Wednesday, October 1, 2014

#96: The Human Factor

Season: 2

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver is tasked with breaking into a top-secret military facility as a test of its security.  After he successfully gets in, the supercomputer in charge (named Sandy) starts thinking for herself and believes that MacGyver's threat is real, so she attempts to destroy him and her creator, Jill. MacGyver must now break out of the facility, but not before dealing with killer robots, lasers, acid pools, and a lack of oxygen.

Memorable Quote:
So this is your main guy? What makes him so special? He doesn't even have any gear.  ~ Col Woodward
That's what makes him so special.   
~ Pete

As MacGyver is preparing to break into the facility, he climbs in an empty truck and grabs a newspaper to make a telescope so he can read the keycode.  First he looks at the newspaper itself and notices the sports scores.  "Calgary lost again," he says with joking despair.  I didn't remember this episode that well, but this is the first I thing I remember when I think of it.  It's amusing and a good illustration of MacGyver's unique humor and ability to stay loose under pressure.  

"When James Bond gets an assignment, it’s on the Riviera, up to his 007 in bikinis.  Me, I end up 80 miles past nowhere, courtesy of my buddy Pete Thornton, new Operations Director of the Phoenix Foundation."  ~MacGyver, rolling his eyes with resignation.  Normally, "spoiled" is not a word you'd use to describe MacGyver, but Pete should slap him for this.  

Best MacGyverism:
Uses a magnifying lens, watch crystal, and newspaper to make a telescope.  I vaguely remember trying this as a kid with limited success.  Let's add this one to the list, though I have to ask, couldn’t he have just brought binoculars?

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Did you know MacGyver was the Army's second choice to try and break in to the facility?  Unfortunately, their first choice wasn't available.  
  • Couldn't assessing weak points of a facility be a more theoretical exercise, like MacGyver sees the schematics and tells them what he'd do to break in instead of actually doing it?  He ends up risking life and limb (e.g. tightroping over 20,000 volts of electricity) and destroying the supercomputer in the process.   
  • Are there actually security cameras that shoot lasers at people?  If so, that'd be pretty cool, assuming you weren't the one getting shot by a laser. 
  • 21:00 mark - MacGyver and Jill hit the deck as a computer monitor explodes.  As they get up, MacGyver puts his hands on her back to help her up.  Then once she's up, he puts his hands on her caboose.  I wonder if that was in the script.  
  • A little later, MacGyver asks where the ladies room is so that he can get a mirror. Why did it have to be a ladies room and not just a bathroom?  I think he's got something on the mind this episode.  
  • Reminds me a little bit of Star Wars:
    • Acid pool scene ~ Trash compactor scene
    • Killer robots ~ R2D2
  • The military guy is not saving MacGyver because he doesn't want to cut power to the town?  C'mon Pete, slap him too! 
  • Scene in the lab where MacGyver takes out the R2D2s reminds me of the scene in Jurassic Park where the kids are indoors hiding from the velociraptors.  
  • 42:25 - I love how he says "All right, that's it!" with his twang.
  • Somehow Pete is able to take out the mines in the exhaust system after coming to that decision 4 minutes ago. 
  • Nice touch at the end where Pete realizes he guessed MacGyver's route correctly but for the wrong reason.

Final Analysis:
This is a unique episode with a sci-fi, man vs. computer, 1980's vibe.  It's creative and well-produced, but I feel like there's too much happening too fast, and certain elements aren't given enough time to develop, like Pete's relationship with Woodward or Pete's choosing of the exhaust system.  Overall, it's fine - doesn't have many high or low points for me.

Interesting that I've now covered the first 5 episodes of season 2, but none of the next 13.  I guess that season took a little while to warm up but once it did, it never looked back!  


