Monday, October 3, 2016

MacGyver Script Analysis: To Be A Man

To Be A Man is an episode that I have seen less frequently than most of the others in the series. The reason for that is because as a kid (and also as an adult) I found it to be uninspiring and devoid of highlights.  Did that stop me from getting a final draft of the original script?  Of course not.  The episode is credited on IMDB to Don Mankiewicz (writer) and Fred McKnight (executive story editor), but my script lists veteran writer and friend of the blog Stephen Kandel as the author. I reached out to him and asked if he remembered the circumstances involving this episode:

As To Be A Man - I remember zilch.  I may have rewritten the script, ergo got credited in house, but I do not take credit for rewrites in the course of business, as an overpaid member of the production.  Otherwise - I've been screwed out of a credit and I'll curse the gods.  As usual.

As an aside, I also asked him if he would be watching the MacGyver reboot, and his response was classic Kandel.  He's the best.

Yeah, I'll watch it like a hawk.  Some centuries ago I got a phone call from MGM - the caller said they were doing research on an ancient show, "Seahunt" and because I wrote a lot of the show, did I, perchance, have any old scripts lying about?  I had; they sent a messenger; I gave them twenty or so scripts; they returned them the next day.  End of incident. Until six months later, the Writers Guild discovered that they were remaking "Seahunt" using said old scripts.  After the usual battle of the OK Credit Corral - I collected a small bushel of residuals.  SO - I'll be watching the New Mc with predatory avidity.

