COMMENTARY: DA tells us that this is one of his top three favorite episodes. He loved the line in the script after Duncan tells Hideo Koto he’s immortal and he can fake his death, and Hideo won’t have to commit suicide. Hideo says, “You cannot save honor with a lie.” That lesson had a profound effect on Duncan’s character. It taught him the difference between pride and honor and raised the value of honor.
Adrian Paul then comments that MacLeod is the sum of his experiences, and that Samurai was important because it showed where he came from and what taught him along the way, and the moment with Hideo Koto was one of the deciding moments in MacLeod’s life. AP also observes that DM had led a relatively sheltered life (read: he was a barbarian), and that for him, this was an entirely different culture and from DM’s perspective it was the Japanese who were barbarians, but that you could see MacLeod develop and change over time.
Abramowitz commeSnts that Adrian played a fish out of water in the episode, a young hero coming of age, so he had good material to work with and played it “very, very well” and reiterates how much he liked the episode. He says it was also great because it showed how Duncan got his katana - not from defeating anyone, but by helping someone commit sepuku.
Robert Ito was the hero of the episode, and that one of AP’s great strengths was that, when playing against a really great actor, AP got better, and that the flashbacks were all wonderful. DA also comments that, while the acting in the present was also terrific, those scenes were given relatively short shrift (in comparison).
F. Braun McAsh then comments that he wanted to have Duncan be at real risk in the climactic sword fight, and introduced the move of catching the blade between the palms. He says the object is to clap the inside heel of the hand against the spine of the blade (rather than have it in your palm, which would not be good for your hands) above the cutting edge. He worked on the technique long enough to convince himself it was physically possible, and then introduced it into the choreography of the fight.
The production designer talks about the production design and location (Britania Beach, a remote spot outside Vancouver). They supplemented the rugged terrain with bits and pieces of scenery to represent the estate wall. He said in the building of Hideo’s house, there was one compromise that was questionable, but was done because of constraints of budget and space. The kitchen area, where we see the servants bring in the food and tea, would have been in a separate part of the house and the samurai would never have come into that space, and that Robert Ito had a few comments about that.
Gillian Horvath describes the scenes of Duncan and Hideo training as some of the “gems of the episode”, and tells us that Robert Ito was handicapped by the fact that he had two replacement hips and didn’t move very well. They show the sword training bits. (Note: I’m not sure why they showed the outtake since it showed nothing more than what we see in the episode, although a second moment shows Ito blowing a line, which cracks up AP.)
Then they show an outake of a scene with Maya, the Japanese princess, where Adrian is goofing around and breaks her up.
They also show the Quickening without any sound, just the water shooting up over the back of the rocks. It’s interesting to see those shots without the special sounds and other effects, just silence. Sometimes they look downright silly, but this one is rather poetic.
Note: Adrian Paul does voice-over commentary on this episode, the plot of which is very familiar and there is no real need to rehash it in any detail. I will merely serve as a reporter of the highlights of AP’s comments, where are made as he watches. The commentary may seem a little disjointed, but it sometimes reflects what he is watching, and sometimes reflects some observation or extraneous memory that has gotten triggered by what he sees.
At the end. I’ll add my own observations.
AP COMMENTARY: The idea for The Samurai was an outgrowth of a discussion AP had will Bill Panzer when, at the end of season two, he asked what Adrian wanted to see in season three. AP said he thought they should tell the story of where MacLeod got his sword. The writers had already developed an idea of doing a story about a Japanese princess, so they brought the two elements together.
As the teaser and early scenes are shown, AP comments that Tamlyn Tomita and Robert Ito were great, and how they taught him a lot. He also really liked the guy who played the villain, that he had a “great look.” AP also talks in some detail about the artistry of some of Dennis Barry’s specific shots and camera work.
The scene segues to the dojo, and AP says he really misses the “gym”, and that some of the weights were fake. The extras in those gym scenes had challenge to look like they were hitting bags and lifting weights, but to do it without making noise so they wouldn’t cover the dialogue.
