Monday, September 5, 2016

Mission: Impossible - "The Town" (S2 E21)

Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) stops at a gas station in the small California town of Woodfield. The radiator in Jim's big blue convertible is overheating, so he heads toward a nearby drugstore while the gas station attendant tends to his car. As he's chatting with the pleasant girl behind the soda fountain, a young couple walks in and asks for a prescription.

On the way out of the drugstore, the woman trips and a gun emitting blue smoke dumps of a bag. After everyone gets safely out of the drugstore, Jim tries to quietly leave town--but he's detained. 

The sheriff takes Jim to a town meeting presided over by Doc (Will Geer), the local physician. This is no ordinary town meeting, though, as it turns out that the residents of Woodfield are all spies. Jim learns that the young couple have been sent on an assassination mission to Los Angeles.

In Doc's office, he administers a dose of curare to Jim to replicate the symptoms of a stroke. Doc's intent is to gradually increase the dosage until Jim dies. Meanwhile, Rollin, who has been waiting for Jim at a lodge, goes looking for his friend. He arrives in Woodfield--much to everyone's surprise--and sees Jim's car.

Doc tells Rollin that Jim has had a series of strokes and can't be moved. Rollin senses something is amiss and confirms it when he realizes Jim is trying to communicate with him by blinking his eyelids. Rollin calls "Mrs. Phelps" and tells her the bad news about Jim. He recommends she get someone to drive her to Woodfield. He also asks who will take care of "Little Willie" while she's gone. 

Cinnamon (Barbara Bain) and Barney (Greg Morris) arrive in Woodfield first, followed by Willie (Peter Lupus) in the guise of a truck driver. Willie fakes an arm injury to get into Doc's office. Rollin knocks out Doc while...

Cinnamon drugs the nurse. Using Morse code, Jim tells his IMF team about the plan to kill a foreign scientist at a convention in L.A. Rollin hatches a plan to stop it and prevent Woodfield residents from further espionage and assassinations. 

What would a Mission" Impossible episode be without a cool Rollin Hand disguise? Thus, Rollin and Cinnamon use materials in the medical office to make a mask of Doc's face. But will Rollin be able to pull off the deception? Can the young assassins in L.A. be stopped in time? And how will the IMF team escape from a town in which everyone will try to kill them?

Broadcast in 1968, this is one of the best--and one of the most different--episodes of Mission: Impossible. It may have been the first to omit the traditional prologue in which Mr. Phelps or Mr. Briggs receive their mission from a tape that self-destructs in five seconds. Instead, this episode's opening scenes could be right out of Thornton Wilder's Our Town with the small town gas station, the cute soda fountain girl, and the young photogenic couple. But, in a matter of minutes, this slice of Americana is turned upside town when we learn this is a town of spies.

Veteran TV director Michael O' Herlihy (brother of actor Dan O' Herlihy) uses the most cant angles this side of Batman to portray a state of unease until Rollin's arrival. Writer Sy Salkowitz injects some wonderfully dark humor, especially with a scene in which town residents are trained how to drown someone and make it look like an accident (be sure to break a finger so it will appear as if the victim tried to break his fall in the tub).

Finally, if you're going to cast someone as a kindly small town doctor who is actually a spy ring leader, you can't do better than Will Geer (after all, he was Grandpa Walton!). 

A first-rate episode from start to finish, "The Town" is further evidence that Mission: Impossible was one of the best television series of the 1960s and 1970s.


  1. Well, remember that Will Geer didn't actually become Grandpa Walton for another couple of years yet ...
    ... come to think of it, at that point Ole Will was mainly playing villains on TV (there was always something vaguely menacing about him, never more so than when he was in some authority position, like a town doctor) ...

  2. Remember too that Will Geer was blacklisted in the 1950s - from that standpoint, he's perfect to play a spy!

  3. Excellent & atypical episode that still managed to show the IMF team at their best!

  4. What I find so hilarious about this show, is that every single time Peter Graves goes to get his assignment, NEVER once does the person giving the package to him was never tempted to ask what's in it? NEVER once did Peter find a package already opened or tampered with! LOLOLOLOL That was so unrealistic. I enjoy the show so much that I keep forgetting that it's only television!

    1. Trying again ...

      The person giving Graves The Package was sent there by The Secretary for that purpose.
      You'll recall that the Person and Graves always had a brief, cryptic exchange before The Package was passed along.

      (Graves arrives at an office; crabby old guy at reception.)

      I have a bluebird in my pencil box.

      CRABBY OLD GUY (leans back, yells into the back room):
      YO! Snowball here wants the secret message!

      Hey, it could have happened ...

  5. I love "Mission: Impossible" and found this episode wonderfully fresh and clever. How frightening to be in a drug induced state and virtually unable to communicate. Leave it to the IMF team to organize a plan, the role that Jim usually does, and implement it perfectly.

  6. I have been a hard core MI fan since 1969, but I hadn't seen this episode until I bought the second season DVD set. I think it was the strangest MI episode ever. My reaction when I saw it for the first time, after I picked my jaw off the floor, was WTF was THAT? Over the years though, I've learned to love it.