Outlander – Season 5 Episode 5
Outlander explores the events and decisions that lead people to where they end up as various characters reflect on their lives at the stage they are at.
Every now and again the show chooses to overtly remind viewers that time travel is a significant factor. This often takes the form of a flashback detailing something that happened to Claire or Brianna in the future. It’s a reminder that the timeline of this show is linear from a character perspective but non linear in terms of how some of the characters move through time. I’m all for it as it adds something extra to the world the show inhabits and allows for more complex storytelling when at its best.
This episode uses the time travel conceit to explore the notion of cause and effect. The exploration of it comes through how events lead to choices being made that unknowingly affect lives in profound ways. The specific event chronicled is Claire losing a patient she thought needed routine treatment and surgery to deal with his medical condition. It reminds Claire of the fragility of life and how uncertain everything is. The effect on her is so profound because her patient, Graham Menzies (Stephen McCole) reminds her of Jamie in many ways such as his attitude to life and absolute devotion to his wife even after her death. The scenes they share are really endearing and sell the quick connection that springs up between them. Graham is portrayed as vibrant and full of life which allows his sudden death to be appropriately tragic despite his minimal screen time. Caitriona Balfe more than does her part to portray Claire as being deeply affected by the loss of this particular patient so their bond feels more lived in than it actually is which is very much the point of this relationship.
Claire’s voice-over highlights how odd it is for her to be feeling the way she is and she beats herself up over allowing herself to become attached to a patient. She makes a point of attending his wife’s memorial service in his place because she feels that she owes it to him and uses the time to reflect on her own life. Her voice-over compares time to a spider’s web and decisions being reverberations that ripple through that web. It’s a well used metaphor for time in other media because it creates such a simple picture how events converge as a baseline to explore the more complex ideas.
In her voice-over, Claire ponders the notion of fate and opens herself up to the idea of a higher power guiding her destiny. She’s not a character who could ever be described as religious but in this case her faith in science is shaken slightly by the sheer improbability of Graham falsely testing negative for allergies to Penicillin. It is possible but it’s so rare that it’s barely worth thinking about and yet it still happened. She feels guilty for assuring him there was no real risk to the treatment she laid out for him and wonders if they were fated to cross paths in order to guide her towards where she is supposed to be. This experience encourages her to go to London and travel back to Scotland which leads her to discover that Jamie survived Culloden. The choice she makes to return to the UK also facilitates Brianna and Roger meeting so it’s a relatively minor interaction that ends up shaping the course of her life as well as the life of her daughter. It’s a reminder that small things can have wide reaching consequences. In Claire’s case this event was the catalyst that led to her finding Jamie again so it’s something she thinks of in times of great change in her life.
She is encouraged to think back on this experience after her attempts to create Penicillin prove successful which means that removing the twin’s tonsils is significantly safer than it otherwise would have been. I did think that the flashback was building up to one of the twins not surviving the procedure as there was enough focus on how improbable it was that someone end up allergic to Penicillin despite showing no signs of allergy in tests for me to expect a parallel experience here. It would have been too on the nose and an unnecessary addition but was certainly possible. Thankfully it didn’t play out that way with the message being around how choices have unforeseen consequences. In this case Claire is tempting fate once again by inventing Penicillin before it was invented before. The potential consequences of her doing that are incalculable though I still firmly believe that Outlander adopts the closed loop time travel rule as everything that happened previously points in that direction so my prediction is that something will happen that means history doesn’t record Claire’s premature invention of Penicillin.
As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, it doesn’t matter that the characters are effectively on rails completely incapable of changing the path that has been laid out for them because they don’t have an awareness of that so are still making choices in line with who they are as people. They have no idea what the consequences of an individual choice will be and have no understanding of their role in history so there is still tension and suspense associated with those choices. Even though Claire lived a vast chunk of her life in the 20th century she isn’t aware of the granular detail of events that led to her present so it has no bearing on the motivation behind her decision. The purpose here is that she makes choices and continues to tempt fate in her attempts to create a better world in the time she has chosen to live.
Events having wide reaching consequences also factors into Jamie’s plot. He is still walking a think line between his promise to Governor Tryon and his loyalty to Murtagh as well as his fellow Scots. It seems that he may be granted an easy solution when Tryon orders the Regulator be pardoned but Murtagh is an unfortunate exception with Knox tasked with personally tracking him down. Knox remains a complex and interesting character with some really strong scenes in this episode. He confides in Jamie about the shame he feels over his actions in the prison though the guilt doesn’t quite dissuade him from his desire to bring Murtagh in. He sees abandoning his search for Murtagh as his questionable actions being for nothing which is something he finds difficult to accept. Confiding in Jamie is something he feels very comfortable doing as he respects him a great deal. The reveal that Knox is awaiting delivery of the list of prisoners following Culloden serves as a reminder that the friendship is built on a falsehood as Jamie is constantly lying to him so that he doesn’t learn about Murtagh’s connection to Jamie.
