Wednesday, March 4, 2015

#25: The Visitor

Season: 6

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver sees what looks like a UFO in a small town and starts investigating.  He meets a young boy who tells him that "the aliens" are taking him and his parents on a spaceship to another planet where his mother's cancer will be cured in exchange for the family's life savings. MacGyver tries to warn the parents and the sheriff, but he meets resistance and is forced to try and stop the con on his own, with the help of a mysterious vacuum salesman.  

Memorable Quote:
Tell me, Mr. MacGyver, do you believe in flying saucers?  ~Phil

There's a lot of dead time in this episode as MacGyver is exploring or running around (and no voiceovers in Season 6). That means there's plenty of opportunity to hear a fantastic minor-key laden score by Ken Harrison. Really makes the episode for me.

Toward the end, MacGyver replicates the UFO by throwing some poles at a wire. While it's a cool effect, it doesn't serve any real purpose. I guess he's trying to distract the Rigels, but he doesn't do anything while they're distracted (for about 2 seconds) and then they spot him and Phil.

And regarding the UFO simulation, I'm assuming that it's not actually possible to do that the way he does it, but if it is, that would be pretty darn awesome.

Best MacGyverism:
See Lowlight.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I like how we jump right into the story with MacGyver driving around and seeing the giant UFO. Though I feel like he should be much more visibly shocked by what he is seeing - instead he just kind of nonchalantly looks at it like it's a bird or something. 
  • Phil Sternwise, the Vortex Vacuum Cleaner salesman, is a fantastic character and is played with great energy by Christopher Gaze, who made a brief appearance as a cab driver in the Holy Rose episodes.  More on Gaze later in the post.
  • There also doesn't seem to be enough of a reaction from the townspeople, like the car guy and the sheriff, that there was a UFO sighting.  Not sure how the con artists would be able to prevent newspapers, media, and the general public from going berserk over seeing a UFO that big. 
  • The kid (played very well by Kaj-Erik Eriksen who we'll see again in another episode) is wearing a worn Twins hat - I guess the implication is that they're in Minnesota.
  • Funny how MacGyver goes to the trailer park to snoop around in his inconspicuous blue Chevy Nomad.
  • Actor Ryan Michael is back as one of the con artists - we previously saw him in The Black Corsage, also with slicked back hair.  Does a great job in both episodes. 
  • Another case of MacGyver sneaking around about 10 feet behind people who don't hear or sense him at all. 
  • This sheriff is absolutely good for nothing. Hopefully he doesn't get re-elected. 
  • MacGyver is a saint for continuing to help these rude, ungrateful people.
  • I like how at the end how MacGyver asks the Wiley's about Phil and then they look at him like he's the crazy one.  
  • The sheriff says how they found lots of forged IDs in the Rigel's trailer.  Great timely detective work, Sheriff.
  • Again, MacGyver is way too ho-hum when he sees the "real" UFO take off.  He just cocks his head and says "You gotta wonder." Maybe RDA was starting to wind things down at this point. 

I reached out to Christopher Gaze (played Phil) and Larry Musser (played Mr. Wiley) and asked them what they remembered about their appearances, and they were kind enough to share some memories. 

Christopher Gaze: It was a really good break for me - I believe I did it in 1990. Anyway, we'd just completed our first season of Bard on the Beach- I had earned about $1,200 with Bard and I landed the MacGyver role- a really good part too! Phil Sternwys (sp) was the character. A vacuum cleaner salesman!" Phil Sternwys is the name, Vortex vacuums, the next generation in household cleaning!" I remember saying that and enjoying it with Richard Dean Anderson - who was fun, a good actor and very supportive. When we shot the night scenes it was pouring rain - we did it out in Ladner - late night work. I was thrilled to be a part of the series - at the time it was a big success.

I also asked him if he knew how they filmed the UFO scenes, and he said, "I think they put up arcing wires over the power lines....something like that...."  

Larry Musser: Hey, thanks for getting in touch.  I would be happy to share a few memories of this episode - #25 on your countdown, as I still have vivid memories. Firstly I recall shooting late at night in the driving rain on an island that is part of Ladner, BC a little South of Vancouver and we were near the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, which is truly a birdwatchers paradise … not that I had much time to observe them - as I mentioned there was a great deal of night shooting. This was were I got to know Kaj- Erik Eriksen, who was a delight to work with and had the chops even as an 8 year old .. in fact all the cast were great to work with. And Bill Gehrety, the director was exceptional. It was a big deal for me back in 1990. I had been working, but this was my first guest star billing on a show with that level of popularity and I have to say the parts I was going for after that got a lot better. I think someone mentioned the air date was after a big Monday Night football game and I remember that as well. The San Francisco 49ers vs the NY Giants, both undefeated meeting head on. 49ers prevailed.. it was a good night all around. 

Thanks to Mr. Gaze and Mr Musser for sharing their memories!  They both did a great job in their roles, and the same can be said for Ryan Michael, Kaj-Erik Eriksen, and the rest of the cast.

