I don’t know why it is I feel I need to do reviews of Highlander DVD sets and not, for example, Buffy or Angel. I love these shows equally. Maybe it’s just that I figure most of my friends are already familiar with Buffy/Angel and my feelings about it. But I love DSN just as much as these others, and I don’t have a lot of DSN fans on my friends list, but I don’t feel the need to review those, either. Hmm.
Maybe there’s just something special about Highlander. It has that hidden world of fantasy in the midst of the real world, it had a basic moral message of honor and decency, it had strong female characters (and great characters in general!), it had fun flashbacks.
The Season 3 DVD set has just as many, if not more extras than the Season 2 set. Every episode has a short commentary (separate from the episode itself) with interviews not only by the producers this time, but also the writers and the actors. And they’re a lot longer. They also have at least one voice-over episode commentary on each disk (so one for every three episodes). Plus screen shots, cast and crew credits, and other stuff.
And, of course, you get the full European versions of the eps rather than the chopped-to-bits syndicated US versions, with all the scenes you may have not seen before, which is cool (and I cannot believe some of the stuff I’ve never seen before! A curse, a curse on blasted USA channel and the capitalist commercialist dogs who run US television). There is a blooper reel, but apparently it’s the same one from the season 1 DVD set. They put it on the season 3 DVD because a lot of the scenes in it are from season 3. Maybe it’s been a while since I’ve seen my season 1 DVD, but some of this stuff looks new to me. Big funnies!
One annoying thing is that there are only three episodes per disk rather than four. So if you’re doing a marathon viewing, there’s a lot of annoying getting up and changing disks.
My favorite episodes
Onto Season 3 itself. Season 3 is my favorite season. Partly because of the whole seasonal arc in Paris with the threat of the Immortal’s secret being revealed to the world. Partly because it had some great episodes I loved.
It’s weird, because in several of the short commentaries, the writers and actors spend a lot of time being very critical of the episodes of the season, talking about how so many of these “don’t work” and why. I guess I don’t notice all the little nit-picky details that they do. In fact, I like the season 3 stand-alone and arcy episodes better than season 2’s.
Line of Fire – Duncan has had his share of romances in 400 years, but the one that gets the least attention, I think, is Little Deer. Partly because it was in the past, and we only see it in a few episodes, in flashbacks. But the impact of that relationship on his life was profound. Duncan has gone into “retreat” from the Game only two times in his life, once in the 17th century in a monastery, and then again in the 19th century after the slaughter of Little Deer’s village. So many episodes grow out of that relationship and his time with the Lakota, including The Gathering, Mountain Men, Obsession, They Also Serve, and Something Wicked, just to name a few.
Rite of Passage – I have a special place in my heart for the very young Immortals, like Richie, or Michelle in this episode. Especially for the moment they go from normal person to discovering they are Immortal. I write elsewhere about the Character of Invitation, and I think in the Highlander world, these newbie Immortals (among other people) play that role. In Richie’s case, he had already heard of Immortals when he discovered he was one, but we were also there when he found out about Immortals in the first place. We got to find out about this fantastic world through his eyes before he became an insider to it. But what happens when you learn about Immortality and that you are an Immortal at the same time? Talk about “Your whole world changes in a moment.” That was Michelle’s story, and I wonder what happened to her after that. Almost makes me want to read fan fic. Almost.
The Lamb – There are a lot of episodes in season 3 which deal with the issue of how Immortals cope with their situation when they cannot beat other Immortals in a fair fight. What if you’re a young untrained woman? What if you’re a man with more brains than brawn? What if you’re an eternal child?
The answer always seems to be, for the Highlander writers, that you “do what you have to do”, even if those actions would be considered dishonorable under other circumstances. The theme of “honor”–what it means to be honorable–is one of the most important themes on Highlander, and “The Lamb” explores this theme in all its sticky ambiguity. Is Kenny a sociopathic brat, or is he what ANY of us would be if we’d been forced to survive the Immortal Game as a ten-year old? Does Kenny have a moral obligation to continually ask other people to protect him (forcing him into dependence and the loss of autonomy that entails), or does he have the right to do whatever he deems essential to survive in a world of strangers who are bigger and stronger and of unknown trustworthiness?
