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The Prometheus Syndrome

Original Air Date: October 7, 1991
Episode #129


On a dark night, the quiet of an alley is broken by an explosion inside a building; flames burst out of the door and illuminate the darkness. As fire trucks race to the scene with their sirens blaring, more firebombs explode in various buildings around town.

The next day in a large abandoned building, a figure whose face we do not see enters one of the rooms. Placing a metal case on a shelf, the person opens the lid and starts to work setting up another bomb. The person's hands are severely blistered, showing evidence of past burns.

Elsewhere, a diagram of a bomb is revealed, and someone is working to create an actual version of the drawing. It's MacGyver, who is at his loft. His neighbor, Mama Lorraine, lets herself in; she's brought him a few items from the store. Mac remarks that she is "obsessed with taking care of the whole world." Mama tells him matter-of-factly that those who take care of others don't wind up alone. She sets the grocery bag she's carrying on the kitchen counter and crosses the room to inspect his latest project. She asks what he's making, and he replies that he's reconstructing a bomb for the arson squad. Mama asks who the arson squad wants to blow up; Mac explains that he's trying to piece together a firebomb from parts that were found in the buildings "Prometheus" blew up. Mama has heard of the arsonist, but she wonders aloud what kind of name that is. Mac says that in Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods, adding that the bomber thinks that he is purifying the world. Mac finishes the model, then asks Mama if she has any flash powder. Mama cautiously gives him some, with a stern admonition that it's powerful mojo.

Across town the Arsonist Known As Prometheus finishes the bomb and closes the lid of the metal case that is housing it. As Prometheus locks the case, the digital display of the timer is visible, ticking down from forty-five minutes.

At the fire station, uniformed members of the arson squad are bustling about. One of the officers, a man, is studying of map that is displayed on the wall. A woman, also in uniform, approaches him; she starts to say something, but he interrupts her and begins listing what they know about the arsonist. Five pins on the map represent the buildings that were hit. The man, Earl, remarks that there's no connection between the buildings, but the woman, Rachel, insists that there is a connection for the bomber. Rachel says that they need a psychological profile, but Earl scoffs, saying that the arsonist is too smooth to be caught that way: they *need* facts. Earl recalls that arsonists like to think of themselves as artists, and he thinks he's seen this one's signature before. However they won't know until they know what flammables he's using - and that will take detective work. "Not a lot of psychobabble," Rachel finishes, her tone challenging. She insists again that they need to get into the arsonist's head, but Earl scoffs again, saying her name in a way that indicates he is losing his patience. Another officer, Joe Rosewell, walks over with news: he's got the bomber's fingerprints, but they're burned and unidentifiable.

At this point, Mac enters the room. Seeing him, Rachel unenthusiastically tells Earl that his friend is back. Mac joins them, setting his model bomb on the desk and briefly explaining the parts. Unimpressed, Rachel asks if it works. Mac replies that they'll see; he pours some of the flash powder into a small tube. He sets the timer, and five seconds later, the powder flashes. Still not impressed, Rachel asks if the "Rube Goldberg contraption" revealed what combustibles Prometheus is using. Mac says that it helped: from the bang the arsonist is making, he's most likely using thermite. Rachel immediately declares him wrong, since the fires that were set have burned at higher temperatures than those thermite would have produced. Mac replies that unfortunately those high temperatures leave behind only black dust and a few chunks, and that's not much to go on.

Suddenly the phone rings, and Earl takes the call. It's Prometheus, on the emergency line. Earl puts the call on the speaker phone; in a mechanically distorted voice, Prometheus says that he has to destroy to make them listen, and he'll burn every part of "this polluted stinkhole" if that's what it takes. He gives them the location of his next bomb. As the officers hurry to the door, Earl calls to Mac to go with them.

Fire trucks arrive at the building where the bomb is. Mac and Earl get out of the car, observing that there's no smoke, so the bomb must not have gone off yet. Earl tells one of the others to start taking pictures of the crowd, explaining to Mac that arsonists like to hang around and admire their work. A fireman runs out of the building, reporting to the fire chief that the bomb is on the third floor and it's ticking down fast. Overhearing, Mac tells Earl that they'd better have a look, and he passes the firemen to enter the building. In disbelief, the fire chief asks Earl if he's going to allow a civilian to go in. Earl confidently replies that Mac is the only man he knows that can disarm the bomb. Reluctantly the chief instructs the fireman, Andy, to show them where the bomb is.

