Thursday, April 2, 2015

#11: Log Jam

Season: 5

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
MacGyver goes to Oregon to revive a timber summit that has stalled due to tensions between the loggers and the environmentalists.  He goes undercover as a logger to try and learn more about a suspected murder and stumbles onto a plot involving the illegal smuggling of logs to Japan.  

Memorable Quote:
Recycling happens to be one of your concepts I agree with.  ~Glass

You mean other than the entire episode?  If I have to pick one thing, I'll go with the Glass character. He's a great villain with his slicked back hair, black jacket, and ruthless demeanor, and his presence takes the episode to the next level.  Even his chopped off finger looks real.  I'm adding him to the #4 spot on the top villains list.

Right from the opening second I can tell this is gonna be a great episode with the sight of the crystal clear lake, dark green pines, and the spotted owl. I'm not sure the stock footage shot of the deer was necessary, however. An extremely small detail, but there's no other lowlights to choose from in this hour of wonderment. 

Best MacGyverism:

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:

  • We first see MacGyver in a floatplane, and he's looking down at the clear cut forests while listening to the pilot explain the state of the timber industry.  I reached out to Roger Barnes, the actor who played the pilot, to ask if he had any memories from the episode and he was kind enough to respond.  And check out Roger's website here
    • Richard was a true professional and a particularly nice guy with everyone.  It was quite cold when we shot so we had to chew ice cubes to help reduce breath vapour. He and I shared a few good laughs in the tiny cockpit and we got our shots quite quickly.  The Director, Bill Gereghty was also great to work with. I knew a number of the other actors on the show and enjoyed their work.  I was done after our shot.  Actually had to catch a plane to Toronto later that day for something else. Had to loop in some additional dialogue a couple weeks later for the aerial shots of the ground.  I had to match the way I sounded in the plane but was in a studio.  There were a number of loops to insert at various points.  Normally, you would do one at a time but I said to the engineer, why don’t we just wing it and try them all in one take.  He said sure and to all of our surprise, we nailed it in one. Sometimes you get lucky!
  • John Considine makes his third and final MacGyver acting appearance (though we'll see him again as a writer) as Foxworth, the corrupt logging foreman.
  • Lots of independent actors and a web of conflicts which makes this plot fun:
    • Jack vs. Amy (husband and wife)
    • Jack vs. MacGyver
    • Jack vs. Foxworth
    • MacGyver vs. Foxworth/Glass
    • Foxworth vs. Glass
  • Nice parking job, MacGyver.

  • Of course MacGyver was a "rigging slinger" in college. Was that before or after he raced cars, defused bombs in Vietnam, traveled the world with Dalton and Mike, won the barricade competition, and had 12 different girlfriends?
  • I like MacGyver's goofy smile when Jack tells him that his logging experience was a long time ago. And I'm a huge Jack fan - just a great guy, and it's awesome once he finally gets over his distrust of MacGyver and starts helping him.  
  • I also like the "Betsy" appearing on the truck flap as a clue - very clever.
  • Nice foreshadowing to see a shot of the log elevator during the beginning of the scene at the log mill.
  • Great moment as MacGyver charges Glass and takes both of them off of the level they're on, and then another dive to add to MacGyver's impressive list.
  • The entire fight scene is epic and very well filmed, especially the part as MacGyver and Glass ride up the log elevator together. 

Final Analysis:
Holy Lord in Heaven, what an episode.  My goodness.  Only the MacGyver series could take something like the logging industry and make an insightful, compelling, and educational hour of television that also happens to feature edge of your seat excitement.  The script is ingenious, the acting superb, the ending memorable, and the nature locale just perfect.  And the Big Timber/Yakuza alliance takes everything to a higher place. Hard to imagine that there are 10 episodes any better than that one.

And as we now move into the top 10, we officially put Season 5 to rest.  Let's say a quick reflection in memory of the dearly departed season.  Before going into this project, I always thought of Season 7 as the weakest season. That may still be true, but only 2 episodes for Season 5 in the top 44 (#11 and #27) doth not a strongest season make. On the other hand, this season did have 2 landmark episodes that I have likely underrated in Passages and The Madonna, so I can't be too hard on it. Coming up next, it's time to enter the top ten zone!  


