Sunday, March 22, 2015

#16: Three for the Road

Season: 2

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver is in a small desert town to meet a contact, but the contact is shot dead in front of him after stashing millions of counterfeit dollars in a vintage Cadillac. The next day, the elderly couple driving the Cadillac stops to pick MacGyver up at the side of the road after his car dies, and they are chased by mobsters who want the counterfeit money back. A game of cat and mouse ensues on the deserted highway, and a final battle ensues in a ghost town after everyone's car has broken down. 

Memorable Quote:
Do you know who I am? Guy Roberts, star of stage and screen.  ~Guy Roberts

The underrated star of this episode is the locale: the open road on a sunny day in the Southwest in a gorgeous '59 Cadillac.  My goodness, could there possibly be anything finer?

My favorite individual moment and pick for the highlight, however, is the scene when the bad guys get their tire fixed and give chase only to run into MacGyver's homemade rocket launcher. You'd think MacGyver would be out of options after already throwing several suitcases, a piece of white tarp, and the top of the car at the bad guys.  But he builds a rocket by stuffing the muffler with with the steering knob, padding from the seat, and gasoline.  He caps the rocket with a conical shaped taillight, and he lights the fuse with the cigarette lighter. Oh, and it's all set to one of my favorite musical themes from the series. An iconic moment, and one that's going straight to the top of the greatest all-time MacGyverisms list for me.  And I may or may not have just watched it five times in a row.

In fact, this just gave me an idea to create a top MacGyver moments list (i.e. the best individual moments/scenes in the series).  This idea is somewhat fraught with peril because there are countless moments that are worthy of inclusion, but my top 5 so far looks like this:
  1. Giving the doll to the little girl on the train.  Slow Death (#51)
  2. Cruising through the desert, firing a rocket from a Cadillac.  Three for the Road (#16).
  3. Meeting his parents on the boat to Heaven.  Passages (#58)
  4. Remembering his mother and "ice cream" at Christmas time.  The Madonna (#69)
  5. Saving the kids from the well on the Amish farm.   The Outsiders (#23)  
There are at least 4 moments that are higher on my list than all of these and that will appear once I get to my top 10 episodes (including the #1 moment from the #1 episode).  I will add this list to my top 5 page which is already a bit unwieldy, so why not make it even more so!    

Talbot is the leader of the bad guy trio hunting down the money, and he's a great character played strongly by Richard Hatch. But the other two guys under him are really dumb and two-dimensional - would have been nice for their characters to be stronger and more capable.  Not a good sign for the mob if these guys are the best hit men they have to offer. 

