Highlander: Season Four
By Dwip November 2, 2014, 9:42 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

After the focused arcs of Season 3, Season 4 seems to flounder around a bit. There’s no master villain, none of the defining episodes of the last season. The major two-parters seem disconnected from the other episodes, which can seem disjointed at times.

That said, we’re at that point in the show where everyone understands the characters enough to really get into them. And so we get episodes that focus on Mac, Joe, Richie, and Methos, and what makes them who they are and why they tick. We get into why and how they play off each other, and where the fault lines in their relationships are.

It’s a bit of a lull between Seasons 3 and 5, but man what a lull.

THERE ARE SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT


Homeland

Duncan MacLeod goes home for a visit.

DVD Verdict calls this one “pleasantly uneven”, Adrian Paul’s directorial debut and all, and I have to agree. It’s wildly overwrought, plagued with technical issues, and has a couple of really poor casting and costuming choices.

And yet the whole thing works. We’ve been building up for Duncan to return home since the second episode of the series, and now he gets to go home and make some peace. The origins of “I am Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod” are explained in a gripping flashback with the evil Viking Kanwulf. Sweeping vistas and stirring music give this one a bit of a Rob Roy feel, which doesn’t hurt either.

Brothers in Arms

Charlie’s back, and he’s got some big problems with somebody Joe Dawson owes his life to. Because it’s about time we got a Joe Dawson origin story.

Highlander has gone to some heavy places over the course of three seasons, but this one takes the cake. Straight from the intro, we’re in Vietnam, and you know that can’t be good.

And this is, let’s be clear, a pretty convincing depiction of Vietnam, especially for a show of Highlander’s budget. Which means that the rape, murder, and Joe getting his legs blown off in a mine explosion are all pretty wrenching. If you watch the commentary, it’s even more wrenching, because you’ll know Jim Byrnes, Joe’s actor, really did lose his legs in a car accident, and you can see him wrestling with some pretty deep stuff when he talks about it.

And all this works pretty good for an episode about the kinds of bonds we have and the things we owe to other people.

By contrast, I’m not a particularly big fan of Charlie’s reappearance and sudden exit from the show. They wrote him out of the show in the third episode of Season 3 for good reason – he just wasn’t that great a character, and frankly the acting job sucked. He’s better here but I’m not sad to see him go, although he does get a badass knife duel in before he gets shanked.

While heavy and kind of wrenching, I’m still reminded of Sarah snarking about Mac and Joe’s big breakup scene. It kind of is. They’ll be back together soon enough.

All in all, one of Highlander’s best.

The Innocent

Richie is back, and he’s brought with him a new friend, Mikey, who loves trains and maybe isn’t all there. Now what?

I own or have seen now hundreds of episodes of television and movies. A small handful of those have moved me to any sort of true emotion of the sort where you’ve got to take a walk and think about it for a while. Highlander, as you may have noticed in this, our fourth outing together, is not generally one of those shows. Snarkable, yes, exciting, yes. But at it’s best, it is capable of those moments. And in all of Highlander, I think this is the one that does it for me the most.

I can’t claim to have experience with mental illness on Mikey’s scale – he truly does speak like a child, as the saying goes, and that’s no good thing for an immortal. But I’ve dealt with it a few times in my life, and there’s so much about this that rings true to my experience. Little stuff, the way people hold their coats and approach, the tone of voice, the conversational cues. The conversations we have amongst ourselves when backs are turned about what needs to be done, what we can do.

There’s an episode here, I guess. Am I watching that, or are the power of the performances making me watch something else entirely? Sometimes I wonder.

Leader of the Pack

Mac goes after a man and man’s best immortal-hunting friend, while Richie hunts that punk kid that killed Tessa way back in Season 2.

There are really two episodes we’re talking about here. On the one hand, you have Richie versus that punk kid that killed he and Tessa. And that episode is great in the tradition of Season 4’s best stuff – once again we examine the questions of revenge via Richie, we have some intense acting, great chase scenes, and moral dilemmas.

And then there’s Mac versus Kanis and his dogs.

NOTE: Not actually Bono.

The only good thing I can say here is that the flashbacks were kind of cool, and 18th century riding dress is pretty cool. Everything else was bad. Incredibly bad. The idea of using dogs might have been good if Kanis wasn’t so dumb, and the number of bad ideas is incredibly high. Yes, Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, go jogging in a secluded park with no sword when you know there’s a guy with dogs after you. What in the hell was with the crazy acrobatic jump in the final fight that nobody could ever do?

Season 4 is really upping the ante on quickenings, but come on guys, the levitating house? Seriously?

