Outlander – Season 5 Episode 2
“Between Two Fires”
Outlander begins Jamie’s difficult quest to hunt down Murtagh as Claire struggles to be an effective Doctor in her current surroundings.
There’s a strong possibility that the current Jamie plotline could fail because of how complex it is by its very nature. He’s in a situation where he has been given land in exchange for his servitude. This bargain has led to him being drafted to hunt down none other than his Godfather as well as the people he associates with who have bound themselves to the cause of making things difficult for the rich landowners because they perceive their tax prices to be unreasonable. If things were only a little bit different then Jamie would be on the side of those trying to stop governmental corruption, especially when considering what he has been involved with in the past.
Jamie’s current situation places him in the role of the “bad guy” as he is tasked with bringing those he considers his people to the justice that has been set by the rich. Rich people making the rules is a common historical issue that people tend to fight against because it’s the poor people that suffer since they’re unable to make payments that are considered unreasonable. Jamie is in a fortunate situation at the moment where he owns land -albeit conditionally- and is removed from the plight of those who have less than him. It’s up for debate if he’s turning a blind eye to the suffering of a people who used to relate to but for now the situation is being acknowledged as difficult.
It has been mentioned that Jamie’s current aim is to make life the best it can be for the people he’s responsible for. He talks about people depending on him in this very episode. In effect he’s a community leader and acknowledges that he has responsibilities to that community. Arguably he has no choice but to do whatever Governor Tryon orders him to do because refusal would mean negative consequences for him, his family and the community of people that he leads. This means that he has no choice but to participate in this hunt to the best of his ability.
Jamie’s interactions with Lieutenant Hamilton Knox (Michael D. Xavier) serve as an indication of how strong his relationship to the current legitimate government is. Knox has a lot of respect for Jamie at their first meeting and details his desire to be granted land just as Jamie has. He’s motivated to find Murtagh because he wants to be a land owner and sees success as the surest way to receive such a reward. He has a very limited view of the people that he’s hunting because he sees them as a barrier to the civility that he recognises. Anything outside of that is wrong as far as he’s concerned which means that it’s easy for him to demonise them. Jamie points out to him that these people are struggling but Knox tells him that people should be grateful for what has been offered to them and be thankful that they aren’t worse off. He also sees himself as a protector that helps secure the best possible living situation for these people. Jamie is asked for his opinion and finds words that allow him to agree without agreeing. He’s able to agree with Knox that he is a protector of those he has sworn to defend.
Knox expresses admiration for Jamie because he perceives him to be a man who favours honour and duty above else. Those words are easy for Jamie to twist and he questions Knox on whether he would admire someone who would rather starve than oppose the government. Knox’ response indicates that he doesn’t blindly accept the rule of the government and proves that he isn’t ignorant of those who are suffering. He is shown giving money to someone less fortunate than he is and backs that up by saying he believes in giving to those in need so he does have some sympathy for the plight of other but still doesn’t waiver in his decision to be an instrument of justice on behalf of the government. He knows that it’s a complex situation but has a firm belief in the side he has chosen. This is a good example of character complexity as there aren’t simple answers to these issues but it’s important to understand what motivates characters to take certain actions. Knox doesn’t know what a perfect system looks like but he has made a decision to follow the current one and he is sticking with it. Jamie has equally strong views that inform his own motivation though there is a gap between what he’s doing and what the objective best way forward is.
Jamie’s choices are in opposition to his morality and put him in difficult situations. This was shown brilliantly when Jamie and Knox pay a visit to three captured Regulators, two of which were people that Jamie tried to convince to settle on Fraser’s Ridge. He convinces Knox to let him take the lead on the interrogation so that he has the opportunity to make sure they don’t say anything about Murtagh or Jamie’s relationship to him. Fortunately for Jamie they respond to his cues but they don’t spare him their judgement of the life he has chosen to lead. It’s clear they see Jamie as a traitor no matter what he says to justify his decisions and what code he has chosen to live by. One of the prisoners can’t help but antagonise Knox and ends up with a sword in his gut for his trouble. Jamie condemns this action but covers for him possibly as a way to balance the atrocities that the Regulators committed when tarring and feathering a man for enforcing an unjust tax.
This is such a great scene that is dripping in tension throughout. The dialogue is spoken confidently from the Regulators side as a contrast to Knox coming across as irrational and afraid. A lack of fear on the Regulator side is something he struggles to deal with as he was expecting them to fear for their life in that moment. There’s no suggestion that they’re afraid which indicates that they are 100% secure in their convictions and don’t doubt that they are doing the right thing. Knox is equally as committed but he doesn’t know how to deal with the lack of fear and seems to be intimidated by the confidence they show. Sam Heughan’s performance is really strong with his words and his facial expressions telling two different things. The knowing glances he makes whenever Jamie’s sure Knox won’t be looking to make sure the Regulators play along with the narrative he’s trying to project heighten the tension as there’s always a chance that either he will be seen or the Regulators will blow his cover by betraying his connection to Murtagh. It’s unclear why they don’t do that in this moment though Jamie is actively trying to make the situation less terrible for them so that could have something to do with it.
