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:
Duncan returns home to Scotland after coming across a bracelet at an art auction that he knew to have been stolen from a grave. He returns the bracelet to the grave and learns that his hometown is experiencing murders.
Duncan discovers that a local priest is behind the grave robberies and is also one and the same man as an Immortal Viking named Kanwulf who murdered Duncan’s father four hundred years ago. Duncan killed Kanwwulf four hundred years ago, becoming a local legend in the process, but did not realize the other man was Immortal – not knowing that about himself yet, either. Thus, he did not take the other man’s head when he killed him the first time. This time when they duel, Duncan finishes the job and finally avenges his father’s death.
THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:
On the shores of Loch Shiel
Two men are robbing graves, in the middle of the night. A raven watches them, ominously, as a third man approaches. The two robbers recognize the newcomer, and relax, but inform the hooded third man that they have found nothing yet but a dagger. When the newcomer suggests that he should hire someone else, they bristle, and one of them says that if he does that, they will spill the beans about who is behind the grave robbing. The newcomer then kills one of the men and points a sword at the other, as he begs for his life.
♫I have no rival! No man can be my equal!♫
I really like that Joe Dawson, in this intro, is openly cheering for Duncan to be the last Immortal standing. I wonder what his friends Amanda and Methos think about that? Eh, they’d probably agree.
In Paris, Duncan is at a private auction. Maybe he’s back in the antiques business? After Duncan playfully drives up the price of an Utamaro piece on a fellow collector, he sees another item up for bid – a bracelet from the late Celtic period in Scotland. Duncan has the tables turned on him, by his fellow bidder who sees how much MacLeod wants it, but Duncan furiously bids for the item until he obtains it. After he has thee item, he asks the seller how he obtained it. He bullies the seller about how he obtained it, but the man only tells him where it came from. Duncan tells him specifically where it came from and admits to the man that he was born there – in Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel.
Then the show, while panning over the Scottish landscape, drops in Laura Creamer’s iconic “Bonny Portmore” for the first time. Duncan goes home:
Duncan addresses the two headstones of his parents, admitting to them that it has been a long time and that it’s good to be home. Before he can say much, he is approached by a woman, Rachel MacLeod, who is angry to find him on the plot. She advises him to go elsewhere. When he tells her that he is also a MacLeod, she replies sarcastically.
Rachel: Let me guess. You’re here to find your Highland roots.
Duncan: I didn’t know I’d lost them.
She asks what he is doing there and he tells her that its’ private. She tells him that they are burying one of their own today and that they do not need any outsiders. When she walks away, Duncan smiles in amusement.
Duncan: Hi, welcome home.
Later, we see Rachel at the aforementioned funeral talking to a priest. The priest is the man who killed the graverobbers as the episode opened.
Duncan visits an inn later, and finds that Rachel MacLeod works there. She asks if he wants haggis or a kilt. He asks if she is always this friendly and she replies that they are wary of strangers. When he asks when MacLeods became strangers in Glenfinnan, he admits he was told she might have a room available. She gives him a key and tells him that his room is next to the other visitor. Duncan asks who she means, but Joe Dawson emerges and asks him what took him so long. Duncan asks Joe how he knew he was going to be here.
Joe: I’m your Watcher, I’m supposed to know. Especially when you come home after 250 years.
Joe is highly interested in knowing what Duncan is up to and asks him.
Glenfinnan – 1618
Duncan sees a beautiful buxom redheaded woman named Debra Campbell, from a distance. He approaches her to say that he spoke with her father, but that her father will not permit them to be married. Debra is supposed to marry Duncan’s cousin Robert, instead. She points out that Duncan is the chieftain’s son, but he says her marriage is about the joining of the MacLeod and the Campbell clans, and that she is pledged to Robert. Duncan says there is nothing he can do, despite the fact they love each other. Duncan gives her the bracelet, which we saw earlier, and asks her to think of him when she looks at it. She asks what he intends, and he replies that he is leaving. When she asks to go with him, he says he will not dishonor her nor will he shame his family.
