Saturday, January 31, 2015

#47: The Road Not Taken

Season: 2

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver and Pete are in Southeast Asia to rescue a pair of nuns and some orphaned children from the military.  One of the nuns, Debra, was MacGyver's former girlfriend, and Pete has a history of his own with the other nun.  MacGyver and Debra get separated from the group, and they must survive on their own until Pete can rescue them. 

Memorable Quote:
Don't think!  Feel!  ~MacGyver

Strong moment at the 9:00 mark as MacGyver sees Debra for the first time and then reflects on the time that she left him, with poignant music playing in the background. 

The interesting thing about the previous sentence, by the way?  Three words: she left him.  All of the other loves of MacGyver's life have dealt with him leaving or not following through, whether it's Amy Austin, Karen Miller, Ellen Jerico, or Maria Romburg.  This is the one time where MacGyver wanted more and it was the woman who did not oblige (unless you count the other Deborah from The Negotiator, but she was a psychopath).  Given MacGyver's depth of feelings for her (at one point he even says that he's willing to settle down and abandon his nomadic lifestyle for the sake of their relationship), I think she deserves to go to the number one spot for now on the Love Interest list.

That said, I'm not all that wild about her.  She seems nice, but she doesn't seem to care much for MacGyver or show him any genuine affection.  I know the implication is that she does have feelings for him and is denying them because she thinks it would go against her religious calling, but I just never get the feeling that she's really that into him.  Maybe that's intentional, or maybe it's just a lack of chemistry between the actors.  She does seem a little more like his type than Amy or Maria - it's just too bad for MacGyver that she didn't reciprocate the feelings.  

The story line involving the corrupt French refugee camp leader is not that interesting or well-developed.  

Best MacGyverism:
Creates a rocket flare out of bamboo, nitrates, matches, and a funnel (nose cone).  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Why is the army devoting this many resources (at least 15 soldiers) to capturing 2 nuns and some orphans?
  • Chanthara is a memorable villain, if only because he is so darn smart.  Normally I complain that the bad guys aren't smart enough, but in this case they almost go a little too far in the other direction.  As MacGyver says, "This guy's got brains he hasn't even started to use."  Some examples of his cleverness include:
    • Finding the secret entrance to the tunnel where the orphans are hiding. 
    • Realizing the bomb that MacGyver throws at them is a fake.
    • Noticing the deeper footprints and realizing that MacGyver and Debra stepped in them twice (and thus double backed).  This one's a stretch - no one is that smart.
    • Figuring out what direction MacGyver is going based on his traps. UPDATE - haha, MacGyver tricked you, son!  
  • "Sister, if you have a direct line upstairs, put in a call."  ~helicopter pilot
  • The smoky helicopter landing is impressively filmed. 
  • 24:50 - it's the classic MacGyver move of touching his fingers to the lady's face.  And we see it again at 28:35.  I'd think most self-respecting ladies would object to being touched like that. 
  • "High Noon?  This guy's seen too many Westerns."  ~MacGyver
  • "Are you all right?"  ~MacGyver.  "Yeah, just great!"  ~Debra.  I wouldn't be so chipper if I was hanging onto a rope ladder from a helicopter hundreds of feet off the ground. 
  • Where does MacGyver get a new softball and glove for the little kid?

Final Analysis:
This is an episode that my Mom really likes, and I'd guess women in general probably like the emphasis on relationships (for both MacGyver and Pete) and the feelings that Debra draws out of MacGyver.  I like it too, though I wouldn't say I love it.  The episode has a decent amount of action and has a certain poignancy that elevates it about more standard, run-of-the-mill fare, but I think it would be even better if I liked the Debra character more.  I'm not sure if it's the actress or the script, but I don't ever get the feeling that she really loves MacGyver, and that would have helped take this episode to the next level.  Coming up, a bit of a lost episode for me.  


  1. This was the kind of episode I would have liked to have seen more of in season 2, and one I've grown to enjoy more on subsequent viewings because of all the vintage MacGyver inventiveness and a first-rate villain in Chanthara who goes toe to toe with him. We still saw a little of that season 2 cheekiness that I generally could have done without ("Pete, you're standing on my hand!!") but the tone was generally right and the adventure threshold in the stratosphere the whole hour.

