I know it’s not Reflecting Day here at 1900🌭, but like to talk about something very emotional anyway. It’s an important event from 1985 that changed everything we knew about telev– nay, art. You might be thinking, “This is a fun bit where he’s leading to something that WASN’T an earth-shattering super-event.” And now you might be thinking, “I was wrong! I was so fucking wrong! The setup was sincere! This is real!” Because I’m talking about the spectacular Season 1, Episode 6 of MacGyver… “Trumbo’s World!” The one where he fights ants!
The episode opens with MacGyver sneaking into a Spanish paramilitary camp to rescue a geologist. He creates a disguise by climbing a tree and improvising a fishing pole to steal one of their towels. The show is remembered for the amazing gadgets created from trash, but MacGyver solved a lot of problems by just taking off his clothes and hoping for the best. It’s a childhood lesson I still use to this day, yum.
The other thing worth remembering about MacGyver is that it was a full hour show and they had a lot of time to fill between diet soda grenades and power washer jetpacks. So he wanders through the enemy camp, eats some of their soup, and while a slow synthesizer remix of the show’s theme song plays, he complains it’s not as good as his mother’s Basque stew, as she experimented with many international soups. Not a word of that is an exaggeration. One of the producers said, “Get me ten minutes of shirtless MacGyver! I don’t care what you have to do! Well, I mean, don’t do something like a voiceover where he tells a childhood soup story or anyt– hello? Are you still? He hung up. Ahh, he probably heard most of that.”
Anyway, the geologist doesn’t even know why she was kidnapped, but MacGyver suggests maybe this Spanish militia thought she was a physicist and she could build them an atom bomb? No more thought is given to this extended excuse for shirtless MacGyver. He gives two completely contradictory and insane answers to questions no one asked to explain something no one needed a reason for. No one seeing shirtless MacGyver having a raft chase with a group of Basque secessionists would ever say, “Hold on, a second. I need a WHOLE LOT OF SHAKY BACKSTORY TO EXPLAIN THIS.” For instance, during the raft chase MacGyver stops, pulls out a roll of barbed wire, strings it across the river, and America recently celebrated 36 straight years of no one caring where MacGyver got that shit.
MacGyver and the geologist escaped by heating up the camp’s shower and running away while everyone laughed at the scalded guy. And it didn’t work. Everyone saw them run away. MacGyver had to wait while a panicked woman rappelled down a cliff for the first time and men a few yards behind shot at him with rifles. They missed at him for minutes. Then he rappelled through the bullets himself and covered his exit by lighting their rope on fire, which oh yeah, I should mention the geologist was being kept in a prison cell with a can of gasoline and a rope. And this amazing sequence of lucky events only bought them another two seconds because each of the bad guys had their own rope.
Please note MacGyver was sent here. He wasn’t part of this woman’s “geology mission” and forced to throw together some desperate escape. This was a plan. Some private security firm said, “This is a delicate rescue op in Spain, so we’ll have to send one man, nude. Preferably experienced in soup. Barbed wire and gasoline must be procured on-site.” He should have been dead hundreds of times over. If you wanted to remarket this as a comedy about a guy who can’t die, you would not have to change a single thing. And I worried this cold open might have used up all of MacGyver’s luck because the rest of this episode is him fucking everything up and watching his friends get eaten by ants.
MacGyver is called to the Amazon by his friend Charlie who says he has “a very strange problem.” That’s all MacGyver needs to hear.
The problem that was too sensitive to explain over the phone or letter is this: a dozen species of birds have been seen in flight. “Desperate flight,” in fact. Charlie thinks they’re running from something in the heart of the rainforest. That’s the whole thing. No one has gone into the jungle and never come back. There were no legends or unexplained noises. You know everything.
But instead of saying, “Motherfucker, I’ve been on a plane for 23 hours, a boat for 72, and I paid two hundred bucks for a night in a half star hotel and you’re telling me this is because you want to see what scared, you think, several birds,” MacGyver thinks for a moment and goes, “Here be tigers and unknown beasts.“
Charlie’s response is only, “Exactly.” Our expedition is underway!
This is only the sixth episode of MacGyver ever and already the writers seem to be specifically saying “FUCK YOU” to anyone who cares how MacGyver gets into all these hijinx. It’s like someone told them they weren’t allowed to just start the episode with MacGyver in a giant anthill with a handful of thumbtacks and writing this scene was their temper tantrum.
They don’t mention how MacGyver and Charlie know each other, but it doesn’t seem to be from adventuring. Charlie is useless. He’s a fussy scientist with no leash on his childlike sense of wonder and no sense of danger. Even before you find out the thing that scared the birds was a big colony of ants, you’d look at Charlie and say, “This whiny flight-of-fancy guy is going to get eaten by ants before the end of Act 2.”
