Deep Thoughts Outlander 411: “If Not For Hope”

Murtagh and Fergus come to understand each other so well that it is Fergus’s plan which enables Murtagh to corner and capture Bonnet. When they are caught by the militia trying to escape, Murtagh fakes an attack on Fergus and allows himself to be captured and for Fergus to go back home. It’s more than Murtagh making sure Marsali’s husband is safe— he recognizes Fergus’s canniness for the asset it is and knows he will make sure to do what’s needed to alert Jamie and see him freed. This plotline was a nod to an event that happens two novels after the current one the series is based on, but I hope it doesn’t resolve the same way that does, instead being a subtle nudge towards Marsali and Fergus finally deciding to settle on Fraser’s Ridge by season’s end. Theirs is, by far, the most stable marriage in the novels, and I could use some of that right now. It would be good to see the family all together.

I Love You Both

This episode clues us in early on that relations between the two eldest Frasers are still strained. They are traveling together and still functionally communicating, but Claire doesn’t correct Jamie when he says that in a movie of their life, he’d be seen “as a fearsome brute,” instead agreeing that it would be one side of the story. Jamie, usually so good at subtext, is too hurt to miss what she’s implying.  By saying that it would be another part of the story, Claire is implying that her perspective is split, but Jamie doesn’t seize the opportunity to ask about the other side. It’s very dissonant to watch these two, usually so good at reaching out to each other, flounder with some of the same communication issues from which their daughter and son-in-law suffer. While the Frasers have been through murder plots and daring rescues and court intrigue together, they have much less experience with the regular disturbances more common to everyday marriages, like disagreeing over the children. Jamie approaches the issue very indirectly, verbalizing his empathy with Bree, reminding Claire that they both experienced what it was to be far from each other and wonder if the other was okay. He is, as my mother used to say, speaking to Peter so Paul can hear. It’s a way to remind her that he loves his daughter and is trying to do right by her, but also of the great love that Claire has for him, and the distress it brought her to be apart. Even though he brought up Claire’s lie last episode, Jamie knows he’s at fault, so instead of approaching his wife directly and risking the rejection he feels is likely, he’s appealing to his greatest asset: Claire’s empathy.  As aware as Jamie is about being held at arms’ length, he misunderstands the reason why.  He is so caught up in the pain of losing his daughter’s trust and what it has done to his marriage that he doesn’t realize his wife is railing against the same pain, and she is much more experienced in it. Claire has been both in and out of Bree’s circle of trust in her lifetime, and, knowing she is her daughter’s emotional anchor, she’s not only downplayed her concerns about Brianna’s life choices but tightly controlled her personal reactions.  This is a woman whose life work is healing, and her child has been hurt in a way she is powerless to heal. Bree’s confidence in her mother is a testament to their bond, but it has also limited Claire’s ability to work through her emotions. Instead, as so many men and women of their times were socialized to do, Jamie’s anger explodes outward…but Claire’s is directed inward, carrying her daughter’s hurt as a show of loyalty, silently raging against everyone and everything while still attempting to be functional enough to do what Bree needs her to do and be who she needs her to be. Sometime between Ian’s request that she forgive Jamie and Jamie’s burial of “someone’s child,” Claire realizes that the mountain won’t come to her, so she must go to it. She cannot forgive or overlook what Jamie and Brianna said to each other, but she can make sure she and Jamie clear the air. In the end, Claire apologizes three times to Jamie before he returns the favor, which feels like a bit of overkill to me, especially when he reveals that one of the things he’s been worrying about is that his wife might have decided she’s Team Frank. The real heart of their conversation, however, is Claire’s emotional explanation that, much as she loves Jamie, part of being a parent is that your child comes first in your heart. Jamie doesn’t object, because he’s seeking that same confidence and that same closeness, despite assuring Claire that his daughter doesn’t need him. He brings up Frank Randall because he’s the specter of perfect fatherhood that he’s been measuring himself up against, not realizing until Claire tells him so that Frank also made mistakes, and that “every parent does.” Jamie, of course, hasn’t ever gotten this far into fatherhood to find out, but it’s a subtle encouragement from his wife to chart his own path into Brianna’s life in love, not fear, and with the assurance that while he might share his daughter’s heart, his wife’s remains his alone.

Young Folk Today, Goodness

Jocasta, for all that she’s willing to house and clothe and feed her great-niece, is neither the romantic nor the independent thinker she implies in her stories about Ellen and Brian’s courtship. Now that Jamie escaped her plans to inherit, she’s turned her mind to the next Mackenzie she can. She gifts Brianna with a new (to her) dress, after Bree rejects her initial offer, and sweetens the deal with a pair of earrings she used to wear. At first, she attempts kindness, telling Brianna that she can find comfort in the company of others and sharing her memories of her own painting and her sister Ellen. Jo’s story about how Ellen waited to marry the man she loved instead of being forced into a marriage is a wisely laid Mackenzie snare, and Brianna takes the bait, unknowingly entering the marriage market that is her aunt’s dinner party. Everyone is keen to begin courting her almost immediately, which says more about the pool of local single women than Bree herself. Their aggressive wooing seems to have the opposite effect of what Jocasta intended, forcing Bree to skirt the edge of rudeness in a series of social faux pas to make herself less attractive.  After she escapes the dining room, Bree takes a moment to “speak frankly” to her aunt, and to say it backfires is underplaying it. Brianna’s respectful assertion of boundaries is bulldozed by Jocasta’s brutal truths: Bree is unwed, penniless, and all she has are her looks and good name to ensure her child isn’t reviled as a bastard and has a secure future. As far as Jocasta is concerned, Roger is gone even if he still lives. “Ye canna live on hope,” she tells her niece. Brianna has been viewing her situation through the mindset not only of a 20th-century woman, but a single 20th-century woman, her marriage to Roger being mostly theoretical up until this point. Going forward, however, her road narrows and you can see the responsibility of motherhood settle behind her eyes. Bree, like Claire, is learning what every mother does, usually months before a baby is ever born: your wants and needs sometimes must take a backseat to those of your child.

