This week, the Art Attack TV Club dug deep into the '80s archives and pulled out a classic, Magnum P.I. Pete, being the resident Magnum fanboy, suggested we watch the two-part Season Three premiere, "Did You See the Sunrise."
If you know nothing about Magnum P.I., then I'll give you the lowdown since I recently had to look the show up myself. Magnum is a private investigator living the life in Oahu, Hawaii. He stays at the residence of a millionaire, where he seems to come and go as he pleases, taking cases here and there and getting ladies whenever his thick mustache tells him to do so.
Magnum has two buddies living in Oahu, TC and Rick, both of whom fought in Vietnam with him. This fact carries a lot of weight in the plot of this week's TV Club episode.
"Did You See the Sunrise" finds TC reunited with another Vietnam buddy, Nuzo, who is not exactly what he seems. The guys were allegedly captured and tortured by a Russian KGB operative back in 'Nam who goes by the name of Ivan. But the return of Nuzo puts Magnum et al into a tailspin due to the fact that TC is being drugged and brainwashed into killing a visiting Japanese prince. Phew. Got all that?
ABBY: Let's start with the most obvious question: Pete, why did you choose this episode as opposed to the crossover episode between Magnum and Murder, She Wrote?
PETE: Because I loathe Murder, She Wrote. True story: One of my best friend's moms was such a huge MSW fan she would violently shush anyone in the house when it was on. We had to make a point to be *anywhere* else on Sunday nights.
ABBY: The episode has a lot to do with Magnum and his buddies' time spent in Vietnam. The series took place between 1980 and 1987. It's interesting to think that Vietnam was still so prevalent in the culture, and there are a lot of serious implications in the effects of Vietnam on Magnum and his crew. I'm not familiar with the show in general, but this stuck out to me. You guys?
JEF: The '80s was all about 'Nam and the effect it had on the people who had fought in the war. Rambo and all that. This is less than ten years after the fall of Saigon, so it's not so different from say, a movie like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close coming out now.
PETE: As the resident Magnum obsessive, I can say Vietnam plays a huge role in the series. Magnum was a former SEAL, and TC and Rick were Marines who served with Magnum. Plus, he married a Frenchwoman he met over there during the war, but we probably don't want to go down that road.
Magnum got a lot of love from veterans' groups for *not* portraying Vietnam vets as irreparably damaged or psychopathic or as Rambo (First Blood came out in '82), and also for not making his experiences the central focus of the show, which walked a sometimes precarious line between "mythology" episodes harking back to his Navy career and more traditional detective-show fare.
ABBY: So, the episode is very The Manchurian Candidate meets Zoolander. TC, Magnum's good buddy, is drugged and hypnotized into being convinced he's going to kill an old Vietnam enemy, but instead he's going to kill the
Malaysian Prime Minister Japanese prince. He's been talked into this by Nuzo, who got in with their Vietnam group all the way back during the war. So, has this plan been in place for ten-plus years? That seems a bit irrational.
JEF: I don't think it's like a ten-year plan... more like an opportunity that suddenly presented itself. Ivan knew that TC was vulnerable, and used that. If it failed, he wasn't really affected...at least until he incurred the wrath of Tom Selleck's mustache and gun!
PETE: It's funny, I never thought about the Zoolander angle, but that absolutely fits, right down to killing an Asian diplomat.
And you obviously don't take the long view on these things, Abby. Even now, the children of Nazi sleeper agents are preparing to rise up and implement a Fourth Reich. Wake up, sheeple!
ABBY: Does that much action really happen in Hawaii?
JEF: All I really know of Hawaii is that idols curse Greg Brady's surf techniques and the events of Lilo & Stitch.... So, I'm going with yes.
PETE: Jef beat me to the Brady Tiki punch (which is delicious, by the way). There's a reason you can only have one show of this kind set in Hawaii at a time (fun fact: Magnum refers to McGarrett from Hawaii 5-0) in the first episode of the series. It might also be the reason behind the crossovers (Murder She Wrote, Simon & Simon) and one-off goofy episodes (Carol Burnett guest starred twice).
ABBY: The overuse of the "N" word, on regular TV. For shame!
PETE: Really? That's your issue? Not that Ivan shot Cookie in the femoral artery and let him bleed out, but that he's a racist?
ABBY: Unnecessary death I'm totes cool with, but racism, no way Jose.
JEF: I'm not sure if that proves the show was daring or the early '80s was still racially fucked. Looking back 30 years now, it's shocking and really gives the show an edge.
PETE: It definitely got a lot of press at the time.
ABBY: What the hell does Jonathan Quayle Higgins III do in general? And does he spend all day making matchstick/toothpick bridges?
JEF: And here my learn'd colleague proves that some things will never be understood by the opposite sex.
ABBY: Is putting matchstick bridges together a secret guy club thing? Like that all-girl slumber parties have pillow fights?
PETE: Higgy baby! He's officially the caretaker of Robin Masters's estate (Magnum resides there FOC as on-site security). There are also theories that Higgins was Robin Masters himself or that Masters was a Remington Steele-style construct of Higgins. I like to think he's a long-lost relative of Howard Johnson's.
ABBY: Does Magnum always relate his life to old war movies, or was that just special for this episode?
JEF: I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that Stalag 17 is just about the greatest war movie ever made, and if you haven't seen it, you should go do so immediately. Also, it's weirdly prophetic in this episode as one of the POWs turns out to be a German spy snitching on the other prisoners.
PETE: Stalag 17 is his favorite movie, and may be referenced in other episodes, but it has particular relevance to "Did You See the Sunrise?"
ABBY: At the end of the episode, Magnum shoots Ivan, his Russian adversary since Vietnam, point blank in the face. This episode, as I read on the Internet, had the most unexpected and controversial ending of this series, and was banned in the UK. I too found it a bit shocking. Did you guys see that coming?
JEF: Are there really people that expect Tom Selleck to not solve problems with a bullet? I'm kind of surprised he made it through Friends without shooting someone, honestly.
PETE: Nobody saw that coming. At least, nobody who watched it live. Perhaps it was critical commentary on Bo Svenson's performance in Walking Tall III.
ABBY: Do you guys ask people that you kill if they had "seen the sunrise this morning," before you kill them, or do you ask them if they ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" I ask people that I kill if they have any snacks in their pockets because killing makes me hungry.
JEF: Well, my last one was a firefight so there wasn't really time for a staredown. I think all I had was, "Come out with your arms akimbo, Mendoza!" In a Magnum P.I. sort of sitch, I go classic Tex Watson; "I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil's work." PETE: Paintball doesn't count, Jef. I'd be partial to, "Fill your hand you son of a bitch!" if I wasn't honestly more the type who would shoot someone in the back.
ABBY: Last question: Selleck's 'stache. Admire or desire?
JEF: This has got to be the oddest way anyone has ever come out as a lesbian.
PETE: Tom Selleck is just about the only man (along with Ned Flanders) who could rock a full-on soup strainer and not remind you even slightly of a leather daddy. I'd grow one myself except my wife would probably shoot me in the face.
Join us next week when we will be watching Freaks and Geeks, "I'm With The Band." Watch with us and make snarky comments.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.