Highlander: The Series Retrospective: Season 2

Before I start this one, I’d like to offer a defense of Highlander:Endgame. Don’t worry, it’s relevant to this season’s recap/review. See, in the movie, Duncan can tell that his fiance will be an Immortal if she’s violently killed. This confused some fans, however, he shows this ability with several Immortals in the series, including Alfred Cahill, Michelle Webster, Claudia Jardine, and Richie Ryan. With Cahill, we’re shown that Duncan feels an actual Buzz before Cahill’s first death. Duncan told Michelle, who he knew when she was a child, that he’d known from the first time he met her that she’d become Immortal if she died violently. With Richie, both Duncan and Connor MacLeod show hints of knowing he’s a pre-Immortal when they meet him.

The Story:

The first thing you’ll notice about this season is, the opening narration, partly because it’s the first thing shown in every episode, and partly because it’s completely different from last seasons’ opening narrations. The presence of these narrations was actually a surprise to me, since Space (Canada’s version of Sci-Fi/SyFy) removed them from their repeats of Highlander. The first season had two different openings, both narrated by Adrian Paul, and neither were engaging. This season, and every other afterwards, the opening narration is done by Canadian/American actor and blues musician Jim Byrnes (Joe Dawson) and it actually draws the viewer into the series much more than the previous season’s bored-sounding narration. And with that, I’ve dedicated more words to an old television series’ opening narration than any sane person would.

Unlike last season, this one has several episodes that are important to the overall story. It also had a different shooting arrangement, meaning that most of the episodes were set in Seacouver, not Paris. The season starts with Duncan, Tessa and Richie going back to Seacouver to find out more about the people Duncan encountered at the end of last season. His search leads him to Joe Dawson, played by Jim Byrnes. Joe eventually informs Duncan of the Watchers, a group of mortals who know about Immortals, who document their struggle. Long story short, some of the Watchers, led by Joe’s brother-in-law, James Horton, have gone rogue and are hunting down Immortals. These rogue Watchers are called the Hunters. The first episode ends with Horton shooting Duncan and Duncan stabbing Horton.

The next two episodes are villain-of-the-week style episodes, though they’re done rather well. We’re introduced to Charlie, one of three “main characters” in this Canadian series who’s actually played by a Canadian actor (Philip Akin, who’s Canadian by way of Jamaica). In episode 4, The Darkness, things change dramatically. It’s a good episode, all in all, started by a creative title sequence and marked by the only good example of an anti-climactic death I can think of.
See, in real life, Alexandra Vandernoot wanted to go back to Belgium for personal reasons. She enjoyed working on the show but wanted to spend more time with her family, so Tessa had to be killed off. Thus, after Duncan defeated the Hunter who kidnapped Tessa, he went back into the house to look for clues as to where the other Hunters are, a random mugger kills both Tessa and Richie. It’s unexpected, sets up a lot of future drama, and helps Richie’s character become more interesting, overall.

However, the very next episode, Eye For An Eye, Duncan beds an Immortal woman, Annie Devlin: an IRA terrorist and former lover of his who had just lost her mortal husband. While it was loveless sex, an effort to stop her from killing Richie, it still sort of strikes me as wrong. After all, the previous episode had Duncan claiming he’d never been married and that he loved Tessa more than any other woman in his 400 years, yet shortly after that he’s boinking another woman. In fact, he gets around a lot after Tessa dies: aside from Annie, he scores with two other Immortals (Nefertiri and, in two separate episodes, Amanda), and two mortals (though one of them does look a lot like Tessa, to be fair) and almost gets it on with a third. I get that Duncan is probably used to loved ones dying, and he always had a strong libido, but this is a bit off-putting, especially since Tessa was so awesome and had such strong chemistry with Duncan.

Anyway, subsequent episodes have Duncan moving out of the antique store apartment and into an apartment above Charlie’s dojo, which Duncan bought. If the dojo looks familiar, that’s because it was the same set used in Highlander 3, which was shot around the same time this season was. Richie ends up taking his first head (a bounty hunter named Mako, and yes, the actual actor named Mako appeared in Highlander 3 around the time this season was shot.) He did so to save a wanted felon, which Duncan disapproves of. Apparently, boning a hot terrorist after you lost the love of your life is fine, but defending a woman who killed her abusive husband is wrong. I don’t mind the hypocrisy, it adds to Duncan’s moral ambiguity, and I prefer heroes with a degree of grey morality. This episode marks a temporary end of Richie’s time on the show, though he returns near the end of the season.

