Anchor Bay // 1996 // 864 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // September 22nd, 2004
"The prophecy tells of a Highland foundling, born on the Winter Solstice, who passes through darkness into light and survives to challenge the voice of death." -- Cassandra
It is tricky to judge a series with detachment when you are a fan. In my previous Highlander: The Series reviews I've forced the show to earn my respect anew; it has managed to do so despite a few dry spells. Perhaps fandom has colored my reaction to Season Five, but I found it annoying right out of the gate, and then watched it flounder about for a firm direction. It never fully found one, which makes Season Five frustrating to watch.
There is one large catch, however: Season Five delivers the absolute best episode in the entire series, along with a handful of superior episodes. In addition, the Season Five boxed set delivers the most impressive slate of Highlander extras yet. It is a bumpy ride, but the highs are well worth it.
With the Watcher/Immortal war averted, Duncan and Joe try to fall back into their familiar roles of decapitating evil Immortals and writing about the decapitation of evil Immortals (respectively). The transition is not easy, since baggage remains from the conflict.
Season Five explores themes of consequence, of the past informing the present. This theme manifests through the fulfillment of ancient prophesies, the return of beloved guest characters, episodes that deal with direct consequences of Season Four's events, and even deeply buried secrets surfacing about the show's main characters. Amid this turbulent swirl of consequence, Duncan fights to retain his honor and sense of balance.
Television series are often highly creative enterprises, and Highlander is particularly so. It is blessed with the compelling premise of Immortality and a fantastic, violent game with strict rules. On the other hand, it presents itself as a realistic show, which gives the writers almost infinite latitude. Highlander gets to draw heavily on modern-day relationships, the most exotic times and places past, and a deep well of fantasy.
This near-absolute freedom is a double-edged sword because it can stymie the creative team. Highlander producers and writers have always been cognizant of potential traps like "Immortal of the Week" and have written to avoid them. The combination of free reign and obstacle avoidance is more damaging to the first half of Season Five than to any previous season.
If we lump the first seven episodes together, we find the team casting about for something fresh while simultaneously trying to recapture Highlander's roots. The first episode, "Prophecy," closely mirrors Season Four's "Homeland." "Homeland" was itself something of a gamble, and "Prophecy" magnifies the wrong elements. Where "Homeland" found Duncan seeking his roots, "Prophecy" has little Duncan hunting white wolves with his bare hands in enchanted forests, while 2,000-year-old prophesies dissect his fate. We can see the attempt to reference Highlander lore while bringing something new to the table, but I for one am not anxious to introduce magic spells, time travel, or disappearing cottages into the Highlander lexicon.
Other examples that (taken in sum) could be interpreted as overreaching attempts to recreate past Highlander magic include a reprise episode featuring Carl Robinson, the return of an angry Richie from an extended road trip, the sudden flighty appearance of Amanda in Duncan's life (just when he was fresh out of romantic partners), an "homage" to "Double Jeopardy" that features another punk Immortal with grand vision who doesn't play by the rules, and, when all else fails, a comedy episode for a change of pace. These nods to Highlander's past come predictably and without clever spins. They're not cheap shots, per se, but they are reaches.
On the flip side of the coin are the "somethings fresh." New twists include ghosts, soul transference, biblical figures incarnated, slapstick comedy, Sandra Bernhard, and mental telepathy (on top of the aforementioned sorcery from "Prophecy"). With notable exceptions, these new twists dilute the Highlander mythology while failing to introduce compelling elements.
The tack taken by the writers seems to have deflated Adrian Paul. He has always been the lifeblood of the series, barely concealing his joy at being the leading man in a perfect vehicle for his talents. Duncan's smile has sizzled, his furrowed brow has delightfully intimidated us. Yet Season Five shows a glum Duncan and an Adrian Paul who stews internally. As we infer from the extras, there was real turmoil behind the scenes. Kirsch grated on Paul, Paul and creative director David Abramowitz fought often, and Paul was moody on set.
Another element that cannot be overlooked is the departure of set designer Stephen Geaghan. Geaghan was obsessively detailed, creative, and largely responsible for Highlander's remarkable look. Over four years, he gave the series a cohesive and distinct feel. Rex Reglan's sets are good, but they are different, more spartan. I cannot tell if the shift to noirish cinematography, with its emphasis on shadow, is an attempt to hide the difference in sets or a means of enhancing drama. In either case, Season Five has a pervasively dark atmosphere. By the midpoint of the season, Reglan's style gels and his sets take on brooding life.
The changes aren't all bad. I have always been bothered by The Watchers, a subplot born of necessity that took on a life out of proportion to the overall scheme. Season Five references but does not dwell on The Watchers, as though the writers intuitively knew that the end of Season Four had brought a particularly heavy dose. The absence of heavy Watcher intrigue finally lifts Highlander out of the shadows of that domineering subplot, in theory returning us to the central tenets of Immortality and headhunting. Yet whether or not you find The Watchers annoying, you cannot deny that they added structure. Season One had the "family" of Duncan, Tessa, and Richie, while subsequent seasons had The Watchers as a constant. Season Five has no constant to fill the void.
