|Too Important to Lose
Warning: This essay contains spoilers for many of the episodes featuring Methos. If you have not seen the episodes "Methos," "Chivalry," "Deliverance," "One Minutes to Midnight," "The Messenger," "Comes A Horseman," "Revelation 6:8," "Forgive Us Our Trespasses," and "Archangel," you may not want to read this until you have.
The mystery man-- Methos. A myth to most, an Immortal whose time is so far in the past that surely he could not still exist. Yet, to a chosen few, he is far more than a dusty legend. He's a man who has endured over fifty centuries, a man who only knows one code-- survival. As he told Duncan MacLeod in "Chivalry," I don't worry about anyone but myself. Yet, like MacLeod, we can't help but question that statement. It seems that when it comes to the Highlander and his friends, Methos has more than just his own survival in mind. Need proof?
Beginning with "Methos," the world's oldest Immortal willingly dropped his cover to allow Duncan to know who he was. There was no reason for Adam Pierson to acknowledge Methos' existence to MacLeod, yet he did. Furthermore, he went so far as to offer MacLeod his head! A five thousand year survivor of one of the most brutal games ever played generously give up his life so Mac could destroy Kalas? This is not likely. It was more like a calculated risk on the part of the old man to immediately gain the trust and friendship of this young contender. The suggestion that this might be the case came from Methos himself in "The Messenger" when he suggested to Richie that the false Methos offered his head because "...maybe he knew you wouldn't take it." Ring a bell, MacLeod? Of course, the old man's encounter with MacLeod could have gone wrong and the Highlander could have just taken his head with no further questions, but Methos has had many years to study human nature and he knew that MacLeod wouldn't do it. Know your enemy-- know your opponent-- know your friend. It was a gutsy move, but it worked. MacLeod accepted and trusted Adam Pierson/Methos.
Then MacLeod's old lover-- well, sort of lover-- entered the scene, seducing a gullible Richie in much the same way she had charmed Mac several centuries earlier. However, when Methos found out about Kristen, whether from Joe Dawson or other Watchers, he knew enough about the wicked, wily woman to fly to Seacouver without warning MacLeod. The Immortal that arrived at the Highlander's door was harder edged than the Adam Pierson we knew, as if the oldest Immortal was, in a small way, dropping a bit of the facade of Pierson and allowing a bit of Methos to emerge. He'd come to warn Mac, to prevent a tragedy with Richie that would certainly hurt his new friend. He took every moment possible to goad MacLeod, to try to push him to battle with Kristen before it was too late. "...if you keep letting her walk away, one day she gets lucky and takes your head. Yes!" Methos warned Mac as he pressed the Highlander's own katana to his throat.
But MacLeod is a man with a code of honor (poorly founded, perhaps, but his code nonetheless) and could not take his ex-lover's life in spite of Kristen's attempts to kill Richie and his friend Maria. Instead, he warned her, turned his back on her (even after Methos had chided Richie for doing precisely the same thing!) and walked away. But Methos makes his own move, challenging Kristen so that the woman will never have another chance to hurt Mac. Once again, Methos is willing to risk his life for MacLeod. Granted, he knew he could take Kristen easily, even as rusty as he was with a blade. Still, the Immortal who hadn't taken a head for over two hundred years took Kristen's to protect Duncan MacLeod and to do the task Mac could not do himself.
Perhaps the biggest risk Methos took was the one most critical and unpredictable, yet it also revealed a hint at the underlying motive of why Methos chose to champion MacLeod. A dark quickening shadowed the soul of the Highlander and he could not control the evil force within him. Friends were nothing to the evil spirit that drove MacLeod. He nearly killed Richie, his own student and friend, before setting off to France. As if he didn't have enough to worry about with Alexa, Methos was summoned to the problem by Joe Dawson. Putting Mac's survival above his own needs or even those of Alexa, he left the ill woman to confront MacLeod.
Little thanks did Methos get as he showed up to rescue Mac from being a moving target, but at least he had the good sense to lug Mac into a church before the Highlander recovered from his wounds. For a few frightening moments, it seemed holy ground would not be enough to keep MacLeod from removing his savior's head. Even the evil spirit within him didn't want to risk the repercussions of such an act. At this point, Methos declared Mac "...too important to lose," the first suggestion that perhaps Methos knows more about the game than most Immortals, recognized the value of the Highlander and his high morality, and had perhaps taken a position to "guide" and "protect?" (Or maybe he just had a hefty bet on MacLeod being a finalist?)
In spite of the threat, certainly Methos deemed Mac worth the risk off holy ground and nearly lost his head yet again as Mac sought help from Sean Burns. Help that went awry leaving Methos in a dangerous position in which he faltered against his friend. In this failure of either individual to take the other's head is revealed another interesting facet of their relationship. Can Mac kill Methos? Can Methos kill Mac? It seemed that even evil MacLeod could not do it and Methos hesitated too long giving Mac the opportunity to dump him "safely" over the wall.
With all of this having happened, it was a big gamble for Methos to hand Mac the claymore of his father, especially after Mac had knocked him into the car. Yet, knowing that the weapon could easily be turned against him, Methos did precisely that, taking a risk that was far more deadly than when Methos had offered his head. MacLeod was a man who was not predictable, not functioning within his normal mind set. This one moment indicated the high level of risk Methos was prepared to assume in order to preserve MacLeod.
