|Highlander the Series - The Complete Fourth Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 13 April 2004|
With Season Four, Highlander: The Series entered its halcyon years. Moving up from previous seasons’ occasional excellent episode with some merely good material and a little actual clunker fare mixed in, Season Four contains entire discs of the series at its best. In this season, Highlander becomes bolder about interweaving its plot threads. Although the episodes can (almost all) be watched as stand-alones, story elements flow throughout the entire season, giving the boxed set the flavor of a miniseries. As with Season Three, the set is adorned with an abundance of episode-specific extras, making it a must-have for any fan of the show and a really-should-have for anybody who cares about how television is made.
Disc 1 begins with “Homeland,” an episode that explores the roots of series hero Duncan MacLeod, played by Adrian Paul, who also makes his directorial debut here. The storyline concerns MacLeod’s journey back to the site of the village where he found as an infant in 1592 (as with all Immortals, no one knows where he was actually born). The flashbacks cover his doomed romance while still mortal with his cousin’s betrothed, Deborah Campbell (Laurie Holden), his initial attempts to avenge his father’s murder by the Viking Kanwulf (Carsten Norgaard) and how MacLeod comes to have his father’s sword and carry the MacLeod name even after being banished from the village as a demon after his initial resurrection. The present-day section sees MacLeod confronting Kanwulf again, with more decisive results. As director, Paul got to film part of the episode on location in Scotland, which results in some fantastic production values and shots that, not surprisingly, have made it into every “Highlander” opening credits sequence and montage since. In Chapter 1, the episode also introduces the use of the song “Bonnie Portmore,” a folk tune popularized by Loreena McKennitt (the rendition here is arranged by “Highlander” series composer Roger Bellon and sung by Laura Creamer, but it sounds almost identical to the McKennitt version) as a theme that recurs throughout the series. Chapter 4 features beautifully nuanced browns and greens and Chapter 8 has a big dramatic helicopter shot of the kind you just don’t expect to see in ‘90s syndicated television. Besides looking great, “Homeland” supplies some essential backstory on MacLeod for those who care about this aspect of the show; as creative consultant (read head of the writing staff) David Abromowitz acknowledges, the episode is marred primarily by a villain who isn’t as exciting as he could be. Supplemental material includes Paul talking about the physical challenges of directing the episode, line producer Ken Gord talking about outright production disasters that occurred during shooting, associate creative consultant Gillian Horvath pointing out that the locations in Scotland and Vancouver don’t entirely match (and how to tell the difference), actor Jim Byrnes talking cheerfully about his adventures during filming, composer Bellon talking about “Bonnie Portmore” and the use of uillean pipes to create a sense of place and swordmaster F. Braun McAsh discussing the fight choreography, illustrated with ample behind the scenes footage. Horvath also narrates footage of post-production supervisor Don Paonessa trying to get a bracelet to drop to the ground in just the right way, a deleted scene and actors trying to deliver their dialogue while battling swarms of bugs.
Episode 2, “Brothers in Arms,” has a classic “Highlander” dilemma: what to do when two of your best friends are in mortal conflict with one another? MacLeod and his friend/Watcher (Watchers are mortals who observe and record the doings of Immortals, but – in theory – never interfere) Joe Dawson (Byrnes) are both hit with this problem when their old pal Charlie DeSalvo (former “Highlander” series regular Philip Akin) returns to town from the Balkans intent on killing a man named Cord (Wolfgang Bodison) in revenge for Cord killing Charlie’s girlfriend. Charlie doesn’t know about Immortals, much less that the Immortal Cord saved Joe’s life back in Vietnam after Joe lost his legs to a mine, an incident which led to Joe becoming a Watcher. MacLeod tries to stop the oblivious Charlie from futilely trying to gun down Cord, while Joe tries to stop MacLeod and Cord from killing each other. The episode has both scripted and off-screen resonance, with real-life double amputee Byrnes (who survived serving in Vietnam intact, only to lose his legs in a vehicular accident) speaking candidly about his own situation. Musicians may also enjoy hearing Byrnes’ theories on playing the blues – we hear his compositions and performances on the “Brothers in Arms” soundtrack, beginning in Chapter 2, which also features a good, sweltering period look in the Vietnam flashbacks. Guest star Bodison proves adept as both a charismatic performer and as a swordsman. Extras on the award-winning episode include interviews with director Charles Wilkinson and production designer Stephen Geaghan, and both audio and video commentary (the latter consists of videotaped footage of the audio commentary being laid down) from Wilkinson. The commentary is quite informative, with some particularly good insights into camera blocking strategies.
