Monday, December 29, 2014

#71: Nightmares

Season: 1

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver arrives from East Germany with a list of terrorist plans and is immediately captured by East German intelligence, but not before he hides the list in a parking lot.  Colonel Curt Neilson injects him with a drug that causes him to hallucinate and be in pain, and Neilson offers the antidote in exchange for the list.  MacGyver escapes the warehouse where he is being held and gets help from a young woman whom he had earlier helped catch a fish.  

Memorable Quote:
You have good veins.   ~Neilson
Thank you.  ~MacGyver

I like the scene toward the end where he's sitting on the steps in the warehouse and he calls out to the two goons walking by.  They order him to get up and he calmly says, "You bet," and then releases the rope with his foot which sends water jugs crashing into barrels which take out the bad guys. 

I like the Lisa character and she's an important part of the episode, but I find the middle third a little slow.  Also MacGyver is hallucinating which is not enjoyable to watch.  

Best MacGyverism:
The early episodes always seemed to be chock-full of good MacGyverisms, and this one is no exception.  Lots of good choices to pick from here including the bed spring slingshot, the jumper cable tv tube explosion, and the water jug barrel crash, but I'm partial to the one during the climactic scene where he whacks the metal pole against the fire hydrant to create a magnet (which he describes as "causing temporary molecular structural alignment").  Then he lowers the magnetized pole down into the storm drain and attracts the metallic case that holds the antidote. I've said before that I often like the simpler MacGyverisms just as much because they're more accessible and seem like something that normal people could do, and this is a good one.  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Chronologically, it's the first Pete Thornton episode!  Dana Elcar was in the pilot but as a different character.  
  • Fantastic performance by Robert O'Reilly as Curt Neilson.  I would have thought for sure that the actor was German.  Looked him up online and learned that he makes frequent appearances in costume at Star Trek conventions.  For now I'm putting him as the number 3 villain behind Deborah and ahead of Von Leer.  
  • Oh no, Pete's been shot!  Time to update the Shot Chart
  • Not sure how Lisa can hear her burglar alarm (tin can and spoons) so clearly from up in her room on the upper floor.  And speaking of Lisa, is it really necessary to have the saxophone playing in the background every time a woman appears during Season 1? She's a college student and a friend, not a potential romantic partner, so ease up on the sax. 
  • I know the big thug who is always eating can be distracted by his food, but it's amazing that MacGyver can open the car door right behind him without him hearing it. It's not the first or last time that MacGyver moves with the stealthiness of a cat.  
  • Another example of how things would have been much easier for MacGyver if cell phones had existed.  Once MacGyver got his memory back, he could have borrowed Lisa's cell phone (assuming his got stolen from the Germans) and called Pete, and Pete could have sent the cavalry to pick up Neilson and company.  Speaking of the cavalry, it is unclear why we hear sirens during MacGyver and Neilson's confrontation in the alley, but then they go silent as MacGyver digs for the antidote.  Actually it is clear - the police would have ruined the moment as MacGyver creates and then uses the magnetic pole. 
  • 42:14 mark - the mildest of shakes.  We're on a shake roll lately - all we need is the rattle.  I knew we'd be seeing more as the episodes got better!
  • MacGyver, what in God's name are you doing going to retrieve the list by yourself? And then you're showing it to Lisa and twirling it through the air.  Didn't you learn anything from what just happened?  If that had been me, I'd have gone to the parking lot with the entire LAPD.

Final Analysis:
Excellent episode with an epic feel, and one of RDA's best performances.  I like how MacGyver does something nice for Lisa in the beginning and the random act of kindness comes back to save him in the end.  On the RDAnderson forum, there's a thread for favorite episode from each season, and this one is tied with Ugly Duckling for Season 1 favorite.  It doesn't resonate with me emotionally as much as some others do, but I can understand why many fans rate it highly.


