Deep Thoughts Outlander 410: “The Deep Heart’s Core”

Of Mothers and Daughters

One of the most engrossing things to watch this hour was the contrast of the parenting decisions made by Jamie and Claire. These two characters are so often in sync, it’s interesting to see the things that cause their thoughts to part ways. It’s a tricky transition from parenting a child to parenting an adult. Jamie, for that Brianna is grown, is a new parent.  Claire not only knows Bree as an individual but has memory of the circumstances in which she was raised and her personal experiences, which along with (shhh don’t tell) a nice gut instinct, is part of what mothers use to emotionally diagnose our children.  Claire is also a healer, her empathy and love tempered by a surgical directness.  A quarter of an hour in, she walks Brianna through the surgical steps of ending her pregnancy, never once mentioning herself as a grandmother or her own wishes. Her selflessness and willingness to put Bree’s choice above her own reservations tugged at my heart. She only volunteers that she never thought of it when directly asked, telling her daughter that their situations were different: Brianna was wanted and made in love. The mention of love causes Brianna to ask about the possibility that Roger could be the child’s father, and Claire is just as detailed and careful in her description of her other option: traveling back before the baby is born and still in her body, lest it be torn from her in the passage through. When both options are presented, she expresses sympathy and holds her peace. Claire loves her daughter, but she recognizes that she cannot fix her problems, only ensure that Bree continues to have one person in a strange place and time in whom she can have perfect faith.  Both Claire and Brianna know their time with each other is limited. Brianna’s eventual departure from the past is set up almost from the moment she arrives at the Ridge. Bree “belongs in her time,” Claire tells Jamie, and Claire belongs in her “wee garden.” When Brianna followed Claire back to the past, she knew this, and being at the Ridge has assured her of it.  What neither woman expected is that Brianna would come to harm. That changes everything.

The bond that a protective mother has towards a child in need is so fierce as to supersede all other concerns, soulmates included. Claire agrees to keep Bonnet’s identity as Brianna’s rapist secret not because Jamie doesn’t deserve to know or because she wants to save him the guilt, much as both of those may be true.  She does it because Bree asked her to. Her first concern in this situation, both medically and emotionally, is Brianna, but she sends her to River Run to be attended by a midwife because it’s what Bree needs of her.  At Brianna’s own request, Claire needs to be a trustworthy face for Roger so that he will come with them, and to tell him about what happened to Brianna in her place. As apparent as Claire’s reluctance is and as much as she might not agree, she listens and acquiesces, dismissing Jamie’s complaint that she lied to him because she understands that her promise to her daughter – and Brianna’s assurance of her dependability – superseded his need to know. In this moment in time, Claire is a mother first, and a wife second, and it’s exactly who she needs to be. Brianna’s insightful apology to her, knowing that she is forcing her mother to relive their last painful goodbye is the kind of emotional arrow to the heart that most mothers of adult children recognize: the bittersweet knowledge that your sweet baby is seeing you not just as a mother, but as a human being. That they are grown to your level, and that the love you feel for them, the helplessness in the face of their pain, is offset by the pride in knowing you helped put this person into the world, and that the world will be better for it.

A Tale of Two Frasers

Jamie and Brianna, on the other hand, are still learning to read each other. Jamie’s lifetime of maneuvering through difficult situations has made him adept at reading subtle cues, and this is highlighted in his decision to show Brianna physically what he felt he couldn’t communicate to her in words. It was a ruthless, effective shortcut that she not only understood, but immediately mimicked.  Her bald question about his time with Black Jack Randall was a direct return hit.  Jamie knew what would happen to him when he made his promise to save Claire’s life. Bree’s rape, on the other hand, came with no warning and now like many survivors, she ruthlessly tries to reason through what she might have done to prevent it.  It’s a terrible poison to pour into one’s already damaged soul, and Jamie recognizes it, choosing the lesser of two evils to stop it in its tracks. It’s not a technique that would work on anyone – it works because Bree is processing this the same way Jamie did, because they share like mindsets and ultimately, because Jamie is, in that moment, treating his daughter as his intellectual and emotional equal.

The irony, of course, is that rational, patient Jamie hasn’t dealt with his own anger. After beating Roger within an inch of his own life, Jamie doesn’t unburden his emotions with Claire or Bree. Instead, he does exactly what he counseled Brianna not to do: turn to violence and silence.  