“The Innocent” brings up yet another dilemma – what to do about someone who will live forever who needs constant looking after? Both Season 1’s “The Beast Below” and Season 3’s “The Lamb” dealt with this in different ways, but “The Innocent” puts a new spin on it, with MacLeod’s young Immortal protégé Richie (Stan Kirsch) befriending a sweet-natured, mentally impaired and tragically physically strong Immortal, played by the excellent character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince. Chapter 1 has interesting, distorted camera angles that suggest the impaired character’s skewed, panicky view of the world, while Chapter 4 makes good use of sepia hues in a Western flashback. Chapter 5 playfully injects a spirited rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” in a sequence where Richie shows his new friend around a train yard. Panzer, Abramowitz and Horvath discuss the various implications in the supplemental interviews, and plentiful behind the scenes footage includes star Paul simultaneously swinging from a rope (very Errol Flynn), engaging in sword moves and coaching his fight partner on when to duck.
Disc 2 begins with “Leader of the Pack.” MacLeod’s story in this episode is not all that exciting – he’s dealing with an old foe who uses a pack of dogs to wear out his opponents before moving in for the kill – but the other storyline (whether it’s the subplot or main plot is open to interpretation) is truly gripping. In Season 2, Mac’s mortal love Tessa was shot to death by a mugger who ran off into the night; Richie’s latent Immortality was triggered in the same incident. Richie sees the mugger on the street – the twist is that the young mortal man has turned his life around, so distanced from his violent, drug-hazed past he can’t entirely remember it. What should Mac and/or Richie do? What should they do? The philosophical underpinnings of the episode are fascinating, making up for a Quickening so silly that Panzer apologizes for it in the supplemental interview. Music is a little booming in Chapters 1 and 2, but foley is excellent – we hear the click of a dog’s toenails as it trots down the pavement in exactly the right balance with the rest of the ambient mix. There is a good ringing phone in the rear in Chapter 4 and Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” adorns Chapter 5 in a full-bodied rendition. Extras include interviews with Panzer and Kirsch, and outtakes show how the friendly dogs were made to look as though they are attacking Paul’s stunt double.
“Double Eagle” is a comedic episode that the company are clearly very proud of, but the comedy doesn’t entirely come out of the series premise and as a result, it feels like everyone is working a little too hard. Told partly in flashback and partly in the present, “Double Eagle” concerns MacLeod’s efforts to make peace between his Immortal on-again/off-again lover Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) and an Immortal pal (Nicholas Campbell) who lost his saloon to her back in the 1880s in a card game. Perhaps the best thing about the episode is Gracen’s audio and video commentary track, in which she makes some very insightful observations about chemistry between actors. Interviews include Horvath, costume designer Christina McQuarrie and staff writer David Tynan, while outtakes include Paul mooning the crew (and the camera).
“Reunion” returns to a more serious and provocative tone, with another tricky situation. As we are reminded by a rare “previously on ‘Highlander’” introduction, MacLeod has already had a run-in with Kenny (Myles Ferguson), an 800-year-old Immortal who appears to be a 10-year-old boy. MacLeod is shocked to discover that Amanda was Kenny’s mentor when the boy really was 10 and new to Immortality. To Amanda – sterile like all Immortals – Kenny is the son she’ll never have. Kenny, meanwhile, is being pursued by another old enemy (Mike Preston) of MacLeod’s – and tries to turn the situation to his advantage. The episode has good guest work from Ferguson and Preston and some cool musical riffs by composer Bellon, including what sounds like an homage to “Tubular Bells” in Chapter 1 and a creepy take on “Three Blind Mice” in Chapter 8. There is some lovely period lighting in the flashbacks to 1182 England, suggestive of misty countryside. Supplemental materials include interviews with Abramowitz and Gord.
