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20 February 2007 @ 09:12 am
'They Also Serve'  
Highlander Season Three

They Also Serve, Air Date: February 1995

Recent Immortal Michael Christian has been on an incredible string of luck, taking a number of heads from unarmed and vulnerable opponents, including May-Ling Shen, who taught MacLeod the martial arts in 1780's Mongolia. Christian's Watcher, Rita Luce, has been doing more than just watching, supplying Christian with classified information on the other Immortals and their weaknesses. MacLeod, unaware of Christian, goes on a vision quest to his cabin on Holy Ground -- deliberately leaving his sword behind. The race is on for Joe Dawson to figure out Rita's secret before Christian sets his sights on MacLeod. ~ recap via tv.com

Next week: Song of the Executioner

eveningblue: HL South Park Duncaneveningblue on February 20th, 2007 06:58 pm (UTC)
Oh oh oh I LOVE this episode! This is one of my favorite non-Methos episodes. I love the flashbacks with May-Ling--aside from Amanda, she is the only Immortal woman who seems equal to Duncan, as a fighter and a lover. I wish there had been more of her, especially in present times.

I also like the premise, and the focus on the Watchers and Watchers' politics.

I have to admit to not getting the title, though. Who also serves?

I really need to re-watch this one.
Sinanjusinanju on February 20th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)
It's from a quote from Milton: "They also serve, who only stand and wait."

I liked this episode as well, despite my finding the existence of the Watchers much harder to swallow than the existence of the Immortals. May-Ling was interesting--but I think you're forgetting Ceirdwyn when you consider immortal swordswomen who are on a par with Duncan.
Ith: Art - Royo: Eyesithildyn on February 20th, 2007 09:25 pm (UTC)
And let's not forget Rebecca.
amberleewriter on February 20th, 2007 08:54 pm (UTC)
And I step out of the lurker corner...
As a Joe fan, this is one of my top five. It set the tone for Judgment Day and let you know that if Joe's relationship with Duncan were "out of the closet" that there would be very large consequences. I didn't care for Rita, but I could understand some of her motivations. They really weren't that far from Joe's. Rita cared about her Immortal and got involved. How much further was it for Joe to be like Rita? Where was the line?

It was also interesting to see Watchers together. It was particularly interesting to see a combination of "veterans" with "young blood" and hear the differences in opinion; to see the way they discussed their assignments.

Sometimes the idea of the Watchers was hard to swallow -- not as an organization, because having some mortals know about Immortals didn't seem a bit stretch -- but the idea that Immortals didn't know they were being followed seemed daft; particularly when modern Watchers seemed so bent on keeping their distance. The extras on the DVDs seem to indicate that this was not so much the case in the past -- that having someone follow an Immortal into a military situation, onto a boat, as a part of an expedition, or to have them be a member of a village where an Immortal had settled was very common. The idea that an Immortal wouldn't notice a Watcher hanging around when they must conceal what they are from mortal society just seemed a bit strange. I mean, how do you get to be 400, 1000, or even 5000 years old and not be observant enough to notice that mortals are following you from place to place? (Unless, of course, that mortal finds a way to insert themselves into the Immortal's life as a friend, companion, or lover.) This episode did little to dispel those problems for me but at least addressed the idea of fraternization head on and I respected that.

At any rate, for me the crux of the episode lay Joe's ongoing difficulty of keeping his "oath" while remaining a friend. It was painfully clear with Ian's disapproval and death that the stakes of Joe's friendship with MacLeod had gone way up. Joe was a man getting backed into a corner by his own choices and morals -- something we normally saw Mac having to deal with. By the end of this one I felt for Rita though I didn't like her, I was heartbroken over Ian's death, and I thought that Joe and Mac had a heck of a lot more in common in the way they approached decision making. I wondered if Mac and Joe being friends could be worth the cost for either man; another issue that HL built upon over and over again.