This pays off in another great scene where the two play Chess as friends before the truth gets in the way. Once Knox takes delivery of the prisoner list Jamie is forced to confess that his name will be on it which leads Knox to discover that Murtagh is related to him and realise that Jamie has been working against him. Sam Heughan and Michael D. Xavier are both excellent in this really tense exchange; Xavier plays the dawning realisation perfectly with a seamless transition from confusion to disbelieve and finally anger. His accusation of Jamie being dishonourable is full of disappointment and Sam Heughan’s response where Jamie stands up for every decision he has made is beautifully played. There are arguments that could be had over whether Jamie’s decision to kill Knox was a necessary one but I do believe that he felt there was no alternative in the meantime. He gives Knox the chance to see his point of view but he’s unable to see Jamie’s actions as anything other than treasonous which leaves Jamie in a really difficult situation as it won’t be long before Knox has him arrested for what he has done so he has to take some form of action to protect both himself and his family.
The scene leading up to Jamie’s murder of Knox and the subsequent frantic cover-up to make it look like an accident are dripping in tension, There’s a real tragedy associated with Knox’ death as it is the end of a genuinely respectful friendship that grew out of them being forced to work together. It was clear that they respected one another and that Jamie wouldn’t have committed murder if he didn’t feel like he had to. The whole situation is very much a grey area and the episode doesn’t quite make strong use of that but there is room left in the season for Jamie to consider his actions and deal with any associated guilt. It’s somewhat understandable that he would be focused on constructing a narrative that would make the death look like an accident. Countering the seriousness of the situation with Jamie finding a stray Cat he later names Adso is somewhat jarring and an oddly placed comedy beat in the midst of what is playing out. Not that the introduction of Adso is unwelcome; far from it but it’s at odds with what surrounds it.
Back on Fraser’s Ridge, Roger and Brianna find themselves butting heads again over information that Brianna kept to herself about Stephen Bonnet. He discovers the jewel he gave her when she visited him in prison and immediately recognises it from his dealings with Bonnet so confronts her about it. She tells him that she visited him in prison because she wanted to look him in the eye before he died. Roger becomes angry when she admits she told Bonnet that Jemmy was his because she felt it might comfort him to go to his death thinking that there was a part of him left in the world. Roger’s anger is completely understandable though as always he fails to approach it in a reasonable way and goes about blaming Brianna for lying to him instead of attempting to see her point of view. He seems to be forgetting how he behaved on the night Brianna was raped and how he basically abandoned her to fend for herself which definitely played a part in what happened to Brianna and decisions that were made afterwards. Roger typically has an limited view of situations and overreacts based on his initial emotional reaction. This behaviour is consistent and a flaw that informs much of what the character does which I see to be a good thing as a flawed character is always better than one written to be perfect. Of course it’s up to the viewer to decide whether Roger’s behaviour is acceptable and if his relationship with Brianna is a healthy one. I personally think they have both rushed into the connection they have now and are finding it difficult to relate to one another because of this.
Roger’s especially hurt that Brianna chose to tell Bonnet that he’s Jemmy’s real father because Brianna has never extended him the same assurance. Brianna doesn’t feel that it’s necessary to do so because Roger is Jemmy’s father whether he’s biologically related to him or not. It’s understandable that Brianna would see no difference and her conversation with Bonnet doesn’t register to her as important but there’s also a blind spot on Brianna’s part as she doesn’t realise how impactful her words are. Roger does point out that words have consequences to highlight how hurt he is by what Brianna has chosen not to tell him though he is somewhat unwilling to listen to her side of things and try to understand why she felt the need to keep this information from him.
This all feeds into how useless Roger feels in this time period. The friction that exists between him and Jamie highlights how his skills aren’t a natural fit for the time he lives in and now he learns that his wife has been keeping things from him which will make him feel like an inadequate husband as well as he’s bound to think that she doesn’t trust him enough to protect his family. Roger overcompensates for this by rushing off determined to find Bonnet and kill him which isn’t a constructive resolution at all. This is a classic example of Roger and Brianna’s relationship being a lot more forced than Claire and Jamie’s. They seem happy for a short time until complications arise and then it doesn’t seem outwith the realms of possibility that their relationship will end as a result.