Fortunately, "Comes a Horseman" gallops in, and the season finds itself. This episode cements the mixture that Season Five had been playing with: fundamental Highlander tenets in fresh clothing, new and fantastic elements that shake everything up, and consequences of past actions manifesting themselves. Suddenly Adrian Paul is energized, along with everyone else. The Highlander team moves forward with conviction. In fact, Season Five delivers a heavy dose of amazing episodes that almost obliterate the false steps initially taken. I count "Little Tin God," "The Valkyrie," "Comes a Horseman," "Revelation 6:8," and "Duende" among the absolute best of the whole series.
Though I'm ambivalent about the season, there is no hesitation about the extras. This boxed set is the gold standard that every television boxed set should aspire to. Every episode features episode-specific comments by the key people involved, and many add full-length audio and video commentary on top of it. This results in some repeated material, but who can complain about such thorough coverage?
Each episode also contains Watcher Chronicles that provide further detail about the Immortals, Watchers, weapons, and locales in each episode. The Watcher Chronicles have taken on a life of their own, providing a convincing backstory tangent for each episode. As always, they contain major spoilers, so be prepared.
Finally, each episode contains some form of additional extra content, ranging from bloopers to cut scenes, extended scenes, pranks, and more. There is also a shooting script, a fight script, and other notes for each episode on the CD-ROM. This is an amazing amount of extra material, and they give it for every episode.
But wait, there's more! There are season-encompassing extras as well, such as a photo gallery (eh...), blooper reel (warm), two featurettes (warmer), and two director' cuts (HOT!) -- with commentary (Gasp!). Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves. The featurettes are simply compilations of fights and love scenes from previous episodes, which lose most of their drama by being taken out of context. The two director's cuts are fantastic additions to the extras, but they are rough cuts and thus not very high quality. In addition, the Letto-Horvath commentary has a healthy amount of restating of dialogue with empty stretches in between. The blooper reel is the real joy here. Although these extras are somewhat hokey, overall the extras are unfathomably detailed and great in scope. Let's overlook for a moment that you get the actual episodes; the amount of extras could comprise its own boxed set.
The video quality is back to the stability of Season Three, which is to say decent but not startlingly sharp. Season Four had glaring color bloom problems. Season Five has a few moments of twitter, one minor bout with green and purple light blooming, and the rest is adequate. The sonic status quo remains, which means that about half of the episodes will have you reaching for the closed-captioning button.
To avoid sounding like a broken record, let me summarize the other nitpicks,
which will be familiar to purchasers of the previous sets:
* No chapter stops after the opening credits
* Corny opening voice-over
* Fold-out digipak, love it or hate it
* Spoilers in the commentary
On that note, we come to the individual episode discussions, and they are all spoilers. Watch first, read second.
You may recall that Season Four's ending experienced a bit of schedule reshuffling (see the Season Four review for more info). Depending on circumstances, you could consider "Prophecy" the actual Season Five opener or the second episode of the season. Because "One Minute to Midnight" is finale-like and "Prophecy" is opener-like, "Prophecy" is generally considered the first episode of this season.
It is hard not to draw parallels between this episode and Season Four's premiere episode, "Homeland." Both episodes are strongly rooted in Duncan's heritage and upbringing, both highlight his relationship with his cousin Robert, both heavily feature his village of Glen Finnin, and both make Duncan the living incarnation of myth and legend. I found "Homeland" a touch melodramatic and uneven, but "Prophecy" has me nostalgically wishing for the days of "Homeland."
It is a bad sign when series star Adrian Paul says he disapproves of an episode's fundamental nature, but Paul intimates just that in the episode extras. "Prophecy" is all about magic -- not the mystery of Immortality and Quickenings, but witches who can metamorphose into wolves, Immortals with mind control powers who hypnotize people into committing suicide, haunted woods, cottages that disappear into portals, time shifting, psychic prediction, and ancient prophesies fulfilled. Any one of these elements would be hard to take, but as a whole they completely disrupt the Highlander mythos while taking the fantasy element into the land of the trite. It is hard enough to keep a straight face when Immortal warriors are seeking each other's heads. When Duncan starts moving forward and backward in time while psychic witches and warlocks control him, the show becomes ludicrous.
In spite of the material, the cast does a fine job, particularly Jeremy Beck as the young MacLeod and Tracy Scoggins as the comely witch Cassandra. Beck is a believable Duncan, showing fire and maturity while looking the part. Scoggins is appropriately mysterious and ethereal, giving Cassandra the strain of centuries of burden. She is also sensual (even with the young MacLeod), and not just because of her brief nude scene. Cassandra uses all of her wiles to manipulate Duncan.
If this were a crossover episode with Charmed it wouldn't be so hard
to swallow, but as a Highlander episode it is. "Prophecy" is
self-derivative, less satisfying than its predecessor, and disruptive of
hard-earned series credibility.
* "The End of Innocence"
The return of Richie brings us back to cornerstone Highlander. Richie is haunted by Duncan's aggression and has turned to calloused head-gathering to cope with it. His actions enrage Haresh Clay, a classically exotic, refined Immortal aptly portrayed by Réal Andrews. The relationships between Duncan, Richie, and Joe become strained. The flashbacks reveal interesting moments in Duncan's past, and the modern-day swordfight is both graceful and exciting. We are back in the saddle.
