11 April 2011

Highlander: The Series Season 6

Highlander Season 6 Disappoints
By Kristin Battestella

Well, as my husband said, “It’s all downhill from here.”  After continued improvement, top notch syndicated television, and impressive immortal capabilities in its first five seasons, Highlander: The Series limps through its 97-98 shortened final season for a very unfortunately discolored conclusion.

After the murder of his friend and fellow immortal Richie Ryan, Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) retreats to a Southeast Asian monastery for a year and mentally prepares for his battle against the demon Ahriman.  Ahriman taunts MacLeod by appearing in the guises of the Highlander’s late enemies: the rogue watcher James Horton (Peter Hudson) and the leader of the four horsemen, Kronos (Valentine Pelka).  The friendships between Duncan, ancient immortal Methos (Peter Wingfield), and watcher Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) also become strained as MacLeod retreats to his Parisian barge, aides several female immortals from his past, and tries to find himself again.

Yeah, that is kind of a sucky summary of Highlander: The Series’ 13 episode final season.  Unfortunately, this season itself is kind of sucky and should most definitely not be used as judgment for the series as a whole.  Year 6 begins a little hokey with the two-part Ahriman opener “Avatar” and “Armageddon,” then concludes with an It’s A Wonderful Life cop out in “To Be” and “Not to Be.” Yes, it’s too abstract, David Lynch-esque, and mystical, but the Ahriman storyline- carried over from the finale of Season 5- both takes too long to get over with and yet seems to be too easily wrapped up and tidy.  While a fan of the series can see the importance of MacLeod going this route, questioning the meaning of his immortal life, and despairing over the death his longevity causes; this critical turn is only explored in half the episodes this season.  Highlander: The Series just gets too weird here, departing from all that made it so great in favor of bad immortal crime and female revenge crap.  This tiresome stretch of chicks all seem the same and drive this season into the ground. We’ve never seen any of these women before- at the very least why should we care about them when the immortals we know and love have so much more to tell?  If anything, Season 6 has me feeling a little bit of resentment for these guesting women who do nothing but waste the precious time being taken away from our real players.  Though a lovely piece in of itself, only MacLeod ends up with some small resolution in the series finale- which seems more like a mid-season two-parter by magically presenting the alternate possibilities of the rest of our company.  Yes, the show is supposed to be about The Highlander.  However, over the previous 5 seasons, we saw just how much MacLeod both rose and fell based on the mortal and immortal support about him.  To simply have the others smile as the sun sets is a little unfair for all the characters- and certainly unkind to the audience.  But again, it is still a lovely final episode, complete with a tear-jerking Highlander: The Series goodbye montage.  Sniff.

Fortunately, there are a few goods to be had this season.  “Diplomatic Immunity” and “Black Tower” are worthy MacLeod centric episodes.  “Unusual Suspects” with Roger Daltry returning as Hugh Fitzcairn is also great in another fun, all in the past delight that again proves more could have been done historically instead of resorting to these immortal women follies. And let’s talk about all these guesting female immortals.  Isn’t it amazing that in 13 episodes, it seems like we’ve had more lady immortals than in all the previous seasons combined? Hmm, why is that? Some of these gals are, unfortunately, seriously bad.  Dara Tomanovich (Bio-Dome) as Alex Raven in “Sins of the Father” is kind of cool, perhaps the first female immortal who can actually fight and likes it.  Her plot and motorcycle style, are however, a bit Renegade; and again, I wonder why Highlander: The Series would choose to retread this route.  Highlander I have on DVD, Renegade I do not.  No one is rerunning Renegade anywhere, Highlander is being remade, and Lorenzo Lamas can’t even keep a reality show about his crazy family on E!.  Even more tragic is Alice Evans (Her claim to fame is the way she ruined the career of her husband, Hornblower’s Ioan Gruffudd) in “Patient Number 7.”  While it’s not a bad premise, the episode is just very badly done, and Evans most definitely cannot carry one show, let alone an entire spin off. Likewise, “Justice” and “Deadly Exposure” just stink.  Claudia Christian (Babylon 5) is lovely, but her backdoor pilot “Two of Hearts” is just…no. Not only does it have none of the regular players, but also the subsequent episode “Indiscretions” exclusively features Dawson and Methos and thus proves just how unnecessary all this Star Search for the next female immortal really was. You want another gal in the cast? It might have been nice to see more of Joe’s daughter Amy (Louise Taylor, Eyes Wide Shut) as a player in Highlander: The Watcher Adventures.  Anything would have been better than how Season 6 actually turned out, I’m just saying.  

