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.