Well, a few weeks ago I reviewed the '88 revival version of "The Killer". So as not really promised, here's my review of the original version of it, in the original series.

Season 5 of the original MI was an odd time for the show. The creative team had lost Martin Landau and Barbara Bain at the end of Season 3. The series floundered a bit in season 4. Leonard Nimoy, fresh off of Star Trek, was brought in as the Amazing Paris to replace master of disguise Rollin Hand. The femme fatale character was played by different actresses (Lee Meriwether the most recurring) or sometimes dropped entirely.

Season 5 had Nimoy returning but he never quite got the big roles that he got in season 4. They also brought in Lesley Ann Warren as Dana Lambert, and they had a lot of problems with her. Including the fact that she was considered too young (24 at the time). by many. There were also plans to phase out Peter Lupus as Willy, replacing him with a very young Sam Elliott as Dr. Doug Robert. That didn't work out, as the IMF had already established that they could get doctors as necessary. Compared to a magician or a strongman or a technical genius, a doctor just wasn't that special. Doug often ended up doing what Willy did: driving the van, working behind the scenes, and playing minor roles.

Also, season 5 was when the creative team decided to move away from the personality-less ciphers that the cast was in the first 3-4 seasons., and that series creator Bruce Geller felt was ideal for his show. This was both good and bad. There were episodes like "Homecoming" where Jim goes home and solves a murder mystery, and it's a lot like any episode of any private detective show of the era. The creative team also had the IMF's missions hit some kind of complication, forcing the agents to improvise. There were also guest characters that were unanticipated complications: a serial killer, a low-rent crook, rebels who abducted Paris when he was posing as an American millionaire, an unwilling civilian programmer when Barney is out of commission. And more off-book stuff. One episode had Barney wounded and left behind during a mission, and the team going back for him. Another had Paris being subjected to brainwashing by enemy agents.

There were still good episodes in this period: "Hunted", the one with Barney being wounded, has one of the best tags in TV history with someone taking off the generic white man's mask to reveal that it's Barney underneath. But there are a fair number of "standard" missions in this period as well. And the series had done off-the-book mission episodes before. And by the end of the season, Nimoy, Warren, and Elliott were all gone.

Most of this isn't reflected in "The Killer". It does give the IMF team a formidable opponent in Eddie Lorca. He's a hitman who does everything randomly. Although it isn't entirely random. Eddie rolls two dice to make a lot of his selections. Bet he rolls a lot of 7s. Since Eddie does everything randomly, the IMF has to be on its toes. Fortunately, even though they don't know who Eddie is going to kill, or how, or when, or the true identity of his boss, the IMF conveniently knows when he's coming into town.

So on with the comparison to the '88 version. That was a re-introduction to the series, so we got an opening tag with the random killer ("Matthew Drake" here) killing Jim's protégé. That led to a cemetery scene where Jim clearly intends to kick butt and avenge his buddy.

In the '70 version, we get an opening scene of Eddie in his apartment. Apparently he has a thing for epileptics, because some girl is "dancing" to radio music. Eddie is reading a magazine and rolls his dice for no reason. Maybe he's rolling to see if he puts the girl out of her misery or not.

Eddie then gets a call from his boss Scorpio with instructions for his next assignment. Eddie tells the girl that he doesn't like to call her during a job, but then says that he might anyway as he leaves. I imagine that the poor girl is either Matthew Drake's mother and thus Eddie's wife. Or her skeleton is still in that apartment because she waited for Eddie's promised call and *spoilers!* he never called back.

In one of the amusing parallels with the '88 remake, Jim then goes to the beach and gets his recorded briefing from a fisherman. There's none of the "Tom is dead" exposition we get in the '88 episode. And it's on a rocky section of beach. The waves are making a lot of noise, but fortunately the IMF Voice is inserted in post-dub so Jim can hear it.

Cut to the credits and then the briefing. Lesley Ann Warren's character is introduced without explanation, which was standard for all of the new main-star agents in the original show. There's also no dossier scene: the bit where Jim picks out the agents for the assignment and almost always hates on the photo of Bruce Geller. That was pretty much phased out in season 4 anyway.

