Highlander: The Series
Fourth Season: Pushing the Envelope

A note on the season in general: I think that the fourth is by far HL's strongest season. The show took a lot more risks, was willing to explore non-facile solutions to problems, did some wonderful development of both Methos and Richie (not to mention Duncan), took on a better look directorially, and had more emotional wallops than any other group of episodes (Debra's death in "Homeland," Charlie's in "Brothers in Arms," Mikey's in "The Innocent," Richie's anguish in "Leader of the Pack," the Dark Quickening in "Something Wicked" and "Deliverance," the destruction of Kassim's life's work in "Promises," Methos's anguish in "Methuselah's Gift," Warren Cochrane's pain in "Through a Glass, Darkly"). Plus, the show took its first (and best) steps into comedy with the delightful "Double Eagle" and the charming "Till Death."

Onward...

"Homeland" -- 8

Honestly, the only thing I didn't like about this episode was Kristen Minter's awful brogue, which managed the heretofore impossible accomplishment of making Adrian Paul's brogue sound good. A fine exploration of Duncan's past that enriched what we saw in "Family Tree" without screwing it up, and a good use of Highland location shooting. A great opening to a great season.

"Brothers in Arms" -- 8

Having delved into Duncan's past, now we at last delve into Joe's -- and it's a doozy. Jim Byrnes has always done anguish well, and this one's laden with it, as Joe is trapped among three friends. Wolfgang Bodison does a fine job as Kord. I especially liked the fact that, ultimately, Kord just wasn't very skilled. Duncan defeated him twice without even working up a sweat. (Even his Quickening was kinda wimpy.) A very well done episode.

[Rant mode on.] This episode has a classic example of Secret Identity Syndrome, which is seen fairly often in superhero comics as well, and it drives me nuts. Sydney Stonestreet can't tell his best friend/partner/lover/whatever that he is really Shmenge Man -- for no good reason except that guys never tell their best friends/partners/lovers/whatever that they are really heroes. Even though this means lying to them on a regular basis, even though the knowledge won't hurt them any. It's bogus, it's based on an old cliché, and it's stupid. And yet it perpetuates.

I'm not saying that Duncan should've told Charlie he was Immortal right away. But after Charlie saw Duncan get shot in the heart and walk away in "Unholy Alliance" (where Charlie himself also got shot, and didn't do so well), Duncan should've told him, and even if he didn't, Duncan should goddamn well have said something in this episode where the knowledge might have saved Charlie's life. Duncan can carry on like trash all he wants about how much of what happened here was Joe's fault, but if he'd just told Charlie about Immortals, Charlie might well have left Kord alone. Admittedly, it's possible that Charlie might still have been killed even if he did know, but by not telling Charlie, Duncan guaranteed that Charlie would be killed. All to preserve his "secret identity." It's crap. [Rant mode cancel.]

"The Innocent" -- 9

In much the same way that it was, when you think about it, ridiculous that most of the people Sam Beckett Leapt into in Quantum Leap were adult white males with all faculties intact, it is equally ludicrous that the same is true for most Immortals we meet on HL. But, as in QL, when HL does an Immortal out of that mode, it's a keeper. This is a tragic episode from practically the first minute, with a tour de force from Pruitt Taylor Vince as the doomed Mikey. The climactic scene with Mikey's it's-okay-Richie-I'll-cut-my-own-head-off is as wrenching a scene as any I've seen on television.

"Leader of the Pack" -- 6

The A-plot with Kanis, I could take or leave. The B-plot was a nice insight into the mature Duncan MacLeod versus the still-quite-young Richie Ryan in their differing reactions to re-encountering Mark Roszca. Duncan also shows refreshing sense in letting Richie play this out on his own. (I could've lived without another bloody Tessa-clips music video, though.)

[Another rant.] Neither Duncan nor Joe tells Richie why Joe won't help Duncan out. This makes me wonder -- did anyone tell Richie that Charlie DeSalvo was dead????

"Double Eagle" -- 8

HL's first broad comedy, and it works beautifully. Unlike some fifth-season comedies, character and plot sense aren't sacrificed for laughs, and Paul, Kirsch, Gracen, and guest star Nicholas Campbell all show tremendous comic timing. I also think the idea of an Immortal who is allergic to the buzz is a master stroke.

