Friday, April 10, 2015

#8: Strictly Business

Season: 6

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
Murdoc comes out of retirement to return to the criminal business, and his first job is to kill MacGyver. He "saves" MacGyver's life as a repayment for MacGyver rescuing his sister, and then MacGyver goes into hiding up in the woods. Murdoc ambushes him with a rocket launcher which causes MacGyver to get amnesia, and when a mother and daughter take him in, Murdoc tries to convince them that MacGyver is a killer named Murdoc. 

Memorable Quote:
So long, MacGyver.  Rest in pieces.   ~Murdoc

Highlight:
The opening two scenes (first in HIT headquarters and then in the houseboat) are as good as anything that's ever been on television.  More details to come later.  

Lowlight:
Hmm, I'm not sure, maybe it was the fact that OUR CABLE WENT OUT RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE $%@#$% EPISODE!  Much more on this below.

Best MacGyverism:
Melts down shell powder and sodders it to a sawed off shotgun, which interrupts the current in the wires and allows MacGyver to cut through it.  Not exactly sure I explained that correctly. 

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • What an opening!  Are you kidding me?!  Murdoc makes an appearance in front of the HIT (Homicide International Trust) board, a panel of 3 people at a table which harkens back to the Deathlock/Silent World panels. The feel of the scene is this super-cool techno/sci-fi mix with incredible music and visuals, and it works on every single level.
  • And now we transition directly to the scene at the houseboat where Murdoc makes the elaborate, formal dinner spread complete with a cyanide-tipped Cupid statue arrow.  I ask once again: are you kidding me with how great this scene is?!?! Seriously, what a fantastic scene. More incredible music to go with great dialogue and a memorable conversation between our favorite hero and villain.  John Sheppard, the scriptwriter, was at the very top of his game (and his profession) with this opening.
  • I do wonder why MacGyver even bothers to "lay low for a while." It's not like Murdoc is just going to give up after a week or two.
  • 15:15 mark - I remember as a kid being shocked by the first shot of MacGyver's face that is half covered in blood.
  • I love this version of Murdoc: short-haired, leather jacket clad, and dressed completely in black. His out-of-control rage from the previous episodes has given way to this super-cool, professional look.
  • 21:16 - Murdoc is ready to take out MacGyver with a silencer when he stops because the girl sneaks into the cabin.  In real life, a professional hit man likely wouldn't hesitate to kill the girl and mother too.      
  • In previous posts, I've alluded to a traumatic, real-life event that struck the Sweedo household during the live viewing of an episode in my top 10.  Well, here we are!  I think it was right around the 24:00 mark when Murdoc shows the mother MacGyver's Phoenix Foundation ID with MacGyver's picture cut out and Murdoc's picture in its place.  Let's set the scene, and hope that the memories aren't too painful:
    • It was Monday night, April 8, 1991. I was 10 years old and had seen MacGyver for the first time on October 29, 1990. By April, I imagine that I had seen the entire series up to that point on USA Network reruns.  I was also watching Season 6 episodes live on ABC, and Mondays were the best because I got the USA Network rerun at 7 and then the new episode on ABC at 8 (at least I think those were the times).
    • Michael Des Barres was my favorite guest star, and I recently described in my write up on his new album how I'd go nuts with excitement when a Murdoc episode came on. So imagine my excitement when a brand spanking new episode was ready to be unveiled live on ABC.
    • I couldn't have asked for a better opening to an episode, and I was having the time of my life watching it with Mom when disaster struck around the 24:00 mark and the cable went out.  We had another television in the house and tried that one, but no luck. I remember the cable (and sometimes the power to the whole house) would go out all the time when I was a kid - we had telephone poles above ground (rather than wiring below ground which is more common today than it was back then) and so maybe a car hit a pole. Or maybe it was just a glitch somewhere.  I don't know.  All I know is that there was sadness, anger, grief, and despair.  And that was just from my Mom - I haven't even gotten to myself yet. I remember my Dad called one of my classmates who liked the show just on the off chance that they taped it and their cable hadn't gone out.  The longest of long shots, and no luck. 10 year old Nick went to bed on April 8, 1991, a very sad little kid. 
    • For all you spoiled brats kids out there reading this, let me explain something to you. Back in 1991, you couldn't just instantaneously bring up the show you missed on the internet.  You couldn't pay someone to see it on iTunes.  You had to wait MONTHS to see it again on rerun!  Do you understand what I'm saying? We had to wait MONTHS to see what happened in this episode! AAAHHHH!  I'm getting upset just thinking about it!
    • But a good lesson for all you kids out there: sometimes in life, you don't always get what you want. And sometimes the payoff is worth the wait. Eventually the episode did come back on, and my Mom and I were right there to watch it.  And it was worth the wait.   
  • "Definitely Murdoc's handiwork.  I could fix it if I only had some duct tape."  ~Murdoc.  Cha-ching!
  • Amy's the best: first she has the intuition to sense who is good and who is not, and then she has the independent resolve to do something about it.  And she saves MacGyver's life in the process.
  • More amazingly suspenseful music in the cabin as Murdoc sets up the camera in preparation for executing MacGyver, still in the throes of amnesia. I especially love the single pitch buzzing sound effect. This may be composer Ken Harrison's finest hour.
  • When Murdoc calls down to MacGyver hiding in the ditch below and tells him to follow him to the abandoned mine, it makes one wonder why Murdoc couldn't have just climbed a few feet down and shot him. Though of course he could also have just shot him in the houseboat earlier. As always, one has to suspend disbelief a bit in the Murdoc episodes.
  • More suspension of disbelief as Murdoc elaborately rigs up explosives in the mine in about 10 minutes.
  • Some great symbolic imagery as MacGyver uncomfortably loads the shotgun and then later finds his pocketknife that Murdoc leaves for him.
  • I've said before how MacGyver's self defense skills have improved greatly in the later years, and it's wonderful to see him best Murdoc in hand to hand combat.
  • After Murdoc is shoved into the rock pile, a memorable moment as we see a shot of his hand amidst the rubble followed by a knife quickly appearing. And then he rises robotically and sinisterly from the pile. 

