Friday, December 23, 2022

Highlander 4x13 - Something Wicked


The 12 Days of Christmas continues with a Highlander post. This is the first half of S4's big two-parter. 

Brought to you by Established Titles! it's not.

We get these title cards for several immortals in this episode. I think this only happens a couple times in the whole series. Maybe even only in this episode. Here's Jim Coltec, immortal Native American shaman. He spent centuries defending his tribe until it no longer existed, and is a friend of Duncan's from the 1800's. He's traveling through the Pacific Northwest and wants to visit.

Along the way, he stops for food and senses an immortal.

The immortal in question is robbing a Chinese food restaurant with a Desert Eagle. This is...

...this guy, and he's completely out of his mind. Coltec manages to talk Kant down and they go outside to fight it out.

One quickening later...Coltec returns from the fight, putting on Kant's jacket. And proceeds to kill this poor guy anyway! Something is amiss.

Elsewhere, these two are on their way to meet up with Coltec, who chose this super out-of-the-way spot. Duncan explains how Coltec is a Heyokah, which means he absorbs people's negative energy to absolve them of it, as well as absorbing evil immortals to get rid of their energy. This is all a bit too far into the mystical and magical fields for Highlander, in my view. They do this kind of thing a few times and I'd argue it's better to keep things closer to the realm of the physical. ...In a story where people can absorb other people's essences through a shower of magical electricity.

Duncan: "Remember that episode where I was giving a handie to that noblewoman and her husband almost caught us?"

Richie: "Yeah?"

Duncan: "If she'd been on her period, he would have almost caught me red-handed!"

Duncan tries to chuck Richie over the side of this bridge! What an asshole!

Richie slips out of it, nice Bro Moment.

They spot Coltec at the end of the bridge! Richie marches right on ahead to say hi.

Coltec, however, is all weird and evil now. He keeps his head down, a traditionally hostile gesture in the animal kingdom, and talks completely differently.

He cheapshots Richie and almost gets him, until Duncan leaps between them.

They briefly fight, culminating with Duncan throwing Coltec over the side of the bridge. Well, that ruined his leather jacket, great job.

Later that night, our still-stunned heroes see a news report with CCTV footage of Coltec shooting that restaurant owner.

Richie thinks this Coltec guy being a holy man is some kind of crock, and Duncan must not have known his friend very well. Duncan is deeply disturbed by all of this and doesn't know who that guy was that they met on the bridge, because it wasn't the guy he knows.

We get a flashback to 1872, with Duncan telling Richie about the slaughter of his tribe.

While he was tracking Kern (the bastard who did it), Duncan turned into a vicious beast, full of hate.

Eventually he picks a fight with a bunch of US troops and gets subdued.

In jail, he meets Coltec, who is here for...I don't know, probably "looking Mexican" or something.

He starts talking to Duncan about how much pain and mental anguish he's carrying around. I think Duncan is just stunned to encounter someone else who even notices.

They bark at each other in Sioux a bit. This guy isn't Sioux, but he's been all over the place. He tells Duncan about how he was Heyokah for his own tribe once upon a time, then when his tribe gradually died out from various factors over the centuries, he became sort of a traveling Heyokah who goes around looking for people to help. Heyokah is basically a shaman who knows how to take other people's grief and hate and put it on his own conscience instead.

He offers to take away Duncan's hate. All Duncan has to eat this unidentified substance!

Duncan does so and now he thinks they're in the woods. Coltec does a ritual to absorb all of the hatred Duncan carries around, which'll allow Duncan to move forward and feel peaceful.

Now Duncan is really tripping balls. Did Coltec give him acid? I don't know about this guy.

Back in the present, Duncan asks Joe if this could be a "dark quickening" - something that happens when an immortal takes on too much bad energy from others and turns evil themselves. Joe says it's a myth and there's no real record of anything like that happening. Well, they did have a record of Darius going through that in reverse when he slew a holy man and turned good.

Richie says they know Coltec is a "stone cold killer", does it really matter how he got that way?

Duncan says it matters to him.

1958, Greenwich Village NYC. Noted beat poet Bryce Korland is performing on stage, talking about how Death is the hardest-working man in showbusiness.

Duncan walks in and Korland calls him out as being the embodiment of death. A few onlookers tell Duncan to leave him alone. "Be cool! That's Bryce Korland, man!"

Seems Bryce is an arsonist, and Duncan has a personal issue with him as a result. Duncan chases him out the back door and I think the onlookers assumed it was all part of the show at that point.

Outside, Duncan finds that Korland has already been Coltec, who'd also been hunting him down. They briefly argue about who should have been the one to do it, then Coltec just sort of staggers off, saying he needs to be alone now.

