Today’s MacGyver episode opens in a gigantic desert, where some nomads have set up camp. “Exotic” synth music plays. Inside one of the tents is a man in vaguely Genghis Khan-esque clothes, with the biggest, fakest moustache you’ve ever seen. Also in the tent: a white horse. Very Twin Peaks.
As the man gets up and starts petting the horse, MacGyver VOs that there was a time when the worst thing you could say about a man was that he was a horse thief, and in some places that’s still true, “particularly when the horse that gets stolen belongs to a king, and it’s considered to be maybe the most expensive horse alive”. Well, in that situation, being the horse thief makes you pretty fucking badass; how is that an insult?
Moustache Man walks out into the camp, where his henchmen are standing guard. Some of them haven’t even managed to stick their fake beards on straight, which doesn’t bode well for their general henching (henchmenning?) abilities. And indeed, as soon as the lead henchman goes out of sight of the others, he’s grabbed by MacGyver and punched unconscious.
Mr. Moustache wanders off up a sand dune and starts waving his sword around theatrically.
MacGyver expositions that when it’s a tribal leader who’s doing the horse-thievery, it can trigger a small war, which can turn into a big war, which is why he’s here to steal the horse back. At least this time, his horse-related ramblings are actually relevant, and not a strained analogy for bomb disposal.
Now dressed in the henchman’s turban and robe, MacGyver goes into the tent and pulls a saddle out of his bag, then starts putting it on the horse. Meanwhile, the moustache guy is doing some sort of wild ethnic sword dance. Oh, those crazy foreigners!
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MacGyver then rides out into the camp. He doesn’t seem to have much of an exit strategy other than “knock people over”, which he proceeds to do, with the help of a shepherd’s crook that has mysteriously appeared from nowhere. And it doesn’t hurt that the henchmen have this tendency to just fall over when he rides past them.
Eventually, the henchmen remember that they’re all carrying rifles and start to take aim, but Moustache runs over and tells them not to shoot in case they hit the horse. Yeah, this is one of those shows where all foreigners (even those in isolated parts of Soviet-era Kyrgyzstan) speak to one another in heavily accented English.
Everyone piles on their horses and gives chase. They end up on a beach, and there’s much chasing and splashing and splashing and chasing, and MacGyver is rapidly surrounded. “Typical,” he VOs. “Just when you’re getting ahead, someone always changes the odds.” Which doesn’t even make sense, because those guys were there all along. How are they “changing the odds”? He’s just cranky because he’s losing.
One of the henchmen takes aim with his gun, but the moustache guy says he wants to kill MacGyver himself, and there’s this weird bit where he and MacGyver try to joust at each other. Neither of them are very good at it, so it’s pretty pointless.
MacGyver, reasonable chap that he is, suggests resolving the whole thing through dialogue instead, but nobody’s keen on that. So MacGyver knocks the moustache guy off his horse with the shepherd’s crook, then knocks over some of the henchmen’s horses and rides off down the beach. As everyone chases after him, a helicopter appears, dangling a big hook on a rope. MacGyver grabs the hook and attaches it to the horse’s saddle, and they get airlifted away. It looks pretty hilarious.
Seriously. What a moustache.
Opening credits! Explosions! Jumping! Wires! Knives! Jousting! No ice cream this time.
So, the main part of the episode is set in Budapest. We can tell this because it opens with a shot of a building on which someone has helpfully hung a sign reading, “Welcome to Budapest”. Also, the name of the episode is “Thief of Budapest”. They may be trying to tell us something.
More expository signage tells us that something called the Transcarpathian Road Rally is taking place. As MacGyver wanders around, looking extremely touristy, he VOs about how his life is “like a rubber ball” because he bounces from assignment to assignment, and now he’s in Budapest to receive information from an intelligence agent named Nikolai Grotski.
So he putters around for a bit, first watching some workman repair the traffic lights—which I’m sure will be in no way relevant later in the episode—and then ignoring some ‘80s-style hot chicks to stare at race cars.
Just then, a small girl walks up to him and fake-crashes into him. He immediately grabs her by the arm, actually pretty violently, and after yelling a bit she reluctantly gives back the Swiss Army Knife she’s just pickpocketed from him.
And then, instead of getting mad at her for stealing from him, he lectures her about proper pickpocketing technique: “On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give you a 6, maybe a 7, but you looked down at your hand! That’s a cardinal no-no!” Okay, I have to admit, that’s kind of funny.