What I think might have made this episode more compelling is if they had cast Michael differently (or given him a few more lines). He seemed arrogant and unlikable so it was difficult for me to understand how Rita could transfer her attachment to him (even if they gave her son's death as the reason). If Michael had looked more like, say, Richie -- seemed more earnest instead of having a perpetual scowl -- I could have understood a mothering instinct taking over (much less any sort of attraction). I suppose they could have been trying to make a statement that Michael was a manipulator, that was using Rita, but if they were it didn't work for me. Killing Ian like she did was a huge step to take. I just didn't see her as that desperate or that in love.

Finally, there's May-Ling. We don't see much of her in comparison to someone like Amanda or Fitz but, like Hideo Koto, I think May-Ling was turning point for Mac. While he always respected woman as women, in this episode he had a woman as a teacher -- as his "superior" -- and I think she (in combination with his experiences with women like Rebecca, Amanda, and Ceirdwyn) helped him realize that a woman was an equal in the game. Most of the time, we see Mac in "hero" mode or "seduction" mode with a woman. While he does manage to win May-Ling over into his bed, he spends plenty of his time before that re-evaluating the idea that a woman being "soft," "small," or a sex object is a detriment. May-Ling doesn't take crap from him, or anyone, and lets him know that a man's "assets" can also be his biggest vulnerabilities -- just like a woman. I really enjoyed watching Mac absorb that lesson and, in so doing, come to a greater understanding of himself.

Ith: Art - Callanishithildyn on February 20th, 2007 09:27 pm (UTC)
Re: And I step out of the lurker corner...
Glad to see you leave the lurker's corner :)

Sinanjusinanju on February 20th, 2007 11:53 pm (UTC)
Re: the Watchers...
Yeah, the unlikelihood of paranoid immortals not noticing (for thousands of years) that their every move is being tracked just destroys my suspension of disbelief.

Equally bad is the question of how the Watchers support themselves? They're not a spy ring--with the deep coffers of some national government footing the bill, like the CIA or the NSA. I've heard people argue the "they loot the bodies/estates of dead immortals" defense, but I don't buy it. Most immortals aren't going to be rich; those that are--especially in historical periods--are going to be well known and the Watchers, secret organization that they are, are going to be last in line at the feeding trough.

They're not a church, which can depend upon revenue from the believers to pay their way.

Nor are they providing a service of any sort. It's not like they're expending all this manpower and treasure to acquire information anyone can _use_. Nobody is even supposed to know about it.

...but then I remind myself that "it's just a show, I should really just relax!"
amberleewriter on February 21st, 2007 01:00 am (UTC)
Re: the Watchers...
Well, the supporting the organization part isn't as hard for me to get. Let's face it, all the Watchers seem to have "day jobs" or full-time work in some other field as a "cover." James has the bookstore (where Joe and, apparently, at least one other watcher works). Don Salzar has a bookstore and the sign says it has branches in several cities in multiple countries. Later, Joe has the bar. I assume that these businesses are initially funded by the Watcher organization and used as income which would be funneled through various holding corporations into a larger entity. Everyone from large business conglomerates to the mob has done this for years so I can't see it as a big problem to accomplish. Some of the DVD/Chronicle stuff indicates that men like Shapiro, Velmas, and other "Tribunes" are employed by a "mega corporation." All the Watchers would have to do is get a few good MBA's, stock brokers, and investment people to manage things. After all, aside from Immortal "drifters" (most of whom seem to be the nasties that they deem "too dangerous" to assign a regular Watcher), it should be pretty easy to have your people simply get jobs or open up businesses in a location where an Immortal settles down (and have them return the majority of the profits back into the organization's kitty) thereby keeping their people both doing something plausible and making a living. I'll bet good money Kristin's watcher was either in publishing or a photographer. Richie's man was a bartender. Ian was on Cord for a while and, guess what, was in the military and likely drawing a salary from Her Majesty's Government at the time. In fact, until the modern age I'd say that most folks probably didn't get much financial support, if any, from the greater whole of the Organization and were pretty much left to fend for themselves. *shrugs* I'd imagine that you'd be paid more in "connections" for private sector work that would allow you to move around than you would be in actual money. Kind of like joining a greek house at university: that costs you money but you meet a lot of people and there's quite a bit of cache involved in being part of the group. So for me, that's not so much a problem, it's the whole paranoid Immortals not figuring it out thing that doesn't work for me.
Teresa: HL jaded by abelladonnasimonesa on February 22nd, 2007 01:30 am (UTC)
Re: And I step out of the lurker corner...
How much further was it for Joe to be like Rita? Where was the line?

