Outlander – Season 5 Episode 6
“Better to Marry Than Burn”
Outlander celebrates Jocasta’s wedding and Roger has to deal with a crisis at Fraser’s Ridge.
One of the main challenges for Roger this season is that his skills don’t naturally translate to living in the past. He’s an academic in a time that calls for people who can work with their hands, hunt for their own food and read people effectively. This has left him feeling less than useful as he can’t find a way to contribute to the world around him. This changes when the threat of a plague of locusts descends on Fraser’s Ridge and have to be stopped before they can lay waste to the food that is being grown.
Jamie left Roger in charge so the people look to him for a solution but also have their own ideas about how best to deal with it. The main initial idea is to burn the fields so that the locusts have nothing to feed on but Roger doesn’t think it’s a good idea because the fire could easily spread and burn down their homes as well. Unfortunately he isn’t seen as credible when shooting down this idea because he’s unable to offer an alternative but the people have to concede to his authority for now so give him the time to come up with something better though there is a limited amount of time in which to act as the swarm’s arrival is imminent.
Roger comes up with a solution that involves blanketing the fields in smoke to present the illusion of a fire that dissuades the Locusts from descending. It’s an idea that comes to him after he is stimulated into remembering a story that his father used to read to him about a plague of Locusts in the American West. Even though the story is fiction he recognises that it probably has basis in fact as many stories do so he’s confident that it’s a workable solution and sets about tasking the people to prepare for the oncoming swarm. There is reluctance and uncertainty but they follow his instructions and the result is that most of the crop is saved as the Locusts pass by.
This does a lot to endear Roger to the settlers of Fraser’s Ridge. Gratitude is expressed for Roger’s plan and the steps taken to implement it. Roger is very humble in his acceptance of that gratitude and makes it clear he considers it a team effort. Being confident, decisive and knowledgeable is a good look for Roger and this crisis goes a long way towards him thinking that there might be a place for him in this time period after all. Dealing with a swarm of Locusts is very much a singular situation but it still points him in the direction of realising that he is of some use so maybe he will find other ways to apply his skills in future episodes.
Unfortunately this plot doesn’t allow for much development of the Roger and Brianna relationship. In theory they were in the situation together but they didn’t actually share much in the way of meaningful screen time. What little they shared was in service of the actions being taken without any extra insight into how they function as a couple. Sometimes this relationship is written well especially when the focus is on how they are struggling to settle into a rhythm together. They are largely on the same page in this episode but their focus is on a particular crisis. With the plot being informative for Roger’s character there should have been more focus on Brianna and how she factors into his development.
The Fraser’s Ridge scenes were visually impressive. Seeing the fields blanketed in smoke as the people frantically worked to ensure maximum coverage was striking and the swarm of Locusts passing over was nicely ominous. The darkness that descended on the people beneath the swarm evoked a feeling of dread and created just the right amount of tension. There’s no denying that the production team outdid themselves in showcasing this crisis.
Claire and Jamie spend the episode attending Jocasta’s wedding which involves them dressing up and making small talk with the societal elite. Both of them are well practiced at this by now with Jamie appearing natural in holding respectful meaningless banter with those in attendance. He does tend to gravitate towards John Grey who he considers a treasured friend because it’s more comfortable to deal with him than some of the others but he still manages to fit in really well. Claire is a natural though finds that people tend to pay less attention to her because of gender roles in this time period, something that factors into this plot in a way that I’ll discuss later on.
Governor Tryon’s wife, Margaret (Melonie Gray) is a highlight in these scenes. She revels in the opportunity she has to mingle as the wife of a Governor and takes great delight in indulging in the gossip that’s flying around. Rich people social occasions appear to be an excuse for everyone to meet and look down their noses at others which Margaret greatly enjoys. She thinks she has found a kindred spirit in Claire who certainly humours her in that assumption. I would have like to see more of Margaret navigating the social hierarchy of the rich and connected. Perhaps she and Claire could have formed something of a double act and collectively use their intelligence to casually insult others without their knowledge.
Claire has the largest share of attention in these scenes which unfortunately limits her interactions with Jamie to be replaced with conversations between Claire and Philip Wylie who appears with a white painted face, fake mole and flamboyant outfit in a clear declaration that he must be paid attention to. Claire reminds the audience that she found him really annoying when they last met by her pointing this out to Margaret who enjoys hearing it and repays Claire with a distraction that will allow her to avoid talking to him.
