Ivan (Bo Svenson) is a KGB colonel who, working under the guise of being a diplomat, has set up operations on Hawaii. During the Vietnam War, Ivan tortured and brainwashed an American POW named TC (Roger E. Mosely), placing a hypnotic suggestion in his brain on just the off-chance that Ivan would need a Manchurian candidate to do some dirty work at some point in the future. With the help of another former POW, Sebastian Nuzo (James Whitmore, Jr.), Ivan plans to activate TC and then use him to assassinate the visiting prime minister of Japan. What Ivan hasn’t counted on is that TC has two friends looking out for him, a club owner named Rick (Larry Manetti) and a laid-back, Hawaiian-shirt loving private investigator named Magnum (Tom Selleck).
Did You See The Sun Rise? Is it a movie or is it just a two-hour episode of the original Magnum P.I.? I think it’s both because, while it’s definitely an episode of TV series (it was, in fact, the premiere episode of Magnum‘s third season and the fact that it was a special, extra-long episode shows how popular Magnum was back in the 80s), it’s also good enough that it can stand on its own and be viewed and appreciated even by those who have never seen any other episodes of the show. For the most part, Magnum P.I. was a breezy detective show that mixed comedy and mystery-solving. Occasionally, though, the show would do a more serious episode and, more of than not, that episode would deal with Magnum, T.C., and Rick’s time in Vietnam. (At the time it premiered, Magnum was unique in that it was one of the only shows to feature characters who had served in Vietnam without portraying them as being unhinged, unemployable, or potential threats to society. Magnum and his friends had been effected by their experiences in Vietnam but, unlike someone like Rambo, they were not solely defined by their status as being veterans of what was then America’s least popular war.) Of those serious shows, Did You See The Sun Rise? is the best example.
There’s a lot to recommend Did You See The Sun Rise? It’s well-acted by series regulars Selleck, Manetti, Mosely, and John Hillerman. Bo Svenson plays a great villain and even his Russian accent is more credible than you’d probably expect it to be. The Vietnam flashbacks are handled well. The episode has an unexpected twist, one that daringly kills off one of the show’s semi-regular supporting characters. Even the entire Manchurian candidate plot, even if it is a little more out there than Magnum usually got, is handled well.
And then there’s that final scene. Did You See The Sun Rise? ends with a freeze frame of Magnum doing something that TV show heroes didn’t normally do in 1982. You can’t blame him, of course. It’s a satisfying ending but it still leaves you knowing that nothing is ever going to be same for any of these characters ever again. In that final scene, Did You See The Sun Rise? takes things further than most shows would have the guts to do. The ending may not seem as shocking today but you have to remember that this episode aired long before networks like HBO regularly challenged the assumptions of what a show’s main character could or could not do on television.
The original Magnum P.I., including Did You See The Sun Rise?, is available for free on Amazon Prime.