Life was reasonably quiet for Methos after Alexa's death until Jakob Galatti decided to reduce to Watcher ranks to nothing. Quite suddenly, Adam Pierson's world ran head on into Methos' life. "You can't have both," MacLeod told him as Methos tried to juggle his life as a Watcher against his immortality. His decision to help Joe Dawson turn the renegade Immortal Galati over to the Watchers was based on his commitment to protect MacLeod. There was no question in his mind and if he thought at all about the organization terminating Jakob, he clearly put Mac's life above anyone else's. With this in mind, he allowed Joe to lead him into the funeral home to clear both Dawson's name and MacLeod's, prepared to face whatever consequences he might encounter. For all he knew, Joe or one of the other Watchers might actually shoot him! What he wasn't prepared for was the shattering conflict the death of Galati and Mac's anger created in his own soul as he realized how much he had become Adam Pierson, the Watcher, and lost track of Methos, the Immortal. It was a painful awakening that sent him from Paris to rediscover himself.
When Methos returned in "The Messenger," it seemed like little of Adam Pierson except his identification remained. This man was more cynical and more inclined to push MacLeod's buttons. It was this approach that prodded Mac to intervene in Richie's decision to lay down his sword just at the time it proved most beneficial. If Richie had lost his head due to Mac's desire to let the youngster make his own decision, then Mac would have blamed himself and Methos couldn't let him do that. As usual, the words "thank you" didn't trip off anybody's tongue, but Joe did admiringly call him, "One calculating sonovabitch." A compliment Methos would appreciate.
Never was MacLeod's life more in danger than when Kronos came back into Methos' life demanding that Methos be Mac's executioner. While many of the events of the "Horsemen" arc can be interpreted in different ways, the one thing that was clear was that Methos was not going to be the instrument of MacLeod's death, even if it meant his own demise. As he revealed to MacLeod, his "friend," the gruesome aspects of his distant past, it seemed Methos made it sounds even nastier and showed MacLeod a facet of the old guy he'd never dreamed possible. Was Methos as enthused with "death" as he projected when talking to the Highlander? Or was he embellishing it to drive Mac as far away from him as possible? That Methos was deeply hurt by this encounter was clear as Mac left him and he dropped his head to the steering wheel, certain that MacLeod would never forgive him for his past.
Yet, as well as Methos knew the Highlander, he knew that Mac would not back away from Kronos, especially with the witch pushing him. With this in mind, he developed his most elaborate scheme to date, a plan that would either save MacLeod and the world or lose everything-- including his own freedom. If he failed, he would either be a slave to Kronos or dead. He truly despaired when he thought that MacLeod was lost to the combination of Silas and Caspian as he tried to tell Cassandra that help wouldn't be coming. He thought he'd lost everything. When he found Mac was still alive, he still had the guts to play his last trump card, letting Mac believe he was with Kronos so the Highlander's fury would give him extra adrenaline in his battle with Kronos. The ultimate gamble was in Methos taking on Silas, not just to save Cassandra's ungrateful head, but to even the odds for MacLeod. It was a desperate choice for the oldest Immortal-- if he won and MacLeod lost, Kronos would most likely kill him or put him through a living hell in retribution. If he lost to Silas and MacLeod won, then possibly the Highlander might have a chance to take Silas while he was recovering from the Quickening. If they both won, he could still lose his head to MacLeod or Cassandra. Taking on "his brother" represented the ultimate sacrifice to try to protect MacLeod and probably one that Methos wasn't expecting to survive.
While these events left the friendship between the Immortals a bit strained, Methos still felt obligated to protect MacLeod. Why else would he have caved into Amanda's demands that he talk to the Highlander about his challenge with Steven Keane? Surely it would take more than Amanda's charms and big brown eyes to make Methos move to not only try to talk Mac out of meeting Keane, but to actually interfere in the match. Was he feeling he "owed" MacLeod when he decided to take on the fight against Keane? And this also demonstrated how well-prepared Methos was to battle anyone. For the old guy, the object of a match is to win, whatever it takes. MacLeod is not only not appreciative of Methos' efforts to preserve his neck-- even if he didn't believe it needed protecting-- he is downright annoyed with the old man, threatening to take his head if he kills Keane. What's an Immortal to do except back off?
Small wonder then that Methos was not over-responsive to MacLeod when he started seeing visions of the dead and babbling about an evil demon loose in the world. Methos had other things on his mind and, having been unappreciated for his earlier efforts plus losing one of his own friends to the Highlander's blade, he just didn't react as protectively as he had in every other instance. Let the man deal with it this time seemed to be his mode and he stood back leading to his first failure to protect MacLeod since he'd decided to assume that responsibility. Or was it? Perhaps Methos reasoned it was necessary, that Mac had to work through this one alone, even if it meant losing a close friend. Or maybe he just didn't care after the incident with Byron. Either way, it had some effect on the world's oldest Immortal who disappeared shortly after Mac did and did not return to the Highlander's world for well over a year.
So, friend? Protector? Champion? Teacher? What exactly is the role Methos has assumed with MacLeod? Perhaps a little of all of those roles and more. The underlying question is why? Why did Methos choose MacLeod? At this point, one can only speculate.
Note: David Abramowitz, Gillian Horvath and Donna Lettow are to be commended for creating such a fascinating character as Methos. He has sparked the imagination of countless fans and brought a new depth and meaning to the Highlander Television series. Add in the amazing interpretive skills of actor Peter Wingfield and Methos has become a truly loved and memorable character who has forced Duncan MacLeod to really evolve. A big, heartfelt thank you to the writers and actors of the series for making us care..