TV Show Review: “Highlander” Season 2

Read my review of Season 1 here.

Series Title: Highlander: The Series Season 2 (1993-1994) (IMDb)
Length: 22 episodes, 45 minutes per episode
Lead Actors: Adrian Paul, Stan Kirsch, Alexandra Vandernoot, Jim Byrnes, Elizabeth Gracen
Content Advisory: Swashbuckling violence, not much blood. Occasional sex scenes that do sort of push the PG-13 level the show shoots for, and one episode has partial female nudity. Occasional swearing of the S.O.B. variety, no F-words.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: The continuing adventures of the heroic Immortal. Duncan MacLeod’s life has gotten darker and sadder after the death of Darius in the Season 1 finale, and further sorrows await him, Tessa, and Richie. Fortunately, there are also new friends to be made who will be of great aid against MacLeod’s mounting number of enemies.
Reason for Watching: I like the character of Duncan MacLeod, the historical flashbacks, and the way the writing is slowly getting better.
Re-watchability: Though the stories tend to have a nice sense of atmosphere, I’m not likely to rewatch them anytime soon, if ever. An exception would be Ep. 2.09 “Run For Your Life,” which is really excellent.
Recommendation: Again, does the idea of sword-wielding Immortals secretly carrying on a millennia-old war while maintaining “normal” mortal aliases appeal to you? If no, then this season will not win you over. If yes, then you’ll find plenty of good things to enjoy in it. Also, while the first season provides a lot of developmental background for the characters of Tessa Noel and Richie Ryan, I don’t think Season 1 is necessary to understand Season 2. The first episode, 2.01 “The Watchers,” follows directly from Season 1’s finale, but otherwise I think you can easily start in Season 2 without much trouble.

Obtainability: If you can’t get the DVDs, you can find the whole series on Hulu.

Key Thoughts

The major reason for Season 2’s superiority over Season 1 is that the writers are finally willing to break the formula they established and move into more purposeful examinations of certain themes and ideas. The swashbuckling adventure is still present, but whereas Season 1 was almost exclusively a mystery format—strange crime is committed, police are stumped, Duncan is reminded of an old Immortal enemy or friend whom he instinctively knows is the criminal, Duncan confronts and beheads said evil Immortal—Season 2 is suddenly rife with character studies and moral quandaries. While in some ways I lament the darker tone—tired as I get of Angst—the slight increase in unpredictability is welcome.

Duncan MacLeod is still an engaging character. His nobility, chivalry, confidence, cunning, good humor, and self-restraint are refreshing compared to the kind of action heroes that television and the movies have foisted upon us lately. While all this still holds true, Season 2 is darker than Season 1, and much of the fun-loving humor is replaced with brooding and tension, especially regarding Richie Ryan.

SPOILERS beyond this point!

Episode 2.01 “The Watchers”
Writer: Marie-Chantal Droney
Synopsis: After the death of Darius at the hands of a group of renegade Immortal-hating Watchers, Duncan returns to the United States to investigate this shadowy group, who have been secretly watching and recording the deeds of Immortals for millennia.

The idea of the Watchers is a great one, and it adds a whole new layer of mystery and tension to the Highlander universe. These mortals are even more secretive and shadowy than the Immortals themselves! Aside from their intelligence-gathering, however, they tend to be almost inept—perhaps this is a side-effect of being set in the early 1990s? Joe Dawson is a welcome new character, though. He’s Duncan’s personal Watcher and ranks high in the organization. He is also a man of high morals, compassion, and wisdom—a natural friend for Duncan and even something of a replacement mentor to make up for the loss of Darius.

Darius, the ancient-warlord-turned-wise-monk. No longer is bent on the conquest of peaceful, green-pastured kingdoms.

The move from Paris back to Seacouver provokes an interesting argument with Tessa. Duncan is a bit intimidated by how little he knows of these Watchers (and the fact that they managed to kill Darius) and he wants Tessa to remain in France for her safety. Tessa tells him that she must go too: they are either together, or they aren’t. This shows how much Tessa has to work to keep Duncan. He’s used to having long periods of independence where he can just go off anywhere in the world to investigate or have an adventure – Tessa is reminding him that he has made a commitment to her, and that even if they aren’t legally married, he has effectively married her by committing to stay with her all of her life. Her love is touching and feels very real, and it persuades Duncan to relent. She really is good for him.

