This is my quest, to follow that star No matter how hopeless, no matter how far To fight for the right, without question or pause To be willing to march into hell for that heavenly cause
– From “The Impossible Dream” by Mitch Leigh
I yam what I yam & dats all what I yam. -Popeye
What an episode. Beards, Lord John, a multi-faceted Mohawk culture and the Fraser womenfolk kicking tail and taking names. I almost lit up a cigarette after, and I don’t smoke. It was that satisfying. When Outlander does emotion best, it’s a tide that sweeps you away into fear and empathy. There is no real room for the brain, for noticing the beats or lulls in the script or a soft accent here or there, it’s all heart, all gasps of recognition and the communion of souls. That last bit lends itself quite easily to religion, which on the surface, is a theme woven throughout this hour. I’d like to push out a bit and say that, more so than Catholicism (or Protestantism), the hour revolved around morality, ethics (encompassed here in the cultural systems of religious practice) and what makes a person ‘good’ versus ‘bad.’
Cultural relativism, also known as descriptive moral relativism, says that morality is culturally defined, excepting a few universally held beliefs (“Thou shalt not kill”) and that these moral truths are based on beliefs and practices unique to that culture. On the other end of the continuum is moral absolutism, which holds that right and wrong are universal and so all can be judged under the same standard. The truth, as with so many things, is likely in the middle. While laws and standards likely need to take into account the cultures in which they are being practiced, there needs to be a commonality to them in order to make the enforcement acceptable to the population, lest the entire thing fall apart and anarchy prevail. Part of our unspoken social contract is that we acknowledge and accept living by these standards, but what do we do when the goalposts move? On the scale from relative to absolute, what makes us good people? In a world that sometimes seems that chaos takes the wheel, is goodness more important than survival?
Were it not for hope, the heart would break. -Scottish proverb
We are the music-makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers And sitting by desolate streams; World losers and world forsakers, On whom the pale moon gleams; Yet we are the movers and shakers Of the world for ever, it seems. -Arthur O’Shaughnessy, from “Ode“
I once had a psychology professor tell me, upon discussing marital therapy, that it wasn’t lack of love that doomed most relationships as much as a lack of boundaries. In his experience he had found that the single most damaging thing two people could do, was “to not fight fair,” and hurt each other with words that couldn’t be forgotten. I remembered that while watching this episode, which dealt with the fallout of what happens when people don’t fight fair, and the struggle we all face when we’re trying to fly a straight path through the world with one broken wing.
A Whole Man
This was a sweet way to include characters we haven’t seen enough of in some time, especially sassy Marsali. Murtagh is staying with the Wilmington Frasers while he waits for Fergus to bring news of Stephen Bonnet, but he’s also running meetings with the regulators out of their home, even though there is a price on his head. Not only is Marsali worried about harboring a wanted fugitive and the Bonnet situation, but to compound their problems, Fergus is out of work and having a hard time finding anyone who wants to hire a one-handed man. He jokes mildly about being “butchered” and “half a man” to everyone but Jamie, but there is real pain in his eyes. For a long time, Fergus was Jamie’s right-hand man despite his disability. Now he has a family of his own, and he’s struggling. Marsali, noticing this, chooses a completely different approach than would Claire or Brianna. She purposefully wakes Murtagh one night as he sleeps in her kitchen and extracts a promise that he will ask Fergus to join the regulators. Murtagh apologetically points to his hand, signaling Fergus’s disability, but Marsali is undeterred. She knows that Fergus’s pride and sense of self demand it. “I’ll have a whole man, or none at all,” she says determinedly. It’s a loving, unselfish act, and a courageous one, for there is the possibility Fergus might accept and come to harm. Marsali not only understands the value of a subtle tactical maneuver that helps Fergus save face, but she inherently understands and accepts that Fergus’s identity needs to have the opportunity to extend past the role of husband and provider. When Fergus turns Murtagh down, it becomes obvious that Marsali always thought he would, but recognized the importance of him having the ability to choose, rather than feel he was being relegated.
And so today, my world it smiles Your hand in mine, we walk the miles Thanks to you it will be done For you to me are the only one Happiness, no more be sad Happiness, I’m glad –Led Zeppelin, “Thank You”
This one’s a little different. First a general reflection and a bit of a window into my personal life, which I tend to shy away from. I watch TV through a lens of what stories say about people in general. I think it’s a leftover from studying to be an art therapist, looking at the way symbols and gestures represent emotions and the way there are commonalities across ethnicity and gender that speak to the shared emotional ancestry of the human experience. Reading the Outlander novels is so lyrical, I am sometimes drawn into the music of the language, lulled into a rhythm which enables a certain emotional distance. I recognize and process the feelings I read about on a mostly intellectual level more than an emotional one. By causing me to experience those same stories through the actors’ bodies and eyes, their feelings expressed in motion and volume, the series sometimes makes my own emotional reaction harder to process, and I work that out by writing about it. It’s a sort of reciprocal loop, and it gets very, very wordy. Bear with me as I meander. Spoilers ahead for episode 410, “The Deep Heart’s Core” after the jump.
“Now it’s like… like my own fortress has been blown up with gunpowder – there’s nothing left of it but ashes and a smoking rooftree, and the little naked thing that lived there once is out in the open, squeaking and whimpering in fear, tryin’ to hide itself under a blade of grass or a bit o’ leaf but…but not …makin’ m-much of a job of it.” -Jamie Fraser, Outlander
simultaneously, a difficult watch and a viscerally rewarding one. The Fraser
base family unit is finally together for the first time since Jamie saw his
pregnant wife through the stones right before Culloden. It’s far from a
storybook reunion, as so many things are, both in Outlander and in life. There are periods of intense joy and deep
sorrow. The brutal reality of it is jarring and yet, instinctively recognizable
as truth. The writing moved along at an energetic pace and while the plot
points were all dutifully ticked off, it was done with a meticulous attention
to characterization that was satisfying in the extreme. Even if certain choices
seemed obvious course-corrections (I’m looking at you, Murtagh suddenly at the
Ridge despite your successful smithy), every emotional note was right on beat,
weaving together a melody that was as mournful as it was joyful.
