Highlander (Season 1, Ep 16): The Beast Below

Welcome back to Highlander Season 1. Spoilers ahead if you continue reading.

THE QUICK & CLEAN SUMMARY:

The episode contains violence (duh) and a few swear words.

While attending a band practice with Tessa and Richie, Duncan senses an Immortal presence shortly before the band’s manager was thrown from a balcony to his death. MacLeod believes that the killer is an Immortal named Ursa – a mentally limited man who spent centuries living in a cave, centuries more living in a monastery, and in both places loving beauty (wildflowers and music in particular.)

Duncan’s hunch is correct. Ursa moved into the French catacombs during the French Revolution when the monastery where he lived was torn down. While there, he used the tunnels below ground to take him close the opera houses of Paris and the music he loves. His most recent love is Carolyn – the lead singer of the band whose practice Duncan attended with Richie and Tessa. When Carolyn learned about her Immortal admirer, she tried to manipulate him to kill her rival and back-up singer, Jenny. Ursa refused. Ultimately Carolyn learned that Ursa was Immortal and in her shock, she walked out into traffic, was struck by a car, and died. After her death, MacLeod helps Ursa settle in a monastery where he can once more live simply and focus on beauty.

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THE EXTRA DUSTY REVIEW & RECAP:

♪ I am Immortal… I have inside me blood of Kings…♪ 

Richie, Tessa, and Duncan are walking through a lavish music hall. Richie has been invited to attend a band’s performance by a woman named Jenny who is herself a back-up singer in the group. Richie apparently met Jenny at refugee relief job he has taken since moving to Paris. Richie was able to extend two additional band practice invitations to both Duncan and Tessa.

While the three stars of our show are watching said practice, the lead singer abruptly stops her performance and asks “why don’t we just cut my microphone and let her carry the song?” – as she gestures to the young red-head who is most likely Jenny.

Carolyn, the featured singer, complains to the band’s manager, Frank, who is sitting up in the balcony. She further complains that the spotlight should not be shared with the back-up singers, either. She then demands that the spotlight operator be fired.

Frank calls for a ten minute break. Carolyn comes up to the balcony to continue her complaints with Frank. She continues to reiterate that the show is *her* show. She states that she performed at this venue ten years earlier and the ticket sales demonstrate that the people have not forgotten. Frank points out, in reply, “then what are the rest of us doing here?” Frank also takes credit for Carolyn’s rediscovery. While they are arguing, the camera angles give the audience a reason to believe an unknown third person is watching this argument unfold. The argument gets heated with Carolyn ultimately striking Frank across the face before walking away.

We (the audience) jump back down to the stage where Richie is introducing Jenny to Tessa and Duncan. Suddenly, Duncan senses an Immortal, and another moment later, Frank falls from the balcony to his death on the stage. Through the supports of the stage, we (the audience) see what looks like a hunchbacked figure fleeing the scene. MacLeod, man of action that he is, gives chase.

The unknown assailant is gone by the time Duncan gets to the balcony. As Duncan gives up the chase, we see a shadowy hunchbacked man entering a dark tunnel that looks – to me, at least – like underground catacombs.

Richie and Tessa are comforting Jenny. French police are questioning Duncan. We learn from the policeman that they do not know how the murderer escaped.

Duncan decides to question Carolyn, privately, in her dressing room. He immediately keys in on some wildflowers in the room and asks whether they are from an admirer. She defers and MacLeod points out that “they only grow in the forest.” When Carolyn excuses herself, Duncan apologizes and leaves with her wildflower in his hand.

Back on the barge, Tessa asks him whether he believes an Immortal is the killer. Perceptive Tessa infers “it’s something you think you know, isn’t it?”

FLASHBACK!!

We are in the French countryside. A very large Immortal – who seems to have some developmental issues – is smelling wildflowers while we see that a band of armed peasants is hunting him. Based on the bows, and the way everyone is dressed, I would guess that we are in the 1600s.

