Our reviews of Highlander (Blu-Ray) (published November 12th, 2010), Highlander / Highlander 2 (Blu-Ray) 25th Anniversary Collection (published January 31st, 2011), Highlander: The Series, Season One (published December 17th, 2002), Highlander: The Series, Season Three (published March 29th, 2004), Highlander: The Series, Season Four (published June 8th, 2004), Highlander: The Series, Season Five (published September 22nd, 2004), Highlander: The Series, Season Six (published February 16th, 2005), and Highlander: Ultimate Collection (published May 16th, 2007) are also available.
"You know, I once heard it said that the main difference between a wise man and a fool is that the fool's mistakes never teach him anything."—Duncan MacLeod
There are times when you get hooked on a TV show and get swept away. Maybe you're just at the right place at the right time; there's a happy confluence of events that makes you a fan. Then, years later, you get a chance to see the show again. On a second viewing, your nostalgia and fan loyalty cannot mask the truth—the show stinks. You want to relive the moment, but it just isn't there anymore.
I'm happy to report that this is not one of those times. When Highlander first aired in the 1990s, it grabbed my attention. I didn't see every episode, but watched it whenever I got a chance and really enjoyed it. When the first disc of Season Two popped into my player, I had a slight twinge of apprehension that the show would not live up to my rosy recollections. The thought quickly evaporated, replaced by enthusiasm. Highlander hooked me anew and has swept me away as thoroughly as it did the first time. Although Highlander is over 10 years old, the timeless nature of the concept prevents it from feeling dated.
Season Two demonstrates surer footing than Season One, although not without a few minor missteps. Tone and direction oscillate several times, making it hard to get a read on the series. Season One ended on a tragic note, and with it came a revelation that turned the Highlander world on its head. The opening of the second season moves at full speed, delivering a series of heavy emotional blows both touching and tragic. Season Two packs a heavier emotional impact than its predecessor, plus a dogged focus on character over action that cements the heart of the show.
Facts of the Case
The Immortals have unearthed a worrisome secret: they have been spied upon for centuries by a secret order of scribes known as The Watchers. A sect of The Watchers has become hostile to Immortals. These renegade Watchers view the Immortals as a threat to humanity. Unbound by the Immortal code, they use deceit, traps, and technology to hunt down and kill any Immortal they find.
Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) confronts his Watcher, Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) with the truth about the renegades. The two form an uneasy partnership, but neither is completely comfortable with the implications.
Meanwhile, life goes on for Duncan. He moves back to America with Tessa (Alexandra Vandernoot) and Richie (Stan Kirsch). Both Immortals and men will challenge their tenuous happiness.
Ordinarily I like to focus on the material itself rather than the presentation, but this time we'll do it backwards. There are two reasons for this. First, my discussion of Highlander's second season will be rife with spoilers. Second, this boxed set is such an improvement over Season One that it deserves special mention.
Anchor Bay and the people responsible for making these DVDs have really hit stride with this boxed set. Season One had more than a few problems. You can get the full report in The Rebuttal Witnesses section of Season One's Verdict, but in summary, the set had poor video quality, bugs in the DVD authoring, anemic stereo sound, lackluster extras, and no chapter stops after the theme song. In this new set, there still aren't chapter stops after the credits, but everything else is dramatically better. This improvement is a testament to the conscientiousness of the people involved.
The video quality is never going to be considered good, I'm afraid. The series was made on a tight budget and the film stock shows it. Nonetheless, Season Two displays a marked improvement over the first season. The combing artifacts are completely gone, along with most of the pixelation. Black levels have settled down and colors don't seem quite as washed out. The digital cleanup includes edge enhancement, but it's only distracting in a few episodes, where pervasive haloing really detracts from the quality of the show. Fortunately, the disc mastering bugs that caused the screen to go black are gone. The series looks rather grainy, but this is nearly impossible to avoid in a program shot 12 years ago for late night television, in the days before DVD. In light of these considerations, the transfer is a much better effort this second time around.
Season One's stereo sound has, in Season Two, been remixed into a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The result is a slightly more involving mix with richer bass. The opening song benefits the most, although key parts of the episodes had more dramatic sound that enhanced the scenes. (The heaviest bass appears in "Prodigal Son," when Richie is fumbling through a dark hotel room.) Music and effects are punchier, especially in the studio-mixed scenes. Many scenes had dialogue captured in the field, and these scenes sound about the same: somewhat faint and hard to hear at times. (Subtitles would be really welcome here.) In fact, the 5.1 mix hurts the location scenes somewhat because you have to play Volume Police to get a comfortable listening balance. Again, this is a limitation in the source material; in this set, Highlander sounds about as good as one could reasonably expect.
The packaging has taken a turn for the better. The first season featured three billfolds of three DVDs each. I did not like this arrangement, because (1) you have to think about where the DVD fits every time you remove a disc from the packaging, and (2) the other two billfolds fall out of the case unexpectedly when you attempt to remove only one. The Season Two set features one loooonnnngggggg billfold with eight DVDs. Many people find this format awkward, but I like having everything in one piece. The pseudo-foil cover has been replaced with an actual foil cover.
