Sunday, April 26, 2015

#3: Mask of the Wolf

Season: 3

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Two Eagles, an elderly Native American from the Kaqwani tribe and neighbor of Jack Dalton, is kidnapped by two men who want him to help them find a valuable wolf mask.  Jack and MacGyver follow them to a cave on an Indian Reservation where the mask is located, but the mask is gone and they get trapped inside the cave.  

Memorable Quote:
I'm sorry old man.  You were right.  ~Perry
The Illicom has returned your soul.  ~Two Eagles

Highlight:
Everything that happens in the cave.  For starters, it's a beautifully designed set.  The first part of the scene is great where the bandits steal the mask.  It's a clever plan by Two Eagles to lure them to the cave and trap them, and then a smart response by Grant to stop the booby trap with his knife. And then some skillful script writing to have Jack remove the knife and unwittingly set off the booby trap after he and MacGyver arrive.  The thick wooden door with a face painted on it is a great and memorable barrier.  Then there is an awesome escape as MacGyver uses finely ground copper and zinc to pack a charge and force an explosion back up into the booby trap shaft, which drives the piston up and raises the door temporarily.  Jack Dalton then has a moment that recalls The Temple of Doom when Indiana Jones reaches in to grab his hat just before the door comes crashing down. And of course there is amazing minor key music throughout the scene by Ken Harrison as usual in these nature episodes.

Also I love MacGyver's look of shock when he sees the door close in front of him.


Lowlight:
None.

Best MacGyverism:
See highlight.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:  
  • Excellent yet somber beginning as it's a cloudy, dreary day and MacGyver and Jack drive into Jack's rundown neighborhood. They find Two Eagles lying on the ground and bloodied from being mugged.  Two Eagles is played by Floyd Red Crow Westerman, and the makeup staff did a good job of making him seem older than he really was (51). Westerman does a wonderful job as Jamie Two Eagles, and this was actually his first acting role which then springboarded him to over 50 roles in tv and movies including Dances with Wolves and Son of the Morning Star. 
  • One final instance of Jack roping MacGyver into an adventure against his better judgment, this time while MacGyver is waxing his skis in preparation for a winter vacation. After this episode we won't be seeing Dalton again on the countdown.  And I forgot to mention in my last review that we wouldn't be seeing Pete Thornton any more either.  Sigh.  
  • I love the Native Education Center library room - looks like a cozy little place where I would enjoy spending a lot of time.    
  • Gary Lockwood stars as Grant, the head bandit.  I read some articles about him and he was quite a guy.  Here's an article about his "friendship" with Steve McQueen that includes some amazing quotes such as the one below:
    • I'm not trying to be macho or anything, but I was a real tough guy in those days.  I was a cowyboy - a bad mother-----r. I f----d everybody'w wife and daughter.  I beat up guys in bars. Actors were afraid of me.  But don't get me wrong, a lot of actors loved my ass.
  • Perry, the other bandit and a fellow Kaqwani, is played by Gordon Tootoosis, a veteran Native American actor.  Both he and Lockwood do a great job, and I like the dynamic of Perry's inner conflict between wanting to get rich off the mask vs. wanting to do the right thing by his people. 
  • Just as in Ghost Ship, I love the mission here.  Drive 6 hours to an Indian Reservation and take a dogsled to rescue a kidnapped Native American and find the Mask of the Illicon.  Doesn't get any better than that.  And I looked up "Illicon" (Two Eagles' word for wolf) online but couldn't find anything, though I may not have spelled it correctly. It also may just be a made up word. 
  • Love this conversation between MacGyver and Jack after Two Eagles has been kidnapped:
    • "What do you want to do?"  ~MacGyver
    • "Go after them!  They can't be that far ahead.  Two Eagles gave me a pretty good idea of where we were going.  All we gotta do is high tail it into Indian Country and head the bad guys off at the pass.  What da ya say?"  ~Jack
    • "I say we're driving all night."  ~MacGyver
    • Don't worry, I'll spell ya."  ~Jack  
  • "I must have lost it somewhere.  Shall we continue?"  ~Two Eagles.  I like how he delivers this line after Perry asks him where his necklace is.  
  • Love the dogsledding scenes.  "It's been a couple of years since I've done this," MacGyver notes. Of course he;s a borderline dogsledding expert and still knows all the commands.
  • Solid ending at Anna Lightfoot's cabin as Perry shows his inner goodness by trying to stop Grant and getting shot in the process.  Though I'm not sure why MacGyver and Jack wait to jump from the roof on top of Grant until after he's already shot Perry.
  • This episode has 4 credited writers, 3 of whom I've talked to recently.  Kerry Lenhart said that he and John Sakmar's contribution to this episode was extremely minimal and that Calvin Clements and W. Reed Moran deserved all the credit.  When I talked to Moran and asked him about this episode, he had an interesting memory.
    • I was on the verge of getting let go by the show and there was a writers strike coming.  I knew I wasn't coming back.  There was a general rule or guideline from either the network or the studio about what scripts for their shows shouldn't have: no Indians, no old people, and no snow. This was my way of going out in style: an episode with an old Indian in the snow. 

