kants, previously appearing in last season’s remake of ‘The Legacy”), a dissident leader. Vallis is arrested by the head of the security police, Defense Minister Savitch (Grigor Taylor, who looks kind of like a cross between Sean Patrick Flanery and Henry Darrow), who wants the location of the cross.

Back in San Fauxsisco, Jim gets the disc from a flower vendor. Savitch’s nameless Baltic country is democratic, but Savitch’s secret police has carried out a reign of terror under the clueless prime minister’s nose, and the cross — a relic called the Cross of St. Boniface — hides a microchip containing proof of his atrocities (how this happened or how the IMF found out about it is unknown). The mission is to free Vallis from a mountaintop fortress prison and expose Savitch. Jim’s plan involves infiltrating a circus that will be giving a command performance for the PM in a few days (he basically blackmails the owner into letting him join), and will also involve a helicopter that Max says is like the one he flew in ‘Nam. Wait a minute, I thought Max was too young for Vietnam but mounted a rescue mission to save his POW older brother. Maybe that’s what he meant — that he flew the chopper during the rescue — but that isn’t what the line implies. Meanwhile, by a staggering coincidence, the world’s greatest expert on the Cross of St. Boniface just happens to look exactly like Nicholas with a cheesy goatee and gray temples, which lets Nicholas get into Savitch’s circle without the need for latex.

Jim makes several phone calls to Nicholas, whose phone Savitch’s paranoid henchman Braun (Nicholas Bell) has bugged, and that leads Savitch to the circus to meet him. The idea is to set Jim up as a relic hunter searching for the cross. Shannon plays Jim’s unhappy wife (talk about your May-September romances) and basically uses her cleavage to catch Savitch’s eye, while making it clear she’s not particularly loyal to hubby, so that she can later pass Savitch fake info about where the cross is hidden and also trick out his phone with an interactive recording of Nicholas speaking in Savitch’s voice. Savitch is a violent man, using a knife to cut a couple of buttons off of one of Shannon’s few tops that don’t display her cleavage (although we get one hell of a closeup as the buttons come off), and forcing a kiss on her — though fortunately this is commercial TV so a forceful slap is enough to dissuade him for now.

Meanwhile, Grant and Max climb up the studio cliff toward the matte-painting fortress (in case I haven’t made it clear, the special effects on the revival are kind of lame), using a fanciful sci-fi “disruptor” device that slices through stone, and having to dodge some Indiana Jones-ish deathtraps. Nicholas uses a forged letter and the phone voice thingy (see last paragraph) to get Braun to let him in to see Vallis, where he knocks out Braun, lets in Max and Grant through the hole they’ve cut in the wall, and helps the father escape in Braun’s uniform, while putting Braun in Vallis’s cassock and a mask of his face. Obviously Nicholas is setting up Braun to be shot by Savitch (and he is, once Savitch has retrieved the fake cross), but the priest seems to have no objection to this. He and the team later figure out that the dead guy’s message was referring to verses 6 and 9 of Psalm 17, which was a really, really obscure clue to the fact that he’d hidden the cross in a statue with wings. Once workmen Grant and Max retrieve the cross, they just have to get out of the country even though Savitch has closed the borders.

And they choose to do it right under Savitch’s nose, probably to provoke him into Gestapo tactics in front of Clueless Prime Minister so he’ll get a clue. Jim causes the ringmaster to lose his voice so he can take over. (When the circus owner asks Jim what he knows about being a ringmaster, Jim replies, “I know more than you could imagine, my friend.”) Then Grant, Nicholas, and Vallis dress up as clowns and they and Shannon get lifted up out of the tent as part of the clown routine, getting out to the helicopter Max has hijacked for their escape. Vallis drops the cross, but Jim retrieves it with Savitch close after him, and they get to the choppah and fly away.

If this was meant to be a reworking of “Old Man Out,” it wasn’t handled nearly as well. The circus angle seemed rather random, and the escape was quite inelegant compared to the one in the original episode. The matte-painting prison fortress with its B-movie death traps felt kind of tacked on too. And Savitch is such an impulsively violent and cruel man that it’s hard to believe he could’ve kept his brutal tendencies hidden from the prime minister for any length of time. All in all, and throwing in the sex-appeal angle with Shannon, this felt like an exercise in flash over substance. It had its moments, but wasn’t very smart or subtle.

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1989) Reviews: “The Golden Serpent” Parts 1 and 2 (spoilers)

And now we begin my reviews of the second and concluding season of the Mission: Impossible revival. This season’s reviews were made possible by a generous donation from Michael Erdmann. Thank you!

The 1989 season debuts with the 2-parter “The Golden Serpent,” written by Michael Seims, Ted Roberts, and Jeffrey M. Hayes from a story by Seims. We open in Southeast Asia with an unnamed intelligence agent spying on the heroin-smuggling operation of Prince Selimun of Benarli (Patrick Bishop), then getting discovered and killed by Selimun’s ponytailed, shuriken-throwing henchman who, I kid you not, is named Baal (Adrian Brown). The title sequence has been re-edited to incorporate more clips from season 1 episodes; the first shot after the match-lighting opening is now the cleavage-tastic shot of the wet Shannon in a bathing suit. Which is clearly pandering and a bit misleading, implying a level of skin and sexuality that the episodes have yet to live up (or down) to.

The show is again taking advantage of being shot in Australia. Jim receives the disc briefing at what I believe is Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour with the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background, a nice callback to the season 7 openings where he got the tapes at scenic San Francisco locations. The murdered spy is revealed to have been another IMF agent, now disavowed — that’s two IMF agent deaths and disavowals in the new series, but this agent’s name is never given. There’s still another member of his IM team undercover in Selimun’s operation, ready to assist Jim’s mission to expose Selimun’s crimes and bring down the Golden Serpent drug-smuggling triad to which he belongs. This is the latest step the revival has made in expanding the scope of the IMF: It’s the first time we ever hear of another IM team operating simultaneously with Jim’s, running their own missions. Although the nameless team leader seems to have handled things differently than Jim, more by conventional spying and sneaking around rather than Jim’s elaborate con games, and his “team” seems to have been only himself and his undercover partner. (Also there’s a slight variation in Bob Johnson’s spiel — he says “If any member of your IM team is caught or killed,” rather than the usual “IM Force.”)

The team assembles on a boat near the Barrier Reef, spying directly on Selimun’s bikini-babe-filled yacht as they do the “apartment” briefing. Jim explains that the goal is to play both sides against each other — make Selimun think the Golden Serpent organization is turning on him and make the GS bosses think he’s betraying them. The plan is to exploit his fear that his long-dead twin brother, who had the senior claim to the throne by minutes and whom he’s suspected of murdering by arranging a swimming accident, is alive and has come back to reclaim his rightful place.

The plan depends on the IM agent already inside Selimun’s organization, and Grant is confident he can do the job — because it’s Barney Collier! Yes, Greg Morris is back for a return engagement. Odd that he’s still working with the IMF but not on Jim’s team. Well, rather, I would’ve expected him to graduate to team leader a long time ago, so it’s odd that he’s in a subordinate role here. It would’ve been so easy to change Voice’s lines a bit to say that Barney was the leader and the murdered guy was his subordinate. It’s not clear what role Barney has in Selimun’s organization, but it’s fairly high in status, since he’s wearing a white tuxedo and giving orders. At a party at Selimun’s mansion, Grant slips Barney a scanning device to make a 3D scan of the vitamin bottles in which the heroin is being shipped, so that Grant can make replicas to switch with them (so that the shipment delivered to the Golden Serpent will be worthless and they’ll think he’s double-crossing them, I gather). Intriguingly, the device Grant will later use to make the fake bottles is effectively a 3D printer! That was pure science fiction in 1989, but what’s depicted, a laser darting around in a container of liquid and producing a solid plastic object, is pretty much what a 3D printer does. But that’s later.

At the party, Shannon gets Selimun’s attention with a photo of him and his twin brother as children, then warns him that she’s gotten involved with people who plan to kill him — people involving Jim and Nicholas, whom she points out before making a getaway while Grant runs interference with Selimun. Then, Barney slips the scanner to Grant so he can do that thing with the 3D printer later. Meanwhile, Nicholas dons a mask of Selimun in order to appear to be his twin brother meeting with Jim and a reluctant Shannon, for the benefit of Selimun’s spies. We’re shown Nicholas putting the wig of Selimun’s hair on before he puts on the mask, which is kind of backwards.

By the way, oddly enough, Jim, Nicholas, and Shannon are all using their real first names in their aliases, with only their last names changed. And Barney is undercover as a Mr. Collier. Huh?

