Highlander: Season Three
By Dwip November 1, 2014, 9:25 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

By the third season of Highlander we’d made it beyond the rough days of the first two seasons onto much firmer ground. It’s clear that by Season 3 the writers of the show had a much firmer idea of what they were trying to do – backstory episodes, several multi-episode character arcs, writing in and writing out characters that just weren’t working, and trying a bunch of new things. Some of the best episodes of Highlander are in here, including probably the best multi-part arc. By the end of the Paris arc, most of the pieces that will define the rest of the series have made it into play.

THERE ARE SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT


Samurai

Season 3 of Highlander starts off with a bang – this is one of the best episodes thus far, giving us both the origin of Duncan MacLeod’s katana and a highly compelling flashback to Edo-period Japan. Said flashback is perhaps a little too Shogun, but it does a really great job setting up the show’s theme about honor and being true to one’s code.

I’m less enthused by the A plot in the present. The affair angle isn’t entirely interesting, and when Charlie comes back into the show it’s immediately apparent how much I didn’t miss him in the Paris half of last season. He does give Mac a couple of moments to lean on the door of the dojo and look goofy, so there’s that I guess.

Line of Fire

Boy is there a lot going on in this one. Richie’s got a kid! Joe returns! Spears!

Every season needs its reminders about why immortals and mortals and especially mortal children aren’t necessarily the best mix, and this is Season 3’s. Unlike some other forays into the idea, this one works well, contrasting Richie’s present day attempts to father a baby who isn’t his with Mac’s attempts to be a father when he lived with the Sioux. It’s tied together by Kern, a badass biker immortal who’s about as close to the Kurgan as we’re going to get.

Two minor points of note: first, Mac somehow manages to behead a guy with a bull neck using a spear. Kind of crazy but points for trying. Second, the first appearance of Joe’s bar, which will be a recurring place for much of the rest of the series and is one of the best locations they ever had.

And then there’s the other major point. I’ve always been of two minds about Highlander’s forays into Native Americans and their spirituality. On the one hand, it’s nice that they tried. Not many ever do, and it’s kind of a shame.

On the other hand, I’ve never been quite convinced by their handling of it. I can forgive the rather brushy locale of the Sioux camp as being the usual set design issues, but I cannot believe the actress they hired to play Mac’s love interest was the best possible choice. Even in an episode rife with spotty voices, hers is jarringly out of place. Too, the whole quickening was…odd, though made up for with a badass fight scene and an overall excellent episode.

Season 3 is starting extremely strong, with both an origin story for Mac’s sword and the filling in of a major piece of his backstory. The best is yet to come.

The Revolutionary

After two very solid episodes, this one is…muddled. Mac has an old friend who’s a professional revolutionary that got a little too deep into the thing.

There’s a lot of heavy lifting here, and not much of it works very well. They’re in the process of trying to write Charlie off the show, which is good if extremely awkward – he decides to follow some woman halfway across the world two days after meeting her? They’re also trying to write in a new love interest for Mac, which will work somewhat better later but here is just random and awkward.

The other crucial thing here is that Paul Karros isn’t wildly believable as a guy who fought with Spartacus and who still has daddy issues about it 2,000 years on. Or, rather, he’s credible enough as a villain, but the situation itself is rather tenuous. Really, you haven’t changed a bit after all this time? Shallow writing does not help any of this episode to succeed, even in the excellent-looking Mexico flashbacks.

The Cross of St. Antoine

This time around, we get to see Joe’s new bar! And meet his new girlfriend…for about 5 seconds before she’s murdered in a way that points back to an immortal Mac used to know.

This is another one of those episodes with a lot going on. Joe’s bar makes its debut, and it’s good. Amanda comes back, which is great – she and Mac have amazing chemistry together in more ways than one.

The flashbacks are pretty good here, and John Durgan makes an interesting villain – an illiterate trapper who becomes an international businessman and art collector. You can kind of see the show trying to make a point about how you can change some things about yourself but you are who you are, but frankly everything to do with Durgan is heavily undermined by some really goofy effects editing every time he appears.