Final Analysis:
There's nothing all that spectacular that's going to "wow" viewers of this episode.  In fact, I'm guessing that there are probably very few MacGyver fans that would put this episode in their top 25 let alone their top 3. So why do I have it so high?  For starters, I love all things Native American, and when you combine that with the snowy cold locale, the wolf, the mythology, the treasure hunting, and then you throw in Jack Dalton, the cabin refuge, the cave scene, the dogsleds, and the great music, it's almost like this episode was made just for me.  It's kind of funny that Reed Moran mentioned how Hollywood was looking down on stories about old Indians and snow because that totally appeals to me.  I guess Hollywood and I don't share the same tastes - maybe that's why I can hardly find a television show or movie nowadays that interests me.

But who needs 'em when I got this episode to watch.  It's like comfort food for me.  If I ever have a bad day at the office or am feeling down, I always know I can go to the DVD player and pop in Mask of the Wolf and I'll be taken to my happy place.

Well, that brings us to the end of Season 3.  Sniffle, sniffle.  5 of my of top 13 episodes and 10 of my top 31 were from this season.  The combination of the excellent nature episodes plus MacGyver doing lots of assignments for the Phoenix Foundation make this my favorite season overall.  I definitely have a soft spot for the high adventure of Season 1, especially given that my top 2 episodes are from that season, but Season 3 will always be numero uno in this MacGyver fan's heart!   

13 comments:

  1. I've always enjoyed this one as well, particularly the visual appeal at that cave scene. The pacing for me was the biggest drawback and was generally the Achille's heel of the outdoor adventure episodes that involved some manner of treasure hunting, particularly "The Treasure of Manco" and even "Gold Rush". That's not so much of a criticism as the visual appeal and production values bring plenty to the table, but the episodes that build up a greater level of intensity are more likely to be in my upper-tier. And given that you rated all of the other treasure hunt episodes in the gutter, I'm shocked that this one made your top-5. I tend to like Native American themes as well and liked this one quite a bit more than "Trail of Tears", which since I've made this list have realized that I've rated too high. Not sure who gave Reed Moran that advice about themes to avoid on TV series but it was absolutely terrible advice and speaks volumes about why there's so much dreck on television generally. Apparently Downing must have agreed at least a little since he requested a considerable rewrite from whatever Lenhart and Sakmar originally drafted and this episode was the final result of that. On the other hand, I've noticed some trash talk about this one from fellow "MacGyver Project" regulars so perhaps the themes in this episode really aren't universal.

