Sunday, February 15, 2015

#35: The Golden Triangle

Season: 1

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver is in Burma (currently Myanmar) to retrieve a toxic cannister and finds a village that is being oppressed by soldiers.  He helps give the villagers the confidence and belief that their freedom is worth fighting for.  

Memorable Quote:
Yeah, it's MacGyver.  You know that diplomatic security case you guys put me on a while back? Well, I got it.  And the boys who took it.  Yeah.  Wanna come pick 'em up?  I just did.  ~MacGyver

The whole sequence at the end where the soldiers fall into the traps set by MacGyver and the villagers.  It's a lot of fun, and in particular I like the one where it looks like a trap in the road ahead, so Truang turns to the right and falls right into a huge hole ("doesn't know an asp from a hole in the ground," as MacGyver says to himself).  Then MacGyver pulls up in a jeep and taunts him ("it can only get worse").  Fun stuff.

The whole "Ming turning from a slave to a man" narrative is a bit cheesy and tiresome. 

Best MacGyverism:
See highlight. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The opening gambit in the junkyard is tons of fun as usual, especially the tail end (see memorable quote). 
  • 12:10 - "Come on now, I just helped you out of a little jam!  Is that any way to thank me? That's gratitude.  Nice guy."  ~MacGyver in his full hick accent.  Settle down, MacGyver! He's just a kid and you're an adult male foreigner - I don't blame the kid for taking off. 
  • The actor who plays General Narai was also in Children of Light and The Mountain of Youth. Pretty cool to be a guest star once in the beginning, middle, and end of the series, similar to Christopher Neame.
  • Nice of Chan to give MacGyver his knife back, though it's still hard to see how MacGyver would be able to open it and cut himself free based on the way that he's tied up.
  • It's noble of the military to try and retrieve/destroy the toxic container before it ruins 1000 acres of Burmese landscape, though it seems relatively undisturbed when MacGyver gets there, and maybe no one would have noticed it and things would have been fine. Though of course this way MacGyver gets to save the village, so it's all good. 
  • Nice moment when MacGyver meets the chopper and Chan is sad to see him go, but then he realizes that MacGyver is staying.
  • Three iconic moments in one minute!  These appear in the opening credits:
    • 27:20 - opening the life jacket
    • 28:02 - pole vaulting into the soldier
    • 28:16 - rolling off the jeep and firing the flare gun.  When I was 10, I used to roll around my living room and fire an imaginary flare gun while the opening credits played. 
  • Hilarious scene where MacGyver stands on top of a hill and warns Truang and his men that they're going to have a battle on his hands, and then Truang shoots at him and MacGyver jumps back.  The Season 1 swagger mixed with folk tales and hick accent was in full boom during this episode.  
  • That is one large phone. 
  • 44:14 - the famous shot of MacGyver diving between the helicopter bullets.  Those things come pretty darn close.  And then again when the helicopter makes its second pass. 
  • The ending is abrupt and a little weird, but also kind of cool.  And I like the music. 
  • Whoa, the final "Henry Winkler/John Rich Productions" sign has a black background! 

Final Analysis:
Big time stuff here.  It's hard to know where to rank some of these classic episodes - comparing them to other seasons is a little like comparing a shooting guard to a center.  Maybe that's why I'm in the midst of a season 1 episode cluster, because it feels right to compare them with each other.  And this is a good one.  Very well produced with lots of fast paced action, cool traps, and elaborate sets that are fairly convincing, especially for the mid 80's.  The episode has an Indiana Jones feel to it which I like, and it also reminds me of The Magnificent Seven (a fantastic movie) with the poor villagers rising up to take on the powerful rulers.  Normally I'm a fan of the voiceovers, though in this episode they end up being a bit much.  Nevertheless, a memorable episode for sure.  Now we gotta be done with Season 1 for now, right?


  1. More than any other episode, this one takes me back to 1985. I had watched the Pilot episode of "MacGyver" and absolutely loved it on September 29, 1985, and waited all week to see if episode 2 was as good, and the previews were certainly to my liking. I remember being at my grandparents place around 6:20 that Sunday night telling my grandma and uncle all about the incredible new show "MacGyver" I had to go home for the second episode of, and nudged my mom to get moving for the 15-minute drive home so we wouldn't be late. The verdict of "MacGyver, Episode 2".....the finest hour I had ever experienced watching television, so far above the usual action-adventure show fare I lapped up so regularly in the 80s. And it seemed weird and still does that ABC never reran this episode. Every week I kept waiting to see the previews where I'd get to watch this masterpiece again....but it never came. And the legend of "The Golden Triangle" grew for years and years. It wasn't until September 1992, seven years later, that my aunt started taping USA "MacGyver" reruns for me and I FINALLY got to relive this one again. And while the legendary memory of this episode holds, over the years and rewatching this one several times, I have to concede that it doesn't hold up as well as a lot of others. I still rank it high, but there's a "legacy" factor in play here that helps me gloss over some of the warts on this one and has knocked it out of my top tier.

    I liked the opening gambit then and now, but some of the warts from the main story were evident there too, including some clunky voiceovers ("I'm partial to round missiles!") and the unbelievability of the bad guys not noticing MacGyver sliding out of the car trunk before it was crushed. It wasn't my favorite gambit but it was exciting with great Randy Edelman music (common theme throughout the hour!). As for the main story, I don't believe MacGyver was sent to Burma to prevent the jungle from being destroyed by a chemical weapon, but to stop the warlords from seizing control of it and using it. The jungle setting seemed authentic and at least at times the slavery motif was nicely done, aside from the fact that this village of uneducated Burmese peasants speaking perfect English, including the extremely bad child actor with the dubbed voice playing Chan. The whole hour bounced back and forth from fantastically clever and well-produced moments to embarrassingly dopey moments of bad acting and stupid villain choices. The actor who played Truang was absolutely dreadful, making his moronic behavior all the more cringeworthy, and making this episode hard to rate.

