Outlander – Season 4 Episode 4
Outlander starts to look at the reality of Claire and Jamie building a life together in America including the hardships that will challenge them.
The early part of this episode has a palpable sense of optimism to it. Claire and Jamie are both excited about building a home together from scratch in a beautiful location. It’s peaceful, serene and idyllic on the surface though the land comes with built in dangers that they aren’t ignorant of. Despite that they are both eager to begin building their life and Jamie sets about making plans for where everything will be built. This show has so much darkness and angst that this change of pace feels refreshing with the characters looking forward to something in life rather than looking over their shoulders expecting something bad to happen.
It doesn’t take long for complications to develop in the form of Native Americans who make themselves known by issuing warnings in their own language before leaving. Jamie tries to make it clear that he means them no harm by announcing his name and dropping his knife to the ground which is a clear enough message though nobody is sure if they will be able to peacefully coexist in this area. Claire, Jamie and their group are the invaders no matter what a piece of paper says so they have no real right to the land that was occupied long before they got there.
From here the episode plays around with assumptions to some extent starting with the attack on a horse that is believed to be the work of the Native Americans until Claire gets a good look at the injuries and concludes that it is the work of a bear. This idea is planted in the head of the viewer early in the episode when Claire lists all of the animals that might be found in the area. Bears are the least of her expectations because of the time of year so the reveal that a bear apparently attacked the horse is meant to be a surprise given that it’s the least likely eventuality. The problem becomes more intense when John is found mauled and in critical condition with bite marks indicating that his attacker was human.
Human or not the attacker will have to be stopped as it represents a danger to the group that can’t be allowed to continue. Jamie ends up fighting and defeating the attacker which enables him to start building a bridge between his group and the Native Americans through the demonstration of his ability to defend both groups and the opportunity this gives him to communicate his sincere desire to live alongside them peacefully.
The backstory of the man who behaves like an animal is explained and it adds so much depth to the Native American group. He was banished for committing rape because that is against their customs and returned periodically to rejoin the group without success. Eventually he took the form of a bear and started acting like one which led to him terrorising the people by destroying what they had built. Adding these details makes for an interesting contrast to all the talk of savagery both in this episode and prior episodes. There is an assumption on the part of the British that the Native Americans are a savage race of people who don’t value life the same way that civilised people do but the reality of the situation is that they are civilised in a different way and have their own laws that they adhere to.
Of course, Jamie is a lot more enlightened by some which has been made abundantly clear before this episode but is reinforced through his conversation with Governor Tryon (Tim Downie). They talk about a few things that will likely become important in later episodes such as taxes not reaching the treasurers and corruption within the ranks but the most interesting aspect of the discussion was Governor Tryon’s views on savages. He makes a point of making the distinction between “Princes and Paupers” as if the “Princes” side of the binary is innately civilised. Jamie has been acquainted with those that belong to both categories and has seen what people are capable of no matter their social standing so has a wider view of how broad a meaning “savagery” has. It’s a really clever conversation because Jamie does his best not to entirely disagree with his benefactor but also makes a point not to fully support what he says. This makes him slightly vague about where he stands though clear on the fact that he knows what people are capable of. As I mentioned it’s also a reminder of his open mind that leads to a non violent resolution to the potential conflict with the Native Americans.
He makes a conscious effort to understand them and goes out of his way to make sure that the peaceful intent is clear. To do this he makes use of John’s expertise and asks for advice on how to get them on side. John is a great resource for this sort of thing because he has managed to create a relationship with Native Americans founded on peace and mutual respect. He’s also an immensely generous person all too eager to give what he has in service of helping Claire and Jamie. John knows they don’t have much and wants them to succeed so makes everything of his available to them. Jamie is a very proud man who won’t take anything from others without returning the favour in some way. This calls back to his Highland upbringing where people worked together to build a community which meant never taking something without offering something else in return.
Despite this obviously civilised way of life it was believed that the Highlanders were savages just as the Native Americans are which means that, according to this show savagery is defined by a lack of understanding over how other cultures approach their version of being civilised. It forms the framework of a lot of the major conflicts and becomes an exercise in taking the time to understand how others live. Jamie is willing to do that which means he makes a name for himself among the Native Americans as “The Bear Killer” and is accepted with open arms where the British are regarded as enemies because they forcibly take from them rather than trying to peacefully coexist.
Interacting with the Native Americans proves interesting for Claire who is told of a cryptic dream that identifies her as a healer and foreshadows her as an old woman with “wisdom beyond time” and a greater understanding of medicine. This tracks with her ability to travel through time and suggests that her knowledge of future medicinal techniques will continue to serve her well for many years to come. In contrast there is a warning of death coming “from the Gods” but not being her fault. This could be a warning of the upcoming American Revolution and reassurance that something bad will happen despite her attempts to do the right thing. It’s both cryptic and ominous and possibly further reinforces the undefinable connection between time travels. My theory is that Adawehi (Tattoo Cardinal) is descended from the man in Claire’s vision which gives her the ability to travel through time and have a greater awareness of what hasn’t happened yet. Whatever the answer it’s an ominous prediction that will definitely be clarified as the season progresses.