Naturally the distraction is only a delay to the inevitable and Clare finds herself stuck with him for a good chunk of the episode. Caitriona Balfe does an excellent job playing Claire thinly concealing her contempt for him as she shows him the respect that he expects from her. Chris Donald’s performance is strong as well; he plays Wylie as the right mixture of arrogant, entitled, lecherous and creepy. It’s enough for the audience to share Claire’s contempt while highlighting that he isn’t to be dismissed.
Wylie’s desire for Claire reaches a peak when he makes a pass at her after deciding that she has been signalling that she wants him to do that. She is understandably less than interested and pushes him away before Jamie arrives and threatens to kill him. No matter what trouble Claire gets herself into Jamie is never far away to come to her rescue. We see a bit of Jamie’s savage nature as he almost gives into his baser instincts as he holds a knife to Wylie’s throat but Claire encourages his rational side to win the battle and dissuades him from committing murder. It’s a brief yet powerful display of how their relationship encourages the best in them even if Claire has to be very forceful in order to get through to him.
Wylie’s reason for assuming that Claire is interested in him is because she learns that he is affiliated with Bonnet and tries to pitch him a business arrangement that will lead to setting up a meeting. This is something that Wylie takes completely the wrong way which leads to a situation in need of resolving following Jamie’s violent outburst. In one fell swoop Jamie closes the door on this arrangement as well as any chance of getting within striking distance of Bonnet.
Jamie sees appealing to Wylie’s love of gambling as the best way to resolve this so challenges him to a game of cards but will only accept the wedding ring given to Claire by Frank as collateral. This comes after he learns how much the ring means to her and is an act of pure spite. Jamie is convinced that he can win so doesn’t see offering up the ring as a risk but Claire doesn’t agree as no matter how much skill happens to be involved it is still a game of chance and she could end up losing something that is very important to her. Claire’s reaction is a strong one that likens Jamie’s willingness to gamble her ring to a willingness to gamble their marriage. She sees it as him completely disregarding what is important to her which means that there must be something about her that he doesn’t understand. Of course it’s an emotionally driven reaction but Jamie’s casual disregard for her feelings really hurts her and she wants to make sure that he knows it.
Complexity is added to this fight that they have because Jamie’s overall position can be understood to a certain degree. Claire’s reaction has made it more difficult to use Wylie to get close to Bonnet and Jamie is fixated on getting revenge on him for what he did to Brianna. Wylie offers Jamie the possibility of keeping that connection open and he sees Claire’s material possession as being worth the risk. He does eventually admit he’s doing this out of his own desire to punish Bonnet more than he is for Brianna though his devotion to his family is still never in doubt. In this case he simply has his own reasons for wanting to punish Bonnet given what he did to them as well as Brianna.
Outlander excels in keeping married couple relationships interesting. Jamie and Claire’s marriage feels real in that there are constant obstacles and disagreements to counter the love and passion. There’s a real sense that it’s something they constantly have to work at and each resolved obstacle makes their relationship stronger while changing it forever. This is consistently well done and keeps their connection feeling textured.
This in turn makes a plot like this more palatable. It’s oddly underdeveloped with the card game itself happening off-screen but the fact that Jamie and Claire’s connection is so well established strengthens it almost by itself. We know that Claire doesn’t really mean that the marriage is over because Jamie is willing to gamble Frank’s ring but we’re also aware that it shouldn’t be dismissed as an emotional outburst with no weight behind it. This could have been done better by making this conflict the focus of these scenes rather than spending so much time on Wylie creeping on Claire while she tried to keep him at arm’s length while trying to entice him into a business arrangement.
The resolution of this is fairly neat with Jamie winning the wager, securing the business arrangement and making things right with Claire. Most of it is wrapped up in dialogue but Jamie and Claire’s dispute is resolved by their particular brand of passionate lovemaking. It comes after they argue about Claire’s place in society. Jamie points out that she says and does whatever she wants without considering the consequences. He loves her for her intelligence and her agency but not everyone in this time is as enlightened as he is so women are still regarded as second class citizens by many. He reminds her that she’s still a woman meaning that she should remember how far she can push societal tolerance which leads to Jamie being slapped for his remarks. Jamie is the one to initiate the encounter as a display of power on his part but Claire makes it clear that she won’t be subservient to him in any way. It’s a conversation carried literally through body language and delivers a complex exploration of how desire factors into conflict. It all adds to the texture of this relationship and gives the actors another opportunity to tap into their wonderful chemistry.
