Highlander (Season 1, Ep 7): Mountain Men

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” – Henry David Thoreau

(This isn’t a quote from the episode or anything. I just thought about it afterwards.)

This episode starts with a bang. The camera pans across an enormous full moon as a deeply, uh, rural voice tells two young cops, each with their hands in the air, that they should have stayed in town. Then he shoots both of them.

In our next scene, we see Tessa packing up her white convertible and heading off to the great outdoors. I suspect she’s about to meet the voice from the previous scene.

As she gets out of her car at a camping lodge of some sort, we meet three rejects from the movie Deliverance. They’ve got their filthy eyes on Queen Tessa. She does not notice and sets off into the wilderness by herself. I guess among her artistic skills is photography. She shoots a picture of something chiseled onto an old boulder and is then greeted by our backwoods trio who apparently followed her. They tell her not many people know about the place where she’s taking pictures. She lies and says that she is with a guide. They clearly know darn well that she is lying.

The leader of this trio, who sounds like a country boy American who might have at one time had throat cancer, gives a monologue about where they are, how he likes to think back about the “old ones,” their dances, and he points at Queen Tessa’s uterus as he suggests those dancers were some sort of fertility rite. At this point she runs but there is nowhere to go. She pulls a knife and cuts one of the two younger men. The older throat cancer guy informs the younger guy that “we should have made our intentions clear to the young lady. Nobody intends to hurt one hair on your head.” So… he’s the kind of crazy that believes he is being honorable. I guess there’s some advantage in that for Tessa.

“Then what do you want?”
“Ma’am, I come up here to ask for your hand in marriage. I want you to be my wife.” LOL.

Tessa, obviously, politely declines the proposal and requests to go home. She is informed that she now has a new home. The bad guy plan is to hike with Tessa to some place that no white man knows and where no Indian has been in centuries. They will be applying their old timey tracking talents to avoid being followed.

I’m gonna spitball a guess that MacLeod probably knows something about where these guys are going and how to track them. In the interim, Tessa seems to have realized that she needs to play ball with these crazy people for now and buy herself some time. She also starts leaving small objects on the ground to make tracking them down easier for Duncan.

MacLeod returns to the loft and finds Richie alone. Apparently Duncan has been visiting the Forbidden City in China. Because of course he was. Richie lets him know that Tessa went up to the mountains to sketch a wall painting of her favorite Shaman. She was supposed to be back by now. So Duncan heads out right away to find her thinking he could be there by dawn. His supposition is that she’s lost.

When Duncan rolls up to the Trading Post, Queen Tessa’s car is still there. Duncan runs into a Native American man who is “more than a little worried about your lady friend” and another bearded guy who is more quietly worried.

We find out the names of our trio. Tessa must have missed the “Wanted Men” sketches on the side of the building when she got there. The guy with the throat cancer sounding voice is Caleb Cole. The two men with him are his “sons” Joshua Cole and Eddie Doyle.

The Sheriff informs Duncan that the men we saw murdered to start the episode were his deputies. They had gone to serve a warrant for poaching deer. As far as the Sheriff knows, they just never came back out. But a very concerned Duncan sets off by himself despite a warning from the Sheriff. Big John, the quiet guy with the beard, noticed that Duncan left with a sword. Duncan gets to the spot where Tessa first met the Mountain Men and…

FLASHBACK: Duncan is at the same rock carving in the seventeen or eighteen hundreds. A guy calling himself “Old Carl” jumps him and starts swinging a hatchet at him. After that rocky beginning, the two men end up talking. Old Carl agrees to teach Duncan the ways of tracking. Duncan agrees to teach him how to fight. If you’ve ever seen Braveheart, Old Carl has a very “Crazy Stephen” type of vibe. Old Carl tells Duncan that if he’s ever tracking men in that country, go north.

We revisit the present. The Sheriff find tracks for the Mountain Men, Tessa, and Duncan. The episode is corny so far but I enjoyed this line: “His tracks are far apart and on the balls of his feet. He’s running.”

Queen Tessa is doing Queen things with the Mountain Men. A plane flies over and she’s making sure her pocket mirror is reflecting the sun. One of the “sons” wrestles her down and takes the mirror. Caleb, older and wiser, or perhaps just hoping to win Tessa over on that whole marriage proposal thing, rationalizes her mirror effort by saying, “It’s only natural. You haven’t learned to trust us yet.”

