Sunday, February 1, 2015

#46: GX-1

Season: 3

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver and Nikki Carpenter go to East Germany to find a downed plane with a prototype exhaust cooling system that makes the plane undetectable to infrared.  They are racing against the Soviets, who are also looking for the plane with the help of a psychic, Starkoss.  MacGyver finds and destroys the cooling system, and Starkoss asks him for help in defecting. 

Memorable Quote:
Well, that's great by me.  I've got the pilot's last coordinates, his altitude, his air speed, a satellite map, and they've got some guy doing parlor tricks.  I'll take the odds any day.  ~MacGyver
I wouldn't.  ~Nikki

Highlight:
Cool moment where MacGyver is looking at Starkoss through the binoculars, and then Starkoss turns and looks directly at MacGyver, startling him.  

Lowlight:
MacGyver acts a little pervy around Nikki during the scene by the campfire.  First, he only turns around while she undresses once she asks him to.  Second, he says "There's plenty of room here," with a sly grin on his face when offering to share his sleeping bag.  Third, he seems really weird when he tells Nikki the next morning, "That's amazing, I don't know how I did it, but I controlled myself."  The whole scene is a bit uncomfortable. 

Best MacGyverism:
One of the most memorably crazy MacGyverisms ever - building a giant hot air balloon out of fabric, gas tanks, and a metal basket.  All in about 2 hours.  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • This episode for whatever reason was often skipped in the rotation on the USA Network, so I'm not as familiar with it as most of the others in the top 50.
  • We get things off to a fun yet awkward start as MacGyver is on vacation in a hot air balloon over the Alps.  He shares the basket with a young, blond Swiss woman wearing what looks like traditional alpine wear, and he's sporting a large gray sweater. She looks at him seductively while drinking a glass of champagne and he's eating a strawberry.  Then she gives him a kiss on the cheek and smiles as he continues to eat the strawberry.  Not sure what to make of all that. 
  • Next we see a very impressively filmed jet fighter sequence that doesn't look like the stock footage of earlier episodes.  Kind of an amazing scene for network tv, actually. And interesting to note that the pilot is played by the same guy who is Eric Cross in Deadly Dreams.  It does make me wonder why if the plane was so undetectable, how it was spotted to begin with. 
  • Getting back to MacGyver and Heidi (we learn that's her name), they land in the hot air balloon and are greeted by Pete and Nikki Carpenter, and Pete briefs MacGyver on the downed GX-1 stealth plane that needs to be recovered in East Germany.  This scene is a little bit of a mess - why is it necessary for Pete to be there in the first place, and as long as he's there, why not come along on the mission?  He says MacGyver and Nikki must work together because they'll cross the border more easily as a married couple.  I wouldn't have guessed that Americans would be allowed into East Germany so easily whether they were married or not.  And then MacGyver agrees to meet up with them at the hotel to go over the plan, but not before giving Heidi a ride home. Matters of national security can wait!  
  • Memorable scene where Starkoss the psychic (played by Walter Gotell, who was General Gogol in several Bond movies and was also in Gold Rush) starts spazzing out while having a vision and then circles the location of the downed plane on a map.  I'm not normally a proponent of magical, supernatural powers in a non-magic show like MacGyver, but it doesn't really bother me here and I'm able to suspend my disbelief.  
  • Did they really have nice alpine resorts like this in East Germany?  And open to American tourists?
  • "Just drop the bags in the bridal suite....Helmut."   ~MacGyver.  
  • Why didn't Nikki pack some hiking shoes and warm clothes?
  • I mentioned during the Fire and Ice review how I like Nikki, but her lack of skills diminish greatly from that episode to this one as she now can't even walk across some rocks without slipping into the river. 
  • 31:46 - shot from the opening credits of him taking the timer cover off.  Then another one at 33:43 of him sliding down the rocky hill.  
  • Cool scene where MacGyver's explosive device goes off and then he's dodging bullets from the Russian army.
  • Somehow the Russian bullets can't hit the hot air balloon, though I'm not sure what would happen to the fabric even if they did.  
  • Nikki gives MacGyver a little kiss in the balloon.  That's the sole bit of romance between them in all their episodes together, despite Starkoss's prediction that "you will come to love her."  I guess he wasn't right about everything.  