  1. I really liked this one too. The general tone of so many of the issues and environmental episodes was often overly preachy, and there was no shortage of that here, but they made it work with a tight script, a great setting exploited to ultimate effect, some sinister villains, and all the levels of conflict you cited. It felt like they accurately captured the politics of logging country, and at least some of the loggers (like Jack) weren't villains of the Yakuza gangster order and were thus relateable while the environmentalists, particularly Amy, weren't always completely righteous either. Considine was fantastic as always as a villain but Glass definitely stole the show. There was a legitimate Japanese timber industry tie to the 80s-era logging issues and a general paranoia of Japan taking over the world economy generally. It may not have been very culturally sensitive of "MacGyver" to take these fears to the absolute extreme with the wildly over-the-top (but deliciously so) Yakuza gangster angle but it certainly worked for the entertainment value of this episode.

    Now I do have one fairly substantial "lowlight" with this episode though. You touched upon it with MacGyver's background conveniently giving him a resume that helps him land a logging job, but the way he landed that job was pure hokum. We'd already established that this was a hurting town with a high unemployment rate and undoubtedly hundreds of people who would have absolutely loved to have taken Lopez's "chokerman" job, yet a stranger walks into the logging camp one afternoon and is hired on the spot with no interview and no paperwork? I get that it was a narrative convenience but as someone who grew up in this kind of town where there were 1,000 applicants for every decent job, I have a bit of a visceral wince every time I watch this scene. Beyond that though, I enjoyed everything here, including the revelation of "Betsy's" identity, the convoluted tagging scheme they dreamed up, the encounter at the diner, the frame-up of Amy, and the escalating fearsomeness of gangster Glass. All great stuff with solid acting by everyone throughout the hour with terrific visuals.

    And then there was the ending. What an incredible fight scene with MacGyver and Glass.....probably the longest fight scene in the history of the series that varied from high elevation to low and back to high again. I remember my parents both watching the preview of this episode back in 1990 and in the scene where Glass approached MacGyver with the chainsaw. My mom blurted out that the actor (Patrick Bishop) was on "General Hospital" and my dad's perfect rim shot comeback "It looks like he's still doing surgery!" I couldn't quite figure out what that conveyor belt to nowhere led to and was supposed to do but it was a great ending anyway.

    On a more serious note, I feel as if an intervention here is needed based on your final paragraph! There is NO WAY that the droopy, grumpy, checked-out "MacGyver" of season 7 trumped season 5! It would take a neutron telescope to see the quality of season 5 from where season 7 was! To paraphrase the corrupt foreman from the great season 5 episode "Live and Learn"...."on second thought, maybe some of your figures are off!" :) Seriously though, I rank this one #50.

    1. I like the rim shot from your dad, that's a good one. And despite the shaky numbers for Season 5, you'll be happy to know that I still put it ahead of Season 7! But I wouldn't have guessed those numbers going into the project - though as I said, I probably should have had Passages and Madonna higher which would give this season some more oomph.

      I hadn't thought of the unemployment in the town and MacGyver easily gaking the chokerman job before, but you raise a good point. As much as I enjoy being outside, I don't think I would have enjoyed being a chokerman.

    2. One more thing that I feel should be acknowledged about "Log Jam" is another fantastic musical score from Ken Harrison.

      I think when you complete the list and compare the episodes from season 5 and season 7 that appear in the middle of the pack even without accounting for "Passages" and "The Madonna", you'll likely concede that "Black Rhino", "Jenny's Chance", and "The Ten Percent Solution" are at a completely different level than "Split Decision" and "Off the Wall". At least that's been my experience over the years when I've looked at my list....the episodes from season 6 and especially season 7 have plummeted. There are likely to be a few more casualties on that front for me at the end of this ranking as a dozen or so episodes strike me as likely to need some shifting.