Double Eagle

Mac’s gambler friend Kit shows up in need of a hand. Amanda shows up too, and…sparks fly.

Highlander has flirted with comedy before, most notably with the loveable and hilarious Hugh Fitzcairn, but this is the one where they decided to go full comedy beginning to end. Comedic episodes are really hit or miss with me, and I hate most of them, but this one works. It’s completely over the top, completely outrageous, and loaded with funny bits. All three immortal cast members are pretty good at comic acting, making this episode a nice surprise.

Also Amanda’s dress is spectacular.

Reunion

Kenny’s back! And Anne’s back! And Amanda stayed! And there’s some evil sea captain dude because we needed another immortal villain!

On the one hand, Kenny the immortal shit disturber worked way better in this episode than the last, setting up Anne, Duncan, and Amanda just to watch the fireworks, and set up Kincaid and Duncan to get ALL THE REVENGE. That part of the episode is really great, as are the evil sea captain flashbacks.

On the other hand, it’s really hard to get past the intro, here. As the episode thankfully reminded me, Anne, Kenny tried to run you down in a car. Why are you helping him in any way shape or form?

The Colonel

Back in 1918, Mac got another immortal locked up for ordering a charge that broke the armistice and got a lot of people killed. And now he’s back for his revenge.

Certain episodes work really well the first time around and not so well later, and this is one. Oh crap, the evil guy locked Mac in a cell! How can he ever escape! Obviously he does with the help of Amanda and Joe, thus rekindling the Duncan and Joe bromance. The evil immortal is creepy, though Amanda’s groupie is a little weak and the amount of casual mentions of immortality is a little eyebrow raising and frankly just a bit out of character.

Reluctant Heroes

Mac and Richie save a man from an assassin who turns out to be an immortal Mac has unfinished business with.

We’ve seen this one before a few times – Duncan has a grudge with some evil guy from back in the day, they run across each other in the modern day, sword fighting happens. And this is one of those shows. However, here in Season 4 this sort of thing is done with a great deal more competence – cool flashbacks, an evil FBI agent, doublecrossing left and right, and a plot that tries to be a meditation on oaths, revenge, and honor.

It’s not quite the best of Highlander, but it’s pretty good for what it does.

The Wrath of Kali

An old friend of Mac’s from India comes looking for a statue of the goddess Kali, but not all is as it seems.

On the one hand, the whole Kali/Thuggee angle of India has been pretty overdone by this point, and after Indiana Jones it’s all probably a bit cliché, especially when there’s so much going on on the subcontinent.

On the other hand, here’s Highlander attempting to show us India and the Raj in 50 minutes and not doing a half bad job of it. There are a lot of points in here about culture, identity, and the preservation of same, not to mention imperialism. As Mac tells Richie at one point, Kamir may be a murderer who did some bad stuff, but he’s right about an awful lot of stuff.

Special mention to Alice, sexually frustrated English wife, who gives us probably the most eyebrow raising scene in six years of Highlander. I’ve talked a lot about chemistry between people on this show, but damn.

Chivalry

Candygram.

An old ex-lover of Duncan’s shows up, and Richie falls for her…hard.

Lots going on here, as usual. Lots of sexual tension, a femme fatale, Methos is back…

There’s a point being made here about Duncan MacLeod’s relationship with chivalry – especially towards women, but in general as well. He lets people go, and as the argument goes, maybe he should do rather less of that.

Beyond that, this is the point for most people, I think, in which your ears start perking up about Methos. Not only did he just show up at Mac’s place in Seacouver, he’s meaner, leaner, a lot more lethal than in days of Season 3 yore, and it’s pretty obvious from the get go that he’s up to something more than he’s telling MacLeod. This is about where we start kicking it into gear with Methos.

Timeless

In which Duncan’s old friend from his acting days murders his old ward, a musical prodigy, so that her art can live forever.

This is a strange one. The idea behind it is one of the greats – what if a great artist could live forever? What if we still had Mozart? What is it that makes artists great? What if becoming immortal robbed you of that gift?

The execution…gets a bit comic.

Walter is hilarious as a Shakespeare fanboy. He dominates every scene he’s in, outrageously overacts everything for comic value, then turns around and has a dazzling swordfight with Mac. You can tell this is one of those episodes where the actors had a blast.

All of that said, this one’s way more important as being the one that introduced the Methos and Alexa story arc. It might seem bizarre for a 5,000 year old immortal to revert to frazzled schoolboy over a random waitress at Joe’s, but through sheer brilliance of acting I bought it. Some great stuff in here – “Why do you want to go out with me?” “Because the alternative would be unthinkable.”

