Highlander: Season 5
By Dwip December 1, 2014, 2:11 am Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

Season 5 is the strange beast of Highlander. On the one hand, herein are the absolute best episodes filmed in six years of the show, all one after the other like, in the best string of creative energy the show ever experienced. The writers experimented with comedy and epic, with plenty of the deep, introspective plots that are the best part of this series.

Unfortunately, they also experimented with some stuff that wasn’t so hot. There’s a lot of magical and mystical elements in Season 5, and as I’ve said previously, most of them don’t work very well in a show like Highlander. That has not changed. Unfortunately, nobody told the writers that. Oh, how I wish they had. Oh how I so very much wish they had.

That makes it hard to evaluate Season 5. On the one hand, the very best of Highlander is in this season, but so too is the worst of Highlander, and all mixed very close together, with lots of hints in the behind the scenes that there was a lot of stress and tension that plays itself out in the episodes more than once.

THERE ARE SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT

Prophecy

When Duncan was thirteen, he got lost in the woods and met a witch. Now she’s back, and she’s got a problem.

There have been various magical elements to Highlander in the past, most notable the Dark Quickening from last season. They’re back here in the form of Cassandra’s prophecy about Roland Kantos fighting Duncan MacLeod. Add some mind control, shapeshifting, and time travel, and you’ve got Prophecy.

There’s a lot wrong here. The return to Scotland is nice but feels derivative of the much better Homeland. And the magic elements are completely off the rails for a show that, while based on an inherently “magical” premise, has always taken pains to establish a certain set of rules even when it plays with those rules. None of the magical elements in this episode fit those rules, and as a result none of them really feel appropriately Highlander. As a result, everything in the episode winds up tainted, although there are a few redeeming bits between Duncan and Cassandra.

The End of Innocence

Man, the homoerotic undertones to this one are epic.

In which Richie’s back, and he’s having some immortal PTSD from the whole Dark Quickening Duncan thing, so now he’s out taking heads like all the other two bit badguy immortals we see every week. Only this time, he took the wrong head and he’s pissed off somebody Mac has a history with. Meanwhile, Joe and Mac are still dealing with their unresolved Watcher tension.

Season 5 is going to take us to grim places, and this is a pretty grim start to the whole thing. Our villains aren’t really villains, they’re just two guys who have been friends, maybe lovers for 900 years until Richie turns up to be the villain. Mac gets a little sympathy for the shitty way he got treated, but he’s in petulant asshole mode for most of the episode, being a dick to Joe and being something of a sidekick villain to Richie after they work out that they don’t need to fight each other.

This one’s pretty deep. There’s a lot in here about growing up, friendship, honor, revenge, all the things that make Highlander go ’round, tinged with a whole lot of tension and darkness. If the commentary is to be believed, there was a fair amount of tension off the set, too that fed into it.

The ending is a little bit too neat – Joe leaves the Watchers then decides to go back, he and Mac and Richie are back to some semblance of normal. I don’t really believe it. But the band’s back together, and Season 5 will be a good one, maybe even the best one.

Manhunt

In which Carl Robinson from Season 2’s Run For Your Life returns. And gets in a duel in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is another one of those episodes that goes a lot of places in 48 minutes. Honor. Revenge. Promises. The absolutely crazy nature of what being an immortal in the antebellum South would be like. The sacrifices we make for our fellow man. This is some really good stuff backed up by incredible actors, cool flashbacks, and interesting moral dilemmas.

Unfortunately, there’s some nonsense in here too. Who has an immortal swordfight in a crowded baseball stadium? Who walks around while wanted for murder wearing a uniform with their name in huge letters on it?

I could quibble more, but I’ll be honest. I really like Carl Robinson, and I wish we’d had more of him.

Glory Days

Wherein Joe’s old flame comes to town while Mac deals with Johnnie K, a punk immortal who was a punk in the 20s and he’s a punk now.

The Duncan half of this episode is kind of fun – he was a bootlegger in the 20s, and it’s good to see the Mac from Season 1 who was flat out amused by half the fights he got into rather than the series Mac of later seasons. We all know how that’s going to end, but it’s amusing while it lasts.

The Joe and Betsy stuff is much deeper. We get into the whole “Joe lost his legs in Vietnam” thing, and how that’s changed him, made him feel supremely inadequate when faced with a woman he was in love with. One gets the feeling Jim Byrnes didn’t have to act very hard for that bit. Tragic, emotional stuff.

Dramatic License

Re: This Intro, dafuq?

In which Highlander shows us a romance novel. It’s witty, it’s sexy, it’s hilariously over the top cliché female of the sort that reminds you the most of the writing staff for this show is female. Cattiness, guys fighting over girls, over the top romantic gestures, lust, the whole thing.

And of course it’s all subtext for the relationship between Duncan and Amanda. Those last couple minutes are worth price of admission.

Money No Object

Some days on television shows, you get the feeling that everyone involved got together, said “eh, screw it” and decided to do something completely off the rails. This is one of those days.

