Welcome back to Highlander: the Series. I am doing an episode-by-episode watch, recap, and reaction and blogging about it here. There will be no spoilers for the series beyond the current episode. You can find my prior recaps HERE.
For those of you that don’t want to read the long recap, I provide a quick episode summary here at the top. You can also just scroll down to the “REACTION” heading below.
THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:
Duncan’s Immortal friend, former slave Carl Robinson, steals Charlie’s car. Duncan tracks him down and gets Carl to reimburse Charlie. In the midst of Duncan and Carl engaging in a lot of discussion regarding race in America, both men come to realize that Carl is being targeted for death by a rogue Watcher serving in the police department.
Duncan helps Carl to set up the rogue cop and enlists the cop’s partner in the set-up. The partner ultimately kills the murderous Watcher. In the aftermath, Carl regains some long lost optimism for both himself and the future of humanity more generally.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
The episode starts somewhere in the South in the first half of the twentieth century Some evil-seeming Southern white men appear to be prepping to kill – via hanging – some black men. Duncan MacLeod drives up onto the scene. He knocks down the gallows with his car. In the chaos that follows, Duncan finds one of the large black men and introduces himself as Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Duncan tells the man to run.
One of the bad guys fires a rifle and kills Duncan before rallying the other men to chase the runaways.
In the present, the large black man that we met earlier – in the past – is walking down the street with a young man. He notices a drug deal going down in an adjacent alley and tells the younger man with him that he thinks some people are about to have a drug problem.
Charlie and Duncan are walking down the street. Charlie has apparently eaten too much Chinese food.
Back at the scene of the drug deal, the large man tells the younger man, Ricky, to find some wheels because the two of them will be wanting to ride away from this situation. Ricky leaves to find some wheels while our as-yet still unnamed large black man walks up to the deal in progress. The white drug dealer points a shotgun at him. He laughs, takes the gun away before the other man can fire it. He tells everyone there that he does not want their blow, he just wants the money. The drug dealer hands him the money. Abruptly, he says that he gets p***** when people point guns at him. He fires it at the building beside the dealer, points the gun back at the dealer, and tells him to kiss the ground. He advises the drug dealer, in a stern voice, not to look for him later.
A few moments later, we see that young Ricky has stolen Charlie’s car as their ride away from the drug dealer theft situation. As they get into the car, Charlie notices that he is being robbed and he shouts at them. They crash his car into another car and then flee on foot. Charlie chases them. Duncan chases Charlie telling him to wait. MacLeod and Charlie chase the man up a set of fire escape stairs to the roof of the building. As they reach the roof, the Immortal man they are chasing jumps from their roof to the roof of the next building. Duncan manages to pull Charlie back before he attempts the same jump. Duncan finally recognizes the man they are chasing.
Duncan remembers waking up from the shotgun blast death where the bad guys had thought he was left and dead. He gets back into his car. We cut to a scene of the men he saved running from the bad guys – who are using a pack of dogs to chase them.
[We watch the chase as Jack of Diamonds, a blues song by Jim Byrnes (the guy who plays Joe Dawson) accompanies as the background music]
Eventually, the Immortal of the group of black men being chased directs the other two to go up river and stay in the water so that the trailing dogs will lose their scent. He says he will go a different direction, staying out of the water, so that the dogs follow him alone. Sometime later, we see that the plan works as the dogs trail the one as the other two seemingly escape. As Jim Byrnes sings the line, “boss says wake up dead man, still got work to do” the trailing men catch up, shot guns in hand. In the nick of time, MacLeod arrives. The men fire their guns but MacLeod and the escapee get away.
After, Duncan is throwing away his bloodied shirt and washing the blood off. The man with him notes that MacLeod is pretty matter-of-fact about not dying and guesses that MacLeod has been around a while. Duncan tells him that he is three hundred and fifty years old. The other man asks Duncan if he remembers his first time and MacLeod says he remembers it like it happened yesterday.