The two best friends get a boat, but can’t find an “Indian guide.” Apparently you can send MacGyver after a group of heavily-armed terrorists with his nipples and nothing else, but he can’t figure out how to walk the opposite direction of birds in the woods. They get a lead on a villainous chocolate plantation owner who is notorious for attempted murder and also does not offer a native guide service. They call him Trumbo, and MacGyver is like, “Trumbo sounds like a guy who can help.” They boat there and they are immediately fired upon with guns and arrows.
Sure enough, Trumbo, the evil slave owner holding them at gunpoint, who does not run a jungle tour company, can’t supply them with a guide. MacGyver offers to fix his irrigation pump as a trade, Trumbo says no, but MacGyver fixes it anyway. It almost feels like the script said, “EXT or INT. SOME TIME OF DAY. Random, unrelated things and conversations TBD happen between the engineering bits and fist fights.”
MacGyver is so good at fixing the pump that Trumbo offers him a job, but he turns him down. MacGyver tries to explain how slavery is bad, and Trumbo explains that’s not what is happening. He brags about how good he is at the noble act of cutting down the rainforest and turning it into cocoa plantation. It’s weird. If you wanted to remarket this as a comedy about an action show being meddled with by sinister corporate sponsors, you wouldn’t have to change a thing. Trumbo might as well have turned to camera and said, “MacGyver, you and I are like the heroes at Nestle, makers of the new Mochablast Jiggle Chillers, fighting courageously for freedom. Every day, that great company brings us closer to a world with fully deregulated clearcutting and a return to ownable humans.”
Anyway, the cocoa baron who shot at MacGyver for rowboating near his plantation is the good guy. And the only reason he isn’t offering them a guide is because he won’t risk any of his men on a spooky mystery. So he’ll go himself.
So now the main bad guy has joined our heroes and they finally set off to solve The Mystery Of Some Maybe Scared Birds. But they soon find out it’s more serious than that when they come across a new piece of the puzzle. Charlie says, “WHAT? What could possibly cause panic in both birds and small ground animals!?” Here’s what he was looking at:
This is not a wild animal stampede. This is a fuzzy buddy messaround. This is a Friendship Falls Gumdrop Festival’s 80th Annual Gerbil Race. And look, I don’t know what the logistics were for setting up a hamster stampede for a union TV production in 1985, but I do know this is adorable and hilarious.
The dream team of bird, and now small ground animal, investigators make a plan to hike three kilometers to a native village Trumbo knows about. But MacGyver stops them. He’s noticed one more subtle clue– a terrible screeching coming from nearby. He walks toward it and sees a canyon filled with the show’s secret real main villain: ants. “An eating machine. Two miles wide and ten miles long,” he says. Then the show, for the first of many times, cuts to random ant footage from at least three different ancient nature documentaries. Which only makes their choice to film seven furry best friends having a little race even stranger. The producers don’t care about the shots matching, so they could have cut to stock footage of an actual stampede!
Anyway, they now hear human screams over the sound of the ant screams so they head over to the village. It’s more like ten feet away than three kilometers, but MacGyver writers would like to remind me to fucking get over myself and realize we’re not here to make goddamn maps.
At the village, a group of native caricatures are just getting their asses kicked by ants. They are a pre-pants civilization absolutely at the mercy of insect swarm attacks. And while they bash an ocean of ants with sticks and writhe on the ground in itchiness, they leave one of their women for dead under a canoe.
Like her people, Charlie abandons the canoe woman and starts taking pictures of ants. He can’t believe it. Ants! Real ants! He takes dozens of extreme closeups of ant faces to really communicate the size of their colony, never believing it for a second. Amazing! Ants! It was ants all along! The colony swarms him, mindlessly unaware of their luck in finding meat too excited about ants to move away from ants.
MacGyver and Trumbo try to rescue the woman from the canoe, but two men and half a woman are no match for a canoe. Three men might be, but Charlie is too busy having never fucking seen anything like these ants. MacGyver finally gets his attention, and instead of helping, he hands a stick to MacGyver and runs back for more antwatching. This woman has never laid eyes on an American before, but after watching a slave owner, a hunk, and a fucking idiot make themselves at home in her ancestral lands and let her die from an easily preventable death, she’s already an expert.
Let’s check in with Charlie.
He’s not doing great. Charlie is what ant soldiers call “an easy day at work.”
MacGyver’s homemade canoe winch works, and they pull the woman to safety as Charlie is off somewhere shrieking for help. And here’s where we seriously almost lost Richard Dean Anderson. He’s an athletic actor who does a lot of his own stunt work, but if the stunt coordinator told him what was going to happen when a goddamn bamboo spear uncoils with the force of a full canoe, Richard forgot about it after the cameras started rolling. Look at that! They were one inch away from having to replace most of their lead actor’s head! Why did this stick prop come to a deadly point at all? And why was the pointy end on the, surprise, much longer half? Did the ants do this!?
