Highlander: The Series got off to a rocky start with Season 1, courtesy of some awkwardly written scripts and the show struggling to find its voice. It did, however, effectively re-introduce us to the Highlander mythos and set up our main characters. At the time of the first season, Duncan MacLeod is an antique dealer (like Connor in the films) living with Tessa. One night, MacLeod and Tessa receive a whole kitchen sink of drop-in guests - Richie Ryan, a smart-mouth street kid and thief looking to swipe some antiques for cash; Slan Quince (Richard Moll), a metal-masked Kurgan wannabe; and Connor MacLeod, who is hunting Slan. Tessa served as audience surrogate in this one, learning the facts about Immortals and their eternal battle. (Tessa knew that MacLeod was Immortal and couldn't have kids, but he hadn't told her about the sword fighting and the head-chopping-offing. Whoops.) MacLeod and Tessa take Richie in, giving him a job at their antique store, where he serves as an obnoxious sidekick character, while MacLeod finds himself drawn back into the Game after trying to get away from it for a while. As the season progressed, things started to improve a bit, especially once David Abramowitz came on board as creative consultant in mid-season.
"The Gathering" - The first episode has a tough job to do, having to not only set everything up for newbies to the Highlander mythos, but also for fans of the original film to let them know what they're in for and set up the new hero. There are some dialogue and pacing problems, and the acting is uneven, but you had to start somewhere. Connor and Duncan sparring to Queen's "Princes of the Universe" is a nice touch, and I really enjoyed Richard Moll's Kurgan impression as the evil Slan Quince (even if he's obviously not much of a swordsman).
"Free Fall" - Felicia Martins (Joan Jett of The Runaways) apparently tried to kill herself, but woke up Immortal. Richie, who has the hots for her, persuades MacLeod to help her out, and he proceeds to teach her the ways of the Immortals, even giving her a sword. However, Felicia's no rookie - she's been an Immortal for a long time, taking away everything her Immortal targets have to live for before taking their heads. MacLeod and Felicia dueling on a beach to Queen's "Don't Lose Your Head" is friggin' awesome. Speaking of music, the Runaways' hit song "Cherry Bomb," which you may recognize from the lock-n-load scene from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), can be heard early on in the scene leading up to Felicia's "suicide."
"For Tomorrow We Die" - Recurring Immortal villain Xavier St. Cloud (Roland Gift) debuts in this episode. St. Cloud plays at being a suave and sophisticated thief, but he's a true scumbag, using poison gas to kill innocent people during robberies (which he can survive thanks to his Immortality). He taunts Darius by confessing his crimes to him, setting up an interesting dilemma - according to the rules of Catholic confession, this means Darius can't tell the police or MacLeod about St. Cloud. Our hero figures it out anyway, fortunately, and drives off St. Cloud - minus a hand. Xavier St. Cloud would be the first recurring villain on the show, and even after he was killed off for good later on, he kept appearing in flashbacks.
"The Hunters" - This was the episode that introduced the Watchers, and with them one of MacLeod's best and worst enemies - James Horton (Peter Hudson). Horton leads a band of Watchers on a crusade to kill all Immortals, believing them to be abominations and fearing the domination of humanity once the Prize is obtained. Another recurring character introduced in this episode was fan favorite Hugh Fitzcairn, played by Roger Daltrey of The Who. Sadly, this was also the last episode to feature Darius, as Werner Stocker passed away from a brain tumor. (It also features one of Adrian Paul's more infamous acting moments.)
With Season 2, Highlander really started picking up steam, with improved scripts and better character development. At the beginning of this season, we're introduced to the true Watcher organization, mortal men and women who observe and record the lives of the Immortals but sworn to never interfere in the Game. We also meet Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes), Duncan's Watcher, and an uneasy friendship develops between the two over time. Dawson was originally meant to be a scholarly academic type character to be played by Michael York, similar in personality to Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this ended up changing over time. The season was also dominated mostly by Duncan's recurring conflict with renegade Watchers, whose leader, James Horton, is Dawson's brother-in-law. Viewers also said goodbye to Tessa, who died at the hands of a mugger trying to score some drug money. Her killer also shot Richie, who was revealed to be an Immortal himself - an idea the writers had been toying with since the character's introduction back in "The Gathering." In real life, Alexandra Vandernoot had wanted to leave the show (I've heard different reasons for why), and ended up pulling a Matthew Crawley. However, she reappeared in later episodes as a guest star, including both the season and series finales.
"The Watchers" - Continuing directly from where we left off in Season 1, MacLeod and Richie are on the trail of the men that murdered Darius. During his hunt, MacLeod meets Joe Dawson, who tells him about the true Watchers - and that Dawson is MacLeod's personal Watcher. There's lots of action, great suspense, and the Watcher organization is a great addition to the Highlander mythos. Plus, the showdown with the evil Horton is a great one (despite some clunky delivery from Jim Byrnes in a few of his more formal moments).
