Anchor Bay // 2003 // 1060 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // March 29th, 2004
"I now look back at it, and it's changed my life so profoundly. I mean, I now live 5,000 miles away, I have a child who will grow up with an accent that is completely unrelated to my own, at the bottom of a mountain where we will go snowboarding next to the ocean where the orcas swim by every year. And my acting -- my craft is so totally altered by my work, my experience on Highlander. The places I've had to go with the character of Methos. I am profoundly changed by it. [pause] It's this strange little show about immortality, and here I am five years after we've shot the final episode still talking about it. It's a show that will not die." -- Peter Wingfield (Methos)
As Highlander progresses, I'm continually amazed by how much intelligence is evident in the writing, acting, and production of the series. Highlander opens up the world to us, recreating far-off lands and times past. Richly detailed characters provide hearty emotional weight. The plots are full of action, humanity, and moral dilemmas. Highlander is imaginative and highly entertaining.
Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) seems to have put Tessa's death behind him. With the unlikable Horton off his back, Duncan is free to focus on another batch of friends and foes. He and Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) form a deeper friendship, while Duncan falls for a sprightly doctor named Anne (Lisa Howard). Richie explores the meaning of Immortality and learns that mortals can still make trouble for him. The season finds real purpose with the introduction of Kalas (David Robb), a malignant adversary with a cunning mind. But it's really about the beheadings, which occur with regularity.
There was a dramatic boost in quality from Highlander Season One to Season Two. Season Two had better video quality, extras, writing, and quality control. Season Three is better than Season Two, though the improvement is not as dramatic. Nonetheless, this boxed set is a close-to-perfect treatment of a television series on DVD.
The extra content is overwhelming in scope, variety, and detail. Each episode gets its own bevy of extras tailored to that specific episode. (Sometimes, great episodes get scant extras, while bad episodes are granted stellar extras to compensate.) Most notable is the honesty that comes through in the interviews. Executive producer Bill Panzer, writer David Abramowitz, and the rest of the production team really understand what they have created. Bill will be the first to tell you when something sucks, which makes later horn-tooting seem genuine. People apologize for bad calls and take pride in good ones. Some of the interviews are dry, but still manage to convey a deep respect for the series and reveal interesting production aspects.
I really like hearing from Bill and David, but the centerpieces of the extras are the video commentaries by cast members Adrian Paul, Anthony DeLongis, Elizabeth Gracen, and Peter Wingfield. These commentaries alone are worth the price of the boxed set for fans of the series. But wait, there's more! Someone has taken the time to write additional information about the Immortals, weapons, and Watchers in each episode. The blooper reel from Season One makes an encore, but it makes much more sense being paired with this season. The shooting scripts and other extras you've come to expect are back. What more could they possibly cram in? This set is absolutely stacked.
Season Three has something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde effect. The writing is stellar at the beginning and end, but loses its way in the middle. (See the Rebuttal Witnesses for more information.) One's perception of an actor or show can hinge on moments such as this. Fortunately, the powers that be decided to introduce subplots that carried through multiple episodes, which immediately cement the creative vision and banish the memory of past misdeeds.
Season Three has loads of action and a fair amount of humor. The flashbacks are handled with aplomb. I've broken it down below; prepare for spoilers!
* "The Samurai," AKA "Duncan San Learns Meaning of
Right out of the gate, the Highlander team strikes gold and produces one of the best episodes in the entire series. The episode has an innovative premise: MacLeod left a secret means for the Koto family to call on him whenever there is need. Powerful acting provides conflict, humor, cultural tension, and a pervading sense of character and honor. The acting is anchored by Robert Ito, an accomplished television actor (Quincy) who played Professor Hikita in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. The convincing set evokes Japan on the cusp of Western influence. Combining a damsel in distress, ancient samurai, and a pre- and post-enlightenment MacLeod makes for a rich journey. The DVD extras are incredible, including a great video commentary by Adrian Paul.
