Outlander – Season 4 Episode 7
“Down the Rabbit Hole”
Outlander chronicles Brianna and Roger’s arrival in the past along with their attempts to reach North Carolina to find Fraser’s Ridge.
Brianna having never met her real father has weighed on her ever since she found out about her true parentage. Recently learning that Claire and Jamie are fated to die in a fire at Fraser’s Ridge encourages her to take the journey through the stones in an attempt to save their lives. Her decision is also motivated by a desire to meet her father which is completely understandable.
There’s a lot standing between Brianna and Fraser’s Ridge as getting to America in her father’s time wasn’t the easiest thing to do. The location of the stones isn’t exactly the most accessible place in world in her native time let alone in the past so she has to find her way to civilisation before she can go anywhere. This doesn’t go very well for her at first with an unfortunate tumble resulting in a sprained ankle impairing her movement. Luckily -or not so luckily- she is rescued by Laoghaire of all people who takes her in, nurses her back to health and generally opens her home to the unlucky traveller that is Brianna.
The scenes where Brianna spends her time in Laoghaire’s care are really well done because of the knowledge the audience has that the character’s don’t. There’s almost a Quentin Tarantinoesque quality to these interactions as there’s something beneath the surface that neither of them know about that the audience is fully aware of. Laoghaire is characterised as being kind and compassionate which helps the viewer sympathise with her despite knowing everything that has come before. She comes across as a lonely mother trying to support her daughter and struggling to deal with abandonment. For this to work the viewer has to be fully immersed in Brianna’s perspective and the episode does a fine job of putting that across as it would be so easy to continue to demonise Laoghaire by having her act unreasonably throughout.
Part of why this works is that work is done to create some common ground between Brianna and Laoghaire. Brianna was raised by Frank who loved Claire more than she loved him. This mirrors Laoghaire’s marriage to Jamie which allows Brianna to understand where her benefactor is coming from and why she would resent Jamie. Of course she doesn’t initially know that Laoghaire is talking about Jamie which adds an air of tension to their interactions as Brianna is unknowingly siding against her father in feeling sympathy for Laoghaire and her situation. The underlying theme here is that there are two sides to every story and Brianna is probably best fixed to understand that as she is largely impartial due to not knowing anything about Jamie other than what Claire told her. She’s smart enough to recognise that Claire had a really romanticised view of Jamie which would colour the stories that she tells but Laoghaire helps Brianna to understand that her father has his flaws even if she doesn’t initially realise that Laoghaire is talking about him.
It doesn’t take long before the truth comes out and all of the kindness given to Brianna by Laoghaire all but dries up. The mention of Lallybroch prompts Brianna to open up about her ties to that place in the hope that Laoghaire knows people she’s related to. This prompts her to learn that her father is the lout that Laoghaire has been talking about and the woman who stole the heart of the man she loves is her mother. Laoghaire becomes the person that the audience will be familiar with once it becomes clear to her that Brianna is Claire and Jamie’s child though with the added context of how much she’s struggling after Jamie left her for Claire she becomes a little more sympathetic as a result.
None of this excuses her previous behaviour or the fact that she projects her hatred for Claire and Jamie onto Brianna but up until that point the episode had managed to explore Laoghaire’s position in as objective a way as possible. It was done so well that the rapidity of her change in attitude towards Brianna is really jarring and doesn’t feel entirely earned. She knows that Brianna has never met her real father and was raised by another man so has no real reason to attribute the sins of her father onto her. It’s true that she has no love for Claire but Brianna had nothing to do with that either so locking her in a room and threatening to have her burned as a witch doesn’t quite work. It might have been more realistic for her to banish Brianna from her home because she couldn’t see past her connection to Claire. The threat ended up having no real significance anyway as Laoghaire’s daughter frees Brianna and takes her to Lallybroch so it only serves as a mediocre cliffhanger while the episode shifts its focus for a few scenes.
