Monday, March 2, 2015

#26: Murderers' Sky

Season: 3

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A Hong Kong cartel tries to take over a shipping company by killing the CEO.  Then they try to kill his grandson, Luke, and MacGyver tries to protect Luke while searching for those responsible. Eventually, MacGyver and Luke are captured and stashed in an underground cellar where they escape through a secret door and then disappear by hiding behind some paper that looks like a rock. 

Memorable Quote:
It has been called into question whether numbers will always prevail.  ~Luke

Highlight:
I was originally planning on going with the ending where they disappear, but I'm switching to the fight scene in the parking garage (more on that below).  

Lowlight:
Hard to think of anything.  This isn't really a lowlight, but when Pete and MacGyver go into the house to ask Luke how he knew his grandfather was poisoned, I wondered why they didn't just ask him that at the hospital when he declared that initially.

Best MacGyverism:
MacGyver and Luke paint some sheets of paper and use wooden braces to support it.  Then they prop it up against a rock and hide behind it (so it looks like part of the cave).  Originally I was planning to put this as #1 on the MacGyverism list because I remembered it so fondly.  It didn't hold up quite as well to me today (the construction of the materials was less elaborate than I remembered), but it still is great (and I'm still putting it on the list),  Part of me wonders if it might have been cooler if they would have just stayed hidden to see how long it would have taken for the bad guys to find them, but it worked out for them in the end so who am I to question MacGyver?

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • For reasons that I cannot understand or explain, I don't remember most of the details in this one.  I know the kid is awesome and the ending is great, but everything else is pretty fuzzy. I'm trusting my instincts on the ranking that it should be as high as it is. Let's watch it now and find out.  And kind of fun to watch one where I don't remember much. 
  • Fantastic opening as Tia Carrere is dressed like a ninja and takes out the floor of a building occupied by the CEO of the company the cartel wishes to take over.  The whole thing is very well done and feels a little like a Bond movie. 
  • Then later we see a mole at the hospital (acting as a nurse) informing the cartel that Chen has a grandson, and we then learn Chen's Vice President is in league with the cartel also.  This episode was ahead of its time - now it feels like an episode of 24. 
  • Powerful scene in the hospital as Luke, the 14 year-old grandson, using pressure points to mystically revive his grandfather (see above picture)
  • Wow, I had no memory whatsoever of that fight scene, which might be the best fight scene in the series history.  Why don't I remember this?  I need to watch it again.
  • OK, just watched it again.  Luke uses martial arts to take on about 6 guys, and MacGyver alternates between watching Luke and using a metal pole (Donatello style) to take out a few guys himself.  As someone who loved Jackie Chan movies as a kid, this stuff is right up my alley.
  • This monastery where Luke grew up sounds like an awesome place: you learn spirituality, how to revive people, and how to beat up 6 guys. 
  • 20:50 - I remember playing that computer game as a kid!
  • Tia could have just killed Luke at any time when they're in the room together, but the whole birdcage poison dart contraption is creative, and MacGyver's rescue dive with Luke while the darts explode is spectacular. 
  • "She left her purse.  Maybe we can find out who she is."  At this point I was about to write, "well, that was convenient," and then I jumped out of my chair as the cobra rose from the bag. How could I not remember that?  It's in the opening credits!
  • Luke discovers that his grandfather was poisoned by opening his eyelids and noting the yellow color of the irises. This kid is the best. 
  • 29:48 - Perhaps the most striking and outrageous example of MacGyver's genius in the entire series:
    • "Look at this.  He's mourning the death of his grandfather."  ~Pete
    • "No he's not.  That's not a God of mourning.  It's Guan Di."  ~MacGyver
    • "Guan Di?  Who's that?"  ~Pete
    • "It's sort of like a war god.  He's going after 'em himself, Pete."  ~MacGyver
    • If you don't think MacGyver is an expert in ancient Chinese war gods, well then you don't know MacGyver.  
  • Funny how MacGyver looks around the dead end room and figures out a plan in about 5 seconds before shouting "It's great!"  He's operating at full mental capacity in this episode. 
  • "The dirt is disturbed.  There must be a door here."  ~Tia.  I remember this bothered me as a kid (I did remember a few things about this episode) - like how could anyone possibly notice that?  But upon rewatching, it is fairly noticeable that something is amiss with the dirt. 
  • Here's a good discussion topic: where does Luke rank on the list of best wingmen for MacGyver?  The way I think of it is if MacGyver was in Situation X, who would I most want by his side to help him, and who would prove most useful?  Now it depends on the situation, but I'm thinking of something general and undefined.  I tend to favor brawn over brains because I figure that MacGyver has enough brains and thus the brawn would be more valuable. My current top 5 looks like:
    • Toberman
    • Murdoc (when he's a "good" guy)
    • Jesse Colton
    • Earl Dent
    • Sean (Sam) Malloy
  • Toberman seems like an ideal partner because he's quiet, big, and strong, and he'd be a great personal bodyguard for MacGyver.  But now I'm thinking that Luke might go to the top of the list.  The question I'm asking myself is, could Toberman (or anyone else on that list) have taken out the 6 guys in the parking garage the way that Luke did?  I think the answer is probably no. I suppose Murdoc could have if he was using a flame thrower, but MacGyver likely wouldn't approve of that.  Back to Luke - he also is a pleasant kid with a zen personality, a positive attitude, and amazing powers of healing. Instead of running the shipping company, he should have been hired by the Phoenix Foundation to be MacGyver's apprentice.  I've convinced myself - Luke Chen is now the top wingman for MacGyver.  

