Deep Thoughts- Outlander 301: The Battle Joined

Aaand we’re back! I’ll be working on my recap this week and hope to have it done before 302 airs, but in the meantime I wanted a place to unload my first-watch musings. These are notes that I make while watching the episode that sometimes don’t make it into the recaps as fleshed-out thoughts or theories because I am rushing to get it out or because they’re more serious. If you’re interested in those, now you can look for them to post directly after the show’s EST/CST airtime. They will include episode-specific SPOILERS, so beware.

This episode was a classic Outlander premiere in the sense that it sets the tone for the story going forward. My joy at the return of the series was quickly tempered by the barrage of emotions it evoked, but overall I was left with a real sense of anxiety. The last words uttered in the final scene are a hint that things will get much worse before they get better.

Here are five things I noticed:

    • An all-inclusive look at war. A significant portion, about twelve minutes of what we first experience as viewers is given over to the aftermath, reality and moments preceding Culloden. The bodies of the men, piled haphazardly on the field and shot from every possible angle, (including aerial) are like the bones of the earth bared to the elements. The sheer disconnect on Jamie’s face, which Sam does unnervingly well. There are moments of ridiculousness, and even brief humor. There are times it is hard to look. It’s frustrating, and tragic, and terrible. All the emotions that will be called up by events going forward are called up like soldiers themselves to stand in line and await their resolution. It humanizes violence in a way rarely seen on television, by making it familiar and alien all at once. Outlander turns another trope on its head. Brilliantly done.
    • Tobias Menzies, master of the unexpected. It’s no secret I love this actor to bits, but even I was shocked by the unexpected emotion in Jack’s face when he passes, how he reaches out to Jamie with yearning. Black Jack as created by the unique partnership of Tobias and the writers is such a complex character that even knowing all he has done, there is a brief moment of sincere empathy for his depth of feeling, even as I cringe at the amount of time they spend in the parody of an embrace. Even in this, though, Randall is thwarted. Despite lacking the strength to move his most hated enemy off of him, Jamie does manage to hold on to a token of his wife, the dragonfly in amber (Easter egg) that was their wedding gift from Hugh Munro back in Season 1. As much as Jack (and later his descendant Frank) wanted their relationships to be exclusive, there would always be a third party present.
    • First sign of old Jamie. The first time post-battle that Jamie’s face shows something other than despondency and resignation is when he overhears Killick and Rupert talk of the British patrolling. Is this fear for the men of Lallybroch, despite Murtagh saying they were safe? Fear for Murtagh himself? Or just general concern because it is in his nature to gather information, and now he knows the fate of any men left wandering is likely death? In an otherwise spotless episode, this pulled me out of the narrative for a bit. If you have any theories, put them in the comments!
    • Things fall apart. It starts with tremulous hope, but the devil is in the details of the Randall marriage. The almost unseen clasp of Frank’s hand on Claire’s shoulder. Claire’s dismissive “I’m fine.” The reminders of past hurts and the past itself, when both had been promised away. So many little betrayals, all done in the name of good faith, of reaching out for understanding from a partner that results instead in that partner feeling misunderstood themselves. Little resentments, nominally forgiven but hoarded like nuts for the winter of their discontent. It’s a fascinating study of a marriage doomed to fail, that still surprises with its sudden moments of true tenderness shown by people who are both good, just unequal to the promises they have made each other. Tobias and Cait are doing minute, exacting work and it’s mesmerizing.
    • I’m not crying, you are. The one time I cried sobbing tears this episode was not at all what I thought it would be. Rupert Thomas Alexander (thought: these two MacKenzies were likely named after the same Alexander, here’s a tissue) MacKenzie exited the world with singular grace. We watched Jamie, Claire and Frank all rail against fate in some way, and act in ways that were at times, beneath the best of their characters due the stress of a terrible situation. In the aftermath of what must be a crushing defeat for a patriot, with all his hopes crumbling around him, Rupert rescues Jamie and sets him at ease about the death of Dougal, chooses to stay with the men when he could escape, tries fruitlessly to advocate for the boy soldiers, and finally, makes a joke that even causes dour Melton to flash the shadow of a grin in the terrible execution of his orders. How fitting and tragic that a character who was so frequently the source of so much comic relief meets his Maker in the midst of this terrible carnage with an amused nobility. It was a heartrendingly appropriate goodbye to the last of the Mackenzie Highlanders, and a note-perfect performance.

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  1. Janet Howe · September 10, 2017

    Thanks for these comments on the episode. I assumed that Jamie was concerned for the men around him and was, at least for a moment, showing a bit of the sense of being responsible for his men that he had always shown. Perhaps even a concern that his own condition might have kept them from trying to get away before the British showed up. I share your admiration for Grant O’Rourke’s portrayal in this episode. As you mention, he was mostly a comic relief character in earlier sections of the story, but here he really got to show a side of Rupert we hadn’t seen much of before. I thought the acting by Cait, Sam and Tobias equaled or exceeded the best of what we’ve seen before. I was just sorry when the hour was over!

    • Connie Verzak · September 10, 2017

      I like your train of thought, that despite the urge to give up, some of his natural leadership broke through and he couldn’t help but be invested for a moment. Grant was excellent. What an exit. 👏

  2. Lisa Jennings · September 10, 2017

    I first read your post soon after you wrote it last night. I teared up again just now, re-reading it. Rupert has always been my favorite MacKenzie, one example of his kindness illustrated by his congratulations to Claire the night of The Wedding. While all focus is on the Frank-Claire-Jamie-Black Jack story, and it SHOULD be, the loss of Angus, Murtagh, and Rupert punctuates the horror and grief of an impossible situation.