Sunday, December 28, 2014

#72: The Ten Percent Solution

Season: 5

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
At an art auction, Pete and the Phoenix Foundation bid over 400K for a 17th century Rubens painting, but the painting is then claimed by a Holocaust survivor, Sam, who says that it was stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  MacGyver, Sam, and Dr. Sands (Phoenix's art expert) are kidnapped by Neo-Nazis and taken to an abandoned silver mine.  The Nazis reveal their plan to take over 5 U.S. states (10% of the country) and attempt to execute MacGyver and company in a gas chamber. 

Memorable Quote:
Listen, Doctor.  This painting used to hang over our fireplace.  As a boy, I would stare into it and wonder what was behind that hill, what was beyond those trees.  I grew up in this painting, Dr. Sands!  It is part of me.   ~Sam Bolinski

Powerful scene in Frau Brandenberg's office when Sam recognizes her and they have an impassioned exchange, and then the Frau reveals the master plan.  

The opening scene where a female runner is kidnapped on a secluded jogging trail.  It's out of place and doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the episode.  

Best MacGyverism:
To escape the gas chamber, cuts a hole with pocketknife in hollowed metal door and releases the gas into it.  Then ignites the door and creates an explosion by swinging some light bulbs against it.

I wonder if one day the writers thought, what if MacGyver had to escape from a Nazi gas chamber, and then the rest of the episode was written around that premise?

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Poor MacGyver has to wear a tux again, just as he did a few reviews ago in The Enemy Within.  
  • Pete talks about the Phoenix Foundation's art acquisition program and how it helps to keep paintings out of corporate vaults, but it's not clear what he's going to do with the paintings that he is planning on buying with the 4 million dollars that he's raised. Maybe donate them?  Seems like a strange program.  
  • Great scene during the auction as MacGyver continually has a look of disbelief as Pete keeps bidding the price of the Rubens painting higher.  And then a dramatic moment as Sam crashes the auction and damages the painting. 
  • If the Nazis wanted to take out Sam, why do it in a crowded police station?  And it's a little goofy how the perpetrator is shot and then things immediately settle down and it's business as usual in the station.  
  • There's a minor character named Veronica who is Dr. Sands' art assistant at Phoenix. I didn't recognize her, but according to IMDB, the actress appeared in Renegade as Veronica also.  I popped in the Renegade DVD and scanned through it really quickly to see if I could spot her.  After Morrison sets off the alarms in the Phoenix Foundation, a woman appears in a hazmat suit and says that there's a vial of anthrax missing.  I'm not sure this is her but I don't know who else it would be. 
  • As a 12 year-old viewer of this episode, I was captivated by the gravity and direness of the whole situation.  Losing 5 U.S. states to the Nazis!  Normally MacGyver's efforts are more localized, like saving a particular person here and there, but in this episode he saves the United States as we know it!  But now that I'm older (and wiser?), it's hard to not to raise a few questions, such as:
    • If the Nazis are planning on publicly taking over 5 states, why do they need to be so secretive about everything?  Perhaps they are taking the long view and will only reveal themselves when they are ready ("Hitler moved too fast," the Frau says at one point). 
    • If you want to take over 5 U.S. states, I suppose it's all well and good to have some judges, teachers, and journalists in your pocket.  But do you know what would be more important?  Having about 50 million troops and about a trillion dollars worth of weaponry.  Somehow I don't think the United States and its people (let alone the world community) would easily submit to the idea of a Nazi republic on its soil, so it's gonna take a little more than 12 people in a silver mine and a few teachers in Idaho.
  • The silver mine is a cool setting.  Today it is the site of the Britannia Mine Museum and is a Canadian National Historic Site.  According to their website, the distinctive white, tiered structure is called Mill 3 and was built in 1923.  
  • Outstanding performance by Nehemiah Persoff as Sam Bolinski, who is at once likable, vulnerable, determined, and proud.  I'm always impressed with actors who have the ability to cry on screen, and you can see a tear rolling down his face at the 31:30 mark. 
  • I reached out to Mr. Persoff, who is also an accomplished painter, and asked if he remembered anything about his experience filming this episode, and he said he got a hip replacement two months earlier and that running from place to place was very painful.  
  • Our first episode with 2 shakes!  One at 39:48 when he knocks out the guy with the gas mask, and one at 42:55 when he throws a southpaw punch at the corrupt police officer, played by frequent guest star Garry Chalk.  

Final Analysis:
Really good episode that is compelling and exciting.  Obviously the premise is ridiculous, but if you can forget about that and just enjoy the show, then it's well worth it.  I've said before how I made these rankings over a year ago and have been revealing them to myself one at a time as I get ready to watch the next one.  I must admit, I was a little surprised to see this one where I did (thought it was too low).  And then I confess that I took a peek at the next 5 coming up because I'll be spending New Year's with Mom and I was curious to see which ones we could watch together.  And there are some really good ones coming up!  My point is that with this one, we've officially moved into some really strong episodes, so don't let the "low" ranking fool you.  Coming up next, MacGyver's season 1 swagger gets put to a serious test!  


