Saturday, February 28, 2015

#28: Blow Out

Season: 3

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Allies of a captured terrorist threaten to blow up a city block unless the terrorist is released. Meanwhile, Nikki Carpenter is mugged and targeted by an unknown assailant.  MacGyver discovers the connection between the two events and rushes to stop the bomb which is in the back of a mail truck.  

Memorable Quote:
What was that all about?  ~Nikki
Well, we give them a head start and then follow the yellow brick road.  ~MacGyver

Classic opening scene where MacGyver is grocery shopping in the supermarket, it gets robbed, and he foils the robbery using a mixture of spices, baking soda, and vinegar to create homemade tear gas. He also gets some help from an old lady who pushes a shopping cart into one of the robbers.  And of course, there's the infamous "knock the guy unconscious by throwing a soup can at his back" moment.  Delightful stuff - I petition the MacGyver Gods to call this an opening gambit.  

I'm not a huge fan of the "Nikki gets upset at MacGyver going through her personnel file" storyline. First she comes over to the houseboat asking him for help, and then when he offers to help by looking through her file, she abruptly leaves and later gets very upset when he looks anyway. I get that she wants to keep her husband's death a secret and sees it as an invasion of privacy - it just seems like an unnecessary, overly emotional storyline that isn't developed enough.

Best MacGyverism:
Huge fan of the "paint can under the truck" trick.  He pokes a hole in the lid just right so that the paint slowly trickles out of the can.  This allows him and Nikki to follow the truck from a safe distance (based on the paint splatters that appear on the road).  Brilliant.  Let's add it to the MacGyverism list.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Guess what?  I'm sick!  Along with everyone else in my family.  Which makes this the perfect episode to watch since MacGyver is sick too.  Mark asked Stephen Downing if RDA was really sick during the filming of this episode, and he said that while he couldn't remember specifically, he was confident that it was "story, not fact."  That makes sense because it would have been hard to film it so that RDA was naturally sneezing on cue.  Some solid acting from RDA, then, because he really does seem sick and does a great job with the fake sneezes.  And a great idea to make him sick - adds to the memorability of this episode and provides a fun backdrop and some comic relief.
  • Several familiar faces in this episode:
    • Dale Wilson as the supplier turned hit man.  We've seen him in at least 3 other episodes and will see him once more.  He's generously agreed to answer some questions from Mark and I, and I hope to post them on the blog sometime next week. 
    • Frank Ferrucci as the Major.  We saw him throw MacGyver over the parking garage in Passages and as a bad guy in Easy Target
    • Bruce Harwood as Juice, the bomb expert.  In Season 6 he turns to the good side while making 4 appearances as Willis, a Phoenix Foundation tech.  Check out this interview he gave in 2013 where he mentioned MacGyver.  Of particular interest is this passage:
      • I had already been on MacGyver a year or two before, playing an Irish terrorist (in league with an Arab terrorist). I enjoyed shooting but had a horrible experience in post-production when someone decided my accent wasn’t “Irish” enough and I had to dub all my lines with a sort of Lucky Charms accent. MacGyver co-star Dana Elcar was running the recording session and became very angry with me because of my inexperience and because I wasn’t, in his opinion, pushing the accent hard enough. I promise you, I’d done careful research to try and produce an authentic accent and I resisted turning it into stage Irish, but that’s what happened in the end.  
      • That's really interesting!  I wouldn't want to mess with a "very angry" Dana Elcar!
    • According to IMDB, the two robbers in the grocery store are played by veteran MacGyver stuntmen Vince Deadrick Jr. and Steve Blalock.  We can't see their faces because they're wearing hockey masks. 
  • Great reaction from sick MacGyver when he hears Pete welcoming Nikki as a Phoenix Foundation employee. 
  • Erik's not a very smooth criminal - first he steals Nikki's wallet for no good reason, then he drives at her and knocks her driver's side door off but then just keeps driving when he's supposed to take her out. He did say he was a supplier rather than a professional hit man, which MacGyver also notes later on ("that clown was no professional hit man, that's for sure.")
  • I love the "hanging upside down breathing in the steam" contraption.  I'm going to do that today after I'm done watching this episode.

