krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
I decided quite a while ago to save a well-respected episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the penultimate position in this project of rewatching and commenting on them. (Looking back, though, I did see I had once considered getting to it much sooner, only to put it off because it would have stretched out getting through the first episode of each season...) The episode is "Mitchell," famous first as the one where Joel Hodgson left the series and Mike Nelson was introduced "as himself" to take over, but also as a cop movie featuring Joe Don Baker. As Mike says as he helps TV's Frank and Dr. Forrester as a temp worker during an audit of Deep 13 (while Joel presents the infamous "Daktari stool" for his half of the "Invention Exchange"), "You guys watch Joe Don Baker movies?"

After a somewhat absurd title sequence with Joe Don Baker's face contorting in slow motion as he hefts a rock over his head ("Now he looks like a small mouth bass." "Now he looks like he's in a wind tunnel!") things get moving with a burglar breaking into a big southern California home ("Not the limited edition Star Trek collector plates!") as that home's owner Walter Deaney (played by John Saxon) and another wealthy individual drive there with two call girls. Deaney manages to surprise and shoot the burglar, and the police arrive with Mitchell dozing in the back of their patrol car. ("Our hero, ladies and gentlemen, right there.") Deaney has planted a gun next to the burglar's body to make it look like self-defence, and while the uniformed cops seem to accept this ("Well, you're rich and white, I don't see a problem with it.") Mitchell is more suspicious. His supervisors, though, just assign him to an almost round-the-clock stakeout of possible drug kingpin James Arthur Cummins (played by Martin Balsam).

Outside the movie, Gypsy manages to listen in to a conversation between Dr. Forrester and Frank (in a 2001 homage) about what to do with their "jumpsuited fool." She jumps to conclusions: "Jumpsuit? Fool? They're going to kill Joel!" In the meantime, Mitchell has used what little time off the stakeout he does have to break into Deaney's house himself, apparently trying to find the flaws in Deaney's framing of the burglar, at least until he has to make a narrow escape. At home in his shabby apartment, he's greeted by the call girl Greta (played by Linda Evans), and after some literally beer-soaked innuendo, he returns to his stakeout of Cummins, who continues to acknowledge Mitchell in an adversarial way. A low-speed car chase ensues. ("This is what I'll remember when I think about the movie Mitchell. And I will think about it." "This makes Driving Miss Daisy look like Bullitt." "I've seen faster funeral processions!") A Ford Mustang eventually shows up, though, and manages to run Mitchell's boat of a car off the dirt road.

As Gypsy agonises about how to save Joel (with little help from Tom and Crow), Mitchell is invited to dinner at Cummins's place and then assaulted by some thugs on his way back home. ("Ooh, right in the tenderloin steak region!") He gets over that by jumping into his folded-out sofa bed with Greta ("Why would anyone want to do this with Mitchell, Joel?"), then brings her in on drug possession charges. It's revealed she was Deaney's best attempt to get Mitchell off his case (and then, in an extended sequence cut from the episode, Deaney and Cummins actually interact after which Deaney to try and run down Mitchell with a dune buggy only to himself be blown up), but then Mitchell gets thoroughly involved with Cummins's drug smuggling.

Gypsy has now got in touch with Mike to discover there was an escape pod on the Satellite of Love inside a box marked "Hamdingers," and in the movie things are blowing up around Mitchell, first when the heroin he's smuggling turns out to be chalk, then when he manages to blow up his boobytrapped car to escape the irate gangsters long enough to collect a shotgun from a police helicopter and gun everybody down. As Cummins and his henchman Benton (played by Merlin Olsen) flee out to sea on Cummins's boat ("Now this looks positively Baywatchian." "PT 90210."), Mitchell takes off in pursuit. With the aid of one of the police pilots ("What a great action hero! He just pawns off his duties on others."), he swings a yellow gas bottle at the end of a long line into the flying bridge of the boat only for the pilot to be shot by Benton and fall into the water. Mitchell storms the boat, guts Benton with a boat hook, and manages to lure Cummins out only to gun him down.

Returning home once more ("You know, it's about this time in any killing spree where you really should turn the gun on yourself."), Mitchell finds Greta has shown up once more. This time, he just busts her for possession straight off. With that, Gypsy interrupts Joel's attempt to read a letter by dropping him into the escape pod and shooting him back to Earth; he manages to say his last goodbyes to his robot friends (with his short-legged jumpsuit obviously visible and confetti being thrown into the Hexfield Viewscreen to substitute for static) before Dr. Forrester and Frank find their substitute for him close to hand.

As a character, Mitchell makes for an easy target (as much as I just might have started wondering about my tendency to not get worked up over fictional characters), and the movie has its own peculiarities beyond him. Whether this makes it a suitably challenging and rewarding subject for Joel's last episode (until his brief guest appearance in "Soultaker" and his much later return in the special introduction to "The Giant Gila Monster" DVD), or whether the movie and episode are in a way burnished by Joel's farewell, though, I do find myself wondering. In any case, as a fitting penultimate experience it put the conclusion itself close to hand.

May 2017

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