Rite of Passage

In which Duncan MacLeod suddenly becomes the not particularly proud father figure to an 18 year old girl who is also a newbie immortal.

This one is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s interesting to see a teenaged party girl suddenly become immortal and work her way through that. And watching Duncan make all the wrong parenting moves is excruciating and funny at the same time. The flashbacks are cool and the sword fights are great.

That said, the whole thing does feel a bit like the Highlander after school special – just a little bit over the top, a little bit too preachy about avoiding sex, drugs, and that charismatic older guy who will use you and then chop your head off. But still pretty good.

Courage

We’re back with the anti-drug episodes, although unlike Season 1’s attempt at it, this one is pretty good not only by Highlander standards but anti-drug standards as well, faint praise though that is.

The commentary lays it out pretty good – we get to see an old friend of Duncan’s succumb to drugs for what honestly sound like pretty good reasons in immortal PTSD, and while most of the drug scenes are a bit over the top, the opium den is worth price of admission, and the episode does a great job selling the agony of addiction. I have my quibbles, but this one was pretty good.

Duncan and Anne just don’t work together well though. I used to think they did, but boy, they sure don’t.

The Lamb

In which fourteen year old immortals turn out to be eight hundred and fourteen year old immortals.

Also, dicks.

This is one of those ideas that’s really solid in concept but kind of biffs it on the execution side. The idea of a child immortal is good, the idea of a child immortal hundreds of years old who does what he has to to survive is good. And Kenny is well-acted, which is rare with actors of his age.

Unfortunately, just about everything else here is bad. We know Kenny is evil before the opening credits finish when he brains some old guy for a sandwich, which robs the rest of the episode of most of its dramatic tension. On top of that, the writers cause MacLeod to go way out of character to protect somebody he knows is doing things he’d kill adult immortals for without thinking twice. Even the flashbacks are a little lackluster – the Civil War looks pretty good, except for the really obvious rubber bayonets in half the scenes and the tenuous tie-in with the rest of the episode.

Duncan and Anne are working a bit better now though, I guess.

Obsession

An old friend of Duncan’s turns out to be a creepy stalker, bringing up Duncan’s old memories of that one time when he, too, didn’t really take no for an answer.

This too is a fairly good concept coupled to a not particularly engaging episode. There’s nothing here that’s outright bad, per se, so much as “immortal stalker of a woman who wants nothing to do with immortals” apparently just doesn’t have 48 minutes of running time, two of which are devoted to square dancing in the flashback, with bonus re-used Lakota camp flashback with the awful accents and re-used footage of Angry Duncan workout from after Tessa died.

The flashback is the only particularly engaging part of the episode, featuring as it does 1880s Duncan falling for a married blonde woman who isn’t much good for him. The acting here is miles better than in the rest of the episode, as is sometimes the case.

It’s interesting to listen to the crew commentaries for this one – the female writing staff all seemed pretty engaged with the whole modern day stalker angle, at one point monologuing about how “they’re out there and they won’t stop coming!” for a minute or so, but were pretty dismissive of the flashback. I suspect this is one of those gender difference things – I don’t stalk women like the villain, but I do know what it’s like to chase one like Mac, and I think that holds for most guys. Methinks the women find it the other way about, sadly.

Shadows

Duncan, chugging an entire bottle of sleeping pills is a bad idea. And shame on Anne for giving them to you. But I guess you do go crazy in this episode, so there’s that.

This is a bit of an odd duck. On the one hand, a crazy immortal using dream projection to trick Mac into not fighting back when Death comes for him is pretty much bullshit, and the first of several ill-considered Highlander forays into mysticism we’ll likely discuss later at some length.

On the other hand, this is one of those episodes where everything is done so incredibly right you don’t really care that the premise is dumber than a bag of hammers. The mood is tense, the acting is uniformly top notch, there are no less than five badass sword sequences, and the flashback was great even when it veered into the slightly Monty Python.

This is one of the episodes where everyone really went all out, and it shows. From the creepy workshop scenes to the burning at the stake to Anne and Duncan’s surprisingly emotional breakup, everything about this episode really works.

Except the premise. That doesn’t work. At all.

