Thursday, February 5, 2015

#43: Walking Dead

Season: 7

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver's friend Cherine is kidnapped by former members of Haiti's secret police, and they use a poison to put her into a comatose "undead"state.  MacGyver goes after her and finds them at an abandoned dam where they are trying to convert others to their ways in a revival-like atmosphere. MacGyver then gets captured and put in the undead state himself.  

Memorable Quote:
"Now, you are one of the undead."  ~Colonel Devraux

Highlight:
Great scene as MacGyver is in the coffin in the back of the van.  He's struggling with the poison and then eats the antidote leaves and attempts to grab the rope through the small coffin hole. Very simple yet clever escape also. 

Lowlight:
The part at the end where MacGyver dresses up like Baron Samedi and tells the people that they've been lied to.  It seems a bit gratuitous, and I wonder why the bad guys let him talk for 30 seconds about how the people were being lied to before they tried to stop him.  

Best MacGyverism:
Ties a string around a brick, and places the brick in front of several empty barrels.  When the bad guys come chasing later on, he gets behind a door and pulls the string, releasing the barrels to go crashing into the bad guys. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • We get things off to a great start as MacGyver walks through Little Haiti with some fantastic steel drum music playing in the background.  I love the steel drum and hope to learn to play one some day.  In my spare time.  
  • Also funny to see MacGyver's goofy smile as the lady flirts with him on the sidewalk.
  • In the convenience store, the racketeer invokes the name of Baron Samedi, who I'm familiar with from Live and Let Die, my favorite Roger Moore Bond movie.  I'm also a big fan of the book as well.  In general I like island and voodoo themes which is probably why I dig this episode.  
  • Carikaze alert!  Carikaze alert!  Great one at the 3:48 mark. 
  • I always like when there's a powerful, invincible-seeming villain, and nice job by the writers to establish the Tonton Macoute as the mysterious, underground organization responsible for the kidnappings.  
  • It's our old friend Mama Lorraine!  We last saw her briefly in The Prometheus Syndrome, but fortunately she plays a bigger role in this one.  I'm confident that all my readers agree with me on this. 
  • The guy Mama is treating at the 6:40 mark is played by Rawle D. Lewis, and he goes on to star in a classic movie, Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican bobsled team.  
  • Another familiar face: the doctor is played by Michael D. Roberts who we saw as Booker in The Challenge
  • 13:00 - sweet drum music as MacGyver and Mama approach the old Liberty Dam.  I like the "Pilgrim in an unholy land" trope (e.g. Indiana Jones and his dad at the Berlin Nazi rally in Last Crusade), and so MacGyver running around in the tunnels and hiding from the bad guys as the drums are playing is great stuff.  
  • 23:24 - chilling moment as a tear falls down Cherine's face while she's in the undead state. 
  • Once MacGyver starts pounding the shovel against the back wall of the truck, the two bad guys who open the door are pretty dumb (one of them should open the door and the other should stand back and cover).
  • Another Indiana Jones reference - the part with MacGyver in the undead state reminds me of Indy drinking the bad blood in the Temple of Doom and struggling mightily.  And then taking the antidote harkens back to the beginning of the movie where Indy is poisoned in the Shanghai restaurant.  
  • I like episodes such as this one and Bitter Harvest where you feel immersed in a different culture/locale.  The diversity of this series from one episode to the next is just mind-boggling.
  • 43:00 - funny how MacGyver takes his pocketknife back from the fallen Devraux and makes a little smirky face.   

Final Analysis:
Wow!  This episode has it all: MacGyver sneaking around as a pilgrim in an unholy land with lots of bad guys around, a secret organization, great music, and a fantastic locale.  While Season 7 in general isn't my favorite, I do like the darker elements and minor-key music in some of the episodes including this one.  This wasn't an episode that I 100% remembered, and I was a little concerned that maybe I'd overrate it, but now I'm concerned that I've underrated it.  I read somewhere that before Season 7 RDA made a comment that the show was going back to LA and "to its roots" (i.e. less issue episodes and more fun adventure).  Well, this episode is a good example of that - just great fun from beginning to end.  I had thought that this might be Mark's second-to-last episode because I know he's not a huge Season 7/Mama Lorraine fan, but now that I've watched it and seen how fun it is, I'm sure I must have been mistaken!

