Outlander – Season 2 Episode 10
Outlander delivers its first battle sequence as Jamie leads his men in a brutal assault against the English while Claire prepares a group of nurses for the inevitable injuries that will follow.
How Outlander might approach a large scale battle has been a burning question since the show began. The time period the show is set in is a very violent one with many historic battles on the horizon so it’s inevitable that depicting something more large scale than the small skirmishes we have seen would happen.
The execution of the battle itself was really well done. It was violent without feeling gratuitous and the dehumanisation of the situation by making it difficult to identify the people fighting most of the time was a really nice touch. Knowing that the characters we have been following are in the mix without being able to easily follow them made the whole thing feel much more tense and urgent. Assumptions can be made about the survival of people like Jamie but the fact that we see Scots cut down creates that small sense of doubt.
Dehumanising the people involved also makes the battle feel far more primal which is exactly how the Scots were acting. They might as well have been animals on the hunt for prey with how brutally they acted. It’s a reality of War that people can turn their back on their humanity in the heat of battle and that certainly comes across here.
I like that the entire battle took place in the midst of a deep fog as it made it feel almost dream-like which compliments the abandonment of humanity in the situation. I mentioned above that it’s hard to make out individuals during the sequence and the fog is a big part of why. The musical score also complimented the action wonderfully. It really was a stunning sequence and managed not to downplay the horrors in an effort to glorify anyone as being heroic.
A well executed battle sequence would be absolutely nothing without the characters grounding it in some sense of reality. If we don’t care about anyone involved then it’s just a bunch of men killing each other in a haze. The battle itself doesn’t focus heavily on individuals but there are moments with Angus, Rupert and Dougal that help remind viewers that people we know are involved. Dougal in particular embraces his anomalistic urges as he is shown driving his sword into any injured yet surviving redcoats and brutally guts a British soldier. It is difficult to watch but completely in character for Dougal. Having him bravely test the marshlands was great as well, it shows how brave and defiant he is.
Even Jamie revels in the slaughter as he is shown enthusiastically being drawn into the heat of battle. It is slightly jarring considering how gentle Jamie normally is but it does feel completely in character for him as it has been well established that he is a very capable warrior who has seen this sort of action before. He does wear the burden of leadership well and clearly enjoys the rush that comes with victory.
Angus and Rupert become almost a case study for the loss that is associated with War. A lot of time in the early part of the episode is spent reinforcing their connection and reminding the viewer of their merits as characters. Angus being starstruck at having Prince Charles notice him is a good example of how endearing he is while providing an amusing moment.
Angus’ desire to have a kiss from Claire as a last request is a little too clumsy as foreshadowing goes. At that point I felt that he probably wouldn’t see the end of the episode. The attempt to show Rupert as being the most likely to die after his severe injury to distract from Angus’ unexpected death after appearing to be fine was a noble effort but the foreshadowing lessened the effectiveness of this. All it would have taken was for Claire to also give Rupert a kiss and the inevitability of Angus’ death would have been less obvious.
Despite that his death was appropriately moving and tragic with Rupert’s reaction selling the entire thing wonderfully. The way he silently collected the sword and went back to his recovery showed how much respect he has without making it overdramatic. Sometimes subtlety is the best way to do something and this is a great example of that.
There were other great character moments related to the upcoming battle such as Murtagh’s existential crisis. It’s rare to see Murtagh so vulnerable and it was really effective to have him express himself in such a visceral way. He has become aware of his place in history and that it isn’t hugely significant in terms of future generations knowing who he is. He feels that if he were to die in this battle then it wouldn’t matter to the big picture. He thinks back to the simpler times of being involved in raids where his contribution was instrumental to the success or failure of it and compares it to the scale of this conflict where his contribution is unlikely to make a measurable difference. Jamie is unable to offer any comfort as he is painfully aware that he failed to stop this from happening. Murtagh also assumes some of that responsibility but the point of the whole thing is that they are heading towards something that they are unable to change and their contribution to it may simply be forgotten. It’s really sombre and powerful while summing up the futility of everything they have tried to achieve this season. All Jamie and Murtagh can do now is take their place in history and perhaps be forgotten in the process. Murtagh’s response to that is to continue sharpening his blade because that’s something he understands and can therefore focus on without any doubt.
Fergus continues to be an engaging presence on the show, thanks in large part to Romann Berrux’ performance. He has such great chemistry with both Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe that it’s hard not to see them as a family already. Fergus clearly sees them as parental figures and respects them greatly even if he is a little mischievous and disobedient. Being a child makes that somewhat acceptable.
When he foolishly joins the battle out of some kind of strange desire for glory it really hits how big a mistake that was for him. The look on his face as he confesses to Claire that he thinks he might have killed an English soldier is heartbreaking and perfectly encapsulates how horrific an experience War can be. The fact that he is so young and therefore innocent only intensifies this. His moment with Claire where she acts so motherly towards him was wonderfully acted.
There were many aspects of the episode that didn’t work so well such as Claire being pushed into the background. Having her leading the group of nurses could have been very important in showing how horrific the battle is from another angle but beyond the death of Angus and Rupert’s injuries we don’t really get a sense of that. The scenes where she prepares the nurses for what is soon to come didn’t work very well either. Outlander often struggles to carry episodes when Claire is pushed into the background and her contribution here is a more subdued example of that. It feels like there is an imbalance between the scenes before the battle and the rest of the episode. None of it was dull but the pacing was noticeably off to the point that it felt like not a lot was going on.
A great episode that shows what Outlander is capable of when attempting a large scale battle sequence. The battle itself is really well executed with the fog helping to dehumanise the experience in a way that shows how brutal War can be when people act on their animalistic urges. There are plenty of great character moments from Fergus, Angus and Rupert but some of it comes across as clumsy foreshadowing an Claire’s role in the episode is very subdued. The early part of the episode suffers by feeling like there isn’t a lot going on but the inevitability of what is to come is really starting to set in.
- a well executed battle sequence
- excellent character moments throughout
- the raw exploration of the horrors of War
- uneven pacing
- clumsy foreshadowing