Deep Thoughts Outlander 408: “Wilmington”

It feels like just yesterday that I was complimenting some the adaptation’s changes to the novels, so it seems karmically fair that this week I should be slapped in the face by how deeply the tiny shifts from the novels affected one of the episodes to which I was most looking forward. Drums of Autumn, the novel upon which this season is based, prominently features Roger and Brianna as individuals and as a couple, setting up the second great love of the novels. It had been hinted the show would give these characters a romantic hour of their own that would cement the emotional connections between them upon which rest several future plot points. I’m not sure that happened. As for Jamie and Claire, Murtagh’s leadership of the regulators manifested into a side plot that seemed to leave his relationship with Jamie weaker than we found it. Let’s revisit what was, for me at least, a pretty challenging hour. Spoilers ahead for episode 408, “Wilmington”.

All The World’s a Stage
After a visit to Fergus and Marsali that establishes that Bree and her parents are in the same place as well as the same time, Jamie and Claire attend the theater with Governor Tryon and his wife. There they meet the Governor’s Public Registrar of Deeds, Assemblyman and Judge Edmund Fanning, a man suffering from what Claire immediately recognizes as an inguinal hernia…and a young Colonel George Washington and his wife, Martha. Jamie is playing the part of loyal English subject, cultivating a cordial relationship with the man who is responsible for his land bequest while still trying to protect his godfather, Murtagh, from the ambush Tryon has set for him. It ends up not only cementing Tryon’s view of Jamie as a loyal subject, but also his opinion of Claire as a qualified surgeon. At the end, though Jamie stops Murtagh from committing “a hanging offense,” it’s not by showing up himself but rather returning to the theater with the Governor and sending Fergus in his stead, an act which Murtagh interprets somewhat disdainfully. Jamie, once again walking a fine line between loyalty and sedition, proves Roger’s assertion that it is dangerous to decide who lives and who dies. His actions have alerted his godfather to a traitor in his camp, but Tryon has also guessed the same about his own side, and now blames an innocent General Washington. The outcome of the Revolutionary War is a foregone conclusion, but it was by no means an overnight occurrence. With four years to go before the Boston Tea Party and six before the “Shot Heard Around the World,” it sets the stage for a long-term conflict which seems inconsistent with the level of focus Murtagh’s activities are occupying in the current narrative. It’ll be interesting to see how this plot line is resolved.


I Plight Thee My Troth
Just a few minutes into the episode, a tired Roger overhears a tired Brianna inquire about Cross Creek and the two are reunited. Their affection for each other is obvious, but by the time they take their conversation outside they are back to bickering that would appear, to a casual observer like Lizzie, that they are angry with each other. I understand that the TV version of Roger/Brianna rests largely on this dynamic, but it’s problematic for many reasons and this episode saw several of those rear their head. At first, things go well. During the course of their argument, Brianna confesses that she loves Roger, and the resulting make-out session has Bree agreeing to marry him. It’s a bit sudden but still believable, and their ceremony is sweet, a mashup of the older and newer wedding traditions that ends with them plighting their “troth” to one another, i.e. their faith and loyalty. It’s here where things begin to fall apart. The same comfort that allows them both to be swept away by grand gestures and romance causes them both not to think before they speak. Brianna discovers that Roger knew about the obituary, and she accuses him of being domineering. Roger retaliates by pointing out her recklessness, both in assuming she can change the past and in risking her life, and by extension his own, in trying. Once again, they both say things they don’t mean and care less about listening to each other than they do about getting their own point across. A prime example is when Roger says that, now they’re married, she should start listening to him, and Brianna interprets that as doing what he says. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch a couple that loves each other repeatedly stall in the growth of their relationship, withdraw from each other, and fight unfairly. For example, in the novel, Brianna leaves Roger after she discovers he knew about her mother’s death. Here, it’s Roger that leaves her, and what was empowering for her and motivating for him now looks like an unfeeling abandonment by a man who just swore to take care of her. Taken together with their post-proposal fight and how this incredibly sensitive character has been portrayed as a thoughtless misogynist, it leaves me with a feeling of alienation from Roger, and for Brianna for choosing him. Perhaps the intent is to make the television audience feel closer to Brianna, who was a somewhat polarizing character in the novels, but it ends up making me question why I should be excited about a relationship where two people are so careless with each other’s feelings. I want to cheer for Roger and Brianna, but when they keep being set against each other in these maladaptive ways, it’s incredibly difficult to keep overlooking.

You Can’t Protect Them
Still ringing from an argument with Roger in which she assures him that she and Lizzie have done “quite well” alone, Brianna comes back to the inn where she is staying, only to run into Stephen Bonnet and his possession of her mother’s ring. Her attempt to retrieve it unlocks Bonnet’s casual cruelty once more, to devastating effect. The resulting scene is not only traumatic for the fact that the real-time audio means you can close your eyes and see it in your mind’s eye, but because it’s heartbreaking proof of how very alone Brianna is, and how vulnerable despite the courage and fire in her heart. Outlander has never been a series that hesitates when it comes to the use of rape as a plot device, but the placement of this particular scene, directly after a loving first time, feels particularly traumatic because it happens the same night, not two days later and told as a flashback, like in the novels. Several meanings could be assigned to it. Maybe it was meant to evoke the horror of what is happening in those who watch it. Maybe it was meant as a contrast between the loving interlude with Roger, Bonnet’s relaxed violence making Roger’s careful reverence more tender and tragic by comparison. Or maybe it was simply one of those meaningless acts of violence to which reason simply doesn’t apply, presented without comment and without comfort. Brianna’s body is shown less care than her boots, stacked up carefully by the doorway. She walks back through the tavern —slowly, painfully, but upright.

One comment