Saturday, December 2, 2023

Highlander 4x22 - One Minute to Midnight


This would have been the 13th Day of Halloween that I didn't get to. Probably the last Highlander episode I get to for a bit, since it's been increasingly difficult to bang these out in any kind of timely manner. Time for another break like the ones I used to take between seasons, but I do intend to do the rest later.

Another episode with a slightly-hyperbolic title, and another episode that I appreciate a lot more now than I used to in the past. This duo of episodes almost takes Highlander into the realm of serialized, continuity-rich shows like Buffy that came along later. It draws on everything leading up to this point, and sets up quite a few problems for Season 5 to resolve.

Note: In the original airing of the show, this episode was actually held over to the beginning of Season 5. Not the case in the DVD sets. I think it works a lot better as the S4 finale anyway.

Previously on Highlander...

Joe Dawson is on Watcher Trial for falsifying documents and giving information to an immortal. And like 40 counts of those things too, because this show has had a lot of episodes. The penalty for this? DEATH.

It's been 3 years since Duncan had his first talk with Macleod. And since then... numerous Watchers have died.

"Oh yes, and we have been tapping your phones as well. And oh yes, this battle station IS fully operational!"




The following takes place between 3 PM and 4 PM.

Paul Wolfowitz here has commandeered the Watchers. Several dozen of them were wiped out at Joe Dawson's execution site, and that DAMN Duncan Macleod must be behind it.


This feels much more like a season-opener than season finale. We start with Duncan being hunted in the streets by Watchers with automatic weapons. He gets shot and barely escapes.

Later, our heroes are hiding out in a wine cellar somewhere, with Methos bringing them groceries. Joe complains about the accommodations (and his gunshot wound). All they have to drink down here is wine. Joe is going to have to brush his teeth with a smooth, yet robust 1927 Latour.

Methos treats the wound, since he's a doctor. He got his degree from Heidelberg Germany in the 1400's. Funny thing is, in real life Peter Wingfield went on to become a doctor after this himself. Just went and got a doctorate in-between his acting work, no big. Guy is a renaissance man, like his character.

Duncan goes out to try and hunt down the immortal that's been wiping out Watchers. And he finds him!

Duncan realizes that the other his old friend Jacob, who bears a striking resemblance to The Miz.

We go back to 1847, when Duncan tried being a nomadic gypsy for a while. It is a tough life, where you must wear genie outfits and lug wheelbarrows around. Also literally everybody you meet hates and distrusts you. Outstanding.

Here's Irena, Jacob's wife (also immortal). Duncan says aloud what we're all thinking: "You've got to be the luckiest man alive"

Jacob was born in the 1400's and is a guy who has never really understood consequences due to his ability to not die. He met Irena in the late 1700's (she's only about 100 years old here) right after she became immortal, and spent 65 years courting her before she finally agreed to be his wife.

She walks over and plants one on him.


I hope she doesn't die, or get hurt or something.

She goes off to get water for the camp... and immediately gets hurt. Some guy lures her into a barn, telling her his friend is injured and needs help. She's skeptical but he's insistent.

After an uncomfortable scene where he drags her into the barn to have his way with her, Duncan and Jacob hear her screams and come running. Unfortunately they're a little too late. The rapist guy tries to escape and gets intercepted.

Irena is alright (well, define "alright"). The guy who did it is some sort of French aristocrat with a low opinion of gypsies to begin with.

Jacob flips out and goes to murder the guy. "BLOOD FOR BLOOD" he yells.

Duncan gets in the way and actually protects the guy. "LET THE JUSTICE SYSTEM DO ITS JOB" he says.

Lawl. Lot of faith in a two-tiered justice system doing the right thing for a bunch of vagrants.

In any case, Jacob listens to Irena and Duncan, and they leave. If he did kill the guy here, the whole gypsy camp would probably be persecuted in response.

Lest the aristocrat guy think Duncan has his back...

...Duncan turns around and knocks him the fuck out!

The aristocrat is brought to town to face the legal system. Unfortunately, "the legal system" seems to consist of The Penguin here.

He announces that the guy is... Not Guilty! Irena led him on!

Duncan asks how he can possibly reach that conclusion, and the judge is like "Because...he told me!"

Well, this is a total sham. Duncan again talks Jacob down and says they'll figure something else out. As they're leaving, the townspeople throw jeers at them for being gypsy scum.

"BOOOOO!" say the townspeople. "BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

The aristocrat won't shut up about what a whore Irena is, and eventually Jacob snaps!

Jacob swoops in and stabs the guy! BLAM!

Of course, a huge fracas erupts and our heroes get beaten up, with Jacob getting hung by the townspeople for murder.

Later, Duncan tells Jacob that he's basically disrupted life for the whole gypsy camp since they all had to move on from the town now. He also asks a very pertinent question: Did Jacob even ask Irena before he went avenging her?

Jacob: "It was blood for blood, and I'd kill a thousand times more to have justice done"

This is what we call foreshadowing. ...of what already happened. But foreshadowing of the reason.