The other man tells Duncan that his first death was in 1859. He says he was a slave not more than five miles from where they are now. His slave-master killed him, he says, for being with his daughter. That man says he did not lay a finger on her but notes that he was the right color to be killed, anyway. MacLeod tells the man that lynching is a hobby in these parts and asks him what he is doing back here. He says he came back to see some of the sharecroppers. He notes that he lived better as a slave than they do now. He says that the men who were trying to lynch him thought that he was inciting people to riot.
Duncan asks the other man if he knows who the men were and the other man tells him that he does not and that he does not care. Duncan says that they cannot let the men get away with the attempted lynchings.
Duncan: I know that this is the South but there are laws.
???: Yeah. For white people.
Duncan offers to help the other man find them and the other man points out the obvious.
???: Then what? We can take them to court?
He thanks Duncan for the offer and says he just wants to go home. Duncan asks him what he will do back at home and the other man lets him know that he plans to be a baseball player. He tells Duncan that he plans to play in Yankee Stadium. This time, it’s Duncan’s turn to be a realist. He asks the other man how he plans to play Major League Baseball. The other man say he does not know. He suggests that if baseball does not work out, he could get an education and become a politician.
???: Man, that would be something wouldn’t it? Slave to President to the Big Leagues… all in one lifetime.
Back in the present, Duncan is driving around Seacover. After a LONG musical montage of him driving, MacLeod finds the Immortal former friend, turned car thief. And at the 19:36 second mark of this episode, we finally find out that the black Immortal is named Carl.
Duncan asks him how he’s doing and Carl asks him how he looks. MacLeod says he looks the same. Carl tells MacLeod, “so do you.” He tells Ricky, his mortal car thief assistant, that he wants to talk to Duncan alone.
MacLeod looks around inside Carl’s apartment. He sees a degree on the wall from Howard University. He also sees an old photo of Carl playing baseball. Carl sees Duncan looking at the baseball photo and tells him that it’s ancient history. The two men go outside to talk.
Carl: Come on, let’s hear it MacLeod. Aren’t you going to ask me what happened, where I went wrong?
Duncan: You wanna tell me?
Carl: I don’t owe you any explanations, MacLeod.
Carl says he lives the way that they let him live. He tells Duncan that he isn’t him, he isn’t black, and Duncan replies that it has nothing to do with being black. He says it has to do with stealing a man’s car. Carl tells Duncan that he knows the way home and he walks away.
At a police station, Charlie is looking through pictures, presumably to put a name to the face he saw stealing his car. After some time looking through a book filled with mug shuts, Charlie sees a picture of Ricky, Carl’s young friend.
Carl is at Duncan’s apartment. He tells MacLeod that he has a nice place, and as he eats some of Duncan’s food, he tells him that he needs to do some grocery shopping. MacLeod sarcastically invites him to make himself at home.
Carl guesses correctly that Duncan owns the apartment and the dojo downstairs.
Carl: I never figured out why you helped me, MacLeod but now I know. You’re one of those guilt-ridden rich white folks who like to help poor negroes.
Instead of confirming or denying the statement, Duncan asks Carl what he wants. Carl gives Duncan a wad of cash as a down payment for damages to the car. He says he will pay off the rest when he can.
Back at the police station, Charlie is still looking through the mug shots book. He finally finds a picture of Carl Robinson. He tells the officers that this is the guy. They tell him, in turn, that Carl is a car thief wanted for murder in Arizona.
Sometime later, Duncan and Carl run into Charlie in the dojo. Charlie confronts Carl and Carl says he just wants to make some restitution. He hands Charlie money for the car and attempts to shake Charlie’s hand. Charlie just stares at his hand.
Charlie: MacLeod, who you hangin’ with? This man’s wanted for murder.
Carl: Murder?! What the h*** are you talking about?
Charlie: The man you killed in Arizona.
Carl argues that he has never been to Arizona and Charlie says in reply that the cops say that he has. The two men start yelling at each other until Duncan steps between them to break it up. Carl looks at Duncan quite seriously and says that if he killed someone that he would know it and he says he would not lie about it.
Carl offers the money to Charlie one more time. Charlie reluctantly takes it. As he is counting it, Charlie tells Carl that he identified him to the cops this morning.
Carl: Well that’s real black of you, brotha.
