It’s probably blasphemy for a science fiction writer to admit this, but I’ve never been a Star Trek fan. While many of my SF writer friends were immersed in that universe, I was busy watching (and re-watching, and re-re-watching) the original Mission: Impossible, thereby ensuring that, somehow, I was out of step even with my own tribe.
That said, I have to say I was impressed by Jordan Hoffman’s article at Playboy ranking every Star Trek episode ever made. Not enough to actually read the reviews, mind you; that, I think, is an exercise for the converted. But the very audacity of tackling such a project spoke to the obsessive completist in me. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if my favorite television show had a similar list?
So, of course, I made one.
The original Mission: Impossible ran from 1966-1973 on CBS, and in light of all the amazing television that’s been produced since then, one would be hard pressed to call it one of the best shows of all time. But I do think, in its own clandestine way, it’s one of TV’s most influential series, and not just on the spy shows that followed in its wake. (Television history’s mission-of-the-week landscape is littered with popular shows that owe a debt to Mission, everything from cagey, comedic imitators like The A-Team and Leverage to sprawling, serialized spy dramas like 24 and Alias.) It’s influential TV in general; it changed the way television was made, bringing cinematic techniques to the small screen. Especially compared to the stagy, talky fare of its era, Mission was a mini-movie every week, full of rapid cuts, insert shots, dialogue-free visual storytelling, complex, dovetailing storylines, and innovative sound editing, all backed by the iconic music of the legendary Lalo Schifrin, among others. Nothing else looked, sounded, or felt like it.
I still recall staying up until midnight to watch the reruns every night as a teenager, and the theme song used to raise the hackles on the back of my neck. Watching it was ritualistic, and for good or ill, its influence is stamped indelibly on me. Yes, it’s dated. Yes, many of its episodes are flawed, unrealistic, even flat-out terrible. But Mission: Impossible matters to me, and I’ve loved it ever since I first saw the lighting of the match.
In keeping with Hoffman’s piece, I’ve established my own set of rules. 1 – The movies don’t count. 2 – The 1980s revival series doesn’t count. 3 – Two- or three-part episodes count as one episode. That’s it. In short, I’ve limited myself to the real deal, the original series only. Perhaps not as impressive as Hoffman’s enterprise – pun intended – but hey, the Mission: Impossible franchise has a smaller cultural footprint than Star Trek. (Which, if you ask me, is just how “the Secretary” would have wanted it.)
(Updated: I’ve added a new gallery of screen captures that didn’t make it into the original post.)
So without further ado…
163. “The Fountain” (Season 7, Episode 17)
In a hardfought battle for worst Mission ever, this one takes the “crown.” Here the IMF convinces the least observant, most gullible mark in series history that they’ve discovered the Fountain of Youth. What better way to track down the account books of an organized crime operation?Ham-fisted, dull, and silly, “The Fountain” is a late-run flop that, like many season seven episodes, is derivative of earlier ones – and, in this case, not even good earlier ones. Nice robes, though.
162. “The Visitors” (Season 6, Episode 11)
Mission was at its worst when it actively attempted science fiction. Here the IMF plan only works because the villain believes in UFOs and aliens, and is obsessed with immortality. So the IMF plan is to convince him that they are, uh, immortal aliens. This is one of the episodes “The Fountain” steals from, for which it should probably be punished – making this a tight race for the bottom spot.
161. “Incarnate” (Season 7, Episode 16)
In a series hungry for colorful, eye-catching shtick, Mission often succumbed to the lure of “supernatural cons” full of ghostly eyeball kicks. Alas, its ghost stories (with some exceptions) are generally just as bad as its science fictional ones. Here, the IMF guilt trips a crime boss into an extradition trap using voodoo lore and a bag of spooky tricks. Barney plays a witch doctor. Need I say more? Awful.
160. “The Pendulum” (Season 7, Episode 20)
A white-collar terrorist organization is planning an attack on the US government, and the IMF needs to stop it. As the preposterously named “Gunnar Malstrom,” a young Dean Stockwell can’t rescue this clumsy affair full of cartoon villainy and cringeworthy dialogue. This is Mission: Impossible as a faint shadow of its former self.
159. “The Miracle” (Season 6, Episode 6)
In order to intercept a massive heroin shipment, Phelps implements a scheme to convince hardened criminal Frank Kearney (Joe Don Baker) that he’s gotten a heart transplant from a priest – an operation which, thanks to post-hypnotic suggestion, changes his very personality. (Now there’s an existential crisis for you…) Baker’s explosive performance fails to distract from the ludicrous concept. At least Lynda Day George has a good outing here.
158. “Image” (Season 6, Episode 17)
Fortunately, the villain in this piece (George Voskovec) has a mysterious birthmark on his chest. This enables the IMF to…drumroll…convince him that he has a separated-at-birth Siamese twin with whom he shares a symbiotic relationship! Cheesy hypnosis scenes and Tarot readings contribute to the relentless silliness. Check, please…
157. “Crack-Up” (Season 7, Episode 17)
To identify a mob assassin’s boss, the IMF hypnotizes him into thinking he’s losing his mind. The assassin (Alex Cord) is so susceptible to hypnosis, in fact, they can make him do just about anything! Which makes you wonder why they didn’t just ask him for the name of his boss. Oops!
156. “A Ghost Story” (Season 5, Episode 21)
This week the team waltzes into the compound of paranoid fascist leader Justin Bainbridge (Andrew Duggan) in search of a corpse laced with traces of a chemical nerve agent. Alas, a corpse would have been more formidable than the villains of “A Ghost Story.” Clearly you’re not paranoid enough if you hire Jim Phelps to tutor your grandson, and you’re a pretty bad fascist if you let enemy agents cut through a chain-link fence and infiltrate your headquarters in broad daylight. More haunted house shenanigans characterize this uninspired, jeopardy-free mess, which feels more like Scooby Doo than Mission.
155. “Encore” (Season 6, Episode 2)
This outrageous spectacle from writer Harold Livingston, Mission’s least subtle scribe, is a time warp con in which yet another Syndicate heavy (William Shatner) is tricked into thinking he’s woken up back in 1937! To make this happen, the IMF rebuilds, in perfect detail, an entire city as it was 30-odd years earlier, and temporarily reverses the mark’s aging. Seriously? Ugh. There is a kind of cheesy fun to the period costumes and dated, slangy lingo, but mostly this is just…stupid.
154. “The Deal” (Season 7, Episode 3)
An international locale is a novelty this late in the series, but that’s the only plus in this blasé affair, in which the IMF works to prevent the mob from doing business with a Caribbean dictator. An artlessly structured combination of recycled shtick and infodumpy dialogue, “The Deal” plays very much like the desperate attempt of a script doctor to produce something filmable on a tight schedule. There’s nothing here you can’t find more effectively executed in earlier episodes.
153. “The Merchant” (Season 5, Episode 23)
While this is one of Harold Livingston’s least outlandish scripts, it still doesn’t work. Borrowing the strategy of “Odds On Evil” and the technology of “The Emerald,” “The Merchant” pits the IMF against the hapless Armand Anderssarian (George Sanders) in a scheme to foil an arms deal. Unoriginal and inept, with some of the loudest costumes in Mission history (and that’s saying something).
152. “Speed” (Season 7, Episode 19)
The IMF strikes at the operation of an amphetamine dealer through his conveniently speed-addicted daughter. Muddled tactics, an over-familiar milieu, numerous implausibilities, and Central Casting characters abound. Also it’s got this guy (see picture) who can’t seem to tell when he’s kissing a woman with a latex mask on. Very poor.
151. “Run for the Money” (Season 6, Episode 13)
This bland divide-and-conquer mob tale – one of way too many such plots in seasons six and seven – is basically a rewrite of “The Contender” with a horseracing backdrop. Its primary flaws are generic dialogue and lifeless execution. The cast, especially Lynda Day George and Peter Graves, does its level best with weak material.
150. “Mindbend” (Season 6, Episode 4)
Watching Mission: Impossible requires a willing suspension of disbelief at the best of times, but “Mindbend” beggars the effort. The Syndicate is brainwashing expendable criminals into becoming assassins, so the IMF sends Barney in undercover as their latest “recruit,” so that they can track down the operation and neutralize it. The Manchurian Candidate this isn’t: hokey, unrealistic, and poorly executed.
149. “The Connection” (Season 6, Episode 14)
A mildly interesting attempt by season six standards, “The Connection” pits the IMF against drug smuggler Reese Dolan (Anthony Zerbe) in a plan to identify both the source and the distributor of his nascent heroin-transport operation. The Big Store is ambitious, with the IMF convincing the heavies that a US island is actually off the coast of French North Africa! Alas, this globe-trotting tale is derailed by scattered execution and an ill-considered wild card – an irrational enemy agent who gets wind of the IMF plan and runs around randomly fouling things up. Zerbe, arguably the series’ best recurring villain, can’t save this mess.
148. “The Western” (Season 7, Episode 21)
A master thief’s art heist is hidden somewhere on his property. In order to get the thief to lead them to it, Phelps’ plan involves convincing him he’s having precognitive visions of an earthquake that will destroy a dam and wash his treasures away. A clumsy fusion of a better earthquake episode (“The Survivors”) and, yes, a better precognition episode (“The Bargain”), “The Western” is unmemorably derivative. As for the title: well, there’s a shootout on an abandoned ghost town set. Meh.
