The following contains spoilers from the April 30 episode of MacGyver aka its Season 5 and series (at least on CBS) finale.
MacGyver has folded open his last Swiss Army knife.
The CBS reboot came to a close on Friday night, capping a five-season run. And while the timing of the show’s cancellation (announced barely three weeks ago) did not allow for a proper series finale, at least one accomodation was made to honor the lead character’s past and strongly hint at his future.
To briefly recap Friday’s episode: Mac and Riley (played by Lucas Till and Tristin Mays) went missing for 24 hours, and had no memory of what happened to them during that disappearance. It was discovered that they had been experimented on, since the nanobots still in their system apparently allow for a degree of mind control. Worse, Matty (Meredith Eaton) came to realize that none other than the U.S. government was complicit in the nanobot technology’s testing and morally icky implementation.
By episode’s end, Mac and the team had exploded a cache of nanobots that were to be dispersed among a D.C. crowd, then used hyperbaric chambers/risky oxygen-management techniques to “kill” the nanobots still inside Mac and Riley. Finally, just as Mac was about to quit the team altogether, Matty announced that Phoenix was severing all government ties and would be self (aka Russ)-funded.
TVLine spoke with Monica Macer, the showrunner for this 15-episode swan song, about tweaking her “season” finale, confirming a romantic endgame, the well-laid plans for Season 6 and much more.
TVLINE | Let’s start off on a happy note. What are you most proud of from your time on MacGyver?
You know, I’m most proud of being able to shoot this show in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, because it took so much effort on the part of everyone. From our executives at CBS to the cast and the crew literally putting their lives on the line every day, masking up and wearing all the PPE…. People don’t understand the sheer force of will it takes to shoot something during the middle of a pandemic.
And this isn’t a small, quiet drama with two people in a room talking; there are huge action set pieces in addition to really great character work. It’s a moving, undulating train that’s flying down the track at a thousand miles an hour, so to be able to do that in the middle of a pandemic is really a gift — and that can only be pulled off by the kind of amazing cast and crew like we have at MacGyver. It’s truly mind-blowing.
TVLINE | Now, how exactly did you hear that you wouldn’t be coming back for Season 6? And on a scale of one to 10, how shocked were you?
I got the call from the network execs, the head of the network, and I was surprised. I don’t know if I can quantify it. I guess I was shocked….
TVLINE | So, like an eight?
Yeah, probably a seven or an eight. I knew that in the past, MacGyver had been a bubble show, but we were so proud of the work that we did this season and so hopeful, really hopeful, that we were going to get another shot. But I also understand that there are so many decisions, high-level decisions, being made at the network and studio level that factor into this type of decision. So, we’re saddened but also really grateful that we had the opportunity to finish the [nine] episodes that were outstanding from last season and incorporate them into this season — which was no small feat on a storytelling level — and be able to finish production.
TVLINE | After that call from CBS, do you call Lucas Till…?
After that call, they were gracious enough to give me a few hours to call everyone, and I was able to talk to every single cast member, all of our EPs, and as many of the department heads as I was able to reach in that time. We didn’t want anyone to read it online, because we had become a family over the course of the season and I wanted to make sure that people weren’t blindsided by it.
TVLINE | At that point, are you able to tweak the ending of the season at all?
That’s a really good question. We got the news right as I was getting ready to go into a second edit session on what was supposed to be our season finale, and I had to switch gears and make all the calls, so we stopped. There’s a moment in the finale when Mac is coding on the table and we go into his subconscious mind state, and that was where I was like, “We need to give something to the fans,” because now this is a series finale, and we shot a season finale. So, we decided to do flashes of the team and the people that were closest to Mac. And there’s a very clear nod to the fans with the Riley flashes — if you count the number of flashes and how that sequence starts and ends, Mac knows, in his heart, who he’s supposed to be with ultimately. And that’s Riley.
TVLINE | As a season finale, was Mac always coming back from that? Because I was thinking you were either going to tease that he was “dead,” or he would wake up and the experience would have sapped him of his smarts, and that was going to be your cliffhanger.
Oh, interesting. No, we had always planned that [Mac and Riley] would go through this procedure that basically destroys the nanobots in their body, and next season we wanted to play a Manchurian Candidate storyline, potentially, where the research led by Marcato and the rogue scientists in the government was going to get activated by a villainous force. That’s one of the storylines that we were circling.
There were a couple of other episodes that we had already had sort of mapped out for next season. Like, we wanted to do a Black Hawk Down episode where we pick up the thread of Desi’s fiancé who had died — or so she thought, but we find out he’s a POW at the top of the episode and we go on a mission.
TVLINE | Knew it!
Yeah, I think fans kind of knew it, too, and that was going to be our way to break up Mac and Desi (Levy Tran) and open the door for Riley. Honestly, at one point that was what we were planning for this finale, but after a lot of conversations with the studio, it felt like a Desi episode and not a Mac episode. So, we thought we would push that to probably the first or second episode of Season 6, so that the door is open for Mac and Riley.
