Monday, June 12, 2023

Highlander 4x18 - Through A Glass, Darkly


One of the not so good episodes in my view, which is really unfortunate because it's about the pivotal battle of Culloden (Scotland vs England) that shaped Duncan's persona from here on out. Culloden determined who controlled Britain, and the answer? 

Well, spoiler alert, the Scottish Jacobites were soundly defeated by the English, and so was Duncan's zest for fighting. After this he basically traveled the world for a while and saw war as a pointless waste. So there's a lot to mine out of this chapter.

R.I.P. Alexa

Methos had her buried here in Paris, and Duncan is on hand to pay respects.

Methos knew she was going to die soon, and it was still a surprise to him when it happened.

Duncan: "The Navajo have a saying. The spirit lives as long as someone who lives remembers you."

Methos: "Aren't you a little young to be so smart?"

Annnnnd that's it for this part of the story, wrapped up in the first minute. Time for the main plot!

This guy from Duncan's past shows up, wandering around in a nearby mausoleum. He seems completely mental, yelling at the air to stay away from him, before running off. To be fair, this is how most people act after seeing the Whispers ending of Final Fantasy VII Remake.

We've seen some wacky coincidences to open Highlander episodes many times before, but a guy Duncan knows happening to wander around in the same graveyard where Methos just buried up there.

This is Cochrane, a completely devout Scottish militant. We go back to...

...Scotland, 1745, where Duncan and Cochrane are fighting against...

...the Redcoats. The Scots won this fight with the English, to the extent that...

...after the fight, Cochrane boastfully announces that if they keep this up, not only will they have a free Scotland, but they'll also conquer England itself. It's interesting to consider how massively different the world would be if the Scots had control of Britainnia, because it would have massive ripples throughout the last 250 years. Some good, some bad, like the existence of any empire. A Scottish win never really had much chance of actually happening, though, regardless of Cochrane and the Scots' overconfidence.

In any case, the lynchpin, nay, the KEY of their success: Bonnie-Prince Charlie.

The bonnie-est lad, he is. Once they defeat England, they're installing Bonnie-Prince Charlie on the throne and it will be the bonniest time of all!

Crazy the efforts they went through to install a new ruler on a throne back then. Fighting it out on a battlefield, driving the enemy army into the sea! Nowadays we just get the CIA to do it.

Back in the present, Methos speculates that maybe Cochrane was just acting mental to get Duncan to lower his guard, and says that Duncan needs to watch out.

Duncan: "You don't trust anybody do you?"

Duncan gets hauled down to the police station because Cochrane apparently filed a report that Duncan attacked him with a sword. The police can tell Cochrane is out of it and let Duncan talk to him. It's to little avail though, Cochrane seems to not remember anything and he's afraid of Duncan for some reason. Maybe he saw Something Wicked.

Back in the past! Right before the pivotal battle of Culloden, Cochrane gets killed in a smaller battle.

Several other Scots saw it happen, which means Cochrane has to go hide now so no one sees he's alive.

This doesn't work for him because literally EVERYTHING he cares about in life is wrapped up in Culloden. He can't let Bonnie-Prince Charlie down!

Weed Thought: The story of Rob Roy MacGregor and the way it was passed down in Scottish culture... was the "viral internet video" of the time.

Cochrane says that "English trickery" cost them the previous battle and Duncan points out that the English simply outmanned, outflanked, and outmaneuvered them. Duncan is starting to see the futility of what they're doing.

The fact that Cochrane thinks that the vastly-superior English strategic ability is some sort of parlor trick just sums up why they have no real chance of victory. Well, as much chance as barbarians had against a Roman legion at Rome's height.

Back in the present, Cochrane's wife arrives to talk to him, and he kinda knows her, but he can't remember anything.

"Oh, uh, heyyyyy, I'm Nancy"

...I kid, she was very respecful.

Elsewhere, Methos has this hidden room in a bookstore basement where he keeps all kinds of priceless books and other artifacts. When I was a kid I really wanted to have something like this eventually, some hidden store-room in the wilderness or something that was full of antiques and old weapons. There isn't really any reason to do that though, plus you need to actually have an abundance of antiques and old weapons.

In any case, the place flooded, so a lot of the books got wet. Right now he's trying to preserve an old Roman cookbook that basically pioneered certain elements of modern cuisine in the Middle-East.

Cochrane's wife explains to him that he was born in the 1960's and has all of these old Scottish artifacts because he collects them. It must be super-weird to be immortal and lose your mental faculties. You'd have all of these memories that couldn't be real because you weren't alive yet by any conventional wisdom and no one around you would be able to explain anything if they didn't know.

Cochrane keeps having these war flashbacks that seem to be debilitating. The flashbacks are bad enough, but combined with the fact that they suffered a crushing loss, it had to be kind of shattering to him.

When it comes down to it, this is an episode about PTSD and how it perpetually triggers your fight-or-flight response. Not sure why it took 200 years for his PTSD to manifest itself so heavily, but sometimes things like this happen later.