    3. I was gonna mention the music and I forgot! You're absolutely right - awesome score from Harrison.

      I also agree with your analysis of the mid-pack episodes with season 5 at a higher level than 7. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the hair - for those who like the MacGyver mullet, this was the season for you.

  2. Nice interview with Roger Barnes too. Never heard of using ice to keep frost on one's breath from being evident. I would have figured it'd be the other way around and that that would make breath look even frostier in the cold weather.

    And yes, I would rate MacGyver's parking of the rented Jeep as #2 worst parking job by MacGyver on the series.....but nothing tops that middle-of-the-street park of his '57 Nomad in front of the baseball card shop in "Squeeze Play".

  3. I don't like this episode as much as you. And, yes, Mac's 'expansion pack past' does get a little crowded after a while.

    And, I agree w/ Mark - s5 is better than s7.

  4. Season 7 is mostly disappointing for me. A few brought spots (obsessed) but mostly evident the series was running out of ideas. Season 5 is ok. Some hokey stuff here and there. I think they were trying to appeal to a wider audience, but started losing the core meaning to the show.

    Im really interested to see why you rate good knight higher than this and other gems. Mask of the wolf too. Dazzle me. Hahaha

    1. Don't worry, you'll be dazzled!

    2. I'm with Robert so far and have long been dreading where you're ranking GKM and M of the W !

    3. You're not a fan of GTM and the trip into old English mythology?! I'll be interested to hear your perspective once we get to that one!

  5. I absolutely loved the knife fight while riding up the ramp! Awesome! Very excusing! Can smell wood chips and pine needles throughout this episode!

  6. Thanks for the review of "Log Jam". It makes me want to go back and watch it again!

  7. it’s a great one and the only negative points are, I agree, the relentless reinvention of MacGyver’s past to fit the plot and, for me, the stock footage, the rather irritating Amy and some slightly overlong scenes involving her cause and confrontation with the loggers. The twist that Jack is her husband is a great device though and Mark has a good point that she has her faults and is not portrayed as a totally sympathetic character. I too had fun spotting the parking in this and ‘Squeeze play’; we don’t have room to park sloppily like that in the UK!
    MacGyver as a logger and versus the Yakusa ; what more could we want. Interesting background to the industry, well- conveyed local politics and clever detail about the inspection process together with realistic scenes of the logging work and how tough it must be if even MacGyver’s exhausted by it. And how scary are the Yakusa? - the little finger trope has been done to death on tv and in film but it never fails to impress me!
    I agree with Nick, Jack’s a great guy but he and Amy are pretty stupid to turn up at the mill out in the open like that. I'm with everyone here,the MacGyver/Glass struggle is indeed epic - hand to hand, chainsaw, knife, magnificent leaps, up and down the levels and one of the few really life-or-death, him-or-me, battles where MacGyver deliberately lets a villain fall to his death with no attempt to save him.
    This episode is on my list of those that I enjoy watching over and over - I think that’s what defines a really good episode for me and ranked pretty close to Nick at no. 18. And yes, Season 5 is way ahead of season 7!

  8. I just did my write up of this one and I wanted to comment on this:

    "Of course MacGyver was a "rigging slinger" in college. Was that before or after he raced cars, defused bombs in Vietnam, traveled the world with Dalton and Mike, won the barricade competition, and had 12 different girlfriends?"

    Since we were talking about Mac's 'expansion pack past' (I'm being kind not linking to the TV Tropes page - you could get lost for days in there!) This logging bit would've been during the timeline of the barricade contest if that was University (iirc, that was Uni for him)... so, before the cars, bombs and world travel, but maybe somewhere in the middle of the 12 girlfriends? XD

  9. "It was quite cold when we shot so we had to chew ice cubes to help reduce breath vapour."

    But wouldn't chewing on ice cubes make you feel even colder?

    1. It might, but it would also cool down the air in their mouths so the vapor wouldn't be big clouds an obscure their faces in the camera.

    2. Hahaha good point Highlander. :)