    Anyway, I liked the opening scene where Jack was living in the slums (oh that oppressive Vancouver ghetto!!!) as a result of his fruitless hustles catching up to him and also liked the fact that Jack's intentions here were less than 100% self-serving so it didn't turn him into a caricature. I also enjoyed that Native American Center library and thought it led to a memorable introduction of Grant and Perry who were charismatic villains. I had no idea of the relevance of actor Gary Lockwood or his connection to Steve McQueen and based on your description of him I presume he's dead now. He certainly had the look of a Hollywood leading man. I also had no idea that Floyd Westerman was only 51 when this episode was filmed. I would easily figured late 60s so you're absolutely right on the excellent work by the make-up guys. After Two Eagles kidnapping, I really liked where things went with the manhunt up to the snowy reservation, the scene deleted on cable where Jack was falling asleep behind the wheel, and definitely the introduction to Anna's oddly located shop in the middle of the dense woods and especially the dog sledding bit. I thought the search for cave and the presence of the wolf lurking in the background got to be a little long-winded by the third act but minor detail.

    The episode sparkled best in the cave and the way Lockwood described himself made me wonder if he was acting or just being himself during that and other scenes where he got snippy with Two Eagles. Very well produced and I also enjoyed the trap that Two Eagles hoped to lead the bad guys into that ultimately got tripped by Dalton. Agreed that the look on MacGyver's face was classic when he saw the door. The MacGyverism to get outside was indeed great and Dalton's Indiana Jones gimmick was also not wasted on me. As for the final 10 minutes of the episode, I liked how Perry eventually saw the light and turned on Grant but the final action scene was weak and anticlimactic for me with the snowman in a jacket somehow steering a snowmobile through the woods (where'd they get the gas to get the stray snowmobile running again?!?!?) and the leap off of the roof to get Grant after he started shooting people all seemed like a rushed closing moment. It didn't really take away from the episode but it kept it from getting as plum of a ranking as a more inspired ending would have. I ranked this one #71, right in the absolute middle, but looking at my list I could definitely be persuaded to at least switcheroo this one with my #69 "Deadly Silents".

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    1. It's funny you mention the treasure hunting episodes because I remember you made a comment on one of them a while back like "not sure where you have mask of the wolf but you have all these episodes as pretty low" and I was thinking to myself "I have it quite high!" I love treasure hunting stuff (in fact I used to read real life treasure hunt books as a kid and do actual library research), it's just that the earlier episodes didn't appeal as much for other reasons (I'm not big on Osiris but I do enjoy Manco and Holy Rose despite the lower rankings). And I'm with you on not being big on Trail of Tears despite the Native American theme - I guess it goes to show that it takes more than just a theme or a plot element.

      Also funny you mention the deleted scene with Jack driving because I was thinking the same thing when I first saw it (that it seemed like a deleted scene) but then their conversation afterwards about whether Two Eagles would be ok seemed like something more significant that wouldn't have been cut, so I doubted myself. But looks like my instinct was correct.

      The snowman in the jacket was on the dogsled, not the snowmobile - is that enough to move this one above Deadly Silents? Anything else I can say to help convince you? :)

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    2. And still no #97 from you. Please be nice when the time comes!

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    3. Also I like your point about Jack not acting in 100% self-interest - definitely a plus here. And glad I'm not the only person in the world who finds appeal in the themes from this episode.

      And Gary Lockwood is still alive - I can see why you thought he wasn't based on my description of him.

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    4. Yeah I figured when I said that that "Mask of the Wolf" would probably be coming up pretty quickly given your low rankings for the other treasure hunt episodes so when your list kept going and going and going with no "Mask of the Wolf" I was surprised. One thing I forgot to mention in my review in why this one doesn't rank as high as the other treasure hunt episodes is that they all featured some manner of puzzles from ancient historical counterparts who were MacGyver's intellectual equals, a theme that I thought made Indiana Jones-style treasure hunts a perfect fit for this series. While the cave scene in "Mask of the Wolf" arguably had some elements along those lines, it didn't resonate with me the same way the World War II pilots rigged parts of the plane as booby traps in "Gold Rush", Ambrose's scepter locks and optical pump on "Legend of the Holy Rose" and the four elements chamber lock on "Eye of Osiris" did.