Later, Robert finds out about the gift and tells Debra that she must give it back to Duncan. He is furious and tells her that he will not have her marked with another man’s gift. The argue over it publicly until Debra says that she will lie with him, if she must, but it is Duncan she will be thinking of. Duncan intervenes to prevent him from striking her and tells his cousin that Debra is not yet his.
Robert: You’ll not make me a cuckold. Draw your blade.
Duncan does not want to fight a clansman and reminds him that they have been friends all their lives. Robert then calls Duncan a coward. Duncan’s father speaks up and insists that Duncan fight him, or else dishonor their family name. Duncan reluctantly fights and then kills Robert.
Back in the inn, Duncan finds his father’s sword on the wall and tells Joe that it was supposed to be his. Duncan is holding the bracelet and Rachel asks him where he got it. He tells her that he bought it in Paris. She asks him if he thinks he can buy his roots, but Duncan, now highly animated, asks her to tell him about the grave robbing and where it occurred. She says nothing.
We see the surviving graverobber from the episode’s opening, Kevin, tied up. The apparently evil priest asks him if he believes in God. When Kevin says yes, the priest says he believes in his god, and says his god’s name is Odin. The priest them calls up to Odin and asks him to take Kevin’s blood and to return to him what is his. We hear Kevin screaming as the camera pans over to a raven watching on.
In the pub, the people are discussing Kevin McSwain’s murder. An older man inside tells everyone that Kevin was butchered with the blood eagle and he announces that Kanwulf is back. The rest of the people in the pub laugh. Dawson asks the old man who Kanwulf is, and he is told that he was a viking raider who cut a trail of death through Glenfinnan for eight hundred years. Rachel adds sarcastically that it is one of their more colorful legends.
Rachel: Loch Ness gets the monster. We get Kanwulf.
One of the pub goers replies to the old man that all they need is for a MacLeod to come back from the dead to finish him off. As everyone laughs, the old man says that Kevin McSwain is not laughing. Joe looks thoughtful.
Rachel visits the priest at his church. He asks if there are any burial records missing from the parish records. She replies that none are missing that she knows of. The priest senses that something is bothering her, so she tells him about meeting Duncan and adds that she believes Duncan is the one looting the graves. The priest, who seems to recognize Duncan’s name, cautions her to wait before reaching out to the authorities.
Dawson catches up with Duncan, who is out in the countryside. He tells MacLeod that another person has been found, gutted. He asks Duncan how long they are staying and MacLeod replies that he will be staying until he finds what he came for. He finally admits to Dawson that he is searching for a grave.
Debra and Duncan are arguing. He tells her that he cannot marry her with Robert’s blood on his hands. She throws the bracelet she gave him at his feet and storms off. Duncan follows her and they talk as she stands upon the edge of a cliff. Duncan sees that she intends to kill herself and promises that he will marry her if she comes back.
Duncan: I can live with his ghost. I cannot live with yours.
She reaches out toward him, as if to step back toward him, but abruptly the ground breaks away beneath her feet and she falls to her death.
Back in the present, Duncan – having now told Joe about Debra – explains that he put the bracelet in her grave. He explains that because her death was ruled a suicide by the Church, he had to bury Debra on unconsecrated ground. He tells Joe that in the span of four hundred years, all of the landmarks that he remembers are now gone.
Duncan finally finds Debra’s grave and returns the bracelet. Rachel watches him from a distance, believing that he is robbing the grave. She confronts him, noting the dirt on his hands, but without voicing her suspicion over what he has been up to.
That night at the hotel, Joe asks Duncan why he has not packed yet. MacLeod replies that he is staying for a while. Joe knows that Duncan intends to deal with the murders and tells him that these people are not under his protection. Duncan replies that he will not let them get slaughtered. Just then, there’s a knock on the door and Duncan’s room is searched by authorities.
Duncan: Does someone mind telling me what this is about?
Rachel: It’s about graverobbing.
