MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (’89) Reviews: “Countdown”/”War Games” (spoilers)
“Countdown”: Written by Chip Hayes.
We meet religiously motivated terrorist Su Lin (Julie Ow) praying to a photo of her Dalai-Lama-like Holy One, who looks a lot like Nicholas in glasses and a pointy hat — oops, spoilers. A subordinate arrives in a truck with a stolen item, and when it turns out he peeked and saw what the item is, Su Lin kills him. Because it’s a French-made nuclear warhead. Jim has a one-sided code exchange with a mime in a park (praising his art, as if anyone would believe that), and the Voice on Disc tells him that Su Lin stole the warhead on behalf of General Xang Kai (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in an eyepatch — IMDb calls him Vang Kai, but I’m going by the subtitles and the pronunciation). He’s one of several military strongmen ruling the fictitious and oddly Anglophone Asian country of Kangji (of course, all M:I foreigners speak accented English), and he plans to nuke the capital and blame it on America in order to kill off his competitors and seize absolute power. He got Su Lin to help him in exchange for a promise to rescind the Holy One’s exile. For some reason, Voice finds it necessary to describe Su Lin as “beautiful but deadly,” as well as encouraging Jim to stop the general’s “evil plan.” He’s in a melodramatic mood today. It’s also the first of three times in this act that she’ll be called beautiful or a beauty, though I don’t think she quite lives up to the hype.
The plan is to take advantage of Su Lin’s religious loyalties, but Jim warns the team that Xang Kai would kill her as casually as swatting a fly — and would do the same to any of them. But when Su Lin meets with the general and tells him where she hid the bomb, she points out that he won’t just kill her because he can’t know what plans for retribution she might already have in place. So she leaves intact — but Xang Kai tells his aide Major Chung (John O’Brien) to swap out her control keypad on the bomb for his own.
Su Lin plans to board a train to where the Holy One is staying. Nicholas rather crassly impersonates a Buddhist to convince a monk to tell him where that is, and Shannon arranges to make contact with Su Lin on the train, with Max running interference with Chung, who has orders to kill Su Lin if she seems to be making contact with anyone. The team rigs a track signal to make the train stop suddenly, and Shannon bumps into Su Lin and uses a knockout-needle ring on her. Su Lin wakes up in the hospital ward the team is using (they’ve convinced the hospital that they’re running an inoculation program), and is told she was in a train wreck that killed over a dozen followers of the Holy One. Grant plays a fellow patient, a mercenary who bonds with her in their mutual resentment of Chung (played by a masked Nicholas, who comes to threaten them both). He also uses the latest IMF gadget to digitally edit the general’s speeches to fake a news broadcast where he says he’s rescinding the Holy One’s exile so he can commiserate with the victims of the “tragedy.” Horrified that the general has tricked her into nuking her own religious leader, Su Lin convinces Grant to help her break out. The team contrives to let her escape with Grant, then track them to a shrine in the center of town,where the bomb is hidden. (It’s a shrine to past leaders, not the Buddhist temple.) Su Lin is dismayed to discover the keypad has been swapped out for a tamper-proof one she can’t disarm. Pulling at Grant’s lapels, just when it looks like they’re heading for a romance beat (since Grant is clearly into her), she exposes the tracker under his clothes, accuses him of being a spy for Xang Kai, wallops him good, and runs off screaming bloody vengeance against the general. Chung guns her down before Grant can catch up, and Grant grieves over her corpse. Hmm, I guess the “beautiful” part trumps the whole murdering-terrorist part.
So now the team needs a Plan B to get the general to deactivate the bomb. And it entails more crass manipulation of sincere believers, as Nicholas starts a rumor that the Holy One is at the shrine in order to get them to go there (right toward the bomb? Oh, nice, guys!), then briefly dresses up as the H.O. to make an appearance before the believers (complete with fake epicanthic folds — something I’d hoped they would’ve stopped doing by 1989). Jim has Grant use the video-editing software to make a tape of Su Lin telling the general that she’s stopped the bomb’s timer. This provokes Xang Kai and Chung to go to the shrine, where they find the bomb still counting down with minutes to spare, so the general is forced to enter his shutdown code. He and Chung conveniently incriminate themselves with their dialogue, which Grant’s bug broadcasts over the shrine speakers, leading to a people’s arrest of the bad guys and a “not with a bang but with a whimper” quip from Jim.
