Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#33: Brainwashed

Season: 4

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
The President of the African country of Kimbala is in town to honor MacGyver and Jack Dalton with medals for helping their country with drought relief.  The Vice President and his ambitious wife plot to assassinate the President by brainwashing Dalton and a mystery second person to carry out the deed.  Dalton knows something is wrong because he is sleepwalking and having nightmares, and MacGyver must find the key to unlock his mind. 

Memorable Quote:
From the bottom of my heart I salute you

Highlight:
The entire scene where MacGyver is at the fun house.  It's a great locale and an electric moment as we witness the unique scenario of Dalton vs. MacGyver.  There's a great twist as MacGyver realizes that the phrase that unlocks Dalton's mind has been changed, and then another twist when we realize who the second assassin is.  If I remember correctly, this took me by surprise when I saw it as a kid, though I'd like to think now that I would see it coming.  Nevertheless, it's a great idea and a great plot.

Lowlight:
This isn't really a lowlight (it was hard for me to think of one), but the scene where MacGyver is daring Jack to shoot him in the hall of mirrors is a stretch.  After Dalton shoots the first few mirrors, it's hard to believe there would be much left to reflect, and how is MacGyver able to position himself perfectly every time?

Best MacGyverism:
None

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The Vice President of Kimbala is played by Roger Aaron Brown who played General Mabuto in Black Rhino. Great actor. 
  • Awesome and completely unexpected turn in the script as we go from the pleasant outdoor greeting of the presidential candidate to Jack Dalton wandering around a dark hallway hearing voices.  Anyone watching this episode for the first time must have immediately sat up and thought, "Whoa."
  • Clever how MacGyver asks Jack "Anything been bugging you lately?" instantly after the bad guy places a bug in the houseboat.
  • Also clever how there are subtle clues early on to point to Pete and Jack's lost weekend - I like when the audience member can figure something out if they really pay attention.  
  • Funny how MacGyver just falls right to bed on the couch, leather jacket and all.  
  • Nice touch to have Edith (Vice President's wife) as the brains behind the operation, including the mind control of her husband. 
  • 11:13 - MacGyver's sock is halfway off his foot as he sleeps.   
  • Another great touch in the script to have Dalton wake up from his dream, only he's still dreaming and then wakes up again.  
  • What are the odds of a random fisherman saying "From the bottom of my heart I salute you?" Nevertheless, another clever turn in what's shaping up to be a very well-written script. 
  • Great scene in the banquet hall as MacGyver starts piecing things together while the event planner is badgering him with details. 
  • Dalton grazes MacGyver with a bullet - time to update the shot chart for the 7th time. 
  • If I were MacGyver, I'd be nervous about playing the recording of Edith's voice in front of Jack even after it seems that he is back to normal.  
  • I had started this episode on the big screen while my wife was working on the daily crossword puzzle, and she eventually put the puzzle down and got hooked for the rest of the episode.  "Too bad there are no cell phones," she notes as MacGyver and Dalton speed to the banquet.    
  • Exciting moment as Pete pulls a gun while Edith and her husband clasp hands in anticipation. 
  • Smart move by MacGyver to throw the medal to Edith.  "Edith, I think you just blew your right to remain silent."  ~MacGyver
  • Even the denouement is clever as MacGyver pretends to be brainwashed. 

    Final Analysis:
    Wow!!  I forgot to mention at the end of the last review that as we moved to the top 33, we were now crossing a threshhold into outstanding, mind-blowing territory.  Well, there may be episodes that I like more for emotional reasons, but you'd be hard pressed to find a more well-written, creative, clever script in the entire series than this one.  It's just one brilliant thing after another, and the brilliance stands out to me much more as an adult than it did as a kid.  It's also Bruce McGill's finest hour.  Whereas Dalton is normally the goofy, immature sidekick, here he takes center stage and becomes a deadly serious version of himself.  And "From the bottom of my heart I salute you" is one of the most memorable lines in the series' history, and one that I often have thrown in conversations over the years while joking with family members.  33's an outstanding ranking for me, but still I fear I may have underrated it.  Coming up next...it's hard for me to offer clues any more without giving it anyway!   

