The classic IMF cast, starting in season 2note Clockwise from lower left: Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), Willy Armitage (Peter Lupis), Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), Barney Collier (Greg Morris), Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain)
Good morning, Mr. or Ms. Troper.The show you're looking at is Mission: Impossible, a unique Spy Drama based around a semi-ad hoc covert operations team employed by the US Government for dicey missions needing maximum deniability. The television series lasted from September, 1966 to March, 1973; a total of 171 episodes were filmed over the seven season run. It was the longest-surviving of the "spy-fi" genre of US and UK-made TV series of the 1960s (The Avengers aired over a 9-year period but fewer seasons and episodes were produced).For the first few years, every episode followed the same outline: First, a prerecorded briefing informs the team leader, Jim Phelps, of the target, what needs to be done to him, and why. Second, Jim assembles his team and the viewer gets to see a selected but mostly uninformative subset of their planning and briefing. Thirdly, the mission — usually a caper or con — is executed, sometimes with real or bogus crises along the way. Finally, the team reassembles in a convenient vehicle and escapes as the target confesses, turns state's evidence, or slowly cools in a spreading pool of blood after his own men kill him. Later seasons did away with some of the traditions, much to viewer chagrin.The original cast:
Steven Hill as Dan Briggs, a cold, cerebral strategist who would be given the mission, formulate a plan, select a team of agents (not always the same ones in early episodes), and put everything in motion.
Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter, a glamorous Femme Fatale who could wrap men around her finger with a single raised eyebrow.
Former bodybuilder Peter Lupus as Willy Armitage, essentially a Gentle Giant. Despite being the muscle of the team, Willy displayed surprising bursts of speed on occasion, in addition to being a gifted actor and improviser.
Martin Landau played Rollin Hand, a Master of Disguise, sleight-of-hand, card sharping and many other skills, as a guest star in the pilot, but was so popular with audiences that he became the Ensemble Dark Horse and was called back for virtually every subsequent episode, always billed as a "special appearance." He was made a series regular in season two.When Hill became increasingly difficult to work with (as one of the few Orthodox Jewish actors in Hollywood, Hill was unwilling to abide by the show's production schedule, as it stipulated that he work on the Sabbath and after sundown of Friday when he was committed to being in prayer. See The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier by Patrick White), he was gradually written out of the series; when he was replaced by Peter Graves as stern-faced Jim Phelps in season two, the classic cast was set. Other cast changes followed; with Landau and Bain leaving at the end of season three, Landau was replaced by Leonard Nimoy, fresh from the recently cancelled Star Trek (which Landau turned down to do MI instead), playing master of disguise The Great Paris, and Bain by an assortment of leading ladies, culminating in Lesley Warren as the waif-like Dana. There was an ill-advised attempt made at writing out Peter Lupus in favor of a medical doctor team member played by a pre-cowboy-stardom Sam Elliott, until the producers realized how popular Willy was. An attempt was eventually made to invigorate the leading lady role by casting Lynda Day George as Casey, who was both the leading lady and the Master of Disguise, but by then the series was on its last legs. One final cast tweak in the final season saw George temporarily replaced by Ironside veteran Barbara Anderson while George was on maternity leave.Mission: Impossible was a thinking man's espionage program. Gunplay was kept to a minimum (with a few notable early-series exceptions when the series was still finding its rhythm), and the focus was always on outwitting and outmaneuvering the foe, who usually didn't know he was being targeted at all. The IMF were never dispatched for ordinary tasks that a simple James Bond type could handle with a couple of explosions and a chase scene - they were called upon to accomplish their goals by outplanning and outthinking their opposition, often by playing mind games with them on such a scale that more than one may have been driven into madness. After the first season IMF operatives rarely killed anybody directly, but their targets didn't always survive as a favored outcome was usually the target being killed by his own organization; one episode established that IMF did not go in for assassinations, however there was nothing saying they couldn't arrange assassination by proxy.All but invented Latex Perfection and the Master of Disguise, and originated many of its own unique tropes, not the least of which is its most famous and most parodied elements, "this tape will self-destruct in five seconds" and "if you or any member of your IM force are caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions." Interestingly, early seasons only used the self-destructing tape on occasion, with other methods such as melting vinyl records and hidden recordings being used more frequently. A growing number of episodes as the series went on omitted the tape scenes altogether, sometimes featuring missions joined in progress, or "personal missions" where an IMF member goes off-book.The show's distinctive use of what creator Bruce Geller called "a team of specialists" to carry out a complex plan inspired numerous imitators, most notably The A-Team, but also shows such as Charlie's Angels and Leverage (and even a cartoon in the form of DePatie-Freleng Enterprises' The Houndcats).There was a two-season Next Generation-style continuation of the original series filmed in Australia in the 1980s; Peter Graves returned as Jim Phelps, mentoring an all-new team (including Barney Collier's son, Grant); originally conceived as a straight-out remake in order to fill a hole in ABC's schedule created by a Hollywood writer's strike, the series ended up being a continuation of the original (though the strike still forced them to remake a couple of original series episodes), while Greg Morris and Lynda Day George made guest appearances as their original characters. An NES game was also developed.A successful revival occurred with a Mission: Impossible film series starring Tom Cruise, although it bears little resemblance to the tone and spirit of the original series. Much Flanderization of Jim Phelps' character occurred in the first movie with a strange Face-Heel Turn. The film series differed more from its original counterpart with a Younger and Hipper vibe with a far-smaller IMF team, reflecting the All-Star Cast of one that is, apparently, just Tom Cruise.A TV series based on the movies is possibly being developed.