147. “Hit” (Season 7, Episode 9)
More run-of-the-mill crime stuff: the IMF needs incarcerated mob heavy Sam Dexter (Dane Clark) to identify his mysterious boss, known only as “the General,” so they convince Dexter that the General has put out a contract on him. Done before, done better. There’s moderate fun to be had watching Greg Morris and Peter Lupus as posturing tough guys in the prison yard, and The Brady Bunch’s Robert Reed makes a spirited appearance, but “Hit” is largely forgettable.
146. “Cocaine” (Season 7, Episode 6)
The target of this operation is “the most important distributor of cocaine in the United States.” The strategy: tempt the crooks with an unimpressive “miracle machine” that manufactures synthetic cocaine. At least Willy gets to be the scientist! The villain (William Shatner) sleepwalks into Phelps’ trap in this unremarkable caper.
145. “Trapped” (Season 6, Episode 22)
It took six seasons, but Mission finally falls prey to that hoary old TV trope: sudden onset amnesia. The IMF goes through the motions of another divide-and-conquer mob story, an over-familiar scenario only marginally influenced by Phelps’ mid-mission, bonk-on-the-head memory loss. Sometimes when the plan falls apart it makes for an interesting episode; other times, you get “Trapped.”
144. “Ultimatum” (Season 7, Episode 10)
For the first and only time in the series, a villain threatens to detonate a nuclear bomb in a US city. Hard to believe it took seven seasons for this premise to turn up, and also unfortunate, since the show’s best writers were long gone by the time it was explored. A rickety contraption of shopworn Missionisms, “Ultimatum” manages, somehow, to be boringly unpredictable. Peter Graves and Barbara Anderson have fun with their Bonnie and Clyde subplot, at least.
143. “The Fighter” (Season 7, Episode 18)
You’ve probably gathered by now that season seven of Mission: Impossible isn’t very impressive. Everything about this late episode feels exhausted: the Syndicate crime bosses, the divide-and-conquer strategy, the familiar, recurring actors, the boxing world backdrop. Every plot element here was cherry-picked from earlier hours, with nothing to freshen the formula.
142. “The Rebel” (Season 5, Episode 11)
Season five strays more frequently from formula, which makes “The Rebel” moderately interesting. It opens with the mission already in progress – a rarity – and everything quickly goes to hell, with Dana getting captured and Phelps taking a bullet. Also, the IMF are in a contentious, unusual collaboration with fiery revolutionaries. Alas the production’s a fiasco, introducing an incongruous counterculture vibe to a traditional Mission scenario that can’t seem to decide where in the world it’s set. Interestingly, IMF newcomer Doug (Sam Elliott) talks back to Phelps, but I don’t think that scene influenced the title of this tedious and slapdash hour.
141. “Nerves” (Season 6, Episode 12)
In the midst of the mob rut that plagues the last two years of the show, “Nerves” might have been a breath of fresh air, with a little more work. Domestic terrorists are planning to unleash nerve gas on Los Angeles; to stop them, Phelps orchestrates a prison break to follow the lead terrorist’s girlfriend to her beau, and the threat. Lynda Day George and Tyne Daly gender-swap shtick from The Defiant Ones in a grimy find-the-bad-guys plot, a surprisingly rare foray into counter-terrorism.
140. “The Hostage” (Season 5, Episode 13)
A potentially intriguing premise is given a clunky, unsophisticated treatment in “The Hostage,” an off-duty episode. Shortly after a successful mission in Latin America, Paris is about to head home after a job well done. Unfortunately his cover is so convincing that revolutionaries abduct him, deciding he’d make a great bargaining chip in realizing their radical agenda. The IMF unexcitingly improvises his rescue in an hour that might have been an interesting experiment, but isn’t.
139. “Homecoming” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Season five’s mandate was to shake up the series’ formula, but “Homecoming” takes it too far. Phelps visits his home town on vacation, but a serial murderer compels him to call in the IMF. This off-duty attempt to give us a glimpse of the man behind the mastermind falls flat. It’s a low-rent Agatha Christie whodunit tinged with small-town soap opera, and while there’s a certain novelty value, there’s not enough Mission: Impossible in it. A great performance from Loretta Swit, though.
138. “The Freeze” (Season 3, Episode 11)
Writer Paul Playdon brought a vital new sensibility to the show when it was most needed in season three, but this early effort is a clumsy misfire. To locate a villain’s heist loot before the statute of limitations runs out, the IMF propels him into the future in a “time warp” con. He sees through the con, but not its second layer, and leads the team right to their prize. The build-up works, but the episode falls apart as soon as the mark climbs into the cryogenic freezing chamber, to wake up in a less-than-super-futuristic 1980.
137. “Takeover” (Season 5, Episode 14)
To propel their man to the governorship, crooked politicians enlist a provocateur to stir up campus violence for their candidate to heroically quash. The IMF shuts them down. Season five brought in Lesley Warren and Sam Elliott to tap into a younger vibe, and while “Takeover” finally gives them (especially Warren) some appropriate material, this is another of those middling domestic crime gambits that pad out the series’ later years.
136. “Underwater” (Season 6, Episode 8)
You’ll never believe this, but this week the IMF mission is to put some bad guys “out of business for good.” A half-hearted, unexciting hour in which the IMF tracks down a shipment of stolen diamonds, which have been stashed at the bottom of the ocean. The plot mechanics aren’t half bad, but the execution is pretty lackluster.
135. “The Missile” (Season 5, Episode 16)
Another season five “mission-gone-wrong” episode, “The Missile” has a surface premise that might have been decent: convincing an enemy agent that the phony missile guidance system he’s plotting to steal is the genuine article. The plan is upset, however, when Dana is randomly abducted by a deranged auto mechanic (John Beck). This out-of-left-field wild card is oddly staged, and it doesn’t help that most of the episode’s other details are clumsy and obvious.
134. “The Question” (Season 7, Episode 16)
A unique premise is blandified by the inferior writing and production values of season seven in “The Question.” An enemy assassin is defecting to the west, and the IMF must resolve the question: is he a genuine defector, or is he posing as one in a misinformation ploy? It’s a refreshing objective, but the shoestring production isn’t particularly inspired, despite engaged work from guest IMFer Elizabeth Ashley.
133. “Blast” (Season 5, Episode 18)
The IMF inserts Phelps and Dana onto the crew of a terrorist group that’s been executing bank heists to finance their anti-American operations. This drab affair tries to generate drama between the members of the gang with a Desperate Hours hostage scenario, but the result is a generic, budget-conscious hour with a bottle-show centerpiece.
132. “The Party” (Season 5, Episode 22)
“The Party” allows tactical spectacle to overpower strategic coherence. The IMF tricks an enemy agent, who possesses a vital piece of intelligence, that he’s being repatriated. How? By throwing a party for him in his own embassy, right under the enemy’s noses. An audacious conceit, but this one goes to great lengths to spring a trap that doesn’t logically follow from all the elaborate hugger-mugger.
131. “Movie” (Season 7, Episode 8)
Speaking of budget-conscious, how about we have the Syndicate take control of the entertainment industry? That way we can shoot on the studio lot with impunity! A reasonably well executed fake-film gambit is the highlight of this otherwise mediocre episode…well, that and watching Greg Morris portray a haughty European film director. Mission vet John Vernon provides reliable villainy.
130. “The Field” (Season 5, Episode 17)
Another season five outing that attempts to jazz up its classic Mission elements with unexpected complications. An IMF plan to take out a satellite full of nuclear missiles is nearly derailed when the expert Paris is impersonating comes under suspicion for murder, stranding Barney in a minefield. Barney’s infiltration is fun, but this episode has one foot in the classic Mission camp and another in “mission-gone-wrong” territory, without being entirely satisfying in either.
129. “Time Bomb” (Season 4, Episode 12)
A rogue agent in a foreign nation is plotting to detonate a massive bomb in a nuclear reactor, fomenting a crisis likely to escalate into atomic war. Some inventive elements, but the script feels like a rush job, and the various plot elements just don’t come together successfully. Barbara Luna makes for a fetching guest IMFer, but Phelps’ guise as a flamboyant artist is a major casting misstep.
128. “Shape-Up” (Season 6, Episode 5)
A waterfront crime caper that once again deploys ghost-story shenanigans to maneuver the mark. It’s not the worst example of its type, but the cause and effect mechanics of the plot aren’t very solid, and much of the acting is a let-down. Guest star Gerald S. O’Laughlin is spooked much more effectively in season two’s “The Killing.”
127. “The Elixir” (Season 3, Episode 7)
The widow of a Latin American leader plans to leverage her cult of personality into a coup d’etat. The IMF thwarts her by tricking her into submitting to plastic surgery before the big moment of her triumph…and stealing her very identity. It’s an earlier, slightly less outrageous take on the Fountain of Youth con, and the ruse is colorful, but it requires a vain and gullible villain – an unfortunate characterization for one of the series’ only female villains.