And time for a brief check-in!  It's interesting to look at how many episodes are left on my list by season:

Season 1 - 7
Season 2 - 8
Season 3 - 11
Season 4 - 8
Season 5, 6, + 7 combined - 8

Wow, look at that!  Never has it been more clear that the first half of the series was better from an overall perspective.  But there are certainly lots of late-season gems, and I've mentioned before that I have at least one episode from each season in my top 11.

A few other odds and ends - if you haven't seen it yet, I updated my Halloween Knights post today with some behind-the-scenes information from Deb Podowski who plays Ashton, Murdoc's sister. Also, I created a page where we can keep track of Al's rankings.  Al, let me know if there's ever anything there that you'd like me to switch around or edit.  The good news is you still have some room in your top 20!  

20 comments:

  1. You have correctly identified my second least favorite "MacGyver" episode. A few years ago I would have figured you'd really have been on an island with this one as just about every fan and casual viewer I've ever encountered going back to its original airing in October 1991 thought this was one of the worst episodes, and I recall classmates approaching me in the hallway before class the next morning giving the previous night's episode two thumbs down. But in recent years I've encountered some fans who like this one, most notably David Johnson, reviewer from DVD Verdict who I had a number of e-mail exchanges with following his humorous reviews season to season. He was pretty harsh towards season 7 in general but singled this one out as one he enjoyed. Oooookay then! I promised to soft-pedal my Mama Lorraine episode criticism but uff da, you sure make it tough! The fact that my Minnesota Twins were playing in the most exciting World Series of all-time the week this episode originally aired softened the blow some at the time, but time has not improved this hunk of moldy cheese for me.

    I went into it with generally high expectations, acknowledging the possibility that it could be goofy with the voodoo theme but also thinking it could be a spooky and colorful sort of fun. They had the goofy part down, but what really rattled me was how much of this episode just bored me to my core, particularly the final quadrant when MacGyver spent seemingly endless minutes crawling around under the stage. And I talked about lazy writing even in my last review on an episode I loved ("Bitter Harvest") but since this was an episode I didn't like, the "roaming palladin" aspect of MacGyver's late-season narrative laziness really stood out here....how he couldn't even walk to the local grocery without stumbling into a kidnapping/voodoo plot. With that said, the kidnapping itself and the doll thrown from the car that frightened the locals to the point of silence to the police was one of the few scenes from the episode that I enjoyed. Enter Mama Lorrainne and my enjoy rapidly dissipates!!!

    Can't say I would have ever gotten into this character, but making matters worse for me was that the actress who played Mama (Kimberly Scott) had another role that same year as Michael Chiklis' secretary on "The Commish". Seeing Ms. Scott playing a straight role in one series made it all the more difficult to swallow the Aunt Jemima pancake syrup bottle come to life she was going for on "MacGyver". But the writing didn't help matters for me when Mama came around either. I had to grasp for positive things to say here but there were some pretty spiffy set designs and the scene in the truck after MacGyver was poisoned (along with his figuring out the villain based on seeing the blowfish that the poison originated from) was pretty cool. Even there though, it was a little wild that Shari was out in two seconds after ingesting Deveraux's elixir while MacGyver hung on apparently for hours, even managing to knock out two muscular thugs with frozen joints!!!

    I was already lost on this one but the ending really took me out of it, when MacGyver finally emerged from his 25 minutes (seemed like it!) crawling under the stage to prove to us we had not seen the worst of this one yet! The audience was legitimately supposed to believe a room full of people only feet away took a full minute or more to realize that Baron Samedi had suddenly turned into a blond-haired ponytailed white guy! Ick! I know I said I'd soft-pedal this one but there are some promises too hard to keep! :) As you've already figured out, this was my #140.


