Episode 404: Common Ground

These Season 4 episodes just keep getting better and better! Hope everyone has slept off that post-prandial, tryptophan-induced Thanksgiving coma because this episode has a lot to unpack. Loosen up those waistbands and get comfortable.

Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 404: Common Ground.

This hour had some really touching moments combined with tight storytelling and traces of Season 1 classic Outlander-ness: humor, chemistry, and suspense. Top moments, in no particular order:

Kyle Rees and his huggable-yet-wise portrayal of John Quincy Myers:

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I am particularly fond of this outfit, which I have dubbed “Pimp Davy Crockett.” In all seriousness, though, I am loving this actor and his character and I want every episode to be a JQM episode. Petitioning for a spin-off now.

Tantoo Cardinal as Adawehi:

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Everything this woman does is phenomenal and her performance in this episode is no exception. Cardinal brings an experienced gravitas to her work and I could honestly just watch her sit and read a phone book…assuming you could actually find a phone book these days.

Relatedly…

The introduction of the Cherokee people:

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I am by no means an authority on this subject, but from my perspective this episode seemed like a respectful (and hopefully accurate) representation of Native American culture. Everything about their scenes (costuming, acting, set oroduction) was beautiful.

Roger’s “Say What Now?” face:

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”Eh? Time Travel? Wrong Number!” Richard Rankin is an absolute gem. He and Sophie Skelton again delivered emotional tour de forces in this episode. Finally…

Jamie and “the Bear”

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A crazy (but effective) mix of The Revenant crossed with The Village with a dash of Blair Witch Project, all of which led me to wonder about three quarters of the way through this thing, “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, what the hell am I watching?”

But that was probably the point. My temporary confusion- my isolation in my lack of understanding– was exactly the purpose of the scene and speaks to an overarching theme of this episode, which is…(drumroll)…

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Human connection and loneliness. More specifically, how we overcome loneliness via communication. This episode explores how and why we communicate with each other and the consequences that follow for those choices.

Our characters engage in direct communication, indirect communication, and miscommunication in this hour. They write letters, talk on phones, carve on trees, and use hand gestures. The mountain speaks to Jamie. Documents from the past communicate across the centuries, helping lead our characters back to each other.

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What communication does- at its most basic level- is build relationships. It seems obvious but the idea still merits examination. Outlander, both in the novels and the series, is fairly unflinching in its assertion that human beings need each other. That’s not to say that these characters can’t live alone— Jamie and Claire are unapologetically independent at times— but they are undoubtedly better together. Family and community are the fabric of Outlander, and that’s worthy of celebration in a world of entertainment that often tries to paint loners and social misfits as heroes.

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In contrast, our characters are heroes because they acknowledge that they need each other. From the start of this episode we see our characters reaching out to others, attempting to build those human bridges…aiming to seek common ground. Marsali needs her mother and is unafraid to seek support where she can find it. The Frasers need acceptance by the Cherokee in order to endure the remote loneliness of the mountains. Brianna and Roger are obviously struggling in the wake of their relationship’s implosion and leave important things unsaid. Even John Quincy Myers, a man used to a solitary mountain existence, acknowledges that no man is an island. The shunned Cherokee man- the Tskili Yona– is a cautionary tale of what happens when man loses his community.

This unwavering faith in community and family is what makes the ending of this episode such a kicker. Following an hour spent examining humanity’s need for one another, Brianna’s decision to essentially abandon her support system and set off alone seems especially jarring.

So let’s start at the beginning to understand how we arrive at such a point. We open with Jamie accepting Governor Tryon’s land grant, officially establish Fraser’s Ridge and conveniently leaving behind documented evidence for future generations.

It’s not quite a deal with the devil, but it is a deal with a politician…interpret that as you will. Tryon is essentially buying Jamie’s loyalty and we can see that the strain of early Colonial tensions is beginning to fray on Tryon’s character. Noteworthy: Jamie making the word “fortitude” sound incredibly sexy.