But Barney is caught on video passing the scanner to Grant, so Barney is captured and interrogated. Unfortunately, the video animaion effects for the laser-eye-torture device they use on him look really goofy rather than disturbing. He doesn’t crack, but the torture drives him close to a heart attack. The team is relying on him to open the underwater gate to Selimun’s grotto so they can scuba in with the fake bottles, so when the bad guys dump him in a room, believing him to be at death’s door, he recovers enough to break out and let Max and Grant in through the pool — but the exertion gives him a heart attack. Grant wants to get him out of there, but Barney insists they complete the mission, and so does Max, reluctantly. Phil Morris does a great job as Grant has to watch his father die (apparently?) in front of him. Max persuades him to leave Barney behind so they can escape and fulfill the mission. Later, Jim tries to commiserate with Grant on their boat, with Grant upset that he hardly knew his father because the job took everything, and Jim saying that Barney gave everything instead.

Selimun has Baal bring Shannon to him, and she agrees to become part of his gaggle of babes on the yacht (though she’s the only one fully clothed), but when reporting to Jim, she has to drop her walkie-talkie into the ocean to prevent its discovery. Things come to a head at the Sydney Opera House, where Selimun is giving a speech — he’s being honored as a philanthropist for supporting drug rehab programs, oh, the irony. The plan is to rig a fake assassination attempt against Selimun with Max playing the sniper on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (for realsies). The shots go off, but they didn’t count on Selimun having Baal in a chopper, ready to dive down on Max and chase him all over the bridge (mostly for realsies, but with some fake bridge components on the bluescreen stage for more dangerous shots). Max bests him and Baal falls to his doom in a really fakey bluescreen shot, but then the helicopter knocks Max off and he falls — and freezeframes, since that’s the end of Part 1.

Part 2 revives the M:I tradition of really long recaps that open with a replay of the Voice’s briefing, although it’s more tightly edited than in the old days, running only three and a half minutes before we catch up and discover that Max conveniently had a parachute under his jacket (and they do a real parachute stunt, despite the lousy bluescreened falling shots). Then comes a really big Bond-style boat chase through Sydney Harbour with the bad guys’ boat finally crashing and going up in a disproportionately huge explosion.

So the team delivers the fake drugs to Selimun’s boss, and when the boss discovers the double-cross and confronts Selimun over the phone, Shannon’s phone bug lets Grant pick up the conversation, but it’s scrambled. He uses the record of Selimun’s voiceprint as a baseline to decrypt the scrambling, which lets him extract the other voice and rely on IM archives to identify the Golden Serpent head as the Bondishly named Conrad Drago (Rod Mullinar) — who sends his sexy blonde crossbow-loving assassin (Nadja Kostich, billed only as “Big Blonde” — for her height, so get your minds out of the gutter) to crossbow-assassinate Selimun. But the mission isn’t over, since the team now needs to go to work on Drago and get him to reveal the details of the drug operation. So after Grant uses computer magic to drain Drago’s bank accounts (and make it look like Selimun did it), Jim and Nicholas give the drugs back to the financially desperate Drago and convince him they want to buy his operation. The payment will be a hoard of gold that they allege Selimun had hidden in the grotto back at his mansion. This will be an holographic CGI illusion that Grant will plant at the bottom of the grotto.

By the way, Drago has a henchman named Burroughs (Max Fairchild) with a kind of bulldog baby face reminiscent of a more squared-off Colm Meaney, and he’s like many TV characters in that he has the ability to do instantaneous chemical analyses of the narcotic content of powdery substances with his tongue. He uses this superpower twice, once to identify the heroin disguised in Vitamin C bottles as actual vitamin C (well, I guess it would taste bitter), and once to confirm the heroinicity of the actual heroin. I know, this is a standard and dangerously stupid TV/movie cliche, but this is just such a classic example of it because of how instantly he’s able to identify the substances with such certainty, and because it’s repeated. And because it’s pretty much all Burroughs does besides standing around looking menacing. It’s his superpower!

Meanwhile, for no apparent reason, Shannon breaks into a room on what used to be Selimun’s yacht, only to find that Barney is there! Selimun’s doctor kept him alive for information and he’s continued to play his part in the con. But Shannon can’t tell Grant the good news without her walkie — not until the team infiltrates the mansion and Max spots Barney being carried in and saves him. The three of them make their way to the grotto, knock out the guards, and open the undersea gate so Grant can rig the hologram, and Barney hides just before Jim and Nicholas get there with Drago and Crossbow Blonde. The fakery convinces Drago to unlock a screen that shows all the drug network’s growers, buyers, distribution lines, etc., with Nicholas’s camera lapel pin transmitting it all to Grant’s CD-R on the boat. Mission accomplished!

But then Drago attempts a double-cross and has Big Blonda shoot Jim, but Barney knocks him aside and is wounded by the bolt, and a big fight scene ensues complete with Shannon and the Blonde falling into the water and having a catfight (oh, hello, eighties, I’d almost forgotten you were there!). And then the Blonde shoots the control panel and reactivates the laser grid (the same kind of stupid random laser beam security gizmo from back in “The System” a season ago), which kills her and somehow sets things on fire, and everything in the grotto starts to explode.

At this point I was saying “Seriously?” to the screen.

The team retreats (there’s a continuity error with the elevator doors starting to open in a long shot and then being closed in the nearer shot) and leaves Drago there amidst the ongoing orgy of explosions. And then the whole mansion (miniature) starts to blow up.

Whereupon I said “Seriously?!” to the TV.

Anyway, after what seemed like several minutes of explosions, there’s a tag scene to reassure us that Barney’s okay, and then Jim has the last word by saying “The Golden Serpent has lost its sting.” Umm, Jim… scorpions have stings. Serpents have fangs.

So, um, this was a decent ’80s action B-movie, with lots of action and explosions and flamboyant villains and henchpeople with exotic weapons and great scenery and sexy babes and catfights and even some father-son drama and a tearful death scene. The use of Sydney Harbour was impressive, and although I’m hard-pressed to understand what caused all those explosions in the climax, the pyrotechnics were pretty excellently done. But there were only so many parts of it that felt like a Mission: Impossible episode. There was still an elaborate caper going on — in fact, a 2-stage caper, dealing with one villain in part 1 and the bigger villain in part 2, more or less — but there were times when it was lost among the big action set pieces that served little purpose beyond being big action set pieces. I doubt this episode will be typical of the season ahead — they won’t have the budget to do this kind of action every week — but we might be seeing a step in the evolution of M:I toward the big action franchise it becomes on the big screen.

Not much to say about the music. John E. Davis is still doing pretty much the same stuff he does every week. The one notable thing was that in Max’s skydive, Davis used a longer fragment of “The Plot” than he usually does, though still far short of the full melody.

The best part of all this is Phil Morris’s performance in Barney’s “death” scene and afterward. He’s the only character in the new series who’s gotten to do anything really emotional and character-based like this, and both times because of his relationship with his father. And the younger Morris does a really good job with it. Greg Morris unfortunately doesn’t get as much to do dramatically this time out because he’s busy almost dying and later fighting. It’s weird that in both his appearances, Barney has spent much of his time in pretty rotten physical condition. I know Morris had some serious health issues a few years earlier, and would be diagnosed with cancer the year after this episode was made. But in both his appearances here, and in other work he did around the time (like the episode of War of the Worlds: The Series he was in), he was clearly capable of a normal level of physical activity. It would’ve been nice to see him in an episode where he didn’t spend much of his screen time lying in bed looking sickly.

Unfortunately this is the last we’ll see of Barney, and one of the last roles Greg Morris performed before his death in 1996. It’s too bad he didn’t have more to do in Barney’s swan song. But Greg Morris got to give his son an excellent showcase for his talent, and I’m sure he was happy about that.

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Movie thoughts: ENDER’S GAME (spoilers)

Another movie I’ve seen this week is Ender’s Game, borrowed from the library. I reread the book before watching the movie, since I haven’t read it in a long time and I wanted to be able to compare them. I think the movie is a very good adaptation and distillation of the book, quite faithful within the limits of what was feasible for the screen, and a solid SF movie in its own right with good acting and terrific set/technology design. It captured the characters and themes of the book well.

In fact, it drove home for me that Ender’s Game is at its heart a story about empathy, about the importance and advantages of learning to see through others’ eyes. In the book, even the Valentine/Peter subplot is about empathy, because it’s by deliberately choosing to adopt online personas opposite to their own respective beliefs, essentially learning to think like each other, that they’re able to be effective at influencing policy, tempering the extremes they might have gone to otherwise. By embracing the other’s view rather than fanatically clinging to their own, they were able to avert a war, in contrast to the way the IF brought about an unnecessary xenocide because of its unbending us-or-them mentality. But it’s Ender’s empathy for the Other that offers a chance of redemption (even though it’s what the IF exploited to destroy them in the first place).

It’s ironic, of course, that this book is such a powerful statement about empathy and love for the other, given that this is something Orson Scott Card himself seems to have completely forgotten in recent years. That’s why I think the boycotts of this film were missing the point; not only did none of its profits go to Card’s current political causes, but Ender’s Game itself is one of the best counterarguments to the stuff Card spews these days. It shows that he used to know better.

