Tuesday, April 7, 2015

#10: Phoenix Under Siege

Season: 2

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Grandpa Harry is in town to visit MacGyver, and on their way to see an L.A. Kings game on a rainy Sunday night MacGyver realizes he left the tickets at the Phoenix Foundation.  Once they arrive at the office, MacGyver notices a few things out of the ordinary, and then they realize that the building is locked down.  A terrorist group kidnaps Harry and sets a bomb to go off in the building, and MacGyver must find the bomb and defuse it before it detonates. 

Memorable Quote:
My chances of finding Harry in this building were about as good as sneaking into Fort Knox through the back door.  ~MacGyver

The bomb defusal scene - my goodness, what a transcendent moment.  In fact, I'm putting as #1 on the best moments list for now.  MacGyver has a minute and a half to defuse the bomb, and his first idea of using tools doesn't work. By then he has only 20 seconds left, and he looks at the hockey tickets in Harry's pocket and drops one of them in the mechanism hoping that it will stop the metal plates from touching and setting off the bomb. The acting from both RDA and John Anderson is out of this world, and the camera work capturing the shots of their eyes is tremendous. Their celebration after the defusal is great to watch, and then it ends on a humorous note as Harry says that he can still make the hockey game with the ticket that's left, leaving MacGyver to look longingly at the other ticket still in the bomb. A perfect ending to a phenomenally climactic scene.

And you what else takes this moment to #1?  The magnificent march-style music which puts John Philip Souza to shame. Let me check who wrote the score for this episode.....yep, Randy Edelman. I'm running out of ways to describe this man's music.  

The ending where Victoria does a flying kick at MacGyver and flies right out the window reminds me of Obsessed when Murdoc drives his jeep at MacGyver right off the cliff.  I just don't think anyone would be that dumb.  In both cases even if they hit MacGyver, they would still likely fly out the window/over the cliff.

Best MacGyverism:
See highlight.  It's not the flashiest MacGyverism ever, but it's clever and fun, and I'm adding it to the top MacGyverism list as an honorable mention.  

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The mood for this episode is set right from the jump as a thunderstorm is raging in the evening while MacGyver is performing an elaborate chemistry experiment with a dozen test tubes that have mist emanating out of them.  Grandpa Harry arrives wearing a trench coat and hat, soaked by the rain. Perfect way to start the episode and set the dark ambience. And a bit of comedy as we learn that all that elaborate chemistry was in pursuit of non-alcoholic egg nog.
  • 5:10 mark - love the black Calgary Flames hat that MacGyver is sporting.
  • Tricia O'Neil absolutely kills it in this role as Victoria James, the lead villain. She's smart, charming, condescending, deadly, and crazy all at the same time. And a revealing moment on how crazy she is when she picks up Murphy's flower to smell it after shooting her. 
  • Speaking of Susan Murphy, she's played by Warner Loughlin who today runs her own acting studio in L.A.  You can visit her web site and see testimonials from A-List actors such as Amy Adams, Ryan Reynolds, and George Lopez among others.  I asked her if she had any memories from this episode and she was kind enough to share a few:
    • All these years later, my best friend Diana Valentine (who is a television director) calls me up and says "Guess who's sitting in my kitchen?  Gil Shilton!"  Gil was the director of that episode. When we got together, I asked, "How in the world would you have remembered me Gil?"  He said," because you had to fall over and over and over again - not because anything was wrong with your performance but because of technical issues." I was stumped. And replied, "But that was just part of the job." "Yes," he said, "but you never uttered one complaint. And that stayed with me."  He's a lovely man and a talented director. I'm grateful that we still know each other after all these years. 

      Another rather odd thing from this episode... Apparently there is something called Cinemorgue - where there are on set photos of actresses whose characters have died. I only know this because the 1st AD on the set of Rush Hour (I was coaching Chris Tucker) blew up my photo, poster size and posted it on set.
  • Another episode where a cell phone would have come in real handy. 
  • 22:47 - "The Foundation just does research, Harry.  It's a think tank."  ~MacGyver. Really, MacGyver, just research?  What about the art recovery/endangered species/diplomat security programs, to name just a few?
  • 27:15 - We hear the march music (referenced in the highlight) for the first time. I just looked up the 1987 Emmy results for Outstanding Achievement for Musical Composition: the winner was for a Knots Landing episode, and some of the other nominees were Dallas, Moonlighting, and Matlock. Excuse me while I go thrust a pen into my eardrum.  
  • Lucky for MacGyver and Harry that the bad guy closed the door on them rather than the more likely scenario of shooting them.
  • Brilliant idea by MacGyver to hide Harry in the women's bathroom - too bad Harry gives himself away by coughing.
  • I always liked the 5 consecutive telephones taps on the intercom from Harry to let MacGyver know he's on the 5th floor - very clever. 