And with that, let's get into the script.  I'll focus on some of the differences between the script and the final episode (with direct script quotations in bolded italics).
  • We start out with MacGyver in a supersonic fighter plane.  He's got it on automatic, and he's relaxed, reading "Tom Sawyer," as the plane drones onward.  Later on he says to himself, "Wonderful book, Tom it first when I was a kid, and I'd been lookin' forward to reading it again."  Why not brush up on your Tom Sawyer when you're on a secret mission to Afghanistan?
  • In the script the Khalil character is referred to as Geza.
  • After parachuting from the jet, MacGyver opens a sealed envelope.  It's a map to the satellite, and it self-destructs Mission Impossible style to MacGyver's part irritation and part amusement. "Agency people -- they watch too many Bond movies."
  • Some fun quotes from MacGyver:
    • While disarming the booby trap on the satellite: "They also told me the whole thing would be like taking candy from a baby.  Well this was one very angry baby!"
    • While hang gliding: "When Orville Wright took up the first airplane...he didn't know for sure it'd fly...only advantage I had was -- my ma didn't name me Orville.  Hey Orville!  I'm flyin'."
  • Interesting script note when Ahmed hears the shots and sees MacGyver gliding.  He gasps, swallows, touches his forehead hastily.  (Please let us research the proper religious gesture). This doesn't appear in the final episode.
  • According to the script MacGyver gets shot twice: once in the thigh and once in his right hand which is described as "dangling."  In the episode he just gets shot in the right arm, but there's a goof at the 20:11 mark where a soldier says that he was wounded twice, in the shoulder and in the hand.  Perhaps the difference results from having to cover up RDA's real life injury from a few episodes ago.
  • MacGyver throws sand in the face of the oncoming Afghan (instead of miraculously hurling a rock with his opposite hand as in the episode).
  • When Geza comes to the hut, MacGyver pulls a besom (i.e. broom) away from the door and somehow crashes the door into Geza who falls back onto the jagged edges of a pot and dies.  In the episode he breaks open a gas canister which hits Geza and causes him to shoot himself.
  • What's that smell, is it a little Zia/MacGyver romance starting to bloom in the inhospital Afghan desert?!
    • He smiles.  A moment, she smiles back, warmly.
    • Zia puts a hand on his arm...a small, intimate moment.
    • A sudden, infectious smile; she becomes younger, more feminine in an instant -- for an instant.
  • Unlike the episode which involves Zia taking a burning hot iron to cauterize MacGyver's wound, the script details the removal of the bullet.  Zia heats up a knife and gives it to MacGyver, and he downs some brandy, sticks the knife in his body and removes the bullet himself without screaming (which impresses Ahmed).  Then he promptly passes out.
  • It's nighttime and MacGyver is starting to think about "getting his Zia on."
    • She smiles -- a little sadly -- we see perhaps, the beginning of a deep yearning.
    • Their eyes lock but the moment is broken as the door is kicked open (by Ahmed).
  • Next MacGyver fixes the water pump and tells them about Minnesota:
    • Well...there's this little town called Lake a part of Minnesota where they've got just two seasons...August...and winter. And in the winter, everything freezes.  You got two kinds of landscape: ice.  Or snow. I used to skate.  Slide...on the ice.  Lake Wobegon is the fictional town in A Prairie Home Companion.
  • Zia makes a move to loosen MacGyver's waist tie and he pulls back.  "I've seen a man before," Zia laughs.  "Why do all men think they're Allah's special creation!" I forgot to mention a little earlier when she says to Ahmed (and MacGyver) "MacGyver is very beautiful."  Zia is officially ready to "get her Angus on."
  • Zia breaks down when telling MacGyver how bad she feels that she had initially wanted Geza because "it was better than being alone."  Her face works -- she's on the verge of tears.  MacGyver takes her into his arms; she's huddled against him -- hands clamped together on the cloth.  He holds her -- then she suddenly jerks back, whips her arms around him, pulls him to her into a desperate, needing embrace.  He holds her -- she makes a guttural sound, yanks off the head cloth, pulls him closer -- MacGyver responds, kisses her -- camera moves in closer as she digs nails into his wet back, intensifying the embrace.  Whoa! Getting a little hot in here.  Is this a MacGyver script or a romance novel?
  • This leads us to the central unanswered question of this episode (other than when did MacGyver learn to be a fighter pilot) -- in my original episode write-up, Al noted in the comments: "Is there a hint of romance between MacGyver and the woman - in the morning she wants to 'remember him' (after a very short time as you say) whilst combing her hair in a sultry way and gazing at him?"  In the final episode, they cut directly from MacGyver lying in bed gently brushing Zia's tears away to sunrise and the scene Al describes (none of which is in the script, by the way).  If they wanted to imply something, why not just show MacGyver kissing Zia as in the script?  Maybe there was some concern in 1986 about MacGyver hooking up with an Afghan woman and they wanted to be somewhat discreet about it.  Nevertheless, with the many hints of romance described in the script, I think we can assume that MacGyver did indeed "get his Zia on."  Now the central unanswered question becomes: where was Ahmed during all this?  It's a one room hut!
  • After MacGyver gets the jump on the Soviet Sergeant and tells him to run away, he actually fires the gun into the ground to get him moving.
  • In the episode the Sergeant is told that he'll be court-martialed if they don't find MacGvyer, but in the script he's told he'll be shot.
  • At the very end the Sergeant actually offers them a ride in his tank (instead of just blissfully pretending that he didn't see them).
I just recently wrote about the four primary elements that make a good story.  Let's break the final episode down by that criteria:

Setting -- They do a good job of making it feel like Afghanistan, but there are two problems.  First, with all due respect to Afghanistan, it's one of the last places on earth that I would like to go. That in and of itself is not disqualifying (e.g. I wouldn't really want to go to the desert town run by the military in The Gauntlet Opening Gambit).  But at least that town had some charm, and the sand dunes are an amazing setting for a chase.  The setting here is just a bunch of rocks and a hut.

Antagonists -- The villains (the bandits and the Russian soldiers) aren't memorable at all.  There's too many of them and they blend together in my mind.

Problem Solving -- not much here either.  He builds a hang glider which is cool but it's done in 10 seconds (kind of like the MacGyverisms in the reboot) so it's hard to appreciate.  The other MacGyverisms aren't anything special, and at the end of the episode they just saunter away as if no one is looking for them.

Music -- nothing distinctive or memorable here.

Final Verdict: 0 out of 4.  Stephen Kandel is one of my favorite people I've talked to on the blog, so I'm holding Mankiewicz and McKnight accountable for the lackluster final product. 