Andy leads them to the door of the room with the bomb: Mac approaches the shelf cautiously and sees that the timer is almost to two minutes. Earl snaps a picture of the bomb with an instant camera, so that they can study the setup of the bomb later. Outside the firemen work to prepare for the worst. Mac grabs some wire from a broken outlet and uses in to push the pin out of the case's hinge. Earl asks what happens if the timer reaches ten seconds and Mac is still working on it. "Run," Mac says simply. He carefully opens the case. Earl says that Mac was right - it's thermite. Mac adds that Rachel was right too, because there's something else. Mac says that he's concerned about the handle, which is wrapped with a red wire connected somewhere inside the bomb. Earl suggests that it might be insulation. Mac folds the long hinge pin and uses it as tweezers to unhook a wire, which disconnects the motion detector. Turning his attention to the rest of the bomb, Mac says, "Uh oh." That gets Earl's attention; Mac says there are two toggle switches, but the model he made only had one. If he switches the wrong one, the bomb will go off. With the timer rapidly approaching zero, Mac flips one of the switches. He and Earl tense a bit, expecting the worst, but the timer stops at three seconds. Sighing with relief, Earl asks how he knew. Also relieved, Mac admits that he didn't know, but it was the only shot that they had. However, as Mac looks at the bomb again, a small red light comes on and the timer starts again. Mac shouts, "Go!" and pulls Earl toward the door. Earl pushes Mac out but the bomb goes off while Earl is still in the room. Fire explodes into the room and the force sends Earl flying into the wall. He falls to the floor with his jacket on fire. In the hall, Mac realizes that Earl didn't make it out; Mac crawls back into the burning room. He quickly removes his own jacket and uses it to put out the fire on Earl, but he seems to realize that it's too late.

Outside, Earl's body is taken out in a body bag on a stretcher as the firemen put out the last of the flames. Mac sits solemnly on the fender of an ambulance, his clothes and face smudged with soot. Standing next to him, Rosewell asks if he knew Earl's wife, Betty, and Mac says that he does. Rosewell bitterly remarks that life is a series of tradeoffs: Betty loses a good guy, and Rachel gets "what she always wanted" - Earl's job. Rachel walks over, carrying a tape recorder that Prometheus used to play his message during the call to the fire station, explaining that it was found in a phone booth ten blocks away. Mac realizes that Prometheus could have been anywhere when the call was made. Rachel muses aloud that the arsonist wants attention, and he feels powerful when setting a fire. Scanning through pictures of the on-lookers, Rachel says firmly that Prometheus has got to be there. She suggests that since Prometheus was burned himself, maybe that's what's driving him. Saying that they should check into that, she starts to walk away, but Rosewell scoffs at the idea of spending months doing psychological studies. Rachel stops, saying that she knows how he felt about Earl, but she is in charge now, and they're going to try it her way. She stalks off.

Mac stands and he and Rosewell walk, looking at the pictures of the crowd. Mac also has the picture that Earl took of the bomb. Though the picture is slightly melted from the fire, the bomb can be seen clearly. Pointing at the handle, Mac theorizes that it could be an antenna, since Prometheus is apparently into remotes. From the door of the building, Rachel calls to Rosewell that the workers found a piece of the bomb. He and Mac walk over, but Rachel stops Mac, saying that he's off the case. Mac says that Earl was his friend, and he can't just walk away. Rachel says in her unemotional way that she knows how he feels, but he is a civilian and she does not want to be responsible for his life - or his mistakes. Defending Mac, Rosewell says that he was trying to help, but Rachel snaps, "And Earl's dead!" She says crossly that Mac should have waited for the bomb squad, and he would have, if she had been in charge. She walks off in a huff, and with a glare, Mac starts after her to argue. Rosewell stops him, saying they should let her cool off. Determined, Mac says that he needs to find out what Prometheus used with the thermite; Rosewell promises to let Mac know if he finds anything. Mac recalls that this was the only time the arsonist called before the bomb went off. The handle *must* have been an antenna: Prometheus used a radio signal to detonate the bomb. Realizing that the arsonist would need a clear line of sight to know who was near the bomb, Mac spies a third floor balcony on the building across the parking lot.

Mac walks over to the Villar Apartment Hotel and rings the buzzer; a man's voice answers. Mac asks to look at one of the third floor apartments. "It has to do with the fire," he explains. The apartment manager buzzes him in, and shows him to the apartment he requested. Like the building, the room is run-down. As Mac looks around, the manager explains that junkies and bums frequently break in and trash the place, so he can't show the room, to rent it to anyone. Mac asks if anyone was there during the fire, and the manager replies that there could have been. Peering out the window, Mac spies a crate on the balcony, and he steps over to investigate. Climbing onto the balcony, he can see directly into the burned shell of the room that housed the bomb; firemen and a few members of the arson squad are there. Glancing out the window, Rachel sees Mac on the balcony, and she does not look too happy about it.

