Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#30: Jack in the Box

Season: 3

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver gets a distress call from Jack Dalton asking him to come to Smiley, Arkansas. MacGyver arrvies in Smiley and promptly gets thrown in a labor camp where the prisoners are mining for a buried treasure left by a notorious bank robber.  He finds Dalton in the camp and learns that Dalton intentionally got himself thrown in the camp to try and find the treasure himself.

Memorable Quote:
This is supposed to be a prison work farm?  We're not farm-ing...we're min-ing!  ~Jack Dalton

Starting at the 16:20 mark, there's a long scene in the bunkhouse where Jack fills MacGyver in on his plan to find the treasure, much to MacGyver's dismay.  The whole conversation is wonderfully crafted, well acted, and very amusing.  I also like when MacGyver says, "I don't give a rat's pajamas about the money!"  This was the first full episode I ever saw as a 9 year-old (more on that below), and while it's hard for me to remember my impressions at the time, I do remember having a lot of fun with the MacGyver and Jack banter.

Not fun to watch Dalton tied up to a post while getting his back whipped.

Best MacGyverism:
Simulates a gas leak using the same chemical reaction that lights the miners lamps.  Mixes carbide with water to create acetylene, a flammable gas.  Then tapes flint to head of hammer and throws hammer against rock to spark a small explosion.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • In case you missed it, here's a link to my conversations with the episode writer, David Rich, and the episode director, James Conway
  • This was the first full episode of MacGyver that I ever saw.  The date was October 30, 1990.  I know that because the previous day, I walked into my upstairs bedroom (where we had a television) and saw my sister watching "Lesson in Evil" live on ABC (which according to IMDB aired on 10/29/90).  I had vaguely heard of MacGyver but didn't know anything about the show.  I don't remember how much of it I watched with my sister that night, but I don't think it was too much.  But she told me she thought I might like it, so I looked in the tv guide and saw it was on USA every weekday (I think at 7 PM but I'm not sure).  So then the next day, I tuned in and happened to see Jack in the Box, and that was enough to get me hooked. 
  • MacGyver's answering machine is exactly like the one my family had when I was a kid.  
  • I said this during the conversation with Rich and Conway, but it bears repeating.  The sheriff and warden are two of the most memorable villains we've had so far - extremely competent, dangerous, and well-acted.  They take this episode to a higher place.  
  • "Personally, I would shy away from tunneling under that fence.  Because if you do, my dogs'll hunt ya down, chew ya up, and spit ya out." ~the Warden
  • Robin Mossley makes an appearance in the camp as Wrigley - we see him later in the series as Wilt Bozer, among other characters. 
  • As discussed in the James Conway and David Rich conversations, the mine is the same locale that was used in The Ten Percent Solution. Today it is the Britannia Mine Museum
  • Some great thematic music from Ken Harrison throughout this episode.  
  • Pepe is a good character, and his sacrifice and death along with Dalton's whipping raises the stakes in this episode.  
  • Great acting by RDA when he sees what he thinks is Dalton's grave, and then again later when he watches Dalton get whipped (doesn't talk here but has some subtle and poignant facial expressions). 
  • After MacGyver and Dalton escape, the sheriff finds chickens under their bed covers to make it appear like they are still under there.  A nice thought, but no way chickens would stay still and quiet for that long!  
  • Once they steal the warden's car, why stop at Luella's?  I would have driven much farther away (out of the sheriff and warden's orbit) and found some more reliable authorities, not a waitress.
  • Did MacGyver really have the map in his head?  When he first tells the warden and sheriff that he does, it seems like he is making it up so that he can buy time. But then he leads them right to it.  And the light bulb with the X is clever, but you'd think it would have burned out a long time ago and would have been replaced.  
  • It's a nice touch for the 5 million dollars to be blown up, but I feel Jack's pain. Couldn't MacGyver have thrown the dynamite somewhere else?  Or at least grabbed a few stacks of cash first?

Final Analysis:
A phenomenal hour of television.  Great MacGyver/Jack comradery, fantastic villains, an impossible situation, a buried treasure, and a unique setting all add up to create one classic episode.  How can this be topped?  Guess we'll have to wait for number 29 to find out!  


  1. Wow...."Jack in the Box" next huh? I did not see that coming! :) Seriously though, this is a great episode an excellent one to be your first episode to see as a boy. I seem to remember another gal posting a comment on the old MacGyver Homepage Chatroom who said her first episode was "Jack in the Box" as well. The MVP for this one is your sister for referring you to the show. How old was she at the time? I can see why the producers bought this script from David Rich because it was really in the wheelhouse of this show but with a unique setting and story. It obviously channeled "Cool Hand Luke" liberally right down to the warden's epic speech when the new truckload of "criminals" came in, but it definitely had a "MacGyver" twist with some Arkansas authenticity right down to the copper and zinc mines and the lost fortune of bank robber B.B. Bartel. The idea of this sheriff who runs his own prison farm and throws anybody who looks at him cross-eyed inside without due process yet keeps getting re-elected was obviously far-fetched but still very creative and enjoyable.

