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It’s A Wondeful Life Highlander

Adrian Paul, Peter WIngfield, Jim Byrnes N/CNetflix has allowed me to complete a lifelong dream previously unattainable due to the high cost of VHS box sets. I have now watched Highlander: The Series in it’s entirety. This is a very important achievement, one I longed for as an adolescent who flipped through the pages of the Highlander catalog that arrived every month. It was filled with swords I’d never swing, and Scottish pony tail holders I’d never use for a pony tail I would be ashamed of years later.

My first impression coming back to the series after 20 years was that never before have high-waisted slacks and a puffy shirt been rocked so hard. Indeed Adrian Paul may be the only man capable of pulling it off. Somehow the early to mid 1990’s managed to be analogous to the fashion between 1600-1800, a time frequented during the obligatory flashback that we came to expect in an episode of Highlander. The kilt for example was replaced by the flannel. Inconceivably pressed puffy shirts  replaced ruffled puffy shirts. Capes were replaced by trench coats.

In all seriousness I do love this show. I remember waiting for Thursday nights so I could watch on a local station (WWOR at the time) that two hours of pure glory that was Lorenzo Lamas in Renegade followed by Adrian Paul as The Highlander. I dare you not to get pumped when the monologue and opening theme comes in shortly into each episode. Indeed after not seeing it in many years I found myself sitting on my couch in the dark with my fist clenched in the air as I belted out the lyrics by Freddy Mercury to “Princes of The Universe.” The show had and has a style that is all it’s own. The delayed theme music, the flashback sequences, and maybe most important of all, the sense of a larger story.

Highlander-1vs2

Highlander: The Series is Highlander. Allow me to go on an existential tangent from my youth to explain this. The first movie was very cool and was a late night staple for many years on TV stations that you used to literally tune into with an antenna. Local broadcast TV stations made legends out of movies like Highlander, The Terminator, and Escape From New York. These types of movies were always on at 10pm or later, usually following something more subdued like Rocky. 10 PM was the hour badasses emerged like Rambo and Mad Max. It’s deeply imbedded into my psyche that heroes work at night…in the shadows. I have fond memories of eating Saltines with a freshly mixed glass of orange-flavored Tang that wasn’t dissolved completely because it doesn’t completely dissolve while trying to tune my antenna to watch Highlander 2: The Quickening. I hoped it was the static that made it so unbearable.

So why the nostalgia trip? Because that is the essence of Highlander. It would be a film series that brought diminishing returns with each installment, although Highlander fans like myself are very forgiving because we just want more Highlander. It fulfilled a need for fantasy because it wasn’t Tolkien-esque fantasy with elves in The Hall of The Mountain King. It was a modern fantasy set in cities of the 1980’s and 1990’s where fantasy seemed impossible. They fought with all manner of swords from real cultures through out our real history, as opposed to a fantastical one. Therein was the appeal. Combined with sci-fi elements and an ambitious although rarely explained and often horribly mangled premise that there are immortals among us, there was nothing quite like Highlander.

Then in1992 the series appeared. It fundamentally altered the mythos by steering the ship back on course, which seems like a strange contradiction. But that is how crazy H2 was and Final Dimension, which came out two years into the series added little to bolster the franchise. The most insane thing you could do was just erase it and start over, which we take for granted now. The series charted a direct lineage from Connor MacLeod of the original movie to Duncan MacLeod, a descendent who became immortal later. Once the mythos is transferred to Duncan we are treated to The Highlander story that we want to see.

Fashion-of-HighlanderThat’s not to say that the series is not without some flaws and there are open ended ideas that never reach fruition. After all it was a television show and like the immortals in Highlander, producers often want their shows to live forever. Some things could not be controlled, as in the case of the real life death of Werner Stocker who played Darius, a 2000 year old monk who marched into Paris with an army only to lay his sword down and take a vow to never kill again. Being an immortal, he has to fight as “The Game” commands, but he lives on holy ground, the only refuge an immortal has and refuses to play. Darius became a critical character early in the series. He was juxtaposed to Duncan, who as a warrior himself had only recently shown disdain for war. As the hero of the story, he had to fight but he also had to find a balance that would slowly be deteriorated by the events that made up the series.