126. “The Code” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Leonard Nimoy’s performance as a mysterious revolutionary leader named “El Lider” is the only bright spot of “The Code,” the dud hour that disastrously introduced viewers to season four. The IMF’s mission is to crack a code, and it’s about as exciting as watching somebody actually crack a code. There’s potential behind the ideas here, but an iffy script and unspectacular production values fail to realize it.
125. “Encounter” (Season 6, Episode 7)
A mildly interesting episode in which the IMF leverages the villains by convincing them that one of their wives, the alcoholic Lois Stoner (Elizabeth Ashley), may be spilling mob secrets after joining an encounter group. The Casey-as-Lois masquerade strains credibility, but Ashley holds the spotlight well during Phelps’ New Age-y psych sessions, while Peter Lupus has fun playing a cocky arsonist.
124. “Imitation” (Season 7, Episode 22)
The last original Mission: Impossible ever aired is a passable blend of classic style and familiar, crime world backdrop. Here the IMF works to recover the crown jewels of a foreign nation from a shifty criminal. The whirlwind romance between Greg Morris and Barbara McNair doesn’t really work, but McNair is a refreshing antagonist, and there’s a smidge of the old-school flair on display.
123. “Flip Side” (Season 5, Episode 2)
The IMF connects the dots on an illicit pharmaceutical-smuggling operation in “Flip Side,” an early season five episode and one of the few that manages to make decent use of Lesley Warren. It’s a mediocre hour that panders to the younger demographic, but it has a unique milieu, effective guest stars, and some fun action sequences for Barney as he breaks into a moving semi-truck.
122. “Mastermind” (Season 4, Episode 8)
“Mastermind” is a respectable attempt to sell an utterly absurd idea: to obtain a criminal kingpin’s blackmail file, the IMF puts him into a fake coma, then convinces his lieutenant that he’s communicating telepathically via a medium (Paris). It’s a silly, ill-advised sci-fi premise, although effectively carried off under the circumstances.
121. “Blues” (Season 6, Episode 10)
Greg Morris delivers a memorable turn as a junkie rock singer in “Blues,” which attempts to disguise its increasingly familiar divide-and-conquer strategy with loud clothes and groovy beats. It’s a competent outing at best, full of familiar business, but worth watching primarily for Barney’s affected drawl and funky stride.
120. “Underground” (Season 7, Episode 7)
Writer Leigh Vance specialized in “false illness” gambits, and while this is far from his best script, he clearly understands the show and knows how to organize it – a short-supply asset in season seven. Unfortunately this IMF assault on a criminal outfit that specializes in disappearing fugitives is full of deja vu moments, including some psychedelic brainwashing business, which leads to a modestly competent but largely recycled-feeling episode.
119. “TOD-5” (Season 7, Episode 5)
When a biological weapon falls into the hands of a terrorist group, the IMF maneuvers a former intelligence agent into leading them to the threat. It doesn’t hold a candle to the classics, but by the reduced standards of season seven, “TOD-5” is a respectable episode that centers on the fun spectacle of a fake, small-town epidemic being contained by IMF-directed martial law.
118. “The Choice” (Season 4, Episode 25)
A Svengali-like mystic is manipulating the grandduchess of a vulnerable nation in order to assume power. Fortunately for the IMF, the charlatan looks just like Paris, enabling a colorful “separated-at-birth” con. The notion of Leonard Nimoy having a virtual doppelgänger is a major stumbling block of this well structured, if familiar-feeling, hour. Nimoy does well delineating his guises, helping sell the unlikely scenario.
117. “The Spy” (Season 2, Episode 16)
This week the IMF must recover vital defense plans from treacherous enemy agent Felicia Vabar (Kate Woodville) . While there is spirited interplay between Woodville and Martin Landau, the lazily titled “The Spy” is a structural mess with a plot that doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny. Like most season two episodes, it looks great at least, and the early overlay heist sequence is totally first-rate.
116. “Fakeout” (Season 1, Episode 12)
The first season of Mission: Impossible is its most varied and inventive, and it’s my favorite, largely because it’s fun to follow along as the series tries to figure itself out. Alas, this leads to the occasional, unimpressive hour like “Fakeout,” a simplistic extradition con that works very hard to look more complicated than it is. It’s worth watching as formative matter, at least – and really, how often does the team take a break from the action to go out for tequila shots?
115. “Butterfly” (Season 5, Episode 7)
While Mission was more progressive than other shows of its era regarding race, at times it could be pretty tone-deaf on the subject, and nowhere moreso than in “Butterfly,” which saddles Paris with the impossible mission of convincing the world he’s Japanese. Looking past that unfortunate elephant in the room, “Butterfly” is a middling, watchable hour with a unique setting and a vivid look.
114. “Zubrovnik’s Ghost” (Season 1, Episode 11)
This odd season one story used to be one of my least favorite episodes, but it’s grown on me a little over the years, transcending its haunted house trappings with a low-key, puzzle-solving objective and a unique group dynamic. The friendly interplay between Barney, Rollin, and guest star Ariana Domi (Martine Bartlett) provides the IMF with some nice character moments, which are highly unusual on this show. Alas, there are also the hokey seances, and the bees…
113. “My Friend, My Enemy” (Season 5, Episode 6)
Another off-duty season five episode that delves, if rather shallowly, into an IMFer’s past. The unprecedented occurs: Paris is recognized by a former mark. This leads to his capture, and he’s subsequently brainwashed into assassinating his control, Phelps. A contrived and improbable scenario, it’s an interesting departure at least, and stands out for novelty appeal and providing a glimmer of Paris’ history.
112. “Two Thousand” (Season 7, Episode 2)
One of the truly memorable season seven episodes is an implausible but enjoyable lark, if obviously derivative of the far superior “Operation Rogosh.” Writer Harold Livingston once again goes overboard on spectacle, but this nuclear apocalypse con with a 30-year “time warp” gets points for trying. Guest star Vic Morrow gives it his all, and he makes for a riveting antagonist.
111. “Decoy” (Season 5, Episode 8)
A common season five characteristic is to examine the impact of IMF operations on innocents and outsiders, and “Decoy” fits the bill by tasking the IMF with the rescue of the imperiled Anna Kerkoska (Julie Gregg). Anna is reluctant to defect to the west, and blind to the evil scheming of her beloved brother, so Phelps’ plan involves opening her eyes to the danger and luring her to safety – with a callously fake romance. Alas, Graves and Gregg lack the instant chemistry the story requires, and the episode doesn’t really go far enough in its examination of the moral question. Still, points for trying something new.
110. “The Interrogator” (Season 3, Episode 25)
The objective is to break an interrogation expert (Henry Silva), who possesses knowledge of an earth-shattering enemy plan to attack the United States. The IMF’s strategy involves a mindbending interrogation of its own. This one feels hastily imagined and assembled, but deploys some interesting techniques, and Martin Landau brings intensity to his scenes.
109. “The Crane” (Season 4, Episode 23)
In order to prevent the execution of an important revolutionary leader, the IMF hides him in plain sight long enough to maneuver enemy officers into a fatal confrontation. “The Crane” is passable enough fare and it gets the style right, although its recycled elements and uninventive, backlot look engender a major case of deja vu.
108. “Nitro” (Season 3, Episode 21)
The IMF foils an enemy plan to foment war by destroying a government building during the announcement of an important peace treaty. This is one of many solid scripts provided by Laurence Heath, the series’ most prolific writer. It’s beset, however, by stagy direction and slow pacing, which damage what should be its inherently suspenseful setpieces. Still, it’s a professional effort with credible wild cards.
107. “Boomerang” (Season 7, Episode 15)
Mystery writer Howard Browne contributed four good scripts in the series’ later seasons, which tend to stand out from the hackneyed competition. “Boomerang” is low on dazzle but high on intelligent detail, elevating a familiar scenario: the IMF must recover a blackmail file from the wife of a murdered mob lieutenant. Peter Graves has fun as a tough-talking hit man.
106. “The Puppet” (Season 7, Episode 13)
Leigh Vance repurposes the impostor scenario of season one’s “The Legend” here, and it makes for a solid if visually unimpressive hour. A criminal outfit has steered its policy into dangerous new territory, thanks to the nefarious scheming of Leo Ostro (Roddy McDowall). The familiar elements are recombined skillfully, and McDowall delivers what may be the most priceless double take of the entire series.
105. “Robot” (Season 4, Episode 9)
The “robot con” at the heart of this episode, which requires another figure who “remarkably resembles” Paris, is pretty ludicrous. But the hour has other things going for it: great mask-work, sound plot mechanics, and a noteworthy performance from Leonard Nimoy, who agilely juggles several subtly defined iterations of the same role. It’s no masterpiece but it’s kind of fun.
104. “The Money Machine” (Season 2, Episode 8)
The force takes on an unscrupulous financier in Africa, an unusual and refreshing milieu. Unfortunately the villains are a little too quick to fall into this trap, and the IMF “miracle machine” – a computer that can perfectly counterfeit currency – is kind of pathetic. Succeeds mostly on its sharp look and its outside con, which provides good roles for the team.
103. “Doomsday” (Season 3, Episode 17)
A European industrialist (Alf Kjellin) attempts to salvage his failing business empire by auctioning off an atomic bomb in a high-stakes bidding war. A deliberate, professional hour, fairly standard stuff by season three standards, with Cinnamon and Rollin jousting with the villains while Barney skulks through ventilation ducts and elevator shafts.
