Outlander – Season 5 Episode 3
Outlander begins the march of Jamie’s militia to confront the Regulators but puts a detour in the path of Claire and Jamie.
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly and will continue to state as long as I cover this show; Outlander is at its best when focusing on the core Jamie/Claire relationship. It is at the root of everything that happens and everything is funnelled through their connection. Yes there are other characters with relationships that are engaging in their own right but Outlander is a show about the love between them and any episode built around this tends to be stronger than episodes that aren’t.
The previous episode dealt with the difficult position Jamie had been placed in when his promise to Governor Tryon came into direct conflict with his own beliefs and loyalties that he has carried with him most of his life. Things quickly escalated to the point where he was ordered to put together a militia because fighting was all but assured as far as Knox was concerned so Jamie has no choice but to recruit men to a cause he doesn’t really believe in and hope for the best.
Upon returning to Fraser’s Ridge, Jamie has a touching reunion with Claire where he talks to her about what has happened in an effort to unburden his soul. It’s a great scene that briefly showcases the bond between them. Jamie arrives home conflicted and feels a little better about it when opening up to Claire. Her immediate decision to come with him to back him up with her skills as a physician while also offering her emotional support as one of the few people who knows what he’s truly going through. Having her by his side makes this difficult mission a little easier for him and things don’t seem quite right when the characters are separated.
Claire going with him means leaving Marsali to tend to her attempts to create penicillin. It’s slightly disappointing that they become separated so quickly after the previous episode promised a really engaging dynamic between them as they work together. This show has a strange relationship to the passage of time with the adult characters changing very little while other cues such as children getting older help clue the viewer in on the fact that time is moving on. It’s a necessary conceit as the show owes a lot to the attractiveness of the leads and their incredible chemistry so overt reminders of how old the characters are getting would run counter to that. Time still has to pass as nothing moves all that quickly in this time period since it takes a long time to travel great distances and other things need time to develop so a happy middle ground has been found in that respect.
In this case, the passage of time is shown through Jeremiah being noticeably older than he was in the previous episode and the bread samples growing mouldy. This helps establish that Claire and Marsali have been working together for a while and makes it easier to accept the clear increase in her knowledge as well as Claire’s trust in leaving her to deal with the ongoing quest to invent penicillin. Marsali has her instructions, understands them and is capable of carrying out the work. It’s not as good as seeing their dynamic develop but it’s the next best thing and it allows us to see a small morsel of what that dynamic is. Hopefully subsequent episodes will pick this up and show them how effective a duo they are.
This episode barely features Brianna or Roger though they do have a touching parting moment that shows how much more at ease Brianna is with their relationship than she was before. Roger’s inability to fit in with this time period also receives some attention when he fails to join in on the camp fire banter. His contribution is met with an awkward reaction that clearly shows he isn’t truly part of the group. It’s a small moment but it’s really effective at showing how difficult Roger finds life outside his own time and reinforces his desire to return to something that he feels part of.
The Jamie/Claire centric plot truly begins when Josiah’s (Paul Gorman) twin brother, Keziah is caught stealing food. Josiah talks about being the only surviving members of their family’s crossing to the new world and being sold off as indentured servants when they were two years old. They were both abused by the farmer who bought them with Keziah having a particularly tough time of it as the abuse resulted in deafness. Jamie assures them that he’s buy their indenture so that they have the chance of a new and better life with him so sends Roger ahead to take charge of the recruitment while he goes with Claire to visit the farmer.
Their arrival at the farm shifts style to something resembling a horror. It has a few of the classic hallmarks such as a seemingly deserted run down house with dark interiors, strange noises and music with a strong hint of foreboding. It’s not a long sequence and is resolved with a fairly standard yet well done jump scare that removes the tension and allows the plot to continue in an increasingly unsettling way that represents an interesting test for Claire and Jamie.
They come across Fanny Beardsley (Bronwyn James) who seems suspicious right away. She tries to get rid of them by telling them they can keep the twins as she has no further use for them. Jamie presses the issue as he needs the relevant paperwork in order to truly make them free which puts Fanny further on edge as every second they spend on the property means that they grow closer to learning the truth about her.
It doesn’t take long for them to discover her husband, Aaron (Christopher Fairbank) in a barely alive state after suffering a stroke. Fanny has been keeping him alive by feeding him just enough so that he doesn’t die in order to prolong his suffering through torture. It’s brutal and difficult to watch though it’s not as simple as Aaron being a victim and Fanny being an awful person as there’s an entire backstory to consider before pronouncing judgement. Like the twins, Fanny is a victim of abuse and saw her opportunity to get her own back when Aaron suffered a stroke while chasing after her. There’s no way her actions in the wake of this were justified but it’s easy to understand why she did this and it’s something that Jamie can personally relate to having dealt with his own experiences of feeling powerless at the hand of an abuser in the past.
