Outlander: Ep. 404 Common Ground is Really Unfamiliar – Review

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One of the problems of having read the Outlander books, and loving them, and coming to watch and review the TV series, is that you feel like a low-rent psychic. You have an idea of what’s coming next – although one can never really know, right? – and you can see the paths and patterns that SHOULD lead to certain outcomes. And when the paths change, how much does the outcome change? Can the paths change but the outcome remain the same? That’s the biggest issue with this episode. Well, one large issue, among a host of smaller issues.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this episode. I feel like, four episodes in, this season has no real idea what it’s doing or where it’s going. We had a good, if not perfect, season opener, a terrible second episode, a lovely third…. and this one. The four episodes together feel like episodes from different shows – completely different personalities, and tones, and amount of adherence, or lack of, to the books. Yes, things change for TV. For a number of reasons. We aren’t going to get word for word, scene for scene. Sam can’t really be in a fight scene with a live bear. The show has compressed events, moved some up much sooner than they appeared in the book, etc. OK, that’s fine. But as I’ve said all along – the changes have to make sense. They have to follow the spirit of the books, especially if they’re not following the letter of the books.

New Paths, Same Destination?

I didn’t have trouble with changing the Bear Killer scene from a real bear to a person. There are a number of reasons this was done, I’m sure, and this brought us to the same place – a bridge to a relationship with the Indians. Sure, in the books, it was a funnier scene, and yes, I did miss Claire slapping Jamie with a fish. But it’s one of those things I can live without. The insertion of John Quincy Meyers in here was fine – he knows the Indians (and yes, I’m going with Indians, only because that’s the term the characters in the show are using), and is a convenient “tour guide.” I’m not going to quibble with changing from Mohawk to Cherokee.

The problem here is the tone of this part of the episode. Where have we ever had a beautiful, lyrical Outlander? I half expected Claire, Jamie and Ian to all hold hands and dance in a circle in slow motion. And this is not a criticism of the other Bear that’s part of the production – the choice of tone is the director’s, not the composer’s. The episode would have been very different if the music had been something else. This was too sweet, too sappy. Heck, Claire wasn’t even annoying in this episode! (I should probably be thankful for that.) This wasn’t a vacation for Jamie, Claire and Ian – this was hard work, exciting, challenging – think Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, rather than his Appalachian Spring, which tonight’s music more resembled. If you put the Fanfare with the scenes, you get a much different feel.

I liked the confrontation scenes with the Indians – Jamie’s reaction to them, of worry for Claire and Ian, his rational approach to wanting to be a good neighbor with the first drop of his knife, were very much in keeping with his character. He’s never taken people at face value, and he doesn’t here. He’s a good, decent man, who only wants to live peacefully. He understands what it’s like to have someone else come into your land and take it over – he’s lived it, on the other side, and doesn’t want to be the invader. But he feels he has a right to be there, to share the beauty and bounty of this land, and he’ll do what he can to demonstrate that.

But I really didn’t understand the scenes of the Indians as they prepare for – something. Adawehi (Tantoo Cardinal; book character was named Nayawenne) is leading a ceremony that includes actions that look like pantomiming a bear – but why? They weren’t going to hunt the “bear” – they knew exactly who, and what, it was, and told Jamie that they couldn’t kill something that was already dead to them. So they were, what? appealing to the spirits to make the “bear” move on? I appreciate the production’s attempts to make these scenes as authentic as possible, and I’m looking forward to continuing this throughout this and the coming seasons, but I didn’t understand the intent behind these actual scenes.

What did you think of the re-envisioned “bear” scene? Short of missing the fish slapping, I mean? From the horse returning with injuries from claws, and JQM nearly dead from those same claws, to Jamie impaling the bear, it was short, but tense! I was waiting to see if it was someone we had seen from the Indian group, maybe someone who was more upset than the others about the Frasers moving in. But the explanation was fascinating – a tribe member who had been shunned for his behavior, and had gone mad from the isolation. I appreciated Jamie’s instinct to take the body to the Cherokee, but perhaps some reasoning or worry about that might have made sense. How did he know that this person, the tskili yona, belonged to the group he had seen? Why did he think he had to do this? What reception did he expect?

If You Haven’t Read The Books, This Won’t Make Sense

The Roger and Bree plotline changes are a potentially bigger roadblock, depending on some information that we don’t yet have. So I may be jumping the gun, but I’m sure this has dawned on many of you, and you’re worrying about it, just like I am. In episode 401’s review, I talked about pivotal moments, that there are a few scenes throughout the book series that are the launching pad for many other events. The attack by Bonnet and the ring being stolen is one of them (and what’s happened to this? The ring, specifically, has never been mentioned again).

I’ll try not to give too much away here, in case there are readers who have not gotten this far in the books, but we just crossed a leadup to another one of those moments. I think by now, you all know that Brianna goes back in time, just as Claire did. (Boy, this is harder than I thought, not being able to discuss this freely…. 🙂 ) Her decision in the book wasn’t because she learned that Claire found Jamie – it was due to her fear for Claire, based on that same obituary that Roger found. But she finds that on her own, at the same time Roger does.

Just like the show, Roger makes the decision to not tell her about it, and this decision causes a major problem, with major consequences. Yes, he does eventually decide to tell her – and how long has it been? – but she’s gone by then. Could she have found this on her own? Roger didn’t find it – Fiona and her grandmother came across it in the Reverend’s papers. (And what made him save it? Frank’s inquiries? Did Frank know? Sorry, I’m digressing…) But even if he had called to tell her immediately, would she have been gone already? I’m biting my fingernails waiting to find out how this will be resolved. I’m expecting something fairly different from the book, and hoping that it doesn’t lead to further changes (ahem, Lizzie….).

But Anyway… You Can Open Your Eyes Now

All in all, I have to say I feel slightly meh about this episode. I did like the callback in the Bear Killer scene to Jamie’s discussion with Tryon, where it seemed that Tryon was insulting Highlanders, telling Jamie, “I’ve heard the Highlander has much in common with the Indian savage. Do you think it so?” And Jamie’s taut reply with its own hidden insult for the Redcoat, “Savagery can exist in many forms, Your Excellency. I’ve witnessed it in prince and pauper.” This was echoed when Jamie tells Tawodi, the Indian who spoke surprisingly good English, “This wasn’t a monster, it was a man,” and he responded, “Sometimes, man is monster.” There’s your common ground – the trampling of rights, taking over an entire people’s land and home, by the monsters masquerading as men.

And briefly, the scene between Adawehi and Claire, as translated by Giduhwha, was exactly as I saw it (except that Nayawenne, in the book, was white-haired herself, which is referenced in a particularly gruesome way) – “My husband’s grandmother had a dream about you. The moon was in the water, and you became a white raven. You flew over the water and swallowed the moon. The white raven flew back and laid an egg in the palm of her hand. The egg split open and there was a shining stone inside. She knew this was great magic and the stone would heal sickness.” Is she referring to the large stone Claire found with the ghost Indian’s skull? “You must not be troubled,” she added. “Death is sent from the gods. It will not be your fault.” I’m dreading, but also excited for, the scenes this leads up to.

And the reference to the wisdom Claire will have when her own hair is white is one of those things that we still are waiting to see played out in the books – but I’m not yet ready for white-haired Claire. A little more wisdom, maybe, but I’m not quite prepared for them to be that old, because that would mean we’re near the end of the story.

The Outlander Gab on the Air

Join us Tuesday night, 9 pm eastern/8 pm central for the next Outlander Gab on the Air! Call in and chat about this episode and anything else Outlander-related. Go to our Live Radio page for the link to listen and the call-in phone number!

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Erin Conrad