The film naturally makes some changes to make it more filmable, changing the preadolescent leads into teenagers and compressing the time frame from years to months. I think aging the characters up is an improvement, because all the emphasis on supergenius preteens in EG and the Bean spinoffs I read (only the first one or two before I lost interest) got kind of silly. And Asa Butterfield was excellent as Ender, conveying his calculating intellect, his shyness, and his sensitivity quite well. Harrison Ford is also terrific as Col. Graff, though he’s a lot thinner than the novel’s version. The casting of the kids other than Ender didn’t impress me much (although I liked the diverse casting, effectively capturing the diversity in the book and expanding on it), and the attempt to tack on a borderline romance with Petra Arkanian didn’t really fit the story, although fortunately it didn’t go beyond subtext. The actor playing Bonzo was effectively jerky, but it was weird how much shorter he was than Ender, when in the book Ender was supposed to be the small and weak one. I guess that in this version, Bonzo’s attitude was overcompensation.

The film also introduces Bean much earlier in the story, which is a good change because it allows externalizing a lot of Ender’s internal thought process. One of the hardest things about a book-to-screen adaptation like this is translating internal monologue to external dialogue, and this film handled it deftly for the most part, without a lot that seemed awkward or contrived — aside from the opening bit of narration by Ender, which I think would’ve worked better if it had been from a propaganda film, say (but maybe that would’ve seemed derivative of Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers). Bean is sort of a junior Ender anyway, so using him as a way to externalize Ender’s reasoning is good.

Battle School is well-handled; the film treats zero-gee physics pretty well, although that realism goes out the window when it gets into the space travel and battles in the final act. I would’ve liked to see more of the book’s clever strategies like using your own frozen legs as a shield, but I guess showing a bunch of kids flying butt-first toward their rivals and shooting between their legs would’ve looked silly. My main issue is that Ender’s learning curve was hugely compressed, not only with the battle room fights but with the computer game and the Giant. That was inevitable in order to fit it to movie length, but it still made some things feel kind of rushed.

Well, no, on second thought, my main issue is with the visuals. The dialogue pays lip service to Ender’s key realization that in free fall, he can choose whatever orientation he wishes, and the catchphrase that “The enemy’s gate is down.” But in all the scenes where this is relevant — from the shuttle to the battle room to the final space battle — the visuals totally fail to reflect this key revelation. There’s a bit in the climactic battle where Bean reminds Ender about their catchphrase and Ender rotates the field of view to put the planet downward, but then that’s forgotten and the rest of the sequence sticks relentlessly with a conventional horizontal orientation, just like the battle room scenes mostly did. That’s the greatest visual failure of what’s otherwise a visually effective film. Well, that and the absurdly cluttered space scenes, but the orientation issue is actually relevant to the story and used in dialogue, so it’s a greater mistake to fail to orient the scenes accordingly.

I also wasn’t happy with the film’s addition of the idea that the Formics came to Earth looking for water so they could colonize. That’s one of the most ridiculous and ill-informed sci-fi cliches, since the amount of water you can find in the comets and asteroids and ice moons of just about any star system would be thousands or millions of times greater than what you could find on Earth. So that doesn’t make any sense as a reason to target Earth itself. But there are two things in the movie that ameliorate it and make it more forgivable than it usually is. One, we were shown a scene of Formic ships harvesting water from a giant planet’s rings, so there was some awareness of the idea that water can be found in places other than Earthlike planets. And two, the Formics were given a rather organic technology based on burrowing and carving, and they also seemed to be very much creatures of ant-colony instinct, so that could justify a compulsion to colonize planets like their own. Still, it was a regrettable echo of a tiresome cliche, and not something that needed to be added to the story.

I was initially uneasy with the change of the Command School location from Eros to a planet in Formic space; the explanation that they had to get within ansible range didn’t make much sense, because ansibles, by their very nature, are not range-dependent. Also it risked giving away the surprise twist. But I could see why it was necessary, so that the finale where Ender found the egg could be done without the need for him to spend years traveling first. And again, the bonding with the Formic queen at the end had to be made more external, more physical, for the movie screen. So it’s a change that works for the most part.

I do regret the diminution of Valentine and Peter’s roles. Of course something had to give to fit the story into movie length, and all that stuff with Locke and Demosthenes wouldn’t have worked well in film (although it impresses me how much Card predicted the age of the Internet, tablet computers, and the like — his net was more regulated than ours, but that makes sense in the somewhat totalitarian society of the book). But it has the effect of making Valentine a weaker character whose only real role is as a supporter for Ender. The film even changes the ending so that Valentine stays behind rather than joining Ender on his journey. Also, her argument at the lake to convince Ender to go back to Battle School doesn’t work as well for me as her reasoning in the book. There’s actually a deleted scene where Graff makes the same argument to her (about trying vs. not trying) that she makes to Ender in the book, so it was in the filmmakers’ minds. So I’m not sure why they changed it.

As for the deleted scenes, I think the filmmakers were mostly right to delete them. Most of them were fairly redundant or were added bits of characterization that only elaborated on what was shown elsewhere. And a couple of Graff’s exchanges with Anderson and Rackham gave away the big twist, so I’m amazed they were scripted at all. The one missing thing that I think should’ve been included was a second dream or game sequence with the Formic queen, just to establish that there was a pattern.

Director Gavin Hood’s commentary on the DVD is pretty interesting at times. As a military veteran who’s been through things similar to Ender’s training, he had some interesting insights into the philosophical and moral questions of training young people to be instruments of war. I think he gets what the story is about and brought some insights of his own to the telling, so he was a good choice to direct — except for that ongoing mistake with the camera orientation in free fall. Well, nobody’s perfect. It’s still a good translation of the book and a pretty good movie.

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Movie thoughts: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (Spoilers)

I saw X-Men: Days of Future Past today. It’s a very good movie, and while its time travel isn’t entirely plausible (when is it ever?), it’s at least self-consistent and straightforward in its internal logic. The character work is good, although Wolverine doesn’t really seem like Wolverine. The premise requires him to get out of his comfort zone and adopt a role very different from what he’s used to, which is a good place to take a character, but it would’ve helped if we’d gotten to see it balanced with more of who he normally is, either in his 1973 or 2023 mental state. The one moment where he lost control was one that could only really be understood in the context of what came before.

But really, this whole movie only works as an installment in a series, a continuation of things the audience has seen before — indeed, as a culmination of the series to date, bringing the whole thing together more coherently than it’s often been in some of the middle installments. What’s impressive — spoiler alert — is that even though the ending resets the timeline and undoes the events of the not-well-liked The Last Stand (and possibly every other movie except First Class), the film nonetheless acknowledges and uses all of what came before and thus gives the series a greater sense of unity. Which is a good place from which to move forward for future installments.

The recreation of the ’70s was pretty good, seeming reasonably authentic without coming off as a caricature. Although some of the technology seemed anachronistic, like some of the plastics being used in the anti-Magneto guns and the Sentinels. Trask’s mutant-detecting remote control looked more like a product of the 2000s than the 1970s; it should’ve been big, boxy, and black or brown, or maybe that sickly green that was oddly popular in the ’70s. I was also concerned that some of the vocabulary was anachronistic, like when Charles said Trask would “weaponize” Mystique’s powers, but Merriam-Webster said that usage has been around since the ’50s. There was one other usage that seemed too modern, but I can’t recall it now (I think it was something Charles said to Wolverine after his failed attempt with Cerebro). And how did Magneto know “I don’t know karate but I know crazy,” from an early-’70s song, if he’s been locked in a cell with no access to electronic devices since 1963? Maybe he overheard a guard singing it?

Speaking of which, the Quicksilver breakout sequence was just as awesome as the reviews have been saying. Quicksilver’s a great character, despite the goofy silver hair — isn’t it supposed to be white? I hope he’s back for the next movie.

My one big disappointment is that we never really got to see the ’70s Sentinels being what they were meant to be, a threat against mutants.  They just went right to being Magneto’s weapon against humans. Sure, we saw the future Sentinels, but they were more like scaly T-1000s than the classic Sentinels of the comics and cartoons — or the Sentinels I wrote about in X-Men: Watchers on the Walls (shameless plug). So it wasn’t quite the same. It also leaves me wondering about the original timeline. If Trask had the Sentinels designed in 1973, and if his assassination led the government to go ahead with the program, then that implies that the X-Men must have faced them sometime before the movies we saw. The use of a Sentinel simulation in the Danger Room in The Last Stand certainly supports this. So what happened to them? Why wasn’t the government using them against mutants during the original two films?

I also wonder how Xavier got his act together in the original history where Logan didn’t come back. We’ve seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine that within six years after this movie, he’s assembling the X-Men (and is bald and is walking, though with his telepathy intact). And of course he eventually becomes the wise mentor we see in the first three films and the future scenes here. So he must’ve found his way on his own somehow — Logan just helped him do it sooner. I’m curious how it originally happened.

