Highlander: the Series – Season 1 Review

There are spoilers ahead for the entirety of Season 1. Proceed accordingly.

Highlander: the Series tells us the story of Immortal Duncan MacLeod, born in 1492 in the Scottish Highlands, still alive and well, five hundred years later in the early 1990s. The other two primary cast members are Tessa Noel, Duncan’s long term mortal girlfriend and Richie Ryan, a young would-be thief of Duncan’s possessions turned friend and mentee under Duncan’s tutelage.

The series is based directly on the Highlander movies starring Christopher Lambert. In fact, Lambert appears in the pilot to hand the torch to Adrian Paul’s Duncan. The world of Immortality is the same in the series as it was in the movie franchise. Immortals come from unknown parentage but are typically adopted. They usually experience death at some point in their early adulthood. After their first death, Immortals cease aging and will not die permanently unless their head is severed from their body. Otherwise, Immortals are similar to humans physiologically. They can be injured and they can be killed. They just do not stay injured or dead for very long.

The biggest hurdle for an Immortal is the nature of their race. An Immortal can take the life force and power (i.e. the Quickening) of another Immortal by “taking” his or her head. This is part of “the Game.” Using swords, or sometimes battle axes, Immortals take the heads of each other, gathering power and knowledge from their defeated foe, until eventually only one Immortal is left standing. There are rules, though. Combat between Immortals is forbidden on Holy Ground. Holy Ground is loosely defined in the series but is understood to be any place where mortal human beings gather for worship. Immortal combat is also limited to one verses one competition. Two Immortals cannot fight one.

As of the early 1990s, an event known as “The Gathering” has begun among Immortals. There is some mystery about what “The Gathering” actually is as the term is not explicitly explained. However, the term seems to be referring to the “gathering” of Immortal Quickenings into fewer and fewer Immortals. Immortals who have spent decades or centuries avoiding conflict will, as a result, find themselves unprepared as other Immortals begin looking for Immortals to kill.

Duncan has spent most of his four hundred years actively seeking out combat and war. He attributes his “warrior” upbringing for his tendency to join mortal wars and fight for the side that he deems to be just. Duncan is now among the more powerful Immortals in the world despite being centuries younger than some others.

Throughout Season 1, Duncan fights several Immortal opponents. He really only seems nervous one time. In the episode, Band of Brothers, Duncan takes on 1,800 year old Grayson. Duncan is out-dueled for most of this fight but wins the duel with a bit of swordsmanship trickeration. The win over Grayson – though it is not stated explicitly – marks a major power-up for Duncan. With Grayson’s 1,800 year old Quickening, MacLeod obtained the older Immortal’s knowledge and power. Grayson was an active fighter for his time on earth and had himself collected a lot of powerful Quickenings throughout the centuries. From this point forward, Duncan can now approach a duel with almost any Immortal with a lot of confidence.

Duncan is presented in Season 1 as an elite fighter, even by Immortal standards, albeit an increasingly reluctant one. In one powerful flashback from the pilot, we see Duncan living peacefully among the Lakota. One day while he was away, the entire tribe was slaughtered. He returned and buried them all alone We get some sense that this was a turning point for Duncan. His appetite for loss and death is gone from this moment forward. The second half of season 1 further moves Duncan in the direction of questioning the violence of his life. After moving to Paris, he begins to spend time with fellow Immortal and former mentor, Darius. Darius is a 2,000 year old former fighter turned pacifist Catholic Priest. It is said – though not even Duncan knows for sure – that Darius, at the head of an army, killed an Immortal Holy Man at the gates of Paris sometime around 500 A.D. From that moment forward, Darius changed and gave up violence entirely. Duncan is not quite able to embrace this approach but he clearly admires it.

Darius is murdered by mortals in the season finale. His reaction to this event is unknown.

The show does not only focus on Duncan. We also spend time with his girlfriend Tessa. She is mortal. When she met Duncan, she looked much younger than him. Now they look the same age. She expresses concern about the nature of the relationship with Duncan throughout Season 1. She cannot grow old with him. She cannot have children with him. Interestingly, she also seems to struggle trusting his fidelity to their relationship at times, too.

The show leaned into that distrust at times. Several episodes throughout the season brought either damsels in distress for Duncan to rescue, or alternatively, women guest-starred on the show who overtly vying to steal Duncan away. As a result, I am left to wonder what the writers actually plan with the Tessa character going forward. She handles the situation with Duncan as well as is possible. She faces down an Immortal with a blow torch (“Free Fall.”) She talks her way out of danger by out-thinking more than one antagonist Immortal (“Mountain Men” and “Avenging Angel.”) But it seems to me that this is not enough to make things with Duncan feel settled.

Richie is the other primary co-star. He has gone through quite a metamorphosis in Season One. In the pilot, he was a teenage thief. By the finale, he is living in Paris, increasingly cultured, educated, and at times insightful. In the finale, after Darius dies, Richie is the one who asks what it must be like to lose a friend of two hundred years. Also in the finale, Richie gets a chance to save Duncan’s life. I do not know that the transition is complete, yet, but Duncan and Richie are slowly transitioned from teacher-pupil to friends.

The show had several notable guest stars. Christopher Lambert was in the pilot to hand the Highlander torch to Duncan personally. Marion Cotillard made her on-screen acting debut. Jason Isaacs guest-starred in an episode. The acting from week to week is great. There were also numerous musical guest stars including Joan Jett, Vanity, Roland Gift, and Roger Daltrey to name a few. For a first season show, Highlander delivers a lot of star power in Season 1.

The overall show did a major reset at its halfway point. It appears to have done another hard reset in the finale. When the show begins, we are in the fictional city of Seacouver (Seattle / Vancouver) and it’s a gritty place to say the least. The show tip-toes around perhaps adopting a police procedural format with police detectives we are familiar with and a reporter (Randi) who begins to develop some trust with MacLeod. Obviously given the supernatural aspects of the show, it was going to be police procedural adjacent. MacLeod helps out the police with the Immortal baddies they cannot handle themselves. They learn to trust him and not ask too many questions as he helps them. They even occasionally show Duncan as a nascent computer hacker. But at the halfway point the show moves to Paris and moves away from that format. We see more Immortals and less concern for the realism of headless bodies being dropped around the city. Will we ever see Randi the Reporter again? Sgt. Bennett? Richie’s sort-of girlfriend Angie (who BOUGHT A CAR for him)? Who knows. That probably depends on how the finale’s hard reset plays out.

Speaking of, the last episode of Season 1 introduces into the mythology a group of people who covertly chronicle the goings-on of Immortals. Some of them are responsible for killing Darius. More changes are forthcoming.

If you were a fan of this show in the 1990s, I cannot recommend enough a re-watch. There are a few clunkers in Season 1. But overall, the show holds up better than you would imagine. You will be pleased with the famous faces that pop up throughout. You will enjoy hearing Queen’s theme song. You will love the sword fights.

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