On a side note, Richie’s off-the-cuff plans are getting more outrageous and daring, but are also starting to work better. I like it—they’re more fun that way!

Episode 2.02 “Studies in Light”
Written By: Naomi Janzen
Synopsis: “An Immortal with a death wish endangers Richie’s life while Duncan meets an old mortal lover.” (Wikipedia)

This episode hints at the different direction Season 2 is taking, as it focuses on the angsty character of Gregor. It’s a good episode, though not as good as some yet to come. For instance, the show in general has a horrible track record with regard to female reporters: the one in Duncan’s flashbacks for this episode is horribly written. Her dialogue is corny and unrealistic, the acting is even worse. It took less than a minute for me to hate her character. Fortunately, her older self in the “present time” is much nicer and more intelligent.

In fact, much of the show’s dialogue still misses golden opportunities to develop character more quickly and effectively. When Gregor asks Richie what he thinks it would be like for him to be immortal, Richie says “Are you kidding? That’d be great! The places I’d go, the things I’d do, the women I’d…” Instead of these cliché phrases, he could have mentioned specific things he actually would like to do, and that would have revealed his character more. Like “I’d climb Everest, spend some time trekking around Tibet learning from the monks there. I’d sail around the globe. Go to Australia, master the Outback. Go to Japan, learn how to forge my own katana in the old ways. I’d attend every Olympic Games, and most of the World’s Fairs. I’d recreate Jim and Huck Finn’s journey down the Mississippi on a wooden raft…” Things like that.

Also, this episode may be the first to end with the antagonists’ redemption, and thus it has no Quickening. While swordfights and Quickenings are fun, they were becoming rather predictable.

Episode 2.03 “Turnabout”
Written By: David Tynan
Synopsis: “Duncan must handle the return of the old friend and the Immortal serial killer who is stalking him.”

A mediocre but serviceable story. The show continues to use conspicuously sinister names for its villains (in this case, Quenten Barnes)—depending on your point of view or your mood, these are either too ridiculous or part of the show’s charm. For me they are mostly the latter.

Episode 2.04 “The Darkness”
Written By: Christian Bouveron & Lawrence Shore
Synopsis: “A Watcher-Hunter is stalking Immortals, kidnapping their loved ones to force them into a fight on his terms… and Tessa is the next one to be kidnapped.”

The infamous heartbreaking episode. Tessa and Richie both die, shot by a random mugger after the main villain has been defeated. Richie wakes up Immortal…Tessa doesn’t.

Even if you didn’t know that Tessa would die this episode, it does lay on the foreboding feelings pretty thick. Early on, Duncan flashes back to when he used to be in love with a Roma fortune-teller who had a psychic connection that allowed her to get glimpses of his life (sword-fighting, hundreds of women, never marrying). She rejected him, thinking that he was just a womanizer with no intention of marrying her. Remembering this, Duncan proposes to Tessa, suddenly and in a bar, which of course she accepts happily even though it’s kind of strange. Duncan has never married because he thinks “What’s the point?” He can’t have children, so he prefers to live with his lovers without bothering with a formality like marriage. (Not that I approve of this—it’s a weakness in his morality.) But thinking he might lose Tessa, the idea of marriage suddenly becomes important to him. He wants to defy “fate” (the Roma woman had tried to curse him to never marry) and to show Tessa how much more he loves her than all the other women in his life.  But, alas, she dies.

To answer the obvious question, yes, it annoys me, but it doesn’t break the show. Apparently, the actress wanted out—she hoped for a film career and didn’t want to be typecast as a TV love interest. Hard to blame her for that, since she certainly had the talent and onscreen charisma to make such a career possible. Anyway, she was probably the best recurring actor on the show, and Tessa was a fine character, definitely the emotional center but also providing much wisdom and restraint. Duncan isn’t complete without her, and as a result of her death he does become darker.