Brianna is welcomed with open arms at Lallybroch by Ian who makes it clear to her almost immediately that she is family and will be treated as such. This is a big moment for Brianna who has never really known her family before this point. Sophie Skelton’s performance says everything about what it means to Brianna to finally meet blood relatives; she finally feels part of something and connected to history in a way that she never has before. It’s a touching moment and works brilliantly. It’s regrettable for both Ian and myself that Jenny wasn’t around to meet Brianna as that is definitely something I would have loved to see. The tangible emotional connection also covers up the convenience associated with Ian giving Brianna everything she needs to move onto the next stage of her journey.
This episode also allows for exploration of Brianna and Frank’s relationship in a way we have never seen before. I mentioned in detail through my reviews of last season that the Claire side of the story was poorly done because there was little sense of the underlying relationships. This is something I stand by and this episode is evidence of this. There would have been no need to refer to Frank and Brianna’s connection here if the work had been done before this so I’m glad to see it given some attention beyond being discussed here and there. The first flashback features Brianna finding Frank drunk in his office pouring over the same obituary found by Roger discussing the death of Jamie and Claire. This devastates Frank as he takes this as confirmation that he will once again lose Claire to Jamie. Frank is once again confirmed to be an honourable man as he chooses not to burden Brianna with the knowledge that he has and keep his pain to himself. Instead he opts to tell her that the information on the obituary is everything to him apart from her. There’s something very real about this interaction as it acts as a microcosm of things that go unsaid within a family that build over the years. Brianna’s frustration comes from having things hidden from her from years and Frank’s comes from feeling trapped in a loveless marriage apparently destined to end with him being left behind.
It’s great to see Tobias Menzies back as Frank and actually spending time exploring Brianna’s connection with Frank has been a long time coming. The second flashback has Frank act equally as cryptic towards her when asking if she had ever considered studying abroad though this is cleared up when he asks her to come with him to Cambridge where he has been offered a position. Tobias Menzies’ performance in this scene is excellent with Frank being at his most strung out after having made the decision to reclaim some of his life for himself. Brianna is the most important thing to him and it’s clear that he wants to take her with him because he considers her his family despite the lack of a blood connection. That has clearly never mattered to him so it’s important for him to take the one thing he feels proud of with him. Asking her to come with him is a clear act of desperation on his part and an understandable one given the situation.
Brianna is naturally blindsided by this out of the blue offer from Frank and can’t bring herself to answer one way or another because of how abrupt this feels to her. Considering she finds out that Frank is leaving and that her parents are getting a divorce practically in the same breath it’s understandable that her mind would be far from made up at this point in time. Her only option is to excuse herself from the conversation in the hope that Frank will come to his senses because she can’t understand the concept of her parents getting a divorce at their age. It’s a very real and understandable reaction to this ambush and is played brilliantly by both actors.
Extra weight is added to this interaction through the knowledge that this is right before the car crash that resulted in Frank’s death. From Brianna’s point of view there is an extra layer to her feelings about Frank’s death as she has to carry a measure of personal responsibility with her since she will always wonder how things might have changed had she decided to at least stay in the car with him that night. She makes this clear as she stands over his grave and vows to heed his words about soldiering on. It’s really moving and effective while adding much needed depth to Brianna and Frank’s relationship.
Roger’s journey to the past has its own associated trials. He immediately heads to North Carolina by way of Captain Stephen Bonnet’s ship. Viewers will remember Bonnet from the first episode of the season where he showed his true colours to Claire and Jamie. Roger encounters his own problems after winning a coin toss that grants him passage on his ship as a member of the crew. In this early part of the episode Bonnet seems reasonable enough as he unconditionally respects the results of the coin toss which happen to be in Roger’s favour. There’s an undercurrent of instability to him but Roger has to push it aside because he has no real option to get on the move quickly.
Bonnet’s dangerous nature quickly becomes apparent when he throws a child overboard for showing symptoms of Smallpox. He doesn’t want the rest of the crew being infected and sees tossing the child overboard as being the only option. It goes without saying how questionable this is from a morality point of view though it could also have been an important exploration of the limited options available to people during this time period when there was no known cure and the potential for an entire crew to be infected with a deadly disease. Bonnet’s attitude removes all nuance from the equation as he clearly feels no guilt for tossing a child overboard with the mother following. Roger is the conscience of the scene though fails to come up with a suitable alternative. It would have been better had he come up with another option that Bonnet then ignored but the episode is more interested in reconfirming Bonnet’s status as an irredeemable villain. There was also the opportunity to explore the possibility that his crew follow his orders out of fear rather than loyalty which might have been an interesting angle.