Spoilers ahead for episode 409, “The Birds and the Bees”.
A Difficult Lord to Serve
Despite the angry words they both flung at each other the night before, both Roger and Brianna expect that they will come back together. It’s not the healthiest relationship dynamic, but you can’t deny they love each other. Unfortunately, once again Bonnet is there to casually threaten Roger and derail not only their reunion, but the means by which to enlighten Lizzie as to who Roger really is. For a moment it seems as if Roger will risk the limb over the lass, but he isn’t given a choice, bodily escorted out by Bonnet’s men. He makes sure Brianna knows he was looking for her, but when she finds the ship gone, as per the usual when it comes to Bree and Roger’s assumptions about one another, she assumes the worst, that he loves her “not at all”. Roger, though, is steadfast, not only keeping his promise to return for Brianna, but asking to be paid via gemstone with an eye to their return trip. “You have Danu, I have Eros,” Roger tells Bonnet, but he’s really communicating to us, in the most succinct way, that every action he takes is because of love. A man that committed wouldn’t be likely to abandon a wife, and so he shows up at the Ridge, heartbreakingly friendly and utterly unprepared for what happens. Unlike in the novels, he doesn’t even get a chance to defend himself, and it’s even more horrifying to watch because we know him to be innocent of that which he’s accused.
Call Me Da
It’s sweet beyond words to see Jamie touch his daughter’s face, but it’s especially significant that his stroking her face is the first loving touch Brianna allows after her rape. When Jamie says that he hadn’t thought of her as grown, but still “his babe,” it’s a melancholy bookend to Claire’s “My baby,” near episode’s end, and prompts Bree to initiate her own touch, flinging herself into his arms and crying in relief. Her reunion with Claire is electric in an entirely different way, since her mother is glad to see her, but knows the danger and difficulties faced by a woman traveling through time. Bree goes back to the Ridge and we get to see her interact with her extended family. Jamie observes her as much as he interacts, empathizing with her heartbreak and, like Brianna herself, avoiding the subject of Frank. Jamie is shy with his love, and gentle, trying to go only as far as Bree allows, watching carefully for hesitation. The bees are a metaphor that Brianna recognizes, telling Jamie she has a home and that she feels disloyal to Frank, being with him. Jamie, however, has also been forced from his home, and his understanding and plain speaking enable her to do the same, making what was once a complicated thing into something “simple”. His patience here makes what comes later both more and less understandable. The idea of violence being done to your child is so unthinkable that the mind shies away from it, and you can’t help but see them at their most vulnerable, when you were most able to protect them. Claire cannot heal this hurt and Jamie, a warrior, used to bearing his own pain and suppressing his own violent memories, cannot do the same with the pain of a child he has barely regained and already worried he could not protect. He seems to be handling things… until he just isn’t, Lizzie’s painfully detailed description of Bree’s condition (while standing next to Ian, another victim for whom he feels responsible) causing him to explode. Not only is the beating savage, but Jamie seems reduced down to his most primal, his usual strategic thinking gone, telling Ian simply to “get rid of him” without killing him. It’s one of the few times Jamie acts rashly, heart before head, and it will come back to haunt him.
recites the poem on her bracelet, it seems she is outlining yet again the ebb
and flow of her relationship with Roger. Despite thinking that he might love
her “not at all,” she later confesses her love and regret to her mother, who wisely
doubts Roger would leave after one argument. Bree’s connection with Claire is uninterrupted,
warm and intimate. Her relationship with Jamie is more of a work in progress, though
both parties are well-intentioned, and a truce of sorts is struck after their
hunting trip. Brianna is open to Jamie, but despite agreeing to call him “Da,”
she still refers to him as “Jamie” when speaking to Claire, who she
affectionately calls “Momma” instead of the more adult “Mom”. There is usually no time when we want our
mothers more than the times we are in pain, and Brianna is no different. Although
she has been doing a passable job of pretending to be okay, the occasional
looks Claire shoots her daughter throughout the episode finally culminate in her
tearful confession in the garden. It’s terrible enough for a mother to hear,
but even worse to realize that there is nothing you can offer besides a sharing
of mutual grief and horror, and the promise of support. Brianna doesn’t tell
Jamie herself, but leaves Claire to do so, while Lizzie mistakenly fills in the
blanks for Jamie. This piecemeal communication will cost Roger dearly, and it’s
easy to think that Brianna is too overcome to think clearly, but the opposite
is chillingly, horribly true. In maybe
her most MacKenzian act to-date, Brianna, having put the pieces of the puzzle
together and confirming Bonnet as the thief of her mother’s ring, shields both
her parents from the terrible truth to protect them from their own feelings and
actions. It is then that the “baby” is shown to be taking care of her parents,
shielding them with her very body as if they are the child, and she the mother.
This was hands-down Sophie Skelton’s episode, and she hurt my heart to watch. From that first, shaky-breathed standing bath to her pale, distant calm every time Bonnet’s name came up to the final, desperate moment of self-recrimination, it was both excellent and unbearable. Brianna is a woman who has grown up consistently making the best of terrible situations, but she is also a child of the 20th century, raised with love and imbued with a sense of her own independence and worth, and Bonnet takes more than her body that night. You can see her struggle to reassert the very bones of who she was, clutching at her own body as if to ground herself in it, flinching at unexpected touches, seeking the comfort of her parents’ bodies, as if by somehow pressing against those that created her, she can be reborn again, whole and inviolate.
It feels like just yesterday that I was complimenting some the adaptation’s changes to the novels, so it seems karmically fair that this week I should be slapped in the face by how deeply the tiny shifts from the novels affected one of the episodes to which I was most looking forward. Drums of Autumn, the novel upon which this season is based, prominently features Roger and Brianna as individuals and as a couple, setting up the second great love of the novels. It had been hinted the show would give these characters a romantic hour of their own that would cement the emotional connections between them upon which rest several future plot points. I’m not sure that happened. As for Jamie and Claire, Murtagh’s leadership of the regulators manifested into a side plot that seemed to leave his relationship with Jamie weaker than we found it. Let’s revisit what was, for me at least, a pretty challenging hour. Spoilers ahead for episode 408, “Wilmington”.
