Funny, I heard an odd sound coming from the Outlander fandom today – a sigh of relief. And contentment. This week’s episode, “Allegiance,” had no huge high or low points, no fights, no violence – but it wasn’t in any way dull or unexciting. What it did have was what we’ve been looking for – fidelity to the story we love, some humor, plenty of conflict, a little bit of resolution.
In many ways, the episode explored its title value. Allegiance to family, to country, to spouse, to love. Does allegiance mean loyalty? Blind loyalty? Clearly, no. Allegiances can change, they can be strengthened, they can be betrayed, they can be repaired. There’s one other allegiance, and we’ll talk about that last.
Allegiance to (New) Country
Jamie’s hesitation to convey Chief Bird Sings In the Morning’s request for guns has multiple layers. He has to decide, truly, where his allegiance lies, and in this case, allegiance to the British is already out of the picture. He knows he’s walking an extremely fine line, to appear loyal to the King and the British, while in reality doing what he can to make sure he’s on the right side of what he knows to really be coming. “You are here on the King’s behalf,” the chief says. “You tell him this. We want more weapons. Rifles. Muskets. Guns.”
“You must understand,” Jamie replies. “The King may be hesitant to arm you against his own people.” In truth, Jamie is concerned that these guns would be used against his people.
“You must understand. We can kill them without guns if we want to. I like you, Bear Killer. You’re a funny man. Perhaps you have forgotten. The Cherokee have fought with the King before. And we may choose to fight with him again, if the time comes. But that is a discussion for another day.” What will be best for the country Jamie knows is coming? Which decision will not swing the balance of power to England? And Jamie knows what’s coming, also, for the Indians’ country, for their tribes. Is there a way through this that will benefit everyone?
Allegiance to Family
I loved how Jamie came around to change his mind – learning at least part of the reason for Ian’s sadness and insistence on trying to fulfill this request made him examine his own reluctance to arm the Cherokee. But when he learns Ian had a child – even though he doesn’t have any details – he understands that Ian’s allegiance is split, and he has to decide what he owes his own, extended family.
Yes, he knows the broad outlines of what will happen in the future, but that includes the terrible fate of Ian’s other family as well. Can he tell Ian “well, that’s not the important part”? He can’t. Ian is as much his family as Brianna, or Roger. Part of the reason he accepted the job as Indian agent was to keep Richard Brown from definitely putting the tribes in King George’s pocket, and he’s taking a gamble that when the time comes, he’ll be able to make a case for fighting with the rebels.
But the leader in allegiance to family this week is a squeaker, and it’s Roger by a hair. He has faced his own moments of doubt on this, earlier on in the series when he had to decide whether to stay or to go back to his own time. And having decided to stay, he’s putting his family first – and is dedicated to making sure others do as well. His support of Brianna with the matches was a cheering moment. He was determined to prove to her that her creation was definitely something to celebrate, despite the cold-water-tossing attitude she faced when she showed them off. (Although, they did make a point – how difficult did they really find it to make a fire, when it was a daily occurrence, and were matches the best first demonstration of her engineering skills? I had the same thoughts when I read this in the book…) Oh, and a fascinating, but not unexpected revelation – that Bree and Roger have been trying to have a second child???
But I loved when Roger showed Aidan the “miracle” his wife had created, and he credited her – win the minds of the young people, and they’ll grow up to be adults who believe better things.
And it wasn’t just his own family he fought for. “Pull yourself together, and be the man that Marsali thinks you are, the man that you promised her ye’d be. Even if ye have to pretend. and maybe when ye see her, ye won’t have to,” he tells a drunk and self-pitying Fergus. He understands that self-pity. He knows the depths of the doubt and the despair, but having climbed that 5-story ladder himself, he also knows what it requires and why. Fergus is not the first soul he’s pulled from that pit – last season, he gave his hand to Ian. Roger is beginning to find his voice and his place, and his rock, his support, is his love for Brianna and his family.
Fergus DOES pull it together – for a while. He loves Marsali, which is the basis of his despair. How can he be worthy of her love when he can’t protect her? When he can’t provide? Cesar Domboy, who doesn’t get near enough screen time in this show, was fabulous, pulling himself together, taking care of Marsali in the most loving way possible. She completely lit up when he came into the surgery – “better now that you’re here,” she tells him. But he can’t sustain this momentary rally, and once again shows that while he loves her, he’s going to need more help, a bigger hand to get out of his pit.
And one more family, but one whose allegiance to each other is fractured – the Christies. What twisted beliefs are running around in Tom’s brain? His allegiances can be questioned. He clearly has no allegiance to Jamie and the Frasers, professing an allegiance to God first. When Jamie tells him, point blank, that the church Tom is building won’t be under his sole control, he’s in control enough at that point to realize he can’t push back to the man who is holding his future, and the futures of those under his care, in his hand.
