04 April 2011

Highlander: The Series Season 5

Highlander Peaks for Season 5
By Kristin Battestella

The immortal suave and sword fighting style of Highlander: The Series continues for Season 5 - from BC to the nineties and then some.   

Immortal Highlander Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) struggles with who he is and who is friends are- thanks to prophecies of good and evil and secrets withheld by the 5,000 year old Methos (Peter Wingfield).  Watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) also wrestles with his immortal friendships and the mortality they so often harbinger.  Unfortunately, Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) and Richie (Stan Kirsh) must also face immortal fame, infamy, and religion.  Can’t all these immortals just get along?

 One might think Highlander: The Series would retread a topic or two after such a solid syndicated tenure- but no.  Faith and hope in immortal pacifism are tempted in “Little Tin God” and “The Messenger”; the uses and wastes of immortality are  examined in “Haunted” and “The Modern Prometheus”; “The End of Innocence” questions the immortal mentor and student relationships.  Yes, the season opener “Prophecy” and the finale “Archangel” do stray into a little mythical and magic fantasy much- but hey, what do you expect in a show about folks who live forever? Fortunately, there’s plenty of fun, too, especially in the period piece treats “Money is No Object” and “The Stone of Scone.”  Despite its reduction to 18 episodes, Year 5 nicely balances one-off immortal explorations with ongoing storylines and multiple part shows. Instead of growing old and withered, Season 5 is the culmination of Highlander: The Series.  The audience knows the mythos and the players well enough by now, so there’s no need for filler or fluff or straying beyond the exploration of our Immortal repertoire. 

While some of the Depression era hijinks are oft played, at least Duncan MacLeod has some fun in the past, from time to time, occasionally- just so long as he doesn’t get too fun and crazy in the present!  MacLeod seems increasingly tired, weary, burned out beautifully by the likes of “The Valkyrie,” “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” and “Duende.”  Perhaps part of that was indeed the growing stress of Adrian Paul- naturally so much rides upon him.  However, it’s understandable that Mac gets tired of being the good guy after 400 years- in the same way he remains haunted by when he wasn’t always the good guy and made costly, nay deadly mistakes.  Duncan clings to his friendships in an attempt to deal with all this routine death- the cost for his long life- but even his support system carries tragic consequences.

 One thing that has always bugged me about the Watchers- you know the secret organization watching Immortals that isn’t really so secret and that isn’t supposed to interfere but always does- is that they’ve blindly keep their presence hidden from immortals. I’m so glad Joe Dawson at last gets his friendship with Mac out in the open.  Why can’t the Watchers share on a case-by-case basis with immortals?  Hey, he’s a good guy, I can ask him some questions about The Bronze Age and get the facts right!  “Glory Days” again gives us a beautiful peak into Joe’s life thanks to Duncan and likewise, Joe provides wonderful reflection in, well, every episode he appears!  By contrast, Amanda allows for more sexy fun and tongue in cheek cool with “Dramatic License.”  Not without their immortal drama, it’s also great to see her and Mac wonder what their relationship really is under all the laughter and if their difficulties could not only survive mortal conventions, but immortal lifetimes. Then let’s toss in some competition from Nicholas Lea (The X-Files) as Cory Raines in “Money for Nothing” just to keep the romance on its toes.  Of course, seeing Amanda and Roger Daltry’s Hugh Fitzcairn go head to head in “The Stone of Scone” is so, so sweet, too! 

I know I’ve mentioned some of the same episodes more than once- hey, they bear repeating- but most viewers probably remember ‘the horsemen ones’ most from Season 5, if not the entire series.  Peter Wingfield guests in count ‘em seven episodes this year, and “Comes A Horseman” and “Revelation 6:8” finally give us a piece of the Methos mythos (hee). Not that “The Messenger” and “The Modern Prometheus” don’t, but seeing the wild side of Methos is an exceptional antithesis to do-gooder MacLeod.  Toss in the lady scorned Tracy Scoggins (Babylon 5, The Colbys, and I always remember Watchers II for some reason) for 3 shows as immortal witch Cassandra, and oh me oh my! These storylines add to MacLeod’s own legend and the ancient presence of immortals without having to disastrously explain where they all come from- as in the various versions of Highlander 2. They are, they f*ck up, they move on.  Highlander: The Series needs nothing else, indeed. Although I must say, I always thought I liked Fitz more than Methos, but now I’m not so sure.  The Methos possibilities are just too interesting- be he good or evil, selfless and righteous for the greater good, or downright arrogant and self centered.  And does any one else think Colin Morgan on the new Merlin looks like he could be Wingfield’s son?  

