Often, when I rewatch an episode to write my review, I like it more than I did on the first watch. The nuances and performances are more interesting, the writing makes more sense. But with this one – my first watch, I thought it was excellent, one of my favorites. And on second watch, while I still cried through major parts of it, I almost felt manipulated in my emotions. It’s still a very good episode, but doesn’t rank, on my personal scale, where I thought it was.
There was just TOO MUCH here to absorb, and I can’t help but feel like the writers did that deliberately. Let’s punch you in the gut – Roger is alive, but he’s severely damaged, body and soul. And OH! let’s have a beautiful caithris for Murtagh, sung plaintively by woman he should have lived his life out with. And if that’s not enough – let’s have Ian return, with his own dead eyes and unspeakable sorrow. And if that’s not enough – let’s replay Roger’s hanging OVER and OVER.
I don’t want to minimize anything. It’s all heart breaking. Some of the sorrow can never have a resolution – Murtagh and Jocasta will never have their happy ending. You have to hope that Ian will find his way back. And at the end of the episode, you think that Roger has begun to find that path for himself. But it was a LOT. And if I had the hope that they were getting this all out of the way so we could have some really light, loving, happy episodes… but of course, that’s not how Outlander works. (And face it, happy upon happy upon joy joy can get to be boring.)
Roger Will Always Sing For You
Book readers knew the outcome of last week’s cliffhanger. I hope that those of you who hadn’t read the books didn’t know – that you breathed a sigh of relief. But it’s a long road back, and I’m sincerely hoping that his recovery during this episode doesn’t mean that next week, he’ll be all fine again. That’s not how this works. Remember all the discussion in S2 about Jamie and his PTSD? Yes, what Jamie went through is horrific, but Roger has had a huge heaping of hell since he came through the stones. Is it any wonder that he’s got that “thousand yard stare”? That he can’t bring himself to even try to speak to Brianna – or look at her, for heaven’s sake!
I loved the way his father’s instinct came through as Jemmy reached for the fire – you know Roger is in there somewhere. But what will it take to open up that pain that’s been scarred over so heavily? He’s making basic attempts – woodworking, showing some interest in the governor’s attempt to apologize with acreage. But those are all surface things. Brianna’s cry to him – that he needs to fight – has to resonate somewhere.
I know this is hard. Your voice, it’s your gift. But you’re still you. You’re still the man I married, and I want him back….But I went through something awful too. Something dark and ugly, and, believe me, all I wanted to do was to crawl into a hole and die. And Sometimes I still do. but I didn’t, and I don’t. Because I have a husband and son who need me. I fought for us. I need to know that you are not gone forever. Are you coming back? Are you going to fight for us?
There was a little crack in the scar when he heard Bree singing Clementine to Jemmy – he couldn’t make good on his promise, from the last episode, to come back and sing for his son again. And we could see it ripping his heart.
I didn’t at all like the use of the silent film device for Roger’s flashbacks. It felt artificial – “let’s stick this in here.” The writers created a reason for the silent movies to be relevant – supposedly something that Bree and Roger liked to do together in the “before time.” They had to find a way to make this device fit in with the story, and sometimes this is a workable tactic. Find a theme that’s used in another place and make it that part of the story you’re trying to tell. But this silent movie bit ONLY had to do with this episode, and the future event prologue to the story was created only to make the device fit into the rest of the story. I was OK with flashbacks in black and white. That set them off from other recollections – this was Roger’s waking nightmare, hitting him out of the blue at the touch of canvas, so similar to the hood he wore, or any number of other triggers.
The flashbacks themselves were odd. They weren’t all from Roger’s viewpoint – so they can’t all have been his recollections. He didn’t see Jamie, Claire and Bree running up to him. He didn’t see the other condemned men having their barrels kicked out from under them (I wonder if that’s where the phrase “kicked the bucket” comes from?). And he was so passive – let’s just take this calmly, right? I don’t think it was necessary to show the Governor and the rest of the military (I’m glad we did get to see Buck dragging him up). Roger’s personal flashbacks would have had more impact if they were just that – HIS flashbacks. And then instead of the classroom portion at the beginning, and the weird silent movie bit, use Bree’s despair, or cutting him down, as the initial scene. But I did like the way the final flashback was handled – finally, in solitude, Roger is able to explore and push the memory a little bit more, and realize that what he really had wanted most at that moment was Bree.
