Anchor Bay // 1995 // 1060 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // June 8th, 2004
"Sometimes, immortality sucks." -- Amanda
If you've read my other reviews of Highlander, it is no secret that I'm a fan of this show. Fandom does tend to blind one, but Highlander has had to earn my renewed enthusiasm season by season. Watching with a fresh eye ten years later, I am still amazed at how rich and imaginative the series can be.
Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) may not be the oldest Immortal, but he is both noble and strong. After giving Kalas a proper send-off in Season Three, MacLeod confronts another season's worth of bad, indifferent, and good Immortals. His relationship with his Watcher, Joe (Jim Byrnes), becomes strained. Fortunately his friends Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) and Methos (Peter Wingfield) are on hand to distract Duncan. By the end of Season Four, Duncan will have to make some hard decisions about the lines between Immortals, Watchers, and friendship.
Season Three gave us a long stretch of great episodes, but it also had a sizable block of clunkers. Season Four is more consistent in terms of acting and story quality, which is to say it hovers right around the B+/A- line for most of the season. There are only three subpar episodes, but even this small handful of misfires has more charm than did Season Three's. A few truly classic episodes, such as the award-winning "Brothers in Arms," the exotic "The Wrath of Kali," and the intense "Methuselah's Gift," ensure that Season Four maintains Highlander's customary level of quality.
Season Four takes risks to keep the show fresh. One risk was to play a couple of episodes as straight comedy. We've had comedic episodes before, but they were neutered through incorporations of drama, violence, or surrealism. "Double Eagle" and "Till Death" invite heartfelt laughs, making no pretense at seriousness.
Another risk was to let Adrian Paul take a back seat in some of the episodes. Paul does a fine job of anchoring the series with engaging acting and an undeniable magnetism, but to have him front and center at all times would eventually get stale. Methos, Amanda, and Joe all get to step into the spotlight.
On the other hand, two episodes make Paul the undeniable main attraction, and not in a friendly way. "Something Wicked" and "Deliverance" show us a side of MacLeod we might rather not have seen, which is a fascinating twist. Together, these risks add interest to the season and constantly present us with new looks at the characters.
Last season's aptly named finale neatly tied off many threads, which left Duncan's possibilities wide open. That is precisely what we get. Duncan is unanchored, floating around from continent to continent with no strings. The opening episode literally has him coming home to search for his roots. Throughout the course of the season, few of his friends or lovers are consistent. This widening of the highlander's field is both intriguing and disconcerting. We want him to find peace and happiness, but the very nature of his Immortality makes it difficult. The season deeply explores themes of longevity and its effects on relationships, personality, and honor. The themes are more mature than those in previous seasons, even if they aren't as flashy.
As a boxed set, Season Four is consistent with Seasons Two and Three, which is to say that the extras are simply outstanding. Each episode has its own set of extra content, ranging from cast and crew interviews to outtakes to deleted scenes to audiovisual commentary tracks. Many episodes have more extras than the running time of the actual episode. The last disc is again devoted to season extras such as scripts, production notes, and bios. I cannot fathom a Highlander fan being disappointed with this impressive treatment.
And now for the episodes, but beware: Spoilers are everywhere.
Adrian Paul's directorial debut is pleasantly uneven. The downside is a healthy dose of eye-roll-inducing cliché. Try this one: Doomed lovers meet near a cliff where the gal threatens to jump. Duncan extends his hand. If you guessed that she'd decide not to jump, but slip anyway and fall to her death before Duncan can save her … you don't win anything because we all guessed it too. The tone of melodrama is simply too thick. However, it is obvious that this overwrought subtext is based in hearty respect for the legends of Scotland; the entire episode is a play on legend and the characters of myth. Adrian the director wrings verisimilitude from his understanding of Duncan, which gives the episode an authentic vibe. The legend aspect draws you in, making Duncan even more heroic than usual. His kinswoman eventually sees the truth, which is a powerful moment equal to the best that the Highlander movie had to offer.
As Gillian Horvath points out in the interview, there is a blatant
difference between the brown footage shot in Scotland and the green footage shot
in Canada. Many technical glitches such as this plague the episode, but Adrian
got the episode made despite them. He shows promise as a director, and I look
forward to more.