102. “The Vault” (Season 3, Episode 23)
A nefarious finance minister (Nehemiah Persoff) plans to frame a western-friendly president for embezzlement and assume control of his country. The IMF intervenes, in a mission that requires breaking into an impenetrable vault. This hour is strictly middle of the road, with some decent outside con; not great but not bad.
101. “The Bank” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Season two is the series’ most lavish and attractive, and also the one that perfects the series’ style. This elevates “The Bank,” a middling caper about a secretly fascist banker in a socialist nation who rips off innocent victims seeking to defect by sending them to their deaths and stealing their life savings. The plot is unspectacular, but cool, no-nonsense professionalism contributes to the hour’s success.
100. “The Phoenix” (Season 2, Episode 23)
A simple but effective frame motors “The Phoenix,” a museum-set caper in which the IMF stomps on the power-mad dreams of the pompous, paranoid Stefan Prohosh (Alf Kjellin). This one is better for its stylish execution than its story, which basically combines a Rollin-Cinnamon diversion with some heavy lifting from Barney and Willy.
99. “Double Dead” (Season 6, Episode 20)
The team disrupts many villainous duos in the later seasons with a repetitive divide-and-conquer approach. “Double Dead” is a better example of this type of hour, freshening the formula with a Hawaiian backdrop and some mission-gone-wrong urgency. Willy fans will enjoy this rare moment in the spotlight for Peter Lupus.
98. “Charity” (Season 2, Episode 10)
A villainous couple is greedily funneling charitable donations into their fraudulent foundation; the IMF makes quick work of them. Although it blithely handwaves the weight of platinum, this episode leverages its bottle-show setting with class, and provides some engaging outside con roles for Cinnamon, Rollin, and especially Phelps, whose cynical interplay with guest star Hazel Court shows more chemistry than some of the more “real” romance story-lines in other episodes.
97. “Bag Woman” (Season 6, Episode 19)
Compared to the perfectly clocked missions of the early years, “Bag Woman” is very nearly a catastrophe for the IMF, piling setback upon setback. To identify the recipient of political bribes from a criminal organization, the team inserts Casey as the courier – but so much goes wrong that Phelps has to improvise a solution. This season six scenario is jazzed up by its unusually frantic and unpredictable chain of events.
96. “Gitano” (Season 4, Episode 18)
A solid Laurence Heath script and an unusual milieu make “Gitano” a decent episode; unfortunately it’s diminished by clumsy direction and an irritating turn from Barry Williams as a young king. Still, there’s a fun “fake accident” involving a breakaway truck, and Leonard Nimoy and guest IMFer Margarita Cordova are spirited as a gypsy couple.
95. “Leona” (Season 7, Episode 4)
An undercover federal agent goes missing after his cover his blown; the IMF races to save him before he’s executed . If you remove the hokey haunting business and overlook that the villains are named Mike Apollo and Joe Epic, what remains of “Leona” is an assured, structurally satisfying crime story that benefits from Howard Browne’s slick dialogue and advanced comprehension of the Mission formula.
94. “The Amnesiac” (Season 4, Episode 13)
In order to recover a rare isotope, the IMF manipulates the villains who stole it by “resurrecting” their murdered accomplice in the form of Paris – who pretends to be an amnesiac with a surgery-altered face. This gloomy outing, one of a number of similar-looking season four episodes, is elevated by crafty villainy from Steve Ihnat and Anthony Zerbe, and decent roles for Peter Graves and Leonard Nimoy.
93. “Casino” (Season 6, Episode 21)
A more credible, if less lavish, rewrite of “The Mercenaries,” “Casino” is standard, well done anti-Syndicate fare; the later seasons could have used more of this kind of hour. The resolution lacks finesse, but the outside con utilizes the IMFers well and the central vault heist makes for a strong visual centerpiece. Not bad by the standards of its year.
92. “Flight” (Season 5, Episode 5)
While the overarcing strategy falls apart under scrutiny, “Flight” is an engaging adventure characterized by memorable setpieces: a slick airport abduction, a nicely executed “false journey” flight, and a dramatic prison colony Big Store. Wild cards add to the urgency, making this an inventive and bracing episode; if only the nuts and bolts of the plot, and the villain’s ultimate capitulation, made more sense.
91. “Break!” (Season 7, Episode 1)
This mob story centers on the game of pool, which provides great visuals for a generally solid hour. The IMF maneuvers a Syndicate lieutenant named Press Allen (Robert Conrad) into leading them to the body of an agent he killed, so that they can recover a microfilm full of evidence against his boss. “Break!” is a decent gambling-themed episode, and introduces recurring guest IMFer Mimi Davis (Barbara Anderson) in a unique way: her history with Allen gives the team an in.
90. “The Martyr” (Season 4, Episode 26)
An odd transitional episode brings an end to season four, and foreshadows the counterculture vibe that would creep ever so slightly into season five. This rewrite of “The Heir Apparent” is a workmanlike espionage puzzler that mixes in some timely, if now dated, sociopolitical flavor with its traditional Mission tropes.
89. “Kitara” (Season 5, Episode 20)
The IMF journeys to German colonial Africa in “Kitara,” to free a revolutionary leader from the clutches of a white, racist military leader. The MO is to give said white, racist leader a new sense of perspective…by convincing him he’s black. The central premise is outrageous and inherently problematic, but it results in an audacious and unforgettable con.
88. “Committed” (Season 6, Episode 18)
The chief witness in a case against a corrupt governor has been committed to a state mental hospital, in order to undermine her credibility; the IMF must rescue her in time to recover and testify. Marred by a number of imperfections, “Committed” is nonetheless a refreshing season six outing thanks to effective location work, a no-nonsense approach, and an unusual premise.
87. “The Widow” (Season 2, Episode 1)
Season two leads off with a formula that would become quite common in later years: a dual-pronged IMF assault on criminal partners. There’s some good shtick here, such as a phony elevator crash and a heroin-vacuuming coat. But it’s mostly just a decent, well produced hour that serves as a showcase for Barbara Bain, who portrays the “widow” of one of the heroin dealers they “kill” in a strategy to discredit them both to their customers.
86. “Commandante” (Season 4, Episode 6)
Enemy agents have usurped a revolutionary movement and imprisoned its religious leader, Father Dominguin (Arthur Batanides); the IMF moves in to rescue him. Wonky direction and a strained Asian pose from Leonard Nimoy diminish this hour, but it’s a soundly structured and well acted one, that works a little better on paper than in the execution.
85. “Lover’s Knot” (Season 4, Episode 21)
“Lover’s Knot” breathes some new life into season four: the British backdrop shakes up the monotonous look, and it’s got a distinctive angle, in that a member of the IMF becomes too emotionally involved in the mission. The critical romance upon which the story hinges doesn’t sing, unfortunately; Leonard Nimoy and guest star Jane Merrow don’t have the chemistry. But it’s a nice low-key espionage mystery with some good shtick, and a nice turn from Peter Graves as the third point on an IMF-orchestrated love triangle.
84. “Stone Pillow” (Season 6, Episode 16)
In this smart, well clocked crime caper, the IMF penetrates a prison, and engineers a prison-break, to convince shady former PI Larry Edison (Bradford Dillman) to lead them to murder evidence he’s holding over a mafia honcho. Snappy Howard Browne dialogue, particularly between the gruff Edison and his new egghead cellmate “the Professor” (Phelps), propels this entertaining story.
83. “Squeeze Play” (Season 5, Episode 12)
The better “personal episodes” in season five elevated conventional Mission trappings with more focus on character and performance. That’s the case with “Squeeze Play,” in which the IMF convinces a dying drug kingpin to hand over his operation to Paris. The tropes are familiar, but it’s got an interesting human angle in that the IMF must exploit the trust of the villain’s innocent granddaugter Eve (Victoria Vetri) as part of their plan. Nimoy and Vetri play the scenes well, and Albert Paulsen provides great support as the curmudgeonly villain.
82. “A Game of Chess” (Season 2, Episode 17)
The over-involved scenario of “A Game of Chess” entangles the IMF with an international thief (Don Francks) who is planning to steal a shipment of gold bullion from an enemy nation’s military police. The IMF must recover the gold and return it to its rightful owners, under the cover of a hotel-based chess tournament. The situation is even more contrived than usual, but it’s got entertaining visuals and some clever IMF trickery.
81. “Shock” (Season 1, Episode 25)
An enemy agent plans to sabotage a vital exchange agreement by replacing a U.S. envoy with an impostor; Briggs’ squad moves in to set things right. The plot’s a little erratic and the electroshock scenes are on the brutal side, but “Shock” has many qualities: inventive camera work, a memorable mental ward Big Store, and a versatile performance from James Daly in a complex multiple role.
80. “The Diamond” (Season 1, Episode 19)
In “The Diamond,” the team takes on the despicable Henrik Durvard (John van Dreelen), who has subjugated a small African nation and stolen a massive diamond from its people. To recover it, an IMF “miracle machine” ploy convinces the villain they have the means of perfectly duplicating diamonds; Durvard, seeking to legitimize his country as a diamond-producing nation, greedily takes the bait. A perhaps too simple, but effectively realized, con with a distinctive milieu.
