Wednesday, January 28, 2015

#50: D.O.A.: MacGyver

Season: 2

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver meets a contact in a warehouse who informs him of a bomb attack at a cemetery, but Lancer (an assassin) shows up and shoots MacGyver in the head.  He gets away and climbs aboard a small boat, but his memory is lost.  As he tries to put the pieces together, Lancer appears and manipulates MacGyver into thinking that Pete is the assassin. 

Memorable Quote:
You can mold it like plastic, or weave it like a cloth.  ~Braddock

Great scene at the end where MacGyver, in the throes of his amnesia, pulls a gun on Pete and even cocks the trigger.  Fortunately, Pete keeps his cool and talks MacGyver down from the ledge, enabling his memory to return in the process.  If only Jason Bourne would have had such a friend, there would have only been one movie.  Nevertheless, it's a special moment in the MacGyver/Pete relationship.

Lancer's ok, but the other two villains on his team are weak characters.  

Best MacGyverism:
Mixes Muriatic Acid and Ammonia to get a smokescreen, or "instant chemical fog."

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Oh no, MacGyver's been shot!  That's the 6th time overall, and the first time it's been in the head.  Time to update the shot chart.  
  • After being shot, MacGyver climbs onto a boat piloted by Carol Varnay, played well by Nana Visitor who also starred as Laura in Hellfire.  I like the Carol character: intelligent and capable. 
  • Good dramatic moment at 16:10 mark as he can't remember his name just as it cuts to commercial.    
  • Cool scene where MacGyver takes one look at the boy's bike and knows right away how to fix it, even in his amnesiatic state.  And then it's neat how Pete later sees the fix and can tell that it was MacGyver's handiwork. 
  • 22:13 - "Mine used to come apart every time I had something real important to go to," MacGyver says to Jason while fixing his bike.  Either his amnesia is selective, or else he's just making small talk.   
  • 24:11 - MacGyver and Carol are slyly touching legs while eating lunch.
  • 28:39 - another good pre-commerical moment as the phone dangles in the booth while Pete is on the line imploring MacGyver to pick up.
  • How could Pete leave the office without having someone else cover the private line in case MacGyver called back?  Come on, Pete!  
  • Lancer seems more like an office worker than a professional assassin, but his constant condescending remarks to Jules are amusing. 
  • Once MacGyver finds the bomb, the safer play would be to let it go off once everyone is evacuated, but fortunately timing is on his side.  
  • The denouement with the new bike for Jason feels like the deleted USA scene.
  • I assume the episode title refers to "Dead on Arrival" rather than "Dead or Alive," but I'm not sure how it fits the episode.

Script Analysis:
Here's a link to my script analysis where I compared the original script to the final episode.

Final Analysis:
All in all a good episode, but probably have it ranked a smidge too high.  The amnesia is a memorable injury for MacGyver (no pun intended), and the confrontation between MacGyver and Pete at the end is powerful.  One suggestion that I'd have if I was producing would be to have Lancer take MacGyver under his wing earlier in the episode (instead of with 10 minutes left).  It's a unique opportunity to see MacGyver as both powerless and "sleeping with the enemy."  Coming up next review, "Ouch!"


  1. Pete is definitely cool under pressure!

  2. This was a solid second season episode and while it had a couple of minor faults for me, I appreciated the darker tone in a season which in general was played a little too light for me. The spyjinks early on in the abandoned warehouse with MacGyver's contact (why can't I remember his name?!??!) were on point and it was suspenseful when Lancer and Jules were bearing down on him. This episode had great commercial breaks cuts as you cited, but you didn't mention the great Randy Edelman music that added further flair to the scenes. And Carol Varnay represented one of MacGyver's best female sidekicks in the series' run. So many female characters on MacGyver (and in TV and film in general) either fit the mold of damsels in distress, femme fatales, or bimbos of the week. Carol Varnay was none of them.....she had a compelling backstory and was intelligent, capable, and cool under pressure. She's right up there (on an unfortunately very short list) with Dr. Laura Sand from "The Ten Percent Solution" as my favorite adult female characters on the series.

    My nitpicks aren't huge but I agree the villains were weak, way too disorganized to come across as fearsome international assassins. Even Lancer, while no Axminster, still seemed like a relative lightweight. And frankly, the "amnesia" storyline always come across as a little "daytime soap" for me. I know it happens but it seems cheesy, particularly since the writers never quite perfect the narrative (as you pointed out, MacGyver remembers his childhood days of fixing his bike when helping Jason). They mostly handled it well here though. And while you're right that Pete talking MacGyver down at the end was excellent.scene and far and away the most memorable scene from the episode, I thought the capture of Lancer and his goons that followed was pretty lazy, throwing the bomb in a random metal can and tossing it underneath the bad guys' RV where it exploded (sort of...pretty tiny blast) at the most convenient possible moment. And this is not a criticism but the older actress playing Pete's secretary at Phoenix never appeared again on the series after this episode.

    Overall a solid hour, one I really enjoyed back in 1987 but now look at as more of a middle-of-the-pack episode, which is hardly a pejorative for a series with as high of a batting average as "MacGyver". I think this might have been another "spec script" episode as writer Jaison Starkes is an invisible man in the TV business beyond this credit. It was a good script though and I thought Pete closely followed Carol Varnay as the episode's MVP. I rank this one #83.

    1. Edelman - I should have known! I didn't even mention the commercial break where right before, Lancer told MacGyver that Pete was the villain. That's three solid commercial break hooks! You're right that the bomb blast is really small - it reminded me a little of the Prometheus Syndrome where they're working so hard to defuse bombs that aren't really all that big. I liked the secretary and thought she provided some good energy. And the contact's name was Anthony "Tony" Braddock.

