Higherlander (Season 1, Ep 4): Innocent Man

Our episode begins with “Leo” on the side of a rural wooded highway road. He is homeless and pushing a shopping cart filled with his belongings. Pretty soon we see him taunted by some young people who pretend to offer him a ride before driving away. After the car drives away, Leo grabs a disconnected phone (phones used to require a cord) and yells into it that he wants to talk to the department of transportation. In case it needed to be made clear that he has mental health issues, I believe that cleared things up. Leo hears swords clanging against each other off in the distance. So he leaves his cart on the side of the road and walks toward where the sound is coming from. Not far from the source of the sound, he suddenly sees a lightning storm emanating from a clear blue sky.

Duncan and Tessa are driving the T-Bird in a wooded rural area. (Just a hunch, but I bet it’s the same one we just saw Leo in.) We find out that they are on their way to meet one of Duncan’s Immortal friends, Lucas Desiree. As they near the secluded cabin in the woods, now on foot, MacLeod abruptly falls down to his knees in pain, we see a tell-tale lightning storm in the distance, and Duncan knows that his friend is dead without seeing the body.

Leo walks into a cabin where he finds a headless dead body on the floor next to an upright sword stabbed into the floor. The county sheriff steps out of the shadows. With a distinctive Southern drawl, in what I assume to be a small town in the far Pacific Northwest, the Sheriff figures out quickly that Leo is not mentally well. He then arrests him for murder.

We next see Duncan, Tessa, and Richie in the antique store in Seacouver where they live. Richie is apparently reading about da Vinci. (Maybe that’s something you do when you know someone who is 400 years old?) Duncan finds out that they have arrested someone for the murder of his friend and he wants to be certain that they got the correct guy. It’s not stated explicitly but I assume Duncan wanted to behead the Immortal who just beheaded his friend. But he’s prudent so he wants to verify that they have the correct guy. So he and Richie set off to Steveston (a rural town north of Seacouver) while Tessa stays home. Duncan appears to be protecting her in the event that things go badly. Richie? He can come!

Tessa is minding the antique store when a reporter shows up asking questions. “Randi McFarland” is connecting what should be some pretty obvious dots while chasing a story.

  1. There was a reported sword fight in Tessa’s antique store (Richie reported it in the pilot.)
  2. Tessa’s store sells swords.
  3. Since that incident, there has been a beheading on a Seacover bridge and now a second beheading in Steveston – both of which appear to have been done by swords.
  4. Tessa and MacLeod were nearby for all three events.

Randi the Reporter has a point. Tessa puts her off by saying that while they do sell swords, there was no sword fight at her store, and that Richie has a vivid imagination. The rest is just coincidence.

The detective from Seacouver who is always going on about Richie going to jail shows up in Steveston and talks to the Sheriff. This adds another element of realism. Seacouver might be in the midst of an economic apocalypse, but beheadings are still shocking news. Sgt. Powell (ah, that’s his name) wanted to drive north to see if there is a connection between the murder on the bridge and this murder. So he talks to the local Sheriff who agrees to let him join in the interrogation of Leo. Sgt. Powell asks the Sheriff whether the victim, Lucas Desiree, is French. The Sheriff says no, that he was instead “…old Southern stock. Funny, him coming way up here to live. His kinfolk probably owned one of your kinfolk once upon a time.”

In case it is not abundantly clear that the Sheriff is this week’s bad guy, that seals it. Powell seems to shake it off.

The two men interrogate Leo. We find out that both Leo and Powell are Vietnam vets. Powell pushes Leo to say that he killed Desiree during a flashback to fighting the Viet Cong. But after a really great Vietnam flashback monologue by guest star Vincent Schiavelli, Powell comes to the conclusion that the Sheriff has the wrong guy.

Duncan and Richie arrive back in Steveston. Duncan has Richie pretend to break into Duncan’s T-Bird, right in front of a police station, so that Richie can be caught and arrested. As Duncan walks into the jail to clear Richie, we get this episode’s first flashback scene.