Speaking of, the ants are tearing this village up and MacGyver has no ideas. He saw these primitive tribesmen rolling around and clubbing the ground and thought, “Well, I can’t improve on this.”
Let’s check in on Charlie again.
He’s fucking dead. Devoured to the hat by ordinary ants right in front of his best friend and world’s greatest rescue hero, MacGyver. You can’t screw up harder than that. This is like opening a book on cat safety and getting mauled to death by a kitten while sharing an elevator with celebrity bad boy of cat training, Jackson Galaxy. So MacGyver has let the quest giver die, teamed up with the villainous baron, and the village he tried to rescue has been wiped off the map by insects. It’s over. There’s nothing left to save. In only his sixth episode, MacGyver has suffered the greatest loss in syndicated television history. The end.
No. There are thirty fucking minutes of show left.
They go back to Trumbo’s lawless chocolate mine for a last stand against this unstoppable force of nature. Not to rescue anyone, because all the slaves are leaving. By the way, Trumbo responds to this by opening fire on them and would have murdered them all if MacGyver hadn’t pulled him off his horse and kicked his ass. In any piece of media other than this very specific episode of MacGyver, Trumbo would be a nefarious scoundrel who must be stopped at any cost. Here, MacGyver agrees to stick around and help him defeat the ants and save his plantation! Why, you ask? Goddamn it, it’s like you haven’t been listening at all. The writers don’t care! Before Nestle’s PR guy came in with notes, the first draft of this episode opened with MacGyver getting sentenced to execution by combat arena by the Snake Council of The Moon.
Trumbo and MacGyver hatch an unlikely plan to create tiny rivers around the plantation. Unfortunately, these rivers need to be held open by a wheel located directly in the path of the ants. This job was given to the only worker to stay behind, some guy named Luis. If MacGyver could have rigged something to hold the wheel in place that wasn’t made out of delicious human ant food, he didn’t bother. And more bad news for the abandoned slave fields: the ants accidentally invent boats.
The little rivers get smaller and smaller while MacGyver and Trumbo wonder why that darn Luis isn’t keeping the water flowing. See if you can guess what happened!
You were wrong! Luis was, get this, eaten by the ants!
Trumbo and the writers seem to think Luis died a hero, but he died for nothing and from not walking to a location without hungry bugs. MacGyver has now watched 66% of the named characters in this episode get swallowed by ants, so he moves onto Plan B: homemade flamethrower! This lasts about two seconds and doesn’t work, so it’s onto Last Resort: blowing up the dam and destroying the entire plantation he (for whatever reason (fuck you)) has sworn to protect.
AAAAAIIIEEEEEE! SHIT! FUCK! IT DOES NOT GO WELL!
In his panic, MacGyver throws off his makeshift bee suit and blows the dam up while he’s still right in front of it. He is only barely not killed while stock footage of a flood washes away everything the noble Trumbo built on the backs of local natives displaced by his deforestation. Every good guy is dead! The only survivor was the main bad guy whose sadness farm MacGyver tried to save and failed! The end!
There’s nothing else! MacGyver blew it, the end!
9 replies on “Punching Day: MacGyver Fights Ants 🌭”
Not to mention the Macgyver theme song, the most 80s thing to ever 80s.
Adapted/stolen from the kick-dick short story Leiningen against the ants. I fucking loved this episode as a kid and do my best to bring it up in all casual conversations and business meetings.
One of the first episodes and they’re stealing ideas. This is so close to the story “Leiningen Versus the Ants” (made into several radio dramas in the years before this) at least explain how the eco-bastard is made into the hero. The inability to add anything to stretch the stolen story is a wee bit pathetic.
I love the Hamster Brigade so so much.
~~fuzzy buddy messaround~~
When the ants first invaded Charlie’s personal bubble, was it strictly necessary for the camera to linger on his brisket for like three seconds?
I briefly met MacGyver once… when we was apparently forced to promote StarGate (SVU, I think?) at E3 2005. He was noticeably drunk and they still had him give a speech. It was more like the drunk got up at karaoke and told stories and didn’t sing.
it was glorious.
and yeah, it was also the first and only time I met Seanbaby in person, too.
damnit, forgot to try to tie this all together and I cannot edit…
basically, the one time i saw RDA in person – his life seemed to be a lot like this episode: winging it non-stop and succeeding at most 5%.
I’m contemplating a fanfic of this episode that ends with Dora the Explorer leading an army of giant anteaters out of the forest to save the day. When MacGyver complains, she just chants ‘Griper, no griping!’