The class discussion about famous last words made me incredibly anxious – there’s a beautiful, truly perfect line in the books, that Jamie says to Claire – with this show’s track record of moving lines around and giving them to different characters, I was deeply worried that this line would appear in the completely wrong place, said by the wrong person. Did anyone else have that worry? All you book readers know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. I don’t think it’s possible to plan out your last words, and any record of something philosophical, or deep, or perfect, of someone’s last words is, I’m convinced, made up by someone else who didn’t want to say that their loved ones’ final words were “nooooooo” or, in most cases, nothing. (My husband’s lovely mother’s last words were “It’s hard to think of something to say to a dying person, isn’t it.”)
Here’s the song that Richard and Sophie sing together at the end of the episode:
And Ian Will Keep It To Himself
In contrast, there was nothing I didn’t love about the Ian part of the episode. Jamie and Claire’s hide and seek game with Jemmy was appropriate for the episode – there’s a lot of hiding from the world and seeking a return to it. But Ian’s dramatic return – shooting the boar, seeing Rollo first – was exciting, and made me sob immediately. I’ve missed Young Ian, and John Bell’s fantastic portrayal of him. And here he is, returning to his family, with a huge weight. What has happened, why does he have no plans to return to the Mohawk, what is it he can’t talk about?
Marsali makes a valiant effort to pull it out of him, but Ian isn’t at all ready to speak. Did you see how hungrily he looked at her pregnant belly? Longing and sorrow were conveyed so poignantly. Marsali has a big heart, and will go to some lengths to try to make her loved ones smile, but she understands when not to push.
Jamie’s talk with him on the porch reminded me of another time Ian was in crisis, and Jamie quietly helped him through – in the first episode of Season 4, when Ian told him about Geillis and the things she did to him. Jamie understands soul sickness, and the importance of having someone who is willing to just sit and share your sorrow, even if you can’t talk about it.
We’re just now learning a lot about the adolescent brain and how it isn’t mature until about age 25, which contributes to teenage suicide and the overwhelming emotions a lot of teens have. Don’t forget, Ian is still very young, not more than 20 or 21, and has had several traumatic events happen to him. It’s not a surprise that this one, whatever it is (and yes, we think we know, but still) has laid him out cold. It’s not a surprise that he doesn’t believe he can live with this last trauma, that he has to escape the memories, and that suicide is the only way out.
This surveying trip with Roger was a risk. Ian and Roger have never before had an hour’s time together under happy circumstances. Immediately upon meeting, Ian beat Roger up and sold him into slavery. Then when Roger was rescued, Ian stayed with the Mohawk in his place. So these are two men who don’t know each other at all, and aren’t likely to get to know each other beyond the fact that they’re both incredibly damaged – Roger can’t talk, Ian won’t. But Roger is older, with more life experience, and even if he can’t see it for himself, he knows that tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that, will be better. So Roger recognizes what Ian is doing – preparing to die, saying his goodbyes, and he’s NOT HAVING IT. He’s just gone through this himself and come back from the edge – he’s not going to let Ian end his life needlessly. And that, I think, maybe as much as (or more than) seeing Bree’s face in his flashback, convinces him that he needs to make the effort to return to the world and confront his trauma.
And what was with the “bury the hatchet” line in the opening sequence? Another artificial construct – that phrase has come to mean ending a conflict. I suppose that’s one possible, if remote, way to look at what Ian as doing, if the conflict was with his past. That opening scene was all kinds of wrong, trying to find ways to be relevant to the rest of the episode.
I know there are quite a few things I didn’t touch on – Lord John Grey giving Bree the astrolabe (nope, extraneous), and Jocasta singing for Murtagh (beautiful, would have loved a little longer scene there), but I’d really like to hear your thoughts on these. What did you think? Love or hate the silent film flashbacks? Who made you cry more, Roger, Ian – or Jocasta singing for Murtagh?
Here’s the link to this week’s script – there are several scenes in the script that didn’t end up in the final production, including one between Bree and Jamie that really should have been there!
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