* "Brothers in Arms"
In contrast, the direction, set design, costuming, acting, and plot of "Brothers in Arms" are beyond reproach. For a roughly $8,000 budget (a figure I gleaned from Bill Panzer's comments about "Leader of the Pack"), the depiction of Vietnam is remarkably detailed. I laughed at the faux Jimi Hendrix song, which made the episode reminiscent of a popular big-budget Vietnam film that featured Jimi in the background. Wolfgang Bodison (LCpl. Harold W. Dawson in A Few Good Men) plays Cord with nasty charisma. The resolution of the episode is a little loose, particularly where Charlie is concerned. Why Duncan doesn't just tell him what's really happening is beyond me. Charlie knows most of the truth anyway, and it might have saved his life. Duncan and Joe's constant shutting out of Charlie doesn't sit well with me. Nonetheless, I appreciate the down ending. Jim Byrnes gets to shine as he explores deeper feelings of rage and friendship. This is a solid episode all around.
* "The Innocent"
When Highlander explores "different" Immortals, we are sometimes treated to great acting. This is one of those times. Pruitt Taylor Vince (Monster) plays Mikey with a believable combination of innocence and awareness of his own culpability. Mikey avoids Duncan's queries by retreating into catatonic silence or repeating railroad trivia. Richie grows some in this episode; Stan Kirsch mentions that he approached the fourth season with fresh enthusiasm, and it shows. The ending is one of the most dramatic and sad endings of the series. Richie has to take responsibility, and so does Mikey. The montage is surprisingly powerful as we realize how far we've come with Mikey in such a short time. Adrian Paul has some good moments of humor in the Wild West flashbacks, and he somehow fits as a cowboy.
* "Leader of the Pack"
Ahh, the trusty flashback episode. There are long stretches of flashback; not period flashbacks, but recycled footage. This always irks me, perhaps unfairly. In this case, I didn't like the rest of the episode much, so I might as well complain about the recycled footage. An Immortal who loves dogs (named Kanis, get it?) pops in to hunt down MacLeod. While MacLeod is running away from pooches, Richie hunts down Tessa's (and his own) murderer. Kanis is a forgettable Immortal (with goofy yellow shades), the whole plot is generic, and Duncan makes boneheaded decisions (such as jogging in a park without his sword when he knows dogs are stalking him). There is a chilling moment when Duncan mentions his past revenges to Richie, and there is great footage of Richie waking up for the first time. (If I hadn't already seen this in the DVD extras from Season Two it might have more impact, but it feels like another flashback.) The house-levitating quickening is not Highlander's finest hour.
* "Double Eagle"
Highlander rarely goes for the full-out comedy approach, which is why it took me so long to figure out what was happening. When the lightbulb finally clicked on, I enjoyed the funniest Highlander episode ever. Nicholas Campbell (Kit O'Brady), Elizabeth Gracen (Amanda), Adrian Paul, and Stan Kirsch all display wonderful comedic timing. It is hard to nail down the funniest bit, but I really enjoyed Richie's response to Amanda's putdown of Kit. Kit is a hoot, an Immortal who is allergic to the buzz and always looking for the big score. He reminds me of Robert Redford with his placid zeal and earnest demeanor. Elizabeth Gracen is always a welcome addition, and she is at her sexiest here. The Double Eagle Saloon set was detailed, assisting the episode in capturing the fever pitch of old-fashioned comedy. Fine job all around.
The surprising Miles Ferguson returns while Amanda stays, which gives this episode a high level of guest star power. Unfortunately, it comes off as a lighter version of The Bad Seed. We know that Kenny is bad, so the tension and mystery of "The Lamb" are missing. The only suspense comes from wondering when Amanda will wise up. Many stretches of scalding dialogue spice up the episode, such as Kincaid's rant against Duncan and Amanda's confrontation of Kenny. Lisa Howard looks distinctly uncomfortable in her scenes. Aside from Kincaid's unfortunate island vacation, most of the episode is pedestrian Highlander stuff. But pedestrian Highlander is still pretty entertaining.
* "The Colonel"
The "let's strand an Immortal somewhere unpleasant" concept posited in "Reunion" is recycled here, but to better effect. A nasty undercurrent of emotion gives this episode a patina of heartache and pain. Sean Allan's "you stranded me so I'm gonna kill you" speech is even more chilling than Mike Preston's diatribe in "Reunion." Duncan is subjected to a tortuous gauntlet while Amanda's breezy adoption of a mortal protegè turns bad. Meanwhile, Dawson wrestles with his own hurt. This one is dark but enjoyable.