Blackmail

This is yet another one of those great premise shaky follow through episodes. What happens when a mortal witnesses a beheading and a quickening? What if it’s on video?

Unfortunately, Highlander never did really learn to deal with its mortal villains very well, which means the douchebag lawyer who gets the video is by turns the least interesting and most snarkable part of the episode, leaving the weight of entertainment to the murder mystery flashback in 1805 and the modern day immortal showdown. This, at least, results in one of the best swordfights and quickenings in the series to date thanks to swordmaster Anthony DeLongis, set in a really cool mansion with glass everywhere. We’ll be seeing him in a better episode down the line.

Vendetta

In which Mac’s loser friend turns up and turns out to be a two bit gangster from back in the day. Misadventure involving women ensues. There is a baseball bat fight with mobsters.

This one goes to a lot of places, not many of them good. Benny is supposed to be funny but winds up being annoying after five minutes. The episode veers between comedy and tragedy, with the comic parts being unfunny and the tragic parts being tragic but slightly cliché. Anne’s back, and she and Mac still almost have it but somehow don’t.

The best part of this thing is absolutely the 1930s gangster flashbacks, which have all the things you expect from a 1930s gangster flashback – a club, a sexy singer with a song that will later be covered in the 1990s by U2, dapper men in suits dancing with women in glittering evening gowns, betrayal…

Well, ok. I mean, the song really was covered by U2 in the 90s. It’s better here though.

They Also Serve

This is Season 3’s clip episode, set around a bunch of Watchers playing poker at Joe’s bar.

Like any clip episode, this one doesn’t work particularly well. There’s an Outer Mongolia sequence that’s visually excellent but doesn’t add anything to the plot. More interesting is the modern plot, which plays Mac’s and Richie’s friendship with Joe against a creepy evil team of female Watcher and punk immortal guy.

This bit works better because it raises the sorts of questions the show ought to be raising – if it’s ok for Joe to be feeding Mac info on other immortals, what if some other Watcher does it for her immortal? Where’s the line on that sort of thing?

That said, the intense numbers of flashback flips make this one only marginally watchable.

Blind Faith

Duncan encounters an old enemy from his past, but is he still a bad guy? Or has he redeemed himself?

This one tries to cover redemption, forgiveness, and the complex relationship of immortals over time. Mac’s old enemy used to run drugs, betray his friends, all sorts of unsavory stuff. But after witnessing the murder of a pack of children, he reformed and became a religious leader preaching peace and tolerance and giving alms to the poor. Does that mean he’s atoned? Or does Mac need to put him down for past crimes?

At it’s best, this is the sort of issue that Highlander tackles with the requisite ambiguity and depth, and for the most part this episode pulls off both those things with some pretty cool Spanish Civil War flashbacks thrown in and nary a swordfight to be seen. Good that they mix things up a bit. The main problem with this one is technical – lots of lip synch issues, crappy dialogue, and bad footage. A certain amount of that is to be expected, but this one takes it over the top.

Song of the Executioner

Everyone in Duncan MacLeod’s life is being framed for things they didn’t do, and it’s up to Mac to discover why.

While Season 3 has been pretty decent thus far for the most part, and we’ve had plenty of solid episodes by this point in the series, this episode marks the point where Highlander really takes off and becomes what it will become in the rest of this season and into the next two.

Introducing Kalas as a major recurring villain is something of a new step for the show. Yes, we’ve had Xavier St. Cloud previously, but he never felt like a major villain the way Kalas feels like a major villain, and we’ve had James Horton, but that guy turned into a clown, unlike Kalas. And this guy is great, either the number one best villain on the whole show or somewhere in the top two or three. He’s brutally, sneeringly evil, his plot to frame everyone around Mac just to fuck with him is masterfully evil, and he actually manages to beat him in a fight.

Oh, and we get some major movement in the Anne/Duncan thing, some good Duncan/Richie/Joe stuff, and a really cool monastery flashback and fantastic singing monks. Sometimes you get episodes where everything is just perfect, and this is one of them. The plot’s great, the acting is superb, the sound is good, the camera work fantastic. I have nothing bad to say here. Easily one of the best episodes in the series, possibly the best thus far in the series, and one that only gets better on rewatching it knowing what’s in store for you and the characters.