Your mission, Troper, should you choose to accept it, is to describe the tropes found in the series:
Martin Landau essayed double roles in the pilot and "Wheels."
In "Shock" guest star James Daly played a kidnapped U.S. envoy, the enemy agent impersonating him and Dan Briggs disguised, thanks to Steven Hill's difficulties.
When Leonard Nimoy replaced Martin Landau as the disguise expert, he played his regular role of Paris and the Big Bad in "The Choice," and Paris, a double of a deceased premier and said premier (in pictures), plus the "Robot" of the title. There were also several times when he played minor roles in disguise and the audience had no idea it was him.
Action Girl: Inverted usually as the female IMF agents generally use their brains more than their brawn during missions.
Indeed, in the 1980s version, one of the few occasions in which a female IMF agent is shown in "Action Girl" mode results in her being killed and disavowed.
Adolf Hitler: A number of Missions revolved around Hitler - or more specifically stopping his modern day followers - such as "The Legacy", "Echo of Yesterday", and "The Legend" in the original version and "The Fuehrer's Children" and a remake of "The Legacy" in the 80's update. Martin Landau impersonates Hitler directly in "Echo of Yesterday" (he also impersonates Martin Bormann in "The Legend").
Hitler is also one of the hotel guests in the MAD parody Mission: Ridiculous, noting how "very suspicious" everything is going on around the team.
Alan Smithee: Used in both the original series and the revival - due to Meyer Dolinsky's script for the original's "Live Bait" being changed drastically en route to the screen, one "Michael Adams" receives co-teleplay and story credit; the revival's remake of "The Condemned" credits "John Truman" with the story because Laurence Heath, author of the original, took his name off the remake (as did William Read Woodfield with the remake of "The Legacy").
Argentina Is Naziland: In "The Legend", Briggs and Cinammon impersonate a former Nazi and his daughter who are invited to attend a reunion of aged Nazi leaders at the South American home of Nazi fugitive Martin Bormann, who is planning the creation of the Fourth Reich.
Aristocrats Are Evil: In "The Devils", the IMF stop a British lord who involves foreign and domestic officials in Satanic rituals and human sacrifice for blackmail purposes.
Arms Dealer: In "The Cattle King", the IMF has to shut down an arms dealer who is supplying weapons to terrorists.
Artistic License - Cars: Frequently, Checker A12 Marathons were used in place of Soviet cars, most likely meant to represent GAZ M-13 Chaikas and M-23 Volgas (M-21 with the M-13's V8 and transmission), which were only available to Soviet and KGB officials and not the common people, and definitely not Hollywood producers. The three cars look nothing alike.
As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Or looks like it on a sign. Since the IMF was frequently hacking into electric, gas, telephone, and other infrastructure, the Ruritania settings always featured appropriate signage. One of the few humorous Running Gags on the show involved the writers coming up with increasingly ridiculous Ruritanian gibberish to put on the signs — like "machinawerke" for machine shop or "zona restrik" for restricted area.
In some European countries there really are utility covers that say "Gaz", a frequent example of "Gellerese".
Batman Gambit: The plans invariably depended on near-perfect predictions of how the victims would respond.
Bifauxnen: One episode of the 80's revival had the protagonists attempting to hunt down a female assassin in a ballroom, using a detector that identified her by scent. Only problem was, they were identifying only the women in the crowd, and the assassin was going undercover as a man.
Barney is quiet, careful, competent, but attack his family or his friends, and you'll discover just how dangerous a Gadgeteer Genius can be. (See "Cat's Paw," in which his brother is murdered.)
Grant, his son, is the same way.
This also applies to Rollin, who loses it when Dan is shot in "The Legacy" and almost strangles the main villain with his bare hands. And when the Big Bad guns down Nicole (from the episode of the same name) in front of Jim, who's fallen in love with her, Rollin actually kills the villain on the spot. While the IMF basically arranges for the demise of many, many people at the hands of their fellow baddies throughout the series, this is one of the very few times that an IMF member does the job personally.
Even Jim, in "The Fortune," shows a moment of being ready to strike the Dragon LadyBig Bad of the episode when she is shown with the proof she killed Casey Randall while Grant and Max aren't that far off.
Though less so in the 1980s version, which became more violent and bloody in the second season.
The Boxing Episode: "The Contender" is a set of two episodes where the plot revolves around eliminating a mobsters, and Barney takes the role of a another boxer, having been revealed to have been a successful one before.
Bullying The Dragon: On more than one occasion, a member of the team would fall afoul of a government totally by accident, bringing the entire IMF down on their heads.
Cable-Car Action Sequence: In "The Tram" the IMF must infiltrate a Syndicate financial meeting - held at a mountain resort only accessible by aerial tramway - to discover the group's Swiss bank account number. Naturaly the eponymous tram features heavily in the action.
The Captain: Dan Briggs, initially, and Jim Phelps thereafter.
Cast as a Mask: When Nicholas, Paris or Rollin needed to totally disguise themselves to impersonate someone else, that person's actor was used to play them for that sequence.
"Reprisal" had Peter Graves play an impostor who was killing former IMF agents and framing Jim for the crimes. He's replaced with someone else when the "mask" the imposter was using is peeled off by Lisa.
