Jack Dalton calls MacGyver from a diner and leaves a message on his answering machine saying he's in trouble in Bayonne County, Arkansas, in a town named Smiley. He says that he's in more trouble than usual and needs MacGyver's help. He says someone's coming for him and fakes a struggle, and then hangs up, figuring that'll bring MacGyver running. The local sheriff, "Bull" Bodine, comes in and Jack walks over to the counter and flirts with the waitress. Louella, and slaps her on the butt. Bodine takes offense at that and Jack continues to pursue the matter, orders a beer, and prepares to take it out of the diner. Instead Jack drinks it all and hangs the mug on Bodine's nightstick. Bodine clubs him, throws him through the window, and then arrests him for destruction of property. Jack continues to insult him and Bodine hauls him away, much to Jack's satisfaction.
MacGyver and Pete return from a fishing trip, tired but successful. MacGyver plays Jack's message and Pete figures it's all a ploy and Jack is conning MacGyver into something. MacGyver admits Pete is right and vows not to be sucked in. MacGyver then heads off to Smiley to find out what's wrong and why Jack would possibly go to such a small obscure town. MacGyver arrives at the local billiards hall and tries to strike up a conversation with a man. The man says nothing but catches the eye of the nearby Sheriff Bodine. MacGyver goes over to the diner and talks with Louella. She knows Jack, who promised to take her to Hollywood for a career as a model. The local banker, Lyle Hudson, introduces himself and says that Jack tended to get into trouble. He tells MacGyver that Jack got on the wrong side of Bodine and got run out of town, and probably moved on to Little Rock. MacGyver goes out to his car to head for Little Rock and finds Bodine waiting for him. Bodine arrests him on trumped up charges, beats him, and promises he has a nice place for him to stay.
MacGyver finds himself on a truck with other prisoners being driven to the Bayonne County Correctional Facility. Warden Renfro comes out to greet the prisoners and warns them that any disobedience will put them in the sweatbox or the whipping post. MacGyver asks one of the prisoners, Pepe Sanchez, about what happened to Jack. Pepe says there was a Jack there who was killed a few days ago. MacGyver goes to the local cemetery and finds a grave marker with the initials J.D. on it. Pepe explains that Jack tried to escape during a fight and was shot in the back. However, MacGyver then hears Jack's voice coming from the sweatbox, telling the guards it's time for him to come out. MacGyver goes to see his friend, who says he has no idea who J.D. is. Pepe knows him as The Chief. They have lunch and MacGyver wonders why Jack hasn't tried to escape. Jack explains he's there to find the missing millions of bank robber D.B. Bartel. They never found Bartel's stolen money and he died in a Federal penitentiary. Bartel was born in Bayonne County and Jack figures the robber hid his loot in a nearby zinc motel. Jack's uncle was close to Bartel and Bartel told him where the money was. Bodine knows about the money and is using the camp's slave labor to dig in the mine for the money. Jack plans to collect the 15% finder's reward. MacGyver is less than thrilled but Jack produces a hidden map from his uncle showing where the money is located.
Bodine and his men drive the prisoners to the zinc mine. Jack, MacGyver, and Pepe go into the mines and Jack says MacGyver needs to create a distraction while he goes to get the money in Portal 6. MacGyver refuses but Jack insists he just wants to follow his dream and blames MacGyver for messing it up. Jack reminds MacGyver that Jack sacrificed himself and his plane to save MacGyver and guilts him into helping. MacGyver has Jack gather mining helmets for the chemicals in the lights. Jack goes outside as Warden Renfro pulls up. Renfro tells Bodine to keep the men working and set it up so they can dispose of the prisoners once the money is found. Meanwhile, MacGyver makes a fake gas leak using the carbide from the helmet lamps mixed with water, then create a spark. Pepe talks of his plans to use his share of the money to marry his sweetheart. Jack returns with more helmets and MacGyver says that Pepe needs to stay behind and spread the word that there's a gas leak. Jack promises they'll bring the National Guard back and rescue Pepe and the others and Pepe reluctantly agrees. He warns the prisoners and gets them outside while MacGyver and Jack head to Portal 6. Renfro and Bodine spot them and Pepe tries to stop the sheriff from shooting them: Bodine shoots him down and Jack and MacGyver run over. However, there's nothing they can do as Pepe dies in Jack's arms. Bodine prepares to kill Jack but Renfro says they should save him for a slower lesson.
Bodine and Renfro have Jack whipped and then turned over to MacGyver to take care of. That night in the barracks, Jack is briefly overcome with remorse for Pepe's death but MacGyver assures him he has a plan. They're unaware that one of the prisoners, Wrigley, is listening in. MacGyver tells Jack to wait until morning. Come the morning, Wrigley prepares to slip out after making sure Jack and MacGyver are apparently still in bed. He tells Bodine and Renfro about the escape plan and the fact that Jack knows about the $5 million. Bodine figures that they know where the map is, and Renfro goes to make a phone call. Bodine goes to the barracks but discovers that Jack and MacGyver have already escaped and left chickens in their place and escaped through the floorboards. The sheriff orders a search and has the prisoners taken to the mine. Once everyone is gone, Jack and MacGyver emerge from their hiding place: the sweatbox. MacGyver hotwires the warden's car and Jack suggests they go to Louella's nearby house to make the phone call. They drive through the gate and make their escape.
Louella greets them but can't offer them her phone. Lyle is there as well and realizes they broke out of the prison camp. Jack tries to explain but Lyle draws a gun and explains that he owns the mine. He calls Bodine and Renfro, who come to collect the fugitives. Louella goes back inside and Renfro tells them to save their lives by showing them where the loot is hidden. MacGyver tells them he has the map memorized and suggests they make a deal. Bodine handcuffs them to his jeep's roll bar and drives them to the zinc mine with Renfro.
At the mine, Renfro unlocks Portal 6 and force MacGyver to lead them in. As they go in, Renfro explains that they forced Jack's uncle to tell them what he knew about the missing loot and then killed him. MacGyver leads them to a mud pit and a light bulb marked with a X. MacGyver sets down his gas lantern and turns on the winch engine to pull the sealed suitcase of money out of the pit. Renfro opens it up and then takes out a stick of dynamite to seal Jack and MacGyver in. MacGyver spots the handcuffs on Bodine's belt, grabs the winch hook, puts it on the handcuffs, and turns on the winch engine. As Bodine is pulled into the pit, they struggle with Renfro, knocking over the lantern. It starts a fire and Renfro drops the dynamite. As it burns, MacGyver throws it into the suitcase and then throws it down an adjoining shaft. The money muffles the explosion but is destroyed, much to Jack's disappointment.
Later, the authorities take away Lyle and Louella and MacGyver vows never to help Jack again. Jack figures that's what friends are for.