The Champion

13 Jul

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is “Highlander”. It’s about Duncan MacLeod, a champion. In fact, looking over the TV shows I like best–BtVS, Angel, DSN, and Highlander–they are all about champions. I don’t apologize for the use of that term anymore than the producers and writers of “Angel” do, even though they do overuse it.

A champion is a warrior who takes on the battles of people who can’t fight (physically) for themselves. I used to wonder why I was so into shows about warriors and fighters, given my own pacifist proclivities. Duncan Macleod helps illuminate this. He is a warrior. He’s killed lots of people and continues to. And yet, at the same time, he is a pacifist. There was a time when he wasn’t a pacifist, at least not consciously. He was raised a Scottish clan warrior. His responsibility was to protect his people from their enemies. He continued to be a professional soldier for years and years until he met Darius, who helped him recognized within himself a feeling he already had–that most killing is senseless slaughter, that the cycle of revenge is pointless. That the only reason to fight is to defend people against those who would slaughter senselessly.

The Duncan we meet in 1993 doesn’t go looking for fights, but if someone challenges him, he will fight if he is forced to. Often he tries to find ways to avoid a battle. But if he must fight, he does, and if he has to, he will kill.

As a warrior, Duncan can never stay far away from battles for very long. He tried to. He stayed on “holy ground” for years avoiding other immortals and their quest for “the prize”. He was an abolitionist during the Civil War. He lived with the Sioux during an era when American Indians were being mass slaughtered. He was a medic in World War I. He helped save refuges in the Viet Nam War. Always in the war zone. Always the champion.

Pacifism isn’t about believing that all war is bad. It’s about recognizing that all war is sad. Sometimes it is necessary for the greater good, but the pacifist warrior is someone who choses his battles carefully, who never seeks them out, who defends the innocent and recognizes that the value of people isn’t based on how strong they are.

Some of his pacifism probably isn’t always wise. He lives by a code of chivalry that won’t allow him to kill people who can’t engage him in a “fair fight”–he won’t kill women immortals, or child immortals. As Methos pointed out to him, there’s more than physical strength involved in a fight. The women and children have their own weapons. Duncan knows this, and he understands the “weapons” they use. But still he won’t kill them, and this may one day be his undoing.

Or maybe he will be the one. He will be the last immortal in the end. He will win “the prize”–all the strength and knowledge of the other immortals will go into him, making him the most powerful person on Earth. Jim Dawson hopes so. And when his clansman Connor forced Duncan to kill him so that they could defeat a powerful evil immortal, Duncan came that much closer to being “the one”, as far as story lines go.

We’ll probably never know if Duncan will be the last immortal, although, what’s the point of telling his story if he isn’t?

12 Responses to “The Champion”

  1. scrollgirl July 13, 2003 at 1:46 pm #

    He’s killed lots of people and continues to. And yet, at the same time, he is a pacifist. There was a time when he wasn’t a pacifist, at least not consciously… Pacifism isn’t about believing that all war is bad. It’s about recognizing that all war is sad. Sometimes it is necessary for the greater good, but the pacifist warrior is someone who choses his battles carefully, who never seeks them out, who defends the innocent and recognizes that the value of people isn’t based on how strong they are.
    Yes, that’s it exactly! Thank you so much for putting this into words so I can nod my head vigorously and say, yup, uh-huh! I think this is what Connor doesn’t understand about Angel and the Fang Gang, when he says to Cordy how they want Jasmine gone so they can keep fighting. It’s not that they love the fight, just that they know the fight is sometimes necessary and it’s up to those with power to protect the weak.
    I’ve seen comments on the net about what a hypocrite Duncan is to preach non-violence yet still kill. But I don’t see it as an easy decision for him, he always weighs the consequences carefully before fighting, knowing that lives hang in the balance. “The Valkyrie” is one of my favourite eps. Grey, morally ambiguous, because everybody has a good point and yet everybody is in the wrong. And the situation is just… sad. There are no good choices, only hard choices.
    And yet, as irrational as Duncan’s morality is to Methos, I think the Old Man appreciates Duncan’s “chivalry” more than he lets on. I think Duncan’s careful weighing of life and death, of not shirking the responsibility of being a pacifist warrior, draws him and gives him reason to hope for the better side of humanity. The Duncan/Methos friendship is one of the most fascinating to me simply cuz they are such complete opposites on the surface, yet very much alike underneath.
    Heh, but I just couldn’t watch Endgame. The angst after Richie’s death was bad enough — I couldn’t stand to see Duncan kill Connor. So in my universe, it never happened. Duncan and Connor remain kinsmen forever, Amanda slinks around getting in trouble, Methos snarks and drinks his beer, and Joe plays the blues. And “The Prize” remains a mystery for all time ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. neshaffer July 13, 2003 at 2:28 pm #