Final Analysis:
Hard to believe there are 9 episodes better than this masterpiece.  Amazing, amazing episode. The dark mood is conveyed perfectly with the nighttime thunderstorm, and Victoria is a memorable villain.  The concept of running around a deserted office building about to be blown up is as compelling as it gets, the Edelman music is sublime, and Grandpa Harry is wonderful as is his chemistry with MacGyver. And there's one additional piece that I haven't mentioned yet which takes this episode to a higher place - the brief flashbacks of young MacGyver on the night that his father and grandmother died which add tremendous poignancy to an already emotionally charged episode. Television doesn't get much better than this. 


  1. By the way, I love "Rush Hour" with Chris Tucker. I don't normally laugh out loud even when I find something funny, but he is laugh out loud funny in that movie. The scene where he meets Jackie Chan at the airport and doesn't think he can speak English ("Put your bag in the back. PUT YOUR BAG...IN THE BACK!") is as funny as it gets.

  2. You've touched upon just about everything that made this episode great in your review. As you said, the opening scene set the mood for the episode with the murky rain-soaked entrance of Grandpa Harry amidst MacGyver's "nonalcoholic eggnog" in the chemistry set. It was clear right away this episode would be something special, and the flashbacks that interspersed with the main story was one of the first episodes where the audience was given a glimpse to the magnitude of MacGyver's tragic past, and it was employed very nicely in the story. This was my favorite Randy Edelman score of season 2 episodes and what you describe as the "march" music was one of his best individual moments of composition for the series. I almost fell out of my chair laughing at the prospect that you raised of the Emmy Awards ever recognizing "MacGyver" for anything back in the day....until I recognized the magnitude of their omission and how much of a blight it was on the integrity of television as an entertainment medium and my laughter quickly pivoted to sorrowful tears.

    The primary story with "Victoria James" and her cohort of rather incompetent terrorist sidekicks was nicely drawn throughout. Very interesting little interview with "Susan Murphy" and impressive that her friends still associate her with that 30-second appearance on "MacGyver" 28 years ago. Victoria's cold-blooded execution of Susan set the stage of her ruthlessness as a villain early in the hour. Some clueless DVD-reviewing wiseguys always tried to tear this episode down a peg by suggesting MacGyver's galavanting around the Phoenix Foundation was tantamount to a "ripoff of Die Hard", to which I was happily there to remind them that this "MacGyver" episode came out a year and a half before "Die Hard". Much like "Cleo Rocks", there was a smoldering tension throughout this one as it was clear all hell was gonna break loose amidst the tense early exposition. MacGyver and Harry made a great team with some solid banter throughout, despite my continuity annoyance that Grandpa Harry has been "farming the same patch of land in Minnesota" for decades even though just one year earlier he was hiding in the mountains of Colorado!

    MacGyver's electromagnet was another highlight amidst the escalating tension, but I do agree wholeheartedly with your "lowlight" as this episode had one gigantic weakness that took a lot away from Victoria with that flying kick out the window where she fell to her death. I always watch this and wonder if we're meant to believe she committed suicide....because nobody could be dumb enough for that to happen by accident. It's the one 30-second stretch of this episode that is an embarrassment. But let's forget about that and get to the great bomb defusal scene. I know you were hoping to get a phone interview from Stephen Kronish and I'm curious if the hockey ticket bomb defusal gimmick was his idea. I see the story of this episode was written by the series' official CalTech MacGyverism consultant John Koivula, so perhaps the idea was his. Definitely hoping to get some insights on a few things in this episode from Kronish who really wrote a gem here, perfecting the formula of season 2 to one of its finest hours. I rank this episode #20.

    1. Sounds like we're exactly on the same page with this one. On Victoria's flying leap, I wouldn't think suicide makes sense because then why go through her whole plan up to that point? I think the plot called for her to be removed from the equation and that was what they came up with, but we agree that it wasn't the best solution. I liked your comment about the Emmy Awards - our show has won a large amount of "rightful" Emmy's, that's for sure!