  • I just sneezed 8 times in a row - no lie.  MacGyver and I are one spirit.  
  • It's valiant of MacGyver to want to protect Nikki from the plastic explosives detonator that he steps on by telling her to leave, but she could make it pretty easy for him to escape by bringing something heavy over to him. 
  • 36:20 - fun moment after the explosives go off when Nikki opens the cabinet that MacGyver jumped into and he's still curled up in the fetal position.
  • Pretty sloppy of Major to leave around evidence related to his target, especially when he knows that Erik was followed. 
  • 37:30 - "that could be their next target."  Nice Minnesota accent there from RDA on "Taarrrget. Maybe that's why the Minneapolis based store picked "Target" as its name - sounds cool when spoken by a native. 
  • A spectacular ending as MacGyver drives a mail truck all around town (including down a grassy hill) with a bomb in the back that's about to explode.  He gets stopped by a cement truck but uses that to his advantage and fills the back of the mail truck up with cement which helps contain the bomb blast. 
  • Perfect ending as Pete sneezes after having picked up MacGyver's cold and is not too pleased. Is this how he looked when he heard Bruce Harwood's Irish accent?

Final Analysis:
That, my friends, is a fantastic hour of television.  That it's only at number 28 speaks to the greatness of the top 27.  An impressively filmed and produced episode with MacGyver in his prime (I talked about this idea of the character in his prime in my last review).  A classic beginning, a spectacular ending, excellent music, and good clean fun for the whole family.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to go hang upside down and breathe in some steam.  


  1. Sorry to hear you're ill. But if you haven't thwarted any armed robberies since you became sick, then you're not doing your job!!! I really liked this one too, albeit with one gaping annoyance for me that you touched upon in your review. The opening was great, and his baking soda cocktail was one of my favorite MacGyverisms of all-time. As you may have guessed by my question to Stephen Downing, I had always been curious whether Richard Dean Anderson was really sick when this was being filmed. The fact that "MacGyver" had gone a full month without any new episodes before this one aired in December 1987, I thought there may have been a production delay because he was so sick. Ultimately though I think ABC was just dragging out a shortened season. Considering the scripts are written like a month before filming, it never really made sense that RDA was sick the whole time but I still thought it was a fun little mystery. Either way, agreed that RDA did a fantastic job of acting as he seemed sick as a dog.

    I kind of liked Nikki in this one too. The writers were clearly trying to make her a more permanent fixture on the series by developing her character, and while her husband's death never materialized into a recurring storyline before she disappeared from the show, it seemed like a worthwhile avenue to pursue in the event that she did stay on the show. As stated in the "Early Retirement" review, however, it was weird how Nikki's standing in the series became so obviously tenuous with the series only two episodes later given how prominently she was featured in this one. Pretty good acting as well in the scenes where she's being terrorized. And while I also enjoyed MacGyver's "follow the yellow brick road" gimmick, it led me to straight to my annoyance of this episode....that these terrorists were spectacularly dim bulbs. Not only do they have this random errand boy in Eric Dunlap planting their bomb, they also have him acting as a hit man against Nikki who they know is a trained federal agent. And how convenient that he uses the asbestos wire from his bomb in the attempted strangulation of Nikki, leading MacGyver directly to the terrorist plot. Most annoying though was the fact that these guys KNEW based on the leaky paint can that they were being followed, but still left the plans detailing their bombing laying right there for whoever was right on their tail to find. It could have been argued that they knew the evidence would be blown up in the explosion on the plastique pressure plate, but that bomb went off and didn't take the evidence with it. I know real-life terrorists can be pretty stupid too but that particular plot convenience seemed a little lazy to me. I definitely would have preferred if MacGyver (or Nikki) could have figured out their destination more methodically.

    I did really enjoy 90% of the episode though and the high-speed chase with the mail truck bomb at the end was spectacular. It would take a very skilled stunt driver to take the mail truck through parks and down hills like that and not tip it given how top-heavy the truck looked. Filling it with cement at the construction site was great too, and nice cameo from RDA's future boss on "Stargate SG-1" (and Pete's stunt double!) Don S. Davis at the cement truck. A fun and well-crafted episode all around, but I will say I thought the terrorists themselves were much more ominous and crafty in "Easy Target", which is why I give the edge to that one in the terrorist-themed episode. I rank this one #89.

    1. I actually thwarted TWO grocery store robberies today, so I'm one up on MacGyver! I didn't realize that guy in the cement truck was Pete's stunt double, though it makes sense since they look similar. Were you a Stargate fan? Sometimes if I was flipping channels, I'd stop for a second and say, "Cool, it's RDA" and watch for a minute, but the science fiction stuff in general never appealed to me.