More discussion. Duncan is pretty sure that some sort of dark quickening happened, and that Coltec absorbed too many bad guys and it flipped his alignment. The others don't really believe it. Joe says that Coltec was spotted on the bad side of town, so Duncan heads over.

Shady encounters in alleyways: Also something that happens in the Crockett's Amnesia episodes of Miami Vice. More on that in a bit.

Duncan finds Coltec in an alleyway, they have another brief skirmish (that you can hardly see), and Duncan knocks him out / drags him out to the woods.

Oh yeah, and Coltec had just finished killing some random guy for his wallet. They just sorta gloss over that, but if you're looking at all of this from Duncan's perspective it's been a pretty horrible day.

Duncan tries to talk to Coltec and find out if he's still in there. Coltec just snaps at him.

Coltec says he's still in there, but he LIKES who he is now and doesn't want to go back. Duncan doesn't believe that. Coltec then frees himself from the ropes and kicks sand in Duncan's eyes before bolting for the hills.

More meetings. Duncan finds out that now Coltec is emulating the behavior of Bryce Korland, the arsonist.

He goes home and gets ready for battle, deciding that he needs to end Coltec before anyone else dies. Also, if Coltec is emulating Korland, he knows where he'll be.

Nobody thinks to point out that maybe killing Coltec is a bad idea if he really does have a DQ. Question is...did the DQ start with Coltec, or did that Kant guy at the beginning have one? It seemed like he was mentally out of it and might not have been himself either. So the DQ might have started a while ago and been passed along to where it is now, as opposed to Coltec just "overflowing" with absorbing evil.

It's not very clear, and maybe it isn't meant to be.

Duncan goes to the beat poetry lounge, and finds Coltec...completely bombing on stage, which is a funny contrast to Bryce Korland's mastery of the audience.

But wait, wasn't this lounge in NYC? Either this is a different, similar lounge in Vancouver, or Duncan actually flew to NYC for this section of the episode.

They take the fight outside. This time it's for real, and to the death. But wait, the episode is only like two thirds over!

Joe shows up to observe. This shot made it into the opening credits after this. This whole scene is intense and feels like something bad is about to happen.

Coltec is in full head-angled-down evil mode, and puts up quite a fight.

Duncan subdues him and tries one last time to talk to him. Nobody's there though.

The Quickening happens, and this one is HUGE. Huge, and very supernatural, with all kinds of evil spirits attacking Duncan's mind.

He goes full Rayden here. THISH ISH THE QUICKENING

He struggles to fight off all the badness, but it's very clear that he's messed-up from this.

He goes back to Joe's Bar and has a bunch of drinks in the corner, avoiding everyone. If I were Joe I'd have been watching him like a hawk here. Then again Joe was the biggest skeptic of all about the possibility of dark quickenings.

Any ambiguity about whether he's feeling alright quickly gets thrown out the window when he puts the moves on a woman, gets gently declined, and ends up punching her out.

A bunch of the staff line up to throw Duncan out, but Joe gets them to back off (probably knowing Duncan would win the fight) and Drunk Duncan just sort of saunters out.

His next stop is Richie, practicing very intensely because he's already had a really bad week where he almost got whacked.

Duncan shows up, doing that evil down-tilt of the head, basically acting exactly like Coltec.

He draws and attacks Richie. Now putting aside that Duncan outmatches Richie by quite a bit under normal circumstances, he also got Richie completely by surprise here, with a cheap shot, right after Richie had been practicing for a while. So it was a tired Richie who didn't expect this, against a rested Duncan with the element of surprise, making it even more unwinnable for Richie.

Duncan pretty much has his way with Richie throughout this fight. It's the only time they ever fight for real in the entire series, and it's a good fight (the high point of this episode in that regard). We see Duncan going full tilt here instead of holding back a bit like he usually does in fights. This version of Duncan is usually only seen when he's up against his toughest opponents. Here, he busts it out because he wants Richie dead. This Duncan is a lot more dangerous than the normal version because he goes right for the throat.

It may be the high point of the episode in terms of battles, but it's pretty hard to watch in retrospect. Duncan wins the fight and plants one on Richie before taking a bow.

Duncan delays the SHIIIIING a bit, maybe just to watch Richie wait for the inevitable. That little delay saves Richie, as...

...Joe walks in and shoots Duncan, then tells Richie to get outta there. Richie doesn't know what the hell to do at this point so he just leaves.

Richie's general worldview gets turned upside-down at this moment. He doesn't come back for about ten episodes, and when he does come back, he's very different. His trust in Duncan (and well, anybody) has been shattered and he's no longer naively friendly. This betrayal has some reverberations into Season 5, and Duncan's failure when it comes to Richie is something that drives the final episode of the show.

