Sunday, 29 January 2012

Episode Analysis: Mission: Impossible - Blind

(As you’d expect, this contains SPOILERS)

I can’t give this episode a full on analysis as I did with The Town. I love this episode not because of amazing cinematography or a great plotline. I love it because of the huge weakness I have for blindness. I don’t know why it draws me so. I’ve always been fascinated by it, and I’ve always found blind characters highly attractive too. So discovering there’s a Mission: Impossible episode where Jim Phelps spends almost all the episode blind was rather a thrill for me, kinky devil that I am.

At the dead drop, in a lovely glass lift.

Jim in Dr Warren's office, before he is surgically blinded.
Casey (Lynda Day George) looking out for Jim as he arrives home.
This being the first episode of Season 6, it’s also the first time we get to meet Casey. She’s never given another name (Lisa Casey was applied to her for her brief appearance in the 1988/89 MI revamp, presumably to distinguish her from the rather unpleasant Casey who is in the 1988 season) so we don’t know if this is her surname or first name. But it doesn’t matter. She’s played gorgeously by Lynda Day George, who expresses the hope in a newspaper article that of course I cannot find right now, that she has been picked for her acting ability rather than her looks, since she isn’t that good looking. Of course, she is that good looking, but she also acts the part very well and is right in character from the beginning, and is a great replacement for Dana (who we also love for being lovely and very sexy).

Jason Evers as Deetrich, Tom Bosley as Matula
The story of the episode is that police officer Warren Hays is blinded in the line of duty, while working undercover in the Syndicate that is so ubiquitous in the later seasons of Mission: Impossible. Jim’s mission (should he choose to accept) is to impersonate the newly blinded Hays in order to protect the cover of another undercover agent, Matula (played by Happy Days’ Tom Bosley), who is close to being exposed by his rival Deetrich. Jim will pull Hays’ reputation ‘through the mud’, posing as an alcoholic who was thrown out of the police with no pension after his accident, to convince the Syndicate that he is worthwhile taking on for inside information.
Jim as Hays, drunk and on his way to another bar.

Casey is his landlady, and Johnny overhears their staged conversation where she asks him for his overdue rent money.

In order to pass convincingly as the blind Hays, Phelps is himself surgically blinded with the application of opaque contact lenses, thus preventing himself from being caught out and exposed as a spy himself. After the operation Jim has a week of sixteen-hour-a-day mobility training before he moves in to the fake rooming house set up by Barney and ostensibly run by Casey, and takes on the persona of blind, alcoholic, disgraced and poverty-stricken Hays.

Johnny spies on Jim as he feels about for money on the floor.
Soon after this he stumbles, dead drunk, into a bar where Lawton, the Syndicate leader, is having a meeting with Matula and Deetrich and Deetrich’s hood, Johnny. When Jim can’t pay for his drink he makes a big scene about being an ex-Federal cop. Interesting he calls himself ‘Bob Hays’, not ‘Warren Hays’ – hard to tell if this is a mistake or whether he’s perhaps Warren Robert Hayes, known to his friends as Bob. After this scene (with Willy there in the bar to keep an eye on him) Jim is escorted out and Lawton sends Johnny to find out more about him. Soon after, Johnny moves into the rooming house to get closer to Hays/Phelps in the hope of finding out through him who the undercover agent in the Syndicate is.

Willie, always watching over Jim and waiting to record relevant conversations.
The team come across as very close-knit in this episode. Willy watches Jim almost round the clock through a two-way mirror in his lodgings and in the persona of a moustachioed cabbie outside. He’s also waiting with a tape recorder to catch the necessary incriminating evidence when Deetrich eventually gets round to busting into Jim’s rooms and threatening him.

Barney, posing as Anderson, and getting in on the Syndicate.
Casey is also watching out for Jim when she isn’t seducing Johnny, while Barney is out on the other side, infiltrating himself with the Syndicate so that he can manipulate them and protect Jim in his dealings with them.

Most of my scrutiny on this episode is spent on Peter Graves. He does a great job of acting blind. Perhaps it helps that he did an entire film of it in Fort Defiance, but that was twenty years before this. He does small, technically correct, things, like feeling with the back of his hand first when reaching toward something unknown. He holds arms for guidance correctly instead of walking with his hand on someone’s shoulder, which you see so often. He just generally puts in a fine, unstilted performance and apparently, to my amateur judgement, follows the kind of guidelines taught by institutions like the RNIB. He really does look like he’s just undergone extensive professional training.

Jim in the depths of the DTs
He also puts in a fine turn when he’s called upon to act as if he is suffering delirium tremens, when his money, and so his alcohol, runs out. From screaming through hallucinations in his room to the subtle trembling of his hands later in the street, he looks like he’s really suffering. Through this episode his shirt gets progressively more dirty, he stops wearing his tie, his suit becomes more rumpled. His room is strewn with discarded clothes and empty bottles. I can’t help but feel it would have been unpleasant for Phelps to go about like this, but he does it anyway.

All this is to convince Johnny that ex-officer Hays really is down on his luck and would do anything for money. As a test Johnny pays Jim $500 to break in and steal data telling him the name of the man who replaced him as an undercover agent. He and Johnny do this together, and we find out that Jim can touch-type as he enters commands into a computer keyboard he cannot see. They escape by the skin of their teeth, data in hand.

The episode ends with a meeting in a factory. Deetrich appears to have convinced Jim to falsely accuse Matula of being a spy, in return for a large cash bung. Matula has already played the tape that Willy recorded of the deal being made, to Lawton. Lawton then shoots Deetrich and Jim is forced to run for his life, with Johnny taking potshots at him from a girder up above. Of course, Barney steps in and saves the day, kills Johnny and promises Lawton that he will ‘dispose’ of Hays. Matula’s cover is secure, everyone is happy, and Jim can go to the doctor’s to have his contact lenses removed.

Pic spam ensues…I'll fill up tumblr with the rest.

escaping with the stolen data...

Lawton uses a cigarette lighter to test Jim's blindness.

Jim on his way to see his landlady.

Deetrich and Johnny threaten Jim in the middle of the night.

In the factory elevator.

Lawton plays back the tape of Deetrich propositioning 'Hays'.

Jim hunkers down to avoid the bullets.

Running for his life...

...from Johnny's gun.

Jim falls over a barrier.

'Anderson' promises to dispose of 'Hays'.

'Nice to see you.' Jim ends the episode on a lovely lopsided smile.


  1. An interesting review. I think that Deetrich is shot at the end of the episode by Henry Matula, as Lawton reels from a shoulder wound after being shot by Brown.

  2. One of my favourite episodes, a first class performance from the MI team, and hoods Harold J Stone and Jason Evers.