A much hairier (big thick mustache that looks outstanding) Duncan is digging ditches on the side of the road to bury bodies. We find out that this is happening in the Confederate South during the Civil War. Duncan was fighting for the Union but found himself as a Confederate prisoner after being caught freeing slaves. [Viewer beware. One of the Southern soldiers drops at least one n-word bomb.] It is here, digging a ditch, awaiting a hanging, and watching the men around him die of thirst, that Duncan meets Immortal Confederate Captain Lucas Desiree. Desiree orders that Duncan and other fellow prisoners receive water and rations before riding off.

We flash forward to the present. Duncan uses the opportunity of bailing out Richie to talk to Leo in his jail cell. This was clearly his plan all along. Duncan senses right away that Leo is not Immortal. And Leo tells Duncan that when he found Desiree, he was already hacked to pieces “like a broken toy soldier.” That line was a little bit thematically on the nose, but okay. Duncan now knows that they have the wrong guy. Leo tells Duncan that the sword looked like something from Gone with the Wind. The Deputy notices that MacLeod is talking to Leo, realizes that Richie’s arrest was a set-up to get Duncan close to Leo, he guesses that Duncan is a reporter, and then he lets Duncan know that the other reporter in town is better looking than he is.

Duncan and Richie go into a diner where they run into an angry local who does not like tourists. He is encouraged by the other local diners as he is harassing them. After this goes on for about a minute, he eventually takes a swing at Duncan. It does not end well for him. (Take a minute to notice that not only is Seacouver going through some kind of economic devestation but so is the small town to its North. ALL the grown men there are out of work! What happened in this universe?!)

After the confrontation, everything settles down again and Duncan finds out that Lucas and the new Sheriff seemed to go out of their way to avoid each other. You can see the wheels turning in Duncan’s head on that point.

We cut away from the diner briefly to see Powell and Randi the Reporter talking. Powell lets her know that he is taking Leo back to Seacouver for psychiatric evaluation.

Duncan flashes back again to being hanged in the Civil War South. And then being dug up by Desiree. Duncan points out that “some would say this is a good time to take my head” to which Desiree shows his honor by noting the truth of that but not attempting to do so. When the two of them discuss why they’re fighting, Desiree says he’s fighting for the South because “we just get attached to the people, don’t we.” So he’s not a Confederate soldier because he believes in the cause. Rather, he’s a Confederate soldier because he feels some attachment for the people on their side.

The point here seems to be a true one. Conflict is never completely without its shades of gray. As a foundation for a friendship between Duncan and Desiree, this one makes some sense. Duncan is a very loyalty-driven character.

When Duncan and Richie leave the diner, they are greeted by a bunch of locals who want to beat them up. Or worse. It’s not completely clear why the locals are doing this except that maybe the guy Duncan embarrassed earlier rounded up the posse to get some payback. At this point, the Sheriff shows up and lets this local mob know that Powell is leaving with the prisoner. So they disperse. Duncan senses that the Sheriff is an Immortal. It is more than implied that this mob is going to prevent Powell from crossing the county line before they enact some “local justice.”

MacLeod sees Randi the Reporter as he and Richie are planning to leave town. He sends Richie to her news van to tip her off about what is going down. Richie rides with her, in the news van, and Duncan follows in his T-Bird.

Powell and Leo run into a barricade of cars and then get surrounded by a bunch of masked/hooded locals on their way out of town. The news van shows up just as guns are drawn. The locals want Leo and say they’ll let Powell go on his way. The camera then cuts to MacLeod sneaking around and taking out hooded men one by one before confronting their group leader. He walks up close enough to the guy’s drawn pistol. MacLeod then tells the rest of them to “go home. It’s OVER!” and… they do. Just as Powell wants to know why Duncan is even present at the scene, the news crew walks up, and Duncan sneaks off.

We cut next to Duncan approaching Desiree’s cabin. The Sheriff was there waiting for him. Unfortunately, we do not find out why the Sheriff took Desiree’s head. There does not appear to be much reason given other than Desiree’s presence in the same town being inconvenient.

