|Highlander the Series - The Complete Third Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 18 November 2003|
In Season Three, “Highlander: The Series” really began hitting its stride, deepening both the mythology about its 400-year-old hero Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) and the world of Immortals in general. This DVD boxed set more than does it justice, not just in terms of gorgeous picture quality and highly respectable sound (though these are important), but also in terms of bonus features. Every single one of the 22 episodes comes with its own mini-making-of documentary, some as long as 15 minutes, along with outtakes and deleted scenes from the episode. Eight episodes also feature audio and video commentary from a wide variety of folks involved with the show, including star Paul and line producer Ken Gord. Plenty of series are now coming out in boxed sets that encompass an entire season, but few if any offer such a profusion of episode-specific goodies.
Disc 1 begins with “Samurai,” which reveals in flashbacks to feudal Japan how and why the Scottish MacLeod came to wield a Japanese katana. The guest cast is excellent – Robert Ito as a samurai for whom honor is more powerful than life, Tamlyn Tomita in a dual role as his daughter and a present-day descendant and Stephen McHattie as the descendant’s autocratic Immortal husband – and the production design by Stephen Geaghan on a limited budget is amazing. The episode is beautifully made and has a lot of intriguing moral nuances in both past (MacLeod’s desire to save the samurai who rescued him comes into conflict with the samurai’s sense of honor) and the present (MacLeod understands the other Immortal’s motives but must challenge him anyway), though it seems MacLeod gives up a little too easily on saving his protector’s life. Paul does both a full audio commentary and a video commentary – the latter consists of excerpts of Paul being filmed while watching the episode and doing the audio commentary – and there are separate interviews with Paul, creative consultant David Abramowitz, swordmaster F. Braun McAsh, who is extremely articulate in discussing the sword moves in the climactic duel, and designer Geaghan. “Highlander” executive script coordinator Gillian Horvath, who sounds like she knows where all the bodies are buried, introduces a series of bloopers and alternate takes.
“Line of Fire” bring MacLeod into conflict with an old Immortal foe (Randall “Tex” Cobb, doing a great tough-guy baddie), a biker in the present who in the past was responsible for the death of Mac’s Sioux lover and her adopted son (and the rest of the tribe). Meanwhile, MacLeod’s much younger Immortal friend Richie (Stan Kirsch) deals with an old girlfriend telling him he’s the father of her baby, even though Immortals are all sterile. There’s a good echoing gunshot, a very nice starry sky effect and good, subtle color distinctions in the sepia-toned flashbacks to Mac’s days as a member of a Sioux tribe. The episode also makes use of Queen’s ballad “Who Wants To Live Forever?” The Chapter 7 fight between Mac, armed with a spear, and the biker, who’s got a sword and a knife, is exciting, though the Quickening at the end, with ghosts and a floating victor, is a bit much. There are interviews with Kirsch, Geaghan and writer David Tynan, who tells a story that suggests Cobb may be a bit Immortal himself.
“The Revolutionary” finds MacLeod going up against a former comrade in arms who has become drunk on the power of leading men into battle. The moral quandaries represented are good, though the romance between Mac’s mortal (and unaware of Immortals) friend Charlie (Philip Akin) and a female revolutionary is slow going. The episode also introduces Dr. Anne Lindsey (Lisa Howard) as a new ongoing romantic interest for MacLeod. In the audio commentary, executive producer Bill Panzer is candid about the less-than-successful arc of the love story, which had Anne oblivious for way too long to Mac’s supernatural aspects. Paul and Geaghan are also interviewed, and outtakes include extended footage of MacLeod dancing. Chapter 1 has a nicely balanced mix of a helicopter and other ambient sounds with music during an armed skirmish on a street in the Balkans, while the flashback in Chapter 4 to the Mexican Revolution looks appropriately hot and dusty. The Quickening in Chapter 8 features the wall of flame that is an opening credits icon.