 (This picture just cracks me up for some reason!)

Unfortunately, Richie always gets the short end of the sword and never quite gets a head above the rest.  “The End of Innocence” tries to backpedal on Richie’s off screen whereabouts from last season- but if the audience is supposed to find all this so important, why weren’t we seeing snips of these adventures then? How ironic he’s a regular character who also appears in only 7 episodes. Sadly, in this rewatch, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really like Richie.  He isn’t treated as any more significant than the guest immortals, he’s kind of a jerk who always screws up or never really learns anything, or if so, the changes never stick as he comes and goes.  All that being said, when Richie gets a spotlight show like “Haunted,” Highlander: The Series still can’t go wrong. Here’s a lovely episode again exploring what exactly a Quickening may be- is it the spirit or the soul? Does it live on in the immortal who takes the victor’s head; do they obtain the quirks and characteristics of their beheaded comrades?  If that is the case, immortals must fight to the death in order to pass on all their greatness in one culmination towards The Prize.  In a way, it’s almost as if the Quickening is a unique form of…procreation towards one glorious being. Such Intriguing thoughts like this, however, are given a backseat so Richie can have another one off romance and then disappear. Snark.  The visiting Bruce A. Young’s (The Sentinel) Carl Robinson in “Manhunt” is far more interesting as the slave turned ball player with political hopes who can’t quite get past his own immortal racism. I would have loved to see Young return as a recurring player had the series gone on properly- but we won’t talk about those bads until Season 6.

Some of the narrations leading into the flashbacks this season are, however, a little unusual.  Show don’t tell, after all. Some exotic locations like Peru or unexplored times and places like Andersonville, the 1970s, and Spain add more zest and fun to the always lovely and upscale period design.  Again, perhaps Depression era crime and Nazi motifs are over played- and the dojo really looks ready to retire.  How can a members only gym be open all the time yet be so empty?  How can it close down and get wrecked all the time and expect to keep such bare clientele? Then again, episodes like “The Stone of Scone” make one wonder why Highlander: The Series didn’t do an entirely period episode at least once a season- or continue on with stand alone totally in the past television movies or multipart miniseries.  Of course, some of these answers are probably in the immense special features within these sets.  I confess I’ve yet to get through them all.  Thanks to the shorter episode order here, enthusiasts are treated to two entire discs devoted to interviews, convention footage, alternative episodes and deleted scenes, bloopers, character features, commentaries- plus a CD-Rom with scripts, trivia, and more. Yowza!

 Those who know and love the Highlander franchise will absolutely adore Season 5.  However, knowing how this year ends and considering the inferior Sixth Season, the lackluster spin off Highlander: The Raven, the split decision feature Highlander: Endgame, and the woeful direct to video Highlander: The Source; some fans may actually want to leave the franchise before the “Archangel” finale.  For myself I usually let it go at “The Modern Prometheus” and then pick up with the series finale. For once they start bringing in famous figures as immortals; you know the writing is on the wall.  It’s like when Quantum Leap had Marilyn Monroe and Elvis plotlines. Highlander: The Series need not go that way, and new viewers can’t come into the immortal universe this late, either.  Where have you been? Fantasy adventure fans young and old can live forever with Highlander.



Jericho said...

There's definitely a lot to discuss with this season, and you covered it well. I always liked Richie and felt like he was woefully underutilized; would have liked to see him get his own episode once in a while. When this first aired I thought that Richie could potentially get his own spinoff show (or become the main character of this one). Now I see that such a thing definitely wouldn't work. A Methos show, on the other hand...

The Four Horsemen episodes are on the shortlist for best in the series, and I'd go so far as to give them that title. While S3 is better to me as a whole than S5, I think that S5's highest points are higher. Duende is another one.

One of the good things about a show with heavy usage of flashbacks is that you can "bring back" dead characters, which they did several times each with Fitz and Xavier. I agree with you that it would have been cool to see more episodes that were entirely flashback.

Stopping before Archangel and picking up again with the final two-part episode is a good plan. However, I'd say watch the last three episodes; the third-to-last, "Indiscretions", is excellent and the one crack we had at a show with Methos in the starring role. On rewatches I found myself toughing my way through all of S6, but if I were to do it again I'd jump from The Modern Prometheus to Indiscretions.

Kristin Battestella said...

Thanks again for commenting Jericho! :)

They never seemed to do right by Richie, and again today, it would have been instant franchising with any immortal possible. Little short sighted on their part but the main show was so good, it's tough to fault - except for most of Season 6, haha.

This show did indeed have a good mix of smaller individual episodes in the past or present as well as scoping mini arc shows. Tough to pull off nowadays.