MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (’88) Reviews: “The Greek”/”The Fortune” (spoilers)
“The Greek”: Written by Ted Roberts.
We open in Southeast Asia, where drug tycoon/yachtsman Socrates Colonnades (Cesare Danova) murders an American agent who’s disguised as a fisherman in a passing boat, while his flighty, flirtatious opera-singer girlfriend Serina (Dina Panozzo) entertains his guests on the yacht. John E. Davis’s score reminds me of Jerry Goldsmith’s Rambo music — maybe both drew on Southeast Asian influences? But Davis also uses snatches of “The Plot” during this sequence. I complained before about using “The Plot” to accompany Jim getting the disc briefing — but using it to score the villains’ actions? That’s just not right. Davis seems to have, as it were, lost the plot. (Although the rest of his score is reasonably good. Although he seems to be getting into the habit of using just snippets of “The Plot” rather than fuller statements of its lengthy melody.)
Back in Stock-establishing-shot Francisco, Jim gets the briefing in a brewery, and I find myself starting to wonder about the people who exchange code phrases with him, both here and back in the original series. Does the IMF, or the larger American intelligence community, really have so many different agents embedded within the US population, doing ordinary jobs? If so, why? It’s not legal for the CIA to operate domestically. Or are these just ordinary citizens, the actual holders of the various jobs we see, who’ve been paid by the government to meet some guy, exchange a code phrase, and point him to a particular location, without having any idea what it’s all about? Do they also clean up the smoldering boxes after the discs have self-destructed? If so, where do they take them? Is there a point to such a complicated way of contacting an operative? And why did it take me seven and a half seasons to start asking these questions?
And about those boxes… The thing about the original series’ tape drops is that they were always played on ordinary equipment, with only the tapes (or records or films) themselves specially treated to self-immolate after playing, or (in early seasons) just thrown in the fire afterward. Often, before the little tape player became standard, we’d see Dan or Jim playing a record or tape on a normal piece of playback equipment. So once the message was destroyed, presumably there’d be nothing there but an ordinary record player or tape deck or other audio device, maybe with some strange residue or charring, and nothing more suspicious than that. Yet the new disc-player boxes are these elaborate, specialized, high-tech devices that are supposedly left just sitting around San Francisco. Sure, you need an authorized thumbprint to open them, but the very existence of these unusual instruments would tend to attract attention, and give potential enemy agents something to look for. So it’s nice and modern, but it’s too conspicuous to make a lot of sense in practical spy-biz terms. This being 1988-90, it would’ve made more sense for the IMF just to leave cassette tapes for Jim to play in his Walkman.
So anyway… Colonnades leads an international drug cartel that steals medical relief supplies meant for refugees and disaster victims, then resells them as “drugs of addiction,” as the Voice puts it. He’s meeting on his yacht with his five main distributors, and luckily, not only have they never met, but the authorities have nabbed two of them. As with “The Haunting,” the team is already on site, this time in Greece, when Jim briefs them, and as with several prior episodes, this is clearly the first time most of the team is hearing it. Usually it seems that Jim and Grant are the only ones fully briefed before the others are brought in, implying that Grant is possibly the second-in-command — much as his father effectively was in the last couple of seasons of the original. Grant will be impersonating the West African distributor, and Jim will play a Canadian agent allegedly sent by the English one (who conveniently sounds exactly like Nicholas, apparently, since Nick’s able to vouch for Jim with a phone call). When they fax Jim’s picture to Colonnades, Serina finds him “dashing.” I guess she likes older men.
Of the other distributors, the only one who matters is Woodward, a mean-tempered American thug played by Nicholas Hammond, who to me will always be Peter Parker from the ’70s Spider-Man TV series (the mediocre US one, not the awesomely insane Japanese one where Spidey had a giant robot). The team sets things up to make it look like Serina is cheating on Colonnades with Angry Spidey, which is easy enough since she flirts with him readily. Casey records a line or two with Serina’s accent, and somehow Nicholas is able to move a single slider on the audio equipment and make it an exact match for Serina’s voice. Then Casey and Max break in to plant the mini-disc in Woodward’s room, after Jim has drugged Angry Spidey to knock him out so they can abscond with him.
By the way, earlier in the episode, Max swam under the yacht to tangle its propeller in a fishing net so they’d be stuck in port. I wish they’d had Casey do that, since it was established back in “Holograms” that she was a trained scuba diver, and it would’ve been nice if the show had established she actually had a useful specialization other than being female. Instead, she’s relegated to the “tag along with others and occasionally make a minor contribution” role she’s been saddled with for most of the season.
