Saturday, August 5, 2017

MacGyver Script Analysis: Lesson in Evil

It's time for the 8th installment of my 139 part Script Analysis series where I compare an original script with the final episode.  After the last three scripts came from my lower tier of episodes, I'm happy to say that this one comes from the top tier -- that's right, it's Lesson in Evil starring Dr. Zito!

My script is a 2nd revised final draft dated 9/20/90, and the episode aired on 10/29 -- a notable event as it was the first episode I ever watched.  The author is the great John Sheppard, and the episode follows the script very closely.
  • Zito is described as looking distinguished, even in prison drabs.  His eyes are piercing blue, like being burned by dry ice.
  • In the script, after MacGyver tells the judge that Cross hanged himself in his cell, he adds, I wouldn't be surprised if Zito talked him into that, too.
  • Here's the full conversation in the script between Skinner and Murphy after the hearing (9:09 mark):
    • Skinner: It's not an act, lieutenant.  His behavior's the result of years of therapy and treatment.  He's not the same man you remember.
    • Murphy: I remember he killed nine people.
    • Skinner: That Zito no longer exists.  If only you saw him in our sessions.  He cries when he thinks of his past crimes.
    • Murphy: Since when's a guilty conscience enough to get a killer released?
    • Skinner: He was sick.  And like any sick person, a cure is possible.
    • Murphy: And you really believe that he's come that far?
    • Skinner: I'd stake my professional reputation on it. 
  • I wrote the recap for Lesson in Evil a while ago (1/15/15) and didn't remember what I had written.  It was funny how during my most recent rewatch, I jotted down some thoughts about the episode in general (i.e. not pertaining to the script in particular) such as "Why would they even consider letting Zito go free?  How does Zito get out of the courthouse without anyone noticing him?  How does Zito know Pete's parking space number?  Why does Dr. Skinner yell at the top of her lungs when she sees MacGyver in the cell?  Is that the same staircase from Blood Brothers?"  Then I re-read my original post from two and a half years ago and discovered that I had made every one of those same points.  I guess I haven't changed much.
  • During Zito's escape, the script describes him as unrecognizable.  The plot element would have made more sense if he snuck out of the building without anyone laying eyes on him rather than in a two-bit disguise with blood dripping off of him.
  • We learn from the script that MacGyver has parking space 19 next to Pete's space 20.
  • A fun brainstorming game would be to think of how many villains entered MacGyver's home throughout the series.  We never see Zito actually in the houseboat but we know that he has been there.  Just off the top of my head, I can think of Murdoc, Deborah, Ellen Jerico and her assistant, the Out in the Cold mobsters, the Children of Light thugs, the bug planter in Brainwashed, and the Split Decision bookies.  I feel like there are more I'm not thinking of.
  • Another script-only conversation when Skinner is in the ice bath:
    • Skinner: Zito, you're sick.  Turn yourself in, I promise no one will hurt you.  You can trust me -- I want to help.
    • Zito: Help me?  How, doctor?  More therapy, perhaps?  Endless questions...probing...Try and imagine what it's like to have somebody poke their grubby fingers into the secret corners of your mind, making you face your nightmares, over and over.  Maybe then you'll understand how much I loathe and despise you.
    • It's good this part was cut because it undermines Zito's lesson in evil, that he's attacking the doctor (and the only person who would help him) for no other reason than his evil nature.
  • There was a discussion in my original Lesson in Evil post and in the comments about why MacGyver trips the trigger after seemingly solving the riddle -- does he do it on purpose?  After reading the script, it's clear the answer is yes.  With one leg on safe ground, MacGyver sets the other foot onto the rigged plank...He jumps back as the Bell CRASHES into the rail.  He'd have been decapitated had he gone for the gun!  So the idea is that even though MacGyver knows what's coming when he sets off the trap, he still gets knocked down by the force of the bell.
See my main MacGyver page for links to my other Script Analyses.  I recently got another script, so there will definitely be a 9th installment in the Script Analyses series!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Marty Sklar (1934-2017): A Tribute



Marty Sklar passed away today, and I'm very saddened to hear that.  I was fortunate enough to meet Marty in his home just three months ago, and I'd like to share my impressions of him.  If you're not familiar with the Disney universe, you may not know who he is, but suffice it to say he was one of the all-time Disney Legends.  While still in college, he started working at Disneyland when it opened in 1955 and soon became Walt's go-to guy.  Eventually he made it to Executive Vice President where he ran Disney Imagineering and the theme parks.  Despite retiring from Disney, he kept busy with writing books and appearing on the Disney convention/speaker circuit.