Subsequent scenes give a greater idea of how committed Jamie and Knox are to their respective promises. Knox starts off ridden with guilt over killing an unarmed prisoner leading Jamie to try to take advantage of this by encouraging him to accept what happened and make amends but Knox doubles down on his actions by convincing himself that the prisoner was granted a soldier’s death. This could be a slippery slope for Knox as he’s finding a way to justify a pattern of behaviour that could result in him becoming a terrible person. Whether he’ll be the next Jonathan Randall is unclear at this time but it’s a concerning start. The times are certainly complicated and will test the morality of everyone involved which is what we are starting to see here.
Jamie proves where his loyalties lie by freeing the remaining prisoners and sends them back to Murtagh so that they can remind him that he needs to be hard to find. This leads to an interesting exchange between Murtagh and his men where Murtagh acknowledges that Jamie is in a difficult situation and his men point out that Murtagh is equally torn which puts his allegiance in doubt when the fighting inevitably starts. The fighting is definitely coming as evidenced by Knox reacting to the jailbreak as if it were a call to arms and orders Jamie to gather his people in readiness for a conflict. Despite Jamie’s best efforts he has actually exacerbated the situation and created a scenario where Knox is reacting out of fear. So far this plot is working well because the complexity of the loyalties remains the focus but it will be very easy for it to become too bogged down in the details and lose that personal touch. It isn’t happening for now so I remain hopeful.
Back on Fraser’s Ridge, Roger is still struggling with feeling useless in the context of this time. He finds himself emasculated when he goes out shooting with Brianna and she shows him up by being a far better shot than him. There is no issue with that under normal circumstances as Brianna has had more practice than he has and clearly has greater affinity for it. In the time period they’re living in it’s expected that men are the ones to defend their family with force if necessary so Roger feels very out of place since he’s incapable of even hitting a stationary target. This leads naturally into a conversation about returning to their own time. Roger wants to go back because he feels that he belongs in that time period where Brianna feels a greater sense of belonging to their current surroundings because she has her family around her and feels settled in a peaceful location. She tries to make the case that their son will never be at risk of dying in a traffic accident when feels like a random statement though links back to Frank’s death and highlights that Brianna still hasn’t come to terms with losing him. Drawing attention to the risk of dying in a traffic accident suggests that she doesn’t feel safe in the future for irrational reasons and is at a point where she needs her family around her. Her fear of returning to the time period where Frank died in such a simple way is an interesting piece of character development for Brianna and creates a compelling difference of opinion for them to work through.
Roger going to Claire to check if poor eyesight is the reason for his less than competent marksmanship leads to a couple of interesting things. Firstly he concludes that his problem is psychological and represents his desire to journey back through the stones. Secondly there is a discussion about what is best for Roger, Brianna and Jeremy. Claire tells him that she hopes they decide to return to the future because it’s infinitely safer there. She doesn’t want to deal with the prospect of losing her Grandson because he gets an infection from doing something innocuous like skinning his knee. It’s a turbulent time for the place they live in so she knows that they will be safer in the future even if she doesn’t know what is to come in their own time. It’s a really strong scene that allows Caitriona Balfe to play a strong emotional range for Claire. On one hand she loves having her daughter in her life and living as a family with Jamie being part of it but on the other hand she would rather know that Brianna and her Grandson were safe in a time period where healthcare is a lot better and the political situation is less turbulent.
Claire made her choice to live the rest of her life with Jamie so will take the consequences that come with that but doesn’t want Brianna to be caught up in that and wants her to forge her own life filled with greater opportunities. Whether they can even return is unknown as they need to see if Jeremy can hear the stones. If he can’t then they’re stuck in that time period as they can’t leave without him. Considering he has two parents capable of using them to travel through time I’d say there’s a strong chance so a choice will need to be made and it’ll be interesting to see how Brianna reacts to the fact that Claire sides with Roger on this one. It’ll be interesting to see what side Jamie falls on though it’s more than likely he’ll want Brianna to do what will be safest for her.
Fear about the medical risks of staying in this time is a significant motivating factor for Claire at this point. She is trying her best to make the most of her role as a healer on Fraser’s Ridge but is finding it difficult because so many of the people are ignorant about simple preventative healthcare. Her common sense advice isn’t listened to probably because she’s a woman and seen to be less knowledgable than the physicians routinely giving bad advice and prescribing known -to her- poisons. It’s a difficult situation to be in but Claire is determined to make the best of it. She performs a secret autopsy on a body that is brought in and enlists Marsali as her apprentice because she sees the potential in her to apply her knowledge of animals and her skills with a knife to helping people. I’m interested in the prospect of Marsali learning from Claire and how that might develop both characters. They are both strong willed and intelligent so should have a lot to learn from one another while challenging each other. It’s good to have Claire challenged and put in her place from time to time as she can otherwise be a force of nature.