Well, we would be, but it seems as though Adrian Paul is still a little
ticked at how the former episode turned out, so he acts dour in this one. Richie
is at his most dark and hostile. The strain among Duncan, Richie, and Joe seems
to echo a strain among Paul, Kirsch, and Byrnes. The extras confirm this
suspicion. Stan Kirsch's commentaries always refer to a common theme, which is
that he "really grew a lot" in his time away from the series and felt
he had to prove his chops. A key behind-the-scenes moment shows Paul displaying
annoyance at Kirsch's giddy antics while Byrnes just shakes his head. Taken with
comments in the extras from other episodes, it seems like there was strain,
discomfort, and anger behind the scenes. All of these whispered hints are rather
annoying -- why doesn't somebody just tell us what happened in a nutshell?
Anyway, it isn't hard to sense the unspoken strain onscreen.
You may remember Bruce A. Young from the outstanding Season Two episode "Run for Your Life." Young reprises his role as Carl Robinson in "Manhunt," but the second time around isn't as magical.
Don't get me wrong, both Bruce A. Young and Eric McCormack (who later went on to star in his own series, Will and Grace) give good performances in this episode. Carl Robinson brings to bear his signature blend of ambitious idealism with jaded pessimism, while Eric McCormack's character (coincidentally named Matthew McCormick) displays a believable mixture of honor and determination to hunt Carl down. The problem with this episode is not the acting, it is the clunky plot. Annoyances mount until the cohesion of the episode is lost.
The first crack in the façade is a no-name Immortal who attacks Carl in broad daylight at a crowded baseball park. As we know from four previous seasons of Highlander, this is not the Immortal way. Later, a redneck scumball takes the rap for Carl in a noble gesture to redeem his pathetic life. Stop me if I'm wrong here, but small-minded people are more apt to beat you down over a bag of salt 'n' vinegar pork rinds than to serve a life prison sentence on your behalf. I'll buy that before I believe that an Immortal with decades of experience in running from the law will walk around in plain sight with his baseball jersey on ("Hello, I'm a baseball player named Robinson, are you looking for me?"). Above all, I cannot buy McCormick's extended rage over Carl's slaying of a third-rate slimeball. The whole scenario feels out of proportion.
Fortunately, Duncan arrives in time to intervene, although interference in a battle between two Immortals is prohibited. This rule is frequently and casually violated when it is convenient. The end of the episode also shows Carl talking to his would-be sacrificial lamb. Duncan has spent entire episodes worrying whether to reveal his Immortality to people who deserved it much more. This conversation from beyond the grave simply isn't believable.
The episode does a good job of demonstrating that situations aren't black
and white, and that Immortals often live in a shadowy gray area. On the other
hand, this demonstration is the result of over-manipulation of both plot and
technicalities of honor. It is neither cohesive nor satisfying, but it does give
us solid acting and some moral dilemmas to chew on.
* "Glory Days"
Half of this episode works very well, which is the triangle of Joe, Duncan, and Joe's old flame Betsy. Joe and Duncan display an ease with each other that is a welcome break from their squabbles. The highlight on Joe and his confrontation with his past gives us deep insight into a complex character. Byrnes plays the emotional scenes with grace.
The other half features an accomplished punk named Johnny "K" Kelly. (I'm beginning to wonder whether the coincidence of bad Immortal names starting with "K" isn't coincidental at all.) This character and the actions revolving around him are just too unbelievable. Let's see...a Tommy DeVito-like nobody with the brains of a lemur becomes Immortal and survives for decades, even though he doesn't know the rules of the Game? He completely ignores Duncan's offer of information? I don't buy it. And when you don't buy into something, it isn't entertaining.
Maybe the real reason I don't like the Johnny K half of "Glory
Days" is because it reminds me of the worst parts of "Double
Jeopardy." That episode also features an unlikable punk who doesn't play by
the rules, and Duncan confronts him in the normal way. I didn't like it then,
don't like it now. Duncan is not stupid, but actions like these make him so.
Duncan sets up a MacGuyver-esque contraption to fool Johnny, but then he faces
Johnny on a rooftop -- where he knows that Johnny has a sniper rifle. Duncan
then closes the distance before Johnny can shoot him? No way. Duncan averts
Johnny's stun gun too. I know that Duncan is Immortal, but I wasn't aware that
* "Dramatic License"
Highlander and Sandra Bernhard go together like chocolate and sauerkraut. I simply couldn't believe my eyes when I saw her on the screen. Yet this is the sort of offbeat gamble that often leads to a series' most memorable episodes.
To my surprise, Bernhard worked rather well in "Dramatic License," one of the comedy episodes that have provided levity to balance Highlander's darkness. On this occasion, I'm not sure we need a comedy episode when the season has thus far failed to provide any real gravity or tension (with the possible exception of "The End of Innocence").
