Highlander: Season 6 Retrospective

Highlander fans don’t agree on many things, but one thing we can all agree on is that the first movie was the best one. Another thing we can agree on is that Adrian Paul looked better with long hair and is a better sword fighter than Christopher Lambert. Another one is that the video game based on the animated series was a waste of time, and so was Highlander:The Raven. OK, I guess we do agree on a lot of things, but one of those things we agree most strongly on is that season six of the live action series was the worst. But does it deserve its poor reputation?

The Story

This season starts by wrapping up the Ahriman story, which began with season five’s Archangel, and concludes with season six’s Avatar and Armageddon. Hey, I just noticed they all have A names. How clever. Anyway, in Avatar, we find out that Duncan retreated to a monastery somewhere to mourn Richie and meditate. He cut his hair during this time as part of a mourning ritual, which is a bit of brilliance, really: many Native American cultures do just that, including the Sioux, and MacLeod was adopted into the Sioux for some time. After returning to Paris, he meets with Joe, who is skeptical of Ahriman’s existence. Of course, Ahriman is real, and appearing to Duncan (and later, to Joe) in the guise of the long-dead James Horton. In Armageddon, Duncan defeats him with inner peace. Yeah. More on that later.

After that, it’s a bunch of villain-of-the-week style episodes. Some are quite similar to regular, older Highlander episodes, such as Diplomatic Immunity and Black Tower, but are Poorly Disguised Pilots, or at least they seem like it. The show’s creators have said that only two episodes (Deadly Exposure and Two Of Hearts) were officially “test pilots”, but fans insist that every episode with a new female Immortal was meant as a pilot for a new spinoff. I’d say that the Methos and Joe episode Indiscretions was probably meant as a pilot for a show starring those characters, which I’d wholeheartedly endorse. Either way, they were weren’t especially important to the story of Duncan MacLeod, especially given how little he’s in the episodes. In fact, there are two episodes which don’t include Duncan at all, with one (Two Of Hearts) that doesn’t have any of the series’ principle characters at all.

The whole season, and the series, wraps¬† up with the episodes To Be and Not To Be, which were an homage of sorts to It’s A Wonderful Life. This is not unprecedented, as Highlander has done homages to movies such as Of Mice And Men, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Die Hard. It all ends with a decapitation and a moving montage that shows many of the shows highlights. A fitting end to the series.

Characters

Let’s get one thing straight: Most of these episodes are less “Highlander” and more “The Duncan MacLeod Show”. Even though Jim Byrne (Joe Dawson) Elizabeth Gracen (Amanda) and Peter Wingfield (Methos) were credited in the show’s opening, they were absent for most of this season’s thirteen episodes. Joe was in the first two and the last three episodes, Methos was in all of the last three, and Amanda was practically a cameo in the two episodes she did appear in. Hell, Hugh Fitzcairn was around more often than both Amanda and Methos, despite Roger Daltrey having a career outside Highlander*. That isn’t to say that the characters didn’t develop. We found out Joe had a daughter in Indiscretions, and we saw him come to accept that role, albeit as a father to a grown woman. And Duncan…got a haircut (which Adrian Paul apparently needed to get rid of damaged hair to avoid baldness or something) and found inner peace, I guess.

Aside from our four returning characters and Hugh Fitzcairn (in the all-flashback episode Unusual Suspects and the final two episodes) we have a lot of lovely ladies introduced for single episodes. Alex Raven from Sins of the Father was able to actually emote at times, but otherwise was nothing more than a generic bodyguard/action girl, albeit a stunningly beautiful one. She’s also a big fan of Donald Trump, it seems. Kyra from Patient Number 7 was actually a pretty cool character with a decent concept, but was hampered by bad acting and a poor script. Even so, the cool concept of an amnesiac Immortal is something that couldn’t last through the series since she got better by the end of the episode. The only interesting thing about Katya from Justice is that I thought she was the woman who played Ice in the failed Justice League pilot. If she was the same actor, I’d have had a funny little trivia tidbit, but as it is, I just have 48 less less minutes in my life. Regan Cole’s episode, Deadly Exposure, shows her to be a generic, uninteresting but super hot bounty hunter. Then there’s Kathryn and Nick from Two Of Hearts, which had no connection to MacLeod other than Kathryn’s immortality. I kind of liked these two, and the chemistry they had, and I felt that Kathryn was a likable protagonist with a fairly well defined character. Pity that her actress wasn’t as conventionally attractive as the other Immortal ladies. I wish I was joking there, but there’s no way a lady of only slightly above average appearance could carry her own TV show.