......they're gonna kill Irena aren't they?

Back in the present, Duncan gets shot IN THE LUNG by this Watcher, who nearly kills our hero before Jacob appears and saves him.

Jacob actually could have killed Duncan himself right there and didn't, so we know these guys are still friends.

Regardless, he explains that he's out for vengeance against The Watchers and that's why he's been killing them off. Duncan tries to tell him that The Watchers aren't actually bad. Jacob...doesn't believe this.

This was interesting because Jacob had very little information on The Watchers. He just knows there's a group of guys with wrist tattoos who seem to know about their kind and are evil, so he's taking them out. He was surprised when Duncan already knew about them...and knew more than he does.

We get another flashback, to about four years ago. Which is roughly a year before Duncan and Joe met. Jacob and Irena, who are still apparently living the nomadic lifestyle (why doesn't anyone in this show ever change over hundreds of years?) have to flee their home when it gets burned down by unknown assailants.

They flee through the woods, and Irena hasn't aged a day in 150 years. Luckiest man alive, indeed.

They don't get far before they're descended-upon by Evil Watchers. Uh oh.

Yeah, we all know where this is going. Horton, who may as well be the Devil Incarnate at this point, orders his men to shoot the couple to smithereens.

They wake up later, tied-up in the woods, while Horton paces around and rants about what a disgusting subhuman scourge immortals are.

Jacob: "What have we done to you?"

Horton: "You LIVE. That's more than reason enough! Your kind are a shadow on the face of the Earth! A loathsome abomination! How dare you place yourselves above us!"

After declaring that they have no right to exist, Horton beheads Irena. Welp.

Devil Incarnate right here. I'm still not even certain that this guy was entirely human. Lot of supernatural things going on in this show, him being influenced by some sort of demonic presence isn't out of the question.

Jacob's wrath is going to follow them to the ends of the Earth. Much like Duncan, he isn't someone you want after you.

At least Jacob gets Irena's quickening.

The electricity breaks his bonds and he runs away into the woods. Surprised he ran instead of fighting, but even he knew going after these guys would have been a fool's errand.

Jacob says that was his introduction to these Watchers. It took him about a year to figure out who The Watchers were and start tracking them down. Finally he captured one and made him talk, which helped him find the rest of them. He's going to make sure they're all dead. I totally believe him too.

Duncan explains that The Watchers aren't evil and that the organization exists to observe. Horton and his crew were just a temporary abnormality, a bunch of monsters who were disavowed by their own organization. Jacob doesn't believe this.

Duncan asks if Irena would like anything he's doing. Would she approve of all the families suffering because of Jacob's murders?

Finally Jacob agrees to stop the killing and at least talk to a Watcher and hear out what they have to say. Both of these guys lost people important to them because of Horton.

Now Duncan just needs to get Joe to sit down and talk to Jacob and end this conflict. If Joe can explain that The Watchers are good, Jacob will stop his crusade. Joe doesn't want to talk to a guy who has murdered friends of his.

Lots of yelling follows.

Joe and Methos go to sneak into Watcher HQ. These two would make a terrific buddy cop dynamic for a show. Joe needs to talk to Jack and let him know that Jacob is killing Watchers and not Duncan. Unfortunately the Watchers will probably shoot Joe on sight.

Wow, this is a real mess.

Joe pretends to hold "Adam Pierson" hostage to get into Watcher HQ. NO! YOU LEAVE PIERSON OUT OF THIS!

Duncan tells Jacob that Joe isn't going to talk to him. Joe can't trust him after all the killing.

Jacob: "They all wear the sign of the beast! Like the beasts they are!"

Man, now he sounds like Horton.

Looks like these two are headed for a collision, as per usual in this series.

Joe talks to Jack about the situation. Jack is willing to forgive Joe's crimes and leave Duncan alone if  Joe will bring Jacob to them.

Joe agrees to meet with Jacob after all. Jacob is super-apprehensive, but Duncan told him that he trusted Joe with his life, so he's giving Joe one chance.

Of course, a bunch of Watchers sneak up on them and shoot Jacob.

So... Jacob was willing to talk to the Watchers at Duncan's behest since Duncan trusts Joe so much. Joe wasn't willing to talk to him at first, but was willing to once he made an agreement with Jack that he could bring Jacob to them to absolve himself and Duncan. So everybody's doing what they think is the best thing here. But what exactly does Joe think they're going to do with Jacob?

Also noteworthy: The way Joe got Jacob to follow him in the first place was by saying that Duncan was in trouble and that the Watchers might execute him unless Jacob goes to them and confesses. This was a lie.

Jack says he's going to kill Jacob and exact vengeance. Joe is upset because he thought giving them Jacob would be a way for them to talk and hear Jacob's side.

Wait, did he really think Jack was gonna listen to Jacob's lament after Jacob killed his son?

Duncan shows up and doesn't believe what's going on. He tells Jack that now HE'S acting like Horton, and none of this is going to bring anyone back.

Jack: "Look at this! A lesson in ethics from our good friend Duncan Macleod!"