His relationships with his children aren’t healthy, and he takes out his anger – or attempts to take it out – on Malva. Who is obviously used to this treatment, and just as obviously hates her father for it. Mark Lewis Jones, as Tom, is perfect. The emotions that cross his face, emotions he’s in control enough to know that he can’t express when talking with Jamie, are plain. Anger, frustration, envy – we’re hitting a majority of the deadly sins here.
And when confronted with headstrong, not-so-innocent Malva, when he does have the opportunity to let them out, he explodes. It was this inability to get the relief he was seeking – being able to beat his daughter – that drives him to give in to Claire and accept the surgery on his hand.
Jessica Reynolds, as Malva, is amazing – the smirk, the recognition of his inability, and her glee, hint at much darker depths of her soul. She has something inside her that even a beating can’t remove, as innocent and lovely as her outside is. This young woman has several battling sides to her personality – the curious, intelligent, sweet and helpful young woman, eager to do and be more than her family and society will allow; and the family’s whipping post, dominated by a father haunted by his past, who believes that women are tools of the devil.
Allegiance to … Outlander!
One quibble I had with this episode was that scenes were too short! For example, the sin-eater coming to Grannie Wilson’s inside-out funeral. On its face, it was a light-hearted moment, if a funeral can be called that. Old Grannie Wilson, her funeral service in an unfinished church, with an unfinished preacher – at the end of her, ahem, unfinished life. And the sin-eater, a man who is supposed to help her passage into Heaven, walks into the church and realizes his subject is sitting up, chastising her son in law for being a “skinflint.” He performs his duties anyway, as Grannie orders him to, and leaves.
But just to give you a bit more of that scene, especially if you haven’t read the book (A Breath of Snow and Ashes), here’s some of that chapter (edited):
He was a tall man, or had been, once. It was impossible to tell his age; either years or illness had eaten away his flesh, so that his wide shoulders bowed and his spine had hunched, a gaunt head poking forward, crowned with a balding straggle of graying strands.
I glanced up at Jamie, eyebrows raised. I had never seen the man before. He shrugged slightly; he didn’t know him, either. As the sin-eater came closer, I saw that his body was crooked; he seemed caved in one one side, ribs perhaps crushed by some accident.
Every eye was fixed on the man, but he met none of them, keeping his gaze fixed on the floor. The path to the table was narrow, but the people shrank back as he passed, careful that he should not touch them. Only when he reached the table did he lift his head, and I saw that one eye was missing, evidently clawed away by a bear, judging from the welted mass of scar tissue.
… “But you’re not dead.” It was a soft, educated voice, betraying only puzzlement, but the crowd reacted as though it had been the hissing of a serpent, and recoiled further, if such a thing were possible.
…He was standing no more than a foot away from me, close enough that I could smell the sweet-sour odor of him: ancient sweat and dirt in his rags, and something else, some faint aroma that spoke of pustulant sores and unhealed wounds. He turned his head and looked straight at me. It was a soft brown eye, amber in color, and startlingly like my own. Meeting his gaze gave me a queer feeling in the pit of the stomach, as though I looked for a moment into a distorting mirror, and saw that cruelly misshapen face replace my own.
He did not change expression, and yet I felt something nameless pass between us. Then he turned his head away, and reached out a long, weathered, very dirty hand to pick up the piece of bread.
This is one reason I love the books – these little bits of description, the chill that runs through when you wonder, as Claire must have, if the man was somehow related to her, through the genes of the time traveler. (To learn more about sin-eaters, click here.)
Another scene that was relatively faithful to the book was Major McDonald’s aversion to Adso. While I definitely miss Adso destroying his wig, it might have been difficult to get the cat-actor to do that…. but the production made a good stab at recognizing that this is a fan favorite. And so, the good major is terribly allergic! As a cat-allergy sufferer myself, this would be worse than having the kitty destroy my wig. So, um, hats off to the writers!
And finally, a storyline many of us were worried that would be left out – the birth of Henri-Christian, and the concerns about coping with his dwarfism. Honestly, this wouldn’t have been difficult to cut out and not cause a huge problem in the overall story, but the life of this special little one has touched many of us through the years. I don’t know what they’ll do with this going forward – I’m not going to spoil this for anyone – but his birth was dramatic, beautiful, and important.
What do you think? Were there scenes you missed, scenes you’re hoping to see? Drop a comment below!
Thanks to outlander-online.com for the use of their high-quality screencaps!
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