“I’ll break you,” warns Ivan Trigorin. I guess he thinks he’s Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV.”
I must’ve stumbled into the Department of Just When You Think You’ve Seen It All… a Mr. T Roast:
There’s so much oddness going on here. Bob Hope, Ann Jillian and Howard Cosell roasting Mr. T with Dean Martin? “The dynamic and delightful Gary Coleman”? Slappy White? I wonder if anyone ever asked the grown-up Rick Schroeder what it was like to watch Red Buttons make comparisons between T and the Biblical figure Noah. And this – this – is an image that will stick with you. Maybe forever.
The Say Uncle Affair
Wild Guess Preview: The A-Team is set to head to a far-off land for another mission, but their driveway is being blocked by none other than Scut Farkus! What a rotten name! They were trapped. There he stood, between the team and the awesome van. Scut Farkus, staring out at them with his yellow eyes. He had yellow eyes!
What Murdock doesn’t know is that there are like 3000 “Gorky Park” CDs in the cargo area.
The Recap: Any episode that starts “somewhere in Siberiaâ€ is going to be wild, and this is no exception”: the team storms a warehouse dressed as Soviet soldiers, driving a cute little tank. They sneak up on the real soldiers, punch them out and steal a sleek, top-secret red and black Soviet jet, I suppose because it’s painted with the awesome van colors and they’re worried the jet would dilute their brand. Murdock says “she’s a beauty” and flies away in the jet, while the others take off by tank just as the rest of the Soviet soldiers arrive. Isn’t this more or less how the movie “Goldeneye” began?
This episode is unusual in that it has acts. Act I is called “This is Strictly Business, Of Course.” Did Ira Glass of “This American Life” write the script? Stockwell is in his plane/office, and he gets a (unauthorized) call on his secure phone line from “Brown Fox,” who’s played by David McCallum, Robert Vaughn’s old costar on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (this explains the Act I title, too) They exchange some old spy code banter, and then go over how they used to be partners in the CIA. “Have you considered my offer?” Stockwell asks, and yes, Brown Fox has been “thinking of nothing else.” They decide to meet up in Los Angeles.
Or, more accurately, the La Brea Tar Pits. Brown Fox says he wants to return to intelligence work because he needs help clearing up some “trouble” he’s in with MI-5 in Britain. Stockwell, who’s been reading the guy’s file, notes that this story’s a phony, frisks the guy and takes him to his car at gunpoint. But Brown Fox has one trick left up his sleeve, or, rather, on it: his wristwatch spews out some knockout gas, putting Stockwell to sleep.
The team is in L.A. too, and Murdock’s thrilled to be back: “The freeways, the shallow people, the superficial relationships… how could we have lived anywhere else?” The team watches a TV news report in their hotel room about the stolen Soviet jet. “Now who could’ve done that?” Frankie deadpans. B.A. answers the phone and a strange voice says “turn to Channel 8.” It’s Carla. “We have a major problem…. General Stockwell is missing.” Wait, this is a bad thing?
Carla says the general was last seen in the company of Ivan Trigorin. That’s Brown Fox, of course. She adds that he’s “a major international player” whose cover is a psychology professor; he’s even doing a lecture tour across the U.S., and is speaking at UCLA this afternoon. “You must find Stockwell within the next 36 hours” or his whole secret operation will vanish, including the team’s chances of a pardon.
Ok, but then why are there a bunch of Soviet soldiers bursting through the hotel room door? Murdock, Face and Frankie take them out pretty easily, and B.A. lugs them to the bathtub to extract some answers. Finally one guy tells Hannibal he was ordered to find Stockwell. This is odd; if the KGB is still looking for Stockwell, the colonel says, then they clearly don’t have him. So who does?
Oh, Stockwell was cured, all right!
Judging from the white lights and medical equipment, the cast of “A Clockwork Orange”! Ivan is there, along with a Dr. Lee; “where is it?” he asks Stockwell, but the general only says “where’s what?” That’s the cue for some torture. Ivan insists this is all “strictly business,” though.
