Sunday, March 15, 2015

#19: Lesson in Evil

Season: 6

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Two years after MacGyver stops Dr. Zito's revenge on Lt. Murphy, Zito escapes after confronting MacGyver in a courtroom. Zito then taunts MacGyver with riddles and promises to educate him with a "lesson in evil," and MacGyver discovers that Zito had started planning the entire operation two years ago. MacGyver eventually solves the riddle and meets Zito in an abandoned monastery-turned-mental institution.  

Memorable Quote:
I'm an expert on the subject.  One day I'll educate you.  A lesson in evil, you might say.   ~Dr. Zito 

The best part of this episode is Zito's plan itself, a brilliantly layered riddle within a riddle. It's fun to see MacGyver work through it and solve it in the end, and it's neat that the audience members have the possibility of figuring it out too if they're sharp.

You know I don't like to critique the actors, but the actress playing Dr. Skinner struggles throughout. 

Best MacGyverism:
None in the traditional sense, but figuring out the riddle should count for something.  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • If you're wondering why I profiled episode 18 first, it's because I wanted to watch the Dr. Zito episodes in chronological order.  I could have just watched both and then posted them at the same time, but I also wasn't 100% sure on my ranking order of them and wanted to have some flexibility in case a change was in order (it's not).  And in a few days I will change the date on this one so that it comes before #18 - that way the blog and the universe will be in order.
  • I've said this before, but this was the first episode I ever watched.  The date was Oct 29, 1990 and I went up to my room where there was a television.  My older sister was watching this episode live on ABC (the first time watching for her, too), and I joined in (I don't remember where exactly I joined in but I think I saw at least the last two-thirds of the show).  Imagine if there was a different episode on that night like The Lost Amadeus or There but for the Grace - I may have never gotten hooked! Actually I don't think that's true - I would have found MacGyver at some point in life.    
  • The courthouse looks like the same interior as in Rush to Judgment
  • I like how MacGyver stares down Zito in the courtroom, though it's not clear how Zito got the hearing in first place. "If Zito's declared sane, he walks out of here a free man." Huh? Isn't it normally the other way around? And later Dr. Skinner says there's "absolutely no proof to these outrageous accusations." Really? 
  • Nice touch to have the same actor playing the hospital worker from Deadly Dreams. Too bad that he has to get killed by Dr. Zito, though. 
  • Great idea from a plot point of view to have Dr. Zito on the loose in the open. And pretty gutsy of him to just walk out of the courthouse right past everyone - I wouldn't think the police uniform would be that much of a disguise.  
  • Not sure how Dr. Zito could have known that Pete's stall was #20 as part of his master plan formulated inside the prison, but perhaps he would have found a way to connect Pete to the number some other way.
  • I like the use of the fates, and the Greek mythology is a nice counterpoint to the Norse mythology from Deadly Dreams. And speaking of Deadly Dreams, what happened to all the cops from that episode working the case? There were at least 20 of them.  Now it's just MacGyver, Murphy, Pete, and Kiley.  
  • 38:04 - could you scream any louder upon seeing MacGyver, Dr. Skinner?
  • "Do you really think I'd give you a door with a lock that you could pick open, MacGyver?" I love the way Dr. Zito says this line with a loud and full voice.  A fantastic moment. 
  • The ending as a whole is awesome, and the confrontation between Zito and MacGyver is electric.  And looks like the same staircase from Blood Brothers
  • It's not clear to me why MacGyver intentionally triggers the trap (and seems unprepared as the bell goes flying) after he correctly tells Dr. Zito that it's a trap. 
  • You'd think after the events in The Assassin, the authorities would be smart enough to check the prisoner for funny looking scars.
  • Discussion point: where does Dr. Zito rank on the villains list?  Surely he's the smartest villain that MacGyver has ever faced (though his plan once they got into the bell tower left a little to be desired).  But his physical combat skills aren't the best.  I'm putting him at 3 for now behind Piedra and Murdoc.    

Final Analysis:
This is definitely a great episode and a classic, but I feel like Deadly Dreams is on another level, and it doesn't seem right that it's only one spot higher. The scenes with the riddle are great fun in a popcorn/bubble gum kind of way (which is not a slight since I like popcorn and bubble gum) but it doesn't have nearly the same power or intensity as Deadly Dreams (the courtroom/escape scene in the beginning and the bell tower scene at the end were the moments where I felt like it was at the same level of intensity). But I think it's more a case that Deadly Dreams should be higher on my list rather than this one being lower, because it's still an amazing hour of television and one that I would put ahead of Pirates, Tommy Giordano, and some of my other recent fare. Plus it has some sentimental value as being my first episode ever watched. And any episode with Dr. Zito is good enough for me! Coming up next, a conversation with a cast member! 


