Spoilers ahead for the series finale of MacGyver on CBS.
MacGyver has come to an end on CBS with the fifth and final season finale, and with no sign of the show scoring a rescue like some cancelled shows that came before it, fans may want to resign themselves to the idea that this episode truly was the end of the road for the characters. Of course, it's not altogether surprising that the episode feels more like a season finale than a series finale; the cancellation order came down only after the fifth season had finished filming. According to showrunner Monica Macer, she had to make some changes to the finale in light of the cancellation order.
The series finale of MacGyver threw Mac and Riley together in a plot with high enough stakes that it did at least feel like a finale, if not necessarily the series finale. The long-running will they/won't they pairing went missing and woke up in a corn field 24 hours later... with no memory of what happened that brought them into their situation. Along with the rest of the team, they had to figure out a way to get rid of nanotrackers that had been placed in their bodies with the potential to cause a lot of damage.
The good news is that the team did seemingly succeed with the efforts to get rid of the nanotrackers from Mac and Riley's bodies, but the bad news is that what worked as a season finale didn't quite feel big enough for a series finale. Notably, the love triangle (such as it was) didn't receive any explicit resolution, with Mac and Desi still together at the end rather than Mac ending up with Riley.
MacGyver showrunner Monica Macer shared exactly why this episode didn't quite feel like a full-on series finale, telling TVLine whether she was able to tweak the already-filmed ending when the news of the cancellation went public:
That’s a really good question. We got the news right as I was getting ready to go into a second edit session on what was supposed to be our season finale, and I had to switch gears and make all the calls, so we stopped. There’s a moment in the finale when Mac is coding on the table and we go into his subconscious mind state, and that was where I was like, 'We need to give something to the fans,' because now this is a series finale, and we shot a season finale. So, we decided to do flashes of the team and the people that were closest to Mac. And there’s a very clear nod to the fans with the Riley flashes — if you count the number of flashes and how that sequence starts and ends, Mac knows, in his heart, who he’s supposed to be with ultimately. And that’s Riley.
With filming already over and what would ultimately serve as the series finale already going through its initial edit, there was no chance to go back and film new scenes to attempt to tie off some loose ends and deliver the endgame that Monica Macer intended for Mac and Riley. Eagle-eyed fans hopefully noticed the hints that pointed toward Mac belonging with Riley rather than Desi, but even if every single one did, surely they would have preferred the matter being settled definitively on screen, between the two characters.
The upside is that Monica Macer did at least reveal what would have happened next for the characters. On the plot side, the show would have explored a Manchurian Candidate type of situation with the nanobots and Mac, while on the character side there was already a plan for how to break up Mac and Desi, and set up Mac and Riley. The showrunner shared that an early Season 6 episode would have featured the reveal that Desi's fiancé didn't die after all, but has been a prisoner of war. Macer elaborated on what would have been:
Yeah, because Desi would then get back together with her ex-fiancé, Evan, and Mac and Riley, they’re the hero couple. That was always the endgame for us, we just didn’t know the end was coming at the end of this season! We were laying the track for that with the episode where they go to the Indian wedding and you find out about Desi’s former fiancé.
Well, for any fans who were convinced that Mac and Riley were the endgame hero couple, they were at least right, even if they didn't get to see the relationship unfold on screen. Now that the showrunner has dropped the details for what would have happened next, it seems safe to bet that MacGyver isn't going to get the Lucifer treatment and be rescued from cancellation by another platform, so this episode may truly be the end for Mac and Riley.