Later, when Brianna confronts him about Roger, she refers to him by his name, not the affectionate “Da,” that signals their growing closeness, and Jamie is initially too overcome by his own feelings to take note, as he usually would, of this subtle clue. He doesn’t seem to hear that she and Roger were handfasted before being outraged that she gave herself to him, and this is the man that Brianna slaps: not her Da, but the “savage” who beat her husband, so caught up in his own pain when she is coldly holding on to her sanity. She’s not doing so out of pettiness, or meanness. It’s because she’s at the emotional end of her rope and she’s getting Jamie, not Da. She needs him to take all the seats and like earlier, put her above his own feelings. She is used to parents who, for the most part, let her take the reins of her own life decisions, and now the fragile trust they had built is broken. She is hurt, and she curls into her mother. Bree points out that her father would have never handled the situation the same way, but to be fair, she never had cause to see what Frank did to the poor Reverend’s carport, or the Scottish men who tried to rob him. Much like Jamie did when he accuses her of lying, they are just both saying hurtful things in the heat of anger. It isn’t until the truth comes out about Bonnet that Jamie truly loses his composure, and Bree’s cold reminder that she is the wronged party stops him in his tracks. For once, Jamie doesn’t know what to say, and anyone who has ever argued with an adult child will empathize. To me, Jamie isn’t admirable because I think him perfect. He makes bad decisions, and this is one of the worse ones. He’ll rise above it, but it was a welcome bit of texture and very human fallacy in a character that is expected to always be in the highest moral right. Jamie is attempting to parent an adult 20th-century woman as an 18th-century man, and is understandably and for all his insight, a bit out of his depth. He tries to make it up to her by suggesting River Run as a place for Brianna to stay and later, swearing that he will bring him back to her. Bree, who has avoided looking him in the eye until that moment, says she will hold him to his vow and there is a brief flash of pain in Jamie’s eyes. He hears the condition for what it is and knows his relationship with his daughter depends on Roger coming back. Brianna is open to mending things with Jamie, but it remains to be seen how she will feel about him once she finds out that Murtagh is bringing Stephen Bonnet back for him to kill, and that Jamie’s violence in her name hasn’t been extinguished, only postponed.

I Knew You’d Come Back to Me

The relationship of Roger and Brianna is like a rubber band, stretching out in times of strife and snapping back to center with an almost audible force just as its breakage seems imminent. It’s been difficult for me to watch at times, because the kinds of relationships that run this volatile are usually not healthy ones, and there hasn’t been much romance between these two. We had two seasons of steamy sex and flowery vows and endearments between the Frasers before they settled into somewhat of a calm domesticity, but the show never made us question that they were meant for each other. Jamie and Claire’s endgame has always been each other.  The way that Roger and Bree are presented in the series doesn’t cast doubt on their eventual coupledom, but with their constant arguments and tendency to shout at and misunderstand each other, it does frequently call the wisdom of it into question. Stories are personal, and personally speaking, this isn’t a situation that I am comfortable watching. It sets off all my alarm bells, and that’s difficult, because the character of Roger Mac is hands-down my personal favorite in the Outlanderverse.  I’ve found that, because of this aversion, I’ve had a hard time looking past my expectations and processing what I’m seeing onscreen as a relationship not between star-crossed lovers but two people, who like Claire and Jamie, are each other’s destiny. I was happy to see the visual and emotional cues this episode that point at greater harmony between these two characters in the final three episodes of the season. Except for the handfasting ceremony, their commitment has been more apparent when they’re apart than together. The forces that separate Claire and Jamie are external; Roger and Bree get in their own way.

Brianna may have told her mother that Roger went back through the stones, but she hasn’t given up hope. First, when Jamie brings up marrying, she says she can’t. When Claire speaks of her going back through the stone while still pregnant, she qualifies it with back “to Roger,” assuming he’s back in the 20th century. Bree doesn’t gainsay her, but her dream reveals that, despite what she may say, she does expect Roger to come for her, and still does. When she sees Dream Roger upon waking, there is no hesitation as she rushes to embrace him, and their communication issues seem to have vanished. Dream Roger is glowing, lit seemingly from within, perfect and unblemished. He can also read her thoughts, taking one look at her face and immediately knowing something is wrong. Brianna is so relieved and at-ease that she immediately tells him about his pregnancy, and that she’s not sure he’s the father. It’s bittersweet for many reasons: the obvious love between the two, the fact that we know it’s a dream and the directness followed by empathy, not judgment, that these two would benefit from so greatly. Knowing that Roger came so close to her and was taken away does away with Bree’s composure, and she yells at Jamie in the same heedless way she does her husband. Brianna isn’t one to forget, even if she does forgive, and her energy now turns to making sure he is safe and made as comfortable as possible. As concerned as she has been about her own well-being as a pregnant woman in the 18th century, she insists her mother go get Roger instead of staying with her, so that he sees a face he recognizes. As far as romantic gestures go, it’s a stunner. I don’t know that I could do the same.