"Reunion" -- 7

Once you get your mind around the fact that Myles Ferguson is very obviously a year older, this is a good sequel to "The Lamb." Of course Amanda trained Kenny -- who better to show an Immortal how to survive on something other than swordplay? Mike Preston's Kincaid is also well played. My only complaint is that no one cut the little twerp's head off at the end. And I expected zero chemistry between Gracen and Howard, and they surprised me by having some -- especially with that delicious scene at the end.

"The Colonel" -- 7

A particularly good Duncan vs. the bad guy episode, with the added angst of Joe trying to resolve his Watcher-hood with his friendship for Duncan (with several kicks in the ass from Amanda), and a very effective performance by Sean Allen as Killian -- you could see the madness hovering right behind his eyes....

My only serious complaint is a small one. Dramatically, Duncan's "reuniting" with Joe was set up in "Leader of the Pack," when Richie tried -- and failed -- to find out why Duncan and Joe weren't speaking. It therefore would've made more sense for Richie -- who has a lot more invested in the Duncan/Joe friendship than Amanda ever did -- to be the one to effect the reconciliation. As I said, a small complaint, and one that was, I'm sure, dictated more by actors' schedules than dramatic concerns, but still.

"Reluctant Heroes" -- 5

A relentlessly average episode. Only one serious complaint: there was no reason not to portray Queen Anne accurately -- it's not like her playing croquet was crucial to the plot, so why not let her be as obese as she really was?

"The Wrath of Kali" -- 7

An episode that played to the clichés, but did so in a surprisingly elegant manner. Nothing great, but nothing wrong, either, and Kamir was a nicely complex character.

"Chivalry" -- 9

A classic. More one-liners than you can shake one of Peter Wingfield's sweaters at, a much better study of sociopathic behavior than "Counterfeit" in Kristin's parallel dialogue and actions, and particularly good performances from Kirsch and especially Wingfield.

"Timeless" -- 7

A good episode, with some interesting theories about Immortal creativity (which pretty much get thrown out the window in "The Modern Prometheus," but there it is). It's all worth it for the Duncan-in-drag flashback. The only flaw is the Methos-flirts-with-Alexa subplot -- of all the stories that dealt with this relationship, this was by far the weakest. Methos's reactions seemed out of proportion to her and slightly out of character (though Wingfield manages to be charming as all heck anyhow). I don't think that it's a coincidence that this is also the only episode in which Alexa actually appears -- Ocean Hellman just doen't have anywhere near the charm that the script intends her to have.

"The Blitz" -- 2

The only episode of HL that makes me want to gnaw my leg off at the knee. The only redeeming feature is Duncan giving Anne the house. Since his cruel insistence on letting Anne think him dead is more or less directly responsible for Anne's status as a single mother, giving her and the baby the house was, frankly, the least he could do.

"Something Wicked" -- 9

A dark, nasty episode that builds and swells like a Mozart concerto. Visually spectacular, there's almost a miasma hovering over everything, like the weather in Vancouver knew things were gonna get ugly. The violins screech as Coltec takes that last Quickening that does him in. The clarinets wail as Duncan tries and fails to stop his friend with words. The cellos thump along as Duncan, Richie, and Joe try to figure out what's going on. The tympani drum pounds as Duncan takes Coltec's head, resulting in the only Quickening in the show's history that I actually liked. And then: the crescendo. Duncan attacks Richie in the dojo ... Richie pleading, trying to learn why his teacher, his surrogate father, has betrayed him so ... a slash, a kick, a kiss ... a gunshot rings out ... beautiful camerawork here, as we get a steady, firm Joe Dawson, the picture of intense calm, firing ... and then the Watcher and the Immortal confront...

...and the instruments fade as Duncan boards the boat. Yowza.

One itty-bitty complaint: with all the talk of Dark Quickenings, no one mentions a known Light Quickening: Darius.

"Deliverance" -- 6

The second part has a hard time delivering (pun partially intended) on the first. Mostly it does okay -- though it's damn convenient that the boat Duncan boards at random just happens to be going to France, and one really wonders why Methos puts so much on the line here (especially with his dying girlfriend seemingly forgotten). I have to admit, I would rather have seen Joe or Richie or even Amanda (okay, maybe not Amanda...) play Methos's role in this story. But that's me. And leaving Rachel MacLeod out of the U.S. version removes large dollops of sense from the story. How-some-ever, we get one of Paul's best performances in an overall very effective episode--

--up until the final fifteen minutes when we get the Jacuzzi of Redemption, at which point I threw my shoe at the screen. Give to me the break. It's possible they could've chosen a cheesier resolution, but it doesn't come to mind. Gak. It's sad when HL finds itself ripping off Superman III.