The two-part story Unholy Alliance, the first two Highlander episodes I ever saw, happen somewhere in the middle of the season. In it, Xavier St. Cloud forms an alliance that is less than holy with James Horton, who it turns out is alive. Both have personal vendettas against Duncan MacLeod, since he took St. Cloud’s hand and got Horton kicked out of the Watchers. During the course of this story, Charlie is shot by Horton and hospitalized, Duncan chases St. Cloud and Horton to Paris, finishes off St. Cloud and watches Horton get shot by Joe. He stays in Paris, presumably to help get over Tessa’s death by staying in the barge he lived in with her, in the city where he met her.

The rest of the series is mostly villain-of-the-week stuff, though it does advance the recurring characters more than last seasons’ villain-of-the-week episodes. We see another side (metaphorically) of Amanda in Legacy, Richie comes back a bit more world-weary and mature in Prodigal Son, and Duncan’s morality and honour is challenged in Warmonger (where he’s forced to choose between a sacred vow he made and breaking that vow to stop an unnecessary war) and Pharaoh’s Daughter (where he has to choose between his feelings for Nefertiri and his instinctual loathing of her actions).

The season finale is a 2 part story, Counterfeit, that’s actually more of a movie than anything else. In it, James Horton (who survived the gunshot wound in Unholy Alliance) delves into cartoon villainy by giving a woman named Lisa plastic surgery to look like Tessa, then sending her to get close to Duncan so he can kill her. It’s Alexandra Vandernoot’s last appearance in the show, aside from flashbacks and a short part in the series finale. It ends with Horton finally being actually killed for real, and Duncan getting over Tessa, to the point that he can love again (in the non-physical sense of the word).

Characters:

This season introduced us to Charlie DeSalvo, the half black, half Italian former Navy SEAL who owns a dojo. He’s a cool cat, but unfortunately, Duncan is better than him at everything, which diminishes his worth as a character somewhat. He’s still a pretty decent character. We also meet Joe Dawson, one of the most popular characters in the series. Ask any number of fans who their favourite character is, and it’ll probably be close to an even split between Joe, Methos and Duncan, with Joe and Methos being a bit more popular than Duncan. It’s not hard to see why. Joe is a naturally likable, charismatic sort, and he oozes trustworthiness. With a character like this, who meets Duncan under less-than-ideal circumstances but earns his trust, you have to make the audience like him, else it will be unbelievable, so it’s very important that they made Joe this likable. The only other real recurring character is Maurice, Duncan’s stereotypically French friend, who is mildly amusing at best, irritating at worse, and easy to ignore either way.

The guest stars are kind of…less famous than last season. The most famous is probably former pro-wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, which means that there’s a scene where a Canadian most known for playing a violent Scot battles a half-Italian Englishman most known for playing a violent Scot. We do have one episode guest starring controversial former porn star Traci Lords, who’s the other “big” name amongst guest stars this season (do NOT search for her unless you have Safe Search on. She lied about her age to the producers, and so most of her pornographic work was done while she was legally a child. Those movies were widely distributed before the landmark Supreme Court case banned them, and so they may turn up in any image searches of her).

There are also a handful of stars of Canadian TV, including one of the stars of popular teen drama Catwalk (aka that show Neve Campbell was in before Party of Five), Geraint Wyn Davies of Forever Knight, and Gabrielle Miller and Deana Milligan of Canada’s biggest sitcom ever, Corner Gas. (interesting parallels: Miller starred in Corner Gas as Laci, the beautiful but naive cafe owner, and in Epitaph for Tommy she cameod in a flashback as Bess, a beautiful, naive girl who cheats on her husband with Duncan. Milligan cameos in CG as youthful dumbass Hank’s girlfriend with a dark secret, and cameos in Under Colour of Authority as youthful dumbass Richie’s girlfriend with a dark secret) There’s also a guest appearance from musician and soap opera star Nia Peeples, and one from Sheena Easton, a one hit wonder most known for this song, as well as from minor TV stars Dustin Nguyen and Bruce Weitz. No, I didn’t know who anyone from that last sentence was either.

There are only a few famous historical characters who are revealed to be Immortals throughout the series, and the first one shows up this season. Marc Antony, famous for loving Cleopatra, is shown as a museum curator. It’s great to see that, while some Immortals do greatly influence history (including Duncan himself) only a handful actually make history. A series with less restraint would have Abe Lincoln, William Shakespeare and Charlemagne all be Immortals and good buddies with Duncan, which would just be silly.

The Good:

As previously mentioned, Joe and Charlie are great additions to the cast. Amanda’s character becomes more sympathetic, to the point where we can see a reason why Duncan would fall for her (aside from her beauty, of course). James Horton and Xavier St. Cloud return, and they are always fun to watch. Even though Horton’s last scheme to kill Duncan is ludicrous, it’s still interesting, and not in a “so-bad-it’s-good” way. Even Richie grew from the unlikable snot-nosed kid of the first episode to a full on strong character. Most importantly, all the recurring characters haveĀ  great chemistry with each other, even Maurice.

