Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Highlander: The Series 1x01 - The Gathering


I'll be doing some Highlander episode reviews on the site. This was a cult show that didn't achieve anywhere near the notoriety that it probably should have, though it ran for six seasons and definitely had a niche. It has gained new life with DVD releases and Netflix over the past seven years, and chances are more people know about it now than knew about it when it was airing. It's a show I grew up with, and if you remember it too, you'll probably enjoy these posts.



The first episode of the show: The Gathering. Watching this on DVD, and there are tons of extras. Watcher Chronicles, deleted scenes, commentaries, and so forth. The Chronicles are the best thing because they really flesh out these episodes. Some episodes have a big Q on the menu screen, and that jumps you right to the quickening at the end of the episode. Weird, and not sure what the point of that one is, but I guess it'd be useful if one were to make a video of a bunch of quickenings or something.

The Season 1 intro. At this point the show didn't really know what it was supposed to be yet (it doesn't come into its own until midway through S1 and it doesn't get really good until late in S2), so it just copied the movie Highlander a lot. Especially this first episode.

The Gathering is a bit of a mis-title for the first episode. The Gathering is, of course, the fabled "final battle" that the Immortals are supposed to have when only a few are left. That...is not what this episode is. Matter of fact, despite repeated references to The Gathering early in the show, it never actually happens. The show also quickly establishes that new Immortals are constantly being born, so how there would ever be "just a few left" is beyond me. This show took the franchise in an entirely different direction than the movie, and gave it a lot more longevity. The rest of the movies may have sucked after the first one, but the writers of the show came up with some great stuff on a weekly basis.

First character we see: young Richie Ryan, a burglar. Gandalf is seeking him out for a dangerous mission to The Lonely Mountains.

Richie breaks into an antique store where our protagonist, the mighty Duncan Macleod, is currently mid-sex with his girlfriend Tessa. They have lots of sex. I'm not sure what the exact numbers are, but it'd be a safe bet that at any given time after dark there is a 20% chance that they're naked together.

Duncan senses that another Immortal is nearby and Tessa is... yeow.

Duncan is READY FOR BATTLE. Whoever broke in is going to pay!

Richie is found out, and he's all "please don't kill me"

JESUS CHRIST DUNCAN HAS A SWORD

...then he realizes that Richie is, in fact, not an Immortal. There's someone else here. What is this, "break into Duncan's antique store" day?

BEHOLD! It's Slan Quince, who obnoxiously jumps through the skylight while growling like a pro wrestler cutting a promo in the 80's. You see, Slan is a graduate of Highlander Movie Villain University. He's loud, one-dimensional, has a big two-handed sword, and likes to drive like a maniac while going "HAW HAW HAW" a lot.

BUT WAIT! Yet another person is here! How did all these guys get in? Don't we have any locks on the doors? I guess "The Gathering" was an appropriate title after all, since on this evening Duncan's shop is some sort of epicenter of activity.

This guy is, of course, Connor Macleod, the legendary protagonist of Highlander and the rest of the movies. Well, most of the movies. Duncan takes over at the end of those for the ridiculously awful Highlander: The Source. My friend Samantha called that movie a cheap version of Lost Boys, and that sounds about right to me.

In any case, here's one of the rare times we see Duncan Macleod and Connor Macleod in the same place. Since they're both among the most powerful echelon of Immortals, the outclassed Slan Quince quickly runs away. And after going through all the trouble of that grand entrance!

These two are from the same clan, but they're distant cousins. Connor predates Duncan by about 70 years; both of them are in the range of 400-500 years old.

Duncan goes to the police station (it should be noted that the police station is perhaps Season 1's most offensive recurring character) and talks to a guy who looks like Gift of Gab from Blackalicious.

Richie is a young man with tude~!

...but he also saw everything. Duncan bails him out of his breaking and entering charges, on the condition that he doesn't talk to anyone. Also, for whatever reason, he thinks Richie has potential and wants to help the kid out. Huh, interesting.

Next up, TESSA SHOWER SCENE!

It's very important to scrub the thigh. How did USA Network get away with airing this in primetime?

It's apparently Tessa's birthday. She's 30ish, I believe. They're going to celebrate by drinking lots of wine.

She's SO CUTE. Great character, and someone that compliments our hero very well.

They're also gonna celebrate her birthday by having more sex. Will Slan Quince leap in through the ceiling this time?

"THERE CAN BE NO SEX!"

No, they get away with it this time. Damn kids!

Next thing we know there's an awesome scene as Connor and Duncan (respectively) battle it out to the blaring main theme of the show.

They're all "behold! we are evenly matched!"

Next up is a family meeting, as Tess asks a lot of questions while Connor is... a-choppin' broccoli. A-CHOPPIN' BROCCOLAY!

Flashback. This show has a LOT of flashbacks. Like several per episode, usually. It's one of the hallmarks of the show and one of its best aspects. Here we see how Duncan's Native American tenure ended 150 odd years ago: with a lot of death. His past is lined with tragedies. Unfortunately, at this point in the show, they hadn't started labeling flashbacks with years yet.

His whole village got murdered while he was out hunting. Connor helped him through it, and after that Duncan went into exile for about two decades.

Back in the present, Slan kidnapped Tessa while no one was looking. Thankfully, this isn't a regular occurrence in the show. I'm sure that if it were held to the same writing standards as the movies, she would have gotten kidnapped every week.