Nonetheless, I met the episode on its own terms, and I found it to be a periodically hilarious entry into the Highlander humor canon. The gist of "Dramatic License" is that Duncan becomes the main character in a romance novel by Carolyn Marsh. This sets up bawdy references at Duncan's expense, mainly by Amanda. Amanda and Carolyn get into entertaining cat fights. On the whole, there are plenty of outrageous moments of wit.
On the flip side, Terence Coventry, played by Alastair Duncan, was never given much depth. He lacked the gravity to be faux-menacing and the flippancy to be a buffoon. He was simply there as a foil for the plot. Carolyn's openly gay publisher is a cardboard mockery of a character. And, though I found her surprisingly fitting in her part, Sandra Bernhard had some real clunker lines to deliver.
The worst part of "Dramatic License" is that Amanda and Duncan's spark seems to be on autopilot. The illicit thrill of their stolen time together has been replaced by routine. The notable exception to this is an erotically charged, over-the-top fantasy sequence.
"Dramatic License" is memorable, I'll give them that. But the
timing of the episode is bad given the relative uncertainty of the previous
episodes, and bringing in Bernhard hints of showmanship.
* "Money No Object"
The timing of the previous comedy episode was dubious, but two in a row is exasperating. It doesn't help that the comedy in "Money No Object" is dark slapstick. (In other words, a meld of dark comedy with slapstick.)
The tenuous plot of "Money No Object" begins when Amanda attempts to hold up a mob-run check-cashing office. Someone beats her to the punch -- none other than the former Clyde to her Bonnie, a rogue named Cory Raines (Nicholas Lea, The Commish). This chance encounter fires all of Amanda's thrill-seeking neurons, so she runs off with Cory to relive the old days. Duncan disapproves, so he employs his most disapproving demeanor to chastise Amanda.
At its core, "Money No Object" is completely annoying without providing an entertaining counterpoint. The existence of a character as grating as Cory Raines is usually rewarded with payback. Main characters aren't usually demeaned without good reason. Not so here.
This episode compounds the marital squabbling between Amanda and Duncan in "Dramatic License." Amanda is petulant and uncommunicative, asking Duncan to read her mind. Meanwhile, Duncan is uncharacteristically obtuse and wishy-washy. The dynamic flatters neither character.
"Money No Object" doesn't stop at mere annoyances, however. It dishes up blatant filler and absurdity as well. The filler is an ex...tend...ed series of photo montages showing Amanda and Cory on their whirlwind crime spree, punctuated by shots of Duncan digging them up when they die. This montage is what demeans Duncan so: He is reduced to a cuckolded errand boy, a third wheel who follows in Cory and Amanda's wake to dig them up for his next dose of humiliation. Given Duncan's penchant for leaving Amanda at the drop of a hat, this sequence goes completely against character, damaging his integrity to boot.
The absurdity, aside from the basic episode itself, comes from the slapstick
"explosion" sequences. Both Duncan and Cory are blown up in the course
of the episode. In Duncan's case it was entirely avoidable: He drives a car full
of explosives into deserted territory, then inexplicably stays in the car for
another thirty seconds. When the car blows up, Duncan emerges with flyaway hair,
singed face, and tattered clothes (like Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes).
The big joke is that Duncan later blows Cory up, and Cory gets a taste of his
own medicine. Yuk yuk. It may be a comedy episode, but it is still a
Highlander episode. Does an explosion, which would presumably reduce
one's body to giblets, not count as a beheading?
I was bothered by a host of psychic-magical-sorcery-type events in "Prophecy." Unfortunately, Season Five is not through with hocus-pocus. "Haunted" brings us ghosts, reincarnation, and soul transference. Yes, ghosts: In the episode finale, Duncan argues out loud with the ghost of his dead friend.
This stuff may not bother casual viewers. Though I am a DVD critic, I was a Highlander fan first. The fan in me is just not interested in ghosts, prophesies, or magic; he is interested in Immortals beating the crap out of each other, taking heads while showers of pyrotechnics rain down. On purely Highlander terms, "Haunted" is annoying. Bill Panzer points out that it is a decent exploration of the Quickening transferring part of the killed Immortal onto the victor. I'll grant that, but leave out the ghosts next time.
The only thing that pulls "Haunted" out of "C" territory
is fine performances by Stan Kirsch and Kathy Evison, who gives Jennifer Hill a
vulnerable sensuality that plays well off of Richie's charm.
* "Little Tin God"
Finally, just when I had given up hope, along comes an episode I can fully embrace. "Little Tin God" represents the best of Highlander. This plot is so good that they considered expanding it into a Highlander movie sequel.
"Little Tin God" is about an Immortal who makes himself a god. (This figure is based on an actual ancient South American god with a sickle in one hand and a decapitated head in the other, known as The Decapitator.) Larca's self-imposed godhood rubs Duncan the wrong way, which begets a tension between the two. (You know, the kind of itch you scratch with a sword and a decapitated body.)
This episode fires on all cylinders. The present-day storyline is an interesting character study about faith, trust, and instinct. What if you actually met God? How would you react? Both Derek and Reverend Bell, portrayed by compelling actors Roger R. Cross and Nathaniel Deveaux, are sophisticated characters who wrestle with this issue. The modern-day storyline gains shock value through the violation of The Game's rules, such as three Immortals attacking one, and fighting on holy ground.