    2. The same guy in the cement truck (Don S. Davis/Pete's stunt double) has a more prominent role in an episode still ahead in your countdown. Keep your eye open for him! I feel the same way as you about "Stargate SG-1". I watched it regularly for the first two seasons and they had some very good episodes (and I always admired the first-rate production values) but it never resonated with me because it was too hard-core sci-fi. I was able to break away from it pretty easily around season 3, even though my aforementioned right-wing cousin thought I was a fan and kept borrowing me DVD sets of later seasons that I halfheartedly slogged through. I most enjoyed identifying the recycled Vancouver actors from "MacGyver" and the semiregular winking references to "MacGyver" itself, the best being an episode from the middle seasons where they actually had a nod to the classic Monday night timeslot rivalry of "MacGyver" vs. "ALF" back in the 80s, a rivalry I lived through in elementary school. And in the later seasons of the show, I believe after RDA left, the character who replaced him was a Colonel John Sheppard. No coincidence there! I have a couple other great "inside baseball" crew references from "MacGyver" in future TV projects besides "Stargate" as well if you're interested.

      And I read that Bruce Harwood interview the first time you posted it and was a little surprised at the "very angry Dana Elcar" reference. First of all, Elcar must have been more involved in the show's production logistics than I ever figured if he supervised dubbing to this extent...and secondly, I kind of agree with Harwood in this instance that sometimes less is more when it comes to feigning ethnic accents. Harwood was a fine actor but I must confess his bland Willis character in season 6 never did much for me.

    3. I am interested in your other inside baseball MacGyver references - lay em on me! Did you think RDA was good in Stargate? In the few minutes of it that I saw while flipping around, he seemed out of place. Maybe that's because I was so used to him as MacGyver, but it made me wonder how versatile of an actor he was (like maybe he was just good at MacGyver because he was playing himself). Now he's never gonna come on my blog for an interview - just kidding RDA!

      I paid attention to Harwood and the dubbing and extra Irish accent is noticeable, though he doesn't have many lines. I'm with you in that the Willis character was ok but not super memorable. I didn't try and reach out to him because I didn't think there would too much more for him to say than what he already said in that interview.

    4. Two other inside baseball references involving the crew, the first being on a 1995 "Simon and Simon" TV movie based on the 80s series. I saw right away that former season 2 "MacGyver" writer Rob Hedden wrote it, and only a couple more minutes into the episode was a courtroom scene referring to plaintiff and defendant as Mr. Lenhart and Ms. Sakmar, the surnames of two other "MacGyver" staff writers from season 2. Sakmar, Lenhart, Hedden, and one other writer collaborated on an episode still ahead in your countdown, on top of several other episodes mostly in season 2.

      The other "MacGyver" crew reference I picked up on one year earlier involved still other season 2 crew members. "The Commish" was an above-average police drama in the early-to-mid 90s and the showrunner was former "MacGyver" writer Stephen Kronish, who has since worked on a number of shows (including "24") and may be the most successful former "MacGyver" writer. In one 1994 "Commish" episode, an episode written by Kronish referenced a character named Mr. Froehlich, another staff writer/producer from season 2 of "MacGyver" who worked with Kronish.

      Coming up with character names is sometimes a challenge for a writer so it's easy to fall back on names you're familiar with and of course ex-colleagues are an easy selection. But I think it says something that these "MacGyver" writers still referenced each other years later in scripts....that they probably really enjoyed working on "MacGyver".

      As for RDA on Stargate, I always felt the same....he seemed a little out of place in the role.....even more so than he was as the grumpy curmudgeon that was MacGyver in season 7. Plus the Jack O'Neill character never seemed particularly memorable for me. It might be post-MacGyver sour grapes but I can see why RDA left the show before it ended. I'm not sure he ever felt that the role fit him the way that MacGyver did, or for that matter, his personal infatuation with that "Legend" series and character.

    5. I think it's safe to say that you're the only person in the world who watched that 1995 Simon and Simon TV movie and picked up on a "Sakmar, Lenhart, and Hedden" reference. :)

    6. Late to the party, but Stargate SG-1 really only lasted as long as it did because of RDA. His irreverent humor and occasionally goofy charm made the show much more watchable than it could have been. He's Not MacGyver in it, but he's critical to the show. Also, for what it's worth, the first two seasons were pretty weak. The show hit its stride in seasons 3 and 4, with flashes of brilliance elsewhere. In many ways, it's even better just to skip season 1 altogether. Sure, it sets up the mythology, but the stories and characters are markedly weaker.