The extras are superb. Each episode includes a commentary by Bill Panzer, David Abramowitz, or both together (which is best because they crack each other up). These commentaries are quick and dirty, just like Season One, but they were recorded in a more sonically conducive environment. The information is also better, and the men show genuine fondness for the series. We get to hear about Adrian Paul's injuries, production challenges, tips, tricks, and other inside information. There is also a healthy spattering of extra video content, such as lost scenes, altered scenes, bloopers, techniques, and other goodies. Every disc has something different. These visual clips can be tedious, such as the deconstruction of Charlie walking in with his girl, but the end result is still interesting. The extras are varied and easily accessible from the submenu of each episode.
Adrian Paul gives video and audio commentaries on two episodes. The video commentary is simply a filming of the audio commentary, but with Adrian's reactions captured on film. The audio commentary is more complete, but the video offers some funny reaction shots. Adrian's comments should please any Highlander fan. He obviously cares about the role and the series, and remembers many of the actors and stunt people he worked with over six seasons.
Shooting scripts are back again, so you can catch missed dialogue. (Some of the scripts are hard to read, but what can be done about it?) The Watcher Chronicles return as well. They seem like a better fit this time because the Watchers are featured so prominently throughout the season. The background image is easier on the eyes, and the information is imaginative. There's some effective Flash multimedia on the final disc, including a trivia game and cast bios. As a complete package, the extras feel thorough and are well chosen. Considering that this is a decade-old, late night television series, this represents an outstanding amount of new supplemental content.
The improvement is not just in the package; the program grew stronger in its second year as well. Season Two shifts constantly, never letting the viewer or the characters get into a rut. Part of the variety came from trying to find a groove in the face of casting issues, but they dealt with these successfully.
[SPOILER ALERT: the remainder of this section contains major spoilers. To avoid these, skip down to the Closing Statement.]
The season opener has us believing that Season Two will be dominated by the Watchers subplot. I was particularly fearful of this. I feel that Highlander should focus on Immortals and not mortals. Thankfully, the writers use the existence of the Watchers to build a level of paranoia, but they rarely invoke the Watchers directly. For example, "Eye for an Eye" shows a mysterious car hovering around Duncan and Richie, and you naturally assume that the car holds Watchers. Actually, they are terrorists. No single subplot dominates—Watchers, Immies, and mortals all take precedence at different times. This changing mix of subplots keeps each new episode fresh.
Characters take on new shades of personality, deepening the emotional complexity of their interactions. Take Richie, for example. I didn't much like him in Season One—he was too breezy, headstrong yet bumbling. This season has Richie end his mortal existence and become Immortal. With this change comes a transformation in character. We see the weight of immortality alter Richie's carefree nature. He becomes a deeper, more serious thinker. We see darkness creep into his decision making. Duncan is forced to let Richie go, and let him exist in the world as his own person. Richie may not do the right thing—a troubling thought. Duncan is moodier as well. Tessa is no longer around to lighten him. Duncan does the wrong thing once or twice (or was it the writers?), giving us a multifaceted impression of his character.
Let's see how the season unfolds. Visit the official site or tvtome.com for episode summaries.
• "The Watchers"
• "Studies in Light"
• "The Darkness"
The ending of this episode is one of many turning points in the show. From
here onward, Duncan, Richie, and the series will be darker and laced with pain.
Tessa and Richie are both killed, with Richie coming into his immortality. The
triangle of actors on the pavement is a lasting image. Richie and Duncan relate
to each other differently from now on, and Duncan is bereft of much of his joy.
"Dust in the Wind" is used to capture the mood, and used as a
recurring theme throughout the season. "The Darkness" is an apt title
for a heartbreaking episode.
• "Eye For an Eye"
Otherwise, this episode has some great action (look out for a PO'ed Duncan
in a bar room brawl) and features Richie's burgeoning independence. He seems to
establish a goodness of heart that we have always suspected. Charlie DeSalvo
(Philip Akin) begins to take prominence as well. Sheena Easton acts with fire,
giving this episode a menacing edge (and a freakily erotic morgue scene).
• "The Zone"
And it is bad, make no mistake. The sets are bad, the pacing is bad, the
dialogue and acting are bad. The premise, the plot twists, and the climax are
bad. The fight scenes are bad, the costumes are bad, the title is bad. Nothing
is memorable except the salmon-orange suit of the bad guy and the blah feeling
in your mind. I would go into detail, but why? This is TV at its most
• "The Return of Amanda"
• "Revenge of the Sword"
• "Run For Your Life"
• "Epitaph For Tommy"
• "The Fighter"
• "Under Color of Authority"
Richie doesn't see it that way. Mako is a threat to be dispatched. This
episode is really about Richie. Stan does a great job of giving Richie
conflicted nuance. Richie is taking his first steps as an autonomous Immortal.
In his first quickening, Richie estranges himself from Duncan. Duncan sets him
free in a powerful goodbye.
• "Bless the Child"
• "Unholy Alliance—Part 1"
• "Unholy Alliance—Part 2"
• "The Vampire"
• "Pharaoh's Daughter"
• "Prodigal Son"
• "Counterfeit, Part 1"
• "Counterfeit, Part 2"
According to Amazon.com, Highlander: The Series is popular with programmers. I have to come clean: I am a programmer. This may explain my passion for the series. But I'm a discerning programmer. Perhaps Highlander earned my praise the old fashioned way: great premise, solid acting, notable guest stars, and originality.
Does this court hold sway over Immortals?
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Episode-By-Episode Audio Commentary Featuring Producer Bill Panzer and Writer David Abramowitz
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