Thursday, July 18, 2013

The 5 Best “Mission: Impossible” Episodes

This post is part of Me-TV's Summer of Classic TV Blogathon, hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Go to to view more posts in this blogathon. You can also go to to learn more about Me-TV and its summer line-up of classic TV shows.

My wife and I compiled this list of favorite episodes of Mission: Impossible, the TV series created by Bruce Geller and which ran for seven seasons. For those unfamiliar with the series, it details the Impossible Missions Force (IMF), a secret agency enlisted for more sensitive assignments, both domestic and foreign. The following selections do not include any episodes from either season of the 1988-90 series update.

1. “The Seal” (Season 2, Episode 9/Written by William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter; Directed by Alexander Singer) The team is tasked to recover a jade seal from a tycoon (Darren McGavin). Cinnamon (Barbara Bain) as a TV reporter and Rollin (Martin Landau) as a psychic provide a distraction as Barney (Greg Morris) and Jim (Peter Graves), the latter in a rare position of handling grunt work, pilfer the seal. The real star, however, is Rusty the cat, who is coaxed by Barney to walk across a makeshift plank and carry the item back to the IMF agents. The always reliable Barney must bypass a sonar alarm and pressure-sensitive floor, a seemingly impossible burglary that’s reminiscent of Brian De Palma’s 1996 feature film. (For dog lovers, Season 4 offers “Chico”, in which the four-legged titular hero has to squeeze himself into a small air duct to recover an item and has to return it. Interestingly, the bad guys are after a list revealing agents’ names, which is legible only when two separate lists are placed together, another plot device taken for the ‘96 movie -- though they’re the names of IMF agents in the film, not in the episode.)

2. “The Heir Apparent” (Season 3, Episode 1/Written by Robert E. Thompson; Directed by Alexander Singer) To stop a villain from taking power, Cinnamon poses as a long-lost blind princess. To prove that she is who she claims, she must solve a complicated puzzle box. Barney and Willy (Peter Lupus) dig and crawl through walls to reach the puzzle box, which Barney has to solve and mark for Cinnamon mere moments before the woman is asked to open the box. Equally impressive is Rollin, who alters his disguise and changes identities while sitting in a crowd of onlookers.

3. “Old Man Out: Parts 1-2” (Season 1, Episodes 4-5/Written by Ellis Marcus; Directed by Charles R. Rondeau) Acrobat Crystal Walker (Mary Ann Mobley), who has history with team leader Dan (Steven Hill), is recruited for a mission to extract an 80-year-old priest from a high security prison. The team poses as circus performers who set up just outside the prison walls, while Rollin gets himself arrested and subsequently imprisoned. Though Landau was still only credited as “guest star” in Season 1, this two-parter is a showcase for Rollin, who not only skillfully escapes his cell, but, due to the priest being moved without anyone’s knowledge, must sneak back into the cell and execute the jailbreak again.

4. “Hunted” (Season 5, Episode 10/Written by Helen Hoblock Thompson; Directed by Terry Becker) While freeing a man from captivity in Africa, Barney is critically injured and left behind. After ensuring that the hostage is safe, the team returns to save Barney, who has been taken in by a deaf-mute seamtress (Ta-Tanisha). The scenes shared by Barney and his savior, Gabby, including one in which Gabby digs a bullet out of Barney’s leg, are wholly engaging and sweetly romantic. Suspense is heightened when Paris (Leonard Nimoy), acting as a decoy (to mislead authorities on the search) and feigning an injury similar to one which Barney sustained, is genuinely wounded in the process. The episode is an expression of both Barney’s versatility and the team’s loyalty. Other members, such as Cinnamon and Paris, have been captured or hurt during assignments, but, despite the knowledge that they will be disavowed if caught or killed, there’s never a debate as to whether or not a team member will be forgotten. It quite simply becomes another mission.

5. “Encore” (Season 6, Episode 2/Written by Harold Livingston; Directed by Paul Krasny) The team makes an aging gangster, Thomas Kroll (William Shatner), believe that he’s 30 years younger and in 1937, all to obtain any evidence linking him directly to an unsolved murder. Each member portrays a figure in Kroll’s life, including Casey (Lynda Day George) as the murdered man’s sister and Doug (Sam Elliott) as the murdered man, with the hopes that the gangster will lead them to the body. One of the team’s more elaborate missions, it thrives on the atmosphere and surroundings (there’s a great moment when Jim removes an extra’s too-modern sunglasses), and the episode has an appropriately apocalyptic ending.

Honorable Mentions: “A Spool There Was” (S1, E9) -- Cinnamon and Rollin work an assignment with just the two of them, searching for a wire of recorded audio well hidden by a murdered agent. A solid pairing of the couple, made all the more watchable knowing that actors Landau and Bain were husband and wife. “Charity” (S2, E10) and “The Mercenaries” (S3, E4) -- Both of these episodes feature an immensely entertaining and memorable method of theft, as well as ingenious ways to deceive the villains who have just been robbed.


  1. Really good choice for a Best Of post, Mr. Sark and Mrs. Sark! It's been along time since I have seen any MI episodes, but I did like it a lot. Just the openings, with the tape describing the current operation and the usual disavowel you described is a legendary TV sequence.