Jacob gets hauled in, in handcuffs. He's quite displeased with Duncan right now.

Jacob: "I already met your good friend Joe Dawson, the one you trusted with my life."

Things escalate, with Jack getting a sword and ignoring all reason.

Jacob: "I hate to say it, but I was right about these people."

They drag Jacob into the other room and Jack lops off his head. Duncan tries to fight his way in, only to get there in time to get Jacob's quickening.

Duncan lays there in a rage. Soon as he gets up, somebody's gonna die.

A bloodthirsty Jack walks back into the room, seeing an opportunity to behead Duncan too while he's down.

One can argue that Jacob had to pay, but THEY JUST PROVED DUNCAN'S INNOCENCE.

Joe has had enough, and draws. "I WILL shoot you Jack!"

Jack finally backs off and lets Joe and Duncan walk out of there in peace.

Duncan is in a total rage, pawing at the walls and snarling at people.

Joe says he did all of this to save Duncan, and he's sorry.

Duncan doesn't want to hear it. He's even mad at Methos for simply being aware of what was going on.

Joe: "I didn't know they were going to kill him!"

Methos: "Keep telling yourself that Joe. Maybe you'll start to believe it."

Joe lets Jack know that Duncan Macleod is going to murder him. "If he wants you dead, you're DEAD!"

 Jack thinks they'll deal with Duncan without much issue. Joe says even if they manage to kill Duncan, they'll have to deal with Duncan's friends coming after them. And that's a good point, Duncan has about a zillion friends running around and a good portion of them are dangerous people. Even though Methos is too old for this shit, a lot of others won't be. Jack is basically dead man walking at this point.

On the other hand, Jack notes that they know who all of Duncan's friends are, where they live, and what they had for breakfast. So he's willing to Execute Order 66 on the immortals? How is this m****f***** any different from Horton at this point?

His bluster proves unfounded, as Duncan has already knocked out literally all of the HQ guards and barrels into the room.

Nice symbolism here as Duncan has Jack cornered. He fully intends to shoot Jack right between the eyes, and repeats Jacob's old mantra of "blood for blood".

Joe talks him down and says if Duncan does this, the circle of violence continues.

Duncan: "Your son doesn't want revenge! People who are dead want nothing! They feel nothing!"

Joe even draws on Duncan at this point, not wanting him to kill Jack, but he ends up pointing at Jack himself when Jack won't shut up.

Duncan gets in Jack's face and makes him promise not to ever bother any of them again, and to end this stupid "war" right now.

He spares Jack's life, slamming a coffin lid on him. That ends the cycle of death, ironically. Lot of irony in this episode.

Duncan has nothing to say to Joe, and walks out.

Joe makes sure nobody bothers him, and they let him go.

Joe has basically lost Duncan as a friend now going into S5, and Duncan likely feels incredibly betrayed.

I have to say, this was a really excellent episode. Had a lot of punch, and everyone involved acted their asses off. Just a tremendous bit of work here. I do wish they'd done more with Irena, though. She basically existed only to get hurt in both of the scenes she was in. Given how charming and cool she was at the beginning when she actually got to talk, it would have been nice to see her get a bit more of a role, and maybe not just be a murder victim.

Last scene: Joe visits Duncan at The Quay and tries to talk to him. Jack is out of the Watchers, and everything's getting back to normal.

Duncan gives him nothing. It's probably the most quiet rage we've ever seen on the guy.

Before he walks off:

Joe: "Can I buy you a drink or something?"

Duncan: "No thanks."


  1. This whole two-parter has to be the bleakest part of Highlander. At least at the end of the Horseman two-parter, you can feel good that Kronos and the other two are dead and that Methos has truly repented, even if his relationship with MacLeod is damaged.

    But with this one? The Galatis are dead, Jack Shapiro's son and several other Watchers are dead, Shapiro himself is fired from the Watchers and left a broken man, and Joe and Duncan's friendship is left in tatters. Even though he was killed years ago, Horton is still ruining lives and killing people.

  2. Good review. What I liked about Horton is that he’s not wrong. An immortal winning the prize? Total power? Not good. The fate of humanity depending on a good person winning? A good, moral person being an excellent and humane killer? I can see why someone would not buy that particular bit of reality. But at the same time, he’s crazy as a was Heigl who said the essence of tragedy is not right against wrong, it is right against right.

    Duncan tolerated a lot of mortals being killed by immortals. Just about every time he gave someone the benefit of the doubt, a mortal was killed as a result. His mercy had a body count. What I. Liked about Highlander is that the best stories acknowledged this tension.

    Unfortunately this went off the rails when the Ahriman arc hit. It is one thing to fight demons by not fighting demons. But Nazis and Nazi-like being are real and will always be real. The tragedy of life is not that bad men use violence, it is sometimes that good men have to use violence, and knowing when to use it or not use it is so, so difficult. (That last bit if wisdom is mine.)

    Overall, a strong two-parter. Only weakness is leaving Charlie’s death out of the story, as mentioned in a previous commentary. Don’t wait too long before season 5.