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 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?”

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Outlander Recap: Season 2 Episode 8 – The Fox’s Lair

Outlander Recap: Season 2 Episode 8 – The Fox’s Lair

The Outlander Holiday Gift Guide

If you, like I, have trouble shopping for people that technically don’t exist or their real-world doppelgängers, give me a cyber-five, and never say I don’t think of you.

FOR THE LADIES

1) Mrs. Fitz. If you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life trippin’ the light fitztastic, you’re in luck. I was born an elderly Scots woman.

Mark her territory to anyone intent on making mischief in her kitchen with this personalized cutting board. Put a big knife next to it so they know you mean business.

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Personalized Cutting Board, $32 at ShadyOakBoardCo on Etsy

In the same vein, Mrs. Fitz is an alpha femme who loves nothing more than being on top of her housekeeping game and showing up that Fiona, so gift her with something that will enable her to out-fancy every other household for miles with her epicurean dominance.

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French Spice Stack, $25 at Dean & DeLuca

2) Laoghaire. We all have one of these in our group, and rather than crap on a poor girl because of her cluelessness, let’s all Cher Horowitz the $#@! outta this situation.

First, because OBVS. Girl, you gotta love yourself. Dudes come later, when you’re all “FYEAHME”.

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The Feminine Mystique, $18.27 on Amazon.com

Once she’s read that, really, just listen to this. If you don’t feel your feminine power rise up and shake its booty on “Flawless”, I can’t help you. Now go conquer, girl. Be better.

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Beyoncé CD + Blu-Ray, $18.29 at Target

3) Geillis. GillyD is a whole ‘nother breed. Among the most unpredictable frenemy in your cadre, but fabulous as hell and pragmatic in a way few of us can ever be. Expect to pay out the nose, because this is a lady that enjoys the finer things.

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Izolda Silver Plated Crocheted Feathers Cuff, $157 at Ksemi on Etsy

And because this lady has a mouth and isn’t afraid to use it, you never know when a little, um, assistance may be needed. Best to be prepared.

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TaskOne iPhone Case, $89.95 at The Task Lab

4) Claire. Our heroine is tough as nails, scientifically-minded and has that milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard. What do you get the woman who has everything? The obvious answer is liquor, but she may appreciate one of these, as well.

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The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, $29.99 on Amazon.com

And why not. When you are already married and need to marry again, you need a drink. How do you eliminate the chance of dicey water, the dilution of your whisky and keep your drink soothingly cool?

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Sipping Stones, $11.95 on Amazon.com

FOR THE DUDES

1) Black Jack. I don’t even know what you’re still doing here. If you know this one or one of them, RUN.

But if you refuse to run, get the tormented demon in your life the only gifts that count, your compliant submission, your plentiful tears, and these beautiful leather tools of punishment, because you’re bad-and you need to be punished in an efficient, portable manner.

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Black leather paddle, $30 at 6WHIPS on Etsy

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Black and red leather mini-flogger, $ at 6WHIPS on Etsy

2) Frank. For those of us in love with the beta male, Frank’s our guy. He’s smart, kind, the kind of man that forgives needing to get some side-boo in times of war and, if the evidence holds up, a great lay. I love me a studious man who both looks and acts the part (Professor in the streets, gigolo in the sheets). If this happens to be you, boys, rejoice. Those of us that are homebodies are big fans.

Lecture boring? Won’t matter if your man’s in tweed. If a blazer is too much, ease into it with a vest.

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Bar III Carnaby Tweed Vest, $69.99 at Macy’s

This man owns many leather-bound books and his apartment smells of rich mahogany. Keep the Indiana Jones fantasy going with a briefcase that is both classic and tactile. Rawr.

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Amerileather Legal Executive Briefcase, $89.99 at Overstock.com

3) Dougal. If the object of your generosity is a bearded Veep with a wry sense of humor and zealous ideals, you’re in luck. Hit them with a 1-2 punch of gifts that both celebrates their occasional zaniness and their hunger for power. Then accept my hearty congrats. If this is you, SAME.

Get him a shirt that asserts his superior hirsuteness AND bedroom prowess. I don’t think I need to sell this any more than that. Also good for any Murtaghs.

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Furry and Delicious tee, $20 at Burlyshirts.com

Yummy bears who wrestle with ideas of right vs. might, loyalty to country vs. family, attraction to a woman not your own and other moral conundrums may appreciate the go-to book for all who would be leaders.

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The Once and Future King, $8.99 at Amazon.com

4) Jamie. Finally, our Prince in Plaid, the redheaded Beatle. If you have one of these, I have no idea what you are doing wasting time with me. If you are one of these, same. Jamie is a perfect, borderline unrealistic specimen. Not only is he Michealangelo’s David come to life, but he has a gooey center and he loves fiercely. I am going to stop typing now before I cry. Why I wasn’t born a fictional brown-haired English nurse, I’ll never know.

For the most part, this man will have simple needs, and one of them will be food. Keep up that physique with some quality protein delivered from the Midwest to your door, and from your door to his tummy.

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Filet Fling Steak Club, $84 at OmahaSteaks.com

One of the most endearing characteristics of Jamie’s character is the fact that he was a virgin before Claire. Experience has its place, but there is nothing like an authority of the subject to imbue you with um, ideas.

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The Joy of Sex, $14.44 at Amazon.com

So there you go, Outlanders! Have a Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy shopping for all your friends and family, made up by Diana Gabaldon or otherwise. If you like, you can follow me here  or @conniebv on Twitter.

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