The big thing that bugged me was giving Kitty Pryde this time-travel power out of nowhere. It doesn’t really make sense. I understand why they couldn’t be faithful to the original story and have Rachel Summers send Kitty’s mind back, because in the movie universe, Kitty wouldn’t have been born yet in the ’70s. Given the 50-year gap, sending Wolverine makes sense. But giving Kitty an arbitrary power just to keep her involved in the story doesn’t really work for me. What’s the connection between phasing through objects and telepathic time transference? Unless… hmm… unless she phases by putting herself out of temporal sync with matter. Or something. I would’ve liked some kind of explanation. It’s all very contrived.

Also, the timing puzzles me. From the assassination attempt in Paris to the unveiling of the first Sentinels probably took a few days, even if Trask already had the prototypes built. So Wolverine’s mind was back in the past for quite some time. If time in the future was moving at the same rate, does that mean Kitty was sitting there with her hands against Logan’s temples for days on end? Without sleep or food?

And while we’re at it, why can’t Mystique use her shapeshifting to heal her bullet wound? Just shift the tissues back into an intact configuration? If we assume it required an effort of concentration to hold a form, it wouldn’t be a permanent fix, but couldn’t she at least have used it as a temporary patch to aid her getaway? This is a common trope, shapeshifters retaining injuries when they change forms, and it always seems inconsistent to me. (Although come to think of it, this was established about Mystique way back in the original film, where Wolverine’s claws left wounds that remained when she shifted forms.)

Okay, every movie has plot holes, but for the most part this one held up very well and there was a lot to like. In the future portions, I was particularly fond of Blink’s power, which was rendered very nicely. I loved the way her “doors” let you see an action from two angles at once. And in the past, I guess what struck me the most was how much it was the story of Mystique’s redemption — and Charles’s through her, in a way. She’s ended up playing a role in these past two movies that I never would’ve expected from her prior screen and comics appearances. I’m still a little underwhelmed by Jennifer Lawrence, though. She’s reasonably good, but I don’t find her as impressive as a lot of people seem to.

Oh, and I liked the in-joke of the clip from “The Naked Time” showing on Hank’s TV. Although they kind of looped back through the scene a couple of times — Kirk said “A time warp?” at least twice. (So he was doing the time warp again?)

About those final scenes… I’m glad the altered history brought Scott and Jean back, and it was neat to see Kelsey Grammer’s cameo as older Beast (although I convinced myself that wasn’t really him, and it’s only in looking online afterward that I found it was). And since Rogue is back at the school (I didn’t blink, so I didn’t miss it), I assume that means she never got the “cure” and still has her powers. So it’s nice to see the band back together. The problem is that I don’t think we’re likely to see that timeframe again, with the focus shifting to the younger cast in historical settings. Also, I’m not sure how I feel about the events of the better films — the first two X-Men movies and The Wolverine — being implicitly removed from continuity. I would’ve liked some reassurance that they still happened pretty much as we saw. Although I guess The Wolverine can’t happen the way we saw, because that whole movie is about Logan dealing with the impact of Jean’s death, and its post-credits scene is a setup for the dark future of this movie.

Well, I guess I can still believe those movies “count,” because it was that sequence of events that led to the circumstances that sent Logan back in time with the consequences we saw here. So there’s still a causal progression that makes them relevant. Still, I’m sure there’s going to be a ton of debate about this continuity reboot in the years ahead. Though less so than there was for something like Star Trek, since it was widely considered that the X-Men franchise had lost its way and the reboot was an opportunity to fix that. Which it certainly did. Bryan Singer himself may not have the ability to go back in time and undo the mistake of doing Superman Returns instead of the third X-Men film, but he’s done the next best thing, at least where this franchise is concerned.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 1988 Season Overview

As I thought about how to sum up this season for this overview, what struck me was how much it feels like a direct continuation of what came before. Yes, there’s been a gap of 15 years, the cast and crew are almost completely different, and the technology’s been updated, but the basic formula and approach of the show are essentially unchanged, and most of its tropes and conventions are intact. It even continues the conventions specific to the final couple of seasons of the original, such as the use of cold opens and the establishment of San Francisco as the site of Jim’s mission briefings. It really feels like it picked up right where it left off. I can’t think of many other series revivals that have picked up with so little change after so much time. Looking at the Revival page on TV Tropes, maybe The New Avengers, The New WKRP in Cincinnati, or the recently revived Red Dwarf might qualify, not to mention Jack Webb’s revival of Dragnet in the ’60s.

Indeed, in some ways, this revival was even more formulaic than the original. Aside from the replacement of Casey Randall with Shannon Reed, the team composition was the most uniform it’s been in any season, with every regular player appearing in every episode (even though Casey often had very little to do). It’s the only season other than S6 to have no off-book missions; even the episodes with personal stakes for Jim were still assigned IMF cases. Every episode therefore had a disc-briefing scene. And every briefing, even the domestic crimebusting ones, had the “Secretary will disavow” line whether it made sense or not. And while the original series periodically featured cons with supernatural elements, this season returns to that well more often than any previous one, five times out of nineteen episodes (over a quarter of the cases!).

The changes we do get are quite subtle. There’s more interplay and expository dialogue among teammates during the missions; more is told rather than simply shown, and it gives the actors more moments to play off one another. The apartment briefings are less focused on methods and mechanics and more on general mission overview. And the team often assembles on site for the initial briefing, though the norm is still to have it in Jim’s apartment — and Jim still lives in San Francisco as he evidently did in season 7.

I’d expected that the revival would feature more character development and continuity than the original, but I guess it wasn’t until the ’90s that those things really came to be demanded by audiences. This season does have a number of episodes that have personal stakes for the characters (mainly Jim Phelps), like “The Killer,” “The Condemned,” “The Lions” (kind of), “The Fortune,” “Spy,” and “Reprisal,” but the majority are standard M:I capers with no particular significance for the leads. And only a few episodes have missions going awry in any significant way — “Spy” is the prime example, though there are several where the team doesn’t have all the facts ahead of time and is engaged as much in investigation and improvisation as manipulation, e.g. “The Killer,” “The Condemned,” “The Legacy,” “The Fixer,” and “Reprisal.” (True, there are a lot of episodes where they’re trying to find where something or someone is hidden or discover a piece of information, but those are more McGuffins than anything else.)

As such, we don’t learn much more about the new characters than we did about their predecessors. Jim Phelps believes in meticulous planning and cares about his former and current teammates; Grant Collier loves his father and forgives him for being an absentee working dad; the team members like each other and have a friendly rapport; and that’s about it. We learn a bit more about the characters’ backgrounds and reasons for joining the IMF than we did about the originals, but it never comes into play. (For instance, if Casey Randall was a “top designer on three continents,” how come the police needed Jim to identify her body?)

It implicitly seems that Grant Collier is Jim’s second-in-command or closest confidante, and probably a lifelong family friend. He always seems to be the first one Jim briefs, joining him in explaining the plan to the others — although Nicholas also has advance information more often than the other two, further suggesting a certain hierarchy in the team. The new team is a little less specialized than the old ones, or comparable to the season 6/7 team, since all team members participate in role play. Still, Grant is the principal technical genius, Nicholas the principal role player, and Max the principal muscle and pilot. Jim often takes a less central role than he would in the past, frequently favoring eccentric character parts; perhaps after all these years in the game, he’s gotten a bit self-indulgent.

One substantial change in the new series is that we get a bit more insight into the IMF as an organization. The original series never showed us an IMF agent who wasn’t a part of Dan’s or Jim’s team; indeed, it was implied that the “agents” were civilian assets only loosely or unofficially affiliated with the agency. (Which is actually a bit like how real intelligence work operates today. Contrary to fiction, actual spies are pretty much useless in the field, since other governments already know who they are. So they mostly just work out of embassies and solicit local civilian assets to be their eyes and ears in the field. Though that’s just for listening and observing, not engaging in elaborate deceptions or risking death.) But here, we meet other IMF assets, including Jim’s successor as team leader and an inventor formerly with “IM Laboratories,” as well as the teenage son of another IMF agent. We also learn that IMF operatives perform advance research for the briefings Jim receives. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s the beginning of a fleshing-out process that would culminate in the much larger IMF bureaucracy of the movies.

The IMF’s mission as of 1988-9 seems like an evolution from its past as well. For five seasons, it was mostly focused on international espionage and security missions with occasional diversions to deal with organized crime in the US. In season 6, it shifted exclusively to stateside mob-busting. But while season 7 was mostly crime-focused, the number of overseas and/or intelligence missions started to creep up again. This season references overseas spy missions as early as six years after season 7, and in itself it portrays a mix of espionage and crimebusting missions, with many of the latter now occurring overseas. Specifically, eight episodes deal with criminal foes, including two international drug cartels and one international slave-trafficking ring. Three of the other criminal cases involve crimes directed against IMF agents, and thus could qualify as intelligence-related, while one (“The Haunting”) is a simple murder but has possible international ramifications. I’m not including the blackmail schemes in “The Fixer” and “The Devils,” because they involve the manipulation of government officials and thus fall more into the spy/intrigue category. I’m also not counting the fake refugee-smuggling scheme in “The Wall,” because its perpetrators abducted the daughter of an arms negotiator in order to influence international policy. Other criminal acts such as the arms dealing in “The Cattle King,” the chemical-weapons dealing in “Spy,” and the bioweapon theft in “The Plague” are in support of terrorism and thus count as national-security cases. Still, the number of straight-up espionage/political stories in the season is fairly low, and we don’t begin to see them until a quarter of the way into the season. This is yet another way that the ’88 season feels like it’s picking up right from where season 7 left off.

