COMMENTARY: David Tynan says the story was a collaborative effort sparked among the writers, and David doesn’t remember how it exactly happened, but suddenly they found themselves talking about MacLeod having a deeper purpose to his life than just being an Immortal. This episode gave them a chance to go into MacLeod’s childhood and show that maybe he was something more than just a “really great Immortal.” He talks about the casting of Tracy Scoggins as Cassandra and the actor who played Young Duncan, who was actually believable as a thirteen-year-old Duncan MacLeod finding himself in the position of meeting the Witch of Donan Woods and seeing her naked.
Adrian Paul says his preference was to keep the show focused on relationships and events, and this episode delved further into fantasy than he was comfortable with. He liked the idea of Duncan MacLeod being the One (and AP makes a joking aside about how he had been telling people that for years), but he thinks the series could have lived without the more magic-related fantasy elements, although it was great to see Duncan as a child.
Rex Raglan, the new production designer, says the first day of shooting was the day of the magic disappearing witches’ hut. He was on the way to the set with the production coordinator and they missed the turn on the highway and ended up running through the woods for 15 minutes to get to the set by call time. They got there just as the director (Dennis Berry) was “just about to flip out” since he didn’t know how the hut was supposed to disappear. But they got there in time and it worked well, but it was a hairy beginning for him.
Dennis Berry says he tried to find a fairy tale kind of style, and wanted the forest to look like a false forest, not a real one, but it was hard to mix those fairy tale scenes with the more naturalistic ones in the present. He tries to tell a story through camera rather than through dialogue, but it is nice to have someone like David Abramowitz who helps balance him out, so they also tell the story through great dialogue. Abramowitz, who was a staunch ethicist, had a close relationship with Bill Panzer, who was also a very ethical man, and the two of them reflected that in bringing stories about moral standards and ethical standards, a sense of culture and memory of the world that is more than is what is usually brought to American television.
OUTTAKES: Gillian says the original confrontation between Kantos and Mary MacLeod was written to take place in their hut, and she was supposed to look at a cross on the wall to draw strength from her faith to resist his power. They ended up staging the scene outside, which was okay until the moment when Mary needed to turn to her cross. They show a take of that scene, and the cross she pulls out of the laundry basket is ludicrously large (about a foot high) and quite silly looking.
They show the filming of the Quickening, and Gillian notes that much of the elaborate Quickening actually occurs on set, all around Adrian Paul, including the symbol on the floor and all the explosions. The second half of the Q is Adrian Paul against a blue screen, looking appropriately nostalgic as he acts out viewing scenes from his past.
THE EPISODE: The prologue opens in New York City, at a private detective agency. A man comes in announcing that he is Roland Kantos, and he is looking for a client of the firm. The firm’s partner insists that client confidentiality prevents him revealing any information, but Kantos’ voice takes on an echoing quality as he describes Cassandra. Using the psychic power of his voice, Kantos forces the detective to tell him who Cassandra was looking for and where to find him, then coldly shoots the guy. His partner runs in, and Kantos uses the same power to make the man kill himself, making it look like a murder/suicide.
We see MacLeod walk into the darkened dojo, pausing for a moment at the wooden rack where Joe had tied him up during the Dark Quickening. He walks over to the heavy bag, kicking it a couple of times, then as he approaches the elevator, he feels another Immortal. He rides the elevator up, and raises the gate with his sword drawn, saying in a dry, bitter tone, “Honey, I’m home!” but when he doesn’t get an answer, first calls for Richie, then gets serious, announcing that he is DMotMC.
A beautiful woman steps out from the shadows. “I know,” she says. And it takes a moment but Duncan recognizes the woman, and his face softens. He says she hasn’t changed much. She gives him an appraising look and says, “But you have.”
Flashback to Scotland, 1606: As a 13-year-old Duncan and his cousin Robert look on, Ian MacLeod gathers the men of the village to organize a party to go to Donan Woods to hunt down a wolf who has been killing their sheep. Some of the men are nervous about going to the woods where there has been talk of a witch who is “old beyond your knowin’” with snakes for hair and glowing eyes. But Ian scoffs at the talk of witches. Duncan eagerly volunteers to go along, but Ian turns him down.
A rebellious Duncan urges Robert to hunt for the wolf by themselves (“Come on, Robert, where’s your spine? You and me, we’ll be heroes!”). The woods are misty and creepy, but Duncan finds wolf tracks as Robert talks nervously about the witch (Robert: “What if she turns me into a toad?” Duncan: “Who’d know the difference?”). Duncan sets a snare, but then the wolf shows up and the boys run as the wolf chases (and we see some of this from the point of view of the wolf). When it becomes clear the wolf is going to catch up to them Duncan stops, telling Robert to run back to the village, and Duncan picks up a stick to take a stand against the animal, finally saying, “Come on, get it over with!” The wolf attacks and Duncan falls.
