I feel like I repeat myself most weeks in season 5 – more than halfway through at this point, and the majority of the episodes have been terrific! This one, The Ballad of Roger Mac, is probably the best in what has been a great season – and one of the best of the entire series. And if Sam Heughan doesn’t win awards for this one, we’ll know the fix is in. Not that the rest of the cast wasn’t excellent – maybe it’s having influence as a producer (he has said that this was the first episode where he and Caitriona were able to use that influence); maybe it was the very emotional subject matter – but Sam was fantastic, start to finish. Let’s talk about some of the moments:
Happy – or not so happy – 50th birthday, Jamie. It started out well! The “taking stock” scene was lovely. Light, loving, reflective. Taken closely from the book, this was sweet and wistful – both Jamie and Claire knew what was coming that day, but took a few minutes to connect, to celebrate having one more day together. And I’ve heard this from many friends who lost a parent, especially their same-sex parent, at a young age – that you’ve lived to see a day your parent never did is a slightly jarring revelation. You have no roadmap past that point, no one to look at and say, “this is what it is to be xx years old.” Jamie tells Claire, “the world and each day in it is a gift. Whatever tomorrow brings, I’m grateful to see it. As for taking stock, I’ve all my teeth, none of my parts are missing, and my cock still stands up by itself in the morning. Could be worse.” Claire has obviously gotten over any modesty – those tent panels are maybe not sheer, but you sure can see a shadow through them…. happy birthday, soldier.
Talk about being between a rock and…. a harder rock. His concerns, as he tells Bree, are “the men in my charge, the Regulators fighting for what they believe in, and my godfather.” The King and Crown really have no place in this – except that’s what’s holding Jamie in this impossible situation.
And when Tryon insists that, as one of his best officers, Jamie wear the uniform of the hated Redcoats, it’s like wearing a poisoned skin. His men can barely look at him as he puts it on – watch the faces as he takes off his own coat and hands it to John Quincy Meyers. And when he goes to say goodbye to Claire, he doesn’t want to look her in the eyes, and her first, quickly hidden expression, is mingled disgust and sorrow for what he has to go through. Her “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ” says what we all think.
But their tender exchange on parting is everything we could hope for. “Will you wish me luck then?” Jamie asks. “I can’t let you go without saying something,” the obviously overcome Claire responds. “I suppose good luck will do. I love you, soldier.” We so rarely hear that from Claire – so when she says it, it’s a little startling, giving us a glimpse into the depth of emotion she’s feeling. “Good luck will do. I love you does so much better,” Jamie tells her. He’s worried that just having the coat on will color her feelings, and is relieved when he knows that she understands, and sees only him, not the coat.
I hope the circumstances around Jamie putting the coat on, now that we’ve seen the whole thing, reassured a lot of fans who were worried, or even felt betrayed. This was NOT Jamie’s choice. But the scene showed us, without any doubt, exactly what side Jamie was on, how he still, after all these years, carried the hatred of the British underneath his barely controlled exterior. They had taken so much away from him, for so many years – his love, his home, his family, his friends, the people in his care. He had to tolerate them for a while longer in order to not lose any more. But this – this was that straw. And you saw it snap, when he finally cut the ties as Tryon (and major props to Tim Downie – he’s been absolutely stellar all season) gloated over their victory – a “victory” that caused the death of one of the most important people in Jamie’s life.
Will it be written in history, sir, that you killed and maimed, and paid no heed to the destruction you left? That you brought cannon on your own citizens? No, they’ll say that you put down a rebellion, preserved order, punished wickedness. Did justice in the King’s name. But you and I both know what happened here. There is the law, and there is what is done. But what you have done is kindle a war for the sake of your own glory… I’ve paid my debt. I’m finished with my obligation to you and to the Crown.