The scene eventually moves into the flashback, and AP talks about filming the shot of Hideo finding MacLeod face down, dead, in the water. He reports that Dennis Barry had completed the scene but never yelled “cut,” leaving Adrian face down in freezing cold water (he was wearing a wet suit under his costume) until he finally raised up and asked if the scene was over. As he watches the scene AP says he always thought of MacLeod as a buffoon and a barbarian at this time in his life.
The training scene with Koto was fun to do, AP says, because it was “MacLeod at his rawest.” AP said he figured this was the place where MacLeod’s interest in martial arts began, and which ultimately incorporated not just the Japanese, but other methods.
Some of the flashback scenes were shot in a beautiful Japanese garden in Vancouver, and when Koto turns the sword that Duncan is wearing, it was an unscripted moment, but totally in character of a teacher constantly looking out for his student, and they liked looking for those extra elements.
“Ah, the bath scene!” AP grins. He said it was really funny because he was actually naked inside the bath, and the look on the Japanese woman’s face as she was trying to get Duncan out of the bath was priceless.
AP says he really enjoyed the humor in the episodes and that they changed the timing of a line from the script where he said, “It looks, like raw octopus,” and she replies immediately, “It is raw octopus,” to having her say the line after he takes the bite. He thought it was much funnier that way.
He speaks in general terms about the themes of the episode, about Duncan realizing he was a barbarian, and coming face-to-face with racism.
He talks about the act of sepuku, and that the responsibility of the “second” was very great because he had to cut the head off so that it fell forwards, otherwise it would bring shame on the deceased by seeing the look on the dying person’s face.
Adrian liked the final fight because the entire sequence was one shot, and the fight was about strategy, where there would be a flurry of blows and then wait to see what the other person would do. Then he points out a shot where Duncan has his hands below the water, saying that is a specific technique designed to mask which way you’re going to strike next. Using two katanas was every different than using conventional swords against a katana, and he says F. Braun’s idea of catching the sword then reversing was great, and made comments about the excellent camera angles and the beautiful scenery. He thought the Quickening in this episode was beautifully done, and that it had to be done at exactly the right time of the day or the tide would overtake the rocks and the effect of the water crashing over MacLeod would be lost. Everything was very carefully planned, from the lighting to the camera angles, to the water to the costuming to provide a really nice aesthetic effect.
The last shot, of Midori and MacLeod by Hideo Koto’s grave, was one shot, and Dennis Barry was great to work with because he liked doing shots like with a steady cam, giving the actors real room and ability to do their jobs.
MY COMMENTS: I think most everything has already been said about specifically about this episode that’s really relevant. It is extremely important canonically because it doesn’t just tell us about how Duncan got his katana, it tells us why, and what it represents to him. When we see him later struggle with issues of judgment and the relative value of human life, and whether he has the right or the duty to act when he sees something he believes is wrong, we know that he is dealing with those issues against a background of long-held belief that deception, however well intended, does not preserve honor, and that the value of honor is larger than the man who upholds it.
Duncan is still thinking like a mortal, in many ways. He doesn’t really take the long view that Methos does. He believes that in order to live a good life he must adhere to the concepts of trust and loyalty and honesty, and not doing so will stain his honor and lessen the value of his life. Methos appears to feel it is life itself that is the ultimate value, and that if he uses deceit and guile and even dishonor, if necessary, to insure his own survival (or that of people he cares about) that any ramifications of distrust or disgust or outrage at his behavior are acceptable, and relatively short-lived.
Who is right? Both? Neither?
Later, we do see Duncan begin to step away from his rather rigid notion of honor that we see up through Season Three. It began even before then, though, when he first encountered Darius, and ultimately decided that few causes were worth the price that war extracts. Then, he ultimately finds that he is capable of as much evil (in his view) as any of the great villains he had fought in his life, and that no facade of honorable behavior could successfully hide that fact, from himself or anyone else.
By the end of the series, I think MacLeod is philosophically somewhere between the heroic, honorable DMotCM that we see in Season Three, and the non-ethics that we see Methos espouse (but which are frequently belied by his actions). He believes in acting in the face of immediate threats to innocent mortals. But he also believes that people have to make their own choices and deal with their own demons, and that it is not up to him to make that choice for them.