Disc 3 begins with “The Colonel,” in which Amanda tries to heal the rift between MacLeod and Joe (the two haven’t spoken since “Brothers in Arms”). When MacLeod is kidnapped and hidden away by an old enemy, Amanda convinces Joe to set aside his Watcher neutrality and use his contacts to help. The stuff between MacLeod, Amanda and Joe is all so good and so well-acted that it makes up for a bit of over-the-top villainy and a backstory that is surprisingly similar to one of the flashback subplots from “Reunion.” Chapter 1 has a good editing rhythm as the thuds of a fistfight are interspersed with rockabilly music in Joe’s bar. Chapter 2 has a very realistic dog bark in the right main and Chapter 3 gives a nice Technicolor ‘50s movie look to WWI flashbacks. There are interviews with Paul, Abramowitz, Horvath and McAsh, and the supplemental material includes alternate and extended scenes.
“Reluctant Heroes” has Mac and Richie witnessing a shooting perpetrated by an old Immortal enemy of MacLeod’s. MacLeod doesn’t want to testify against the Immortal because he can’t fight the man if he’s behind bars. Richie persuades Mac that private vengeance won’t provide any sense of justice to the dead woman’s family – fortunately for dramatic necessity, fate allows MacLeod to both do the right thing and fight the bad guy. The justice vs. vengeance dilemma is a good notion, but we feel like MacLeod knows better at this point in the proceedings, and the episode never convinces us that he doesn’t. There are beautiful colors in a Chapter 4 flashback to 1712 England and nice definition in a frosty white meat locker sequence in Chapter 7. The interview segment with Panzer and Paul reveals that Paul took over when the episode’s original director, Neill Fearnley, became incapacitated after an accident, and there are some amusing outtakes with Paul and Kirsch.
“The Wrath of Kali,” we are told in both interviews and an entertaining commentary track with executive producer Panzer, post-production supervisor Paonessa and Horvath, was conceived partly because production designer Stephen Geaghan wanted to do an episode set in India during the time of British rule there. The episode involves culture clash, with MacLeod torn between wanting to respect fellow Immortal Kamir’s (Kabir Bedi) genuinely understandable outrage at the invasion of his homeland and being appalled at the lengths to which Kamir is willing to go to redress the injustice centuries later. Geaghan’s production design makes the most of the opportunity, with beautiful colors throughout and persuasive details that make the budget look infinitely larger than it is. Chapter 2 has wonderful pinks and reds in the flashbacks and Chapter 5 captures beautiful golden interior hues. There are interviews with Tynan and Geaghan and supplemental footage includes a cut scene that emphasizes MacLeod’s desire to do right by all parties concerned – it’s a good scene, but not necessary to our understanding of his motives – and an extended opening sequence.
Disc 4 begins with “Chivalry,” an episode that has a great deal going on: MacLeod’s flashback romance and disillusionment with a beautiful but mentally unbalanced Immortal woman, Kristin (Ann Turkel), who deals badly with breakups; Richie’s present-day affair with Kristin and the return of MacLeod’s pragmatic, secretive and sarcastic 5,000-year-old pal Methos (Peter Wingfield). Chapter 2 makes strong use of a Chaka Khan tune during a fairly steamy sex scene, Chapter 3 puts thunder and rain in both mains and rears for a good surround effect (unusual in an episodic TV transfer) and Chapter 5 has subtle siren sounds from the street below as MacLeod and Methos spar in the dojo. Given the video quality seen throughout most of the rest of the set, the sudden graininess of a night sequence on a beach in Chapter 7 is disconcerting, but it doesn’t carry over into the next scene. Interviews include spirited observations on character motivations from Horvath, Paul, Wingfield and Kirsch. Extras include additional footage of MacLeod in (and leaving) a bathtub and a lot of on-set laughter, along with some educational shots illustrating various options in achieving scene transitions.