Even more fascinating are the flashbacks to 1830s Peru. These scenes combine
the adventurous vibe of Raiders of the Lost Ark with the story of
Heart of Darkness. The temple set is one of the most dramatic and
seamless special effects I've seen in the entire series, tricking us into
believing we're seeing a full village of straw huts at the base of a towering
temple. Larca's confident depravity strikes a chord that later spirals into
madness. The tribe of worshippers is exotic and tragic. Believable strangeness
such as this fuels Highlander's ambitious reputation.
* "The Messenger"
You'll rarely hear a creative executive directly slam an acting performance, particularly when the executive is as warm as David Abramowitz and the actor is as beloved as Ron Perlman. Yet Abramowitz criticizes Perlman's performance in "The Messenger," which speaks to both the honesty of the episode discussions and the flatness of this episode.
To be fair, Perlman is not the only actor who phoned in his performance. His apathy may have been the catalyst, but everyone from the redoubtable Adrian Paul to the normally scintillating Peter Wingfield lacks their usual spark. Stan Kirsch exhibits the most energy, but he cannot avert the flat dynamic. Even the most dramatic moments in this episode seem low-key.
Abramowitz's other gripe is unfortunately accurate as well: Episode baddie William Culbraith's evil potential was squandered when they dressed him in a goofy safari jacket. He looked like a Gilligan's Island reject. Every evil word he spoke was drowned out by my inner dialogue: "Yes, but you look ridiculous. How can an 800-year-old man have such deplorable fashion sense?"
This episode explores themes that are potentially intellectually engaging
but fail to engage. It isn't completely devoid of merit, just another in a
string of disappointing episodes.
* "The Valkyrie"
I had begun to fear that this season would be a dud (with the exception of "Little Tin God," of course.) I should have had more faith. The Highlander creative team has experienced lulls before, and they have always managed to right the ship. "The Valkyrie" rights the ship in a big way, just in time to save the rest of the season.
The summary for this episode is misleading and does nothing to convey the psychological depth achieved. Ingrid Henning (Musetta Vander, one of the Sirens in O Brother, Where Art Thou?), a young officer in the Nazi regime (well, apparently young, anyway), has the chance to rid the world of Hitler. She fails, and it haunts her for the rest of her not-insignificant lifespan. Her actions draw the attention of Interpol, and Duncan must intervene.
It is hard to nail down the chemistry that makes "The Valkyrie" work so well. Part of the equation is that this episode seems to reinvent Highlander's core while staying true to it. "The Valkyrie" is writer James Thorpe's first Highlander script and director Richard Martin's first Highlander effort. Thorpe provides stunning dialogue and powerful situations, which Martin maximizes through cinematic camera work and dramatic lighting. The actors (particularly Patrick Keating as Adolf Hitler and Jim Leard as Detective Frayne) make the most of their scenes, conveying reams of sinister undertone through simple expression and inflection. These newcomers collectively intensify the Highlander experience through fresh eyes.
Series regulars are in top form as well. Paul gives one of his most emotional performances, which comes off as even more authentic because it isn't a manipulatively heart-wrenching situation. Wingfield snaps Methos back to his casually piercing best, delivering philosophically dense yet succinct lines.
The extras for this episode include a video commentary that runs the same
scenes by Adrian Paul and Richard Martin. Martin is chillingly candid. Seeing
their moments of agreement or their different takes on the same scene is
* "Comes a Horseman"
David Abramowitz (whose opinion I have come to respect) says it best: This episode and "Revelation 6:8" are quintessential Highlander, a pair of episodes that rival most movies through sheer spectacle and brilliance.
This episode is so right that any possible nitpicks are nullified. The core of the episode is a simple idea that explodes with ramifications: What if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were based on an actual band of marauders? What if that alliance of four brutal Immortals proved so terrifying, invincible, and abhorrent that they became synonymous with the end of the world? What if Methos was one of them?
The nuances of that idea ripple throughout every episode future and past, coloring our perceptions of Immortals, time, and the character of Methos. Peter Wingfield has always been one of Highlander's most intense and charismatic actors, but Methos has been paradoxically benign. Our fascination with Methos stems from a disconnect between his potential and his reality. He's been through so much, but he is so ordinary! Yet Wingfield gives Methos such poise and playfulness that we cannot help but second-guess his intentions, find meaning in his offhand remarks.
In fact, Methos threatened to become stale until this happened. What did happen, precisely? In one chilling blow, the void that was Methos's past is filled. We go from complete ignorance to abject disillusionment. The tabula rasa that was Methos is suddenly etched with words so dire, so deranged, we wish they would crawl back up into the pen and vanish forever.
And Wingfield's acting chops are sufficient to handle it.
If you think about it, such a revelation is a huge risk. Wingfield has given piercing performances before, especially in the episodes concerning Alexa. But the question has always lurked: Is Wingfield using Methos's innate mystery to skate by on the occasional half-smile or shrug? Can he really handle something as heavy as this? Well, if that question ever truly existed, consider it buried. Methos convinces us that he's an amoral blight on the world, so cunning and cruel that he made his mark on the Bible.