Most notably, in "Shock" (made when Steven Hill's days on the show were numbered), Dan is disguised as guest star James Daly (already playing two roles before the plan goes into action) for most of the episode.
Casting Gag: The 80's sequel series starred Greg Morris's son (Phil Morris, perhaps best known as Jackie Chiles) as Barney Collier's son.
Catch Phrase: Pretty much all the "boilerplate" language in the tape scenes, though some of the iconic phrases took some time to finalize. "Your mission, should you choose to accept it" was first used in the seventeenth episode, and wasn't the standard phrase until much later (It was originally "Your mission, should you decide to accept it").
Cat Fight: Cinnamon and Crystal stage a prolonged cat fight as a distraction in "Old Man Out".
Shannon and a female assassin character credited only as "Big Blonde" do a catfight in a pool of water in the revival episode "The Golden Serpent".
Chekhov's Gun: Generally, a number of these were introduced in each briefing scene, more often than not consisting of odd gadgetry that Barney had bodged together for the other team members. One of the ways the show maintained suspense was by holding back, for as long as possible, The Reveal as to how exactly each piece of equipment figured in the plan.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Throughout the series, when cast members departed, their characters' departures were never explained. Averted, however, by the revival series with regards to the character of Casey Randall who becomes the only regular IMF agent to be "disavowed".
Comic Book Adaptation: Dell Comics published a half-dozen issues of a Mission: Impossible-based comic book in the late 1960s and very early 1970s. It was one of the only series of its type not to be adapted by Gold Key Comics.
Commercial Break Cliffhanger: Just about every commercial break....something unexpected would happen or a Big Bad will say "You there! What are you doing here?" the MI Force member will look worried or go for the Oh Crap moment—commercial—Everything's better, the mission goes on.
Compilation Movie: Although the series had several two-part stories (plus one three-parter, season five's "The Falcon"), there was only one such movie - Mission Impossible Versus The Mob (from "The Council").
Conspicuously Public Assassination: In "Reprisal", a rogue IMF agent is attempting to frame Jim Phelps for murder. He disguises himself as Jim and garottes a woman in a crowded hotel lobby. He slips away from the shocked crowd long enough to strip off the Latex Perfection mask and, when Jim arrives at the hotel to try to stop him, he is immediately pursued by the police.
Couch Gag: Bruce Geller originally wanted each mission to be given to Briggs and Phelps in a different manner every episode (via nickelodeon, phonograph record, a card handed to him from another agent, a Drive-In Theater speaker, etc.). One of these early methods was a self-destructing reel-to-reel tape. The varying methods were continued until the third season when the tape became the standard and a Mission trademark, though the fifth season attempted to do away with the sequence until popular demand reinstated it. In the 1988 version, the spool tape is replaced with a self-destructing mini-CD player (the CD actually works like a DVD, playing audio and video, even though DVDs hadn't been introduced in real life yet).
Early seasons also featured a ritual in which Briggs or Phelps were shown selecting the personnel for the mission. With the fifth season this was declared redundant (as he invariably chose the same people, some earlier season episodes also skipped that scene when Jim/Dan didn't need to pick anyone outside of the main cast)note Although it's been suggested by fans that it is possible that Briggs/Phelps DO use other people on missions that don't require our team's skills; we just don't see those adventures.and this sequence was dropped. It made a one-time return in the first episode of the 1988 revival (as a newly-returned Phelps was choosing who his new team would be).
The "couch gag" elements were averted, however, on occasion in the early seasons when an occasional mission was given without the tape scene as it involved Phelps and his team working "off-book" in order to deal with a personal issue.
Nearly averted permanently in Season 5 when the production team decided to begin joining missions in progress, eliminating both the tape scene and the apartment briefing sequences. By the middle of Season 5, however, viewer demand led to these being restored. The team-choosing ritual was never reinstated, however.
The opening credits of each episode feature random snippets of that episode.
Covert Group: The Impossible Mission Force routinely takes on covert operations while shielding Washington from culpability. "Should you or any of your I.M. Force be captured or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."
Crazy-Prepared: The IMF team had a plan, a backup plan, a backup plan for the backup plan, and sometimes one more backup plan for good measure. Even when a mission went wrong, it went right.
A Day in the Limelight: Occasionally an episode will focus on one particular team member, such as Paris in "My Friend, My Enemy" and (most notably) Willy in "Double Dead."
One episode featured a man who pretended to be the Mouth of Sauron for Nazi leader Martin Bormann through use of a dummy he took care to not allow anyone else to get too close to and pre-recorded speeches. The team took him down by having Rollin impersonate a Bormann who had recovered enough from his injuries to leave his quarters and mingle with his officers for the evening and started undermining his lieutenant's authority, who couldn't prove that Rollin wasn't the real Bormann without admitting that he knew this because there was no real Bormann.
Dirty Business: The team explicitly has permission to do absolutely anything they see necessary to complete their mission, so long as they don't get caught. Though they do try to ensure that if the plan involves doing bad things to good people, they will help said people get back out of trouble before they leave.
Empathy Doll Shot: In "The Wall", a family attempting to escape East Berlin in caught in no mans land. The little girl drops her rag doll. The East German officer casually steps on it and grinds it into the mud.
Enhance Button: Done without a computer, amazingly enough. In "The Bank", Barney is playing back a video recording of a bank vault on a black-and-white cathode ray screen. With the tape paused at a critical juncture, Jim Phelps uses a pocket telescope to zoom in on the CRT(!) and read the number of a safe-deposit box.