Werner passed in 1993 during the first season. The show was altered greatly as well. Initially as the opening monologue would tell you for three seasons, this was “the time of the gathering,” which was a convergence of all the immortals, where they would duke it out for “the prize.” It never happened as that would mean the end of the show and Highlander. So the series shifted to the trials and tribulations of Duncan McLeod. It became a multi-century referendum on life, humanity, and loss. Duncan finds history repeating itself. There is history he needs to confront , particularly when he returns to Scotland. But he also has history with his pals like Fitzcairn played by Roger “We’re Not Gonna Take It” Daultrey and on again off again lover/antagonist Amanda played by the Raven herself, Elizabeth Gracen. There were also new characters like Methos played by fan-favorite Peter Wingfield who portrayed an immortal so old he was a rider of the Apocalypse. He was also hiding within a secretive organization of mortals known as The Watchers who chronicled the immortals, which is how we come to know Joe Dawson, who eventually becomes one of Duncan’s best friends along with Ritchie who was there since the pilot and endures the pain and suffering that Duncan goes through, eventually becoming a great source of it.

There were so many great characters. Great villains too like Horton, who forms a rogue group within The Watchers to hunt down and kill the immortals. Of course there was the diabolical Xavier Saint Cloud who was acted by none other than Roland Gift, the singer from Fine Young Cannibals. But eventually these mega villains ran their course. Initially Duncan was just mowing down people. Very few reoccurred. Even master swordsman and immortals like Grayson, the protégé of Darius, were dispatched in one episode.  Particularly after Horton died, it became more difficult to create the backdrop needed to perpetuate the narrative. That’s when it turned inside. In many ways the show was better but it lost “The Game” aspect for the most part.

At this point it became a deconstruction of Duncan’s life, wandering from one battlefield to another, stopping occasionally to find peace only to see it uprooted by the game or the folly of men. I can use the term folly of men because I’m talking about Highlander, a fantasy. Even the finale of the show had an It’s a Wonderful Life feel to it. The weary immortal finally comes to terms with life through his relationships. Then they made the movie Highlander Endgame. But that is a different story. Ultimately, the premise of any Highlander project will be undone by Highlander itself because of the premise: “there can be only one.” Coming to a resolution means ending the franchise. If the reboot of the films does occur, I seriously hope they account for this. When the original came out, it wasn’t known what a phenomenon it would become. There is still so much potential in this franchise that has not been unlocked. The series got us closest to a resolution.

I appreciate Highlander: The Series. You filled my TV with sword fights and more Canadian-style romance scenes than my young and old eyes should have seen. Indeed it has sparked an entire category that exists as a debate among my friends: Is she Highlander Hot? It’s an aesthetic that somehow marries the gritty Eastern Bloc girl with the hip cosmopolitan stylings of Vancouver. God bless them and the ladies of Baywatch, also on WWOR from the hours of 6 to 8. That’s how you program a channel for the 18-49 demographic folks. I will leave you with the last incarnation of the opening monologue, which again pumps up the soul and leads to the purchasing of a samurai sword or two as well as a bouken to aid in the practice of swordsmanship:

“He is Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander. Born in 1592 in the Highlands of Scotland, and he is still alive. He is immortal. For four hundred years, he’s been a warrior… a lover… a wanderer, constantly facing other Immortals in combat to the death. The winner takes his enemy’s head, and with it, his power. I am a Watcher, part of a secret society of men and women who observe and record, but never interfere. We know the truth about Immortals. In the end, there can be only one. May it be Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander.”

Damn f***ing right.

MyTV

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