    2. Funny that you mention "Die Hard" - b/c there is actually a trope called 'Die Hard on an X' - which relates to any episode/movie/etc where the protagonists are locked in a structure of some sort and have to deal with the 'bad guys'. So this one is v. similar - w/ it being in an office building (tho, yes, it came out before the movie *g*) - it even has the antagonist going out a window. Alas, Die Hard did it better.

      If you want the tvtropes link, let me know - tho, TVT tends to lend itself to rabbit hole diving. =)

    3. Nick, agreed that Victoria's elaborate efforts to find and set off her bomb and not reveal her identity doesn't make suicide a sensible solution but perhaps having been found out by MacGyver made her realize she had already been outed to some degree and didn't want to continue operating under the radar the rest of her life. She did say, after all, that "I really need to be going" before her kick at MacGyver sent her out the window. I don't think it's worth overthinking this scene though as it seems to have simply been a convenient way to get rid of a villain MacGyver needed to get rid of. Too bad because everything else in this story was very tightly stitched together.

      Highlander, I've checked out that "tvtropes list". I think my favorite as it relates to MacGyver is referring to the Phoenix Foundation as "Heroes R Us".

    4. Phoenix is indeed a 'Heroes R Us' =)

      The 'Crowning Moments of Awesome' are usually fun to read too. *g*

  3. When I did a '30 days of...' blogging challenge back in 2010, Victoria James came up as my 'least favorite female character'. I don't know if she would still be slotted there, but she does land firmly in the cliche 'bad guy' column w/ her attitude - she's horrible to her underlings and condescending to everyone else. I'm aware this is a realistic character trait; however, it's sort of a trope that gets trotted out - smart bad guy surrounded by a fleet of idiots that they treat like garbage.

    Then she goes and throws herself out a window, solidifying herself as a kind of a 'fail' enemy.

    That aside, I like this episode. I like Harry and Mac working together and the hockey ticket bomb-stop. Also, I like the backstory elements. =)

    1. Yeah she reminds me of the head guy in Three for the Road, another Season 2 episode where the bad guy knows everything and has incompetent underlings who he treats like garbage.

    2. For me, it's far more compelling to have the solo bad guy who's smart and cunning - like Murdoc - than an arrogant bad guy who has underlings just to have someone to scream at. The latter almost always kills the underlings along the way anyway.

      I do think, if not for her silly karate-style leap out the window, I'd rank this episode higher than 'somewhere in the middle'. Though, she wasn't aiming to go out the window, she was aiming to kick Mac out the window and he moves at the last second. I'm not sure why she was leaping so high in the air though. Was she trying to kick him in the face? In that case, leave one foot on the ground and do a Chuck Norris roundhouse.

  4. Incredible episode! I couldn't agree more about the ticket scene being an off the charts great moment. Interesting to see how many Hollywood stars and semi-stars put in work with the Macgyver series. Appreciate the interviews you're doing. Why was the Michael des barres interview so short? Please tell me you asked him more questions and he just couldn'tget to them all because he just thought of a new way to come back on screen as murdoc. :)

    1. I'm afraid it's because he's busy with a new album rather than coming back as Murdoc, but who knows, perhaps the new album is a cover for a blockbuster return...

  5. I with everyone; this is indeed an excellent episode.
    The Frankenstein-style experiment matched by the thunder and lightning was a great intro but for me the resulting ’non-alcoholic egg-nog’ was slightly irritating; I really wanted it to be a great scientific breakthrough!
    The weather matches that of the fateful night of 14th December, 25 years ago which adds to the emotional charge of MacGyver and Harry’s reunion. Their relationship, which was re-discovered in Target MacGyver is further cemented through their shared adversity and their flashback remembrances, individually triggered during the evening’s events with nicely-timed breaks through the action. I’m with you, the chemistry between both the fictional characters and the real actors is excellent. We also get a poignant foretelling of the future – Harry says he is scared of dying alone (on the bus) and MacGyver refers to this fear in Passages - its an unusually accurate continuity detail for the series.
    I agree, Victoria James is a vicious villain but as Highlander notes, I wish they wouldn’t kill off their sidekicks and we all seem to agree, her leap through the window was not the best moment. I like the fact that she admires MacGyver as a worthy adversary, ‘everyone knows that MacGyver’s MacGyver’, second guessing his moves and knowing that he’ll spend the ‘last 15 minutes of your life’ searching for Harry.
    Minor fun/interesting points; MacGyver has a plaster on his finger, apparently down to the perils of science but presumably an RDA injury (possibly from Three for the Road?) Later it comes loose as he’s talking to the security guard and he fiddles with it. I also enjoyed - ‘He (Pete) doesn’t like hockey’ –‘How can you work for a guy like that?’, MacGyver falling through the door he’s opened by making electric sparks from his jumper, MacGyver immediately knowing that the gas is hydrogen sulphate, his explanation about Benjamin Franklin and the neat rows of electrons in the electromagnet and the great–sounding ‘New York lock’ (? can’t find anything about that online). MacGyver mumbling ‘Give up?’ to Victoria after she’s knocked him flying, was amusing together with his ‘sorry to disappoint you’ after she says she expected more of a fight from him (his performance wasn’t the best!)
    We all seem to agree; the drama and suspense are amazing during the brilliant one and a half minutes to defuse the bomb. The match ticket solution is superb. Does MacGyver ever get to the game –I can’t believe Harry would really go without him.
    Great episode full of harrowing backstory, suspense, action and developing relationships. I’ve got this one at no 28.