Later, after Earl's funeral, Mac visits Betty at her home. She thanks him for coming. Mac hesitantly asks if she remembers hearing anything from Earl about any of the cases he was working on. Thinking, Betty recalls that a fire at a café from about two years ago seemed to be on his mind a lot. She heard Earl on the phone, asking about the café's fire insurance and she heard Earl say that the common denominator had to be "that woman." Mac asks about Rachel, and Betty explains that she and Earl were friends - until Earl was promoted, and Rachel wasn't. Not long after the promotion, Rachel and Earl disagreed about a procedure, and Rachel's hands were burned. "She was never the same," Betty says sadly. Mac thanks Betty for her help and starts for his Jeep; he pauses when he sees Rachel sitting in her car, which is parked across the street. She glares at Mac and drives off.

The manager from the Villar Apartments is leaving the fire station as Mac drives up. Entering the arson squad offices, Mac sees various uniformed officials applauding Rachel's new position in Earl's former office. In the outer office, Rosewell tells Mac that they gave Rachel Earl's badge. The officials leave, and Rachel walks over to Mac, reminding him harshly that he is no longer part of the investigation. Mac asks if the apartment manager was looking for him. Rachel says that he was, since Mac apparently led the man to believe that he worked for the fire department. "He *assumed* that," Mac corrects her. Rachel asks what Mac was doing at Earl's house, but Mac innocently returns, "What were you?" Rachel says that she wanted to see if Earl's wife knew anything that could help them. Rachel asks if she did, but Mac first wants to know about the apartment manager's visit. Seeing that Mac isn't going to budge, Rachel says that the manager remembered a man hanging around at the time of the fire. The man lived with a woman named Victoria Arnold, who had rented the apartment. Rachel asks what Earl's wife said, and Mac replies that Betty recalled something about a woman and a fire from a few years ago. Rachel realizes that he means the café fire - Mac seems surprised that she remembers it. Rachel says that she isn't likely to forget it. Pulling off her gloves, she shows Mac her hands, explaining that Earl tried an unorthodox rescue attempt and she got burned. Mac says quietly that he's sorry, but she snaps that she doesn't want pity, she just wants him out of her way. He starts to leave but pauses to ask if she's going to investigate the café and the woman that Betty spoke of. "If I think it's worth it," Rachel replies. "Now, are you going?" Mac heads for the door, but he answers honestly, "Not far."

Later at Mac's loft, Mac is at the computer researching. He finds an article about how Victoria Arnold - of Victoria's café - died in a fire. As Mac makes note of that, Rosewell arrives and lets himself in. According to the lab report, koldextin was mixed with the thermite in the bomb. Reading the report, Rosewell continues that koldextin is used to enhance the effects of explosives as well as in processing pesticides, petroleum products and color photography, especially the color photography used in newspaper publishing. Mac thanks Rosewell for his help, but Rosewell replies that it's nothing that Earl wouldn't have done. He leaves as Mac turns his attention back to the article about the fire.

Mac returns to the Villar Apartments and finds the manager outside. Mac asks about the man who lived with Victoria Arnold. The manager quickly informs him that the lady paid the rent, and he doesn't get involved with who they live with. Mac asks if he knows anything about the man, such as his job; the manager replies, "Didn't the lady at the firehouse tell you?" The manager did hear that the mystery man worked at the Globe Chronicle, which is unfortunately now out of business. Mac thanks the manager and goes to his Jeep, where he notes the apartment's street address.

A security guard lets Mac in to the Globe Chronicle building, explaining that since they closed so quickly, everything was left intact. The guard shows Mac to the files, and Mac searches for an employee that lived at 1117 Thatcher Street. He finds a match: Ralph Boardman, the color plate engineer. For more information, the guard offers to show Mac to the color lab, where Ralph's desk and employee file would be. As they walk away, a shadowy figure silently follows after them.

At the color lab, Mac and the guard pass through the employees' work area to the back office. As Mac opens the filing cabinet, the guard says that he has to return to his post. He leaves, and Mac extracts Ralph's file, where he sees that Ralph was a demolition expert. Mac wanders back into the work area and finds Ralph's desk. Searching the drawers, he finds a large envelope, but before he can open it, the distorted voice of Prometheus calls his name. Mac looks up, but he sees only a shadow before Prometheus hurries off. As Mac follows, the voice taunts him that his efforts only got his friend killed, and he boasts that Mac can't catch him.