Disc 2 opens with “The Cross of St. Antoine,” focusing partially on the character of Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes), MacLeod’s Watcher (i.e., a mortal who belongs to a secret organization that chronicles the doings of Immortals). When Joe’s girlfriend is murdered, he comes to MacLeod for help (in violation of Watcher rules about non-interference). The culprit turns out to be a wealthy man (Brion James) who was once an illiterate trapper who ran afoul of MacLeod in the old days. In addition to being an actor, Byrnes is a skilled blues performer, something that is showcased here as Joe moodily plays his guitar while alone in his bar. Chapter 5 has a very good sequence that is convincingly dark yet allows us to see all the action as MacLeod and his Immortal sometimes-girlfriend Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) indulge in some burglary. Chapter 7 features an interesting vocal effect as Durgan literally growls in rage. There is audio and video commentary from Horvath and script coordinator Donna Lettow (in reality, both women were far more creatively involved in the series than their titles indicate), which is impishly funny as they point out various inconsistencies, implausibilities and other narrative glitches, while sincerely praising what is good about the show. There are interviews with Gracen and McAsh and a blooper featuring a pane of glass that absolutely refuses to break, despite Byrnes’ best efforts.
“Rite of Passage” has MacLeod trying to mentor a newly Immortal teenaged girl (Gabrielle Miller) who just wants to have fun. The episode is much more melancholy than the one-liner might suggest – the girl realizes she cannot tell her adoptive parents she’s not really dead and must bear witness to their grief from afar. Interviews include Abramowitz, Paul and Horvath and there’s an outtake of Rob Stewart, as Mac’s Immortal adversary in the episode, struggling with a line.
“Courage” has one of the most grueling fight scenes in the entire series as MacLeod is confronted by an old friend (John Pyper Ferguson), once a master swordsman, who has now succumbed to drugs, drink and fear of combat. Horvath narrates the original, even more violent version of the climactic battle. Interviews include episode director Charles Wilkinson, post-production consultant Don Paonessa and executive producer Panzer.
Disc 3 begins with “The Lamb,” which explores the intriguing (within the mythology of the show) question of what happens when an Immortal experiences first death before adolescence. Enter Kenny (the angelic-looking Myles Ferguson), who died at 10 and has managed to keep himself alive for 800 years – by befriending and then whacking every Immortal he can get the drop on. MacLeod, Richie and Joe all have different notions on how to deal with the old man in the form of a child. In the interview segment, Paonessa explains a nifty optical trick that gives Kenny old man’s eyes during a Quickening (he matted the eyes of stunt coordinator John Wardlow into Ferguson’s face). Other interviews include Abramowitz, Kirsch and Gord. An outtake shows director Dennis Berry at work.
“Obsession” has MacLeod’s old friend (Cameron Bancroft) becoming fixated on a mortal girl to the point of becoming a stalker, albeit one without any ill intentions. Panzer, Horvath and Lettow are rather candid in the interview section about why the episode doesn’t entirely work. In the supplemental footage section, Horvath explains the actual placement of a window that appears to be part of MacLeod’s loft.
“Shadows” has Immortal sculptor Garrick (Garwin Sandford) offering to help a troubled MacLeod with a series of hallucinations plaguing the Highlander. Alas, it turns out Garrick himself is insane, blaming MacLeod for a particularly horrific and protracted death. The episode is genuinely atmospheric and, by episodic TV terms, nightmarish, with great use of gargoyles and other art details throughout. Chapter 2 has good crowd sounds, Chapter 3 makes nice use of a swelling operatic soprano as source music with dialogue and sound effects in the sonic foreground of Garrick’s workshop and Chapter 4 has jaunty blues music, actually being played by the onscreen performer. There is strong emotion in a sequence in which MacLeod almost accidentally beheads Richie. On the downside, there’s a fair amount of the previously remarked-on dodgy relationship between Mac and Anne. Episode director Wilkinson offers audio and video commentary, which is informative about various aspects of making film and television, offering the tidbit that directors are not permitted to directly address extras. Interviews include Abramowitz, Tynan and McAsh, who points out there are five separate fight sequences in the episode. There are alternate scenes and outtakes.
