Outlander – Season 5 Episode 1
“The Fiery Cross”
Outlander returns for a fifth season with a lavish wedding and the promise of difficult times ahead for the extended Fraser family.
Relationships are everything on this show. Even in the tensest of situations time is always taken to celebrate the connections between the people attached to those events. For me, this is a large part of what makes Outlander so engaging as there is always something to latch onto even when the plots aren’t as good as they could be.
Beginning this season with the wedding of Brianna and Roger starts things off on a joyous note while allowing time to set up plots that will be explored over the course of the season. You might be forgiven for saying it’s an understated beginning to a season because in terms of narrative progression not a lot actually happens but what it lacks in propulsion it more than makes up for in characterisation.
The most obvious place to start is Brianna and Roger; it is their big day after all. Visually the whole thing is stunning with a beautifully decorated location, excellent costuming, lighting that makes everything look perfect and the general sense of scope that helps sell the fact that this is a big ceremony. There’s plenty of variety with the night scenes taking on a life of their own so there’s no time for the audience to ever get bored with any part of it.
Brianna and Roger both experience their own version of pre-wedding jitters. Roger is having doubts about his ability to provide for his family in this time period as he lacks the skills that are required. His inability to use a cut throat razor is a clear visual representation for that and Jamie coming to his aid backs up the fact that Roger will always need to rely on others to properly survive in this time period. It’s likely somewhat emasculating for him as he is around so many able bodied men who are able to turn their hand to manual labour where his more academic skill set isn’t really in demand. The fact that he can’t even supply his own wedding ring worthy of Brianna reinforces Roger’s feelings of inadequacy. This sets up a potential conflict between Brianna and Roger over whether they should return to their own time. It’s briefly covered later in the episode and it is made clear that Roger wants to go back at some point though it’s unclear where Brianna stands on the issue.
Pre-wedding jitters aren’t as much of a problem for Brianna as she feels that everything is as perfect as it can be. Sophie Skelton adds a tiny amount of nervousness to her performance in the early scenes but plays Brianna as being very happy to be making the commitment to Roger with so much of her family around her. Jamie remembering the “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue” tradition definitely means a lot to her. Her scene with Jamie in the final moments before the ceremony begins is incredibly touching as is her scene with Claire. As the episode progresses Brianna expresses a measure of sadness that Frank couldn’t be there to see her married which results in a really impactful conversation with Claire who tells her that Frank would be proud of her and glad that she’s marrying an Oxford man. It’s a moment of levity and a great example of the mix of emotions associated with a wedding day. Brianna is grateful for everyone that is there to witness her special day but is also aware of those who aren’t and feels a small amount of emptiness as a result. It’s perfectly natural and to see it expressed so naturally is impressive.
The “Oxford Man” comment is amusing because of the knowledge that Frank was an academic and held that quality in high regard though it also has a deeper meaning to it. Brianna has known two fathers in her life and has a different connection to each of them. Frank represents her intelligence and thirst for knowledge where Jamie represents her more spiritual side along with her connection to the land as well as her heritage that is attached to it. Both of those sides are constantly in conflict which likely explains her inability to settle into academia and her constant search for belonging. She is also a child of two times and doesn’t feel that she entirely belongs to either so it’s interesting that she has chosen to marry someone that leans towards the Frank influence while living somewhere that leans towards the Jamie influence. It’s as if Brianna is looking for balance in her life and trying to find a way for the two sides of herself to coexist. This could form an arc over the course of the season as Brianna has to decide where she belongs.
Brianna and Roger’s wedding is somewhat controversial in the context of where and when they live as Roger’s religious background isn’t one that is readily accepted by everyone around. Even Jamie views it as heresy and struggles to accept the fact that a wedding is happening without the presence of a catholic priest. Regardless of your views on religion and how important it is in both society and in institutions like marriage it feels like a very tangible conflict that challenges Jamie’s preconceptions on how life should be. There is talk in the episode of him having everything he wanted but it’s clear that Jamie doesn’t entirely approve of Roger and part of that is down to his religious background. Jamie isn’t one to let personal bias cloud his judgement for long and he ultimately respects Brianna enough to let her make her own choices but he also can’t help feeling that his daughter could do better. Whether he will voice that at any point or leave them to their happiness is unknown but it’s interesting that it is brought up at such a key moment.