* "Reluctant Heroes"
Kenny, Kincaid, Killian … chances are that if your name begins with K, you're a bad Immortal. (I can hear the jingle now … every kill begins with "K.") This week we get Kinman, a malevolent hit man. The flashbacks in this episode are great, especially those involving Nicola Cavendish (who plays Queen Anne). Peter Outerbridge's portrayal might have been more engaging if I wasn't inured to quiet-but-deadly Eurotrash Immortals. There seems to be a lot going on in this episode, but it didn't fully draw me in.
* "The Wrath of Kali"
Somehow, this one is classic Highlander yet groundbreaking at the same time. The episode is simply outstanding, from the lavish sets to the brooding tone to the captivating Immortal Kamir (Kabir Bedi). Highlander has always presented believably exotic sets, but production designer Stephen Geaghan has outdone himself this time. We feel as though we are in modern-day India, which is a feat in itself, but to recapture the Raj period is incredible. The statue of Kali is downright spooky, as is the possessed creator of the statue. What makes this episode really tick is the duality of Kamir: wise and devout, yet impassioned and bloodthirsty. Special mention must be made of the sexual heat between Adrian Paul and Alice Ramsey (Titanic), who gives us one of Highlander's most erotic performances. It is hard to beat the classic tale of a frustrated English Lady meeting a lusty ruffian. Meanwhile, Duncan MacLeod falls prey to the charm of an Indian woman. The fantasy, both erotic and otherwise, is in full bloom here, ready to sweep you up.
Fresh off of Alice Ramsey's explosive eroticism comes Ann Turkel (Modesty Blaise in Modesty Blaise). As Kristin, she plays a sexy and assured Immortal who never lets morality stand between her and a good lay. As captivating as Turkel is, Peter Wingfield (Methos) shows up to steal the spotlight. I feel bad for anyone who has to act opposite Wingfield; he is so compelling that even his commentaries are must see. In "Chivalry," he has some great moments when Methos taunts Duncan about the trendy fad called "chivalry" that he erroneously embraces. Methos puts Kristin down like a dog, and his offhand dismissal seems so right: "Somebody had to do it," he says, and waits nonchalantly for the quickening. Oh, by the way, Adrian Paul shows off his backside. I tell ya, this show is quickening its pulse.
One thing that amazes me about Highlander is the richly populated stories. "Timeless" has so much going on, yet it all fits together. We have Duncan the cross-dressing Shrew, Claudia the virtuoso pianist (who happens to be a latent Immortal), and Walter the Immortal appreciator of genius. By the way, Methos sticks around to fall in love with a barmaid. Tones shift and emotions collide to make this a ride more than a passive experience. Methos and Alexa hold court over a clichéd yet compelling few minutes of screen time that nearly dominate the episode. Rae Dawn Chong (The Color Purple, Commando) gives Claudia just the right note of irascibility and charm. Classically trained swordsman Ron Halder lends zing to his sword duel, while Ocean Hellman lends pathos to the barmaid's plight. Adrian Paul maintains his usual standard of watchability, and Peter Wingfield once again proves riveting. This is truly an actor's episode.
* "The Blitz"
Perhaps the return of Lisa Howard is coincidental, but once again we find ourselves mired in a bland episode. It is inexplicable. Lisa is sexy, quirky, charming -- everything we could hope for in a leading lady. But Bill and David have pointed it out before: If the heat isn't there, it isn't there. "The Blitz" should have worked because the sets and period decor are right on. Unfortunately, it doesn't come together. David tells us in the extras that he blames the anticlimactic death scene in the subway, but I blame the unnecessary modern component wherein Duncan and Richie work to rescue Anne, who is in labor. That plot is so done. Better to spend the bulk of the episode in flashback, which would have been nice for a change.
* "Something Wicked"
When I think about this episode, unprintable expletives echo through my brain. "Something Wicked" is incredible. The heist-like character intros immediately clue us in to something different: a maelstrom of malignant energy. Despite brief stretches of really corny acting, "Something Wicked" drives home an air of corruption and evil that keeps you edgy throughout. The Dark Quickening stretches our understanding of the event. When MacLeod emerges, his horrific reign of evil attacks our love for his character.
