[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the MacGyver series finale, “Abduction + Memory + Time + Fireworks + Dispersal.”]
MacGyver says goodbye with an episode that feels very much like “let’s set up another season” — a change for the Phoenix Foundation — “while also maintaining a series finale vibe in some scenes just in case” — recapping the villains they’ve faced over the years. It results in an episode that is satisfying in some aspects and rushed in others but mostly just leaves us wondering what the drama is doing with the love triangle that popped up in Season 4.
Over the years, the connection between Mac (Lucas Till) and Riley (Tristin Mays) has been apparent, but in the last two seasons came a bid to turn that romantic … or at least tease that possibility while also building up his and Desi’s (Levy Tran) relationship to the point of him wanting to propose and them moving in together. But it has felt like MacGyver has wanted to have Mac go all in with Desi while hinting at a future for Mac and Riley without acknowledging that even after Riley’s (past, according to her) feelings were revealed (and his possible ones for her) except when the two were alone together. It’s been odd, to say the least.
And this episode does absolutely nothing to resolve any of that. We’re still confused; in one scene, it seems like Mac and Riley are heading towards something as they feel they can only talk to one another about what they’re going through, but then it’s like nothing’s there for them when he’s around Desi. For example: In the same sentence in a voiceover, Mac talks about the importance of keeping in touch with what matters while holding Desi’s hand and ensuring communication with those you love the most while giving Riley a walkie-talkie. It’s one thing to pivot to a new relationship while setting up the end of another, but MacGyver hasn’t done the latter with Mac and Desi.
Sure, it’s easy to see how that could have happened if the CBS drama had been renewed, but after it was first teased at the end of Season 4, there should have been something more significant done about it in Season 5. That’s not to say that we wanted a romance drama-filled season, but it felt almost like all plans for it had been scrapped until it reared its head again.
As a result, the series ends with Mac and Desi still together, Mac and Riley still exchanging meaningful glances and the ones having deeply personal conversations, and fans left to decide for themselves what happened next? Do Mac and Desi stay together? Do they break up and Mac and Riley get together? We may never know. Sure, the cancellation means this wasn’t planned out as a final season — which also goes to show why it’s really too bad it ended up being one.
Meanwhile, the nanobots in Mac and Riley’s system from a previous mission are still causing problems. The latest: They’re kidnapped and experimented on for 24 hours. When the others find them, they have no idea what happened. It’s not until they get their hands on a laptop of a scientist involved that they see that Mac and Riley were controlled (“hacked,” she calls it) and ordered to do things like hit each other and shoot a gun. The worst part is the government funded Marcato’s (Tom Nowicki) research, due to the future benefits of the nanobots (such as delivering chemotherapy to specific cells and cellular repair to expand lifespans).
The Phoenix Foundation manages to stop Marcato from dispersing nanobots in the fireworks during a packed National Military Appreciation Celebration — How funny was Russ (Henry Ian Cusick) playing “an exuberant American” and Bozer (Justin Hires) being his British opponent? As for the nanobots in Mac and Riley, it’s just a matter of going into a hyperbaric chamber to use excess oxygen to destroy them. Among the risks: brain damage, memory loss, and death. And when Riley is the first to be declared clear of the bots and Mac flat-lines after upping the pressure, the stage could have been set for at the very least memory loss in a Season 6.
But Mac comes out of it (after seeing flashes of his friends, with Riley, not Desi, featured most prominently) just fine and nanobot-free. He has, however, decided that he’s leaving the Phoenix Foundation after the government he’d served for over a decade (including his time in the army) abducted and experimented on him. He would’ve even signed up, if they’d just asked, he tells Matty (Meredith Eaton).
And when he tells the rest of the team his plans, Bozer, Desi, and Riley decide to leave as well — until Matty reveals she and Russ have cut all government ties. The Phoenix Foundation is now fully autonomous and they choose which missions they take on. Does that change anything? Yes. Everyone’s staying, and as Matty puts it, “from now on, it’s us against the world.” Sadly, we’re not going to get to see that.