This is a very interesting question because Joe has helped MacLeod out with immortals he thought were dangerous to Mac. The only difference so far is that Joe would never help Mac to set someone up. Of course, I don't think Mac (except in case of Dark Q) would fight someone unarmed. Still it is clear that Joe is pulling for Mac to win. Even the intro to the show changes to have Joe say "May it be Duncan MacLeod."
amberleewriter on February 22nd, 2007 01:53 am (UTC)
Re: And I step out of the lurker corner...
And, it seems to me, that the Immortals that Joe gave him information about were pretty much universally "not-nice-folk" -- Immortals that did things to mortals but could not be contained by mortal law, were brutal hunters, or were otherwise bad by having a name starting with K. ^_^

Really though, this was one of the questions this episode brought up for me -- how far would Joe go and how did he draw the line when he'd already, basically, crossed the original long ago? This is one of the reasons I enjoyed the show so much. It brought up difficult questions like this and didn't always take the easy wrap-it-up-in-60 way out.
Teresa: HL jaded by abelladonnasimonesa on February 22nd, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
Re: And I step out of the lurker corner...
And to complicate matters even further, when he discovers there is an immortal in the core of the watcher organization. And could it be that Methos is the only one who ever played watcher? Never the less, Joe looks the other way and even becomes great friends with Methos after he learns the truth.
macgeorge1macgeorge1 on February 20th, 2007 10:07 pm (UTC)
Sorry I haven't been responsive lately. RL is kicking my bum.

The episode description and TPTB comments are at:

This is what I believe is known in TV parlance as a “clip show,” using a lot of existing footage to fill out a story and reducing the number of new scenes that need to be filmed. It was a pretty good plot line, though, and May-Ling (played by the wonderful Vivian Wu) certainly is beautifully drawn in only a very few scenes, becoming a truly memorable character. Exploring Joe’s personal conflicts over his role as a Watcher versus his role as Duncan’s friend, and getting a bit more of a glimpse into the more mundane side of a Watcher’s world was interesting.

The episode’s weaknesses, IMO, were poor acting on the part of the actress who played the errant Watcher Rita, and the actor who played the Immortal Michael Christian, and the over-use of pre-existing clips. The woman who played Rita never convinced me of much of anything, frankly, and although I understand Berry Pepper has gone on to bigger and better things (I don’t know what they are, frankly, since I didn’t recognize his name), and he has an attractive face, he just came across as a sullen jerk to me, with zero charisma.

The important aspect of the episode was the relationship between Joe and Duncan, and I found it interesting that in their conversations, Duncan truly does come off as the older, wiser man, with the experience of his 400 years, as well as the fundamental aspects of his character, articulated in his telling Joe that he had to make his own judgements, and if you’re wrong, then you have to live with that. This is a man who has done just that for a very long time, a man who acts, a man who has sometimes been wrong in those actions, but who is prepared to live with the consequences. It is no surprise that the Watchers are an anathema to him, and that he admires Joe for doing what he thinks is right, regardless of the consequences.

I also wanted to note that the “look” of this episode was especially good, with every scene rich in color and texture. And that expression on Duncan’s face when he smiles and raises an eyebrow while still bent over in agony from May Ling kicking him in the balls? Priceless.
amberleewriter on February 20th, 2007 10:57 pm (UTC)
Rita never convinced me of much of anything

he [Michael/Berry Pepper] just came across as a sullen jerk to me, with zero charisma.