The post ceremony celebration looks like a lot of fun with ceilidh dancing, drinking games and other such merriment to mark the occasion. It’s a good way to catch up with the various characters to see where they’re at in their lives at this point while also reminding viewers that this show has a large recurring cast that are important to the world it inhabits. There isn’t much to analyse about these moments as they are very much what they appear to be. They are really well put together with no indication that they are in any way staged. Making things look chaotic goes a long way towards making them believable and this certainly works here.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, Outlander is strong as a TV show because it celebrates the connections between the characters. A wedding is a really obvious way to do that but there is also frequent insight into the most intimate moments characters share. This episode features a montage showcasing a few of the major couples that the show has. Claire and Jamie share a night of passion while taking care not to wake their grandson which serves as a reminder that the show revolves around their particular love story, Brianna and Roger are still trying to sync up their own particular rhythms, placing them at a far earlier stage in their relationship, Fergus and Marsali reveal that their family is continuing to grow and Murtagh steals a moment with Jocasta as both of them realise that it may be the final moment they ever share. There’s even a brief moment that shows how lonely John is. It’s a strong montage as it showcases a wide variety of relationships in various stages and offers an impressive contrast to the wedding festivities. It basically adds as a snapshot of various characters as they currently are and acts as something of a calm before the storm.
Even though nothing bad happens during the wedding day or night there is a sense of dread brought on by the arrival of Governor Tryon. He doesn’t make his true purpose clear at the wedding itself but it’s clear that he hasn’t travelled just to wish the happy couple well. Even though he’s a broadly antagonistic presence it adds some complexity to him when he shows respect for the celebration and lets the family have the day before he reveals why he’s really there. Jamie and Tryon’s first conversation has a lot of subtext to it as they both knowingly avoid the true subject.
Governor Tryon has come to cash in the debt that Jamie owed to the crown and participate in the hunt for Murtagh. It’s far less than ideal given Jamie’s connection to Murtagh while also putting him in league with people he once fought against. It’s a reminder that Fraser’s Ridge is something that can be taken from him at any moment and creates a scenario where he either risks the home he has built for his family or has to do harm to someone he cares deeply for and owes a lot to.
It’s not a choice he has to make quite yet and he does Murtagh the courtesy of warning him what he’s up against. While doing that he also releases Murtagh from the oath he took to protect Jamie. He sticks around at Fraser’s Ridge because of that so Jamie releasing him from that bond between them is significant for both of them. Jamie is allowing Murtagh to go out into the world unburdened by the promise he made while also declaring that he no longer needs that protection. It’s an altruistic act on Jamie’s part as he doesn’t want Murtagh to come to harm out of obligation to him. He also knows that he’s going to have to perform to the best of his ability when hunting for him because it will be noticed if he isn’t. It’s not a situation to be envied and Sam Heughan plays the sadness during his conversation with Murtagh brilliantly.
Their conversation is a really strong note to end the episode on as it offers another example of celebrating a relationship. In this case it’s potentially the end of a relationship that has endured for many years. Murtagh wishes things were different but bears no ill will towards Jamie for getting everything he wanted and Jamie doesn’t resent Murtagh for making himself an enemy that needs to be hunted down. Both of them lives their lives true to themselves and have no regrets. Their parting is bittersweet but both understand it as necessary. It’s a moment that is dripping in emotion that is enhanced by a scene at the beginning of the episode showing Murtagh going to Jamie after his mother died and telling about the very promise that he has now been released from. It helps highlight the significance of it and shows how long their relationship has existed. For both of them it’s truly the end of an era and definitely a sad moment for each of them.
Jamie’s use of the fiery cross to encourage those who have settled at Fraser’s Ridge to pledge their loyalty to him so that he has support when he inevitably needs it. This sends a clear message that he’s planning to do something that will get him in a lot of trouble and he needs people willing to fight by his side in order to have any chance of success. The burning cross is a very powerful visual that represents the pride Jamie takes in his heritage as well as his ability to inspire loyalty in those he interacts with. He speaks confidently while using the burning cross as a focus and a very clear indication that it means a call to arms. It’s a great scene that looks great and makes excellent use of Jamie’s well cultivated leadership skills.