    10 comments:

    1. You HAVE underrated it! This episode is approaching the top of the pyramid for me, an ingeniously crafted hour of television that is a complete "MacGyver" original through and through. Scriptwriter John Sheppard joined this series in season 4 and I praised him before as the guy who changed the direction of the show in many ways and had his finger on the pulse of this show's audience. He wrote this one and, like you, I didn't see the ending coming at age 11 even though I like to think I would today. Exceptionally well put together from minute 1 to minute 48, immersing us in the delicious darkness that defined season 4 and giving Bruce McGill an acting platform worthy of him. McGill's acting was first-rate but Roger Aaron Brown and the actress that played Edith gave performances at least at McGill's level, particularly the scene where power-hungry Edith brings tears to Edward's eyes by appealing to his basest political ambitions.

      The brainwashing theme was credible all around and the blurry line between perception and reality in the first half really made this one psychologically challenging, especially for an 11-year-old first-time viewer in the spring of 1989! As you said, they basically bounced from one mind-blowingly awesome scene to the next the whole hour from Jack sticking the bucket over his head when the fishermen conveniently uttered his catchphrase to the scene at the banquet hall where MacGyver spots the holster under the table and then having it vanish when he returned with Pete, who we were led to believe was the one who took it in the first place. And then there was that funhouse.....

      I searched long and far for a funhouse that great as an elementary age boy but never found one where the floor collapsed and sent you down a slide to a spinning cylinder mirror maze. One bit of trivia here....if you really paid close attention you could see the corridors of the funhouse were the same set design used as the ice cave in "Gold Rush" which aired two episodes earlier. Given the budget needed to erect these elaborate soundstages the producers often multipurposed them in future episodes. I agree the weakest part of the episode was the relative ease with which MacGyver "deprogrammed" Jack by having him shoot all the mirror reflections...and the fact that MacGyver's gunshot wound was forgotten and never alluded to again mere seconds after he got away from Jack. But then came the big revelation at the end about the "second assassin" and the great interception by MacGyver and Jack at the last moment. Just a spectacular hour of television that still holds up remarkably well. Does your wife often get distracted from her other activities and caught up in the "MacGyver" episodes you review? I suppose it's a minor blemish that there was nothing even resembling a MacGyverism in this one but it's hard for to me to hold it against an hour of storytelling that was about as close to perfection as it gets for TV. I ranked this one #2.

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      1. Whoa, number 2!! Your lofty ranking makes me question mine all the more. I remember it being an awesome episode, but I didn't fully appreciate the clever and nuanced script the way I do now. Where do other fans have this one - do you know of many that have it in the top 10?

        Normally I watch on a laptop with headphones after my wife goes to bed, but last night I was in the mood to watch and she was using the computer, so I put it on the tv.

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      2. If you had starting watching on the big screen 103 episodes ago, your wife may be a bigger "MacGyver" fan than you right now!

        This episode is generally a favorite and there were a lot of "perfect 10" ratings and reviews on TV.com for this one. Now given the lack of MacGyverisms and the outside-the-box subject matter the deviates from what some of the adventure-show hard-liners demand, not everybody loves this one. But I would bet it would rank among the top-10 or top-20 if 1,000 MacGyver fans were polled.

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      3. Unfortunately it's a small house so watching on the tv is not usually the best option (don't want to wake the 2 year old, so have to keep the volume down), whereas on the laptop and headphones I can blast my ears with Edelman, McCarthy, Harrison, and Ross! My wife likes MacGyver (we made our way through the whole series slowly but surely when we first met) but I don't see her surpassing my fandom anytime soon.

        That's interesting about the Gold Rush set. Are you talking about the part where they're walking down the dark hallway with the doors on either side? And can you see something that looks like a cave? I'd like to rewatch this part (and I will at some point) but right now the cat is snuggled on my lap and so I'm incapable of getting up to get the DVD which I had put away! It was a bummer when CBS made their site for pay because it had been nice to watch online in situations such as this despite the commercials.

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      4. I still have my MacGyver-loving ex-girlfriend Elise story to get to in an upcoming episode but this was an episode she loved as well. Interesting that your wife has seen them all before and is at least a minor fan.