This episode makes for the first real acknowledgement of Claire’s decision to never see Brianna again. It has been mentioned before this but the emotional impact has been glossed over to some degree so I’m glad to finally see this addressed. The catalyst for this is Marsali discussing her pregnancy and how much she is looking forward to giving birth. She also misses her mother which makes Claire wonder about how Brianna is coping without her while conjuring up the feelings she has about not being close to her own mother. Claire’s decision to travel back in time to be with Jamie was a really selfish one that didn’t entirely take Brianna’s feelings into account because there was an assumption that she was independent enough to cope without having Claire in her life. This appears to be the first time that it has entered her head that Brianna might be struggling more than she assumed. Jamie once again recounts the time he spent apart from Claire and how thinking about her was enough to sustain him so he assumes that Brianna will feel the same. Jamie coming back to how he felt when he and Claire were apart feels a bit repetitive with the same ground being broadly covered every time it comes up but the sentiment is sincere enough.
Meanwhile, in the future Roger discovers reference to Fraser Ridge in the book given to him by Brianna last week which indicates that they will at least be successful in building a home for themselves. He investigates it further and uses that as an excuse to contact Brianna after the friction created between them last week. On a plot level it lets Brianna know that her parents thrive together and on an emotional level it furthers the Roger/Brianna relationship suggesting that recent events haven’t fractured it completely which creates hope for some form of a future between them. As I mentioned last week their heightened emotional state meant that the situation escalated quickly so this suggests that time to gain perspective is a large part of what they need to get over this hurdle. Talking about something that isn’t their relationship is definitely an important step forward for them. Details like this make their relationship feel all the more real and Brianna’s room-mate Gayle (Simona Brown) reacting the way she does adds to this as it shows that Brianna has a life outside of what is depicted even though there is no focus on it. It’s clear that she has a close friendship with Gayle to the point that Brianna has confided in her about the Roger situation. It’s played for laughs but adds to the tapestry of her character.
Roger’s findings function to foreshadow an upcoming disaster of some sort and adds to the mystery that started to build in the previous episode. History records that Claire and Jamie die 15 years from the setting of this episode which is interestingly complex as the rules of time travel in this show means that it has both already happened and yet to happen. Since the present day as Roger and Brianna perceive it runs parallel to the life Claire lives in the past then it makes both true and creates a moral dilemma for Roger who can either tell Brianna about what happened/will happen or keep it to himself. His decision rests on whether he decides to accept it as a past event or something that has yet to come. Arguably Brianna deserves to know either way so Roger has that to wrestle with. Being the bearer of bad news is never easy and Richard Rankin conveys that wonderfully through a nicely subdued performance. With this dilemma the writers have done an excellent job connecting fantastical science fiction elements to a familiar moral dilemma and kept the whole issue focused on the characters as well as their connections to one another.
His hand looks to be forced by Brianna’s reaction to what she learns about Claire and Jamie as she wastes no time in travelling to Scotland with the intention of paying her mother a visit. It looks like Brianna’s about to take a journey back in time which could make for a really interesting addition to the ongoing story though I wonder how she will manage to find her way to old Boston. It has previously been suggested that Roger also has that capability is he going to join her? Considering the strong work done on their relationship so far this season it would be a mistake to separate them at this critical juncture.
Another strong episode that delivers a compelling commentary on how conflict is created through failing to even try to understand other cultures and makes use of effective ominous foreshadowing. Jamie is once again shown to be more open minded than many people native to his time period. From the beginning he wants to make it clear that he means the Native Americans no harm and eventually proves to them that he wants to coexist with them peacefully. It goes down well because he takes the time to understand their way of life through talking to them, making use of John’s expertise and being open about his intentions. His conversation with Governor Tryon about what defines savagery reinforces Jamie’s position on it and how his life experience has taught him to see things differently. It also punctuates the root cause of the conflict between the British and the Native Americans since there is no attempt to even consider they are civilised in a different way. Once a dialogue is created between Jamie’s group and the Native Americans Claire is given a cryptic description of a dream that herald an optimistic future as well as death coming to them while not being her fault. It’s interesting and will clearly play out over the rest of the season. It finally dawns on Claire that her leaving Brianna might have an impact on her after Marsali talks about missing her mother. It dredges up memories of Claire’s relationship with her own mother and makes her consider the impact of her decisions on others. Jamie’s views on the subject are fairly repetitive as he once again talks about how he felt he and Claire were apart.
Roger discovers documentation confirming Fraser’s Ridge being established as well as evidence that Claire and Jamie were there which delights Brianna to learn while also allowing them to establish a dialogue after the friction created between them last week. This suggests that there is hope for them after they both gain some perspective. It also feels very real that they are able to talk about something else even if it is awkward. Brianna’s room-mate isn’t a well established character because she sits in the background but her existence and the implied closeness expands Brianna’s character naturally through her having a life outside of what is depicted in the show. Roger’s moral dilemma over what to do with what he learns about Claire and Jamie’s apparent death works really well and expands on the sci-fi elements of the show wonderfully. Ultimately his hand is forced by Brianna’s apparent journey back to the past so there’s plenty of intrigue to carry subsequent episodes including the exciting possibility of Brianna travelling back in time to meet her father.
- natural depth being added to the Native Americans
- reinforcing how open minded Jamie is compared to others of his time
- a well written conversation between Jamie and the Governor
- Claire finally considering the impact of her leaving on Brianna
- a moral dilemma that plays with the sci-fi elements of this show brilliantly
- the continued realism of Claire and Roger’s relationship
- impressive foreshadowing and mystery building
- the repetitive dialogue around how Jamie felt when he and Claire were apart
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