Deep Thoughts Outlander 412: “Providence”

outlander providence yelp review

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?

Spoilers ahead for 412 and all that.

(more…)

Deep Thoughts Outlander 411: “If Not For Hope”

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.

Deep Thoughts Outlander 407: Down the Rabbit Hole

Brianna Randall serves tea

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”.

Stephen Bonnet

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.

 

Deep Thoughts Outlander 405: That Word I Won’t Use

Murtagh Silver Fox Outlander

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.

Deep Thoughts Outlander 402: Do No Harm

ulysses outlander

This was a hard watch by any estimation (and political AF for a production that claims not to be) but especially watching it through my personal lens: female, immigrant, person of color with 43.9% native DNA (top 20th percentile for Neanderthal variants, what what). As a rule Outlander is part inspiration, part escapism and part brutal truth but this episode, for me, was a truth hammer with no escapism and little romance to cut through it. I was reminded, inescapably so, that I would not be in a pretty dress in that grand house, should I travel back in time. My humor and my thoughts were trapped, days after I watched, in a terrible sense of mourning. I don’t think I’ll ever fully recap it. It was too painful. And I mean painful in the sense of a pain that my parents and grandparents carried, whispered to them furtively by their parents, who learned of the Spanish arrival in Peru not as the fulfillment of a Great Spanish Dream of personal independence but rather the beginning of a genocide that would eradicate the great Inca empire, rob them of unheard-of wealth, kill their men and rape their women. Our side of the story, the brown side, isn’t romantic. It is a poignant reminder to me that I stand on the bones of my ancestors and if I do nothing else, I must endure. This is the central tenet of the underprivileged: survive, endure, wait. Maybe you don’t see the end of it, but your children might. Bide your time. No hay mal que dure cien años, ni cuerpo que lo aguante, my mother would tell me in times of pain: There is no ill that lasts a hundred years, nor a body that will bear it.

That said, this was an excellent hour of storytelling and a lyrical examination of and homage to the heartbreaking, difficult work of doing good in bad times. It’s a hero’s story. A martyr’s story, and one which forces us to ask timeless ethical questions. What would I do? What should I do? What can good people do in bad times? Spoilers ahead for episode 402, “Do No Harm”.

All Men, Created Equal

From the beginning of the hour, the Frasers and the highland culture are paralleled to the native and slave populations in several ways. Claire’s objections to slavery are rooted in her 20th-century life experiences and inherent respect of all life. Jamie and Ian’s empathy with the Native Americans springs from the Highland clearances and other post-Culloden laws meant to subjugate the Scots. Claire’s previous brush with slavery was an isolated event where she and Jamie retained a large level of control over the outcome. In the colony of North Carolina, however, slavery has existed for at least a century, and colonialism for twice as long. That’s anywhere from four to eight generations’ worth of struggles and stories passed on from fathers and mothers and neighbors about the horrors of trying to peacefully erect a house while an Indian scalped you and the inability of black people to think for themselves. Sure there would be people who were free-thinkers and questioned the prevailing narratives, but they, along with the natives and slaves, lived in a time where this prevalent paternalistic thinking was supported by laws, social mores and an economy dependent on zero-cost labor. Jamie and Claire are coming from Scotland, where Jacobite “Red Jamie” was a second-class citizen to his English overlords, a savage who needed ‘civilizing’ much as the North Carolina tribes were viewed by English colonialists. Unlike the slaves, however, Jamie’s indentured servitude had an end date and he was still, legally speaking, a person. However much the Fraser’s life experiences to-date allow them to empathize and however much they long for the American Dream, they are unprepared for the American Experience. It’s a cultural minefield in the way only our country can be — created by and for immigrants, and yet a melting pot that fights the melting, every time.