So how does the new cast measure up? Well, Peter Graves is still a stalwart presence, bringing the same mix of deadpan seriousness and avuncular charm that worked for him on the original, but he’s also showing some of the comedic chops he began to exercise in Airplane! and continued to draw on in subsequent works (like fellow Serious Sixties Actors William Shatner, Leslie Nielsen, and Lloyd Bridges — that movie transformed a lot of careers). But I’d say the real breakout and MVP here was Phil Morris as Grant Collier. Casting him was a terrific idea, not only because of the nostalgia/legacy factor of being the son of Greg Morris/Barney Collier, but because he’s a strong, charismatic actor in his own right, and probably quite popular with female viewers. Tony Hamilton also did an impressive job as Max Harte, good at being a tough guy but also able to give engaging performances in a variety of roles. And Jane Badler was capable and sexy as Shannon Reed. I said in an earlier overview that Lynda Day George was the most beautiful M:I leading lady, but Badler is a contender for the sexiest one — while also conveying competence and a tough edge. Thaao Penghlis as Nicholas Black was a decent leading man, at his best reminding me of a poor man’s Roger Rees; but he was playing a part that called for more of a chameleonic character actor, and in that respect he just didn’t measure up, his range far too limited for the job. And then there’s Terry Markwell as Casey Randall — attractive, more or less, and competent up to a point, but lacking in range and ultimately just not measuring up. I still have mixed feelings about her brief and disappointing tenure; sometimes I feel she wasn’t really given a chance to live up to her potential, but then I recall there were a couple of times when she was given a chance and fell short. Whatever the true reasons, it’s safe to say that of all M:I’s main-cast female regulars, Markwell made the least significant contribution to the series — except in the trivia-question sense of being the only M:I series regular to be killed and “disavowed.” But that’s kind of an ignominious honor.

Rating the episodes, I’d say the best one of the season was “The Pawn,” followed by “The Fortune” and “The Legacy.” These are solid and clever capers with interesting twists and various qualities that lend them added appeal — the music in “The Pawn,” the guest cast and personal stakes in “The Fortune,” and “The Legacy”‘s improvements on the episode it remakes. “The Killer,” “The System,” and “The Fixer” were all strong, effective capers, and “Spy” was also quite effective for its formula-breaking tension and danger, even if it ended up turning into too much of a conventional action-show episode. The remake of “The Condemned” and “The Lions” are imperfect episodes made stronger by their character elements, particularly the return of Barney Collier in the former. “The Plague” is a good story with some awkward writing, while “Holograms” is a flawed and formulaic story improved by a strong guest star and a good score. “The Wall,” “The Cattle King,” “The Greek,” “Reprisal,” and “Bayou” are mediocre, sometimes with good qualities cancelled out by their shortcomings, others just run-of-the-mill. “Submarine is also mediocre but comes out a bit more on the negative side of the ledger due to problems of plot coherence, and in contrast to the superb episode it was a very loose remake of. “The Haunting” was a silly mess, and “The Devils” was simply awful, quite possibly the worst episode of the franchise to date. Basically the season starts out reasonably strong, then has a mix of better and worse episodes in the middle, then ends up fairly weak and mediocre. Overall, a lot of the stories were less clever or less intricately worked out than in the original; complications that didn’t quite make sense increasingly took the place of intricacy. Also, the season started out with strong guest actors like John DeLancie, James Sloyan, and Gerard Kennedy, as well as a memorable turn by BarBara Luna later in the season; but toward the end, the villains began to become increasingly cartoony and grotesque, undermining what would’ve been stronger stories otherwise.

There were six episodes that were remakes of originals. “The Killer,” “The System,” “The Condemned,” and “The Legacy” were fairly close remakes with largely or mostly identical plots and verbatim dialogue, while “The Wall” (based on “The Bank”) and “Submarine” reused only the basic premises while changing the specifics, the characters, and the dialogue. Of these, the ones that most improved on the originals were “The System” and “The Legacy,” while the one that suffered most in adaptation was “Submarine.”


Jim Phelps, Nicholas Black, Grant Collier, and Max Harte were in every episode. Casey Randall was in episodes 1-12 (sometimes just barely), Shannon Reed in episodes 12-19. Episodes featuring guest agents or other assistants included:

  • 01 The Killer: Anonymous two-member team of hotel dressers/extras
  • 03 Holograms:  Kieron Taylor (Gavin Harrison), son of IMF agent
  • 04 The Condemned: Former IMF agent Barney Collier (Greg Morris)
  • 07 The Cattle King:  Shaman Mulwarra (Warren Owens) and tribe assist
  • 08 The Pawn:  Magician Joseph Rultka (Philip Hinton) and chess champion Gregor Antonov (Bryan Marshall) assist
  • 09 The Haunting: Honolulu Police cooperates
  • 13 The Fixer:  Senator Tom Oxenford (Terence Donovan) cooperates
  • 14 Spy: KGB colonel  Dr. Yuri Nikolai (Shane Briant)
  • 17 Reprisal: Former IMF agent Lisa Casey (Lynda Day George)
  • 18 Submarine: Possible offscreen assistance of submarine soundstage crew
  • 19 Bayou: New Orleans Police cooperates

However, only “The Killer,” “Holograms,” “The Cattle King,” “The Pawn,” and “Spy” mentioned these additional team members in the initial briefings, and only Rultka in “The Spy”‘s case; Barney, Lisa Casey, Antonov, and Oxenford were initially rescuees who became involved in the plans later on, and the others were incidental.

Additionally, we learn of several other IMF assets who did not participate in Jim’s teams:

  • 01 The Killer: Tom Copperfield (Vince Martin), Jim’s successor as team leader for up to eight years prior to 1988
  • 03 Holograms: Taylor, IMF agent
  • 17 Reprisal: Former IMF agents Laura Ann Wilson (Chelsea Brown) and Marilyn (Paula Goodman); former IM Laboratories consultant Russell Acker (David Cameron)

Not to mention the Voice on Disc (Bob Johnson), the one person who’s been with the IMF longer than anyone else we know of, except maybe Barney Collier (I don’t recall whether Barney was retired or not in “The Condemned”).

Due to new union rules by the 1980s, every episode has a mostly or entirely original score. However, only three composers contributed to the season: original M:I composer Lalo Schifrin did the first three odd-numbered episodes, Ron Jones did the first six even-numbered episodes, and John E. Davis did the other ten. The best scores are Schifrin’s “Holograms” and Jones’s “The Pawn,” with Schifrin’s “The Killer” and Jones’s “The Lions” and “The Fortune” also being memorable. Davis’s work is adequate but fairly uniform and lacking any real standout episodes, and his avoidance of any full statement of “The Plot,” instead reducing it to a simple 7-note phrase, is annoying.

The locations this season were mostly overseas, with only five episodes set on US soil (though none produced there), including Honolulu, the Florida Keys, the District of Columbia, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Most overseas episodes were set in real locations, and unlike in the original series, Warsaw Pact powers like the USSR and East Germany were mentioned by name as adversaries. The only episodes set in fictitious countries were “Holograms” and “The Lions,” though several villains were from unspecified hostile powers, and the villains in “The Fortune” were from the fictional Central American nation of Alcante. Two consecutive episodes, “The System” and “Holograms,” were set in the Caribbean (although I’m unsure of that in the latter case) — the former in the Bahamas, the latter in a fictitious island nation. Seven episodes are set in Europe: “The Killer” and “The Devils” in England, “The Legacy” and “The Wall” in Germany, “The Pawn” in Prague, “The Greek” mostly in Athens, and “The Plague” in Paris. The teaser of “The Greek” is in Southeast Asia, and other Asian locations include the fictional Himalayan nation Bajan-Du in “The Lions” and Hong Kong and the South China Sea in “Submarine.” Only one episode, “Spy,” is set in Africa (an unspecified Central African country), and one, “The Condemned,” is in the Mideast (Istanbul). “The Cattle King” is the first M:I episode set in Australia — and thus the only one in the season shot on the actual locations it portrays.

The downside of this more international flavor, however, is that the show’s portrayal of ethnic diversity has not improved. In fact, it’s gotten worse, since the original series rarely attempted to portray non-Western cultures. The amount of stereotyping and condescension toward groups such as East Asians, Indigenous Australians, and “Gypsies” is distasteful. It’s a reminder that the timeframe of this series — and the culture of that era — was closer to the original series than it was to today.