Best MacGyverism:
See Highlight.  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • Literally from the second the episode starts, we know we're in for something special: the sight of a beautiful red '59 Cadillac and the sound of some nice music. Is this a Randy Edelman episode? Let me check...yep, I knew it.  Legend.  
  • I always like to look at the actors on IMDB to see what else they've been in, and turns out the actor who plays Guy was a regular on Knight Rider (I wouldn't know because I never saw it). He gives a great performance in this episode though I find his character somewhat annoying at times (though I imagine that's the point to a certain extent).
  • Finally, a carikaze!  And the one you see here is the textbook definition of the term - MacGyver runs right in front of the speeding car and then dives spectacularly out of the way.
  • We learn a bit more about MacGyver's backstory: that he spent some time in Afghanistan doing something that required Tony (the informant who was gunned down) to save his life twice.
  • Amusing moment as MacGyver uses his jacket to outwit the bully who put his beer on Guy's car.
  • "I'd feel the same way about my jeep, Mr. Roberts.  It's a good thing metal can be fixed a lot easier than flesh, huh?"  ~MacGyver.  Truer words were never spoken.
  • Lots of very clever, amusing moments in this episode, like when MacGyver asks Guy for a pen but Guy assumes he wants an autograph and MacGyver plays along.  And I like how as MacGyver is using the pen to seal the leak in the fuel line, they can see the bad guys (and vice versa) fixing their flat tire about a half mile on the road directly below.  And then they get up and running at the same time - great stuff.
  • "Do you suppose they'll be anything left of the car when he's done?"  ~Guy.  This is quickly followed by MacGyver kicking out one of the taillights which even causes June to audibly gasp.
  • 27:25 - seriously, Edelman, are you kidding me?  You could have woken up Beethoven from the grave and he wouldn't have composed music like this.  We will NEVER hear anything this good on the television shows of today.
  • "I'm not sure, but I'd say she's had it."  ~MacGyver.  I enjoy the use of "she" to describe the car, and it's something that I often imitate and have fun with in everyday life when talking about other machines such as the lawnmower, printer, snowblower, etc. (e.g. "She gave it all she had" after the lawnmower dies).  
  • Another fun scene as Guy reveals the satchel full of money followed by June getting annoyed and later snubbing him for MacGyver for help getting back into the car.
  • Some other great MacGyverisms in this one that get overshadowed by the rocket, including the aforementioned pen stopping the leak, the car horn hooked up to the battery, and the flowers made out of newspaper (a pretty awesome idea).
  • Hilarious moment as Guy talks about June (using "she") but MacGyver thinks he's talking about the car.  The writing in this episode is at an elite level.
  • Some more great first-season Edelman music sprinkled throughout the end.
  • Love the ending as Guy channels his inner Errol Flynn and takes on Tablot with the car antenna, and then MacGyver finishes him off by throwing a hubcap at his head. And then MacGyver actually and genuinely remembers who Guy Roberts the movie star is - a great touch.  
  • Their situation at the end reminds me a little of Target MacGyver in that I'm not sure how they would be able to leave the ghost town or call for help.
  • Perfect ending as the car is completely restored and Guy notices what looks like a scratch.
    • "A-ha!"  ~Guy
    • "What?" ~MacGyver
    • "A scrrrratch."  ~Guy
    • MacGyver blows on it.
    • "Thrrrrread."  ~MacGyver
    • Laughter ensues along with a nice triumphant musical finish. 

Final Analysis:
Love this episode.  Love, love, love.  Brilliantly written, fantastic locale, charming characters, other-worldly music, and an iconic moment and one of the best MacGyverisms of all time. And an episode that is equally fun for kids and adults. Episodes 16 through 18 have indeed been life-changing as I indicated during my recent top 23 preview.  Are there really 15 episodes better than these last three? I hope I haven't messed up the rankings!


  1. I've always enjoyed this one and it's grown on me over the years to the point where I think I have it ranked too low. Perhaps a reconfiguration of my rankings is due. Strangely, I've run into a lot of fans who rank this among the lower tier of episodes and I don't really see why. It's very clever and the extent to which MacGyver (and even Guy at the end) utilizes every aspect of the car the way a historical Plains state Native American mythically utilized every aspect of the buffalo. I think the cheeky, lighthearted season 2 tone came on a little too strong for me here though, complete with the bumbling, bickering bad guys we're supposed to believe are mob thugs. Frankly I'm a little surprised you didn't find it a bit too slap-sticky despite its general charm as well. I could see how Guy would annoy some people too and he certainly had his annoying moments, but I still thought he was more charm than smarm with a good acting performance by Edward Mulhare (I do remember him from "Knight Rider" and he's part of what makes that show at least watchable 30 years later) who I also thought had good chemistry with the actress who played his wife June and added to the charm of the episode.

    I figured you'd pick up on the Randy Edelman music (another classic score from him!) which had a somewhat lighter-hearted vein than his usual scores which fit the tone of the episode nicely. Little details such as the rental car breakdown, MacGyver's paper flowers, and the ballpoint pen bit added to the charm of the episode and featured a couple of the few moments where I remember laughing out loud at a scene on "MacGyver". We share high points as MacGyver's muffler cannon was just spectacular and easily a top-five MacGyverism of all-time, even though I suspect in real life such an effort would result in blowing one's self up as soon as the flame hit the pool of gas in the back of the muffler. But MacGyver's systematic dismembering of Guy's car--and Guy's reactions to it every step of the way--was really well drawn out throughout and right to the very end when Talbot and his thugs are taken out in the desert ghost town by everything from the car horn to the radio antenna to the hubcap.