He still has Richie, of course, now Immortal. I kind of knew it was going to happen—just seemed the obvious move for his character. And I’m glad—it forces Richie (theoretically) to grow up a bit. He’s not watching the Immortals battle from the sidelines, now he is part of the game himself, and he has to make the big choices that Duncan does. It’ll take him awhile, though.

It’s actually a decent episode, overall. The main plot is bland and irrelevant, but still well-played. Even though the following episodes will be sorely lacking the warmth of Tessa Noel, I have to admit that the writing in them does improve. It’s a pity we couldn’t have both.

Episode 2.05 “An Eye for an Eye”
Written By: Elizabeth Baxter and Martin Broussellet
Synopsis: “Richie must face his first Immortal opponent when he opposes an Immortal Irish terrorist who is one of Duncan’s former lovers.”

The interesting part of the episode is, of course, Richie being immediately hunted by a much more experienced Immortal and having to step up his swordsmanship training from Duncan. This is made more difficult by the tension between them due to Tessa’s death. Duncan is still emotionally devastated and has little patience; he knows he has to make Richie a master swordsman now, or risk his beheading, but Richie also needs some emotional guidance that Duncan can’t quite provide. (Actually, this is the time they would really have benefited from having Darius around, but alas.)

Unfortunately, this drama is overshadowed by an incredibly stupid affair Duncan has with the female Immortal hunting Richie, because she happens to be a former lover of his. The producers explain their reasoning that they wanted to contrast the death of the previous episode with life in this one, and since somehow sex equals life, therefore Duncan should sleep with the first old flame he comes across. This idea’s bizarreness, insensitivity, and grotesqueness should be apparent. It feels utterly out of character for Duncan—womanizer that he can be—and completely disrespects the character of Tessa.

One good thing is that this show introduces Charlie de Salvo, the martial artist whose dojo Duncan buys (since he sold his antiques shop the last time he left Seacouver). I like the character, even if by the end of this season the writers ran out of things to do with him. He gets the short stick on the show, rarely getting the respect he deserves from Duncan or being able to stand on his own with his fighting skills, but he’s a likable and kind character while he’s around.

Episode 2.06 “The Zone”
Written By: Peter Mohan
Synopsis: “Duncan comes to the aid of a neighborhood plagued by crooks.”

This is supposed to be one of the worst Highlander episodes ever, and even the producers on the DVD extras admit their shame at its existence. I’m surprised at the intensity of this reaction, since while it certainly is very weak, I didn’t feel it was horrible. I like seeing Duncan fight mortal bad guys from time to time—it’s easy to get oversatured with Quickenings in this show. Still, it’s poorly paced and doesn’t leave much impact. The characters are shallow and even the historical flashback doesn’t do much.

Episode 2.07 “The Return of Amanda”
Written By: Guy Mullaly and David Tynan
Synopsis: “Amanda returns and announces her retirement, but it soon becomes clear she’s involved in something nefarious.”

The cat-burglar lady Amanda from Season 1’s “The Lady and the Tiger” (the Jason Isaacs episode) returns. She heard about Tessa’s death and now wants to become MacLeod’s lover again. Frankly, I’d have preferred Jason Isaacs’ character to have returned, but I suppose he was beheaded.

While the flashbacks to Nazi Germany are interesting, actress Elizabeth Gracen forces the vamp role too much. Amanda comes across a little cartoonish, and even though she later lightens up and displays more charisma, her character still feels shallow and unlikable. She’s a poor replacement for Tessa, since she always makes horrible decisions and we can never trust her. The only thing that could possibly attract Duncan to her is her body, and since he obviously can’t keep his hands off her, her very presence reduces our respect for the show’s hero. That is not a good thing.

Which leads me to a Doctor Who comparison. In Series 3 of Doctor Who (my review of which is not yet posted, true), the writers show that they really understand the effect that Rose’s loss has on the audience by not forcing the Doctor to quickly move on to another romance. While the memory of Rose doesn’t co-opt the entire story, it is always there, and we never once think that the Doctor is disrespecting it. The writers and producers of Highlander completely flub this with regards to Tessa’s death. It’s not given the weight it deserves. It gets brought up once or a couple times an episode, and MacLeod tells people he doesn’t want to talk about it, but then that’s it. He lets Amanda in too easily and quickly, and isn’t shown thinking about Tessa or grieving for her.