Eddie – the more talkative of the two sons – also seems to have eyes for Tessa. He tries to impress her by letting her know how scary they are. He lets slip that *something* happened to a couple deputies who came looking for them. Caleb overhears this and lets her know that she is under his personal protection. And he clearly means he is protecting her from his sons. I guess that’s how he intends to earn her trust. He tells her outright that he’d die for her. The show then misses an opportunity to play “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams. If anyone is doing a rewatch of this show and decides to ship Tessa and Caleb, I’d love a Calessa mash up video set to that song. Just putting it out there. By the way, Queen Tessa is still leaving small objects on the ground for her personal Angel of Scottish Vengeance to find.

The Sheriff and his deputies realize that Caleb and his crew led them in the wrong direction. They also realize that Duncan went the correct way to follow them despite their tracks. “Either her boyfriend is dumb lucky or he knows more than we do.” Indeed.

We see Duncan is still following the kidnapping party. Hilariously he is doing this in slacks and a button down shirt.

Tessa and Eddie Doyle are talking privately again. She finds out that Joshua is Caleb’s adopted son. Eddie says he’s not a son, just a companion. Eddie appears to have a case of “Being Horny Makes Me Stupid.” He’s flirting with Tessa and playing with her hair. She’s not liking it. I suspect Eddie is not long for this world, if I’m being quite honest.

Joshua hears Tessa screaming and pulls Eddie off of her. Eddie tries to ease the tension of the situation by saying that he was only joking. When Eddie takes off, Tessa starts talking to Joshua. We learn that Caleb took Joshua from his mother when he was 8 years old. He has stayed with Caleb ever since due to fear of Caleb. Speak of the devil – here comes Caleb now.

He gives Tessa a small but winning smile while holding a huge knife.

Caleb then tells Tessa about why he decided to move to the woods with his family. Apparently he was with Joshua’s mom. After “doctors killed her” he could not get over his grief. So he moved out into the woods (to live deliberately, I assume.) As one does. I hope to learn that Caleb is the Immortal Henry David Thoreau. Either way, his plan to win Tessa over is for her to not have other better options. It’s a sounds strategy. But he does intend to win her over of her own accord. So she’s got that going for her.

Duncan creeps up on Joshua and puts a sword to his neck. Eddie cocks his gun from a distance. So the two of them take Duncan prisoner. They take him to a cliff’s edge and Duncan just jumps off. But the boys have his sword as they walk off.

When the boys return to camp with the sword, Caleb seems to realize that Tessa’s man is Immortal because he suggests that Duncan might climb up out of the ravine. This is our first good confirmation that Caleb is himself an Immortal. He’s freaked out enough to break camp immediately to travel by night.

Tessa tells Caleb outright that she knows he is Immortal and that so is Duncan.

Duncan wakes up at the bottom of the ravine. His bones make a gross cracking sound as he heals. In his bloody torn slacks and button down shirt, Duncan immediately begins an ascent up and out of the ravine. Once reaching the top, he dramatically rips away what’s left of his shirt and washes his blood off in the river.

And now MacLeod is slow motion running, shirtless, in the river. Still has those slacks on, though. He took the scraps from his shirt and wrapped them around his forearms. And he’s eating a snack of some wild berries. LOL.

The Mountain Folk and their Queen stop to camp. Joshua and Caleb decide to leave Tessa alone with Eddie while they scout up river. Tessa asks Caleb to send Eddie upriver instead of going himself. Once Eddie is gone, Tessa lets Caleb know that she does not trust Eddie. But Caleb, finally revealing a weakness, refuses to believe either of the boys would ever cross him. Is the inability to judge character going to end this Calessa Ship?

Duncan catches up to Joshua. When Duncan jumps out to push Joshua into the river, for some reason, he yells out loudly. Caleb heard Duncan and comes to help Joshua. I guess this was part of Duncan’s plan?

Caleb fires a shotgun blast. This draws the attention of Eddie down river as well as the Sheriff who is still tailing all of them.

Just as Tessa is getting her wrists loose from the haphazard knot that Caleb had tied her up with, before running off after Joshua, Eddie find her and prevents her escape. Caleb walks up on both of them, does not seem to notice that Tessa had been screaming, and he informs them that Joshua is dead and that they are leaving.

As Caleb is leading Tessa along, like a goat tied to a rope, she starts planting some seeds of distrust with Caleb against Eddie. “What if Duncan did not kill your son? What if it was someone else who could have walked up to him, smiled, and killed him? Eddie and Joshua were fighting over me. Eddie told me he wanted me all for himself.”

In our next scene, the Sheriff finds Joshua all tied up. Joshua tells him that a dead man is the one who tied him up. Sheriff is amused.