Final Analysis:
After one little bout of somber grumpiness, I'm back to my gushing, overenthusiastic self.  And let me just say, I can't gush enough about this episode.  The beginning is out of this world, the middle is compelling and clever, and the ending in the mine shaft is thrilling and epic.  This is my favorite Murdoc episode, and I find the tone just picture perfect.  It's dark and serious, and the cat and mouse game in the middle of the woods is as good as it gets.  I like the mother and daughter characters, and Ken Harrison's music is unreal.  I may have had to wait to see it initially, but it was well worth the wait.

And now we put Season 6 officially to rest.  It was a great run for the season as the tone was somewhat dark with some great minor key music from Ken Harrison, and it was nice to see MacGyver cut his shaggy Season 5 hair and look a little more respectable.

And as for the top Villains list, I can't in good conscience have Pietra ahead of Murdoc - I just haven't seen enough of Pietra to justify him being in the top spot whereas I've seen plenty of Murdoc, so Murdoc goes to #1.   

23 comments:

  1. You officially finished off not only my top-10 but my entire top-25. Can't imagine the hissy fit I'd have thrown if I endured the cable outage you did but I had my own trepidations leading up to this one. We were 18 episodes into season 6 and still no Murdoc! Was my dad right? Was Murdoc's arc done after pairing with MacGyver in "Halloween Knights" and there would be no additional Murdoc episodes?!??! I was getting concerned, but they came through in the clutch with an episode well worth the wait. I said before that John Sheppard often piggybacked on tropes that popped up earlier and did again here, but this time improved upon the original. I speak of course about the HIT headquarters and its resemblance to the East German trio sneering at Quayle in "Deathlock". The same atmosphere was drawn up here but with a look and feel comparable to planet Krypton from the beginning of Superman II. There was also a hat tip to "The Assassin" (another one...Sheppard must like that episode as much as me!) with the weapons on Murdoc's person filling the table outside the metal detector. The conversation with the HIT board was great but it would've been more believable if Murdoc had thrown a ceramic knife rather than a giant metal blade that somehow missed the metal detector but I still loved it.