A Woman’s Work

Jocasta MacKenzie Cameron Cameron Cameron is worth a mention. Much like her niece Jenny, she’s an outspoken alpha female. Unlike Jenny, she has no living children, and she’s surrounded by wealth and comfort. Jocasta made not one but two strategic marriages to successful businessmen, and not for love. This is a woman who enjoys having a hand in the decision-making, and being an 18th-century southern belle (and a wily MacKenzie), she married men who were willing to give her a seat at the table. As a widow, she charms a series of officers and local gentry, using their influence and power for the benefit of River Run. Jocasta welcomes Jamie as her heir, proxy and mouthpiece…until he, through Claire, threatens her stability. She genuinely loves her family, but River Run is her life’s work, and when Claire takes a stand by refusing to let Rufus be hung it’s not only frustrating to her but at a very basic level, incomprehensible. Jocasta is not a woman that is looking to the larger ethical issues in life. She’s carved out an island, and she’ll fight tooth and nail to defend it. As far as being admirable or brave, she’s neither. As far as understanding the psychology of the women and landowners of the time, she’s a pretty flawless character study.

Prevention is Preferable to Cure

It surprised me not at all that Claire is the kind of person that rushes to fix a problem and is empathetic to the point of self-harm. That’s just Claire 101. Claire will always try to do the right thing (unlike canny Jamie, who will do the right thing if it’s also convenient unless it’s family), but this was a paradigm-altering experience she won’t soon forget. No one can divorce their identity from their perception, and it’s important to remember what Claire brings to the table at the beginning of 402. She is a woman who has experienced sexism and objectification, been both dependent and a person who calls the shots, seen the consequences of ethnocide and culture loss, but also witnessed man’s attempt to rectify the same: the integration of the public school system, the end of segregation and the Civil Rights Act. This is a woman whose best friend is black, and whose child would have brought home black children that she would have seen grow up. This is a woman who became a surgeon, so that no avenue for healing would be closed to her. This is not a woman used to standing down, and because of this, it takes almost the entirety of the episode for Claire to do so. Unlike his wound, the construct of the inferior race isn’t something she can cut away from Rufus’s body or from the hearts of the people of Cross Creek. A system like slavery doesn’t thrive unless there are supports in place to protect it, and Jocasta’s economy, social standing and even health depend upon her complying with the societal norm. Claire, an indigent, new arrival dependent on her in-law’s goodwill who has never complied with the societal norm now attempts to make people see Rufus as a human by sheer bent of will. But as Ulysses points out, colorblindness is not an asset when trying to understand the entirety of the slave experience and the tools by which hopeless people limit and defer their harm. Claire is, by her insistence in healing Rufus’s objectification along with his wound, poking a finger into the slave population’s ethnocultural allodynia. Claire is passing through River Run, but the people she will leave behind will have to deal with the fallout of her defiance. None of this is to say that nothing should be done, but that sometimes, there is no good choice and all you can do short of doing no harm, is to limit the harm you do.

A Grave Error in Judgment

It is hard to pinpoint the spark that lit the fuse of Rufus’s tragic end. Certainly someone who falls on the lawful good side of the alignment system would say his decision to hit his overseer set off a chain of events that justly ended in his punishment. Looking to the circumstances which caused him, a previously free man, to be at the mercy of an obviously immoral abuser well….it’s a bit murkier, isn’t it? The truth of the matter is that the chain of events that led him to this moment is complex, with doors slammed shut and torn open that Rufus, due to his current standing in the society which he lives, is unable to affect or change. Rufus can’t walk away from slavery, even as he struggles to hold on to his sense of identity, his connection to his family and his honor as a man. Claire and Jamie arrive at River Run still smarting from an intellectual, physical and economic beating. Jamie is very conscious of his standing as a poor relation, but he tells Jocasta he shares Claire’s views on slavery as a means of supporting his wife, just as he might perceive the cause to be. In the urgent, frantic moments after Claire discovers Rufus and sees his wound, she is powered not only by outrage, but the bright, hard kernel of hubris that makes any surgeon tick. Rufus’s survival is her focus to the exclusion of all else: the other River Run slaves, Jocasta, her neighbors, even Rufus himself. Her focus on healing him and her refusal to think past it for once, are ultimately selfish, providing the means by which she could emotionally distance herself from the reality of the situation. At the end of the day it’s Jamie who gently manages to get her to accept what she wouldn’t hear from anyone else. It’s heartbreaking to watch for many reasons, but one of them is that earlier in the episode, Ulysses took a much greater risk than Jamie to convey the same message and was patronized and ignored. Here was a man who had lived in that skin, on that path, who recognized what was meant as a kindness and tried to give it context…and he wasn’t seen as an authority of the subject of his own experience. It was a searing reminder that the best, kindest thing we can do to truly advocate for people that we wish to raise up is to take our lead from them, to be good listeners, to check our egos. In the end, Rufus died the way you would euthanize a cat, without even an honest explanation that he would have understood: I am sorry. I can’t give you freedom, or a prayer in your language, but I can give you a choice, authority over your own body, autonomy over your end. Jamie and Claire’s sad faces were the final frame of the episode, but they will move on next week, free to leave what little imposition Jocasta has made on them while having, however unwittingly, added to the already unbearable burden of those they leave behind.

