The 5 Coolest and 5 Stupidest Highlander Quickenings


By Kevin J. Guhl

To those unfamiliar with Highlander, the special effects light show that occurs whenever one sword-wielding immortal chops off the head of another may look like a bombastic, electric-powered orgasm. To fans of the Highlander franchise, these displays also look like bombastic, electric-powered orgasms. But fans also recognize these dramatic, one-man (or woman) lightning storms as the Quickening – the transference of the power and knowledge of a beheaded immortal to the opponent who did the deed. A Quickening can be a mystical, exhilarating conclusion to the action in a Highlander movie or TV episode. But it can also de done so poorly as to launch viewers into fits of chortles when that was clearly not the intent. Here are the five most awesome Quickenings ever depicted in Highlander, and thankfully there were many great ones from which to choose. Also listed are the five worst Quickenings, all of which do a good job of conveying why Highlander fans are often just as embarrassed as enamored with their franchise. Special thanks to the members of the Highlander Community Forum for sharing their suggestions for this list.


5) “Line of Fire”

Okay, we’re sure the creators of Highlander were going for poignancy in this episode of Highlander: The Series. Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul) at one point lived with a Native American tribe and was in love with a woman name Little Deer, the widow of a friend. Sadly, Little Deer, her child and the rest of the tribe were massacred by the U.S. Cavalry. A century or so later, an immortal named Kern who had led that cavalry regiment shows up and Duncan wants revenge. The resulting battle walks a fine line between being appropriate and ridiculous, as Duncan goes “native” again, wiping his blood on his face like warpaint, speaking a tribal language, issuing Indian war whoops, and beheading Kern with a giant spear. The spectacle explodes into pure cheese with a Quickening that causes Duncan to levitate and receive a visit from giant, airborne ghosts of Little Deer and her son.

4) Highlander: Endgame

This Quickening is comparable to the average Quickening Duncan would receive after taking the head of the typical evil-immortal-of-the-week in the TV series. And that’s the main problem here. It wasn’t a run-of-the-mill immortal getting beheaded – it was Connor MacLeod, the main character from all the previous movies who also served as Duncan’s clansman, mentor, brother and friend. Yes, the clip montage and music depicting Connor’s life was moving, but the Quickening was pretty lame. The freakin’ Earth should have split in half when Connor got killed, but instead it just kind of sighed and went back to bed. Not to mention, Connor spent the whole movie moping around pathetically and wanting to die, as the villainous Kell had purposely eradicated many of the people he loved. Connor was always intense and lonely, but never this depressing, and his portrayal in this movie was a disgrace. And then he forced Duncan to behead him so one of them would be strong enough to take on Kell, who didn’t even seem tough enough to be the accountant of the Kurgan, the badass villain from the first film. While it’s true that actor Christopher Lambert wanted to pass the torch since he felt he had aged out of the role, letting him walk off into the movie sunset would have been the better choice. The only redeeming factor was that when Duncan finally faced Kell, Connor seemed to take over Duncan’s body to enjoy the win for himself.

3) “Leader of the Pack”

When you’re in charge of creating an episode of Highlander each week, there’s got to be some desire to mix things up a bit now and then. There are only so many ways you can have one guy cut off another guy’s head and unleash a lightning storm. So, it’s possible to see how there was a good idea at the basis of this Quickening that was ultimately failed by about a $20 budget. The end result was a Quickening that involved a very laughable and unconvincing floating house. On top of some of the other silliness in this episode, such as a prick immortal named Canus who just happened to control a pack of dogs to do his bidding, it’s understandable why this is considered one of the most notoriously stupid moments in Highlander history.

2) “See No Evil”

Duncan fighting an over-the-top Phantom of the Opera pastiche named Korolus in a black-and-white flashback wasn’t a terrible idea. But what the heck were they thinking when they shot the Quickening? I can only imagine that the director said something like this to Adrian Paul: “Okay, Adrian. Fly back onto the stage and flop around like a fish for a few seconds. Then try to get up and fall down comically on your face. Follow that by acting like you’re swimming, even though you’re on a dry stage, like you’re a background cast member in the Little Mermaid on Broadway or something. And for the big finale… hump the stage!” And Adrian, a first-class ham whenever he needed to be, was happy to comply.

1) “The Messenger”

Leave it to Duncan’s troublesome padawan Richie Ryan to give us the most brain-numbingly bad Quickening ever seen in the Highlander universe(s). The inspiration for this Quickening seems to have been no-budget music videos spotted on public access TV in the early 1990s. Standing in front of an obvious blue screen filled in with spinning landscapes, Richie throws his hands up in the air, shakes his hips, twists in place and makes facial expressions like he’s both intently singing N*SYNC tunes and having sex in his mind. As with many things Highlander, there was a kernel of a good idea here – that Richie sees the faces of all the immortals killed by the guy he just offed – but also like many things Highlander, it was shot to shit in the finished product. The makers of Highlander knew this was bad and even included it in a blooper reel set to surf music.