And speaking of Kaj, here's a conversation I had with him. 

Final Analysis:
A glorious hour of television.  A very creative plot, superb special effects, awesome music, great acting, and just the right amount of spooky for me (I don't like when things are too spooky, and this one is just right). Also I like the pace of it - there's time for MacGyver to explore and figure things out.  In today's television world where everything has to happen at 100 mph, stories aren't allowed to breathe and develop like this one does.  You do have to suspend your disbelief that it's possible that someone could ever be as dumb as John Wiley giving his life savings to travel to paradise on a spaceship, but I'm all for suspending disbelief every now and then! 


  1. I enjoyed this one as well and have a great connotation with it. It originally aired on December 3, 1990, which happened to be my all-time favorite "snow day". I was in 7th grade, home alone (the folks somehow both made it work), and looking out my window for the bus to come that morning. When it was running about 15 minutes late, it hit me that maybe school was canceled! We hadn't had a snow day in at least two years so it hadn't even occurred to me we might have the day off. I proceeded to squander my day playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on the original Nintendo and then watched an all-new "MacGyver" at 7:00. Nintendo and MacGyver....the makings of a perfect snow day for a 7th grader! This episode also aired before (or after on the West Coast) the most hyped Monday Night Football game of the season and posted one of the best ratings of the season. It was a rare case where Monday Night Football actually helped rather than hurt "MacGyver", contrary to the popular myth.

    Anyway, nice job of picking up on the fact that this episode was set in Minnesota based on Tommy Wiley's Twins hat. Gotta say though, it's the first I ever heard of geothermal energy being harnessed beneath the cornfields of Minnesota!!! And while the episode did a respectable job of creating characters that are at least two-and-a-half dimensional, rural Minnesotans didn't come across looking too smart in the eyes of our betters in Hollywood once again. I kid. It was hard to reconcile the Wileys' grumpiness and fear of strangers with their buying into the Rigels' lame con, but I agree that a suspension of disbelief was helpful in being able to enjoy this one, which was well-crafted, and when you look at their desperation based on Jon's wife's cancer, it became a little easier to see why they'd suspend disbelief a little bit themselves.

    I enjoyed the science of the staged UFOs and actually bought into the fact that MacGyver and Phil could stage their own "distraction", pointless as it was, in possession of the ingredients described. The ability of the Rigels to get their hands on "low-grade uranium" is another story altogether and makes this hypothetical one unlikely kids would ever be able to try at home.....or anybody who wasn't sneaking atomic materials out of a top-secret lab for that matter. The Rigels themselves were outstanding, with Ryan Michael managing to find an even bigger sleaze of a character here than his Deegan from "The Black Corsage". His wife was great too, cartoonish as they were. I liked Phil Sternweis for the most part too (good catch on him being the cab driver on "Legend of the Holy Rose"...I never made that connection) although his shtick grew a tad weary by the end for me. Hard not to love that great flamethrower ending though, even if it did end a bit too abruptly. And while the bumbling sheriff wasn't overly helpful, I must say his character most accurately represented someone that looked familiar to someone who grew up in the small-town Upper Midwest.

    Good acting performances (Kaj-Erik Eriksen was great again in this one too) and creative story helped this one rise from what could have been jump-the-shark style foolishness into a fun and enjoyable story. I rank it in the middle at #73, but ranked in the middle for this series still means great stuff.

    1. I'm guessing that you didn't have too many snow days? In Wisconsin they hardly ever have snow days - kind of an overly macho "we're so good in the snow we don't need to cancel anything" attitude if you ask me. I'm from PA where we had snow days all the time and I loved each and every one. Funny you mention Mario 3 - that's probably my favorite game of all time if I had to pick one. Though I also love Mario 2, Mario World, Dr. Mario, and Mario Wii. The Mario All-Stars on SNES has a battle game for which I'm the best in the world (at least I'd like to think I am). :)

      I like your comment about the geothermal energy beneath the cornfields of Minnesota. The place where I work has geothermal so you never know!

    2. And this was another episode I put up on the big screen and my wife got sucked in to watching the whole thing even though she wanted to go to bed.

    3. We didn't have a ton of snow days. Some years we had more than others. My school didn't have the "macho" attitude you described so much but there was a stretch of years in the 90s where we just didn't have too many bad winters. I think I may have given a slight edge to Mario 2 as my favorite Nintendo game but Mario 3 was a very close second. I got out of Nintendo before Super Nintendo and the last three Mario incarnations you mention though.

      Geothermal energy in Wisconsin huh? Interesting. Perhaps I'm wrong about Minnesota having it but I definitely haven't heard of it. Nice work keeping your wife up for "MacGyver". MacGyver trumps sleep in almost all situations for me as well.

    4. We don't get too many snow days in the UK which is probably just as well as we are notoriously bad at dealing with them!