Speaking of the explanation... We get some recent flashbacks where Cochrane is showing his immortal apprentice (who is really more like his adopted son) the centuries-old beer hall where the Scottish planned their insurgency.

Said adopted son goes off about it and yells at Cochrane in Scottish. "Da bettle's oova! LED IT GOH!"

This goes on until Cochrane loses his temper and draws his sword, and I think he might have offed the guy.

This episode is very snowy, and I like it.

Duncan has Methos looking into Cochrane's recent history and trying to figure out where things went wrong. Ideally Duncan wants to help Cochrane and not have to kill him, which would be great.

We get another flashback, where English peasants stalk our heroes in the woods. Cochrane had a fire going like a moron so they were easy to find.

This leads to Duncan flanking them and just cold-bloodedly gunning them down. You rarely see Duncan with a gun, but it happened a couple times this season. I think this might be the only time we ever see him coldly gun somebody down though. I guess he just really hates the English.

Cochrane stole an English knife for a kid he's kind of adopted (he keeps talking about how he wants a son, throughout the episode), only to find that the kid was shot during the whole scenario.

Back in the near-present, Cochrane's apprentice mocks him for still being obsessed with the war. "Yer a fot jooke! Yer a fot jooke an' soo was Chah-lie!"

The guy leans in menacingly.

"Ya, that's right! I sedd it! ...FOCK Bonnie-Prince Chaaalie."

"Oh...oh no...oh nooo you didn't."

R.I.P. Andrew Donnelly.

So yes, he killed his own student. Who does that?

Forty years after Culloden. Yep, a huge time jump happens in the flashbacks. It's actually kind of easy to miss since they're the same age in both. But yes, there's a four decade jump here. Our heroes finally get to meet Bonnie Prince Charlie after all that time. Will he still be wee and bonnie?

Cochrane has the crazy idea to ask the Bonnie Prince to join him in raising an army to take back the land. With the Prince on his side, he could raise 10,000 men and they could (again) take the fight to the English.

Duncan is just sort of along for the ride. Maybe there's a chance. Everyone has pretty much moved on at this point but maybe they can rally the people again...if the Prince is up for it.

Bonnie-Prince Charlie! Behold! There he is!

Fun Fact: In RL, this guy won the trust of the Highlander clans by marching at the head of one of them during a battle. Later when the war was lost, they hid him from the authorities. The English offered up a 30k pound ransom for anyone who turned him in - which to put it in context was equal to around $8.5 million today.

And not one of 'em turned him in.

This is it, they're going to make history. In this beer hall, they'll change the future of Scotland.

The very statesman-like Charlie says they have much to discuss, if truly they can raise the army they claim.

So he's on board.


Back in the present, we find out that what we just saw was actually a Cochrane flashback, as he and Duncan talk about that meeting and Cochrane tries to remember more about his history.

Except...Duncan says he doesn't remember it that way.

We get the entire flashback a second time and it's basically the same. Stoned viewers must be so confused right now.

But wait! This is the Mirror Universe, and in Duncan's version of events, Charlie was a drunken angry fool who nearly fell down the stairs before slurring all his words at them.

When Cochrane talked about raising an army for him, Duncan looked at his friend in disbelief.

Cochrane: "He'll lead us!"

Duncan: "He couldn't lead a pig around the barn!"

The interesting thing about this is that the scenes are exactly the same except for how Charlie acts. The other guys have the same reactions to everything. Duncan's reactions make more sense in the second scene. It's interesting because what we're seeing are two fairly accurate recollections...aside from their perception of Charlie. One guy looks at Charlie and sees a noble statesman who has had bad luck and fallen on hard times. The other looks at him and sees an incompetent drunk who isn't fit to accomplish anything.

Charlie died less than two years after this, in 1788. So he was already more or less on death's door at the time of this meeting.

Duncan relays the situation to Methos, as they figure out that Cochrane killed his own apprentice right before his breakdown.

We get a THIRD showing of the flashback, this time bouncing between the two versions of it, as Duncan explains things to Methos.

This is why I don't think this is a particularly good episode. They eat up a lot of time with this one scene. And it's generally just a sad episode.

Methos: "It's human nature to rewrite history to be something we're more comfortable with. Ask the Russians. Ask the Americans or British for that matter."

Yeah, it's funny how the "good guys" almost always win throughout history. It's almost like history is written by the winners and the winners like to make themselves the protagonists.

Duncan talks to Cochrane again and tells him that he killed his own apprentice and that triggered his current breakdown.

"I killed my own student. Who does that?"

He wants Duncan to slay him, since he's clearly a monster.

The battle is joined! This one is too dark to really see much of, much less get any good shots. One cool thing about it is that they're both holding flashlights in their offhands for the whole sword-fight.

Duncan wins with a fairly cheap shot...he's 2 for 2 on being uncharacteristically cheap with kills in this episode. He can't kill Cochrane though, and lets him be so he can get better instead. I wish that happened more often.

