When I write these reviews, I watch the episode at least twice, if not more. Some episodes have been a joy to rewatch; some have been, well, not so much. This episode was beautifully written, filmed and acted, but it was so much harder the second – and third – time.
One line really struck me – before they go out to fight, Murtagh is obviously upset, and Jamie tells him to spill it. Murtagh’s concern is for the loss of the individual as a consequence of war. “In a raid, every man has a part to play. You tell yourself that the raid’s success or failure is dependent on your action. And if you’re forced to wound a man, or kill him even, chances are you’ve stared into his eyes while doing it. And if you’re to die, you do it knowing your memory would live on within your clan. Your death would have meaning. But this … this is different. We’re part of a 2,000 strong army. My death, your death alone would be meaningless. Five hundred, a thousand have to be slain before the deaths take on any meaning.”
But this episode truly highlighted the importance of the individual – in decision making, in friendship, in battle, in death. From the argument about whether they should go ahead and begin the fight to Ross and Rupert’s lament on the loss of their friends, we saw the difference that one person can make to the lives of many. Yes, throughout this season, Jamie and Claire have been fighting for what they believe best for many – but the success, or lack of it, of their effort comes down to the affect on single individuals.
Dougal is one of those that the episode focused on. He’s been behind this cause for a very long time, and has a lot invested in its success. It’s obvious that he’s not too happy that he is on the outside, and Jamie is on the inside, so when an opportunity comes up to “prove his mettle,” he showboats his way to the middle of the bog (and how did his horse not get shot?), and is grazed when he goes justthismuchtooclose. He had the best line of the night – returning from the exploratory expedition, he takes his congratulations from his Prince. And then he tells Jamie, “And now, I’m off to change my breeks, as the hero of the hour has shat his pants.” But years of facing the British in raids and living under their harsh rules has left him hating them, and he finally has his revenge – he cuts through the wasteland as the Angel of Death, leaving none, not even Lt. Foster, alive.
This bloodthirstiness horrifies the man he so wants to impress, Prince Charles. The Prince has listened to his counselors bicker over whether they should advance or not. He’s listened to Jamie’s wise counsel. He’s tried to be reasonable to everyone he sees as his father’s subjects, including the British. He’s even admitted to not being a favored son – “I don’t believe my father is all that fond of me,” he tells Jamie. But whether you think he’s a fop or a puffed-up player, he’s concerned about the individual, and not just the army around him.
Ross and Kincaid’s friendship, with their “what’s mine is yours” pact, was a wonderful way to show the impact on the individual. They may just be crofters from Lallybroch, but, as they say, they’re here, and know their duty, and know that it may not end up with a return trip to their homes. They’re afraid, but ready. And Kincaid knows that his wife, the “she-devil” and their six bairns, will be cared for. Small moments in an episode with a large, frightening battle.
Ross and Kincaid inspire Angus to try to make the same kind of pact with Rupert. Honestly, it suprised me that Angus was the one to offer. With his sword and his part-time hoor Scarlett on the line, Rupert wants nothing to do with it. He understands but isn’t willing to face the probability of an outcome that would bring this kind of pact into play. For all their bluff and bravado, it’s likely that neither of them has been in anything bigger than a cattle raid either. Of the two, I’ve always liked Rupert more, but in this episode, Angus had a definite appeal – asking for a kiss from Claire (which of course, is nothing new for this one), but his small gesture of touching his cheek where she kissed him was sweet.
Of course, he isn’t a wonderful man – spitting all over Ross and Kincaid, his surprise at meeting the Prince (“And you are?” “Your Prince, Charles Edward Stuart.” “Are ye really!”), but his concern for the injured Rupert was wonderful. (I wish Starz wouldn’t release all the teasers during the week – when I saw this episode on Wednesday, the scene of Rupert’s injury hadn’t been released, and I gasped so loud that my son came running from another room. If you hadn’t watched that scene early, did it startle you as much as me?)
And just as you start to think, “well, this guy has some redeeming qualities after all, he’s not a total jerk,” Outlander gives us the biggest surprise of the night, and one of the Highlanders who has been with us through nearly two seasons, who helped rescue Jamie from Wentworth, who could never count cowardice as one of his faults, is gone. RIP, Angus Mhor. Just the first of many possible heartbreaks this show will give us this season.
Of course, if we’re looking at the toll of war on individuals, we can’t leave Fergus out of this. Caught up in what he sees as the glory of battle, he’s desperate to escape “women’s work” and take his place with his lord and prove himself. But with his small stature and his small dirk, he’s no match physically for the battle – and it’s a miracle he came through without a scratch. He’s still a child, and despite having been raised in a brothel, he’s led a sheltered life, when even young Highland boys know of cattle rustling and hatred of the British. His shell-shocked expression, completely unfocused, numb from the terror he’s gone through, sends fear through Claire. And his confession that he’s killed a man – you look at Claire and know that if she could take away that knowledge from him, that loss of innocence, she would in a heartbeat. And I’m sure it hit all of us the same way. We can only hope that he’s resilient, and that he’ll recover from this first, but far from last, violent encounter.
It was an interesting decision to make the episode focus more on supporting characters than on Jamie and Claire. Sure, we see a fair amount of both of them, and I thoroughly appreciated Jamie’s leadership and strategic thinking. I’m sure Claire, with her knowledge of the importance of cleanliness and hot water, saved more men than any other medic could have done. But by focusing on Dougal and Ross and Kincaid, and Angus and Rupert, we saw the toll of war on those who haven’t gone through it before. We saw the fear, the bravery, the blood and death from unexpected angles. This was excellent storytelling – removing us from the familiar and expected point of view, and showing us that sure, Jamie and Claire are affected by all of this, but this story is about more than just the two of them. No, Murtagh, it won’t take the deaths of 500 or 1,000 of you to mean something.
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