Claire’s actions in this episode bring up the time travel debate; something that has been dormant for a while. Claire is looking to make this a safer time by educating people using the knowledge she gained in the future. She does this partly by publishing a document detailing the best way to prevent illness and infection but also looks to create penicillin so that she can treat a wide variety of ailments. It’s a noble pursuit but Brianna points out that penicillin won’t exist for over a century and wonders if there’s a risk of causing a catastrophic shift in the timeline by inventing it early. It’s a fair question and I like that the characters are aware enough of time travel issues to have these debates. Claire is very focused on the here and now because she can’t stand by and watch people suffer when she knows what she needs to do to save them. If word gets out about what she has accomplished then it’s possible she could fundamentally alter the future through inventing penicillin far earlier than it was supposed to exist as well as pioneering what will amount to revolutionary medical and surgical practices.
It’s my view that the approach to time travel in Outlander is a closed loop. Everything that happens plays out exactly as it’s supposed to with no scope to change it. There was an attempt to stop Culloden that failed for example so any action taken was actually in service of making it happen. The characters won’t necessarily be sure of that so can still believe that they can change things. This gives their choices meaning as they are made without realising that things are destined to play out in a certain way. There is still the inevitable fire at Fraser’s Ridge to come which might derail Claire’s plans to revolutionise medicine earlier than it was supposed to or maybe she will continue to be dismissed so that the knowledge never makes it out of Fraser’s Ridge. Either way, history will probably play out exactly as it’s supposed to but the debate is interesting and it’s telling that Brianna would be worried about it as it indicates that she might not be as sure about staying where she is as she makes out.
As with the previous episode, the Stephen Bonnet plot feels unnecessary at this stage. He is definitely a threat to Brianna and Roger especially when he believes that he is Jeremy’s father but the show is very busy with much larger scale plots at this time that Bonnet feels like an unneeded aside. His reintroduction here does little more than remind the viewer how awful a man he is and is supposed to solidify him as an unstoppable threat but it doesn’t quite work as there’s not a lot of depth to him. It feels as if he will be dispatched fairly quickly. A far better tease of the threat he represents is Brianna continually sketching his face. It shows that she is still traumatised by her experience and can’t put it behind her no matter how happy or safe that she feels. Perhaps his re-emergence would have been better placed later in the season rather than taking time from things that feel so much more important at this point.
A strong episode that focuses on the complexity of Jamie’s difficult situation while acknowledging that there are no easy answers. Jamie’s interactions with Lieutenant Hamilton Knox facilitate the exploration of the situation Jamie finds himself in. Knox is a man who firmly believes in upholding the law set by the government and feels people should be grateful for what they are given under that system though does think that people should give to those in need. He’s a complex character and their conversations are really interesting. Jamie does a good job encouraging him to question his views with alternate takes on given situations without betraying that he’s sympathetic towards the Regulators. The scene where he is forced to interrogate imprisoned Regulators is really strong as so much is done through facial expressions while constantly ramping up the tension. The mention that both Jamie and Murtagh are straddling two sides and the ambiguity over what will happen when the fighting inevitably starts makes for a compelling open question. It’s very possible the effectiveness of this plot could get lost in the details but so far so good.
Back on Fraser’s Ridge, Roger continues to struggle with how useless he feels he is when Brianna unintentionally emasculates him by showing herself to be a far better shot than she is. This leads to a conversation about returning to their own time that offers some really interesting insight into Brianna’s current mindset through the mention of their son being at risk of dying in a car accident just as Frank did. It’s brief and unresolved but fascinating as something to be developed. Roger learning that his terrible marksmanship has a psychological cause rather than a physical one gives him a better idea of how useful he can be in this time and also provides the opportunity for Claire to make her feelings known around what they should do. She wants her daughter and grandson to be safe and considers the future to be a safer time for them to live in so she hopes they will eventually leave even though she likes having them around. Claire is struggling with how to be an effective healer with the resources of this time. She enlists Marsali as her apprentice which should make for an interesting dynamic and resolves to improve medical care. There are some obstacles to this such as people not really listening to her because she’s a woman and her advice is deemed less valuable than that of a clueless physician. She finds ways around this and Brianna brings up the time travel debate in regards to her altering the future which is always good to revisit from time to time. It serves as a reminder of the questions around the inevitability of Fraser’s Ridge going up in flames and allows the characters to keep thinking about their place in history. The appearance of Stephen Bonnet is awkward and out of place. Once again the character has no real depth and he feels like an unnecessary addition to the busy plots. Brianna sketching him to show she’s still affected by her experience is more than enough to establish his threat level for now.
- a nuanced exploration of Jamie’s difficult situation
- Knox and Jamie’s fascinating conversations about the way they see the world
- Knox as a fascinating and complex character
- no easy answers
- a brilliantly tense scene where Jamie is forced to interrogate the Regulators
- the open questions around what will happen when the fighting inevitably starts
- Roger continuing to struggle with feeling useless in this time
- Brianna and Roger’s conversation about where and when they should life
- impressive insight into Brianna’s mindset through her mention of the risk of a car accident
- Claire’s mature approach to where and when is best for her daughter and grandson to live
- the challenges Claire faces when trying to improve medical care in the time she lives
- setting up an interesting dynamic between Marsali and Claire
- bringing up the debate about time travel and the consequences of changing the timeline
- the reappearance of Stephen Bonnet not working in context of everything else that’s going on
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