“You Gypsy?” she asks. “It takes a Gypsy to catch a Gypsy.” When he says no, she tells him, “You look American. Want a guide? Yana is the best!” MacGyver says he doesn’t need a guide, so she offers to sell him “a special Gypsy blessing” to keep him safe. Yeesh, we’re just minutes into the episode, and we’re already in Uncomfortable Ethnic Stereotype Land: Gypsies are lovable yet superstitious thieving rogues who refer to themselves in the third person. What is this, an Enid Blyton story?
MacGyver gets pissy at the idea of her selling him anything when she’s just tried to rob him, so she says she’ll give him the blessing for free, since he gave her protips on how to pickpocket better. She looks vaguely headachy for a bit, then tells him, “Go in safety. Find what you seek.” He thanks her, and walks off, bumping into her in the process. She runs away.
To the surprise of exactly nobody, he gets a few feet away before realizing she’s stolen his knife again. He did sort of bring this on himself by giving her pointers.
We then see a guy in a suit wandering around, ostentatiously checking the time on a swanky gold pocket watch. MacGyver discreetly starts following him, so we can assume he’s Grotski, the guy he’s here to meet. That, or MacGyver’s a creepy stalker.
Much less discreetly, there are some Bad Guys hiding in the back of a conspicuously unmarked van. They’re speaking in ridiculously hammy Eastern European accents. They sound like Borat. While one of the guys spies on Grotski with a gigantic video camera, the other watches what he’s filming on a monitor and expositions about how they know Grotski is a double agent and Moscow needs pictures of everyone he deals with. Also, the pocket watch contains the information he’s about to hand over: the names of KGB agents in England.
MacGyver sidles over to Grotski, and they stare in opposite directions as they chat for a bit. Grotski then says he’ll hand over the watch at “the Café Mozart”, and walks off. MacGyver follows at a distance.
Yana’s still hanging around, and as Grotski walks down a footpath, she throws some marbles on the ground in front of him. He falls over in an extremely theatrical manner. (Seriously, he actually shouts, “Whoooooah!”) She then helps him up, stealing the watch in the process, which he doesn’t notice. It’s possible he isn’t the most on-the-ball spy ever.
Just then, the bad guys from the van walk over and call Grotski’s name. He panics and runs out into the road, and is killed by a truck. I’d feel bad about his tragic death, but judging by the face he makes when he sees the truck, it’s probably for the best that we’re not subjected to any more of this guy’s acting. (I’m sorry, I shouldn’t mock. He went on to play a gorilla in Congo.)
The bad guys go through his pockets, and realize the watch is missing. Meanwhile, MacGyver wisely ninjas away.
So the bad guys go back to the van and rewatch the footage they took of Grotski. They get a clear picture of MacGyver, and they figure out that Yana took the watch. The head bad guy, who’s called Kossof, says they need to catch them both. His subordinate, who’s called Inspector Messik, says that he’ll catch MacGyver, but he doesn’t know if he can find Yana, because “Budapest has Gypsies like a dog has fleas”. Nice. Also, both men call each other “Comrade” a lot, and Kossof makes thinly veiled threats about what will happen to Messik if they don’t get the watch back, and Messik just looks depressed.
Meanwhile, Yana is busking outside a restaurant with her family when MacGyver appears and demands his watch back. She hits him on the head with a tambourine, then runs off. Her brother is worried, but some old guy, presumably their grandfather, tells him, “Don’t worry about Yana. She can vanish like a shadow in the sunshine!” And then everyone chuckles merrily at the idea of this 10-year-old getting chased around town by some random angry man.
Well, it turns out they’ve wildly overestimated Yana’s vanishing skills, because it takes MacGyver about ten seconds to find her hiding in a trash can. She gives him back the knife, but when he asks for the watch, she says, “Gypsies don’t need a watch! They don’t tell time.” Which is sort of a non-answer.
MacGyver claims that his friend was killed for the watch, which isn’t strictly true, but whatever, and he really needs it back. Anyway, it turns out she gave the watch to her brother Bruno. When she and MacGyver go back to the restaurant to get it, they see Messik and Kossof forcing her family into a police car.
“They killed your friend?” Yana asks. “So what are they going to do to my family?” There is epic sad cello music, which is kind of a relief because they’re finally giving the cheesy synth a break, and Yana cries on MacGyver’s shoulder. Because when your family gets hauled off by the KGB, the first thing you usually do is bond with the total stranger you’ve been trying to rob.