[officer finds Duncan’s sword]
Rachel: I was wrong. It’s about murder.
The next day, the police, along with Rachel and the priest, are present as Debra’s grave site is examined. They discover that Duncan returned the bracelet to her grave.
Rachel: [astonished] Duncan MacLeod didn’t come to rob the grave. He came to put this back.
Priest: [laughs] The man has the heart of a poet.
Rachel notes that Duncan went to a lot of trouble to find Debra MacLeod’s grave. The priest notes that her name is not mentioned in any burial record. Rachel knows the story and explains it. The priest asks the rest of Duncan’s story and she tells him that the legend says Duncan MacLeod came back from the dead to avenge his father and kill Kanwulf the Viking. The priest tells her that he would like to meet Duncan, and she advises him to visit the inn. The priest replies that he needs to pray and he asks Rachel if she will ask Duncan to visit him at the church.
In the inn, while they play darts, we find out that Duncan will not have his sword for a couple of days, while the Scots test it. Joe asks Duncan about the murders and brings up Kanwulf. Duncan starts to say that it cannot be Kanwulf, but stops. He tells Joe that this all happened after his first death, but before he met Connor and learned who and what he is. Duncan explains that he returned home, after being cast out, when he learned that his village had been attacked and his father gravely wounded.
At his father’s deathbed, Duncan gets a warm reception from his mother. She orders Duncan to take his father’s sword. Duncan tells her that he has no right to it, but he takes it anyway.
Duncan’s mother: Let no man tell you different. You are Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod.
Duncan narrates, as we watch the flashback, that he went to search for Kanwulf before finally finding him. He describes feeling the presence of another Immortal, but not knowing what he was experiencing. The two fought and by a bit of luck Kanwulf’s battle axe became stuck in a tree. Duncan killed him, but without knowing the other man is Immortal, Duncan did not take his head.
In the present, Duncan explains that he buried Kanwulf’s axe, thinking that if there was a Valhalla, he wanted Kanwulf to be there weaponless. Duncan explains that he returned the sword because he was banished, however his mother felt about it. They are interrupted as Rachel returns. She tells him that Father Laird asked if he would stop by the church. Duncan gets up to leave, but before he goes, Rachel profusely apologizes to him. Duncan forgives her, and when she says she made a fool of herself, he telsl her that she did not do so to him.
At the Church, Duncan feels another Immortal and then confronts Kanwulf. He learns that the fake priest is looking for the axe that Duncan buried. MacLeod is shocked that the other Immortal still believes in the Norse gods, and that he believes his old axe was used by them. Kanwulf says he still believes it as much as they still believe in their pale Christ.
Kanwulf: It’s no coincidence that th eone man who knows where the axe is came to me, and I want it!
As parishioners arrive, the two Immortals part.
In his inn room, Duncan explains the situation to Joe and tells him that he buried the axe in his father’s grave. Joe says that if all the viking wants is his axe, then Duncan can give it to him without fighting him for it.
Duncan: There are some things you can’t walk away from.
Joe: Oh, come on, Mac.
Duncan: He killed my father!
Rachel finds Duncan taking his clan’s sword from the wall of the pub She is not angry. She asks if it would even make sense, if he explained. When he says nothing, she speculates aloud that maybe some legends are true.
In the wilderness later that night Duncan meets Kanwulf and returns the axe to him. The viking Immortal advises Duncan to leave, but MacLeod says that it is one thing to have the axe back ,and another to keep it. Duncan lights a fire, that forms a wide by perfect circle around the two men. They fiercely duel, with Duncan eventually winning. After he takes Kanwulf’s head, the ring of fire disappears. Beneath a gigantic full moon, he takes the quickening. As it ends, a raven flies away, silhouetted by the moon.
Some time later, early the following day, Duncan returns the sword to the inn’s wall. Rachel is there, having waited for him. He tells her the killings are finished. She replies that she knew he’d be back and says the sword belongs in his hands. He replies that it belongs in Glenfinnan, as that it its home. She tells him that Glenfinnan is his home, also. She kisses him on the cheek, but he leaves.