The 1988 update introduced an IMF device that could recover erased images from a VCR tape, which is a bit more realistic.
Even Evil Has Standards: Usually averted to underscore how nasty the IMF's opponents are, but "The Train" has Pavel, the deputy who'll take over command of his country when the leader succumbs to heart disease, regret the necessity to execute jailed enemies and wish there was some other way. Significantly, Pavel is one of the few villains who doesn't set out to kill anyone to get his way.
Everybody Laughs Ending: "The Princess" has the men of the IMF team in Shannon's hospital room, and she's surrounded by "get well flowers."
Shannon: Did you guys buy me all these?
(The guys go "um" "er" and "well" as she shakes her head in a bemused way)
Jim: Well, now, just how many boyfriends do you need?
Shannon: (humming as she thinks) Well, I suppose four are enough. (She smiles as the others laugh. This was one time they don't all leave the scene.)
Exactly What It Says on the Tin: With only a very few exceptions the episode titles are only one (ex. "Execution", "Kidnap", "Break!") or two words long (ex. "The Code", "The Legacy", "Time Bomb") describing the plan of attack or object of interest.
Arguably What It Doesn't Say On The Tin, since episode titles weren't shown on screen. While not unheard of for a 1960s-70s-era series, it was somewhat unusual for a program of this nature not to display episode titles on screen.
Fake Guest Star: It wasn't until the second season to that Martin Landau name appeared in the show's titles. This was Landau's choice. He was impressed with Geller's pilot script, but wanted to make sure the series would be of the same high quality before committing himself to a multi-year contract. Even at that he insisted on only one-year contracts instead of the customary five-year ones.
Faked Rip Van Winkle: Frequently used in later seasons, sometimes combined with Fauxtastic Voyage as one of the excuses given to a mark was that the mark was involved in an accident and was unconscious for a long time. An example of an Faked Rip Van Winkle - Fauxtastic Voyage combination is the episode "The Train" in which the mark was told that he had been unconscious for several weeks after a train crash during a simulated train journey.
Fanservice: Usually averted, but in "Illusion" such a thing is part of Cinnamon's act as a nightclub singer. Dana also supplies several examples in season five (sometimes as an unintentional side effect of Lesley (Ann) Warren not wanting to wear a bra, much to the disgust of the producers - they compromised that she could go braless when it suited the mission).
A Father To His Team: Jim to the 80's IMF team (though more "uncle" to Grant as Barney Collier was still alive). When Casey died, he said right out, "She was like a daughter to me."
Frame-Up: Many episodes had the team frame the villain of the week of some misdeed, causing him or her to be dealt with by his 'betrayed' colleagues. On one episode, Briggs framed himself, while Rollin framed the villain for framing him.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you freeze the "Pilot" at the point when guest star Wally Cox yells in pain as the door slams on his hands (in universe, breaking them), you can see the actor is holding a fake pair of hands.
Fright Deathtrap: In "The Killer" - the first episode of the 80s revival - Drake does this to Tom Copperfield; shooting him with a hallucinogenic drug that causes him to think that he is on fire. In panic, he throws himself off the balcony of the penthouse.
Gadgeteer Genius: Barney is building weapons and technology sometimes vastly ahead of the time.
The 80's revival would have Grant do the same and twice both Collier men would work together for a mission.
Gaslighting: A frequent tactic of the IMF is to convince the mark that he is going insane. Often involving visions of someone the mark knows to be dead.
The Generalissimo: The IMF would occassionally be tasked with dealing with these (or just to undertake a mission in a country ruled by one). In the pilot episode, the team has to retrieve nuclear warheads being held in the hotel the Generalissimo uses as his party headquarters.
Genius Ditz: King Nicolae in "The Falcon". He was an expert on clocks — history, building and repairing them — and focused on this work to the extent that he could be manipulated to pay attention to matters of state by withholding vital tools and parts.
Heroic BSOD: Occurs in the 1988 revival episode "The Fortune" to several IMF members when they learn of the death of their colleague, Casey Randall, with one agent, Max, even questioning his ability to continue with the mission.
Also happens to Grant Collier in the 1988 two-parter "The Golden Serpent" when he thinks his father has been killed.
Hollywood Voodoo: The IMF indulge in some Hollywood Voodoo as part of their plan to cause a falling out among the bad guys in "Bayou". Their voodoo is meant to be fake, of course, but their ritual does convince someone who is supposed to be a genuine believer.
Hologram: The IMF has had hologram projectors since the 60s ("Phantoms", "A Ghost Story"). The 80s revival even had a episode named after the trope ("Holograms") and improved the tech to the point where it works underwater ("The Golden Serpent, Part 2", which also featured a holographic computer screen).
Honey Trap: Max is a male one in "The Fortune." Though with Casey's death, he doesn't know if he can go through with it, knowing she died at the hands of Amelia, the woman he's to seduce. Until Grant points out Max is the best one they have to get the taped proof that Casey died at Amelia's hand (as he'll be the only one free enough to move around the place to where it would most likely be).
Hot Gypsy Woman: The IMF employed hot gypsy acrobat Crystal Walker in the two-parter "Old Man Out".
Induced Hypochondria: In one episode, the team gives a manufacturer of counterfeit pharmaceuticals the symptoms of a disease that is treated by the drugs he is forging, in order to set up an Engineered Public Confession regarding the quality of his medicine.
