Sunday, March 8, 2015

#23: The Outsiders

Season: 4

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver is driving through the Pennsylvania countryside when his jeep gets a flat tire and he runs off the road. He is taken in by an Amish community who is being forced off their land by construction workers who are building a highway. After a hotheaded crew member blows up their well, the foreman's daughter falls into it, and MacGyver leads the rescue attempt. 

Memorable Quote:
Do you remember what happened?  ~Elizabeth
My jeep went over a cliff.  I died...and went to Thanksgiving.  ~MacGyver

Lots of fantastic moments to choose from in this one, and I'm going with the moment as the kids run out of the tunnel to safety at the end, followed shortly by MacGyver crashing into Will who was valiantly holding up the tunnel structure on his back. This is followed by much rejoicing by the Amish and the construction workers, and Will is accepted back into the family. I wasn't expecting to get teary for this episode - I didn't, though my wife wasn't as lucky! But I will admit to fighting back the water works a little bit!

The part where MacGyver asks Will to throw the baseball back to him and then everyone else turns their back on him (since he's being shunned), and then Will sadly drops the ball and walks away. This part broke my heart as a kid, and it still makes me feel sad. 

Best MacGyverism:
I suppose the whole "rescue the girl from the well" counts as a MacGyverism. MacGyver has the idea to dig parallel to the well and then build a cross tunnel to access the kids. Then when the dirt is too soft, he has them fill the tunnel with barrels to keep the dirt from collapsing. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The MacGyver Project boy is taking a glorious 3 hour nap, so this one is getting thrown on the big tv. Perhaps The MacGyver Project wife will get hooked? Yep, she's in. 
  • Nice opening as MacGyver is driving through my home state.
    • "There's just something about the Pennsylvania countryside." ~MacGyver
    • "Yes, there is."  ~TMP wife
    • "Looks remarkably similar to the Vancouver countryside." ~Me
    • I'm from the Allentown area which is most definitely not Amish country, but I have driven through Amish country several times (near Lancaster, PA), and it is indeed very beautiful. When I was living in Delaware, I drove up to Harrisburg a few times to visit my grandparents. I took Route 896, a small two-lane road which cuts directly through Amish land, and I remember once driving right past an Amish volleyball game involving about 20 people. And there's a spot somewhere along that road where there's the most stunning farm valley vista that I've ever seen in my life. It looked just like a painting or a postcard and most definitely not real. OK I'm done talking about Pennsylvania. Back to the episode! 
  • This episode shares some similarities with "Witness," an outstanding movie from 1985 where Harrison Ford is a policeman who takes residence in an Amish community much like the one in this episode. He fixes a car in the barn which is similar to MacGyver fixing the jeep in the barn, but there's no romantic tension between MacGyver and the Amish woman like there is between Ford and Kelly McGillis.
  • The actor who plays Stevens (aka "the Hothead" as he's often referred to) does a great job, and Allan Lysell is back for his 4th and final MacGyver Project appearance as the foreman. He does a nice job playing the middle with his character in cracking down on Stevens but also being unyielding with the Amish (at least until the end).
  • Tremendous scene as Stevens is demonstratively causing trouble and starts swinging an axe around the well when Jacob (memorably played by Kaj-Erik Eriksen who we just saw in The Visitor) throws a ball at the back of his head. Stevens turns and steps toward him with the axe when MacGyver walks down and has a great line: "Don't...Even...Think about it."
  • The man who plays the Amish family elder is named Gustaf Kristjanson, and this is the only acting credit on his IMDB page. Nevertheless, he does a great job in the role.
  • A goosebump-inducing scene as MacGyver and the Amish family are praying around the kitchen table with Will at a separate table, and meanwhile we see Stevens setting up the dynamite outside to blow the well as we hear the prayers being spoken by the family elder. Powerful stuff. 
  • I noticed what looks like an out-of-place high rise behind the dynamite storage area.
  • Runner-up for memorable quote:
    • "Look, mister, this doesn't change anything. We'll still be out there in a couple of hours." ~Wrightman
    • "So will I."  ~MacGyver
  • Another powerful moment as MacGyver joins the Amish in linking arms to stop the construction equipment from moving closer. I have goosebumps on my goosebumps. 
  • The girl falling down the well reminded me of a news story from when I was a kid of a girl falling down a well. The girl's name was Jessica McClure (which I only know because I just looked it up), and she was 18 months old when she fell down a well in Texas where she stayed for 58 hours until being rescued. I was 6 at the time and vaguely remember this as a big news story but hadn't remembered any of the specifics. Surely that event helped to inspire this part of the episode.
  • The little girl does a good job of acting when she is in the well and having trouble breathing due to her asthma.
  • Another great moment as Jacob goes down the well to give her a few puffs of her inhaler, and then he makes an executive decision to take his rope off and stay down with her. Good thing he did, too, because later she starts to slip and he's able to grab on to her. 