  6. I fully concur, this was a very, very good episode. I watched it last Friday and it was very poignant watching MacGyver and Harry remembering that fateful day when tragedy struck. I'm glad I didn't leave it to watch it today, that would have been a bit too strange, being the actual anniversary of MacGyver losing his parents.

    It's interesting how certain buildings and locations in the series really have that 1980's feel whilst others are timeless, unlike the clothing and technology which is almost always of the time. The interior of the Phoenix Foundation certainly falls into the first category!

  7. A great episode, altho I am not a fan of the smart evil woman with bozo men supporting. It seems too forced. There are better female villains like Deborah.

    Its worth noting that there actually was an Oilers game in LA on December 14, 1986. The Oilers won 4-2, with two assists by the named Gretzky. The only goal Harry mightve seen was by the Kings Bernie Nicholls at 3:52 in the third. Edmonton went on to win the third of five Cups in seven years. Those WERE hot tickets. ;)

    I really need to make my own ranking and I have a few things Id like to add to the collection of MacGyver episode databases.

    1. Interesting tidbit - thanks Mikey!

    2. Maybe Kronish had tickets for that game and incorporated it into the script.

  8. "Lowlight: The ending where Victoria does a flying kick at MacGyver and flies right out the window. I just don't think anyone would be that dumb."

    ROFL! I know. It was so strange! :)

    "because you had to fall over and over and over again - not because anything was wrong with your performance but because of technical issues."

    Did she have to keep falling over and over and over again out the window? :) They just had to get it right? Haha!

    1. Susan Murphy is the woman who gets killed in the parking garage, so fortunately didn't have to fall over and over again out the window!

  9. I didn't read all the comments, but there is a good chance that somebody has already mentioned this. RDA cut his pinky finger really bad while filming the previous episode "Three for the Road", during the scene in which he is cutting the back seat of the Cadillac. That's why he has some bandage on his finger. I posted, in the comments section of that episode, a You Tube link where RDA mentions this incident in one of the conventions he has been attending during the past years.

    This is another lovely episode, btw. I really love how two lonely men find themselves not so alone after all. Blood calls always and these two actors made a great job demonstrating that.

  10. I loved this episode except for the Victoria death scene.

    Was she trying to kick him out the window? Wouldn't she have also gone out as well like you said? Maybe not, it might have worked. Maybe she would have been sent backwards as poor macgyver was sent flying out the window to his demise.

    Or was she trying to kill herself? Dosent really make much sense though. She would have made a lot of money and her plan was pretty foolproof.

    Or maybe she was just trying to give him one final blow and she didn't notice the window. Maybe in the heat of the moment it didn't occur to her. She could have just been trying to kick him and then kill him with her hands like she did on some of the others.

    It was a really weird moment. I had to rewind several times lol.

    Otherwise great episode. My favorite episodes are the ones with the most interesting situations and this episode certainly was an interesting concept.

  11. This isn't a globetrotting episode, nor even a true adventure, which are generally my favourite, so, although it doesn't rank as high for me as, e.g., The Gauntlet or Trumbo's World, it's still great. And it's essential for the series: it greatly develops the Harry/MacGyver relationship. The dialogue between them was great, except for one awful "pun" from Harry about "thinktank."

    (BTW, they made an interesting mistake in the Swedish subtitles for this episode. In Target MacGyver, Harry is referred to as "morfar" - literally, "mother's father" - but in this one he is called "farfar" - "father's father" - which is wrong. He's actually MacGyver's maternal grandfather (morfar), isn't he?)

    The only serious weak point in this one was the main villain's death, but it's already been mentioned several times. Much too comical an end for her.