“Timeless” finds two plotlines getting almost equal weight. In one, MacLeod’s old friend Walter (Ron Halder) shoots pianist – and latent Immortal – Claudia Jardine (Rae Dawn Chong) in order to trigger her Immortality and stop her from aging, which at first delights then horrifies Claudia. In the other, Methos falls for a terminally ill waitress (Ocean Hellman) at Joe’s bar. The episode is a charming mixture of high spirits – flashbacks to roadshow Shakespeare with MacLeod in skirts and present-day Methos in full flirt mode –and melancholy about the contrast between mortality and Immortality. Chapter 2 has some nice blues music (even though, as Horvath points out, it’s not a live track). Chapter 1 is a bit grainy, but Chapter 3 is clear, with vivid colors in the flashback. Chapter 7 boasts an excellent swordfight, which is well represented with a number of uninterrupted takes in the supplemental footage section – Halder not only suits his role of cheerfully bombastic impresario but is a very good sword partner for Paul in the duel. Other extras include three extended scenes, interviews with Horvath and Wingfield and audio and video commentary by Horvath, who proclaims this one of her favorite episodes.
“The Blitz” is an episode that has some swell practical and audio effects of collapsing tunnels and a storyline that simply isn’t very exciting. MacLeod’s efforts to rescue former flame Anne Lindsay (Lisa Howard) from a collapsed subway tunnel are juxtaposed with his memories of being trapped during the 1940 bombing of London with his then-lover (Alison Moir), who died in his arms, assuming he was dying also. Abramowitz and Paul are both philosophical in discussing why the episode doesn’t quite work as they’d hoped in the interview section; supplemental footage has a couple of cute outtakes.
Disc Five opens with a two-parter, “Something Wicked” and “Deliverance.” “Something Wicked” introduces the concept of the Dark Quickening – a good Immortal who becomes evil after absorbing the essence of a fallen opponent. MacLeod finds that a good friend (Byron Chief-Moon) is changed much for the worse after challenging and killing an Immortal criminal. When Mac cannot help his friend and is ultimately forced to kill him, Mac goes through a radical transformation – and tries to kill Richie. The plot developments in this episode are stunning and Paul has a ball playing MacLeod as a villain. Chapter 2 is slightly grainy in a flashback sequence when it’s raining, but there are incredibly vivid greens and sharp, clear images in a misty forest scene later in the chapter. Paul and Kirsch provide audio and video commentary in which they reminisce amiably (though with surprisingly little of the verbal stroking that actors usually do when sharing a commentary) about both the “Something Wicked” specifically and “Highlander” in general. The interview section includes Abramowitz, Horvath and Geaghan, while supplemental footage includes several greatly extended scenes and a good deal of the swordfight between MacLeod and Richie, with Kirsch and swordmaster McAsh both trying to keep Richie’s unwieldy sword camera-worthy between takes.
“Deliverance” continues the story, with MacLeod moving on to Europe (as the series does its mid-season production shift from Vancouver to Paris), where he commits an unthinkable act. Methos, sent by Joe, tries to save MacLeod from himself, hoping not to lose his head in the process. There is a particularly impressive audio effect in Chapter 4 in a sequence set in a church, with just the right amount of echo to suggest the high ceilings and acoustics of the environment. Chapter 7 has a slightly silly artificially deepened voice for MacLeod’s evil persona that is balanced by an exceptionally vigorous swordfight. Extras include interviews with Dennis Berry (who directed both “Something Wicked” and “Deliverance”), Abramowitz, Horvath and Geaghan. The supplemental materials for “Deliverance” are so extensive that they can’t fit on a disc with three full episodes and are therefore consigned to Disc 8, with an entire subplot and a wide variety of extended scenes and outtakes included.
“Promises” finds MacLeod in yet another moral bind: a promise he makes in order to save the life of a mortal thief from the Immortal Kassim in 1755 North Africa comes back to haunt the Highlander in present-day Paris, when Kassim wants to call the favor in by having MacLeod assassinate a corrupt politician. The episode has a lot of twists and no easy answers, giving it the ethical unpredictability of “Highlander” at its best. The swordfight is particularly bracing (showcased in the supplemental materials); interviews include Panzer and Horvath discussing the episode’s themes.
Disc 6 opens with “Methuselah’s Gift,” generally acknowledged as one of the best “Highlander” episodes in any season. Directed by Paul, the episode chronicles Methos’ efforts to save his dying mortal girlfriend by obtaining a fabled magical object – one part is safeguarded in the Watchers’ headquarters and the other belongs to Amanda, who thinks Methos is trying to kill her for it. Chapter 1, containing an extraordinary-for-TV stunt with gorgeous definition against the night sky, and Chapter 7 has a really good range of audio effects, from the subtle foley of footsteps on a bridge to a series of explosions that are loud without being cataclysmic. Interviews include Wingfield, who clearly loves his character, Horvath and Geaghan. Supplemental material includes Wingfield attempting to get a feline scene partner to cooperate and several takes of a highly dramatic scene in which Methos and Amanda nearly kill one another.