So that’s season 1 of the revival — or season 8 of the series as a whole, since it is such a smooth continuation in so many ways. The season grew beyond its predecessors in some ways while hewing closer to the formula than a number of earlier seasons. It was a surprisingly authentic and respectful continuation, but with some lapses in insight and quality, and not quite living up to the cleverness of the original at its best. It’s better than what we might have gotten from a show that was commissioned simply as a way to work around a writers’ strike and was initially planned as a straight remake; but in other ways, it’s pretty much just what we’d expect from such a show. It’s not the finest season M:I has produced, but neither does it feel like it’s just going through the motions or that it’s missed the point. It is, quite simply, more Mission: Impossible, and that’s not a bad thing.

And yes, I will be carrying forward with the second and final season of the revival, since one of my readers was kind enough to help pay for the purchase of the DVD set. So I should be able to start in on that pretty promptly, other responsibilities permitting. After which I intend to proceed to cover the movies, allowing me to complete this review series at last.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (’88) Reviews: “Reprisal”/”Submarine”/”Bayou” (spoilers)

“Reprisal”: Walter Brough’s second script for the revival brings back a character he’s written for before — though with her name changed.

We open with the familiar sight of Jim Phelps walking through a San Francisco marina — but instead of getting a disc message, he meets Laura Ann Wilson (Chelsea Brown), a very attractive woman who was once a member of one of Jim’s IMF teams sometime during the gap between the original and revival series. (Brown was actually a regular Laugh-In performer in its 1968-9 season, though I never would’ve known it from how young she looks here.) They begin to catch up, but then — shockingly — Jim pulls out a garotte and kills her!

After titles, along comes Jim — again? — getting the disc at a pawn shop, and Voice gravely informs him of the murder of Laura Ann, with Jim’s prints found at the scene. Jim is so shocked by the news that he rewinds the disc to listen again.  The IMF knows that Jim was on a mission in Thailand at the time and the Secretary has pulled strings to delay an arrest warrant for a week. “Your mission,” Voice says, “which I feel you must accept,” is to stop the murderer and clear his name. Jim almost forgets to close the box before the disc self-destructs.

Before the apartment scene, Jim visits the maximum-security mental institution housing Russell Acker (David Cameron), a former IMF consultant institutionalized a dozen years ago. Jim clearly thinks he’s the killer, but Acker tauntingly pretends to know nothing about it — after all, he’s been locked up the whole time. (Unfortunately, Cameron’s interpretation of insanity is giving Acker a gravelly pirate/Popeye/Beetlejuice sort of voice that makes it hard to take him seriously.) At his apartment, the various team members explain to newcomer Shannon that Acker was a genius inventor at “the IM Laboratories”; Barney Collier often consulted with him and he’s responsible for much of the tech the IMF uses today, including the latex they use in their masks. (Meaning either he invented the formula in his teens or they’ve adopted a new formula since the original series.) But a car accident damaged his brain and turned him into a serial killer of beautiful women. Twelve years ago (four years after the original series ended), Jim assembled a team of three women (Jimmy’s Angels?) as bait to trap him, including Laura Ann and one rather familiar face. Now he’s out for revenge.

The team goes to work on the mental institution to set up surveillance and study the files of the orderlies with access to Acker to figure out who’s helping him — although orderly Talbot (Marshall Napier) is obviously villainous from our first glimpse of him, and he smuggles Acker a mask of Talbot’s own face and leaves the cell unlocked, allowing Acker to slip out once he’s projected a video loop into the surveillance camera. Meanwhile, Jim makes contact with that familiar team member, played by Lynda Day George. Now, George was the leading lady in the original M:I’s final two seasons, playing a character whose only known name was Casey. But since the revival had its own Casey (Randall), this episode retcons George’s character name to Lisa Casey, and her full name is only given once. It’s weird to see Peter Graves addressing her as “Lisa,” and it creates the question of why everyone called her by her last name in the ’70s. Annoying to see an original cast member’s identity altered to accommodate a revival cast member who didn’t even contribute much. Anyway, it turns out their last mission together was in Hong Kong in 1980, bringing down an international drug lord. Evidently Jim hadn’t been retired for long when he was brought back into the game at the start of this season — eight years at the most. Anyway, Casey — err, “Lisa” — is now directing a musical, and Jim tries to convince her to hop a plane to Paris (the city, not Leonard Nimoy) until Acker can be caught.

But Acker has been using IMF-style phone-intercept techniques to keep Jim from contacting the final team member, Marilyn (Australian actress Paula Goodman), while drawing her to San Fran, donning a Jim Phelps mask to meet her, and murdering her in front of many witnesses. Jim arrives just in time to get chased by the cops. Now Casey — err, “Lisa” — is determined to stay and fight, and she confronts Acker in his cell (where he’s returned to throw off suspicion) to let him know exactly where she’ll be.

Max discovers Acker’s secret room in Talbot’s apartment, and when Jim arrives, he finds plenty of evidence of the murders as well as the Jim masks he’s been using. Jim picks up one of the busts of his head, triggering a taunting recording from Acker that paraphrases the standard tape/disc briefing formula. It is immediately obvious to the viewer that the last line will be “This room will self-destruct in five seconds,” but somehow Jim and Max just dawdle around unconcerned until they actually hear the line. It makes no sense for seasoned spies to be so blind to danger. Also, after the blast which has supposedly destroyed all the evidence, we get a final glimpse of the room while Jim and Max leave, and most of the evidence is still totally intact!!! Arrgghh!

Anyway, Acker finally gives Talbot his “payoff” in the form of a lethal garotting, then breaks into Jim’s apartment to drug his computer keys so he can knock Jim out and plant the murder weapon for later, then goes off to kill Casey — err, “Lisa.” But Jim was faking being knocked out, and the team has prepared its trap at “Lisa”‘s theater. With Grant videotaping the whole thing, she lets Acker get the garotte around her neck, then reaches back and pulls off his mask. Then the team torments him with mirrors and video, and being confronted with his own face is too much for him, as he insists the murderer was someone else and tries to rip off the “mask” that is his own face before collapsing into catatonia.

For a Very Special Episode bringing back an old cast member, this one isn’t as strong as it could be.  It’s nice to see a departure from formula, with the team having to apply its methods more toward detective work and actual spying than the usual preplanned con games, and taking on an adversary armed with their own methods. It also continues the fleshing out of the IMF into a larger organization than we were ever shown in the original series, as well as filling in some more of what occurred in the interregnum. But Acker is too cartoony a villain, Lynda Day George is underutilized, and that scene with the secret room was just ineptly done. This is a significant episode from a continuity standpoint and an “event” standpoint, but it’s not as strong as it deserves to be.

“Submarine”: Although credited solely to Dale Duguid, this is a very loose remake of season 4, episode 7, my favorite episode of the original series. Which gave me an excuse to rewatch that episode, which is still just as much fun as ever. But this one is very different. We open with Mitchell Ryan dropping a submarine distress beacon into the South China Sea, where it somehow infects a US Navy sub with a computer virus that destroys it with all hands. (How? Radio waves can only propagate a few hundred meters underwater at most, so wouldn’t an undersea beacon be acoustic? How, then, could it infect a computer?) After a shortened title sequence, Jim is helicoptered into an airbase where he walks up to a taxiing fighter jet and gets invited to listen to the disc in the cockpit. Excuse me? I thought the whole point of the tape/disc drop sequences was to be inconspicuous. If the military was going to airlift him in anyway, why not just tell him the mission face-to-face?

Anyway, the unknown maker of the computer virus is going to auction it, and the IMF has identified one of the bidders, a representative of “an extremist state” named Reynard — played by yet another future Farscape cast member, Jonathan Hardy (the voice of Rygel), who wears a fez because fezzes are cool. Grant explains in the apartment scene that they need to find the virus purveyor in order to find the antidote — after first explaining to 1989 TV audiences that computer viruses don’t infect people, but can make computers do dangerous things like blow up subs. So they trail Fez Rygel to Hong Kong, and Jim contrives to put a sticker on his laptop that’s tricked out with both tomcat scent to attract the drug-sniffing dogs and a silhouette of a gun and grenade, so as to get Reynard out of the way once they’ve identified his contact (Ryan), who turns out to be Admiral Edgar Gene Sheppard, a Naval cyber-warfare expert embittered that recent disarmament talks have scuttled his computer-virus project, so he’s selling it to the highest bidder to prove it can work. Nicholas convinces Sheppard that he’s Reynard’s backup, and gets taken to the auction.

In fact, it turns out that Sheppard has already given away the virus beacons and is selling the antidote, which will make it safe for use. But Max rigs anaesthetic gas in Sheppard’s sprinkler system and Grant taps into the satellite TV, and they fake a toxic-chemical disaster caused by computer failures aboard two tankers, evidently because someone unleashed the virus without the antidote. (How did the team know Nicholas would be taken to a private home with a sprinkler system?) But as Sheppard passes out, he crumples the 3.5-inch floppy with the antidote on it, destroying it. (And there’s a close-up on one of those little wraparound stickers you put on those floppies with the “Write Protect” and “Write Enable” indicators on the back. I remember those!)