      I quite like this episode too –although it ought to be ridiculous, it somehow mostly works.
      I agree MacGyver doesn’t seem that concerned to see the UFO as he’s driving along and its weird how he just lets the figure walk up to him and hit him on the head!
      Tommy is a good little character and well-acted. Its amusing how MacGyver corrects his grammar ‘anything’ (not’ nothing’) - I read that RDA is quite keen on good grammar ( Jack O’Neill is always correcting people) so this may have been an RDA touch.
      As you say the episode is not kind to rural Minnesotans. If it was in the UK they’d probably be from Norfolk. Have they all got Minnesotan accents? – I can’t tell. although the garage attendant does sound unusual. Talking of accents, Christopher Graze as Phil does a much better job of an English accent here than as the cabbie in legend of the Holy Rose. His character is better spoken in this one but he does have the occasional unfortunate lapses into ‘Mockney’ from time to time. Generally though he acts a good role and its impressive how high he can raise one eyebrow!
      This time MacGyver takes a good sniff of his soil sample clue; good job he didn’t taste it, as he has done sometimes before, because it obviously smells pretty bad.
      I agree, the sheriff couldn’t be more unhelpful but as Mark says he is quite a believable character. He gets two ‘Yes sir’s from the polite MacGyver. I suppose its quite nice that his wife makes supper for the prisoners.
      The Elm Creek campsite isn’t very popular and the Rigels are very creepy and, you’re right, we have to suspend a lot of disbelief here. An SAK lock pick! I love those.
      The mini UFO reconstruction in MacGyver’s rather grim ‘office’ is great – I’d like to try that. A neat bit of astronomy knowledge from our man about Rigel being in Orion.
      The flame thrower chase is exciting stuff but I totally agree, its cut short rather undramatically in the end. Another episode where both the viewer and MacGyver are left wondering what’s really happened, and like the Madonna and Trail of Tears.
      Somehow it all comes together and makes for a fun episode. Somewhere in the 50’s for me, if I can find room.

    5. Yeah MacGyver correcting Tommy's bad grammar was fun. I had no idea RDA was a "grammar Nazi"....definitely wouldn't have predicted that. I was also impressed with his knowledge of astrology.

      Also forgot to agree with Nick's assessment of the Ken Harrison music here. One of his spookier scores.

  2. I'm noticing Al's comment on Christopher Gaze's English accent. From what I know about Christopher Gaze he was born and raised in England so I don't think it's a fake accent. He has lived in Vancouver for many years though so maybe his accent is a bit diluted.

    1. You're quite right now I've checked it out further. I thought most of the time his accent was very realistic - and it obviously was!. Maybe I was hearing something that wasn't really there by assuming he was American or Canadian and being a bit over-critical but I thought I detected a couple of slight accent changes.

  3. Not sure what it is about this episode, but it doesn't rank all that high for me. Maybe it's the salesman or maybe the whole UFO set-up... I don't know.

  4. I wonder if this episode is where RDA first found an affection for the name 'Wiley', his daughter's first name.

    Also, during the scene in the Wileys' kitchen where Mac is about to recreate the spaceship, and the Mrs. comes out to object, the viewer can clearly see part of a boom mike poking into the top of the frame. I had to rewind it and look again, but a boom for sure. Guess the producers missed that one. :)

  5. "Another case of MacGyver sneaking around about 10 feet behind people who don't hear or sense him at all."

    Hahaha. He is Super Macgyver! If he don't want people to hear him, then they won't! Macgyver can be stealth! :)

    Again, MacGyver is way too ho-hum when he sees the "real" UFO take off. He just cocks his head and says "You gotta wonder."

    Well he is probably in shock and never seen anything like that before!

    "Maybe RDA was starting to wind things down at this point."

    Nah. If he was winding down, then season 6 would have been it's last.

    "Christopher Gaze: I remember saying that and enjoying it with Richard Dean Anderson -"

    Hey! He doesn't call him Ricky Dean like other people do! :)

  6. I'm just wondering, what would Jack O'Neill say about MacGyver skepticism? :-)

  7. "minyra r says I'm just wondering, what would Jack O'Neill say about MacGyver skepticism? :-)"

    Hahahaha good one!!! :) Jack would tell him his experiences. :)

    1. Well, once Jack got over the bizarro shock of another guy with his face who wasn't a robot/clone, he'd just take MacGyver through the 'Gate to prove him wrong. XD

    2. Oh!! I can totally see Jack's face expression if MacGyver appears in front of him. I think he would love how handsome he was when he was younger, but he would comically hate the fact that MacGyver is younger than him. I know he would be extremely sarcastic with his other self-character. And yes, I agree that in the end he would take him through the Gate, but as soon as he realized that MacGyver is as intelligent and useful as Carter is, he just sent him back to earth immediately. I am sure O'Neill would prefer to have Carter in his team than MacGyver...too much love there!!

      Woa!!! What a fantasy!!! 😂

    3. He wouldn't ditch MacGyver b/c he's in love w/ Sam. That doesn't make sense. If anything, he'd swap Daniel and MacGyver, since Mac has diplomacy skills that they typically use Daniel for. Or, he'd just add Mac to the team and have a team of 5. This all assumes that Mac has any desire to go planet-hopping to begin with.