He's got another lease on life, to hopefully get the help he needs. If there's any helping him.

The scene fades into his young self, idealistic and full of hope for the future.

And now I'm sad.

I'll say this though, I think the ending saves this episode a bit. Definitely bumps it up in my estimation.

Duncan can't believe Cochrane killed his own student, and says maybe the guy would have been better off if Duncan hadn't told him about it. Now Cochrane has this terrible thing to live with.

They talk about the potential for forgetting everything and living life over again as a new person. Methos says he wouldn't do it, because "who'd remember Alexa then?"

Good episode, could have been great episode, but it was saved by its poignant moments. Considering it's about such an important crossroads in Duncan's life, I wish they'd gotten more into how the loss of the war affected him instead of giving us three scenes of Bonnie Prince Charlie's bonnie self.

Also curious as to how this episode was received by fans in Scotland or of Scottish descent. It wasn't particularly kind to His Bonnieness or the rebellion.

Other Highlander Posts


  1. This episode is definitely flawed (It's pretty obvious what happened to Warren's student), but I did like the premise. It actually makes you question whether or not the flashbacks we've seen are all viewed through Duncan's biases, which pretty much calls the entire premise of the series into question. Very bold and ambitious writing, which is part of what I liked so much about the Highlander TV show.

    1. That's a really good point and I didn't think of that while watching it. If Duncan's flashbacks have all been POV this whole time, how reliable of a narrator is he really? He's ALWAYS portrayed as innocent in almost every situation, with a handful of exceptions.

  2. I have this theory. Highlander seasons had themes. Granted some of it was by accident, but go with me. Season 1 is introduction. We meet Duncan and learn about his world and how it works. The show had something like 4 showrunners before David Abramowitz took over in mis-season. But we still meet Duncan’s two most influential mentors, Connor and Darius. We meet his two best friends - Amanda and Fitz. We meet one of two of his greatest enemies, Xavier St. Cloud. The season ends with the introduction of Horton, who, as the saying goes, changes everything. It is amazing how many recurring characters are seen from the start. Darius’ actor died, but would have come back in flashbacks if he lived. Connor was just too expensive. But we get a team up in a movie.

    Season 2 starts with meeting Joe and the Watchers. This is something new. Richie and Tess are killed, and Richie comes back as an immune. His relationship with Duncan changes. The theme of season 2 is change. Duncan has a mortal enemie, that is a change. Duncan is a teacher. Duncan is a widower. His relationship with Amanda changes. They acknowledge feelings and Amanda loses her mentor after 1,200 years. I love that they made Amanda so much older than Duncan. So interesting. Season ends with Horton killed.

    Season 3 is moving on. Charlie gets the girl and moves on. Joe moves from from stuffy book dealer and gets a blues bar. Duncan moves on from the death of Tess. Kalas forces Duncan to move on from seacouver, and Fitz dies. Duncan gets a new mentor and Amanda and Duncan both acknowledge their real and lasting love.

    Season 4 is about being trapped in the past. It is no accident that the immortal fight in Homeland is fought using weapons from 400 years earlier. Kanwulf wants his axe, and sets off a series of events that result in his death. Duncan can take the claymore, but it belongs in Scotland anchored to a time and place. There are several villains who let the past define them. Kamir remains a Thuggee, Kristin still uses her beauty to get what she wants, Kinman is still a hired killer but works for mobsters instead of royalty. Cimoli won’t leave childish dreams of fame behind, and Case hasn’t changed how he plays the game. All die.the season ends with watchers and Jacob Galati fighting a war started by Horton that should have died with Horton.

    Season 5 is the past catching up with you. It starts with Cassandra running from a guy who had been chasing her. This guy also looked for Duncan when he was a child. Because Kantos continues the chase, he gets killed. Carl Robinson and Matthew McCormick finally have it out, but are able to work out differences. Richie kills an immortal for no reason and races the consequences right away. No waiting for centuries. This happens twice. Methos has to face the Horsemen. This is one problem he can’t outlive. Duncan has his past from Colloden catch up with him. He has to face the consequences.

    Seadon 6 was can we be Buffy? No, then let’s wrap this up.

    Since this is a season 4 episode, Warren Cochran won’t let go of fanatical Scottish nationalism. By not letting go and not growing beyond it, he ends up killing his student and losing his memory. Like so many immortals this season, not growing and learning and changing has a cost. He, at least, gets to live and their is the hope of getting better.

    I agree, this is a decent episode. Not one I really like, but if it is not one I care for, it is one I can recognize as an episode that tries something ambitious and has real things to say

    1. So when it comes down to it, the season themes can be loosely defined as S1 - Beginning, S2 - Change, S3 - Trying to move on, S4 - Being trapped in the past (literally in one episode), S5 - The past catching up. I barely even acknowledge S6 existing myself, it's more like the missing last few episodes of S5 plus a bunch of test pilots for a new show. Good post.