    The best comparison I have for this episode is "Faith, Hope, and Charity" which was also sillier and lighter-hearted than most of the episodes I take to, but like that episode, "Three for the Road" benefits from some genuinely funny and charming moments, clever writing, and an action plot that doesn't take a backseat (no pun intended) to the silliness as it did too often in other lighthearted "MacGyver" outings. And I also like how MacGyver himself just rolled with it in the presence of the colorful older couple and wasn't grumbling and moaning his way through the hour as he did in the last season in similar situations. As I said before, I probably have this episode rated too low as it's not one I have that visceral, gut-level connection to, but I ranked it #90.

    1. That's cool that the rocket MacGyverism rates highly for you too, and I liked your description of the probably outcome if anyone attempted that in real life. It is amazing how much of the car they used - the whole story line was very clever. It's nice to think that my feedback may play even a small role in making some of your episodes higher ranked - I can say that your enthusiasm for Brainwashed, Trumbo's World, and The Madonna along with my re-viewing has helped encouraged me to put those ones higher on my list.

      Edelman really was incredible, and many of these top episodes wouldn't have been the same for me without the music. For others who don't connect to the music in the same way, maybe that's one reason they have this episode lower. And this one doesn't strike me as slapstick in the way that some of the other ones do.

    2. Yes, I've noticed I can be talked into persuasive arguments at times on a variety of episodes when a compelling case is made in its favor that touches upon things I either didn't notice or may have underappreciated. I'm sure my enthusiasm for "The Challenge" has bumped that one up at least 100 positions for you as well, right? :)

      The music is certainly a helpful ingredient in an episode's enjoyment but I don't think I consciously include it when determining my episode's rankings. Another "Three for the Road" observation worth mentioning was "MacGyver's" wimpy response when the drunk guy was about to hit him. Moments like that really humanized this character and I can see a bunch of ordinary joes watching that scene and smiling knowing they'd probably respond similarly at the prospect of a bigger guy about to throw a punch at his face.

    3. Do you think "Knight Rider" holds up as well now? I have it on my Netflix queue and I've gone through at least the first season or so, but it's a rough go. Easier than "The A-Team" for me - but I'm thinking it's b/c of the awesome car. =)

    4. For each spot you move Walking Dead up your list, I'll move up The Challenge!

    5. I think "The A-Team" holds up better than "Knight Rider". The production values were much stronger on "A-Team" for one thing which are important for the credibility of an action show. I always felt both series had the same trajectory, peaking in their second season with some clever material that elevated the franchises to the best of what the formula was capable of.....but then got lazy and flamed out ahead of schedule in their respective third seasons. Interestingly, both series premiered in the 1982-83 seasons and were both at the point of decline by the 1984-85 season, the year adventure shows reached their saturation point on network TV, a trend which hurt "MacGyver" since viewers were already beginning to burn out on adventure shows by the time "MacGyver" premiered in September 1985.

      Back to "Knight Rider", if you're anything like me I expect you'll like season 2 of "Knight Rider" but wonder what on Earth went wrong in season 3, save for a few minor gems. Season 4 had it's ups and downs but was at least a little better than season 3. Overall though, "KR" struck me as hammier and more intended for a very young audience than most of its peers, which is why even in its prime it doesn't hold up as well for me.

    6. I'll have to go back and see where I left off watch "KR" - I feel like I've been through a lot of them, but I thought the same thing about watching original H5O and wasn't as far as I'd thought.

      As a kid, the talking car was a big hit for me - and I have no idea why. Maybe it was the voice of William Daniels. I dunno. =)

  2. One more bit of trivia based on an obscure observation I made in a previous write-up. Remember when I said how writer Rob Hedden wrote the 1995 "Simon and Simon" TV movie and referenced a plaintiff and defendant in a divorce case as "Mr. Lenhart" and "Ms. Sakmar", who were both writers on season 2 of "MacGyver" just as Rob Hedden was? The three were all story editors for the majority of "MacGyver's" second season, but this was the one episode that the three of them all co-wrote, along with then supervising producer Mark Lisson.