  1. I had a queasy feeling based on your preview that this was gonna be the next episode on your list. It's one of my all-time favorite episodes. The epic vibe you cited hit me in 1986 and has every step of the way since, despite the fact that there was some vintage early episode sloppiness in the exposition (why on Earth is a trained agent like MacGyver approaching a would-be traffic cop to help him fend off East German intelligence agents?). Adventure series dating back to the 60s have trotted out the "poisoned secret agent races clock to get antidote" storyline but this one was far and away the best I've seen, taking the viewer down the emotional roller coaster of intensity, hopelessness, desperation and redemption and accompanied with the series most sweeping feature-film quality musical score of its entire seven seasons, rivaled only by fellow first season entry "Trumbo's World". The soundtrack perfectly captured the highs and lows of each moment.

    A common criticism of this episode is the one you cited.....the slow middle third. I can sort of see what you're saying, but I felt the entangling worlds of lost souls at an urgent crossroads that were MacGyver and Lisa needed to fully play out to complete the epic narrative in play here where each led the other to their salvation at the end. And while you rightly credit the fiercely intense performance by frequent 80s TV villain Robert O'Reilly as Neilson, I think Tammy Lauren stole the show on the guest star front. There were a lot of bad child actors in Season 1, but Lauren proved her mettle as destined for bigger things with this performance.

    And aside from the macro aspects of the narrative, the action and suspense were thrilling throughout, with top-tier MacGyverisms in the beginning, middle, and end. Some of MacGyver's first season "swagger" was a bit cringe-inducing for me, but the mix of humor and intensity during the injection scene had me on the edge of my seat. But even that was small potatoes compared to that antidote retrieval from the manhole, a scene for which I thought my little 8-year-old heart was gonna explode back in 1986. Notwithstanding a few incidents of narrative laziness, scriptwriter James Schmerer produced a MacGyver masterpiece here, and I completely agree with the fan base's legendary acclaim for this one. It's my #3 ranked episode.

    As a personal aside, I got screwed back in January 1986 when this one first aired because my local ABC affiliate aired local programming Wednesday at 7 when this episode was broadcast. I could tell by the previews it would be an episode I'd connect with so a couple of tears were shed. I had to wait till June reruns to watch it and boy was it worth the wait.

    1. Whoa, number 3! I can see where you're coming from, and I like your line about your 8 year-old heart ready to explode at the end. Interesting that the musical score didn't stand out to me since I'm normally pretty attuned to the music - I did notice the antidote retrieval music was very good.

      I have a feeling that I'm going to break a few more hearts with my #69 review (two reviews away), hopefully yours won't be one of them. And I had a similar experience with not being able to watch live an episode from my top 10 because the power went out about 20 minutes in. My mom and I were DEVASTATED and had to wait for months to rewatch it.

    2. The only reason I could imagine why the musical score didn't stand out was that a handful of the scores were introduced in this episode that were deployed repeatedly in future episodes. I've read a number of reviews by fans in the past who singled out the musical score of this one. The injection scene was heightened by a highly dramatic musical backdrop....the saxophone music with Lisa was repeated on two other episodes over the series' run, always in emotionally draining scenes as opposed to the romantic vibe you suggested they were going for....the scene where Nielson's thugs were breaking into the building had a classic escalating intensity that was deployed again in a couple other episodes....the scene where he prepared the water bottle gimmick had a nice synthesized keyboard arrangement that was addictive....and as you cited, the intense ending music with the manhole antidote retrieval. I could watch this episode just for the music. Very curious what hearts you intend to break two reviews down the road.....and curious to which episode you missed due to a power outage.

    3. My pace may be slowed down a bit this week as I spend time with the 'rents, but hopefully I'll get some more posted soon (including the "heartbreaker") and with comments from Mom.

