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:
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:
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.
The introduction of the Cherokee people:
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:
”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”
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)…
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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…
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).
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.