Star-Crossed

Fitz is back! And he’s in love! And Kalas is back! And…oh. Oh dear.

This is another top notch episode. Dealing with the fallout of Anne and Duncan’s tragic relationship by making light of it with Fitzcairn’s tragic relationship is an idea that probably shouldn’t have worked but did, likely due to the fact that Fitz and Mac are hilarious together. The lighthearted comedy flashbacks to 17th century Italy make for a great palate cleanser after the darkness of the last episode, and watching Adrian Paul and Roger Daltrey chew up the scenery together is one of the great delights of Highlander as a series.

Too, it was a somewhat daring move to kill off a character as beloved as Fitz, but as Bill Panzer correctly noted in the commentary, it was a win-win for them – that kind of death cemented Kalas as the supervillain of the show, and if we’re being honest about it Fitz was most fun in the flashbacks, and now they can bring him in via flashback any time they want. And it’s gonna be great.

We’re on a roll here, and the train is just getting started.

Methos

Kalas, seeking an edge over MacLeod, goes hunting for the head of Methos, the 5,000 year old oldest immortal of them all. Intrigue ensues.

This one has a ton going on. So much so that it feels much, much longer than 50 minutes in a good way. There’s the A plot with Kalas hunting down and killing Watchers to find Methos, who has hidden himself as a Watcher. There’s the B plot with Richie joining a racing team. And then there’s the flashback plot with Duncan and Kalas menacing each other socially in 1920s Paris. And they had fun doing it, too – you can see Adrian Paul clearly having a blast as he doffs his cape and slides around sword fighting in formalwear.

With the possible exception of the racing plot, this is another fantastic episode. And honestly, nothing against the racing plot, it’s just, when your competition for episode time is the world’s awesomest immortal and Duncan and Kalas chewing up the scenery in 1920, what chance do you have?

There’s a lot I could say here, especially about Methos, eldest immortal and regular guy, who will go on to become possibly the most loved character on the show. But more on that in time, I think. For now, suffice it to say that I absolutely love the idea that MacLeod’s introduction to Methos is the immortal legend throwing him a beer.

Another first rate episode.

Take Back the Night

In which the immortal Cierdwyn’s husband is murdered, and Highlander asks the question: how much revenge is too much revenge? Also, is loving these fragile mortals worth it?

This is the first episode in a while that stumbles a bit. The present day plot with Cierdwyn tracking down still more of Highlander’s not very believable street punks is fairly uninteresting, and we know about where it’s going a few minutes in.

More interesting are the flashbacks, of which we get two – Roman Britain with Celts vs. Romans, and 18th century Scotland with Bonnie Prince Charlie. The first is cool because Romans, the second will actually be an important plot point down the road a ways.

All of the B plot material is much more interesting as well. Richie’s brief career as a motorcycle racer ends with his momentary death, closing out that arc and giving him something else to do, and Cierdwyn and Duncan have a heart to heart about Tessa and Anne, and Duncan calls Anne, promising more excitement on that front.

Ultimately this is one of those episodes where you can see the writers moving all the pieces around, but the flashbacks at least make it entertaining.

Testimony

Anne’s back, and it’s time for Duncan to let her in on the secret. Everything is complicated by random evil Russian immortal.

By the standards of Season 1, the A plot here was perfectly serviceable. Duncan faces evil immortal from his past, a fight happens, etc. By Season 3, I expect a bit more, and despite Richie being the one having the fight, I’m not really sure I got it.

I liked the flashback more. They did a great job on recreating the Russian steppe, the Cossacks were cool, and there was a really neat village battle.

Of course, all of this is in service to the Anne/Duncan plotline, and that part I liked and liked a lot. Anne does a pretty good audience stand-in here – we’re used to seeing various immortals’ mortal lovers kind of freak out, but in Mac’s friggin’ rad warehouse of super cool historical stuff and later on the barge Anne was totally psyched about her badass immortal boyfriend and how indescribably cool the whole thing was.