Elsewhere, Claire and Marsali are gathering necessities for the Frasers to take back up on the mountain. Lauren Lyle gives a very convincing performance of a woman in her first trimester is who constantly on the verge of vomiting. Solidarity, sister.

This scene was very touching. Marsali misses Laoghaire and Claire, to her credit, is empathetic and magnanimous. Claire is obviously also missing Brianna, later outwardly grieving that she won’t be able to be present in Brianna’s life when she eventually becomes a mother.

Jamie does a nice job of acknowledging Claire’s sadness, drawing comparisons to a time in his life when he ached from loneliness and isolation from his loved ones. Again, there is no loss of pride for our characters in admitting their need for family and connection.

I initially did a fairly length recap of all the time spent up on the mountain, but honestly in the end it was pretty tedious to read. So, in quick summation: the Frasers get to work building their home. The Cherokee visit twice, becoming increasingly more agitated and hostile. A suspected bear wanders through the Ridge one night, destroying their food supply and injuring a horse.

Noteworthy about all these scenes:

  • There were some welcome moments of levity and humor that is often missing from the show.
  • I appreciate that a significant portion of these scenes involve discussion and visualization of meat.
  • The First Nations actors really command the screen and their scenes were filled with palpable tension.

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  • It’s interesting that one of the Cherokee men, Tawodi (played by Will Strongheart), does speak English but chooses not to in these earlier scenes. It is only after Jamie helps rid them of the Tskili Yana does the language barrier come down, again highlighting the necessary relationship between communication and human connection in this episode.

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  • Rollo is proving to be not quite as ferocious as his novel counterpart, as his modus operandi appears to be barking, tail wagging, and running off into the forest at the first sign of danger. But he’s extremely cute and fluffy and seems to be a Very Good Boy and so all is forgiven. Still, the animal acting awards this hour go to Finley the horse and Carrot the French Bulldog.

Meanwhile, the saddest puppy eyes in this whole episode belong to Roger, who is not only heartbroken but evidently has to also share his office with Annoying Guy Who Laughs at His Own Jokes.

Clearly lonely, Roger declines an opportunity to be social and instead thumbs through the history book given to him by Brianna. A mention of a Fraser’s Ridge in North Carolina gets his historian’s wheels turning…

We are reminded of how much communication has changed in the past fifty years. Roger writes another historian a letter, then receives a thick mailed envelope with information about Jamie and Claire, then phones Brianna on a rotary phone (long distance!) to give her the news. This could literally all be accomplished within a few hours today, using a few Google searches, a quick stop at Ancestry.com, email, and maybe a text.

As it is, facial expressions and body language are lost in Roger and Brianna’s phone call and important things are left unsaid.

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Also, since Brianna is gone by the end of this episode I’m volunteering to be Gayle’s new best friend as she seems awesome. Simona Brown is a wonderful new addition to the supporting cast.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

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Night of the Bear, Part 2. Except it’s actually John Quincy Myers dragging himself into camp after being attacked by the Tskili Yana…which, it turns out, is not a bear but rather a deranged man who was shunned and exiled by the Cherokee after attacking his wife. A battle ensues between the Tskili Yana and Jamie, ending in the man’s death. The final blow comes symbolically in the way of Jamie stabbing the man with one of the Frasers’ property stakes. The witness trees silently watch it all.

Jamie drags the body of the man into the Cherokee village come morning and a tentative understanding is reached between all parties. The Cherokee later visit the Frasers, introducing us to Chief Nawohali (Wesley French), Adawehi (Cardinal), and Giduhwa (Crystals Lightning).

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I know this adaptation and change from the novel’s famous bear scene will be a bit polarizing for fans, but I think it worked out quite well. A realistic CGI bear would have blown their production budget out of the water, and I’m all for keeping real (and wild and unpredictable) bears away from the cast members. In the end the ultimate goal was achieved: a relationship with the Cherokee was forged, communication barriers came down, and Jamie and Claire can continue building their home in relative peace.