    This was Jack's most ruthless hustle on MacGyver and I liked how Pete played off of it in the beginning. Their banter throughout the hour was amusing and I even enjoyed how Jack was keeping up his smartass routine while getting lashed...and MacGyver's reaction to it. Now you didn't comment on this so perhaps you missed it, but Lance LeGault, the actor who played Bull Bodine, also played a much less competent villain, Elliott the undercover FBI agent, on one of your least favorite episodes, "Honest Abe". But he's best-known as the Colonel Decker who obsessively pursued "The A-Team" for years on that series, so he honed his craft well playing the villain, although Bull Bodine was much scarier that Colonel Decker ever was! Agreed that Pepe was a fun character and I liked that they gave him some personality and backstory, making his sacrifice more real for the audience when he took one for MacGyver and Dalton.

    I mentioned earlier that the first three episodes with musical compositions by Ken Harrison all left a great impression on me and that they were all ahead in your countdown....and this was one of them. Fantastic chain-gang music that fit the mood of the episode perfectly. And yeah there were some silly choices made in the end that were necessary to make the story work, including MacGyver and Jack going to Luella's and thus exposing the banker's role in laundering the money while simultaneously getting themselves recaptured, but it was all worth it. And the ending was a hoot with the dynamite stick thrown into the suitcase full of money, although it struck me that if MacGyver had simply thrown the dynamite immediately to his left into the mud pit where the suitcase came from the water would have snuffed out the dynamite fuse and they'd be $5 million richer! And even after the blast, certainly some of that $5 million was salvageable right?!??! Silly nitpicks aside, it was indeed a great and colorful episode that, as I said in the David Rich interview comments, got a nice audience response with a big boost in the ratings in November 1987 as people must have liked what they saw in the previews. I rank it just a little below you at #41.

    1. I didn't realize the actor was in Honest Abe - I've tried so hard to block that episode from my memory, and looks like I've done a good job! I never saw the A-Team so I don't know him from that either. And good point about throwing the dynamite in the water - that would have been the smart thing to do. My sister would have been 15 at the time. She ended up watching MacGyver occasionally after that but not nearly to the level that I did.

    2. I've never seen Cool Hand Luke, but apparently the guy playing the warden was in it.

    3. I checked out Lance LeGault on IMBD and was incredibly impressed with how much of a constant presence he was on TV in the 1980s. Easy to see why given his charismatic presence playing all manner of bad dude. "The A-Team" was a more macho and cartoonish version of "MacGyver". It was a fun and clever show and more than any other show it set the template for "MacGyver" but "MacGyver" was infinitely better done.

    4. "Cool Hand Luke" is worth a look if you're in the mood for an old movie. Similar vibe but completely different story. There were quite a few "MacGyver" episodes that borrowed thematically from classic movies but the stories were usually "MacGyver" originals. This was one of them.

    5. How would you define the A-Team/MacGyver template (i.e. what were the shared characteristics)? The only thing I know about the A-Team is that there was a Murdoc and that Mr. T was involved.

    6. "The A-Team" often concocted makeshift armored vehicles to defend themselves or charge the enemy that consisted of MacGyver-esque usage of interesting objects for alternative purposes. I mentioned in the review of "Bitter Harvest" how the A-Team came to the rescue of poorly treated migrant workers as well, and in that one, for example, they repurposed one of the land barons' tractors as an armor-plated tank that fired heads of lettuce as weapons. As I said, it was all very cartoonish, but clever. Each of the four guys had their specialty. Primary character Hannibal was the Colonel with a reputation for shrewd military tactics and trick moves (hence his nickname based on the greatest general in world history). Face was a pretty boy con man who used his smooth moves to ascertain whatever good or service they needed in a time crunch. Mr. T was both the muscle and the master mechanic who always welded together their armor-plated vehicles. And Murdock was the clinically insane pilot who flew them around. The show was a blast at age 7 and holds up somewhat as an adult but a little of it goes a long way. There's a reason it flamed out so quickly compared to "MacGyver".

    7. I was a big fan of the A-Team as a kid - and was gonna bring up the Col Decker connection too. He was definitely the 'comic' bad guy who couldn't manage to ever *quite* catch the A-Team - always just that hair of a step behind and caught in their 'shenanigans'. A large part of why the A-Team fizzled out faster (at least, as best I can recall) is that whole season with the criminal trial mess (which I'm not sure I've ever actually seen all of - as that's where I stopped, I think, during my Netflix binge b/c - BORING). MacGyver didn't have that problem.