Deep Thoughts Outlander 312: The Bakra

By now, I should know that Claire or Jamie telling the other that they won’t be separated again ends with them being separated again, but what can I say? If loving this show is wrong, I don’t want to be right. We finally arrive in Jamaica, and get to revisit characters, outfits and plot points that went a bit MIA for a while. We also got to check back in with everyone’s favorite Scottish Regina George, and their favorite Lovelorn English Lord, and our first-ever (if brief) POV from a character other than Jamie and Claire. In truth, Young Ian’s time with Geillis represents a kind of Wentworth in his life, and these experiences cause the character to grow in ways that will be very exciting to see onscreen. Finally, the introduction of the prophecy of the Brahan Seer (referred to as The Fraser Prophecy in the books) marks the beginning of the story’s shift past Claire and Jamie as a couple, to encompass their entire dynasty and what it potentially means to the future of Scotland. One more episode to go!

Spoilers ahead for episode 312.

Here are four takeaways:

Return of the Mack. The Mackenzie plotline we last revisited in the 1960s with descendant Roger Wakefield picks up once more with the re-appearance of his five-times great grandmother Geillis. Geillis is now an Abernathy, having black-widowed her way into what I can only assume is a goat plantation on Jamaica and being referred to by the Jamaican patois nickname of “Bakra,” which means slave driver (literally ‘back raw’). It’s a thrill to see her, mostly because Outlander excels at the Morally Irreverent Villain, and the story overall is better when our heroes are, well, being heroes. I know Geillis is evil and probably a sociopath, but I just love her. I didn’t even get angry when Claire basically provided her a plot outline at the Governor’s reception, because there was a true closeness and friendship between these women. The seminal difference is that Claire values human life, and Geillis doesn’t (it’s a small distinction, but pretty important). Geillis’s #1 concern is still putting a Scottish ruler on the throne, and the fact that she speaks more affectionately of Dougal’s testicles than their child should probably tell Claire something. That, and all the husband-killing.

More Things on Heaven and Earth. It’s been hinted at for a while now, but this week Outlander slides feet-first into the religious cultural collision of the Caribbean.  A rich native culture fused with African traditions from the slave trade and European religions to create spiritual practices that fascinate people even today. The first hint came back in 306, when we first met Margaret Campbell and she prophesied about Abandawe, the cave that Father Fogden would later tell Claire was used for sacred rites. The alligator skeleton last episode was a callback to the one that hung in Master Raymond’s shop.  Jamie himself heard talk of a “white lady,” equating her to Claire, and not an actual witch. For all that they are 200 years apart, Claire and Jamie are both highly pragmatic, and except for the stones, have yet to experience the collision of magic and spirituality that so vividly color the Caribbean experience of spirituality. It’s an entirely new worldview, and it’ll be interesting to see how each character processes and interacts with this new take on spirituality.