Amanda goes to cash a check and runs into an old immortal acquaintance from the 20s robbing the place complete with Tommy gun and getaway 80s van. Cory Raines is a pain in the ass, annoying as hell, but with his heart in the right place. The male Amanda if you will.

What follows is a series of slapstick. Exploding immortals, running Richie into a canal not once but twice, and an extended series of sepia-toned 1920s Bonnie and Clyde-style flashbacks that end with Duncan following Amanda and Cory around and digging them out of graves after gunfights with the police. Somewhere in there is some kind of modern day plot with a crime boss, but it’s so irrelevant I stopped paying attention.

None of this makes any damned sense, mind you, but it sure is fun.

Haunted

In which there is an immortal who believes in soul transference and ghosts and mysticism.

This one goes pretty strange pretty fast. It opens like a B ghost movie, and that’s pretty much what we get, except with a twisted love and friendship plot that would have been a lot more interesting without the bad CGI ghosts and Mac talking to thin air to talk the crazy lady down from the edge.

Actually a lot going on with Duncan and Richie in this one, but man, the ghosts were trying.

Little Tin God

The temptation as an immortal, especially an immortal from days of yore, must have been to set yourself up as a god. The conquistadors flirted heavily with it, and here Larca goes full out and becomes the god king of a remote tribe for hundreds of years. Until Mac finds him. And then Larca wants his revenge. So he poses as…God.

There’s a lot in here about faith and superstition and belief. There’s also some great acting, some good characters (I do like Reverend Bell), and a Heart of Darkness style flashback to 19th century Peru. As the commentary notes, this could have been a movie, and maybe it should have at least been a two-parter. Then again, we’ve got an even better one coming.

The Messenger

War. War never changes.

In this one we get Ron Perlman as a fake Methos preaching a message of peace. Richie buys it. Things happen.

Christ, what a letdown this one is, especially when compared to Little Tin God. There are a lot of good ideas here executed badly. A fake Methos would have been better if it wasn’t so obvious our guy was the real one. Richie buying the peace and love line was frankly completely unbelievable and destroyed the entire episode. The immortal game and peace, living a lie to do good, these would have been great concepts except they’re mostly explored in rather dull talky bits one after the next that sap all the energy out of the actors. The villain was exceptionally boring except in the flashback and mostly just walked around in a safari jacket looking like a tool.

The saving grace of this one is a really good Civil War flashback to Andersonville prison. And it really is a good flashback. They’ve gotten good at them over the years, but it’s not enough to save this one from terminal mediocrity.

The Valkyrie

In which Duncan MacLeod and friends join up with Claus von Stauffenberg to kill Hitler. Spoiler alert. They don’t. Mac got over it. His friend Ingrid did not, and now she’s trying to kill a white supremacist political leader.

This is a powerful, powerful episode, one of the best in all of Highlander, which considering the rest of Season 5 and the two episodes right after it is saying something. A lot of shows like to play the Hitler card. Not all of them do it well. This one does, with an added side of that age old moral dilemma – is it better to kill a man or ten men or a hundred men if you can save a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand down the road? When asked in the context of Hitler it’s one of the all time great questions of history, and Highlander handles it well.

This is one of those times when absolutely everything just works – the sets are great, the writing is great, and every actor involved absolutely kills it, from the darkly noir detective bits to Germany in the 30s to the white power guy. For once the CGI people give us a great performance with 90s tech, laying images from Nazi propaganda into the quickening.

This is one of the highlights of Highlander right here.

Comes A Horseman

Duncan and Methos meet a pair of immortals, and everything in the world goes sideways.

There are certain episodes in any show that are just so astonishingly perfect that it’s actually hard to talk about them except to heap praise. The mid-season two parters are usually good, but Comes a Horseman and Revalations 6:8 are the two greatest episodes in all six years of Highlander, the sort of thing that as David Abramowitz says could be turned into a truly spectacular movie given a real budget.

First, we have an audacious idea. What if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were a group of four immortals? What if Methos was one of them? How crazy does that sound, yes, but it actually works. Methos is after all 5,000 years old, with so many holes in his backstory, why couldn’t he be? And from the weight of that flows everything else, most notably the single greatest speech in all of Highlander given by Methos to MacLeod halfway in. “The answer is yes. Oh yes.”

I could keep going here. The script is amazing. The actors are uniformly up to the job. We get two separate flashbacks to the bronze age and the old west, complete with a gunfight that rivals the epic showdown at the OK Corral from Tombstone, plus added swordfight. We get another four-participant swordfight with Methos lobbing Molotov cocktails.

The world of Highlander just got shook up in a big way, and it’s not over yet.

Revelation 6:8

And the finale. Duncan MacLeod takes on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for the fate of the world. Highlander will never be bigger than this.

Again, what do you say? This could have been a hell of a movie. It probably should have been the season or the series finale. Lots of intrigue – what side is Methos really on? Does Methos even know? And lots of action, culminating in a giant double quickening. The sets were great, the acting was great, the script was great, and the only bad thing I can say is that maybe the final fight was a bit too dark, as I couldn’t make out half of it.