Final Analysis:
Wow!!  That is what we in the biz like to call a television tour de force.  And to think I was worried that I might have it too high - now I wonder if I have it too low.  I have no idea why I didn't remember much of it.  Almost all the episodes left I remember quite well, though there's actually one more (in my top 10 if you can believe it) for which I only remember half the episode, but it's a great half!  It makes it fun to rewatch when I don't remember exactly what is happening - that's one reason why I'm really looking forward to watching the 2 movies (even though one of them sounds pretty bad based on Mark and Highlander's reviews).  Back to this episode - just an action packed hour of fun in a great locale (Chinatown and surrounding areas), and tremendous performances by Ernie Reyes Jr., Tia Carrere, and the rest of the cast. 

22 comments:

  1. I said a few reviews ago that ABC ordered up two additional "MacGyver" episodes right at the buzzer before the writers' strike in the spring of 1988, so the legend goes that this episode and the one that aired previous to it had to really be fast-tracked through the pre-production level, with VERY veteran freelance scriptwriter Herman Miller (born in 1919!!!) assigned to writing duties with the expectation of blasting it off the keyboard at world record speed to beat the strike. Can't argue with results though as this was a fantastic episode. Another bit of context for this episode is that ABC aired a series called "Sidekicks" in the 1986-87 series featuring a young karate kid who was a wingman for a city cop. The karate kid was played by.....Ernie Reyes, Jr! And his grandfather Sabasan was even played by the same actor, Keye Luke. It should be said that the characters were not that similar and the "MacGyver" treatment of the story was considerably better than anything on "Sidekicks", but the template was similar. And crew member W. Reed Moran was probably the link here as he was a staff writer on "Sidekicks" in 1986-87 and then "MacGyver" in 1987-88.

    As you said, first-rate hour of television with a great and tense opening at Jade Dragon leading to Chen's would-be assassination and Tia Carrere in a bathing suit! I never really thought of the "24" comparison but it was a good one, especially the subsequent layering of the story where Wayne Lim got his job so quickly after leaving Hong Kong due to the "inside connection" that was Chen's trusted assistant. Luke was definitely one of MacGyver's best sidekicks and had the brains to go toe to toe with him intellectually at times too. For the life of me I can't understand why Ernie Reyes, Jr. wasn't brought back for an encore. And while I once credited MacGyver's fight with Piedra in "The Assassin" as the best choreographed fight scene ever on "MacGyver", I rescind that proclamation and concede that Luke taking on the cartel in the parking lot was far and away the best.