The Importance of Being Other. The slave market was as hard to watch as I anticipated, but I didn’t anticipate the line that would make my head snap back. The slave merchant’s disdainful “What do you take me for,” in response to Jamie’s inquiry about selling a white youth was so matter-of-fact and time-appropriate that it instantly set the scene.  It was, like the men and women lined up like so much window dressing, a ruthlessly effective way to make a point about these people’s standing and significance in the world at that time.  So, too, is the way that Yi Tien Cho is first addressed at the Governor’s reception, the young woman marveling that “Goodness, he even speaks English” when the ‘he’ in question is standing right in front of her. The show slightly alters the circumstances of both characters, but there are lovely allusions to both Yi Tien Cho’s and Temeraire’s humanity that are doled out with respectful kindness. Temeraire’s assistance is requested, not demanded. Terms are set up that he is free to accept or reject. Jamie and Claire refer to people as “enslaved,” and to him as a manservant.  Yi Tien Cho is given a formal, respectful introduction by Jamie at the ball, and, despite his claim that he came to a place where women reject him, he finds a mutual admiration and understanding in fellow outsider Margaret Campbell.

The Jamie Fraser Fan Club. I wallowed in Lord John’s return like a pig in mud. Beautifully embroidered, sapphire-accented mud. Not only is the chemistry between Sam Heughan and David Berry electric, but add Caitriona Balfe to the mix and it’s like I’m back in high school and someone just shouted “Fight” down the hall. I am desperately craning my neck trying to find every nuance of expression and hear everything that is being said. The warmth between Jamie and John is so gratifying to see, because it is obvious that Jamie appreciates this man not only for the care he gives his son, but knows of his feelings for him and is tenderly solicitous of him. There is a true bond there, and while Claire is at first as warm as Jamie, it doesn’t take her long to notice that John’s attachment to her husband is more than friendship. When John speaks to her and very subtly attempts to test her relationship with Jamie by alluding to their great shared secret…and finding out Claire knows everything. Claire in turn gently but pointedly asks for clarification on the ‘gift’ of the sapphire, and John admits Jamie surrendered it after he went searching for her, thinking she had come back, “And now you have.” Claire’s smile is kind, but her eyes are solemn, and her words, an unmistakable warning. “Yes. I have.”

Deep Thoughts Outlander 311: Uncharted

Claire’s streak of improbably surviving things that would kill the rest of us continues. This time she lands on modern-day Haiti, her clothes intact and her hair looking way better than it should and narrowly misses the three-day survival deadline. Because she’s Claire, she finds a nutty priest (he literally uses a coconut as a life coach), swans about in a fly robe and manages to be called a whore by an older woman whose only daughter ran away with a priest. That’s right, Mamacita. GLASS HOUSES. While the first half had some of the comedy that I always love to see, the second half was an emotionally satisfying dessert. I would watch the hell out of a Fersali spinoff.

Spoilers ahead for episode 311.

Here are four takeaways:

A quarter hour is way longer than you think. I understand the need to impress Claire’s peril upon the audience, but that’s about ten minutes more than I wanted to spend watching her wander around the island. Just for comparison’s sake, that’s about two more minutes’ more screen time than was spent on Culloden, which was much more of a big deal in my mind. I get that it was to illustrate the passage of time and call back to the peril she was in due to hitting her third day sans water, but I wish we had spent more time with Jamie and Fergus, maybe gotten a hint of the storm that broke the Artemis’ main mast. Instead we got an extremely aversive introduction to the flora and fauna of Hispaniola. I’m not even talking about the snake. It was the ants that made me want to bathe myself in a cloud of Raid. And how is it that it took Claire about two days to find Father Fogden, but only a few hours to run back to shore to find Jamie? Of course, running to meet your sexy gingersnap puts wings on your heels, but I don’t think it adds an engine. Ah, Outlander. You are a time-travel show in more ways than one.

Geography is hard. I can’t tell you the number of maps I looked at to figure out where who was when, or how teensy the Turks portion of Turks and Caicos is when you’re desperately hunting for Cockburn Town. That strugglebus was on a circuitous route. It was nice to see the Americas featured, however, and to recognize and lust after fried plantains. I was, however, confused by the Spanish subtitles. Following the idea that the show doesn’t subtitle Gaelic or Chinese because Claire wouldn’t understand them, but did subtitle the French in Season 2, does that mean Claire speaks Spanish? Why then does Fogden translate for her? (An aside: I must congratulate the actress that played Mamacita for her very convincing Cuban accent. I could tell it wasn’t native, but I couldn’t identify what colored it until I saw she was Spanish and had lived in the U.S. Good job, Vivi.) In any case, because I had to make a visual for my own visual reference, here’s my super highbrow map of this episode, for the map dunces like me.

