Saturday, March 14, 2015

#20: Pirates

Season: 2

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
The Navy Seals ask for MacGyver and Pete's help in finding some thieves (aka "pirates") who are using Seal techniques and giving the real Seals a bad name.  The pirates steal a small treasure at sea and then kidnap a maritime historian to help them find a much bigger treasure from a sunken Spanish fleet.  They take her to an island with old land mines, and MacGyver goes to rescue her.

Memorable Quote:
Don't drop it!  Don't drop it!  ~MacGyver

MacGyver theorizes that the bad guys are hiding out on an abandoned island full of land mines because no one would think to look for them there (and he's proven correct).  He puts on scuba gear and gets on a boat with Pete, and he drops off into the sea near the island.  What follows are ten minutes of greatness as MacGyver navigates the island and deals with the mines and bad guys while rescuing Dr. Ortega. It's a wonderful setting for the episode's climax, and the land mines add extra excitement.

Rogan (the big, somewhat dull-witted henchmen) is not a great character and his acting isn't the best. I do think Manning (the head pirate) is great, though, and I also like Bell (he's got a memorable look with his longer hair).  

Best MacGyverism:
A classic escape where MacGyver is in a sinking boat with water pouring in, reminiscent of the escape in Deep Cover. What's great about this one is how MacGyver's first plan involving pumping water from a bilge pump into a boat bumper doesn't work, and then he's forced to come up with Plan B in less than a minute.  Plan B, by the way, involves releasing a tank of compressed gas into the hatch which causes a rupture and allows him to unlock the hatch. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • We start things off with some first season-style stock footage of some naval exercises at sea that looks like it's from the 1960's.
  • 3:56 mark - if you pause it and look closely at the words on the newspaper, you can see an entire paragraph that is duplicated.  
  • Cool scene where Manning is in the museum listening in on MacGyver and Dr. Ortega talking about the value of gold coins, and then he interjects himself and asks her where the coins can be bought and sold.  And then he walks away without them knowing that he's the one they're looking for.
  • 15:40 - Barbara talks about how the money from the treasure would fund hospitals and schools in Spanish America.  Always good to lend a moral, humanitarian angle to a treasure story to add some extra gravitas. Though perhaps they take it a bit too far a little later when we see a girl with a head wrap, eye bandage, and arm sling. 
  • And then a great moment as MacGyver and Dr. Ortega are talking about how the ship's log contains the coordinates to the treasure and that the pirates don't realize what they've got, and then we see that Manning has been listening in the entire time. Hey MacGyver, why don't you go to a more public place and talk a little louder - not everyone can hear you!
  • Creative use of boat sounds on a video to stimulate Dr. Ortega's memory. The Phoenix Foundation is the best.
  • 34:30 - the classic MacGyver early season action music.  Great stuff as always. 
  • Denouement takes place in an office where MacGyver plays soccer with the injured boy from earlier and then he tells Dr. Ortega that his Navy Seal buddies (or "Amigos de MacGyver" as the boy says) are going to help dive for the treasure.  This feels like a deleted scene from the USA broadcast because it doesn't seem familiar.
  • I reached out to Bruce Kessler, the director of this episode.  This was the only episode of MacGyver that he directed.  He said:
    • Nick, here's what little I can remember. First the producers asked me to do an episode to try and solve whatever problems they were having. I liked Richard Anderson who was capable of doing whatever was asked of him. I didn't like the way John Rich talked to some of the production staff. I hired Ransom "Ranny" Walrod as the marine coordinator. It was his first job in this field, and he went on to have a long successful career as a marine coordinator before retirement. 

Final Analysis:
Another episode that just hits me the right way.  Not one that I'm super emotionally attached to, but it's a ton of fun and I love to watch it.  The escape in the middle is great, and the ending on the island is memorable and classic.  Coming up next, it's #19!  


  1. I really liked this one too. Like you, no super emotional attachment to it, but the story was well-crafted with solid pacing and the visuals were colorful and gave off a certain "Miami Vice" meets "Thunderball" vibe that was unlike any other episode during MacGyver's run. The old Navy SEALS footage in the opening was clearly dated but also not embarrassingly clunky the way that marathon footage from "Ugly Duckling" was. Can't remember the name of the Navy SEALS commander but kind of liked him compared to some of the other stereotypically stiff and by-the-book military guys this show has featured (Woodward on "Human Factor, Hilliard on "Renegade"). Cutting from his introduction to the pirates hijacking Dr. Ortega's boat made for a great start to the episode. Even though the music was technically from Dennis McCarthy, the underwater scene and another great scene when MacGyver was ascending the shore of Goat Island was recycled Randy Edelman music from previous episodes that added to the extra atmosphere that made this episode so much fun.