All The World’s a Stage After a visit to Fergus and Marsali that establishes that Bree and her parents are in the same place as well as the same time, Jamie and Claire attend the theater with Governor Tryon and his wife. There they meet the Governor’s Public Registrar of Deeds, Assemblyman and Judge Edmund Fanning, a man suffering from what Claire immediately recognizes as an inguinal hernia…and a young Colonel George Washington and his wife, Martha. Jamie is playing the part of loyal English subject, cultivating a cordial relationship with the man who is responsible for his land bequest while still trying to protect his godfather, Murtagh, from the ambush Tryon has set for him. It ends up not only cementing Tryon’s view of Jamie as a loyal subject, but also his opinion of Claire as a qualified surgeon. At the end, though Jamie stops Murtagh from committing “a hanging offense,” it’s not by showing up himself but rather returning to the theater with the Governor and sending Fergus in his stead, an act which Murtagh interprets somewhat disdainfully. Jamie, once again walking a fine line between loyalty and sedition, proves Roger’s assertion that it is dangerous to decide who lives and who dies. His actions have alerted his godfather to a traitor in his camp, but Tryon has also guessed the same about his own side, and now blames an innocent General Washington. The outcome of the Revolutionary War is a foregone conclusion, but it was by no means an overnight occurrence. With four years to go before the Boston Tea Party and six before the “Shot Heard Around the World,” it sets the stage for a long-term conflict which seems inconsistent with the level of focus Murtagh’s activities are occupying in the current narrative. It’ll be interesting to see how this plot line is resolved.
I Plight Thee My Troth Just a few minutes into the episode, a tired Roger overhears a tired Brianna inquire about Cross Creek and the two are reunited. Their affection for each other is obvious, but by the time they take their conversation outside they are back to bickering that would appear, to a casual observer like Lizzie, that they are angry with each other. I understand that the TV version of Roger/Brianna rests largely on this dynamic, but it’s problematic for many reasons and this episode saw several of those rear their head. At first, things go well. During the course of their argument, Brianna confesses that she loves Roger, and the resulting make-out session has Bree agreeing to marry him. It’s a bit sudden but still believable, and their ceremony is sweet, a mashup of the older and newer wedding traditions that ends with them plighting their “troth” to one another, i.e. their faith and loyalty. It’s here where things begin to fall apart. The same comfort that allows them both to be swept away by grand gestures and romance causes them both not to think before they speak. Brianna discovers that Roger knew about the obituary, and she accuses him of being domineering. Roger retaliates by pointing out her recklessness, both in assuming she can change the past and in risking her life, and by extension his own, in trying. Once again, they both say things they don’t mean and care less about listening to each other than they do about getting their own point across. A prime example is when Roger says that, now they’re married, she should start listening to him, and Brianna interprets that as doing what he says. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch a couple that loves each other repeatedly stall in the growth of their relationship, withdraw from each other, and fight unfairly. For example, in the novel, Brianna leaves Roger after she discovers he knew about her mother’s death. Here, it’s Roger that leaves her, and what was empowering for her and motivating for him now looks like an unfeeling abandonment by a man who just swore to take care of her. Taken together with their post-proposal fight and how this incredibly sensitive character has been portrayed as a thoughtless misogynist, it leaves me with a feeling of alienation from Roger, and for Brianna for choosing him. Perhaps the intent is to make the television audience feel closer to Brianna, who was a somewhat polarizing character in the novels, but it ends up making me question why I should be excited about a relationship where two people are so careless with each other’s feelings. I want to cheer for Roger and Brianna, but when they keep being set against each other in these maladaptive ways, it’s incredibly difficult to keep overlooking.
You Can’t Protect Them Still ringing from an argument with Roger in which she assures him that she and Lizzie have done “quite well” alone, Brianna comes back to the inn where she is staying, only to run into Stephen Bonnet and his possession of her mother’s ring. Her attempt to retrieve it unlocks Bonnet’s casual cruelty once more, to devastating effect. The resulting scene is not only traumatic for the fact that the real-time audio means you can close your eyes and see it in your mind’s eye, but because it’s heartbreaking proof of how very alone Brianna is, and how vulnerable despite the courage and fire in her heart. Outlander has never been a series that hesitates when it comes to the use of rape as a plot device, but the placement of this particular scene, directly after a loving first time, feels particularly traumatic because it happens the same night, not two days later and told as a flashback, like in the novels. Several meanings could be assigned to it. Maybe it was meant to evoke the horror of what is happening in those who watch it. Maybe it was meant as a contrast between the loving interlude with Roger, Bonnet’s relaxed violence making Roger’s careful reverence more tender and tragic by comparison. Or maybe it was simply one of those meaningless acts of violence to which reason simply doesn’t apply, presented without comment and without comfort. Brianna’s body is shown less care than her boots, stacked up carefully by the doorway. She walks back through the tavern —slowly, painfully, but upright.
I’m a book queen, there’s no denying that. But I am HERE for some of the changes the producers are making, and one of them was the decision to draw a parallel between two of the show’s most vilified characters. Having once drawn this parallel myself, I can tell you it’s a not popular pursuit to put yourself into the shoes of two of the story’s most controversial characters. I don’t feel it merited the amount of time it was given (I would have liked a bit less Laoghaire and a bit more Roger) but it certainly paid off as a way to fully round out the consequences of Claire and Jamie’s choices on those most impacted by them. I’m only going to look at two things this week, so this’ll be a little longer than usual. Bear with me. Spoilers ahead for Outlander episode 407, “Down the Rabbit Hole”.
