I enjoyed this episode quite a bit! As the kids say, it gave me all the feels. Let’s discuss.
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 403: The False Bride.
This was a very solid hour of storytelling, due in large part to Roger and Brianna’s narratives. And while I’m always happy to have Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe do their typical wonderful stuff each week, I really felt the emotional weight in “The False Bride” was carried by the phenomenal performances of Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton.
That may be intentional on the part of the writers. After all, Jamie and Claire have finally settled into a rhythm in their relationship that is relatively free from insecurity and jealousy. Jamie and Claire’s marriage is a steady, comfortable love that at this point is over twenty years old.
In contrast, Roger and Brianna are likely still grappling with the loss of their parents, afraid of losing each other, and are both questioning the paths they wish to take. They are relatively naive in life and love.
And so, not surprisingly for an episode that focuses on the lives of two twentysomethings, this hour we find our characters asking themselves (and each other) just who it is they are meant to be. Do Jamie and Claire want to manage River Run (a resounding “no”), does Brianna want to become Mrs. Roger MacKenzie (a more tepid “no” or “not yet”), and does Ian want to follow the adventurous paths that America has to offer (a definite “yes”). The conflicts in this episode arise when one character’s vision or plan for themselves clashes with another’s- Jocasta versus Claire and Jamie, Roger against Brianna, and (to a lesser degree) Ian versus Jamie.
With their eyes to the future we see our characters choosing whether or not to follow in another’s footsteps. Jamie rejects the path laid out for him by Jocasta, Brianna chooses a future independent from her parents and Roger, Ian chooses to stay in America (and essentially follow in Jamie’s younger footsteps), and Claire rejects returning to Boston. Bree and Roger drive along the same path to Grandfather Mountain that Claire and Jamie took two hundred years prior. Finally and most obviously, Claire literally follows the footsteps created by Otter Tooth’s spirit; her path will always lead her back to Jamie.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
Claire quotes the Declaration of Independence when she and Jamie are discussing their future. The phrase “the pursuit of happiness” has been arguably misunderstood through the decades (for a good article about that read here), but the concept is woven into the storylines of all of our characters this week. In trying to pursue happiness they all make life-changing decisions, with some finding better success than others.
As was the case for Season 3, I find it easier for recapping purposes to focus on one century at a time, so first up is Claire and Jamie.
It is the morning after the incident with Rufus and everyone at River Run appears a bit shell-shocked. As the Frasers prepare their leave, Jamie tells Jocasta that he must be “master of his own soul;” he must find his own way independent of the path laid out by others.
Jocasta, for her part, accuses Claire of holding Jamie back from the man he is meant to be. But, as Claire reminds her, Jocasta doesn’t really know either one of them at all. She doesn’t understand that Jamie’s past history of imprisonment and torture would alter his view of slavery. She certainly doesn’t understand Claire’s twentieth century perspective. Jocasta is a perceptive woman but, as I discussed last week, she is literally and figuratively blind to the world around her.
This scene between Jamie and Jocasta was so sweet. For all her (many) faults, Jocasta is still one of Jamie’s only living family members and arguably the closest tie to his mother. Jamie, in turn, is Jocasta’s only family in this new world. Although Jocasta is surrounded by people I get a sense in these farewell scenes that she is incredibly lonely.
And so everyone departs River Run, accompanied and guided by the increasingly awesome John Quincy Myers. Young Ian’s man crush on JQM is especially endearing.
Caitriona Balfe did a wonderfully subtle job in this scene, appearing distressed at the discussion of the Cherokee people in the region and knowing their fate over the next few decades.
Myers mentions the Cherokee principle of nvwadohiyadv, meaning harmony with nature. Incrementally, we begin to understand that this may be the path Young Ian chooses to pursue.
Later that night Ian drops the bombshell that he would like to continue his bromance with Myers and accompany him into the backcountry where he trades with the local Native American tribes. You have nothing to fear, Myers tells Jamie and Claire, not fully realizing that it is he who might need to be fearful given the sheer magnitude of bad luck that befalls Ian. Have we learned nothing except to keep this kid within eyesight at all times? Jamie and Claire grudgingly give their consent, but since Myers told them not to worry we know that Ian is destined for some misfortune.
As Jamie and Claire ride along we can see Jamie falling in love with the land- Turkeys! Waterfalls! Bald eagles! They also discuss Frank, a topic with which Jamie is probably less in love. But, again, as Claire explains the relatively vast choices afforded to a twentieth century woman like Brianna, we circle back to the theme of following in someone else’s footsteps versus pursuing one’s own path to happiness.
While Brianna chose not to follow Claire and Frank’s career choices, Jamie asserts that in the eighteenth century you’re more likely to take up your family’s work and be thankful for it. And, actually, that’s ultimately what he decides to do in this episode- build a home and tame the land, much like Brian and Ellen did with Lallybroch.
Some more footsteps imagery as Jamie does some farrier work. Clarence the mule (side note: adorable) gets spooked by the storm and takes off and Claire jumps on her horse to go after him.