    1. I had forgotten about that but I remember your reference now - they probably thought it was an inside joke and that no one would notice but didn't count on your mystical powers!

    2. Another obscure observation you may like is that this was the final episode left our your countdown that originally aired in 1986, making that the first year in which you ran out of episodes. The next highest member of the class of '86 was "Deathlock", which was your #37! Two 1986 episodes were in my top-five, but in general it's below my center of gravity as well. More on this when the list is complete.

    3. Interesting - I hadn't even been thinking of calendar year.

    4. As you may have noticed from my blog, I enjoy categorizing thing by calendar year. I certainly pay more attention at the season by season level, but I have some interesting observations from calendar year to calendar year as well.

  3. The MacGyverisms in this episode are enjoyable and creative. But the fact that they're in a car for the whole episode is kind of a downer. I get that that is the idea - 'Mac's in a car and has to use what the car has available to stave off the bad guys' - but *that* is the plot. The money is hardly mentioned. In fact, I'm pretty sure the money is just a MacGuffin.

    I can appreciate the creativity that went into devising the MacGyverisms, but that doesn't make the plot any more fun for me.

    1. Yeah I remember seeing this one was lower on your list. I forgive you!

  4. I do like this one but have some reservations and have a different view on it each time I watch.
    Things I like; the carikase leap, Pete trying to put his rowing machine together in the office (he’s often doing clandestine things while he’s on the phone!), MacGyver trying to mend the rental car with a paperclip and for once it doesn’t work and him saying ’I’ll fix it later’ in ten different ways as he gradually dismantles the car. The home-made mortar MacGyverism is, I agree, excellent (if dodgy in real-life) I also like the way MacGyver is kind to Guy in going along with his ‘fame’ fixation and trying to work out where he’s come across his name, MacGyver working so hard while the other two stand around, and MacGyver jumping in and out of the car in numerous ways throughput the episode. The Ennio Morricone-style music as the villains look down at the town is used to good effect. Enjoyed MacGyver checking the bank notes and, of course, working out they’re fake, the cross-purposes conversation about car/wife, his amazing hub-cap shot, and the ‘scratch’..’thrrread’ scene. This is one of the episodes where MacGyver’s ‘bonus’ is referred to – and this time he’s used it to fix the car up. Once again, what a guy!
    The episode does have charm but I’m not sure whether I find Guy just a bit too vain, slightly over-the-top and morally suspect although he is redeemed by his love of his wife. I also have a problem with the wrecking of the lovely car, even though its in a worthy cause although I do agree with Mark, the way every part of the car is used in an inventive way over the whole episode is very well done. Presumably they used a fake car or fake parts in the shooting. Wasn’t so keen as you on the MacGyver/rude man encounter. Presumably MacGyver had already thought up the jacket ruse before he was quite so wimpy. I’m with you; its great to have a hero who’s not generally macho but this I felt was a wimp too far and the idea of him talking to the jacket about tripping people up was irritating. I agree, the chief villain was believable –the other two, mere ciphers. I also have mixed feelings about the ‘flowers’ and can’t decide whether its a sweet idea or too corny! Its in the 70’s for me.

    1. Wow, you dropped Ennio Morricone on us! I just looked him up and looks like he's quite prolific.

      Regarding the scene with the bully, I always figured that MacGyver wasn't really that wimpy and that he was play acting as part of the ruse.

    2. There's a definite spaghetti western theme riff but didn't note the exact time and didn't notice if it occurred more than the once. I'm sure you're right about him play-acting as part of the ruse!