Episode 2.08 “Revenge of the Sword”
Written By: Aubrey Solomon
Synopsis: “Jimmy Sang, a martial arts movie star, is filming in the dojo. When a stuntman is killed, MacLeod realizes that Jimmy’s life is in danger.”

Oops, I forgot to take notes on this episode. It is filled with some great fight scenes, featuring a variety of swords and combat styles, probably to make up for how the previous episodes pulled back from having as much action. The plot is still pretty standard kung-fu movie stuff involving one young and idealistic martial artist defying Asian gangsters; it’s the kind of story that Bruce Lee would have expanded into a feature-length movie made of awesome (oh wait, he already did. Multiple times). But even though the characters don’t get a great deal of development, they still are kind of interesting, and the action is fun.

Episode 2.09 “Run For Your Life”
Written By: Naomi Janzen
Synopsis: “Duncan comes to the aid of an Immortal, a former slave, who is being stalked by the Hunters.”

This is the best episode of Highlander in all of the first two seasons. It’s the first one I would show to someone who was interested in the show but might be turned off by the amateurish parts of Season 1. It’s highly character-based, and for once there is no true villain—only an Immortal who must learn the hard lesson of forgiving one’s enemies and not giving in to the hatred he is reacting against. Everything here, from the story to the acting to the writing and directing, it’s all top-notch, and leagues better than the episodes surrounding it. At the same time, you can see the elements that make it so good appear in previous episodes; finally, they have all come together.

Sorry I have no screenshots from "Run For Your Life." Please accept this one from "Legacy" depicting a duel on a hay bale in front of French ruins.

Carl Robinson was born a slave in 1824, and his first death was due to beating by his owner in 1859. The life story the writers build for him is very interesting. Though he lived through decades of terrible oppression, he still had periods of idealism where he thought he could change the world and wasn’t too bitter. But by the time he meets up with MacLeod again in 1993, he’s bitter again, concluding that racism is ever-present and imagining racist motivations even where they do not exist. He trusts MacLeod due to an encounter decades ago, but for a time angrily resists MacLeod’s arguments in favor of forgiveness and peace. Even more interesting are his encounters with Charlie de Salvo, now a fast friend of MacLeod’s, who is half black and half Italian, and who has little patience for anyone who makes race an issue. Of course, Charlie still doesn’t know about Immortality and might have been kinder to Carl had he known that Carl has actually lived through slavery, the KKK, Jim Crow, and the entire history of racism in the US from the past century and a half. But still, Charlie and MacLeod challenge Carl to reexamine his own bitterness. His character arc is really fascinating, and the actor (Bruce Young) does a fantastic job.

Episode 2.10 “Epitaph for Tommy”
Written By: Philip John Taylor
Synopsis: “Tommy is a bystander accidentally killed during a fight between Duncan and Immortal Gallen. MacLeod tries to find out more about the dead man.”

If “Run For Your Life” was a character study and discussion of racism, then this episode is more of a murder mystery, going back to a more familiar format for the show. After a long gap, we get another totally evil Immortal, a long buildup to an end swordfight, and a Quickening for Duncan. It’s good, though not as good as “Run For Your Life.” Going back to the older plot format highlights how the writing and acting has improved. Though the format is familiar and predictable, it is set up with a bit more complexity than Season 1’s mysteries, and thus generates more interest and satisfaction at the end.

The one part that did not work at all was the part where Duncan puts all the clues together in his head – what we see are washed-out flashbacks layered on top of each other, with Duncan narrating his thoughts in a whisper that is almost drowned out by rock music. You can’t hear what he’s saying enough to follow the thoughts, it is very annoying and amateurish.

Episode 2.11 “The Fighter”
Written By: Morrie Ruvinsky
Synopsis: “MacLeod’s old friend Sully can charm anyone into anything. But when Sully’s rival turns up dead, MacLeod’s opinion of him begins to alter.”