Okay, so there’s some cultural insensitivity and a few bits of silliness in this one, plus a labored attempt to set Su Lin up as a romantic interest for Grant, but mostly “Countdown” is a strong and effective episode, a solid M:I story with high stakes. It continues what’s evidently a trend this season to have the plans go awry and the team forced to improvise and adapt, but for once the adaptation led to a second clever caper rather than being an excuse for more conventional action storytelling, so it really feels like an authentic M:I story in the vein of the best of the original series. And it seems to me that the producers are building up Grant’s role to take more advantage of Phil Morris’s talent, since here he was in the key roleplaying capacity that would normally go to Nicholas. Morris continues to be the one cast member who gets the most chances to emote, and for once it’s not involving his father.
“War Games” is the last episode of the revival to be written by original series veteran Walter Brough. General Szabos (Kevin Miles) of the Eastern European socialist republic of Sardavia (as if M:I-verse Eastern Europe weren’t crowded enough already) is conducting war games, but a junior officer (later revealed to be a US agent) is asking questions about the amounts of live ammunition and such, suspecting there’s more going on. So Col. Garva (Lewis Fiander) contacts Szabos, who arranges to have the officer’s jeep blown up. Jim gets the briefing in a restored Rolls, learning that Szabos is using his war games as a cover for an impending invasion of neighboring Bucaraine — against the wishes of his own superiors in the Politburo — and has ballistic missiles ready to launch. The team has very little time to prevent the war. Fortunately, Szabos, like his “war hero” Hitler, is nuts for astrology, and that’s Shannon’s way in.
Jim and Nicholas play good cop/bad cop as UN observers of the war games (Jim sympathetic and appeasing, Nicholas suspicious and hostile) so they can get pictures of the big board in the war room and scans of the circuitry behind it (Nicholas’s pen is a digital camera, an advanced technology for 1989). Grant is their driver. Max tries to break into the military compound to find the hidden missiles, but an alert captain catches him promptly and interrogates him. Surprisingly, this turns out not to be part of the plan, but somehow Max and Grant already have the necessary tech to break him out (Max has a beacon in his coat button, and Grant has a tracker that turns into a gun that fires an explosive round and blows out the cell wall). They almost catch Grant when he hides Max in the limo’s trunk, but Max has hidden behind a false panel by the time the soldiers get the trunk open.
Meanwhile, Shannon is playing a countess related to the deposed royal family, and the haughty persona Jane Badler puts on was like seeing her play Diana from V once again, albeit with a faux accent. She makes subversive comments and insinuates knowing what the murdered officer/agent knew about the invasion plans, in order to get herself arrested, and then impresses Szabos with her astrological technobabble, convincing him that his auspicious horoscope was the result of his astrologer’s incompetence. I think this is mainly just to get his attention, since the key thing she does is to say the agent disarmed the missiles, so that Garva will go check on them and the team can follow him to them, whereupon they disarm the missiles themselves. Then Grant sneaks in behind the big board in the war room and rigs it so he can send false orders to the troops, making them retreat, while showing Szabos the invasion he wants to see. The one hitch is that Szabos has had Shannon taken out into the field to be a target. Max rescues her, but their jeep is being targeted, until Grant changes the target to Garva’s bunker. So much for Garva.
Grant makes the missiles self-destruct, but Szabos believes he’s successfully bombed the enemy and advanced across the border, and with the Rubicon crossed, he makes a statement on TV ordering the Bucarainians to surrender and promising to overthrow the Sardavian Politburo — who of course promptly come to arrest him while the team saunters away.
Not a bad one — a pretty classic type of M:I caper, and continuing the season’s practice of having things genuinely go wrong with the plans. That hasn’t happened this often since season 5. Still, I’m getting a little tired of Shannon being the damsel in distress. And Szabos is too broad a character, too irrational and easily fooled. On the other hand, while this borders on being the first supernatural-themed con of the season, there’s no attempt to use technology to fake supernatural occurrences, just a lot of empty talk about horoscopes that doesn’t really accomplish anything (just like actual astrology!). And John E. Davis finally deigns to work a few more notes of “The Plot” into his score, though it’s still just snippets.