I reached out to him back in December of 2015 and asked if he would do a podcast with my Dad and I about his second book, One Little Spark, and I was surprised when he said yes.  Here's a link to the podcast -- it was one of my favorites that I've done, especially since my Dad was involved, and it was really fun to talk to him.

Fast forward to the end of this past April when I took a trip to Los Angeles.  I reached out to Marty and asked if it would be all right if I stopped by to say hello, and once again I was surprised that he said yes.  I'm always grateful when anyone who I contact for this blog agrees to talk to me let alone meet with me.  I don't take it personally when people decline since it's understandable why someone wouldn't want to talk with some random, unknown guy from "the internet".  But just like Stephen Downing (producer of MacGyver), Marty said, "Sure, come on by."

It was about 3:30 PM and I had driven about an hour from Long Beach (where I met Downing in the morning) to Hollywood, and I was fortunate to not hit any bad L.A. traffic (although sometimes the heavy traffic seems preferable to everyone driving 100 miles an hour like it's a Fast and the Furious movie).  I wound my way through the twists and turns of the Hollywood Hills and eventually made it to Marty's house.  I pulled into the driveway and saw him standing by the door waiting for me.

I went inside and he showed me his office which was enormous, a giant room square that I'm guessing was at least 20 feet by 20 feet if not bigger.  As you might imagine, it was overflowing with Disney memorabilia. From there, we moved to a sitting area next to a wine bar where he offered me a drink.  We sat on cushioned benches perpendicular to each other and talked until about 5:00, at which point he was going out to dinner in Hollywood to celebrate his daughter's birthday.

In today's world, it's easy for us to form opinions of people we've never met based on what we see, hear, or read about them, but you can't ever really know what a celebrity is like based upon their public persona.  And while I certainly don't know exactly what kind of person Marty was based on just 90 minutes together, I did feel like I got a good sense of him from our meeting. And that sense was that he was a good man, kind and gentle, and he was very non-threatening and easy to talk to.  And I could tell that he was very smart and still mentally sharp as a tack.

We talked about all kinds of things.  My goal was not to interview him or try and get any information out of him -- I just wanted to have a nice, relaxed conversation, and that's exactly what we had.  I learned that he was a big tennis fan and went to the Indian Wells ATP tournament every year.  Of course we talked about Disney, and he told me that he was working on a third book.  I signed my book for him, and he signed his books for me, and we talked about doing another podcast when his third book came out.  And with that, we took a selfie (pictured above), shook hands, and I drove away.

I hope this post helps to humanize him for those who didn't know much about him. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have those 90 minutes with him, and I wish his family the best as they mourn his passing.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 32: The Gunslinger


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A former congressman runs a tourist town in Nevada that takes visitors back to the Old West.  At the same time, he's overseeing an operation that's selling nuclear weapons to terrorists.  When Phelps outcheats him at a game of cards, he challenges Phelps to an old-fashioned gunfight and ends up confessing in the process.

Memorable Quote:
When I want the puppy to bark, I'll yank his chain.  ~Phelps

Highlight:
The poker scene at the end gets my vote for best moment of the series.  The card-changing software idea is brilliant, and the final hand is set up beautifully with McClintock looking at his card in the hole and then Grant changing it on him.  We know exactly what's about to happen, and that makes it all the more satisfying given how much of a jerk McClintock is.  He and his henchman Slade are excellent villains and reminiscent of the duo from Jack in the Box.  I've written before how strong villains make for a better episode, and it's very satisfying to see these two bullies get what's coming to them.  Also a great smile from Grant as he is about to change McClintock's card.


And this is Phelps's finest hour as he reveals himself to be a bit of a bad-ass after verbally sparring with McClintock throughout the episode, standing up to him at the poker table, and then showing off some quick draw skills in the street.

Lowlight:
My only quibble with the poker scene is that I wish Phelps wouldn't have told McClintock that he cheated -- it was cooler when McClintock didn't realize what was going on.  And they could have used the evidence they gathered against him to bring him down (i.e. it wasn't necessary to get him to confess to the 7 people who were watching the gunfight).

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • We could have used a little follow-up or reference to last episode where Nicholas was brainwashed, like if he said, "Great to be back with the good guys" or "Sorry, Shannon, for pushing you down a flight of stairs."
  • Shannon's really good at getting hired for service jobs at criminal organizations -- first she's a nightclub singer in Paris, then she performs at a bar in Ireland, and now she's serving drinks in Nevada.
  • Grant is too much -- he happens to have an "atomic absorption spectrometer" to analyze the soil sample from the mine.
  • The setting feels much like The Last Gunfighter episode of Quantum Leap where they were acting like it was still the 1870s.  But it works better for me here because of the gimmick that it's a tourist town -- it's still ridiculous but makes for a fun story.