That is, until we learn of their eventual fate. In the twentieth century, Fiona shows Roger a copy of a document that outlines Jamie and Claire’s deaths by fire. I knew this was coming having read the novels, but I still felt the emotional weight of the shock.

I love Roger’s surprise at Fiona clearly deducing what’s been going on at the manse for the past few years. Fiona is obviously the smartest and most observant of them all…making scones, serving tea, taking names, and (figuratively) kicking asses. Also, since the Reverend Wakefield was in possession of such a document, how much did Frank really know?

Roger initially decides to keep the information to himself, convinced that history cannot be changed and the knowledge would only bring Brianna pain. He later appears to change his mind when he phones Brianna, only to be informed that Brianna left for Scotland two weeks ago…to visit her mother. Roger didn’t know, Brianna never told him– a huge communication breakdown with potentially enormous consequences.

At the beginning of this episode Governor Tryon astutely observes that Jamie is comfortable among both princes and paupers, the implication being that he is able to communicate with people from all backgrounds. Prince or pauper, people are just people. In other words, we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

Does this episode simplify the communication difficulties between settlers and Native Americans? Perhaps, but the lesson it teaches us is no less important: People aren’t really all that different from each other, no matter the country, tribe, or century. A Cherokee ceremony and a Catholic mass hold the same amount of reverence and mysticism. All we want is each other; human connection binds us through language and centuries. We talk to our neighbors and we seek to understand. We move apart, we come together and, if we’re smart, we move toward common ground.

Slàinte.

photos: STARZ

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17 thoughts on “Episode 404: Common Ground”

  1. I love how your recaps always find the theme of the episode that I never realized was there, but seems so obvious once you point it out! I’m enjoying how the show has adapted the book in the last two episodes. I too would rather have a real man in a bear suit than a bad CGI bear. (Though I was expecting the fish Claire was gutting to play a bigger role.) I was also struck by the implications of the information Fiona said her grandmother found. I believe this applies to the book as well: if a certain someone in the book found it, surely Frank could as well. (In my case, this occurred to me at 2 am when I was trying to get my brain to LET GO OF THE EPISODE ALREADY AND GET TO SLEEP!) Thanks again for your insightful recaps.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree that a man in a bearskin is better than a bad CGI battle between Jamie and a bear…or a man in a bear skin pretending to be a bear! (Much as I love the glimpse of sneakers underneath the Horta costume in the original Star Trek, I’d rather Outlander didn’t go there 😉

    I loved that Fiona knew what was really going on in the reverend’s study all along. It makes perfect sense that Mrs. Graham, who had been told all about Jamie by Claire when she first came back through the stones, would understand the implications of that obituary and save a copy for herself. It told her that Claire had gone back in time later on. I think she would have been tickled by that. And yes, I think a certain someone certainly knew what had happened.

    I’m fine with substituting the Cherokee for the Tuscarora. In addition to the reasons the production team gave for the change — a lot more available information to be truthful to the Native American people in the portrayal — there are other tribes which may be represented in future episodes/seasons. It can get a bit confusing. The need to condense the book and make it understandable to the show-only viewers also probably came into play here.

    Great recap, as always! Thank you for doing this for us!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Was I the only one who assumed Fiona was told what was going on last season? I mean, why else would Roger, Claire and Bree be researching Red Jamie?

    Thanks for your recaps, Outcandour – your perspective ALWAYS inspires a rewatch. x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate your ability to find the underlying theme that ties each episode together. Sometimes it occurs to me, but other times not. I think the complexity with which the TV show episodes are scripted does credit to both Gabaldon’s books and to the writers of the series. Her books are so dense with action, complex characters and plot in general and in lesser hands the show could become just a connect the dots of the high points without exploring the deeper themes of the books.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree. There is a talent to adaptation and I think if the series were a verbatim regurgitation of the novels it would actually be pretty boring to watch.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

      Like

  5. Tell me they really don’t die by fire! That it’s a mistake….right? (I’m not kidding….)

    I have to say that I was on the edge of my seat for most of this episode, wondering when the bear (and blood and guts) was going to make his appearance and if Claire, Jamie and Young Ian were ever going to have a restful sleep in their lean-to!