    I liked “Endgame” more than I thought I would
    Yes, I have this fantasy where at the end, there is not just One, but there is Duncan and his buddies left–Methos, Amanda, Richie (*sob*) and they don’t kill each other.
    But I don’t think they gave Connor Macleod a bad death. It made sense to me. I can see how it would piss off fans who like the movies better than the series (who are rooting for Connor to be the One rather than Duncan), but since I like Duncan better, I was OK with it. And we knew we could never see Christopher Lambert play that role again anyway. He was already too old for the part.
    What pisses me off is the way they killed Richie. Here you have a show with a well-established mythology. There are these immortals. There isn’t much else supernatural out there except immortals. Vampires, legends, hell, perhaps even Jesus Christ himself are explained as being immortals.
    Then, out of the blue, they have this demon. They never had a demon on the show before. But a demon shows up, and there’s this prophecy, and the demon makes Duncan kill Richie. It was such an out-of-nowhere rip-off.
    Richie was the character I identified with the most on the show, because I think every fan has this fantasy of being an immortal, but Duncan, Methos, and Amanda are so larger-than-life. Hard to identify with. Richie, on the other hand, was mortal first, and a regular guy, just like the fans, and then he became an immortal. So it was like you the fan became an immortal with him. And you got to hang out with all these amazing people along with him.
    And then they killed him. I was Very Pissed. Not nearly as off-my-rocker mental as when they memory-mojo’ed Connor on AtS, but still pissed.
    Doesn’t stop the show from being one of my favs, though. My favorite season was season 3, especially the Paris episodes when the immortals were almost revealed to the world.

  3. scrollgirl July 13, 2003 at 3:07 pm #

    I like both Duncan and Connor…
    …though I identify more with Duncan since he was the first Highlander I saw. I’ve yet to see Highlander: II or Endgame.
    As with DS9, I saw Highlander all out of order so I knew Richie as an Immortal first, and an ordinary mortal second. And for the longest time Canada didn’t have Season 1 so I never really got into Tessa, so I don’t really identify with either of those characters.
    Methos is my “in”, the character that fascinates me, especially his relationship with Duncan, and with Joe to a lesser extent. The three guys have a very strong bond with a fairly even power distribution, moreso than Duncan has with Richie who remains mostly his student. My favourite eps are the ones with the three guys (Amanda is a bonus!), dealing with their tangled Immortal-Watcher relationships. But yeah, I loved the Kalas eps. But also Kronos! He didn’t have the “depth” of evilness Jasmine had, but the whole “we’re brothers and we love each other even as we betray one another” thing really worked for me ๐Ÿ™‚
    Agree that Ahriman came out of nowhere. But I was already in Buffy when I saw those eps so I didn’t really bat an eye, just incorporated it into my “all fantasy shows have demons” mentality. Makes it easier for me to string together my epic multi-fandom crossover universe fanfic when demons abound in all of thtem ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. neshaffer July 13, 2003 at 3:35 pm #