    One semi-recurring theme I've noticed even in episodes we both like is that the scenes that blew my mind away often get only passing mentions in your review. When Piedra escaped from the safehouse via lock picks and poison-tipped needles concealed in a phony mustache and appendicts scar, I thought it was one of the greatest moments in the history of television. Similarly in this one, the far and away standout scene for me was the spectacular birdcage loaded with poison darts triggered by a CO2 cartridge, one of the coolest things ever done on "MacGyver" in my opinion. You mention that Tia Carrere could have killed Luke multiple times over but remember that she had to get past guards with a metal detector twice (on the way in and out of the house) and an extremely creative means of executing Luke was required....and the birdcage ploy with the cobra in the purse back-up certainly qualify! The episode peaked with that scene for me but I still really enjoyed the final half, as MacGyver and Luke used radio speakers as sonar, navigated underground tunnels designed by Chinese railroad workers, and disguised themselves as rocks to evade the cartel. Agree that they could have waited the bad guys out but considering MacGyver laid his Swiss army knife out to bait them, it was pretty clear he wanted to end this today with these jerks!

    Great hour of television, and especially so given the time crunch they were under. Viewers loved it too as this episode finished 21st for its week, one of the better weekly rankings "MacGyver" got over the years, especially after the second half of season 1 when his numbers peaked. Clever writing, menacing badass villains, loads of action, and a great sidekick. Can't ask for much more than that. I ranked this one #38.

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    1. Interesting background on Sidekicks - I never heard of it but sounds like something I might have liked. I was into TMNT and anything with Jackie Chan. And the Wayne Lim actor was one oft the signature henchmen in Gaines's compound on 24 Day 1. The birdcage and cobra scene may not have made the same impression on me as it did for you, but I did like it, and you make a good point about Tia having to get out of the house. It was interesting how the guard frisked her but didn't look in her car at all.

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    2. "Sidekicks" was mandatory weekly viewing for me during its one season on the air, especially since I was in tae kwon do at the time. It was a kid's show and probably wouldn't hold up that well nearly 30 years later but "Sidekicks" and the still-hilarious cop show parody "Sledge Hammer!" that were paired together at the time were as popular as "MacGyver" among my third-grade classmates back in 1987. Here's the theme song if you're curious.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC7T8J4N1_8

      I've seen the actor who played Wayne Lim elsewhere but didn't recall him from 24. I haven't watched season 1 of "24" in about nine years though. I have the DVD so I'll have to revisit at some point this summer perhaps.

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    3. "Sledge Hammer!" was a fun show. It, sadly, doesn't hold up nearly as well over time as some others.

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    4. Interesting. I got "Sledge Hammer!" on DVD and thought it held up quite well. I will say season 1 was quite a bit better than season 2, but I enjoyed both. Anything specific you didn't think held up well?

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    5. It's been a while since I tried to watch it, and I don't think I watched very much, but somehow, it just didn't seem as funny. When I was a kid, I thought it was great, so maybe nostalgia expectations were higher than the reality?

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  2. On the darker side, I have a not-so-hot association with this episode that involved my own misguided elementary school judgment. Back in the spring of 1988, when I was in fourth grade, my teacher sent home a letter to my parents noting my disrespectful treatment of a substitute teacher (I didn't think I was that bad!) and a couple assignments I turned in late. I didn't really care to actually show my parents this note, so I decided to forge my mom's signature. When I turned it into my teacher the next morning, she laughed at the bad forgery. Days passed but a phone call was placed in the evening and by my dad's tone beckoning me to the kitchen, I had a feeling I knew what had just happened. I was busted...and my punishment included....no TV till the end of the school year more than a month away! Not cool. However, when I saw it was 7:00 on Monday, May 9, 1988, I decided to sit in the hallway and peek into the living room where my mom was watching "MacGyver", so I ended up catching the overwhelming majority of this episode on the sly, sneaking back into my room only when my mom got off the couch during commercial breaks so I wouldn't be noticed (I have a feeling she knew I was there though). I didn't get to fully experience this one until it was re-run in September though, and it was worth the wait then...and worth the risk sneak-peeking it in the hallway on its first run.