  2. Good write up on this episode, Nick. Get well soon!

  3. Bruce Harwood is also one of the 'Lone Gunmen' from The X-Files. =)

    re: Stargate SG-1 - nope, RDA loved the show and the role. He wanted to be part of a show where he wasn't carrying it solo. He did ask that some aspects of O'Neil (with 1 'L') be adjusted from the movie for O'Neill (w/ 2 'L's) for the show. He left b/c of his daughter. He wanted to be 'dad' and cut back his shooting schedule for a season or so, then left altogether. I doubt he would've stuck it out for 8 seasons if he didn't like the character or the show. And the guy who came in to replace him wasn't 'John Sheppard', it was Cameron Mitchell. John Sheppard was the lead character on the spin-off, Stargate Atlantis.

    There's a straight-up MacGyver mention in the pilot episode. =) The first 4 seasons are pretty good. Starting w/ s5 though, I wasn't overly impressed with some of the storylines. Then Shanks left, production moved over to the SciFi channel (back when it still did actual SciFi stuff), Shanks came back, RDA started cutting back his time, RDA left, Browder came in, show got cancelled. I don't think I even saw the last 2 seasons until after the series had ended. (It's a lot harder to care when the characters you like are kind of not there anymore.)

    Don S. Davis is one of the nicest people I ever met. I'm sad that he's gone. =( But I'm glad I got to meet him.

    And - this comment has almost nothing to do with this episode of MacGyver except to talk about Bruce Harwood up there w/ that first line. *g*

    I don't have this one ranked quite as high as you, but the opening scene with Mac and his cold and the little old lady who gives him a rousing chuck in the shoulder is one of my fave scenes. *g*

    1. Thanks for the clarifications. I knew RDA liked "Stargate" but I never sensed he liked the series or the role as much as "MacGyver" or "Legend". I'm sure you know more on that than me though. Didn't realize Don S. Davis died. Was that recent?

    2. I wasn't so keen on Stargate when I first watched it as I couldn't get used to RDA in a different role (and not being a sci-fi fan didn't help) but when I re watched much later I began to appreciate the completely different character he'd created; much more sarcastic, less articulate, disliking scientists and technology and quite rude but yet totally loyal to his team, and anyone else he felt worthy of it plus a good sense of humour ( and the same contempt for bureaucracy as MacGyver). The reference to Macgyver early on actually involves Captain Carter saying that they'd 'MacGyvered' a fix for the Stargate ( and RDA raising an eyebrow) which is quite fun. There's also a deliberate outtake where they are trapped in an ice cave and she makes mocks RDA for the fact that he can't get them out and refers to him as 'MacUseless'. Have also seen a fun behind the scenes shot where RDA is trying to adjust the strap on his baseball hat unsuccessfully and the others have to help him and he mutters 'Macgyver, my ass'! Great stuff. Like all shows, there are some brilliant episodes and some dire ones but RDA, once again, really did make the role his own.

  4. The 3 shows were different enough, I think he liked them the way one likes their kids - each a little differently. MacGyver was a big show, but he had to carry a lot of the weight himself as the primary character, Legend was his 'baby' with the Western bit and the snarky comedy, SG-1 was an ensemble show with a great cast and he didn't have to manage it all alone.

    Don S. Davis passed 29 June 2008, about 2 months before the 2008 Gatecon where RDA was in attendance. The con had a lovely memorial presentation of photos people had either of Don or of them with Don, and Don's wife, Ruby, was there. 500 people were in tears during the presentation. It was awesome and touching and sad at the same time. Don was part of the Gatecon 'family' and we miss him.