Outside, Joe is waiting and asks Duncan why he does not stay. Duncan replies that there are too many questioned left unanswered now and that it is better for him to just disappear.
Joe: Yeah, I guess that’s what legends are supposed to do.
This is a fantastic episode, though it definitely is not perfect. Duncan returns home for the first time in 250 years. The show unleashed “Bonny Portmore” for the first time. The panoramic views of Scotland are reminiscent of the original Highlander film. Adrian Paul directs the episode. We get a lot more of Dunan’s earliest history in flashbacks (including why he never married as a young Highlander.) The Immortal baddie is a thousand year old former Viking.
You would think that the story highlight would be the epic duel against Kanwulf, but in reality, the best moment of the episode is Rachel’s astonishment that Duncan returned Debra Campbell’s bracelet back to her grave. Sometimes, you catch a glimpse of unreal nobility in another human being, and it is almost enough to make you weep. This was that type of moment for Rachel MacLeod. The reaction from Joe Dawson upon learning what Duncan is up to is similar. Joe already hero worships Duncan and the Highlander continues to give him reasons for doing so.
On the topic of the duel, in theory, Duncan’s fight against Kanwulf is against a much older and presumably more powerful Immortal. However, if Kanwulf was more-or-less hiding in the Highlands, fighting mortals, from 800-1600 A.D., then it’s likely he was not nearly as powerful as he should be considering his age. Is it weird that Kanwulf still worships Odin? I think of him as something like a Viking analogue to Darius- though of course Darius still participated in a more widely practiced religion. The setting of the fight was… strange. I think they overdid it a bit with the gigantic moon in the background. I really liked the ring of fire, though and Duncan avenging his father did need a big theatrical moment. It just did not quite work for me. Upon reflection, I think the problem was probably that Kanwulf never legitimately felt threatening.
The flashback love story featuring Debra was written to play into Duncan as something of a warrior poet character. Even Kanwulf comments that Duncan has the heart of a poet. OF COURSE Duncan’s first love story was something out of Shakespeare. Forbidden love, followed by a duel, death, family honor issues, threats of suicide, then fate letting Debra die anyway after she’s decided to live. I don’t think we could make a case from this scene that Debra is Duncan’s great love. He is the one putting her off, throughout, both before and after Robert dies. In a way though, that makes Duncan’s response to finding her bracelet even more noble and poetic.
By the way, if you didn’t recognize Laurie Holden beneath that absurdly red wig, she went on to bigger and better things, playing Andrea Harrison in The Walking Dead, as well as recurring roles in The X-Files, The Shield, The Americans, and The Boys.
The much better flashback moment from this episode, in my opinion, is Duncan’s reunification with his mother. She tells him that he is Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, and to never let anyone else say different. That scene is so well acted. You can see Adrian Paul, as young Duncan, take the words to heart. As we the audience know, he still introduces himself that way to everyone.
I also want to point out how much I enjoy the way Adrian Paul approaches Duncan, throughout time. His Scottish accent gets thicker, the farther back in time he goes with the character. Young Duncan here not only has a thick accent, but his voice is softer and less sure of itself. It’s just really well done and consistently so.
One of the more generally interesting aspects of this episode is the idea of homecoming. Duncan is a stranger in the land of his birth. He is treated poorly, at least at first, by his fellow MacLeod. I really liked the way that Adrian Paul’s direction / acting played that discord. Duncan could have felt aggrieved, but instead, he struggles to hold back a smile as Rachel berates him. He understands why she fails to trust him and he sincerely appreciates her ferocity. He probably sees in her, some of the attitude and passion he remembers from fellow MacLeods while growing up. He of course eventually wins her over. The show never really pushes Rachel to be a love interest for Duncan, but the door for that is definitely left open. I think they were probably wondering whether the audience would be creeped out by their shared last name.
Anyway, this is a great start to season 4. I look forward to seeing where this one goes.