Highlander (Season 3, Ep 45): The Samurai

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 plot 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:

A Japanese woman, Midori Kent, comes to Duncan for help with her murderous husband, on the basis of a 200 year old family legend. We learn that Duncan was mentored by the woman’s ancestor, Hideo Koto, in the late 1700s. Duncan promised a dying Koto to always look after his descendants. Duncan and Koto seal their friendship through an exchange of gifts – Duncan gets the dragon head katana he still uses today and Koto receives a spyglass. The legend that any Koto in trouble can look for help from Duncan MacLeod persists to the present.

We learn in the present that Midori Kent’s husband is a murderous Immortal named Michael Kent. After Midori tries to free Duncan from his vow to protect her, Duncan flies to Japan and challenges her husband to a duel – killing him – and freeing her.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:

The episode begins with an Asian man and woman rising from bed. As she combs her hair, the man tells her that she is beautiful When she pushes back, he complains that she never lets him compliment her. She says that perhaps the reason is that she does not deserve it. He replies by kissing her and telling her that she deserves everything.

Finally they are interrupted by a phone call. The woman is alarmed. A man named Michael is on the other end of the line. He tells her that halfway to the airport he realized that he left his briefcase in the closet. He wants her to know that he is on his way back.

As Michael’s car is parked in the parking garage, two men leave him by the car. The woman from earlier is urging the man to hurry and get dressed. The man is still trying to kiss her. He tells her that Michael is still in traffic somewhere. She on the other hand urges him to go faster saying that she does not want to take any risks.

The man, Akira, leaves. He is in the hallway when he is confronted by Michael’s two men. One of them roughly covers Akira’s mouth as they both drag him away. Still at the car, Michael draws a sword from its sheath. Inside the hotel, the woman cleans up the bedroom and makes the bed. She opens the closet door and finds something on the floor.

Akira is now in the parking garage having been dragged there by Michael’s two men. Akira asks Michael what he wants and Michael answers that they both want the same thing. He then introduces himself as Michael Kent, Midori’s husband. We see Midori leaving the hotel room in her robe as the camera cuts back to Michael telling Akira about his sword. Michael explains that it is an authentic Samurai katana made by the great master Muramasa in the 16th century.

Michael tells a nervous Akira that the used to test the katanas by lining up condemned men and seeing how many of them it could cut through on one stroke. Michael tells Akira that his sword cut through five men when tested and he explains that the number is recorded on the hilt.

Michael’s men let Akira go as the other man tells Michael that he was going to talk to him. Just then, Midori, finds them in the parking garage. She watches in silent horror as Michael beheads her lover. Later, Michael enters the hotel room. He finds Midori inside waiting. She tells her husband that she looked for his briefcase in the closet and says that it was not there. He replies by telling her that he knows about Akira.

Michael: He won’t be coming back. It had to be that way.

Michael begins undressing and tells her to come to bed. She complies. Michael crawls to where she is lying down and says that she can never leave him. He then orders her to make love to him. She appears to comply to that order, as well, but we see her pull a dagger from beneath a pillow and stab him. As Michael lays on the bed, apparently dead, with a knife in his back, Midori flees.

Elsewhere, Charlie DeSalvo is training a woman to box in the dojo he manages for Duncan. As they are training, Duncan – hair down, shirt unbuttoned, and wearing sunglasses – walks in. Charlie welcomes Duncan back. Duncan replies that it is good to be back before pointing out that he thought the doctor told Charlie to take it easy.

Charlie tells Duncan that he has a visitor and points toward someone in his office. Charlie asks if the person is someone that Duncan knows and MacLeod says it is not. Duncan sees Midori waiting there for him.

FLASHBACK!

Duncan thinks of a woman who looks just like Midori… but dressed in what might be Japanese attire from the 1700s.

Back in the present, Duncan pour Midori tea and tells her that she seems nervous. He adds that she has not told him why she is here. She replies by getting up to leave saying that she is not certain that she has come to the right place. Duncan tells her that if she leaves she will not know whether or not this is the right place.

