James MacGyver is the father of Angus MacGyver (Lucas Till) and the son of Harry MacGyver (Michael O’Keefe).
MacGyver’s mother died when MacGyver was 5. James didn’t deal well with his wife’s death; becoming emotionally distant to his son due to feeling constantly angry. He eventually left when MacGyver was 10, leaving him in the care of Harry.
Season 1 (offscreen)
After Phoenix Foundation Director of Field Operations, Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt), was arrested for being a mole, James authorized CIA operative Matty Webber (Meredith Eaton) to investigate him as part of her interview as a possible replacement to Thornton.
In the beginning of Season 1, Jack Dalton (George Eads) urges MacGyver to get in contact with James; knowing from his own experience that Mac might regret it for wasting so much time to make up with his father. MacGyver agrees to write him a letter.
In the Season 1 Finale, MacGyver tells Jack that the letter got returned and he can’t seem to find another way to contact his father. Jack agrees to accompany Mac to go looking for him.
In the Season 2 Premiere, Mac and Jack are called back to work after being more or less unsuccessful in the hunt for James.
During the season, Mac follows several clues that James MacGyver seemingly left him. Frustratingly, the clues seem to lead nowhere. Later in the season, Jack enlists Elwood Davis (Billy Baldwin) and Matty’s personal assistant Jill Morgan (Kate Bond) to help him break into Matty‘s house and steal documents from her safe; confirming the suspicions that Matty knows James and even investigated him years ago. When Mac confronts Matty about it, she denies having ever met James MacGyver.
In the Season 2 Finale, Mac meets up with Matty to quit since he still feels she’s hiding the truth. It’s later revealed to the audience and Team Phoenix that James MacGyver is Oversight and therefore not only the head of the Phoenix Foundation, but also actually MacGyver’s boss since he joined DXS. It was also him that arranged for MacGyver and Jack being partnered up in Afghanistan. Feeling betrayed, MacGyver hands in his resignation; stating that he can’t work for someone he doesn’t trust.
In the Season 3 Premiere, James MacGyver visits his son in Nigeria; stating that he needs to come back because Jack got himself in trouble. As it turns out, Jack had tried to find James’ nemesis Jonah Walsh on his own so James had a reason to resign and Mac could come back to Phoenix.
Although MacGyver agreed to come back for just this one mission, he then decides to stay with Phoenix to catch Murdoc (David Dastmalchian).
After becoming suspicious that James is once again hiding things from him in Episode 3×17, MacGyver discovers that James has cancer and is receiving regular chemo therapy.
In the Season 3 finale (Mason + Cable + Choices), Charlie Robinson (Emerson Brooks) is used as a pawn against Mac and James; locked in an elaborate trap that either kills him or sets off a bomb underneath a fully-booked hotel. Charlie asks Mac to find his murderer, then sacrifices himself to save his friends and the hotel-guests. Although they catch Mason (Peter Weller) within the same episode, he manages to escape.
At the end of the episode, James confesses to MacGyver that he kind of sacrificed Masons son to get his own son rescued during a mission. Mac is appalled that his father favored his life over that of another agent – especially without that agent and his team knowing about the risks.
Reboot series (recurring character)
2×23 MacGyver + MacGyver