Two episodes, “The Lamb” and season 4’s “Reunion” examine Kenny’s choices. In The Lamb we just see what his life is like. How he uses his innocent looks to manipulate people, then launches pre-emptive strikes against them when they lower their guard. He kills anyone he perceives as threatening to him. In “Reunion” we learn how he became this way, and how Amanda contributed to it.
In the end, the writers present Kenny as a monster forged by circumstance. The question left to the viewer is: could he have been anything otherwise? I don’t know, honestly, but I like Kenny. Then again, I have a thing for cranky boyish brats.
In sad news, the actor who played Kenny wasn’t as Immortal as the character he played. He died in 2000 in a car accident at the age of 19.
They Also Serve – Based on the quotation from John Milton’s Poem, “They also serve who only stand and wait,” this episode seems like a stand-alone but it is actually an episode that takes us inside the Watchers’ organization and gives us a personal view of how they operate, in preparation for the end-of-the-season arc. The view we got of the Watchers in Season 2 was colored by the renegade Watcher James Horton and his followers, who broke every rule the Watchers had, who did not reflect the scholarly side of the Watchers. In this episode, we see a woman who also breaks the rules, but we also see the rules “observe, record, but don’t interfere” reinforced. We see how the Watchers are supposed to operate. And we don’t see it from the perspective of the impersonal bureaucracy that we get later in season 3 and in the season 4 finale. And we see the Watcher-Immortal conflict made very personal: the relationship of Watcher (Dawson) and Immortal (Duncan) that we are most familiar with becomes strained.
There’s an interesting observation made by Adrian Paul in the short commentary for this episode, that the Watchers are a stand in for the show’s viewers. I think that’s a brilliant (although probably not novel) observation, especially in the day and age of the internet where viewers are less “sit and watch” and actually stand a chance of interacting with, and influencing the writers and actors of a show.
Good stuff, dude. And I just have to say it: Mai-Ling is on. Yowzah.
Methos – I’m not exactly fond of a great deal of this episode. First, there are the long, boring bits about Richie and his motorcycle racing thing. Such a good excuse to put the TV on mute and pay attention to whatever it is I’m doing while I’m watching TV. Then there’s the flashbacks to the 1920’s and Duncan’s second big run-in with Kalas. For the most part, I find the flashbacks to the 20th century much duller than earlier eras in Duncan’s life. I prefer to go to times and places I’m less familiar with. So about the sole reason for my making note of this episode is, of course, the titular character. Well, that and “Shakespeare and Company”. Has anyone seen/read “Paris Was a Woman“? Ah, to have been one of the salon intellectuals of the 1930’s. At least I have my ATPo….
But I digress. I remember distinctly my reaction the first time I saw this episode in regards to Methos. As Duncan approaches Adam Pierson’s apartment and sensed an Immortal within, I had thought, “God, this is Important. The Oldest Man. This is Major.” And then I remember being a bit skeptical when I saw him. Not because he looked young and was listening to contemporary music on a Walkman; hell he’s an Immortal. But because he looked so… European. I wanted Methos to be Hebrew or Babylonian or Egyptian or from one of the other civilizations that was flourishing at the time of his birth. Not one of those fur-wearing barbarian Europeans of 5000 years ago.
And come to think of it, the Walkman kinda bugged me too, at the time. Now I just think of it as “so Methos“. You gotta move with the times if you’re going to stay alive in them. And Methos is, above all, a survivor. But for those of us expecting that the Oldest Man would be a wise sage with a long white beard, Methos does have a serenity around him you’d want in the Oldest Man. Of course, it mostly comes from his irreverent sense of humor. When you’ve seen everything and done everything, nothing is sacred. And everything’s sacred. It’s so Methos.
Take Back the Night – What can I say? Tough women Immortals turn me on. Especially when they are shield maidens who paint ancient Celtic-Anglo-Saxon symbols on their faces.
I can’t speak to the morality of her vengeance gig; I’ve never suffered the losses that she has suffered in her life. I’ve never been a warrior whose 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 philosophy, one she tells to Duncan and he later has to remind her of, “More blood does not make it better”, and “[T]here’s a time to stop, when enough is enough… what you need is a taste of life.”
This episode also features more boring motorcycle-racing, but it ends in Richie’s very public death, which at least gives his story line a little interest. Although how he can return to his normal life in Seacouver after dying on international TV is another question.