So Jim orders “Phase 2,” and that’s where we finally begin to converge roughly with the namesake episode. Grant and Max play a Naval crew that apparently airlifts Sheppard to a submarine commanded by Jim (similar to the role he played in the original), and they feign an ever-escalating disaster, including a nuclear explosion that temporarily “blinds” Sheppard thanks to Grant swapping out his contact lenses with adjustably opaque ones. At this point it’s already clear that this is being faked, but unlike in the original episode, the nature of the fakery isn’t yet exposed. Anyway, they make Sheppard think the sub has the virus and is sinking, so he has to input the antidote to save himself. As in the original, the team abandons the fake sub once they get what they want (including a rant where he conveniently confesses the whole crime to an empty escape bell, with the team taping it) and leave him to discover the fakery, which takes far longer than in the original as he goes through all the sub sets and discovers all the trickery. But when he finally emerges on the conning-tower set piece on the soundstage and sees the surrounding water tank and projection screens, it’s oddly cruder and less convincing than the sub exterior we saw before — and then we see the team standing in front of the sub interior set, which is open on one side and entirely separate from the conning tower, so how the hell was he ever fooled and how the hell did he ever get from one to the other? Also, how did they switch him from being airlifted in a real helicopter to being deposited inside a soundstage? The feigned semi-blindness may have been intended to help hide the flaws in the illusion, but the initial airlift and his later gradual discovery happened while his vision was unimpaired.

Of course this can’t hold a candle to the original “Submarine.” They couldn’t really show us the fakery convincingly because they didn’t have the advantage the original had, namely an evidently pre-existing submarine set on hydraulics (that the episode was presumably written to take advantage of), allowing them to show the truth behind the illusion. Here, they had to fake much more of it, so the behind-the-curtain stuff had to be minimized and was terribly unconvincing when it was finally shown. So that leaves the merits of the story itself, and that’s fairly routine, with a lot of plot points that make little sense. What made the original “Submarine” so compelling wasn’t just the nifty gimmick, but the nifty characterizations of the villain and the Eastern-bloc colonel closing in on the team, as well as the tension of trying to achieve the goal before the colonel discovered the team. Here, Sheppard isn’t much of a character, just a one-note villain. He is to some extent motivated by pride like his counterpart in the original — he deployed the virus to prove his work had merit — but the team doesn’t play off his pride to trick him, just his sense of self-preservation. So it’s a lot more by-the-numbers than the original, a routine episode that isn’t awful but doesn’t quite hold together. “Submarine” Mk 1 was a terrific balance of gimmickry and characterization, as well as fine direction, timing, and scoring; “Submarine” Mk 2 is just a succession of gimmicks, most of which it either can’t reveal properly or can’t explain coherently.

The best thing that can be said about this episode is that it’s so different from the original that there’s no trouble reconciling them. It can be taken as just a case of Jim hauling an old strategy out of the files and applying it to a new crisis. Although I think he embellished it more than was necessary.

“Bayou”: The season finale is written by executive producer Jeffrey M. Hayes.

In the Louisiana Bayou, a young blonde woman is on the run from a hunting party, dogs, and stock-footage alligators, but is caught by the people she’s running from: Pepper Leveau (Paula Kelly), a New Orleans nightclub manager, and her boss Jake Morgan (Frank Thring), a grotesque individual who looks like Boss Hogg as played by Alfred Hitchcock. After the short version of the titles, Jim gets the skinny on the fat man on a movie set: Morgan runs an international sex-slavery ring (they call it “white slavery,” as if that were somehow less normal than the alternative) with Pepper as his lieutenant. Now, he’s abducted dozens of young women, but typically, the government didn’t take action until the abduction of a rich man’s daughter, who’s the girl we saw in the teaser. But to his credit, Jim is just as committed to saving all the girls. Once more, the team is already on site in New Orleans for the expository briefing. It’s becoming kind of a standard pattern at this point to establish a warehouse or other such site as the team’s base of operations (in this case a theatrical warehouse) and have multiple scenes of the team meeting there and discussing their next move. This did happen in the original as well, but usually without as much expository dialogue and out-of-character discussion. The team this season spends more on-camera time as themselves than was typical in the original.

And this being the Big Easy, of course the show can’t resist yet another supernatural-themed con, taking advantage of Pepper’s belief in vodoun (“voodoo”) to drive a wedge between her and Morgan. Shannon plays a “voodoo” priestess who gives Pepper a tarot reading warning of betrayal. Huh? Tarot cards originated in Northern Italy (as just a card game) and came to be associated with European occultism — would they be part of vodoun practice, except as a sort of New Agey syncretism? Anyway, Grant plays a trumpet player (and a trumpet) at the club, but he’s there to be supposedly zombified by Shannon later on. Jim plays a private detective who gets Pepper thinking that Morgan’s shutting her out and working with Shannon instead, then takes her to see Nicholas in a Morgan mask at a voodoo ceremony. Pepper becomes the latest in a long line of M:I marks who can’t tell the difference between projected film (in this case, of chanting cultists) and real life.

Meanwhile, Nicholas and Max have played bidders for the slave girls so they can track them down — but Morgan’s idea of showing Nicholas the merchandise is to have his men abduct him off the street and blindfold him, so no joy there. (When Nicholas “inspects” the rich girl from the teaser, he says to her “I’m going to buy you.” Or is it “I’m going to bayou?” The true meaning of the title is revealed! Or not.) But Pepper turns on Morgan, and Nick and Max make it look like they’ve taken her away and shot her. She wakes up in a fake ship cabin on hydraulics — a miniature version of the elaborate fake sub in the original “Submarine” — and thinks she and Shannon have been taken as slaves as compensation for Morgan welching on the deal. So Pepper tells them where the girls are being held so they’ll let her go, and then the team fakes a shipwreck and knocks her out again. Nicholas and Max find the girls and beat up the guards sent to retrieve them, as payback for getting roughed up earlier.

Anyway, Grant has found an old tunnel, ironically from the Underground Railroad, leading right into Morgan’s study. Yes, a tunnel in New Orleans — but then, we knew before that the water table in M:I-verse New Orleans must be lower than it is in real life. Or maybe Hayes just took the “Underground” part too literally. So he rigs Morgan’s study with voodoo symbols and a hologram generator, as well as loading his gun with blanks, and then Jim lets the “shipwrecked” Pepper wake up on the beach and go after Morgan while Shannon gets herself abducted by Morgan — somehow they knew he’d take her to his study — and activates the hologram of Pepper haunting him. The goal is to get him to run, since he’d have to keep his list of slaves on his person if he were forced to flee. He ends up confronted by the real Pepper, who’s unhurt by his shots because they’re blanks, and she brandishes a machete and drives the terrified Morgan back into his own alligator pond. Whereupon cop-car lights suddenly shine on her and she’s taken away, while Jim finds the list of slave girls in his fallen cane — lucky it was there instead of on his person when the alligators ate him.

Wait a minute. So the cops were just sitting there watching the whole time… and they allowed Pepper to drive Morgan to his death? Aren’t cops supposed to, like, prevent murders or something?

This episode has some vague similarities to “Incarnate” from season 7, which also used a voodoo-based scam and holographic ghosts. But in many ways, it’s very much a typical episode of the new series. The on-site base and frequent conversations for the team, the supernatural con, the use of holograms and projections, the tacked-on action, the ethnic/cultural stereotypes, the plot contrivances that don’t quite hold up to fridge logic. Not to mention the team members being a bit too obvious about pushing the bad guys where they wanted them to go — not a frequent problem of this season, but a characteristic one. And a lot of it was typical of the franchise as a whole — throw in the divide-and-conquer strategy and the ending where the villains are maneuvered into killing each other off. Unfortunately it showcases the season’s weaknesses more than its strengths. Musically it’s slightly more interesting than usual, with some decent jazz source music at the club, but otherwise pretty typical of John E. Davis’s work. Maybe it’s fitting that the season finale should be so representative of the season as a whole.

Overview to come!

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MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (’88) Reviews: “The Devils”/”The Plague” (spoilers)

“The Devils”: Written by Ted Roberts.

Oh, dear. We open with a scene of a drugged blonde being led by chanting guys in hoods to an altar where a guy in a goat-demon mask sacrifices her. One of the spectators looks on in horror, then wakes up screaming — it was his dream. Or was it? After the titles, when Jim gets the disc from a shrimp boat captain (and John E. Davis for once uses the main theme rather than “The Plot” to score it), we learn the guy is a diplomat in London who’s catatonic in an institution, while two others have committed suicide — all of them guests of Lord Holman (John Stanton), who’s believed to be a traitor who’s blackmailed these guys into sharing state secrets. Holman likes to indulge in New Age druidic practices, with a big celebration coming up the next week — and the episode treats these alternative spiritualities as indistinguishable from Satanism. This alone got me fearing the worst — but then Grant brought out the stupid-looking magic helmet that read the catatonic diplomat’s “electrotelepathic emanations” in order to get video images of his thoughts, which reveals the goat-head sacrifice. With total deadpan gravitas, Graves intones, “He’s been involved in Satanic rites.”

