Sunday, February 13, 2022

Tiananmen Square on TV: Children of Light

Everyone knew Angus MacGyver had guts, because he was willing to take on any villain with a roll of duct tape and an acetylene torch. His show had guts too, because it was one of the few that was willing to directly address the Tiananmen Square Massacre. You might assume Hollywood in the 1990s was as cowardly as it is now, but if you know of any examples besides this, Touched by an Angel, and Psi Factor, please shoot us a message. MacGyver couldn’t do anything to prevent the massacre, but he will try to protect a survivor hoping to expose the truth in the “Children of Light” episode of the original MacGyver, airing Tuesday evening on Heroes and Icons.

MacGyver is surprised, but delighted when Sue Ling, the now fully-grown Chinese orphan he sponsored, turns up unannounced at his houseboat. However, she really isn’t Sue Ling. She is Mei Jan, a former student activist, who used Su Ling’s visa to travel to America. Tragically, her friend was murdered by the PLA during the Tiananmen protests—and she has the videotape to prove it.

Of course, the local CCP embassy spies will do anything to keep that tape out of circulation. They also want the numbers of the fax machine network Mei Jan is trying to rebuild. Naturally, they will exploit any weakness, including threatening the mother of her local contact with the underground student organization. Fortunately, MacGyver is resourceful as ever. He still has his usual aversion to guns, but trying to break into the Chinese embassy is impressively Jack Bauer-ish, especially by his standards.

Director Bill Corcoran nicely integrates genuine historical footage of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, while leaving the killing of Sue Ling to our imagination. This episode definitely confronted the crimes the CCP committed and called out their efforts to erase all historical records. Honestly, “Children of Light” is just as topical today as when it was first broadcast, but its optimism for the prospects of democracy activists like Mei Jan to reboot their movement now seems heartbreakingly na├»ve.

Regardless, it all works pretty well as a MacGyver caper. Michelle B. Chan (from
American Ninja 3) is quite poignant as Mei Jan, bringing out the fatherly side of Richard Dean Anderson’s MacGyver. It is also fun to see George Cheung (of Awesome Asian Bad Guys) turn up as Toy, a CCP thug.

Fans will enjoy watching MacGyver do MacGyver stuff, but in this case, he was taking on a real-life villain that Hollywood has always been reluctant to challenge. There ought to be more episodes like this from nearly every other TV thriller-adventure series, but there isn’t—so give the producers and writer Rick Mittleman credit for this one. Keep not watching the Beijing #genocidegames. Watch “Children of Light” instead when it airs Tuesday evening (2/15) on Heroes and Icons—and the entire
MacGyver series streams on Paramount+.