Of Heroes and Villains
In the third flashback of the night, we see both the Fraser fire obituary and a letter from who I presume to be the Reverend Wakefield. The letter speaks of Frank’s ill health, emotional well-being and, of course, the death of Claire and Jamie. Frank is as drunk and disheveled as the night of Claire’s graduation, a visual cue of his emotional distress. Bottom-level assumptions would indicate that he now knows the following a) Claire told the truth about her time with Jamie and b) she will leave the present to go back to him, and die there. He hides in his study and doesn’t answer his phone, trying to process this reality alone, but is sought out by his daughter. It’s evident that they are close, and Brianna takes his silence as rejection when Frank chooses to protect her, sending her home to Claire. The next morning, after a mutual apology, he mentions studying abroad. When he finally does ask her to come, it’s immediately followed by informing her that he and Claire have decided to divorce, and Brianna is understandably sidetracked. The irony is that Frank has suddenly provided exactly the sort of communication that Brianna was looking for that night in his study, but she proves his initial instinct correct. Bree’s not able to be her father’s confidante because the word “divorce” makes a child out of anyone, near-adult or no. She verbally lashes out, telling Frank he’s “too old” to divorce (as if there’s an age you are okay with being unhappy) and implying that he’s giving up on their family. Frank is gentle, patient, but firm. Brianna is seventeen at the time, and her father is operating under the assumption that her mother will leave her to go back to Jamie. There is no mention here that Frank knew of the Fraser prophecy, as he does in the books, but what if he was trying to get Bree to England where he had intelligence contacts that might be able to protect her? Frank’s murkier motivations aren’t very much illuminated, but he does tell Brianna that she is his family, the center of his and Claire’s lives and that he loves her…twice. Divorce means picking a parent to live with and dividing your time between them. Splitting holidays, living in two houses. It’s not an unreasonable ask. Bree carries the memory of their last interaction with her when she leaves, but with regret, not resentment, referring to him as her “hero”. Frank is Bree’s father in every way but biological, and he asks Brianna to “Come with me,” (much like he once asked Claire) because loving her has given his life meaning. Tragic? Absolutely. Ill-advised? Probably. But not the act of a villain.
Two Sides of a Coin
Love and hate are often seen as the yin and yang of human emotion, but things are almost never as simple as the kind of binary that works best in symbolism. The parallels drawn between Outlander’s two best-known scorned lovers attempt to lend some context to characters at the periphery of Claire and Jamie’s great love. The series has given us much more of a look at the life of Frank as the man who loved Claire deeply, but ultimately resolved to walk away from his marriage when he finally realized she wasn’t capable of giving him what he wanted from her. His choice is framed in much more noble terms than Laoghaire’s, who seems to cling to the specter of Jamie’s ‘love’ despite all evidence to the contrary. Frank’s unhappiness is relieved, to a great extent, by his role as a parent. Laoghaire loves her children, but doesn’t hesitate to pit them against their stepfather or stepsister. Frank’s bitterness is, for the most part, contained, while Laoghaire complains loudly and at length about Claire and Jamie to anyone who will listen. One resolved to move forward, another is stuck in the regrets of her past. One dies, one lives a half-life.
When first we met Laoghaire, she was a young girl who idolized the man who had volunteered to take a whipping for her. The impression it left upon her is so marked that she tells Brianna about it when describing how he once loved her. Perhaps even more so than in the novels, where she’s not really her own person outside of the events she sets into motion. Here, we briefly see the woman she would have been had she not channeled so much energy and anger into revenge. By all accounts a devoted and loving mother, able to accept Fergus as the father of her grandchild and charitable, despite reduced circumstances. A good Samaritan. It’s only when Ian visits and she learns about Claire that the tide of her bitterness is released with absolutely nothing to dam it. At the core of this rush of anger is the loneliness of a single mother whom life disappointed one too many times. Laoghaire’s greatest opportunity at living a successful life was always going to rely on a successful marriage, and she’s failed several times. Now firmly in her middle age with no husband or sons to advocate for her, she’s in a much different position than Frank was. This isn’t to excuse her. She takes some unconscionable, mean-spirited actions that are rooted in willful ignorance but there are also circumstances that work against her, limiting the scope of her choices in a way Frank never faced.
She’d Better Be Worth It
It was good to see Roger as an assertive presence this episode. Up until now, the show has focused somewhat reactively on his feelings for Brianna, resulting in a characterization that veers from sweet, lovesick pushover to sudden angry misogynist, if the more damning public opinion is to be believed…which I don’t. It’s an opportunity to watch him operate alone, a sixties humanist and idealist who has traveled back to a time where it is sometimes impossible to be one. There is a playfulness and daring about Roger that enables him, early this episode, to connect to the part of Bonnet that respects a risk-taker. Unfortunately, the other side of that coin is one that viewers are already familiar with (notice Claire’s ring on Bonnet’s pinky). Bonnet’s tale of avoiding immurement based on the flip of a coin reveals a man who, for all intents and purposes, considers every action beyond that flip a gratuity. Both Bonnet and Black Jack share a lack of conscience, but while Jack was motivated by hate, Bonnet is empowered by unpredictability and as such, devoid of fear. Roger’s own fear is readily apparent in his expression when Bonnet informs him that his life hangs on a coin toss, but he never moves, standing in front of Morag and the baby, protecting them with his body when his reason won’t do the trick. Roger represents everything Bonnet is not: the rule of law, faith in his fellow man, and the rightness that reason should triumph over senselessness. Roger is the head and Bonnet the tail, and for now, order wins over chaos.