“The Immortal Cimoli” is a funny, wistful episode in which MacLeod and Amanda encounter a new Immortal, Danny Cimoli (Crispin Bonham Carter), who sees his condition as an opportunity to launch his long dreamed-of career as a magician. MacLeod tries to school Danny in the realities of the Game, but Danny has other ideas. Bonham Carter is a first-rate guest star. The B story, about MacLeod’s reluctant to fight Immortal Damon Case (Simon Kunz), whose only “crime” is his strict adherence to the Immortal rules of challenge and combat, is also well thought out. Extras include audio/video commentary by Paul, interviews with “Highlander” creative staffer Donna Lettow and actress Gracen, some outtakes of a bed scene and a deleted last scene for Danny.
“Through a Glass Darkly” is a complex episode about MacLeod’s efforts to help a fellow Immortal Highlander, Warren Cochrane (Dougray Scott, who has since gone on to moderate movie-stardom), regain his memories after a bout of traumatic amnesia, against the advice of the wary Methos. The episode boasts excellent production values – they stage part of the battle of Culloden! – and strong acting, but the showmakers themselves feel it’s a little over-ambitious in putting forth differing points of views on the flashbacks. In the interview section, Abramowitz, Panzer and Horvath discuss what they were trying to do with “Glass” vs. what was actually accomplished. Supplemental footage has some funny quips and an extended scene.
Disc 7 begins with “Double Jeopardy,” an okay but unexceptional episode that actually was shown out of order in “Highlander’s” first run in the U.S. (the episode was made part of fifth season rather than as Episode 19 of Season Four). Another Immortal thief has taken on the tactics of MacLeod’s old dead nemesis Xavier St. Cloud (Roland Gift), who appears in flashbacks, while MacLeod’s old ally and light flame, FBI Agent Delaney (Stacey Travis), comes to Paris to track down the bad guy. It’s agreeable if on the generic side. The interview segment includes Panzer, Horvath and director Wilkinson.
“Till Death” is a successfully light-hearted episode in which MacLeod drags a reluctant Methos into helping him salvage his friends Gina (Cecile Pallas) and Robert’s (Jeremy Brudenell) 300-year-old marriage. Flashbacks include scenes of MacLeod and pal Hugh Fitzcairn (Roger Daltrey of The Who) courting Gina back in her single days. Interviews include Horvath and Panzer understandably exulting in their good fortune in getting Daltrey to repeatedly and enthusiastically reprise his role as Fitz, and episode director Dennis Berry and actor Wingfield talking about comedy on “Highlander.” Extras include a pair of deleted scenes – one with Wingfield, one with Daltrey – and some amusing outtakes.
“Highlander’s” fourth season ends with another double episode. The first half, “Judgment Day,” finds the Watchers Council rightly noticing that Joe Dawson has really let the non-interference portion of his oath slide over the past three years and wrongly concluding that this has something do with Watchers who have been killed by an angry Immortal. A playroom set in Chapter 2 has great bright pinks and reds, though a later, dark sequence in a basement is grainy. Byrnes provides audio and video commentary and there are interviews with Byrnes and Wingfield. Supplemental footage included extended scenes between MacLeod and Methos.
Disc 8 concludes the season with “One Minute to Midnight,” with MacLeod, Methos and Joe trying to stop the Watchers from declaring all-out war on Immortalis. The episode is aptly suspenseful and complex, with all three of the characters faced by ethical conundrums. Interviews include Bellon and Byrnes, and supplemental materials include deleted scenes and a stunt effect.
As an added bonus, Lettow has once again created Watcher Chronicle screens for all of the major characters, plus some Watchers who exist only as characters in the screen entries, making the “Highlander” universe feel that much more explored and thought out.
There are a few average episodes in this boxed set, but mostly, Season Four showcases “Highlander: The Series” at the top of its game and the supplemental material demonstrates that Anchor Bay and Davis-Panzer Productions are companies that deliver the most anyone could ask of an episodic series.