The setup for "Something Wicked" was so huge that the show wrote itself into a corner. MacLeod spends most of the episode in "evil standby" mode, where he tries not to rape and pillage but does so anyway. It is interesting even as we wonder where it will go. The solution to MacLeod's malady is a letdown, but I don't go for new-agey mysticism. I really liked how Methos handled MacLeod, and Duncan has a great verbal sparring match with him. The reintroduction of Rachel MacLeod was most welcome. The "Something Wicked" and "Deliverance" two-parter is my favorite by far.
"Promises" is thorny grist for the philosophical mill. Seeing MacLeod and MacLeod together is a pseudo-incestuous thrill, although we sense from the beginning that she will leave. The Immortal, Kassim (Ricco Ross, Private Frost in Aliens), has a "K" name so you know he's due for a smackdown from MacLeod. The rub is that Kassim is merely calling in a favor that MacLeod promised centuries ago. There is some falderal about honor, which is nothing new in the Highlander world. Equally tired is Duncan's assimilation and protection of a bumbling youth. And yet again we see Duncan being questioned by a comely inspector (Peta Wilson of La Femme Nikita fame). There isn't much here that we haven't already seen, except (as Gillian Horvath points out in the interview) Duncan's mistakes. Not a bad episode by any means; not particularly memorable either.
* "Methuselah's Gift"
Adrian Paul returns to the director's chair and gives us one of the best episodes of the season. The opening and closing sequences feature aggressive energy and ambitious stunts. Peter Wingfield gives one of the best monologues of the series (including alternate takes in the extras), and Elizabeth Gracen shows her stuff in several tense action scenes. This one pulls it all together, even if we have to overlook the bad wig Elizabeth wears in the opening sequence.
* "The Immortal Cimoli"
Yet again, Duncan confronts a powerful and possibly benign Immortal for the sake of an innocent cad. Damon Case (Simon Kunz) is a crusader with reflective calm, who treats The Game as a holy duty. (Incidentally, Simon Kunz is responsible for one of my favorite lines in movie history. As Martin, the butler in The Parent Trap, he sees Halle Parker in the airport and says "And you've had your eAAAArs pierced! I love it! It's the nEEEEw you." That cracks me up every time.) Damon sets his sights on a young circus performer who has recently become The Immortal Cimoli. There are neat twists in the plot, and the smoky quickening is the most artistic one yet. I'm not sure why Adrian Paul did a commentary track for this episode, because he doesn't have much to say. Why not have him speak on the episode up there ^^^ instead?
* "Through A Glass, Darkly"
Highlander meets Rashomon, without the panache. An X-Files-ish darkness permeates the episode, which temporarily distracts us from its emptiness. Once again, the creators know best: David gives a good postmortem on what they were trying for. This episode is not as devoid of interest as some other clunkers. We have Bonnie Prince Charlie, some guerilla war against the British, and a dark atmosphere. Peter Wingfield is average for once but still manages to drop subtle bombs of innuendo. The episode simply does not coalesce.
* "Double Jeopardy"
"Double Jeopardy" brings us the return of two previous characters. The first is Stacey Travis as Renee Delaney, an assured government agent who is hormonally affected by MacLeod's presence. She is both an entertaining character and a sexy woman; her return is welcome. Even more welcome is the return of Roland Gift as Xavier St. Cloud, one of the baddest bad Immortals. Of course, since he is dead we only see him in flashback -- but that's what is so great about this show. Characters may be dead, but we can still see new aspects of their personality and history. Seeing Roland sneer his way through another episode is like finding an overlooked birthday gift. The plot is almost incidental to the thrill of having these two back. I have one major gripe with it, though: Would MacLeod really walk willingly into a trap? He knows that Bernard d'Estaing is a cheat. Why not shoot him, take away all of his poisonous toys, then fight him on even terms? MacLeod is honorable, not stupid.
* "Till Death"
If you think about it, it's quite a risk to do pure comedy episodes in a show like Highlander. Levity is not Highlander's forte. Yet it seems to work. Though not as richly layered and outright hilarious as "Double Eagle," "Till Death" has many great lines and a sweet story. Methos has some of the best lines: "I haven't felt guilt since the 11th century." For a good laugh, this one earns an A.