    2. And did you like my teaser from last review? A "memorable" episode for some but not all.

    3. Excellent teaser. I wasn't even gonna venture a guess on that one. Or on the next one for that matter. Too many ouch moments for "MacGyver" even among the 49 episodes left! And I just knew MacGyver's contact was Tony but for whatever reason never let myself believe there would be TWO old friends named Tony who were contacts on second season MacGyver episodes and were killed in the first five minutes!

    4. Haha, good call. And now that I made it to the top 50, do you think you know my likes/dislikes well enough to hazard a guess at my top 5? Obviously I won't say if you're right or wrong, but time will tell.

  3. The bombs from "The Prometheus Syndrome" aren't meant to be 'big' shouty bombs - they're meant to start super-hot fires. They were rushing to disarm them because burning buildings with really hot fires is damned dangerous. (You'll see me defend "The Prometheus Syndrome" a bit - I like that episode.)

    This is one of the episodes that lands sort of 'in the middle' for me. The amnesia plots sort of make me side-eye, b/c I always wonder how much brain damage it's doing. And Mac remembering that his bike used to break down when he was a kid, even while suffering amnesia, isn't nec'ly 'wrong'. It's probably a pretty strong memory and older memories are usually 'deeper' seated than newer ones. He can remember about fixing his bike for the same reason he could figure out *how* to fix Jason's bike - he didn't have full 'memory gone forever' amnesia. Just some signal blocking going on. (Though, technically, he has 'Hollywood Amnesia' [or 'Easy Amnesia' per TV Tropes ->], which is plot device! *g*) It's also possible that seeing the bike and the actual act of fixing it, triggered the memory of his own bike breaking down a lot, so that bit, I can let slide more than some other things. The ending - with Pete being the voice of reason - is less believable than Mac remembering that his childhood bike was a pain in his butt. =)

    1. Interesting point on the bombs in "TPS" - I remember wondering why they didn't just let the bomb go off in the abandoned building rather than risk life and limb and hadn't thought of the massive fire potential, though I still wonder why the bomb that goes off and kills Earl didn't cause more damage. And your point on the amnesia makes sense - Jason Bourne remembers how to fight and MacGyver remembers the Phoenix Foundation so maybe all is not lost in the mind. Initially I was thinking he was just making it up to make the kid feel better!

  4. I watched this one a few days ago as I had a feeling it would come up soon. This was one of the first episodes I watched, shown out of sequence in the UK in the early 90's so it has a nostalgic feel and I like it in spite of a few misgivings. I like the way MacGyver calls his friend 'Anthony' with a 'th' in the middle -is that how its pronounced in the US? He tells us how one of Braddock's bombs got him out of prison in Morocco - was he in prison twice, because he didn't use a Braddock bomb in The Escape'. The actor playing him certainly milks the part of the drunken English genius for all its worth but at least the character comes good in the end, taking the bullet as he pushes MacGyver out the way. Like the use of the planks as gunfire but why doesn't MacGyver just leg it afterwards - he only gets shot because he's spending too much time making the fog.Would getting winged like that make you run 50 yards backwards and go through a window ? I don't know but its very dramatic and its cool that he can still swim all that way and scramble onto the boat. When Jules and Lancer come to the window it sways alarmingly which unfortunately makes it very obvious that its made of card and film.
    I like the scenes on the boat and like you, think that Carol Varnay is a good character although for some reason I always find the crackly radio, and her thumping it, really annoying.
    I like Pete's fussing, yet feisty secretary - she would have been a good addition to the series, a stern PA who maybe mildly disapproves of MacGyvers unorthodox ways, but is really very loyal.
    MacGyver drinks coffee on the boat and in other earlier episodes ('Target MacGyver' springs to mind) but later on he always declines.
    I enjoyed the concept of a vulnerable MacGyver piecing things together with Carol but found the cliffhanger ad breaks a bit much and felt throughout the episode the direction made a bit of a meal of the amnesia with lots of lingering shots of MacGyver looking bewildered, The bike mending scene's a heart warmer and MacGyver's concern that he doesn't want to get Carol into trouble but not quite sure why they didn't go to the police in the beginning, Still, Carol says 'I'll take my chances' and who could blame her, what lady wouldn't? I like her cool house -its got some great antique furniture.
    Good scene where MacGyver tackles Jules - one of the few where he confronts a gun and a very big villain head on.Talking of the villains, Lancer shows promise early on with the gadgets and careful planning but, I agree, the other two are no great shakes and Lancer's not very menacing. The concept of turning MacGyver against Pete is a good one though and again, I'm with you in thinking the denouement is great with Pete bringing MacGyver back with a reminder of their friendship and shared past. Its dramatic seeing MacGyver with a gun and its heightened with him pulling back the catch. At the end when he gives the kid his bike, he tells us about the Phoenix foundation arranging things rather than paying him and in another episode he says they take care of his expenses but they must pay him some actual money too at some point or he'd be broke!
    A good episode, and because it was an ealry one for me its in the top 30.

    1. Good stuff, Al, as always. I initially thought of The Escape also when he mentioned the Moroccan prison, but I think it must have been a different adventure since there was no Braddock in that one. And funny how this one and Slow Death both have the English geniuses who like to drink, and in both cases the drinking wasn't necessary to the plot. Maybe they're just tweaking the Brits a little!

  5. Carol was played by Nana Visitor, who, later on, also memorably played Major Kira Nerys in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Another feisty, strong, and capable female character. Visitor was certainly doing her part to dispel the helpless maiden stereotype! :)

  6. A good episode but nothing really stands out for me. Seems a bit blah. Good, but i wouldn't rush to see it again. I am not a fan of this amnesia foolishness and the continuity issues with it.

  7. One of my favorites from this season. There should be another fan favorites DVD collection with this episode being one of them.