Now, my friends, if you’ve read my blog long enough you know that I am a huge Claire defender. I generally support her actions because I feel most of her decisions are rooted in good intentions. I even defended her through the Great Exciseman Controversy of Season 3. But this? Jumping on a horse to go off alone in a stormy forest with which you are unfamiliar? This is truly a dumbass move. Goddammit, Claire, is literally what I said out loud to myself while watching this.
Of course Claire gets lost and thrown from her horse. She crawls into a hallowed tree space for shelter, whereupon she discovers she has company in the forms of a skull and an opal.
Adopted daughter of an archeologist, medical practitioner, and avid skull enthusiast that she is, Claire is extraordinarily calm as she waits out the storm and wolves provide some harmonizing background music. Then a ghost shows up and instead of freaking. the. fuck. out. as others might in this situation (slowly raises hand), she is preternaturally at peace as she attempts to communicate with this very scary looking dude. Actually, this whole sequence was exceedingly well-done.
Come morning the skull and opal are still there but Claire’s shoes have gone missing. She follows footsteps made in the mud back to Jamie, who is hanging out with the horses and Clarence and…Claire’s shoes. Whaaaaat???
Jamie, superstitious Highlander and Husband of a Time Traveler, seems to take the story of the ghost at face value and in good stride. Claire discovers the skull has silver fillings, which means this man was also from the future. Very exciting stuff!
Later Jamie and Claire stumble upon some wild strawberries. Jamie takes this as a sort of sign, as strawberries are a symbol of the Fraser clan. As they stand atop a scenic overlook Jamie declares that he loves this land and will take Governor Tryon up on his offer, impending American revolution be damned. Jamie and Claire have their lives and their liberty and now they are free to pursue some long-awaited happiness.
Happy sighs all around.
Moving on to the couple that has a less happy ending this hour, we turn our attention to Brianna and Roger back in the twentieth century. We open with Roger playing guitar in the empty manse. Note how Roger begins and ends this episode alone.
Fiona and Ernie come in and provide some handy exposition. They are moving into the manse and Roger is off to visit Brianna in the States. Roger is obviously in love with Brianna, who has changed universities and majors (MIT, engineering) since last we saw her.
Roger and Brianna’s relationship over the course of this episode essentially follows the emotions inscribed on her bracelet:
I love you a little...
…not at all.
To borrow a phrase from another fiery Fraser, you two are tearin’ my guts out.
But backing up just a bit, Roger and Brianna take a road trip down to North Carolina for the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, which obviously has its roots in the Scottish gathering described by John Quincy Myers. They are very cute in the car together, playing the Minister’s Cat, eating French fries, and sneaking kisses.
They arrive at the festival and Brianna convinces Roger to sit for a portrait with her. I have a feeling this will come in handy later in the season, given that I’m fairly certain this is Roger holding that drawing in the opening credits:
Also, is it just me, or does this artist appear to be sketching actor Chris Messina:
This time spent with Brianna and Roger was so endearing and I felt myself falling in love right along with them. The theme music Bear McCreary composed for Brianna and Roger (introduced toward the end of their dance sequence) is beautiful.
Equally as beautiful is Richard Rankin’s voice and musical talent. The song he sings, “The False Bride,” is an old Scottish folk song and obviously provides the name for this episode. Over the weekend I came across this article that provides some great background information about the song’s meaning; I highly recommend reading it.
Later, before turning in for the night, Brianna gives Roger a history book of Scottish settlers in Colonial America (might come in handy, just saying!) and also procures some illegal moonshine. This is basically the Highland Games equivalent of Netflix and Chill.
Roger gets a handful of laugh-out-loud lines in this episode and I wonder how much of that is Richard Rankin peeking through his character. Quite a bit, I suspect.
And, as these things usually go, the extreme highs of the day are succeeded by an extreme low. Swept up with passion, Roger proposes to Brianna and I’m guessing the vast majority of female viewers of this episode were pleading with him to slow down as he describes a future full of baby MacKenzies and dogs.
No skulls and lightning in this century, but there are plenty of storm clouds and ghosts in this North Carolina cabin. Brianna and Roger’s fight is taken almost verbatim from the novel, and Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton are exceedingly convincing in the hurt and anger these two lobby at each other. Roger’s views on love, marriage, and sexuality are maybe not so surprising given the times and the fact that he was raised by a minister.
Brianna rejects the path proposed to her by Roger, likely afraid to follow in the footsteps of Claire and Frank’s unsuccessful marriage. The next night Roger is left alone to stand as he calls for the Clan MacKenzie. I sincerely felt their broken hearts with the aching memories of my youth.
Our characters choosing their path, regardless of whether that path is in someone else’s footsteps, is perhaps an act of free will in an Outlander universe in which time travel exists and the future can seem predetermined. Sometimes faith and trust in another is what’s needed to take the first step on that journey. Brianna and Roger aren’t there yet, but for Claire and Jamie this road was twenty years in the making. Do you trust me, Jamie asks Claire, as they begin down this new path? With all my heart, she replies.
Where you go, I shall follow.