While Brianna undergoes a torment of the soul, Roger’s body suffers, beaten, thirsty and exhausted and rope-burned by being forced to walk about 10 miles a day in the course of a week. Although miserable, he’s still determined to escape. “I can’t die like this,” he says, his voice breaking. “I’m going to get back to my wife.” The thought of Brianna has both kept him going and banishes his composure. Although he shares a wobbly laugh-cry with his fellow prisoner, the next morning the other man is dead, and carried away, his death noted only by a Mohawk man’s comment that they can now ride faster than the previous day. Roger’s trauma is making him fearful, but also hypervigilant. When he’s dropped off a ledge and sees an opportunity to escape, he takes it, meaning to go back the way he came. But Roger, unlike Brianna, was not prepared for a life outdoors. He’s hurt, hungry, and terrified. When the standing stone calls to him, he understandably considers going back. Roger grew up with the Reverend and his housekeeper. He doesn’t have a reference point for a successful relationship, but he is loyal and committed despite it. He’s gambled everything for love and almost been killed for it twice, first by Jamie, then by the Mohawk. I don’t blame him for reaching out any more than I blame Bree for shouting at Jamie. Terrible circumstances make for terrible choices. The fact that Roger hesitates, face crumpling in despair even as his survival instinct raises his hand to the stone, is a testament to his love for Brianna that will keep me rooting for them still.

This episode is named after a line in a William Butler Yeats poem that appears in the novel. The heart is the place where we symbolically carry not only our emotions, but our memories. Yeats wrote of the soothing peace that nature brings, but his words also carry an undercurrent of painful longing.  During the episode, Brianna, when missing music, specifically cites Led Zeppelin’s 1969 eponymous album. On it is one of the best love songs of all time, an ode to love’s power to shine a light through life’s darkest moments. Both artists highlight the depth of the positive emotion by calling back to the negative one. Of course, we never want to be damaged, or feel defeated. We are programmed to survive, to seek air and light. But we recognize light only by contrasting it with darkness. Pain and joy are sister feelings, the depth and force of one highlighting and lending context to that of the other. Across centuries, in both modern times and old, we feel the longing for calm, the sadness of isolation and the yearning for affection, despite the hurt loving can bring. We love anyway, the mistakes we make a testament to the will to keep living and trying. It’s a promise we make to ourselves and our loved ones to do better, to grow. At times throughout our journey we might need forgiveness, understanding, or perspective, but our surroundings, while they may change, don’t change our innate poetry – our memories and joy and sorrows. Wherever the beating heart goes, there we are, in all our imperfection and glory, waiting, wanting, hurting, growing, walking the miles, marching doggedly towards happiness, holding the hands we love.

4 comments

  1. Margot · January 12

    A fine little essay on love, art, parenting, forgiveness, and Outlander! I’ve enjoyed your commentaries for the last few years; this was the first one that made me wonder what would happen if you focused on your *own* creative work for a time. You can really write, and surely have things to say that go beyond critical commentary. I’d like to see the results.

    • Connie Verzak · January 12

      Thank you so much for this! I think every person who writes has an idea for a story in them. I have one I go back to every so often.

  2. Beth Wolfe · January 12

    This is great. So nice to know there is at least one other fan who doesn’t think Jamie is ‘perfect’. Part of why I love this story so much is that the characters are human: they screw up, make bad choices, hurt the people they care about…but find a way to keep moving forward through it all.

    Lots of ‘blame’ to go around in this episode – this is a group that will have to work harder than normal at communication because, IMO, they have so many POV’s to deal with. Not just different people, but different times and knowledge that make no sense to others in the circle.

  3. Connie Verzak · January 12

    Thanks for the compliment and for reading! I did find myself going to the books this season more so than in seasons past.