Caleb has been mulling over Tessa’s accusation. So he hits Eddie in the face with the butt end of his shotgun and asks him what he did with Josh. It appears that Caleb is about to kill Eddie. Queen Tessa might not have planned on those distrust seeds reaping such a big harvest quite so quickly. When Tessa starts pleading with Caleb to not kill Eddie, Caleb concludes that “someone has gone sweet on you.” BANG. Eddie is dead.

With a second “son” out of the way, MacLeod reappears.

Caleb lets Duncan know that Old Carl had some “mighty fine words about him.” This actually explains his immediate apprehension re: Duncan. He might not have worried about a regular Immortal being able to track him down. But one who knew Old Carl?

Caleb starts firing his rifle in the direction of where Duncan had been talking. While he was distracted, Queen Tessa hit him in the back and knocked him down. She tried to give Duncan his sword but Caleb wrestled it away. No problem. Duncan took the ax lying on the ground next to it.

Duncan with an ax vs. Caleb with Duncan’s Sword…. FIGHT! (Tessa grabs a machete or something that was also lying there. I assume Queen Tessa means to take Caleb’s head in the event that he wins the fight. There will be a moment where he’s weakened by the Quickening.)

I know you’re all surprised but Duncan was better with his non-preferred weapon than Caleb was with Duncan’s sword. I think this is the first time that Tessa has witnessed a Quickening, though. Her face betrays just a hint of “um, this is freaky.”

The Sheriff and his men finally catch up with Duncan and Tessa. Joshua is there with them, too. Duncan has already buried Caleb at this point and lets the Sheriff know that Eddie is dead in the river. Joshua insists that Duncan is not human and nobody really pays him any attention.

The episode ends with MacLeod looking at Tessa, sadly, while he fishes his sword out of the river.

Reaction:

After sitting on this episode for a while, I just feel a bit sad about the whole thing.

Old Carl was clearly scared of “the game” and he was just hiding out in a place where nobody would find him. The show even credits him as “Carl the Hermit.” Caleb had the same idea as Carl and apparently Duncan had not taught Old Carl well enough how to fight. Or maybe Caleb just shot Carl with a gun and took his head without a real fight. Both men were lonely but afraid to be anything other than alone. Even our bad guy, Caleb, wanted to live with some honor. We saw that in how he treated Tessa, how he took care of Joshua, and how he believably loved Joshua’s mother and felt a lot of grief when she died. The show never bothered to contradict that story – even if Joshua did believably tell us that he thought Caleb would kill him if he ran off.

Clearly Caleb was wildly misguided in all of that. But I think at the root of his actions was a conflicted desire for love and to be left alone.

I wonder if some of those thoughts contributed to that sad look on Duncan’s face at the end of the episode. I imagine he’s also sad that being with him continues to put Tessa in danger. This show makes Immortality seem like endless misery.

As you can infer from my recap, some of the execution in this episode is pretty cornball (Duncan ripping off his shirt, Duncan looking wild-eyed and eating wild berries, Caleb’s marriage proposal…) But it only pulled me out of the story a little bit. And the premise of the episode is certainly plausible within the Highlander Universe. You don’t have to get far away from the coastal cities for the Pacific Northwest to get extremely remote. Bigfoot lives there for that reason, after all. And it certainly makes sense to me that a lot of Immortals would choose hiding over developing their fighting skills.

QUOTES:

“You know what I don’t like about the great outdoors? It’s all these bugs and funky animals lookin’ at ya, hidin’, trying to figure out where you fit in the food chain.”

“That’s one fine hunk of woman.”

“You learn to talk to her with more reespiikt.”

“MacLEOD! Duncan MacLEOD! You killed my boy? Come on out! We’ll fight! Neck and blade to neck and blade!”

“First, I’ll take your Quickening. Then… I’ll take your WOMAN!”

Cast Notes:

Wes Studi plays the Sheriff. You undoubtedly will recognize him. He is probably best known for playing Magua in “The Last of the Mohicans” but he’s been one of Hollywood’s go-to Native American actors since the late 1980s. Something you might not know, though, is that Studi is from Oklahoma and exclusively spoke Cherokee until age 5.

Marc Singer played Caleb in this episode. In recent years he’s had recurring roles on both the CW’s “Arrow” and “Beauty and the Beast.” But earlier in his multi-decade career he portrayed Dar, the lead character in the “Beastmaster” movies. And he portrayed Andy Warner in the mini-series “Roots: The Next Generation.”

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