Deep Thoughts Outlander 404: Common Ground

Jamie Fraser cuts the cable cherokee

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.

~Chief Dragging Canoe, Chickamauga Tsalagi (Cherokee)

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.”

Roger Wakefield crying spoilers

Hello, Friend

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.

Good-Bye, Brianna

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.

 

4 comments

  1. Yvonne Jocks · 20 Days Ago

    Great (deep) thoughts, as usual. I wondered about that too, the choice to not have Jamie and Claire admit flat out that the land they’ve been “given” was not the British gov’ts land to give, and so they are participating in its theft. That said, I don’t know how they could wholly reconcile that, if they were to face it. So, like we modern Americans, they just don’t look t it straight on… one of our country’s two great, original sins. Which is interesting, since Claire so dramatically rails against the other original sin that she comes across as somewhat rude to Auntie Jocasta (who, for her time, is one of the “better” slave owners, if such a thing can be, which I guess it can’t).

    I’m not as bothered as you by the loss of time building the Roger / Brianna relationship. To me, it felt a little rushed in the book, too, and their “break” seemed weirdly drawn out. The TV version has the strength of being more direct, cutting out a few of the back-and-forths that went nowhere. At the start of this episode, I was thinking, “how are they going to fit everything else in, this season!” While the best solution would be a *longer season*… well, in absence of that, streamlining some of the “months went by with increasingly cooler phone conversations” works for me. Good point, though, about the loss of Roger adding to Bri’s desperation to find her mother, although I think the hero in her (she is Claire and Jamie’s daughter, all the same) would be enough to urge her back in time, assuming she has discovered the same bad news about the fire that he has. The main difference to how she would behave, if she and Roger were together, is that she may have been more likely to go to him with her plans.

    • Connie Verzak · 14 Days Ago

      Thank you for this well thought-out comment! I feel like, in the books, we got a lot of the internal monologue that gives context to the emotions building up in Roger and Brianna. I didn’t like their fight in the books as much because it took me completely by surprise that they would have gotten physical with each other. I don’t know that I would have needed a longer season. I think splitting each episode into past and future like we did for Claire/Frank and Jamie in the past in season 3 would have worked. Having parallel themes that eventually bring the quartet together, to me would make more sense for this seasons since Drums is the book that gives is the 5 main protagonists of the rest of the books.

  2. Margot · 20 Days Ago

    Totally agree with you about the Cherokee and mixed feelings watching. I worked it out by appreciating that some Native actors got gigs, and I love seeing the great Tantoo Cardinal in a small but important role. The time is ripe for a big high-value TV series with Native actors in all the lead roles, IMO.
    thanks for all your thoughtful, heartfelt, and sometimes-hilarious commentary.

    • Connie Verzak · 14 Days Ago

      Thanks so much! It’s always great to see Native actors onscreen, but I still like to point these things out because, unlike other aspects of the production, it’s still a living culture upon which atrocities are committed. So I like to stand up and point, at the very lease. Tantoo Cardinal is wonderful.