Thursday, January 8, 2015

#66: Black Rhino

Editor's note:  This recap is best enjoyed while listening to this song

Season: 5

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver goes to Africa to find Billy Colton, a friend and Phoenix employee who recently disappeared in search of an infamous poacher.  He saves Billy from a hanging and witnesses the graphic death of a black rhino.  He and Billy then team up with a conversationist to recover a shipment of rhino horns and stop the poaching ring.

Memorable Quote:
Enjoy your visit, but be careful, sir.  Africa is like a sleeping lion.  Very beautiful, when left alone.  ~General Mabuto

Highlight:
The star of this episode is the continent of Africa, a great setting for an episode and the only time I believe that we see MacGyver in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Forget about the stock footage and the occasional pine trees - this one feels like Africa, and my favorite part is at the beginning when they're playing the nice music (linked above) and MacGyver is driving in his SUV and just smiling at his surroundings.  Good stuff.

Also note the choir singing the song is named Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and the villain's name is Ladysmith (which I'd guess is a nod to the choir).  

Lowlight:
MacGyver shouldn't be lecturing anyone on the importance of having a plan and taking things one step at a time.  Many of his seat-of-the-pants plans are disastrous and he's lucky that the bad guy locks him up instead of just shooting him.  Save your righteous anger for the poachers, MacGyver!

Best MacGyverism:
Makes a filter using water and a napkin to test the material in the sugar packets.  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The last episode I'm watching with The MacGyver Project Mom for a while.  Unlike the last three episodes, there are no mother-related themes in this one!  And it's our third straight episode featuring a Colton!  After this one we'll take a little break from the Colton family.
  • Add the Endangered Species Program to the wide-ranging list of Phoenix Foundation projects. 
  • Fun moment where Pete guilts MacGyver into going to Africa.  Amazing how much MacGyver has changed.  Just a few years prior he enthusiastically traverses the globe at the drop of the hat - now he resists with all his might.   "But Africa?  I can't just go to Africa!"  Yes you can, MacGyver, you used to travel all the time!   Fortunately he gets some hop in his step back once he gets to Africa.  
  • Not sure why the generals are attending the ranger's funeral on the ranch.  From a storytelling perspective, it provides a means for which General Mabuto will recognize Kate later and MacGyver will know that their plan is up in smoke.  I guess I just answered my own question. 
  • Fun fact: the actress who plays Kate is married to James Earl Jones.
  • Our fourth and final Kai Wulff episode!  A great guest star as always, and a perfect choice to play the poacher Ladysmith.  In fact, all the acting in this episode is terrific.
  • Great scene at the 11 minute mark between reluctant partners Mabuto and Ladysmith as they each take a turn threatening the other.  The sense of distrust and menace is electric. 
  • 12:43 mark - I was watching MacGyver and Kate and somehow didn't notice until about 10 seconds later that MacGyver had been calmly petting a chimp the whole time.
  • Powerful scene where Kate shoots the dying, poached black rhino to end its suffering. "That is the sickest, cruelest, most inhumane thing I've ever seen in my life." ~MacGyver.  Great acting from RDA here.  Here's a short clip with RDA's thoughts at the time of the episode.   
  • More great scenes when Billy gets captured on the boat and then when MacGyver and Kate rescue him.  Billy's use of the word "copacetic" made an impression on me as a kid and I thought it was a cool word.  
  • 29:12 - I always enjoy when MacGyver licks something to figure out what it is, and he always figures it out.  I should have made a list of all those times.  
  • 32:32 - nice shake from Billy
  • I've always liked water slides, and the "shingle bolt flume" looks like it would have been fun, except for the big drop at the end.  

Final Analysis:
Another awesome episode!  Great locale, characters, acting, story, and message.  Mom likes it too, noting that Cuba Gooding Jr. is a great actor who nailed the role of Billy Colton.  The nighttime denouement is poignant, and there's a nice message from RDA at the end.  In it, he says that there are less than 4000 black rhinos left in 1989 and that at the current rate of killing, they'll be extinct by 2000.   According to the source of all truth (Wikipedia) there were 4240 in Africa in 2008, but the species is still critically endangered.  Sometimes the issue episodes can fall a little flat for me, but this is a great one and kudos to the MacGyver team for taking on this issue.

Next up, nothing major, only a pivotal episode in the history of the series.   

29 comments:

  1. I loved this one, and it's another episode that I have a personal attachment to based on a specific association I'll get to at the end. Agreed that despite the stock footage and obvious Pacific Northwest pine forests in the backdrop occasionally, they made this episode like Africa....right down to petting a chimp on the front porch of the game preserve. And more than any other episode, this one was a perfect hybrid of MacGyver's later season "issue" episodes and the globe-trotting adventure theme that was the series' bread and butter. While the preachiness went of the rails at times (really Billy? you're giving away your reward money to "save the rhinos"?), the cause was powerful and they did a good job getting their facts right. To this day when the issue of rhino poaching comes up (and as strange as it sounds it does come up fairly often in my social circle) I'm able to educate the room on the particulars. How do I know so much about the subject, they ask? Well how do you think? I learned it the same way I learned everything worth knowing in life.....from MacGyver!!! And yeah, even the hardest of hearts would have to feel touched by the scene where Kate has to put down the decapitated rhino.