Calling on the strength of Dougal Mackenzie was another sign of Jamie’s conflict and worry. Like he said, he had fought with Dougal side by side, back to back, as he had with Murtagh – but this time, he had no trusted warrior next to him. The consequences of failure were high, and it helped to at least have the internal reassurance of success with a past compatriot.
— Outlander (@Outlander_STARZ) March 30, 2020
But – the little things matter, and we have a lot of fans who carefully watch for all of those little things – shouldn’t Claire have bandaged that hand? That was a LOT of blood. Think of how much a paper cut stings.
You Were Wrong, It Did Hurt
I really didn’t think that Murtagh would live longer than this season. After all, the Regulators really aren’t a part of the story past about this point – and there’s SO much more that has to be fit in. His romance with Jocasta had come to a screeching end; he would still be a wanted man, and how long could they play out a storyline about Jamie reluctantly hunting him? But heck, who saw this coming? I actually screamed out loud (good thing I was home alone) with the crack of the gun. What a beautiful scene – beautiful, but devastating.
Murtagh was so much more than a godfather. He was Jamie’s mentor, his substitute father, his confessor. He recognized, long before Jamie himself did, that this man wasn’t ordinary – he was destined, by birth and by brains, to be a leader. He kept Jamie rooted to the earth after Claire went back to her own time. He gave Jamie a purpose. Cruelly, they were separated by the British, and kept apart for more than 20 years. They were reunited by chance (and honestly, there’s still something about this that I think the Outlander writers hope we never noticed, that Murtagh never would have let that time go by, Jamie would have made every effort to find him). And again, thanks to the British, they had such a short, difficult time back together. Even though it was one of Jamie’s men who pulled the trigger, it was the British who put his finger on it. We – and Jamie – may never recover.
I released you from your oath. You were supposed to stay away. You should have done as I asked.”
I would never betray your mother, no matter who asked. Dinna be afraid, it doesna hurt a bit to die.”
Maybe it doesn’t hurt you, Murtagh, but the rest of us…
Oh, My Darlin’…
I must say, my only quibble with this episode was with little bits and pieces of Roger’s story. And not even so much with Roger, but some of the related bits and pieces. For example, the opening credit sequence – a man in what I assume was the 1960s writing The Ballad of Roger Mac. And the fact that that was the name of the episode felt like there had to be more in the original script that was cut out. If not, I truly want to see how Roger – the unluckiest man to walk through time – went from crossing his ancestor (and hello Graham McTavish! Did you recognize him? I confess that I didn’t until I saw the credits) to being hung by his own side.
Richard Rankin gave a great performance this episode – as he usually does. We saw his hesitation, his reluctance to leave his family. I could almost see him dragging his feet out of the Sherston’s lovely room, leaving his wife and son with a song (about a girl who drowned herself, nothing cheerful about this at all). Would he truly be able to come back to Jemmy to sing again? Nobody could know what the day would hold. He passionately voiced his conviction to Murtagh that to leave and live to see another day was the right action, especially given his knowledge of the future. And he had learned a lesson in the Mohawk village – toss a man into a fight, and a man has to fight back; but against a larger, angry man and his six friends, he had no chance.
It was heartbreaking to have Jamie, Claire and Bree see – and recognize him hanging from the tree. How did this happen? How was he not able to tell his captors who he was? All the worry and fears for the day came together in that moment. Toni Graphia, I have complained about some of your episodes in the past – all is forgiven. This episode easily goes in my top five for the entire series.
TUESDAY NIGHT – Listen to The Outlander Gab on the Air! Our internet radio show will discuss this episode, and what’s happening in the Outlanderverse. Our special guest will be Theresa Carle-Sanders, author of the Outlander Kitchen cookbook, and the soon to be published follow up, Outlander Kitchen: To The New World and Back Again. Call in and chat about the episode or ask Theresa questions about her books! 9 pm eastern/8 central/6 Pacific.
Special Listener Bonus! We’ll give you a link to an exclusive recipe from the new book, only to show listeners!
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