  1. I've never been a huge sci-fi fan, interestingly enough, but I nonetheless found the two MacGyver episodes which played within the confines of that genre--"The Human Factor" and "Kill Zone"--to be first-rate. While this episode was nominally a hat tip to "2001: A Space Odyssey", it certainly had a unique MacGyver twist that made for a spectacular second season premiere. What you considered too much happening too fast I thought made the episode thrilling, with laser-shooting drones and garbage shafts leading to acid pools. While it's the kind of episode I would have figured would be polarizing, I don't know of many fans who didn't love it. I actually found Season 2 an overall disappointment, and was hoping for more episodes like this one, which has only improved for me with time despite how dated the technology is. I will agree, however, that Pete's Vietnam past kind of came out of nowhere and was quickly forgotten, unfortunately a common problem this show had regarding character continuity. I ranked this episode #21 on my personal favorites list.

  2. I'm not a sci-fi fan either but this one is well into my top 50. Like Mark,I enjoyed the relentless '' out of the frying pan into the fire' action and liked the sparky relationship between MacGyver and Jill, the variety of MacGyverisms and an exciting, never-give- up, last ditch ending. I always like the notion of military types and experts dismissing Macgyver's approach to the problem only to be proved so wrong! I agree that there could have been more exploration of Pete's past but I guess there just wasn't time.

  3. This episode could have had an alternate name; 1986: A MacGyver Odyssey, or (Dr) MacGyver And The Daleks! You have described most of the science fiction references above but not the Daleks, which were even fitted with lasers to 'exterminate' MacGyver! The lab scene when Mac and Jill were hiding behind the benches was very much like the Jurassic Park kitchen scene, it kept you low down and anxious as to where the Daleks were going to appear. I instantly saw the Star Wars similarity when they were in the rubbish 'acidifier', and actually some of the coridoors in the base in general could have been from the Death Star, or Stargate with the angular build like Goa'uld ships. Sandy's final moments of were just like on 2001: A Space Odyssey when HAL started speaking garbled up words as it shut down. They must have had fun filming this episode, although I don't think we needed the indignity of seeing MacGyver in his boxer shorts. Maybe the ladies did?...

  4. I think this episode would be in my top 50 too! I liked the memorable quote and I would have loved to try the telescope – my grandma used to have a couple of bare magnifying lenses looking the same as on the show, but from then on I could only ever find one of them!
    It is mentioned that there are dogs guarding the facility which is a good addition to technology if the goal is to eliminate the human factor (and also if it isn’t) but then where were they? They would have found MacGyver under the truck in no time and lucky his white trainers didn’t give him away anyway!
    I thought the tightrope walking was enough a stretch but risking a life for a simulation made so little sense that I consider the electrified floor switched off, set to low power or to a Crystal Maze-like alarm only (I would love to see this episode as a Crystal Maze one!), especially that Johnson later walks across it with no problem even with Woodward’s invalid card key. Otherwise the bet and all that excitement and smiling about the challenge would look inappropriate and how do you test the rest of the system if you don’t get through just this one?
    As soon as I saw the consoles my first thought was that today it would all fit into a smartphone!
    I liked MacGyver’s “You got a better idea?” and Jill’s “I’m still trying to figure out what yours is!” answer as he’s taking his trousers off (I think the Basque camp disguise looked better) and was surprised that they stayed in balance holding a leg each in spite of their weight difference. And he even found the time somehow to put his shoes back on.
    The reactivation after the power cut reminded me of the last bomb in Countdown and I liked Pete’s guess which way MacGyver would go (though it’s not clear to me why the exits were mined from the outside)!
    In summary, a great action-packed, fast-paced, Pilot-like season opener!

  5. Another "Oops! I built a sentient computer that's power hungry!" sci-fi plot. It was a silly idea (especially with 80s technology) but I enjoyed it. And, as far as I know, they only used this trope once in MacGyver, so it wasn't tiresome (though the computer's voice was). A lot of good MacGyverisms too.

  6. My wife and I are enjoying going through the MacGyver series slowly and chronologically and this blog has been fun to read after we watch an episode.

    I, too, couldn't help but see the parallels between the acid pool and trash compactor seen from Star Wars. When you rewatch this episode, listen to the music - it mirrors the music from the scene in Star Wars! I think that's ironclad evidence they were intentionally thinking of that scene when the wrote this one into the script.