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    1. Good story! If only you could have hired Mo from Off the Wall as your handwriting consultant! I can see that taking away young Mark's MacGyver viewing would have been an 8th amendment violation, and glad you were able to sneak and catch most of it (sounds like some MacGyver moves where he sneaks behind someone and they don't hear even though they are 5 feet away).

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    2. Yeah I needed Mo! Another girl in my class tried the same stunt the year after I did and it worked out as badly for her as it did for me. I actually logged in a lot of hours watching TV in the hall out of my mom's sight as a lad. I had a bedtime that was ridiculously early for an energetic young boy (8:00) and I just wasn't tired enough come bedtime to fall asleep....so I got up and sat in the hall and watched whatever my mom had on. On one occasion I even remember slipping past her to go to the refrigerator to get a drink of juice and the sneaking past her again on the way to my room. Hard for me to imagine she didn't see me which is why I think she was quietly wise to my tricks.

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  3. If you watch the credits closely - the scene w/ the snake in the bag changes. Sometimes Mac is wearing a denim jacket and sometimes he's wearing the black bomber jacket w/ orange accents. I don't know when/why the image was changed, but I did notice the changes when I was going through all of the episodes.

    Like you - I never remember what this particular episode is about. I've seen it about half a dozen times, I'm sure, so I don't know why I don't recall the plot when I see the title. I remember bits and pieces of it - like the paper rock wall and the snake - but those don't connect with this ep title for me for some reason.

    I'm not as big a fan of this one as ya'll are and have it ranked a bit lower.

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    1. Interesting on the jackets - I'll have to rewatch that part. Good to know that I'm not the only one who was fuzzy on this one. I think as a kid that I got it mixed up with The Wish Child, even though I like this one much better.

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    2. It's possible that what you're thinking of regarding the jacket is the updates after Season 5 to the opening credits (i.e. him standing in front of the plane, eating the ice cream cone, the snake scene, slipping through the gate, etc). All were done with different clothes, maybe they thought it would make it more modern and fresh.

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    3. Yeah they revised a bunch of clips for the theme song in season 5 to show the modern mulleted MacGyver of 1989 and one of the clips that was altered was the cobra scene. Only in the season 4 theme song do we see the clip as originally aired in the episode. I prefer that clip as MacGyver's reaction seemed more credible than in the season 5 redo.

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  4. We know from early on that Raymond is going to be one of the bad guys -just too smarmy, but I don't understand why he didn't finish him Mr Chen in the blown-up office rather than call an ambulance? I think I'd want a full wet suit to jump into the docks rather than a dinky swim suit... I can't think why they did that.....!
    Isn't the monastery the same setting as for the awful 'Mountain of Youth' ?. MacGyver is a bit taken aback by the young, poised Luke but he's very patronising saying 'Some men have hurt him' about the grandfather. Come on MacGyver he's 14, not 6! Luke's reviving of his grandfather is well done, mysterious and spiritual yet believable - the doctor is very dismissive afterwards, telling Luke and MacGyver to go as they'll 'only be in the way'.. what a cheek after what Luke has done!
    I agree, the car park fight is the best and elicits both an 'Oh Man' and an 'oh Boy! from MacGyver who spends half the fight staring in amazement. Great moves from the boy Luke and who can blame MacGyver for checking that 'We're friends, right?' at the end! Its impressive that MacGyver recognises the very wrench that was used in the fight later on - don't they all look pretty similar?
    Pleased to see one of the things I like to spot; MacGyver fiddling with something in Pete's office - this time a tape measure. Like the cool shades and jacket look he's sporting and the fast move from car to room when he realises the gift is a lethal one. As you say,great idea to have the birdcage fire poison darts! By now there's no more patronising from MacGyver as he treats Luke as an equal ' What do you think.. poison?' Clever to have Luke know about the colour of the iris as a clue to cause of death and as you say, amazing knowledge of Chinese gods form Macgyver. I love it when the audience has something to look up and find out more about.
    Were there really Chinese tunnels dug under the city - sounds amazing and must find out more about that too, although here its an escape tunnel one minute and an opium lab the next.
    Not such impressive acting as they both try to look nonchalant when the villains come back into the cellar but that's a very minor point.Not sure what MacGyver uses to shoot out the lights; some sort of spray cleaner? MacGyver throws Luke a roll of duct tape to use. Its a bit of a myth that MacGyver always uses duct tape as it doesn't actually feature that often but good to see it when he does. Great kick by MacGyver to dislodge the (English again!) villain's gun. 'We make a great team MacGyver' says Luke at he end and as we all agree, that's very true and I totally endorse him going to the top of the wingman list! The only thing MacGyver's not sure about is Luke's conversion to suit and tie wearing at then end..
    Great stuff all round, I've rated it at 56 but think I need to put it higher in my final sortout.