Roger takes it upon himself to look after Morag MacKenzie (Elysia Welch) who has a young child that happens to be teething. He fears for their safety after Bonnet makes it clear that anyone showing any symptoms of sickness will be tossed overboard which probably also means Morag and her baby. I’m not entirely sure how he reaches that conclusion as teething isn’t Smallpox though maybe he’s just concerned that Bonnet is completely insane and doesn’t care what the illness is. Either way he decides that it’s his place to protect them particularly after learning that they may be ancestors of his.
This results in a really tense confrontation between Roger and Bonnet where Bonnet lays the responsibility for the breach in his authority on Roger’s shoulders and puts him at the mercy of another coin toss to decide what should happen to him. He tells a really interesting story about why he favours the coin toss as a way of passing impartial judgement which adds extra layers to his psychosis while creating palpable tension surrounding Roger’s fate. The fact that he has won two coin tosses suggests that there will come a time where Roger’s luck will run out.
A strong episode that uses Brianna’s perspective to turn Laoghaire into a somewhat sympathetic character. She is characterised as being kind and compassionate while suffering from intense loneliness. The episode accomplishes turning Laoghaire into a sympathetic character by creating common ground between her and Brianna through the understanding of one sided relationships. Laoghaire completely changes when it becomes known that Brianna is Claire’s daughter though the shift is somewhat abrupt considering the effort that had gone into characterising her in a more relatable way prior to this point. Threatening to have Brianna burned as a witch doesn’t feel like the proper reaction when simply banishing her would perhaps have been more realistic. It doesn’t come across as a credible threat to Brianna’s life given how quickly the resolution comes. Brianna being welcome with open arms by Ian at Lallybroch is excellently done with Sophie Skelton’s performance clearly showing the sense of belonging that Brianna has been lacking now that she finally meets blood relatives. and feels a connection to her heritage.
Using this episode to give some attention to the Brianna/Frank relationship was a really nice touch as this isn’t something that has ever been explored to any great extent. Starting when Frank discovers the obituary that Brianna learns the significance of later was great as it acts as confirmation of how little Claire values him since it’s made clear that he will lose her once again. The focus is on his relationship with Brianna that he clearly holds in high regard. It’s great to see Frank back Tobias Menzies does a great job showing a man who feels as if he’s losing everything while trying to hold onto the one thing in his life that he cares about. The conversation between him and Brianna in the car is very real with Frank’s desperation coming across while being countered by Brianna being unable to process the abundance of information being thrown at her in that moment. Having Frank’s death follow this conversation adds extra weight to that relationship as Brianna has to carry the possibility that she could have prevented it with her from then on. It’s great stuff and develops a relationship that desperately needed attention. Roger’s interactions with Captain Stephen Bonnet are really nicely handled. On one level Bonnet is fleshed out as being reasonable enough if a little unstable before descending into full villainy when he throws a child overboard to prevent an outbreak of Smallpox. It might have been better if Roger had a realistic alternative rather than simply talking about how wrong it was as it means that there’s no opportunity to explore how difficult things were in this time period with no known cure for contagious diseases. Roger’s desire to protect Morag and her baby makes for an interesting conflict between him and Bonnet who puts Roger’s survival down to chance foreshadowing the possibility that his luck will one day run out.
- using Brianna’s perspective to create sympathy towards Laoghaire
- exploring Brianna and Frank’s relationship
- excellent acting from Sophie Skelton and Tobias Menzies
- constantly teasing the reveal of Brianna’s family connection
- adding some depth to Stephen Bonnet
- Laoghaire’s reaction to learning the truth about Brianna coming across as extreme even for her
- a lack of nuance in the approach to Stephen Bonnet’s decision to throw a child overboard
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