Finale, I and II – There’s something about the danger of the Immortal secret being revealed to the world that just works for me. Besides titillating my whole “secret sub-culture” thing, it creates a wonderful canvas for conflict and bonding between all the characters.
This juicy little problem plays right into the hands of the Kalas arc, and gives us an excuse to hang out with Methos again (and how exciting is it for Dawson to meet Methos! I mean it would be like meeting some dead historical figure you’ve always admired or something. Fan-boy time! Until Methos reveals he makes mistakes just like any other guy.) Plus, Dawson and Methos have an instant chemistry that will give us plenty of odd-couple Watcher buddy episodes in future seasons.
What’s interesting about Finale is it seems like a seamless climax to season 3 and the Kalas arc and everything, but it was not the original script they had in mind to end season 3. They actually had a script in which Kalas killed Methos. But they ultimately decided not to do that. And what’s more, until after the episode “Methos” was filmed, they had no plans to bring Methos back at all. That was supposed to be his only episode. Peter Wingfield’s performance convinced them otherwise.
Lucky us. There’s some really emotionally powerful stuff going on between Duncan, Dawson, and Methos in this episode that turns all of them into friends.
And it also provides an interesting look into the Watchers’ bureaucracy that stands in contrast to “They Also Serve.” I love the moment the 5000-year old Methos gets called “a pissant grad student” by a man young enough to be his great-great… god, who can count? Is it because I’m gay or because I dig superheroes or something else that I find the idea of secret identities (like Methos’) and secret societies (the Watchers) and secret sub-cultures (the Immortals) so fascinating?
Plus, Amanda is up to her whacky highjinks as usual. Breaking Kalas out of jail, trying to clean up that mess and making things messier, wanting to leap off the Eiffel Tower (who doesn’t love the Tango they end up doing instead?). You gotta love a woman who always makes things interesting. “Interesting” in that ancient Chinese curse kind of way. The thing I love about Amanda is she causes trouble, but she always finds a way to get herself out it. If she couldn’t, she wouldn’t still be alive after 1,100 years. It usually involves acrobatics or thievery or manipulating Macleod, but that’s why we love her, no? To finally see what happened between them in Constantinople was wonderful.
This is also the episode where we see that Duncan and Amanda really are in love, despite appearances to the contrary. In the grand scope of Duncan’s life, Amanda becomes his, well, perhaps not soul-mate, not true love, but certainly the most significant love interest. The longest, the most complex, the most influential. Rather like Angel(us) and Darla in the Buffyverse. You can say Angel loved Buffy more than he loved Darla, but she did not have nearly the complex impact on his life Darla did.
Fantastic new characters:
Anne Lindsey – On the subject of strong women characters, sub-category: Duncan’s romances, I love the character of Anne Lindsey. I was just watching a commentary in which one of the producers said that the characters ended up having no chemistry and the romance was abandoned, but I liked her and Duncan together. And I like Anne Lindsey and her arc. I think, of all Duncan’s romances, Anne would be the woman I would most likely sleep with myself.
I mean, as fantastic as Amanda is, she’s too skinny for my taste, and totally high-maintenance. Could you imagine cleaning up after all the messes that woman makes in her life? Duncan says in the final analysis that it’s “worth it”, but… eeesh. As for Tessa, she is tough and talented and beautiful, but not my type. Anne on the other hand, is damned sexy. Brunette. Smart. Competent. And an emergency room doctor! Emergency room doctors are hot.
Anne Lindsey is also an interesting Character of Invitation. Such characters are normal outsiders who become insiders in fantastic sub-cultures. And Anne is kept deliberately out of Duncan’s world for as long as he can manage it. He even leaves the country after she sees him die. But then he invites her into his world. And though in the end she can’t handle it, that’s not the end of her story. They remain friends, and she finds herself re-involved when we meet her again in season 4.
Methos – And then there’s Methos. Methos is great. I’m glad, though, that I was never part of Highlander online fandom, because I might not like Methos now if I had been. I’ve come to realize, watching seasons 3 through 6, that Methos is like the Spike of Highlander: snarky, good-looking, formerly evil, and with a hint of moral ambiguity still hanging around him that makes you wonder what his motives really are sometimes. The straight women-folk of fandom flock to such men for some reason. All I can think of, in the case of Methos, is that there is a vulnerability and a humanity in him that they’re keying in on.
