MACGYVER Review: “Skull + Electromagnet”

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MacGyver thrills with skills in this week’s episode, “Skull + Electromagnet.” The show has improved leaps and bounds this season, and this episode continues to prove that while shining in its own right. And, being the Halloween episode, the show manages to pull in plenty of spooky and campy horror tropes and make them feel natural and deserved.

First, I need to give a quick shout out to the fact that all of the episode titles from this season actually make sense, and I completely understand what parts of Mac’s MacGyvering inventions each title is referencing. That in itself is a huge leap forward for the show – either the show is finding the right balance of explaining each invention while demonstrating its effectiveness, or, the show is just being more clear about the parts it’s specifically referencing in each episode. I’m not sure, could go either way, frankly, but I’ll take it.

Second, I need to talk about how great this episode was. In fact, it was so great, I’m a little sad that it’s a holiday episode, and not a regular episode for which we can hope to have a basis for the rest of the season. More than likely, the reason for this episode’s success relies on two things: the writers’ abilities to loosen up the direction of the show and let themselves play with the story, and the massive amounts of horror and thriller tropes the show had at its disposal to use.

Granted, there are just as many spy/action tropes, but the show has to be a little more reserved when it comes to stuffing an episode with action tropes. Why? Because it has 22 episodes to do every season. It might be fun to have a little bit of a genre-overload for one episode out of the year – particularly when the audience can recognize that this isn’t the show trying to take itself too seriously – but if you have to do it week in and week out, the episodes are going to start to feel stale and recycled.

All action tropes aside, you could really tell the writers love haunted houses, horrors, and thrillers. From the opening until the very end of the episode, everything somehow incorporated elements of Halloween, scares, or references to horror films. The plot in the episode takes on the Bermuda Triangle, a mysteriously abandoned military base, a deranged ex-CIA agent and her practically half-metal body, mysterious radio interference, and flashlight problems. Even when you knew to expect a scare coming, it would still make you jump – and that’s the sign of great suspense building.

My one complaint would be this: as much as I enjoy the banter between the team, and as much as I like Jack’s jokester personality, like many Marvel movies, this show has a tendency to undermine its own powerful and dramatic moments, all for the sake of a punchline. It’s fine – even great, really – that the show is able to add some humor to its storylines. But at the end of the day, this show isn’t a comedy, or even a dramedy – it’s an action drama, and it’s allowed to have real, non-humorous moments to illustrate that.

This episode was really illustrative of just how overboard the show has gotten about throwing in punchlines. The worst of the infractions in this episode was when the ex-CIA agent was suddenly thrown up and back into the air and sprawling out across the hood of an old military jeep. Instead of really spending any moments in stunned silence, letting us all be confused/shocked/soaking up the twist in events, Jack immediately falls to his knees and starts “praying” out loud to the “supernatural spirits” that clearly haunt the island. And then, Mac quickly appears, laughing, showing Jack that actually, he’d built a giant magnet and that’s what caused the ex-agent to go flying up and backwards. Sure, the ridiculousness of Jack praying to a supernatural spirit was awkward and funny, but in the end, it undermined a really cool moment that could have emphasized exactly the gravitas of Mac’s inventive abilities.

This show has a hard time find a balance between taking itself too seriously, and not taking itself seriously enough, and I think this habit of humor timed at the wrong moment is a big part of the problem. Of course, I think the humor should stay. I just want it to not undermine the more powerfully dramatic moments of the episodes.

And now it’s time for some Dad thoughts:

What a spooky episode! It was fun getting to see all the old military stuff from WWII – those hyperbaric chambers are no joke. And that scene at the end, with the giant magnet – that was some pretty crazy stuff. Do you think if I had been there when I still had those metal pins in my leg, that I would’ve stuck to the jeep, too? Anyways, I had a good laugh at the beginning with Bozer and the skeleton, and another good laugh when Jack thought some evil spirit had saved him from the evil agent. It was a good episode, all around. Full of scary moments – your mom had to go into the other room, she couldn’t watch it. I did, though, and thought it was great.

And there you have it, folks, my dad thought the Halloween episode was great. Hopefully the show can continue to improve on itself and use some of the story magic it seemed to harness in this episode to make future episodes just as good.

TB-TV-Grade-A

Season 2, Episode 5 (S02E05)
MacGyver airs Fridays at 8PM on CBS

Read all of our reviews of MacGyver here. 
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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.
Keep up with all of Tasha’s reviews here.

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