This was not Duncan’s most challenging duel.

In the final scene, Powell and Leo are at the antique store with Duncan, Tessa, and Richie. He tells Duncan he may be called as a witness to the attempted prison theft. He states that the Sheriff is missing but does not appear to know that he’s actually dead.

As Leo is about to be driven by Sgt. Powell to a bus station, he looks around the antique store and offers to sell a war medal to Duncan. As it turns out… it was a purple heart. MacLeod feigns to take it, gives him some money, and then slips the medal back into Leo’s bag as he leaves.

As the show ends, we see a recently dug grave with a Confederate sword, point down in the dirt, serving as a tombstone. I assume this is Desiree’s grave, then? As the show ends we see a flash of lightning on the sword.

Reaction;

Treat your veterans well.

Vincent Schiavelli was really great as Leo in this episode. I could feel that there was a lot of turmoil beneath the surface with his character. But he played the moments when he was not “all there” just far enough outside of his right mind that the emotions he felt were only on the border of being within my grasp. That feeling of emotional distance creates – at least for me – the feeling of a kind of dissonance that can sometimes interfere with my feeling appropriate empathy. It’s harder to feel empathy for someone when the condition of their mind means that you cannot get to know them.

But at other parts of the episode, particularly the end scene, “Leo” is within his right mind and his emotions are very accessible. The cumulative effect of of that back and forth, within the episode, is that on a re-watch I felt an even greater sense of pity for him during his “out of mind” scenes.

From a show canon standpoint, I had some issues with this episode. I don’t know how Duncan knew that Lucas Desiree was dead. Immortals can sense each other. Can they sense that one of their own kind has died even when they are not close enough to have felt his/her presence if he/she was alive? Is the ability to sense another Immortal greater at the moment of his death? Is the ability to feel a death relationship dependent? (i.e. you feel the death of someone you’re close to but wouldn’t notice the death of someone you were not close to?)

I also do not know why missed sword blows create electricity and sparks of fire. Is the Quickening energy flowing through the swords during a duel? I do not think this has been explained on the show.

And what was up with the sword having a spark of electricity run through it right as the credits began to role?

I’m not sure that the show writers knew exactly what it wanted the show to be early on. The decision to flesh out the Sgt. Powell character was good. But getting to know him better implies that the writers at least wanted to leave the door open for Duncan to be something like an off-the-books detective type character who helped out the local police. That would have made some sense. Duncan could have taken on a “bad guy of the week” and only occasionally would that guy need to be a fellow Immortal. A local police detective who knows his secret could help Duncan avoid scrutiny when headless bodies started piling up. Duncan could solve problems that the police could not.

I did not like the portrayal of the Sheriff in this episode. John Novak is a good actor with a LONG list of credits, but the Canadian actor’s Southern accent left something to be desired. More importantly, it was irrelevant to the story. If he were an old rival of Desiree that followed him up north, from the Deep South, for some reason or another, then adding that detail might have made some sense. But since the Sheriff’s backstory was irrelevant to his conflict with Desiree, I wish they had just chosen to go with Novak’s normal speaking voice.

QUOTES:

“Well, I’m real pleased to meet you Leo. Let me tell you where you’re going. You’re gonna ride the lightning.”

“I was just looking at this book of drawings. Da Vinci. Dude was drawing flying machines while you were still in diapers.”

“Wait a minute, Sherlock, are you trying to tell me that there is a loose Immortal cruising around here chopping off people’s heads in this vicinity where you and I are going?”

“So you found out for sure that ole Leo wasn’t an Immortal. What do you guys have, some secret handshake?”
“Tattoo.”
“Really, where?”

“I’m sorry the mills closed, or the wells dried up, or the grasshoppers ate all your crop, or that your life hasn’t turned out how you hoped it would be.”

“Loyalty is a real funny thing. Probably causes as much harm as it does good.”

“I should have gotten rid of that a long time ago. Don’t do no good to hang onto the past. More than one day in a man’s lifetime.”

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