Duncan rides up on a white horse and asks the people what they are hunting. They tell him they are looking for a demon. They name the person a demon because when they kill him, he returns to life. Duncan senses an Immortal presence. The still as-yet unnamed “demon” Immortal senses Duncan in turn.

The peasants charge and the Immortal holds his own against them. When Duncan shouts for them to leave the man alone, the peasants turn on Duncan, too. Duncan takes a wound and soon the new Immortal is about to kill the peasant who caused the wound. To prevent the other Immortal from killing the peasant, Duncan kills him the Immortal first with a sword through his abdomen. He then tells the peasants he will bury the man in such a way that he cannot rise again. He also promises a curse on them if they witness how he buries the body.

Duncan waits with the man until he revives. The other Immortal does not speak but he appears to understand. Duncan tells him that they must go and he follows.

Back on the barge, Tessa is intrigued. Duncan cannot tell her where he came from originally because the Immortal never spoke much. MacLeod learned, back then, that the man had been living in a cave. Tessa cannot believe that a man who lived in a cave, in the woods, could be the same person as a man who was in the heart of Paris at the opera.

The cameraman takes us back into the dark tunnel to which our hunchback, earlier, fled. Perhaps a cave in the woods is not so different than tunnels beneath Paris.

We see Carolyn, again, on the stage at the concert hall. She is performing and our Immortal secret admirer is watching. He tosses some wild flowers in the direction of the stage. When she asks who is there, he creeps slowly out from the shadows.

C: You killed Frank.
I: He… hurt… you.
C: You’re not gonna hurt me like you hurt him, are you?
I: No. [long pause] Sing. Sing more.
C: (smiling) He hurt me. You protected me. Like a guardian angel. Is that what you are?

Duncan visits Darius and we learn that the opera-loving Immortal is named Ursa. Ursa had lived at an abbey prior to the French Revolution but Darius lost track of him after. Darius has Duncan try a tea. After Duncan takes a sip, Darius lets him know that it is from a mold spore. Duncan spits it out.

Darius continues giving us information about Ursa. He lived at a monastery for generations. The monks there kept his secret believing he was “one of God’s creatures.” They even taught him to sing. Darius is unaware of how he came to be there at the monastery.

FLASHBACK #2!!

We see Duncan with Ursa at a monastery in the 1600s. Duncan explains “the Game” to him and that no Immortal can hurt him while he is on Holy Ground. Ursa nods as though he understands. Duncan is with Ursa when the other Immortal hears music from the monastery for the first time. Ursa is drawn to the sound. After leaving Ursa there, MacLeod never saw him again.

After letting Darius know that *he* is the one who set Ursa up in the monastery, the two men reason out what must have happened with him after the abbey he previously lived in was torn down. There are woods adjacent to that spot, as well as underground catacombs and a subway line. They believe that Ursa may have traveled into the city because of the music.

The camera again shows us tunnels beneath Paris. However, this time, the camera continues into the tunnel until we arrive at a place where Ursa is standing in front of a fire.

Back above ground, Jenny enters Carolyn’s dressing room. Jenny tells Carolyn that she has a couple of new songs and that she would like to sing them herself. Carolyn is not excited about the idea. However, she tells Jenny that the band will try them out in rehearsal, and if they work, the band can perform them. Carolyn smiles at Jenny until she leaves the room. When Jenny is gone, her expression changes suddenly and we see anger on her face.

Richie watches as Duncan descends into the Parisian sewer system. Richie has misgivings about MacLeod getting lost. Duncan does not appear to be worried. He instructs Richie not to follow. However, we see Richie descending into the sewer, too, before the scene changes again.

Carolyn is on stage at a rehearsal. Ursa delivers her more wildflowers. She asks how he continues to get in without anyone noticing. Ursa then shows her the secret entrance that he has been using. He guides her by the hand into the dark path below the opera house.

