Highlander: the Series (Season 4 Review)

Spoilers ahead through the end of Season 3. Proceed accordingly. You can find my episode reactions HERE.

For the fourth season installment of Highlander: the Series, the show took us to Scotland, said goodbye to Charlie DeSalvo, introduced a bit more magic, and delivered our first example of a Dark Quickening… but more than anything else, Season 4 was about Duncan’s relationship with the Watcher, Joe Dawson, and the relationship between Immortals and Watchers more generally.

I liked a lot of the ideas and stories from this season, but I did not feel as though they created a particularly compelling overall storyline, and as a result, this season felt a little bit like a step back from previous seasons. The individual parts of this season were good, for the most part, but the sum of those parts did not quite fit together.

Homeland was a fun episode to start the season, introducing a lot more of Duncan’s backstory, a new character on Rachel MacLeod, and debuting the iconic “Bonny Portmore” to the series. It was a little disappointing that the story felt so much like a one-off with a romance novel plot, rather than a larger story, but it was still great. After three difficult seasons, seeing Duncan in Glenfinnan, Scotland, on the shores of Loch Shiel, felt like a long-needed opportunity to exhale.

When Duncan returned to Seacouver, for Brothers in Arms, we sort of jumped into the larger plot arc. Charlie DeSalvo returns, in pursuit of a bad guy Immortal, and he’s back just long enough to be killed off for good. The bad guy Immortal was an old Army friend of Joe Dawson, so Duncan held off on fighting him for Joe’s sake. The decision cost Charlie his life.

Later in the season, during The Colonel, Joe interferes in The Game again, this time at Amanda’s behest. When Duncan has been trapped below ground, in what Immortal Killian believes will be for decades, Joe and Amanda free him almost immediately after. We come away from this episode a little torn, seeing the benefit of Duncan’s friendship with Joe, but also not entirely clear about whether Duncan could have freed himself without assistance. It’s hard to believe that Amanda would not have found out a way to track him down. Joe interferes again, during Something Wicked, shooting and killing Evil Duncan before he can kill Richie.

Joe and Duncan’s arguably inappropriate relationship comes to a head in the final 2 episodes of Season 4, wherein The Watchers kidnap Joe with a plan to execute him for treason. This time, since they took Joe right in front of Duncan, he interferes on Joe’s behalf. The group stages a trial, with Duncan as his chief defender, but convict him anyway. After the conviction, Duncan escapes but Joe refuses to go with him, deciding instead to stay and die. Before he can do that though, another Immortal with a grievance against the Watchers shows up, guns everyone down, and sets up the pretty shocking finale. In the finale, we learn Immortal Jacob Galetti is killing Watchers, believing them to be collectively responsible for his Immortal wife Irena’s brutal murder. Horton’s group murdered her in 1992. Duncan tries to explain to him that Horton was a renegade and that the rest of the group is alright. However, Joe Dawson betrays Galetti – to the Immortal’s death. Duncan vows revenge against Jack Shapiro, the leader of the Watchers organization, but Joe talks him down before the fight between Dunacn and the group escalates into a full scale war. As the episode ends, Duncan and Joe’s friendship appears to be ended. As a viewer, I felt unsatisfied. The plot kind of demanded consequences for Shapiro, Joe, or the Watchers as a whole, and those never came. Shapiro being fired, and Joe being promoted, just did not cut it.

This larger plot with the Watchers was probably necessary (Joe’s interference needed an in-story reaction), and it was interesting to a point, but it also was too thin to really carry the season and it did not deliver the cathartic big finish that we had with the final fight against Kalas in season 3. In fact, the highlight episodes of the season, complete with cathartic relief, were the two Dark Quickening episodes during mid-season. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish that that Dark Quickening plot arc had been stretched out a lot farther, and made into the central story of the season, with the Watchers storyline serving as the secondary big plot arc.

Something Wicked and Deliverance were two of the best episodes from the entire run of the series, and both provided a lot of information about the cosmology of the Highlander universe. We now know that when you take someone’s Quickening, in addition to obtaining their powers, you also – at least sometimes – obtain their personality. As a result, it is possible to lose to a powerful Immortal, even if you defeat him, if the force of his personality is able to overwhelm your own after you absorb it. The Duncan vs. Duncan fight was well executed and brought together a lot of the series to this point – including his deeply rooted Highland self-identity, his friendships over the years, his innate strength, and his goodness. I particularly enjoyed the reintroduction of Rachel at this key moment, as well as the MacLeod Clan Chief sword.