Final Analysis:
As well-produced an hour of television as there has ever been. Let's start with the cast - an outstanding performance by everyone involved, and it was a huge cast. Now for the crew - an amazingly filmed episode with a realistic set, costumes, and special effects. As a result of today's flashy yet unfortunate CGI, we won't be seeing any shows approaching the quality of the last 15 minutes in the well anytime soon. Throw in a great story, strong characters, and MacGyver as a Messiah-like figure healing the wounds within the Amish family and between the Amish and the "English," and this becomes a transcendent hour of television. This episode would be in the top 5 of almost any other tv show, but once again, this is MacGyver we're talking about. The bar has now been raised. Significantly.   


  1. Something I had at this point given up on ever happening just happened.....our ranking is identical. Your #23-ranked episode is my #23. I'll confess when you said there was one more "MacGyver" episode that brought you to tears--and that it was your #7-rated episode--I thought for sure this was the one, specifically the handshake moment between the Amish patriarch and Wrightman which I'm puzzled that you didn't mention at all in the review as I thought is positively epic television. I'm really at a loss now in figuring out what the remaining tearjerking episode is.

    Fantastic episode all around, and I'll add one more thing you didn't mention--the Ken Harrison music here was first-rate all-around, adding to the goosebump-inducing moments you sagely pointed out. The episode indeed borrowed heavily from both "Witness" and "The Jessica McClure Story" (a TV movie was made out of that) but it had its own "MacGyver" identity all-around and a first-rate story was weaved together fantastic scene after fantastic scene. When I saw the names "Gustaf Kristjanson" and "Kaj-Erik Eriksen" in the guest cast as a boy, I thought they had found real Amish people to appear in this episode, not making the Scandinavian surname association at the time. Even if the actors weren't really Amish, they did a tremendous job of faking it as it seemed extremely authentic. The entire guest cast was great (one annoyance I'll get to later) and did you pick up on the actor who played Stevens (not sure of his name) was the corrupt foreman at the construction site on "Live and Learn" as well. The conflict between the construction workers and the Amish in the first half was outstanding television in itself, and not surprising at all that MacGyver fell down on the side of the underdog. The explosion of the drilling derrick served as a great metaphor for the conflict itself and was brilliantly used as a narrative segue to the second half of the story with Kristy trapped in the well.

    And about Kristy, unfortunately she was the annoyance for me. Sweet girl.....but a little too sweet. I wish they had her a little less over-the-top as there were a couple of cringeworthy moments for me with her. Nonetheless, the retrieval of Kristy and Jacob from the well was as edge-of-your-seat suspenseful as anything ever broadcast on "MacGyver", bringing the bitterly divided community together and giving Will a chance at redemption (why didn't the poor guy get his Rumspringa like other Amish sects??!?!). I don't know much about drilling wells but I had a hard time understanding the logistics of the wooden framing MacGyver kicked in at the end of his barrel tunnel and the fact that there seemed to be steps for him to latch onto underneath where Kristy was pinned. Perhaps that was a bit of narrative convenience but this was an episode where they seemed to really get things right so that would surprise me. Whatever the case, I loved every moment of this episode except the gooiest moments with Kristy. Writer Michelle Poteet Lisanti was probably a spec writer (or whatever equivalent of that Stephen Downing explained last month) but I saw her name as a soap opera writer years later. She did a great job on this one, and not only brought together the Amish community and the construction company, she brought together Mark and Nick to identical rankings for the first time.

    1. Haha, everyone's coming together for this one! I figured it had to happen at least one time given the laws of probability, just as it happened exactly once where my episode ranking matched the series episode # (Serenity = 95). I meant to mention the music but forgot, and you're right - it's excellent. The scene at the very end is good but didn't stand out to me more than the other moments. And Kristy doesn't bother me but I definitely see where you're coming from and why she could be annoying. I did notice Stevens' other role (coincidentally in another construction-related part) but declined to mention it.

      And I hope I didn't oversell the last remaining "teary" moment! For all I know it won't be teary at all and it will be much ado about nothing. But this episode definitely pushed me to the brink!

    2. So is your wife from Pennsylvania too or does she just know the beauty of the "Pennsylvania countryside" based on when you visit home?

    3. She was more playing around than anything in that moment, though she does like PA! She's from West Virginia and not too far from the western PA border.

    4. Another bit of trivia worth mentioning that I'm not sure you're aware of is that the same writers' strike that forced "MacGyver" to ram through its final new episodes of season 3 is the reason it got off to such a late start in season 4. This was only the third episode of the season and it aired on November 28, 1988. They squeezed in the Halloween special "The Secret of Parker House", which aired on October 31, as the unofficial first episode of the season but "Blood Brothers" was the official season premiere and didn't air until November 21. The airwaves were chockful of sitcoms back in 1988 and most of them were back on the air only a month behind schedule (late October) but more labor-intensive dramas and action shows typically weren't back until November or December. This gave "MacGyver"s sitcom competition a full month head start on the new season but it ultimately worked out for the best because it meant fewer episodes in season 4 to air during the turbulent football season and more new episodes for the spring of 1989 when the series scored some of its best ratings of the entire seven years. In late March 1989, ABC renewed "MacGyver" for a full fifth season. I believe that was the only time it got a full-season renewal from ABC rather than just a partial renewal with the ratings-dependent option to add more.