    I swear I remember that cat scene from The Seal, and the Shatner episode as well. I always thought Cinnamon was so classy, and Rollin was my favorite character.

    Your descriptions of the episodes were really entertaining and brought back some good memories. Great job, Sark team!

  2. Sark, you did an incredible job highlighting episodes from one of my all-time favorite TV series! "The Seal" is probably my No. 1 episode, too--though I've only seen seasons 1-3. In fact, I can't argue with any of your choices from those seasons. I would probably put "Charity" in my top five: the theft is brilliant, Cinnamon gets to shine, and the ending is a lot of fun. Other episodes I really enjoyed include: "The Money Machine" (S2, E8), in which Barney hides inside a fake machine that "manufactures" money; "The Town" (S2, E21), an offbeat episode where the IMF has to rescue Jim when he runs into trouble in a small town; and "Zubrovnik's Ghost" (S1, E11), a haunted house episode. Again, I love this post!

  3. The cat episode was great! I also like one where they used a big machine to simulate an earthquake. It was just a clever show and I always liked how Barney could do anything. The years with Rollin and Cinammon were the best but Leonard Nimoy wasn't bad. I was good to go as long as Jim and Barney were around. I stopped watching around year 6. I read where CBS had them tone down going to other countries because of Vietnam.

  4. Congratulations, Sark and Mrs. Sark, on a fabulous post! I really enjoyed reading your choices. I love the IMF team and was delighted that you included an episode with Dan Briggs, too. He was an excellent IMF leader the first season though most people automatically recall Peter Graves in this role. They were very different leaders but both were superb.

    I have not seen the last several seasons but love your first three choices. I couldn't believe that Rollin had to break back into the prison a second time in "Old Man Out." And Barbara really showed her talent in "The Heir Apparent." I also really liked "The Town" which Rick mentioned because Jim is travelling and disappears and the IMF has to figure out what to do on their own.

    My favorite character is Barney, because he could figure out how to do anything. His expertise was tantamount to the success of almost every mission. But the ensemble cast was extremely talented. You knocked this one out of the park, Sark!

  5. I can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this post. So much fun to read and remember (more or less). I LOVED MISSION IMPOSSIBLE way back when. Even when Peter Graves replaced Steven Hill, I still loved it. Even when Bain and Landau left I still loved it though perhaps not as much. Even when Leonard Nimoy showed up I still loved it. I've been meaning to get some episodes from Netflix and have my own M.I. Marathon. :)

    THE SEAL is one I remember. The cat, yes. What a concept. What a great show. I must tell you I don't remember the William Shatner one at all. So I'll have to look for it.

    I do remember the puzzle box one. I always thought Barbara Bain should have won an Emmy. Was she even nominated?

    The episode I personally remember most is the one having to do with the Nazi in South America who was thought to be dead but was alive but really was dead to begin with. "Is that you, Rott?" or Rutt or Rute or whatever, you know the one I mean. We used to watch that and recite the dialogue out loud.

    It's still my favorite. I wish I knew the title.

    Then there was the one with the bees supposedly showing up to predict death. Something like that. VERY eerie episode.

    Then there's the episode with the famous elevator scene in which Barbara Bain must do something, can't remember what (something to do with opening or closing or unraveling something she's holding), in one short elevator ride. Something deathly important requiring nerves of steel, patience and complete economy of movement. Once the doors open she either succeeds or doesn't and it all hinges on her.
    She is the EPITOME of coolness.

    A brilliant scene.

    Whenever I'm in a hurry or frazzled about something, I remember this scene and use it as an example of staying calm. I try to emulate it.

    Weird, I know.

    What a great, GREAT post!! Thank you. :)

    1. Barbara Bain won the Emmy three times in a row (1967, 1968, and 1969) for Best Actress in a Drama for her role as Cinnamon.

      I think the only other actress to do that was Tyne Daly for her role in Cagney and Lacey.

  6. Always love discussing the old MI series, as it's one of my all-time favourites. You mentioned some great episodes, and here's a few of my own:

    The Traitor - Having to get a defector to leave an Embassy of his own free will so he can be arrested (with Eartha Kitt).
    The Frame - Setting up a mob boss to make it look like he's skimming profits from his partners.
    The Astrologer - Barney and Rollin have to replace a list of agents hidden in a safe onboard a plane, while only having takeoffs and landings to work.

  7. The Council and The Money Machine

  8. Others to consider:
    Operation Rogosh!!!!!!!!!! (1-3)
    The Photographer (2-15)
    The Mind of Stefan Miklos!!!!!!!!! (3-13)
    The Killer (5-1)
    Invasion (6-9)
    The Question (7-16)

  9. Thanks for the episode descriptions. I found your site via Google since I remembered that one of my favorite episodes was "Hunted" (but of course did not know the name of the episode)because they had to create their own Mission on the spot without the usual input from home office. Now that Netflix has all the episodes, I was wondering how to figure out which one was that episode. You solved the problem!