Anyway, Grant sneaks into Colonnades’s quarters (while he’s in them, oddly) to swipe his ledger and plant a fake page to make it look like he’s screwing over the distributors. The safe is opened by a mock desk phone, and the episode uses the lame “guess the password based on obvious names associated with the owner” conceit rather than some IMF codebreaking gadget. Worse, the password turns out to be the name of the yacht they’re on at that very moment. And then they do the lame act-break cliche where a Mr. Collier is about to be discovered at the end of one act and then the threat harmlessly passes at the start of the next. Although they sort of make up for it later. First, Grant’s fake-page-printer gizmo causes electronic interference on the yacht equipment so he’s at risk of discovery, though this is another threat he dodges effortlessly. Later, though, while he’s returning the ledger, Colonnades and Serina come in and have an argument (that leads to her safe departure) and Grant has to hide in the bubble-bath-filled tub until they leave. The look on his face when he surfaces and gasps for breath is a nice moment of comedy.
Okay, so the captured Woodward wakes up in a fake cell where Nicholas, pretending to be a fellow prisoner, claims to be the real Australian distributor, with the guy on the boat being a ringer working for Colonnades. Nicholas helps Angry Spidey “escape,” getting “killed” by Max in the process (Casey at least gets to trigger the squibs), and Angry Spidey hies it back to the yacht to have it out with Colonnades and the Australian, insisting on seeing the ledger with its fake numbers showing that the two are in cahoots to profit at the others’ expense. Jim and Grant make an excuse to get out of the cabin before the bullets start flying. There’s a nice final beat where a wounded Colonnades comes out on deck, sees Jim and Grant rendezvousing with the rest of the team, and almost shoots them, but Angry Spidey shoots him, unknowingly saving them before he too succumbs to his injuries.
A pretty routine episode, and one that didn’t give any of the cast beyond Jim and Grant much to do — Nicholas a bit more than the others, but not much more. But it’s interesting to see the rapport that’s emerging between Jim and Grant. Given that Peter Graves worked closely with Greg Morris for seven years, I’d imagine Phil Morris was aware of him growing up, maybe knowing him as a friend of the family. In-universe, we did see M:I episodes where team members socialized when they weren’t on missions, for instance “The Town” and “Homecoming”, so evidently they were friends as well as colleagues, and it’s thus possible that Grant also knew Jim growing up — at least in the reality of the revival, where Barney was a husband and father during his time with the IMF, as opposed to the reality of the original series where he was a confirmed bachelor. Okay, I’m contradicting myself by both drawing on the original show as evidence and pointing it out as inconsistent at the same time, but that’s the nature of fictional continuity a lot of the time, retconning some things while keeping others. Anyway, it’s nice to think that Jim and Grant are more than just teammates, that there’s a special connection between them as there arguably was for the actors.
“The Fortune”: Written by Robert Brennan.
This one is a Very Special Episode in several ways. First off, its two main guest stars are both veterans of the original series: BarBara Luna, who was the title character/love interest in “Elena” and a guest agent in “Time Bomb”, and Michael Pate, who was a supporting character in “Trek.” Luna, as we’ll later learn in the disc scene, plays Emilia Berezan, formerly the ruthless power behind the throne of Pate’s Luis Berezan while he was the figurehead ruler of a Latin American country named Alcante. When Luis fell ill and lost his mental clarity, they were deposed and sought asylum in the Florida Keys, but not before ripping off the nation’s treasury and leaving its people in poverty.
But the episode opens with the paranoid, hypervigilant Emilia monitoring her estate’s security feeds, where an intruder is being chased by guards and dogs. The intruder is Casey! And the chase is cued with one of those Ron Jones melodies I’ve never forgotten even though I haven’t heard it in a quarter-century. This is partly because the scene it accompanies made quite an impact on me when I first saw it. Emilia’s men catch Casey and bring her before Emilia — and incidentally before Luis, but he’s too busy watching Mitzi Gaynor sing the title song in the movie Anything Goes as Emilia confronts Casey and, not even bothering to question her, gives her a lethal injection. Yes, Casey’s finally been given something big to do: die. Perhaps the movie Luis is watching was chosen to make a statement: anything goes on this M:I, even the killing of a main cast member.
Okay, nominally a main cast member — in practice, not much more than a decoration. Casey’s surprising murder at the opening of an episode hit me hard when I first saw it, because I had kind of a crush on Terry Markwell at the time. But now I can more clearly see why she was replaced, given how little she contributed — or was allowed to contribute. I’ve done a bit of Googling on the question, and apparently it’s unclear whether Markwell was let go by the producers for not measuring up or asked to be let go because she wasn’t being given enough to do. Perhaps it was a mutual decision, though given how ignominious her demise is — and given that she isn’t even allowed any valedictory lines beyond “No, no” — it seems there wasn’t any love lost on the producers’ part. But in any case, her death scene is the most impressive bit of acting she’s done in the entire series. And it’s the briefest role she’s played in any episode she’s in — but not by that much.