Final Analysis:
I like this one.  Sure, it's ridiculous at times between the hot air balloon and the guy with psychic powers, but it's fun to watch, the banter between MacGyver and Nikki is (mostly) enjoyable, and I like the mission and the alpine setting.  Coming up next, one of the three remaining Season 5'ers bites the dust! 

13 comments:

  1. I also really enjoyed this one, despite being the culmination of ABC's wrongheaded demand to arbitrarily add a "female partner" in season 3 that the writers had to scramble to weave into the series. As you say, it was done rather unconvincingly given that Elyssa Davalos played Nikki only a month removed from her stint as Lisa in "Lost Love", and both her skill set and her relationship with MacGyver varied wildly in the six episodes she was featured in. With that said, the network's insistence that "MacGyver" needed to morph into a "Moonlighting" imitation had its most convincing hour with this Nikki episode as their love-hate relationship was generally amusing. And it's hard to come down too hard on the writers since the network foisted this "female partner" mandate on them suddenly so they had to scramble to sketch things out all while settling into their new digs in Vancouver....it definitely wasn't part of the original plan.

    And I hate to disappoint but the fighter jet scene was lifted from the movie "Top Gun", which must have been a Paramount movie for "MacGyver" to so shamelessly poach the footage. And I kind of liked the opening scene with "Heidi", primarily as a foreshadowing of the eventual manmade hot air balloon escape, but also to see the tee-totaler MacGyver toast her champagne glass with just a strawberry. Ultimately though, Heidi's significance just seemed to be as a source of sexual tension between MacGyver and Nikki, much as "Helmut" was a little bit later, and I'm pleased that "MacGyver" didn't ultimately go that direction as a series because one "Moonlighting" on the airwaves in 1987 was more than enough.

    More impressive though was the high adventure action plot with its Cold War flair and intriguing would-be villain in Starkos. Walter Gotell was excellent in everything I've seen him in but I liked him most in this role. The buildup of his character was credible and intense, and MacGyver's skepticism over his powers made his presence that much more amusing. I especially loved the well-directed scene (excellent use of lighting darkening half of MacGyver and Starkos' faces as they both come to terms with their past) at the barracks where Starkos enlightens MacGyver over the guilt about his mother's death, the first time we heard about what happened to MacGyver's mother in the series. Everything just came together nicely with the script here, and you missed one ingredient in MacGyver's unpredictable manmade hot air balloon escape....the pilot's parachute.

    My only genuine nitpicks with the episode is that the explosion scene of the downed aircraft looked cheap. "MacGyver" usually had good pyrotechnics for TV of its era, but they clearly whiffed on this one. And why did the East German soldiers opt to--apparently--sleep in the woods overnight and not only cede the indoor barracks to MacGyver, Nikki, and Starkos, but give them all night to escape? I'm willing to overlook that narrative sleight of hand, however, given that it facilitated the incredible hot air balloon escape and Nikki having jump out of the balloon into the woods. We've been fairly close recently and are again here, as I ranked this one #52. At least you parted with one episode from your crowded batch of remaining season 3 episodes before sawing off yet another season 5 episode!!!

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    1. Ah rats, I didn't realize that jet fighter was from Top Gun, though it totally makes sense because it seems too well-done and expensive to be filmed for MacGyver. I did miss what happens with the pilot parachute - what's the answer? Also I forgot to mention that I added the hot air balloon escape as #4 on the list of MacGyverisms. Are you enjoying some nice winter weather in Iowa today?

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    2. The pilot's parachute formed the top of the hot air balloon. The rags and soldier uniforms were only the lower half. MacGyver alludes to using the pilot's chute at some point. Look at the balloon escape scene again and you can see the top is made up of the pilot's chute. And yes, 13 inches of snow and counting in central Iowa right now. Now comes a fierce wind and plummeting temps.....exactly what you want after a foot of snow!

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    3. Ah, ok, that makes sense. Similar weather in WI - now I'm heading out to shovel!

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    4. I was just looking at your rankings and noticed that if you start at your #98 and go down, there's only 7 spots open. That's actually some impressive consistency, that there are only 7 in my top 50 that are in your lower 40.

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    5. Agreed.....especially since with this series most episodes have at least some appeal. I can into my 110s on my rankings and still find episodes that I like more than I dislike, and I suspect you're at least somewhat the same way.