Act II: “A Crazy Line of Work.” Sarah Vowell tells us all about her four days working at the Canadian ministry of tourism… agh, I’m doing it again. The team is leafing through a big file on Ivan, though Frankie’s in no mood to think; he’s worried they won’t find Stockwell and they’ll end up as fugitives. “Oh man, you make me nostalgic,” B.A. quips. Someone hired Trigorin to get close to Stockwell, but that someone is still unknown. “Who’s big enough – or hungry enough – to make a play for the plane?” Hannibal asks. Murdock remembers that Trigorin, in his professor disguise, has been auditing courses in China.
So it’s off to the Chinese consulate! Murdock dresses up as a cowboy/food delivery man, dropping off Chinese food for the confused consulate workers. He uses a hidden camera inside his food tray to snap photos of everyone inside, though he bumps into several armed Chinese dudes and that’s the end of that.
“Wong for the Road”?!?
The rest of the team is in a motor home, listening to loud dance music on Frankie’s stereo. “Be careful with that!” he admonishes B.A., who’s ripping the thing out of the wall. “It belongs to my cousin.” “You turn that up one more time,” B.A. counters, “and it’ll belong to the garbageman!” Hannibal starts to explain the plan to infiltrate the place and find Stockwell, but Murdock returns, covered in Chinese food, and announces that the consulate is now “in a state of military preparedness… I myself was struck repeatedly with moo shu pork and egg foo young.”
Ivan is spinning Stockwell around in a chair and trying to get him to fess up about the location of the stolen Soviet jet, but Stockwell’s cagey and only speaks about “Operation Javelin,” one of their past missions in Cuba. This irritates Ivan. “When I come back you’d better have a way to break him,” he tells Dr. Lee. “Or I’ll break you.” I guess he thinks he’s Ivan Drago from “Rocky IV.”
It’s 5 am sharp the next morning, time for B.A., Face and Murdock to ride a zip line right into the consulate. They find a secret combination lock in a bookcase, which Face opens… and Stockwell isn’t there. Neither is Ivan. But there’s a file in the computer on Trigorin; he’s connected to a place called Coastal Psychiatric Hospital. The alarm goes off at this point and they have to run for it; luckily Hannibal lends a hand by tossing some smoke grenades so they can all drive away in the motor home.
The man didn’t have the right form. The man from the Ministry of Housinge.
Murdock is not happy that Ivan is at a psych hospital; after all, he says, pulling out a card, “this little doohickey says I’m perfectly and sensationally sane!” The card has “I am sane” on it, drawn in crayon. So Hannibal reassures the captain: “I’m only asking you to pretend.” This works, so Hannibal wheels Murdock into the psych ward, and ol’ Howlin’ Mad is back in his element: he’s dressed as a young Frank Sinatra and crooning “Strangers in the Night,” demanding a “bellman” lead “Mr. Sinatra” to his “suite.”
The Man From L.A. Bowtie Surplus
Face and Frankie head to Trigorin’s book signing. Ivan talks at length about how we must all open up and use as much of our potential as possible; I’d transcribe it but it’s going to air on PBS about 65 times in the coming week. Frankie actually digs the self-help talk and buys all his books; Face has to remind him that “we’re supposed to be following this guy, not making him rich!” Frankie heads to the parking garage and tries to break into Ivan’s fancy car for clues, but Trigorin spots and then clobbers him. “Auto theft is not nice,” he says. Is that a catchphrase?
Come on and fly with me
Act III: “Let’s Be Frank.” David Sedaris wants to be the first American essayist commando in Paris… er, sorry. The team is back at the motor home. “The longer they keep Stockwell,” Hannibal says, “the sooner they’re gonna find out that he doesn’t know where we hid the jet.” They’re hoping Murdock will find a lead at the mental hospital. And he does; while swaggering up the stairs, singing “It Was a Very Good Year,” the captain opens a door and finds a couple of sinister-looking Chinese guards. He then starts back down the stairs in reverse, continuing the song in a Chipmunk voice. Hannibal has to show up in his psychiatrist getup to make it look like Murdock was just acting crazy and not spying.
There’s just one problem: Murdock definitely saw the guards, but he and Hannibal drop by every floor on the hospital and there’s nothing suspicious in sight. Hmm… they notice as they ride up the elevator that it takes twice as long as usual to get from floor five to six. There’s a secret floor in between! “And we’re gonna get on that floor,” Hannibal says. Actually, Beller Air Conditioning is going to get on that floor; Frankie, Hannibal, B.A. and Face unload some equipment and move into the building; unloading equipment is, I fear, as close to a montage as we’re going to get these days.