Another little gem worth noting: Twice this episode Roger refers to Bree as “my own woman” and “my lass”. It’s a running reminder of the reason underlying his urgency and a lovely tip of the hat to one of the pet names Brianna’s father calls her mother. He went from barely acknowledging his feelings to Fiona to declaring himself to complete strangers. Roger may never have repeated his declaration to Bree, but his feelings are constant, and where words once failed him spectacularly, action will no doubt do the trick. Brianna’s rejection of his proposal was rooted in the fear she would end up in a loveless marriage, and this is quite obviously not the case. Roger’s voyage is proof of the depth of his commitment, even before a single vow is spoken. Not only does he care about Brianna’s well-being and safety, but his very real reaction to Bonnet’s careless sacrifice of one innocent is followed by a decision to place himself in harm’s way to protect another one. He’s still the “good one” in whom Claire recognized the same quality that she has (albeit with much less impulsiveness): a bone-deep empathy for his fellow man. Neither Claire nor Roger could have anticipated that they would eventually share another common bond, that of traveling through centuries in the name of True Love. Thankfully, for the abbreviated time these characters have suffered onscreen this season, Bree is nothing if not a quick study. Roger’s mere presence in the past is a love letter, and when she sees him, she’ll know.
Let us live, my Lesbia, and love, and the rumors of rather stern old men let us value all at just one penny! Suns may set and rise again; for us, when once the brief light has set, an eternal night must be slept. Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then yet another thousand, then a hundred; then, when we have performed many thousands, we shall shake them into confusion, in order for us to lose the count, and in order not to let any evil person envy us, as no one will be aware of how many kisses have there been.
This week’s episode was a favorite. It exemplified one of the things the novels do best: multiple points of view that each feel important. Although Jamie and Claire were at the center of this episode, it didn’t focus solely on their romantic relationship (except for the last few minutes that feature a quote from the above poem), but branched out to show some of the reasons these two exceptional people are just as exceptional apart. Spoilers ahead for episode 406.
Rumor Has It
A lot of this hour focused on the nature not of love, but of the allegiances that love entails. Does loving someone, and being loved by them, entitle us to be the priority in their hearts? I think this is something that changes more and more the older we get and the more allegiances we develop. When one is a child there is often one luminous adult, be they parent or grandparent (or groom) that helps us make sense of the world and our place in it. When we become parents, our children are the ones entitled to our greatest dedication, at least until they become adults. In Jamie’s youth, Murtagh was that adult, and the nature of their bond was so narrow that there was no one he trusted more. Now in his middle age, Jamie has made an unlikely but steadfast friend in John, who he appreciates not only for his own nobility of character but for the lasting commitment he made to raise Jamie’s son. Murtagh, who has only ever experienced loss at the hands of the English, doesn’t understand Jamie’s attachment until he guesses that William is Jamie’s son. Murtagh, who has thought of Jamie as his own son, must now weigh his allegiance to the one-time leader of his clan to that of the new clan he has created with the Scottish expats of Woolam’s Creek. He gently reminds Jamie when he leaves the Ridge that he has kept all his secrets so far, and perhaps can be trusted with the story of William’s mother; it’s a subtle dig that finds its mark. It’s not only Murtagh who struggles with Jamie’s regard for John. Claire, conscious of Jamie’s appreciation of William’s care, is perfectly polite to John in front of her husband but doesn’t hesitate to lay her cards on the table when they are left alone. Claire is making assumptions about John’s feelings for Jamie based not only on her own pain, but on the legacy of Black Jack Randall. William is operating from his memories of Mac and his belief that he is a nobleman’s son, above valuing the affections of a groom. Even the fandom, on occasion mentioning an episode that features one character over another, gets drawn into the fallacy that love of one thing must mean indifference or derision of another, when the opposite is true. So many hearts that begin the hour looking at love as an either/or proposition come to understand by hours’ end that the nature of a true love, one that comes from a good heart, be it eros, philia, storge or Claire’s evergreen agape, is that it cannot be lessened by division, only magnified.
Envy Eats Its Own Heart
John arrives at the Ridge ostensibly to allow Jamie to visit with his son, but it’s no surprise that it’s Claire who confronts him not once, but twice with his reason for coming. There is a searing honesty between these two that, if Jamie and his friendship is anything to go by, is a necessary requirement to a meaningful friendship with either of them. The way their relationship is advanced here, in a sort of abbreviated 3-act play with high emotional stakes, is my favorite part of the entire episode. It begins with a clawing out of boundaries where Claire not only confronts John with his real reason for coming (to see Jamie), but answers his accusation of envy by pointing out that she too, raised a child of Jamie’s and taunting John with the knowledge of what William’s reaction would be, should he learn that John is lying to him about his parentage. Despite Claire saying that her “devastating straightforwardness,” isn’t a choice, it’s certainly more of a choice than John’s sexual orientation, and especially in that time. The way that David Berry delivers that line, tears in his eyes, speaks volumes as to the pain in John’s heart. While John appears to be dutifully mournful when he tells Jamie of Isobel’s death, he confesses to Claire later, when he believes he is dying, that he felt “nothing” upon the death of his wife despite the fact that they had a life together and that seeing Jamie was a way to see if he still had feelings. He also tells her that he could have had Jamie once and chose not to, when Jamie bartered his body for his promise to take care of William, and Claire is shocked. Not because she would not herself have made the same bargain (remember her submission to the King of France in exchange for Jamie’s release), but because she knows Jamie’s history with Randall and what it must have cost him to make such an offer. The next morning when John wakes, he begs her forgiveness for his indiscretion, and confesses it is the “satisfaction on your face” that grieves him most. When he asks Claire if she knows what it is to love someone and not be able to bring them happiness simply because you were not born the right person for them, it is no coincidence that the hand that reaches out to comfort him is the one with Frank’s ring. John has William, she tells him, communicating in so few words what Frank meant to her as the father to her daughter. John will never be loved by Jamie as he wishes, nor Frank by Claire, but they have places in their hearts that they earned honestly, and that holds a value all its own.