Aaron was not a good man according to the accounts of Fanny and the twins so some schools of thought suggest that he’s getting exactly what he deserves. Bronwyn James is a very capable guest actor who is able to add layers to her performance that suggest there is more to Fanny’s evasive behaviour than a fear of being caught. There’s a strong suggestion of shame in the way she acts, as if she knows that what she’s doing is wrong but also feels compelled to do it as a catharsis to the treatment she endured. It’s a complex issue that plays out really well as it’s completely understandable that Fanny would choose to act in this way and there is strong enough work done to make her a sympathetic character in all of this.
The script does a really impressive job developing both sides of this dilemma. Detailing Fanny’s motivations a while after Claire discovers Aaron was a smart choice as it presents them -as well as the audience- with a weak man in dire need of medical attention being kept hidden by his evasive wife. This allows time for him to be seen in a sympathetic light as the first introduction to him is as a victim. As more details become known about the nature of his condition it leads the audience to come to the conclusion that the abuser Josiah talked about was Fanny rather than Aaron. It doesn’t take long for the truth to come out and for sympathies to extend in the other direction but doing this was the best way to highlight the complexity of the situation as Aaron was first and foremost a man who was suffering before further details as to the kind of person he was become known.
There’s a whole debate that could be had over whether Aaron deserved what he was put through. My personal opinion is that nobody deserves to be treated in that way no matter what they did. Violence doesn’t justify being violent in return as it doesn’t solve anything and could end up leading to the justification of further questionable behaviour down the line. There’s an important difference between understanding the actions that people take and agreeing with them. In this case I fully understand why Fanny would feel compelled to get revenge on her husband in this way but I certainly don’t agree with it. Claire embodies this perspective as well even if she doesn’t say it out loud. As a Doctor she is bound by an ethical code of conduct to help Aaron in whatever way she can no matter what he did and Caitriona Balfe’s performance clearly shows how disgusted Claire is that someone could treat another Human being in this way.
Other details are given about the nature of Fanny and Aaron’s relationship such as Fanny being his fifth wife with the other four buried on the property. Fanny sees that as her future and was clearly glad that fate gave her the upper hand before further harm could come to her. She does managed to achieve a greater victory than an extended period of torture could ever give her. She gives birth to a child that was clearly fathered by a black man meaning that the baby isn’t biologically is. At some point she managed to be unfaithful and now she can be secure in the knowledge that his legacy dies with him. He will die alone and forgotten with nothing of his left behind. Fanny takes great delight in this and is able to move on with her life secure in the knowledge that he didn’t force her to live with any memory of him.
Fanny leaving behind her child is definitely a less than ideal conclusion though perhaps better for the child as she may not be the most ideal candidate to raise a child. Fanny’s final scene where she comes across as if she has been freed from a massive burden feeds into her decision to leave as the first act of that freedom. She leaves the child with Jamie and Claire most likely because she sees them as capable of ensuring she has a good life and she keeps her promise of turning over the twins to them in a legal sense. It’s a morally complex story as Fanny’s actions were something to be condemned but there’s something satisfying about the fact that she was able to escape from an abusive relationship to start a new life.
Aaron is in a very bad way throughout this episode and there are decisions that need to be made because of his condition. Claire is compelled to help him but there’s no cure for the result of the stroke and his leg needs to be amputated before the gangrene kills him. Arguably the life he would have would be a lot worse than dying so there is a difficult decision ahead.
Fortunately, Aaron still has some of his faculties intact to the degree of being able to think for himself and understand what is going on. Jamie feels that putting him out of his misery would be merciful though won’t do so unless Aaron chooses to let him do so. He is able to respond to yes or no questions by blinking so Jamie asks him a series of questions to make sure he understand the situation and the options available to him. Aaron chooses to let Jamie end his life but he chooses not to pray for forgiveness in his final moments. It could be that he has achieved a sense of clarity after being tortured as to how terrible a person he was and doesn’t feel that he’s deserving of forgiveness or maybe he feels that it won’t make much difference, either way he chooses to be put out of his misery and Jamie obliges.
Jamie respecting Aaron’s right to choose ties into his current situation as he is being forced into taking action as a consequence of a choice he made in the recent past. In effect he is helpless because he pledged his loyalty to Governor Tryon and gave up his right to choose in the prospect. In some ways he must envy Aaron because he is in a position where he can choose his fate where Jamie feels completely trapped at this point.
This whole experience forces Jamie to think back on losing his father who also suffered a stroke. Seeing Aaron still alive and able to understand what was going on around him makes him wonder if his father was in a similar situation and suffered without Jamie realising it. He makes Claire promise to put an end to his suffering should he end up in the same situation. I don’t know if this is meant to count as foreshadowing for an event in their future or not but it’s a weighty promise to ask of someone and Claire’s acceptance of it is definitely with a heavy heart. She is putting herself in an unenviable position by agreeing to this and will definitely be hoping this doesn’t prove to be the case. Part of what she wants to do is put things in place to prevent such things as much as possible so this ties into her motivation and strengthens her resolve. It also reinforces her connection to Jamie that she will respect his wishes and end his life if he suffers what he considers to be a fate worse than death.