      I was really disappointed when I met Dirk Benedict though. (He wasn't on MacGyver so won't come up in my countdown.) He was boring to listen to, something of a misogynist, and kind of rude. I got his autograph for nostalgia reasons, but don't really have any desire to ever meet/speak to the man again. He's one who can pass by in the night and I won't be upset about it.

    8. "The A-Team" burned out before they started working for the government in Season 5 in my opinion. Seasons 1 and 2 were the only seasons I'd qualify as great. They cranked out 25 episodes in season 3 and already by then the show was starting to get stale and trite. There were a few great moments here and there in seasons 3 and 4 but shows like this always crash hard and "The A-Team" went from a top-10 hit in season 3 to barely getting renewed at the end of season 4. They desperately wanted 100 episodes for a more lucrative syndication package and even with the season 5 renewal they fell two episodes short. A couple of those late episodes were pretty entertaining but most were over the hill.

      Shame that Dirk Benedict was a disappointment in person. I had always assumed he was the least obnoxious person in "The A-Team" cast. If "MacGyver" was example of a show where the cast and crew got along great and respected each other tremendously, "The A-Team" was an example of a huge clash of egos. George Peppard fancied himself a bigshot movie star deserving of the acclaim of making the show a hit and resented Mr. T for getting all the glory. By season 4, they hated each other so much that they didn't even speak and Benedict was the go-between who transferred messages between Peppard and T. Sounds like there were production delays and everything else because of it. How long ago was it that you met Benedict?

    9. I couldn't remember how many seasons of The A-Team there were, but I know re-watching as an adult, somewhere in there, they lost their 80's 'shine'. Hannibal was my fave character at the time. And I never really heard anything about production/behind the scenes stuff b/c I was like 8 and that wasn't my main focus... just people doing cool things on TV. I was, though, disappointed that only the 4 male characters had action figures and not their female side-kick. Especially since the A-Team guys were all 6" too short to hang out with Barbie. =)

      I met Benedict in 2008, I think? I don't know what his interactions with male fans was like, but he was rude to me and I have a pretty short fuse for that sort of thing - especially if I wasn't rude first. And then he was just atrociously boring to listen to. Richard Hatch, OTOH (not A-Team related, but Benedict related), was bouncy and excited and though I knew nothing of Battlestar Gallactica, he was fun to watch and he was excited to be at the con. Even if the only thing he talked about was BG. /o\

    10. Highlander, you're female huh? Guess I never picked up on that up to this point. Anyway, five seasons of "A-Team" and yes, the show was right up there with the worst of them in terms of turbulence on the set. Which of the two female sidekicks did you prefer? Amy or Tawnia? I liked them both but Amy definitely lasted the longest. Sounds like the four guys didn't have any use for a female sidekick on the show so it could be that they were all as misogynistic as what you perceived Dirk Benedict to be. Probably not all that uncommon in the mid 80s unfortunately.

    11. I don't actively hide it, but I don't actively display it either, but yes. =)

      I liked Amy. I honestly don't remember Tawnia at all from watching as a kid, but I remember Amy and being confused about why there wasn't an action figure of her, since she was part of the show. (My sister had the A-Team van and we had all 4 of the guys.)

      Mr T always came across as pretty egalitarian... but he seemed to always be working with kids, rather than adults in the non-A-Team things I saw him doing (all on TV, never met him). The rest of the guys, I never really heard anything about, but I didn't follow them all that much after I lost interest in the show. Dwight Schultz showed up on ST:TNG and Stargate SG-1. I don't know if he was ever invited to attend Gatecon (the con where I've met several actors/actresses) - though, most of the time, the guests invited were ones the fans asked for or the ones who asked if they could show up. =)

  2. And I hate to be a pain in the butt but is it possible that you waited a week before actually sitting down to watch that first "MacGyver" episode on USA after your sister's recommendation rather than tuning in the very next day? "Lesson in Evil" did originally air on Monday, October 29, 1990, but "Jack in the Box" didn't air on USA till the following Monday.....November 5, 1990. After watching "Jack in the Box", did you tune into USA daily to watch "MacGyver" after that or was it semiregular for awhile before you developed into a pattern?

    1. Do you remember that's when it aired or is their documentation somewhere? I believe you - I just assumed that I watched it the next day but I guess it was the next week. That's interesting to know. I think I became a regular viewer after that. It wasn't until 1993 that I started watching the Sixers regularly at night during basketball season, so I don't think there was too much holding me back in 1990 - and not too much homework in 4th grade.