    I actually liked Debra, even though I'll forever associate the actress that played her as a schizophrenic psycho on a 1984 episode of "Hardcastle and McCormick". Still, there was something about Debra that made me understand why MacGyver was attracted to her, even years after she left him. On the other hand, I'll say that Pete seemed to have more chemistry with his old flame Sister Margaret (small world that MacGyver and Pete both run into their old flames in an orphanage in the jungles of southeast Asia!) and would have liked to have seen more of her in future episodes, particularly as the nun opposite Pete in "On a Wing and a Prayer". And while I suppose you're right that the Frenchman running the refugee camp wasn't well developed as a character, I thought his presence as Chanthara's spy added one more layer to Chanthara's awesomeness, having covered his bases to the point of having an inside source feeding him info in the next country over knowing that the refugee camp would be a good destination for anyone who escaped his lair.

    But far and away what sparkled best about this episode was the cat and mouse between MacGyver and Chanthara in the jungle, where baseballs were turned into alarms and a rosary was turned into a solar fuse. I actually thought Chanthara figuring out MacGyver and Debra doubled back in the creek was completely believable given the depth of their footprints versus his own. An experienced soldier would be trained to notice that sort of thing. MacGyver got a couple of funny lines in after the capture as well about spelling his name wrong on the "list of crimes" and deducing that Chanthara had "seen too many Westerns" after warning them they'd be killed at "high noon". For all of his intelligence, Chanthara sure was dumb to think he'd successfully keep MacGyver locked up in a supply room overnight and not live to regret it though. I really enjoyed this episode and found the story and production to be very ambitious, along with a love lost story I found a little more compelling than you did. I ranked it #58.

    1. I thought of the On a Wing and a Prayer thing too - it would have been cool for it to be the same character (even if it was a different actress).

    2. There was a reference to "Sister Margaret" in "On a Wing and a Prayer". I'm guessing the plan was to get Salome Jens, the actress who played Sister Margaret back for OAWAAP but she wasn't available so they retooled the script to get a different actress and character.

  2. Here's an email comment from The MacGyver Project Mom:

    Hi, Nick
    I read the blog. One moment that you did not mention was the murder of the man who protected the nuns and children. A true act of selflessness. Yes, it is one of my favorites. I think Debra showed a fondness for Mac but her love interest has changed. I would not expect her to behave differently.

  3. I like this episode - and agree w/ Project!Mom that Debra's feelings shifted and she still cares about Mac, but she's not in love with him like she may have been in the past.

  4. I can see why your Mum likes this one too. I think its pretty good and enjoyed the delving into MacGyver's past as always, although I kind of agree with you that there's not a shedload of chemistry between Deborah and MacGyver. I guess its difficult to act like you were in love with someone, still like them but now have moved on. We also get a lot of classic MacGyver running around in the 'jungle', evading a small army and tricking a ,thankfully, competent bad guy which is all great stuff.
    Its nice that Pete gets to go on the mission and MacGyver even has him rapelling down a cliff. I like the code word 'Bulgaria' that MacGyver and Pete use as a cool signal for the pick-up arrangement - I always like 'spy'stuff in Macgyver episodes. Its also cool how, without a moments hesitation, MacGyver jumps out the helicopter to stay with Deborah. As I've said many times, what a guy.
    Back to their relationship.. .Their first meeting where he rugby tackles her, is almost speechless with surprise and then rubs his hand over his hair as she compliments it is a good moment. However, I think she's being rather patronising in the escape tunnel when she asks him if he's still making things out of nothing and 'What is it this time?' We know its not going to be plain sailing when she moves away from MacGyver's trademark comforting hand -to- the- face gesture. Not many women do that. Its quite a shock to us that she reveals he was going to ask her to marry him.. MacGyver..? but a shock to him as well that she's intending to become a nun. And we certainly don't expect him to offer to settle down for her even now - it just goes to show that even MacGyver will commit for the right woman. We really feel for him at the end when, downcast, he says 'I'll never meet anyone like her' In the meantime Pete and Maggie's relationship is also under scrutiny and I agree, there's more warmth in it somehow. They're also very competent in fixing the 'copter MacGyver-style.
    Minor nitpicks; surely Deborah would have at least broken something falling all that way out of the helicopter and surely the soldiers, having made the orphanage their headquarters, wouldn't have left it unguarded.
    A good episode, MacGyver is out and about in an exotic location, there's a serious threat level and an emotional backstory carried forward to the present. I think I'd rank it even a little higher.