    Re: I like both Duncan and Connor…
    I started watching Highlander in Season 4 when that season first aired. I went back after that and caught the first three seasons in reruns on USA network.
    One thing I will tell you about the DVD set, which I am now watching. USA cuts SO MUCH out of the episodes. The show has the same basic story, but there are all sorts of incidental lines and scenes that USA chopped out. Not sure how it is up in Canada.
    At any rate, I knew Richie as an immortal first as well. It was only after I saw Richie in Seasons 1 and 2, though, that I started to appreciate his role as a character. He, more than Duncan or any of the other immortals, really seemed to get across to the viewer how monumental it was to discover that one is immortal.
    I definitely love Methos. He is so great. So snarky, so not-really-wise and yet wise at the same time. But I LOVE Amanda. She can just out-spunk everyone around her. Like you, I thought Tessa was O.K. I could really believe that Duncan would mourn for her like he did, but I was glad when they started building up the Duncan-Amanda relationship more. They knew they’d never be permanent partners, but in a way they would always be permanent–until death do us part completely.
    Another thing that’s interesting about the DVD set (and I only have Season 1 so far. Season 2 is coming out at the end of this month–oh! the temptation!) is that so far they haven’t had any voice-over commentaries by the writers or directors. What they do have is a little interview blurb by the producer attached to each episode. It’s about 2-3 minutes long, and he does a little talking-head thing where he explains some interesting back ground tid-bit about that particular episode. You can tell he’s reading cue-cards, and that’s a bit distracting, but what he has to say is very interesting.
    I’ll let you know if there are any other special features.

  5. neshaffer July 13, 2003 at 3:44 pm #

    Don’t bother with Highlander 2
    Any hard-core fan will tell you, it isn’t “canon”. Or if it is, it comes out of the blue with this weird-shit stuff that is never mentioned again before or after, and so can safely be ignored.
    I avoided watching “Highlander: Endgame” myself until I happened to catch it on cable at my parent’s this month. I avoided it, though, because both Christopher Lambert and Adrian Paul are aging, and who wants to see “Highlander: the Geriatric Years”? It throws you right out of the story. I never even knew Connor dies in it, and at Duncan’s hand. But then I don’t hang out with other Highlander fans on the internet (or Star Trek, or anything but the Buffyverse).
    But I ended up taping it off the TV, because it comes across less like a Highlander film and more like a Highlander: the Series episode. Highlander had such a funky sixth season (most of the episodes seemed like auditions for Highlander: the Raven) that I thought it needed a prologue, and “Endgame” worked for that.

  6. scrollgirl July 14, 2003 at 8:31 am #

    We’re lucky…
    Canadians get the full European version, with all the extra footage the US doesn’t get. I think they’re called “European minutes” in the HL fandom.
    I love Duncan and Amanda’s romance; it’s very unique compared to most romantic relationships on TV. They actually remind me a bit of Angel and Darla, only with less angst and killing. Like their lives are so entwined it won’t matter how much time has passed, they’ll still fit together even if they don’t become domestic or monogamous. They have… history. In the literal sense as well ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Tessa always seemed like this mythical figure, moreso than Amanda. She was the One True Love while Amanda was the second best, annoying semi-girlfriend who always got Duncan in trouble. Er, which kinda gives me insight into Spuffy lovers and B/A haters. Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll forget all about the parallels by tomorrow ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m actually a Duncan/Methos ‘shipper!
    I’ll never watch HL II, I know it’s bad and not really considered canon. Not to mention it’s too far out there to reconcile with the series, and I follow the series canon if it contradicts the movies. I think you mean Endgame is an epilogue, not a prologue ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I agree that most of Season 6 was casting tests for HL: The Raven. Some of those eps were okay though. The one with Katya and her adopted daughter was pretty good. But “Indiscretion” was the best, IMHO. Joe and Methos, driving cross country and snarking beautifully at each other. Brilliant! I’m also a Methos/Amy Thomas ‘shipper, never mind that Joe’s daughter had all about 2 minutes of screen time with Methos. That’s what fanfic is for!