  1. As you know this is one of my favourites! it's good to know that I was right in detecting that 'morning after' look in Zia's eyes, at least in line with the original script, although hazy in the final exposition. I think its just as well that they didn't go quite as far as in the original. It all sounds positively steamy!
    You mention that one of the soldiers says he has two wounds. Haven't watched it too recently but I think when she's asking him if it hurts, MacGyver says 'only the shoulder' as if he does have another injury.
    I think they did well to change to the cauterising scene in the final version; MacGyver swallowing brandy (if only for medicinal reasons) and digging out the bullet without a sound would have been a bit too macho for our man! Some of the original script sounds fun; the 'Agency people' line and the banter about men between MacGyver and Zia.
    I quite like the problem solving in this one; he deals with the satellite, builds a complicated hang glider then we get some simple MacGyverisms like the sling and rock, the gas cylinder rocket, mending the pump, pulling down the roof with rope and the (unbelievable) rock-freezing at the end. I generally prefer these to long, drawn-out and improbable building projects like the bamboo micro plane and the motorised parachute thing in the Wasteland.

    Thanks, Nick for another good real script comparison. I'm reading about the MacGyver reboot, obviously, but don't know when we'll get it in the UK. If we do, I'm sure I'll watch some of it but don't have a good feeling about it so far.

    1. Hey Al, good to hear from you! I knew this was at the top of your list so hopefully I wasn't too hard on it! I think you were right on with Zia -- I don't think I ever picked up on that as a kid. I remember you had a similar comment that I have never picked up on either for The Escape (how MacGyver has a hop in his step the next morning) -- maybe someday if I ever get to talk more in depth to one of the Season 1 producers I can ask what they were going for in those moments.

      It could be that he was shot twice -- I don't think it's confirmed but as you said based on his comment about only the shoulder, maybe that was the intent.

      As for the reboot, you're not missing too much so far. :)

  2. I just wrote an extremely long analysis of this--and a rather fiery one at that--and lost it all somehow when I clicked publish. If there's any tool you can use to retrieve comments that may be floating around on your site, I'd appreciate you seeing if you can locate it.

    1. Sorry, don't have anything. The only thing I can think of is to try and hit the back button on the browser if you haven't closed it yet. Too bad, I was looking forward to some fire -- maybe your take was too hot for blogger to handle.

    2. Try writing the next one in notepad first and then copying and pasting just to make sure you don't lose it a second time.

    3. I'll try to rewrite later in the day but not sure I'll be able to recapture the original fire. I've tried everything I can and haven't found anything. My guess is what happened in that you don't get a "message too long" warning on IE the way you do on Firefox. Apparently on IE if your comment is too long it just deletes it. Not good. I almost always select and copy the text before I click publish in case something like this happens. The one time I didn't and it was a calamity.

  3. I'll make my second attempt here and break the post into two, first responding to your revelations in the original script and then doing a separate e-mail about how this episode rates with your "four primary elements" list, which seemed like such a good metric on Sunday but has me all hot and bothered this morning.

    First of all, Stephen Kandel must have been at his keyboard 15 hours a day, 7 days a week back in 1985 and 1986 if he was doing silent rewrites of other people's scripts along with the nine episodes he had official writing credits for in season 1. Not sure I can think of any other example of a scriptwriter being utilized quite as much in a single season of a TV show as Kandel was in "MacGyver's" first season.

    There were some clever lines and moments in this draft of the script that I'd have liked to have seen stick around. I liked the idea of MacGyver reading Tom Sawyer while the jet was on autopilot which would have been a little more believable that the idea of MacGyver knowing how to legitimately fly a jet as was done in the episode. I also liked the line about "one angry baby" during the bomb defusal scene. The "men think they're Allah's special creation" line was kind of funny too but for very obvious reasons, including absurd cultural context, I'm glad they didn't use it.

    Even though Khalil being hit by the airborne butane tank and shooting himself in the chest was far-fetched, I'm still glad they did that over him dying by falling backwards into the jagged edge of a pot(!). I'm also glad they went with Zia cauterizing MacGyver over having him guzzle brandy and dig the bullet out himself with a knife. And only Garrison Keillor fans and Minnesotans would have gotten the Lake Wobegon remark, but as a Minnesota-born character played by a Minnesota-born actor and watched by a Minnesota-born fan, it would have been a nice touch.

    I always figured there were drafts of this episode where MacGyver and Zia had gotten romantic, but it definitely would have been controversial at the time if they had been lovers. Still, the degree to which their courtship was implied was quite odd. I suppose you could say it was age-appropriate for the "MacGyver" audience but even as adults the relationship with Zia was very ambiguous to all of us fans. MacGyver had a connection with the boy but I think the attempt to make the audience legitimately believe he would even consider sticking around, as was implied in a couple of different moments, they needed to have MacGyver have a more obvious romantic moment with Zia.