* "Judgement Day"
There's a lot wrong with this episode, from the unfathomably dark, grainy image to the indistinct dialogue to the overreliance on reused footage. But I respect the detailed examination of the consequences that flow from Joe's actions. So many shows conveniently ignore niggling details, and Highlander has certainly been guilty of it. This time, the writers explore the result of Joe's duplicity. Having Duncan nearly kill Methos by accident is a dramatic incidental moment. But when Duncan escapes too easily from the Watchers, it weakens the episode. "Judgement Day" has its share of tension, but it is nowhere near the spectacle that was "Finale" part one.
* "One Minute To Midnight"
"Judgement Day" had its flaws, but the payoff is "One Minute To Midnight." The first half of this two-parter (which originally spanned Seasons Four and Five) is the perfect setup for "One Minute To Midnight"'s nonstop orgy of mayhem and tension. Methos, Joe, and Duncan all have dual roles that bog down their decision making. This conflict of interest comes to a head when Immortals and Watchers start killing each other. The three friends show nastier sides of their personalities, and Joe's honor is tainted by the events. Duncan uses a gun. It seems strange but makes perfect sense, and I was glad to see it. The levels of conflict achieved in this episode must be seen to be believed. The end takes artistic license (Watchers who were trying to kill Duncan seconds earlier stand by and let him pass), but I can overlook it. Though "One Minute To Midnight" earns the highest rating, the episode is ruined by wretched video quality. Colors bleed badly, particularly reds and blues. In addition, a strange registration problem causes some characters to be surrounded by ultramarine blue outlines, as though they were radioactive weathermen.
The lack of a consistent love interest leaves a distinct gap in the season. In fact, Duncan doesn't have much stability at all. Richie isn't around much; Joe and Duncan have a falling out. Methos is unpredictable. Surprisingly enough, Amanda is the rock this season, which is saying something. On one hand, I appreciate the variety and risks taken with Duncan's character. On the other hand, I miss the comfort of having Richie and Tessa and Duncan all together. True, Seasons Two and Three had uncertainty, but this one seems really unstable. No Charlies, no Annes, no Richies… Joe isn't even Joe sometimes.
The actors have all gotten comfortable enough that moments of autopilot creep in. Adrian is sometimes too blithe with his infinite wisdom, while Jim is pained at just the right moments. Of course, these moments are balanced by the weeks and weeks of surprisingly rich acting that this cast delivers. Perhaps after four seasons, I've gotten to know what to expect from the characters and the actors who play them. (Fortunately, Jim gives us more of his live music; always a treat.)
Audiovisual quality seems to have taken a backward step, or at least is inconsistent. I used the closed captioning in almost every episode in the last half of the season. Part of the problem was Wingfield's well-executed but hard-to-hear mutterings under his breath. But the real culprit is indistinct sound. Visually, we have overly grainy episodes mixed in with some nicely shot episodes.
What is with that corny voice-over? Joe feeds us some cheesy drivel about MacLeod set to inappropriate music. It makes my skin crawl. The DVD menu has been similarly "enhanced" with faux-religious choirs and corny bugle blasts. I was frequently using the fast-forward button. Speaking of music, Queen's intro song has been trimmed. I can appreciate the desire to alter the intro a bit, but this one is awful. As usual, there are no chapter stops, so we have to fast-forward through it.
The detailed Watcher Chronicles give detailed spoilers, as do many of the interviews. People say things like "As we later learn, Major Character X is actually [insert something unexpected here]." This gets frustrating.
The set comes in another lengthy fold-out Digipak, which offends the sensibilities of some. I was fumbling around in the dark and nearly ripped off half of the package, so I can see merit in the complaint. From a design standpoint, however, it is visually impressive.
Chapter stop after the opening credits. Just consider the idea, please.
Four seasons down, and Highlander is still surprising me with its creativity. There are better shows on television, but few that have done so much with such a modest budget. Highlander engages our minds and our sense of adventure, making it perfect escapism. With a DVD treatment this good, you should not hesitate to pick up Season Four.
The court has carefully weighed the evidence and finds The Highlander not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2004 Nominee
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 1060 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Vast library of never-before-seen footage including deleted, alternate, and recently discovered scenes
* Interviews with several members of the cast and crew
* "Watcher Chronicles"
* Photo gallery
* Audio commentaries from cast and crew
* Production design and sketches
* Bloopers and outtakes
* CD-ROM: all 22 scripts, bios, trivia, fight scripts, production notes, and shooting schedules
* Review of Season One
* Review of Season Two
* Review of Season Three
* Episode Guide for entire Highlander series