Of course, the MacLeod specific episodes are still the best, but remember, Duncan is, well, barely there in Year 6.  Of course, we’re sorry to see him go, but in many ways, one can understand star Adrian Paul’s readiness to depart towards bigger and better things. He even cuts his hair, people!  Seriously, what else was left for Mac? Why did they need to reduce the character to a shadow of his former self this season anyway? Did they really have so little faith in the rest of the cast without him?  Why couldn’t Duncan have stayed monking it out in his temple while Joe, Methos, Amanda, and a new watcher or young immortal or two had adventures searching the globe for the elusive Highlander? Although it’s kind of silly, I want to say Season 6 is a little underhanded in the way MacLeod is treated. After 5 years, he can go through whatever serious stuff he wants this season- so long as he gets over it in 3 episodes? It’s almost cruel to end Highlander: The Series this way.  As I wrote in my Season 5 essay, I would watch “The Modern Prometheus,” skip the Year 5 finale “Archangel,” and the Ahriman plot, then pick up “Unusual Suspects” and “Indiscretions” here before the series conclusion.   Everything else is kind of a slap in the face for longtime viewers. 

Previously, I’ve also mentioned my continued chagrin over the irregular cast credits and character appearances in Highlander: The Series.  Now that Elizabeth Gracen and Peter Wingfield are at last included in the main credits, they don’t %^&*# appear!  And their opening clips are some crappy shots, too. There were so many great scenes to choose from and this is what they get? Ironically, Roger Daltry as Fitzcairn- guest star of 3 episodes- appears more than Amanda and Methos! Jim Byrnes appears in count ‘em 5 measly shows this year, and I just find that unacceptable!  Why couldn’t he be the one helping some of these unnecessarily troubled chick immortals, huh?  Did they only have the new Le Blues Bar set for a few days or something and wrote Joe out along with it? Why make the big stink of him transferring to Paris to watch MacLeod if we are hardly ever going to see him?  I can imagine someone tuning into Season 6 on television and seeing some of these regular-less episodes and simply saying, ‘What the hell?’

Much as I love Amanda, the format taken for her brief spin off Highlander: The Raven again inexplicably returns to all the cop and crime pitfalls that hampered the first two seasons here.  Why why why?  Excuse my French, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Honestly, I really don’t understand why Amanda, Methos, Joe, and perhaps a new immortal or a returning cool like Carl Robinson couldn’t continue Highlander: The Series as it was without MacLeod.  Sure, it is supposed to be about the titular Scot, but Season 6 and perhaps even another year could have been great immortal fun in a search for Duncan or even film Highlander Connor (who gets no mention in the finale whatsoever) ala Blake’s 7. Heck, give us another new immortal MacLeod to carry on- incorporate Quentin from The Animated Series.  Why not return Kristin Minter as Mac’s kissing cousin Rachel MacLeod if you want a woman so badly? My goodness, even Joe sitting at his desk browsing the Watcher Database and introducing us to a flashback could have been fun- especially if it was something unseen from Methos’ few thousand years. Then perhaps we could have had an investigator coming onto the Game and the Watchers and let that segue into a separate Amanda show.  They could have continued in a series of 90-minute movies with some of our favorite immortals from the past, too. You have 5,000 years of Methos and instead you make a spin off with contemporary cop plots? Wow, that isn’t like every other show on television, no, not at all. Hell, I’m not buying that, and The Raven was cancelled because no one else bought it, either. I know I’ve spent more time complaining than properly reviewing, but there were so many other possibilities for Highlander: The Series to take before choosing to just whimper away with a half season of mistakes and a spin off that was flawed at the start. It’s just so effing sad to end like this!

Fortunately, we spend this shortened season exclusively in Paris, and the European locations and period flashbacks are great as always.  We see a lot of pre-MacLeod times and places in a good portion of the flashbacks- thanks to our rotating door of 1,000 year old immortal gals (Didn’t we already have a 1200 year old immortal gal? coughamandacough) Still, it’s nice to see that the historical style holds up without the eponymous man himself.  Unfortunately, the action suffers this season thanks to all those guest ladies who can’t hold a sword to save their lives.  They all also seem to wear the exact same pair of black jeans with a zippered up black leather motorcycle bomber, too.  And again, chick Quickenings are a Hell No. Even Duncan’s sweet Barge suffers- losing all its wonderful art and d├ęcor so Mac can have a more Zen like environment.  What did they do, sell all the stuff to pay for this clunky half a season? 