5) “Finale – Part 2”

This has to take the prize for the longest Quickening ever depicted in Highlander. It was fitting that this Quickening was impressive, since the villain whose head Duncan MacLeod removed to cause it, Kalas, was one of the major baddies of the series. Most villains in Highlander: The Series were introduced and killed within one episode, but Kalas had the benefit of thwarting Duncan over the course of several episodes in the show’s third season, making their final battle seem epic and cinematic. Their duel took place on the Eiffel Tower, which acted effectively as a giant lightning rod, amplifying the Quickening to last for several minutes and blowing up electric devices all over Paris. As an added bonus, it destroyed a computer that contained the identities of all the immortals and their Watchers, which Kalas had planned to release to the press. Not even Adrian Paul’s occasional goofy acting during Quickening scenes was much of an issue here.

4) “Epitaph for Tommy”

It had been established since the very first Quickening in the original Highlander movie that the mystical, electrical phenomenon could make mechanical devices spring to life. While the cars that came to life in that movie scene made for an awesome, spooky moment, the spectacle in this TV episode was an even more impressive example of the Quickening’s power. Duncan fought Galen (who was played by the always badass Roddy Piper, for extra points) in an amusement park that had closed for the night, and
the Quickening that erupted when Galen’s head was removed caused the merry-go-round, bumper cars, Ferris wheel and other rides to come to life in a long sequence that was both cool and unnerving.

3) “Sins of the Father

Hell hath no fury like a pissed off female immortal. In the last season of Highlander, several new immortal women were introduced in what amounted to a handful of test pilots for the next Highlander series, The Raven, which ultimately starred none of them and instead focused on Amanda, Duncan MacLeod’s on-again, off-again thieving girlfriend. One of the new valkyries introduced was even named Alen Raven, so you have to wonder if she was maybe the most likely original candidate for the spin-off. She was certainly given an impressive Quickening, which Duncan witnessed during a flashback to the days of well-dressed ladies and foppish men aboard galloping steeds. Immortal Gerard slew Alex’s mortal boyfriend, sending Alex into a rage for losing “the only man she had loved in a hundred years.” Duncan was, as usual, quick to pass judgment on Alex when she chased down and beheaded an unarmed Gerard, but it’s hard to blame her. In any case, the Quickening Alex received was one of the most powerful and visually stunning in the whole series. The water she was standing in boiled around her, explosions marched toward her and the lightning was off the charts. Actress Dara Tomanovich acted out the pain of the experience well, and her mostly see-through wet dress didn’t hurt, either.

2) “The Vampire”

Nicholas Ward was a delightfully evil immortal, and the Quickening that arose when Duncan killed him was among the best of the series. It wasn’t as huge or dramatic as some of the other Quickenings featured on the show (such as the really spectacular one in “Duende” that almost made this list), but the spooky atmosphere was perfect. It was a work of art, and all the elements of a Grade-A Quickening were present. There was the mist that arose at the beginning, the creepy hum and the lightning storm that built in intensity until it caused a series of fiery explosions. Unique to this scene, which took place at an ornate, closed horse track, was all the paper fliers that were disturbed by the Quickening and floated around like ghosts.

1) Highlander

There’s a reason that no other Quickening in the Highlander universe(s) has matched the sheer power and awesomeness of the one seen at the conclusion of the first film when Connor MacLeod beheaded his long-time nemesis the Kurgan. It’s because it was intended to be the FINAL Quickening, when all the power of the immortals that ever lived combined in Connor and granted him with the promised Prize that awaited the final immortal (Remember – “There can be only one.”). You may not realize that if you’ve only watched the successive movies and TV series, as they all pretended that this wasn’t actually the final battle in order to tell more stories. Heck, Connor was even killed off in Highlander: Endgame, despite winning the Prize in this movie and becoming mortal, albeit with the power to know what people all over the world were thinking and to help them understand each other in order to make the world a better place. While the Quickenings in the first movie hadn’t yet evolved into the showers of blue lightning they would become in later shows and movies, the amazing visual style of the final Quickening remains unique. After the building force in the room blew out all the windows and revealed the New York City skyline, Connor was flung up into the air by a swirling column of blue light and assaulted by horrific, demonic dragons that resembled the one tattooed on the Kurgan’s head. Connor yelled that he was part of everything and knew everything during that moment, and the assault of weird images and loud sounds rivals the opening of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark for an impressive release of spiritual power. Highlander may never again show anyone winning the Prize since it limits future story possibilities, but they don’t need to – this Quickening was perfection.