Indy Ploy: When Bruce Geller first came up with the show's concept, he imagined every IMF plan to go wrong at some point, forcing the team to improvise from that point on. Luckily in practice this was not established as it most likely would A) get repetitive, and B) make Briggs/Phelps look like he doesn't know what he's doing. Indy ploys did appear occasionally, usually in the 'personal' episodes.
Insane Admiral: In "Submarine", the IMF have to stop a U.S. Navy admiral who sank one of his one subs as a demonstration of a weapons system he was planning to sell on the black market. He did this because he felt betrayed by the government conducting weapon limitation talks with the Russians, which stopped his computer virus attack system ever going into production.
It's Personal: A handful of episodes have Briggs or Phelps plotting a plan to right a wrong affecting someone close to them instead of a mission given to them by the Secretary. In one episode Phelps is kidnapped and the team members are blackmailed into helping his kidnapper commit a crime. Arguably the most "personal" of these comes in the '80s version, when Casey, the new version's initial Femme Fatale, becomes the only regular in either version to be killed off. Note: not to be confused with Lynda Day George's Casey character from the original series. The "it's personal" aspect of the storylines is usually emphasized by there being no tape scene shown.
The '80s revival series notably opened with a personal mission - Jim is forced out of retirement when his protegé is murdered, but getting to the killer, his boss and his boss's employee is still an official IMF mission... at least as official as those missions got. The disc's voice in a variant of it's usual opening, said sympathetically, "Welcome Back Jim, though I wish it weren't under these circumstances."
"The Condemned" is also personal in this run as Barney's falsely imprisoned in Istanbul and the team must not only free Barney, but find out why he was set up.
"The Fortune" is also very personal for the team. Casey Randall gets murdered by the Big Bad, Amelia, and the team, now with Shannon Reed taking Casey's spot, is intent on make sure Amelia doesn't get away with Casey's death. When they find out Casey's dead, Jim himself said "She was like a daughter to me." As well as returning the fortune Amelia, an Expy of the late Imelda Marcos, stole from her people. It's also the only time in the whole series we see an agent get "Disavowed" by the Secretary (the team pictures are). The Tear Jerker closing has a picture of Casey, Max, Grant and Nicholas with Jim as a slow, somber reprise of the opening theme plays
"Reprisal" is also the most personal for Jim in the '80s revival: Jim himself is framed for the murder of several former IMF agents. It also has the disc's voice go in a second rare variant of its usual opening to Jim: "Your mission, which I feel you must accept, will be to find the person who is framing you, and stop him." The recording is also so upsetting to Jim that he actually rewinds it halfway through just to make sure he heard everything clearly.
"The Princess" also applies as to save Jim, Shannon pushes him aside and ends up Taking the Bullet for Jim. She says "Camion"—and it shows she knew there was someone there due to "Camion" being French Perfume, and the assassin is really a woman.
Jailbird of Panama: Strange variation - both the jailbird and the rescuing team were in the IMF.
Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: A standard tactic. Often, one of the IMF members would get into the target's location, then fake some sort of utility outage. Other members of the team would then pose as repairmen or technicians arriving to fix the problem.
Law Enforcement, Inc.: Series creator Bruce Geller originally intended that the IMF would be a private group that the good guys would turn to when they couldn't handle a particular bad guy. The movies changed the IMF to an official (though secret) branch of Central Intelligence Agency.
Licensed Game: One for the NES. Notable because it apparently used a modified version of the NES Metal Gear engine. And had little or nothing to do with the series' type of story. There was also a "text adventure" game called Mission Impossible developed for the Commodore 64 and similar computers; its licensing status is unknown.
Living Prop: An in-universe example - when Phelps needed to introduce the mark to a phony place of business or hospital, he would often recruit the Hartford Repretory Players to serve as background workers or doctors.
The Mafia: Later seasons tended to use "the Syndicate" as the primary antagonist, after relations with the USSR began to thaw and domestic social issues captured the nation's attention.
Magic Plastic Surgery: Played straight in several episodes, but amusingly subverted in one: Phelps is used to stand in for a playboy millionaire he looks nothing like, because the man in question was in a serious accident. The mark swallows that explanation without question.
Master of Disguise: Rollin Hand, Paris, Casey and Nicholas Black, though with the assistance of one of these four, any IMF member qualifies.
Inverted by Phelps, Willy, Barney, etc. Barney in particular - The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier notes that Barney's apparent ability to blend in, even in countries where a black man would stand out, was occasionally criticized.
The series took that criticism seriously: later seasons feature Barney mostly out of view or in situations where he'd blend in. (Although in the episode "Hunted," set in Africa, Barney is disguised as a white man.)
The 80s revival had cases where Max might be already having been seen as he usually is as well, having had to stall for time or play up close to the mark. If still another person was needed, Grant filled that role. Sometimes, though, situations would force the other IMF members to "play themselves" as there was no time to do a mask, at best do the voice of those they needed to impersonate (as Nicholas and Casey had to do in "The Killer").
The Merch: Record albums of the seriesnote although actual music from the show, as opposed to re-recorded versions, would not be released until 1992, as well as a few 'Young Reader' type books. Published by Whitman, The Money Explosion was particularly good. Near the end of the run, Paramount was considering the idea of MI branded tape recorders, but nothing came of the idea. There was a game for the NES released in time for the revival.
Mr. Fixit: Barney, but often also Willy. Grant would also be this to his team.