The writing is also greatly improved this season, as is evidenced by the more in depth story and continuity. It’s more like a TV show this season, while it still retains its cinematic edge. The few tearjerker moments, such as those found in Studies in Light and Legacy, actually come close to actually, uh, jerking tears. The funny moments are funnier, too (such as the moment when the villain is staked in The Vampire).

The fight scenes are more engaging, as Adrian Paul got much better with a sword, and that makes his opponents seem better. The flashbacks are better, the direction is better, the new opening narration is better, food tastes better after every episode, and watching this series made my girlfriend’s breasts 1 size bigger. In fact, almost everything about this season than last. Almost.

The Bad:

Oi vey, the way they handled Tessa’s departure was not very well at all. Having Duncan become a goddamned Casanova after her death really stings given the chemistry he and Tessa had. It could have been a touching death, but they just had to have those sex scenes…

Speaking of that, Annie Devlin, while played rather well by Sheena Easton, was an IRA terrorist. Given that the Troubles are over and the IRA is all but gone, this could alienate younger viewers whose conception of terrorism was formed by 9/11. However, the rest of the series is, appropriately enough, timeless, so it isn’t too big a deal.

Other than that, there weren’t any real negatives aside from the odd “off episode” and a few episodes having an over-reliance on flashbacks from previous episodes (for example, the entire Caleb Cole vs. Duncan MacLeod fight, the fight between Duncan and the Hunters AND several previously-shown scenes with Darius are shown in the season premiere).

The Ugly:

To me, the Hunters are a lot like the anti-Mutant humans in X-Men:Portrayed as villains, but when you actually think about it, they have a very good point. After all, it’s strongly implied that if an evil Immortal wins, that Immortal will rule the world forever. Even if that wasn’t the case, this is a group of people who gain more power as they take more heads to the point of being above human, who can’t die by natural means, and have been shown to be capable of great damage. One Immortal this series is even shown trying to start a war, with the aim to cause worldwide anarchy! And the fabled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were Immortals who ravaged entire villages on their own.

Granted, Horton is a pretty bad person, driven to extreme measures by the horrors he witnessed while chronicling the life of the Kurgan, but he’s still right to at least want to hunt down some of the Immortals. Even Joe Dawson realizes that some Immortals need to be eliminated. With that in mind…Joe’s the only Watcher we’ve met thus far that isn’t a Hunter, and the Watchers claim to not interfere, yet Joe blatantly asks Duncan to help eliminate “bad” Immortals more than once this season. What gives?

Also, while historical inaccuracy is a given in a series where some people are Immortal, there is a real inaccuracy in Pharaoh’s Daughter. While the episode is still good, it’s been established that Immortals can’t re-grow body parts. Nefertiri was mummified, meaning she had her heart, liver, brain and lungs taken out, yet she was able to function as if she has all those parts. While I shouldn’t over-think this, it does clash with the show’s previously established mythology. Also, uh, she’s an Ancient Egyptian yet she spoke perfect English, which is weird. Some pointed out that she should suffer muscle atrophy, but Immortals don’t get that, so that’s fine, but the other points are a bit off-putting.

Worst Episode:

None of the episodes of this season are actually “bad” but The Zone comes pretty close. It’s a bland episode with a bland villain with unintelligible goals. Seems more like a filler episode than anything.

Top 5 Episodes:

#5: Epitaph For Tommy (if nothing else, for Roddy Piper’s excellent performance)

#4: The VampireĀ (for the aforementioned staking scene, and a brilliant concept:an Immortal killing for financial gain, and disguising his kills as a vampire’s)

#3: Legacy (Amanda’s more human side shows here, giving her more emotional depth, and Luther is pretty damn awesome. I actually played Luther in an online tabletop RPG, pretending he survived this episode and reformed. Also, the Black Death scene stands out as one of the best of the already excellent “flashback” scenes)

#2: Unholy Alliance (I count the two episodes as one for the purposes of this list. Xavier St. Cloud hiring assassins to gun down Immortals then taking their heads, James Horton, Joe and Duncan fighting then making up…what’s not to love?)

#1: Studies In Light (the villain being a bit whiny at times did almost cost this the #1 spot, but the scenes with Duncan and his old mortal flame, both in the past and the present, are too good to not reward with the top spot. This is a beautiful exploration of romantic relationships between Immortals and mortals. I seriously think Adrian Paul deserved an Emmy nomination for the last hospital scene…very moving.)

Best Quickening:

Mako’s Quickening at the hands of Richie in Under Colour Of Authority for just going all out, more so than any other Quickening this season.

Final Verdict:

It was a tough choice between giving this season an 8 and giving it a 9, but I finally decided this deserved a 9/10, despite the few flaws I listed above.

You can watch season 2 legally here, or on Hulu or iTunes.

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