What surprises me on the rewatch is that the team, for the first half of the episode, is totally unaware of Casey’s murder. Jim gets the briefing as normal on an elevated train (meant to be BART, I guess), and the mission is simply to return the Berezans’ funds to Alcante so they can’t bankroll a return to power. In the apartment, the mood is jovial as Jim tells the others that the Secretary sent Casey ahead on special assignment to do the research for this mission. It’s an interesting fragment of insight into IMF procedures, touching on the never-before-addressed question of how they get the information they deliver to Jim. Although it’s never explained why an actual team member was sent to do preliminary research. Anyway, Jim assures the team that they’ll be meeting up with Casey when they get there (although once they arrive, nobody wonders at her absence), and in the meantime they’ve been assigned a fill-in lady agent: Shannon Reed, a 5-year Secret Service veteran with a background in broadcast journalism. Shannon will be Casey’s permanent replacement, though the team doesn’t know it yet. She’s played by Jane Badler, who’s best known as the villainous Diana from the miniseries V and V: The Final Battle and later from V: The Series. (Badler would later play another character named Diana in the dreadful 2011 remake of V, as an homage to her original character. That means she’s been a regular or recurring player in two TV-series revivals.)
Jim and Grant present themselves to Emilia as oil-company representatives willing to help the Berezans reconquer their country in exchange for drilling rights. The plan involves letting the marks in on the team’s trickery, an unusual twist: Nicholas is playing an actor and master of disguise who will impersonate Luis in order to give a speech showing that he can still be virile and commanding and win back the respect of his people. This will be staged for Emilia’s benefit using a pre-taped speech (Nicholas will insist on working without an audience so she’ll watch the speech from the security room), while Nicholas, still disguised as Luis, slips out to the bank and convinces Luis’s banker to transfer the funds back home, using account numbers provided by Grant when he hacks the computer. Shannon plays a reporter who agrees to broadcast the speech (and her bona fides is a shot of her terribly chroma-key matted over riot footage, which convinces Emilia she was in Alcante even though the video fakery is obvious). Meanwhile, Max’s role is to become the latest of Emilia’s many young boy toys in order to gain access to her highly secured home and help the others with their infiltration. Not an unpleasant task; at this point it had been 23 years since Luna had played Martin Landau’s love interest in “Elena,” but she still looked pretty good.
At least, this was the plan. Halfway through, while the team is preparing to fake the broadcast, Jim alone notices a TV report about an unidentified dead woman washed up on shore, a woman he recognizes as Casey. At first, he doesn’t tell the others, presumably not wanting to throw them off their game. Or maybe he just wants to make sure first, because he eventually does tell them. The team is angry and devastated, and Max doesn’t think he can go ahead with his part and seduce the woman who probably killed Casey. Jim says he understands, that Casey was like a daughter to him — although that’s the first indication we’ve ever gotten of that. But Jim convinces the others that continuing the mission is the best way to get justice, since Emilia’s cameras capture everything and may contain evidence connecting her to Casey’s death. Once Max helps smuggle out the security tape, Grant digs through the layers of recordings and re-recordings to try to reconstruct the magnetic palimpsest from the night Casey was captured — allegedly an infrared image according to his expository dialogue with Shannon, although once he reconstructs it, it’s in perfect full color.
So the plan goes ahead, and for the second week in a row it entails Grant having to guess a password and making stupid guesses like Luis’s own name (why would someone’s username also be their password????). Of course, it turns out to be “Anything Goes,” like on the movie poster right next to the computer. So Grant forwards the information to the LCD display on Nicholas-as-Luis’s sunglasses and the money is transferred back. Normally this would be the end, but this is a special case. Once the job is done, the whole team (except for Nicholas, who’s away at the bank) confronts Emilia directly and shows her the reconstructed proof that Casey was hunted down in her estate on the night of her murder. Jim angrily grabs Emilia and snarls that she’s going to jail for the rest of her life and it’s too good for her. She goes full Evita, defiantly insisting that her people love her and will rally to her defense, but when she asks Luis to back her up, the doddering ex-figurehead trades a knowing smile with Jim and turns on his movie again, letting Mitzi Gaynor drown out his wife’s rantings.
Fade to black, fade in a computer screen showing a mission status debrief file. The file for Casey Randall, age 28, has her status amended from Active to Deceased (the other options being Inactive and Retired), and a red DISAVOWED flashes on the screen. And that’s the last we see of Casey, and this time around I don’t particularly regret it. Rather, I wonder if it even makes sense for the agency to have a file notation that an agent has been disavowed. Shouldn’t they just wipe all records showing that she was ever part of the agency? And come to think of it, should we feel uncomfortable that the IMF is a US intelligence agency operating illegally on US soil, which is presumably the reason for their ultra-secrecy even on domestic missions?
Oh, well. Farewell, Casey Randall. We hardly knew ye. Hopefully Shannon will actually be given more to do. I’d assume so, but it’s hard to be sure, since Markwell wouldn’t be the first female lead of an ’80s Paramount show to leave due to the smallness of her role (if that was why she left). Just a season earlier, Denise Crosby had left Star Trek: The Next Generation for the same reason — and Ron Jones also scored her death scene, with another unforgettable piece of music (and a much more poignant one than this). The rest of Jones’s score here is moderately interesting, but not one of his best. It is, however, his last. This is his M:I swan song as well as Markwell’s, and it’s a departure I regret a lot more.