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“From the dawn of time we came; moving silently down through the centuries, living many secret lives, struggling to reach the time of the Gathering; when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you… until now” – Sean Connery’s Rameriz, Highlander (1986 film)
“He is immortal. Born in the Highlands of Scotland 400 years ago. He is not alone. There are others like him, some good, some evil. For centuries he has battled the forces of darkness, with holy ground his only refuge. He cannot die, unless you take his head, and with it his power. In the end there can be only one. He is Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander” – Highlander (1992 – 1998 TV series)
“There can be only one.”
The Highlander franchise was born in 1986 when the first film was released. Created by Gregory Widen, Widen wrote and sold the screenplay for this movie when he was still an undergraduate at UCLA. The movie followed Connor MacLeod, an immortal from the Scottish Highlands who was living in 1980’s New York City as an antiques shop owner. MacLeod would find himself in a battle to the death with another immortal who wanted to kill all the others in order to obtain “the Prize” – a mysterious gift that would be bestowed to the last surviving immortal.
Highlander (1986) gained enough of a fanbase to justify four more movies (The Quickening, The Sorcerer, Endgame, and The Source), two live-action television series (Highlander: The Series and The Raven), three animated series, and various other books, comic books, and games. The franchise also popularized the phrase: “There can be only one.”
Of all these spin-offs, none proved to be as popular as Highlander: The Series. This series followed Duncan MacLeod – who was a member of Connor clan – as he encountered other immortals; some allies, and many foes. The show lasted for six seasons and 119 episodes, and was brilliant mix of history, fantasy, and sword fighting. The show ended in 1998 and the last film – The Source – came out in 2007.
Though once popular, the desire to merge the mythologies of the television show and the movies, as well as decreasing budgets for each production, lead to the later installments of this franchise being poorly received.
It has now been a decade since a Highlander film or TV show has been made and though there are persistent rumors of the franchise being revitalized, nothing has yet come to fruition. Whether these plans turn into something, they are a sign that Highlander still has a sizable fan following. And with this continued interest in the property, we are going to breakdown the various ways Highlander could return.
In order to successfully revive the Highlander series you’d really have to disregard the events of the 2007 movie Highlander: The Source and pick things up from where Highlander: Endgame concluded.
In the 17 years since we last saw Duncan MacLeod he’s pretty much managed to make a second go of his marriage to Kate, who as fans recall he made immortal when he stabbed her. The two have adopted a child, Seamus, who is now 18 years old and studying archeology.
The MacLeod’s seem to have an idyllic life living in the Yorkshire countryside, but things soon take a dramatic turn. Joe Dawson, who continues to be in contact with Mac, has learned of a new immortal called Ivan Kluge. He is from the same line of immortals that the Kurgan was from, and in a relatively short 20 years of being active he has taken 102 confirmed heads.
Joe has learned that Kluge is targeting Mac and is trying to get word to him.
While out with Seamus who back from university, Kate is attacked by Kluge who brutally takes her head and savagely runs Seamus through mortally injuring him. Kluge leaves Seamus after taking Kate’s quickening and goes after Mac. Seamus bleeds out and dies, but suddenly comes back to life before the ambulance arrives and is left wondering back alleys wondering what the hell just happened. Duncan, who had arranged to meet Kate and Seamus, eventually finds his son. Duncan is deeply hurt after having felt Kate’s sudden end and he now has to explain to Seamus the rules of the Game and train him to survive.
At Kate’s funeral, a closed casket affair, Mac reconnects with Joe, Methos, and Amanda and proceeds to find out as much as he can about Kluge as possible. MacLeod is back in the game and out to avenge Kate.
While I find the first movie and the first TV series to be fantastic, I never loved the other the installments. However, with later movies attempting to merge the mythologies of the series and films, I think it is best to leave them alone and completely start over. However, Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert are more than welcomed to make an appearance.
With that said, here is how I think Highlander should be rebooted.
It begins at night. A girl who appears to be high school age is running through a forest being chased by a large man with a sword. The girl trips and just as the man thinks he has her, she springs a swinging log trap and a large log pins him against another tree. The girl picks up his sword and demands to know why people are chasing her. He merely tells her that she is part of “the game” and that “there can be only one.” She cuts off his head and absorbs the power released by the quickening. She runs to a nearby mansion and places the sword in a room with dozens of recently used and bloodied swords.
This is how we are first introduced to Rhona MacLeod.
Like Conner and Duncan, Rhona was part of Clan MacLeod and is from the Scottish Highlands. Hoping to find wealth in the New World, Rhona’s family was one of the first to leave Scotland for North America in the mid-1600s. Sadly, just before the ship made it to the colonies, it was sunk in storm. Rhona distinctly remembers taking water into her lungs as the ship went down and is shocked to find herself alive and washed ashore with the wreckage of the ship and some of the bodies of those who were also onboard.