A large part of the episode explored Jamie’s relationship with his son, William Ransom. William shows up with Lord John Grey, whose illness forces Jamie to take the boy into the woods and spend time together. We deviate from the book early on, as William remembers Mac the groom when Jamie speaks Gaelic to his horses on their way to the privy. The child’s hurt feelings are expressed in haughtiness. As John points out, this is a boy who has lost two mothers in his short lifetime, and now his father is ill. This illness is the catalyst for Jamie to take the boy out on a tour of the land. William is by turns enthusiastic and mulish. Although it is obvious that he admires Jamie and wants to learn from him, the mention of Jamie’s father reminds him of his own, and he lashes out in his uncertainty and fear, blaming his father’s illness on his visit to Jamie. William, as many children do, feels an intense loyalty to his father. The reminder of him fills him with a guilt that expresses itself in anger. While Jamie is emotionally intelligent enough to recognize his outburst for what it is, he is painfully reminded of the place John has in the boy’s heart, and how he compares. This makes his desperate offer to take Willie’s place for taking the Native’s fish all the more heartbreaking. When he shouts that he is the boy’s father, it’s such a ludicrous proposition that Willie assertively denies it, bravely claiming sole responsibility for the theft. William runs to Jamie’s arms for comfort, and they strike a truce. The next morning on the way back to Ridge, William asks Jamie why he didn’t turn around when he left Helwater. Jamie says honestly that he wanted to, but he didn’t want to give him false hope since he didn’t believe he would ever see him again. His affectionate rush to John and Jamie’s assurance that John is a good father in no way mars the closeness the two have achieved. Both men understand their place in the boy’s life, and when William looks back at Jamie as his horse ambles away from the Frasers’ homestead, his yearning gaze is a beacon of hope for his father’s heart to hold onto that someday, they will see each other again.
Let Us Live and Love
After the emotional turmoil of John’s visit, Claire and Jamie reaffirm their vows, in a way. Jamie washes Claire in a sort of baptismal cleansing. John wasn’t only a reminder of their child, but of their 20 years apart, and their yearning to be together. The ring Jamie gives her is emblematic of their commitment to each other, and the endurance of the Fraser clan in all its varied forms and iterations. Their first kiss, shared on their wedding day, multiplied into a thousand more, to be shared by them, their children, and the generations to come.
The title of this week’s episode is, as used throughout the episode, an ethnic slur commonly used by colonialists on native populations to imply they are/were devoid of culture and subhuman. While I’m surprised such a woke production as Outlander chose to use it in this particular manner, I choose not to use it here. You can Google it if you’re interested.
I saw a theme this week, and that theme was hate, and how the worst hate, the most difficult to overcome, is that which has its roots in love. Spoilers ahead for episode 405.
What the Heck Happened to Roger and Bree?
Despite last week’s promo being all about them, a grand total of 3 minutes and 30 seconds out of a 53 1/2 minute episode were spent on the pair. Roger finds out that Bree spent a couple of nights at Baird’s Bed and Breakfast, the same place Frank and Claire once stayed after the war. She left a letter for him that she asked not be sent until a year hence. Roger reads it at the very end of the episode, over a montage of Bree at Craig Na Dun. In the letter, Brianna tells him that she knows of something terrible that will happen to her mother and Jamie, and she wouldn’t forgive herself if she didn’t try to warn them. She also tells him she cared for him “deeply,” and asks that he not go after her. Richard Rankin does his utmost best with so little, flinching as if shot when he reads this. Brianna is at the stones one moment (in a too-short dress that you would think a one-time history major would know better than to wear and a bracelet that tells you more about her feelings than that letter) and gone the next, and that’s that. Drums of Autumn, the novel that corresponds to this season, is the book where Roger and Brianna become main characters. It would make sense to tell their stories in a parallel manner to that of Claire and Jamie, echoing the back-and-forth from the 18th to the 20th centuries that made the first half of season 3 so memorable. Being that we’re a little under halfway through the season, I hope the producers planned that the next episodes focus more on this relationship so that viewers can become as invested as readers in this great fan favorite.
Always Take A Murtagh
In a reunion that ended up being less joyful than it should have been, we meet up with Murtagh, whose wig is EPIC. After a dozen years spent as an indentured servant after we last saw him leave Ardsmuir, his abusive master died, and the widow sold him the smithy in Woolam’s Creek upon his release. Jamie invites him to leave for the Ridge, but Murtagh says he has the smithy and important work, so he cannot. This important work ends up being that old Fraser classic: sedition. Murtagh isn’t only a regulator, but a local leader and a true believer in his cause. Jamie is dismayed to realize his uncle is gearing up for another fight and honestly reveals that he gave his word to help dispel any rebellion as part of his deal with Governor Tryon. Jamie won’t help his godfather, but neither will he interfere. I was reminded of the print shop, and Jamie and Claire’s uncomfortable first conversations.These are men who were closer to each other than anyone else in their lives and now stand on opposing sides of an issue. Murtagh stayed to fight in Culloden for love of Jamie, and for his love, was an abused servant who rebuilt a community. Robbed of his home and his family, Murtagh is now driven by what remains of the great love he had for his family and his country: hatred for injustice, and for the English abuse of power at its heart. Murtagh’s reappearance is a classic case of being careful what we wish for. Now he’s back in Jamie and Claire’s life, his regulator activities are no doubt one of many things gearing up to disturb the fragile tranquility of the life that the Frasers are attempting to build.
What Makes A Father
In a return to the visions that Jamie had of Claire during their time apart, he tells Claire of a dream he had of a diamond-shaped birthmark on Brianna’s neck, behind her left ear. Claire is rightfully amazed, being that she never told Jamie about it but she confirms the birthmark’s existence, and that it is usually…. “Covered by her hair,” Jamie finishes, echoing her. “I kissed her there,” he says quietly, with a rueful grin. The wonder on his face when he realizes it was a real glimpse of his daughter is quickly eclipsed by his loss and Claire hurries to hold him. Jamie, a three-times biological father, has been denied the experience of fatherhood all three times. The brief years spent with Willie and his time with Fergus is about as close as he’s gotten. And you won’t hear me disparage the depth of adopted parental love. Having both adopted and biological children, I can tell you the love is just as punishing and overwhelming and wonderful. I can also tell you the loss of either would be crushing, more so without even the balm of shared memories to soften it. I felt deeply for Jamie during this brief interaction. His love of his children is a hidden furnace, silently feeding a love that he can’t fully express. Jamie, rational being that he is, doesn’t hate easily. Only someone who seeks to harm his family could elicit that emotion, but having a child who is being parented by someone else and an adult, headstrong daughter means his children are largely outside his sphere of control, and at the mercy of fate. Now that Brianna has come back in time and we are due to check in with Willie next week, Jamie will have to reconcile the children he keeps in his heart with the ones that life has seen fit to give him.