The main thing we get from the briefing is that Barney has created a "blank" hotel. And they're going to get as close to Eddie as possible so that they can find out who he's after and identify Scorpio.

A lot of the '70 episode parallels the '88 episode. The Disguise Guy and the Tough Guy (Paris and Willy, Nicholas and Max) are waiting at the airport. The hitman arrives, skips the first cab with the Tough Guy, and takes the cab with the Disguise Guy. Eddie uses the phone book at a pay phone (ask your parents, kids!) to pick a hotel 15 minutes from the airport . Barney and his team of lots of IMF supporting agents need 20 minutes to put everything into place at the hotel to match the name of the place that Eddie chose.

Oddly, some of the flaws here are kept in the '88 redo. The Femme Fatale still has to set up the camera in the room that they have set up for Eddie. Even though they knew which room they were going to put him in regardless of what hotel he chose.

And the hotel has a fake address, but Eddie goes back and forth from there later with ease and gives his bagwoman a nearby park based on the phony address.

Anyhoo, Paris and Willy try to stall. Paris drives slow, and Willy first tampers with a stoplight and then has some IMF agents cut off Paris' cab with two trucks. Paris is forced to improvise when Eddie threatens to walk. Still, they buy the five extra minutes that the hotel team needs to finish making the place up.

And anyone else find it amusing that they have Willy doing the tech stuff with the stoplight, while Barney walks around the hotel and swaps in phone book covers? Peter Lupus as Willy is often underrated, but I'm sure he was up to the task of swapping in phone book covers.

There's also a cute bit where some elderly IMF seamstress loses it while putting red trim on some sheets. And Dana gently helps her. Awww... Although you wonder what the retirement age is for the IMF.

This is what happens to you, dearie, when you're too old to be the femme fatale. But that Jim Phelps is a foxy one and the times we used to have...

So they put Eddie in the rigged room and watch him on the Random-MO Hitman Channel. Umm, I mean the surveillance camera they planted. Eddie eventually leaves the hotel and calls his contact number. it's a woman, Flo, who sounds a little bit like Dana. The IMF gets the number and after Eddie hangs up, Paris impersonating Eddie's voice calls Flo back and sets up an alternate meeting a little earlier. Even though she said she couldn't get there any earlier and the new meeting is just a block away. He gets the target information from her, and then Dana takes it to Eddie in his hotel room.

What follows is a painful scene where the 24-year-old Dana flirts with the 35-year-old Eddie (now in a blue wife beater). The same weird scene from the '88 revival is found here: Eddie says that Dana isn't the woman he talked to on the phone. She bluffs it through, and I have no idea if he really believes what he's saying or it's just a random gambit that he tosses out to test her.

Eventually Eddie puts the moves on Dana and they actually kiss unlike in the remake. She slaps him, yells at him to get on the job, and walks off. This is all to buy the team time to get Eddie's target, union leader William Barton, replaced with Barney with Barton's permission. Barton is black, so Barney is the only viable replacement target. Barney just goes in without a Barton mask or anything: the team counts on the fact that Eddie doesn't know union leaders. Which is even less believable than it is in the '88 series, since Matthew Drake is an international assassin. But Eddie Lorca is an American assassin going after an American target. Sure, it's possible... but would the IMF take the chance?

Eddie's hit goes a bit more believably in the '70 version. He goes to the room above Barton's, gets out his gun, and then rolls randomly. Eddie must have a mental numbering system, because the die roll somehow comes up plastic explosive golf balls. And he seems to have the murder method in mind before he chooses it: how was he going to shoot or garrote his target from the room above him?

Meanwhile, with nothing else to do, Greg Morris wanders around the hotel room and makes little gun-finger pointing gestures at the dummy of himself he's set up as a lure. Presumably they edited out the little "ka-pow" sounds that Mr. Morris made as he did this.

