|Highlander the Series - The Complete Sixth Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 08 February 2005|
The sixth season of “Highlander: The Series” is a highly mixed bag. Only 13 episodes long, it contains an unfortunate ratio of average (and even sub-average) material to good stuff. On the other hand, the good stuff here is very good indeed – some of it is in fact great. Factor in the multitude of episode-specific supplements in this eight-disc boxed set and you’ve got an unavoidable purchase for any fan of the show or even anyone who wants some resonant and original moments of TV.
Season Five ended with 400-year-old Immortal hero Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) overwhelmed with grief after having been tricked into murdering his young but likewise Immortal pupil Richie (Stan Kirsch) by the demon Ahriman. Season Six’s Disc One begins with “Avatar,” in which MacLeod returns to Paris after having spent a year in a monastery, still torn up but now at least ready to confront Ahriman. Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes), MacLeod’s mortal Watcher (the Watchers are mortals who observe and record the doings of Immortals, but aren’t supposed to interfere), agrees to help, even though he has trouble believing in the mythology of a demon who turns up every 1,000 years to challenge a champion for the balance of good and evil on Earth. Frankly, Joe isn’t the only one – introducing a supernatural element beyond Immortality into the series is neither entirely new nor inherently out of place, but this particular storyline is so grandiose that it you wonder how the rest of the season will bear up under its weight (you’d also think somebody who’s seen all that Joe has seen would be more open to strange possibilities). Partly due to the limited availability of series star Paul in this last year, the episode largely centers around the guest character of a college student (Odile Cohen), who is offered her life back by Ahriman if she will lure MacLeod to his death. Chapter 1 has a nice kata (martial arts workout) from MacLeod and Chapter 2 has a nice acoustic blues riff from real-life musician Byrnes. Chapter 6 has good underwater shots and makes excellent use of guest actor Peter Hudson as Ahriman, who’s impersonating MacLeod’s dead foe, the fanatically anti-Immortal Horton. In supplemental materials, there are interviews with executive script consultant/writer David Tynan, who observes that the rules had changed and Season Six composer/music editor Hal Beckett, who throughout this DVD set provides a lot of intriguing observations on low-budget scoring for TV. There is additional footage of the kata sequence and an extended scene of MacLeod and Dawson’s reunion.
The Ahriman arc concludes in “Armageddon,” with MacLeod finally confronting his enemy without resorting to violence – again, we wonder how the series can continue if Mac becomes a total pacifist. The answer, as we’ll see later on, is that Mac doesn’t become a total pacifist – he becomes a little slower to draw his sword, but he’ll still do it if sufficiently provoked. Here he squares off against Ahriman, who takes on the form not only of Horton but ancient Immortal Kronos (superb swordsman Valentine Pelka). While it’s nice to see Paul playing off Hudson and Pelka, the whole champion business feels a bit rushed. What is outstanding here, though, is a sequence that is just about unforgettable: Ahriman in Horton’s guise tempts Joe by offering the double amputee his legs back. Byrnes, a real-life double amputee, talks in the interview segments about agreeing to do the scene, which has emotional power that elevates the rest of the episode.
Episode director Richard Martin provides audio commentary – there’s also a video commentary option, showing Martin watching the episode while he talks. The sound comes back up to full volume whenever Martin falls silent. There are some beautiful colors in Chapter 3, when a somewhat disoriented MacLeod wanders through a small fair in a park. Interviews include Byrnes, Paul and Beckett. Supplemental footage includes extended scenes, an amusing outtake, slow-motion footage – narrated by associate creative consultant Donna Lettow – of the fight between Paul and Pelka and a demonstration of how the special effect of Joe getting his legs back was achieved.
As the writers and producers repeatedly explain throughout the interview segments, many episodes (five out of the total 13 hours) served as “audition pieces” for spin-off series “Highlander: The Raven,” with guest actresses starring as female Immortals, while MacLeod receded to the background (in two episodes, he’s absent altogether). As might be expected, these were generally less than stellar, though they are mildly diverting. In “Sins of the Father,” Dara Tomanovich plays Alex Raven, who enlists Mac’s help in trying to avenge Nazi war crimes. In interview segments, star Paul acknowledges the disjointedness of the final season and writer James Thorpe discusses the seasonal arc. Supplemental material includes Tomanovich’s audition, which (like most of the other auditions) features “Babylon Five” actor Robin Atkin Downes as her scene partner, and a segment on color timing.
