COMMENTARY: Gillian talks about filming part of the episode in Scotland, mostly exterior shots. The shots didn't match the Vancouver footage because when they filmed in Scotland it was March, and everything was brown, but when they filmed in Canada, it was the height of summer, when everything was lush and green, and bugs were everywhere that drove the actors crazy.
Adrian Paul, who directed the episode, talks about filming the title sequences, which he called a "guerilla shoot", where they had a very small unit, with a helicopter scheduled for the second day they got there. He told the following story on himself about that first day: When they got there, they discovered that all the lenses they needed had not been provided. Adrian ended up calling a friend of his in London to get the stuff, get on a train from London and meet them on location the following day. In the meantime, they decided they could do some stock shots where the camera didn't have to move. They got to the location, the weather started getting misty, and then realized someone had left the costumes back in the hotel, which was a ferry ride away. They sent someone back to go and get them while they set up the first shot. By the time the costumes arrived, it had started to drizzle, but they had to do a shot with MacLeod on horseback, riding across the moors.
The helicopter was supposed to parallel him and then cut in front of the horse. Adrian asked if the horse was okay around helicopters, and the Scottish horse handler gave him a vague, unreassuring answer. In order to get to the only non-marsh area large enough for the shot, they had to clear a path of sheep, and lead the horse across a stream. They had no walkie-talkies, so when the helicopter was ready, they would flash their lights three times. So Adrian is on the horse, the lights flash, and off he goes. The helicopter goes past, all while Adrian is worrying that the horse is going to freak on him, but it goes okay, and the guys in the helicopter want to do it again. So they do it a second time, and this time the horse just went crazy as the helicopter approached and dashed off to the left. By the time Adrian managed to rein him in he had crossed the river at a much deeper place than where they had originally led him across, so he got wet from the knees down.
They got back to base camp, and Adrian was told they got water in the lens and they would have to do it again. By the time that shot was done, it was raining quite hard, so in order not to get soaked, Adrian carried an umbrella. "So I'm riding this horse in period costume, long hair, holding an umbrella, in the highlands of Scotland." The wind comes up, the umbrella started to flutter and Adrian didn't like the way the horse was reacting, so he reached up to close the umbrella. As he did, the wind took it, the horse bolted, and Adrian slides off the back of the horse and down a hill, in the mud, on his back. The horse headed back to its stable and Adrian trods back to base camp, covered in mud, only to find out that, once again, they had gotten water in the camera and they weren't sure they got the shot. "That was the first day of shooting of my directorial debut, and the second day didn't go too much better either, but that's a longer story."
Jim Byrnes talked about how at the end of Season Three, after they wrapped "Finale", he talked Ken Gord into "dragging me along," so they shot some outdoor scenes. The pressure was off for Jim, since he just kind of "walked down a couple of paths to say a couple of things and talk with Adrian, and enjoy the Scottish hospitality and the real ale." He grins and says that he enjoyed a lot of the ale.
Ken Gord says that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, including some things they didn't realize could go wrong. He mentions their local driver, whom they nicknamed "Wrong Turn Angus", the non-stop rain, and the fur cape that Adrian wears when he is riding in the flashbacks. That cape was rented from a London agency. It weighed about five pounds, but after four days of rain, "the thing weighed probably somewhere in the three digits." They had no time to dry it out before sending it back, and a year later Ken ended up speaking to someone at the rental agency, who said it was the most disgusting return they'd ever had.
Ken Gord says he thinks Adrian was one of their best directors. He did ask for more money, but they were used to that, and they probably gave him a little more (David A. mentions a figure of around $60 or $70k). He was well organized and did his homework. Totally professional. He took the opportunity and did a great job.
Jim B. mentions that Scotland in March can be pretty cold, and he was in several layers of clothes for those exterior shots. Then when they came back to Canada and had to do the closeups for those scenes in middle of summer, and he had to wear the same heavy outer wear. The bugs were unbelievable. In between takes they had to wear beekeepers hats to keep the bugs away.
