MacGyver “Pilot” (part 2 of 4)

So, opening credits. The credit sequence is a big montage of MacGyvery stuff: MacGyver sticking wires into things, MacGyver pulling wires out of things, MacGyver dismantling some electronics, MacGyver jumping into/out of/off the sides of things, a bomb going off, MacGyver eating an ice cream cone, etc. The ice cream clip doesn’t really seem to fit with the other scenes.

After the credits, we’re back at MacGyver’s place. Which is actually an observatory. I’m pretty sure living in an observatory when you’re not actually an astronomer is the dictionary definition of “obnoxiously quirky”. MacGyver’s currently looking through telescopes with a black kid who, we learn from some expository dialogue, is MacGyver’s “Little Brother”, as in the mentoring thing.

For the benefit of younger readers: showing a white character bonding with a black kid was the stock ‘80s TV way of establishing that they’re basically a decent person. The cynicism of this strategy is underlined by the fact that we never see this boy again after this episode.

Caption contributed by Ms. Avery

Token Black Kid, we hardly knew ye.

And then… MacGyver playfully slaps the kid on the ass, and suggests they go get some food. Yeah. Um, so, I think standards were different back then, and MacGyver has this unfortunate tendency to be a bit more friendly towards kids than would be acceptable on TV now. It makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing sometimes.

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Meanwhile, a car is driving around in the desert. To really emphasize that it’s in the desert, there’s a shitload of cacti around. The credits are still rolling, and reveal that the episode was written by someone with the completely awesome name of Thackary Pallor (whose only other IMDb credit is a 2000 TV movie starring Carmen Electra as herself), and directed by Alan Smithee—always a sign of quality entertainment.

A caption says that we’re in Bannon, New Mexico. The car arrives at a small building and goes in through some security doors. There’s incongruously ominous synth music.

Inside, there’s a big hall full of computers, with extras bustling around like only extras can. A woman leaves the hall and goes to meet the old man getting out of the car. She greets him as “Dr. Marlowe”, and welcomes him to “the Kiva Laboratories” on behalf of some guy named Dr. Stubens, and says she’s Stubens’s assistant, Barbara Spencer. She’s wearing a white coat, so you know she’s a scientist, but she’s wearing a pink dress underneath, so you also know she’s nice and non-threatening.

She tells Marlowe that she’ll take him down to meet Dr. Stubens, after they go through some super-futuristic security, which consists of him standing under a spotlight that makes sci-fi noises.

MacGyver "Pilot" (part 2 of 4)

The pair are then badly green-screened into an elevator, where they talk some more about how high-security the place is. I’m sure this will be in no way relevant to the rest of the plot.

Next, they arrive at the lowest level, where they meet Dr. Stubens. He and Marlowe are obviously old pals. Dr. Spencer offers to take Marlowe on a tour of the lab, but Stubens announces they have “a serious matter to settle, face to face”. He leads Marlowe over to a small table where he has a chess board set up, and it’s revealed they’ve been playing long-distance chess via Telex. Ooh, how high-tech!

The men engage in some irritatingly arch chess banter, and then they sit down to play. There are some close-ups of a clock on the wall, accompanied by ominous music. And then we see that, fastened to the underside of the table, there’s a loudly beeping time bomb. Although it’s completely inaudible when the camera’s not pointed at it.

When the clock strikes 11, the bomb goes off. And then so do several more bombs. In some delightfully gratuitous milking of the effects budget, we’re shown endless slow-mo shots of scientists in different rooms getting knocked over by explosions, and for good measure, an exterior shot of the building with the camera being shaken around.

MacGyver "Pilot" (part 2 of 4)

Then we see a giant tank, which suddenly develops a crack in its side. More ominous music. Brown goop starts oozing out, making the Rice Krispie noise that acid always makes on TV, and a recorded voice starts shouting, “Acid leak! Acid leak!” So I think we have established that there’s some acid leaking.

MacGyver is standing on the roof of his observatory, as you do, when he sees a helicopter land in the street outside. He takes this quite calmly, and goes down to investigate. A middle-aged guy in a suit hops out, and says he has bad news. Also, his name is apparently “Gant”. Poor bastard.

Gant explains that Marlowe and Stubens are still alive—even though they were sitting right next to the bomb when it went off—but they’re trapped down in the lab. Both men are Nobel candidates, and it would generally be sort of preferable if they not die, but it’s going to be hard for anyone to get down to them.