    Agreed that the episode remained at top form as it moved to the houseboat and the poison dart-shooting table decor was genius. I didn't know how they could credibly turn Murdoc into a villain again after MacGyver saved his sister's life but they handled it about as convincingly as possible with Murdoc's "repaying the debt" bit with the death trap dinner party. MacGyver should've just take Pete with him to hide out in the woods since Pete would more easily be "caught in Murdoc's crosshairs" sitting in his office at Phoenix with limited vision but it was wise of MacGyver to at least get out of the houseboat! Murdoc's bazooka-wielding antics and his greatest line in the series ("Goodbye MacGyver! And rest in pieces!") wrapped up the first act which we both agree was the strongest portion of the episode. I'll admit I cringed a bit when they moved to the "Days of Our Lives"-esque amnesia plotline next as that usually seems cheesy to me and never executed as flawlessly as I prefer, but it mostly worked here, allowing for a role reversal between MacGyver and Murdoc that was a genuine scream, and never better than Murdoc's "I'd fix it if I only had some duct tape" quip. Mother and daughter were both solid characters and Amy was more impressive than most child characters on this show, particularly how her instincts guided her connection with MacGyver and her reflexive distrust of Murdoc.

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    1. Wow, none of my top 7 are in your top 25. I'm actually quite concerned about the fact that your #97 is still on the board. When the time comes, I'm going to have to take a deep breath, put on my suit of armor, and strengthen myself to read your comments which will surely include some scathing remarks. :) Or else I may have to give it the LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA treatment!

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    2. This is "MacGyver". I still like the #97 episode more than I dislike it! The reviews don't start getting scathing until the mid-120s at the earliest for me.

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  2. The suspense level was high all hour, culminating in the wild and woolly final act. We both cited "Deathlock" earlier in our reviews, where Quayle rigged a mansion full of booby traps in a day, but Quayle looked like a rank amateur compared to what Murdoc was able to rig in 10 minutes in that mine shaft. Excellent writing to incorporate MacGyver's instinctive discomfort with the shotgun that he nonetheless took with him leading to one of the best MacGyverisms of the later seasons--rigging the shotgun to disarm Murdoc's spider web bomb and to create a tunnel for himself underneath it with assistance from some of the longest-burning gunpowder in world history. The Ken Harrison music during this scene was my favorite of the hour. The amnesia theme is never carried out perfectly and I cringed at how MacGyver's memory returned in an instant as soon as he saw his name burned onto that board. It might have been cool to just have Murdoc trapped under the collapsed rocks at the end since his rising from under them like they were styrofoam popcorn rather than 50-pound rocks strained credibility even for a Murdoc episode. Nonetheless, another humorous Murdoc demise down the mine shaft with the usual mystery of "did he survive?" at the end. I got the sense they were making things up as they went with this "mine shaft" though. What was the shaft for? Presumably coal. We learned in "Obsessed" that there was a river at the bottom of the shaft which made sense as the shaft would have to lead to somewhere and if it was for coal, it could be shipped by barge. Still, I don't think we were to believe that there was a river at the bottom when the cop discussed "searching everywhere at the bottom of that mine shaft". Obviously I'm overthinking but it's a fun exercise sometimes. Fantastic episode and well worth the wait for a season 6 Murdoc fix at the time when the series seemed to be losing some of its edge and a good chunk of its audience. I ranked it #7.

    As an aside, I've spent an hour and a half now trying to edit down my original review to fit in the 4,096-word limit for responses on this site and just couldn't get the job done. I knew I was close as I was taking out words here, there, and everywhere but just kept getting "you've exceeded the character limit" blockage and I finally had to give up and split the review. I'm so wound up now that I have no idea how I'm gonna head to bed and fall comfortably asleep at 1:30 a.m. as I'm in the kind table-pounding, purple-face rage right now not seen since Murdoc in "The Widowmaker". Grrrr!

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    1. I didn't realize there was a character limit in the comments. I'll see if that's a setting I can change (probably not but you never know) - sorry that it caused a late night rage! I remember in Hind-Sight he talked to Willis about Murdoc - is that where he says that they found a body in the shaft but it wasn't identified? I agree with the Harrison music in the mine shaft as being the best.

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    2. Yeah that's why some of my comments have been split into two. I exceeded the character limit and had to split it. With this one, I thought I was probably just over the limit and would be able to trim it down with some editing. Instead I got the worst of both worlds. My original review got overly edited down and I STILL had too many characters. And it was the opposite....MacGyver told Willis they didn't find a body in the bottom of the mine shaft in "Hind-Sight".