In the '70 version, Eddie lowers the wad of plastic explosives down the air vent via a string to the target's room. he uses a series of phone calls to keep Barney there, sets the timer, cuts off the string so no one will see it (why not move a chair in front of the vent?) and leaves. When Willy spots Eddie coming out and lets Jim know, Jim realizes that Eddie has already set the hit in motion. Using his photographic memory (??), Jim remembers the air vent next to the phone and figures that Eddie keeps calling to keep Barney near the phone. After Jim's warning, Barney gets out just in time.

Eddie waits across the street. The IMF has anticipated this and Willy gives the signal to an IMF agent to run out and say that the target has been blown to bits. Which seems like rather excessive planning: what if Eddie had shot Barney up close?

In a nice bit that they unfortunately changed for the '88 version, Dana doesn't try to fake-kill Eddie. Instead they set it up to make it look like Scorpio killed her and was going to kill Eddie as well. This eliminates a potential problem in the '88 version: what if Matthew had shot Casey in the head? Anyhoo, Eddie hails a cab (driven by Willy, although there's no reason for it), and orders him to drive to Scorpio's estate in the hills. The others pick up Dana and follow.

Eddie bursts in on Scorpio, who is named Alfred Chambers both here and in the '88 version. So why change Eddie's name, but not Chambers'? Scorpio is reading a book but conveniently has a pistol hidden in his sofa. When a PO'd Eddie shoots him, Scorpio shoots Eddie. The IMF team comes in, Paris calls for an ambulance (??) and the police, and Willy checks Eddie's pulse and gives a little "He's dead, Jim" shake of his head. Since the creative team was supposedly going to bring back Eddie if it had gone to season 8, apparently Willy isn't very good at identifying dead people. Jim roll's Eddie's dice and they come up snake eyes. The end.

I both like and dislike this version of Chambers. In the '88 version, he's a buddy of Tom Copperfield, Jim's dead protégé. So there's a very minor symmetry in showing Chambers at the beginning and the end. On the other hand, Chambers is such an obvious suspect as Scorpio in the '88 version (because he's the only suspect) that it almost works better when we don't see him until the end. Although in the '70 version, Jim acts like Chambers' name is some significant thing. When... it's not?

Given how similar the episodes are, the real question is... who is better, Robert Conrad as Eddie Lorca, or John de Lancie as "Matthew Drake." On the one hand, Drake is a suave, sophisticated killer who goes to parties in a tux and uses crystal drug darts and mechanical shooters.

Conrad's Eddie's more of a thug. It doesn't help that the first we see of him is in a wife beater. And the very first shot is of his "Born to Win" tattoo, which is never explained.

On the other hand, it's Jim Freakin' West. Conrad would show up later in a season 7 episode, "Break!", and appeared earlier briefly in season 3 as Barney's boxing coach in "The Contender" part 1. But even though his Eddie Lorca is pretty sketchy, Conrad brings an easy physicality to the role. Along with some of the same smugness that de Lancie brought 18 years later. I like Eddie's little smirk from time to time. It seems like Eddie thinks that he's the smartest guy in the room. Even if he isn't.

Both episodes are entertaining. Which one you prefer probably depends on a) whether you like John de Lancie or Robert Conrad more; and b) if you like the slightly more character-driven '88 version. Since it gives Jim a personal motive for wanting the hitman dead and lets the actors... well, act a little more. Or maybe you don't care.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Comments (13)
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Aug 09, 2017
Great review. I'll have to check R.Cs M.I eps once I'm done with my Baa Baa Black Sheep rewatch.
Aug 09, 2017
Be warned: he really doesn't appear much in "The Contender", and only in part 1. RC does rock a mustache in it, though.
Aug 07, 2017
One of my favorite Mission: Impossible episodes is from season 5: "The Amateur." No recorded briefing, the mission's over and basically the episode deals with the team having to improvise (or fall back on contingencies) when their exit goes FUBAR.
Aug 07, 2017
That was kind of the plot of several of their fifth season episodes. Like the aforementioned "Hunted".

Heck it was the plot of some of their earlier episodes like "The Exchange".
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