Wingfield shoulders this new twist with grace. He delivers his key monologue with such chilling straightforwardness that it will probably be remembered as the greatest string of words spoken in six years of Highlander:
I killed, but I didn't just kill fifty, I didn't kill a hundred...I killed a thousand, I killed ten thousand! And I, was, good at it. And it wasn't for vengeance. It wasn't for greed. It was because I liked it. Cassandra...was...nothing. Her village was...nothing. Do you know who I was? I was Death. Death. Death on horse. When mothers warned their children that the monster would get them, that monster was me. I was the nightmare that kept them awake at night. Is that what you want to hear? The answer is yes. Ooh, yes.
Lest we allow Wingfield to soak up all of the acting kudos, let's not overlook stunning performances by Adrian Paul and Valentine Pelka, who plays Kronos. Pelka is a newcomer to the series, but he plays an Immortal so corrupt that even the most evil prior Immies seem decent by comparison. All Kalas threatened to do was expose every Immortal to public scrutiny and upset the balance of power forever. To Kronos, that is child's play. Kronos wants Armaggedon -- not because he wants to die, but because he wants the ultimate power. Pelka is over the top, yet grounded by competency.
As for Adrian Paul...it seems as though he was subconsciously stewing over the season's course and then snapped into focus with "Comes a Horseman." Paul is invigorated, playing confusion and resolution with equal skill. The weight of the events is reflected in his performance, which shines brightly even among his best. The gravity of the plots tends to assist Paul, and there is enough gravity here to elevate The Highlander to epic status.
I hesitate to mention it, but to be fair, not every performance is as compelling. As much as I disliked "Prophecy," Tracy Scoggins was a bewitching witch who gave the episode watchability. Here, she simply isn't convincing as a woman who has carried vengeance in her heart for 3,000 years. The beginning part of the episode is soap-operatic as she tearfully reveals her burden to MacLeod.
With everything falling into place so perfectly, we might be tempted to
overlook the compelling direction, darkly thrilling score, or perfect set
design. The extras for "Comes a Horseman" reflect its status, making
this the best overall package of any Highlander episode yet -- an honor
that will be short lived.
* "Revelation 6:8"
In times past, Highlander has set up a two-part episode with a compelling first part that isn't matched by the conclusion. This trend is bucked with authority by "Revelation 6:8," which carries "Comes a Horseman"'s dark premise to its limits.
Adrian Paul skillfully steps in to direct this follow-up. It lacks the bombshell that "Comes a Horseman" delivered, but it gives us something even more intriguing: an episode's worth of second-guessing Methos in light of our new perspective. "Revelation 6:8" is a frantic dance for everyone involved, requiring lightning thought, faster reflexes, and a seamless poker face to survive. Possible motives and alliances shift and weave with each passing scene.
Though it gave us plenty of interpersonal fireworks, "Comes a Horseman" did not feature much action. "Revelation 6:8" surfs the wave of character-based tension while incorporating dramatic action sequences. The result is what we critics commonly refer to as "a ride." There is a deadly virus, four grim soldiers with millennia of fighting prowess, and a leader willing to use both for the destruction of the world. In one memorable scene, Duncan is confronted by two horsemen at once. Another scene features simultaneous, desperate fights that culminate in a double Quickening. The spiral energy that connects Methos to Duncan is a great effect.
I'm not saying that "Revelation 6:8" betters "Comes a
Horseman," only that it lives up to stratospheric expectations and delivers
a satisfying finale. Such a feat is tricky. "Revelation 6:8" gives us
the formation and dispatch of Highlander's most deadly alliance in high
style. Duncan fought three of the Four Horsemen and killed two of them! How much
cooler can you get?
* "The Ransom of Richard Redstone"
Given that this episode follows a dramatic two-episode extravaganza, it shouldn't be a surprise that "The Ransom of Richard Redstone" is a letdown. Two-parters of "Comes a Horseman"/"Revelation 6:8"'s stature typically come at the end of a season, granting everyone a long break. But there was no break between that spectacle and "The Ransom of Richard Redstone"; its failures are as understandable as they are spectacular.
Adrian Paul explains that he went $100,000 over budget in the previous episode and that the crew was worn out from giving its all. "The Ransom of Richard Redstone" also marks the switch from shooting in Vancouver to shooting in Europe. The severely curtailed budget, staff burnout, and intercontinental logistics provide the "understandable" part of the failure.
Less understandable decisions, unearthed during the episode discussion, compound "The Ransom of Richard Redstone"'s troubles. The episode features three locale shifts and two car chases -- taxing under ideal circumstances, inexcusable when the crew is exhausted and the budget trimmed. The episode is a comedy episode (yes, another comedy episode!) with humor based in American sensibilities. Yet the director and supporting actors are European. "The Ransom of Richard Redstone" never had a chance.