    2. There's no documentation that I know of but I paid very close attention to the airtime order on the first go-round on USA (seasons 1-5 episodes) aired in production order between September 17, 1990 and December 31, 1990 for the very first time. On October 30, 1990, "For Love or Money" aired, and I remembered being disappointed when USA aired a movie on Halloween night instead of "MacGyver" because I was at my grandma's place trick-or-treating that night and would ordinarily have had the opportunity to watch an episode when I got back. Starting on November 1, "MacGyver" returned and aired "Back from the Dead", "Ghost Ship", "Fire and Ice", "GX-1", and then "Jack in the Box" in the days following.

    3. We would never have guessed this was coming up. Another good one with excellent setting and characters ( if, as discussed, a little stereotyped) and although the vibe is there, not sure it stands too much comparison with Cool hand Luke! Its impressive that Jack can sink a pint in one but somehow not surprising. MacGyver and Pete have just had another holiday where we’re not sure how much they really enjoyed it – a recurring theme. I like MacGyver’s ‘’outdoor’ wear. ‘I’m not going’ he says in response to Jack’s plea … but we know he is. His encounter with the surly stick whittler is reminiscent of the grumpy garage attendant in Birth Day but without the latter’s sparkling repartee! Love it when Macgyver says ‘Yes ma’am’ to the waitress – he’s always so polite ( I read somewhere that RDA, when asked which of his characters was most like him, said that his sense of humour was closest to Jack O’Neill and that MacGyver was just ’too polite’)
      After his bruising encounter with the sheriff MacGyver is transported to the prison camp and looking good in his prison work fatigues. I agree, RDA is good at acting that he believes Jack is dead and there’s a good contrast here with his emotion and Jack’s cheery greeting and the way he’s got prison life sorted out very sweetly. I agree too that the Pepe charcter is good; He seems kind of puppyish, we get to hear his hopes and dreams and then he’s shot because of one of Jack’s schemes. It’s a reminder of the harsh consequences of Jack’s fecklessness although to his credit he does feel very guilty. MacGyver tries to persuade him that its not his fault but it, kind of, is.
      MacGyver uses the phrase ‘notify the authorities’ three times in this episode; I have to say I find it an annoying, bland and rather bureaucratic kind of thing for MacGyver to say! Not sure why the villains only left one man on the gate – wouldn’t the other prisoners escape? Hurray… MacGyver gets to hotwire a car – I always love that; maybe because I wouldn’t have a clue.
      There’s good suspense as they go back into the mine with the threat level of ‘certain death’ but I felt the otherwise excellent villains didn’t put up that much of a fight here.
      Good to watch again especially after the James Conway interview. Ranked around 35 or so for me, so similar thoughts on this one.

  3. I wonder if this was inspired by Cool Hand Luke. I havent seen that, but someone mentioned how misbehavors were sent to a "box" for a day. Has anyone soon that film?

    1. David Rich talks about where the inspiration came from:

      I haven't seen Cool Hand Luke but maybe that was an inspiration also.

    2. The director seems to suggest there was some influence. A lot of times the director can deviate and interpret the screenplay if he sees things that work better. Perhaps the writer also saw Cool Hand Luke and forgot about it but was subconsciously influenced by it.

      Great interviews by the way

  4. Watching this again, it is definitely top 25 or so. Funny that this is your first full episode. I think Widowmaker (the next one I think) was mine, but I could probably list a few that were what got me hooked.

    Ive pointed this out before, but it always intrigues me that they get license plates correct. In this one, we see an up close of an Arkansas plate from the rental car MacGyver got. It seems that most of the time they got the correct plates, which is even more interesting since they were driving around another part of another country! If I ever do get my own MacGyver blog up and do some interviews, Ill have to ask about this.

    Another small little location note is in one of the arrest scenes, you can see a Confederate flag on the Antique shop across the street. I doubt those were common in the Vancouver area, so they definitely put a lot of little signature details like that.

    I rarely notice the music as well as you guys, even now that I know all about the three composers from you and Mark, I still barely notice. But here I sure did, I love the country swang theme and Ive probably had these riffs running around in my head for years without realizing it.

    1. Yeah good music in this one, and you're right, the attention to detail was generally really good in this series. Are you thinking of starting a MacGyver blog?!

  5. A fun episode, with some really amusing banter between MacGyver and Jack, and it had some really mean baddies. Has a classic feel to it, even though it's not among my absolute favourites.

  6. As I commented some time ago on other episodes I first watched these with overdub in my native language in the early 90s. I didn't have any knowledge of US culture whatsoever back then. Watching it now with original dub and with way more knowledge many of the settings and behaviors make much more sense (the rural setting, the redneck attitude, sheriff being a de facto ruler of the town etc). It's way more enjoyable that way. And while there are some obvious plot holes (like sheriff always being present where Mac and Jack are, seriously, I only noticed it today that while any of them is in town, so is the sheriff, once they're in the camp he's always there. It's like he's just omnipresent), the death of a companion and not getting away easily (being captured three times if counting their initial arrest as well) makes this quite enjoyable.