  1. I definitely like Deadly Dreams better than Lesson in Evil - the gap in my rankings of these two is a bit larger than yours. =)

    I like Zito, but this one just didn't work nearly as well. I think his idiot shrink is what really turns me off.

    I do like Mac in a tie though! =)

    1. I never thought Dr. Skinner was an "idiot". The actress who played her left a lot to be desired, but I found her to be an intelligent character with a strong motivation to be an advocate for the this case the mentally ill....who discovered she was a little naive in her idealism--as MacGyver did as well--when experiencing the evil of Zito.

    2. Maybe it was her 'acting' that bothered me - but her idealism that Zito couldn't possibly be 'insane' because he acted so 'normal'. She came across as really naive and it made her seem like those people who argue that convicted serial killers are really just 'misunderstood' and not guilty. Her whole demeanor bothered me from the beginning and detracted from the episode. Like, she was fully convinced that Zito wasn't scamming her. It never entered her mind that he could be conning her into believing that he's not insane.

      I don't remember where, specifically, I have this one ranked, but it's somewhere in the middle, I think. (my list is at home and I'm currently at work) I don't dislike this episode, but the story in Deadly Dreams appealed to me more.

  2. I figured this would probably be #19 as it made no sense you'd skip #19 and go to #18 "Deadly Dreams" if it wasn't. I'll concede that in terms of general craftsmanship and production value, "Deadly Dreams" exceeded this one, but there were some specific elements of this one that made it even more enjoyable for me. There was a natural progression with this character and his relationship with MacGyver that raised the stakes of their chess match. Zito had no idea how worthy his adversary was at the outset of "Deadly Dreams" and MacGyver figured him out on the fly, but now they were completely immersed inside each other's heads and firing on all mental cylinders. Plus the narrative domino effect of the riddle taking MacGyver from Point A to Point B in ingenious and unpredictable directions produced a level of engagement I rarely experienced with "MacGyver", even as a superfan.

    The flashbacks to "Deadly Dreams" in the opening sanity hearing were very skillfully deployed and set the tone for the episode perfectly, with Zito's bloody escape assuring audiences they were in for an hour every bit as clever and dark as the original. And as I said, the playing out of the riddle with the math puzzles taking MacGyver everywhere from Zito's old cell to MacGyver's own houseboat could not have been more perfect, even weaving in the proxy death penalty debate that foreshadowed the morally complex ending which I'll get into later. When MacGyver's mined step exploded on Lieutenant Murphy was genuinely at a place worthy of my favorite episode of all.

    The remaining 20 minutes or so had a couple of imperfections that stick in my craw. As you said, the actress who played Dr. Skinner had some cringeworthy moments and it was awfully convenient for the story that MacGyver figured out Zito's math puzzle at the exact moment he needed to for the sake of Zito's plan. But the asylum setting was haunting and Zito's presence was every bit as imposing as his proxy Eric Cross was in "Deadly Dreams". The hour was filled with as many memorable quotes and gallows humor as its predecessor as well, with Zito's "you look cold, Doctor...don't worry, the water will heat up soon" being my all-time favorite Zito quote. And that final MacGyver-Zito encounter...what to make of it. One of the reasons I liked "The Challenge" so much is that MacGyver finally lost his cool and we got to see a less idealistic side of him, which I felt was necessary to draw out his character even if it exposed a dark side. In this encounter, it appeared as though Zito was inside MacGyver's head to the same extent and he was inside Lieutenant Murphy's, an observation reinforced in that shocking split second when MacGyver was reaching for the gun. Now I agree with you that it made no sense that MacGyver figured out the three fates metaphor yet still tripped the trigger. At best it was incomplete. Were we supposed to believe that MacGyver didn't realize the bell was part of the analogy and that it was gonna knock him out if he tripped the trigger? I'm assuming so since Zito mentioned how "evil never plays fair" after MacGyver was hanging on the ledge, but it should have been made more clear what transpired there. And the epilogue annoyed me too. Piedra's escape from the safehouse cell on "The Assassin" was one of this series' finest moments, and both that scene and Zito himself were cheapened by the fourth-rate ripoff of the lock pick under the appendicts scar. John Sheppard was a brilliant writer, but had a bad habit of recycling old gimmicks, and in this case, a freeze frame of a smug Zito taunting one of his guards would have been enough to sell the ending. This wasn't enough to diminish my rave review of this episode, but it does lend some credence to your assertion that it wasn't as tactically perfect as "Deadly Dreams".