Disc Two starts with one of Season Six’s better episodes, “Diplomatic Immunity,” featuring Jasper Britton as an Immortal con man who loses his longtime mortal love when a scam goes wrong and swears vengeance on the killer. MacLeod winds up in one of his famous moral dilemmas, further hampered by his desire to remain nonviolent. Britton fits right into the whole “Highlander” universe and “Angel’s” Alexis Denisof does a swell job as a privileged young drug addict. Director Martin provides audio and video commentary, noting that guest actress Anita Dobson is married in real life to Queen guitarist Brian May (Queen of course provides the music for the title sequence song, “Princes of the Universe”). Chapter 7 has a good swordfight. Interviews include writer Thorpe and actor Paul. Supplemental footage shows how a stunt involving a car hitting a pedestrian was achieved.
“Patient Number 7” is another of the “audition” pieces, with Alice Evans as an Immortal amnesiac, who turns out to be a bodyguard. There are fun flashbacks to Musketeers-era France. Interviews include executive creative consultant (and showrunner) David Abramowitz being fairly candid about the limitations of the “audition episode” format and composer Beckett.
“Black Tower” has a good swordfight in Chapter 7, but the premise – an Immortal businessman tricks a geeky videogame designer into mapping out a lethal trap for MacLeod – is so rote and so resolutely disconnected from the seasonal arc (Richie? Ahriman? Time out in a monastery?) that it’s dramatically very unsatisfying, though it does have some nice action. There is a bit of flickering in some scenes, probably due to the unusual amount of Venetian blinds in the sets. Chapter 7 features a good sword fight and a somewhat witty Quickening. Interviews have episode director Martin pointing out that shooting in “one location” isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Disc 3 starts with “Unusual Suspects,” an episode that plays out entirely in 1929 flashback, as MacLeod and pal Hugh Fitzcairn (The Who’s Roger Daltrey) go through some comedic Agatha Christie moves as they try to puzzle out who has “murdered” Immortal Fitz. Who fans will get to see Daltrey playing the clarinet in Chapter 1 (though it’s a session musician we hear on the track). In the interview segment, Paul says this is his favorite episode of Season Six, due to getting to work with Daltrey. Director Dennis Berry makes some good observations about how he designs his shots and Beckett provides more insights about the scoring process.
“Justice” is another spinoff audition episode, this one featuring the Immortal Katya determined to avenge the killing of her grown adopted daughter, with MacLeod soberly trying to dissuade her. Chapter 1 has some very good foley on a fencing sequence. In the interview segment, Lettow observes that MacLeod participates in this episode more than he does in most of the other audition segments. Director Martin supplies audio and video commentary. Supplemental footage includes guest star Justina Vail’s audition.
“Deadly Exposure” introduces yet another female Immortal – bounty hunter Reagan Cole (Sandra Hess) – who will even pose as a stripper to bag her quarry. In the interviews, executive producer Bill Panzer allows that star Paul’s relative absence was felt more than anticipated. There are nice bright colors in the Miami-set opening (actually shot in Paris). The same interview footage of writer Thorpe used here appears in the “Sins of the Father” supplement. Supplemental footage includes Hess’s audition.
Disc Four begins with “Two of Hearts,” the one episode in all of “Highlander” that features no regular characters at all, which is somewhat jarring. However, Claudia Christian is by far the best actress among the guest female Immortals, starring as Katherine, a onetime healer who is now in the business of stopping bad guys, alongside her mortal lover/partner, police officer Nick (Steven O’Shea). Interview footage includes executive producer Panzer and writer Thorpe; supplemental footage includes Christian’s surprisingly good audition.
“Indiscretions” all by itself is a compelling argument for purchasing this boxed set. Duncan MacLeod doesn’t appear in this episode, either – instead, it’s Joe and world’s oldest Immortal Methos (Peter Wingfield), who together have a hilarious cranky rapport. Byrnes and Wingfield as a team are an absolute hoot, as is some of their improvised dialogue as their characters goad each other. The two actors provide audio and video commentary, discussing locations and character arcs and teasing each other. There are beautiful definitions in the pinks and whites of the Quickening in Chapter 8. The actors – and writer Lettow, in the supplements section – note that Methos’ Quickening in this episode was actually the very last thing shot for “Highlander: The Series” (the last two episodes to air, starring Paul’s MacLeod, had been filmed earlier). The episode features interviews with Byrnes and Wingfield and supplemental footage with very funny outtakes and alternate takes, swordfighting footage and Wingfield getting burned but gamely carrying on during that final Quickening, when the practical effects department threw every remaining pyrotechnic into the explosions, since they would not be needed later on.