    1. I feel similarly to you on this one, though you articulated it better. It's one that I loved as a kid, but now it doesn't hold up as well. But it's still a lot of fun, is well produced, and has a lot of sentimental value. Regarding the dumb villains and plot holes, I agree and took it easy on that in my review in the name of "suspending disbelief" similar to the sting episodes. As you said, all this makes it hard to rate. I feel almost the exact same way about the next one on my list.

      That's crazy that you had to wait 7 years to see this episode again! How the world has changed.

    2. Am I missing yet another bird reference in this one or is the "binge" finally over?

    3. Haha, I think we can put the bird binge to rest!

  2. I still don't know what MacGyver blew up with that "pen type flare" from the iconic image in the theme song nor do I know why Truang and the other warlords that had their bootheels on this village for years vacated the village en masse to hook up with some "convoy" in the jungle that MacGyver seemed to know everything there was to know about. While I wasn't piecing all of that together at age eight, even then I thought it was humorous that MacGyver "didn't have time" to teach the villagers how to use a rifle yet found the time to rig these elaborate "Swiss Family Robinson" traps. The plotholes in this episode were big enough to fit Truang's "cell phone" through, but despite it all, it was still very entertaining and I can understand why the eight-year-old version of Mark loved it so much, particularly the final quadrant of the episode when all the traps were deployed.

    The final scene was consistent with the rest of the hour in bouncing from outstanding to cringeworthy and back to outstanding. The helicopter scene was spectacular for television....but General Nurei tripping over his helicopter's landing gear and impaling himself on his own sword was comically awful....and then the final moment where the villagers' freedom was acknowledged with an epic musical fadeout that made the scene surprisingly powerful. This episode has become polarizing among reviewers and it's easy to see why looking back from a 2015 lens. But for 1985, this was a spectacularly ambitious hour of television and if you can get past its shortcomings it's still pretty impressive to behold. I rank this one #25.

  3. One other thing.....I kind of liked the storyline with "Ming going from a slave to a leader" because it helped show how this moment of impending emancipation brought out the best in a young man who spent his whole life held down but was seizing this moment to free his people. It helped authenticate the slavery storyline for me and made the final scene--where Ming emerged as the leader whose stewardship of the village would be kept in good hands--as affecting as it was.

  4. Anyone here familiar with the mid-nineties series The Visitor? I loved it. A really nice and just as elusive guy with the authorities constantly after him for all the wrong reasons. Now, in what I remember as an edge-of-the-seat scene in my favourite episode
    look at 16:25-20:10!
    I mostly liked this "MacGyver" episode though there were a few silly-looking bits and pieces in it so I didn't keep it. I taped the opening gambit up to the point before he gets caught so to make it look like he successfully took off with the suitcase as he was only lucky to get out of the car later and even more lucky that not only him but the goons too forgot about their guns once he lifted them up with the forklift truck!
    I remember the part when he's tied up and it looks like he couldn't get away because he dropped the knife. Now when I rewatched it I first thought that good as it works out to surprise viewers he made a mistake waiting around, but he didn't. He got free most likely when the guard fell asleep towards the end of his shift, so he's better off taking the next one out too as it could still take a bit longer for the others to notice the first one not returning than the second one rushing back with the news that MacGyver escaped. I wish, though, that he said to Lin & Chan that they might as free him now that they went missing long enough to be accused of doing so anyway. The „not enough time to learn to shoot” did look a bit stupid so maybe he just said as an excuse for not using guns though later on what he does with the flare gun is not much different.
    There's some great music when they go to the hole and I kept all the booby trap parts (leaving the bit out where MacGyver nearly gets himself shot standing on the top of the hill), except the chopper one in the end... that cable barely held on with four little screws, look at the proper ones in The Gauntlet or Wasteland for comparison! And he was supposedly reeling the chopper in with hands...
    And it was nice to see that he put a much better fight up than in the later seasons (yes, complete disagreement with Nick :-) where him getting into a fight almost always meant him getting thrashed!

  5. No comments on the cast? This episode features a Whos' Who of veteran Asian character actors, who can be seen in dozens of similar roles. There's a young Joan Chen (The Last Emperor), George Cheung (played villains in just about every 80s TV action show), CLyde Kusatsu (played genial sidekicks on many 70s/80s shows, including Quincy ME and Magnum PI), Keye Luke (co-star of the Kung Fu series), and James Saito (Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie). I!

    As for the episode itself, the rather tired story was most probably inspired by Rambo First Blood Part II, which was in theaters a few months prior. In fact George Cheung was in that flick too.

    But since this is network TV and MacGyver, this is a very G-rated version of Rambo. Still, like that film it tries to refight the Vietnam War with a more positive outcome. In this case MacGyver leads the downtrodden vilagers to enlightenment and rebellion.No exploding arrows, but it's reasonably fun.

  6. Interesting that you say this was a G-rated version of "Rambo." What it calls to mind for me is "The A-Team." "MacGyver" already owed some inspiration to that show, but this is the episode that was the most straightforwardly like it - a downtrodden population is being terrorized by the local crook/thug and asks the hero to help them free themselves. It's especially similar to the pilot episode, in which the A-Team was likewise hired by peasants from a third world country to free themselves from the local drug lord and his militia, and they end up training the peasants to fight back.

    (Not a criticism - the show was still finding its legs, and there are a lot of worse things you could be copying than "The A-Team.")