It’s back from the dead for MacGyver’s friends in this week’s episode of MACGYVER, “Compass.” When Mac gets called to Boston for a friend’s memorial, Jack goes with him and the two quickly realize that this freak accidental death might not be so accidental after all. While Mac and Jack are off having their little independent spy adventure, Riley and Bozer stay behind at Phoenix to provide the more human storyline of the episode. The episode itself struggles to live up to previous episodes, having trouble justifying its storyline and making Bozer’s story arc feel like a forced lesson in feminism.
The episode starts with the team on a different mission. Mac and Jack are hiding in a dumpster, by Jack’s suggestion. Unfortunately, the dumpster is a trash condenser, and it’s on a timer. This puts Jack and Mac in a very Star Wars-y situation, which the show makes prime use of, throwing out Star Wars references everywhere that it can. Even for Jack, who claims not to know much about Star Wars, he sure remembers a lot of the characters’ names. Unfortunately for both Mac and Jack, their imminent death has Mac a little flustered, and though he thinks of a solution to stop the dumpster so they can escape, he forgets to translate his instructions to Jack in normal-person speak, and Jack winds up breaking his arm in an effort to stop the dumpster from killing them.
Safe and sound back at Phoenix headquarters, Matty is of course furious at MacGyver for getting Jack hurt. She’s becoming a broken record with the threats of making MacGyver quit his unconventional ways of spying. It’s almost as though the writers aren’t sure what other lines to give her character. Frankly, I think it’s an injustice to the dimensional character Matty could be. Also, it’s a bit boring at this point – either deliver or quit threatening. Of course, once she’s gotten the necessary verbal reprimand out – possibly a build up to a future episode complication that’s taking far too long – Mac gets an important call. The call isn’t good news; Frankie, an old friend from college, has been in a freak accident and is dead. Mac gets permission to go to Boston to attend the memorial service, and Jack tags along for emotional support.
Once the two get to the memorial service, however, the facts about Frankie’s death just don’t seem to add up for Mac. He discovers that her academic supervisor had died a month earlier in a terrible car crash – a coincidence that doesn’t seem like coincidence to Mac. When he spots a stranger at the memorial service snapping photos of everyone in attendance, Mac’s suspicions are confirmed. Mac and Jack chase down the mysterious photographer, but he gets away. Lucky for Mac and Jack, he leaves behind the burner phone he was using to snap photos.
While Riley works to track down the location of the person who was supposed to receive the photos, Mac pays a visit to the lab where Frankie was working when the fire that killed her broke out. He quickly finds a detonator, confirming his suspicions that Frankie’s death wasn’t an accident after all. He also finds a flash drive with Frankie’s video diary about her research on it. In the last entry, Frankie admits that she thinks someone has been following her, and that her lab was broken into. Frankie tells the camera that if anyone is watching this submission and something bad has happened to her, it wasn’t an accident. Yeah, okay, we get it, she died under suspicious circumstances. This is yet another flaw of the show – it spends too much story time confirming small details in the grand scope of the plot, and not enough time furthering that plot. By the time we get to Frankie’s video diary, we’ve already accepted that her death wasn’t an accident – Mac found a detonator already, what more evidence could you need? And the video diary gives us no clues as to why someone might be wanting to kill her, just that they do, so it doesn’t add to the plot in anyway, it only reiterates something we’ve already accepted.
Lucky for us, we don’t have to feel like a hamster running on a wheel for long, because Riley is able to track down the would-be recipient of the memorial photos. Turns out the person is hiding on campus in some abandoned buildings, because apparently MIT has so much money and land they just let old buildings sit empty and neglected and don’t bother to prevent students from going inside them to perform experiments. When Mac and Jack find the mystery recipient they are shocked to discover that it’s none other than Frankie! Frankie, who is either not just book smart, or so book smart that she can fake her own death, decided to go into hiding until she could discover who was after her. Turns out, she has some new incredible technique that can uncover the entire human genome from a blood sample, and she’s been using it to help the Boston police solve cold cases. However, somehow the murderer from one of the cold cases she was working to solve got wind that she was about to uncover his (or her) identity, and that’s when the attempts on her life started.
With a minor run-in with the mystery murderer’s gang of bad guys, and an admittedly cool use of an electrical whip, Mac helps macgyver a lab underground that will allow Frankie to uncover the genome in the cold case blood sample, so that Phoenix can help her discover who is after her. After a little digging and with Bozer’s artistic help, Frankie realizes the killer who is trying to stop her is the very dean who has been funding her project. Ironic, right? Again with Mac and Jack’s help, she acquires a blood sample from the dean and turns it over to the police, who test it for a match with the genome she acquired from the cold case.
While all of that is happening, Bozer is hung up and feeling sorry for himself about Riley’s disinterest in him romantically. He complains to everyone about how, ever since Hawaii, Riley is only interested in hot internet guy (well, duh), and he’s “stuck in the friend zone.” Of course, everyone shuts him down about it, because come on dude, if she’s not interested, she’s not interested. Move on. Find someone who is interested. Jack of course gives Bozer the best lesson, telling him that saying he’s “stuck” in the friend zone implies that he’s entitled to be anywhere else, and that isn’t his decision – that’s Riley’s decision whether or not she’s interested in him as more than a friend. It feels a bit like a forced mansplanation moment about feminism, but honestly, it’s an on-point message that likely needs to be heard by a serious portion of the MacGyver audience. It’s a fair start in changing the way we look at and portray friendships and relationships in TV, especially when it comes to guy-centric TV. Still, though, the lesson feels a bit superficial because it isn’t layered – it feels as though this storyline was given to Bozer (and subsequently Riley) as filler, because the two don’t serve much purpose elsewhere in the story. It would have been nicer to have the entire team play equal parts in this episode’s main adventure, and have Bozer’s insecurities about his feelings come into play as a side aspect of that.
Overall, the episode feels a bit clunky, particularly in comparison to other recent episodes. It’s clear that though the show seems to have a handle on its characters at this point, the struggle to fit an action-packed storyline that involves well-rounded emotions and dynamic character arcs is still a formula that is hit-or-miss. Hopefully as the show nears its season conclusion, this formula will solidify itself more successfully.
Season 1, Episode 19 (S01E19)
MacGyver airs Fridays at 8PM on CBS
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
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Tasha Cerny | Contributor