18 March 2011

Highlander: The Series Season 3

Yes! Highlander Season 3 Rocks.
By Kristin Battestella

After a few growing pains and struggles to find its footing and players in its first two seasons, Highlander: The Series’ third year sends the heads rolling with plenty of fine drama, sweet action, and immortal style.

Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) once again faces Kalas (David Robb) - an evil immortal enemy from his past- in a battle that threatens to expose the existence of Immortals and the secret Watcher organization to the world.  Watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) struggles between his oath to not interfere with immortal confrontations and his continuing friendship with Mac.  Richie (Stan Kirsch) takes up bike racing- a risky prospect despite his immortality while 1,200-year-old thief Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) just can’t stay on the right side of the law.  However, is Dr. Anne Lindsey’s (Lisa Howard) budding romance with Duncan just as dangerous or is it the exact solace he needs?

At last, Season 3 establishes some internal consistency for Highlander: The Series and the result is a damn fine season with nary a bad episode in sight. The mortal crimes and drama in “Blackmail” and “Take Back the Night” are fresh and dynamic, tying in nicely with the immortal deceptions and relationship angles presented in “Line of Fire” and “Shadows.”  The Watchers are made useful and brought into the forefront, particularly in “Those Who Serve,” where we get a chance to see the Immortal Game from their supposedly uncolored perspective.  Consequences to one’s actions and inactions are investigated wonderfully this season with immortals debating their ability to change for good or evil. Can worthwhile redemption for horrid past doings be found for them? Whose place is it to forgive and judge immortals?  Religion, spiritual motifs, and even immortal drug use are examined in “Courage,” “Blind Faith,” and “Mortal Sins.”  Normal life issues such as parenting and the difficulty with computers also carry through Season 3, along with thoughts on the extreme price of perpetual youth in “The Lamb.”  While die-hard Highlander fans may know an episode title when they see it- even if you don’t recognize the titles, almost every show had me saying, ‘Oh yeah! I remember this one!’

We learn a lot about our titular Highlander this season, beginning with the 1994 opener “The Samurai” and going straight through to the two-part “Finale.”  Paul shows plenty of layers in Duncan through his past loyalties and contemporary justices. The sword fights and kick ass are without a doubt kick ass indeed, but there’s plenty of time for questioning immortality and space for 400 years of melancholy to get to someone. While he’s often shown enjoying himself in the flashbacks, Mac is afraid to open up again to another mortal girlfriend like Anne Lindsey.  Of course, the audience knows there will be trouble thanks to all those pesky immortal secrets!  While some may not like Anne simply because she follows Tessa in Duncan’s heart, its nice to have someone unaware who can be good for MacLeod.  Howard (Earth: Final Conflict) keeps Anne independent, intelligent, confident, and likeable.  But could the good doctor deal with immortality? Her job is to save lives, so a man devoid of a medical history and no immunization scars is just too much of a mystery for Anne. Fortunately, Elizabeth Gracen adds some spice and familiar fun as Amanda in “The Cross of St. Antoine” and the two-part season ender. Her duck and run immortal loyalty and devotion to MacLeod are perfectly at odds with her inability to go legit and not screw things up.   

Unfortunately, once again Richie and Philip Akin as Charlie DeSalvo get the short end of the supporting stick.  Charlie is written out of Season 3 nicely- not that his leaving is super good, but the episode “The Revolutionary” is sublime.  The character should have been a guest player as necessary all along, rather than been squeezed in willy nilly.  Likewise, Richie, despite being in the opening credits, only appears in half the episodes this year.  While the youthful immortal needed to go off and explore, sure, it’s tough to care again when he does come around for some motorcycle action.  The stock footage for the races and the intercut of Richie and his pals getting rough doesn’t help either. Why not let him have a season off so we can enjoy when he returns with heavy, living forever angst? Sometimes we see recurring players more than the folks actually in the opening credits.  Despite such a cool opening scheme, Highlander: The Series never seems to balance its core players or its ensemble repertoire properly in its listings. Michel Modo’s lovable but often drunk chef Maurice is also downgraded to a guest star this season, and it’s wonderfully that his few special appearances give him respect and something to do.

