You’ve seen the episode. You know what happened. Let’s talk about a moment – or two, maybe three – that really got to me, funny or emotional, good or bad, expected or not. And then, The Moment After.
Moment #1 – Murtagh
Yes, the Murtagh Moment. Ever since Ron Moore slipped (or did he?) and more than hinted that Murtagh was still alive, speculation has run wild. Yes please! Keep him alive! Have him replace Duncan Innes! No, thank you! Loved Murtagh, but it changes the story! Tonight, we got something kind of in the middle – Murtagh’s alive, but will we ever see him again?
Throughout the book series, Jamie has had an internal dialogue with the spirit of Murtagh (and Dougal, and his father Brian – Jamie’s internal life is a little busy, thank you, take a number). So, as he sat on that ledge, and I recognized that voice, my first thought is WWMS – what would Murtagh say? But holy Hielan coo, when I realized that really WAS our missing clansman – let’s just say my kids were reaching for 911. Really? He’s here, in Ardsmuir? In Jamie’s cell? Who did they bribe to make that happen?
But here he is, and he’s sick – it’s cold and damp in those cells, and conservatively, Murtagh is 60, probably closer to 65, old for that century. He’s tough, there’s no doubt about that, but what has he gone through in the last couple of years? (where WAS he?) He’s almost certainly malnourished, may have had injuries – he can’t be in great shape. I thought he looked just awful, the way he was supposed to look – gray in his beard, sunken eyes – he seemed weak, and old. And when they marched the prisoners off to be transported to the Colonies – that look, that awful look between Murtagh and Jamie, neither understanding what’s happening! My heart broke. But it had to make Jamie’s time at Ardsmuir more tolerable, having his closest friend there with him.
One book scene that was changed to include Murtagh was the bit of tartan. Yes, the book scene was radically different – this piece that Murtagh holds was found in the cells, belonging to a young Highlander, and Jamie takes his punishment. This, in the book, is after the “advance” Lord John makes, and Jamie stands for the whipping to put distance between him and LJG. And as interesting as that would have been, and as much as there are lots of other scenes from Ardsmuir (and Helwater) that could have been included, they would have made the length of time between the beginning of the season and Jamie & Claire’s reunion even longer. And how many of us really wanted an entire season of Outlander with Jamie and Claire apart?
And what does a less-isolated Jamie do to his character? Ardsmuir is where he forges his reputation as chief. Having no one to worry about personally, he comes to take on the leadership role in the prison, and all of the prisoners become the substitute for the loved ones he’s lost. It’s where he becomes the man that the prisoners all follow, during his upcoming smuggling years, and again in the new world at Fraser’s Ridge. Can he be that man when he does have one particular person to pour his loneliness and bred-in need to care for right there in front of him? Or will this continue to be the weaker version of Jamie that Ron Moore has created?
Mature Jamie in the books is created in the fire of despair and need. In the series, Ron has again and again pushed that down. Even the scenes of his years in the cave showed him as weaker, I think, than he was in the books. Show Jamie merely existed because he couldn’t figure out how to lay down and die. Book Jamie got through those hellish days because he still had to help his family survive. Yes, the loss of Claire was devastating, but he had something more to stay alive for than that. It didn’t turn him into a walking zombie.
So could we see Murtagh again? Personally, I don’t think so. It will be several years from this point before Jamie and Claire make it to America – Helwater, couple of years with <cough cough>, some time as a printer. By then, Murtagh will be close to, if not over, 70. If he survives the trip to the Colonies, he still has a 14-year period of indenture, but he’ll be more than halfway through with it by the time Jamie and Claire arrive. Assuming they can find him, and assuming they can purchase his contract, will he be able to be part of their lives at his advanced age? I think it’s unlikely that we will see Murtagh again, in anything other than a flashback – I think even this was a bone thrown out to fans.
But would it be possible? Sure. Murtagh would be Jocasta Cameron’s contemporary, as he had been in love with her sister. I know, that’s weird to think about. we always think of Jocasta as elderly – and she is – but Murtagh is the same age! His life has been exponentially more difficult, but he’s a tough guy. So, never say never.
Moment #2 – The Doorbell Rings
Ha, you expected me to talk about Frank’s death, didn’t you? Sorry. We knew that was coming. We already knew Frank dies. And since we don’t see it, it’s anticlimactic. It happens.
What we didn’t see coming was proof of Frank’s infidelity. For a man who prides himself on not being a cad, he sure goes there. To plan on not even going out with his wife and daughter and her classmates on this incredibly important moment? Frank and Claire seem to have developed a fairly comfortable relationship, talking about going out to a movie, raising Bree. And he chooses to tell her that yes, he’s been going out to movies with someone else, another woman has taken her place. Sure, when does finally want a divorce, he asks Claire, “Might you have forgotten him, with time?” and her answer was what he had expected – “That amount of time doesn’t exist.”
But did we really need to see the evidence? We’ve gone through 8 books debating “did he or didn’t he,” and even Diana Gabaldon says “you just don’t know.” If you haven’t seen it, read her “Defense of Frank,” reprinted from her Compuserve comments, on the blog Time Slips. She says, in short, “He clearly has a code of honor, and by God, he’s sticking to it, dearly though it may cost him. Would a man with this kind of code then proceed to have promiscuous affairs? Maybe-but maybe not. His own image of himself as an honorable man is probably as valuable to him as Claire is, at this point; if he won’t abandon her, he won’t abandon that image, either.”