The Blitz

Anne tries to rescue people trapped in an explosion and ends up trapped herself, and it’s up to Duncan to save her, which reminds him of that time he was trapped in a tunnel during the Blitz.

As everyone will tell you, the flashback in this episode is amazing. For a show of Highlander’s budget to capture so well the look of London in the 40s is incredible, and it’s all very dashing, exciting, romantic – the heroine is fantastic, the romance electric, the death in the tunnel tragic and hard hitting. As everyone also says, it would have made a fantastic episode by itself.

Unfortunately, it’s coupled with the present day stuff, wherein Anne goes down into a collapsed tunnel for precisely no reason while enormously pregnant and is equally inexplicably rescued by Duncan after having her baby that isn’t really Duncan’s but may as well be. I guess we had to deal with the baby and Anne thing somehow, but this was not the way. It’s slow, it’s unbelievable, it’s frankly boring as hell.

Fortunately, Anne gets her appropriate send-off at the end, where Duncan gives her a house for her and baby Mary (named after Duncan’s mother!), and it’s as touching as we’d all like it to be. Would that the rest of her part of this episode were so good.

Something Wicked

Wherein Highlander brings in the mysticism and has MacLeod go evil from a quickening.

There have been a lot of quickenings over four years of Highlander, nearly one per show, and we’ve always danced around the whole “takes his enemy’s head, and with it, his power” concept. And here we are. A quickening can turn you evil. Or, in the case of Darius in Season 1, good. We’re going to go to some strange places in Highlander’s mystic journeys, but this one’s pretty grounded in the lore. So ok.

It’s also grounded in some crazy mid-90s CGI.

That noted, everything about this one is fantastic. It came pretty close for Richie there, and that duel was intense. Evil Mac is pretty convincingly evil, and he’s a nasty SOB. The flashbacks are good, both the 1870s where Mac meets Coltec and the 1950s with Bryce Korland. Hell, they even play with that one by trying to make Coltec act like Korland in the same act to derision.

A great intro to one of the best two-parters of the series.

Deliverance

And the finale, wherein our boy Methos tries to get Duncan MacLeod back on the straight and narrow using every tool at his disposal.

Most of this one is spent watching Mac being the forementioned nasty SOB, and he’s a fairly bad dude – a couple of attempted murders, the odd attempted rape, and the beheading of an old friend, which in a bout of irony puts him back over the line into trying to get some help.

We intercut with flashbacks to World War I, with Mac having some bad trips at a mental hospital with his friend Sean Burns the psychiatrist. World War I flashbacks are among the series’ best, and these are no exception.

As David Abramowitz says in the commentary, there’s some pretty Campbellian stuff going on here about the nature of good and evil, mental illness, and fighting one’s own inner demons in a somewhat literal fashion.

I’ve never been altogether a fan of the sort of New Agey mystic way of getting Mac back to good. The holy spring is neat, and Methos shoving the sword of the MacLeods into Duncan’s hand is a great touch, but the whole go for a dip and fight yourself resolution is a bit meh, and nothing we haven’t seen elsewhere. Still, with the exception of some awful mid-90s CGI, there’s a lot to like here.

Promises

Highlander goes all philosophy major when Duncan saves the life of a North African dictator.

All my favorite reviewers were pretty down on this one, but I kind of liked it. Rachael MacLeod is back, and her kind of schoolgirl infatuation with Duncan is kind of cute. Kasim is excellent as the honor-bound protector of a family line for 800 years, though his outrageously fake beard in the otherwise amazing North Africa flashbacks is unfortunate and snarkable.

The meat of the episode is all about honor, promises, and how those conflict with doing the right thing as you view doing the right thing. It gets pretty convoluted in there, which is perhaps why nobody likes it – lots of thinking required, and some of the thinking doesn’t always work well with what we know of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.

Still though, I think this is a way more interesting episode than it gets credit for, though I admit it’s sort of strange coming after Deliverance as it does.

Methuselah’s Gift

Highlander keeps rolling with the magic influences, and the good episode magic.

Methos needs a certain set of crystals called the Methuselah Stone. You may remember it from Legacy, that episode with Rebecca and the crystals back in Season 2. He’s trying to use it to save Alexa, who you may remember from about six episodes ago and who has terminal cancer. And then there’s Amanda, who happens to be in the process of being hunted for the crystal she wears. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

The Highlander magic episodes have always been a bit dodgy. For a show about people who live forever and cut people’s heads off in concert with lightning storms of mystical energy, the more magical elements always seemed a bit off for some reason. This is almost but not quite one of those times.

