MacGyver- Season 4


MacGyver (Complete Fourth Season)

MacGyver
Complete Season 4 on DVD

In hindsight, you probably don’t recall the series “MacGyver” as being anything but an entertaining adventure featuring a geeky hunk. Certainly, there was some social commentary, especially in the later years of the series, but “dark” and “prophetic” are hardly two descriptors that come to mind. In Season Four, however, Mac (Richard Dean Anderson) faces down some dire situations and becomes distrustful, almost cynical, and at times, downright angry---the dark side of MacGyver surfaces. Because of our ability to look back with hindsight via DVD, we see elements in Season Four that point directly from 1988 to 2005: prophetic, suggestive, or just an indicator that past, present and future are not separate points on the timeline.

Mac’s past plays a significant part in Season Four. He must deal with memories of his mother’s death, his father’s death, the tragic death of a childhood friend, the mental breakdown of a former war buddy, and two failed relationships. Mac has a huge reservoir of guilt in most of these cases, which is the catalyst to his lifestyle (taking risks, constantly moving, never revealing his true self). In “Runners” he meets his mirror in a young woman who has left home. Mac attempts to rescue her from the streets and from her own lifetime of violence and regrets, only to have her turn around and remind him that he is just like her, running from the past. “Blood Brothers” takes Mac back to his hometown to reconcile himself to his part in the gun-related death of a friend in childhood. The story serves to explain MacGyver’s strong anti-gun stance (shared in real life by RDA) and his recognition that facing his inner demons is the only path to freedom. It is a sad, emotional tale, obviously felt very deeply by RDA---his passion as MacGyver rings true. He is ably supported by a very young Jason Priestley, dressed in timely 1980’s Lost Boys fashion.

References to life in the late 1980’s, or Mac’s present (if you will), are juxtaposed with his past in “Renegade”, in which Mac has to stop a former Special Ops comrade from imploding due to a war injury. Mac’s buddy saved his life but in the process got an ultimately serious blow to the head, which the military brushed off as a minor injury----with no financial or emotional assistance offered. This was a serious issue in the late 1980’s as Vietnam vets were beginning to be heard about the lack of support they received when their tours ended (“Born of the Fourth of July” was screened months before this episode was aired). In one of those prophetic moments of this season, the injured vet in this ep is trying to sell anthrax to terrorists. Mac saves the man, of course, but not without incurring his own injuries and recognition of the price injured veterans have had to pay, often without support from their government.

Mac’s distrust of the military and the government reveals itself in two episodes. In “On A Wing and a Prayer”, while he ultimately understands he must save Pete from a revolutionary, Mac is not without some sympathy for the changes the pseudo-Sandinista is trying to make. In “A Fraternity of Thieves”, Mac has gone so far to distrust the government in that he has to have assurances from the military that the secret technological invention he will be protecting will not be used for some harmful covert activity, before he will even think about embarking on the mission. Incidentally, Senator John Kerry’s report on Contra drug activity, implicating Oliver North, was published just under a year prior to the airing of this episode. Mac is an angry man of his time, learning the lessons dealt from his past.

Mac finally reaches his breaking point in “The Challenges”. He comes very close to using deliberate viciousness (gun in hand!) upon another human being, only to be stopped by the person he just saved from a gang (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). MacGyver’s moment of insane hatred for a racist is oddly satisfying, though----it makes the man more real. It caps an intense, dramatic episode, filled with hard words and horrific scene in which Mac discovers the victim of a drug-related execution (and Mac’s reaction is hardly anything resembling controlled). Tough stuff for this series, but in keeping with the mood of the season.

Lest you think Mac never gets to enjoy himself, there are episodes dealing with situations he loves: fishing, hiking, racing fast cars (surprisingly, very little babe action this time around). He plays with his pal Jack (Bruce McGill) and of course, has to rescue him (and Jack’s mom!). Jack has become much more palatable and believable, probably because there’s more of a give and take between the two guys; Mac actually has to ask Jack for a favor this time around. Pete (Dana Elcar) also takes up some of MacGyver’s time, so much so that in “Easy Target” they are sniping at each other the way friends do when they’ve spent too much time together (possibly related to the lack of babe action). Pete assumes a larger role this season, even thinking of MacGyverisms when necessary.

Penny Parker (Teri Hatcher) also provides some relief from the darkness of the season. In “The Secret of Parker House”, she convinces Mac to investigate spooky goings-on in a house she just inherited. Mac’s expected skepticism is challenged every step of the way and the outcome is ultimately left open (other supernatural eps from previous seasons have been treated similarly, and it is fun to see Mac doubt himself). There’s good chemistry between Hatcher and RDA, and they are a gorgeous couple on screen----and while some may find it unbelievable that Mac would never try a move on Penny, she’s just too ditzy for him to feel anything other than protective of her (okay, perhaps lustfully so). In my opinion, the fact that she’s never made a move on Mac just indicates the depth of her ditziness.

