Wednesday, February 4, 2015

#44: Bitter Harvest

Season: 6

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver stumbles upon a migrant worker protest after his car breaks down in a small town, and he ends up in jail after coming to the aid of the workers.  After being freed, he is offered lodging by the protest leader, Tony, but Tony is killed on their ride home by the vineyard owner's son and his goon. MacGyver sticks around town and even goes undercover as a migrant worker to try and learn the truth about what happened to Tony and about what is really being sprayed in the fields. 

Memorable Quote:
Why wasn't I told?  Why wasn't I told?   ~Kasabian

The first 10 minutes are very well done as we see the street protests play out, and then we witness the politics of the town through the jail scene.  I also really like the Tony character and the actor who plays him. 

I'm not a huge fan of MacGyver getting the crap kicked out of him, and the gigantic labor contractor goon rings MacGyver's bell numerous times throughout the episode.
  • 13:15 mark - gets knocked out in the field with what looks like a 2x4, and then gets sprayed by pesticides.
  • 42:00 - thrown through a glass wall, twice.   
  • 42:50 - gets punched again hard one last time for good measure.
This feels like a good time to have a discussion on concussions and head trauma in the MacGyver series, something I touched on briefly in my Key Terms section a while back. It seems like almost every episode has a bad guy (or in this episode's case, MacGyver) getting knocked unconscious. In most cases, the bad guy gets knocked out (and comes back to life) with surprising ease. I remember recently at the end of Lost Love Part 2 when Dalton sneaks up behind the bad guy and chops him on the back, and the guy just falls in a crumpled heap.  Perhaps the most memorable/infamous example of this is in Blow Out when MacGyver throws a soup can at the robber's back which is enough to put him down for the count.

Now I'm not criticizing the show at all for this.  It's a work of fiction, obviously, and having people get knocked out is a convenient way to put them aside without killing them, so it works for me as a plot device. And other shows do the same thing.  But I at least wanted to point out the disparity between what we see on the show and what happens with real head trauma, because when I was a kid, I honestly believed that what I saw on the show was realistic.  I thought that people would get knocked unconscious fairly easily, and I thought they would get back up afterwards and be just fine.  I remember one of my friends in college getting mugged and knocked out, and when I saw him the following week, he told me about the medical complications that arose from that incident. It was eye-opening for me to learn about the repercussions of concussions, and the subject has thankfully received much more mainstream attention during the last 5 years. 

Best MacGyverism:
Uses sunglasses, nail polish remover, and a lamp to create a spectroscope and test the dirt sample for pesticides. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Some great music in this one, and we hear it right off the bat to set the mood as MacGyver drives into the town full of migrant, Hispanic workers.  The California vineyards in this episode provide a fresh, vivid locale. And MacGyver sure has a talent for accidentally stumbling upon some sticky situations. 
  • The sheriff looks familiar to me - let's check IMDB.  Yep, it's Allan Lysell, and he's been in 4 episodes total (but surprisingly none yet on The MacGyver Project countdown until now).  
  • 18:27 - how on earth does MacGyver spot the button in the tall grass from 15 feet away?
  • I like Silva.  Reminds me a little of Lobo from Off The Wall.  
  • Some poignant moments with MacGyver comforting Tony's wife (with mellow vocals in the background) and then later his walking 20 miles from the fields to Tony's house.  
  • I like how MacGyver sometimes involves other people (in this case, Natalie) in his MacGyerisms. Popping out the lenses in sunglasses is something he could easily do, and it's nice of him to let others feel a part of it.  
  • 38:21 - MacGyver finds the Fix pesticides in large barrels of maple syrup.
    • "Is it fix?"  ~Silva
    • "I wouldn't put it on my pancakes."  ~Nick Kasabian
  • Getting back to my earlier discussion, I think it would take more than grape juice spray to knock the big guy down.  And then when Silva asks MacGyver if he's ok, of course he says he's just fine. 
  • I wonder how they got MacGyver's bruised eye to stay shut like that, or was he just closing it on his own?
  • Fun yet somewhat goofy ending as the migrant workers lean out the window and cheer MacGyver's car driving by.  
  • Purple grapes, by the way?  One of my top 5 favorite foods of all time.  

Final Analysis:
A powerful episode with excellent music set in a great locale.  Very well done, but more depressing than I remembered (e.g. Tony getting shot, his disabled daughter and her reaction to his death, MacGyver getting hit like a pinata). It's not every series (in fact, there's no other series) that could deliver such an exciting, memorable, and poignant story about the plight of migrant workers the way that MacGyver does. Coming up next, we'll see if my suspicions are correct that we're finally getting to Mark's 2nd least favorite episode! I know he's not the biggest fan of Season 7 in general...  