Eat your heart out, Jenny Fraser. There is a new HBIC in town, and her married name rhymes with “Taser.” Marsali is adaptable and practical, which is a necessity for joining the Fraser clan, but she also is a girl who, as Fergus says, “speaks her mind.” Fiercely loyal, she repeatedly speaks up in Fergus’s defense, first to Jamie, and now to Father Fogden. She is a Jenny Fraser for the next generation, imbued with all the grim shrewdness of a country girl and the genetic bull-headedness and managing nature to see her plans through. What is especially endearing about Marsali, and especially this episode, is her perceptiveness.  Sheh alone, in Claire’s absence had the stones to tell Jamie to snap out of it and trust in Fergus’s love for him last episode, and this episode she finally comes clean to Claire about the real status of the Jamie/Laoghaire marriage, and her fears for her own. Claire and Marsali connect on the very deep level of headstrong women who value their agency, and it did my heart good to see Fergus get what he has long wanted, a woman like madame.

More Frasers than you can stab with a branch. Oddly enough, Jamie and Claire’s reunion wasn’t the emotional high point of this episode. That was reserved for the funny, touching, memorable wedding of Marsali and Fergus. From Fergus’s untidy ponytail to Marsali’s sweet shawl and earrings, to the candlelight in the reverend’s garden are meant to evoke an aura of intimacy and ease. A wedding is a simple thing, really. It’s the building of a relationship that is difficult, and the maintenance of the ties that keep a family together. Marsali’s tart admonishments for Father Fogden are more than a girl mouthing off: they are the impatient nudges of a woman set on getting her heart’s desire, and the fact that this desire is a bastard boy with no last name and only hand speaks to the worth of her character and the love she can give. The fact that Fergus can’t even finish chastising her for her outspokenness before claiming that it is one of the things he loves about her shows the same for him. Jamie and Claire’s exchange of wry glances also tells the audience that Fergus isn’t the only one who appreciates an outspoken female. Finally, Fergus’s quiet admission that he has no last name, and Jamie’s assertive claim that he is a Fraser brought me to tears. Marsali turns immediately, startled. In contrast, her husband-to-be stills, then turns with shining eyes to regard his father before saying his full name proudly for the first time. So the Frasers grow, having lost both a son and daughters, to claim Fergus and Marsali for their own. In turn Fergus, who once sacrificed a hand to keep Jamie safe, now receives the final portion of the lifetime of care he was promised as a boy: the protection of Jamie’s name.

Deep Thoughts Outlander 310: Heaven and Earth

This week’s episode wasn’t impactful for any plot-driven reasons. As a matter of fact the biggest plot reveal, Captain Leonard’s intent to arrest Jamie, receded into the background to make room for a resolution to the Fergus/Marsali wedding, a viable plan for rescuing Claire from the Porpoise, and to allow for some much needed character development as we continue to rediscover the expanded Fraser clan.

Spoilers ahead for episode 310.

Here are four takeaways:

The Family You Choose. Fergus and Jamie have arguably been together since the latter left Ardsmuir, and their last moment on-screen when the former was still a child was the touching reminder that Fergus knows Jamie better than anyone. Because we, along with Claire, are still coming to understand the aspects of Jamie that changed in the last twenty years, this episode was pivotal for the audience’s understanding of their unique bond. Fergus is a man, but one with deep love and respect for Jamie, who has seemingly — except for handfasting Marsali — always deferred to Jamie when it comes to decision-making about their mutual paths. Now with Jamie locked up and their fates resting on him, he once more shows the boundless loyalty and insight about human nature that make him such an asset, and Jamie ultimately bestows upon him not one gift, but two: his blessing upon a marriage with his adopted daughter, and a verbal recognition of the depth of their attachment. “Mon fils,” Jamie calls him. My son.

