Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#38: Ugly Duckling

Season: 1

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A flawed missile is stolen from the Defense Department, and the only person who can fix it is a 15-year old computer prodigy with self-confidence issues named Kate. MacGyver tries to intercept her before the bad guys do, but they kidnap her and make her fix the missile. MacGyver rescues her and they stop the missile before it destroys a bridge with thousands of marathon runners.  

Memorable Quote:
Friendship is something I don't take lightly.  Too hard to come by.  ~MacGyver

If you've read my Trumbo's World and Slow Death reviews, you know I'm a sucker for the silky sweet piano MacGyver theme, so it should come as no surprise that the highlight for me is the scene in the jeep where MacGyver tells Kate that she's his friend as the ivories gloriously tickle in the background.  This scene makes the episode for me.

I like the concept behind the scene where Kate escapes from the Defense Department guys by hacking her way out, but it seems a little too easy and also unnecessary - why mess up the entire building when she could just turn the lights out to get away?

Best MacGyverism:
Uses acid from the cactus to create low level current that powers the handheld radio.  Then uses handheld radio and car radio antennas to triangulate the position of the bad guys.  Then they use their watches to further narrow down the position, which I don't understand at all but seems pretty darn impressive.   

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • It's unclear to me why Kate and the Professor had to hack into the Defense Department's computer system given that they were trying to help fix their missile guidance system.  Given that they were theoretically on the same side, couldn't both parties have worked it out before it got to that point?
  • 9:05 mark - after Pete tells MacGyver about the government missile's pinpoint accuracy, MacGyver responds with "Oh my God, why."  Funny how the following season, he works on a voice guided missile that is equally precise in the previous review, Silent World.  I wouldn't call him pro-missile by any means, but still it's an interesting contrast.  
  • 10:40 - I like the bad guy's reference to MacGyver as "one of the government's top bloodhounds."  That would be an awesome description to put on a LinkedIn page.  
  • On the scene where MacGyver is trying to guess Kate's password, it's a monumental stretch for him to figure out the "Duckling" part of the "Ugly Duckling" password.  And in today's world, Kate's password would be 25 characters long with capital letters and symbols and MacGyver would have no chance.  
  • 38:21 - we learn that MacGyver is a marathon runner, followed by some grainy stock footage of people running. 
  • 42:18 - a Jack Dalton-like "Exactly" thrown in by MacGyver.
  • Kate makes a pretty decent wingman (or wingwoman) for MacGyver.  It's not often that someone is on his intellectual level, and the two of them could have made a good MacGyverism team. 

Final Analysis:
An enjoyable episode with some Season 1 flair, though I probably have it a smidge too high given that it doesn't blow my doors off like most of the others in the top 40.  Nevertheless, still an enjoyable hour of television with a great scene mixed in (see highlight).  Coming up tomorrow, a discussion with composer Ken Harrison!  


  1. Based on your "memorable female sidekick" teaser, I figured this was the episode coming in for your last review and now am at a total loss as to what your running theme for the "binge" ahead is unless it's every episode with a female sidekick! Anyway, our feelings on this one are reasonably compatible although Kate's insecurity issues appear to have annoyed me a little more than you since you don't really bring it up and actually isolate the scene in the Jeep as the episode's high point (I liked the music as well....a snippet of Edelman cut from another episode).

    The opening scene with the hijacking was cut from the USA broadcast and even though it had plenty of action, I can see why as it was kind of clunky ("yep...looks like a missile to me!"). Your points are good about why the Professor put himself and Kate out on a limb this far rather than just working with the government who tasked them to help with the missile. I liked the saxophone music at the bar and the professor was a fun, eccentric presence who kept MacGyver on his toes. The professor dying as MacGyver looked on was one of the most touching scenes of season 1. As for Kate, I had a love-hate relationship with her as she couldn't have possibly been a more annoying brat, a snotty teenage girl who any parent in their right mind hopes they don't have to deal with in their own kids. I don't recall Kate's age ever being revealed but I assumed she was supposed to be 15-16, with a look that was so mid-80s she looked like she could have been dancing in a Springsteen video. MacGyver's "you are special, Kate" consolences came across as a little juvenile for someone as brilliant as Kate, even if she is just an insecure teenager.