* "Line of Fire," AKA "Scowling Eagle MacLeod Scalps Brutish
The fun continues with another stellar episode. Stan Kirsch gets to delve more deeply into Richie's character as he struggles with the concept of taking on a family. Duncan is sour on the prospect. A series of authentically rendered flashbacks shows Duncan living in harmony with a Sioux tribe. Duncan's bliss is extinguished by one of the baddest bad immortals, Kern, portrayed by none other than Randall "Tex" Cobb of Raising Arizona infamy. When Kern shows up to rain on Richie's parade, we are shocked to see an enraged Duncan go on the offensive. The final battle is fantastic, and it closes with a spiritual quickening. The cast and crew discussion reveals amazing anecdotes about Cobb.
* "The Revolutionary," AKA "Zealous Warmonger Induces Awkward
This uneven episode has great flashbacks to the Mexican Revolution, as well as scenes of modern-day guerrilla warfare. The nature of the bad guy is too transparent to build up much tension, and Charlie's romance is clunky (as well as being an obvious contrivance for explaining Charlie DeSalvo's absence from subsequent episodes.) Duncan meets Anne for the first time in an awkward exchange. Some good scenes, some flat scenes. The quickening, however, is explosive.
* "The Cross of St. Antoine," AKA "Golden Crucifix Awes
Brion James (The Fifth Element) plays an intriguing baddie who is a welcome change from the ultrasuave Eurotrash Immies we have come to expect. Elizabeth Gracen makes an always-welcome appearance. Jim Byrnes displays great charisma and extraordinary musical talent in a heartbreaking solo. Our memory of the misplaced effort at humor during the robbery is replaced with sexual heat later. All in all, there is a lot to like about this tale of greed and ingrained character traits, though the commentary track by Gillian Horvath and Donna Lettow is not particularly engaging.
* "Rite of Passage," AKA "Hot Troubled Chick Bites the Dust
and Wakes Up Grumpy"
Impetuous youth is great fodder for dramatic tension. Gabrielle Miller gives Michelle just the right balance of intelligence, rebelliousness, fear, and remorse. Her frustration with Duncan and her seduction by Axel (Rob Stewart) are too hasty, but her clumsy seduction attempts and emotional releases are right on. This episode has a somewhat gentler bent that feels out of place, but the premise is nonetheless interesting. Michelle's comeuppance at witnessing the quickening is worth the price of admission, and counterbalances another clumsy Duncan/Anne scene.
* "Courage," AKA "Just Say No to Drugs, Especially if You're
Charismatic Immortal Cullen (John Pyper-Ferguson, Unforgiven, Pearl Harbor) used to be the best, but now he is a wreck. This anti-drug episode dates itself, but entertains nonetheless. Duncan shows how far he will go to prevent taking the life of a friend. The showdown is dramatic, though it is somewhat unbelievable how Duncan gets out of the bind. Bill Panzer has a great line in the commentary about "putting him down like a dog." The extras also offer an apology for a cheesy prism explosion effect.
* "The Lamb," AKA "Immortal Kid Will Beat You Up and Steal
Your Lunch Money"
Episodes featuring kids are a gamble, but this one pays off. Myles Ferguson plays Kenny, an 800-year-old in a 10-year-old's body (a la Kirsten Dunst as the tragic vampire Claudia in Interview with the Vampire). He is alternately touching and creepy, displaying a great world-weariness and feral disposition. The faults in this episode are not with Myles, but arise from poor dramatic decisions. Kenny's true nature is given away immediately, which drains much of the mystery. The flashback sequences seem mostly unrelated to the much better modern-day plot. Duncan and Anne have some good scenes. Kenny becomes wearisome near the end, but he almost kills Duncan, which gives him a boost. Kenny's quickening was superbly handled and creates a lasting image.