When Duncan wakes up, he's tied to this barrier so Joe can talk to him. Duncan flips out and kicks at the barrier while shouting mostly-nonsensical things at Joe. It's like trying to talk to an addict who has been deprived of their substances, they hate you for trying to help.

After failing to get through to Duncan on any level, Joe wonders if the only way to get rid of this dark quickening and keep it from moving on (or more likely, keep Duncan from killing everyone in his path) is to end him here so that his essence dissipates into nothingness.

Which would be such a waste that it'd probably break Joe's heart. So what does he do?

Duncan shifts between losing his temper and making light of everything, like he's battling it out internally. Finally, he tells Joe to just do it.

He talks about how hard it is to take someone's head off. Joe's never had to do that, but he's done it hundreds of times. You get the impression that all of this just weighed him down in a way that I don't think this series has ever addressed before. He again tells Joe to do it, and it's interesting: The first time it was more of a taunt or a dare, now it's more like he really wants Joe to end him before he screws up anything else.

Joe...cuts him loose. Duncan could kill him right now, and Joe knows that.

Instead Duncan struggles with himself for a moment before turning around and walking out.

Joe breathes a sigh of relief, but nothing's been resolved here.

Duncan ends up hopping on an Atlantic fishing boat that's going to Europe. He can go for free if he works, and the work is brutal cold drudgery. He says fine and gets on. At this point he seems pretty lost and aimless, unsure of what he should be doing with himself. Maybe he'll start by ruining this sea captain's entire life. That's right, more Evil Duncan in the next episode, as he continues to lose his mind. Who can stop him, though? Is the show as we know it over? Is it time for Highlander: Methos?

Coltec is interesting, but I'm not sure how I feel about the magical components. It's always iffy for me when Highlander brings magic into the fray. We also didn't get to see enough of this guy as his normal self. He's likeable enough in the flashback and the very beginning, but most of what we see him as is this deranged murderer. It's too bad we didn't see him back in the Line of Fire episode that covered Duncan's history with the Sioux. As it was, we didn't know what ended that chapter of Duncan's life and assumed all his anger just sort of got tucked away for a while. Now we know that this guy helped him through it.

So, thoughts on this episode. It's an interesting one, easily one of the most memorable in the series. Evil Duncan seems like way more of a threat than normal Duncan, because he doesn't hold back at all when he fights. It's good for Everyone Else that he isn't normally bad, because a permanently-bad Duncan would be an unstoppable Kurgan-like scourge.

This episode harkens back to late-series Miami Vice, also Season 4. Crockett takes a blow to the head and suffers amnesia, believing that he actually is the bad guy he's pretending to be while undercover. He turns into a heartless monster and becomes the biggest threat to the rest of the cast, acting very not-himself before eventually coming around and remembering who he is...and then having to atone for it to the people who cared and try to earn their trust back. That was a great 3-4 episodes of that show, and carried over from the S4 finale episodes into the beginning of S5 episodes.

Unfortunately, this duo of Highlander episodes doesn't reach the same levels that the similar Miami Vice arc did. In Highlander, Duncan's psychotic episode isn't referenced too much thereafter (aside from several later episodes, including one episode that is a direct follow-up to these). And they don't do very much with the Evil Duncan concept, where the Evil Crockett story went to some really interesting places. Like showing how competently he could run an evil empire, from years of experience fighting people like that.

Also, I'm not sure how I feel about the way the Dark Quickening is handled. In theory, Duncan himself could have experienced this on his own just from all the bad guys he's killed, and that would have made a lot of sense. Instead it's something Coltec experiences, then it just sorta gets passed on from him, like a blood clot. And we don't even know if Coltec actually "overflowed" to get the DQ, or if it was passed along from Kant.

In theory, the very last immortal will unavoidably end up being evil since DQs would have passed through the chain to eventually reach them. Course, this series has veered pretty far away from there being a last immortal, and is more in the "there are lots and we can co-exist and race starships eventually" phase now. Which is a nicer phase than "we gotta all die".

But I digress. I don't know, I just think the DQ concept could have been reached by Duncan on his own, then cured with a lot of psychiatry maybe. Instead it gets passed to him by another guy who killed too many bad guys, then cured via a bunch of magical strangeness. We'll see what happens in the next episode, coming very soon.

1 comment:

  1. "This is all a bit too far into the mystical and magical fields for Highlander, in my view." Perhaps, but the conversation they're having here is about just that.

    My take on it is that Coltec's role was never meant to be done by someone with a longer lifespan than a human. I don't think it's just all of the evil immortals messing him up (otherwise this would be more common), it's the 800 years of evil he's absorbed.