    I really didn't think Rogan was all that bad, either as a character or as an actor. The one line when he was on the phone pretending to be Arne Lindquist after Gar knifed him wasn't great, but overall he didn't make me cringe too badly. The actor who played Bell was named Jeff Kober, a cast regular in the late 80s Vietnam war drama "China Beach" and a long-time character actor who played the villain in numerous roles especially in the 90s, most memorably as an extremely colorful bank robber in one of my favorite episodes of "The Commish" in 1994. Gar Manning stole the show though playing the savvy villain and I was impressed with his sly and bold maneuvers. I'm not so sure his plan to hide out on the minefield island was quite as impenetrable as he thought, however. If the Coast Guard really encircled the island like they said, wouldn't they see his cigarette boat docked on the shore?!?!

    Whatever the case, the exposition was handled well and didn't throw off the pacing and the second half in particular was full of great scenes. I also loved the scene in the sinking boat and while I liked how MacGyver's first plan didn't work, I liked his first plan better to burst open the hatch with the water-inflated rubber bumpers more than the rather generic compressed gas tank standby. Still a great scene. And MacGyver bouncing from one mine to another on Goat Island was great as well, silly as it was that someone as observant as MacGyver could know he needed to be on the lookout for mines everywhere but still missed them. I also liked Dr. Ortega getting sassy with Gar when she knew someone was on the island hunting them.

    The epilogue (I can't bring myself to say denouement as I've always called them epilogues!) was indeed cut from the USA cable edit and was a fun scene bridging the crippled children storyline from before. Interestingly, another deleted scene on USA was a few seconds of Gar's cigarette boat approaching Ortega's boat, but that scene managed to delete the end of the opening credits that showed Bruce Kessler was the director. It wasn't until I saw the MacGyver Episode Guide in 1996 that I knew Kessler directed this episode as I wasn't paying attention to crew credits on the original ABC airing in 1987. Nice of Kessler to get back to you, although not cool to hear that John Rich may have mistreated some on the crew. Anyway, very helpful that the next episode is....#19. As for this one, I ranked it #40.

    1. I also liked Ortega's getting sassy with Gar - she had some good lines there. Glad I could give you a helpful hint with my next episode preview! There's so few episodes left that I can't say any more than that without giving it away!

  2. I like this one too. That bit in the museum w/ Manning approaching Mac and the Dr is a really well-written element and lends credence to the story.

    Jeff Kober - he played a few villains on BtVS, a really nasty dood on L&O:SVU, was in a couple Star Treks and an ep of The Pretender. Yeah - he's been around. And I don't know that I've seen him play 'good' guys.

    1. Looks like he runs a meditation studio now. A good way to decompress after playing all those bad guys!

  3. I thought some of the stock footage looked like it might have been of the Normandy beaches! The (slightly more up-to-date) high speed pick-ups from the water were quite amazing to see though. Quite amusing when Pete says ‘One man is going to do all that?’ about the SEAL – he should know?
    The first couple of times I watched this, I thought too much time was spent with the archaeologists at sea which slowed things down but I’m more tolerant of that now. Seems a bit unlikely they would open an ancient log out at sea with the wind blowing the pages about!
    Barbara asks ‘I don’t know what you do MacGyver?’ there’s no point in asking! This time he says ’I just fix things around the place’. Great stuff. The pirates don’t know what they’ve got – Uh oh.. as Nick points out, they do now! I also quite liked the identifying speedboat noises scene. MacGyver does his look-into-my -eyes trick to get the subject to focus on the detail ; used to similar effect in ‘Enemy within’.
    I agree the head villain is quite impressive, showing the increasing lengths he’s prepared to go to for his greed. ‘Being on the edge is how you know you’re alive’ is the kind of thing MacGyver might say if he went to the dark side.
    I thought the cute kids scene was too obvious and rather corny although it was quite amusing when the little boy asks if MacGyver is Barbara’a boyfriend and he says ’yes it is a shame’ ( that he’s not). MacGyver can flirt in Spanish.
    I like the line ‘I’m an expert in just about everything’ as he’s buying time just before a great chase and as you say a great escape-from drowning-just-in-time scene with real suspense and even MacGyver wondering if he can ‘stand up to the pressure’. I thought the compressed air cylinder moved up out of his hand way too slowly to burst through the hatch - but it couldn’t have been easy to film. He emerges totally exhausted from the water.
    Amusing lines between Pete and MacGyver. ‘Don’t be a hero, get the girl… and get out’. ‘You know me, soon as I get the girl, I run like crazy’. The ensuing diving and mine scenes are excellent, I agree; a brilliant out of the frying-pan-into-the-fire scenario with some great MacGyver trademark leaps followed by the usual taking out the goons one by one and ending with a good trick with the dud mine. Not quite sure where he got his dry clothes and shoes from though, I’m sure they wouldn’t have fitted in that little bag but maybe that’s a nitpick too far!
    This is one I like better than when I first saw it; another one of the few originals I saw on UK tv, Ranked in the early 40s for me subject to moving something else out!

