“Serenity” is a very silly and very cute little change of pace episode written by Stephen Kandel. The producers rounded up most of the show’s recurring actors – Bruce McGill, Teri Hatcher, Michael Des Barres – and a couple of players like Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert Donner who had shown up in other episodes, and shipped ’em off about six hundred miles east to the Heritage Park Historical Village in Calgary to make a western.
So of course this is all a dream – MacGyver, exhausted from everybody demanding all of his time, collapses on his sofa in front of an old western VHS – but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a good excuse to let everybody play roles that are just so slightly different and have a “this town ain’t big enough for both of us” story in which Dana Elcar’s mean and desperate rancher contracts a hired gun – Des Barres, of course – to run MacGyver off the land that he wants. McGill is a “tin horn” gambler and Hatcher is the showgirl with a heart of gold. It’s good fun, with a few very amusing lines of dialogue.
Our son enjoyed it a lot, which is nice, because I told him that he’ll get to see Richard Dean Anderson in another western in about a year. He also provided the stunningly insightful observation that with all the snow on the ground, they must have filmed this in winter. One shouldn’t be too sarcastic to one’s children, so we congratulated his deductive reasoning with smiles. Then he wondered whether it might be hail instead of snow.
I picked tonight’s episode because it features an early acting appearance by Cuba Gooding Jr. I’m glad I did. It was a look back at how an eighties show addressed racism. The answer is, of course, “with a very heavy hand,” but there’s more than that. It’s interesting to see MacGyver seem to dismiss any allegation of white privilege, as to be expected from the time, and it’s also interesting to see what language was permissible on network television in early 1989. I believe this was the first installment of the show written by Chris Haddock, who would contribute several more stories through season six, and who would go on to create the successful Canadian cop drama Da Vinci’s Inquest. Dana Elcar doesn’t appear in this episode, but he directed it.
As for the content of the episode, it sparked a discussion about with our son afterward, especially to remind him that only horrible people use words like the villains of this story did. A race-baiting bigot has been trying to close down a boys and girls club for kids in bad situations that one of MacGyver’s old friends, played by Michael D. Roberts, runs. When things don’t go his way after an attempt to frame one of the kids for car theft, the bigot and his goons murder MacGyver’s friend, intending to taint his memory by making it look like he was connected to a local gang.
Considering how fluffy and light MacGyver always is, the episode features an unbelievably stark scene where our hero finds the body of his friend, murdered by the white supremacists. We haven’t seen Richard Dean Anderson get to lose his composure and collapse in grief before. That was a very powerful and sad moment. I do think the show missed one major opportunity: the cop character is obnoxiously gullible and stupid; it would have been so much better to have an intelligent cop see right through the obvious frame. Other than that, while some of its perspective has dated, this was a strong and important episode, and I’ve never said that before about any of MacGyver‘s heavy “social conscience” stories.
Let’s watch something fluffy and light tomorrow, shall we?