    1. I liked the "MacGyver almost losing his cool" too, and ironic that it looks like the same staircase as Blood Brothers which was an anti-gun episode - do you agree that that staircase is the same? It looks like it but I'm not 100% sure. I had forgotten about the part with Zito at the very end - I'm with you that a freeze frame would have been less over the top.

    2. Oh I'm almost certain that it's the same location with the staircase as "Blood Brothers". Hard to imagine there would be another location in northwestern Canada with such unusual architecture. It's more believable as a vacant asylum than as an abandoned hospital though. And it was more than merely "MacGyver losing his cool" that made that final encounter so epic for me. Zito had succeeded into getting inside MacGyver's head to the point of putting in question his core pacifist values for the sake of the common good. Obviously I'm glad MacGyver held back but for Zito to have that kind of effect on MacGyver qualifies him as the most effective villain even if he wasn't quite as well-rounded as Murdoc and Piedra. The final scene ripping off "The Assassin" was a sad final 10 seconds though. No question about that. Not only was it a ripoff, it wasn't Zito's style.

  3. I'm glad they didn't proceed with a third chapter of the Zito story unless they had a script worthy of the first two. Just about everything that made "Deadly Dreams" great was present in this sequel along with the familiarity of the characters that I mentioned before, and combining that with the surprise twists, the riddles, the mythology, AND MacGyver almost succumbing to a rare moment of weakness put this one high in my upper tier of episodes. I ranked it #4....and you, sir, are really starting to decimate my top-10!

    One thing you didn't mention was the music. This was the grand debut of late-season composer William Ross and in my opinion the only homerun he hit. My favorite musical scene was when MacGyver was entering the asylum.....some really intense composition there.

    1. I suppose I had to decimate your top 10 at some point! I had thought that either this one or Deadly Dreams would be your #1 - now I'm not sure. I'd venture to guess one of the Season 4 ones or else my last remaining Season 6 is your top dog. Any hunch as to what my #1 is?

      I actually didn't notice the music too much - it wasn't bad, but not particularly memorable for me.

    2. Interesting to me that you didn't notice the music here, as particularly that approaching the asylum scene was very intense. I have no idea what your #1 is but I'm inclined to think it's one of the woodsy episodes. There's plenty left to pick from, but I'm leaning towards one of the season 3 episodes since that's your favorite season.

    3. Hard to believe that the finish line is close enough to be in sight. I'm excited to delve into my top 15 and rewatch them all again. Has your top 10 order changed much over the years?

    4. It's changed some. "The Madonna" and "Deadly Dreams" have moved up considerably....into the top-10.....while "The Golden Triangle" has fallen out. There's been a lot bigger reconfigurations of my list at the middle and the bottom. Episodes like "Two Times Trouble" and "The Escape" have soared from the lower rungs to the upper half while "Soft Touch" and "The Gun" have collapsed pretty significantly since my early impressions.

  4. I think you have them in the right order. Both brilliant episodes but I felt Deadly Dreams has the edge and my gap between them is wider too.
    MacGyver’s late and he’s wearing a natty waistcoat and tie (I like it too, Highlander!) but still has time for the Trick or Treaters. I can’t see how some of MacGyver’s evidence could be accepted as he’s not an expert witness in psychology.
    I agree the puzzle linking the numbers, clues and the Fates is well done but thought MacGyver was a bit slow to work out the fates connection and although the last scene and the trap is the ‘balance’ I can’t work out which specific events represented the scissors and the thread. I would also have liked the numbers to have been a bit more intellectually challenging - the sums are easy and the resulting numbers then relate to something difficult to guess but mundane in itself like the parking space. It would have been good to have a tricky scientific equation, numbers from the periodic table or a maths theory. I’m probably expecting too much here - the actual exposition of the clues is very well done and the sense of stress and intensity is palpable. The scene where MacGyver throws open the car boot is full of suspense; we know he’s half-expecting to find Pete dead inside. Not sure I’d be able to recognise my own doormat!
    The music is great and suitably eerie and I agree, the asylum/monastery setting is very atmospheric. Even a lock that MacGyver can’t pick. (Like you, I did wonder how Zito had managed to gain so much background info on his victims, but maybe that’s part of his mystery).
    The bell tower scene is excellent (I couldn’t work out why MacGyver set off the trap either) and we see MacGyver on the edge - not sure if its potentially for the common good as Mark suggests, or even something as brutal as revenge. Either way its excellent drama to see our very moral hero even considering cold-blooded killing for a split second and I like Mark’s interpretation of Zito getting ’inside’ MacGyver ‘s head. I’m with you, the Skinner character is ok but maybe the acting wasn’t the best and I too, was a bit disappointed with the recycled scar idea but enjoyed the menacing potential for future evil. Ranked slightly lower in the early 30’s, for me.