    1. I like your thought about what MacGyver would say if he went to the dark side. And you now have 11 episodes in the 40's! That's fine by me, though - in the MacGyver Project universe, anything is possible!

    2. MacGyver could have been a brilliant villain if he were so inclined. We've seen only the tip of the iceberg of the master criminal ability in him in several episodes; 'The Heist', 'Fire and Ice', Lost Love' and the 'sting' episodes to name but a few!

    3. You know it would be interesting to have MacGyver as a villain in one episode.

  4. A few months ago, after retuning television channels, I discovered that a new channel (CBS Action) was showing MacGyver here in England. I am a fan of Stargate SG1 but had never seen any episodes of Richard Dean Anderson's first big series, only a few clips or MacGyverisms on other programmes. The first episode that I watched was 'Pirates'. I was instantly caught by the catchy theme tune, it is impossible to get it out of your head, and seeing Richard with his trademark mullet, jacket and jeep was strange after so long watching Jack O'Neill. The 80's setting and atmosphere was something that I really liked, no over-the-top computer graphics to make it seem hollow, no constant celebrity culture refrences or mobile phones to get the characters out if any situation. This was just a hero having to think his way out of danger.

    In terms of 'Pirates', I wasn't really keen on the scenes with the archaeologists finding the treasure and then getting robbed at sea, it all seemed a bit wooden, but things got interesting once MacGyver had to work his way out of the sinking boat. The island full of mines was a really good hide out and it was very well done at the end when MacGyver used a mine to save the day. I do agree that the money for charity part was a bit sentimental and soppy to finish the episode. Most importantly this episode did enough to make me watch the next one... and the next... and the next... and now I am midway through Series 5!

    It is very interesting to read all the background and information on this site, as someone who didn't see MacGyver during childhood I am watching it for the first time without any influence or knowledge from the past. I started watching as a novelty really to see Richard as someone other than O'Neill but quickly grew to enjoy the programme and the characters.

    1. Great stuff, Ed! Glad to hear you discovered the show and this blog and that you are enjoying both! I also appreciate the lack of computer graphics -- it's very refreshing.

  5. Rogan reminds me of the fat guy that plays Pete's stunt double. I thought they were the same person coming into this but then realized they were different. A solid episode all around, but not exactly stand out. There's no part i really dislike. Altho opening up the treasure at sea seems unprofessional and she handled the coin improperly. You should never hold a coin by its faces. Skin oils can damage it.

  6. "3:56 mark - if you pause it and look closely at the words on the newspaper, you can see an entire paragraph that is duplicated."

    Hahaha oh wow! I never noticed that!!! Thanks! :)

  7. Loved this episode except there's one thing that has been bothering me.

    Towards the end , one of the bad guys steps into a wire on the island. Macgyver then pops out of a bush and ties him up and tells him to keep the line straight.

    However moments later the same guy is now tied to a tree with a branch sticking out of his chest.

    My question is what happened between those two moments?

    Did he really activate a mine, or did macgyver just put a wire there. It would make sense because he was waiting in the bush next to it. But I don't think this is the case, because you heard a click.

    Anyway, if it was a real mime, then macgyver would have had to use a string so they could get away and it would have exploded. Did that happen offscreen? But why didn't we hear an explosion?

    Or it could have been a dud.

    I guess they skipped over this because we already saw macgyver do the thing with the wire and it was implied instead.

    I'd love to hear someone else's thoughts on this.

    Love the blog.

    1. Pretty sure the mine is a dud. Mac's pretty careful about stuff like that. And I think he finds a dud mine earlier in the episode and hangs onto it for later.

    2. Thanks for answering. I guess it could be a dud. He did have a dud mine that he used at the end, except it was a different kind without a wire.

      He could have set it I guess. Seems plausible since he was beside it in bush.

      It clicked though. He could have faked that too I guess.


    3. I was wondering about this myself. It must have been a dud. If it made a click sound (which I don't remember) he must have rigged it up somehow. I don't know which mine he used - the one he had put in his shirt didn't have a switch on it but a button, so I'm not sure how he would have used that one.


  8. There were some excellent scenes in this episode. MacGyver's escape from the boat was really well done. There are some boring bits in-between, but once he gets on to the island to rescue Dr Ortega, it's all season 1-style action! ...until we get to the last scene with the kids, that is, but I guess we had to have that bit. ;)