*Note: Peter Wingfield did end up having a somewhat successful career after the show ended, having a recurring character on the the TV series Stargate SG-1 and a few other roles of note. However, at the time, Highlander was all he had, while Roger Daltrey was still touring with the Who.

The Good

Well, some episodes are good. And the fights actually got better this season, and more realistic, since they actually used their free hands while swordfighting to disarm or attempt to disarm their enemy. It’s a small detail, but it does help make the fights look better. And some of the guest stars were absurdly hot, but then again, whenever I have to resort to complimenting the female cast’s appearance, that’s not a good sign.

The Bad

Where to begin? Well, why not at the beginning? The Ahriman story was such a wasted opportunity, and the episode Avatar showed this. While the season five finale Archangel did little to convince us that Ahriman was worth the film wasted on him and killed a popular character in a way that was less than respectful, Avatar made him into a competent, creepy and threatening antagonist, even though he didn’t take advantage of the year Duncan went into hiding to take over the world. The next episode pissed that away and copped out by having Duncan defeat Ahriman with “inner peace”. By that, he didn’t mean the awesome Kung Fu Panda 2 version of inner peace winning the day (where Po used his newfound calmness to redirect the enemy’s attack back at him). He threw his sword away and meditated, and that beat Ahriman. The ultimate evil was beaten in three episodes by meditation. It could have been an excellent story, instead, it was rushed out and copped out. But then, it’s not the writers’ fault. They wanted to keep their jobs, even though the star (Adrian Paul) clearly wanted nothing to do with the series at that point. Not that I can blame him: he was going through a divorce at the time of filming, and he did meet his now-ex wife on the set of Highlander.

Aside from those first two episodes, though, there’s quite a few other things that just don’t work. For one, it’s clear that they left their budget somewhere in Canada, because all of these episodes (all shot in Paris) looked much cheaper than the previous seasons did. The few Quickenings they do have look less like an awesome little lightning storm and more like someone just learning Adobe After Effects. Hell, the Quickening in Black Tower is shown on several monitors, but makes the amateurish mistake of not cropping the lightning effects, so it looks like the electricity being displayed is coming from the monitor. It’s bloody pathetic, like it’s an unfinished product.

And then there’s the nature of most of the episodes: poorly disguised backdoor pilots for characters we’ve never met, who are poorly written or acted (or both) and generally not interesting. Sure, a couple of those episodes looked like regular Highlander episodes, but most of them felt like an attempt to force these new characters on the fans.

Finally, there’s the fact that almost no one seemed to care, at all. Sure, we got spirited performances from Dara Tomanovich, Sandra Hess and Claudia Christian (Alex Raven, Regan Cole and Katherine, respectively) but the others just couldn’t act. Hell, the ones who could act weren’t playing well written or directed roles, except for Christian, who again, isn’t “leading lady” hot.

But the worst thing is that the rich cast of supporting characters from this series is jettisoned for this season. Yes, I know a good lot of the Highlander cast had either been killed or given a proper sendoff. However, they still had Joe, Methos and Amanda. Even though those characters were unavailable most of the season (again, they just didn’t care) they could have brought back Maurice, whose absence post season three wasn’t explained. Hell, they could have brought back another living Immortal, like Carl Robinson or Michelle Webster. Instead, it was Adrian Paul half-assing it with a revolving door list of one off characters. I know what they were going for but that is not a good way to sell a spin-off.

