January 9, 2018

Highlander: The Series: "Free Fall"

It is 26 October 1992, and time for another episode of Highlander: The Series.

Richie (Stan Kirsch) meets a confused young woman named Felicia Martins (Joan Jett). Shortly afterwards she appears to commit suicide falling off the top of a downtown skyscraper. When Felicia returns, dazed but unharmed, Richie and Duncan (Adrian Paul) realise that she is a newly resurrected immortal. There is, however, more to Felicia that first appears.

In its early days Highlander: The Series undertook an odd little dalliance with stunt-casting pop and rock stars in guest appearances. It was a strategy that sort of worked, thanks to Highlander's Queen soundtrack giving it a sort of rock music cache to begin with, but it was also a strategy that sort of failed, since more often than not a talented rock singer was not also a talented actor. Joan Jett, the first of these guest stars, give it her all. Sadly she's really not very good, and it hurts the final episode.

This is a bit of a shame, since "Free Fall" actually has a moderately smart story concept. Felicia is much older and more experienced than she presents herself to be. She meets another immortal, feigns youth and naivete, gets close to them, and then exploits their emotions by destroying their loved ones. The enraged immortal is then much more easy for her to fight and kill.

The execution, of course, is pretty terrible. Despite a reasonable production budget and a Vancouver shoot, Highlander continues to look remarkably cheap. The acting is relatively modest all round, including Eli Gabay as a third immortal named Deveraux. The episode also shows off an ongoing problem with the series: no one knows what to do with Tessa (Alexandra Vandernoot). Duncan is the protagonist and handles all of the action. Richie is the plucky sidekick who gets into scrapes and pulls in storylines. Tessa, by contrast, does not have much to do at all. I keep waiting in vain for at least one script to give her purpose and agency. She does not get a lot here.

A weird side-note: it is weird to see Joan Jett appear on-screen just as her Runaways hit "Cherry Bomb" plays on the radio. Given the existence of the song implies the existence of the actual Jett in the Highlander universe, it is a surprise that when describing her later Richie doesn't simply save time and say 'she was a dead ringer for Joan Jett'.

This episode is terribly flawed, but in the context of dodgy early 90s syndicated action shows it acquits itself servicably. Let's be honest: you know what you're getting in for when you watch a show like this. After five episodes, the quality ratio rises to 40 per cent.

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