If you've never seen Highlander, the TV series inspired by the movie, you should. Even if you spent the bulk of the 1990s watching first-run episodes and repeats on cable, you should watch it again. It's addictive. Queen's theme song, "Princes of the Universe," will get stuck in your head in such bad way that you might start fist-pumping in a quiet room. You may also feel compelled to take up fencing. Highlander has the power to do that.
While Highlander, the show, is derived from Highlander, the movie starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, they aren't really the same thing. The concept is the same. There are Immortals who battle each other. When one Immortal beheads another, a Quickening takes place. That's a lightning bolt/fireworks show of power that overcomes the battle's winner. There's also the understanding that, ultimately, "there can be only one" of the Immortals remaining. The show, though, exists in its own world. You're following a different character, Duncan MacCleod (Adrian Paul), on a different path with a different result. You might as well think of them as two separate entities with a shared title.
There are six seasons and over 100 episodes of Highlander to watch, but if time is limited, here are a few selections to get you started.
14. "The Gathering"
"The Gathering" opens with a kid breaking into a store in the middle of the night. At the same time, in a residence in the same building, a couple are in the throes of a moment so passionate that it seems a little risqué for television at the time. At least, it seemed risqué for U.S. television. (Highlander was actually an international production.) The couple puts a quick stop to the love-making when the man hears a noise. He walks into the storefront like the shirtless, swashbuckling cover model of a grocery store romance novel. His introduction to the would-be thief is, "I am Duncan MacCleod, of the Clan MacCleod...and you are dead." The young robber is thoroughly confused and that gets worse when two Immortals land in the room and a battle ensues.
Catch Duncan and Connor McCleod together in the first episode of Highlander.
Christopher Lambert, who starred as Connor MacCleod in the films, reprises the role in this episode, mainly to tie the show to the movies. The focus, though, is on Duncan and the episode sets up a drama. Duncan is living with his girlfriend Tessa, a mortal who is troubled by the fact that she's growing older and Duncan never will. The couple takes Richie, the kid who tried to rob the shop, under their wing. Richie and Tessa are the only mortals who know Duncan's secret. Meanwhile, Duncan will encounter various Immortals who are on a quest for the Highlander's head.
13. "The Hunters"
One of the things I love about Highlander is the amount of musicians who turned up as guest stars. The most famous is Roger Daltrey of The Who. Daltrey plays Hugh Fitzcairn, an Immortal who is pals with Duncan, and appears in multiple episodes of the series. This is his initial appearance.
Roger Daltrey is one of a number of musicians to guest star on Highlander.
The first season of Highlander is hit or miss. You have some good episodes. You also have a lot of regurgitated damsel in distress plots that don't add much to the overall story outside the death of another Immortal. "The Hunters" is a solid episode that helps further the mythology of Duncan and his kind.
Immortals keep their identities a secret for a good reason. Mortals often don't take kindly to them once they find out the truth. The Hunters are an anti-Immortal hate group. Their goal is to kill Immortals, and they do. After a dear friend falls victim to the group, Duncan and Hugh become targets as well. The Hunters may be no match for the Highlander, but they affect future story lines.
12. "The Darkness"
My favorite aspect of Highlander is that is has all the angst of immortality without the bloodsucking and bats from vampire stories. If you've ever spent an insomniac's night wondering how long is eternity, then maybe you also thought that living forever might really suck. Heck, Queen wrote a song about that. It's called "Who Wants to Live Forever?" and pops up in Highlander every now and again.
Everything changes with "The Darkness."
Unless they lose their heads in battle, the Immortals will see everyone close to them die. They will witness history repeat itself in brutal fashion. They will spend centuries, even millennia, watching people age and countries change and yet they will always remain physically the same. From the beginning, this is the major theme of the show. You see it in the way some Immortals treat mortals. They may be detached or act as if people are disposable. You see it in the grief-stricken flashbacks from Duncan's 400+ years of life. The reality of Duncan's world often plays out in stories of a distant past or what-if conversations between characters. It doesn't hit close to home until "The Darkness."