Whatever government agency this Gant guy works for can’t order anyone to go, so they decided to find MacGyver and ask him nicely instead. MacGyver ums and ahs a bit, then says he’ll go, because the plot demands it.

MacGyver "Pilot" (part 2 of 4)

And yeah, at no point in the episode is there any explanation of who this Gant guy is, or how he knows MacGyver, or who MacGyver is, for that matter. He’s basically some dude who lives in an observatory and does favors for people. I know it’s just the pilot, but would it have killed the good Mr. Pallor to provide some kind of context for this whole setup?

Back at the lab, soldiers are milling around, and people are being wheeled out on stretchers. There’s much bustling in a computer room. Some guy in a three-piece suit (seriously, who wears that to work in a lab?) tries to contact Marlowe and Stubens on the intercom. Marlowe asks for a doctor, but then the radio stops working.

MacGyver arrives in a helicopter. He and Gant are taken into the building and introduced to Three-Piece Suit Guy, whose name is Charlie. Charlie catches everyone up, and says that they don’t know what caused the explosion, although it was nothing to do with the lab’s research, which is on “magnetic fields and the ozone layer”. He says it must be an accident, because the lab has such good security, what with the sci-fi spotlight thing and all.

Charlie then mentions the minor issue of the leaking acid tank (any chemistry types want to weigh in on what massive tanks of sulfuric acid have to do with magnetic fields?). Apparently, the lab is near an aquifer which leads into the Rio Grande, and if the acid gets into it, it will poison everyone in New Mexico, Texas, and all of Mexico. Which would be kind of bad.

The only solution is to flood the whole lab with sodium hydroxide, which will be done in five hours’ time. Gant, for the benefit of the audience, asks MacGyver what sodium hydroxide is, and is told, “It’s the stuff they use to strip the flesh off skeletons.” So apparently MacGyver’s area of expertise includes forensic science. Or murder.

MacGyver "Pilot" (part 2 of 4)

At this point they’re joined by some bald guy named Colson, who greets MacGyver with “You must be the screwball.” (The actor playing Colson, Dana Elcar, will return later in the series as MacGyver’s boss.) Colson tells MacGyver that the only way down into the labs is via the elevator, which isn’t working, and the elevator shaft is protected by invisible killer lasers.

MacGyver asks him for a cigarette, then takes the box. “Take the pack, why don’t you?” Colson snarks. “Do you want my lighter too?” But MacGyver, who’s either oblivious or likes being rude, just says he always carries his own matches.

They’re looking through some blueprints of the building, and MacGyver finds a convenient “wiring duct” that leads to the elevator shaft. Colson wibbles about the laser, and then points out that MacGyver will need more tools and stuff than he can carry in his beige man-bag. MacGyver smirks, “The bag’s not for what I take, it’s for what I find along the way.” Look, even if you’re MacGyver, deliberately starting out on a dangerous mission with no supplies whatsoever is just showing off.

As MacGyver sets off into the wiring duct, the others hook him up with a two-way radio so he can keep in touch. He crawls down the duct, whistling “Streets of Laredo”, because he’s wholesome and rural like that, and kicks out the grating separating him from the elevator shaft. The grating gets zapped by the lasers and blows up.

Caption contributed by Ms. Avery

I could have quite happily lived my life without ever seeing this view of MacGyver.

MacGyver announces that it’s time for a smoke, and produces the box of cigarettes. He proceeds to light one by sticking it into the elevator shaft until a laser sets fire to it, which, considering he already said he has matches with him, is just more showing off.

He then lights a few more, and smokes them for a bit, which produces a very small amount of smoke. But luckily, a stagehand turns on a dry ice machine somewhere nearby, and the shaft fills up with smoke and the laser beams become visible.

Caption contributed by Ms. Avery

Wow, people really did smoke a lot back then.

He pulls out a pair of binoculars, and talks to them, telling them that they’re the best pair he ever had. He then smashes them against a wall. I’m sorry, but talking to your binoculars is not cute, it’s just weird.

He pulls a mirror out of the binocular bits, and uses it to divert the laser beam back on itself so that it explodes. Because what this place needs is more explosions.

Multi-Part Article: MacGyver "Pilot"

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