Another strong episode featuring a very complex and well-acted character (in Sully) and some fine writing, but it falls short of the excellence of “Run For Your Life.” On the plus side, the boxing world is very convincingly recreated, and Sully himself has flashes of Mickey Goldmill (Rocky’s trainer); the toughness, the pain of unrealized ambition, the sliver of hope for a better future. It’s well brought out.

Two things disappointed me. One is that Sully, who physically appears to be in his ‘80s, is trying to romantically pursue a pretty woman in her ‘20s. Now, of course age becomes less of an issue for Immortals—after all, Duncan was about 360 years Tessa’s senior! But they looked the same age, and that counted for something. With Sully, it seemed creepy, and a bit unrealistic, for Duncan to encourage him in this endeavor. But that’s a somewhat small thing. The bigger thing that bugged me was the ending. Without revealing it, I think Duncan lost his patience too soon, and too easily resorted to violence. The ending was unsatisfying. But otherwise it is a fascinating episode.

Episode 2.12 “Under Color of Authority”
Written By: Peter Mohan
Synopsis: “Richie protects a young woman from an Immortal bounty hunter.”

And another very good episode! The antagonist here is one of the best—a stone-cold lawman named Mako who has been enforcing the letter of the law (regardless of extenuating circumstances and the concepts of mercy) since the Middle Ages. The age he was made for, however, seems to be the American Wild West, and this episode provides some really good flashbacks to that period. They illustrate MacLeod’s thinking process. He failed to persuade Mako to show deserved mercy to a young friend in the Old West, and Mako killed the young man. It was wrong morally, but still legal, and MacLeod couldn’t do anything about it. In the modern day, MacLeod is worried about losing Richie to Mako, and with even less cause, because he doesn’t know if the girl really deserves mercy or if Mako is genuinely upholding the Law by pursuing her. MacLeod is in a really, genuinely tough spot, and the whole show hinges on his moral decision.

It’s not a happy story, though. Richie achieves his first Quickening, but the victory is highly unsatisfactory in the fact that his enemy made a simple mistake (and thus Richie didn’t quite deserve the victory) and that Richie may not have been right to kill Mako after all. Richie’s been having an extremely tough time of it. For a number of previous episodes he skipped off to do his own thing, apparently without telling MacLeod, but coming back when he needed help or advice. His recklessness and arrogance causes him to more frequently clash with MacLeod, though, to the point where MacLeod has finally had enough. At the end of this episode, he asks Richie to leave. It’s a sad moment, but MacLeod has little choice. Richie’s morals yet aren’t the same as MacLeod’s, due to his inexperience, and MacLeod sees that the boy can only learn by trial and error. They part painfully.

This is not to say that Richie leaves the show—far from it, although the majority of the following Season 2 episodes do not contain him. But at this stage, he is too headstrong to learn more from MacLeod; we must hope that what has learned thus far will be enough to save his head!

Episode 2.13 “Bless the Child”
Written By: Elizabeth Baxter and Martin Broussellet
Synopsis: “Charlie and MacLeod come to the aid of Sara Lightfoot, an Indian woman on the run with a baby.”

Had this episode been part of Season 1, it would have been mediocre, but would not have stood out quite as much. Coming after a series of very strong and emotional episodes, its blandness and predictability is highlighted. Not that it’s a horrible story or anything—just lacking in much interest or creativity.

What I did like was that it was set in the forested mountains of the Northwest Pacific, which provides some nice scenery and rustic locales for the adventure. The flashbacks to the 1920’s were nicely done, and were used more subtly to bring out MacLeod’s sorrow that he is unable to have children. It’s a poignant cost of Immortality, and I’m glad the show acknowledges it, even if sometimes clumsily.

Episodes 2.14 and 2.15 “Unholy Alliance I & II”
Written By: David Tynan
Synopsis: “Xavier returns, using mortal mercenaries to take out his Immortal opponents. It soon becomes clear he is part of a darker alliance that threatens Duncan,” forcing the Highlander to return to Paris.

Xavier St. Cloud. The man has style.