 (Black Leather can actually save you money!)

While season 6 may leave a bitter taste even in the Highlander completist’s mouth, it’s more important to look at the gem of the series overall.  Most shows have crappy first and last seasons.  In today’s instant ratings obsession, we wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to get past the first half of Season 1.  Though sometimes it might have made financing and production difficult, it’s wonderful that syndication and foreign formats allowed this show much more room to breath, explore, and be true to itself for full 48 minutes episodes for as long as it did.  Personally, I’d have to say I like Seasons 3 and 4 the best, followed by Year 5 and a step down to 2, and then Season 1.  We’ll give this 6th Year an ‘iffy’ at best. 

Of course, the extras, interviews, audition tapes, bloopers, extended episodes, retrospectives, timelines, behind the scenes, scripts, and more on the DVD sets can’t be faulted for any lack of goodness.  Die-hard fans or new fans tempted to turn away from this season can always go back and enjoy all the wealth of supplemental material included with this series.  Perhaps that’s why the errors in Season 6 feel so strange, the Highlander: The Series powers that be showed so much love and appreciation previously with all these features and delightful treats.  Oh well, I suppose having this abbreviated disappointment should have been expected.  With 119 episodes, we were bound to have a few clunkers.  It’s just a pity all of Highlander: The Series’ badness came all at once. 

Damn, I can’t end these critiques on what is largely such a wonderful television series on a down note!  Whether familiar with Highlander or not, fantasy and adventure fans young and old who are looking for quality entertainment beyond special effects or bland visuals can definitely find the humor, romance, action, drama, emotion, and complexity they are looking for with Highlander: The Series.  I miss it again already!


Unknown said...

Really love the show. I used to watch in the tv and hoped to see the end, when I tought Duncan would be the one...last episode really sucked for me, haha.

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Mauro!

Thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment!

Agreed, they really let the series down in the shortened Sixth Season. Highlander: Endgame, however, makes up for it a bit, and the rest of the series is awesome!

Unknown said...

Amazing reviews about Highlander. I've read all 6 and I loved it. I agree with every word, specially about the 6th season and the spin off. hahaha. Thank you so much!
- Tommy Wolf

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Tommy!

Thanks for taking the time to spend some time with us and commenting, too!

Today I saw Highlander is on Hulu now, and it really tempted me to rewatch, again!

Jericho said...

It boggles my mind to this day that they handled the spin-off the way they did. All these random, interchangeable women did nothing for anyone, and like you said, there were NUMEROUS good possibilities for a spin-off. Methos has ten-times as much backstory as Duncan, and could have given us episodes with flashbacks to ancient Rome and Egypt and so forth.

When they finally settled on Amanda, they completely changed her look for the worse. Add a lack of guest characters (no Methos, Joe in one episode), and the return of the Generic Cop Plot, and The Raven was doomed.

What's the Highlander obsession with trying to be a cop show, anyway? They did it in S1 and it didn't work. They did it in S6 and it didn't work. So for The Raven, they went FULL COP and buried the show deep in the premise. Heck, one of the two main characters actually IS a cop! If the guys writing this wanted to do a cop show so badly, why not go work for one of the 50 actual cop shows on TV?

Kristin Battestella said...

Yep, Jericho, this season and spinoff make no sense! :)

The 90s loved their cop shows I suppose. It's ironic, because now it seems like long form fantasy tv is the new norm.

Highlander should be on tv again, I bet it would get some decent ratings.

Thanks again for all your comments! :)

Amin Javadi said...

Nice review!

The reason why there were so many random immortal women in season 6 was that they basically used season 6 as a way to try out various spin-offs. They all failed and they ended up going with Amanda's show, so they could have done better with the season. In reality though, the best potential spinoff was a Joe + Methos show, that's why they had that one episode together in season 6 that was good, they should have gone with that + have Amanda in that show as well, that was the way to go! Methos was the dark horse of the series, he could have carried a spin-off.

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Amin! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

All I have to say is word, and word, and ditto that ditto. I totally think everyone involved would re-think Season 6 if they had the chance!