Despite Jocasta’s wedding being the reason for Claire and Jamie to be away from Fraser’s Ridge it doesn’t actually receive a lot of attention. It forms the backdrop for their story and feeds into it in various ways. Jocasta does have a couple of key scenes such as a flashback showing her daughter being accidentally killed by her ex-husband when her family’s connection to the Jacobite Rebellion is discovered which feeds into her decision to marry Duncan Innes filtered through her conversation with Murtagh at the end of the episode. He comes to her asking for her to wait for him and become his wife once the legal trouble he’s in blows over. Murtagh loves her and wants to be with her which is shared by Jocasta but she still declines his proposal because Duncan Innes is safe and stable. Even though they love each other and want to be together, Jocasta lost her daughter because she had a husband that priortised his commitment to a particular cause over their relationship and it’s not something she’s willing to go through again. Duncan represents stability and that’s what she feels she needs in her life no matter what her heart tells her. It’s a heartbreaking scene that further highlights the complexities of relationships and the other commitments that can stand in their way. Love may conquer all for Jamie and Claire but for others it isn’t quite so easy.
Jamie’s precarious position is further developed in this episode with the reveal that Governor Tryon is moving to New York so will soon be replaced by someone else in his position. He tells Jamie that he offered pardons to the Regulators because legislation is about to come into effect that bans the gathering of 10 men or more which will significantly reduce the risk of people organising against the Crown. Jamie is faced with the prospect of dealing with a new authority figure that might be less tolerant of his ways of doing things and may not be as easy to deal with. He also learns that the fighting is going to begin after all which intensifies this difficult position that he finds himself in. One way or another the conflict is about to come to a head and Jamie will have some difficult choices to make. At the halfway point of the season it feels about right to up the stakes to this level.
A good episode that provides meaningful plot and development for Roger while making excellent use of the textured Claire and Jamie relationship. Roger’s main challenge this season is that he feels that he isn’t any use in this time period. This changes to some degree when he is able to figure out a solution to the problem of an approaching herd of Locusts that allows most of the crops to be saved. This gains him some credibility and shows him that he is able to apply some of his skills in this time. It’s not a concrete answer but it’s something to work with. Unfortunately the opportunity isn’t taken to deepen his relationship with Brianna through this plot despite this being an obvious chance to do so. The Fraser’s Ridge scenes were visually impressive and the swarm passing overhead was appropriately tense and threatening.
Jocasta’s wedding presented the opportunity for Jamie and Claire to dress up and mingle with the societal elite. By this point they are well practiced in doing so even if Jamie does stick to what he knows. Governor Tryon’s wife, Margaret is a great addition as an example of why many attend such events. The delight she takes in indulging in gossip makes for some really entertaining moments and her dynamic with Claire is really engaging with lots of potential to develop. Claire spends most of her scenes interacting with Philip Wylie who is just the right amount of arrogant, entitled, lecherous and creepy. She sticks with him because he is a road to Bonnet but things escalate when he mistakes her feigned interest as sexual desire which almost puts him at the end of Jamie’s blade. Jamie’s violent outburst presents a problem as it costs them a connection to Bonnet but Jamie comes up with the idea of appealing to his love of gambling which unfortunately leads to him wagering Frank’s ring. This causes a major dispute between Claire and Jamie who resolve it through their particular brand of lovemaking. It’s a great scene where the conflict is communicated through literal body language with a brief mention of gender politics preceding it as the catalyst for Claire being pushed over the edge. Jocasta’s interaction with Murtagh is particularly heartbreaking as it highlights the complexities of relationships and how differing priorities can make them unwieldy. Love doesn’t always conquer all which is a hard yet real message to put across. Jamie learning that he will soon have to deal with a new figure in leadership once Governor Tryon moves on and that the inevitable fighting is imminent raises the stakes to about the right level for the halfway point in the season.
- Roger getting the opportunity to prove that he can be of use in this time
- stunning visuals in the Fraser’s Ridge scenes
- the Locust swarm being appropriately ominous and tense
- Margaret Tryon and her delight at indulging in gossip
- Jamie and Claire’s dispute adding further texture to their marriage
- a sex scene being used to further characters through an expert display of literal body language
- Jamie’s conversation with Governor Tryon raising the stakes to an appropriate level
- the heartbreaking Murtagh/Jocasta scene
- very little focus on Roger and Brianna’s relationship
- not focusing on the situation caused by Jamie’s violent outburst
- Jocasta’s wedding acting as little more than a backdrop
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