79. “The Bargain” (Season 3, Episode 10)
The IMF moves to thwart a deal between the mob and an exiled Caribbean dictator (Albert Paulsen) who is looking to finance his return to power. The central thrust of the con is to convince the dictator that he’s having precognitive visions of his own demise; it’s an outrageous ploy, but executed with aplomb and more than a little humor. Inventive gadgetry and intricate plot detail mask the hour’s scattered feel.
78. “The Tram” (Season 6, Episode 3)
The IMF uses the occasion of a reclusive Syndicate meeting to smash the criminal organization’s plans to funnel profits overseas. “The Tram” is a nicely paced episode that benefits visually from its location work; the Syndicate retreat takes place at a mountaintop ski lodge accessible only by cable car. The plan builds the logistics of this setting credibly into the strategy, in an hour that provides good material for each team member.
77. “A Spool There Was” (Season 1, Epside 9)
Rollin and Cinnamon deploy behind the Iron Curtain to track down a missing recording wire in “A Spool There Was,” a curious early Mission that gives Barbara Bain and Martin Landau a playful turn in the spotlight. By conventional Mission standards it’s not particularly satisfying, but the flirty interplay and unusually improvisational approach help make this an entertaining novelty watch.
76. “Elena” (Season 1, Episode 13)
Another intriguing year one experiment sends a very spare IMF to Latin America to investigate the erratic behavior of an allied scientist, Dr. Elena Del Barra (Barbara Luna). With only a psychiatrist to assist him, Rollin Hand carries the load again in a mystery-solving assignment: to determine what Elena is up to, before her actions jeopardize her cover. Powered by an entertaining dynamic between Barbara Luna and Martin Landau, “Elena” possesses the unique atmosphere of early, exploratory Mission.
75. “Chico” (Season 4, Episode 17)
Two matching microfilms, useless alone, will endanger a network of US agents if combined by a pair of rival Central American drug dealers (Fernando Lamas and Percy Rodriguez). The IMF needs to locate the microfilm and neutralize the threat. Most of the plot components are recycled, but the “dog burglar” steals the show in this entertaining if far-fetched (see what I did there?) caper.
74. “Operation – Heart” (Season 2, Episode 7)
The IMF labors to rescue an archaeologist, falsely accused of being a spy, from the clutches of an enemy agent planning a violent coup d’etat. “Operation – Heart” is a bonanza of entertaining Mission shtick: phony assassination attempts, Rollin Hand quick-changes, subtle legerdemain, false illnesses, mock surgeries, and more. The parts may be more than the sum, but it’s all carried off with panache.
73. “The Brothers” (Season 4, Episode 11)
An “evil twin” Mission? But of course! A Middle Eastern prince (Lloyd Battista) has imprisoned his twin brother, the king, to exploit the country’s oil interests. To rescue the king, the IMF convinces the prince that he needs a kidney transplant, and that they’re just the shady doctors to perform the surgery. All they need is the king, of course. This is another episode that requires acres of contrived backstory to drive its plot, but it’s a well engineered “false illness” con with an effective phony medical operation at is center.
72. “Cat’s Paw” (Season 5, Episode 15)
Dated fashions and supernatural subplot aside, “Cat’s Paw” is a unique off-duty crime story with an unusual personal angle. When Barney’s brother is killed, he enlists the IMF to help him take down the gang responsible. Effective story mechanics and confident dialogue help sell the hour, but even more key is Barney’s fake romance with Millie Webster (Abbey Lincoln). Lincoln delivers a charged performance, and gives the episode an uncommonly emotional punctuation mark.
71. “The Trial” (Season 1, Episode 18)
Devious enemy prosecutor Josef Varsh (Carroll O’Connor) plans to stir up anti-American sentiment with a scandalous show trial, so Briggs and Rollin provide him with the perfect case…and then blow it up. Laurence Heath loved to leverage IMF mask tactics in his scripts, and here he destroys Varsh’s credibility by enabling Briggs – with Rollin’s help –to be in two places at once. Solid, formative Mission.
70. “Echo of Yesterday” (Season 2, Episode 14)
To prevent a munitions magnate from handing off his industrial empire to a neo-Nazi, the IMF orchestrates a dreamlike “time warp” that resurrects Adolf Hitler (Rollin in disguise). Surely there’s an easier way, but it’s certainly a visually arresting conceit, and while Nazi visuals dominate the look, it’s Barbara Bain who drives the con.
69. “Invasion” (Season 6, Episode 9)
The reach of “Invasion” exceeds its financial grasp, in an hour that involves convincing a traitorous American that he has succeeded in facilitating an enemy invasion of the United States. But there is some great, “pure Mission” style executed here, particularly in the early set-up, and it gets points for deploying ambitious tactics – a time warp, a Big Store, and a false journey – all on a limited budget.
68. “The Slave” (Season 2, Episodes 5 & 6)
Yes, this is the one with the cryogenically frozen bats. Here the team works to shut down a ruthless slavery ring in the Middle East, by putting Cinnamon Carter on the market. “The Slave” is riddled with unrealistic moments and its gender politics are pretty abysmal, but it’s a colorful double episode with lavish production values and an involved plot.
67. “The System” (Season 3, Episode 15)
A casino backdrop and inventive camera work gives “The System” a memorable look, even as its MO is of the increasingly familiar “convince one villain to testify against another” variety. Still, it’s an elegant, nicely produced frame, with appropriate roles for each IMFer. Future mob episodes would steal liberally from this one’s polished success.
66. “The Controllers” (Season 4, Episodes 3 & 4)
A comic book premise gets the Mission all-star treatment in “The Controllers,” an engaging two-parter that pits the IMF against an enemy initiative to develop a devastating mind-control drug . A veritable who’s-who of familiar guest stars turn up in this one, an extended con that requires quite a few contrived conveniences, but still makes for a diverting and visually arresting adventure. Willy’s role as an IMF-inserted test subject gives him a more active role than usual.
65. “Kidnap” (Season 7, Episode 11)
Peter Graves directs season seven’s best episode, an off-duty hour that sees Phelps abducted for ransom by a Syndicate gang that knows his teammates can pull off an impossible heist on their behalf. Like all of this season’s episodes it’s hindered by a budget-conscious look, but it possesses a refreshing urgency and delivers just the right Mission style.
64. “The Counterfeiter” (Season 2, Episode 20)
The quintessential “false illness” episode involves convincing pharmaceutical counterfeiter Raymond Halder (Edmond O’Brien) that he has the very disease for which he’s diluting the cure. A simple but effective plot, propelled by an enjoyable blackmail thread and the IMF’s callous dismantling of the villain’s health. Lee H. Katzin’s direction very effectively – perhaps too effectively – conveys Halder’s distress.
63. “The Condemned” (Season 2, Episode 19)
An early off-duty episode wherein Phelps calls on the team to help clear an old friend of a trumped-up murder charge. Logistical implausibilities are an issue (when are they not, right?), but “The Condemned” is a refreshingly improvisational hour with some entertaining shtick. Plus, you’ve got to love an episode that ends with a remote-control car chase.
62. “The Catafalque” (Season 5, Episode 19)
The corpse-heist at the center of “The Catafalque” is the incredible, but entertaining, crux of this IMF mission to get theirs hands on an explosive nuclear arms treaty. It possesses the familiar blemishes of its era, but overall it’s a nicely clocked hour full of clever misdirections. It’s also one of Leonard Nimoy’s best episodes, in a dual-role that features an impressive makeover and one of the series’ best mask pull-offs.
61. “The Bride” (Season 6, Episode 15)
This week the team takes on an elaborate Syndicate money-laundering operation by inserting Casey into the life of an Irish mafia hood (James Gregory) as a mail-order bride. It’s got the usual contrivances and loose ends of its season, but it’s still a tidy little con with some nice touches of classic Mission style and good roles for Lynda Day George and Peter Graves.
60. “The Psychic” (Season 1, Episode 28)
The treacherous Alex Lowell (Barry Sullivan) has secured a majority interest in an aerospace company crucial to U.S. defense interests; the IMF lures him into a “can’t-miss” card game to win them back. Woodfield and Balter work another effective gambling scenario into a con of persuasion that involves Cinnamon as a psychic with uncanny predictive abilities. Barney’s hiding place is a terrific eyeball kick.
59. “The Test Case” (Season 3, Episode 14)
An evil scientist is developing a deadly biological weapon for battlefield use in “The Test Case,” an episode written by Laurence Heath that may be a precursor to his later two-parter “The Controllers.” It’s a gloomy but inventively shot episode that hinges on swapping in Rollin as a live test subject for the deadly gas, and it’s bursting with effective deceptions, misdirections, and switcheroos.
58. “The Survivors” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Mission’s most important writers, William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter, somehow managed to pull off elaborate spectacles with more success than subsequent scribes. “The Survivors” is a rescue mission which relies on a phony earthquake to ensure the extraction of two scientists and their wives from the clutches of enemy agents. Surely simulating an earthquake isn’t the most efficient means of achieving the objective, but the gimmick is well realized, and the hour provides good material for Barbara Bain, Martin Landau, and especially Peter Graves.