  5. I'll definitely have to re-watch this one. Haven't seen it in at least 10 years and always remembered it as one of my least favourites. I'm very curious to see whether my view has changed over the years.
    Speaking of Randy Edelman, who is one of my favourite composers, I neverthrless always (and I likely won't get many thumbs up here :-)) found Dennis McCarthy to be the one I resonate most with. I find that his music is most suitable for the more serious episodes especially, for example Cease Fire, Black Rhino, Blood Brothers, the Assassin and Nightmares to name a few. I'm a huge fan of both Harrison and Edelman, but interestingly find McCarthy to be the guy who made the best contributions. I found he did a fantastic job defining the tone of the MacGyver adventures early on when he took over most of the scoring a few episodes into season 1. I think it depends a bit on the style of the episode though. I find Edelman to be perfect for slightly comedic episodes such as Jack of Lies and Three for the Road, as well as djungle/latin american episodes such as Trumbo's World and The Gauntlet. I think Harrison is most suitable for full adventure and mystery episodes such as Mask of the Wolf, Ghost Ship, Secret of Parker House and The Visitor. I'm curious about other reader's thoughts on that.

    1. You won't get a thumbs down from me! Even though I'd put him at #3 (because I don't find his stuff quite as memorable or as appealing as the other 2), he still does a great job and I enjoy his work. Harrison is #2 for me but only because Edelman is Mozart reincarnated. As you said, Harrison is awesome on the mystery/outdoor episodes - brilliant stuff. Edelman with the early Season 1 stuff plus the opening theme song plus some of the later stuff like Bushmaster, Three for the Road, and Lost Love makes him my #1.

    2. While I agree with Nick that I'd rate Edelman and Harrison ahead of McCarthy, it's quite an achievement is only my THIRD favorite composer on this series because he has some truly iconic compositions that define this show. I'm glad you mentioned his score on "Nightmares" as amongst your favorite because I still put that one up there with among the top-five (or possibly two or three) musical compositions for the entire series. He brilliantly captured the chasmic mood swings of that episode with his music....just outstanding.

  6. Thanks for sharing some of your thoughts on that. Some of McCarthy's cues I find unforgettable are:
    1. Countdown - 60 second countdown at the end when MacGyver has to decide between the two fuses;
    2. Nightmares - parking lot chase at the beginning (but the entire episode score is outstanding);
    3. The Assassin - Piedra's attack in the watch store;
    4. To be a man - Soldiers shooting bazookas at the Jeep on driving up the mountain towards the end;
    5. The Legend of the Holy Rose - entire pendulum scene;

    This could be never ending :), but again, I find McCarthy to be at his best in dramatic life and death kind of scenes, I find no one captures the feel of great danger during attacks, escapes and life-death situations as well as him.

    1. For some reason that ticking-clock scene on "Countdown" has never stood out for me but I'll have to pay close attention the next time I watch that one. You mention the fight scene on "The Assassin" but that composition was a snippet of the score from the speedboat scene in "A Prisoner of Conscience". It was first-rate in both episodes but we got the full composition in "APOC".

      As for "Nightmares", every note of music on that one gave me goosebumps, and you're onto something with McCarthy's music capturing the intensity of the life and death scenes as that music when MacGyver was fishing out the antidote case from the manhole was out of this world. Agreed also on the "To Be a Man" music being great.

      I challenge anyone to find me a TV series that had three composers that did as exceptional of work as "MacGyver" did for seven seasons. If it could be done, I'd be shocked.

    2. I agree, for me MacGyver is all time #1 as well when it comes to quality of music. Close second for me are seasons 1 to 3 of Star Trek TNG, where Dennis McCarthy and Ron Jones produced lots of memorable scores.

      Indeed the music in the Assassin fight scene and APOC boat chase scene are nearly identical for the most part, I found the Assassin composition to be even more powerful, plus there's that haunting piece leading up to the fight scene.
      This theme, or part thereof, can be heard already in the episode "The Escape" when Brian escapes from his cell and runs through the corridors to the waiting taxi.

  7. Oh and I should mention too - I do agree that Edelman absolutely nailed it with that theme, I don't think anyone could have topped that.

  8. Another episode in my favorite list.

    I saw, not so long ago in you tube, an interview in which "recent days" RDA mentions how we badly cut his tiny finger tip (he said his tip almost fell) while doing a scene cutting the back seat of a convertible car. He does not mention the episode title, so, I'm guessing that this is the episode he was referring to. I know that there is another story he has mentioned in which he cut his hand/finger while using the knife in the back seat of a car, probably on the set, but not filming a particular scene.