    5. Good stuff - I wasn't aware of all that.

  2. Our rank for this one is v. close. I really like this episode and caught the "Witness" vibe and the "Baby Jessica" vibe. I remember the Baby Jessica story too... it was one of the first times I actively watched something like 'the news' and I caught the part where they brought her out of the well.

    1. Now we just need Al to rank it at #23 and it will be a synergy for the ages!

  3. Sorry to disappoint you but even a major (overdue) reworking of my rankings won't quite get it to no 23 for me. Still a great episode.
    Nice to be in Pennsylvania for a change of scene . I liked 'Witness' too and I seem to remember we followed the Jessica McClure story in the UK - an excellent idea to bring them together.
    We can tell Stevens is trouble from the beginning but its a clunking moment when he conveniently sees the 'Danger Explosives' sign after his outburst.
    Enjoyed MacGyver thinking he's 'died and gone to Thanksgiving'. It took me a while to work this out because I didn't think people dressed up at Thanksgiving but I suppose its just that the Amish remind him of the original puritan settlers who first celebrated Thanksgiving?
    There's some tender scenes as the Amish woman patches him up, confides in him and later thanks him for talking to Jacob about throwing the ball. If it was me I would be rewarding the kid but I know, I know.. its not the Amish, or MacGyver's way. As a sensitive guy, we can understand MacGyver relating to the Amish and trying to understand their ways but even he finds the shunning hard to accept, I agree, the scene where Will drops the ball when the lighthearted moment suddenly takes a different turn, is a powerful one as is the atmospheric, sub-lit scene round the table before the spectacular explosion.
    I enjoyed MacGyver driving onto the site in pony and trap, highlighting the contrast between his ancient mode of transport and his leather jacket and high tops. I agree the line' So will I' is a great one; both resolute but surprisingly macho-sounding for MacGyver.
    We would expect nothing less than MacGyver to take charge of the rescue and we're in for drama, suspense and some heart-in-the-mouth moments with him and the kids in the well. Always good to spot an 'Oh man' and there's one here as MacGyver looks down at the water at the bottom..Its well-filmed and there's a great sense of the lack of space and the falling dirt as MacGyver, who's still recovering from a serious injury himself, risks all in the last ditch rescue. I'm with you, Jacob is very good but find Kirsty the weakest character in this one. Great rugby tackle as MacGyver takes Will with him to safety, Great stuff.
    The ending with everyone coming to a better mutual understanding and Will's redemption is a bit obvious, but its still an excellent story and I like Nick's description of MacGyver's role. Ranked at no. 38 for me.

    1. Yeah the Thanksgiving reference is due to a similarity between what the Amish are wearing and what's perceived as traditional "Pilgrim" dress back in the 1620's. I also liked MacGyver in the horse and buggy - that would be a fun choice when asking fans the question about what is their favorite MacGyver vehicle. :)

  4. I love this episode so much, the Amish are awesome, but its completely absurd if you think about it. As you said, theres something about the Pennsylvania countryside...that looks like the Northwest. hahaha. The idea that the government would try to push Amish off their land would cause such a media furor. Additionally, Amish do usually I think participate in court cases that involve them. Altho, Elizabeth is right that Old Order would be the most likely not to. They also do respect the law of the English and would comply with eminent domain. I wonder if there has ever been any cases of this. As a side note, the Amish actually have a huge growth problem, that has forced them to spread out into greater and greater stretches of land, and many have gotten into industries and businesses that require modern technology. They own them and labor in them, even if there is electricity.

    Next, why are the cops just sitting around! Finally they say theyll rope things off, but why didnt they call the fire department? Why didnt they get the ambulance earlier? It came at night! Maybe it is harder to get a kid out of a well than we think. Ill have to read about Jessica McClure. Of course, if all of this went normal, there wouldnt be a story!

    I really like this episode until she runs down to play human traffic cone. Shes a cute little kid, but she is a bit annoying and irritating. Id like to think I would rate this high, but maybe not as high as you.

  5. "Lowlight:The part where MacGyver asks Will to throw the baseball back to him and then everyone else turns their back on him (since he's being shunned), and then Will sadly drops the ball and walks away. This part broke my heart as a kid, and it still makes me feel sad."

    Yeah it made me feel sad too back then. :( But as it turns out, in real life, they ARE allowed to go out and be free! It's called Rumspringa! So they all shunning him is ridiculous.

  6. This is the first episode of MacGyver i remember seeing as a kid. That being said this episode has always stuck with me. Such a terrific episode.

  7. All I have to say is, this is another one of my favorites, maybe my favorite over my favorites (I will know when I finish the rest of the episodes).

    I just don't get tired of watching this one.