Mission: Impossible - The Final TV Season came out two years ago. There’s a reason this review is so long in coming–and it’s a selfish one. Quite simply, I didn’t want to rush through the final season of Mission: Impossible just to get up a timely review. I wanted to savor it. Yes, I know there are still two seasons of the 1989-91 revival series to come (the first of them out this week), but those aren’t the same. They don’t have Barney’s flairs or Jim’s wide collars or Willy’s sideburns. My own history with Mission: Impossible is sort of weird, in that my introduction to the series was through that late Eighties revival. I didn’t even watch it that regularly (I didn’t really watch any television that regularly as a kid), but I liked what I saw. (Little did I know then that what I was seeing was only a pale reflection of the real series’ true glory!) My next exposure to the franchise came with the first Tom Cruise film in 1996, and my memories of the revival series were strong enough to make me rebel at the idiotic decision to turn Jim Phelps into a bad guy. (Er, spoiler alert, I guess. I don’t mind spoiling stupid things from fifteen-year-old movies.) I hated the movie then. Years later, I’ve kind of come around and found some merits in it (especially compared to the second one!), but I still cringe at that lame “twist” and find myself wishing with each new installment that the franchise’s current custodians would find a way to undo it. (It sounded very promising in late 2009 when J.J. Abrams announced that he wanted Peter Graves to cameo in the fourth film, but Graves sadly passed away before that could become a reality.) Anyway, unlike many of my generation, my loyalty was always with Jim Phelps, not Ethan Hunt–despite the fact that I never managed to discover the original 1966-73 series in syndication during high school.
began releasing season sets on DVD (which coincided neatly with the founding of this blog), it felt like I was re-watching old favorites, even if I was really seeing most of these episodes for the first time. I was finally realizing my decades-old but heretofore unconsummated Mission: Impossible fandom, and I discovered the series in earnest on DVD. Each season was a revelation, faithfully chronicled right here. I’d heard that it started to sag as early as Season 4 when Martin Landau and Barbara Bain left; I’d heard that it got worse when Leonard Nimoy came aboard, and that it ingloriously, er, self-destructed during the final years when the team mainly took on “the Syndicate” instead of enemy agents. I kept waiting for those dire warnings to come true, but they never did. If anything, I enjoyed Mission: Impossible more and more with each subsequent season. It’s true that I prefer spies to mobsters, but as more and more sweaty Syndicate bosses showed up, they were offset by the hilarious yet inexplicably compelling horrendous early Seventies fashions that turned up on the backs of Jim and his team. Those wretched orange turtlenecks, purple cravats and V-neck sweaters got me through any Syndicate rough patches, and made even the weakest episodes (ant those remained few and far between to the very end) still enjoyable. (And I still haven’t found myself a heavily-buckled Worsted Tex leather jacket like Jim’s, so I’d still appreciate any pointers in the right direction!)
Mission: Impossible - The Final TV Season (which is really The 7th TV Season). When I got it, I simply couldn’t rush through it. I took my time, like sipping a fine wine. And it was worth it. Contrary to the naysayers’ doom-filled declarations, Mission: Impossible never really jumps the shark. Perhaps the quotient of great episodes per season diminishes in the later years, but there are very few episodes in this final batch that don’t manage to be enjoyable on some level. And there still are plenty of those great ones in store, like “Two Thousand,” “The Deal” and “Kidnap!” Furthermore, there seem to be a few more old-school spy plots thrown in amidst the Syndicate episodes that have become the norm during the past few seasons. And the writers appear more adept overall this season at mixing spy plots with Syndicate ones—and it makes for more interesting episodes than the previous two seasons, on the whole (not that those ones were bad). “The Deal,” for example, is an episode that manages to inject an old spy trope (preventing a coup in a Central American nation) into the new status quo. Which isn’t to say that I don’t have my gripes, as I’ll soon share in full, but most of them, from the inexcusably widening collars to the increasing sweatiness of the Syndicate baddies, gave me some measure of enjoyment as well.
The Wild Wild West’s Robert Conrad, guest-starring for the fourth time), a top goon for a New Orleans gangster named Krebbs. (How many villains named Krebbs has the IMF foiled over the years?) At the end of the episode, after Mimi's acquitted herself well enough, Jim informs her (and us) that Casey is “on assignment in Europe” for a few months, and asks how she’d like to work with them again. (That line marks another first: the first explanation for the absence of an IMF team member; usually they just disappear without a trace.) Mimi says she’d like that. She’s on parole paying for her former life of crime, and this assignment will help wipe that out. It’s even alluded to that she used to have a real drinking problem, but none of that potentially interesting back story is really explored, which is unfortunate. A missed opportunity. Oh well; that information is still the most back story we ever get on any IMF agent! (The extent of Cinnamon’s, for example, was the caption “top fashion model” on the cover of a magazine.)