The Ugly

You know what franchise you don’t want your franchise to be associated with? Mortal Kombat. More specifically, the live action Mortal Kombat franchise. Now, we all know Christopher Lambert was in the first (and closest to good) Mortal Kombat movie, but in this season. In addition to this, we had two female Immortals who played in Mortal Kombat live action productions. Sandra Hess (Regan Cole) was Sonya Blade in the second Mortal Kombat movie (which Lambert was not in) and Dara Tomanovich played Mileena in the TV series Mortal Kombat:Conquest. None of these actors appeared together, however, in either franchise. That’s mildly interesting, but it’s somewhat disheartening that some people watching this series will know the actors from those pieces of shit.

Worst Episode

Many of these episodes would be the contenders for my “worst episode” prize if they were shown in another season. As far as the pilot episodes go, Justice is the least memorable and least enjoyable. However, the worst episode of the season, and probably the worst of the series other than the Dark Quickening episodes is Black Tower. It features Devon Marek, a toymaker who puts Duncan in the lamest deathtrap ever. It’s supposedly a new video game, or at least that’s how he sells it to the nerdy designer controlling the building. Despite the nerdy game designer (named Dice) being the worst nerd stereotype I’ve ever seen, he clearly hasn’t seen a video game before as no living human being would mistake security camera footage of Duncan killing a mercenary for a video game. It’s frankly embarrassing, and the pathetic Quickening at the end is a just diarrhea icing on the shit cake.

5 Best Episodes

This was actually the easiest one of these lists to compile. There were, out of the 13 episodes of this season, about 7 I’d call “good” in any way. Of them, Avatar was eliminated by the letdown conclusion of the story (which was in the next episode, but I don’t care) and Two of Hearts was not really a Highlander episode at all. So, the list is:

#5: Diplomatic Immunity, a cool story with a good pre-fame performance by Alexis Denisof of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. Not always logical or well acted, but at least it was fairly entertaining. Interesting that this series had Watchers of its own, and the most prominent Watchers from Buffy were here first…

#4: Unusual Suspects. A murder mystery period piece starring the ever hilarious Hugh Fitzcairn. What’s not to love? Well, I mean, it is a bit overly silly at parts, and the actors are a bit too hammy sometimes…but all in all, it’s an alright episode.

#3: To Be.

#2: Not To Be. After the turd of a season that proceeded it, they needed to end it on a high note. These two episodes are a respectful and mostly good story, one of the best It’s A Wonderful Life homages I’ve seen.

#1: Indiscretions. How strange is it that the best episode of the last season of Highlander:The Series doesn’t have the Highlander? This is the only episode that, had it been a part of another season, might have made the top 5 of that season. Joe and Methos really sell this one. I would have loved to see a Joe and Methos spinoff, because if this episode is any indication, it would have been amazing. Alas, it was not to be.

Best Quickening

This season had some of the worst of the series, with a lot of critical special effects failures. However, for the sheer insanity of it, the Quickening Alex Raven got in Sins of the Father was pretty decent. It had fireballs coming up out of a river. FIREBALLS COMING UP FROM A RIVER. As poor as that episode was, that moment was pretty crazy cool.

Final Verdict

The series tagline is “There Can Be Only One”. This season’s tagline could easily be “they just didn’t care”. However, I can’t hate this season. The budget was slashed dramatically, and they were told to either make a female-centred spin-off (to cash in on Xena and Buffy’s success) or just end the show. Most of the people on the show wanted to keep working, and it’s clear there was some effort put in from some parties, even if less expensive talent and a smaller budget hurt it. It’s like a retarded puppy, in a way. It might piss on your carpet and chew up your stuff, but you just can’t be mad at it, all things considered. So, I give it a 5/10, which is both the nicest and the meanest I can be, all things considered.

You can watch this season here, or on Hulu or iTunes.

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