    On the upside, it was great seeing Kate respond to MacGyver's intellectual challenge and the two shined as junior and senior eggheads, especially in the second half when they were working together to triangulate radio signals off a cactus and use a Jeep headlight to harness a solar-powered laser. RDA's acting was much improved by this point in season 1 as well as he and Kate played off of each other well when he wasn't playing her guidance counselor, particularly when he playfully mocked her goofy Three Musketeers reference. The science in this episode really sparkled, even though there were some giant plotholes as you mentioned. Here were these badass smugglers planning to blow up a bridge in a major city, which would have killed many people on any day even if they weren't aware that it was the site for a marathon that looked like it was held in 1968.....yet these same bad dudes just whacked MacGyver on the back of the head at the campus and were apparently planning to let Kate go to had she not escaped on her own (with help) using the electric arc welder. Why would these guys leave alive witnesses to identify them as the thieves of this top-secret weapons system that they planned to commit a massive act of terrorism on American soil with?!?!?

    And while the one missile being used to take out the other after MacGyver (very rapidly) altered it to become a heat-seeker was pretty cool, it was unclear to me why one missile would be able to go faster than the other as was necessary for the collision. Obviously I'm overthinking but that's what you do when you watch something like this a number of times! Fun episode though and pretty high-energy. Much as Kate annoyed me early on, I grew to like her (a little) by the end. Very eager to read your interview with Ken Harrison. I ranked this episode #54.

    1. I totally forgot about that opening scene and had to rewind the DVD to remind myself what happened when you mentioned it just now. You're right, it is clunky and it's hard for me to tell who the good guys are supposed to be. I'm also with you on the love/hate relationship with Kate - she's pretty annoying early on but is more likable toward the end which I guess is the point and symbolic of her growth. And this episode is the beginning of my binge if that tells you anything!

  2. I’m struggling to keep up again! Good opening in the jazz club ( RDA likes jazz so probably enjoyed filming this). What a guy the prof is - he’s a great sax player, he’s dying but still tells MacGyer he has ‘one of the finest minds’ he’s ever encountered and quotes Mercutio’s dying speech from Romeo and Juliet at his own demise which has some relevance here as MacGyver, like Romeo, goes off to avenge it. Good to get some good music and a literary reference in the first few minutes! No wonder MacGyver is so distressed to see him go – it’s a moving scene.
    Although he’s still with the DXS at this stage, MAcGYver shows his contempt for some of the other members of the Intelligence community with a sarcastic ‘We all know what wonderful people they are’ and follows it up later with in uncharacteristically rude encounter with them at Kate’s house. Its also amusing as he leaves Pete’s office, pre-empting and parodying him with ‘stay out of trouble, come back alive’ as he’s out the door and down the corridor. Later we’re in Pete’s office again and MacGyver has found something to fiddle with, this time a coat stand which he hangs off and swings around.
    The Intelligence guys are pretty na├»ve. Who’d trust a computer whizz kid with the password and leave them unsupervised for a moment? They’re clearly out of their depth technically speaking. I’m very far from a computer whizz but I couldn’t help noticing that MacGyver typed a comma between a file name and the extension code – presumably should have been a full stop? His talk with Kate was his usual supportive-chat- In-the-middle–of-a-crisis, but well-meant.
    We have another candidate for your concern about knock-out blows and how quick the recovery is although MacGyver does seem to be suffering from a nasty( but brief) headache with this one.
    Where did he get the ether from when he takes out the first goon?
    I agree with you; some excellent science –based MacGyverisms; first the tracking the radio by satellite then the hydrocarbons to cool the bars swiftly followed by using the cactus, bits of a jeep and the watches to pinpoint the missile. Brilliant. And great stuff as their minds work together and t hey spark off eachother with loads of enthusiastic science-speak from MacGyver. I read that RDA was quite keen that his character. O’Neill, in Stargate, remained a staunch technophobe so he didn’t have to learn lines filled with scientific jargon!
    The stock footage of the marathon is terrible! Shame we never get to see MacGyver taking part in one. The other bad scene is the 80’s dancing in the disco.
    Great stuff and at no 37 for me.