    Does anybody know anything about it? If I find that interview, I'll post it here.

  9. I don't know about the interview but I read these posts as I watch the episodes on MeTV and after reading your post I did notice that he was suddenly wearing a band-aid on his pinky finger as he was finishing the exhaust bazooka contraption in the back seat.


      Found it! He talks about that scene from the 20 minutes mark. He didn't say anything about his finger tip though, so I guess I just imagined that. 😊

  10. Thanks! I didn't notice the band aid when I saw the episode before I did my comment here, and I was looking to see if I saw something!! You can see it when he is filling the red (light bulb cover) thing with gas and when he is preparing the bazooka. Something is clear, it was not his pinky tip, as I think RDA mentioned in that interview, but you can tell it was a big cut, I think he has more than a band aid on his finger.

    Anyway, thanks again.

    1. And he still has the band aid in the next episode "Phoenix under siege".

    2. Thanks for sharing! I just went back and rewatched that part and noticed the band-aid. In the past I imagine I was too distracted by the glorious Edelman score.

  11. At least in this episode they did a good effort to simulate the band aid. I knew about it when I was watching this episode and didn't see it. So, even when you know it, you can miss it. Not precisely what happened in the next episode following this one, Phoenix Under Siege, where Harry asked MacGyver what happened to his finger.

  12. Does anyone know who played Tony? He had what, all of 60 seconds air time at the beginning? He looked familiar, like a football player maybe.

  13. Now a good fast-paced road movie – how’s that for diversity…!
    I was an avid Knight Rider viewer when growing up, of course, so my eyes lit up to now see Devon after Bonnie, until I realised that Guy, as he ended up describing himself as inadvertedly as aptly, was an old fool (free B&B?!?!), offended over being treated accordingly. Annoying indeed, and his overreaction to the drunk guy even more so, together with, as Al put it, “a wimp too far” MacGyver(play acting or not), taking the totally unnecessary risk of covering his eyes mid-fight. It was nearly as bad as walking up to Piedra then turning his back on him when Piedra was about to strangle him and it reminded me of a Cane Corso I once saw whose impressive appearance and the equally impressive-looking heavy chain lead and studded leather harness his owner had him on drew a lot of attention from passer-bys. One of them, who appeared to be a homeless person, walked straight up to the dog who ignored him like he did all the other people, so I was horrified to see that he got a hold of the dog's face with a hand on either side then leaned over him and kissed him on the nose. My blood froze the same time as the dog, then the dog relaxed and started wagging his tail just when I was sure I was about to witness amateur plastic surgery. I thought, this guy is either an exceptionally lucky idiot, or he is much better at reading dogs than I am with my 18 years of dog training experience.
    Next, a shockingly callous attitude from Pete about Tony (who I was surprised to see to decide to stay out in the open instead of trying to run inside). At least it turned out to be a one-off.
    Good attention to detail with the “No service for 50 miles”. It was nice of MacGyver to throw his own bag first, to keep reassuring them to get the car fixed and to humour Guy all the way through. I liked the use of the car for everything while keeping it functional, and that not only they kept breaking down and getting fixed the same times, but once within sight of each other, allowing for MacGyver’s “Looks like their pit crew is a little faster than ours, time to go, kids!” remark. Another good one-liner was MacGyver's “We’re not about to give up either, ma’am”.  The cannon was a bit like the pilot-saver rocket in the Pilot and the music at the luggage throwing and the end of the double car fix are one of my favourites as well, then Morriccone for icing. Cool car vaulting from MacGyver and car roll. The conversation of misunderstanding about June and the car was phenomenal and I remembered the paper flowers. The pair of trousers and shoes was a neat trick, like the one in Domestic Disturbance, and the whole episode is packed with MacGyverisms, very strong one!

  14. Another cute episode - the third in a row? - with some really funny bits. It feels like we're getting ready for some truly great episodes here...