F. Braun says there were four sword fights in the episode, the one in the village, but the other three were done with Viking weapons. He thought it was a good opportunity to show Viking weapons used the right way, instead of how they are usually seen. For instance, we see Kanwulf wearing his shield on his back and wielding his axe with both hands. He parries blows by turning his back. [SIDEBAR: It's strange, the things you learn as a Highlander fan. I was watching "Troy" last week and noted that Achilles uses the shield on his back in a similar fashion. Kewl.] In the flashback fight in the woods, where Duncan kills Kanwulf, Kanwulf takes the top off a small tree stump. They had pre-cut the stump, Adrian backed up over it, letting it pass between his legs, and Kanwulf chops off the top. They did the seen, and only when they were finished did F. Braun realize that it wasn't the stump they had cut through, and the actor had chopped through a small stump with his aluminum blade.
Roger Bellon says it was pretty rare to get to really discuss what a director wants to do, but he and Adrian got to talk extensively, and Adrian had some specific ideas on what he wanted to do, which helped Bellon in defining the style of the show. It was also the only time in Highlander you will hear an Eolian pipe and flutes, which is a true Celtic sound. He felt the sound was essential to establishing the time the place and the emotion. "Bonny Portmore" became the signature theme of Highlander, and this episode is the first time you hear it. He said he gets hundreds of emails about it and thinks the choice of the song came from Bill Panzer. He was given some lyrics and a piece of sheet music found in a University of California archive. He found a singer that could sing with an angelic Celtic voice, so the piece provided a romantic and dramatic aspect to the episode.
Ken Gord tells us that the possibilities for the Quickening are limited by the location, which in this case was in the middle of the forest. They went for simplicity, so the use of the large moon was intended to embellish what was not a particularly spectacular Quickening. "I don't think the moon was as bad as everybody else thinks," he says a little defensively, then added, "It was a really, really big moon, probably too big." Afterward, if people wanted to blame something on post-production they would say "remember the moon?"
David A. says the only thing that disappointed him about the episode was the casting of Kanwulf, the bad guy. He didn't "pop with a kind of luminescent presence on screen." He was just "kinda there." All the rest of the episode was great, the flashback was incredible, we got to see Duncan's early years, who he was and why he was who he was. He says he still considers it a wonderful episode, but it is kind of like winning the lottery, only to learn that 150 other people won it at the same time, so while it was nice, it was less than what you thought you were going to get. "But it was still nice to win."
OUTTAKES: Gillian talks about filming the transitions, and in one particular transition, we see the bracelet falling. In a series of shots, we see Adrian dropping the bracelet several times, Adrian picking up the bracelet, and the post-production crew re-dropping the bracelet. The final edit has pieces of all those shots.
It had already been established that Duncan MacLeod didn't know how to read and write at the time of the flashbacks in the episode. There is a deleted scene showing a sobbing Duncan carving Debra Campbell's name on her gravestone while referring to a piece of paper where the letters are written. (It's obvious why they didn't use the scene. Looked really dumb.)
There is a shot of them filming the raven that flies around in the episode from time to time.
There were so many bugs during the filming of the Vancouver scenes that the crew wore beekeeper's hats. The cast didn't have that luxury, and we see a scene between Joe and Duncan, with Jim and Adrian desperately trying not to swat at the bugs that are crawling all over them.
The final fight between Kanwulf and Duncan is shown, and we see Adrian simultaneously directing, fighting, and instructing the actor who is playing Kanwulf, while the ring of fire is flaming noisily around them.
Duncan comes across a Celtic bracelet that he had given to his long-lost love, Debra Campbell, who died before he became Immortal. She had been betrothed to Robert MacLeod, Duncan's cousin, and when the elders wouldn't allow her and Duncan to marry each other, Duncan gave her the bracelet as a remembrance. Robert took it badly, hit him and called him a coward. Duncan's father, Ian, demanded that Duncan finish the fight with his kinsman rather than let the insult stand. Duncan inadvertently kills Robert, and when he tries to leave the village out of guilt and sorrow, Debra threatens to throw herself off a cliff. Duncan recants and says he'll stay, but Debra gets too close to the edge, the earth collapses under her feet, and she falls to her death.