57. “The Killer” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Many IMF missions are facilitated by exhaustive preliminary intelligence – “givens” contrived to make the complex plot mechanics feasible. “The Killer” deliberately challenges this syndrome by pitting the team against an assassin (Robert Conrad) who carries out his assignments entirely at random. It’s the kind of fresh concept that the show could have used more of in season five, a deliberately improvisational mission that plays out engagingly.
56. “The Play” (Season 3, Episode 9)
An enemy nation’s culture minister (John Colicos) is bombarding his country with anti-American propaganda. Phelps’ plan gives him a new weapon – a scathing political play written by Cinnamon – which will ultimately blow up in his face. An uncommonly amusing Mission that transcends its iffy scenario with humor, style, and entertaining performances.
55. “Odds On Evil” (Season 1, Episode 6)
Woodfield and Balter’s first script is the first of many gambling-themed episodes, and it’s among the most stylish and colorful. Here the team quashes an arms deal by luring the heavy (Nehemiah Persoff) into a high-stakes, “can’t-lose” game of baccarat. Another stew of formative Mission ingredients, enhanced by a memorable score and impressive, complex film editing.
54. “The Train” (Season 1, Episode 24)
The IMF must prevent the dying prime minister of a free democracy from handing over his leadership to a traitor who plans to convert the country into a ruthless dictatorship. The original “false journey” con, “The Train” is an episode that practically screams “surely there’s an easier way,” and yet it’s such a confidently crafted hour, with such an audacious hook, that it’s impossible not to get behind it.
53. “The Frame” (Season 1, Episode 17)
Briggs and the team cater the annual meeting of a group of scheming mafia leaders in this early “divide-and-conquer” crime caper. A confident, stylish bottle-show, “The Frame” would inspire countless variations over the series’ remaining years. Arthur Batanides’ restauranteur Tito makes for a uniquely nervous IMF ally.
52. “Terror” (Season 4, Episode 20)
Here, the prolific Laurence Heath improves on “Nitro” with this involved tale in which the IMF goes head-to-head with El Kabir (Michael Tolan), a Middle Eastern terrorist hellbent on achieving power. “Terror” delivers a deviously intricate web of deceptions, as the team maneuvers multiple marks into an alliance-destroying confrontation. The unique backdrop gives it a brighter, more interesting look than some of its drab contemporaries.
51. “The Glass Cage” (Season 3, Episode 16)
The challenge in “The Glass Cage” is to pry a rebel leader out of an inescapable prison. It’s a torturously complex script from Paul Playdon, brought to memorable life by suspenseful direction, memorable roles for Barbara Bain and Martin Landau, and an unforgettable sequence involving Barney and Willy making hash of the prison’s security features.
50. “The Double Circle” (Season 4, Episode 10)
In “The Double Circle,” the IMF builds an exact replica of the villain’s digs one floor below it, then rigs the elevator in order to control when the marks are in the real apartment and when they’re in the fake one. Writer Jerry Ludwig leverages this nifty premise to excellent effect, while Anne Francis makes for one of this season’s better Cinnamon replacements.
49. “The Confession” (Season 1, Episode 22)
It’s another plum acting assignment for Martin Landau in “The Confession,” in which the IMF must expose a hardline senator’s connection to an enemy agent who’s committing assassinations on his orders. Landau’s performance as tough-talking con Eddie Gibson steals the show in a well executed fugitive ruse, which also introduces the versatile David Sheiner to the show’s list of often-recalled guest stars.
48. “The Contender” (Season 3, Episodes 2 & 3)
“The Contender” has two quite noticeable problems: a low-stakes, leisurely pace and an unconvincing “likeness” between Barney and boxer Richie Lemoine (Ron Rich). But the rest is classic Woodfield-Balter: a richly imagined world, slickly integrated misdirections, and greedy villains whose vulnerabilities are roundly exploited. A memorable Lalo Schifrin score gives the proceedings some swing. The influence of this two-parter would loom large in the series’ final seasons.
47. “The Ransom” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Compared to later outings, “The Ransom” is a slower, more painstaking hour than usual, but this Woodfield-Balter “off-duty” episode is important early work and it does make the task look especially difficult. Mobster hood Frank Egan (Williams Smithers) abducts the daughter of Briggs’ friend in order to leverage him into liberating a stool pigeon from witness protection. Briggs’ chilling inscrutability didn’t generally go over very well, but this is one of Steven Hill’s best episodes, and the IMF bag of tricks is urgently deployed.
46. “Orpheus” (Season 4, Episode 22)
This race-against-time mission to pinpoint the identity of an enemy assassin is an ingeniously plotted espionage puzzler from Paul Playdon. Phelps’ plan involves selling himself as a defector whose debriefing will cast suspicion on the assassin. Jessica Walter is one of the year’s better guest IMFers, while Peter Graves has a memorable turn as the defector, whose phony heroin addiction is key to the deception.
45. “Phantoms” (Season 4, Episode 19)
The IMF maneuvers the succession of power in “Phantoms,” in which an aging dictator (Luther Adler) is hoodwinked by the “ghost” of an old flame. As a brutal, ruthless dictator whose faculties are systematically called into question, Adler is sensational, and this is one of the better “ghost cons.” Leonard Nimoy’s performance as an elderly witness is one of his better roles in miniature, aided by great costume and makeup.
44. “Recovery” (Season 2, Episode 25)
Here the IMF works to lift an unexploded failsafe device from a top-security scientific institute behind the Iron Curtain. A streamlined heist, “Recovery” is yet another well-oiled machine from Woodfield and Balter, a bit on the mechanistic side but a great example of Mission’s classic, no-nonsense visual storytelling .
43. “The Legacy” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Neo-Nazis were a popular target of the IMF over the years. “The Legacy” is a memorable outing that involves recovering Hitler’s stolen treasure from the clutches of four Nazi descendants who are plotting a Fourth Reich. A classic personnel substitution insinuates Rollin Hand into the group’s midst, and the rest is urgent spontaneity that culminates in a rare shootout finale.
42. “A Cube of Sugar” (Season 1, Episode 26)
Some missions don’t exactly live up to the show’s name, but “A Cube of Sugar” isn’t one of them: this one looks pretty damn impossible. The team’s objective is to rescue an allied agent who is being driven insane with drugs – plus, recover a microcircuit from his personal effects. It’s tough sledding: Rollin’s straight-jacket and padded cell escape, and Barney and Willy’s mortuary tunneling, make this one of the series’ more daunting, labor-intensive segments. It’s also got psychedelic visuals and weird jazz, which contributes to a unique ambience.
41. “Trial By Fury” (Season 2, Episode 24)
To protect an important inmate, the team inserts Phelps and Barney into a brutal Third World prison to uncover the camp informer, whose actions are placing the inmate in jeopardy. “Trial By Fury” is one of two highly improvisational Missions from writer Sy Salkowitz, and it’s a gritty, engaging mini-movie with excellent production values, a distinctive look, and an exceptionally dangerous setting.
40. “Hunted” (Season 5, Episode 10)
One of the best season five experiments, “Hunted” takes place in apartheid Africa and begins with the liberation of a freedom movement leader. But when Barney is shot during the exfil, he takes refuge with an innocent bystander: a mute seamstress named Mariana, who shields him from the authorities while the IMF frantically searches for him. A wordless but expressive performance from Ta Tanisha makes “Hunted” an unusually touching episode, which dives further below the surface of its setting than your average Mission.
39. “The Town” (Season 2, Episode 21)
Easily the most memorable of the off-duty episodes, “The Town” finds Phelps stumbling across an enemy assassination plot on U.S. soil. But the enemy, this time, is an entire town of agents posing as typical, country Americans. The scenario is far-fetched, but realized in chilling, sinister fashion, and it’s given extra urgency by Phelps’ condition and the quick-thinking, improvised efforts of his friends to save him.
38. “Fool’s Gold” (Season 4, Episode 5)
A scheming finance minister plans to use counterfeit currency to generate an economic crisis in “Fool’s Gold.” The IMF destroys him by giving him a “better” plan. Highlights include amusing interplay between Leonard Nimoy and guest villain Nehemiah Persoff, a memorable role for Peter Graves as a stuffy baron, and a convoluted vault break-in. An intricate, well executed hour with a satisfyingly elaborate plot.
37. “The Emerald” (Season 2, Episode 18)
Another precise and entertaining gambling episode from Woodfield and Balter, “The Emerald” takes place on a cruise ship, where the IMF works to snatch an emerald from a cocky arms dealer. The MO: an elaborately rigged poker game. Great roles for Cinnamon (a gambling junkie), Rollin (a card shark), and Phelps (an obnoxious drunk) drive the outside con, as do some memorable technical fixes in the gaming room. Plenty of classic Mission style and technique on display here.
36. “Trek” (Season 2, Episode 2)
A cache of priceless artifacts has been hijacked by a ruthless criminal (Daniel O’Herlihy); the IMF needs to return them to their rightful owner, in order to save the economy of a desperate nation. The mission isn’t terribly complex, but “Trek” is another terrific-looking season two episode with unusually extensive location work, which provides a vivid look. It’s the first episode Peter Graves filmed, and he hits the ground running in a soon-to-be-familiar tough guy role.