At any rate, this is the season that introduced us to Methos, the 5000-year old Every Man. He’s stood on the same stage as Julius Caesar and the Rolling Stones. He should be larger than life, but he’s so not. He’s just a guy. A guy who drinks beer and watches game shows on TV and runs away when he senses other Immortals. And he is also a symbol. In a show that spends more than one season, more than one arc dealing with different aspects of the Watcher/Immortal relationship, Methos becomes this relationship personified. He is both Watcher and Immortal. When the show asks, “Can you just stand aside and watch evil and not interfere?” When the show asks “Are Immortals a part of history to be fascinated by, or a plague to be wiped out?”, Methos not only stands at the center of that as a man, he is the person who symbolizes the conflict. There is one word for such a character: delicious.
In the short commentary interview for “Methos”, Peter Wingfield says of Methos, “I never trusted him. I never knew what he meant. I never knew how serious he was… about anything.”
Kalas – Kalas is the “Big Bad” for season 3, and at first glance, he comes across as rather two-dimensional. He wants revenge for things Duncan did to him because Duncan was trying to make right all the other horrible things Kalas did before that. Essentially, though, Kalas is a prime example of a man who has no honor, who cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of the things he does. In that sense, he’s an ideal villain for season 3, because as mentioned above, “honor” is a big theme for Highlander in general and season 3 in particular. I mean, they chose “The Samurai” to open the season. Hideo Koto is the poster boy for Having Honor, for accepting the consequences of his actions. Likewise, Kalas is the poster boy for Not Having Honor.
Duncan: “In the Game, out of the Game, human, Immortal, they’re all the same to you, aren’t they? You have no code, no rules….”
Kalas: “There are no rules.”
In Finale, Kalas creates a situation in which he hopes to torment the Guy with Honor, Macleod.
The wife of a Watcher that Kalas killed, Christine Salzer, decides to go to the newspaper with evidence of the Immortals and the Watchers.
Duncan would prefer to see the Immortal secret kept secret. But when he sees Dawson about to kill Christine Salzer as she heads off to spill their secret, he stops Dawson from killing her. Why? Because he doesn’t want his friend to live with the murder of that woman on his conscience.
Kalas, on the other hand, tries to use the evidence of Immortality as a bargaining chip. Kalas and Duncan have been heading towards a showdown since early in the season. But Kalas sets things up so that if he is killed, the evidence of Immortality (on a computer disk) will go public. If Duncan kills him, they’re “all on CNN!” In Kalas’ mind, Duncan’s only choice is to let Kalas kill him, and save all the other Immortals and Watchers from the firestorm of mortal fear.
Duncan broils in this dilemma for a while, and I think he realizes something: if Duncan lets himself die, Kalas, a man without honor, might just spill the beans to the world anyway. You can’t force someone into a dilemma like that if he can’t take you at your word.
And Duncan still has his duty. Long ago, he made it his job to stop Immortal murderers. To “kill the killers”. As he goes to face Kalas, he figures, he might still be able to stop the information from getting out somehow. He has more trust in himself, and in his friends, and in the Watchers to find the disk with the evidence of Immortality than he has in Kalas to prevent its release.
As Duncan is about to behead Kalas, Kalas plays his “The information will go public” card again, and Duncan says,
“Maybe it’s worth it if it rids the world of you.”
to which the chagrined honorless Kalas replies,
“Stay noble Macleod. It’s what you’re good at.”
Father Bernard – This character is a one-time character, but a memorable one. He feels like a returning character because he is accompanied by his cousin, the returning character Georges Delou. Bernard is one of those rare characters who helps drive home Duncan’s Immortality in a personal way for the audience. We see him in historical flashbacks as a brave spunky child and then as an old man in the present. Macleod’s Immortality doesn’t become more real than this–when mortals from his flashbacks show up in our present. They’ve changed, but they have seen Duncan NOT change, at least not physically. Bernard is little child who believed in miracles and then had them confirmed for him. A little child who saw the face of evil, defeated it, and had it come back to haunt him again in old age. Plus, Bernard at both ends of his life is just so darned cute and so darned emotionally affecting.