    Thanks for your recap and analysis. I always enjoy reading them. I certainly agree about the themes of connection, isolation, loneliness and family. Nice to see a softened Marsali and to see Jamie “in his element”, protecting his family.

    I am fascinated by how Jamie and Claire rationalize their colonizing on “native” land, especially as Claire understands how in the 20th century native Americans will become displaced, much like the slaves were when they were brought across the ocean. I haven’t yet read more than half of Book 1, so will be curious to see as I continue reading Diana Gabaldon’s original vision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading! I agree- this season poses some difficult quandaries. Being against slaver but also benefitting it, however minimally. Empathizing with Native Americans but also claiming 10,000 of land.

      Like

  6. Thank you again Tracy for assembling pretty much all my thoughts – latent or realised – in a most entertaining way. I loved this episode like so many others did and was happy with the changes made as they appear to work well. The highlight for me was the telephone conversation between Bree and Roger… so touching, poignant even. I loved the happiness shown by Claire and Jamie, Jamie’s desire to keep his family and friends together, Ian’s complete faith in Jamie and the excitement he shows, Jamie’s and Claire’s wish to live peacefully and respectfully alongside the Cherokee and, of course, John Quincy Myers. I’ve always felt a sympathy towards Laoghaire and so appreciate Claire’s acknowledgement that her she had raised her daughter(s) well. Yes, common ground is the theme and communication its integral necessity whether verbal or by action.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When making the information of the obituary appear through the documents belonging to the Reverend or Mrs Graham this immediately imbibes Frank conniving with the discovery of Clair`s second voyage in time where she would find Jaimie ( would they not share this discovery with Frank ?)
    In the books this correlation is not so clear. Roger and Bree find the obituary separately each by themselves without implicating any other person. Even though we do not know if or how both Diana or the writers room will folow this plot line, for me, this version seems to reinforce Frank`s coward posion towards Clair, withholding information in the hope that she forgets Jaimie; it will not be without meaning that one of her last words to hime were – That amount of time does`t exist .
    So this brings us to the subject of your dissertation – Communication, the lack and/ or the quality of it.
    Our heroes will pay and make others pay a high price for the inability to come to a common ground , to communicate truthfully whatever the consequences, whether be Frank, Clair, Bree or Roger; even the Reverend and Mrs. Graham.
    So do we, when the ways to reach common ground is disrespected, let`s just remember what happens to the Native Americans ,since we are revisiting this issue.
    Thank you for sharing your very interesting reflections.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tracy, I’m new to Outcandour this season and have absolutely loved your insights and analysis! Your ability to suss out thematic content adds a great layer to each episode! Here I was just enjoying a good story and then you tie up the episode into a nice package! Plus, I share your JQM-crush! I’ve been a long time reader of the Outlander saga and as much as I enjoy Jamie and Claire’s dynamic, Roger and Bree have stolen the show for me this season. I had tingles when Roger made his discovery and shared it with Bree. Rik and Sophie have been crushing it! I also, wholeheartedly endorse the premise that Mrs. Graham and Fiona and likely (by association with the Reverend!) Frank knew what happened. Too many of the things he did (a certain headstone, skills he imparted to his daughter, etc) always had me thinking that he knew something, if not everything! If the TV adaptation chooses to flesh that out in any way, consider me on board!!! Thanks for another great read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading! I agree with you entirely! Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton are doing such a fantastic job- I am so invested in their story. I’ll be so interested to see how Diana treats Frank in the last two novels…I think his story is far from finished.

      Thanks again 🙂

      Like

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