Mac follows the voice down stairs to a basement. Peering into a storage area, Mac cautiously enters. He sees a bomb that is ticking down toward three minutes. Behind him, the shadowy figure emerges from hiding and runs out, rolling a large steel door in place. Mac runs to the door, but he's too late - he's trapped. The voice tells Mac to make peace with his Maker and to not waste time trying to disarm the bomb. Prometheus reminds him of the motion detector and adds that there are "other surprises" as well.

As the timer ticks on, Mac looks around for a way to remove the pin of the case's hinge. He finds one and removes the pin, opening the case. He deactivates the motion detector and flips the same toggle switch as before. The timer stops momentarily, but two stiff wires snap together inside a tube in the bomb and the timer starts again. Mac realizes that it's a magnet, but he's running out of time. Looking around, he hurries across the room and moves a forklift so that it is in line with the bomb. Then he replaces the case's cover, and sits the bomb upright, so that the handle is on top. With the forklift, he picks up the case by the handle, and he shoves a piece of wood into the forklift's controls, so that it rolls on without him. Mac heads for cover; as the forklift reaches the door, the bomb explodes. Mac covers himself with a tarp and hurries through the fiery hole left by the explosion. Upstairs, Mac tells the guard to call the fire department; Mac returns to Ralph's desk and opens the envelope. Inside, he finds a picture of Earl and Rachel from the café fire. Mac folds the picture and puts it in his pocket. As Mac exits the Globe, Rosewell is arriving with the fire department. Mac asks where Rachel is, and Rosewell replies that she's at the station, working on a psych profile.

At the fire station, Mac hurries to the door of Rachel's office. He starts to tell her that he knows who Prometheus is, but he stops when he sees that she is tied to her office chair and gagged. Seeing the bomb in her lap, he tells her not to move, since there's a motion detector. He removes the gag, observing that the bomb hasn't been activated yet (since the timer isn't running). He starts to untie her, but the distorted voice of Prometheus calls to him. A figure stands in the doorway of the outer office. As Mac and Rachel watch, the figure crosses the room to Rachel's office - it's the apartment manager.

Realizing he no longer needs the device that disguises his voice, he puts it away and points a gun at Mac. Throwing handcuffs on the desk, he orders Mac to handcuff himself to Rachel's chair. Mac does as instructed, while Rachel says that she was told that he was dead. Mac replies, "Close." The manager, aka Ralph Boardman, says that the clues were supposed to lead Rachel to the newspaper office, because she had to be eliminated along with the others who were "responsible" for Victoria's death. Mac points out that Ralph and Victoria are responsible: they started the fire for the insurance money. Ralph insists that "Ralph died with Victoria" - now he's Prometheus, the destroyer of evil. Ralph presses a button on the detonator and the bomb in Rachel's lap starts to tick down from two minutes. Satisfied that he has succeeded, Ralph leaves to take cover.

Rachel nervously watches, but Mac calmly tells her that they'll take it one step at a time. He uses the pin from Rachel's badge to remove the case's hinge pin, and then he deactivates the motion detector and sets the bomb on the desk. Outside, Ralph goes around a corner behind a brick fence to wait for the bomb to go off. Inside, Mac debates a bit over which toggle switch to flip, finally choosing the same one that he did the previous two times. As before, the timer stops briefly, only to start again when the two wires in the tube snap together. Mac says that he needs a magnet; he looks on the desk for Rachel's phone, but Ralph has ripped it out and placed it across the room out of reach. Rachel tells him to use her walkie-talkie. Mac uses his free hand to break the case open and retrieve the magnet from inside. As the timer nears zero, Mac runs the magnet over the tube in the bomb, and the wires finally separate. The timer stops with seconds to spare. Relieved, Rachel asks Mac to please tell her that there isn't another step. As Mac unlocks the handcuffs, he says that actually there is one more.

Outside, checking his watch, Ralph realizes that something is wrong. Suddenly Rachel calls to him from the window of her office, telling him that his bomb was a dud. While he's distracted, Mac appears on top of the brick fence. He jumps down on Ralph, then punches him, knocking him out. Mac shakes his hand, which hurts from the blow, as Rachel says with a laugh that must have been step four.

Later, outside the firehouse, the police take Ralph away. Rachel asks how Mac knew that Ralph was the one responsible. Mac explains that since the device that killed Earl was remote-controlled, it must have been a trap. Recalling that arsonists like to wait around and watch their handiwork, Mac pulls the picture from his pocket, which shows Ralph in the background of the photo from the café fire. Ralph couldn't accept being responsible for Victoria's death, so he lashed out at those that could have helped her. Rachel tells Mac that they really did try to save Victoria, and Mac says that he knows that. Rachel adds that she would turn in her badge if it would bring Earl back; Mac assures her that he knows that, too.


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