  1. We've differed on a few episodes recently but we're close again on this one. A few bullet points before I get to my review. I struggled with the point of the opening mugging scene at first too, but I think the point was that the Nazis were trying to create a environment of fear about crime on the streets to help their "tough on crime" candidate William Brand get elected in a few short days. Also, I know you haven't reviewed "Jack in the Box" yet, but the setting for Bonaventure Silver Mine was the same location as the Smiley, Arkansas, prison work farm in that episode.....and I think also the mine shaft scene in "Strictly Business" for that matter. Also, Nehemiah Persoff is still alive?!?!??! That was 25 years ago and he was old then!

    On to the review, I really admired the depth and sophistication of the storytelling on this one, even if, as you say, the Nazis' master plan is ultimately pretty comical (a White Aryan Nation in liberal, multicultural California is gonna take a helluva lot more than Congressman William Brand and police lieutenant Harold Gray!). Still, the idea that an art auction was the catalyst for this entire series of events unfolding was pretty strong writing for TV in 1989, particularly when coupled with all the little anecdotes that were skillfully weaved together over the hour ("you can change your name but not who you are!!!"). And Nehemiah Persoff's performance was absolutely outstanding here, arguably the best acting performance in the series' entire seven seasons. In addition to the scene you described, his response when taken out of the van at the silver mine, bringing back the memories of Sobibor and temporarily paralyzing him, was also spectacular. He stole the show, but most of the other actors were good as well, with Garry Chalk great as always as Lt. Gray and Barbara Stock (Spenser: For Hire's former girlfriend!) being one of MacGyver's best female sidekicks. She had some good chemistry with MacGyver at that art auction too....would have liked to have seen more of her. I will say that the actor who played Lyle Hogart was in over his head though.

    The one part of the episode that seemed like a bridge too far was the gas chamber scene. Now the MacGyverism that he deployed to escape the chamber was first-rate, but I couldn't help but feel that it trivialized the experience of Nazi genocide to be a plot device in a silly TV show. The handling of Sam's past was pitch perfect in the first half of the episode, and again in the epilogue when he spared Frau Brandenburg's life, but I must say though adult eyes I need to take a shower after the at least vaguely exploitative "Madam is feeling nostalgic" scene. Ultimately though, an incredibly tight script that represented what kept this show--thought of early on as a novelty show--far more interesting that its adventure show peers as it aged. I rank this one #66.

    1. High praise for Nehemiah, and I don't disagree. His performance was a revelation for me, the strength of which I had not remembered or expected. And good point about the gas chamber scene.

    2. I looked Nehemiah up and he's about 93-94 years old now. What all did he say in your e-mail response? Impressive that he's still of sound mine and that he remembers his MacGyver appearance. You could tell he was struggling to run in the scene towards the end.

    3. The only other thing he said he remembered was getting a rock sample from the mine, and his wife is a rock collector and still has it.

    4. The actor playing Lyle Hogart is John Novak - and he's always 'that guy'. If you need a gruff, unpleasant, sort-of bad-guy - he's good at that, but he's not very versatile. He wasn't playing over-the-top or doing anything out of the ordinary - he always acts that way. And he's a nice guy if he hasn't just gone through a really awful divorce. (Post-divorce, he was rather unpleasant to be around - not a good thing for a fan convention as fans have really long memories.)

    5. Thanks for the info. I'm guessing he was a Canadian actor. I remember seeing him on one other show but don't recall him as being as prolific as many other frequent MacGyver guest stars. If you watch Canadian-produced shows to this day, you'll still see Dale Wilson, Garwin Sanford, and Jerry Wasserman.

    6. He's in 3 eps of MacGyver - he has a really small part as a military guy in "Kill Zone" and is some German guy (I think) in "Renegade"; then he was Capt Ronson on Stargate SG-1 - which is where I mostly know him from. He was also in 3 episodes of Highlander - so, pretty much, all your favorite Vancouver-filmed shows. He gets lots and lots of little parts and he's usually an arrogant bastard.

    7. I remember him now in Kill Zone and Renegade. Very small parts in those episodes.

  2. And you mention "the writers" here. My money is on this being a spec script, a now extinct phenomenon where a show bought an unsolicited manuscript from an amateur, unagented writer not in the Writer's Guild. I never saw the names of this episode's scriptwriters--Tom and Sally Drake--on any other show and I used to keep very close tabs on TV writers of the era as that's what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even back in 1989, MacGyver was a rare breed as a show that bought spec scripts, and when a crew member let it slip to the Hollywood Reporter at one point that they accepted spec scripts, I believe Paramount Studios was flooded with something like 20,000 MacGyver scripts. My guess is that this episode is one that made the cut.