All in all, though, a hell of a ride.

Incidentally, The Valkyrie, Comes a Horseman, and Revelation 6:8 are all on the same disc in the DVD set, which makes this probably the best disc in the entire series. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

The Ransom of Richard Redstone

Ryan. Richie Ryan.

In which Highlander attempts to spoof James Bond and comes up very short. For some reason Richie steals a car and goes on a casino joyride, only to get kidnapped by a beautiful French girl with a chateau and some debt.

For a comedy episode coming straight after the biggest two parter in the series, this thing is a drag. It’s convoluted, unfunny in the most part, with half-assed acting the whole way through. The commentary gives some reasons why – everyone was exhausted, then they switched continents, moved three cities in the course of the episode, then tried to play an American comedy with Europeans.

Almost none of it works, although casino Richie and playacting MacLeod are slightly amusing. I checked out as I usually do about the 20 minute mark.

Duende

MacLeod learns to dance. And to swordfight.

In this one, Highlander takes us to Spain and gives us a horribly overwrought but wildly dramatic tale of blood feud, revenge, and passion. This is another of Season 5’s best, wrapped around some superb dancing and what may well be the best duel of the entire series, an artistic display based on Spanish dueling that they brought back swordmaster Anthony DeLongis (late of Season 3’s much inferior Blackmail) back to do it. It’s all very slick and stylized, and I dig it. One of the best parts of Highlander is when it does something a bit different, and this is one of those moments.

The Stone of Scone

“Hey guys! I’ve got an idea! We’ll do an episode entirely in flashback! And Mac, Fitz, and Amanda will steal the Stone of Scone! And we’ll frame it all around golf games over 200 years! And the 1950s! It’ll be brilliant!”

And it was. If this isn’t the best Highlander comedy episode, it’s sure close. And it’s great to have Fitz back. Vintage newsreels, vamping, drunken bedroom antics, and the cow. Comedy so rarely works for me, but for some reason, Highlander really gets it.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

The Season 5 clip show goes to some surprising places. Duncan MacLeod had a dark time after Culloden, and so did everybody else. And now an immortal is bringing back a grudge from the old days.

Duncan MacLeod has passed judgment on a lot of people over the course of this series. Most of them pretty bad, some of them less so. And now here comes an immortal passing judgment on him. Mac killed a friend of Keane’s. And he killed Sean Burns, too. And now Keane’s throwing it back at Mac. And he’s got a point – from his perspective, Mac is the bad guy. Amanda and Methos try to persuade Keane he’s a good guy, but it’s hard to get there from where he’s at.

This is ultimately pretty hard hitting. Yeah, Mac is the hero of our show. We love the guy, five seasons in. But Keane’s got a point, you know? There’s been some missteps in there, too.

As an aside, the commentary features the absolute funniest blooper reel in the entire show.

The Modern Prometheus

In which we follow Lord Byron as an immortal. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll over centuries, as apparently Byron was wont to do.

I’ve never entirely liked this one, I admit. I always felt it wandered a bit aimlessly, was maybe a bit too by the numbers, never really engaged me. And the first two of those are true enough I suppose, but this time I came at it fresh, and I think I kinda dig it, and I think maybe it’s pretty deep, more than I necessarily understand. Lots in there about decadence and living on the edge and about living forever and having forever be a very very empty place. Oh, and the Methos flashback is incredible, never mind all the rock video vampire Lestat stuff and the random appearance by a goat.

Archangel

And here we are, 18 short episodes later, at the end of Season 5. Duncan MacLeod has already faced down Adolf Hitler and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse this season, so why not have him go whole hog and take on Ahriman, the Zoroastrian version of Satan in a battle for all of humanity?

I think DVD Verdict said it best: I am uncertain why this idea seemed like a good one to anyone involved. None of Highlander’s magic episodes were well-received, none of them fit in with the mythos. Highlander just isn’t that kind of show.

As a result, none of this works. Duncan suddenly having evil visions is just nonsensical and weird. A whole episode of them stops being weird and just becomes boring. And then, at the end of things they suddenly kill Richie out of nowhere.

I see what they were trying to do. Climactic battle of good and evil! Death of a main character to hit home with the audience about how anyone can die! Madness makes us doubt the hero and makes him question everything! We’ve seen this playbook before, but rarely has it been so ineffective as in Archangel. David Abramowitz tries to talk in the commentary about where they actually wanted the show to go in Season 6, but frankly the world of darkness he’s talking about sounds even worse than what they attempted here. The series that gave us Comes a Horseman, Revelation 6:8, and many other great episodes is now dead. We will not see it again. I hate that, and I hate that one of my favorite seasons of one of my favorite shows fumbled the ball so hard here at the end, but this may be the worst episode of Highlander. I wish it didn’t exist.

Of course, we haven’t made it to Season 6 yet, so “worst” is going to get some competition.


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