Claire is similarly affected by the situation by once again witnessing how harsh and unforgiving this time period she can be. She wonders how anyone can bring a child into that world knowing how dangerous it is but Jamie’s counter is that there’s no real choice as there is only one world to bring a child into. That isn’t necessarily the case for Claire as she has the ability to travel through time as do Brianna and Roger. She tells Jamie that she wants Brianna and Roger to take Jeremiah back to their own time because it will be far safer than remaining here. Jamie acknowledges this but sees the risks to be worthwhile as long as people can be around their family. So far the two sides of this debate have been well defined so the time is fast approaching to actually have the debate and see how far it can really go. I do find it odd that neither Claire or Jamie brings up that the world that exists in their present had to exist to create the future that Claire, Brianna and Roger came from. It’s also worth noting that the future of the time that they come from is completely unknown as opposed to the future of their current time being mapped out. Perhaps a longer time travel debate is to come that covers all of these issues.
A strong episode that funnels the main plots through a well constructed Jamie and Claire centric story that compliments their current mindset and deals with difficult choices. Jamie’s return to Fraser Ridge allows for a really strong scene where he unburdens himself in a conversation with Claire where she is able to support him emotionally in a time where he feels helpless. She offers to come with him to offer her skills as a Doctor as well as he unflinching support. This does have the unfortunate consequence of breaking up the Claire/Marsali dynamic before there was time to see it form but some simple tricks are employed to show that time has passed and that Marsali has learned a great deal from her. Hopefully there will be time to explore this in future episodes. Brianna and Roger have a really touching goodbye as well. Roger’s difficulty fitting into this time is also further reinforced by his inability to successfully join in on camp fire banter. His attempt is met with awkwardness further cementing him feeling that he doesn’t belong. The Jamie/Claire centric plot begins when they encounter twins who were sold as indentured servants to a farmer who abused them. Jamie offers to buy their contracts in order to give them their freedom so they head to the farm.
There is a brief horror sequence when they arrive that works really well. It uses some common horror tricks well and leads to an obvious yet effective jump scare that alters the tone of the episode following that. Fanny’s evasiveness leading to the discovery of her barely alive husband makes for an effective reveal that presents Aaron in a sympathetic light initially since he appears to be the victim. He is being tortured by Fanny who feeds him to keep him alive so the audience is immediately encouraged to side with Claire in feeling sympathy for him. After this, Fanny’s situation is made clear and Aaron is portrayed in a negative light as he is an abuser who may be getting the treatment he deserves. My personal opinion is that nobody deserves to be treated like that because violence only encourages further balance but Fanny’s actions can certainly be understood based on what she has been forced to endure. Ultimately she achieves some form of victory when she realises that the child she has isn’t his meaning he will die alone and forgotten. Her decision to leave her child is understandable as she clearly feels Jamie and Claire can give her a better life. Aaron’s current state prompts Jamie to want to put him out of his misery as an act of mercy. Fortunately Aaron is still able to understand his situation and choose his fate which means that Jamie is able to present him with a choice and honour it. In some ways he may envy Aaron as Jamie feels as if he has lost his ability to choose due to an earlier decision that he made. The whole experience forces him to think back to his own father and wonder if he did actually suffer. He makes Claire promise to put him out of his misery should it come to that which is clearly hard for Claire to agree to. It ties into her aim to make her current time period more medically safe thanks to her presence. The experience reinforces her desire for Brianna, Roger and Jeremiah to return to their own time because of how dangerous this one is. Jamie would rather people are around family so there is a greater time travel debate to be had. There are certain things not acknowledged such as the benefits of knowing the future of this time against not knowing how their own time will progress.
- an engaging Claire and Jamie centric story
- the scene where Jamie unburdens himself by talking to Claire when he returns to Fraser’s Ridge
- Roger’s failure to engage in camp fire banter reinforcing how he doesn’t belong in this time
- encouraging the audience to feel sympathy for Aaron by showing his situation before exploring his character
- the complexities around Fanny’s actions as the victim of abuse against how terrible a person Aaron was
- no easy answers around what the right thing to do was
- Fanny achieving victory by realising that Aaron will die alone and forgotten
- Jamie respecting Aaron’s right to choose his fate and how this links to his own inability to choose
- Claire’s fears about how unsafe this time is being reinforced
- the suggestion of a longer time travel debate yet to be had
- not having the opportunity to see the Claire/Marsali dynamic develop
- lots missed out of the debate around whether Brianna, Roger and Jeremiah should return to their own time
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