  5. Back to my actual episode comments now. Yep, it’s a great episode. Interesting about the Irish accent; I thought I was pretty bad and you feel sorry for the actor if they actually made him overdo it. I agree, the opening scene is brilliant. Its good sometimes to see MacGyver doing mundane things like having a cold and going to the supermarket and contending with rude shop assistants ( and garage attendants) like everyone else! But then it becomes far from mundane…… I think MacGyver does actually hit the thief on the back of the head so it does kind of explain how it knocked him out. Amazing shot though!
    I agree that Nikki has a great role in this one from bickering in Pete’s office with MacGyver to a more intense need –for- help- but- angry -at- his- intrusion emotion. I’m with Mark on this, I’m ok with her reactions and acting/character generally here. The office scenes, where Pete tells both Nicky and MacGyver to ’get out of my hair’, at which point they stop bickering and agree that he’s cranky, and later when MacGyver sneezes all over him, are all quite amusing. Can’t quite figure out the contraption by which MacGyver hangs upside down but it’s quite mad, a bit like his hair once he’s the right way up and once again upsetting Nikki.
    The build- up with the theme of the stalking and the truly scary scenes in her flat have a suitably suspenseful feel, followed by MacGyver’s action-packed leap at the villain and the fight scene in the semi-darkness.
    I agree, the paint trick is great. Don’t know if RDA likes the Wizard of Oz but the Jack O’Neill character makes quite a lot of jokey references to it in Stargate too.
    At the warehouse, Nikki, as usual doesn’t listen to MacGyver and follows him in anyway. The booby-trapped office is great stuff as, I agree, is Nikki opening the cupboard to find MacGyver inside. He doesn’t sneeze at all after that! No disrespect to Dale Wilson, but I’m sure I saw his eyes move under the lids when he’s supposed to be dead - Must be really difficult to act being dead especially if it’s a long take.
    The terrorists do seem to be caught rather easily and I agree with Mark they’re generally not up to scratch. However, the last scenes are great. Pete can’t believe that even MacGyver can’t do anything about the bomb and as we all agree, we’re in for an exciting and dramatic drive against time with a great MacGyver solution.

    A great episode and ranked at 30 for me so pretty much the same. Hope your cold is better by now, Nick but if not, - just don't follow MacGyver's example and get blown up in a filing cabinet as a cure!

    1. Yeah the "get out of my hair" and "he gets cranky sometimes" dialogue is great. I also noticed MacGyver's crazy hair when he sits back up. Unfortunately I am still sick - this is Day 5! I'll try to avoid any explosions near filing cabinets!

  6. "Mark asked Stephen Downing if RDA was really sick during the filming of this episode, and he said that while he couldn't remember specifically, he was confident that it was "story, not fact."

    WOW! I actually thought he was sick!!! Great acting RDA! :)

    "That's really interesting! I wouldn't want to mess with a "very angry" Dana Elcar!"

    ROFL! Me neither! :)

    "Is this how he looked when he heard Bruce Harwood's Irish accent?"

    Hahahaha good one. :) And appropriate picture. :)

    "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm about to go hang upside down and breathe in some steam."

    So, did it work with your cold? Do you remember? :) Hahaha. Oh hey the original Macgyver is comng back!!!! It will be on METV! Did anybody hear this?! So exciting!!! I have all the DVD's but still going to watch it on METV anyway haha. I don't have the 2 movies though.

    1. I didn't know it was re-airing on METV -- thanks for the heads up! I don't think I get that channel but still cool to hear news of it airing.

  7. "I didn't know it was re-airing on METV -- thanks for the heads up!"

    You're welcome! It starts Dec 19th.. Everyday at 5 and 9 pm. :)

    "I don't think I get that channel but still cool to hear news of it airing."

    You gotta check! Oh no I hope you do! Where I am it's channel 10.2

  8. The paint can trick is the MacGyverism that's always stuck with me from this episode. The Simpsons used it, too.

    Mythbusters tried the 'fill a postal van containing a bomb with cement' trick. Sadly, they concluded it would not work.

    Solid episode, but the bombers leaving such huge clues behind was a bit dumb.

  9. I think I comment about this in another episode, but Stargate SG-1 is amazing, until RDA leaves the show. And this is coming from someone who hates sci-fi. I think that MacGyver and RDA are similar, because both are athletics and get into a lot of physical activities, and I do believe that as MacGyver, RDA is a great gentleman. On the other hand, O'Neill allows RDA to bring more of his own personality to the character. So, both, MacGyver and O'Neill are completely different to each other, but have a lot of similarities to RDA.

    As a matter of fact, I've seen a couple of interviews where RDA is asked what character he would choose as his fave, between MacGyver and O'Neill, and he always chooses O'Neill. So, I truly believe that he enjoys doing both characters, but it seems like O'Neill was really special to him.