Tons of plot development in a beautiful episode this week so, in the words of Lady Isobel, let’s make haste.
Warning: Contains spoilers from Outlander, Episode 304: Of Lost Things
“A cage is still a cage,” Lady Isobel opines to Jamie and in this episode nearly everyone is trapped in their own sort of prison. As the title suggests, this week deals heavily with loss but it shows those losses through the lens of people confined by their circumstances.
Jamie’s story gets the most screentime and plot development this week so I’ll focus mostly on him and the supporting characters at Helwater. But first let’s check in on Claire.
I’ve affectionately dubbed these three The Scooby Gang since I feel that the Venn diagram of People Who Watched Buffy and People Who Watch Outlander probably overlaps quite a bit (perhaps completely?). They spend almost all of this episode trying to piece together Jamie’s life and timeline following Culloden. Their investigations have them digging through Reverend Wakefield’s documents and seeking out the original ship manifests stored in the Scotland National Archives. I…have some questions about the plausibility of this? Would they actually be allowed to touch and handle original documents from the 17th and 18th centuries? Perhaps European history is so vast and deep that they’re like, meh, go ahead and get your oily fingerprints on these…we got TONS.
Anyway, they run into some frustrating and figurative dead ends and I think if Claire lives long enough to see the advent of Ancestry.com she is maybe going to feel a tad bitter.
Her colleague Joe Abernathy phones her in Scotland to discuss a patient’s case. As a tie-in to last week (when Claire was studying about gallbladders) she and Joe discuss a patient with a positive Murphy’s sign. Joe gently reminds her that she has a life and career waiting for her in Boston, to which Claire is dismissive but also feels a bit guilty.
Brianna and Roger have their own romantic subplot developing but I’m going to discuss Brianna later in the recap as I feel she provides a nice foil and counter-commentary to Ladies Isobel and Geneva. But I will inject that I like Richard Rankin’s portrayal of Roger quite a lot; the character is more good-humored and less man-splainy than he is in the novel.
This flag features prominently in this episode with both Claire and Brianna getting long, sustained scenes in front of it. It is the Scottish flag with the motto Nemo me impune lacessit, which is the Latin motto of the Royal Stuart dynasty and is associated with the Scottish Order of the Thistle. It translates to “no one puts Baby in a corner attacks me with impunity.” Since very little in Outlander is included without purpose (I’m looking at you, Robert Burns references) I’m wondering if there is a significance beyond serving as a call-back to Jamie and the Battle of Culloden. Time will tell, pun intended.
So where is the cage in 1968? It’s at a pub where the Scoobies go to drown their sorrows and Claire and Brianna are overtly unwelcome female patrons. The male pub-goers are quite literally caging them in here. We are reminded (again) that, for all the freedoms women could enjoy in 1968, there was still widespread gender discrimination (the Sex Discrimination Act would not pass until 1975 in the U.K.). Caitriona Balfe is very convincing in Claire’s utter contempt for the situation; as a wartime nurse, eighteenth century bad-ass, and pioneering female surgeon she simply has no shits left to give for men with small *minds*.
At the bar Claire is also reminded of advice Mrs. Graham gave to her twenty years ago about chasing ghosts. She tells Brianna it’s time to go home and be in the company of the living. Of Lost Things: Jamie is again lost to Claire, a father is again lost to Brianna, and Brianna is lost to Roger.
Helwater, England 1756
Jamie’s story is running about ten years behind Claire’s for most of this episode. By the end we have them almost in parallel but still behind by two years (Since Claire originally travelled 202 years back in time they are trying to establish Jamie’s presence in 1766). Just to keep track, by the end of this episode (1764 and 1968) Jamie is 43 and Claire is 50. When they are in the same time and same place Claire is five years older than Jamie. I think I have that right? Feel free to correct me.
Moving on. Jamie has entered the Downton Abbey stage of his life, serving as a groomsman to the Helwater Estate and the Dunsany family. Gosford House in Scotland stood in as the Helwater Estate and it’s…not so shabby.
We learn a great deal about this family in fairly short order. Lord and Lady Dunsany are decent-minded aristocrats who mourn the loss of their only son, Gordon, who died at Prestonpans. Lady Isobel, the younger sister, is friendly and generous and a fairly astute judge of character. Lady Geneva is beautiful, demanding, manipulative, and a general pain in the ass to the estate’s groomsmen.