Duncan is all "your quarrel is with ME"

...Slan, being an Assholey Movie Villain, just goes "ta ta" and jumps out the window. You can definitely see shades of Kurgan, Katana, Kane, Kell, and The Guardian in this guy. ...those are the villains in the five movies. They pretty much all suck, aside from the legendary Kurgan.

Some time passes, stuff happens. Tessa is upset because Duncan can't live a normal life as long as he has other Immortals coming after him all the time. That's the tradeoff for living hundreds of years and accumulating infinite wealth. Either way, he's going to track down Slan, who already proved that he can strike at any time.

Flashback to Connor and Duncan having a heart-to-heart talk.

Duncan treats Connor with more respect than he treats just about anyone else on the show. He's known for being aloof, so it's strange to see him being so attentive. He's also attentive with Tessa. They're really the only ones, though.

With that, another duel transpires. This one is even more furious. They're wearing the same clothes as the first duel, so I presume it was shot at the same time.

I like how the sun is setting behind them. Really good stuff here. It's the first swordfight in a series that would be known for having the best swordfights on television.

Meanwhile, CREEPY RICHIE lurks nearby and watches. No really, it's super creepy. He's all "oh yeaaah..." while nodding.

Duncan and Connor get into an argument over who gets to kill Slan whenever they find him. "You're arguing." "I'm not arguing. Who's arguing?"

Finally, Connor sucker punches Duncan and knocks him down. He's going to take care of Slan. Duncan wants to protect Tessa, but Connor is afraid Duncan would lose. Really? They were both shown to be evenly matched. Connor IS the "big brother" of the duo, though. Makes sense that he'd want to stand up for Duncan.

"He'll be okay," rasps Connor. And with that, he takes off to find Slan.

...which he does, on a bridge. Wow, this really does look like one of the movies.

The battle is joined! Slan (w/ ridiculous mask) battles Connor. The battle goes back and forth at first, but Connor soon gains the advantage and keeps it. Know what this battle needs more of?

...Creepy Richie Ryan. "Oh Yeahhh" he says.

A battered Slan falls back on his secret weapon: a gun in the handle of his sword. It fires some sort of harpoon right into Connor's chest, knocking him off the bridge. I've always wondered why more bad Immortals don't cheat like that. It'd be so easy to do. For those just joining us, a harpoon to the chest won't kill one of these guys. Nothing will aside from having their head chopped off, which is why they all carry swords. Yeah, it's a pretty ridiculous universe.

Duncan arrives! He thinks Slan killed Connor, and he isn't too happy about that. Duncan proceeds to absolutely kick Slan's ass, and unfortunately for Slan, he's out of harpoon ammo.

Duncan dispatches the guy even more easily than Connor did. I guess you could argue that Slan was tired from the first battle, but either way this again shows Duncan to be at least Connor's equal.

He SLICES OFF SLAN'S HEAD. Kids should probably stop rea- oh, too late. Energy shoots out of the wound and into Duncan...

....giving him Slan's powers, or something along those lines. This is why Immortals kill each other. They get this rush of power that is hard to resist the lure of. It supposedly makes them more powerful, but aside from Endgame the canon has never really explained how. Does every Immortal you kill make you the same amount, like say 1%, more powerful? Is it percentage based or is it numbers-based like in Dragonball Z? If you kill a really strong Immortal, does that give you more power than killing one that had very little power? The show frequently says that it does (which explains why weak young Immortals get spared so often), but there are still many questions.

For its faults, Endgame (the fourth movie) does its best to explain this. Not sure how canon I consider it, though.
 
THIS IS THE QUICKENING~! as Sean Connery would say. It'd be hilarious if they stuck his voice-over into the episode right here.

In the morning, Duncan fishes Connor out of the river. That was probably a crappy couple of hours for both of them.

Connor was impaled by the harpoon and can barely move. Duncan yanks it out, and Connor can finally regenerate. Yikes.

With that, they're outta here. Both of these guys have the similar ability to laugh off the worst situations they get into after they survive. It's a good trait.

They meet up with Tessa. Now that the world is saved from the menace of Slan Quince, it's time for Connor to head out.

The three of them share a moment. Unfortunately, we don't really get any more Connor in the show. While I definitely think Duncan is a more interesting and likeable character (at least for a while), Connor is one of the very few equals he has to play off of and it would have been nice to have him drop in more often.

Connor takes off on a kayak, of all things.

Tess: "You didn't say goodbye."
Duncan: "He and I never do."

Here's an example of the Watcher Chronicles in the DVD extras. These things are intriguing, and there are a bunch for every episode. Things like this give me a reason to own this show on DVD over simply watching it on Netflix, like I would with, say, Miami Vice.

Connor's. This show retcons the original Highlander movie to just be a major battle between Immortals, not the final battle. Thus, Connor isn't "the last Immortal" any more, tons of others exist, and we can have a show.

....yeah. To be fair, every movie after the first one retcons it as well so that THEY can exist. If anything, the mistake here isn't all the retconning, it's that there needed to be retconning to begin with. The first movie wrote the story into a corner, and if they planned on doing more with this universe, they shouldn't have closed the book on it right away like that. Many people over the years have argued that the first movie was great because it stood alone, with a concrete ending, and should have been left that way. While I understand that point, I argue that we wouldn't have gotten this show if that had been the case; the show is easily the high point of the franchise. It's amazing at times. That first movie is good, yes, but it's also campy as hell and hard to watch as an adult, unlike the show.

Oh yeah, we can't forget Slan. Is that short for Slanley? Wait a minute, this guy was 26? Holy shit. I'm older than that and he looks old enough to be my uncle.


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