"Promises" -- 9

I don't care what anyone says, this is one of HL's best, fake beard and all. A convention of heroic fiction in general, and heroic fiction on television in particular (where you have a limited timeframe) is that The Protagonist Is Always Right. The suspect Columbo latches onto in the first five minutes is the person who committed the murder. Data's first and only idea on how to deal with the technobabble situation is the one that works. And so on.

Here, in a welcome change, everything Duncan does manages to make the situation worse. He doesn't kill Hamad (played with superlative sliminess by Vernon Dobtcheff), and so gets Kassim (an excellent Ricco Ross, who manages to convey elegance and grace with the dorkiest fake beard in creation) "killed." He tries to use his bargaining chip with Hamad -- the favor in exchange for saving Hamad's life -- to keep al-Deneb safe, and it only serves to get al-Deneb killed. And then Kassim kidnaps Rachel to get back at him.

And all Duncan had to do was keep his promise and none of this would've happened. Instead, Kassim's life's work based on a blood oath he made centuries past will never be fulfilled, a good man (al-Deneb) is dead, Rachel has been terrorized, and he's earned Kassim's undying hatred. And yet, what else could he do -- especially on the heels of his actions following the Dark Quickening? After going through the Jacuzzi of Redemption, how could Duncan just assassinate a man in cold blood?

That's why this is one of HL's best -- there are no easy answers, no simple solutions to the moral dilemmas. By the time Duncan finally does keep his promise, it's way too late; the damage has been done. It's a no-win situation where everyone is screwed pretty much no matter what. It's messy, it's complicated, and it's a damn sight more satisfying than pursuing an unredeemable creep whose name begins with K for an hour, then cutting his head off.

"Methuselah's Gift" -- 8

A worthy sequel to "Legacy" that is perhaps the best argument for letting the supporting cast stretch its legs once in a while and letting your title character take a break. This is really an Amanda and Methos episode, with stellar performances by Wingfield and Gracen, and the welcome return of Nadia Cameron as Rebecca. Paul's directing here is magnificent, from the fisheye nervous glances of Amanda as she walks the Paris streets to the abortive swordfight to the spectacular climax on the bridge (which is filmed with a big-screen grandeur that still manages to work on the small screen). The only flaws (which lose the episode a point) are the howling contrivances to keep "Adam Pierson's" Immortality and Duncan and Amanda's awareness of the tattoo'd folk from becoming common Watcher knowledge, and the fact that the stone is revealed to actually have some magical abilities. The latter is more forgivable here than, say, in "Shadows," "The Darkness," "Deliverance," or the Ahriman trilogy, since it's brief and easy to ignore, but it still rankles.

"The Immortal Cimoli" -- 7

I really like this episode for two reasons: Danny Cimoli's reaction to Immortality is exactly how you'd expect a modern person (especially a modern performer) to react; and Damon Case. Case is one of the more fascinating Immortals -- the idea of an Immortal who treats "There can be only one" as a holy mantra is brilliant, especially since the closest real-world equivalent to the entire structure of Immortality, the Game, and the Rules is religion. It's a real pity they killed him off, he had serious possibilities.

"Through a Glass, Darkly" -- 6

If HL were a 40-minute rather than 60-minute show, I'd give this episode a 9. Instead, I got to the end of that episode thinking, "If I have to watch Bonnie Prince Charlie walk down that staircase one more time...!" A pity, since this was a very effective episode (mostly). Too often, the flashbacks are considered absolutes, and I like the fact that we got two different interpretations of the same events. This is one of the most cleverly scripted episodes, as Cochrane's repressed memories get peeled back like an onion, the final picture not coming through immediately. Dougray Scott's obsessive performance as Cochrane helps a lot, too.

"Till Death" -- 8

Loses a point for not making clear what I inferred -- that the whole thing was a setup, another role play akin to the 1920s flashback in the teaser. Assuming that's so, this is a magnificent episode -- comedy at the level of a high-quality M*A*S*H episode -- heralding the triumphant return of Roger Daltrey as Hugh Fitzcairn and yet another brilliant turn from Wingfield. The script manages to make Robert and Angelina real with little bits like the line about splitting up the record collection. Great fun.

"Judgment Day" -- 5

A clip show. Yawn. Still, Byrnes is his usual fine self, Wingfield does a master turn when he testifies to the tribunal (modulating perfectly from the cynical old Immortal Methos to the nervous young grad student Adam Pierson), and the teddy bear bit is a classic.

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