Rhona is found and taken in by a local family. It takes years, but she finds happiness even if she is the last survivor of her family and has no contact with any MacLeod back in Scotland.
However, she soon begins to realize that she isn’t aging. Her persistent youth is becoming increasingly noticed by the 1690s, but instead of reaching out to doctors or religious figures, she learns of the Salem Witch Trials and decides to leave her community.
Along the way she learns to survive in the wilderness from ostracized women, Native Americans, and runaway slaves; many of whom see something special in her and claim to wield magic. Part of the show’s ongoing narrative will be Rhona revisiting these past mentors who are still alive because they have access to magic. Still fond of Rhona, many will help her understand how her immortality works, “the game” that she is now a part of, and the “the prize” could be. She eventually accrues a large amount of wealth and settles in a small community. Being the richest person in the area, she keeps the community small and devises ways to give herself a new identity every few decades. The only reason she even enrolls in high school is to create the additional legal paperwork needed to build another identity.
This explains why The Watchers, which do exist in this series, don’t know of her; she learned how to hide and erases all public information that might indicate that she is immortal.
She lived in relative peace for centuries until another immortal sensed her and challenged her in combat. It was fight that Rhona only won because of the survival skills she learned over the centuries. This not only attracted other immortals, but the Watchers became aware of her for the first time.
While this is happening, Rhona meets a new boy, Crowley, at school. He and she only become friends when he explains that he is a Watcher in training, and that he can answer most of her questions. Crowley will also stand out because while his family is half-British and half-French, his French side is African; making him one of the few mixed-race Watchers and one of the few minorities in Rhona’s community.
Going forward, the series will follow Rhona as she begins to understand what “The Game” is, struggle to keep her identity secret in an increasingly digital world, and learning how to combat other immortals. The series will also follow how the Watchers struggle with how different Rhona is from other immortals. For example, when she learns that immortals can’t fight one another on holy ground, she donates a strip of land circling her mansion to a nearby church and it turns into a trail that is holy ground. Moreover, the show will follow Rhona as she becomes a skilled swordfighter, and the turmoil Crowley experiences as he struggles to balance his feelings for Rhona and his responsibility to the Watchers.
Thematically, the series will also use Rhona to address the sexism and racism she’s seen over the centuries. When people asks if she can believe that some inhuman behavior or prejudice still exists in disbelief, Rhona responds that she fully expects people to be horrific to one another. She knows exactly what horrors people are capable of and sees most people as a threat until they can prove otherwise. She has little faith in humanity and has to learn to trust people in order to survive threats from immortals and others.
The Highlander TV show was an imaginative extension of the 1986 film created after the disastrous sequel Highlander II introduced the planet Zeist and other terrible things we don’t need to talk about. The central link to the film was that Christopher Lambert appeared in the pilot episode (seemingly ignoring everything in Highlander I and II) and passed the baton to Adrian Paul’s Duncan MacLeod. This shift kept the fantastic elements of the film that worked, immortality, the quickening, and swordfights, and then ventured into that world to create a series that ran for six seasons.
To re-imagine the series, I think we should keep the elements of the television show that mattered, transnational scope (Canadian and French locations), dramatic historical flashbacks (providing backstory and characterization), and pop culture pastiche (it was a rock and roll infused show with musicians in key roles) and move from a Eurocentric to an Afrocentric framework.
An African Highlander would allow the show to explore the complexity of the African Diaspora. This shift would resonate with dynamic entertainment market we see across the African continent and open the show to a set of stories that would explore race, identity, and culture in a way that could be engaging. The highlander in this new series is an African American (seemingly) named Mansur Amadi. He is an historical archaeologist that works with consulting and teaching jobs in the U.S. and in Ghana. Unlike the previous series that used the “coming of the gathering” to feed a villain of the week formula, in this version of the story, the Gathering is legendary event among immortals that is supposed to happen, but the nature of its coming is unclear. Moreover, the threat of the Watchers as human enemies and/or allies to immortals has been a central problem starting in the Dark Ages. Much of the myths of supernatural creatures that spawned hysteria and mass killings in the past, were actually attacks orchestrated by the human groups to control or destroy immortals. Over time the Watcher group has spawned splinter groups, each with its own agenda, but all dedicated to understanding the origins of immortality and its purpose.
In this series, the number of immortals is unclear as the greater threat of the Watchers looms over everything. The new series would have more mini story arcs focused on Mansur facing dangers from secret groups with knowledge of immortals searching as much of a danger as immortals with bad intentions. Mansur’s goal in the series is to understand what the legend of “The Gathering” actually means for immortals and humans alike. On this quest, he must avoid the danger posed by those that would control immortals and perhaps the future.
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