Penny surfaces again in “Cleo Rocks”, which also features Murdoc (Michael des Barres). Two-over-the-top characters in a single episode is bound to make it odd, to say the very least. In his latest incarnation, Murdoc is a disabled drama producer who hires Penny to perform in a rock opera, just so he can get his vengeful hands on MacGyver. True to form, Mac shows up at a rehearsal (Penny performs the very quirky title song, written by des Barres) and becomes embroiled in Murdoc’s Theatre of Death. It’s a campy, funky story, and is a nod to the success of Phantom of the Opera, which opened the year before this episode was shown.

In a similar fashion, two other episodes suggest more of Mac’s present and our past: “The Outsiders” and “Gold Rush”. “The Outsiders” combines Witness (1985) and the drama of Baby Jessica, a young child who fell down a well and was trapped for hours, which occurred in 1987. In the episode, Mac suffers a head injury from having a tire blowout and awakens in Amish country, in the middle of a land war. While Mac spends his recuperative time trying to mend fences between neighbors, a little girl falls into a well and is trapped. Thankfully, there is no romantic interest between Mac and an Amish woman----with Mac’s skittishness and all those burly men hanging about, that would have taken a MacGyverism I don’t think even he could have pulled off. Despite the episode being a clear rip-off of current events, it is still diverting and frankly, Mac looks great in a flannel shirt.

I was instantly reminded of the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when I watched “Gold Rush”. Mac helps a former girlfriend to retrieve some gold from a plane lost during WW2, in order to help refugees. When they discover the gold, hidden in a booby-trapped cave, Mac and the woman watch as their captor loses his sanity and life for the riches. Mac’s girlfriend thankfully does not do the same, but it is Mac who ends up needing to be pulled up from an abyss to which some of the gold has fallen. This scene in “Gold Rush” seems to echo the Indiana Jones movie---if you remember, the female lead falls in the abyss in her desire for the Grail cup. The episode’s scene is such a parallel to the movie in feeling and tone that I was surprised to find that “Gold Rush” aired a full three months before “Last Crusade” did. It’s another one of those weird little twists of time that show up in this season.

One of the eeriest prophetic moments comes in “Easy Target”. This is the first season in which the word “terrorist” gets used for enemies with which to deal. The terrorists are generic, some German, some Middle Eastern, one or two Anglos. In “Easy Target” they kidnap an electromagnetic pulse generator, and attempt to use it to stop all communication and electricity in a large city in order to bargain for an incarcerated fellow terrorist. Pete seems incredulous that this could work, but we all know now with 2005 vision that it is not a matter of if, but when, this tactic is used. Indeed, in the ep, one of the military personnel casually throws out the information that EMPs will be “available” in 10 or 12 years to a lot of people----which brings us into our present. Twelve years ago I was in a position to understand this episode, but I doubt I would have taken it seriously. This “entertaining adventure” series apparently had quite a bit of foresight.

There are some gems of brilliance amidst the darkness of this season’s shows. Dana Elcar takes his hand at directing (“The Challenge” and “Invisible Killer”----which contains one of my favorite Mac flirting scenes). G. Gordon Liddy stars as a particularly evil conniver (“Collision Course”). One of my favorite MacGyverisms shows up: Mac must race to a photo processor to score some sodium thiosulfate to give to Pete to counteract his Prussic acid intake (“Fraternity of Thieves”). Peter Williams plays a wonderful Jamaican computer/AV geek in “Collision Course”----Williams, in the future, will play Apophis against RDA in Stargate SG-1. And in another nod to Stargate and RDA’s future Jack O’Neill, we see MacGyver fiddling around with equipment on somebody else’s desk as a way of acting out his impatience (“Renegade”).

Season Four shows that the series MacGyver has gotten older (not necessarily grown up), and that the man MacGyver is losing some of his unbridled optimism. He sees true evil and at times seems to lose heart, but in the end realizes that only through meeting the evil and doubt within himself will he succeed in bettering the world. This season leaves the hero at his crossroads: will he break through the emotional detritus from past, present and future trauma and move to positive action, or will he remain lost in cynicism and go nowhere?

The last episode of the season does not answer the question, only restates it. “Unfinished Business” is a recap episode, tying up loose ends, but does not provide resolution, at least from Mac’s standpoint. Evil (in this case, old flame Deborah, played chillingly by Kristiane Alfonso) simply is, and what Mac chooses to do about it is his choice. At this point, we cannot see into his future to determine which way he will go.

Season Four could have done with some commentary, given the nature of its subjects. Paramount has not provided any extras with the DVDs. It is a simple set of five discs in three sleeves; there is no booklet provided. The series, particularly this season, deserves better treatment. Still, for those of us still looking for heroes (tarnished, tired or otherwise) that can move through the past, present and future, it’s a set not to be dismissed.


MacGyver (Complete Fourth Season)


Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Britophile
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