  1. Fantastic episode and one that's grown even more on me in recent viewings. I see this episode as one the series' most effective "issue" episodes to the point where even my right-wing cousin, who doesn't share MacGyver's political leanings and hated most of the issue episodes, conceded this one was well done with a worthwhile issue theme. The episode's narrative was helped by a number of strong characters and good acting by everybody except the actor who played Hector Lopez ("What are you saying?!? What are you doing?!? What's that?!?!?"). From what I understand, "MacGyver" executive producer Stephen Downing really had to go to bat with the network to get this one on the air as there were some major corporate ag interests fighting ABC to shelve it, and living in Iowa, I can assure you corporate ag usually gets whatever it wants whenever it wants. My dad briefly worked at an insecticide plant and can very much vouch for the toxicity. My only nitpick with this episode was the very beginning as MacGyver should have had some reason to drive through this town at the exact moment this protest rally was going on. It wouldn't have been difficult to explain away given his affinity for environmental issues rather than merely having him stumble into town in a broken-down car because he "doesn't take the interstates", which is lazy writing in an episode that was otherwise not lazy at all.

    Back to the good stuff...yeah....that rally. They did an excellent job of portraying Tony Garcia as an immensely likeable and even messianic figure fighting the good fight, driven to action on illegal pesticide usage after his daughter was crippled from exposure in the womb. And they did an even better job of portraying the company town politics of Kasabian where money talked and where a certain measure of selling out (as Hector did) was necessary to provide for your family. You felt the family's pain over Tony's death (especially the emotional scene where Natalie was told of his death and where MacGyver comforts Carmen outside the motel complex) and you felt Alex's (Silva) anger over the local sheriff's office shrugging off the investigation that could lead to the powerful Kasabian family. The quiet scenes in the episode were some of the most powerful, including the Kasabian patriarch's come-to-jesus moment where he recognizes the madness of the situation (and what the greed has done to his son).

    But there was also plenty of exciting action, particularly at the Kasabian farm with that very cool tank where MacGyver cleverly used the hollow ladder to both cut his ropes and breathe the oxygen from the top of the tan. Despite MacGyver getting his butt kicked by the big guy (Felix Mendoza), the fight scene was pretty epic too, although it was hard to reconcile the fact that a punch to the face didn't even cause him to flinch while a stream of some liquid grapes (or whatever that was) managed to knock him out cold. As for the epilogue....loved it! MacGyver bidding the family adieu and that over-the-top yet touching final scene with the bus full of migrant workers was great stuff despite the cheese factor. You mentioned the great music in the episode (Ken Harrison again) which I concur with, but that final scene at the end had the best music of the hour for my taste. As hated as the issue episodes were among some fans, an episode as well done as this serves as a reminder that there rewards for viewers when the show deviated from its formula. We're very close on this one. I ranked it #48.

    1. I like your description about the right-wing cousin - there's one in every family! And a good testament to this episode if he likes it. Interesting stuff about Stephen Downing having to go to bat for this one and fending off Big Farming.

    2. Another feather in this episode's cap for me was that it redeemed the series after the horror that was "MacGyver's Women", the episode that aired before it!

  2. Touching upon one other thing in your review, the "helping migrant farm workers unionize" them was actually a fairly common adventure show trope in the 80s, but in every other case I saw, it was merely a plot device to showcase the awesomeness of the protagonists. For instance, the A-Team got to score one for the little guy by taking on ruthless ag barons and simultaneously create one of their vintage armored vehicles that fired cabbage heads as weapons (no, I'm not making that up). But in that case and other instances I witnessed the migrant workers were one-dimensional plot devices. In the "MacGyver" version of this trope, the farm workers and even the land barons (some of them anyway) were three-dimensional and their list of grievances more complex than its peers on lesser action shows. In some respects I feel as though I have this one ranked too low as it holds up very well through adult eyes.

  3. Yeah - this isn't one of my faves. I can't pinpoint right off what it is that I don't love about it, but I'm sure I'll mention it when I get to this one in my countdown. (One of my current fave shows started up the 2nd half of it's season here recently, so it's slowing down my progress. XD)