    And the cast really delivered on this episode as well. I had no idea that Cecilia Hart was married to James Earl Jones! She was great, but Kai Wulff, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Roger Aaron Brown stole the show and absolutely owned whatever scenes they were in. Roger Aaron Brown was brilliant in both episodes he was in, and Mabuto's banter with Billy when he caught him "spying" on their delivery was an absolute scream. One of the best elements of this one was how they lightened the mood with some genuine fun and clever plotting to help soften the edges of the primary plot. In addition to the scene mentioned above, the "shingle bolt flume" looked like the greatest water slide even imagined to a 12-year-old Mark, and hats off to the director for some magnificent location work for this scene in particular. Also, I loved the way they were smuggling the "keratin" inside the brown sugar packets. Not sure how many brown sugar refineries you'll find in sub-Saharan Africa but it was still an incredibly cool idea, and while you said there were no MacGyverisms in this episode, I would say his homemade filter to dissolve the sugar and expose the "keratin" inside qualifies. Also, great observation about MacGyver's lecture to Billy about "not having a plan". I never picked up on that before, but compared to what MacGyver usually does, Billy had a pretty darn good plan going into this!

    This episode would be in my upper reaches no matter what, but it gets brownie points for me for being the first episode I recorded for my personal connection. I was in sixth grade at the time and for years I had religious education classes on Monday nights that kept me from watching MacGyver live. My uncle had a VCR and taped them for me and my mom and I would go to his place after the classes and watch the recorded episode. Finally, in the summer of 1989, my parents broke down and bought a cheap, used VCR....but we couldn't get it working for months! But in mid-November 1989, we finally got it working and I recorded my first MacGyver episode (and by no means not my last) while at religious ed classes.....and not only did I watch it when I got home, I watched it again the next day after school! That was a pattern I continued for the rest of the series' run. Very pleased to have such a first-rate episode to start my collection. Even my grandpa watched this one on USA cable reruns a couple of years later and commented on how much he liked it. I rank this one #14.

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    1. Roger Aaron Brown was awesome in this episode - I wouldn't have guessed he's American (given his total command of the accent) but he is. And good call on the homemade filter - I updated the blog post and added it in. Nice story about the VCR. I remember my Mom saying that their first VCR cost them 900 dollars! And that was more money back than it is now. And thanks for the shout-out on your blog! I left you a few comments there.

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    2. No problem. Figured one good gesture deserved another. Plus it would be great to steer more fans to the site who might be semiregulars on my blog. Hard to imagine buying a VCR for $900 in the early to mid-80s when $900 would be worth almost triple what it is today.

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  2. This one ranks pretty high for me too. It's the first episode of MacGyver I ever saw. And pretty poignant with the animatronic rhino.

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    1. Agreed on the animatronic rhino. It was fantastic...far better than whatever CGI replacement we'd see if the episode was made in 2015.

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    2. /o\ I don't even want to imagine. *covers eyes, pretends not to see* =)

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  3. I agree with you, some great location work and they managed to make Western Canada look more like Africa than it looks like L.A. sometimes! It was pretty feeble of MacGyver to moan that he couldn't just go to Africa. Its another scene in Pete's office where MacGyver often fiddles with something on Pete's desk -haven't watched this recently so will have to check that out! Thanks for the info on the animatronic rhino; I wondered how they did it; It was pretty gruesome and realistic and must have upset some kids at the time but in a worthycause. I too love it when MacGyver tastes something to check it out. The mountie in 'Due South' used to do that all the time no matter how gross the clue was! Exciting ending where they are hanging off the bridge and MacGyver, as always, is trying so save the bad guy as well as himself. Some sloppy editing just before though; you can see its the stunt double running from the car to chase Ladysmith. Good episode, good cause, great stuff. Ranked in the 30's for me.

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    1. I used to love Due South! Fun show.

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    2. Some additional context for the animatronic rhino. When this episode first aired in 1989, ABC got a bunch of distressed calls from animal rights activists who thought the rhino was real and was butchered for the sake of the show. When the episode was reran in October 1990, ABC aired a disclaimer that the scene was simulated, the same disclaimer that appears on the DVD. And I had the same response at MacGyver's moaning about having to go to Africa....that he's gone a long way in the wrong direction in the previous four years! The Phoenix Foundation really softened him from those halcyon DXS days.

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    3. I thought the disclaimer was on the original airing - b/c I saw it in 1989 and remember a mention about the rhino being mechanical, rather than legit. (At least, I think I remember that.)

      re: Mac moaning about Africa - I always thought it was more about how he couldn't just pick up and go to Africa w/o jumping through a dozen hoops b/c of the inflection on 'go', rather than 'Africa'. Like just 'going' to Canada would've been no problem - grab your ID and head out - but 'going' to Africa, due to a zillion regulations and possibly political happenings in the area at the time, meant a little more than just stuffing your passport in your pocket and packing a bag.