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  3. Since I'm too owly to sleep now anyway, I might as well address your cable outage. There were only two episodes left that the outage could have applied to and I figured it would be the same episode where a weather-related power outage sidelined me. It wasn't. However, I have an annoyance related to this one being taken away from me as well. You should feel incredibly lucky that you didn't live in southern Minnesota in 1991 because when ABC repeated this episode on September 9, 1991, my local affiliate didn't air it, taking it off for some lame local programming. Now I already had this episode recorded on VHS so ordinarily that wouldn't have been a problem, but in this case, it would mean that I would miss the "next on MacGyver" preview for the following week's episode....which happened to be the season premiere! Now since the season premiere ended up being the dopey "Honest Abe", perhaps it was a blessing in disguise but I was not a happy camper at the time!

    Interesting how you mentioned that your dad tried to find out if one of your "MacGyver"-watching friends recorded the episode but they didn't. I did the same thing once and got lucky. I set the VCR to record "The Treasure of Manco" on February 12, 1990, when I went to my sixth grade science fair....but it didn't record for whatever reason. Luckily, the neighbor kid recorded it....and since he missed "Jenny's Chance" the following week which I recorded, we just exchanged tapes and the story had a happy ending. Back to your situation, there were three episodes from season 6 that were never repeated (including the great "Lesson in Evil") so you were pretty lucky that "Strictly Business" wasn't one of them.

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    1. That's amazing that you got the tape thing to work with your friend. I didn't realize there were some episodes that weren't shown as reruns - it does indeed make me feel quite lucky!

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    2. There were a couple of episodes my uncle tried to tape for me that for whatever reason didn't. I hate to wait till reruns to watch "The Human Factor" and "On a Wing and a Prayer". And yes, in August of 1990 and 1991, ABC began airing preseason football games at 8/7 central, which sidelined "MacGyver" for three weeks both years and thus taking away a few weeks ordinarily dedicated to summer reruns. There were more reruns left than there were weeks at the end of the summer so some episodes were just never repeated.

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    3. Yeah, VCRs were not always the most reliable for me either. We would often set ours by timer, but sometimes it wouldn't take, or else it would run out of tape, or the tape ribbon would just break. My DVR doesn't always work either (seems like a 3% or so failure rate) but at least there are usually other options to rewatch online if necessary.

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    4. I got really good at knowing when commercial breaks were over - b/c I used to sit and tape the episodes while they were running to get as many on the tape as possible. It takes about 15 VHS tapes to get the whole series. And it took me a very long time to part with the collection, even after I got the series on DVD. My usual issues with VCRs were running out of tape. =(

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    5. I vaguely remember there were some clips that they'd show during the commercial break - I don't remember if it was at the beginning, middle, or end of the break. The one that I'm remembering at the moment was in Lost Love when he's running down to the street corner holding the dragon and about to get in Dalton's car. Does that sound familiar at all?

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    6. USA used to do that - they had a bunch of little clips for 'now it's time to come back from the ads' sort of like 'in case u just switched to this channel from commercials during something else - you're watching MACGYVER!'. I don't remember ABC doing it.

      I remember one of the clips USA used had the little race cars from "Thief of Budapest" driving over the water. =)

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    7. My folks' earliest VCR had an extremely complicated timer set-up for videotaping. It would take like 10 minutes to set it with multiple steps and considerable margin for error. There were three different occasions where I set it to tape something and it didn't take.

      My friend recorded 48 episodes on six VHS tapes, pausing through the commercials to pack eight on a tape.

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    8. Our first VCR required standing at the machine and pushing little buttons for years on end to get everything set up. I think I goofed a couple, but that was pre-MacGyver. (Yes, those days actually exist.) Later we had one that programmed from the remote - which confounded me for a while b/c I was used to the other one.

      I had all sorts of different length tapes. 6-hr, 8-hr, 10-hr, so I probably could've gotten away with fewer tapes if my collection had been consistent. =)

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  4. The USA runs of this episode cut out Murdoc's 'disarming' scene in the beginning, which always made me sad... and wondering if I'd remembered the episode correctly, b/c I was pretty sure I'd seen Murdoc pulling a dozen weapons out of his clothes, but then it was never in the USA airings. Booooooo.

    I like this episode a lot. And I like the play with the kid being 'smarter' than the adult as far as recognizing the 'good guy'. Kids are often better at that than adults, since they don't have the same experiences, they mostly run on instinct.

    As for why Murdoc doesn't just shoot MacGyver? Murdoc is like a 'mirror universe' version of MacGyver - he's clever and crafty and a bit on the evil side, but he has a code. It might be a slightly off-center code, but it is a code. I also think he likes the 'chase' and the 'game' with MacGyver - since MacGyver sort of 'plays' back when, I suspect, most of Murdoc's other marks don't.