    1. I like the Shakespeare symbolism you picked up on! And don't worry about falling off the pace - the posts won't be going anywhere so take your time!

  3. This is a good episode, however I just dont like it. Kate is a decent character, but she annoys me. I think they take the standoffish child prodigy thing in this and Live and Learn a bit too far. I cant imagine it being that bad, but I do know smart people can be very insular.

    The plot is good and the MacGyverisms are good, especially the triangulation. And I always love when other characters can do MacGyverisms. I always try to incorporate some MacGyver whenever I can. Duct tape and a swiss army knife (altho I need a new one) are always at hand. Just recently, I used a paper clip to replace a cotter pin in a wagon. I think he once mentioned a cotter pin in an episode, but Ill be damned if I could remember.

  4. "And in today's world, Kate's password would be 25 characters long with capital letters and symbols and MacGyver would have no chance."

    Hahahahaha that's true! :) I can see it now.

  5. I liked this episode, I could identify with Kate and wished she would return. I remembered the exploding gun and the triangulation which is still a bit too technical for me, I wonder if it’s anything like when you use two pointers if you want the distance and not just the direction of the bird. When I saw the watches, I thought one of them had to be an hour slow on purpose but when her watch changed to a different one besides starting to show the right time it looked more like a mistake.
    I liked the “Everybody makes mistakes once in a while, the trick is learning to live with it” line but they looked kind of drunk at the “one for all” bit...
    The part of the episode that stood out for me the most was MacGyver’s password breaking because in the Hungarian version Kate says, “I’m nowhere even close to being pretty, I’m an ugly duckling!” (she’s off the screen long enough for that), and, I thought, how stupid is that, saying it all out loud when she sees full well that he’s trying to guess it. Now I was surprised to see that originally she didn’t say it which of course looks much better on MacGyver but the Hungarian word for “ugly” in the novel’s translated name happens to be too uncommon in everyday spoken language to guess, a bit like if the English version was “The hideous duckling”. In any case, we see more hacking from him than from Kate as, disappointingly, not only she asks for the password but the agent tells her despite the demand that she shows them how she got in and if there were any more passwords (I’m not sure if he says access code or codes), we don’t see how she got around them. Either way, I don’t think there should have been any sarcasm in the “thanks a lot, kid”, it’s better to find out your security flaws from someone on your side! I liked her escape but she was very lucky that the building going crazy didn’t give her away before she finally turned the lights out! And I think it really wasn’t fair of her saying to MacGyver that finding out her password was mean when she was kind of egging him on up until then. She should never make a bet with this attitude!
    I was a bit surprised to see that MacGyver took the ODI agent’s ID and not Kate’s mum. I liked his “something” answer to the “are you a relative or something?” question and his “you better come up with some good reason” tone when he asks “What’s this all about?” when they turn up.
    When Kate gets locked up and pulls on two of the bars over the window it would have been funny if the third one she didn’t touch was loose. She come up with the electric welder MacGyver used at Trumbo’s though in this case burning through the door hinges would have been further away from the guard and probably quicker.
    They were lucky that the guys who got knocked out by the explosion didn’t come around in the middle of the missile navigating operation. It would have been nice if they woke tied up and gagged so we could just see their faces as they’re watching the missiles blew up.
    I thought the “that’s pretty all right” was a strangely dull response from Kate to getting a lab from the government, look at fisherwoman Lisa’s reaction to her scholarship for comparison!

  6. One of my favorite memories from college (waaaaay after the show went off the air) was watching this episode on reruns with Dan, my equally pedantic comp. sci. student roommate. Kate and Mac have rigged the radios, and Kate is roughly 40 yards west of Mac.

    (Quotes are best guess, but the triangulation directions are verbatim)

    Mac: Okay, Kate, I'm getting their signal at...11 o'clock.
    Kate: I can hear them too! Looks like they're at....2 o'clock.

    Dan and I blink, do a quick moment of mental geometry, and then look at each other, smiling.

    Me, as Kate, pointing at the base of the television: "Oh look, there they are!"

    Dan, as Mac: "Huh. Funny how we didn't notice that truck with the rocket sticking out of it just 20 feet from us until now."

  7. Thought this one was a bit boring and a little too soppy. MacGyver and Kate were a good team, but I found her too annoying.