Nazi Gold: "The Legacy" (in both the original series and the revival) involves the IMF trying to locate a cache of Nazi gold before the descendants (sons in the original, grandsons in the remake) of senior Nazi officers do so.
No Name Given: the man whose voice is heard giving Briggs and Phelps (and on at least one occasion Cinnamon) their taped instructions.
Not My Driver: In "The Killer", IMF agents drive the first two cabs in the rank so they can guarantee the mark will get into one of them.
Not Quite Dead: Justin Bainbridge in "A Ghost Story." He's been contaminated by his own chemical weapon and his neo-fascist father's seemingly killed him in a fight and buried him. It turned out Justin wasn't buried deep enough, but he's still living on borrowed time thanks to the nerve gas; Jim suggests that an antidote may be able to be derived from the gas's formula.
Obfuscating Disability: Regularly done as part of a mission. In "A Game of Chess", Rollin pretends to be a deaf chessmaster, so he can receive moves from a chess computer offstage. He soon gets discovered by the mark, but that's part of the plan.
Oh Crap: The Mark's standard expression when they realize they have been had and the plan is shot/there's a visit to the clink in the offing/they're meeting The Grim Reaper.
Would also be used in almost every episode by our heroes before a Commercial Break Cliffhanger when something seemingly goes wrong or it looks like someone has discovered them. After we'd come back from the commercial we'd find it was a just part of the plan and the fake 'Oh Crap' just acting to fool the bad guys, or a deus-ex machina comes in to distract the mark. At worst we see the heroes quickly resolve it through Xanatos Speed Chess.
One example is in “The Crane”. Junta leader General Yuri Kozani agrees to execute his second in command, Colonel Alex Strabo. He is then deceived into further explaining Strabo’s treachery and unreliable character traits to a disguised Strabo (Strabo is wearing the mask of the rebel leader). Strabo removes his mask and Kozani is barely able to speak before Strabo kills him. This is also an example of Hoist by His Own Petard since Strabo quotes Kozani’s earlier words on the need to execute enemies of the state. 
Office Golf: In "The Killer", Drake (the eponymous killer) does this while waiting to find out who his target is. It is later shown that his golf balls are actually disguised plastic explosive.
Once an Episode: "This tape will self-destruct in five seconds." (At least, that is the stereotype. In fact there are many episodes in which this is not actually heard, especially in early seasons when another method of messaging is used, or in episodes in which Briggs or Phelps are instructed to destroy the tape themselves.) The 80's revival would have "This disc will self-destruct in five seconds."
Also seen above, when the mark appears to be close to discovering The Masquerade or something appears to have went wrong, right before a major commercial break.
One Name Only: Paris and Casey in the original series; however, due to the presence (and recent death) of another character named Casey in the revival series, when Lynda Day George guest starred as Casey, her character was belatedly given a first name, Lisa.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: The Irish accent Casey adopts as, and in, "The Bride" wavers but at least it's supposed to come and go as per the script. The episode's Big Bad Joe Corvin has no such excuse...
People's Republic of Tyranny: All the time. Pick any episode at random and there's about a one in three chance that at least one of the villains will be an official of a Ruritanian government with the word "People's" in its name.
Plot Tailored to the Party: Justified. Briggs and Phelps choose their teams to match the things that need to be done to accomplish the mission, though in some cases one member is just an extra pair of hands to help with the tasks that another member needs to perform. This often happens with Willy, as his official skill is his strength, and they don't usually need to move something heavy.
Pretty in Mink: Casey wears a mink coat while vamping the evil regent in "The Lions".
Recycled Soundtrack: Particularly in the final season, where very few episodes had original scores.
Red Scare: Many episodes pitted the team against agents of Russia or some Eastern Bloc expy. But the team was never called to escalate the Cold War, only prevent the other side from gaining an advantage or escalating the war on their end. On at least one mission they had to stop an American attempt to heat up the Cold War.
Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: In "Reprisal", an orderly has been helping the villain escape the maximum security mental hospital to commit murders. When the orderly gets cold feet and demands more money, the villain promises him "a big payout" when he makes his final escape. The "payout" is being murdered.
Royal Brat: One episode centered around an attempt to assassinate one (GregBrady, no less!) that Phelps & Co. must thwart.
Rule of Three: The 'Tape Scene/Dossier Scene/Meeting Scene' format. Averted permanently as of Season 5 when the dossier scene is retired.
The 80s revival had 'Codephrase Conversation Scene/Disc Scene/Meeting Scene' as it's format, though "The Killer" added 'Team Choosing Scene' in between the first two.
Shared Universe: With Diagnosis: Murder, of all shows (thanks to Cinnamon Carter appearing on said series' "Discards"). Then again, Peter Graves made a cameo appearance on another episode and "Discards" has the revival's Phil Morris. Not as Grant Collier, but as the murderer.
Shoot The Builder: In "The Legacy", when the IMF discover the underground chamber containing Hitler's gold, they also find the bodies of the workmen who dug the chamber; killed so they could not tell anyone its location.
Shout-Out: The rejected IM Force photos were often cast and crew of the show, as well as one of show creator Bruce Geller (wearing Sinister Shades) that is frequently seen in the early episodes.
In "Live Bait," a building called Hagmann Haus (after that episode's director Stuart Hagmann) is seen.
"TOD-5" is set in a town called Woodfield, a belated tribute to one of the show's primary writers William Read Woodfield (he and his partner Allan Balter worked on the series until season three).
Showgirl Skirt: Casey wears one while posing a magician's assistant in "The Pawn".