He awakens in a well-kept hut and hears a woman’s voice humming. He goes outside, and there is a gorgeous woman swimming naked in a pond. She dresses, and Duncan asks if he is in heaven and she is an angel. “Not for a long time yet,” she answers. She is Cassandra, and she tells him she is the witch of Donan Woods. He tells her that it is said she is older than the clan, that she casts spells and is evil. She moves closer and asks seductively if she looks evil to him. He whispers that she is beautiful, and she strokes his face.
Back in the present, Cassandra says she had wondered what sort of man Duncan had become. Duncan smiles tightly, saying he was surprised she didn’t just check her crystal ball. She acknowledges that his “road has been hard,” but says she needs his help with Roland Kantos.
The scene moves to a cliff by the ocean. Duncan keeps staring at Cassandra, and acknowledges that the last time he saw her he was 13 years old and she had been a witch in the forest, and that he had tried to find her again but never did, convincing himself that she had been a dream. Cassandra tells Duncan that she always knew what Duncan would be, and that he would “fulfill the prophecy”. Duncan dismisses her mysticism, but Cassandra tells of “A Highland foundling, born on the Winter Solstice, who passes through darkness into light, and survives to challenge the voice of death.” Duncan is not convinced (“Really? Is this before or after I slay the dragon?”), but Cassandra says she’s waited centuries for the time to be right, and that Roland is part of the prophecy. Then they feel an Immortal and Kantos appears at the top of the cliff.
Cassandra urges him to leave, but Duncan dismisses her concerns and goes to meet Kantos. He seems arrogantly blasť as he takes Kantos on with Cassandra telling him that he can’t win. (Duncan: “Your confidence is overwhelming.”) Kantos tells Duncan he’s been looking for him for a very long time.
Flashback: Kantos (with the same buzz haircut, but perhaps that was better than a bad wig) comes to Glenfinnan on the same day Duncan and Robert have gone missing. Robert shows up and hysterically tells them about them being chased by the wolf, and that Duncan is still in the woods. Kantos tells them he’s looking for his son, who was stolen from him and was probably left as a foundling. Ian denies that there are any foundlings in the village. The men leave to go search for Duncan but Kantos returns, using the compelling power of his voice on Mary to ask her about the foundling, but she is able to resist his power (“Hail Mary, Mother of God, the one you seek is not here!”).
In the meantime, Young Duncan has slept, telling Cassandra that he had dreamed he was grown and the leader of the clan, and reluctantly tells Cassandra that he had dreamed she was with him. When he is uncomfortable answering her question about what they were doing in his dream, she kisses him on the lips. A cock crows [some symbolism there, you think?], and he says it’s morning and he must go, but Cassandra insists that there is someone in the village who wants to harm him, that he cannot face him yet, but one day Duncan must, and he must kill him. She alludes to the legend of Connor MacLeod, who died and came back to life, saying some legends are true.
As Duncan leaves, Cassandra asks him why he wasn’t afraid when the wolf came at him, and he answers earnestly, “Because good must always triumph over evil. Did ye not know that?” Then he recognizes that Cassandra *was* the wolf. He leaves, and the hut disappears behind him as his father gathers him up into his arms in joy that he’s alive.
In the present, Duncan urges Kantos to walk away, but Kantos says that the signs for the prophesy are all in place. As they fight, Kantos uses the power of his voice on him, telling him he’s exhausted, his legs can barely move, and Duncan staggers. Cassandra delivers an ear-splitting scream, Kantos falls back, then swings at Duncan again, who falls over the cliff to the rocks below. Cassandra gathers him up and gets him to the car before Kantos can follow. Kantos wobbles and sits heavily on the ground, making it clear he is weakened by using his psychic powers.
Back at the loft, Duncan is still wincing from his injuries when he demands what Kantos was using against him. Cassandra says it is a power of suggestion that Kantos had learned from her thousands of years before. He had turned against her and grown stronger, and he was the object of the prophecy. If she had seen the future, Duncan bitterly asks, did she see the life he would lead, all the pain and the losses, and if so, then when why didn’t she warn him? She tells him she just sees fragments, and when he asks if she sees his death, she tells him she sees death, but she doesn’t know whose.
Roland shows up at the dojo, and even though Duncan wants to go fight him, Cassandra uses her Voice to stop him. Roland enters the now-empty loft and steals a photo of Duncan and Tessa (ripping off the Tessa half), then shows it to some local police and uses his Voice to order them to find Duncan.
At a nearby cemetery, Duncan is pissed off at her controlling him (“Look, I don’t like being controlled, not by you, not by him, not by anyone!”) But Cassandra tells him he can’t avoid his fate, reciting: “An Evil One will come to vanquish all before him. Only a Highland child born on the Winter solstice who has seen both darkness and light can stop him. A child and a man.”
She tells him she knows he’s seen “the darkest places in men’s souls” and survived, but asks if he is the man, then who is the child? Her touch takes him to that hut in Donan Woods, where Duncan encounters his younger self, who proudly tells Duncan that he is a chieftain’s son, and he will be a great warrior who will lead his clan to glory. The past Cassandra enters, older Duncan disappears and she asks young Duncan who he was talking to [thereby implying that Duncan actually did visit the past — weird].