  2. This is one of my Top 10 episodes too. (I won't tell you which number yet *g*) There are several s1 episodes that I'm not fond of - I didn't catch on to MacGyver until s5, so the early ones seemed weird or awkward or stilted to me initially. But I've always liked "Nightmares"

  3. Yes--why do heroes seem to go it alone when it would make more sense to wait for backup?

    1. As Mom always says, then there wouldn't be a show!

  4. i agree with the 'epic' epithet for this one and I'm with Mark and Highlander by ranking it in my top 10. I don't needto re-watch this one to write an essay - I can remember it all pretty well from the jaunty beginning through nightmare hallucinations to a gripping conclusion. Its always enjoyable watching MacGyver being a proper secret agent in a secret-agent style plot! Love the over-enthusiastic swing of the bag to knock out the goon - MacGyver often ends up falling over with the momentum of his own punches/swings.Odd piece of editing after he's felled by the traffic cop; the next shot is clearly taken from the post-injection hallucinatory scenes and can't think why they spliced it in here. I agree with Mark, the injection scene is menacing and full of suspense with MacGyver trying to make light of it but clearly deeply apprehensive. Neilson is a cool. competent villain although finally not as cool and competent as he thinks.All the MacGyverisms are great from the simple fishing lure, through the water stream into the electrics and the bed spring slingshot. ('Think MacGyver, think!). I'm not so sure about the exploding telly as it seems to take as much time to set up as the escape-time it buys them. I agree the middle third slows down the pace but like Mark's analysis of the 'lost souls'; some space and time is needed for the characters to develop their reliance on each other. Brilliant moment when Neilson taunts MacGyver that he's not sufficient strength left for the knockout blow only to be felled by his superhuman final effort. That's the price for underestimating MacGyver's never-give-up mentality! The antidote retrieval is indeed edge-of-the-seat telly even though you know they're going to retrieve it in time. Some great, compelling acting by RDA as he gradually descends into chemical meltdown, an excellent villain ( although the goons are not so competent) and a strong female lead. Great stuff!

  5. "And speaking of Lisa, is it really necessary to have the saxophone playing in the background every time a woman appears during Season 1? She's a college student and a friend, not a potential romantic partner, so ease up on the sax."

    Yes! Thank you! :) I hated the romantic music that keeps playing whenever they were together. That is my lowlight.. But I do love this episode. :)

  6. It’s nice to finally see Pete! I liked the music when he’s first shown and when MacGyver picks and folds up the gum wrapper but the rest of the music is not as good as in the previous episodes and then there’s that loud saxophone at moments it fits the least, like when MacGyver is retrieving the pill. Lisa’s "I can’t pay you" was even more strange and there’s an interesting mistake when the bad guys are waiting in the car and Neilson says "Colton is going to make the pickup", as if he realised that Dana Elcar’s character is not Colson anymore and corrected himself mid-word. In the Hungarian dubbed version this was corrected to Thornton.
    I don’t know why Neilson didn’t try to help his case by explaining MacGyver the effects of the serum before he injected it while he was asking for the list and I liked that MacGyver refused without even asking in spite of his apprehension. RDA’s acting is outstanding throughout, ever since Trumbo's World he has the very expressive tone of voice and little faces to convey his emotions and internal. Just look at him and listen to that faint “thank you” when Neilson says about the good veins.
    Then he gets locked in a nearly empty room and he still finds a way out!
    I don’t know which is worse, that people are unhelpful when seeing someone unwell because they immediately assume that the person brought it on themselves by substance abuse or that this assumption is more likely to be correct than not. And what an unfortunate coincidence about the policeman.
    I was surprised that Lisa was insulting MacGyver about his amnesia apparently not realising that his condition could have had something to do with it and I was relieved to see him sleeping through the worst hours so he did not seem to be in excruciating pain.
    I don’t know what the purpose of the trick with the telly was. It took a minute and a couple of seconds longer to set it up than what it stalled the guys for.
    When Lisa and MacGyver ran back to the drain he nearly whacked her on the head with the pole and she had to duck out of the way! And MacGyver was in a good nick even towards the end for holding the bottles and knocking Neilson down!

    1. I went back and watched a couple of the parts that you mentioned:
      1. You're right, it does sound like Nielsen says "Corton".
      2. I also watched the end where RDA almost hits her with the pole and she ducks out the way -- great observation!

  7. I liked the change in tone of this one. A little darker than the first ten. There were also plenty of great MacGyverisms. I felt the way the drug worked was a bit unrealistic and the hallucination scenes were a bit uncomfortable to watch. Not one of my favourites perhaps but solid.