That Is a Predicament

Bree gets a bit of a breather when Lord John Grey pops into the party, and you can practically feel the other men in the room clench. John reveals right away that he is acquainted with her parents, but not the depth of that acquaintance. That comes out later, when he confesses that Jamie is the walking companion he saw “clear as day” in Bree’s psychology test and he came to look in on Brianna, although he wasn’t told why. The revelation of Bree’s pregnancy and Jamie’s letter comes later, when John escorts Bree out after she fakes a faint to escape more ardent wooing. The fact that Brianna confides in John so easily is evidence not only of John’s inherent likeability, but that Brianna trusts in Jamie’s honor, despite her words to the contrary. At first their relationship, though amiable, is distant. John empathizes with her situation and the Schrodinger’s marriage she’s in, but that’s it. It isn’t until Bree realizes her time as an unattached guest at River Run is up that she pulls him in, desperately attempting to force him to marry her.

Much has been made of Brianna blackmailing John into marriage and of John threatening her with (presumably marital) sex, but I think it’s an oversimplification of what happened here. Brianna is a modern woman, and though homosexuality wasn’t as commonly spoken of in the sixties as it is in our time, she would have undoubtedly understood the seriousness of what John and Alderdyce were hiding and the impact a reveal would have had on their lives. She pays lip service to using it as leverage, but, by her own admission, she would have never followed through. Similarly, John means only to deflect Bree’s insight into his feelings for Jamie by backhanding her with the reality of what she assumes would be a sexless marriage.  When Brianna steps back, so does John, confessing his feelings for Jamie and the fact that he can’t think of him without also thinking of his connection to Claire. He urges Bree to not give up hope and to have faith that the Frasers will bring Roger back. Whether it’s his previous confidence or this small kindness, Brianna ends up telling John about Stephen Bonnet and the possibility that her child might not be Roger’s. She doesn’t want to marry Gerald Forbes, but she heads into the house to do as she must. John, who understands better than anyone the pain of giving up someone he loved to do what he must, announces their engagement in front of Forbes and Jocasta both, giving Bree a bit of breathing room while she waits for her parents to return.

It is perhaps because of this new closeness between them that the next day, upon finding out that Brianna is still struggling, John reveals that he is an adoptive father. Brianna, likely thinking of Frank, tells him he’s a good man for it, but John replies that goodness has nothing to do with it. He loves William “more than life itself,” and tells her that if people immigrated to the colonies, it’s not because the land itself is new but because they have hope that in it, they themselves could be born anew. “Hope is at the very heart of love,” he tosses off in opposition to Jocasta, and Bree, suddenly realizing that all the “good” men of her life have at one time or another sacrificed romantic hope of love for a more parental one as she herself now must, remembers Jamie’s letter, and finally decides to read it.

In the meantime, in the Mohawk village of Shadow Lake, we see sexy BeeGee Roger led into a situation that should be familiar to him by now, if he’s a Roger fan: A double line of people waiting to beat him down for his perceived shortcomings. The first blow surprises him—the fifth knocks him down. For a moment, I remember the man who cried at the standing stone, overcome with hopelessness. Roger looks up, a glint in his eye and a smirk on his face as he stands once more, and the beating continues. The heart of love might be hope, but the heart of hope, some days, is sheer doggedness.

Two more episodes to go, and our characters are all moving into place for their final gauntlet. Almost every reoccurring character apologized this episode, both outright and implied. From Lizzie’s unadorned, sincere apology to Bree for her part in what happened to Roger not five minutes in, to Jocasta’s somewhat perfunctory acknowledgement that Brianna “once had a man [she] loved” after reading her like the family bible, to Judge Alderdyce’s embarrassed prelude to excusing himself from the table after Bree’s relational psychology test revealed more about himself than he felt comfortable discussing. It was an episode full of the perceived consequences for mistakes both large and small, both real and imagined, but most of all a sampling of how common and surmountable such things can be in life if we simply operate from the premise that we are all flawed, all doing the best we can, all worthy of the benefit of the doubt, and of forgiveness. As the poem says, people are both makers and breakers of things and of each other, but flawed as we are, we’re all we have, and it behooves us to be kind to each other.

One comment

  1. Yvonne · January 19, 2019

    Schroedinger’s marriage 🙂 Well meditated on, as usual!