Fersali Is Strong. It becomes clearer every day why Marsali, raised by a mother with a long history of unfortunate decisions in love (and most recently set aside by a father figure she had grown to trust) is attracted to Fergus’s loyal, devoted, steadfastness.  Fergus, raised by women and predisposed to appreciate their individuality, offers her the chance to express herself as a true partner, and to have a marriage where she has input into her future and decisions, unlike Laoghaire. But where Fergus is a pickpocket, teasing out truths and subtly making points, Marsali is much like her mother and her Auntie Janet: a sword that cuts mercilessly to the heart of the matter. She’s not always correct, but she’s fierce and committed: qualities that can’t help to appeal to a boy who grew up with no true sense of belonging and whose only other solid attachment to a woman was Claire Mothereffing Fraser. Lastly, the realest part of this episode was Marsali trying to sneak in a quick deflowering while Jamie was in the clink. I see you, girl. Way to keep it 100.

I Wanna Know What Love Is. Jamie, single-minded in his need to recover Claire after their recent reunion, is almost feral in his insistence that true love means “moving heaven and earth” for the beloved. But he forgets that he isn’t the only one with a beloved on-board, nor is Claire the only life he’s accountable for. Apparently love is also narrowing your depth of focus to exclude everyone in your life but one person. This didn’t ring true to me, but I can understand why it was written this way. If not for some conflict, the plot on the Artemis would have been very dull. Still, it felt less like shrewd, leader-of-men Jamie and more like a plot device. It’s the object of Fergus’s love herself that reminds Jamie of his commitments outside Claire, and the need to step carefully and intelligently around the dual landmines of Jamie’s arrest and Claire’s abduction. Jamie comes to see the wisdom in this approach, and in the effect Marsali and Fergus have on each other. It’s a different kind of love, but just as worth protecting.

A Life Wasted. The surprising emotional heart of this episode didn’t center around one of our regulars, but rather a supporting character we met at the very end of last week’s episode. Elias Pound isn’t much younger than Young Ian, but he’s much worldlier, having lived half his life at sea. The combination of dutiful soldier and tender young man seems designed to pull at a mother’s heart, and it certainly affected Claire. I can’t imagine she didn’t think of the children she has cared for in her life, and the one she now seeks. Claire is a mother whose children are not with her, and Elias is a motherless child. Pound’s plaintive question about Claire’s ability to “remain calm in the face of so much death” is precisely the kind of question one asks of a parent when trying to make sense of the world, and his gift of the rabbit’s foot is both a callback to the accidental bunny theme running through this season (Jamie at Culloden; Bree’s bunny) and a heartbreakingly chivalrous gesture by a boy who is gamely attempting to be the best man he can, before his time runs out.

Deep Thoughts Outlander 309: The Doldrums

This week was that rare combination of emotion and action that has made this series so impossible to pigeonhole. Is it a love story? Yes. Is it an adventure? Yes. Does it have seafaring lads singing a raunchy tune about a perverted lobster? YES. There were a few shortcuts taken in order to move the story along (see you next season, Murrays) that felt jarring, but other changes to the novels paid off beautifully.

Spoilers ahead for episode 309.

Here are five takeaways:

Comic Relief. Outlander is pretty heavy fare, and while in the novels a lot of humor comes from Jamie’s wry observations, the show’s version of Jamie either doesn’t have time or chose not to be as light-hearted as the one in the novels. To that end, I was happy to note that we have a new Laurel & Hardy-esque pair in Lesley and Hayes (or as I like to call them, Alt-Rupert and Alt-Angus). We first met these men in episode 305, but it was this episode’s sub-plot with the iron that provided a few details to color in these relationships: Lesley and Hayes are close, with the former more in the leadership role and the latter more of a traditional dunce with a heart of gold. Jamie is also close to these men, as evidenced by his climbing up to coax Hayes down and his promise that anyone trying to get to him would have to first go through Jamie.  Unlike Rupert and Angus, these men are entirely loyal to Jamie, and going forward will hopefully fill in some of the missing years at the prison for Claire’s (and our) benefit.