Xavier St. Cloud, the devilishly sophisticated villain who lost his hand to Duncan in Season 1, returns with a vengeance, this time working with renegade Watcher James Morton (darn guy just won’t die!) and a band of mercenaries to hunt down Immortals. He’s one of the more entertaining villains, definitely, and his gentlemanliness is a façade for cowardice—he never plays by the rules, and here his tactics are so simple and straightforward that it’s a wonder other Immortals haven’t adopted them! His strategy is this: Confront the target Immortal with a handful of machine-gun toting goons, have goons fill target Immortal with lead, and while target Immortal lies gasping on the floor trying to regenerate his internal organs, behead him. It’s messy, but far less risky than the standard honorable duel.

It’s adventure and intrigue over character study, but there are still some great conversations between Charlie de Salvo and Duncan. Charlie is furious with Duncan because Duncan will never tell him what’s going on; and by this point, I think Charlie deserves to know. The dojo gets shot up by Xavier’s goons (not to mention Charlie himself), plus they murder Charlie’s old army friend (who was working for them, but still), and Duncan can only tell Charlie to “trust him.” Which from Charlie’s POV, understandably, doesn’t cut it. Too bad they ended the episode with Duncan still dragging Charlie out—I think Charlie deserves to know. He’s seen Duncan get killed and then come back, and he knows about all the swordfighting that goes on. It’d be hard for him to accept the magic of Immortality, but if Duncan can just show him enough to confirm it, he could understand.

At the end, Duncan decides to move back to Paris, leaving the dojo in Charlie’s hands.

Episode 2.16 “The Vampire”
Written By: J.P. Couture
Synopsis: “MacLeod comes up against Nicholas Ward, an Immortal who conceals his murders by disguising them as popular hysterias.”

This probably could have been one of the really good episodes—as it stands, it’s average fun. Nearly half the story is told in flashbacks to 19th century Paris, and they look properly moody and stylish, if a bit modest. The villain is really campy and fun, perhaps fitting his vampire mystique, and trades smug dialogue very well with Duncan. His final line is a classic: “Everyone’s a critic,” he moans, right before Duncan beheads him. Ha!

Episode 2.17 “Warmonger”
Written By: Christian Bouveron and Lawrence Shore
Synopsis: “MacLeod promised Immortal Drakov that he wouldn’t fight. Today, an old man urges MacLeod to recant his promise.”

The story is this. Back during the Bolshevik Revolution, MacLeod saved the lives of some friends of his by making a deal with the evil Immortal Drakov who was working for the revolutionaries and was going to execute the noble family. The deal was that Drakov would let them go if MacLeod promised never to fight Drakov unless they were the last 2 Immortals. Duncan agreed and that family was freed. But now, in the Paris of 1993, Drakov is back as the security advisor to the ruler of a small Eastern-European country and is trying to orchestrate a war. When the ruler decides to go a peaceful route instead, Drakov murders him and frames the enemy country.. Duncan has to decide whether he should keep his promise and let war happen unfairly, or whether he should break the promise, intervene, and thereby save many lives.

It’s an interesting dilemma, but not dealt with as deeply as it could have been. It’s decent, but not great.

Episode 2.18 “Pharaoh’s Daughter”
Written By: Christian Bouveron and Lawrence Shore
Synopsis: “MacLeod feels the Buzz coming from an ancient sarcophagus and opens it to find Nefertiri, Cleopatra’s handmaid, buried 2000 years ago.”

Many regard this as one of the best Highlander episodes ever, and in many ways it is. The concept is fantastic, the kind of story that could only be told in the Highlander universe. It centers around the old affair and heartache between two ancient Immortals: Nefertiri, the Egyptian noblewoman/handmaiden to Cleopatra, and Marcus Constantine, a Roman general.  When Marcus was unable to stop the Romans from mistreating Cleopatra and humiliating Egypt, Nefertiri declared herself betrayed by her lover and had herself killed and mummified, ostensibly to serve her mistress in the afterlife. But when she is freed in 1993, we learn that, impressively, it is Marcus who has matured, grown kinder, and learned to forgive. He’s even married happily to a French woman and has spent much of the past 2 millennia as a historian. He also happens to have been a friend of Darius’.