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  2. And at least with my tracking of USA "MacGyver" repeats, I didn't notice "GX-1" was omitted from the sequence. USA aired "MacGyver" Sundays at 1/noon central on the weekends in the early 90s which may have altered your schedule a bit but other than that I can't think of why this one would be either out of sequence or pre-empted entirely. When you say it's a "lost" episode, when was it that you eventually saw the episode? Was it the very last one you saw?

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    1. I can't remember exactly, but I think I saw it early on when I started watching on USA (though my first USA episode was Jack in the Box, the one right after this one chronologically, so I probably saw it near the end). And then I feel like it often got skipped and so it's possible I didn't have a tape of it (I recorded all of them on VHS) but I definitely saw it at least once on USA and then later on DVD.

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  3. I rank this one a bit lower than you. I'm pretty sure the Nikki-bickering and the 'psychic' are turn offs for me.

    And, like Mark, I don't remember this one being skipped in the USA rotation, though, once I got all of them taped on VHS, I stopped following the network airings so much.

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  4. I agree that most of the MacGyver/Nikki banter is quite amusing, especially when Pete has to step in and lay the law down at the beginning as they talk over each other (as if MacGyver needs babysitting indeed) and the repeated Heidi/Helmut mutual wind-up. (I like the way MacGyver, presumably deliberately, calls him 'Helmet').
    MacGyver's sporting a great rugged grey jumper in the balloon ( and later a nice blue checked shirt) but wouldn't Heidi have been rather cold? We have another example of his less than perfect German language skills as we learn that he was apparently asking the border guard about his sister's feet, although Nicky herself is not much better when she tries to buy the horse later on. She's not much better at anything in this episode, as you noted. Her pitiful girly scrambling up the mountain in unsuitable shoes and getting wet and cold is not like the Nikki we are used to and its a shame the writers reduced her to this for the sake of some will-they-won't -they tension at he behest of the network. Still, she does save MacGyver's life by giving the soldier a hefty wack on the head. I agree the campfire scenes were a bit strange. I suppose MacGyver was being sarcastic in the morning after Nikki called him 'the perfect gentleman' because she was making assumptions that he was attracted to her. Although shoving pine needles down her shirt would have been a funny way to show it.
    The scenes around the plane are exciting with MacGyver doing what he does best; hiding and dodging whilst blowing something up surrounded by the bad guys. There's also the more intense emotional drama of the scenes with MacGyver and Starkoss where he reveals more and more about what he senses about MacGyver and his past. I like the 'You're a serious man, an intellectual man, a man of the mind' followed by the revelation about MacGyver's feelings of guilt which really unsettle our man, sceptical as he is.
    I find the balloon construction a bit too ridiculous but enjoyed the actual escape with the drama as they lose height and MacGyver practically chucking Nikki out. Its fun when Macgyver, having landed safely, leaps on the deflating balloon like a big kid, but not so good when Nikki fetches up cross and yelling in a very cliched manner.
    A good episode but I would have preferred more action, and even more Starkoss/MacGyver interaction as I always enjoy explorations into MacGyver's past and motivations, less time making the balloon and less of Nikki's histrionics. Ranked about right for me.

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  5. "We get things off to a fun yet awkward start as MacGyver is on vacation in a hot air balloon over the Alps. He shares the basket with a young, blond Swiss woman wearing what looks like traditional alpine wear, and he's sporting a large gray sweater. She looks at him seductively while drinking a glass of champagne and he's eating a strawberry. Then she gives him a kiss on the cheek and smiles as he continues to eat the strawberry. Not sure what to make of all that."

    They were on a date!!!! ROFL!

    "And then MacGyver agrees to meet up with them at the hotel to go over the plan, but not before giving Heidi a ride home. Matters of national security can wait!"

    Well, how else is she going to get home? Hahahaha!

    "despite Starkoss's prediction that "you will come to love her." I guess he wasn't right about everything."

    Well Mac DID come to love Nikki.. As a friend.. Starkoss didn't say they would fall in love. :)

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  6. I loved this episode, particularly the psychic character, as a kid. The psychic stuff seems a bit hokey as an adult, but still a fun episode.

    Mac loved Nikki in the reboot. Starkoss was finally proven right!

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    1. "Andy says Mac loved Nikki in the reboot. Starkoss was finally proven right!"

      Hahahaha! You're right!!!!!! :)

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