Watcher Joe Dawson again doesn’t appear as much as I might have liked, but the growth of the watchers as a help, hindrance, or detriment comes along wonderfully in Season 3.  Dawson is there for MacLeod despite the rules, and Duncan likewise.  Joe’s new bar is also a great place for mortals and immortals to mingle, and the neat introduction of Peter Wingfield (24) as Methos adds a separate watcher buddy angle for Dawson to explore.  Thankfully, this crack team unites wonderfully against David Robb (Swing Kids, I Claudius) as the Highlander’s bane this season, Kalas.  His midseason trilogy of “Song of the Executioner”, “Star-Crossed,” and “Methos” is perhaps when Highlander: The Series truly becomes great TV.  There’s not a crappy Renegade knock off plot in sight- just awesome immortals like Hugh Fitzcairn and Xavier St. Cloud- both played by cool rockers Roger Daltry and Roland Gift.  By time things get juicy for the two-part “Finale” there isn’t anything in this season of Highlander: The Series not to like.

I dare say it, but even the styles this season are catching up, with toned down dojo action, great blues music, and sweet French locations.  But my goodness they use that same Tudor house for every frickin’ thing!  Anne dresses a little edgy for a doctor- with short skirts and tall boots; but hey, it looks good and is actually still in relatively recent fashion.  Of course, the period piece scenes are top notch again, and we spend more time in the past- even having flashbacks within flashbacks. The times and places we visit also vary it up some, but a few return nicely to places and people we’ve already seen.  The transitions to the flashbacks are also nicely done; sometimes they are set up in crafty ways but other times they know the viewer knows and just cut right to it.  The audience isn’t underestimated with excessive montages and unnecessary action anymore.  Although sometimes entire swordfights and quickening flashbacks from previous episodes are revisited, I’m glad they now put the dates, times, and places onscreen for the past storylines. Some of those orgasmic quickenings still amuse me - but there are some seriously good ones this season as well.  I must, however, quibble: where do those industrial stairs stuck in the middle of Joe’s bar go? Why does their register face out from the friggin’ bar?

Once again, the DVD features for Highlander: The Series Season 3 are packed to the gills with bloopers, deleted scenes, interviews, audio and video commentaries, scripts, and more.  The interface is a little dated, but its fun to go through the embedded Watcher’s Chronicles and look for all their treats within the episodes.  Again, new fans or those who wish to remain unspoilt are better served with rental or online options or a features marathon post- series.  If you’ve been remiss on the first two seasons, new audiences can still jump in here as well.  Honestly, there’s no reason for anyone not to give this season a chance.


Jericho said...

You're absolutely right. This season is the best in the series IMO, though there are quite a few episodes in Season 5 that give it a claim to that title.

This one manages to blow away the first couple of seasons right out of the gate with The Samurai, and once the show moves to Paris (which all of it should have been shot in, I agree) halfway through things get really good.

The first two are important viewing to get the whole picture, but if someone doesn't have too much patience and I want to get them into the show quickly, I'd probably start them at the beginning of S3 as well.

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi again :)

The first few seasons do have a different vibe, and yet this is indeed such a consistently good series. I wish they made more shows like this today. There's the European flair and attention to its own internal mythology.

Now I'm itching for a rewatch again!

Thanks again for taking the time to comment with all your thoughts!

Jericho said...

Having just rewatched Season 3 yet again, Fitz and Xavier are super-welcome additions to this show. It feels like Highlander and musicians just kinda went together, starting right at the beginning with the first movie's heavy connection to Queen.

One story I like hearing about is how when Roger Daltrey was hanging out with Adrian Paul and Stan Kirsch in France, they took a train somewhere and a lot more people recognized Paul and Kirsch than Daltrey. He was caught off-guard by -not- being the one in the group getting mobbed by excited fans.

Was hoping to pick up some blu-rays for rewatching / blogging about Season 4+ with a better quality, but it looks like they only made blu-rays for the first three seasons...and only in Europe, making them tough to get here in the states. Here's hoping we get a full series blu-ray set released some time before I finish the series. Though with my luck, it'll be out right when I get to Season 6. Well, glorious HD visuals might make that one a bit more bearable.

Thank you for the write-ups, great stuff once again.