This episode appears early in the second season and it changes the path of the show. The first season revolves around Duncan and Tessa as a passionate couple who work together to help the people around them, all the while knowing that Duncan might live forever and Tessa won't. Richie, at this point, is a young guy with a troubled past who is trying to make a better life for himself, with the couple's help. That changes in this episode.
11. "Eye for an Eye"
[There are spoilers in here.]
Duncan teaches Richie how to deal with immortality.
Duncan has been Immortal for centuries. Richie, though, has only been an Immortal since the end of the last episode, when he was shot and didn't quite die. "You better start learning the Game and I mean now," says Duncan. Richie not only has to learn how to fight for his everlasting life, but must learn to respect the lives of others.
Duncan and a chili dog-wielding Richie walk into an assassination attempt. They're pretty good at fighting off gun-toting villains with their hands, but, in the midst of a struggle with a firearm, Richie kills the husband of a notorious terrorist who also happens to be an Immortal and Duncan's former flame.
An "Eye for an Eye" is a product of its time, where the point of reference for terrorist characters is the IRA. It also poses a question that has persisted for some Immortals through centuries of societal changes. How do you save yourself when part of your survival is based on killing others?
Immortals are old. Methos is ancient. Literally. He's around 5,000 years old. He has seen the world change in ways that only unfold in history books. Over the millennia, he's picked up a significant amount of knowledge and power. Hence, Methos is a wanted Immortal.
Kalas is out for revenge on Duncan and he wants Methos' power to do it.
There's a character called Kalas, who, despite being pretty damn old, isn't on the same level as Methos. Kalas is one of the major villains for a while. He has it out for Duncan, primarily for an incident that happened decades earlier. Let's just say that, in one of his not-so-nice moments, Duncan effectively ended Kalas' career as an opera singer. Granted, the two were in the midst of battle. Still, it was kind of brutal.
Back to Methos. Kalas wants his head too. Methos has been living underground, going by the all-too-perfect alias Adam and working with the Watchers. That's a group of mortals who "observe" Immortals, but don't get involved in their lives. It's a really good strategy for an Immortal who doesn't feel like getting beheaded. Of course, it only takes so long before the cover is exposed.
Methos becomes a fairly significant character in the series and this is the introduction to him.
9. "Mortal Sins"
In Paris, Duncan runs into an old friend. The two fought together as part of the French Resistance. The friend is now an aging priest, Father Bernard. The only physical things that have changed about Duncan are his hair and clothes.
Duncan MacLeod when he was part of the French Resistance.
Father Bernard is convinced that the Nazi they once fought, Ernst Daimler, is still alive and, like Duncan, still the same age. If you thought that an Immortal Nazi might change his ways after the war, you're wrong. This fool has only managed to update his white power assholery for the 1990s. Even then, at least one hero of the story deals with the guilt of the brutal actions taken against Daimler.
"Mortal Sins" is an episode heavy on flashbacks. The scenes taking us back to World War II are stunning. It's also a compelling story about the choices people need to make for survival and the ramification of those choices.
8. "Finale" (Pts. 1 & 2)
Throughout the early seasons, a lot of new characters and elements enter Highlander that really improve the quality the show. There are the Watchers. There's Amanda, an Immortal who has had an on-again/off-again relationship with Duncan for centuries. There are more Immortals, some of whom are extremely powerful, who don't simply die or disappear at the end of an episode. All of these things come together in the grand, two-part finale of the third season.
Kalas is back, but he's not the only one in for a Quickening.
Amanda breaks Kalas out of jail with the intent of killing him. That doesn't happen quite as planned. Now, Kalas is on the loose. What's worse, though, is that someone is about to let the whole world in on the identity of the Immortals. There's a lot going on in this two-part episode that affects both the Immortals and the Watchers. It also features some of the most mind-blowing Quickening scenes in the whole series, one of which was mentioned in a previous Topless Robot list. These are Quickenings with fireworks and power outages and Immortals caught between ecstasy and pain. It's serious stuff.