Disc Five contains “Highlander’s” last double episode, “To Be” and “Not To Be.” Although the narrative between the two is continuous, the episodes are shown in their original separate forms. MacLeod is enjoying a sexually tumultuous reunion with his on-again, off-again Immortal girlfriend Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen), which is cut short when both she and Joe are kidnapped by Immortal Liam O’Rourke (Martin McDougall), who bears a grudge against the Highlander. Unwilling to be the cause of his friends’ deaths – and feeling the weight of everything that has happened to him over 400 years – MacLeod agrees to give himself up to O’Rourke for execution, despite the protests of Methos. Events don’t go quite as anybody planned and MacLeod, between lives (he’s been shot but not beheaded), is suddenly visited by the years-really-dead Fitz, who claims to be an angel. Fitz takes MacLeod on a tour of the world as it would have been without Duncan in it. MacLeod can interact with others, but no one has any memory of him. In this alternate reality/dream, Amanda has gone from being a thief to a murderess, while Horton has survived and turned the Watchers organization into a pack of Immortal-killing fanatics. Joe is a wretched alcoholic; Kronos has lived and totally co-opted his old associate Methos; Richie is a criminal and MacLeod’s beloved mortal girlfriend Tessa (Alexandra Vandernoot, a series regular in Season One and part of Season Two) is still alive but in an existence that is somewhat empty.
There is actually a throughline tying everything (with the arguable exception of Tessa) together in the alternate bleak reality, which is pretty inventive. As just about everyone is quick to point out in the interview segments, it’s lifted from “It’s a Wonderful Life” – hardly the first time that film has been used for inspiration, but the twists here speak strongly to the themes of the series, as well as giving most of the regular and semi-regular cast a chance to play their characters somewhat differently. In Chapter 8 of “Not To Be,” there’s a really artful blend of the sounds of the Quickening explosions with an ethereal rendition of “Amazing Grace.” The music gracefully segues into Laura Creamer’s cover of “Bonny Portmore,” combining MacLeod talking with his friends with a montage culled from scenes from the whole run of the show. It is a remarkably beautiful and emotional conclusion to the series, reminding us of how brilliant and gorgeous it is at its best.
Interviews on “To Be” include executive script consultant/writer David Tynan, Lettow, executive producer Bill Panzer, Paul, Abramowitz, Wingfield and Byrnes. There’s a supplemental scene of a high-spirited outtake with Paul and Daltrey.
Interviews on “Not To Be” include Kirsch, Abramowitz – who candidly says he wishes the last two episodes were better than they are – line producer Ken Gord, director Dennis Berry, Byrnes, Tynan and Paul. Supplemental footage includes deleted scenes (with audible but somewhat buzzy sound) and a sweet, alternate version of the last scene.
The disc also includes a featurette on swordfighting and legendary swordmaster Bob Anderson, who choreographed the fights on the first feature film and the first two seasons of the series (the editors rather unaccountably begin the featurette with a fight between MacLeod and Methos, which was choreographed by Seasons Three-Six swordmaster F. Braun McAsh). The featurette includes a joint interview with series lead Paul and film lead Christopher Lambert (apparently done during the time of the fourth “Highlander” feature, “Endgame,” which starred both actors) and Anderson himself.
Disc Six contains a 25-minute making-of featurette on the finale – of “Highlander’s” third season. While this is an odd bonus on the sixth season discs, it is certainly entertaining, with lots of good footage of sequences filmed atop the Eiffel Tower and good on-camera comments from Paul.
The “Immortal Memories” featurette intercuts footage from all six years of the series with Beckett, Gord, Abramowitz, Tynan, production designer Stephen Geaghan, Paul, Lettow, Kirsch, Thorpe and Gracen all citing favorite moments and scenes.
“400 Years of Duncan MacLeod” is a half-hour series of clips, illustrating significant onscreen events in MacLeod’s life laid out for us in chronological order.
Disc Seven contains “Favorite Quickenings,” with Gord, Berry, Gracen, Paul, Kirsch, Martin, Tynan, Lettow, Geaghan, Abramowitz, McAsh and Beckett all naming their choices, which are of course healthily matched to the appropriate clips.
There’s also “La Carrera Panamerica,” a 50-minute documentary about actor Paul participating in a grueling cross-country car race in Mexico. Surprisingly for a featurette, this has honest to goodness directional sound, with cars driving from right speakers to left and back again through the sound system. Paul narrates this segment, which has some intriguing archival footage shot in the ‘50s and will be of interest to auto racing fans and Paul fans alike.
The eighth disc contains DVD-ROM features. All episodes come with “The Watchers Chronicles,” profiles of all relevant characters written up by Lettow (using first-person as a variety of Watchers who are ostensibly making their reports), with write-ups on swords by Anthony de Longis and Troy Rudolph.
For audiophiles interested in production, the comments throughout the DVDs by composer/music editor Beckett should be of particular note – this is possibly the only TV DVD to include such extensive commentary on scoring choices.
This aside, everyone involved acknowledges this is not “Highlander’s” finest season, but it nevertheless contains some of the show’s finest moments – as well as a loving measure of material on how it was all put together. Buy it, savor the best and skim the rest.