ABC really seemed to be proud of this episode back in October 1985, advertising it incessantly during the World Series (they even planned to air it following a World Series game to help the endangered series find an audience....but the game ran long so ABC held it over to Monday night, its future home). In retrospect, I can understand ABC's willingness to hype this very well made episode. From the opening gambit to the humorous duct-taped camera freeze frame ending, "The Gauntlet" was wall-to-wall fun with stellar production values and non-stop adventure, perfectly representing the over-the-top man vs. army conflicts of the early episodes. Even the acting wasn't too bad in this episode. The only weak point...the logic of his barrel-rolling escape across the border into Mexico still escapes me. How could a guy as smart as MacGyver ever believe something so far-fetched (the one barrel they didn't shoot was the one he was in) could work?
MacGyver must get a journalist safely out of a South American country, but when she insists on first getting photographic evidence tying the corrupt dictator to an illegal arms dealer, they end up with an entire army after them. A much better episode...
I'm noticing a pattern with these early episodes of 'MacGyver' for my personal tastes – bad, good, bad, good. I found the Pilot underwhelming, loved 'The Golden Triangle', thought 'Thief of Budapest' was too bitty and odd (and relied far too much on stock footage from 'The Italian Job'!)... and then comes along the next "good"; in fact, GREAT. 'The Gauntlet' is a top-notch episode.
Things kick of with the by now standard by now standard James Bond-esque opening gambit, as always unrelated to the rest of the episode. It's an enjoyable escapade of MacGyver retrieving an important map (!) from some Mid East county. And the map comes in very useful in his escape. Wasn't sure about him using it as a sled to slide down the dunes, it must've been *very* thick paper else it surely would have been ripped to sheds, but it's good fun all the same, and I love the escape in the hot air balloon, complete with map used to cover up bullet hole.
It gets the main story, which is equally as enjoyable, off to a good start. Guest star Robin Curtis has a good rapport with Richard Dean Anderson, and I'm glad that, while they felt need to add a romantic spark, they did not let it overrun the episode, keeping it to just the right level.
Mac's various make-shifts and and rig-ups are really cleverly thought out in this one, and there are also so great action sequences. I've found a few of these other early episodes to be a bit ropey, a bit "cheap and cheerful" feeling when compared to some of the other slick action-adventure shows around at the time; but with 'The Gauntlet', I found it to be very well executed, and much less corny than some of the surrounding episodes. So it's maybe surprising to think that, production-wise, this was actually the first episode to be produced after the Pilot.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed this one. As covered in my previous reviews, although a huge 1980s TV fan, I'm actually a "newbie" to 'MacGyver', watching the series on DVD. So I'm looking forward to the next episode, and hope it finally breaks the bad / good / bad / good pattern that I've noticed personally.
I give this one a very strong 9.5 / 10.
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