I think this is the first time we’ve had a story involving two other Immortals, where Duncan MacLeod himself is just on the periphery. It’s also the first time we’ve gotten historical flashbacks that weren’t Duncan’s. This is important, because Duncan’s flashbacks can only go back 400 years, whereas now we get transported back to Roman-era Egypt! As a minor classicist (literally, I minored in Classics), I found the flashbacks fun and well-done, in a classic Hollywood kind of way. The actors are good and the story intriguing.

But alas, there are problems with this episode, some negative issues that irritate me.

The biggest one is the sex. There is lots of sex and partial nudity in this episode. I skipped by those scenes whenever I saw them coming, but they’re quite pervasive. The show’s excuse is that Nefertiri always uses sex as a weapon and that her actress (Nia Peeples) is apparently too exotically gorgeous to not show off. Still, she didn’t need to disrobe at every available opportunity and be so ogled by the camera. Whenever movies and TV shows do this, it’s wrong and voyeuristic. If it inflames lust in you for anyone other than your spouse, it’s wrong, and this episode really tries to inflame the viewer’s lust. Her seduction and “lovemaking” with Duncan was the worst; Tessa’s barely in the grave before he’s slept with three other women! It’s not only gratuitous, but it hurts his character too. How are we supposed to keep believing in Duncan’s honor and sensitivity if he has no control over his libido?

There are also too many illogicalities: Nefertiri speaks flawless English as she steps from her sarcophagus, and it’s never explained how Nefertiri learned of her immortality, or how she survived 2000 years wrapped as a mummy with such perfect and clean skin, in such perfect physical condition, and without going mad. It’s just not addressed, and that is definitely something which needed to be addressed. Also, Egyptian practice was to take out the brains and all the inner organs before mummification, so how did Nefertiri escape this? While I’m glad the show has started reaching deeper into history and is starting to root its flashbacks more definitely around certain historical events, they really need to do better research and plan out their stories better than this!

Episode 2.19 “Legacy”
Written By: Elizabeth Baxter
Synopsis: “When her mentor Rebecca is killed, Amanda is determined to avenge her, even though it means going up against the formidable Immortal Luther.”

It’s a decent episode that tries to be more emotionally affecting than most, but in the end feels somewhat inconsequential. Much may depend on whether you like Amanda or not. Amanda is given more pathos here and allowed to be vulnerable; that’s good, because she’s far less annoying when we think we can trust her. Still, I don’t like the character. Doubt I ever will. Her Teacher, Rebecca, however, is a wonderful character, and it’s a real shame that she can’t come back (being dead and headless). Rebecca’s killer is a superstitious Immortal named Luther, who believes that by collecting 10 rare crystals he can increase his power ten times. He could be interesting, but that he isn’t given much screen time.

Luther’s quest, however, brings up the issue of the Highlander mythology, or rather its shallowness. The few facts that remain consistent are these: Immortals are born of human parents, they cannot have children, they can sense the nearby presence of other Immortals, they are undetectable as Immortal until they suffer a violent death, if a person is born Immortal but doesn’t die violently then their Immortality is not “activated” and they are truly dead, and the only way to kill an Immortal for good is to behead them, at which point the headless Immortals power surges into the nearest Immortal in an explosive event called the Quickening. That may sound like a lot of facts, but it isn’t. Everything beyond them is extremely flexible and uncodified. What “power” does an Immortal have, besides the passive ability to regenerate wounds, come back from the dead, and sense others of his kind? Practically speaking, none. So what does Luther intend to increase by collecting these crystals (assuming they work, which the episode implies they don’t)? Not his strength or his speed, or anything like that—it has been established that Immortals are just like normal humans in that regard. MacLeod strength comes from his being a battle-hardened warrior for 400 years, but a whack on the head will still knock him unconscious just like with anyone else.

Anyway, I wish the show would be much more clear and inventive with their magic and mythology, but I’m willing to accept the show for what it is. Just be aware that sometimes the writers seem to make things up as they go along.

Episode 2.20 “Prodigal Son”
Written By: David Tynan
Synopsis: “Richie returns turning to Duncan for help. An Immortal has been following him, refusing to confront him, but committing murders wherever Richie goes.”

You gotta like a show where an image like this (biker with a rapier) is totally justified.