35. “The Short Tail Spy” (Season 1, Episode 14)
Although it lacks the intricacy and urgency of Mission’s best episodes, “The Short Tail Spy” is an atypical, entertaining early experiment that makes for one of the series’ more credible romance-oriented tales. In order to uncover an enemy assassination plan, Cinnamon must feign attraction to the suave, deadly Andrei Fetyukov (Hans Gudegast) – but does she get swept up in her own performance? This “sleeping with the enemy” episode is driven by the acting, and it’s an entertaining one, with nicely executed moments of humor, charm, and character to go along with its dark espionage trappings.
34. “Live Bait” (Season 3, Episode 18)
Holy convoluted plots, Batman! “Live Bait” is something of a muddle, but it’s also a wickedly complex mindbender that sends the team into an enemy nation where surveillance is so total that the IMF knows they will be watched – so they ingeniously control the enemy’s intrepretation of their every action. A doctored film serves as a visual highlight, while Anthony Zerbe’s spirited interactions with Martin Landau propel the intrigue.
33. “Illusion” (Season 3, Episode 24)
In this twisty, psychological tale, the IMF manipulates two ruthless candidates for an enemy nation’s secret police leadership into a destructive conflict that will enable a more moderate, third player to take the post. The gloomy, mysterious “Illusion” is set against a cabaret hall backdrop, which gives Barbara Bain and Martin Landau some flashy material with which to position the marks for a very clever final act.
32. “Blind” (Season 6, Episode 1)
An old-school con game feel permeates “Blind,” easily season six’s best hour. The goal is to preserve the cover of the government’s undercover man within the Syndicate, and the key player is Phelps, who is temporarily blinded to portray an agent crucial to the deception. Peter Graves goes all out as a cagey alcoholic ex-fed, and it makes for one of his strongest performances, which just adds to the success of an otherwise slick, smooth hour.
31. “Death Squad” (Season 4, Episode 24)
The Impossible Missions Force really just shouldn’t go on vacation. It’s yet another busman’s holiday for the team when Barney gets on the wrong side of a vicious police chief (Pernell Roberts), and winds up implicated in a murder he didn’t commit. One of the more credible improvised missions, “Death Squad” is buoyed by an unusual human touch from its innocent bystanders: Barney’s vacation romance Alma (Cicely Tyson) and, more charmingly, his ne’er-do-well cellmate Riva (Leon Askin). Bonus: Leonard Nimoy has a great time playing a loud drunk.
30. “The Bunker” (Season 3, Episodes 19 & 20)
An intricate pulp adventure full of twists, turns, action, and intrigue, “The Bunker” is a double-rescue that justifies its length with scads of tricks, deceptions, and pure Mission style. The unrealistic hydrofoil is a major blemish, alas, but this is an involved, escalating story, one of the show’s most lavish and entertaining mini-movies that culminates in a truly explosive climax.
29. “Action!” (Season 1, Episode 23)
In “Action!,” the force infiltrates a film studio behind the Iron Curtain to sabotage the phony propaganda film of the villainous Miklos Klaar (J.D. Cannon) . The dramatics are on the flat side, and Klaar’s scheme isn’t all that convincing, but as an example of pure visual story-telling, intricate structure, and subtle IMF tradecraft, this is one of the series’ most clever and efficient episodes.
28. “Old Man Out” (Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5)
To rescue an important religious leader from an escape-proof prison behind the Iron Curtain, the IMF rolls into town on a traveling circus cover and sets up next door. A colorful Mission from the show’s earliest exploratory days, “Old Man Out” is a painstaking rescue that escalates into a ripping action-adventure yarn. The gender politics are painful, but the unusual score, light-hearted approach, and patient visual storytelling make this a memorable watch. Mary Ann Mobley’s cheerful trapeze artist makes for a winning guest IMFer.
27. “Nicole” (Season 3, Episode 22)
Probably the most credible of the series’ whirlwind romances, “Nicole” is a nifty, switchback-y Cold War tale from Paul Playdon that delivers a little more emotional punch than usual. The surface mission is simple: an agent-list heist at the chateau HQ of an enemy intelligence minister. But a disastrous early turn, and Phelps’ escalating romantic entanglement with the minister’s assistant Nicole (Joan Collins), makes this one feel like a classic spy novel in miniature.
26. “The Killing” (Season 2, Episode 22)
Easily the most successful of Mission’s ghost cons, “The Killing” is a small-scale but classy hour that shows the IMF taking out a murder-for-hire mastermind by spooking him with ghost stories – and Barney and Willy’s bag of technological tricks. The strategy for this assassination-in-disguise is over-the-top, of course, but the dinner-party dramatics and haunting techniques are exceptionally executed.
25. “The Reluctant Dragon” (Season 1, Episode 16)
This early experiment sends Barney and Rollin behind the Iron Curtain to facilitate the defection of an important scientist – only to find that he doesn’t want to leave. “The Reluctant Dragon” is unconventional by series standards, but for me it’s a personal favorite. I like how it gives us a glimpse, however brief, of the humanity within the enemy nation, as Rollin’s interactions with both a local waitress (Elise Ingram) and the callous security chief (John Colicos) put an unusually human face on the people of the “opposing” side.
24. “The Photographer” (Season 2, Episode 15)
In “The Photographer,” easily the best of Mission’s apocalypse cons, the team hoodwinks enemy agents into thinking they’ve triggered a nuclear assault. Anthony Zerbe sets an energetic tone for his frequent callbacks as a traitorous fashion photographer, whose fallout shelter becomes the eerie vantage for a “nuclear war.” Woodfield and Balter’s script puts the team through classy, business-like paces, bringing an unlikely strategy to vivid life.
23. “The Traitor” (Season 1, Episode 27)
First things first: Eartha Freaking Kitt. “The Traitor” sends the team, including diminutive guest IMFer Tina Mara (Kitt), into an enemy embassy to recover a coded message and frame the defector (Lonny Chapman) who stole it. Tina’s elaborate, tense journey through the embassy ducts is one of the series’ most memorable infiltrations, and sets the stage for many tunnel-crawling adventures to come.
22. “The Amateur” (Season 5, Episode 9)
One of season five’s best, “The Amateur” blends traditionally satisfying IMF tradecraft with some of this year’s more refreshing characteristics: unformulaic structure, wild cards, and the involvement of a spy-world outsider. Anthony Zerbe is back for his best role in the series as Erik Schilling, a meddling innkeeper who stumbles by chance into an IMF mission – and gets in over his head trying to outdo the professionals. Zerbe’s terrific performance contributes to the fast, unpredictable pace of this inventive hour.
21. “The Council” (Season 2, Episodes 11 & 12)
The double-objective of this gambit is to obtain damning Syndicate records, and destroy the organization’s leader, Frank Wayne (Paul Stevens). This two-parter may be Mission’s archetypal mob story, filled with memorable sequences: the rescue of Jimmy Bibo, Phelps’ car-bomb escape, Rollin’s vault break-in, a synchronized elevator switcheroo, and, most crucially, a scene in which Cinnamon convinces the heavies she’s turned a masked Rollin-as-Wayne into Rollin Hand himself, using “plastic surgery.” For pure entertainment value, they don’t get much better.
20. “The Falcon” (Season 4, Episodes 14-16)
Mission’s only three-parter is an elaborate double-rescue with the feel of serial adventure, as the team races to save royal star-crossed lovers from a scheming general (John Vernon) who’s engineering a coup d’etat. Full of twists, turns, and complications, “The Falcon” possesses cartoony aspects but provides great material for each team member (including recurring guest IMFer Lee Meriwether, whose role in the proceedings is broader than usual) and some terrific setpieces, especially the climactic prison cell liberation.
19. “The Astrologer” (Season 2, Episode 13)
“The Astrologer” gets its name from Cinnamon’s character, who once again wields predictive powers that manipulate the villains. But its gets its high ranking for leveraging a claustrophobic airplane setting to clever, suspenseful effect. The episode, in which Barney and Rollin stowaway in the baggage compartment for the villains’ crucial journey, is a post-production clinic of perfect Mission sound and film editing, which contributes to the pace of this slick, clockwork hour.
18. “The Legend” (Season 1, Episode 20)
The show’s most satisfyingly structured operation against a neo-Nazi menace is “The Legend,” which inserts Briggs and Cinnamon into a cabal of Third Reich diehards who’ve been reconvened by the zealous Frederick Rudd (Gunnar Hellstrom) to sow the seeds of Nazi resurgence. The remote South American chateau setting is suitably creepy, and Briggs’ old-man makeover is pretty good…but it’s Martin Landau who steals the hour, brilliantly blindsiding Rudd with one of the series’ most memorable “pants-drops” in the final act.
17. “Wheels” (Season 1, Episode 7)
In a Latin American police state, the team fights fire with fire – in other words, cheating with cheating – in a mission to unfix a rigged election. Laurence Heath’s first script is full of soon-to-be-familiar Mission trademarks – and, yes, relies on the existence of someone who “remarkably resembles” Rollin. But it’s Barney’s gunshot wound, and the way he heroically carries on in spite of it, that powers the suspense in this one. An unusual music score contributes to the unique vibe.