Claire helps Roger contextualise his feelings but walking him through her reasons for lying to Brianna when she was a child. It was upsetting for Brianna to learn the truth and turned her worldview upside down but Claire stands by her decision to hide the truth as it allowed Brianna to feel loved when she was growing up. Frank was her father in every sense except the biological and Claire sees her lie as being a big part of why that relationship was such a close one. Moral complexity is fun to play with and it’s up for debate whether Claire was right or wrong to lie to Brianna about who her real father was for so long but it’s clear that she felt it was the best course of action and stands by that decision. The fact that Brianna adjusted to learning the truth and has found a much larger family that she’s happy to be around in the process would seem to validate Claire’s choice at least in her own mind.
The episode leaves it up to the viewer to decide how right Claire was to bring Brianna up in this way but the conversation allows Roger to realise that sometimes people lie to those they love for reasons that aren’t malicious and genuinely believe that the best course of action in given circumstances. Claire’s point is very passion driven as she believes that it’s better to make use of the time available to spend together rather than dwelling on past decisions. Leaving the viewer to decide what to do with that information is a good idea as there’s a lot to consider and people will naturally have opinions. For the purposes of the episode it sets Roger up to learn that Bonnet is still alive and accept that information without becoming angry which shows growth for him even if it might be temporary. This leads to him telling Brianna that they can leave for the future as soon as they know if Jemmy can travel. Brianna doesn’t answer this and looks dumbstruck by Roger’s plan which suggests there is another argument concerning where they belong to come.
A strong episode that makes excellent character driven use of the time travel element while putting Jamie in an increasingly tense situation and exploring the complexity of honesty within relationships. It’s good to have such profound reminders that time travel is a significant factor in this show through flashbacks to Claire’s past in the 1960s. This particular collection of flashbacks involve a patient that Claire briefly met who reminded her of Jamie. That patient died under really improbable circumstances and ended up shaping decisions that led Claire back to Jamie. The message is that things that seem small can have wide reaching consequences and Claire reflects on that as she tempts fate by inventing Penicillin. She ponders fate and wonders if there is something guiding her through her life though never reaches a conclusion on it. All she knows is that the events in her life have led to to where she is now and that’s not something she’ll forget. Her short lived interaction with Graham works really well as both actors do a great job creating a natural bond between the two. He’s an endearing character and his death feels appropriately tragic despite limited screen time.
Small events having wide reaching consequences feeds into Jamie’s plot when Knox digs up the post-Culloden prisoner manifest and Jamie is forced to admit that his name would be among them which leads to Knox discovering his relationship to Murtagh. They have a conversation about honour where Knox feels betrayed by Jamie because he sees his actions as treasonous. Jamie tries to get Knox to see his point of view but it’s a lost cause and Jamie ends up taking his life in order to protect himself as well as his family. Whether that action is justified is up to the audience but it’s easy to accept why Jamie felt like he had to do it. The introduction of Adso the Cat in the midst of this tense situation feels out of place but it’s otherwise really well put together with strong performances from both actors. Knox’ death has real tragedy associated with it and it comes across as a last resort on Jamie’s part. Roger and Brianna butt heads once again this time over her decision to lie to Roger about going to see Bonnet in prison. He’s hurt that she didn’t tell him and upset that she told him Jemmy was his child when Roger hasn’t ever had the same assurance extended to him. There are mistakes in how this is handled on both sides which shows how much growth this relationship requires before they reach a true understanding along the same lines as the connection Jamie and Claire share. Claire does help Roger contextualise the idea of honesty in a relationship through walking him through why she hid Brianna’s real father from her for so long. Roger accepts this and is able to talk to Brianna without overreacting which sets up a future argument about whether they return to their own time or not.
- a strong character driven use of the time travel element
- quickly establishing the bond between Graham and Claire
- the exploration of how a brief interaction shaped Claire’s life
- open questions about fate and decisions
- the tension between Jamie and Knox as the truth slowly comes out
- an appropriate level of tragedy attached to Knox’ death
- the complexity of Brianna and Roger’s relationship and how much friction there is between them
- Claire walking Roger through her reason for not being honest with Brianna
- leaving the audience to make up their mind about whether she was right to lie to Brianna
- Roger and Brianna’s argument failing to consider things about their past
- the comedy beat that introduced Adso feeling at odds with the situation surrounding it
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