I have a confession... After watching the Pilot on DVD (with 'MacGyver' being one of the very few shows of the era I didn't watch on the original run - see my review of the Pilot for more on this) and not being overwhelmed with it, I wasn't particularly looking forward to watching the next episode. But I needn't have worried so much. Whilst reading up on the series suggests that even better episodes await later on, 'The Golden Triangle' is a vast improvement over the Pilot, and far more engaging.
The pre-credits sequence (which the on-screen titles bill as the "Opening Gambit", a term I shall use from now on for such sequences in the series), is written by Terry Nation, the famed British writer best known for his association with 'Doctor Who', creating sci-fi TV's arguably most famous evil race, the Daleks. As a Brit myself (not to mention a huge 'Doctor Who' fan), I was delighted by this connection to 'MacGyver'.
This opening gambit has several severe nitpicks, as noted on this and various fan sites, and is hardly one of Mac's most cleverly thought out escapades, but it is still fun, as he narrowly escapes death, trapped in a car and nearly being flattened in an industrial crusher. As with the Pilot, this opening gambit has nothing really to do with the rest of the story, something that my reading up on the show seems to suggest, would continue for most of the first season.
After the Pilot, which I found disappointing, I find 'The Golden Triangle' to be much better produced. The budget seems to have been upped slightly (though not (yet) as slick as many of the other action-adventure shows around at the time), and the in-episode score, while still a little too cheap-synthesiser sounding for my liking, is also generally much better. I also liked Mac's narration voiceovers a bit more in this one; still clearly 'Magnum'-influenced, but better than they were in the Pilot.
I chuckled to myself as the episode's guest cast list played – George Kee Cheung, Clyde Kusatsu, Keye Luke, James Saito... such shows of the era ALWAYS used these same few actors whenever an episode had an Oriental connection (see episodes of 'Magnum, p.i.', 'The A-Team', 'Airwolf' et al); all they needed here was James Hong to complete the set!
It's also not clear who – if anyone – employs MacGyver at this stage of the show; here he is employed by a General Hawkins, only seen in silhouette and voice heard as Mac lies on the beach after the opening credits. Soon, Mac would be working for the Phoenix Foundation.
Although fairly plan and simple at the end of the day, I like this story (though I usually like most TV episodes with Oriental connections anyway). The acting is pretty corny, even by 1980s standards, and the aforementioned guest stars such as Luke and Cheung, can do much better if given material, but in a way the corniness is part of the fun.
Although the Pilot was obviously produced first, in some ways I can't help but feel that 'The Golden Triangle' would have served far better as the first broadcast episode; better story, better stunts… I just warmed to this episode much more than I did with the Pilot.
This one narrowly misses out on a 9.5 rating from me, due to the heavily corny dialogue and performances, and not being as slick as some of it's contemporary action-adventure shows around at the time, but even so, I like this one enough to reward it a very decent 9/10.