The Killer Likes Candy! Just like Kerwin Mathews’ agent in that film, Jim goes to a photo shoot at some beautiful old ruins (they look like they could be in Rome, just like in the movie, although I’m relatively certain they’re not) where a fashion photographer is shooting some hippy models at canted angles. After exchanging the necessary code words, the shutterbug directs Jim to his tape recording. It’s really quite similar! (No doubt entirely coincidental, but fun nonetheless.)
the sixth season’s best episode, “Invasion.” Then they use make-up and drugs to “age” him, as they did to William Shatner in “Encore.”
“The Freeze”) and that there’s been a nuclear holocaust, as they’ve done several times, most famously–and most successfully–to poor Anthony Zerbe in the Season 2 classic “The Photographer” (which probably remains my top candidate for the definitive Mission: Impossible episode, closely followed by “The Mind of Stefan Miklos” from the following year). Throw in the de rigueur late season twist of a fly in the ointment (this time a crooked cop who catches onto the subterfuge and alerts the victim’s lawyer), and you’ve got yourself one of Season 7's best. And why shouldn’t it be? All those elements worked well the first time around. Of course, “one of Season 7's best” isn’t super high praise, but it comes as no surprise that such a high point should be created by turning to the best of a more glorious past and sprinkling that with the more prominent facial hair of the late seasons.
|FASHION ALERT: Great clothes for tugboating, Jim!|
|Even Barbara Anderson can't help but stare at that shirt|
The quarantine con is a good one, and despite the small town setting, the writers give “TOD-5” a bigger-picture, international feel with some brief talk about how absent Casey is handling “the European connection,” rounding up Alpha members over there. But despite these nice touches, “TOD-5” commits a cardinal sin for a Mission: Impossible episode; it undermines its own elaborate plot. The trick is to keep the audience so caught up in the unfolding scheme that they never stop and say, “Isn’t Jim’s whole plan a little overcomplicated?” Well, in this one, everything goes wrong towards the end and Jim has to fall back on a Plan B—one that accomplishes the same end through much, much simpler (and presumably much less expensive—in terms of taxpayer dollars) means! So watching it, you ask yourself, “Well, then why was all that other stuff I just watched even necessary?” In truth, there’s almost always a simpler way to accomplish these impossible missions, and you can’t let the audience think about that. The Plan B fallback here renders pointless the entire episode that’s gone before. One more point worth noting about “TOD-5” is a rarity on this show: Jim actually shoots–and presumably kills–one of the bad guys. That doesn’t happen too often.
|My note for this image was "crucial Shatner fashion screengrab!!!"|
|Jim demonstrates the operational advantages of wide Seventies collars.|
Season 4 formula) instead of continuing with long-term replacement Anderson, who had proved herself fully capable.
Season 6’s “Casino.” It’s also unique in that it’s directed by Peter Graves!
What’s most amazing here, though, is Jim’s sport coat, which trumpets new dimensions of loud. Not content with a mere labyrinthine print, the intrepid designer decided to add a broad red grid on top of that... and then Jim decided to wear it, along with some of those giant rectangular sunglasses he favors so much. Then he decided to stand behind the hog, in front of the fountain, surely providing the iconic image of 1970s Mission: Impossible! Let us bask in that for a moment.
|Maybe the defining moment of the entire Seventies, period|
The plan calls for quite a lot of gadgets on hand for Jim’s showdown with Cordel at the Mid-Town Chess Club. Besides that bone transmitter and the cameras and computer, Jim also has a ring that squirts a liquid that will make Cordel susceptible to hypnosis, and squirts it on one of his chessmen. The match itself plays out as a classic spy confrontation over the gaming tables, and I love that Jim is cheating! John Steed and James Bond would be proud.
Season 6's "The Connection" again to play another pilot. (That seems to be his pilot shirt. Or pilot/Frenchman shirt.) The basic setup is that the team goes after a tough female gangster who’s stolen a fortune in gold and then fled to a non-extradition island nation. The tape recording tells Jim his mission is to lure her back to United States soil “of her own free will” because suddenly the IMF has scruples about kidnapping people in other countries. I’m not sure that the upshot of Jim’s not-that-elaborate plan really qualifies as “her own free will,” but it does involve a voodoo dance ceremony (with Barney playing the high priest, of course), faked deaths and the projected “electrographic” ghost of the son she murdered. Despite the big dance number, this episode appears to have been filmed on the cheap, confined mainly to the single house location. That frugality inspires the production team (and Jim’s team, for that matter) to be especially creative, though (even if we’re robbed of seeing Jim fly his plane at the end–or even seeing the plane!), and makes for good television.
|FASHION ALERT: Andrea’s bleach-spattered head-to-toe denim outfit–shockingly fahsion-forward for the 1970s, as I tend to think of bleached denim as an 80s trend|
|FASHION ALERT: It's wide and it's pink, but at least it ain't mesh...|
|FASHION ALERT: This thug in pink mesh has Barney beat|
Netflix, which is great. But, personally, I’m glad to have them all in my very own collection on a tangible medium, available to re-watch whenever I want. And I will re-watch them a lot. I cannot recommend these DVD sets highly enough.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Sixth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Fourth TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Third TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The Second TV Season here.
Read my review of Mission: Impossible: The First TV Season here.