Charlie: [angrily] Well I’ll drop the charges… brother.
Duncan tells Charlie as an aside that Carl grows on you over time. Charlie replies that cancer also grows on you.
Next, we see the two police officers who spoke with Charlie in the precinct walking down the street and complaining about the trash everywhere. [Um, are they new to this city?] The older of the two cops expands his complaints to the people all around them. The younger officer, Kenny tells the older cop, Carter, that he sounds like the Klan. Just then, the two officers spot Carl’s friend Ricky. Ricky runs. He does not get far until Carter tackles him to the ground, roughly, and shoves a picture of Carl’s face in front of him and asks the younger kid where to find him.
The older cop pulls drugs from inside his coat pocket. He tells Ricky that unless he shares where Carl is located that he will find those drugs from his own pocket, “on Ricky,” and that he will be busted for them. Carter is just about to start beating the kid when his partner Kenny walks up on him and stops him. His partner asks him what he is doing. Carter asks his partner what does it look like.
Kenny: You put the cuffs on him and you put him in the car.
Kenny helps Ricky up off the ground and onto his feet.
Back at the dojo, Duncan and Carl are sparring… with real swords. As Carl fights Duncan with increased aggressiveness, Duncan disarms him forcefully. Carl notes that it’s a good thing their fight is not for real and Duncan agrees.
Charlie returns to the dojo and finds Carl is still there. Carl commends on Charlie’s last name, DeSalvo. Charlie says that he is half Italian. Carl says that it must be hard to be a white man in a black man’s body. Charlie shouts that nobody talk to him like that and Carl notes that he just did. Duncan intervenes again and asks both of them what the deal between the two of them.
Carl: It’s a black thing.
Charlie: You get his thieving a** out of here!
Carl leaves. Duncan follows him out and tells him to remove the chip on his shoulder before Charlie takes care of it for him. Duncan tears into Carl for his attitude problem. Carl tells Duncan that deep down inside, everyone is a racist and Duncan disagrees.
Duncan: If you want things to change, then lead people.
Carl tells Duncan that he stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago. Duncan replies that he also stopped believing in himself. Carl walks away.
Sometime later, Carl is walking down an alley when a police officer roars up behind him. Charlie notes that the officer has him and stops. The officer, Carter, rams Carl with his car and knocks him down. Carter gets out of his car and verifies that Carl is not moving. He walks slowly around to the trunk of his police car and retrieves an ax. Just as he is about to use the ax on Carl, some passers by walk up. He walks slowly toward the group of men who are watching his actions and puts the ax back in the trunk of the car. The camera shows a Watchers tattoo on Carter’s wrist as he does so.
Carter reluctantly leaves the scene in his car. Carl – badly injured – appears relieved. Later, he appears again at Duncan’s apartment. He tells Duncan that he was just run over by a police officer – a white police officer. Duncan is confused and asks Carl if the officer tried to arrest him. Carl replies that for some white cops, it is always “open season.” Carl says that this is not the first time and he asks if Duncan remembers when he pitched against Satchel Paige in the Negro Leagues.
Duncan and Carl are in a diner in the 1950s. The woman working at the lunch counter appears startled when she sees Carl seated alongside Duncan. A moment later, they notice a sign on the establishment that says “WHITES ONLY.” Duncan asks repeatedly if there is a problem. A moment later, a police officer from an adjacent table stands up and approaches the two. He says the problem is that Duncan’s friend should not be in there. Carl argues with Duncan that they should just leave and that this is not worth a fight.
Duncan: I thought the Sheriff was supposed to uphold the law.
Sheriff: He is. [Takes his badge off and dramatically sits it on the table next do Duncan] But I ain’t the Sheriff right now.
Carl stands up to leave. Duncan tells his friend and the Sheriff “in a minute.” The Sheriff grows agitated and tells Duncan to leave now because Carl’s kind do not eat here. Duncan elbows the man in the gun and shoves his face into the food on the table. Duncan then says that the kind that eats here are racist pigs like him. Duncan tells the lady working at the counter that they were not that hungry anyway.