16. “The Seal” (Season 2, Episode 9)
To prevent an international incident, the IMF must crack the impregnable security of a corporate highrise to recover a jade artifact from a hard-nosed industrialist (Darren McGavin). Rusty the literal cat burglar steals the show in this tightly constructed heist, which easily could have fallen apart if the production hadn’t made it look so plausible – and if the feline star hadn’t hit its marks! Clever, detailed bits of tradecraft contribute to the hour’s precise unfolding.
15. “The Numbers Game” (Season 4, Episode 2)
To prevent deposed dictator Rados Gollan (Torin Thatcher) from financing an invasion of his home country, the IMF hatch a plot to liberate him of his funds. The strategy combines a false illness and a time warp; Gollan awakens, “ill,” in his own fallout shelter, surrounded with IMF actors who convince him that World War III is raging above ground. The elaborate bunker charade is classic, carried off with a minimum of expositional dialogue and a maximum of Mission style, while an antagonistic act between Peter Graves and Leonard Nimoy propels the villain’s decision-making.
14. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Watching the pilot episode still gives me goosebumps. Series creator Bruce Geller’s original vision for the series involved capers in the style of heist films like Rififi and Topkapi, and that influence is written all over this IMF mission to recover two nuclear warheads from the hotel HQ of a Caribbean dictator. It’s the formative DNA of Mission: Impossible, from Rollin’s quick-thinking improvisations, to Cinnamon’s charms, to Barney’s technical genius, to Willy’s heavy lifting. I can only imagine the show’s early writers watching this and wondering where do we go from here?
13. “Memory” (Season 1, Episode 2)
The first of many IMF-engineered assassinations is “Memory,” in which the IMF deploys Joseph Baresh (Albert Paulsen), a down-on-his-luck alcoholic – who also happens to have a perfect memory. To discredit a brutal Balkan dictator, Baresh memorizes the entire life of a dead agent, and is then allowed to be “resurrected” and captured so that he can implicate the dictator as a traitor. Left turns and complications abound in this dark, twisty classic, which features one of the series’ best musical scores, a captivating Barney break-in sequence, and Paulsen’s rallying performance at the center.
12. “The Diplomat” (Season 3, Episode 8)
A cleverly unfolding mission of persuasion, this one pits the IMF against the suave Gregory Tolan (Fernando Lamas), who has been tasked with verifying crucial intel about U.S. nuclear control centers. The intelligence is valid and irretrievable, so Phelps and the crew need to convince the enemy that it’s false. A two-pronged attack involves Martin Landau and guest star Lee Grant, who drive an entertaining blackmail con from one side, while Peter Graves provides “corroborating information” from the other, that will sell the deception and seal Tolan’s fate. “The Diplomat” is not flashy, but it’s an intelligent and classy con.
11. “The Mercenaries” (Season 3, Episode 4)
In “The Mercenaries,” the greedy Hans Krim (Pernell Roberts) is mobilizing a mercenary army, terrorizing equatorial Africa in pursuit of riches. The IMF plan to shut him down involves plenty of cleverly structured and well performed misdirection, but the centerpiece is an outlandish gold heist that sounds comical on paper, but comes to life with the magic of television. Barney and Willy’s heavy lifting (and melting) makes for one of the series’ most entertaining sequences.
10. “Snowball in Hell” (Season 1, Episode 21)
The villainous Gerard Sefra (Ricardo Montalbon) possesses a sample of an explosive compound that could be the key to a nuclear arsenal. The catch: he has to keep it cold, in a very, very hot country. These conditions give Briggs the perfect strategy for forcing Sefra to hand the prize right over. Montalbon makes for one of the IMF’s most vicious adversaries, and Greg Morris has a nice, rare early moment in the acting spotlight. It’s got a gritty setting, high production values, clockwork structure, and compelling theatrics – in terms of sheer execution, it doesn’t get much better than “Snowball in Hell.”
9. “The Exchange” (Season 3, Episode 12)
“If you or any member of your IM Force should be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” When Cinnamon gets caught in “The Exchange,” one of Mission’s most urgent hours, we see what lengths the IMF will go to prevent her disavowal. Since they can’t get Cinnamon back directly, they arrange to trade her for an equally valuable agent. The catch? They don’t have that agent, or permission to use him. Sheer novelty value gets this one off to a great start, while the IMF’s frantic, on-the-fly plan – which includes a prison break, a false journey, and a Big Store – propels the hour to an unforgettable “Checkpoint Charlie” finale.
8. “The Execution” (Season 3, Episode 5)
One of Mission’s most powerful breaks, “The Execution” time warps a hired assassin to his last hours on death row to convince him to testify against his mob employer. Written by Woodfield and Balter, this unforgettable “Big Store” ruse depicts – and savagely critiques – the inhumane rituals of the death penalty, a point hammered home by Martin Landau’s amazing breakdown as the villain’s unfortunate cellmate. Add terrific performances, despicable villainy, and a cleverly averted assassination, and the result is a classic.
7. “The Innocent” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Outsiders get entangled in the affairs of the IMF frequently during season five, but never more memorably than in “The Innocent.” A mission-in-progress goes horribly wrong when Barney is paralyzed by a chemical agent and captured. Phelps builds Barney’s rescue into his revised plan, but in order to complete it he needs a computer genius to fill Barney’s shoes: so he labors to involve one, Dr. Jerome Carlin (Christopher Connelly), a man who has no intention of cooperating. A slick mix of unconventional structure and excellent tradecraft, “The Innocent” examines the very premise of the show by putting a conscientious objector in the team’s midst. Carlin’s reluctance, the team’s concern for Barney, and scads of clever plot detail make this one of the series’ most urgent and compelling hours.
6. “The Mind of Stefan Miklos” (Season 3, Episode 13)
Paul Playdon’s first script is his most detailed, and one of the most impressively complex episodes in the series. In this plan to convince the enemy of the veracity of false intelligence, Phelps faces off against his opposite number, Stefan Miklos (Steve Ihnat), a man so brilliant he will likely see through any attempt to deceive him. So the IMF inverts their strategy: they work to persuade him that the intelligence is false, and then ensure that he sees through the plan to believe the opposite. The dramatics are stilted, but the story is deviously intricate and the post-production is superb.
5. “The Carriers” (Season 1, Episode 10)
The arresting visual spectacle of “The Carriers” is a treat: the enemy’s planning a massive bacteriological attack on the U.S., so they’ve built a training facility that perfectly resembles an all-American town in order to train their agents to be Americans. The IMF, including guest scientist Roger Lee (George Takei), replaces four of the enemy’s recruits to infiltrate and smash the operation. A largely improvisational outing, “The Carriers” creates a fantastically creepy atmosphere of placid small-town America shot through with officious authoritarianism. For sheer concept, there are few better.
4. “Submarine” (Season 4, Episode 7)
The shadow of World War II looms over “Submarine,” easily one of the series’ most compellingly executed hours. The team needs to break unbreakable German soldier Kruger Schtelmann (Stephen McNally), who’s about to be released from prison after 25 years of stonewalling his just-as-villainous captors. The IMF’s task: break him in a matter of hours. The adventure opens with a clockwork operation to kidnap the mark – one of my all-time favorite Mission sequences – and then becomes an outlandish interrogation on a submarine stage-set, all while the enemy rushes to find them. The submarine dramatics are an improved variation on the spectacle of “The Train,” propelling the mark inexorably towards his undoing.
3. “The Cardinal” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Pure Mission: Impossible. “The Cardinal” is so good, it even makes using mosquitoes as precision battlefield weapons look plausible. This slickly unfolding puzzle sends the team into a monastery to rescue a key religious leader from the evil General Zepke (Theodore Bikel), who has inserted a double to rubber stamp his regime. This one smartly deploys its cast, peppers its script with clever and suspenseful sequences, and executes the series’ trademark filmmaking style to perfection.
2. “The Heir Apparent” (Season 3, Episode 1)
In “The Heir Apparent,” a constitutional monarchy is about to be overthrown in a military junta. The only hope for the country is for the archbishop to designate a rightful heir. So the IMF gives them one: Cinnamon, who poses as an elderly princess, resurfacing after years in obscurity. This is a first-class hour in every respect: a superb lead performance from Barbara Bain, great supporting roles for Peter Graves and Martin Landau, memorable behind-the-scenes work for Greg Morris and Peter Lupus, terrific costumes and makeup, a smooth and logically unfolding plot, despicable villainy, and a perfect finale.
1. “Operation Rogosh” (Season 1, Episode 3)
The monstrous Imry Rogosh (Fritz Weaver), who has a history of terrorist acts that result in massive body counts, has been spotted in Los Angeles. Briggs and company need to capture him and break him before his latest atrocity is triggered. Surely the most influential Mission: Impossible ever, “Operation Rogosh” is the original “time warp” (propelling the mark into a phony near future) and “Big Store” (convincing him he’s in prison, in his own country, on trial for being a traitor), and it lays the stylistic groundwork for all that would follow. Staying largely in Rogosh’s point-of-view, it’s the ultimate IMF con game, anchored by Weaver’s perfect starring turn, memorable support from Barbara Bain, Steven Hill, Martin Landau, and Greg Morris, inventive direction, and a rousing kangaroo court finale. Mission’s first, and in my view its finest, masterpiece.
Mission: Impossible Screen Capture Gallery