      Thanks for the correction that it was the dog sled and not the snowmobile that the snowman in the jacket was steering. It's been a while since I've seen this one and forgot that specific plot point. It still seems a little silly but at least was a tactical possibility compared to my erroneous perception that it was a snowmobile. And considering that the closing scene from "Deadly Silents" with MacGyver talking to Pinky outside the Paramount studio was considerably worse than anything on "Mask of the Wolf", you have my permission to move "Mask of the Wolf" to #69 and Deadly Silents to #71. A dozen or so other episodes will be switched around in my next reconfiguration as well. Now what can I do to get you to put the brilliant "Eye of Osiris" ahead of abominations like "Hind-Sight" and "MacGyver's Women"!? :)

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    5. Osiris probably deserves to be ahead of Hind Sight for production quality alone (given that Hind Sight was just MacGyver and Pete in a waiting room). I was thinking of doing a re-ranking and posting it after watching the two movies - I like your idea of having a standing one that you edit as time goes on.

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    6. I've edited mine considerably since my first list in 1992. At least with me, my impressions of a couple dozen or more episodes has changed dramatically since my original viewings.

      "MacGyver" episodes ranked #97 aren't likely to elicit too many nasty comments since I'm a fan of episodes ranked even into the 110s and 120s of this series. I do have a few structural criticisms of my #97 but it's still an entertaining episode. Thanks for clarifying that Lockwood is still alive.

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    7. Mark... It wasn't the snowmobile the snowman with the red coat was on the dogsled.

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  2. This one's at #124 for me... and looking back at my post about it, I didn't write up very much in the way of reasoning, but the sluggish plotline is probably a big factor in why it's lower.

    I love the dogsledding part, but that alone isn't enough to pull this up on my list.

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  3. Sorry again Nick; this is just not a favourite for me. I find it too slow (as you suggested some viewers might), was not totally convinced by some of the acting and am not really into the Indiana Jones- style booby traps in caves and. I too. thought the ending rather anti-climactic. I also don’t like the vaguely depressing neighbourhood Jack lives in – it doesn’t look that threatening, just dull!
    Plenty of things to like as usual; MacGyver appears to be oiling his skis with his iron! Some good lines ‘I love it when you talk science’, MacGyver explaining the Dewey decimal system, Jack –‘Walking stick’ , MacGyver; ’Talking stick, Jack’, and Jack eager to borrow MacGyver’s equipment if he can have the ‘humungus red and black parka’. The snowy backdrop makes for attractive visuals; If there was that much snow in the UK, as I’ve mentioned before, the whole country would be shut! I did enjoy MacGyver knowing how to drive the dog sled, of course, and his ‘haven’t got a clue’ (how to get out of the cave). He’s also wearing his nice grey jumper again.
    Its pretty close to Highlander’s ranking at 120 for me.

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    1. I also noticed what looks like the same gray sweater from Ghost Ship. :)

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  4. Never cared much for this episode. It appears you have an emotional connection to this particular show, which is what should matter anyway. I was really annoyed with this when I first saw it, but I've since decided it's not that bad. Lots of MacGyver plots are far-fetched, but that doesn't mean they can't still be entertaining.

    My favorite character in this is Perry. I like the conflict you mentioned between money and tribal loyalty. I like the actor because he's in one of my all-time favorite movies: legends of the fall. If you like all things native american, you'd probably enjoy that movie.

    The villain here is better than I originally gave him credit for. He's cunning, aggressive, and thinks quickly on his feet (putting the knife in the trap).

    I guess what kills it for me in this one is the hocus pocus magical wolf plot mover and the fact that jack really doesn't do much as a character here.

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    1. Thanks for the movie recommendation, Robert. I haven't seen that one and I'll add it to my list.

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