Highlander: “The Gathering”, Season 1 Episode 1

Sweet, shirtless love

Highlander is a really cool idea. Immortality, swords, beheadings, cool but vaguely defined lightning-fueled power boosts? What’s not to love? Yet for some reason, I never watched this show when it was on. Maybe I was just too busy with other shows. And video games. Maybe I was just too attached to the movie. In any case, I think this show is ripe for a revisit.

I’ll do my best not to compare this show to the movie. I think the comparisons will have to be there for the pilot, just by the nature of the episode, but I’m sure they’ll become less relevant as the show continues. I’ll just get this out of the way: Let’s all forget/retcon the end of the movie. There are still plenty of immortals! I’m totally fine with that. The other big issue linking this with the movie is the relationship between Duncan and Connor MacLeod. I think this was played pretty well for the most part – It wasn’t completely necessary to have a direct link to the movie, but seeing that Duncan was taught by Connor at some point and that they are related fills in a little bit of the universe. The downside is that I’m pretty sure we’re never going to see Christopher Lambert in this show again, so somehow we will have to go through a lot of flashbacks and other backstory without any more mention of Duncan’s clansman and mentor, which is a bit odd. Perhaps it will be revealed that he had another mentor, or perhaps they just won’t use stories that involve his mentorship. In any case, I’m sure there will be plenty of stories to be told, Lambert or no Lambert.

And so the show begins in Duncan MacLeod’s antique shop (?), where we see an attempted break-in interspersed with some steamy 90s sex. I get the feeling that steamy 90s sex is going to be a major theme of this show. As Duncan confronts the bumbling thief, some evil Immortal by the name of Slan bursts in through the window to challenge Duncan, and Connor appears from nowhere to join in the fight, chasing Slan off.

The episode proceeds from this point to revolve around 3 themes: the threat from Slan, Duncan’s history, and the relationship between Duncan and Tessa. The Slan plot largely just serves to facilitate the other themes, as well as attempt to provide some dramatic tension. Slan is a pretty bland villain, aside from having an interesting mask, and his Snidely Whiplash-style kidnapping effort just didn’t play very well. He spends most of the episode toying around and vanishing before a fight happens. It was pretty obvious that he just needed to stick around so they could keep him around until the end, and the show never comes up with a strong explanation for it.

I’m much more interested in the personal stories, and the theme of an Immortal going through the heartbreak of lovers dying is one that can yield a lot of good moments. I’d like to see more of Tessa’s personality in the future – she was used largely as a plot device to explore Duncan’s motivations in this episode – but she showed some interesting character notes, and I think she has a lot of potential to be an interesting character in her own right.

After several little encounters with Slan, interspersed with some flashbacks to Duncan’s past lost loves, Slan finally invites Duncan to fight him on a bridge, and Connor rushes out to take care of the job, followed by Duncan. We get a pretty good fight scene, and it’s fairly obvious that Connor is the better swordsman, but Slan uses some trickery to dump him into the river so that we can see the actual protagonist of the show take care of business. Duncan, Tessa, and Connor have a final moment of reflection in Duncan’s favorite holy spot, and Connor leaves, ending the episode.

Overall I thought this was a pretty solid pilot. One thing I love about the flashback structure was that exposition was at a minimum. This is especially impressive for a show whose very premise promises literally centuries of backstory, as well as a number of important rules for how immortality works. I would like to see the writers give characters more motivation in the future, however. Slan’s constant backing out of fights, as well as Connor’s sudden appearance and just as sudden disappearance all seemed to happen solely to move the plot ahead, and for no other discernible reason. As a fan of the movies, I was surprised to find that Connor came off as kind of an unlikable jerk, whereas Duncan comes off as thoughtful and compassionate. I suppose this is a good sign, since we’ll be spending all our time with Duncan for the foreseeable future. I’m excited to see what comes next!

Other thoughts:

  • Queen! I have to admit, this is one of my favorite bands of all time. Sometimes things that come off as cheesy to others is just earnestly epic to me. I used to be able to sing the entirety of “Princes of the Universe,” guitar part and all, in high school. I plan to revive this ability in the near future.
  • Tessa gets captured, tied up, and nearly killed at home by Slan. The next day, Duncan goes right back out to have fun play fighting with Connor while Tessa stays at home alone. This struck me as odd.
  • I caught myself giggling at the eyeball fade. I wonder if that will be a reoccurring scene transition.
  • I’m interested to find out more about the rules of The Game. I remember the rule against battling on holy grounds from the movie, but I don’t recall any others. Slan mentions in this episode that all fights have to be one on one. I’m also interested to learn whether these are rules they physically cannot break, or just taboos in Immortal society.
  • That kid was pretty damn annoying, and then at the end of the episode we find out he’s going to be a main character apparently. That’s disappointing. Here’s hoping he’s less annoying in the future!
  • It looks like the production order and the order in which episodes aired is pretty different. For now I’m going with Netflix’s order, but I’m willing to revisit that in the future.

Well, that’s it for the pilot! Join me later for Episode 2: “Family Tree.”

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4 thoughts on “Highlander: “The Gathering”, Season 1 Episode 1

  1. This makes me want to watch the show again. I remember so little about it that it might be like watching it for the first time. I like the picture you used too. Great writeup. Thanks.

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