Disc 4 begins with “Blackmail,” which loosely borrows the plot of “Strangers on a Train” – a man (Bruce Dinsmore) who videotapes Duncan killing a fellow Immortal tries to blackmail the Highlander into killing the man’s wife, while Mac is contending with the dead Immie’s angry partner (Anthony de Longis). The episode is notable primarily for guest star de Longis’ sword skills, which make the final combat truly exciting. De Longis, who also wrote the sword material for the Watchers Chronicles feature on the discs, provides audio and video commentary, discussing the fights in great detail. Interviews include de Longis, Panzer, McAsh and Horvath, who humorously mentions a list the writers have of phrases so clichéd that they were to be avoided at all costs. Outtakes include literal gallows humor, with a hanging scene that goes awry.
“Vendetta” is a rather schtick-laden comedic episode, which finds Mac reluctantly dealing with small-time and unsuccessful Immortal con artist Benny (Tony Rosato), who is so inconsequential that Mac shrugs off an attempted murderous betrayal. Paul is frank about the episode’s flaws in the interview section, which also includes Tynan and Panzer. The Jazz Age costumes in the flashback are nifty, though, and Horvath shows us an extended version of Paul dancing, which is shown in grainy long-shot but nevertheless fun for fans.
“They Also Serve” is a superior episode that explores a number of variations on the relationships between Watchers and their Immortal subjects, with Mary Woronov as a Watcher who has crossed the line so far that she’s advising “her” Immortal (a pre-“Saving Private Ryan” Barry Pepper) on who he should fight. Mac’s friendship with Joe is deepened at the same time that he is endangered by the other Watcher/Immortal bond. Interviews include Paul, Geaghan and costume designer Christina McQuarrie; supplemental footage includes a longer version of a pivotal poker game scene.
Disc 5 opens with “Blind Faith,” which asks a fascinating question – if MacLeod condemns old friends who have turned bad, how should he feel about old foes who seem to have repented? The issues are explored intriguingly, with Richard Lynch providing a thoughtful guest turn as a former conscienceless mercenary who may or may not have undergone a change of heart. Interviews include Panzer, Abramowitz – who is sincere yet intentionally very amusing about his personal take on redemption – and Horvath.
“Song of the Executioner” introduces the extremely villainous Kalas (David Robb) at the start of a three-episode arc, who crops up again in the Season Three two-part finale. Kalas is impressively evil, providing MacLeod with a truly worthy opponent. Interviews include Paul, Tynan and Geaghan, and the outtakes show Paul and Panzer dousing each other with champagne.
“Star-Crossed” brings the return of MacLeod’s irrepressible pal Hugh Fitzcairn, played by the equally irrepressible Roger Daltrey – yes, the lead singer for the Who, having a fine time as a frisky Immortal. The episode has comedy, tragedy – and Paris, as the series makes its seasonal move from “Seacouver” (Vancouver standing in for an unnamed American city) – and the continuing menace of Kalas. In short, it’s got all kinds of good stuff, working very well. Interviews include Panzer, Gord and Kirsch, who is charmingly fannish when he talks about meeting rock god Daltrey. Outtakes include Paul and Daltrey laughing during a car scene.
Disc 6 has “Methos,” the episode that introduces its title character (Peter Wingfield), who became far more pivotal in the series than anyone could possibly imagine. Kalas decides he’s going to get a power boost by tracking down and killing the legendary oldest Immortal, the 5,000-year-old Methos. No one is sure Methos even exists, but when Joe sends Mac to look for the old fellow, Mac shortly finds a deceptively relaxed, pizza-munching, beer-drinking grad student type who has been posing as a mortal within the Watchers organization. It is just about impossible to overstate the vitality and humor Wingfield brings from his first appearance, something that Abramowitz remarks on at length in his interview here. Other on-camera interviews include composer/sound mixer Chris Ainscough and Wingfield, who talks about how what he thought would be a one-shot job that made no sense to him at the time wound up completely changing his life. This is also a big Richie episode, so Kirsch and Wingfield both provide audio commentary. Wingfield is extremely insightful and thoughtful about his character. Alternate footage includes extended versions of two scenes.
