So, this is the season where Highlander apparently went downhill, according to most fans. But does it deserve its bad reputation?
This starts with Prophecy, where Tracey Scoggins of Babylon Five fame (I guess…I never watched the show) plays Cassandra the Immortal witch/prophetess. She tells Duncan MacLeod about a prophecy where he defeats a great evil. While the episode itself was good, the payoff of that prophecy was…not. Anyway, after that, we find the only good thing to come from the Dark Quickening storyline. See, in the episode Something Wicked, Duncan MacLeod tried to kill Richie Ryan, who disappeared afterwards. In The End of Innocence, it’s revealed he went on the road and killed a bunch of Immortals, preparing for the day when he’d have to face Duncan again. In this episode, it catches up with him. An Immortal that might even be better than either of the MacLeods, Haresh Clay, is after Richie. He also once shamed Duncan, so we get a great view of his vulnerability before the final battle of the episode. There are a few more villain of the week episodes with a more comedic bent than previously. Generally, they do it well. I find Dramatic Licence (where an author finds out some of Duncan’s story and turns it into a bestseller) and Money No Object (about a smooth talking bank robber who was one of Amanda’s lovers in the 1920s) to be the funniest episodes of the series. The serious episodes were also great, with stand-outs including Little Tin God, Valkyrie and The Messenger, where Ron Perlman plays a pacifistic Methos impersonator. Really, for most of the first half of the season, we don’t see any of Methos, but they quickly make up for that with Comes A Horseman and Revelation 6:8. In it, we discover that the Four Horsemen were real, and Methos was Death. It drives a wedge between Duncan and Methos, especially when Cassandra tells Duncan what her experience with the Horsemen was. Of course, it ends with them moving past it, their friendship stronger as a result of the adversity.
It’s been a general rule that the “Paris” halves of most seasons are worse than the “Seacouver” ones. This definitely holds true here. Most of it is unmemorable attempts at comedy or is just poorly acted and written. There are some alright episodes, though, like The Stone of Scone featuring the awesome Hugh Fitzcairn (in a flashback). Then…Archangel. The episode where Duncan MacLeod is chosen to fight a great evil named Ahriman. Ahriman tries to drive Duncan crazy, and eventually masks himself as Richie Ryan. Because of this, when the real Richie comes by, Duncan beheads him. It ends with Methos, Joe and Duncan all being sad. Methos doesn’t, like, kill Duncan for murdering their friend. They just stay there and look sad. And that’s the end of the season.
The show-runners knew their days were numbered if they didn’t pull out something big this season, so we had a bunch of well known actors guest-starring. In addition to Roger Daltrey coming back as Hugh Fitzcairn, we had Tracy Scoggins from a show about the ancient biblical city of Babylon set in the year 5 CE , Ron Perlman, and Eric McCormack (Will from Will & Grace). Aside from their characters, there were only a few important ones introduced this season. The other three Horsemen (especially Kronos) are important to the overall story of Duncan MacLeod, and are quite entertaining. Ahriman, however…well, we’re barely introduced to the demon who would become the main antagonist of Season 6. He may well be part of Duncan’s imagination.
There isn’t an awful lot of real character development this season, compared to others. While Richie is shown to be fully a man now, it’s a development that happened off screen between the middle of Season 4 and the beginning of Season 5. Duncan only has a couple of episodes where any real growth is apparent, particularly Valkyrie, where he has to make a judgement call that would severely test even the strongest moral codes. The only major character with a significant amount of growth this season is Methos. While he did affirm that his main goal is survival, he did develop a real conscience this season. In previous seasons, we saw him eventually acting in a moral way at his own expense, but in this one, he actually worked against his brethren because what they were planning was simply wrong. It was exceptionally well handled. Though one would assume a line like “I killed Silas! I LIKED Silas!” would be Narmy, but I assure you, in the moment, you really feel his pain.
Religion In Highlander
Here’s where I get in trouble. See, in my regular blog, I comment on religion from an atheistic perspective, and that can offend people. I did sort of pledge to avoid religion and politics here, where possible, but it’s basically impossible to avoid it when talking about this season. One of the best episodes of this season, Little Tin God, directly addresses the idea of religion in this universe more so than any other episode in the series, as well as directly criticizing the abuses of organized religion. The two best episodes of this season, Comes A Horseman and Revelation 6:8, do continue the theme of religion in the Highlander universe, indirectly. The fact is, despite the fact that the main character is a devout Catholic (who only goes to mass or confession about once in the entire series), in this universe, Christianity is almost certainly not true. There is some sort of god and afterlife, as shown at the end of Season Six, but there is much reason to believe that all surviving religions in this universe are false, formed by megalomaniacal or delusional Immortals. This is quite a brave stance to take, especially for the time.
In Little Tin God, Gavriel Larca finds pre-Immortals, kills them, and then when they revive, he tells them he’s god and that he chose them for a holy war. In a flashback, he convinced a tribe of South American natives that he was a god. The action focuses mostly on a highly religious follower of Larca’s, Derek Worth, and his pastor. When Derek’s pastor finds out about Immortals, his immediate reaction is to angrily ask if everything he’s ever believed is a lie. Duncan assures him that there is a god, however, at the end, Joe questions whether other influential prophets were Immortals. Duncan quickly says that that is impossible. Joe asks how he knows, and all Duncan can say (with a pained look on his face) is “faith”. The poor guy desperately needs his religion, but, when faced with something that should give him serious doubts, he simply shrugs it off. This is not explicitly brought up in the Horsemen arc, however, it is pointed out that the Four Horsemen (“from the bible” as Joe puts it) are Immortals, and Duncan has befriended one of them. In the bible, those characters are harbingers of the end times, and yet reality shows that they actually aren’t. In other words, an aspect of Duncan’s faith is explicitly disproven in front of his eyes, yet he still believes. Depending on how friendly you are to religious belief, you could either call that true devotion or idiocy.