TVLINE | So you did see a scenario where Mac got together with Riley, and Desi stayed on the team. Because I often wondered how that would look.
Of course. Yeah, because Desi would then get back together with her ex-fiancé, Evan, and Mac and Riley, they’re the hero couple. That was always the endgame for us, we just didn’t know the end was coming at the end of this season! We were laying the track for that with the episode where they go to the Indian wedding and you find out about Desi’s former fiancé.
TVLINE | Who was your dream casting for the fiancé?
You know, there were so many names that were bandied about, I can’t honestly remember… I would have to look through my emails.
TVLINE | But “tall, dark and handsome”?
Yes, definitely. Definitely, definitely.
TVLINE | Were you glad that you got in a visit with Bozer’s (Justin Hires) parents, before the end snuck up on you?
Yes, I am so proud that we got to meet Bozer’s parents and see the good stock that he’s raised from and who raised Mac. And I just was so, so proud that Ernie Hudson and Wendy Raquel Robinson could come out and do those parts. That was a dream casting—
TVLINE | Great casting.
And Wendy and Justin, they just clicked, they had this banter. You could see that she was definitely his mother. We also loved the fact that Ernie was so grounded and so kind. He sort of had the key to help Mac get over his grief with losing his parents, but also that was the beginnings of Mac sleuthing and problem solving, doing investigative work.
TVLINE | I’m of the school of thought that you had at least one more rug to pull out from under us regarding Jack (former cast member George Eads), that maybe he wasn’t truly and sincerely dead.
I read a lot of that online, but that was really never the conversation in our writer’s room or from you know the studio. I noticed that fans thought that that was the case, but that wasn’t anything that we discussed for this season.
No, we were so focused on really giving the fans what they wanted and deserved, which was the Mac and Riley ending. And in the future, there were some great episodes. I’m also really proud of the casting of Sofia with Camilla Arfwedson, and with Alexandra Grey as Parker…. There was a story with Russ (Henry Ian Cusick) and Sofia we had planned, to go find a treasure. That was another Easter egg that we had planted in the Indian wedding episode. We were going to go on a big, Romancing the Stone treasure hunt right after Mac and Desi broke up, and it was going to be basically Mac, Russ and Bozer on a mission, the “three dudes,” and they run into Sofia, who’s also after the treasure.
Also, for Meredith [Eaton]’s character, when the whole idea of the nanobots is resurrected and she finds out who’s behind it, Matty was going to put Riley undercover in that organization — unbeknownst to Russ and Mac. Riley was going to be the “boots on the ground” to find out the truth behind the “Manchurian Candidate” issues that were happening with Mac, and that was ultimately going to bring Mac and Riley closer — and that’s how we were going to get them together.
TVLINE | To be clear, when you talk about this Manchurian Candidate storyline, Mac himself would have been somewhat activated?
We were toying with that idea.
TVLINE | There was, what, one nanobot in his bloodstream that we didn’t quite get…?
TVLINE | How many episodes into Season 6 would Mac/Riley fans have had to wait for that first kiss? Three?
We were thinking, yeah, two or three. In the second episode we’d probably do Black Hawk Down and go find Desi’s fiancé, and then either do the kiss at the end of [Episode] two or in three.
TVLINE | What was on tap for Bozer?
We were going to have him firmly entrenched in the [Phoenix] lab as “the gadget guy,” and have him come up with this high-tech gadgetry that would play in the field, which we felt was true to his character and what has been laid out in the past. We had also planned that his mom was going to come back to L.A. and run for congress. We had all of these great plans and these episodes already sort of in the hopper, ready to go for Season 6, inspired by this amazing cast and this amazing show.
TVLINE | You mentioned Meredith a moment ago. Since she filmed so much remotely amid the pandemic, I wondered: Did she get a proper goodbye with the cast?
You know what, we did a Zoom the day after we found out the news, with the entire cast. It was about an hour-and-a-half and everyone was expressing their gratitude and their feelings for one another, so she got a proper goodbye in that sense.
TVLINE | The #SaveMacGyver fan campaign, among other things, raised money to put up a few billboards lobbying for Season 6. Did you see that?
Yes, it’s crazy! I love it. I love our fans so much. I’m really humbled by their passion and their dedication and their can-do attitude. It’s very “MacGyver,” and I’m so touched and so moved that they would do that.
TVLINE | Should they have any hopes for more MacGyver, anywhere?
You know, that’s a question that they should be asking CBS — and I think they are [asking CBS].
TVLINE | Because unlike, say, Lucifer [a Warner Bros. TV show that went from Fox to Netflix], MacGyver is a CBS-owned show. It’s not a third-party product that, like, Hulu can easily pick up.
I mean, I guess they could. Anything is possible. But again, that’s a decision for the studio.