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    1. I think the monastery footage was someplace real, likely in Vancouver. The temple from "The Mountain of Youth" was stock footage from a real temple in China...I've seen it elsewhere but don't know specifically where in China it is. I noticed you called "Mountain of Youth" awful....it wasn't a favorite of mine but I ranked it #118 rather than the very lower tier of episodes. Would you rate the episode last or near-last as Nick did?

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    2. I'm afraid I rated 'M of Y' pretty much like Nick, around 137!
      I've since looked up about the Chinese tunnels and the info on the web is hard to pin down since some people claim to have been on tours and others say its an urban myth. Seems most likely that basements were sometimes interconnected and and that early tour guides at the beginning of the 20th century reinforced the tales to make the tours more exciting.- on a hill, people got the impression that they were walking through several stories of tunnel underground by going from basement to basement. Doesn't seem likely it was for escape purposes either, more likely to hide illicit activities so the Opium den at the end in this episode is actually more likely than MacGyver's initial 'escape tunnel' thoughts. It also seems that hidden doors and sliding walls were also part of the myth and not a reality. There are claims of hidden tunnels in quite a few North American cities including Vancouver. All interesting stuff but its veracity is to be treated with caution like a lot of web info!

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    3. Seattle has an extensive underground city but that's from the new city being built on top of the old city (so not related to Chinese immigrants as far as I know). I went on the tour when I was a kid.

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    4. And according to rdanderson.com, the temple from Mountain of Youth is the "Hsi Lai Temple" in Hacienda Heights. Looks like they imposed a background with a giant snowcapped mountain.

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  5. Apparently, Ernie is suffering kidney failure, which conjures up memories of Second Chance.

    http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/ernie-reyes-jr-tmnt-actor-needs-kidney-transplant-2015126

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  6. This is the very first Macgyver episode I watched when I started watching Macgyver back then! :) I didn't watch when Macgyver first started from the first season, cus I was more interested in Alf and Valerie's family. Hey I was 11 years old! What do you want from me? :) So I watched Valerie's family and then Alf came on the scene and liked that too. Then one day when Alf was almost over and they showed a commercial, I went downstairs to see what my family was watching. Oh it's the show Macgyver. The first scene I saw was he and Luke in what looked like a basement and oh I guess they were kidnapped. Oh what is Macgyver doing? Oh he was trying to do things to get out!

    I was amazed! And that tarp thing he made to hide under, that was amazing!!!! I never went back upstairs to see the end of Alf or saw Valerie's family that night! I fell in love with the show that night and stopped watching Alf and Valerie's family/Hogan's family. I am trying to remember, wasn't Macgyver in reruns that summer? Cus I know I watched repeats somewhere.

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    1. It's funny to me that MacGyver's biggest competition back in the day was Alf!

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  7. "It's funny to me that MacGyver's biggest competition back in the day was Alf!"

    ROFL! And Valerie's family/Hogan's family! :) Yeah that is funny hahaha.

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