    That's enough for this post but later I'll be back with as close of a variation as I can to the fire I worked up earlier in disputing your "four story elements" rating for this episode.

    1. I had to google Lake Wobegon to understand the prairie home companion reference. I've heard of the program but don't really understand what it's all about, like what a typical show is. I read online that Chris Thile is taking over -- my wife is a big Nickel Creek fan and we've seen Chris perform twice in person.

      It was indeed very wishful thinking on the kid's part to think that after two days MacGyver would stick around with them in their Afghan hut.

      If you're this fired up over To Be A Man, it's really too bad I don't have an Eye of Osiris script (yet) to deconstruct and to include my new favorite paradigm for emphasis! You'd be breathing fire through the keyboard.

    2. Even with Prairie Home Companion in my backyard I don't know much about it, although on "Minnesota Almanac" last month they did have a snippet of Chris Thile taking it over. Hopefully the transition goes well for them.

      It wouldn't be just every episode I'd be fired up about disagreements but your specific metrics of criticism for this one really rubbed me raw. I'm sure "Eye of Osiris" would probably have really set me into orbit if negatively reviewed through this prism.

  4. Now to the vinegar portion of my disappearing post earlier, my alternative view to your "four story elements" analysis of "To Be a Man"....

    Setting--Seriously? This would make any top-10 list in episodic television history in terms of perfectly nailing the metric of "setting", teleporting TV viewers to the Afghanistan wilderness back in 1986 more than I would have ever imagined possible. The army of enemy soldiers riding horseback in tandem and bearing down on MacGyver in the Afghani wilderness...the same army going through a river on horseback later on....the extraordinary visuals of an airborne hang glider crashing onto the river bank at full speed....missiles fired at the mountaintop in the beginning and in the visually spectacular scene at the end with MacGyver riding the Jeep along the dirt road while being fired upon. This was candy-coated candy for the eyes...the visual equivalent to a perfect game in baseball....and all done within the timeline and budget of an episodic TV show 30 years ago. I mean, what on Earth could they have possibly done to make this better? Your argument basically amounts to Afghanistan always being a disqualifying setting for a fictional program, despite its rich recent history with both the Cold War-era Soviets and modern Islamic terrorists, simply because you don't like looking at rocks.

    Antagonists--This is the only of your four metrics where it's even a close call for me. There wasn't a great deal of character illumination on any individual villains, but Khalil murdered Ahmad's father, raped his mothers, and shot a guy in cold blood during his 20 minutes on the show. I would say that in itself sets him up as an antagonist worth taking seriously. I can sort of accept your argument of villain overload here, but I think the presence of the Soviets (since that was a real thing back then) combined with the Afghani locals both authenticated the setting and enhanced the conflict for MacGyver with enemies of all kinds bearing down on him. So I ultimately give a thumbs-up to the antagonists of this story being consequential and effective as well.

    Problem Solving--While no individual MacGyverism here was amongst the series' best, you have to be grading on a curve tougher than my 10th grade English teacher to suggest that the problem solving here doesn't make the grade compared to other films and TV. I mean, MacGyver turned the wings of a downed satellite into a hang glider, fixed a broken water pump with new tubing, arranged for the roof of a shed to drop on an enemy soldier, and used a mixture of ice and CO2 from a fire extinguisher to bring down a giant rock onto an enemy's Jeep. Again, what more could you have possibly expected and how many hours in the history of television or film would have met this threshold of problem-solving?

    Music--The music was outstanding. A+. The score from the horseback chase scene early on and the mountain road escape at the end was very exciting and well-executed. And the slower music in the episode's middle stages, such as when Ahmed was escorting the wounded MacGyver on horseback, was setting-appropriate and fit with the South Asian backdrop. Randy Edelman would undoubtedly have done better, but the music here is nonetheless better than 99.8% of musical scores ever done for the many hours of episodic television I've ever watched.