Midori hands Duncan a fold out telescope and asks if it means anything to him. He replies that it means her family name must be Koto.

Midori: [exhales] So you know about the legend.
Duncan: A promise made by my family to yours over 200 years ago, that the Kotos can always come to the MacLeods for help. Yeah, I do.

She tells Duncan that the story has been told by her family for generations. She tells Duncan that her mother swore it was true but she says she was never sure how much to believe. Duncan tells her to believe it all.

FLASHBACK!!

Japan – 1778

A Japanese man looks over the unconscious body of Duncan, which has washed up on the shore with a small boat. As he does this another man in black samurai attire rides up and attacks from horseback. As the riding attacker is knocked from his horse, two more men run forward on foot. The three of them attack the man (probably a Koto ancestor) simultaneously as Duncan revives. Duncan joins the fight and evens the odds enough for Koto to win. The attackers flee.

Duncan introduces himself and Koto uses his own sword to break Duncan’s blade, nearly at the hilt. Duncan is dumbfounded. However, after walking some distance away the man turns to Duncan and indicates he should follow. Duncan enters his house.

Back in the present, Midori says that the promise of help was made 200 years ago.

Duncan: Time doesn’t weaken a bound, Midori. Kotos can always come to the MacLeods.
MIdori: You serious? You really honor that promise?
Duncan: All my life. What can I do for you?

She tells Duncan that she murdered her husband and asks if he will still help her. Duncan stands and pauses before saying yes. He adds though that he needs to know why. She replies that she saw him kill someone. Duncan asks if the person killed was her lover and her face indicates that it was. She tells Duncan that her husband was a powerful man. Duncan tells her that he will do what he can to protect her.

Just then Charlie runs in holding something and asks for a minute. Duncan tells him that it will have to wait as he is going to be off to Japan.

Charlie: You just got back.
Duncan: [smiling] That was Paris! This is a different continent.

Duncan promises to give him the air miles and asks him to watch the store for him. Charlie replies and points out that he always does.

Duncan goes with Midori to her hotel. He waits in the lobby. As she goes to her room, presumably to gather her things, she finds Michael very much alive. She runs. In the lobby, she finds Duncan and tells him that her husband has come back and that he is alive. Michael follows her into the lobby. He and Duncan stare at each other. Duncan turns away from Michael and tells the panicked woman that he will not let him hurt her. When Duncan turns back, Michael is gone.

Later, over team, Midori tells Duncan that she knows she killed him. Duncan tells her that the odds are that she missed a vital organ. He tells her to drink as it will calm her nerves.

On a boat, Michael is telling a group of men that he wants to know everything there is to know about Duncan MacLeod. One of the men says that this sounds like more than business as usual and he replies that MacLeod has his wife.

Midori explains to Duncan how Michael came into her life. She says that her family’s business was failing and that Michael arrived like a white knight loaning money and then more money. Duncan says that she could not pay him back so she married him.

Midori: I thought I would grow to love him, and he to love me. But Michael does not love he possesses.

She tries to tell Duncan again that he does not need to help her. Duncan replies that he is helping because he wants to help. She is once more incredulous that Duncan is honoring a two hundred years old promise. She tells Duncan that she married Michael for the money and to restore her family’s honor. Duncan retorts that money has nothing to do with honor. She tells Duncan that without the money her family’s shrine – Hideo Koto’s shrine – was going to be torn down and turned into a parking lot.

FLASHBACK!!!

Duncan is learning martial arts from Hideo Koto and he is not doing well. After hip tossing Duncan to the ground, Koto asks Duncan if he wishes to rest for a while. Koto says that this must be another Western custom and asks if he should have a servant bring Duncan a pillow. Duncan tells Koto that he will let him know when he has had enough and he adds that he would like to see Koto try that again.

Koto: As you wish, honored guest.
[tosses Duncan to the ground]
Duncan: I think I have had enough.

Koto smiles at him and asks about the superior western art that Duncan promised to show him. Duncan tells him that he was talking about boxing and says that Koto can forget it. He then asks for Koto to teach him whatever it is that he does before miming martial arts. Just as Koto is about to start throwing Duncan around again, a woman who looks like an 18th century Midori approaches, causing both men to pause.