"Eye for an Eye" - aka Highlander meets Patriot Games. Following immediately after "The Darkness," MacLeod is reeling from losing Tessa and struggling with the best way to train Richie in the ways of the Immortals. Richie, meanwhile, thwarts a terrorist attack that gets one of the bad guys killed. Unfortunately for Richie, the terrorist's widow, Annie Devlin (Sheena Easton) is a centuries-old Immortal who now wants Richie's head. The scenes of MacLeod training Richie are awesome, especially since some of them are set to Queen's "Princes of the Universe."
"Run For Your Life" - Since becoming Immortal in the 1850s, former slave Carl Robinson (Bruce A. Young) has seen more than his share of racism. Now he's being hunted by a racist cop - who's actually one of Horton's renegade Watchers. MacLeod can help him deal with the Watcher, but helping Robinson with his (understandable) trust issues is a lot harder. This is one of the better of the episodes from the ones that didn't feature Immortal villains, and Young was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Guest Appearance for this episode. (At least I think it was this one. It might have also been his return appearance, "Manhunt," in Season 5.)
"Unholy Alliance, Part I and II" - Two of MacLeod's old enemies, James Horton and Xavier St. Cloud, have joined forces to kill Immortals and take their revenge on the Highlander. Not only that, but they're employing armed mercenaries to make it easier for St. Cloud to hunt heads. Throw in feisty CID officer Renee Delaney (Stacey Travis) and Charlie almost getting killed, and you have an action-packed two-parter worthy of being a movie. (In fact, it was one of three two-parters released on VHS as movies.) Both villains are in top form, and there's some great interplay between Dawson and MacLeod.
This is, without a doubt, my favorite season of the series, in no small part because this was the season when I started watching the show (starting with the season finale, but it still counts) and kept watching. Like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 3 of Highlander is when this show really began to shine. The season premiere gives us the origin of Duncan's signature katana - a gift from a mortal samurai, Hideo Koto (Robert Ito) in exchange for MacLeod helping him commit seppuku and watching over his family. Joe Dawson went from being a formal, somewhat scholarly figure to owning his own bar, complete with live music. (Jim Byrnes is also a professional blues singer and musician, and his songs were frequently used in the show as early as Season 2.) Last but not least, we were introduced to Methos (Peter Wingfield), one of Highlander fandom's favorite characters on account of his dry sardonic wit, which really got amped up in later seasons, and his belief in self-preservation above all else. The oldest living Immortal, Methos adopted an unassuming, laid-back personality so that nobody would suspect who he was. He even infiltrated the Watchers as a means of avoiding other Immortals and making sure nobody ever found out about him.
"The Samurai" - Season 3 opens with a bang as we learn the origins of Duncan MacLeod's signature katana, a gift from mortal samurai Hideo Koto (Robert Ito). In exchange for the sword, MacLeod helped Koto commit seppuku and vowed to always protect the Koto family. In present times, Midori Koto, on the run from her Immortal husband Michael Kent (Stephen McHattie), turns to MacLeod for help. This is the Highlander series bringing its A-game all the way, especially thanks to Ito's awesome performance as Koto.
"The Cross of St. Antoine" - Joe Dawson's got himself a new ladyfriend, but after witnessing her murder, he turns to MacLeod for help. The killer turns out to be Immortal museum curator Armand Thorne (Brion James), who MacLeod knew centuries ago as uncouth thug John Durgan. Joe fans will love this episode (especially his heartbroken performance of "Love is Just a Gamble"), and Elizabeth Gracen provides lots of comic relief when MacLeod asks her to help break into Thorne's museum.
"The Lamb" - MacLeod and Richie take in Kenny (Myles Ferguson), a ten year old boy who's just become Immortal and is being hunted by a stranger - or so he says. It turns out Kenny's 800 years old, and his SOP is pretending to be a helpless kid, getting Immortals to take him in, and beheading them when they let their guard down. Kenny is one of the more creative and popular villains on the show, and he returned for another bout with MacLeod in Season 4. (Sadly, Myles Ferguson was killed in a car accident in 2000 - he was only 19.)
"Blind Faith" - An old nemesis of MacLeod's, the vicious Kage (Richard Lynch), has supposedly renounced his evil ways and turned preacher under the name John Kirin. After his past encounters with Kage, MacLeod struggles to believe that Kage has really turned over a new leaf, and whether doing good now absolves him from everything he's done in the past. This episode tackles the question of whether someone truly evil deserves a shot at redemption head on without sugar-coating anything and without trying to force an answer. I've had this episode in mind while writing at least one of my in-progress writing projects. (According to the special features, James Horton was Kage's Watcher - and the Kurgan's. No wonder he went renegade.)
"Reasonable Doubt" - Maurice's niece Simone (Geraldine Cotte) has been running around with a bad crowd - specifically murderous Immortal crook Lucas Kagan (Paudge Behan). Kagan's a whiny little brat who claims nothing is ever his fault, but that won't save him from MacLeod's katana. It's great to see Maurice, a joke character I always found annoying, get some solid depth and the chance to show his acting chops, and the episode has a surprisingly dark resolution.