Highlander: the Series (Season 1, Episode 2) “Family Tree”

The second episode of season 1 begins inside a shady gambling establishment. We first me “Joe” who is being, uh, scolded by Ms. Gustovson and her henchman “Clinch” for allowing someone at his table to win $50,000. Since the guy who won all that money skipped town, Joe is responsible for paying the money back.

In the next scene, we see Richie Ryan trying to steal his orphanage file and getting caught. So… two episodes in, two Richie arrests. Two bailouts by Duncan. I guess sometime between episodes 1 and 2 Richie was sort of adopted by Duncan and Tessa?

Tessa wants to help Richie find his parents. Duncan is hesitant to do it. But he reluctantly agrees.

We learn that Richie’s mother Emily collapsed and died in a candy store when he was almost five years old. His dad was nowhere to be found. Richie then went to live in an orphanage before traveling through the foster care system. But Richie learned for the first time from his foster care file (the one he glimpsed before he was arrested) that his father’s name was Jack Ryan. So Richie, Duncan, and Tessa set out in search of him.

Helping Richie leads Duncan to think about his own past. And this reminiscing provides us a great flashback scene. After his first death in battle, sometime in the early sixteen hundreds, Duncan revived. The “miracle” of resurrection caused his father to cast him out of the MacLeod Clan as a demon. Sometime later (months or years later) Duncan confronts his father and learns that he was adopted as a foundling baby. Duncan’s true parents are unknown.

Richie eventually tracks down the guy who owned the candy store where his mom died. And that guy leads Richie to where he remembers Jack Ryan living. Richie goes there, runs into “Joe,” and Joe decides that being Jack Ryan might help him pay off his debts. Richie gets taken in by the con, Duncan does not, and eventually Joe steals a valuable antique gold mask from Duncan’s store.

Richie angrily goes looking for his father, whereupon he is kidnapped by “Clinch” who is also looking for Joe. But Joe sees the kidnapping happen, feels bad, and takes the mask to where Richie is being held in order to pay off his debt. Soon after that, Duncan shows up, fights Clinch, wins easily, and poor Clinch gets fired.

As the show is wrapping up, Richie tells us that he went back to the candy store guy and found out that Emily, his mother, was actually his foster mother. So he ends up no closer to finding out where he comes from than he was when this episode started.

Reaction:

This was a really good follow-up episode. Despite not really being given the “Duncan takes Richie under his wing” transition from the pilot, I found that I did not mind it much. Coming back to find him already under that wing felt right. The cast chemistry is such that you really feel the almost parental affection that Duncan and Tessa have for him. And Kirsch plays Richie’s bravado with underlying insecurity brilliantly. The scene where he describes his mother dying tugs at the heartstrings.

Adrian Paul shines in this episode, too. After being kind of a menacing figure toward Richie in the pilot, he very believably takes on a father figure role one episode later. And his dramatic “where do I come from?” scene with his own father is one of the scenes I remember best from my first watch of this show 20+ years ago. The character of Duncan is a true challenge inasmuch as you have to play the same person with subtle variations depending on when in time we as the audience meet him. With 17th Century Duncan, it’s clear that there’s not as much life, education, or experience written on his pages at that point. But you can see the core of him is the same as our present-day Duncan. When we flash forward to 20th Century Duncan, you can feel a lot of the weight of those intervening years in the somberness of how he carries himself.

Side note to all of this: Seacouver (the fictional city where this all takes place) appears to be an extremely rough place. The street views of the buildings where Richie went to meet his “dad” looked like a post-WW2 Germany – the parts that were still standing after the war, at least. Even the hallway of the building where Richie meets Joe for the first time is covered with graffiti.

QUOTES:

“Hi kids, this is your new foster brother Richie. Treat him just like one of the family… NOT!”

“It is a miracle!”
“No, it is a work of the demon master below! You are not my son!”

“He must have freaked. There you were on your feet again. Zombie in a kilt.”

“There’s a proverb in northern India. If you go hunting for tigers, be sure you’re prepared to find one.”

“Hey, where did you learn that?”
“From the people who invented it!”

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