The center of this one is Methos vs. Amanda turning into a Methos and Amanda bonding moment, coupled with a heist movie sequence, a cat, epic action sequences, the worst short white hair ever seen on a woman, and a shocking betrayal with more action.

Oh, and Methos gives one of the best monologues in the entire series regarding Alexa and the fragility of mortals compared with immortals. Absolutely worth the price of admission.

The Immortal Cimoli

At the circus, Duncan and Amanda meet a new immortal, the…Immortal Cimmoli. Things ensue.

We’ve been through this whole new immortal thing a few times before by this point, most recently in Timeless 6 episodes ago with much the same situation re: art and artist and immortality, so it was a little hard for me to care much about Danny, nice kid though he may have been.

I was actually more intrigued by Case. Clearly he had religious reasons for hunting down his fellow immortals, he fought in the Crusades, he was an honorable man in his way – Duncan clearly respected him and was unwilling to fight him. What made this guy tick? What kind of stuff did he see that made him turn out the way he did? I spent most of this episode wanting to know about the throwaway villain rather than the punk kid.

All that said, lots of really artsy stuff in this one, most of all the quickening.

Through A Glass, Darkly

Methos buries Alexa. Duncan runs into his old friend from his days with Bonnie Prince Charlie, Warren Cochrane, and the guy’s clearly lost it somehow. It’s up to Mac to find out why.

The writers and almost all the reviews I’ve read were pretty down on this one. Words like “muddled” and “convoluted” were thrown about. I’ve always thought maybe the Highlander crew were being a bit too hard on themselves – I like this one.

The hope here was that they could show Cochrane going a bit bonkers after never quite getting over the whole loss by the Scottish to the English, played off with Methos remembering Alexa as a sort of commentary on good and bad memories, with a bit of mental illness and differing perspectives on the same event thrown in for good measure. That’s some pretty compelling stuff, and I thought it worked well enough for me, though they’re right – watching Bonnie Prince Charlie walk down those stairs so many times was a bit much.

Double Jeopardy

Xavier St. Cloud had a protégé, and now he’s back to raise some hell. Agent Renee Delaney’s back too, for Duncan and the killer.

With the exception of the flashbacks of everyone in awesome turn of the 19th century getup and a cool episode with Xavier in it, this one is pretty meh. The Renee parts have all the problems the Renee parts had in Season 2 – they’re nonsensical and she’s not a very interesting cop – and Morgan d’Estaing is spoiled, poutish, and a pale imitation of one of the best immortal villains, Xavier St. Cloud.

Was nice to see Xavier again though.

Till Death

Another Highlander comedy foray. Gina and Robert have been married for 300 years. Every century, they get married all over again. Only, this time, the relationship needs a bit more…excitement.

This is one of the best comedy episodes, funny from end to end. Fitzcairn is back! Methos is back! As Bill Panzer discusses at length in the commentary, Fitz and Mac are hilarious together, which is why we keep getting him in the flashbacks. Likewise, Methos and Mac are amusing in an entirely different way, which is one reason he came back too.

The guest immortals are funny but mostly cute – this is at its core a sappy love story with comic elements, which is one of those concepts that has never ever worked for me except when it does, like here. I have no idea why. Perhaps it’s because of the context of Highlander, or perhaps it’s because the comedy just works for me. I don’t know.

Judgement Day

In which the Watchers bring Joe Dawson to task. And store him in their horrific prison until Mac can show up to testify.

This is the obligatory season clip show. And as clip shows go, there’s a whole lot wrong here, most of it with the extremely dark cinematography. That said, I do appreciate that they went to the trouble of finally taking Joe Dawson to task for his blatant violations of the Watcher code, and that we’re finally bringing the whole Watcher plotline to a climax. It’s no Kalas, but then what is?

One Minute To Midnight

The ghost of Horton returns, and we come to the verge of an immortal-Watcher war.

There’s a lot of shades of grey going on in this highly convoluted episode. Mac’s friend Jacob isn’t a bad guy, but he’s been killing dozens of people. Then again, he’s been after some actual bad guys. Joe and Methos have been straddling the Watcher/immortal line in different ways for a while now, and now has come the time for both of them to shit or get off the pot on where their allegiances lie. Joe isn’t a bad guy, but he has a hand in setting up Jacob to be murdered, and so does Methos. So even does Duncan. A lot could have been solved if people could just talk it out, but the lesson here is, sometimes you don’t get to talk it out.

Big changes are afoot for Season 5.


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