Carolyn tells Ursa that she is afraid of Jenny. She encourages him to kidnap Jenny and bring her underground. She tells him that Jenny has already tried to murder her once in her sleep. Ursa hears a noise and runs toward it. Duncan senses Ursa and vice versa. He tells Richie to stay put. After MacLeod has walked a few feet away from Richie, we see Ursa grab Richie. Richie yells – as one does in such situations – and Duncan turns back to chase after them.

Duncan and Ursa confront each other. After a couple of sword clangs, a light of recognition comes over Ursa’s face. He knocks Duncan to the ground and runs away.

On the barge, some time later, Tessa is tending to Richie’s wounds. Duncan sets out to find Ursa again. This time Richie will not be following.

Duncan returns to the opera house and talks to Jenny. He asks for information about Carolyn. Jenny, reluctantly at first, lets him know that Carolyn is hard to work with and that she did not get along well with Frank. Jenny believes that Carolyn was deeply uncomfortable with the idea that she owed Frank anything. This information seems to confirm something for Duncan and he tells Jenny that she should come by the barge sometime to see Richie.

We next see Carolyn hosting a meeting of their band. She proposes to them that she do Frank’s old job herself. When one of the band members questions her as to why Jenny is not at the meeting, Carolyn suggests that “Jenny is not working out.” One of the band members pushes back on that idea. As this conversation is happening, we – and the band – hear a noise. Though we do not see him, it is clear that Ursa is now present. Carolyn says that they can “finish this later” and walks off as the other band members stare into the direction of where the sound originated.

Carolyn walks toward Ursa’s secret entrance… and finds Duncan. He immediately calls her out for knowing about the passage. MacLeod tells her that her admirer’s name is Ursa. He asks why she has not gone to the police. She points out that MacLeod could also go to the police but has not done so. As they part, Duncan warns her that she is dealing with something very dangerous. All alone now, we see Carolyn pull a dagger from a hiding spot among her costumes.

A few moments later, Duncan is near the stage and Carolyn is backstage. Duncan senses Ursa’s presence. Ursa appears in front of Carolyn. She gives him the dagger and tells him that she found it in Jenny’s dressing room. “She’s going to use it on me!” This news upsets Ursa greatly.

Richie and Jenny arrive at the concert hall and meet up with the band for rehearsal. Jenny then goes alone to her dressing room to get her stuff. She says she will be right back. As we watch the band rehearsing, we hear a scream. We then hear another scream.

Ursa has thrown Jenny over his shoulder and is carrying her into the Parisian underground. Richie catches up with them but Ursa knocks him down and out pretty easily with just one hand. MacLeod finds Richie on the ground and learns that Ursa has left with Jenny. The two of them set off together to get her back.

Ursa is alone with Jenny somewhere in the catacombs. He appears uninterested in hurting her. However, he leaves her alone in his, uh, home. MacLeod and Richie hear her yelling for help and find her soon after Ursa leaves. The three of them leave to go above ground.

We next see Tessa, Richie, and Jenny on the barge. Jenny says that Ursa seemed like a confused animal but not mean or malicious. MacLeod and a police officer walk into the room where the three others are sitting. The police officer congratulates Duncan for finding Jenny and he suggests that it make take weeks to flush a homeless man out of maze of tunnels beneath the city.

After the policeman leaves, Duncan asks Jenny about her relationship with Carolyn. Jenny has positive things to say. Carolyn is letting her sing her own songs, does not mind sharing the spotlight, etc. The wiser Duncan MacLeod sees through that. Her story seems to confirm to him that Carolyn used Ursa in an attempt to remove a rival.

Back on the music hall stage, Carolyn and Ursa have another conversation. She complains to Ursa that Jenny is not dead. She tells him that Duncan MacLeod now wants to hurt her, too. The Immortal lover of opera suddenly senses Duncan. The Highlander walks up to the stage, tells Ursa that he does *not* want to hurt Carolyn, and that he does not want to fight. Carolyn insists that Duncan is going to kill her. She leaps at Duncan. When Duncan pushes her aside, Carolyn falls, and this seems to enrage Ursa. He pulls out a huge sword and starts swinging it at Duncan. MacLeod will not draw his weapon in return. He continues insisting that he does not want to fight.