Goodbye, Scotland.  Once again the opening credits signal a change in the feel of the show, but unlike the more subdued, classical-sounding theme that served as a transition into Season 2’s Paris, this time the main melody is laid over the beat of African drums. That, coupled with the images of African dancers fading into the druids at Craigh Na Dun, signals more than a change  in the geographical location of our characters. It is also a shift from a more Eurocentric worldview to one that is more inclusive of other people and cultures than the show has been to-date. Some of those attempts are bound to stumble for a multitude of reasons (the mispronunciation of Bruja by noted polyglot Jamie grated, for example), but one of the most successful examples occurred this episode, and is the focus of my next bullet.

The Life and Times of Yi Tien Cho. Willoughby’s character in the novels was no doubt accurate to the time, but as a person of color, that can take an emotional back seat to wanting to see stories about your culture that are not only departures from stereotype, but have real power to inspire and educate. Early on in the episode, Yi Tien Cho’s acupuncture serves not only as a way to heal Jamie’s seasickness, but as the catalyst for the final healing of the wound that lay between Jamie and Claire. His plaintive “Once I tell it, I have to let it go,” coupled with the final release of his carefully calligraphed pages into the sea, bookend another moment of healing. The tragedy of Yi Tien Cho’s self-imposed exile echoes not only that of the men on ship, themselves hailing from many different countries, but that of Claire, Jamie, Fergus and Marsali, who have each left behind their countries and cultures in the name of goal.

Very superstitious. In another nod to Outlander’s evolving world view, Captain Raines and Claire have a conversation about superstition, luck, and faith that is really at its heart a conversation about the past vs. the future, and about privilege vs. disadvantage.  Claire is an educated woman, who has the advantage not only of knowledge of the future from her travels through time, but of the insight that science gives into the workings of the body. Raines has a different kind of insight: knowledge of the delicate framework of belief and comfort that keeps men united when no other obligation holds. Both have their place and value, but Claire unwisely underestimates the importance of the latter in the 18th century. Science versus faith isn’t a discussion anyone has won yet, nor are they likely to; but it’s a fascinating discussion between two intellectual equals about one of the great debates of the ages.

The Power of Love. All the props to Lauren Lyle for her portrayal of Marsali. Not only is the resemblance to Laoghaire eerie, but her mannerisms are all there. While she is as forceful and demanding as we’d expect, it’s really Fergus’s patient conversation with his foster father that was the most touching callback to the impatience and folly of young love. Fergus not only calls Jamie out for lying about not wanting Claire, his pointed eyeroll when Jamie reminded him to be honest with Marsali was AMAZING. Jamie has gotten into the habit of lying for survival, and the fact that Claire remains ambivalent about their future early on must contribute to his wariness. The light touch in the three moments this episode that pull them back together before their separation via Porpoise (Claire’s touching reassurance of her love when she finds him with the acupuncture needles, their conversation by moonlight and finally, their touchstone sexual reunion) resonate so deeply, reminding us of the complexity and span of their love. Not only does it defy time, but even the limits of their own bodies, as the child they had and separated to protect out of love serves once again, even in her absence, to bring them back to each other.

Save

Save

Save

Deep Thoughts Outlander 308: First Wife

This week, the series came roaring back with the goodness. Last episode was the troublesome middle child in the Fraser Reunion Trilogy, but this week resolved all my issues with 307. 308 was all the things I love about Outlander: real talk, athletic sex that serves the story, a successful Bechdel test, emotions, Science!Claire and more fun words (kebbie-lebbie, Hogmanay) than you can shake a stick at.

[Quick personal update: Still doing the recaps, just very slowly. I knew the moment the series changed from summer to fall that I would likely not be able to keep up, so for the meantime there are these, and recaps to come when life slows down.]

Spoilers ahead for episode 308.

Here are five takeaways:

The Gideon of Scotland. For a dude who is nominally childless, Jamie sure does have a lot of kids. Only William and Brianna are of his body, but besides Fergus and now Young Ian, we find that he has played father figure to Laoghaire’s two daughters, and that he was upset when his nephews didn’t recognize him upon his return from Helwater. Jamie genuinely loves children, and enjoys their company. The two young men closest to him, Young Ian and Fergus, differ in that one was bred in a whorehouse and is no stranger to crime, and the other raised in a peaceful home, with only the stories of his uncle’s (mis)adventures to aspire to. The real kicker with children is that as much as you counsel them with words, it’s the actions that they mimic, and Ian Sr.’s advice to Jamie to be mindful of Ian’s love and tendency to follow him “like a puppy” proves to not only be accurate, but premonitory.