The happiness of Brianna’s wedding day is interrupted by overhearing Jamie and John talking about sightings of Bonnet. Hearing this brings it all back for her and she finds herself distracted for the rest of the evening just by hearing the name of someone she thought dead. This feels out of place within this episode as Tryon already represents a threat to the way of life on Fraser’s Ridge. It would have been better to focus on that rather than introducing another element that will come into play later in the season. Since Bonnet has no connection to the Regulators it feels completely unconnected and diverts attention away from where it should be. I’m not saying don’t bring Bonnet back or even that his eventual appearance shouldn’t be teased but it could have been left for a later episode in order to allow the more pressing matters to be given the necessary significance.
This does tie in with the reminder that Jeremy may not be his child by blood though it wasn’t required for this to come up. Roger makes a very definite commitment to raising Jeremy and accepting him as his son regardless of where his DNA originated. It should be a good sentiment and it should be as expected for Roger but the way he behaved last season makes Jocasta’s accusation that he doesn’t actually care about the child feel entirely justified. It links into Jamie not fully approving of Roger as he has to take time to decide whether he actually loved Brianna or not. Hopefully this is a sign that the writers are going to be more consistent in the way they approach Roger as a character though it doesn’t exactly excuse the fact that he was less than at his best last season. Characters should absolutely have flaws but Roger getting offended at Jocasta’s accusation suggests that these flaws are to be forgotten rather than act as the foundation for growth. Roger struggling with accepting the fact that he might be raising the rapist of his wife’s biological child could be really compelling but it looks as if the writers would prefer we believe that it was never something that mattered to him.
A strong opening to the scene that focuses on celebrating the character relationships and explores some of the key connections in really powerful ways. Brianna and Roger’s wedding makes for a stunning visual feast from the beautifully decorated location to the costuming and everything in-between. Lots of time is devoted to the celebration which allows for plenty of fun moments featuring the extended recurring cast as well as the main characters. Roger’s pre-wedding jitters focusing on his doubts over his ability to provide for his family in this time period works really well as a set-up for potential conflict over the season around whether they should return to their own time while also highlighting some reasons for Jamie not to approve of this union. There are other touches such as Roger’s religion and the fact that Jamie is the one to supply a suitable ring that add texture to the Jamie/Roger relationship. Brianna is less jittery than Roger but it is eventually revealed that she feels a measure of sadness because Frank isn’t there for her wedding day. Her conversation with Claire acts as a reminder of the conflict that exists within Brianna in a really subtle and effective way. The montage of the various couples acts as a strong counter to the wedding festivities while providing intimate insight into some of the couples on the show and where they are in their relationships.
The arrival of Lord Tryon at the wedding and his discussion the next day with Jamie about claiming the debt that he owes brings in the conflict for the early part of the season and creates a difficult situation for Jamie who is tasked with hunting Murtagh. Jamie and Murtagh’s conversation where Jamie releases him from his vow is beautifully done with both actors giving excellent performances and the writing depicting a bittersweet parting that may be for the last time. Jamie’s use of the fiery cross to ensure he has loyalty should he ever need it is an excellent scene on a visual level that compliments Jamie’s confident appeal to those that settle on his land to pledge their loyalty to him. The flaming cross is a striking and powerful message that draws connections to Jamie’s heritage in a very meaningful way. Brianna hearing that Bonnet has been seen nearby is unnecessary within this episode as it draws attention away from the main conflict that should be the focus at this point. It could have been left for later and there were easier ways to bring up the fact that Jeremy may not be Roger’s child by blood. Roger becoming offended by the accusation that he doesn’t care about Jeremy suggests that the writers would like us to forget that he expressed reluctance last season. Jocasta’s accusation isn’t entirely unfounded given that information.
- a visually stunning wedding that makes great use of the extended recurring cast
- Roger’s doubts around his ability to provide for his family in this time
- the measure of sadness within Brianna that Frank isn’t there to see her be married
- a simple conversation between Claire and Brianna serving as a reminder of her internal conflict
- Jamie using the fiery cross to inspire loyalty
- the moving scene where Jamie and Murtagh part ways
- the tease that Bonnet may be alive distracting from what the episode should be focusing on
- encouraging the audience to forget about Roger’s faults in the previous season
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