It should be noted that there are some positive examples of religion in the series. Both Kirin and Darius, after reforming, become ministers, and the very fact that Holy Ground is a refuge shows that spirituality is important in this world. However, the fact remains that this series does seem to have a low view of our real-world organized religions.
It’s actually very easy to point out the good and the bad of this season. The first twelve episodes are amongst the best the series has had thus far. Money No Object, despite being somewhat cartoony, is the most funny episode the series produced, and Dramatic License is a close second. Valkyrie is perhaps the toughest moral dilemma in a series full of them, Little Tin God is pure brilliance all throughout. The Messenger had Ron Perlman (who played Conan’s dad in the recent Conan the Barbarian movie) hitting a homerun as a pacifistic fake Methos, and Haunted really adds to the mythology of the world the series is set in. And of course, the two-part Horsemen storyline is probably the best story the series produced. Even the weakest early season episode, Prophecy, was up to the high standards previous seasons had set. Honestly, while watching those first twelve episodes I was willing to rank this season above my beloved third season.
It seems like, after Revelation 6:8, the producers said “well, we’ll never produce anything that good again, might as well just quit trying,” then remembered they had to finish the season, and just half-assed it the rest of the way. Word of God says they had basically run out of ideas at that point, but I just think they stopped caring. I mean, The Ransom of Richard Redstone introduced a perfectly serviceable new status quo, and a new lady for Richie that seemed to have more natural chemistry with him than any other lady he’d fallen for, and aside from Richie re-using the Richard Redstone alias, it was ignored later on. Duende, an episode about flamenco dancers, made me so apathetic it was pathetic. The Modern Prometheus was just a sad excuse to make a famous historical figure (Lord Byron) into an (insufferably nihilistic) Immortal in order to pull in some ratings. It also has the worst guest actors of the entire series, bar none, and yes I’m counting the much loathed sixth season here. And, of course, Archangel, the only episode thus far to rival the Dark Quickening storyline…ugh. Just awful. Yes, I understand they needed to do something about Stan Kirsch looking his age (thirty) while playing a nineteen year old who can’t age, but why did they kill him that way? Why did they have to make that Ahriman thing up at all? Why? They just didn’t care and the were desperate to get the series renewed. That they followed up such brilliance with such crap is really quite tragic.
The Stone of Scone, the best episode of the latter half of the season, was based in part on a real artifact and a real historical event that happened around this artifact on Christmas Day, 1950. It also had Hugh Fitzcairn and Amanda, was 100% flashbacks and was quite humourous. However, it had Duncan act so out of character that it made me wonder if Adrian Paul was replaced by a defective Life Model Decoy or something during parts of this episode. Basically, in order to get him and his friends out of trouble for the (very real) crime of stealing the Stone of Scone, he makes a replica of the Stone to give back to England and pins the crime on innocent, mortal college students. This is, and I cannot emphasize this enough, NOT something Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod would ever do. Ever. Any time he does something awful to a mortal, it is always for a very good reason, like “he killed a bunch of innocent people” or something along those lines, not “we need someone to take the blame for my crime.” You know who would do that? Amanda. You know who else would do that? Hugh Fitzcairn. Both those characters are in this episode, so why didn’t they do it? Hell, Fitz could have spun it as paying a debt to Duncan, since it was established early on that he owed him. As it turns out, none of the students were prosecuted, since the stone was returned and repaired, but Duncan had no way of knowing that. Having the one character who would NOT pin his crimes on a group of innocents do just that is beyond stupid.
In case you skipped right down to here, Archangel is the worst episode of this season. Easily.
5: Money No Object. Almost a tie with Dramatic License, but this is the funnier episode.
4: Valkyrie, which had a great Hitler breakdown that predates that other Hitler breakdown scene by a decade or so. Also, a very emotional climax and an excellent moral dilemma. The only puzzling part is that there were actual newsreel clips of Hitler speaking in public as well as an actor playing Hitler, rather than the actor playing Hitler in the newsreel clips, but it’s understandable, really.
3: Little Tin God, because the villain was devious and a real threat to MacLeod, and because it was a great commentary on how easily organized religion is used for nefarious purposes. Also, the actor who played Derek here really should be commended.
2: Revelation 6:8.
1: Comes A Horseman. Most put these episodes in the opposite order, but while I believe that the payoff of Revelation 6:8 was excellent, Methos’ chilling speech at the end of Comes A Horseman and Duncan’s reaction seals the deal for me.
This season had some creative Quickening scenes, like the flashback-laden Quickening in Valkyrie, the cool spiral-y double Quickening in Revelation 6:8, and the cool rockstar-esque Quickening when Duncan kills Lord Byron in The Modern Prometheus. Even the Quickening in Archangel was better than the Quickenings of most other seasons (I swear, that’s the only good thing I can say about that episode). But what takes the cake is the one in Little Tin God, where the icon of the god Larca pretended to be appeared above Duncan’s head, then got burned into the ground. It was a great sight to behold.
What the hell happened? Seriously. This is like two different seasons of two different TV shows. One is a great season of a great series like Highlander, the other is like…what’s an awful show the kids these days will know? Whatever, the final third of this season is fucking awful. Averaging the gold of the first two thirds of the season with the third, I give this season 7/10. I was going to give it a 6, but the first 12 episodes are just that good, man.
You can watch this season on Hulu or iTunes, or through this link.