Later, Koto demonstrates the use of his katana to Duncan. As he demonstrates bringing his sword down, Koto tells Duncan to do the same.

Koto: Feel your weight where it meets the weight of the mountain. When you swing your sword, bring the mountain’s power through you.
Duncan: Bring the mountain’s power through you? What is this sword play, or poetry?
Koto: Both.

Duncan begins doing as instructed and understands. Koto tells him that he learns quickly and suggests that perhaps Duncan has a samurai spirit in him after all. Duncan replies and suggests that maybe instead he just likes poetry. Koto tells Duncan that he might best him one day. Duncan disagrees but says that he will be better someday after leaving Koto’s home.

Koto tells Duncan sharply that he must never leave. He explains that white people are thought of within his kingdom as a contagion that must be destroyed. Koto tells him that barbarians have been put to death by the Shogun for 100 years. Duncan protests saying that he was shipwrecked. Koto tells him that his circumstances are no matter.

Koto: If they see you, you will be crucified.
Duncan: Ehh.
Koto: And then beheaded.

Duncan naively asks Koto why they hate whit epeople so much. Koto answers Duncan by asking him what he sees. Duncan tells him he sees a man, Hideo Koto. Koto replies by saying that Duncan not only sees Hideo Koto but also all of the other Kotos who have ever lived or ever will live. He tells Duncan that they are different and that his rulers want no part of the West. He explains that this is why Duncan must not venture beyond the walls of Koto’s property.

Koto greets his daughter and tells her that he is leaving. He instructs her to attend to their guest while he is gone. Duncan tells Maia hello but she walks past him as though he is not there. Duncan turns to follow her.

Later, Duncan is singing while in the bath. Koto’s daughter enters. Duncan is shocked and tells her to excuse him and that he is trying to take a bath.

Maia: It must be a new experience.
Duncan: [outraged] I bathe once a month.
Maia: You smell like it.

Maia and servants try to pull Duncan from the water. He is flummoxed and asks what they are doing. She tells Duncan that he must wash outside of the bathtub and soak inside. She explains that this is the Japanese custom. Duncan it indignant and tells the women that his is a Scottish body and that it can wash itself. He splashes at the women until they leave and then mutters when they are gone that they call him a barbarian.

Later, Duncan is wearing traditional Japanese clothes as he sits to eat dinner. He tells Koto’s daughter that he cannot get used to wearing them.

Maia: Or to bathing every day, it seems.

Duncan comments that the meal looks interesting. She replies that it is a delicacy.

Duncan: It looks like raw octopus.
[takes a bite]
Maia: It is raw octopus.
Duncan: [grimacing] It’s delicious.

Duncan tries to change the subject by telling her that her father is a good mood. She agrees but adds that sometimes he is too good. Duncan asks if he has offended her and tells her that he does not understand. She says that it makes sense that he does not understand as he is a barbarian.

Back in the present, Midori tells Duncan that she has brought so much shame upon her family. Duncan tells her that she does not have to stay married to Michael. She says that she has no choice. Duncan asks where he might be staying in the city and she replies that he has a boat, The Golden Mystique, that he keeps here. Duncan gets up and says he will go talk to her husband to see if things can be worked out. When she asks what makes him sure that Michael will even see him, Duncan repies that he can be charming when he wants to be.

On Duncan’s way out, he runs into Charlie. His friend is surprised that Duncan is not in Japan. Duncan tells him that there was a change in plans and that his business came to him. He then asks Charlie to get Midori out of the building if anyone comes looking for her.

On the boat, Michael Kent’s men are reporting back about what they have learned about Duncan. They tell him that MacLeod leaves very few traces. They say though that they did manage to locate a dojo on the east side of the city that seems to be attached to him. Michael says that a dojo is perfect.

Outside, Duncan approaches the boat. Michael senses Duncan’s approach. He instructs his men to go to Duncan’s dojo and to get Midori. He tells them that she will be there and that she will be alone. He sends them out the back way of the boat before waiting inside for MacLeod. A few moments later Duncan enters through the front.