And it’s pretty damn cool, innit?

Mortal Sins

MacLeod fought in the Resistance in World War II. Now an old immortal enemy is coming after his old friends from the war.

Shows with Nazis in them don’t always work – there’s a long history of using them as a sort of comic cannon fodder that we sometimes forget how menacing and just flat out evil they are. And Highlander got it right here. Daimler is creepy, he’s menacing, and I’m absolutely sold that he killed the thousands of people he said he did.

Lots went right here. The A plot mostly served as a vehicle for the flashbacks, which were frankly stunning, better than some movies I’ve seen. The scene with the soldiers searching the church was extraordinarily tense. Highlander has gotten a lot better at doing flashbacks over the past three seasons, and nowhere is it more obvious than here.

Too, it was touching to see Mac with his old Resistance comrades one last time. I’m a little sad they killed off Dalou – I got a smile on my face when Mac told him who he really was, and as we saw in Season 1, he was an interesting character. Wish he would have stayed around longer.

Anne’s time on the show is nearing its end, a somewhat contrived pregnancy subplot the means to drive her off. All things considered, her character arc was done pretty well, and I’m glad they let her go here, with added emphasis on the whole “immortals can’t have children” but to stick the knife in a little. But she needed to go. She’d done what she needed to do, and she wasn’t really meant for a show about immortals and death anyway.

Reasonable Doubt

Duncan’s art dealer friend gets robbed, and it turns out one of the thieves was Maurice’s niece teamed up with an immortal Duncan knew back in the day.

So, coincidence factor here was high. Of all the people in Paris, these two?

That said, there’s a lot going for this episode. This is the point at which I actually started liking Maurice, who gets some actual depth of character beyond comic relief drunk guy. The flashbacks are good, the humor is humorous (the whorehouse is especially great), and the villains villainous. The swordfights were a bit meh, but Mac was supposed to be a badass compared to the two evil guys, and it played well.

With Kagan, Highlander tries to go into the weeds on nature vs. nurture. Would Kagan have turned out to be less scummy if he had had Mac as a teacher rather than Tarsis? Would he have been like Richie? An interesting question, somewhat undermined by his beating the hell out of some kid before his life of crime started.

Finale I

Amanda tries to do Mac a favor for once in her life and breaks Kalas out of prison. Oops.

Man, this episode has everybody. Amanda’s back, yay! Xavier St. Cloud shows up in a gratuitous awesome flashback! Methos! Joe!

And it’s one of the biggest plots of the whole series! Kalas takes his revenge! A woman threatens to expose all of the immortals and Watchers! The stakes are intense!

Most of the things in this episode are properly talked about next episode when they fire, but this is one of the high points in Highlander writing. They’ve figured out the best cast members, they’ve figured out how to do two parters, both of which we’ll get more of in the next two seasons.

Too, when you’re watching for the first time these two episodes are pretty seat of your pants. Are they really going to let the secret out? That would be huge. Even after I’ve seen it five times, it’s still riveting. Even as a setup episode this is one of the very best of the series, part of the payoff to the epic Kalas multiparter.

Finale II

And then the conclusion. Kalas gets a hold of the Watcher database, and he’s going to blow up the entire immortal/Watcher world unless MacLeod gives him his head. Amanda takes her relationship with MacLeod to the next level. Joe’s friendship with Mac is now out to the Watchers. Things are getting serious in Highlanderville.

With Finale I, this is one of the absolute best episodes in the entire series. At it’s best, Highlander is riveting, with flashy action sequences, humor, and huge amounts of style.

And what could be more stylish than Duncan and Amanda doing a tango on top of the Eiffel Tower?

Possibly Mac swordfighting Kalas on top of the Eiffel Tower at night with a quickening that blows out half the lights in Paris.

On top of that, Amanda steps in effortlessly as Duncan’s new kickass femme fatale love interest, immediately making everyone forget that Anne was even on the show. Methos and Joe turn themselves into a buddy cop routine that teams up with Mac and Amanda for the best dynamic this show will have, starting in the next season. In Finale we can see where this series is going, and I for one like it.


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