It’s Not Your Fault
The episode opens with Claire and Adawehi teaching each other about their languages and their healing by the water. While most of their conversation is mimed, the warmth between the two is unmistakable. when Claire is once more asked about her children and mentions Brianna living “far away,” Adawehi replies that Brianna is there. It’s an indication of just how strong her magic and premonitions were, providing a mournful background to events later in the episode. When Jamie and Ian go to seek families to populate the Ridge, Claire stays behind to deliver a baby at the Mueller residence. Petronella, a young widow, lives with her parents and brother. Gerhard, the patriarch and new grandfather, is described as stubborn by Jamie but is shown to be a loving husband and father and a doting grandfather who purchases a doll for his infant grandchild, named after Claire. The effect of Tawodi’s appearance on the jovial Mueller is instant and horrifying to watch. With a knee-jerk fear that is all too familiar to people of color, Mueller and his son point a musket at the natives trying to water their horses, accusing them of trying to violate property lines that they don’t even recognize. Claire’s friendship with Adawehi temporarily defuses the confrontation, but later, when the measles take Petronella, her brother and the infant, that same association dooms her. Mueller doesn’t hold the men responsible, but rather Adawehi, citing her as a witch, the source of the curse and implying that his position as a Christian should have exempted him and his family from death. Aside from the casual misogyny so prevalent in the time, the belief that his faith makes him morally (or in this case, physically) superior to the natives. Adawehi’s parting words to Claire last episode finally make sense. Her death is a direct result of the perversion into hate of two great loves: the love of a father and the love of God. Mueller uses these to justify great hatred and terrible violence, and because of this, whether by the hand of the Great Spirit, God, or both, it is returned to him in the same manner. Claire, bringer of life, mender of bodies, is unprepared for the emotional weight of such hatred. After being presented with the evidence of Mueller’s crime, she asks him to leave and spends her remaining time alone tensely defensive. As with all hate, it take the return of love to diffuse the fear and impotence that hatred brings. When Claire asks Jamie to hold her, it is as if he is squeezing all of us through the screen, a tiny island of reassurance in an ocean of turmoil.
Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than to submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land.
This week had a lot of calm, chatty Jamie/Claire moments, hugging, dogs acting startled and a metric crapton of woodworking. None of those were what stuck with me. Spoilers ahead for episode 404, “Common Ground.”
The similarities between Native and Highlander cultures are repeatedly highlighted throughout the hour. The title sequence featuring Nawohali dressing echoes Jamie’s rolling himself into the long kilt from episode 109, Tawodi spouts philosophical phrases (shout out to Nietzsche) with the same nonchalance as a young Jamie and early on, Gov. Tryon states outright that Indians and Highlanders are alike. This is no coincidence, as Tryon expects Jamie’s empathy with the native plight and therefore wants to hammer home the obligation to the Crown that comes with accepting such a substantial land grant. Jamie responds with his classic grin and noncommittal answers. It’s pretty obvious that he identifies with the native plight…to an extent. When Jamie spoke to Claire of the “rightness” of knowing that the land he accepted was meant to be his home, I couldn’t help but think of the same emotion passed down from one generation of Cherokee to the next and I found myself experiencing echoes of the feelings I had while watching 402. This might be the reason that I couldn’t wholeheartedly cheer for Jamie and Claire, homesteaders. I was very conscious, once again, which side of the ridge I would be sleeping on, and it wouldn’t be the Fraser side. Jamie understands the Indians did not willingly admit the English into their lands (and fought a war over it not long before) and the problematic nature of assuming a culture is ignorant just because it is not shared. Still, his priority is to settle the land, protect Claire and Ian while doing so, and he doesn’t really stop to think about the inherent wrongness of what he’s doing. Instead he muses about how a few lines on a map aren’t stopping the Cherokee (as if they would have stopped him). It made for a bit of emotional distance on my part, because I couldn’t see myself in his eyes here. Even Claire was strangely silent about the ethical implications of what they were doing, which I understand as a dramatic choice. Claire and Jamie’s settlement drives the story forward in a key manner, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me to watch. All the comparisons between the natives and the Highland Scots ignore one crucial difference: race. It’s a significant omission that ignores the privilege that was so expertly highlighted in Rufus’s story. By episode’s end, a truce between the local Cherokee and the Frasers has been struck, and while I don’t doubt Jamie’s sincerity in doing so, it remains to be seen how long it can endure under such fraught conditions.
These poor bastards. I don’t like to get into book vs. show much in these shorter pieces, but the show has really suffered in the development of Roger and Brianna’s relationship. Simply alluding to a year or so of long-distance dating doesn’t really inform the emotions that power and motivate their interactions. Last week’s fight showed us that Brianna and Roger aren’t only on opposite ends of the commitment scale, but also that they have deep, complex feelings for each other. Brianna, logical to the point of being clinical, would not discuss her feelings for him until prompted, despite being much more physically demonstrative than he. Roger never initiated any kisses or physical contact, so it stands to reason he takes this cue on her part as evidence of greater commitment…except it isn’t. Brianna is ready to give her body but not her word, and she of course should expect her partner to acquiesce to that boundary, except sex requires two people to consent, and how Roger chooses to express his lack of such is where it all goes south. The fact that it devolves into the mess it became and that two adults can’t find the words to tell each other they’re sorry is emblematic of the awkwardness that we have come to associate with them, but it needs to stop. In order for this relationship to become like the one we cheer for in the books, there needs to be the careful building of a dynamic here, not just the tossing together of two characters like blocks destined to bounce off each other. Their telephone conversation is loaded with subtext. Listen to it with your eyes closed and Roger’s silences and professional, detached tone are so at odds with the wealth of emotion in his eyes as to make you cringe. Do the same with Brianna, and you miss the regretful twist of her mouth after every impulsive conversational opening that she quickly shuts down. It’s a painful conversation to watch, and not just because I want to shake them both, but because having a stronger foundation for this relationship would help give this so much context, and it just didn’t happen. As a result, we see more of the flaws in their interactions than the reasons we should want them to be together, even if they make perfect sense. Bree opened herself up, and she won’t make the same mistake twice without motivation. Roger laid his cards on the table and now all he has is his pride. By servicing that pride, however, he misses a chance to reconnect and Brianna, her last tether to the modern world cut, quietly leaves to connect with the only people she has left in the world that will love her no matter what.