* "Obsession," AKA "Like Marky Mark in that Fear
There isn't much to this one aside from your standard "obsessed dude emotionally smothers a girl until she ends up jumping from a balcony" episode. The episode tries to build tension and show the romantic difficulties faced by Immortals, but it just rings hollow. How dumb is David (Cameron Bancroft), anyway? The entire concept was handled much better in Season One's "Saving Grace." Duncan has steamy sex with Sarah Carter (Sherry Miller, The Virgin Suicides), enlivening the middle act of this episode.
* "Shadows," AKA "Let's Spice Things Up By Having Duncan
This episode has a decidedly dark tone, as Duncan dreams of the grim reaper. When his dreams invade reality, his friends and lovers think he has gone around the bend. Duncan turns to a bland head case for help. The fight scenes are dramatic and dark. Anne and Duncan have some decent scenes together, and she looks particularly good in them. The final battle is tense: Duncan lays down his sword and barely makes it out alive. The witch trial flashbacks are amusing. But the evil Immortal's motivation is unconvincing, and the magical dream projection element doesn't fit in very well with the Highlander mythos.
* "Blackmail," AKA "Lawyers Are Slime"
The last few episodes have been a little shaky, but here we hit bottom. The worst thing about this episode is that it easily could have been among the best with stronger writing and focus. The premise is that a slimeball lawyer catches a beheading on tape. He then tries to blackmail Duncan into killing his wife. Had the episode stuck within that groove, perhaps had Duncan see the wife's rescue through, it would have worked. But so much goes wrong. Bruce Dinsmore portrays a hyperannoying character through hammy acting. The flashbacks and evil Immortal subplot only serve to drag this episode down and give little in return. (Duncan wandering around a hedge maze for five minutes is not that interesting.) The victimized wife is fascinating when she confronts Duncan, which only serves to highlight her subsequent absence and implausible goodwill at the end. As it stands, the only strong aspects to this episode are the premise and a fantastic swordfight with swordmaster Anthony DeLongis. DeLongis gives an insightful and entertaining commentary, and I wish he'd been used to better effect in more episodes.
* "Vendetta," AKA "Pathetic Gangster Annoys MacLeod for
Imagine Joe Pesci's character in Goodfellas without menace or humor. That's what we get in Benny Carbassa (Tony Rosato), an irritating oaf with a big mouth and little wisdom. Much of the episode deals with uninvolving gangster shtick that stretches any resemblance to common sense. Anne continues to improve as an attractive and charming foil for Duncan. The lighting and cinematography are fantastic (though unfortunately wasted). This episode is a lot of Benny, set within an inexplicable revenge plot, which doesn't add up to much.
* "They Also Serve," AKA "Let's Show a Bunch of Flashbacks
Interspersed with Watchers Playing Poker"
Flashback episodes can work if we get something new out of the retelling, but this one feels significantly padded. A bunch of Watchers sit around playing poker and telling stories about their Immortals. We get to watch clips from past episodes in their entirety, interspersed with 30 seconds of chatter. There are even flashbacks to the new content that we saw 20 minutes earlier. On top of it all, the new content is relatively weak, with lots of soap opera acting (particularly from Mary Woronov, but even Adrian Paul is not immune). There are three bright spots: a great early performance by Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, The Green Mile), a neat Outer Mongolian set, and a gruesome intro sequence. The rest is history.
* "Blind Faith," AKA "If Satan Opened a Soup Kitchen, Would
We Forgive Him?"
This welcome change of pace features moral dilemma over action, and it works well. Wretched acting took me out of the flow once or twice, though Jim Byrnes makes up some of the lost ground. The real problem with this episode is technical quality; several scenes have lip-synching issues, and there are a few patches of dingy, grainy footage. The central message of the episode comes through clearly and gives us a hearty mental puzzle to chew on. The cast/crew interviews don't add much.