M:I The Devils

Seriously. This actually happened.

It’s like a scene out of a parody of this very show.

As if there weren’t enough cultural insensitivity already, Shannon and Nicholas are going undercover as stereotyped “Gypsies” — and for once we get a gadget demonstration in the apartment briefing, a video crystal ball for fortune-teller Shannon, as well as a few other gadgets in a second group discussion later on. Shannon makes contact with Holman’s groundskeeper Challis (Ron Graham) — no word on whether he holds the brew that is true — and gives a reading in which the video crystal ball is a totally pointless embellishment, and in which she fingers Jim, arriving in a limo and dressed in a black suit with a bright red tie and handkerchief, as The Evil One. Yes, folks… Jim is undercover as Satan. Oy. Freaking. Vey. Holman is skeptical of this at first, but Jim and Max uses various gadgets like glowy-evil-eye contact lenses, shoes that burn cloven hoofprints in the rug, and a gas that causes a brief lapse of consciousness so Holman thinks they’ve disappeared before his eyes.

Grant makes contact with the local Constable Egerton (Russell Newman), initially putting on an act as an uncaring American cop who’s only making a pro forma investigation of the three murdered girls who’ve turned up near the Holman estate. It seems random, but I guess this is to provoke a reaction from Egerton, who seems to express genuine concern for the victims — so Grant (with Jim’s approval) soon drops the role altogether and lets Egerton in on their investigation linking the pond where the bodies were found to an underground stream passing through Holman’s estate. Really, most of the elaborately set-up scheme seems to get tossed aside pretty quickly this week. But confiding in Egerton is a mistake, since the constable is on Holman’s hook and tells him about the investigation — but not much of a mistake, since when Holman orders Egerton to kill Grant, Egerton refuses to play along anymore, killing himself — along with any possible tension or suspense that plot thread could’ve generated.

Oh, and there’s an earlier scene where all four junior team members break into Holman’s underground devil-worshippin’ catacombs to scope them out. It’s unclear why they all had to go, especially since they don’t bother to split up and search to find the captive girl slated for the next sacrifice, instead having to make a separate effort later on to trail Challis to her cell. Why wait? Anyway, they free the girl, but by that point I’d already predicted that Shannon would get captured to take her place and end up as a cliched damsel in distress on the altar, and I was right. There’s even a scene where Holman’s upper-class, all-male cabalists (wait, are they being blackmailed or willingly part of the cult?) strip the drugged Shannon to put her in a white shift for the sacrifice — and it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have taken some liberties with her in the process, but the episode is totally unconcerned with that. I sometimes forget how much sexism still remained in ’80s TV. Anyway, even though they kidnap her and dress her up, they somehow fail to discover that she’s wearing a wig.

All this culminates in a rather unfocused climax where Jim convinces Holman that he’s already claimed the latter’s soul, which shocks and terrifies Holman — why? Hadn’t he already pledged his soul to Satan? I guess the idea was that it was just a pretense for his blackmail, though the episode never addresses why so many prominent British politicians are sincerely Satanists and murder cultists. (At one point, Jim says that if the truth came out it would bring down the government, but if the government consists of men like that, doesn’t it deserve to be brought down? The episode implies that they were just weak-willed men that Holman pressured into going along with devil worship and serial murder, but that’s not much better.) And just as Shannon’s about to be sacrificed, the team springs some gratuitous gadgetry like red spotlights on Jim and Max’s faces, and Jim basically drives Holman back to fall into his own underground river, which is on fire because of another Grantism. So, yeah, that happened.

Wow. I think this is the worst episode of the entire franchise so far. It’s sometimes hilariously awful, but there were moments when I couldn’t tell if I was laughing or sobbing. The stupid, it burns! And the ethnocentrism, the reduction of women to passive victims, the over-the-top horror-movie villain scheme… this was more like a second-season Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode than an M:I episode, but it was played with absolute seriousness, only unintentionally emerging as farce. Graves makes an effectively suave Prince of Darkness, but even he has trouble selling some of the dialogue or the ridiculous situation.

“The Plague” is written by Rick Maier and features two-time Bond girl Maud Adams as the villain, Catherine Balzac, who’s our third blackmailer in the past four episodes. She’s blackmailed a French general into stealing a hyper-deadly US-made (and US-renounced) bacteriological weapon from a facility with amazingly lax security; when he sets off an alarm, we see the guards running around in response, but then they disappear and the guy just walks out and hands the petri dish to Balzac right outside the building, whereupon he asks “Now will you stop blackmailing me?” and she rewards his stilted expository question by shooting him. Right next to the building that was surrounded by guards on alarm just a few moments before. (But, to her credit, she did stop blackmailing him.)

Jim gets the disc from a bikini-clad aquarium employee, after Jim quotes a really condescending adage that dolphins are “God’s most obedient creatures.” Just for that, he’s not getting any thanks for all the fish. Anyway, Voice tells him that if the bioweapon was stored in unsafe conditions, it could breach containment and spread a plague across Europe.

This is another episode where the team is already at the site (Paris — the city, not Leonard Nimoy) for their first briefing. The plan involves using subliminal audio to do a couple of things, the first of which — for reasons that never quite become clear — is to make the audience at Balzac’s nightclub go gaga over Shannon’s singing. (Her first number is “La Vie en Rose.”) I’m pretty sure it’s Badler herself singing — the episode was probably written to let her show off her talent. Four episodes in, Shannon has already gotten more to do than Casey had in twelve episodes. Which seems to support the idea that Terry Markwell was let go for not being up to the job, rather than leaving because the producers didn’t give her enough to do. (I have a memory of watching this episode when it first aired and hearing my father criticize Badler’s lip-syncing to the prerecorded music. Even when it’s the performer’s actual voice, onscreen singing is almost always prerecorded in a sound studio for best quality and then lip-synced for the camera. I think my father’s complaint was that she was visibly just mouthing the words rather than putting her breath into it, but I couldn’t really tell the difference then or now.)

Anyway, Max gets himself noticed as a nightclub guest with an obviously fake cover, and when they question him, he makes a break and leads them on a motorcycle chase to Jim, whom they catch when Max gets away. Jim pretends to be the scientist who created the bacteria and warns Balzac of the danger that she’s infected. Grant then reinforces this by playing a US agent offering satellite secrets in exchange for the return of the bacteria before it goes virulent. And Nicholas replaces the eyepatched scientist sent by the terrorist buyers of the bioweapon, whom the team intercepts. When Balzac and her henchman leave Nick alone in the lab, Grant (via walkie-talkie) guides him through the procedure to use the waldo arm to secure the sample in the team’s special container. Even though he needs Grant to explain the workings of the equipment, he still knows what buttons to press even though Grant just gives him very generic directions. But then he’s startled by a noise and fumbles the waldo arm, cracking the glass. But the bacteria politely waits 15 seconds before becoming dangerous, so Nick has that much time to secure it in the case, although of course it’s really far longer than that, because seconds are longer in TV-land.

So Shannon swaps out one of Balzac’s earrings with a subliminal-sound earring that will induce anxiety and loss of balance, symptoms of the bacteria, and Nicholas contrives a lab accident that coats their skin in a harmless polymer Grant prepared that will dry in a way that makes it look like they’re breaking out in hideous sores. (Actually the exposition says the bacteria causes rapid aging of the internal organs, but that never becomes relevant.) Somehow the bad guys never notice that Nick cracked the glass. Oh, and Shannon makes the lights flicker so Balzac and henchguy think they’re going blind. Jim agrees to work up an antidote if they tell him where the rest of the bioweapon is stored, and she accedes; Nick and Shannon find the container intact and safe. Jim tells Balzac that there’s only enough antidote for one,  so the henchman fights her for it, and a fire breaks out in the lab. The heat melts the polymer coating on their skin and they see they’ve been tricked, but the fire has already trapped them in the lab and Jim trades a solemn look with Balzac before leaving her and henchguy to their fate. “You know what I say?” he says to the team. “A plague on both their houses.” Uh, that’s not quite what that line meant.

An okay but flawed episode, and a decent attempt to fake Paris as a location. Having an actual Bond villain as the antagonist lends it some prestige, I guess, and Adams was reasonably effective, even if the villains are starting to blend together lately. And Penghlis broke out another accent, something Eastern European this time. Why can’t he manage American? Meanwhile, John E. Davis’s paraphrases of “The Plot” continue to drift further from the original melody, although I guess that’s better than just using the same 7-note phrase over again. (I said before that it was six notes, but it adds a final note to resolve to the tonic.) And he’s still using fragments of it to score the villains’ actions in the teaser, but less so than before. Beyond that, I can’t say much more about the scores, because they’re all pretty much the same. Which is disappointing, since the original series was so heavily reliant on strong music.

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