“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
This was, 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.
When Bree 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.