In the present, Duncan returns to Glenfinnan, the village of his birth, to replace the bracelet which had been stolen from Debra's grave. We learn that someone has been digging up the graves, stealing artifacts and killing the locals using the ancient Viking blood-eagle evisceration method. Turns out that long ago, after Duncan had died his first death and been banished by his father, a Viking raider had descended on the village. Duncan returned, but his father had been killed. He took up his father's sword and went after the Viking, called Kanwulf. That act established a legend, that Duncan MacLeod came back from the grave and defeated Kanwulf the Viking, and saved the village. Now the legend is reborn, as the killings remind everyone of the ancient Viking raider. Rumors fly that Kanwulf has returned, and Rachael MacLeod, who runs the local inn, is suspicious of the stranger who rides the moors in search of an old grave site. She accuses Duncan of the local murders, and the police confiscate his katana to test it for blood.
It turns out, however, that Kanwulf is back, indeed. He is an Immortal, currently passing as the local priest, and is searching for the axe that Duncan originally took from them in their first battle, which took place before Duncan knew what he was, or that he couldn't kill Kanwulf permanently unless he took his head.
Duncan takes his father's claymore, hanging in display in the pub, and meets Kanwulf, giving him back his axe, which he had buried in his father's grave. They fight, Duncan wins, and Rachael MacLeod speculates that perhaps the legend is true.
MY COMMENTS: I have significantly abbreviated and summarized this episode, as it is easily one of the top ten most watched in the six year run of HL:TS. It is the flashbacks that make this episode special, and what they show, and what we learn about Duncan's formative years is some of the most interesting information there is to know about Duncan MacLeod. We meet his parents and learn he had a strong-willed, stubborn, prideful father who, until he banished Duncan in horror at the thought that he had harbored a demon all those years, loved his son deeply and regarded him as his heir to the leadership of the village. Mary MacLeod loved Duncan without reservation or regard for whether he was born of her body, and it is her urging to never forget that he is "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod" that is the reason behind Duncan's determination to keep his name through the centuries, no matter what.
Ian MacLeod took offense quickly, and was equally quick to resort to a sword to solve a dispute. Duncan wanted to defy his father's instructions to fight his own cousin, Robert, but bowed to his authority, as a dutiful son. He was even prepared to declare Robert the winner of the fight when he drew first blood, but his cousin kept attacking. Duty appeared to govern much of Duncan's early life, in fact, since he reluctantly accepted the elders' judgment that he and Debra could not marry.
It always seemed to me that the trauma of what happened at his first death was one from which Duncan never fully recovered. He went from a lifetime of living according to the rules and traditions of an extended clan, of having his role in life defined from birth as that of caretaker and protector of them all, to having it all ripped away without explanation or understanding, and declared by his beloved, trusted father and ultimate authority figure as some non-person, and worse, a vile and evil thing that didn't deserve to live.
I think it is also important to later events to know that Duncan's entire village was decimated, and his father killed while he was gone. Even though they had banished him, you've got to know that he still felt it was his duty to protect them, and in that, he failed. He tells Joe, bitterly, "I found Kanwulf's men. A bunch of thieving butchers celebrating the death of my village." He wanted to slaughter them all, but they ran away at the sight of a ghost, refusing to fight him or give him any sense that he had truly fulfilled any part of his duty as protector of the village.
One plothole that bothered me was exactly what Kanwulf had been doing for the past 350 years. He says he found some Celtic pin that somehow led him back to Glenfinnan to look for his precious axe, but he would have to be a moron not to figure out that Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod took it, and pretty darn stupid not to have some inkling of where he might have put it. He was looking in grave sites. Why didn't he bother looking in the MacLeod grave sites from the right time period? But they glossed over that minor plot detail.
I have to agree with David Abramowitz (as I do on most things Highlander-related). This was an episode that reached for the brass ring and almost got there. The flashback sequences are terrific, and I know there are some who don't care for Rachael MacLeod, but I liked her, and I liked the idea of having an ancestor of Duncan's adoptive family as part of the plot. The actor who played Kanwulf was okay, just not particularly compelling, and conveyed nothing of the sense of power of an ancient Immortal who truly *believed* in ancient magic. If they had been able to take that performance to the next level, the brass ring would have been theirs, and we would have reaped the enjoyment of it.
As it is, I love the look of this episode, its music, and it greatly enriches what we know of Duncan MacLeod and why he is the way he is.