Outside, Carl apologizes to Duncan and says he should have checked for the sign. Duncan tells him not to apologize as Carl says in return that they need to get out of there. Outside, the two men have an argument bout whether change will ever happen when Duncan locates a newspaper and smiles. He shows it to Carl who reads aloud that “segregation is declared unconstitutional.”
Duncan: Things are changing, Carl. All you have to do is live long enough.
Carl says that the baseball does not seem so important anymore and he suggests that maybe he should be part of the change. Duncan tells him to do it. They share an elaborate hand-shake and laugh together.
Back in the present, Duncan and Carl are talking and Carl argues again that nothing change. He bemoans how naïve he was for years. He says that he believed things would change when schools were integrated. Carl says that change was an illusion. Duncan asks him what he means and says that 130 years ago, he was a slave.
Duncan: Things changed.
Carl: Yeah. And King’s dead, Malcolm’s dead, and Bobby’s selling barbeque sauce.
Charlie buzzes MacLeod that he is sending someone up. We see Ricky enter Duncan’s apartment and he says he is looking for Carl. Ricky apologizes to Carl and tells him that he cannot do jail time. They ask him what is going on and Ricky tells Carl and Duncan the story about Carter beating him and threatening him with jail time for planted drugs. Ricky says that if the other cop’s partner had not walked up that he would probably be dead. Duncan asks Ricky if he can remember anything distinguishing about the man at all. Ricky remembers that the man had a weird tattoo on his wrist.
Duncan goes down to the police precinct and asks about Carl Robinson. He learns from an officer at a computer that Carl is not wanted for murder in Arizona. In fact, Carl is not wanted for anything. As Duncan leaves, we see that Carter was covertly listening to that exchange. He makes a phone call and quietly tells someone “we got him.”
Later, Duncan tells Carl about The Watchers. Carl does not buy it but Duncan tells him that they exist. Suddenly, a police car rolls up with a shotgun pointed through the driver’s side window. Duncan shouts at Carl to get down and he shoves his friend to the ground. The officer fires a few shots and then speeds away.
Carl: Hey, I’m skeptical man, I ain’t stupid.
Duncan: Then you’ll know it’s only a matter of time until he finds your place.
Carl suggests that maybe it’s time to move on. Duncan angrily tells Carl – who is sounding a bit defeatist – that he is Immortal, that he can do things other men only dream of, and that he should start acting like it.
Carl: Alright Mac, you made your point. But what are we going to do about this cop?
Duncan: We have to find out who he is.
Duncan suddenly remembers that the car driven by the officer had the number 592 on it. Carl and MacLeod stake out the police station and Carter’s car. When Carter exists the station and gets in his car, Carl tells Duncan that Carter is the guy from the alley. Carter leaves. Duncan tells Carl that they should wait where they are. When Carter’s partner Kenny leaves work, later, Duncan approaches him. He tells Kenny that he knows Kenny’s partner is a racist who nearly bit a kid half to death the other day. He also tells Kenny that his partner is trying to murder his friend. Kenny tells Duncan that he is making a mistake and Duncan agrees.
Duncan: I mistook you for a cop.
Sometime later, Carl is working on decking outside of his apartment 0 which is located next to the ocean. Carter approaches him with a shotgun and an ax in each hand. He greets Carl and tells him that he is going to kill him… forever. Carl asks him why and Carter justifies it by the fact that Carl is Immortal. A moment later, Kenny emerges with a gun drawn and tells Carter to put his weapons down. Carter starts yelling at Kenny to get out of there and he tells his partner that Carl is wanted for murder. Kenny asks him who was murdered and also tells him that he checked with Arizona.
Carter: You don’t know who the h*** these people are.
Carter asks his partner, calling him rookie, if he will shoot him. Kenny says he will if he has to. Carl says he does not think so and he raises his shotgun. Kenny shoots him. Carter falls off the decking and into the water below. Carl, Duncan, and Kenny see Carter’s body floating, dead, in the water below.
Sometime later, Carl is in a baseball uniform. MacLeod walks up and says that they will let anyone on this team. Carl replies that they will let anyone on the team who has a 95 miles per hour fastball. Duncan says he thought Carl was going to run for President and his friend says that he will eventually. He notes that the money from baseball will fund his campaign.