I felt that way too. Clip shows can be interesting when done well. This one got close but didn't quite get the cigar when it came to this portion of the story. I thought that particularly sad given how well Jim and Adrian played off one another, how wonderful May-Ling came through in spite of having so little time, and how intrigued I was by Ian and the other Watchers with their chatter at the card game.

Rita just seemed an uptight shrill bitch with no plausible reason to have broken her oath. The toss off about her son dying was supposed to explain away her defensive behavior (and possibly her crossing the line with her Immortal assignment) but just didn't work since the Michael character was played as such a snot. I mean did the guy have a facial expression that didn't look like he had a pole up his backside? Had Rita seemed more emotionally unstable -- as if she were grieving or as if she really had some kind of maternal love for Michael -- I might have been a bit more sympathetic and it could have increased the dramatic tone during the scene where she and Joe have to wait and find out who won. If Michael had been played as a little vulnerable -- as if he actually cared for Rita in some tender fashion -- I could have bought Rita crossing the line and had some understanding for her utter betrayal of her oath, her killing Ian so she wouldn't be separated from her Immortal, and her helping Michael take out largely peaceful and good Immortals in such a, well, dastardly fashion. This part of the "plot" could have really made this a tense and moving episode and, instead, only made it somewhat poignant and interesting, IMHO.

As for "bigger and better things," Barry has done quite a lot of work in movies since. Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Battlefield Earth (cough), We Were Soldiers, and Flags Of Our Fathers are some of the larger budget movies he's done. I can't say he's ever struck me as that great in any of them, but he does play a pretty good soldier and can step up to the plate in an ensemble cast.
pat: danpat_t on February 21st, 2007 12:48 am (UTC)
I really can't add anything new since you and everyone else articulated the strenths and weaknesses of this episode beautifully already. I guess the thing about Rita was that I had always assumed that once her son died, she turned to Michael as the sole focus of her life. She didn't seem to have anything else. No friends, no family. So she started to focus and became an obsession. I think she made herself believe she loved him and it became imperitive that she keep that focus alive because it was all she had. I don't even think Michael, himself, was that important. It could have been any immortal she had been watching. Just as someone loves the only person the have and becomes a workoholic - working 16 hour shifts, focusing on getting ahead and not having a private life Well, watching and her Immortal was her work. That's where she turned to feel the emptiness left behind when she lost her son.
pat: Danb&wpat_t on February 21st, 2007 12:50 am (UTC)
Boy what a lousy typist I am. This is what I was trying to say:

just as someone loses the only person they have and becomes a workoholic....
Teresa: HL boykissing by abelladonnasimonesa on February 22nd, 2007 01:23 am (UTC)
Also, when you are that focused on someone, you don't really see the big picture. It is like telling a parent that their child is a rotten, spoiled brat. They just see the apple of their eye, not the sullen, rotten bastard everyone else sees.
Teresa: HL forever by abelladonnasimonesa on February 22nd, 2007 01:21 am (UTC)
The clip show was my first impression of the episode. I love Grayson, but I did not need to watch the entire fight again. If I want to see that then I will watch Band of Brothers. I love Darius, but don't need to watch all those clips strung together out of context. Same for Hideo and even worse since that episode just aired that season. The extras show the poker game in its entirety. It makes much more sense to me that they should have shown the poker game and let the watchers tell us about their immortals.

I also echo much of what has been said about Michael. He definitely has a Richie like quality without Richie's shine. Also, he is way fugly. Nice hair though. Rita was annoying. I read her watcher notes and it appears she died shortly after Michael. I wonder if the Wathers put her down?

What I did like was all the interaction with the watchers. I would have liked to see more of it. So maybe this was Adrian's week off, put those other actors to good use. It would have been great to see that poker game in full and them just hanging out discussing immortals. We have Ian who was supposed to be Joe's mentor, surely there could have been plenty to mine. Even have Ian talk about Darius. Joe get Ian to admit that they cannot help but become attached to the immortals they spend their lives watching. Maybe Ian would reveal that he gave Darius that watcher chronicle. There has got to be so much that the watchers elect not to record.