After exchanging greetings, Duncan tells Michael that his involvement is just an effort to protect a friend. He tells Michael that she saw him murder someone. In reply, Michael points out that the man was her lover. He complains about the secret meetings, the lies, and the smell on his pillow.

Michael: Of course I killed him. What would you have done in my place?
Duncan: Look, I’m not here to judge anyone, Kent.
Michael: Oh you’re no saint MacLeod. SHe’s a beautiful woman. Is that why you’ve come here?
Duncan: No. Long ago I made a vow to protect her family.

Michael asks Duncan if he thinks that he has to protect Midori from him. He tells Duncan that she is his prize, his treasure. Duncan responds that she is a human being but Michael says she is more than that. He tells Duncan that she is a work of art. He tells Duncan that one does not destroy a work of ark. Duncan responds to him angrily saying that he should let her go.

Michael tells Duncan that he understands that this is about honor for him. He adds though that a man of honor does not come between a husband and his wife. Duncan promises that he will not unless he ahs to.

Duncan: She’s under my protection.
Michael: For now.
Duncan: If anything happens to her I’m going to have to kill you.

Back at the dojo, Duncan watches from the doorway as Charlie pummels Michael’s two men. Charlie notes that they must be getting paid a lot as they continue to get up. Duncan clears his throat to let Charlie knows he is there. Charlie tells him to feel free to join at any time. The two men run away.

Charlie asks Duncan how long he was gone. Duncan replies that he was gone for six months. Charlie then tells him that the entire time he was gone, he did not have so much as a hangnail. He adds that almost immediately after Duncan returns he is fighting to save his teeth. They take the elevator up to MacLeod’s loft.

Inside they see that Midori is gone. Charlie blames himself and says that the men must have gotten someone past him. Duncan tells him that nobody got past him. He sees the telescope and tells Charlie that Midori left by herself. When Charlie asks about the telescope, Duncan explains that it is a vow and that she is releasing him from it.

FLASHBACK!!!!

Duncan seems to be more comfortable in Japan. He is still with Hideo, though, and is now giving him a gift. Duncan explains that it is a telescope. Koto asks what it does so Duncan demonstrates it.

Koto: The edge of the sky… it is as near as my hand.
Duncan: It’s called a spyglass.

Koto tells Duncan that it is strange to think of barbarians as exceptional craftsmen. Duncan looks over at Koto’s sword and says that the sword is what he calls craftsmanship. Koto tells him the sword is over two hundred years old and stronger than DUncan’s iron sword. Duncan replies sarcastically that he noticed. Koto tries to hand Duncan the spyglass but MacLeod tells him to keep it. He says that it is a gift. Koto bows. Koto takes another look through the spyglass and sees that riders are approaching. He tells Duncan that he will keep the gift as a token of their friendship but adds that he must now greet the men who are approaching.

Koto claps for Maia and tells her that she will honor their guest with a tea ceremony. Maia looks stricken and tells Duncan that he will come with her. She pour Duncan tea and pauses. He asks if he should drink it now. She does not answer. He says that where he is from, one pours hot water into a pot and then bottoms up.

Maia: Here it is not the end that matters but the path to it.

Duncan tells her that he is beginning to understand that, but he adds that he would still like to know when to drink the tea. She replies that her father asked her to do this for him. She says that when he drinks is his own choice. Duncan tells her that her father is his friend. He asks her why she hates him.

Maia: Where you come from, are friend and enemy the same thing?
Duncan: A friend is someone you would lay your life down for.
Maia: Then my father is a great friend because he has given his life for you.

Duncan protests saying that he saved her father on the beach. He explains that this is why her father brought him here. She replies that by not killing Duncan on the beach he has killed himself. She explains that the Shogun has ordered the death of all gaijin and says that disobedience is punishable by death. Duncan rises in shock. She tells him that the riders arrived to tell him that he will die and adds that Duncan should have let her father die in battle because that would have at least been honorable.