Shown Their Work: When the US cable channel F/X aired Mission in the mid-90s, hosts would provide episode specific trivia at commercial breaks, all of which were gleaned from the book The Complete Mission Impossible Dossier, sometimes read directly from the book.
Spotting the Thread: Since many of the team's plans involved some form of elaborate deception, this was a problem that sometimes came up. For instance, one episode centered around tricking a Russian spy that he was in Moscow being tried for treason, but during the trial a chair is knocked over, revealing a manufacturer's label from a Los Angeles furniture company. Of course, in many of the episodes, the team deliberately left loose threads to be spotted as a way of tricking their target into thinking that they know what's going on.
Take That: When Briggs pulls into the Drive-In Theater in the first season episode "The Psychic", the marquee reads, "Geller and Solow in Spend the Money". This was an in-joke reference to the producers' tendency to go over-budget as seen by Desilu/Paramount.
Tap on the Head: This is done to guards and the like regularly. Unfortunately, the typical implementation of this trope makes it look like the team can knock people out by slapping them between the shoulder blades.
A Taste of the Lash: In "Bayou", white slaver Jake Morgan whips any girl who attempts to escape.
Technobabble: In addition to some of the gadgets used on the show, team members would sometimes use technobabble in universe as part of their plan. (Usually as a distraction or way to fool the target into going along with a plan.)
Technology Marches On: They went from tapes in the original 60's series to miniature compact discs in the 80's revivial. Likewise, in Jim's apartment, he uses a TV with a remote control to view the dossiers of agents and his table opens to reveal a computer with hard CD-type drives that were fancy for 1988. He wistfully goes, "Time does march on." The keyboard and remote then used to choose, then "accept" agents. Once Grant's selected, though, Jim has his team of four then, and another press of the remote finalizes them as "Mission Team."
Temporary Blindness: Barney in "The Falcon", Cinnamon in "The Heir Apparent" and Jim in, appropriately enough, "Blind."
Theme Tune: arguably one of the most recognizable TV spy themes ever.
They Havethe Scent: "Bayou" opens with a girl who has escaped from a white slavery ring being chased through a swamp by a hunters with a pair of dogs.
Throwing the Fight: "The Contender" had the team take down a crooked promoter by having Barney impersonate an up and coming boxer whose career had been put on hold by a tour of duty in Vietnam. The person Barney impersonated (Who had ruined his hands during an act of heroism in the war and could never box again) only gave the team permission to impersonate him if they promised that they wouldn't stain his professional reputation by having Barney cheat in an official match.
The villain of "Reprisal," a rogue IMF agent, chortles at Phelps over a recording that "This room will self-destruct in five seconds." Oh Crap indeed.
Those Wacky Nazis: The team thwarted numerous plans to establish a Fourth Reich. The first season alone had two unrelated schemes they had to deal with.
Thou Shalt Not Kill: in theory, from about Season 2 onwards. In Season 1 the IMF were occasionally seen using direct deadly force. "In theory" because while the IMF rarely kills anyone directly, their actions often result in the Big Bad being killed by a third party. One episode from the early seasons unambiguously states that the team is undertaking a form of assassination.
The revival series tended to follow this "in theory" pattern too, though the season 2 two-parter "The Golden Serpent" averts the trope by having an IMF member kill a thug, and the fact the team orchestrates the assassination of a villain is made non-ambiguous; lastly, the team actually consciously leaves the Big Bad to die rather than attempt to rescue him from an exploding cave.
Time Marches On: Amounts of money that were undoubtedly quite substantial when the episodes were originally aired often seem quite paltry from the perspective of a watcher in the 2010s, thanks to fifty years of inflation.
Treasure Is Bigger in Fiction: Done semi-reasonably in "The Diamond" where the team is sent to steal the world's largest diamond from a dictator. The diamond weighs about eight pounds uncut and is about the size of a shoe. Large, but not ridiculously so, and the stone is explicitly stated to be one of a kind.
Trouble Magnet Gambit: A mob boss uses a variant of this in "Hit" to get revenge on his girlfriend for turning him in: he cuts her brake line, lets all the fluid drain out, and sends her to "pick up five grand".
True Companions: Whenever anyone on the team needed help, everyone else would immediately come to provide it the moment they're told. The most telling example is in "The Exchange", when Cinnamon made a simple mistake and got captured on a mission. Knowing that the standard IMF procedure would be to disavow her and leave her in prison unless there was an explicit need to retrieve her (Which there wasn't as Jim and Rollin got away with the intel she had been sent to get), the team came up with a plan to break an enemy spy out of prison and exchange him for Cinnamon, something that would have gotten them in a lot of trouble if they hadn't also gotten said spy to spill the beans on the entire network he'd set up, making said spy and his network worthless to the enemy.
Twang Hello: In "The Cattle King", Jim Phelps goes to meet a native tribe. He knows he's arrived when a spear embeds itself in a tree next to his head.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The team never explicitly states what the plan is, only making references to things they'll need in order to pull it off before they're used. Half the fun in watching is trying to figure out the plan from those references and the list of selected agents.
Vehicle Vanish: Deliberately invoked in "Leona" to convince a mobster he is going crazy.
Vehicular Sabotage: In the episode "The Missile", a psychotic mechanic tampers with the brakes in Dana's car.
Villainous Crossdresser: The assassin is "The Princess" is a woman, thanks to Shannon recognizing "Camion" which is a French perfume said assassin wore. However, in the climactic sequence, she poses as a man with short slicked-back hair and a tux.