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    1. I knew it! The next burning question is what is your #124 - perhaps some more Mama...

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  2. Perhaps our chasmic disparity of opinion here has something to do with the voodoo theme in general. You mentioned "Live and Let Die" which was one of my least favorite Bond movies. "Walking Dead" is obviously one of my least favorite "MacGyver" episodes. And the voodoo-themed "Tale of the Goat" was a "Miami Vice" episode I always considered to be a major league howler. Maybe there's something about the voodoo narrative that doesn't connect with me, which is curious since I'm usually a big fan of cult stories and films ("Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" absolutely rocked my world as one example).

    Also intriguing the two of the episodes where our opinions were most polarized both featured Michael D. Roberts as a guest star. I loved "The Challenge" which you hated, and vice versa for "Walking Dead" (one more grievance with this episode...why didn't they have "The" in the title before "Walking Dead" as it would have made more sense and sounded cooler!!!)

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    1. That's true, I'm all about voodoo/cajun/haitian/island themes in general. And I had always thought it was called "The Walking Dead" and just realized today there was no "the." It was disappointing to learn that since "The Walking Dead" does sound much better!

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  3. Regarding the steel drum.... I think it was an episode of Reading Rainbow or Sesame Street where they showed one being made. I know I saw that episode a dozen times, whichever it was. =)

    I like several aspects of this episode, though it rolls a little bit into 'Hollywood Voodoo' [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HollywoodVoodoo]. It pays lip service to Voudon being a religion, but that's about as far as they go.

    I like Mama Lorraine. And this was the first time, I think, that I'd heard of blowfish toxin - though it started popping up in several other shows I watched after MacGyver.

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    1. I'll have to check out that Sesame Street/Reading Rainbow episode! I'd love to have a steel drum.

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  4. That was a great idea to reach out to Deb Podowski and very gracious of her to respond. Her insight about filming with the snakes for the Halloween episode was really great.

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    1. Thanks! It was indeed very nice of her to share her memories. I didn't know that they were all real snakes.

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    2. Did you reach out to Deb Podowski or did she find the site herself via Twitter? Some very nice insights on the scene. Not really surprised the snakes were really as they certainly didn't look rubber. I'm curious how the crew managed to get their hands on so many nasty snakes. My mom's deathly afraid of snakes and was unable to watch "Halloween Knights" a second time. She certainly couldn't have sat where Deb Podowski sat!

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    3. I reached out to her. I thought that a few snakes looked real for sure but that maybe it was just a close up shot - I didn't realize they had a whole pit full of 'em. And funny how it didn't faze RDA at all.

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    4. I'm more with Mark than Nick or Highlander on this one! There are some good things going for it but not that many.
      I like the opening with MacGyver returning from a hockey match - there should have been more hockey. Its typical that everyone else in the neighbourhood turns away from trouble while MacGyver leaps straight in front of the car - nice to be able to chalk up another caricaze!
      I'm very surprised that MacGyver hadn't heard of the Tonton Macoute or Baron Samedi ( read Graham Greene's 'The Comedians' for a dark portrayal of Haiti under Papa Doc and the Tonton) he's normally so well-versed in world politics and religions. Some of the stuff about Voodou as a religion was quite interesting but I'm not keen on the Voodoo theme at all (like Mark, Live and Let Die was not a favourite Bond). And I have a big concern about the the use of Datura - I can't imagine Mama Lorraine using it to cure a headache ( I'm not a big fan of hers either) -its more likely to give you hallucinations and delusions and if anything, its part of the zombie-producing process, not the cure. Its supposed to be given after the Pufferfish (Blowfish in US) to induce a zombie-like walking stupor, I believe, not wake them up. MacGyver chewing a Datura leaf like that might have killed him! Definitely not one for the kids to copy. (Datura stramonium is Jimson weed in the US, named after the weird behaviour it caused in British soldiers at Jamestown)
      We had a clue near the beginning with the Pufferfish in the Doc's office that he as a bad guy. It was cool that MacGyver knew about their poison but worked it out a bit late.
      Next its....Huggy Bear!. to anyone who ever watched Starsky and Hutch, Antonio Fargas can never be anything other than S and H's streetwise bar-owning friend. so found it hard to take him as a villain.
      Great investigation as MacGyver checks out the stuff inside the doll and deduces from the silt and exact type of oil, where the location is. Unlikely but cool.
      I didn't like MacGyver being poisoned and I had the same problem as Mark that he doesn't succumb to it for ages and you already know my thoughts on the Datura remedy! Its also way too easy for him to take out the bad guys although the swing from the roof bars was a good knockout. Like Mark, I thought he spent too long' under the floorboards' and I hated him dressing up as Baron Samedi.
      There's some interesting stuff - the Tonton Macoute theme was good and they were portrayed quite well, intimidating,menacing and preying on superstition but not sure what they were doing here; trying to take over the locale or raising support for a coup in Haiti? The latter would have made for a more exciting MacGyver plot - I feel the opportunity was wasted.
      All in all,I didn't like the zombie theme or Macgyver being poisoned (Nightmares is a totally different scenario). Some good MacGyverisms but way lower for me. Around 105 I'd say.