Duncan finds Koto trimming a bonsai tree. He tells his friend that Maia told him everything. Koto tells Duncan not to be distressed. Duncan protests that dying for him is not right. Koto counters saying that if his lord chooses to have him die that it is his right and Koto’s duty. Duncan asks him if he is just going to wait for men to come and take him.

Koto: My lord has been generous. They will come when it is done.
Duncan: When what is done?
Koto: When I have taken my own life.

Koto explains that an execution would stain his family. It is therefore generosity that he is allowed to choose an honorable death. He tells Duncan it would be an honor if he would assist him in his death. Duncan protests that he cannot do that as they are friends. Koto says that their friendship is why he asks. He says that if he falters, he will need Duncan to keep him from shame and to end him with a pure stroke.

Duncan says that there must be some other way. He suggests that they get a boat and leave Japan. Koto tells him he could no more run than he could fly.

Koto: Koto is a noble samurai name, a name I have been honored to borrow. To dishonor it for all who follow me would be unthinkable.

Duncan announces that he has a better idea. He tells Koto to kill him in view of the men who come for him. He explains to his friend that he cannot die. He tells Koto that when he found him on the beach, he was in fact dead.

Duncan: I am immortal.

Koto asks him if many gaijin are Immortal and Duncan tells him no. He adds that some of Koto’s people are also Immortal. Duncan asks him if he will kill him and Koto says no.

Koto: You cannot save honor with a lie.

Later, Duncan asks Koto as he prepares to die if there is anything he can do. Koto says he already asked a favor of Duncan. He then asks Duncan about his family. Duncan tells him that they will always have a protector.

Duncan: Their children will know and their children’s children, that if the Kotos ever need help they can come to Duncan MacLeod. This I promise you.

He thanks Duncan and reminds Duncan of their first favor. Duncan tells him that he will be honored to be his second. Koto tells him that when it is over the sword is his. Koto runs himself through. Duncan assists him in dying by taking his head.

In the present, Midori is with Michael.

Sometime later, Duncan and Charlie walk through Michael’s boat. Michael and Midori are gone. Charlie says that at least it’s out of Duncan’s hands now but Duncan says he is going to Japan.

Midori is visiting her family’s shrine in Japan. Duncan walks up to her and surprises her. She asks how he knew she would be there and he asks her where else she would be.

Midori: You shouldn’t have come.
Duncan: When I said I had a vow, I meant it. The Japanese aren’t the only ones bound by honor.

She comments that it is funny a gaijin would teach her about honor. Duncan replies and tells her that this is a mistake. He asks her why she perpetuates the mistake.

Midori: Honor. It isn’t about making the right choices, it’s about taking the consequences.

Suddenly Duncan senses Michael. Duncan pulls out his sword. Midori exclaims that it is her family’s sword and asks how he got it. Duncan tells her he got it from Hideo Koto through the generations. She protests and says she released him from the vow. Duncan tells her that she cannot release him from the vow as it was not made to her.

Michael tells Duncan that he could have left this alone and adds that he would never hurt her. Duncan replies that sometimes it is not the body that requires protection, but instead, it is the spirit. Duncan tells Michael to let her go so that they can walk away from this. Michael says that he cannot. Michael draws his own sword. Duncan reminds him that they are on holy ground. Michael tells Duncan to die any where that he would like. They stroll some distance away to the rocky shoreline and begin a duel.

During the duel, Duncan’s sword point becomes lodged in the ground. Michael stabs at Duncan but MacLeod stops the blade by clapping his hands to either side of it. He uses this hold to take Michael’s sword frim him and then slice him across the chest with it. Duncan then pulls his own sword free from the ground and beheads Michael.

Sometime later, Duncan and Midori have a ceremony at Hideo Koto’s shrine. She tells him that sometimes she comes here and expects Hideo Koto to come marching toward her when she visits this place, even though he died over 200 years ago. She says that maybe there is such a thing as immortality. She asks Duncan how she can thank someone for giving her back her life. Duncan takes her hands and tells her that she already did.