  7. neshaffer July 14, 2003 at 9:18 am #

    Re: We’re lucky…
    I like Methos with the terminally ill woman whose name I can’t remember at the moment–Alexa? The waitress in Joe’s bar. I don’t get why he’s head over heels with her, she seems so plain, but I enjoyed seeing him head over heels and then later so hurt and desperate about her. Peter Wingfield gives good Methos.
    “Indescretion” was great. The Joe/Methos relationship is great. I mean the real on-screen relationship, not anything shippy. I’m not much for slash, unless it’s going to be actually consumated (except for Buffy/Faith, but that’s just a thing).
    I’m loving watching the season 1 DVDs even though season 1 wasn’t my favorite. Those season 2 DVDs are looking Awfully good right now, and I’m on the verge of being mega-poor if I buy this condo. I’ll have to probably give up my TV whoredom and go back to watching the video tapes I already own over and over and over and over and over.
    I wish H: The Raven could have gotten a second season. I keep intending to go over to some of the fanfic sites HonorH recommended and read the faux Season 2 Raven fic just to find out “what happened next”. Maybe someone has written a fic where Nick meets Duncan!

  8. scrollgirl July 14, 2003 at 9:46 am #

    What faux Season 2 Raven fic?
    Did HH give you a site URL? Could you forward it to me? While I didn’t think Raven was as good as the original HL, I liked seeing more Amanda. And nice for Canadian actors/locales to get more screen time ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m not always a ‘shipper. I mean, I like ‘shipping Duncan/Methos, but I also like their onscreen friendship, and their friendships with Joe and Amanda. And yes, Alexa was Methos’ girlfriend. She was only in that one episode though, the rest of the time she was offscreen. But I totally agree, Peter Wingfield is great as Methos, and gives a lot of heart to Methos’ emotional scenes. Plus he’s easy on the eyes ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. neshaffer July 14, 2003 at 9:57 am #

    Re: What faux Season 2 Raven fic?
    I don’t know the exact URL of the fic off the top of my head, I have it at home somewhere. But the other place to go is HonorH’s fic pages. The link to it is on the links pages of the Existential Scoobies site. Also go to http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Saturn/5006/ravenfic.htm.
    I just popped over to fanfiction.net to see what they have in the way of Raven fic. Argh! I knew there was a reason I never read fanfic! I am such a canon purist! I only want to read fic that could have potentially been a real episode of the show. I Do Not want to read fic about Duncan and Methos training vampire slayers!
    You can see why the death of Richie felt like a big deus ex machina cheat to me. It was like somebody’s fan fic. “Let’s have demons in the Highlanderverse for one episode arc and then never have them again!”

  10. scrollgirl July 14, 2003 at 3:27 pm #

    I don’t mind AUs
    As long as the author makes it “realistic” and believable, shows all the steps of getting from canon to the AU, I don’t mind. Especially fanfic for fantasy shows in which alternate timelines/universes are par for the course anyway. Just as long as the characters aren’t totally unrecognisable, I’m fine.
    But yeah, I can see how Ahriman is more deus ex machina and less “alternate universe” since there’s really no consistency.
    Thanks for the link!

  11. neshaffer July 15, 2003 at 9:53 pm #

    More Highlander Season 1 DVD special features!
    The Highlander Season 1 DVD also includes a blooper reel (that goes up to at least Season 3) that’s pretty funny, and a pre-Season 1 TV special about the series that appears to be aimed at reassuring fans of the movies that the TV series is going to hold to the mythology of the movies.
    There is also a CD-Rom of the Season 1 scripts.
    Pretty cool stuff.
    And because I was feeling a bit depressed about losing the condo, I treated myself to the Season 2 DVD that’s coming out July 29th. Hey, when you’re gearing up to write a check for $24,000.00, what’s $67.00?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] oath was to “kill the killers”. But if I’m not going to judge Macleod for being a policeman in the Immortal world, I’m not going to judge Ceirdwin for being a policewoman. Only to reiterate her own […]

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