    1. That's really interesting. I had never heard of spec scripts before. I wonder if they were followed pretty literally or if the producers edited or changed a lot. That's cool that you wanted to be a TV writer - too bad we don't own the rights or else we could team up and write a pretty good MacGyver reboot!

    2. I think as a matter of law the spec scripts were followed almost identically. They may have consulted with the writers for permission to tweak a few things here and there, but if there were any scenes at all that needed a rewrite by one of the staff writers, there would be shared credit for the script. And yeah I got my first taste of scriptwriting heartbreak when I sent a script in to the show "The Commish" in 1994 which was returned to me unread without submission through an agent. I continued to pursue this dream for a few more years but there weren't many shows that suited my genre preferences in the mid-to-late 90s and virtually none of them bought spec scripts. Being from rural Minnesota without any "connections" in Hollywood my prospects for success were so grim I lost interest in it about halfway through college. I wrote about 25 scripts for my hypothetical MacGyver ripoff series "Alex Burrows" between 1993 and 1998 though.

    3. If you were a Canadian or French citizen in the early 90's, you could've written spec scripts for Highlander The Series. That was the only show I'd ever heard of that accepted them, but only from citizens in the two countries they filmed in.

    4. I had heard that Highlander: The Series was a spec script purchaser with the Canadian/French citizenship requirements you cited. Given that MacGyver filmed in Canada, they may well have the same Canadian citizenship requirements for spec scripts there. The majority of the show's crew was Canadian from seasons 3 through 6. Miami Vice was another high-profile show that bought some spec scripts. They were few and far between even a quarter century ago though.

    5. Spec scripts were also accepted by the producers of Star Trek: The Next Generation for most of its run.

  3. I agree, the opening attack scene was unnecessarily creepy and violent even it it did emphasise the increase in crime as backdrop to the Right-wingers' success. Always good to see MacGyver in a tux especially as he was adjusting this one uncomfortably as he entered the room - do you need to wear a tux to an art auction? A great leap across the room at the knifeman -I have to agree with the crooked cop though; it didn't look convincing that MacGyver had him covered! Poor MacGyver, knocked out twice in one episode. Enjoyed the two shakes and the 'Oh man' - might watch out for more of these. The checkpoint at the mine was manned by militiamen in camouflage - wouldn't somebody have noticed that? This episode is better than I remembered and its great that the series dealt with such weighty issues - one can't imagine Nazi art theft featured on many tv adventure series but I did feel uncomfortable, as you did, with the gas scene and the unlikely takeover of the West coast.. Interesting info on the spec scripts - thanks. Ranked about right for me.

  4. Im pretty sure the opening "gambit" was mentioned in the newspaper in the opening to the auction scene. And that it was 10%er thugs pulling a Reichstag to help get their guys elected.

    As for the art acquisitions, it was either mentioned, or I always assumed that they would go to a museum, whether Phoenix run or something else. There are so many details you can miss even on several rewatches.

  5. "The opening scene where a female runner is kidnapped on a secluded jogging trail. It's out of place and doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the episode."

    You are right!!!!! What was that about?! Everytime I watch this episode and see the jogger, I forget all about her during the episode! So yeah what was the point?

    1. Mark told me (in response to my review about this episode over on my blog) that it's part of the plot to show Brand as being 'tough on crime'. It's not the clearest inclusion, since that's at least 3 of us MacGyver fans who were confused by it.

  6. One of the things I love about MacGyver is the episodes that had a message based on social issues of the time. The poaching of the nearly extinct species of Rhinoceros, corporate corruption, environmental destruction, racism. The episode "The Challenger" in Season 4 was another really good episode dealing with racism.
    The part about the Nazis (or neo-nazis actually) trying to take over the Pacific Northwest was actually true, and still is. Look up "Northwest Territorial Imperative". It was mainly something back in the late 80s and early 90s that they were trying to do, but they never really stopped. Recent events in the past year or two have made it popular again. I am really glad that they chose this issue to do an episode on.

  7. This episode never aired in the German-speaking countries, probably due to the 'gimmicky' use of the gas chamber being deemed disrespectful, like Mark said. I only saw it when the DVDs came out.
    The unresolved ending with all the Nazis still in key positions is especially striking. I didn't know this was/is a real-world issue. It seems all the more courageous now.
    The Phoenix art acquisition program makes sense to me. In archeology and paleontology, this is a real thing. You don't want pieces to end up hidden in private collections, but publicly funded universities/museums usually wouldn't stand a chance in these auctions, so you would need private foundations to jump in.