Why did the production go here? It makes for dramatic TV. “I would like to live the rest of my life with a wife who truly loves me,” he tells Claire. Drama!!! But what does it accomplish? Does it make Frank a more sympathetic character? No. Does it make Claire look like a shrewish harpy? Yes. Remember, Claire is the central character of this show – why would they make her look so bad? At this point, I kind of wish she’d just go away! I’m not itching for her to get back to Jamie – geez, the guy needs someone loving, nurturing, caring – not this witchy woman.
We haven’t seen enough of her skills as a doctor, or any of her struggle to get there. We haven’t seen her need for Jamie come anywhere near the level of Jamie’s need for her (but then again, we didn’t actually see a whole lot of her love for him in the last two seasons – it frequently felt like he loved her an awful lot more than she loved him). Claire hasn’t had it that bad in the last 20 years physically, so we need to really understand what’s going on in her head to know why she’s desperate to get back to Jamie. We have to take it on faith that she’s never lost that need – maybe this is where some voiceover – looking at Bree and seeing Jamie, wondering what he would have thought of her, etc., might have come in better than Frank recounting her failings as a wife, and showing, without a doubt, that he had affairs.
Moment #3 – The Touch
Oh, how we’ve been waiting for David Berry! His sculpted face, his precise diction, his still young and vulnerable countenance – what an excellent Lord John Grey he was tonight! Even his stiff stance is perfect – “The ramrod is standard issue in the British Army,” Murtagh says to Jamie. And he’s sympathetic to the plight of the prisoners – certainly not soft in any way, but when Jamie asks him to provide blankets and medicine for the sick men, Grey has to deny his request, but not for lack of willingness, only for lack of supply, he adds.
While their first meeting isn’t promising, I appreciate the moments the episode spent developing their relationship. The flicker of trust they have in each other over dealing with Duncan Kerr and any potential info he may have on the French gold; their dinners; and eventually, their little bit of revealing conversation. LJG says that he lost a “particular friend” at Prestonpans, and Jamie, for the first time, says Claire’s name – something he wouldn’t even do with Murtagh, saying only that he got the idea to gather thistles and make the men eat them “from a lass.”
Grey’s heart is wounded, even as Jamie’s is, and he makes a fatal error – he mistakes a moment of sharing for a possibility of becoming involved, if only for a bit of human companionship. Grey is smart enough to know that you can’t have an affair with a prisoner, but Jamie is a compelling enough personality – to everyone, it seems – to make common sense fly out the window. And so he reaches over, touches Jamie’s hand in consolation, which seems to be well enough accepted. But he takes it a beat too far, and caresses Jamie’s hand with his thumb. This moment was so well done – quiet, just enough. And Sam is, as always terrific here – Jamie reacts by freezing, not immediately wrapping his hands around LJG’s throat, and says, coldly, menacingly, “Take your hand off me. Or I will kill you.”
Oh boy, did LJG misread that. And he realizes it – the one perfect tear down his cheek says so much. “I screwed up. I let my feelings come out. This was the wrong man.” He can’t have any understanding of why his impulsive gesture went to badly wrong, but where another man in his position might be embarrassed and take it out on a prisoner, Grey chalks it up to his own error and withdraws.
A friend told me today that she’s concerned that this was played so lightly, so subtly that non-book readers won’t understand that Grey is gay. I don’t think there’s any way you can’t understand that – the “particular friend,” accompanied by the look of longing on Grey’s face, the gentle caress. It wouldn’t have been right to have this made any more overt – what would you do, have LJG say to Jamie, “hey, I can think of a way we can both feel better – want some Grey dessert”? (oops, sorry, “try the Grey stuff, it’s delicious”.)
But he can’t help his tender heart, and it leads to one giant gesture, which has repurcussions throughout the rest of the series – he tries to spare this man he’s developed such respect and, yes, tenderness, toward, and paroles him to the best option he can think of – Helwater. Where at least Jamie will have freedom of a sort, and air, and some solitude, and horses.
Best line of the night – LJG to Jamie, “Do you find your life so burdensome, Mr. Fraser?” And Jamie, “Perhaps, not greatly so. I think perhaps the greatest burden lies in caring for those we cannot help, not in having no one for whom to care. My life – emptiness, but no great burden.”
The Moment After
As much as I loved the season’s first episode, I think this one, so far, is my favorite. Jamie’s not-quite-escape was done so well – it showed how far the men were willing to go for him, risking their own safety to let him go find out the truth about the “white witch.” Scenes between LJG and Jamie were done with a delicate touch, including the scene where Jamie comes back and gives Grey the opportunity to fulfill his promise from so many years ago and kill him. This was the epitome of Jamie’s “empty life” – he had dared to hope that it was possible for Claire to have come back, and when he confirmed that it hadn’t happened, he had nothing left to live for. No, his life wasn’t so burdensome, and not so necessary.
I really liked the scene of the men being marched out for transport to the colonies – sure, now that we had him back, we wanted more Murtagh, but this was so much more realistic. They wouldn’t have been given any time for a goodbye – the British wouldn’t even have thought of it. But the desperate looks between Jamie and Murtagh were completely heartbreaking – to be ripped apart again?
Don’t forget to submit your questions on the episode to the Outlander Writers for Tuesday’s Twitter Q&A! If you’re not on Twitter, or miss the Q&A, I’ll transcribe and publish it, as always.
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