Oh dig me a grave and dig it sae deep, And cover it over with wee flowers sae sweet. And I lay me down for to take a long sleep And maybe in time I’ll forget her.
I was ready for some lightheartedness this week, and Outlander delivered…for at least 15 solid minutes. Spoilers ahead for episode 403, “The False Bride”.
Harmony on Earth
The book Tuscarora have been changed on the show to the much more documented Cherokee, the largest tribe on the southeastern coast. The Cherokee had already lost about 75% of their original tribal lands to English treaties and half their people to a smallpox epidemic by the early 18th century. As John Quincy Meyers tells the Frasers, not only could Cherokee women pick their own partners, they sat on councils, owned property and were religious leaders. In a 1757 visit to the governor of North Carolina, the Cherokee leader Attakullakulla said, “Since the white man as well as the red was born of woman, did not the white man admit women to their council?” These are the people that the English (and early on this episode, Jamie, which made me flinch) refer to as “savages” in the common parlance of the time. The skull Claire finds in the woods, with its bone-deep cut and fiery opal, belong to a man she initially believes to be Cherokee, but later discovers is a time-traveler like herself. It’s a call back to Gillian Edgars, and the fervent desire to change the outcome of a culture destined to be on the losing end of history. We don’t know the reason the man the credits call Otter-Tooth traveled back in time, but his benevolent treatment of Claire establishes her once more as a link not only to the supernatural, but of empathy and knowledge from one culture to another.
May We Never Fall Out
I was so ready to see my book boyfriend Roger this episode. His character is so sweet and I needed a dose of that after the emotional battering ram that was 402. It was no coincidence that we began the episode with a clip of Roger, alone, playing the guitar in the empty Reverend’s manse as he waits to turn the keys over to newly wed Fiona and her husband, Ernie. Roger is obviously suffering a loss, but puts on a brave face to wish the new couple happy in their new home. When he arrives to see Brianna, their reunion is the awkward, sweet comedy of errors we’ve grown used to, except for one thing: Bree is open, demonstrative, and you can see on Roger’s face what this does to him. When Bree makes her move the night of the Celidh, he is ecstatic, declaring his love for her in a sweeping, idealistic proposal that hurts to watch. “I want this to be perfect,” Roger says, his love a monologue that Brianna tries to gently interrupt, three times. First, by telling him it already is perfect. Second, by telling him it’s too fast and finally, heartbreakingly, by outright stating she isn’t ready. This last statement is what finally penetrates Roger’s vision of their future, and from there, it devolves into an exchange of merciless observations and pointed insults that guarantees the observations won’t be heard. Roger, the product of parents who loved each other and of a history he was raised with, is asking the woman he loves for the commitment which, to him, is emblematic of true love. Brianna, the product of a bitterly unhappy marriage who only recently discovered the cost of her mother’s second, stronger love, is asking the man she loves (though she won’t say it yet) to understand that her commitment, though unspoken, requires space to breathe and grow. All Brianna hears is that it’s marriage or nothing. All Roger hears is that he might not be good enough. As so many young people do, Roger and Brianna are not reacting to their own situation but instead to what their parents taught them of love. Roger loves Bree, and sees a proposal as an (albeit old-fashioned) honorable way to make his intentions known. Bree loves Roger, and would not risk turning him into another Frank (she thinks herself more like her mother than either father), eternally pining for a woman who doesn’t want him. The terrible, sad thing is, that in refusing to speak candidly, openly, and accept each other’s fears, they end up making some of those fears come true.
The Pursuit of Happiness
We spent some time checking back in with Jocasta and establishing that yes, she’s an unrepentant slave owner but she loves a spunky lady and also her nephew. I kind of rolled my eyes at the appropriateness of giving silver candelabra as a housewarming gift to people who can fit their entire lives on two horses and a mule (I know it was his mom’s, hold onto it until he actually owns candles, Jo), but that’s the least of my issues with Jocasta as a human. I was pleased to see that both Jamie and Claire took under 24 hours to peace out on River Run, and their goodbyes were markedly different. Jocasta spoke to Jamie with affection and resignation but while her final conversation with Claire started respectfully enough, Jo just had to run that mouth. Her assurance that Jamie is wasting his talent by seeking to live an unassuming printer’s life angers Claire enough for a clap back but ultimately the fact that she lets Jocasta have the last word clues me in to the fact that Claire isn’t as confident as she seems about Jamie’s reasons for choosing to go back to printmaking as a career choice. Their subsequent conversation about Brianna’s indecision re: a career path causes Jamie to say that unlike in their daughter’s time, in his time a man followed his family’s career path and was “thankful for that.” Jamie, like his daughter, had no burning desire to follow his chosen career; he did so because he thought he should, and he wanted to give his family what he thought they wanted. As any good spouse or parent will tell you, however, all they want for their child or spouse is that they should fulfill the dictates of their own hearts and pursue their own happiness. By the end of the episode, Claire and Jamie’s decision to settle Fraser’s Ridge (somewhere near Boone and Blowing Rock, according to Herself) does what their descendants couldn’t, rearranging the concept of what they *should* want to make room for the bravely building something just for the two of them. Something new.