It shows. It shows in the script, which is fractured and fails to engage. (Adrian Paul specifically condemns the ineffective story, a rare but applicable instance of an actor criticizing the writers.) One example is the opening chase scene, a direct ripoff of the highway flirtation between Xenia and Bond in Goldeneye -- without any of its mystery, adrenaline, or charm. The woman driving the other car is never seen again, which renders the scene meaningless. It shows in the acting also: There isn't an inspired performance in the lot. Though it is one of his rare times in the spotlight, and though he claims this is one of his favorite episodes, Stan Kirsch hams in the episode. The supporting cast is forgettable to a man. The actors seem to have no idea what they are supposed to be conveying, they show little emotion, and they aren't funny. This unfortunately applies to leading lady Sonia Codhant, who is timid and awkward.
"The Ransom of Richard Redstone" is devoid of tension, spark,
drama, or surprise. Few of the humorous moments connect. In short, it is a
dud...a spectacular dud.
The bipolar nature of Season Five continues, where hit follows miss in sharp contrast. The previous episode was Stan Kirsch's chance to shine; "Duende" gives Anthony De Longis a chance. He makes the most of it.
You may recall Anthony De Longis from Season Three's "Blackmail." A sense of missed opportunity colors that episode, because it is obvious that Anthony De Longis's potential was not fully tapped. In "Duende" he becomes a particularly nasty, though gifted, Immortal who adheres to the noble sword-and-dagger style of Spanish combat. As Otavio Consone, De Longis sneers, threatens, shmaltzes, and slashes his way through the episode with glee.
"Duende" follows the tradition of the most maudlin Spanish ballads, wherein the passion of lovers is thwarted through jealously and politics, begetting a blood feud that carries on for decades. The episode also heavily features flamenco dancing, particularly the moment of "duende" when your body exceeds what it has learned. Finally, as you will hear many times in the extras, "Duende" is crafted around a secretive form of complex sword fighting. These elements combine to give the episode a dramatic, exotic, and unique flavor.
Duncan becomes the hot-blooded lover for a change. This gives the romance scenes an undertone of urgency and makes Duncan's subsequent rage believable. We also see Duncan make a grave mistake, allowing his honor and pride to stand in the way of reason. Richie even points it out to him, asking why MacLeod would willingly give a sword master the advantage in a fight to the death. Currents such as this imbue "Duende" with passion.
The sets and supporting cast are convincing, both in flashback and the present day. Carmen du Sautoy is completely believable as a strong-willed woman who loves dance just scarcely less than her own daughter. Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter Dolores gives a spirited performance as the doomed lover. Adrian Paul gives a little extra, displaying passion, outrage, and resolve with authority.
The showdown is a worthy Highlander confrontation, featuring an
extended, dancelike duel in a circle of death. Duncan's moment of victory is
unexpected (which is notable after a hundred sword fights) and creative. The
resultant Quickening is one of the biggest pure spectacles yet. The emotional
finale is equally rewarding when we see Anna's relief that her lifetime of fear
is finally at end. Though different from most episodes, "Duende" is a
successful foray in the world of Highlander.
* "The Stone of Scone"
Brace yourselves: "The Stone of Scone" is yet another comedy episode. One could accuse Highlander of trying to be Xena: Warrior Princess. I've thoroughly enjoyed comedy episodes from previous seasons, but they work best when unexpected and timed to balance a string of dark episodes. Thus far, the comedy episodes in Season Five have ranged from disappointing to alienating.
That said, "The Stone of Scone" is the best of the Season Five comedy episodes, more in line with what a Highlander comedy should be. The humor is rooted in the foibles of beloved characters Amanda, Duncan, and Fitzcairn. (Duncan telling Fitz to forget about the English because they're a bunch of thieving bastards is priceless.) "The Stone of Scone" announces its intentions with a fairy-tale book opening, setting a mood of relaxation and anticipation. Adrian Paul and Roger Daltrey slip back into their familiar chemistry, while Elizabeth Gracen stirs the pot with her sensually laced trademark antics. The entire episode is delivered in flashback, a first for Highlander and a delight for fans.
Faux-vintage newscasts add surrealism, giving us a hint of their aspirations for the photo montages in "Money No Object." (Look for an outrageous shot of Elizabeth Gracen posing with some "stones.") The golf angle is quirky and just believable enough; I can easily picture Immortals using the nonthreatening yet cutthroat game as a welcome alternative for dispute resolution.
"The Stone of Scone" is not without annoyances, although they are
quibbles by contrast. Michael Culkin drains the vitality out of every scene he's
in. The resolution is too pat. Duncan and Fitzcairn bumble too much. On the
other hand, we get to see Amanda in silk and push up-bras, Fitz in a hilarious
drunken stupor, and Duncan winning the day in a nonheroic manner. These delights
tip the balance in "The Stone of Scone"'s favor.
* "Forgive Us Our Trespasses"
It is late in the game, but the creative minds behind Highlander are still delivering episodes with a fresh Season One vibe. "Forgive Us Our Trespasses" combines a deep moral dilemma with a great outpouring of love and friendship. Methos and Amanda are particularly touching in their worried interference with Duncan's fight. See, they think he is going to lose.