Duncan: You might even get my vote.
Carl: [seriously] I’m counting on it, MacLeod.
As we hear the Star Spangled Banner start in the background, Duncan and Carl have one more elaborate handshake. Duncan says that they are playing his song and Carl walks out of the room and toward the field.
There is a lot to like about this episode… but it’s hard to get past the cringe. The fact that the writers were self-aware of the cringe did not make it better.
What cringe? 1) the elaborate handshakes between Duncan and Carl, 2) the fact that Duncan and Carl just-so-happened to have their incident in the diner on the same day that the Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. The Topeka Board of Education, 3) Duncan was about ten percent preachier than usual with his Immortal friends.
Carl: I never figured out why you helped me, MacLeod but now I know. You’re one of those guilt-ridden rich white folks who like to help poor negroes.
The writers – via Carl – acknowledge here that they are telling a “white savior” themed story. What is that?
The term white savior, sometimes combined with savior complex to write white savior complex, refers to a white person who provides help to non-white people in a self-serving manner. The role is considered a modern-day version of what is expressed in the poem “The White Man’s Burden” (1899) by Rudyard Kipling. The term has been associated with Africa, and certain characters in film and television have been critiqued as white savior figures. Writer Teju Cole combined the term with “industrial complex” (derived from military-industrial complex and similarly applied elsewhere) to coin “White Savior Industrial Complex”.
As those types of stories go, this episode is not the most egregious. Duncan MacLeod was not really acting outside of his character in helping Carl – either in the flashbacks or in the present. The things he said to Carl (rebukes/encouragement) are not far off from something he might have said at one point or another to Richie or Gregor (“Studies in Light.”) The difference is just in the execution. I said earlier that Duncan was preachy. He was. But it’s more than that. Duncan’s interactions with Carl were just ever-so-slightly… patronizing. Patronizing is not something we usually get from our star.
The other difference in execution is social awareness. In most cases, Duncan is deeply aware of his surrounding social circumstances. If Duncan and one of his other Immortal (white) friends were eating some place that might be dangerous for them to be eating, the endeavor would have been portrayed as a purposeful act of defiance. The big fight after would have been played for a laugh. Here, though, Duncan purportedly does not even see the “WHITES ONLY” sign. Then he gets his “hero” moment beating up the white police officer, while calling him a pig no less, as Carl is a bystander. This was not MacLeod’s only unaware moment. Earlier in the episode, MacLeod comes off as intentionally dense when suggesting that Carl – who just escaped lynching – seek out help from the local authorities.
But my biggest complaint in those lack of self-awareness moments is that it robbed Carl of some agency. I would have rather watched Immortal Carl go into the diner, on purpose, looking for a fight with his friend Duncan, than the way it played on the episode.
Race issues aside, how was the story? It was okay. The crux of the plot is that Duncan runs into a down-on-his-luck old friend, in an unlikely/unfortunate way (for Charlie), and he learns that his old friend is being targeted by a rogue Watcher. I find it unlikely that we will hear from Joe Dawson about yet another rogue Watcher but the more of them we meet, the more I struggle to believe that this organization was ever secret at all.
Side note: Imagine being an Immortal friend of Duncan, finding out about The Watchers, and then sometime later realizing that he didn’t bother telling you they exist after he found out.
One of the bright spots of the episode was Carl Robinson himself. The actor playing Carl was Bruce A. Young and he did a great job taking on a pretty wide range of situations. The character of Carl’s mood was all over the map. Carl was – depending on the scene – meek, menacing, bitter, running for his life, or friendly. Bruce A. Young somehow managed to put all of that believably in one character. Carl also brought some physicality to show that I don’t think we’ve seen before. He was just.. well… athletic and huge… standing next to Duncan and Charlie. That size made the sparring fight with Duncan really fun to watch. Duncan matched up with the also large Richard Moll in the pilot but Moll was just tall. His muscles were not bursting through his shirt. I think the kids today would say that Carl was “built different.”
All in all, if you can get past some cringey moments, this episode was alright. Not great. Not terrible. Not forgettable, either. Just… alright.