Voice with an Internet Connection: Regularly, particularly in cons that need to take place at the mark's residence. The crew will plant hidden surveillance cameras all over the mark's residence and/or wear a camera brooch and two way radio, and a one of the members (usually Barney in the original or Grant in the revival) will monitor the cameras and conversations the other members have with the marks, and provide assistance remotely through two-way radio.
The Voice: Two, in fact. Any disembodied voice you hear that isn't telling Mr. Phelps about the mission is probably professional announcer Vic Perrin.
Where The Hell Is Springfield?: in the series the team was often sent to the vaguely named People's Republic of Tyranny. Other locations included the nation of "San X" in South America or the Caribbean Sea. Whenever the mission was in the United States, the city or state was rarely named beyond "Western" or "Central". Any named nation, used for a mission in Africa, was never a real nation. Finally, Western Europe was referred to as a friendly or neutral nation.
Averted several times in the revival when Australia unambiguously appears as Australia.
Subverted in one episode of the 1988 remake when one of the regular agents IS killed to help allow a casting change.
Worthy Opponent: In "The Mind of Stefan Miklos", Miklos remarks that he views his unknown opponent (Jim Phelps) to be this. Tellingly, he says it when he thinks Jim's plan has failed to fool him, when it's actually succeeded in tricking him completely.
Written-In Absence: When Lynda Day George had to miss several episodes in the final season due to her being pregnant, Casey was said to be on assignment in Europe. The schedule issues which resulted in Dan Briggs not being in many season one episodes after the team briefing scene occasionally had him justify his absence by claiming that the mission would involve investigating someone who knew him personally, and thus would realize that there was an op going on if he was with the team.
Averted, however in one episode in which Cinnamon receives the recorded message, and meets with the others minus Briggs. In that case no mention is made of why Briggs isn't there.
The episode "The Killer" (which was made by both the original series and the revival) entirely revolved around this, because the mark was an assassin (played by Robert Conrad in the original and John de Lancie in the remake) who had completely random patterns. He'd choose a cab at random from the airport (IMF had multiple cab drivers set up) to a hotel selected randomly (IMF took the name he chose and very quickly applied the label to a blank hotel they controlled), with a room selected randomly (they had to renumber the doors quickly) had random contact arrangements (which they intercepted) from a random phone (they had to use a directional microphone because he chose one they hadn't bugged) and random assassination methods chosen at the last second (fortunately, they escaped the bomb he created out of C4 disguised as golf balls). The assassin was never directly aware he was being manipulated, but his habit of pulling a swerve on IMF at every turn made it a subconscious battle of wills between him and the team that usually needed to carefully plan out everything.
Sid Haig, for example, was in the show no fewer than nine times, ranging from "Driver #1" to The Dragon to the Big Bad.
Lee Meriwether guest starred as a kidnap victim in a Season 3 episode, then was one of the femme fatale team members in Season 4.
Since M:I shared the Desilu/Paramount soundstages and some production personel with Star Trek, it should come as no surprise that William Shatner guest starred twice as a Big Bad ("Encore" and "Cocaine" - sadly for Star Trek fans, both came after Leonard Nimoy's tenure as an IMF agent... although the latter episode did reunite him with Barbara Anderson, alias Lenore Karidian from "The Conscience Of The King") and George Takei as an IMF member ("The Carriers"). Leonard Nimoy became an Suspiciously Similar Substitute of Martin Landau's character — four years after Landau had turned down the role of Mr Spock for Star Trek's first pilot "The Cage" in 1965. Herb Solow was production manager for both shows. Ricardo Montalban (Khan Noonien Singh) played a season one Big Bad, who was one of the only villains to be directly killed by the IMF team.
Going in the other direction, Robert Johnson, the mysterious voice on the MI tapes, provided uncredited voice work on at least two Star Trek episodes -the unaired pilot "The Cage" and the episode "The Gamesters of Triskelion". On the latter episode he provided the voice of "Provider #3", a disembodied brain in a container which engaged in an often quoted/parodied discussion about betting on the survival of Kirk & Company at hand to hand combat ("I'll bet 2,000 quatloos on the newcomers!") Johnson also voiced a few aliens on The Outer Limits.
In at least one case, some alien artwork featured in an episode of Star Trek was actually the discarded protective styrofoam piece that housed an M:I prop tape recorder spraypainted orange and green.
One of Star Trek's infamous gag reels makes use of the Mission: Impossible theme music.
In Universe Example: Rollin Hand shows up in in a few photos with different names.
Barbara Luna is one of the few people to appear in the original (twice, as the title character in "Elena" and as an IMF agent in "Time Bomb") and the revival ("The Fortune," as a dictator's evil wife and killer of Casey Randall).
Zeerust: The ersatz future in "The Freeze"; also, the slide rule in Barney's publicity photo from "Collier Electronics".
Lampshaded in the pilot of the remake. Phelps takes a moment to marvel at the mini optical disc player that replaced the trademark tape recorder of the original series, remarking to himself "Time does march on". A few moments later he is similarly impressed when he uses a computer instead of the traditional printed dossier to choose his agents.
Both Main Logo typefaces.... A typewriter style font for the 60s series, and a blocky computer style font for the 80s.
One first season episode, "A Spool There Was", featured a recording method that was pretty much already on the way of becoming zeerust even at the first broadcast.
As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, The Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions.