MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (’89) Reviews: “Banshee”/”For Art’s Sake” (spoilers)
“Banshee”: Writer Ted Roberts takes us to the land of Irish stereotypes and fake accents, Bally-Na-Gragh in Northern Ireland, where jaunty, cliched Irish music plays and tweedy Mr. O’Rourke (Rob Steele) actually says “Top o’ the mornin’ to ye” when greeting a young woman leading various old people–from both sides of the historic Protestant-Catholic conflict–on a trip in a tour bus. O’Rourke gives her a crate full of beers, but one of them has a bomb in it. He seems cheerful about this at the time, but later, when he hooks up with his boss Brian McCarron (Peter Adams) to watch the pensioners go to their reward, he laments that there’s no luck in harmin’ old people, whereupon McCarron tells him he’s a superstitious fool, and already I can practically sense Jim’s team warming up their hologram generators.
At a model train yard (the big kind), Jim gets the disc and learns that the bombing has rekindled sectarian tensions (which this 1989 episode optimistically suggested had been mostly resolved already), with the sides blaming each other for the act of terrorism, and that McCarron is an arms dealer suspected of staging the bombing to bolster his business. Jim’s mission is to “bring McCarron to justice, end his trade in arms, and bring the warring factions of Bally-Na-Gragh to the conference table.” Anything else while you’re at it?
The team sets up what Nicholas calls a “command post” in an automated lighthouse before the briefing scene, which introduces two young firebrands, Skelton and Carney, who represent the rival sides in microcosm — it doesn’t matter which is which, and their role is fairly token. They even clash in McCarron’s pub and are warned by O’Rourke to stay on opposite sides of a line — yes, there’s an actual line down the middle. Shannon in the pub as a singer, and is the only team member faking an Irish accent, which I’d say isn’t very good if it weren’t for the fact that none of them are, with Adams’s accent as McCarron being the worst of all. Nicholas is her manager, but that doesn’t really matter since it’s just to get him in the door. Jim and Max show up and offer a wager for anyone who wants to fight Max, and Grant comes in as a surly sailor and takes the bet. The fight is a distraction for Nicholas to spy on McCarron as he takes one of the two token firebrands to the cellar to sell him guns, which he’s already done for the other guy. What elaborate, clever IMF spy technique does Nicholas use to spy on the meeting? He peeks through the cellar window. After he sees how McCarron locks his hidden cache, Nick moves in to sabotage all the guns. Surprising that Nicholas is doing the “Barney” work while Grant is doing the “Rollin” work, an inversion of their original roles. More evidence that the producers were recognizing Phil Morris as the MVP of the show. But Shannon’s also using the distraction to plant speakers and other gimmicks in the tavern.
So afterward, Jim lets drop to McCarron that he deals in arms, and McC takes the bait readily, while Shannon regales the superstitious O’Rourke with tales of how if old people are murdered, being so close to death as it is, they’re given “the key” to come back and haunt people. It’s a weird idea, that being near death anyway would make it more outrageous to be killed — not that I think anyone’s life is worth less than anyone else’s, of course, but if someone did believe some lives were worth more, you’d think they’d favor people who had more life expectancy to be deprived of. But that’s beside the point here, since O’Rourke is basically a suggestible idiot who’ll believe any superstition even if it’s one he’s never heard before. Case in point: When Grant rejects Jim and McCarron’s offer to go into the arms business and storms off, McC says he knows too much, and when Jim sends Max out to fake-kill Grant, McC orders O’Rourke along to finish the job, preparing to shoot him a second time after Max has fake-shot him once. So, to prevent that, Max improvises a superstition that “It’s bad luck to kill a black man.” Really, Max? You went there? Anyway, O’Rourke swallows this invented superstition hook, line, and sinker, and lets Max deliver the second (fake) shot. That night, the team regales O’Rourke with holograms of Shannon as a banshee, and he completely falls apart and begs for mercy. This cowardly idiot is the easiest mark the IMF has ever taken on. McCarron comes down to see what O’Rourke is blathering about and doesn’t believe him.
Later, Max and Nicholas convince both the firebrands to come to the lighthouse to buy arms, and Shannon tips McC off, prompting him to arrange with O’R to go kill them both. The team knocks the firebrands out and handcuffs them together to a table, telling them they can either fight or talk. They also arrange for McCarron’s car to break down near an old church, and hurl the banshee illusion at him and O’Rourke, though where the projectors are hidden is unrevealed. O’Rourke breaks easily and runs off, loudly and stiltedly declaring his intention to warn the firebrands, which just gets him a shotgun blast in the back. But McC turns out to be just as superstitious all of a sudden, since the banshee illusion, plus a recording of the song the old folks were singing when they died (how did the team know what song they were singing, and how did they get a recording of it?), drives him to the old church, where he pleads for sanctuary. Jim shows up as the driver of the carriage of the dead and prompts McC to confess that he killed the pensioners to sell arms, a confession that the firebrands are shown live on video, leading them to instantly set aside generations of grudges and agree to talk, after they’ve taken care of McCarron.
Wow, this was bad. It was broad and caricatured, the marks were too easy, the accents and music were too stereotyped, and the video effects were staggeringly awful, especially a matte shot of the lighthouse at night with a stormy sky roughly matted in and an animated yellow lighthouse beam that looked kind of like a War of the Worlds heat ray.
There’s some disagreement over the music credit; the episode itself credits Davis as usual, but IMDb credits Neil Argo, also giving him an “additional music – uncredited” listing for 16 episodes of the series. I don’t know what to make of that. Aside from the hokey “Irish” music, the score doesn’t sound any different from the usual, using Davis’s truncated version of “The Plot.” Perhaps Argo was Davis’s orchestrator or assistant, and on this one he did the bulk of the work himself?
“For Art’s Sake”: At a New York gallery, a ninja-attired art thief descends on a rope and uses infrared goggles to see the lasers protecting a painting — your standard TV/movie laser grid designed with nice big gaps that thieves can get through, instead of something sensible like motion detectors covering the whole space in front of the painting — and he uses a fancy cane with an extending knife blade to cut the painting out of its frame (somehow he only has to cut the sides and not the top and bottom). A guard interrupts, and he uses the knife cane as a spear to kill the guard. Then he takes off the mask, and it’s Alex Cord — the first actor to play Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry’s Genesis II pilot movie, which I’ve reviewed on this site. As it happens, this episode’s writer John Whelpley would later write several episodes for the later incarnation of Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. Anyway, Cord flips his black ninja jacket (ninjacket?) around to become a white tuxedo jacket, hides the rolled-up painting in his cane, and goes downstairs to the party that’s already underway in the gallery. Wait a minute — if he was already a guest at the party and could freely come and go, why did he need to do the ninja-break-in thing? (Mainly so we’d recognize him in ninja gear later in the episode, I suppose, but it’s still awkward.)
At a ballet class, Jim does the code phrase exchange with an instructor played by Chelsea Brown, who was the first murdered IMF veteran in last season’s “Reprisal.” (By the way, the IMDb entry for this episode misspells her name as “Shelsea Brown,” so that Chelsea Brown is not credited for this appearance on her own page. If anyone reading this has IMDb editing privileges, could you please fix this?) Turns out Cord’s character is a hotelier named Travers, who’s believed to have made his fortune through art thievery. He’s colluding with Ocha (David Bradshaw), the minister of culture (read: propaganda) of the Latin American country of San Marcos; the stolen painting is their national treasure, a painting of their namesake patron saint, and their president wants it destroyed while on display in America so the US will be embarrassed. The mission is to get it back and bring Travers to justice.
Doing the briefing in the “command post” instead of Jim’s apartment seems to be a steady thing now, but for once it’s a traditional briefing scene where the team already knows most of the basics and they’re just touching base, clarifying details, and showing off Collier gadgetry whose purpose the audience doesn’t yet know. Shannon goes in as an art buyer who catches Travers’s eye (she’s got bigger ’80s hair than usual, but it looks good on her), letting him outbid her on a painting but making it costly to beat her. That gets him interested, among other things (though for once she’s not leading with her cleavage). Meanwhile, Max and Grant break into Travers’s penthouse by climbing up on top of an elevator to reach his private level, and seeing Grant climbing in an elevator shaft felt kind of like old times with Barney, though it was brief. They bug his computer and download the memory of his fax machine (interesting), but find no stash of art, so they have to try another scheme.
While entertaining Shannon at the museum, Travers encounters Ocha and takes him aside, threatening to renege on his deal unless the San Marcos president gives him coastal land for a hotel. Travers spots Shannon eavesdropping and threatens her, until she talks herself out of it. She lets him figure out that she’s a fence, and having learned that he’s totally obsessed with Edgar Degas, she lets on that she knows the whereabouts of an unknown Degas. The purpose of Grant’s gadget, a “simulator,” is to use a computer program to extrapolate the essentials of Degas’s style and use a, err, paint-jet printer to create a convincing Degas pastiche to tempt Travers.
Jim, playing the painting’s owner, meets with Travers and Shannon in a faked Central Park, with an impressionistic rendering of the Manhattan skyline matted in over the far side of a lake — more resembling the view of the skyline from somewhere in New Jersey than Central Park (and way on the right, I think they’ve put the Empire State Building right next to the World Trade Center). And in nearer reverse-angle shots, there’s a row of low houses beyond the edge of the park.
Anyway, Travers is convinced enough by the painting to call in a discreet appraiser to confirm it, but Jim holds out for an unreasonably high price, forcing Travers to steal it later on — coming upon Shannon in the bubble bath and apparently stabbing her to death, though she had a knife-proof vest and blood packs on under the bubbles. The faux Degas has a tracking device, and the team follows Travers down into the maintenance levels under his hotel in hopes of finding his secret gallery. Amazingly, John E. Davis uses nearly the complete melody of Schifrin’s “The Plot” to score this portion, leaving off only the last three bars. I think it’s the first time he’s ever used that much of it. But the team loses the signal when Travers enters his vault-like gallery. A new plan is needed!
So NYPD captain Jim and Interpol agent Max go to Ocha, telling him the painting has been recovered. An angered Ocha calls Travers, who assures him that he still has the original and whatever’s been found must be a forgery, inviting Ocha to come see for himself. The team uses an entertaining bit of slapstick to deal with Ocha: dog-walker Shannon tangles his legs in her leashes, so he falls down behind Grant’s hot dog stand, which opens up to reveal Nicholas disguised as Ocha, who trank-darts him and swaps places with him in seconds, all under his unwitting chauffeur’s nose. So Travers shows his private gallery to Nicholas instead. (And Bradshaw is another actor who’s well cast as someone Nicholas is impersonating, having a similar facial structure.) Nick takes photos of everything with his lapel-pin camera, but Travers won’t let him take the St. Marcos painting without a signed document giving him the coastal land. And without Travers’s palmprint, nobody can get to the painting without a booby trap exploding. Another new plan is needed!
So Grant and Max break into the gallery when Travers isn’t there (Nick caught the access code), Grant planting flame bars and hologram generators while Max recovers the stolen art and replaces them with hastily printed copies. Jim and Nicholas release the real Ocha, telling him he hit his head on the sidewalk when he fell, and unleash him on Travers. When he arrives, they start the fake fire and set off the vault alarm, leading Travers and Ocha down to find the gallery seemingly burning. Ocha sees that Travers cares most about the Degas, so he threatens to destroy it unless he gets the St. Marcos painting. Travers gives hims that painting, and Ocha, who wants it destroyed, conveniently tosses it into the holographic fire (lucky break that he didn’t aim for one of the real fires). Travers kills him with the knife-cane, and the team assembles before him to gloat and adds insult to injury by igniting the fake Degas before leaving him for the cops to find.
This is a fun episode, one of the most entertaining of the season, with an intricate plot, some interesting setbacks requiring readjustment on Jim’s part, some pleasantly old-school M:I touches, and a nicely sexy turn by Shannon (although she still gets damsel-in-distressed a bit more than I like). But my main problem with it arises from something that I was wondering about from the start and that was actually spelled out in dialogue in the episode. When Ocha calls Travers after the Interpol scam, he says that if the American government recovers the painting rather than losing it, then San Marcos will fail to score its propaganda points and the plan will be ruined. Okay, so in that case, why is the American government using an IMF team whose involvement will be disavowed if it’s discovered? As with “The Haunting” last season, this is a case where you’d think the government would want its involvement openly known. So this is one of those cases that doesn’t really make sense as an IMF mission — especially with the disavowal disclaimer included in the briefing, something that the original series usually skipped in episodes dealing with domestic criminal cases.