“Take Back the Night” has Irish warrior woman Ceirdwyn (Kim Johnson Ulrich) bent on vengeance after her mortal husband is murdered by street punks. Since Ceirdwyn talked MacLeod out of a vindictive frenzy back in 1746 Scotland, he now aims to return the favor. The episode is notable for some pretty full-tilt (and full of fighting extras) battle sequences in the flashbacks. The interview segment includes Paonessa, Gord and McAsh, who discusses the difficulty on staging combat sequences with multiple opponents all swinging swords. Cut scenes include a pub fight and an extended version of a scene between Ceirdwyn and a drunk and injured MacLeod.
“Testimony” has a rather surprising twist on the MacLeod-runs-into-an-evil-old-enemy scenario, with Richie ultimately taking on the malefactor, to good suspenseful effect. There is also some comedy in the episode, courtesy of Anne, newly informed of the world of Immortals, reacting to the oddness of it all. Chapter 2 has particularly beautiful saturated colors as Mac shows Anne around the warehouse where he stores his keepsakes from over the centuries, though the exteriors on the climactic fight in Chapter 7 are a little too dark for maximum visibility. The interviews include editor Laura Mazur, Tynan and McAsh, and the outtakes show Kirsch grappling with a hard-to-spit-out line.
Disc 7 starts with “Mortal Sins,” which deals with the long-term fallout that MacLeod’s existence has had on Bernard, a young boy (Georges Janin) with the French Resistance when he first met MacLeod and now an elderly priest (Roger Bret) harboring guilt over having killed a Nazi officer (Andrew Woodall) to protect the Highlander all those years ago. The Nazi, however, is also Immortal. The subplot has Anne deciding that the Immortal existence is too violent for her to be around (an understandable but unsympathetic choice, given that we’ve already seen the estimable Tessa – shown here in a flashback – cope just fine). The episode is decent, though the big conundrums belong to the characters around MacLeod rather than the main character himself. The interview segment includes Abramowitz and Gord, who animatedly discuss a dispute they had with the episode’s director, Mario Azzopardi, about the actions of the priest character.
“Reasonable Doubt” has MacLeod living to regret helping a fellow Immortal back in the day. It’s somewhat routine, albeit not bad. The interview segment includes Panzer, Horvath and Mazur.
Disc 7 also has the blooper reel but, as Panzer points out in his introduction, it’s the same blooper reel that accompanies the Season One DVD release. While it’s true that it’s unlikely anyone would make a purchase decision on the Season Three set based solely on the presence of new bloopers, the repetition is worth noting.
Disc 8 contains the two-episode Season Three finale, entitled “Finale Pt. 1” and “Finale Pt. 2.” The episodes are jam-packed with events, as Amanda breaks Kalas out of prison in order to kill him for MacLeod, Kalas gets away and goes gunning for MacLeod, a Watcher’s widow decides to reveal the existence of Immortals to the world, Joe contemplates murder, Methos returns and there is both a tango (Mac and Amanda) and a swordfight (Mac and Kalas) actually filmed atop the Eiffel Tower. It’s as exciting and entertaining as it could possibly be. Paul provides audio and video commentary (including a nice parody of the opening-titles speech) and the interview segments include comments from Paul, Tynan, McAsh, Gracen, Horvath and Lettow.
The disc also contains the “finale teaser,” a three-minute making-of featurette that advertises a longer version of itself, which is mystifyingly not included here, and outtakes of a promotional spot from Paul.
Additional extras include episode-specific entries from the Watchers Chronicles, purportedly written by Watchers but actually penned by Lettow. These are improved over previous seasons, in that the contrast between text and background is now much more reader-friendly.
The video quality continues the sharp, bright-colored excellence seen on the DVD sets of Seasons One and Two, and the sound quality is generally exemplary for a TV episodic as well.
This is a terrific show, visibly getting better before our eyes over the course of Season Three, and brought to us here with a loving treasure trove of extras. “Highlander the Series: Season Three” is the epitome of value for money in a DVD boxed set.