    And power outages - I was in Virginia at the time this episode aired, and since I remember Murdoc's disarming scene, I think we were good to go that week. =)

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    1. I agree on Murdoc's code as to why he doesn't shoot him in the houseboat - he has an old-fashioned honor system and also enjoys the hunt. On the other hand, he was ready to shoot him in the cabin when Amy interfered and then a few minutes later could have just climbed down a few feet and shot an unarmed MacGyver. But again, don't want to overthink it too much. I also liked the kid being smarter than the adult plot line.

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  5. Like everyone else I was impressed with the opening scenes including the bored HIT man playing with the executive toy ; I couldn’t work out how the final knife got through the detector, either.
    I’m not sure I enjoyed the banquet scene as much as Nick but I do have to admire it; Murdoc is smoothly, yet crazily in charge (he doesn’t seem that bothered about poor Ashton who was the apple of his eye in HK) but MacGyver seems so stressed out during out the situation and so freaked out afterwards that he goes on the run which didn't seem likely (although reality has never been a strong point in any of the Murdoc episodes). As Mark says, how that was going to stop Murdoc getting Pete or anyone else is a mystery and surely he’d have worked out that the phone was tapped?
    The bazooka scene is fantastically bonkers too and the car exploded pretty amazingly. It was hard to believe that there’s be much left of it! MacGyver’s in bad shape and leaves loads of clues for Murdoc to follow; I guess you can’t blame him in the circumstances. I agree the sight of his face covered in blood is very dramatic and even badly injured, he always remembers to be polite and thoughtful to his hosts – what a guy!
    Murdoc remains coolly competent , yet barmy, throughout and the ID switch is brilliant. I agree, Amy is a great judge of character. MacGyver’s leap through the door is amazing and I’m with you, its great drama when he asks for shells for the gun and we wonder what he’s going to do - but it doesn’t feel right to him. As Murdoc says’ ‘You can’t do it, its not in your blood’ Great line. As you’ve noted it’s a ridiculously over-elaborate trap but does fit the Murdoc code so aptly pointed out by Highlander. He’s not finding it very satisfying ‘killing an empty-headed amnesiac’. Brilliant MacGyver ruse with the gun, gunpowder, SAK and pellets and a great way of showing kids how electric currents work! Their fight, with the fuse still furiously burning away, is excellent and just as Murdoc is going in for the kill……
    Minor points of interest/fun; Murdoc always puts his finger over MacGyver’s first name on the ID card. Wasn’t the blood on MacGyver’s face on the wrong side – the blast seemed to come from the left? Enjoyed Murdoc having the cheek to eat stuff from the fridge – the nerve of the man! The irony of Murdoc using MacGyver’s own SAK to alter the ID card appealed to me as did Amy saying’ the guys dad sends are flashy, suits, haircuts-not like you’ followed by MacGyver’s ‘thanks…I think’. Amy’s mother says to Mac that she’s called the doctor but if Mac had cut the wires, as she thinks, that would have made him suspicious. The knife rising from the debris is a brilliant image but the rocks are unmistakeably polystyrene as Murdoc rises up.
    Great episode; at number 21 for me - I just engaged with the Widowmaker episode more.

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    1. I also like the moment where Murdoc's munching on a piece of chicken and then hears the ladies coming and spryly jumps over the counter and out of the room. Fun little moment.

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    2. Excellent pick for your #8 top episode. It is one of my absolute favorite episodes also. Thanks for the great analysis, everyone.

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  6. What more is there to say? Everything with Murdoc in so far has been a treat and this was no exception. Brilliant, almost all of it; the sci-fi HIT headquarters, the lavish 'feast' on the houseboat, the bazooka, the deception at the cabin and the finale in the mine. Murdoc is just the perfect villain to counter MacGyver. I wasn't quite so keen on the back story of the girl and her custody battle, it seemed a bit trivial when the only pressing issue was a psychotic, but honourable, killer on the loose! I can see why they included the other characters and the story provided a way of comparing Murdoc to the father's thugs but in a Murdoc episode you don't really want any distractions, just business! Going back to the bazooka, It was just a pity Jack wasn't around to witness events (and help out of course) because he didn't believe the last bazooka story that MacGyver told him!

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