    I get that this episode has its critics. The middle third of the episode is quite slow, perhaps needlessly so, and kills some of its momentum, but I don't accept that the slow middle third discredits the first-rate beginning third and ending third of the episode. When I imagine the endless production hours and attention to detail that went into an episode like this, I have a pretty visceral recoil at the suggestion that absolutely nothing in it was done well.

    1. Well there's at least one top 10 list of settings in episodic television that it wouldn't make (i.e. mine)! It's not really an argument I'm making as it is a personal taste that I'm generally not all that excited about stories set in Afghanistan no matter how realistic they are, but they did do a nice job of getting the "Afghanistan" feel.

      The villains were definitely dangerous but I didn't feel like we got to know them all that well and also the acting was average.

      The MacGyverisms are ok but not that great in my mind -- the hang glider would be awesome if we saw more of what went into it, but instead we get nothing. The water pipe fix is pretty weak, all we know is he is taking "material" and shoves it in there. The pulling the hay loft roof down is pretty simple. The last one with freezing the rock is pretty good. Overall they're ok but not memorable.

      With all due respect to Dennis McCarthy the music is quite average to my ears. And I wouldn't say that "absolutely nothing in it was done well." I don't think it's a bad episode, just lackluster, and I can see how some would like it and think it's well done, just not one I gravitate toward for the reasons I mentioned.

    2. And I'm comparing it more to other episodes to MacGyver rather than tv in general (which I think mostly stinks). Just like with your list, the episodes ranked in the 100s are still better than the best of most other shows.

    3. Is it fair to say that because you're not enthused with Afghanistan as a setting generally that it is categorized with last Friday's "MacGyver" reboot in getting a goose egg for your "setting" metric? It seems like you're putting a helluva lot of emphasis on sand versus rocks in terms of the appeal of a South Asia setting. I assume you think the opening gambit of the pilot gets a failing grade for setting as well since that was a rock formation.

      You seem to be pretty nonplussed with Dennis McCarthy generally. He was the weakest of the three main composers for me as well but I still think he did excellent work, including in this episode. If you watched 1,000 hours of non-MacGyver television, I bet you'd have a hard time finding a musical score as good as that of the weakest-arranged "MacGyver" episode.

      In general, your metrics rubbed me the wrong way because you seemed to be grading exclusively on a curve for "MacGyver" rather than the entertainment medium overall, which I don't think is fair when your stated guideline is "what makes a good story". And it seems like a particularly galling diss when you allocate the same zero-star rating to the masterfully produced and cleverly old school "MacGyver" original "To Be a Man" next to last week's completely uninspired and generically put together "Metal Saw" reboot episode.

    4. I'm just not really a big Afghanistan fan, sorry Afghanistan. I think the Pilot setting is great and I enjoy it a lot more than this one -- part of it too is probably that my lack of enjoyment of the story rubs off on the rest of it, if it was a great story then I would probably feel better with the setting.

      I am nonplussed with Dennis McCarthy -- some of his stuff is ok but I think Harrison is in a different league and then Edelman in a different league beyond that.

      As for the metrics, I think you're getting hung up on the binary nature of it. Maybe instead of 1s and 0s I could move to a 10 point scale to offer some distinction within the metrics because if that were the case then this episode would score much higher than Metal Saw. But for me it was more about the qualitative comments than the quantitative numbers -- I just tallied them up at the end since it was convenient.

    5. Any specific reasons why Afghanistan holds so little appeal for you as a setting? Between the ominous nature of the landscape and its background as a land whose people can't be captured under any circumstance, I think it's one of the coolest places on Earth to set a film or TV show. Wasn't "The Living Daylights" set in Afghanistan? Did you not like that?

      My overall grades would be "A+" for Randy Edelman, "A" for Ken Harrison", and "A-" for Dennis McCarthy. Certainly for TV composers, he's way above average.

      Thanks for the clarification on your metrics.

    6. I don't have a great answer for the setting question, maybe that will be a future post where I rank my favorite settings. Generally I like places that I would like to go to -- I've never been a fan of big cities, so I gravitate more toward the wilderness MacGyver locales than the more urban ones, but that's a big generality (I do like some things about cities and I do like some city-related episodes). But I also like ominous settings sometimes, like I think North Korea is a great setting since it's so off limits and mysterious (e.g. the beginning of Die Another Day is great), but I wouldn't want to go there obviously.