Methos is a more central co-star in Season 4, much to the benefit of the show. Duncan has lacked an older, wiser, mentor figure, since the death of Darius in Season 1. I really love Peter Wingfield’s interpretation of the character. He is ferociously practical and while he also reveres life itself. Mixed together, he seems heavily invested on the big picture of The Game – namely that someone like Duncan, rather than someone evil, ultimately wins. You might think that the good guys would rally together around this obvious need, but they do not, as they are too preoccupied with their individual fights. Methos is different, though, and he actively works toward that big picture. It remains to be seen where he ends up next season, as he disappears during the finale – apparently going into hiding.

Methos remains a bit enigmatic. He is an Immortal member of The Watchers. He appears to have generally good intentions re: Duncan. It is unclear though whether his actions within this organization are good and to what degree he has manipulated the group. It is possible that he has been a Watcher for centuries, or that he even founded it. If so, then Methos is responsible for a group that increasingly resembles a corrupted intelligence agency. If not, then he is in danger through his association with that group.

Richie continues to be sparsely utilized. He disappears from the show completely after his narrow escape during Something Wicked. I don’t think the writers exactly know what to do with him. He’s good, noble, and still learning the ropes. In many respects, his character needs to be the main plot. It is difficult for him to grow and learn lessons as a side character.

Amanda is more well established now as Duncan’s love interest, though she continues to come and go. She had entertaining appearances in Double Eagle and The Immortal Cimoli, two of the better comedy episodes of the series so far. She also played an important part of the overall Watchers storyline (though the two finale episodes failed to mention it) during Methuselah’s Gift. Therein, Amanda is targeted by rogue Watchers who are trying to get her piece of the Methuselah Stone, an ancient artifact which possesses magical powers and which Amanda’s teacher distributed to her students. Notably, we see momentarily that the Stone actually is magical, before it is broken once again and seemingly lost.

On the topic of magic, we also saw a bit of that in Something Wicked. Duncan’s friend Koltec has the power to absorb the hate and anger from other people, and store it within himself. It is implied that this ability contributed to him eventually overdosing on darkness.

We also see something magic adjacent in Leader of the Pack, wherein Immortal Kanis is able to control dogs at a supernatural level. Duncan appears to have inherited some of this power at the end of the episode, after taking the other Immorta’s Quickening, inasmuch as he is able to control the evil Immortal’s dogs and return them to good behavior.

It is strange to say, in a world of Immortals and Quickenings, but I felt the emphasis on magic removed some of the show’s sense of being grounded in reality. Highlander works because you feel like it could be happening somewhere out there in the world, if you only knew where to look, but once you push the show into a swords AND sorcery direction, that feeling of “this could be out there somewhere” declines.

Season 4 probably delivered the worst episode in the entire run of the show (so far, at least) with Promises. In this episode, Duncan refuses to assassinate a country’s king, after a fellow Immortal requests that he does so, only to change his mind later when any positive benefit from that action is likely gone. Assassinating world leaders and plunging North African nations into civil wars is out of character for Duncan, to say the least. I have no idea what they were thinking in this one.

One of my favorite episodes from this season, and the series overall, was The Blitz. Largely unconnected to the rest of the season’s larger story arcs, we got a mostly flashback episode of Duncan’s time during the the Blitz of London during World War 2, and we see MacLeod die of gas poisoning, with this then girlfriend in his arms. The moment is emotional and heroioc and it reminds the audience of why we care so much about Duncan. In the present of the episode, we get a very well executed final sendoff for Dr. Anne Lindsey, as Duncan reveals the true purpose of the completely unexplained home renovation project he had been working on all season.

Final Thoughts:

This was a step back from Season 3, but it still contained far more hits than misses, and a few episodes that are series highlights. I enjoyed the introduction of Methos as a more central character and I also enjoyed the Amanda episodes, as they really started to find their comedy footing. After the finale, I do not know where the show will go in Season 5. It should continue to focus on the Watchers plot, and deliver more of a payoff than has been delivered so far (Joe *betrayed* Duncan!), especially considering the writers’ focus on them this season. Instead I suspect they will pivot away. We will see. I look forward to finding out.

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