Ivan is still spinning Stockwell around in his chair, making him hallucinate and trying to find out where the jet is hidden. Stockwell’s freaking out to the point that Dr. Lee stops the torture temporarily, fearing that the general’s about to croak. Then Stockwell starts flashing back to Cuba, where a military guy has him and Ivan tied up and keeps asking “Where is Javelin?” Stockwell comes to and realizes that Ivan talked to the Cubans, “the entire Javelin network… dead because of you.” Ivan still wants to know where the jet is. “Break, damn you,” he says. I MUST BREAK YOU.
I MUST BREAK ROCKS
The team’s air conditioning equipment is actually audio equipment: they’ve installed a giant subwoofer and turned the bass up to excruciating levels to simulate an earthquake! Everybody in the hospital evacuates. Ivan too; he tells some agents to take Stockwell to a helicopter on the roof. Hannibal sees this and rushes toward the chopter as it takes off, so as to meet Ivan and his gun barrel. “I’ve got something you want, and you’ve got something I want,” he says. “What do you say we make a deal?”
Act IV: In Plane Sight. Starlee Kine develops a crush on Hannibal Smith after a bad breakup, and finds that the “A-Team” theme song is the only thing that makes her feel better. Actually, Hannibal Smith is trying to break up with Ivan Trigorin. The Stockwell-for-jet deal “is peace with honor,” he tells Ivan, because Stockwell’s death would mean almost certain death for the team. “You want the Russian jet. We want to live.” Hannibal leads Trigorin and the chopter to a film studio, where the team has hidden the jet. The rest of the team is heading to the same studio in the motor home, where B.A. is doing the usual “shut up, fool” routine to Murdock’s Sinatra crooning. Murdock’s response is classic: “Mind your manners, Sammy, or I’ll have Dino throw you out.”
The jet is, in fact, on the studio lot. But Trigorin can’t figure out how he’ll take it away. “I told you I’d show you where it was,” Hannibal says, with a smirk. “Getting it out of here, that’s your problem.” Stockwell is furious that Hannibal led Ivan to the jet. “You’ll hang for this, Colonel,” he says, but the motor home pulls up and the team starts a big shootout with Trigorin’s men. Which the team wins by blowing up the plane and everything around it.
This image is 300,000 times better because of those Wild West in the background
Ivan flees in a van, and Stockwell goes after him, chasing him through the set of a Western movie, “Blood Canyon.” (There’s a studio tour bus driving nearby; the guide, who thinks Ivan and Stockwell are acting, keeps pointing out the extreme realism of the special effects!) Finally they square off, gunfighter style, though most gunfighters aren’t in Econoline vans. Nonetheless, Ivan revs his engine and speeds toward Stockwell, but the general shoots out his windshield and then makes the van flip over AND explode with a well-placed shot.
Stockwell’s feeling righteous about his latest dose of flaming justice, though he won’t believe Ivan is really dead until he goes through the wreckage himself. Still, he’s mad at Hannibal and says “our deal’s off” because the plane blew up. Actually, Hannibal says, that was a movie prop: “the real one is stashed outside of Barstow.” Stockwell calls the special phone and tells Carla that it’s “alert canceled” and “condition green… we’re coming home.”
Epilogue: “Curtain Call.” Earlier, during the race to the movie lot, Murdock saw a sign that said “The King of Swing is Back.” And now he’s backstage at the concert venue in his Sinatra getup. When they announce the start of the show, Murdock strolls onstage and says “Relax, people; guess who’s back in town?” Boy George? The crowd’s just happy he’s not singing a duet with Bono. Dang, the end.
A fun experiment. Stockwell just isn’t likable enough yet to really care that he gets kidnapped, so they were smart to emphasize that the team needed Stockwell to get their pardon. And the “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” references were nice; I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of the show (“My Year With the Man from U.N.C.L.E.?” Nah) but it was very clear they were playing up Robert Vaughn and David McCallum’s history, so I didn’t feel left out. And Murdock’s Sinatra bit was solid gold. Sing on, old fool eyes!