This tension is just believable enough to sell the episode. Duncan did some naughty things in his dark time, and he feels somehow that he must make amends. When Steven Keane (Chris Larkin) pursues Duncan across continents and centuries to make him pay for war crimes committed in 1746, Duncan knows that Keane has a point. This intriguing reversal of roles creates currents that carry "Forgive Us Our Trespasses."
In the extras we hear some team members bemoaning Chris Larkin's lack of
screen presence. They have a point, albeit a minor one, in that Larkin is a
touch uncertain and too haughty to sell the competing hero role. I think they
are being too hard on Larkin, who flirted, fought, and forgave in noble fashion.
He may not have been star caliber, but he gave us an intriguing Immortal with
* "The Modern Prometheus"
"The Modern Prometheus" is a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. The rock-and-roll part is worn proudly on its sleeve, where sex, drugs, and a pasty complexion take prominence. Rock and roll is an intrinsic theme in Highlander, but it is rarely made explicit; "The Modern Prometheus" suffers for it.
On the other side, we have Methos and Byron (Jonathan Firth) debauching in ancient times with Percy and Mary Shelly. It is neat to see an all-Methos flashback and to get a glimpse of what Lord Byron's parties might have been like. The sets, cinematography, and costumes uphold the show's high standards.
The real problem with this episode is that it is predictable from the first
scene through the last. The beginning, middle, and end are in no doubt, which
leaves us free to listen to Byron's poetry and watch him seduce mortals to their
deaths. Frankenstein's being inspired by an Immortal fight is a gimmick
that seems like it should work, but it doesn't land well. These flaws make
"The Modern Prometheus" feel disjointed and routine.
Suddenly, the end is at hand. We are at the end of the season, so it is time for a big "spectacle" episode. The producers had no idea if there would be a sixth season, so we are possibly at the end of it all. Why not go whole hog, and have Duncan face Satan himself to prevent the end of the world?
I'm uncertain why this idea seemed like a good one to anyone involved. Some of the most poorly received episodes have been the ones that strayed into the supernatural. Although it is a theological debate to call the Prince of Darkness supernatural, when a scarlet mist floats around killing and possessing people while raising the dead, laughing evilly as his eyes glow red...I think these things stray a bit from Highlander's focus.
"Archangel" brings us Kronos and Horton and ancient deities in a maddening stream of "maddening" visions, until Duncan is driven mad. But -- but didn't Duncan kill Kronos? Didn't Horton die, and then die again, and again? I'm so confused! Someone help me understand it all!
In other words, these "mad" scenes are about as convincing as Amanda's innocence. They are predictable and irritating, and give Adrian Paul nothing of substance to do. It doesn't help when the episode is established in a tomb-raiding scene so derivative of '80s adventure schlock that I felt like I was in middle school.
Then we have the "unexpected" death of Richie. Considering how monumental this event is, they could have gotten much more mileage out of it. It was a risky decision, poorly executed, and therefore feels inauthentic.
The sets are bad, the episode fails to gel in any way...basically, this is a last-minute attempt at spectacle pulled out of the air and given a coat of red paint. The episode is a complete disappointment, especially in comparison with the "Revelation 6:8"/"Comes a Horseman" climax.
One saving grace is that the extras for this episode are extremely
informative, rife with speculation about an alternate future for the series.
These extras are much better than the episode itself and well worth watching.
Disappointment gives way to a rousing second half that gives us the pinnacle of the series. You simply cannot live as a Highlander fan without seeing these sterling episodes. Unfortunately, this rousing second half tails off dramatically, which ends the season on a sour note. Although my faith and patience were tested, in the end the team has delivered another season steeped in fantasy, moral dilemma, and rousing action -- further proof that Highlander is one of television's great fantasy series.
The court finds that The Highlander gets to keep his head for another season.
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 864 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Vast Library of Never-Before-Seen Footage Including Deleted and Alternate Scenes and Recently Discovered Footage
* Interviews with the Actors, Producers, Editors, Writers, and Set and Costume Designers, Including Jim Byrnes, Anthony Delongis, Elizabeth Gracen, Gillian Horvath, Stan Kirsch, Richard Martin, F. Braun McAsh, Bill Panzer, Adrian Paul, Rex Reglan, James Thorpe, David Tynan, Peter Wingfield and more
* Audio commentaries from Jim Byrnes, Anthony Delongis, Peter Ellis, Gillian Horvath, Stan Kirsch, Don Paonessa, and Adrian Paul
* Watcher Chronicles
* Photo Gallery
* Blooper Reel
* "Duels" Original Featurette
* "The Romance of Duncan MacLeod"Original Featurette
* Original Production Designs
* "Comes a Horseman" Director's Cut (with Commentary by Gillian Horvath)
* "Revelation 6:8" Director's Cut (with Commentary by Donna Lettow)
* CD-ROM Features Including all 18 Shooting Scripts; Actor, Director, and Writer Biographies; Series Trivia; Fight Scripts; Production Notes; and Shooting Schedules
* Review of Season One
* Review of Season Two
* Review of Season Three
* Review of Season Four
* Episode Guide for entire Highlander series
* Jinjifore's Site with Episode Summaries