* "Song of the Executioner," AKA "Let's Get Back to the Good
At last, the show seems to have regained its heart and creative spirit. This episode is rife with tension, powered by a particularly clever and nasty Immortal. Kalas does not just want to kill Duncan; he wants to destroy everything Duncan holds dear. The flashbacks are particularly well done, meshing perfectly with the present-day plot. An infuriating game of cat and mouse leads to a frantic battle with tragic consequences. Everything works and works well, creating a frantic need to view the next episode. Highlander turns a corner with "Song of the Executioner," and does not look back. For such an important episode (the one that begins the trend of non-episodic subplots), the extras are rather dry. The monastery set is fantastic, but surely there is more to discuss?
* "Star-Crossed," AKA "Immortal Chef Falsifies Computer
Records to Impress a Lady"
Who better to help Duncan recover than his old friend Hugh Fitzcairn (Roger Daltrey)? Fitz seems to have settled down, but Duncan's troubles from "Song of the Executioner" follow him to Paris and affect Fitz. This episode shows just how obsessed Kalas is with revenge. The Fitz subplot is interesting in its own right, as are the magnificent flashbacks. Another tragic ending continues the streak of dark tension, cementing Highlander's newfound spirit.
* "Methos," AKA "Oldest Living Being is Just a Regular
Even Immortals have myths, such as the 5,000-year-old Methos. Duncan confronts him in the flesh and it is everything you wouldn't expect. There must be some kind of sanity odometer reset every thousand years: first Nefertiri comes out of a 2,000-year entombment unscathed, and now we find that the oldest being of all time is just a regular guy who likes beer and pizza. But since his quickening would be akin to three kegs of Jolt Cola with a side of adrenaline fries, Kalas wants Methos's head. It is a rather clumsy way to introduce Methos, but who cares? The character is fascinating, and the actor is entertaining. Peter Wingfield gives a fantastic commentary -- both amusing and informative.
* "Take Back the Night," AKA "Punks Who Shoot Immortals for
No Reason Will Pay"
The Highlander crew once again manages to produce an ultra-hot, ass-kicking female warrior. The main plot is great, and the flashbacks with Ceirdwyn (Kim Johnston Ulrich) and Bonnie Prince Charlie (Ben Pullen) are powerful. Two continuing subplots get closure: Richie dies on the track and Duncan calls Anne from the dead. In short, there is a lot packed into this episode and it all works together. Seeing the same race three times in a row is somewhat irritating, but hey, it's TV.
* "Testimony," AKA "Hey, Anne...Sorry About that Fake Death
For some reason, Duncan calling Anne to let her know he is alive was more dramatic than actually showing her the secrets of his immortality. If I had to put my finger on it, I'd say they tried to avoid clichè by not having a sappy scene at the airport departure gate, but somewhat derailed momentum in the process. You can't argue with the gritty flashbacks or the unsmiling presence of Immortal Cossack Kristov (Alexis Daniel), who introduces Anne to the niceties of the Immortal world. The end is a cliffhanger.
* "Mortal Sins," AKA "Unstable Priest Kills Nazi Officer
Three Times in a Row"
They've really gotten the hang of flashbacks, and this one is a great example. In a The Sound of Music-ish subplot, Nazis take on rebellious friars. The best thing about this one is young Bernard's treatment of evil Nazi Ernst Daimler (Andrew Woodall), who spends 40 years at the bottom of a river. I didn't much like the pregnancy subplot, and you can tell that Anne's time is drawing to a close. She gets a dramatic sendoff when she witnesses an Immortal tiff.
* "Reasonable Doubt," AKA "Immortals with Long Blond Hair are
The train of great episodes keeps right on going. This time, Duncan must face an Immortal who never had a chance at a good life. Lucas Kagan (Paudge Behan) was raised on the streets and continues his hellraising in present day. The flashbacks are cool, particularly a funny bit with MacLeod redeeming some money from his "grandfather." The bad Immortal is not typical, so he's fun to watch. Maurice has one attractive niece to boot. There is even a moral question of sorts along the lines of "Blind Faith."