  4. I'm not usually as attuned to the music as Nick and Mark but I agree its outstanding here. From the opening with its haunting melody we know that this is going to be a serious episode and it has great lyrical riffs running throughout.
    MacGyver finds a cause he can relate to in this small town; I agree the local politics is handled well and we do get a balanced view from all sides; Tony, Kasabian and the smalltown sheriff, who isn't as corrupt as we might think at the start. Its typical that MacGyver leaps in at the first sign of injustice.
    Not sure I understood the 'someday I'll learn to drive on the interstate' -surely MacGyver isn't afraid of driving on the major roads?
    The night scene in the vineyard after they scramble out of the car is genuinely full of a sense of desperation and suspense and the tremendous blow, when it comes, is truly startling.
    Poor MacGyver's head wound looks awful and a lesser mortal would be laid up for days. He's not helped by the unpleasant story Alex tells him about the worker who died from exposure to pesticide. I kept thinking (and hoping) that Tony might still be alive and that they were jumping to conclusions but it was a heart-rending moment to hear his daughter's wail of anguish.
    Minor point; MacGyver's Spanish is much better than his German!
    We feel for him as he trudges the 20 miles back; The filming is good here I thought, a close shot as he readjusts his hat in a kind of determined yet resigned gesture followed by a long distance shot of him walking, much more slowly now.
    I agree the spectroscope MacGyerism is cool. The fact that the crystals are melting is obviously significant but I don't know why.
    I thought the scenes at the farm were excellent; There's an effective moment when MacGyver and Alex are arguing physically over the course of action while the fuel-soaked rag is still burning under their feet and I agree, the escape from the tank is clever; some sophisticated science but a simple escape. MacGyver draws the short straw when he has to jump on the very big guy and takes a lot more punishment. I'm with you, the knockout with the grape juice isn't convincing enough after such a spectacular fight scene. And how can MacGyver resist kicking him in the ribs when he's down after all everything that guy's done to him? He's just too nice sometimes.
    All in all I think its a great episode, Although the story is dark and bleak it ends on an optimistic note; there's a serious issue handled well, investigation, action, emotion, suspense and drama. Its got everything and I'm ranking it around 16.

    1. Al - Mac's comment 'someday I'll learn to drive on the interstate' - was likely referring to the fact that the interstate has much better access to things like a mechanic for his broken down car. His driving on the 'back roads' is just his style... so 'learn' is more colloquial here, meaning 'should do the smart thing'.

      And the melting crystals tell MacGyver something about the chemical composition of the pesticide being used. He's trained in chemistry and would know that melting chemicals means $thing vs $thing2.

  5. Having watched Bitter Harvest last night, it is with some surprise that I read such glowing reviews. It wasn't bad by any means but I didn't feel the unbridled love for it that everyone else seemed to. The main thing I didn't feel was resolved very well was Tony's assault. Nobody knew he was dead, nobody had anything more to go on than MacGyver hearning gun shots and later finding the button and a very small amount of blood. Whilst it was certainly a bad situation with the possibility that Tony had come to serious harm, everyone, including his wife and daughter, was far too quick to believe that he was dead without any real evidence. He could just as easily have been beaten and held hostage or beaten and dumped miles from home - blood could have been spilled from a fight rather than a mortal wound from the gunshot. It would have helped the gravity of the story if his body had been found to provide confirmation but as it was it seemed, to me at least, a very poor way to react to the inspiring leader of the protest by giving up on him.

    Whilst I was mystified by the acceptance of Tony's fate, the pesticide premise was an interesting plot to tackle and it shared similarities with The Spoilers earlier in the series; an unconventional 'side kick' for MacGyver; finding the pollutant chemical and finding the pesticide for evidence.

    As an aside, I have a general question that I have been meaning to ask for a long time: In the opening credit sequence why were some of the clips changed from those in the actual episodes to updated versions? The cobra rising up from Murderers' Sky and the ice cream in front of the traffic light from Thief Of Budapest are the two where MacGyver himself is a different clip. The final MacGyver puffing/sighing/exertion clip has also changed a few times, obviously to show more how he looks in the later seasons. I can understand why the producers did this but not why they altered existing clips in the credit sequence, the reaction to the cobra looks less much convincing than the wild eyed original!

    1. Interesting point on Tony, hadn't thought of it like that before. You're right that several of the clips changed to updated versions. I've never read anything official as to why they did it that way, but I guess they wanted to jazz it up but also keep some consistency with the original. It is a little goofy to see MacGyver in different clothes and longer hair doing throwback things like eating the ice cream cone.

    2. BTW: In the original opening clip he is eating a chocolate ice cream cone, in the remake, it looks like a strawberry ice cream cone. I like the original version than the "updated" one.

  6. What an amazing episode!!! 43 more to go! So far, the only two episodes that I've skipped from your ranking are The Coltons and last, MacGyver episode. The Coltons, because MacGyver is in there only for a few minutes and the last one, because even as a good episode as it is, it still leaves me with that bittersweet sensation that it's over. I'm not ready to have that feeling yet.

    1. This episode makes me homesick for where I lived in Venezuela. The people, the way of life(in the 90s, not now). Everything about the country. I lived in an agricultural part of the country(rice paddies, corn fields, sugar cane and sesame seeds). It was so beautiful there. It's my second home.
      I really like episodes like this one; the ones that remind of the other countries I have visited and love.