    1. Good point about Debra hurting herself from the fall - that was from pretty high up!

  5. Decidedly average. This one felt a little like Golden Triangle to me, I wasn't particularly keen on that one either. There was a bit more jeopardy with the competent villains who certainly made their mark by murdering the old villager in quite a harrowing moment, even though you didn't actually see it happen. Debra (I've never seen that spelling before!) and Margret felt a little wooden and the emotional side to the story was a bit unconvincing at times, along with having to believe both Pete and MacGyver would find their lost loves together. The main problem I had was the amount of back and forth through the un-tropical undergrowth!

  6. I've just watched this one again recently. I don't know how I previously failed to connect that the title is the same as the Robert Frost poem 'The Road not taken' (I think I'd assumed that poem was actually called 'The Road less-travelled by'). Anyway, this adds a whole new layer of meaning especially when considering Debra's choice! In the poem the narrator, faced with two equally unworn roads tells us how in future years he will probably say that he took the 'road less travelled by'and that this decision shaped his future life (in order to seem individualistic and not just one of the herd).In other words we all practice self-deception about our choices and how we think we show ourselves to be different by not taking the obvious route that others would. Perhaps Debra too is deceiving herself about her reasons for making the least obvious choice, costing both her's and MacGyver's happiness!
    I love the way the show gets you delving into things literary, scientific, historical etc etc!

    1. Great observation, Al! I was aware of the poem but didn't make the connection and I didn't realize that the name was exactly the same as the episode title. I like your comment about the show delving into all things - that's why it's the best show of all!

  7. This is a surprisingly good one that Im rarely inclined to watch, but always end up excited. I think it was great all around. Couldve had a little more power to it, but its up there. I wish they had cast the guy who played General Narai in Golden Triangle for the Captain here. I like when they reuse actors. It adds a little ridiculousness to it. I also agree that bringing back Sister Margaret wouldve been cool, possibly in Barraca, but why would she suddenly transfer there after devoting herself to Vietnam or whatever (considering it borders Thailand, its more likely Burma, Cambodia, or Laos).

    I painstakingly transcribed what was written on the paddles. It appears to be Vietnamese:
    chúng bay bị xét-xử có tội phạm đế chính-phủ.
    chúng bay bị xét-xử có tội phạm đẽ chính-phủ.

    which Google translates as:
    they fly at-treatment equipment to the main crime-government.
    they fly at-processing equipment was the main crime-government.
    The e in de I cant be sure of.

    My landlord is Vietnamese, so maybe Ill have him take a look one day.

    Bing translate says:
    they were-there's crime Empire Government.
    they were-there has a criminal Government.

    I wonder if its grammatically correct. It probably would not have been hard to find a Vietnamese person, considering how they tracked down a Basque professor. It looks like its saying they tried to escape and committed crimes against the government. *shrug*

    1. That's the funny thing about languages. The placement, and absence, of an accent mark can completely change the meaning of a word. Also, the sentence structure is not always going to be like that of the English language. In the German language if more than one verb is used in a sentence the action verb will be at the end of the sentence.

      Take Spanish. More is más and but is mas. Más in Portuguese has a completely different meaning. It means bad and it is feminine form of that adjective.

  8. Yeah I don't think she really cared about Macgyver either..

    "Figuring out what direction MacGyver is going based on his traps. UPDATE - haha, MacGyver tricked you, son!"


  9. Awesome episode, mainly because the season one-like end-to-end action, (from Pete, too!), and because of Chanthara is so sharp. I liked the Mac/Pete old flame parallel and Pete and Sister Margaret were really sweet together. I kept the whole episode, it should be in a top 20!
    It’s nice to see the Pilot’s pilot back and how close Pete and MacGyver are (“Bulgaria!!!”). MacGyver was so polite with the boy instead of just taking the ball from him. And he calls him good MAN! I would have loved to be one of those children, they seemed to be around my age. We see a version of fisher Lisa’s burglar alarm and the “hiding close by while we make it look like we left” trick from the same episode. Jonathan Creek did another good one in The Omega Man (excellent episode). Khan had some insane courage to not even flinch as Chanthara proceeded to kill him.
    I loved the “Hey, you spelled my name wrong!” joke and that they knocked the guard out with the board MacGyver’s crimes were listed on. Mikey, it’s really cool that you had it translated for us!