But she’s ALSO very similar, both is looks and temperament, to Claire. Claire is older now and more reserved from years of grief but the Claire of Season One was just as fiery and shrewd as Lady Geneva. Born into a different time and of similar societal constraints, this is what Claire could have become. Geneva, although born into enormous wealth (and married into an even larger fortune), is caged by her position and gender. Like Helwater’s prized horses, she is a beautiful commodity to be sold without consent.
And the writers show a further contrast between Geneva and Brianna, who we can assume are roughly the same age in this episode. Brianna is free to love whom she chooses, if she chooses. She has a higher education, she can evidently fix a car better than some men, she can wear pants (which she does nearly throughout this episode), etc. Like Claire and Geneva she is also outspoken and bold but she is even less constrained by society (douchey pub patrons notwithstanding).
Lady Isobel is well aware of Geneva’s “difficult” personality, as she tactfully puts it. Whether or not she’s aware of John Grey’s sexuality is up for debate. It’s written here rather ambiguously and the actress plays it like it could go either way. I sort of think she does know? We have established she is very astute and has known Grey since childhood, so it reasons that she would probably at least be suspicious.
Some exposition tells us that Jamie and John Grey have developed a believable and warm friendship with some unrequited love from John’s end. Hal arrives for a visit and threatens to give the whole jig up for everyone in this very tense and loaded scene. “I am not my brother,” he quips, suggesting that he knows the real reason Grey has gone to lengths to aid and befriend a Jacobite traitor and prisoner.
Geneva, no fool, readily deduces there is more to the story and blackmails Jamie into sleeping with her on the eve of her wedding to the old and creepy and impotent Earl of Ellesmere. I have to say that I found this scene VERY problematic in the novel as there is a definite lack of consent (Geneva asks Jamie to stop mid-coitus and he does not) and I am relieved the writers remedied the date-rapey vibes put forth by the book. They take pains to show that Geneva gives consent at least three times– (“We can stop if you want,” “May I touch you,” “I’m doing this for myself”) and overall Geneva comes off as very sympathetic; I thought it was beautifully shot and choreographed. There were several call-backs in this episode to Jamie and Claire’s wedding night (including Fiona giving Claire back her pearls) and I found the monologue Jamie gives about not conflating sex with love especially sad and poignant.
Jamie and Geneva’s night together results in pregnancy and the birth of a son, William. Costuming note: Geneva is shown in blue throughout the episode, signifying a Madonna figure. She does not survive childbirth and a tense scene unfolds at Ellesmere where a deranged and angry Earl nearly murders the newborn child, knowing it isn’t his. Jamie shoots and kills him in order to save the child and we are treated to some beautiful acting by Sam Heughan as Jamie meets the only child of his he has ever seen:
Jamie is promised freedom from his parole by Lady Dunsany but he chooses to stay at Helwater to be close to William. When it’s clear that he can no longer stay without risking the reputation of everyone involved (William begins to resemble Jamie in looks and mannerisms), he finally decides to return to Scotland.
He asks John Grey to watch over William and offers him his body in return as a way to show gratitude. Grey is lovely here, as he is shocked by the offer but also open and honest about his love for Jamie. As Jamie had told Geneva, John reminds Jamie that love and sex cannot be conflated here and he would rather have love; he declines Jamie’s offer and informs him he plans to marry Isobel and adopt William.
Jamie says goodbye to Willie in this enormously touching scene, giving him a carved snake similar to Jamie’s Sawny (made for Jamie by his brother Willie who died in childhood). As Walk Off the Earth’s cover of “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” plays over the end scenes we watch all our characters grapple with loss and the grief of saying goodbye.
David Berry’s face as he watches Jamie ride away is one of the saddest and most riveting moments of acting I have ever seen. I know this ending was fairly polarizing for some fans but I absolutely loved it. It was a beautiful anachronism, tying Jamie to the 1960’s with Claire. Of lost things: Geneva to her family, Willie to Jamie, Jamie to John.
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
Bob Dylan’s words feel especially relevant this week in the United States as we grapple with the grief of yet another mass shooting. Outlander provides some necessary escapism but it’s also a reminder of some hard truths about our nation. At the time our Constitution was being drafted, in the same life as Jamie Fraser, a musket could fire off only two or three rounds per minute. The Las Vegas gunman was able to fire up to 400 rounds per minute. These weapons have no place in our society and our “leaders” are long past due in passing lasting and effective gun control legislation. When being an American means rolling the dice with our lives when we go to music concerts, or night clubs, or movies, or work, or political meetings, or church, or college, OR A FIRST GRADE CLASSROOM we have lost sight of what truly constitutes freedom.
Slàinte, my dear friends.