      Thanks for doing a rankings page for me! - will try to get them a bit more organised and up to date. You can add 'The Escape', To Be a Man' in the Top 10 and 'Trumbo's world' in the Top 15.

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    5. sorry have put this as a reply instead of a fresh comment!

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    6. I thought the same thing about being surprised that MacGyver doesn't know Baron Samedi - as you said, he normally is all over that stuff. I'm impressed with your background knowledge of the Datura leaf! I'll make sure not to add some to my next meal! Also I updated your rankings page with the ones you indicated - let me know if you ever want it updated again.

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    7. Wow Al, you really know your stuff about voodoo and Datura, among others. I went into this episode knowing about as much as MacGyver did.

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    8. I knew a fair bit about Datura before but did have to check up on its links with voodoo so I can't claim to have known all this straight off! There's also a plant genus, Urtica, that MacGyver finds growing and uses to knock out the bad guys in 'Target MacGyver', if you remember, but I really can't work out what that is because most Urtica species are stinging nettles of one sort or another and I don't know of any with a knock-out root compound. He certainly didn't sting them into submission!

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    9. No, just an interested amateur.

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  5. I forgot to mention in the write-up that at the very end of this episode, Mama makes a comment about MacGyver being a vegetarian and that reminded me of Mark's comment in Slow Death where he orders a giant lamb sandwich.

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    1. I noticed that on my first watching of all the episodes too and I just figured that he just later became a vegetarian. Sometimes our lifestyle choices change! Of course, here it was a continuity error from the slippery season 1, but oh well. This is one quirk of MacGyver I wish they hadnt done. It just seems to be too much. Hes a cool regular guy that is a bit too hippy dippy. Meanwhile, while being very pro gun rights, I love that they made him anti-gun. Guns make action shows way too easy. The opposition to guns here I think is one of the keys that made the show. And even with my views, I dont find the gun issue episodes too preachy. They fit in with the series and character.

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  6. Nick loves Mama, the others seem to be annoyed by her. Im middle of the road. I think she is ok, but a bit overdone. The whole Little Haiti shtick seems a bit odd in LA, makes more sense in south Florida. But it is fun and colorful. This is a great episode, not one I would go out of my way for, but I like it. Its interesting and gives an insight into voodoo (which Im not really keen on), even if it is a bit tropey and not quite accurate.

    I like how the toughs are dressed. The first time I saw this, I thought "I want goons dressed in black sleeveless shirts, black pants, random black sweatbands and sunglasses. It looks really cool and tough.

    As for the Tonton Macoutes thing, I think that the story here is that after the Duvaliers fell, various higher ups fled the country and some moved into Little Haiti to set up organized criminal activity. Some people just want power, well we all do, but some want it more and will actually go and do it. I think thats what this was about. Maybe they had plans for all the acolytes.

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