Am I still watching the MacGyver reboot in 2021? Yes, I am. I’m definitely keeping up with it. I may not be enjoying it very much, but I’m forcing myself to hang onto the series — like a begrudging masochist. A part of me is still holding onto the hope that the writers will finally end our suffering by letting the dorky smart guy end up with the techie smart girl. Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) and Riley Davis (Tristin Mays) may both be incredibly attractive, but there’s no denying that they’re geeks at heart.
Episode 12 of MacGyver’s latest season focuses on Desi (Levy Tran) and Mac’s confusing relationship as half of the Phoenix team attend a wedding. Their mission? Protect the bride. And that’s about it. Don’t blame me for not remembering the details — or not caring enough to — because it doesn’t seem like the MacGyver writers have given it much thought either. Instead, most of the episode’s events focus on a relationship that couldn’t make less sense.
While the episode attempts to convince viewers that Desi and Mac’s relationship is still alive and well, it effectively served as a solid reminder of how good the series used to be. Considering how similar this mission brief was to the one featured in episode 14 of this series’ third season, I couldn’t help but miss what we used to have with this show.
The fourteenth episode of MacGyver’s third year was a bittersweet one. That episode bid farewell to Jack (George Eads) and fed MacRiley fans more quality scenes than their hearts could handle. All while ensuring that the mission’s plot remained engaging. The Phoenix squad didn’t split up, all agents attended the wedding, and they executed the mission as a team.
Season 3 Episode 14 – Father + Bride + Betrayal
Alonzo (Roberto Sanchez) is a wanted crime boss that’s been able to evade doing time. Maddy (Meredith Eaton) has been waiting for her big chance to bring him to justice for years, and she’s surprised when he meets up with her and offers to surrender. Alonzo agrees to hand over all information about his business and accept jail time; in exchange for being able to attend his daughter’s wedding in peace. With this agreement in place, Maddy requests the team to dress up, attend as guests, and keep tabs on Alonzo’s every move.
While Bozer (Justin Hires)’s crying throughout the ceremony, Riley can’t help but notice that Mac keeps stealing glances at her father figure, Jack. After the ceremony, when everyone’s dancing and enjoying the catering, the Phoenix team still have their eyes on Alonzo. However, their mission goes awry when terrorists crash the wedding to kidnap Alonzo.
Keeping the balance
So many things happened in that episode. However, the scriptwriters at the time were able to evenly distribute everything, and nothing felt out of place. They covered Jack’s departure, handled the mission, shone light on Mac and Riley’s relationship, gave Bozer his badass moment, and ensured that the mission stayed on course with Maddy as the glue. Throughout those forty or so minutes, viewers were kept on their toes as they discovered the death of Alonzo and witnessed the near-death of Riley.
The first few seasons of the show never really focused on the agents’ relationships. Sure, there were a handful of episodes that covered their dating life. But those eventually tied into their missions. For example, Jack dated a thief, Mac was backstabbed by Nikki, Bozer teamed up with Leanna, Maddy had to find a new home for her former husband (plus his new family), and Riley began dating Billy, the bounty hunter.
What’s the difference between S3E14 and S5E12?
Honestly, splitting up the team in S5E12 was the only way for the screenwriters to keep Mac and Riley apart. That’s the only reason why Russ (Henry Ian Cusick), Mac and Desi were the only ones invited to the wedding. Unfortunately, the series isn’t about crazy missions or science anymore. Instead of Mac’s usual lengthy explanations that we get whenever he messes with the elements, viewers don’t receive any scientific information as the agents around him (it’s usually Desi or Russ) cut him off — telling him to ‘just do his thing’.
When S5E12 isn’t fixating on Mac and Desi’s melodramatic relationship, we’re met with Russ’s back-stabbing lover. I’d love to explain their relationship, but I’m afraid that it’s not very interesting, nor does it make a lot of sense. And frankly, I don’t care about it. Russ’s constant fixation with Codex and haughty attitude never sat right with me. So, some female character — whom we never really got to know — shattered his heart. Boohoo. Maybe he shouldn’t have been so prepared to fire a missile at both Mac and Riley. Then perhaps I’d care about his quarantine date mate stealing his life’s work.
To be clear, the scriptwriters expected viewers to be invested in Russ’s affairs within a single episode. The quarantine episode simultaneously introduced his research, his romantic interest, and how it all led to him being exploited. Were we legitimately meant to care? When did rushing your audience ever lead to convincing scripts?
S5E12 expected to entertain us, as it forced us to juggle the unfathomable mess — that is Russ’s love life — plus Mac and Desi’s toxic mess of a relationship. If the constant blame games, secrets and lies weren’t enough for everyone to seriously doubt this pairing, this episode certainly made things clear. Not only did Desi summarise her past three years as Mac’s girlfriend as “barely dating”, but she finally turned down his proposal by blurting out that her last fiancé died.
Where did this come from? Do the writers care if this makes any sense? Did I tune into some day time soap opera? Why was this necessary?
Of course, I’d be able to understand if this sudden reveal was supposed to tear the two apart. Maybe the writers were backed into a wall, and they had no idea how to end Mac and Desi’s “barely dating” relationship. (Although it’d be pretty unbelievable that they’d have any trouble terminating it — considering that they’ve had more than two seasons worth of opportunities to do so.) However, that really wasn’t the case. I have no idea what the scriptwriters were trying to achieve with this reveal.
Despite Desi blatantly stating that her ‘love’ for Mac essentially equated to her using him as a substitute for her dead fiancé, there was still no sign of a breakup. Mac (the broken man who never gets to catch a break around Desi) instantly accepts it, and Desi lets him. That’s it. That’s the end of the episode. Both of them will continue with this toxicity, and we’re supposed to support it.
In contrast, I miss the subtlety of S3E14. Mac and Riley’s love required no words. It didn’t completely overshadow the episode’s overall plot. It simply existed. It was there for us to perceive and silently enjoy. Instead of cutting Mac’s lengthy explanations short, Riley lets him say his piece before paraphrasing everything for Alonzo — “It means physics is awesome.”
Characters, viewers and plotlines deserved better
From Riley’s unwavering trust in all of Mac’s actions to Mac insisting that only his blood could save Riley’s life, we didn’t need any talks of love. It wasn’t just their mission that showcased their affections. Riley was always capable of reading Mac’s demeanour, which showed when she questioned both Mac and Jack on their curious conducts.
While S5E12 exists as a perfect example of how far the series has fallen, it simultaneously allows us to appreciate what we used to have with this series. And with that, I shall continue to watch MacGyver’s fifth and final season — till the bitter end.
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