The opening to this episode is very strong. We don’t know much of Richie’s escapades as he’s been traveling the world with his motorcycle and rapier, but we see him pull up to a loan roadside gas station in Spain, looking harried. He hasn’t been there for five minutes before he senses another Immortal, draws his sword, and finds the gas station owner slain on the pavement. Another workers frantically calls the police, believing Richie to be the murderer, and Richie takes off on his bike, speeding north to Paris in desperation. He left Duncan in anger, shame, and disappointment last time, but now he has nowhere else to go. Duncan’s his only friend, only family.

The plot with the evil Immortal ends up being fairly simple and serviceable, nothing special. The scenes with the French police are pretty stupid, ignoring things like due process of law, the rights of the accused, etcetera, as they assume Richie’s guilt on circumstantial episode alone.

The strength of the episode, and what makes it feel so full and rich compared to many of the others, is how nicely it deals with the relationship between Duncan and Richie. Stan Kirsch’s acting has gotten much better. Richie’s not quite as likable as he was originally, being darker and more moody, but he’s got more nuances. It was good to see him relax around Duncan again. After the way he left in “Under Color of Authority” Richie doesn’t know if he’s welcome at Duncan’s barge. Duncan sighs and says yes, anytime Richie is in Paris he should stay with Duncan. They still are friends.

My favorite part—maybe in the whole series at this point—is the end, when they’re drinking the 400+ year-old cognac on the barge, sharing some serious words and some laughs. According to the producer’s commentary track, the cameraman kept rolling and managed to capture a totally spontaneous moment where, after the last (sort of silly) line of dialogue, Duncan and Richie look at each other and burst out laughing. It’s a perfect moment, full of warmth and genuine friendliness.

Episodes 2.21 and 2.22 “Counterfeit Parts I and II”
Written By: David Tynan and Brad Wright
Synopsis: “Duncan must deal with a woman who is a dead ringer for Tessa, but must wonder if she’s part of some scheme to kill him once and for all.”

While not a horrible story, this is still a pretty disappointing end to a season that was getting so strong. The joy of seeing actress Alexandra Vandernoot back is diminished by the fact that she’s playing an annoying, evil character who has had plastic surgery and manners training in order to fool Duncan into thinking she is Tessa’s doppelganger. This is all orchestrated by that blasted renegade Watcher, James Horton, a pathetic and cowardly villain who should have died many times but keeps coming back. It’d be one thing if he were revealed to be an Immortal who managed to keep himself from being sensed by Duncan, but no, he’s just a pitiful mortal who doesn’t die when he should only because the script says so. Fortunately, he’s dead for good this time. I hope!

The whole “fake Tessa” thing comes off as a gimmick, and not an especially tasteful or convincing one at that. The failures of logic are immense, the proceedings worthy of a bad soap opera, and in the end it reveals just how little the writers and producers understand how to deal with the impact of Tessa’s legacy. Adrian Paul nobly does his best to convey Duncan’s confusion and heartache, and when the scenes focus on him, the episode works. On the whole, though, I felt it was a pretty poor story. Duncan and Tessa both deserved better than this.

Episode synopses are from Wikipedia.
Screenshots are my own, taken either from Hulu or the DVDs. Except for the DVD case picture, which I found through a Google Image search.

TV Show Review: Highlander, Season 1

Series: Highlander Season 1 (1992-1993)
Length: 22 episodes (about 45 minutes each)
Lead Actors: Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod), Alexandra Vandernoot (Tessa Noël), Stan Kirsch (Richie Ryan)
Content Advisory: Swashbuckling violence, not much blood. Occasional sex scenes that are about the most that’s acceptable at a PG-13 level, but no explicit nudity. Occasional minor swearing.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: The adventures of Duncan MacLeod, a modern-day Immortal of Scottish heritage, as he tries to maintain a peaceful life with his mortal lover Tessa Noël and mentor the orphaned teenager Richie Ryan. All while avoiding or defeating other evil Immortals who seek to take his head, gain the power of the Quickening, and abuse unwitting humanity. Part urban fantasy swashbuckler, part crime drama, part love story.
Reason for Beginning Season: Recommended by a friend.
Reason for Finishing Season: It’s fun, occasionally thought-provoking, and shows a lot of promise. Read more