Final Analysis:
I didn't think anything was going to top The Pawn, but I loved this episode.  The setting is fun, the villains are tremendous, the plot is compelling, and I was really into it from beginning to end. Interesting how my top two episodes involve a rigged game of some kind.  It's really too bad that this series didn't make it to a third season because they were starting to find their footing in Season 2.  Ranking it 1 out of 32.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 31: The Assassin


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A doctor is brainwashing people and using them to assassinate world leaders.  When Nicholas goes undercover in the doctor's clinic, the doctor gets the upper hand and brainwashes him. Nicholas goes to a zoo to assassinate an African ruler, and the IMF team must stop him before it's too late.

Memorable Quote:
Have I missed something?   ~Nicholas
Welcome home, Nicholas.  ~Jim

Highlight:
The scene by the pool is really good when Max and Shannon begin to realize the extent of Nicholas's brainwashing.

Lowlight:
For a villain who's described as having a genius-level IQ, Westerly is pretty stupid in a lot of ways, but primarily for showing up personally at the scene of each of his assassins' crimes. Wouldn't someone from law enforcement other than Grant have noticed him on video and charged him by now?  Some of his other tactics are also questionable, such as why he doesn't question Max and Shannon when they confront Nicholas by the pool, or why he sets up a decoy to draw out the IMF team but then doesn't take any action against them.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • This is our second MI episode with an identical title to a MacGyver episode and includes elements of Brainwashed and DOA MacGyver
  • I've said before that this is one of the few episodes that I vaguely remembered: "an episode where Nick goes bad (and I vaguely remember a lion being involved?)".  
  • They didn't establish how Westerly knows Shannon's cover when she goes up to him at the racetrack and starts talking to him.
  • 19:21 mark: There's the lion -- I knew it!  I like the little drum beat that's played every time the lion is shown stalking its prey.
  • 31:40 - Why do they have Max shadowing Westerly considering that Westerly knows what Max looks like?  No matter, Westerly doesn't spot him even though they're about 20 feet apart.
  • Why wouldn't they tie Nicholas up after sedating him?  Or at least take off his watch that Westerly is using to manipulate him?
  • Pretty convenient that both the OPEC leader and the president of West Africa happen to be in Boston.

Final Analysis:
Great episode!  In a series where many of the episodes are formulaic and somewhat dull (especially in the first season), this one stands out as being original and character-driven.  I've said before how I generally prefer more of an emphasis on plot over character, but this series takes the plot emphasis to an extreme to the point where we don't know hardly anything about the characters' personal lives, histories, motivations, and feelings.  This episode by itself doesn't fill in those gaps, but at least it's a step in the right direction.  And despite the story being a little clunky and not always making sense, it's exciting and action-oriented.  Ranking it 2 out of 31.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 30: Cargo Cult


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
The IMF team heads to the Pacific island of New Belgium where the commissioner of the territory is using cyanide in an illegal gold-mining operation.  The cyanide is killing a large portion of the indigenous population, and the team aims to protect the natives and get them on their side.

Memorable Quote:
What about our bringing Otagi and Regehr to justice?   ~Shannon
This is the Kontu Jungle, Shannon.  They'll be judged by the same kind of justice they handed out.  ~Jim

Highlight:
All three of the antagonists (the lead commissioner, his abrasive lieutenant, and the guy pretending to be a god) were strong characters and well-acted.

Lowlight:
The depiction of the "simple hill people" seemed insulting to primitive people in general given how gullible and wishy-washy they were.  Just because they're primitive doesn't mean they're stupid.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • The scene where the natives capture Nicholas, Shannon, and Max has an Ewok/Return of the Jedi feel to it.
  • Ridiculous moment when Jim waves his arms and the natives wake up at exactly the same time.

Final Analysis:
I like this one despite not having many comments.  The plot is fast moving and action oriented, the villains are strong, and the Pacific island makes for a good setting.  Ranking it 7 out of 30.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 29: Deadly Harvest


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
A Middle Eastern country's science minister and top scientist are working to create a genetic virus which they plan to use to attack America's wheat crop.  When the scientist gets badly burned in a radiation accident, the team seizes the opening and replaces him with Nicholas.  He and Shannon go to the country in order to destroy the bad seeds and the research.