REACTION:

This is the episode that explains Duncan’s Japanese connections/history. That history is important inasmuch as it tells us why a Scottish Highlander has spent two hundred years using (primarily) a Japanese katana in combat.

I am a little bit torn about whether the emphasis on honor in this episode holds up or whether it’s a little bit cringe. I think the answer is that it’s a mixed bag. The bits at the end where Midori went on at great emotion about feeling as though Hideo Koto might just walk up definitely induced a groan. THAT SAID, cringe or not, I enjoyed the line about the Japanese not being the only ones bound by honor. I also enjoyed that Koto decided killing an Immortal, only to watch him resurrect, would be cheating/lying.

[I wonder, though, how he would have responded if Duncan had just volunteered to die… for real. Koto: “Oh good, I was hoping you’d say that.”]

Adrian Paul’s performances are always so sincere that I tend to forget to be cynical. This was an episode where he probably sold me on a lot of ‘honor’ material that a lesser actor would have failed with.

The premise of this episode is corny but also fun. There’s zero chance that the legend of Duncan MacLeod is surviving two hundred years without Duncan’s assistance. Midori says her mother insisted that the legend is true… that tells me that Duncan has been visiting and checking in. That’s also the best explanation for how Midori tracks him down. Her mom must have told her, “look for Duncan MacLeod in Seacouver.”

The highlight of this episode for me was the bathtub scene. That was genuinely funny. Again, Paul does a great job here playing Duncan differently at different points in time. He is not “full barbarian” anymore at this point in his life as he is about two hundred years old and relatively well traveled. The performance reflects someone in the middle of developing a global cultural polish. Duncan’s time in Japan is clearly an important era in that development.

Not to nitpick the continuity too much but Duncan is also familiar with East Asian culture to some degree through his friendship with Kiem Sun (Season 1, Ep 8.) I wonder if MacLeod visits Kiem Sun in China *after* this incident. If so, then did he meet Kiem Sun somewhere in Europe – or western China perhaps – prior to the late 1700s? That might explain Duncan’s friendship while also explaining why he is such a fish out of water here. It is stated in the earlier episode that Duncan and Kiem Sun are old friends when Duncan visits China during the 1700s.

You know what? I’m just going to look this up. Hold on a sec:

Rural Scotland 1670: Mac is tutor and weapons master to a chieftain’s son. Mac beheads Michel de Bourgogne.
1671-1679: Macleod travels East across Europe
1680: Mac first meets Kiem Sun
1680-1695: There are no records of the 100-year-old Duncan for 15 years. He is possibly in China

Japan 1778: Mac is shipwrecked. He is befriended and aided by the samurai Hideo Koto. Before Hideo commits ritual suicide for the crime of harboring the barbarian MacLeod, Mac vows to Hideo that he will protect the Koto family for as long as he lives. In return, Hideo gives Mac the dragonhead katana. It is possible that Macleod already had a katana given to him by Connor Macleod.
Nagasaki, Japan 1778: Macleod meets a Japanese called Saito Goemon who holds a Muramasa katana which will later be held by Michael Kent
China 1780: Mac visits Kiem Sun on holy ground. The herbalist demonstrates a potion that he believes will create the perfect warrior to protect him, but it has deadly side effects.

I got that mostly right. The answer is that nobody knows for sure about a previous visit to east Asia..

The fight at the end was so-so for me. It was really cool that Duncan lost his sword and just took away Michael Kent’s sword. It’s fun that he catches the blade thrust between his hands. But the fact he is able to do that paints this fight as a massive mismatch. We are not given the impression from Michael Kent’s personality that he would have spent a few hundred years not developing his skills. I really enjoyed the choreography but I did not think it fit the situation very well. Stephen McHattie gives a great and intense performance. I think he got short-changed a little bit in this fight.

My other favorite part of this episode was Charlie’s greeting of Duncan when the episode starts. I might have immediately brought up the “I saw you get shot in the heart” thing, though. Like… right away. That’s just me. I guess they’re saving the “what are you MacLeod?” conversation for the next time knowing Duncan puts Charlie in an ICU bed.

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