  10. What is the name of the episode where they are interrogating a guy on a submarine with the impression they are deep under water, and after he tells them what they want to know, it turns out the submarine was above ground, sitting in a warehouse the whole time?

    1. Our resident M:I expert says it's called "Submarine" and is from Season 4.

  11. These are my favorite Missions....

    (1) Operation Rogosh - Deadly bacteria bombs have been set around Los Angeles. The IMF team just has two days to crack the mastermind that placed them and he's (Fritz Weaver) a hard nut to crack. Great season one thriller to stop a mass murder simply known as "The Monster". Steven Hill stars as IMF leader, Dan Briggs.

    (2) The Mind of Stefan Miklos - Steve Ihnat plays a super foreign brilliant intelligence officer (Miklos) sent to America to determine whether one of their top agents (Townsend) who has infiltrated U.S. Intelligence has correct information or if Townsend's contact (Simpson)..who says Townsend is a defector and a telling the truth. The IMF knows Simpson's info is valid and must concoct a meticulous plan that will cause Miklos to deduct that Simpson is the one NOT to trust. Absolutely..outstanding season three episode.

    (3) The Exchange - A rare occurrence for MI as one of IMF's finest (Cinnamon) is captured behind enemy lines...and the IMF must find a way to trade a top enemy spy but fool him in releasing vital information quickly before the ememy's chief of intelligence breaks and kills Cinnamon. One of series creator Bruce Geller's all-time favorites and is from season three.

    (4) The Legacy - The IMF takes on a mission to infiltrate a ring of Nazis (top Nazi officers offspring...really) that have portions of an account number that lead to Adolph Hitler's personal fortune. The location of the fortune proves quite surprising as the IMF races against the 4th Reich Officers' Ring to find the treasure. Another great first season thriller and great Woodfield/Balter script.

    (5) The Frame - The Syndicate's top boss, Wellman (Simon Oakland) decides that the execution of US goverment elected officials will bring a drastic increase for Syndicate revenue. The IMF must figure out a way to have Wellman stopped since he's legally "above the law". Another great Woodfield and Balter script from the first season.

    1. Operation Rogosh
      The Mind of Stefan Miklos
      The Exchange
      The Legacy
      The Frame

      Episode selections originally posted by SGR

  12. It looks like we have a double Mr. & Mrs. Team on the IMF. I could feel the thrill of the episodes again through your descriptions. What fun!

  13. "The Heir Apparent" may very well be my favorite Mission: Impossible outing though "The Seal" ranks highly for its Barney content (who I picked as my favorite character, btw).

  14. Great job, Sarks! My wife and I are making our own way through M:I (we're early in the second season right now), so I had to skip through some of the descriptions - but it's nice to see this show get the props it deserves.

  15. I haven't seen nearly enough Mission: Impossibles, so this list will come in handy! Thank you!!!

  16. OOO--OOO--OOO (I sound like Arnold Horshack) but I'm really excited! ANOTHER awesome post that I'm taking notes from. This ME-TV blogathon is the best. Thanks for writing this essay.

  17. Great to see some votes on here for "The Mind of Stefan Miklos," though I also love all the episodes you selected. I doubt television will ever create a better espionage series than this one.

  18. Funny - I remember "The Seal" and "Heir Apparent" clearly but the others are fuzzy. At best. I'm keeping this list as reference when I can start my re-viewing of this classic series.

    Thanks for posting this.


  19. Great picks! I never remember to titles to any of the MI episodes, but always remember the episodes...or so I thought. It looks like some of season one I missed! "Odd Man Out" seems like a real gem.

  20. I have NEVER seen this show!!! We don't have ME-TV in our area, and I'm started to feel a little ripped off here.

  21. Old man Out was always one of my favorites. I can still hear the haunting backround music from the 'circus". While Encore is good there is an earlier opposite episode where they make Vic Morrow think it's 28 years in the future, called "Two Thousand' which I think is better.

  22. Oh come on--the best show in the series has to be Odds on Evil, simply because we get to see Cinnamon kick ass at the end--and not get a hair out of place!

  23. I also preferred Steven Hill as Dan Briggs in the IMF leader role. He had more warmth, but good sense. And a great sense of humor. His smile was just the bomb!

    Better yet, he got his assignments in more fun ways, and he had a cooler apartment. I've been in love with that black leather sectional sofa since 1967.

  24. The Swal IMF Agent Rusty cat has the last MEOW.
    Encore was also good!
    ANd who could ever Forget "SNOWBALL IN HELL" A Spy vs SPY ending for the evil criminal

  25. I don't believe I saw anyone post the episode where they drill into the safe floor and melt the gold bars. I LOVE MISSION IMPOSSIBLE! I did like Phelps better though.

  26. "Blind" with Tom Bosley as an undercover Government operative who has spent 5 years infiltrating a powerful branch of the Syndicate.

  27. To answer a question above, the episode where Barney & Willy drill a hole through the floor of a safe/vault & melt the gold is called 'The Mercenaries', with Pernell Roberts starring as Colonel Krim.

  28. I remember Rollin losing his disguise while sitting in a crowd of people... I must have seen that first run but that really stuck with me...didn't recall much of the episode tho...