Memorable Quote:
What are you to him, are you his lover?  ~Ishmahan
That's my business.  ~Shannon
12 months ago it was my business.  Possibly it will be again.  ~Ishmahan

Highlight:
The scene where Shannon gets trapped in the radiation chamber is some good drama.

Poor Shannon, she's assuming a lot of the risk this season.  And if it was part of the plan for Nicholas to get caught and go on trial, he should have opened the chamber door right away to save Shannon even if he was seen.  Instead he burns some wiring which shorts out the lab, but that was a risky play with less than 20 seconds left on the radiation timer.

Lowlight:
The ending with Nicholas's trial is breathtakingly preposterous.  Jim walks in the courtroom off the street and interrupts the proceedings by claiming that he's a lawyer for Amnesty International. The ruling general of this Middle Eastern dictatorship is presiding over the trial, and he allows Jim to represent Nicholas and start cross-examining his science minister!  We've seen a few crazy things lately, but this might be the unbelievable moment from the series thus far.

And I haven't even gotten to the part where after the minister is arrested, the five team members walk out of the courtroom completely unsupervised and free as birds (much like the end of War Games).

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • I'm still waiting for the episode where Nicholas goes bad -- one of the few I remember (albeit vaguely) from when I was a kid.  Each time the last few episodes have started, I've been waiting to see if it will be the episode.  Now there's only 5 episodes left so it'll come up sooner rather than later.
  • The entire opening is well filmed and relatively intense as far as this show goes.
  • Amazing that the Middle Eastern scientist survives the radiation blast, and even more amazing that his name is Jared.
  • The radiation accident occurs in Kansas, but he's taken to a hospital in Washington DC -- apparently no good hospitals between those two spots.
  • 8:23 mark -- "We've got 30 minutes before the real surgeon makes his rounds," Jim says.  So they're doing this whole switcheroo at the hospital without anyone on the staff knowing or discovering what's going on?
  • I don't see how Nicholas could get away with pretending to be Jared for too long -- even if he looked the same (and I wonder why they couldn't have just put a mask on him), wouldn't he reveal himself at some point by his lack of knowledge, or wouldn't the science minister quiz him to make sure he was the real guy?  And how did Nicholas know that they were going to check the teacup for fingerprints as opposed to checking something else?
  • How does Grant know where they're keeping the personnel disk?
  • Just as in The Golden Serpent, the explosions and pyrotechnics are quite impressive.

Final Analysis:
This one's ok but not great.  The production value was pretty good and the story held my attention, but there were some plot issues throughout and then it totally went off the rails at the end. Ranking it 16 out of 29.

Mission: Impossible -- Episode 28: For Art's Sake


To Watch: Click Here

Synopsis in 3 sentences or less:
The team heads to NYC to recover a stolen painting and bring down a wealthy art thief.

Memorable Quote:
She just cost me six hundred thousand dollars...but I like those eyes.  ~Travers

Highlight:
I generally enjoy auction scenes, even if they're often predictable.

Lowlight:
The Princess had a crazy bit of technology that I gave as my highlight, but in this episode I'm giving the crazy bit of technology as the lowlight.  Don't try too hard to figure me out.

The bit I'm referring to is Grant's painting gadget.  Enter some data about Degas into the computer, push a few buttons, and watch the machine print out an original painting in 10 seconds based on Degas's style.  Shannon using her jet pack to propel back to the space shuttle in Target Earth was more realistic.

Other thoughts, observations, and questions I didn’t ask when I was in fourth grade:
  • This is the only MI episode written by MacGyver writer/producer John Whelpley.
  • Travers owns Travers Towers in Manhattan, which makes me wonder if he's based on a certain someone who also owns an eponymous tower. There's even a fake Time Magazine cover involved (5:29 mark).
  • Phelps lets Shannon hang out to dry a couple times, first in the museum and later in the bathtub (if it's possible to hang out to dry in a bathtub). Why is she even in the tub to begin with? Her fake death doesn't accomplish anything, and she's extremely lucky that Travers didn't try to kill her another way where her reinforced vest wouldn't have helped, like if he held her underwater or stabbed her in the head.
  • Why couldn't Nick and Jim knock out the culture minister in his office instead of waiting until he gets to Grant who's undercover as a hot dog vendor?  The answer is that this episode is low on drama and so they needed an extra bit to add interest.
  • The ridiculous technology theme continues at the end with some fake, hologram fire, complete with smoke.  Does it feel hot, also? 

Final Analysis:
Season 2 had gotten off to a decent start, but we've now had two straight weak episodes.  This one was dull and uninspired, and I had to rack my brain to find a highlight. Ranking it 21 out of 28.