Duncan backs his way up a staircase toward the balcony and Ursa pursues. All the while, MacLeod continues pointing out that Ursa knew Carolyn was lying about Jenny. He also points out that he is Ursa’s friend and always has been his friend. On the balcony, Duncan finally pulls out his sword but only uses it defensively.

She’s using you to kill people.

MacLeod and the other Immortal are now on the roof of the opera house. Carolyn has climbed to the roof as well and is watching their sword fight. Ursa slips on the roof tile and clings to the edge. MacLeod grabs his hand but Ursa falls to his death on the street below.

Duncan and Carolyn go down to the street. By the time they arrive Ursa has revived but they do not see him immediately.

D: You wanted him to kill for you?
C: That is crazy!
D: First Jenny then me. He was a gentle soul.
C: You weren’t friends with that ox.
D: Yeah, we were friends.
C: He was a lobotomy case.
D: Then you never cared for him.
C: He must have hit you over the head. He was a simpleton. He belongs in some zoo exhibit.

Ursa listens to this conversation and at that last line has finally heard enough. He makes a pained noise. Carolyn turns around and is stunned to see him alive. She is so stunned, in fact, that she wanders into traffic, is struck by a fast-moving car, and then she dies. A grieving Ursa picks up her body and carries her away.

We next see Duncan and Ursa at a monastery late at night. Duncan has arranged for Ursa to live there. Just as they did in the 1600s, they part ways.

REACTION:

In the three Parisian episodes, we have had murderous mimes, we have met one of Duncan’s French Resistance war buddies, and now we have met the Immortal version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I hope the showrunners had a plan for when they run through the “French Theme” checklist. We will find out soon. Perhaps in the next episode, we will learn that Victor Hugo is an Immortal and/or that the character of Jean Val Jean was inspired by something Darius did hundreds of years ago. Maybe Duncan was once one of the Les Trois Mousquetaires?

Actually, that sounds awesome. Let’s do that. I’m all in. I’m serious.

“The Beast Below” obviously had a very operatic feel. Ursa’s wardrobe looked to be straight from the French Revolution. Carolyn’s hair and costuming created strong Disney / Grimm Brothers villainess vibes. The musical score in this episode matched the theme very well, too, especially during the climactic Duncan vs. Ursa fight on the rooftop.

The rooftop battle made up for any issues I might have otherwise had with this episode. Carolyn’s hair and her cape, blowing in the wind, were *chef’s kiss* perfect. The Parisian rooftop backdrop for the fight was amazing. (You will not find many statues adorning the roofs of many American buildings.) Even the overly large sword that Ursa wielded was just outstanding from a visual and costuming perspective. It was a perfect type of blade for the character.

Were there some story-telling problems in this episode? Definitely. I felt as though Carolyn embraced the idea of “this giant will kill for me so I can use that” a little too quickly. I also felt as though it was unlike Duncan to completely forgive and forget that Ursa began this episode by murdering someone. He committed that murder BEFORE Carolyn attempted to manipulate him. But the operatic theme of the episode made the more dramatic / nonsensical storytelling choices more palatable.

It was a plot convenience that Carolyn walked into the street and died. She had seen the sword fight, earlier, and that would have led to questions Duncan does not want to answer. HOWEVER. It was a plausible plot convenience. Most people would be stunned to see someone come back to life. It is plausible that someone would be so stunned to witness a resurrection that he or she would walk into traffic. This is true particularly if that someone was already on a sidewalk adjacent to a busy street.

Were there witnesses to Ursa’s rooftop fall? Surely. More witnesses to him picking up Carolyn’s lifeless body? Undoubtedly. In a show like this, I suppose you do not need to explain away all the details when the heart of the story has been told. But it is for the best that the series is set in the early 1990s and not a quarter century later in the era of cell phone cameras.

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