Present day Duncan tells Cassandra he saw himself as a child. She says it’s the prophecy, that he is the man and his younger self is the child, but they are interrupted by the police, who try to take Duncan into custody. A chase ensues, ending with Duncan getting run down by a police car and delivered to Kantos, who locks him in some kind of warehouse full of wooden pallets and a screen of vertical pipes.
Kantos leaves in order to regain his strength after using his Voice on the policemen to make them forget what had happened. Duncan finds a candle and lights it, muttering that he’s sure that not everything in his life is already written. Then young Duncan appears on the other side of the screen of pipes and today’s Duncan tries to tell young Duncan about his future, but can’t bring himself to destroy young Duncan’s hopes and dreams. He ends up telling young Duncan of his fears of a warrior he’s about to face, that he has a power Duncan doesn’t possess. Young Duncan is sure he’ll win because good always wins over evil, but today’s Duncan tells him it’s more complicated than that, that his enemy has a magic in his voice, and if he listens to it, he’s dead. “Then don’t listen,” young Duncan smiles, and then disappears.
Duncan sits back at the little table where he had lit a candle and picks up the candle, contemplating it. Kantos shows up, and they fight. [NOTE: Interesting that Kantos deliberately allows MacLeod to both get out of the handcuffs he had been brought in with, and to have his sword. Apparently, he felt the prophecy required a real battle, rather than just taking MacLeod’s head through whatever means necessary.] Kantos launches into his “you’re tired, you’re weak, your legs are numb, moving is pain, and Duncan staggers and falls. Kantos stalks him, snarling, “The prophecy must be fulfilled!” but his last words seem muffled, and Duncan rises with a smile, guts him and takes his head. Then he takes the candle wax out of his ears, saying, “Couldn’t hear a word you said.”
The Quickening is lots of explosions and a magic symbol lit in the floor, then Cassandra’s voice is heard reciting the prophecy as Duncan sees the tragic scenes from his past. Back at the loft, Duncan is pensive, remembering his youthful innocence, and tells Cassandra that perhaps he could have warned his younger self about the life he was going to lead.
“What could you have said?” Cassandra asks. “Don’t feel? Don’t grow? Don’t live with hope?” Duncan acknowledges that he probably couldn’t have told him that, and sighs, assuming that now that the prophecy is fulfilled, that Cassandra will leave. “Well, there is one more thing,” she says, and reaches to unbutton Duncan’s shirt.
“Is this a part of the prophecy?” Duncan asks.
“No,” Cassandra replies breathlessly as she slips his shirt off his shoulders, then strokes his naked chest. “This one’s for me.” Duncan strokes her face, whispering that he wants to make sure she’s real as he slips her dress off and bends her back, kisses down her throat and …. fade to black.
MY COMMENTS: This is a fascinating episode for a lot of reasons, but one major issue stands out for me. Duncan begins the episode with an emotional tone of bone-deep bitterness and sad resignation to his fate to have to survive by killing others, and watching the people he cares for die. There is a strong sense of lonely isolation as he enters the dojo in the dark and wanders through its shadows remembering his own dark deeds. His reaction to the presence of an Immortal is wary and sarcastic (“Hi honey, I’m home.”) and his response to Cassandra’s tales of prophecy and mystic knowledge were jaded and disbelieving, despite his residual childish wonder at her very existence.
The first fight with Kantos sees Duncan darkly blasť, as though he felt he could probably win, but didn’t really give a damn either way. It was only after he encountered his younger self and was reminded of the hope and certainty he had once felt that his outlook begins to change. In interacting with his younger self, some of that innocent faith and certainty in the strength of good versus evil seems to re-infect him and reinforce his determination to live. In telling Duncan, “Don’t listen!” young Duncan was doing more than giving MacLeod a clue on how to defeat Kantos, he was admonishing his future self to shut out the voices of despair which were paralyzing him and weakening him. It wasn’t really putting wax in his ears that allowed Duncan to win the battle, it was a renewed sense of hope for the future.
And how about that young Duncan? They certainly chose an actor who you could believe would grow up to be as stunning looking as today’s Duncan. I enjoyed how they found so many ways for young Duncan to demonstrate that he had fully absorbed the lessons of responsibility and sacrifice even by the age of 13, but still had the simplistic outlook of a child.
And Cassandra? Weird woman. The whole scene between her and young Duncan was rife with sexual innuendo. The kindest face you can put on it is that Cassandra “saw” the impressive man that young Duncan would eventually grow up to be, and just wanted a taste of what was to come, not that she was sexually attracted to the younger version. It is also possible that she was deliberately planting that seed of need and attraction in hopes that when she needed the cooperation of the older version, she would have the power of remembered adolescent sexual excitement as a tool to manipulate him. Perhaps it was both. Either way, from the predatory way Cassandra acted at the end of the episode, it was clear that sex with Duncan had been on her mind for a long time — perhaps even for some 400 years. Now, *that*’s delayed gratification for you.