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    4. I'm not sure where you watched it for the first time as that may have made a difference, but I have the original November 1989 broadcast that aired on ABC videotaped and the disclaimer wasn't on there. It was on the October 1990 repeat on ABC though. As for MacGyver "going" to Africa, wouldn't his passport and vaccinations be in order given his international travels? In the two months preceding Black Rhino, he had visited Colombia, England, France, Switzerland, and Thailand alone!!!!

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  4. It's also possible I didn't see the whole episode the first time it aired and saw the disclaimer later during a repeat.

    re: Africa - his passport and vaccinations, probably. I assume there was probably a visa requirement, though I've never traveled to Africa, so I can't be sure, and I have no idea how long those take.

    Though - this isn't the first time Mac's grumbled about having to do an assignment, so it isn't wholly out of character.

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  5. HOW THE HECK DOES MACGYVER KNOW WHAT KERATIN TASTES LIKE?!?

    Great episode though. Even after all this time, I still can't watch that rhino death scene without choking up a little.

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    1. Keratin is the stuff your fingernails are made of.

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  6. Yeah but I used to bite my nails and they really had no 'taste' so I'm left still wondering....
    Oh well, best not to overthink these things. :)

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  7. I've just watched this one again and the same thing occurred to me how does even MacGyver know what keratin tastes like? Maybe its something to do with its texture as well. I've watched the rhino scene several times now but its still gets to me every time -its a powerful scene with some good acting from RDA who looks pretty realistically choked up. Fun moment as they leave the hotel, someone pops their head out from behind the wall in the background and quickly pops back again as if they shouldn't be there.

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  8. RDA'S voice over at the end is certainly prophetic,according to the Sun on Sunday the Black Rhino is now extinct!

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    1. Wow, that's terrible. Do you know if that a particular subspecies?

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    2. I don't know of the different species of Black Rhino,the article wasn't that precise,i will see if i can find out.I am also impressed of your reply to my comment,very prompt........Dave 🖖

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    3. Haha, thanks! As for the species, I did a quick google search and it looks to me like there are some subspecies of black rhino that are extinct but others that are not.

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    4. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3926608/Western-black-Rhino-now-extinct.html

      I've found this Nick........Dave.

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    5. Thanks for sharing, Dave. Very sad, but good that the overall numbers are rising per the last sentence of the article.

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    6. I have just noticed that the time is incorrect,mine definitely,how can you adjust the time?

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    7. It's U.S. Central time, which is where I am.

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    8. Thanks Nick,the time is probably governed by the location of the original post,My location is the UK so that would be British Standard time,at the time of me composing this post it is 16:00 hours,I hope i haven't woke you!!?⏰.

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  9. This is another one of those episodes that Ive seen before, but it just doesnt stick with me as awesome. I think Ive seen it twice before the current go, but this time Im really amazed by it. What a great episode all around. I like Cuba Gooding Jr in quite a few roles hes played, notably the couple here. He does a good job of playing a nervous wreck of a young adult.

    The first time I saw the rhino, it looked so real and made me squirm. The second time, not so much, and this time, the anticipation was more the problem. I always wondered how they did it. I figured a puppet until I read animatronic here. I dont recall seeing the disclaimer the other times Ive watched it. I wish they had made it a separate screen or at the end, and didnt cover over the montage.

    As always, I love the locationing and I was amazed to see the license plates were made foreign. They really did a great job all around on this. Amazing that BC could be made to look like Africa. Then again, theres a lot of inner cities that could be made to look like warzones.

    I figured they were speaking Swahili, a language I took in college, but the Closed Captions confirmed it, and later some dialog did. I actually understood a bit of it. The thing is, Swahili is spoken a bit over 1000 miles north by northwest of South Africa, so its unlikely they would have been able to travel downriver from a swahili country. :P I dont even speak it that well, but the accents definitely seemed off. Altho swahili is VERY easy to speak. The music in the beginning, meanwhile, sounds like Zulu (Swahili doesnt have clicks, much to my dismayed discovery in class), which is South Africa based. Fortunately, the black rhino did/does range from East Africa to South Africa.

    My only complaint is that the end credits didnt have another African song. I think that would have bookended it better. The usual theme was a bit jarring.

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  10. At the end of April, Kenya actually burnt a huge stockpile of rhino horn and elephant tusks as a symbolic gesture against poaching. I immediately thought of this episode and have just watched it again with the new knowledge that burning the horns in front of the world's press really is a conservation tactic. Apparently it has been happening since 1989 so MacGyver was right at the forefront of a new, controversial, conversation initiative. As we've thought many time before, what a show!

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  11. I love this episode from beginning to end! Thanks for song Nick! Always love the song! This episode had a great message. I also love that they put up a message in the beginning saying,

    this story contains a scene depicting an injury to an animal. The animal and the injury are simulated.

    Thanks for the RDA video too Nick. Poor Rhinos! So difficult watching a Rhino suffer even though it's fake. In real life they were suffering. :(

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