Dishonorable Second Wife. Whatever else you can say about her (mouth like a sailor, cute daughters, fine ability to sew a pleated cap) maybe the most relevant thing, to me, is that Laoghaire MacKenzie MacKenzie MacKimmie Fraser is a woman who courts unhappiness. I never hated this character like a lot of people did. I have a lot of sympathy for her early unrequited love of Jamie. I think her setup of Claire was more heedless than evil. To me, she is more of a cautionary tale about the dangers of drawing self-worth solely from the object of one’s affection. As a young woman, Laoghaire let her feelings for Jamie and an assumed moral superiority over Claire draw her into sinful and criminal behavior. As an adult, holding on to her unhappy union with Jamie supersedes everything. She is not above using her children, a gun or the law. And I don’t think it’s because Laoghaire truly values what Jamie provides. She’s an attractive woman, and could still marry elsewhere. The reason Laoghaire balks at giving Jamie up is because having him is the sole thing that has given her life meaning, and if he goes, he takes her identity with him.

Ghosts of Past and Present. For all the comparisons that can be legitimately drawn between Frank and Laoghaire — most obviously the fact that they both failed miserably in their chance at happiness because the person they loved would never love them back, and their resulting bitterness — what struck me most deeply was their differences. Frank wanted to make things work with Claire, but ultimately decided to let her go. Laoghaire and Jamie seemingly struggled from the very beginning, but even when the end was inevitable Laoghaire turned to violence rather than accept the inevitable. Frank and Claire both struggled to put parenting Brianna first, while Laoghaire thinks nothing of subjecting her daughters to their stepfather’s humiliation, leaving Jamie to console little Joan and assure her of his love. It’s not the first time I’ve thought that, after all is said and done and for all her own suffering, Claire was much luckier in their life apart from each other than Jamie.

If You’re Coming for Jenny Murray, Make a U-Turn. The world according to Jenny Murray might have shades of grey in it, but probably only two or three. She is, without a doubt, the best representation of the moral compass of the time. Jenny’s greatest asset is her ability to see directly into the heart of a matter. Her greatest failing is her resistance to applying that insight inward.  She may have seemed hard, but when Claire first came back, Jenny gave her a brief opportunity to come clean. When Claire attempted to resume their old closeness without its accompanying honesty, that door shut tight. Instead, Jenny hastened to arrange matters to lance the infection she saw poisoning her family.  Not even Ian agrees with the way she dealt with the situation, but where other people have self-doubt, Jenny has a gold-plated statue of herself giving herself a thumbs-up. I may not always agree with her, but she speaks a lot of truth (love her pointing out that Claire went looking for Jamie last time she was told he was dead, and that by leaving him, she left the rest of his family, including Jenny herself). I can’t help but love a woman whose f*ck field is so very, very fallow when it comes to anything other than her family.

The Power of Love. One of the things I have always loved best about the story of Jamie and Claire is that neither is perfect in anything but their love for one another. Time and again it has served as both an inspiration and a reality check. As much as we all love to call him the King of Men, it’s instances like this that show how Jamie gained the wisdom he did to truly earn this moniker. He and Claire were not married long before their separation, and though his delay in telling her the truth was understandable, so is Claire’s disappointment. These are two people who have risked much to be together, and though it would be tempting to make their reunion all wine and roses to compensate for their time apart, it felt very satisfying to finally see the depth and complexity of these feeling exposed and discussed. Unlike last episode, this all flowed, it all felt rooted in genuine emotion. This is the part of marriage that almost no one shows on television: the constant reaching out, past hurt and pride, that ties each pearl and sinew of a lifetime together. The look, touch, or words from one heart to another to say, “Are you still in this with me?” “Are we okay?”

Save