Also, I really loved the interaction with Joe and MacLeod. We don't ever really get enough of that. I liked Joe struggling with his duty and his friendship with Mac. I also really like the line Mac says to Joe in the elevator about how the argument he had with Ian the day before is not wrong now because Ian has died. Speaking of which, I wonder if it was ever known that Rita killed Ian.

Anyway, not my fav ep by far, but lots of little bits to keep it interesting.

I wonder about this group. I did not realize there was episode discussion going on. Are you taking all the episodes in order or picking randomly? How often is a new episode up? As it just happens, I had surgery in January and during my recovery I began watching the series again from the beginning. It just so happens that I was up to this exact episode. Coincidence or meant to be??

Ith: Methos - Mythithildyn on February 22nd, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)
Well, it was like this :) Last year, I had a friend from house fandom who started watching Highlander. Initially, she watched the Methos eps first, so we discussed each and every one. Then there was enough interest to start with season one. So I took a poll, and the roster became the top 12-14 in the poll. Now we're up to season three. The roster is here:

It's actually almost time to put up a poll for season four!

We usually discuss one episode per week, and I try to put up the post on Tuesday mornings.

Anyway, glad you could join us :)
Teresa: HL jaded by abelladonnasimonesa on February 22nd, 2007 02:17 am (UTC)
Thanks. Glad to be here. I will surely have watched Executioner by Tuesday.
mackiedockiemackiedockie on February 21st, 2007 05:31 am (UTC)
I do enjoy this episode--it does much to expose Joe's complicated web of loyalties and commitments.

I may also be in the minority in that I do consider the guild-like Watchers a historically viable organization, from a socio-economic perspective. Not as it exists in the 20th century--serious flaws are obviously damaging the Watcher network from within and without in the modern era.

I suspect the relatively organic and adaptable decentralized Guild structure that supported and trained Watchers through many centuries and societies may have begun to fracture under the weight of centralization and bureaucratization. The Watcher CD debacle was only a symptom. Bean counters may have killed the Watchers *g*. Anomie and disenchantment with the Watcher mission certainly contributed to the rise of both the Watchers and that screwy Sanctuary.

While there's not a whole lot of money in pure voyeurism, the guild itself probably ran a number of cover businesses over the long years. With a very long term investment strategy, they could have maintained a relatively healthy set of coffers. Trading--a trading company not only provides excellent cover for a travelling Watcher, it pays its way on the side. Hudson Bay Company. East India Company. Funerary parlors through the ages would create steady income while making it considerably easier to hide those pesky torsos. And that's even hinted at in canon...*g*

amberleewriter on February 21st, 2007 06:26 am (UTC)
I suspect the relatively organic and adaptable decentralized Guild structure that supported and trained Watchers through many centuries and societies may have begun to fracture under the weight of centralization and bureaucratization. The Watcher CD debacle was only a symptom.

Yeah. Exactly. I think the "modern" structure of the Watchers made it unsustainable. Sooner or later technological dependence and the weight of a paper trail would have exposed the Watchers as they were shown in the TV show. Joe completely did the right thing by telling Duncan. Duncan (and his friends) were generally the "good guys." By letting the information that they existed out to Immortals in a way that could allow some "spin" Joe, IMHO, saved their sorry skins. Hell, they'd already been infiltrated by at least one Immortal at that point (Methos) and I doubt that a guy like Constantine didn't know. I think the literalism of the way the oath seemed to be interpreted was likely one of those pendulum swing things.

I also think that our increasingly paper/information driven world would, sooner or later, Immortals out into the open. In such a case, both the Watchers and the Immortals would need one another to get through what would surely be a very turbulent period.

And yeah, trading companies, funerary parlors, print/paper manufacturing, universities and schools... the list could go on and on. ^_^