        As for the ice cave set from "Gold Rush", it came after MacGyver entered the fun house and was startled by the witch. He began walking down a dark corridor lit up by the lights of the funhouse before he went down the slide. The corridor was the same set at the ice cave from "Gold Rush". The kitty might need to be awakened over this one! :)

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    2. One additional note. As a boy I often was as excited about the 30-second "next on MacGyver" preview aired at the end of each episode as I was about the actual episode, and few times was my mind blown watching the previews for the upcoming week than I did when I watched the previews for "Brainwashed" in April 1989 with MacGyver in a funhouse manipulating mirror mazes. You know my giddiness level was at a 10 if my mom allowed me to skip Monday night religious ed classes to watch that one live at home rather than after class recorded by my uncle!

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    3. This is one of those episodes that I go back and forth on. I remember being intrigued by the episode when I first watched it, but sometimes, when re-watching, knowing what happens sort of takes the 'fun' out of it. (Or maybe it's just my brain not being able to un-remember things. *g*)

      I do like the funhouse part and Jack's head in the bucket and Jack waking up walking around outside - even after Mac had him sleep upstairs so he would know if Jack came down.

      (I think I was in a crummy mood the last time I watched this one, b/c my notes are really grouchy. I think it's good that I'm re-watching episodes as I roll through my countdown.)

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    4. I’m not quite so keen on this one as you. I’m all for wacky and surreal (loved Twin Peaks) but not sure about it in a MacGyver context.
      Enjoyed MacGyver describing the event organiser to Pete; ‘Miss Hendricks.. ..very efficient’ in a polite yet meaningful way. ‘Tuxedos’ said in a depressed kind of way, sums up his dread of formal occasions. Later, Miss Hendricks reminds him to take his hands out of his pockets. I feel quite sorry for her when everyone else is rushing about not telling her what’s going on. MacGyver is so good to Jack, fetching him in the dead of night and yet again ending up having to sleep on the sofa. I agree it was bizarre for the fisherman to come up with the trigger sentence. I had a problem with the trigger thing anyway – sometimes it seems to make Jack go into a complete trance and at others he just seem to be a bit dazed. Its supposed to trigger him to kill the president on his own but sometimes it puts him under the control of the speaker rather than set him off on the assassination attempt. The psychiatrist worked out the brainwashing prey quickly without much to go on.
      Pete’s not very helpful in the banqueting suite. MacGyver clearly tells him to keep an eye on Jack but he lets him go wandering off into trouble. Next time MacGyver tells him to ‘tie him up, sit on him’ . Can’t get clearer than that!
      Liked MacGyver’s kind of head-first flip from the jeep bonnet over the chain-link fence (and back again) to get into the Fun park. They must have had a great time with the set. Was it all the Gold Rush film set or was any of it filmed in a real Ghost ride? The lighting and colours are great and the mirror scenes are very well done. Like Nick, I'm not sure how MacGyver used the mirrors to his advantage seeing as how he himself kept bumping into them at first. Great call by MacGyver at the end to incriminate Edith by chucking the medal to her.
      Enjoyable, fun set and good filming and great use of 'is it a dream or reality?' theme but I found it just a bit too weird and was not so keen on the rather unlikely premise of the medal ceremony. Still pretty good, one that I preferred on second viewing ( had only seen it once before) and I think your comments made me appreciate it better. About no. 50 or so for me.

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    5. This is one of the episodes Ive only seen (now) twice. The last time was back when the DVD came out. Ive only watched them thru once I think, I dont think ever from 1 to 7. Ever since then, I would pick whatever came to mind or I was in the mood for.

      Yesterday I came back to this and WOW what an episode. I remembered a few parts, but not all. Im not a fan of the lady macbeth archetype, and it strains a bit here in the middle, but otherwise its ok. That obnoxious Hendricks woman reminds me of that ***** in the Obsessed episode. Way over the top characters. I think she was also in on the brainwashing. I definitely would have rated this pretty low in my "original" list if I had one, but on this viewing it should be pretty high. I really have to make a ranking.

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      1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who wasn't a fan of Cindy in "Obsessed", thinking she was over-the-top and obnoxious.

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