* "Finale (1)," AKA "Duncan's Friends go Haywire"
Let's see, who's in this episode? Roland Gift, Elizabeth Gracen, Peter Wingfield...a veritable who's who of popular Highlander actors. We see them all in slightly different lights. Amanda tries to take on Kalas just to spare Duncan, Xavier is a bit less polished and Moor nasty, Methos is ineffective. Joe tries to murder an innocent woman. It goes badly for everyone but Kalas. Kalas sets up a truly devilish conundrum, and you get a real sense that the Immortal world is about to be upset. Through tone, tension, and acting, this one is a worthwhile finale. In the commentary, Adrian Paul reveals that he and David Robb didn't get along, which is the kind of stuff a commentary is supposed to reveal.
* "Finale (2)," AKA "Duncan and Amanda Sittin' in a Tree,
What more can you ask of a finale than a dramatic showdown atop the Eiffel Tower? How about Duncan and Amanda doing the tango on top of the Eiffel Tower? We get both and much more. There are some slight cop-outs in terms of the plot, such as Duncan's quickening shorting out the evil computer, but who cares really. This is a fantastic closure to the season.
Some things never change. The Watcher Chronicles still contain massive spoilers, so don't read them until you've watched all six seasons of the show. There are still no chapter stops after the opening credits. You know, I've heard it 22 times in a row, but I still cannot decipher what Freddie Mercury is singing in that last line: "Take me to the future of you all?"
The video quality is really not good, with some rough and grainy patches and overall malaise. The audio is often hard to hear. There are no subtitles, but I did employ closed captioning often. I would point out specific sections that were hard to hear, but they are so pervasive it would take too much space. Part of the problem is the 5.1 remix. The original audio wasn't good to begin with. Breaking it up into 5.1 discrete channels somehow emphasizes the emptiness, giving us lots of tertiary sonic info that doesn't coalesce into a true sound experience. I mostly listened to the series through headphones or by downmixing to 2.0 using the receiver.
There are new annoyances as well. The middle of the season has somewhat of a creative breakdown, where we are treated to unfocused plots, bad acting, and some really stupid characters, such as Benny and Robert Waverly. I felt despair, as though the once-great series was slipping through my fingers like sand. Season Two had "The Zone," which is worse than any individual episode here. But the block of "Obsession," "Shadows," "Blackmail," "Vendetta," and "They Also Serve" are collectively more damaging. Individually they range from okay ("Shadows") to wretched, but having them huddled in a big clump like that is worse. Fortunately the ship rights in a big way with the introduction of Kalas. Things get better and stay that way for the rest of the season.
Adrian Paul and Lisa Howard don't have quite as much chemistry together as did Adrian and Alexandra or Adrian and Elizabeth. I've always liked Lisa Howard and the character of Anne Lindsey; she is attractive, curious, and playful. Anne led to some of the best writing in the series, providing the tension that came from not knowing MacLeod's secret. However, there were several opportunities to sizzle that merely smoked a little.
This season is the master of its own destiny. The series is now truly separate from the movies -- which is a blessing -- and is consistently creative and engaging. Highlander takes us to another place, exactly as good fantasy should. The DVD boxed set is admirably handled, which makes it easy to recommend Season Three.
Long live Duncan MacLeod!
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1060 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentaries by Adrian Paul, Stan Kirsch, Gillian Horvath, Anthony DeLongis, Elizabeth Gracen, and Others
* Library of Never-before-seen Footage
* Extensive Interviews with Cast and Crew
* Watcher Chronicles
* Lost Scenes
* Photo Galleries
* Production Designs and Sketches
* Blooper Reel
* DVD-ROM: All 22 Scripts, Cast/Crew Bios, Trivia, Fight Scripts, Production Notes, and Shooting Schedules
* Review of Season One
* Review of Season Two
* Episode Guide for Entire Highlander Series