MacGyver “Pilot” (part 1 of 4)
So, everyone knows about MacGyver, right? It’s a classic of corny ‘80s TV, starring Richard Dean Anderson as Angus MacGyver, a secret agent who likes to piece together ridiculous contraptions from household objects.
Yep, that’s pretty much all there is to it: every week, he finds himself in some kind of crisis situation and has to save himself (and generally a plucky kid or an attractive woman or a villageful of ethnic peasants) with nothing but his Swiss Army Knife and various convenient bits and bobs he finds along the way. (I warn you now: the word “convenient” will crop up a lot in these recaps.) It being the ‘80s, he was often up against the Soviets in one way or another, but his enemies also included the Mafia, South American dictators, and killer ants. Oh yes, killer ants.
MacGyver ran from 1985 to 1992 in the US, and was broadcast in a large number of other countries as well. I was a bit too young to enjoy it when it was on, so while I’m familiar with the general idea of the show, I haven’t seen that many episodes. So, I figured the pilot would be a good place to start.
We open with some expensive-looking aerial footage of a canyon. The camera pans around aimlessly for a while; the producers rented this helicopter and they’re going to get their money’s worth. A caption informs us that the scene is “…Somewhere in Central Asia, present day”. Because viewers tend to assume TV shows take place in the mid-16th Century unless otherwise informed.
Eventually, we zoom in on a guy standing partway up an enormous cliff face. He’s not actually in the act of climbing, because that would be hard, but he does sort of wave his arms and legs around in order to give the vague impression that he’s climbing. We can infer that this is MacGyver.
The camera pulls away and shows us what’s at the top of the cliff: a small plane (crashed), some tents, and some armed men. Meanwhile, MacGyver begins the first of many, many rambling voiceover anecdotes about his country childhood.
This one’s about a horse belonging to someone called “Old Man McGinny”. MacGyver explains that when he was nine or ten years old, he decided he was going to ride the horse, but “knowing Old Man McGinny, that was going to take some doing.” I have no real idea what that’s supposed to mean.
Sometime later, MacGyver gets to the top of the cliff. Conveniently, he arrives right next to the wreckage of the plane, which is American. Even more conveniently, the two guys guarding the wreckage (who are dressed in nonspecific beige uniforms) randomly decide to walk away just at that moment. So, MacGyver is free to climb over the top of the cliff and start doing his thing.
As MacGvyer VOs about Old Man McGinny’s guard dog Hector, we see an armed guard hiding behind a pile of rocks. Oh, I see what you did there. MacGyver sneaks up and just drags the guy to the ground with no effort at all. That was easy. “So much for Hector!” A second later, he pops up again, wearing the guard’s uniform over his own stuff. He walks off with the guard’s rifle and his cup of tea, which is just mean.
He then sets off towards the plane. There are more guards standing next to it, but again, they decide to walk off when he gets near. Wow, this is easy! He looks at the plane for a minute, then steals a flare gun out of the cockpit and moves on.
“Having a golden palomino in a corral is all well and good,” he VOs. “But actually getting right up to her… Well, that’d be a whole ‘nother ball game. And she was starting to look a little bit bigger than I’d remembered, too.” We see lots of guards milling around the camp, looking guard-like. We also see a man, presumably the plane’s pilot, suspended in a wooden cage on the other side of the camp.
MacGyver notices the man and looks surprised, and then his VO continues, “No; there was definitely more to riding this palomino than had occurred to me the night before.” Aw, isn’t it nice how the flow of his story matches up exactly to the details of this mission?
But there was no need to worry about all those guards, because suddenly MacGyver is somehow on the other side of the camp, hiding in the bushes next to the pilot’s cage. He gets the pilot’s attention and whispers, “They didn’t say anything to me about any survivors. The missile—which tent?” The guy points to another tent, which is a little bit removed from the rest of the camp.
MacGyver pulls out a Swiss Army Knife and throws it to the guy in the cage, telling him to cut himself loose. There’s a close-up of the knife lodging in one of the bars, but judging from the angle, it’s obviously coming from inside the cage. That is some impressive knife-throwing. MacGyver whispers that he’ll want his knife back, and the pilot shoots him a look that clearly says, “Douchebag.”
MacGyver sneaks over to the back of the missile tent. All the guards are around at the front, so he just pulls up a tent peg and crawls inside. Then he starts up with the damn horse story again, rambling about how sweaty he was (TMI, dude), and how if he climbed on the horse too suddenly, it would be like strapping himself to a rocket. So, we have established: missiles are like horses. He climbs over the missile and pulls out a fancy leather presentation case of missile-dismantling tools. Nice.
He uses one tool to take a little panel off the side of the missile, revealing a red blinking light and some gadget that looks like this:
He then pulls out a gadget-removing tool and, uh, removes the gadget. Immediately, a digital timer inside the missile starts counting down from 30 seconds. So he pulls out a wire-cutter and cuts one of the wires, but that doesn’t do anything.
“All right, hot shot,” he VOs. “So you got a golden palomino between your knees and no reins. Now what?” I’m hoping he didn’t do to the horse what he’s doing now, which is to pull out a paper clip, unfold it, and start jabbing the missile with it pretty much at random. Horses hate that. I’m guessing.
And so, the countdown stops with one second to spare. Which is not wildly surprising, given that he’s obviously the hero of the show and they probably weren’t going to kill him off five minutes into the first episode.
By now, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s high time for a ridiculous invention. And here we go. MacGyver ties his stolen rifle to a tree with some string, and sticks a matchbook onto the string, and then uses an elastic band to fasten a branch to the gun’s trigger somehow, and then lights the matches. Look, I’m sorry, but I can’t make it sound any more coherent than that. Anyway, the matches burn through the string after a minute, and the gun falls, and somehow the branch makes the gun go off, firing lots of bullets into the ground.
The whole point of this was to distract the guards, so that the pilot can promptly escape from his cage. A guard runs over, but MacGyver knocks him out with a gun, and he and the pilot run back towards the cliff edge. The other guards realize what’s happening, and run after them.
MacGyver and the pilot hide behind a pile of rocks, while the guards shoot at them (but they miss, because this is an ‘80s TV show). MacGyver and the pilot fire back, and I believe this is pretty much the only time MacGyver ever uses a gun, because after this episode the writers decided to invent some Tragic Childhood Gun-Related Trauma for him.
While the pilot keeps shooting ineffectually at the guards, MacGyver pulls out the flare gun and starts bashing it with a rock. In an insufferably smug tone of voice, MacGyver says he’s “Makin’ a rocket thruster.”
The pilot runs out of ammo, and the guards run over to them. And then, with no explanation, the pilot runs into MacGyver’s arms.
MacGyver clings to him and fires the flare gun, which, like, whooshes them both off the cliff. As opposed to just jumping off, which would have been a lot quicker. “What are we doing?!” the pilot screams as they fall. It’s a bit too late to ask questions at this point; it’s always best to think before you start embracing strange men on clifftops.
“I’ll tell you later,” MacGyver shouts back, which is just annoying. It must be really frustrating to have your life saved by a smug jerk. Oh, and it turns out he was wearing a parachute all along. So he deploys it, and they don’t die.
And… that’s all we’ll ever see of this particular plot thread. We don’t even hear how the stupid horse anecdote ends.
For some reason, a lot of episodes open with MacGyver on a random mission like this, and it’s wrapped up before the opening credits, and has no connection to the rest of the episode (sometimes, it’s even written and directed by different people). This seems like a needlessly elaborate way to pad the episodes out, but there you are.