Well, folks. You know you have a great episode of Outlander on your hands when you’re smiling to yourself one minute and ugly crying all over your pajamas the next. Let’s break this sucker down.
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 405: Savages
This episode was in many ways classic Outlander. Not only in the way it pulled at emotional heartstrings, but also more literally in the many, many callbacks it gave to previous seasons and episodes. And so, in an hour where we see our characters…
walking familiar streets…
standing in familiar doorways…
giving familiar political speeches…
making familiar accusations…
touching familiar stones…
and singing familiar songs…
…it should be no surprise that a major theme of this episode is inheritance. The words “familiar” and “family” share the same etymological origin, after all, and this episode deals heavily in family and legacy. It explores things and ideas that transcend generations, from the tangible (birthmarks, bed and breakfast inns, silver candlesticks) to the abstract (hopes, dreams, prejudices). Parents to children, grandparents to grandchildren, and godparents to godchildren…what is passed from one generation to another? What gets left behind?
Moreover, what do we believe in so strongly that we are willing to risk our loved ones…
or our century?
“He does not see it that way.”
Additionally, in an episode in which a major storyline revolves around a German family, it’s fitting that so much this hour fits nicely into themes of German transcendentalism, namely the importance of individual subjectivism. As we are repeatedly reminded with Outlander, politics is subjective and personal and political differences usually (always?) come down to seeing things from different perspectives.
The Cherokee are simply watering their horses, but Gerhard Mueller does not see it that way. Mueller is defending his property, but the Cherokee do not see it that way. Jamie is offering free land, but the farmers do not see it that way. That past cannot be changed, but Brianna does not see it that way.
Our perspective affects our beliefs, our beliefs become our legacy, and our legacy is passed to the next generation. What do we cling to along that path, and what (or who) are we willing to save?
Themes of family and transcendence begin from the first scene in the episode, as we open with Claire and Adawehi exchanging medical advice (pointedly, medicinal herbs for pregnant mothers) and teaching each other their respective languages.
They learn the words for “rabbit” in English and Cherokee, and if you’ve been paying attention since last season, a rabbit in the Outlander universe always symbolizes Brianna: Brianna has a stuffed bunny as a baby, Claire reads Brianna Goodnight Moon as a child, Jamie sees the rabbit on the field of Culloden, Elias Pound (a child stand-in for Claire) carries a lucky rabbit’s foot, etc.
“She is here,” Adawehi tells Claire of Brianna, which Claire interprets metaphorically. But the presence of the actual rabbit in this scene suggests that Brianna may also be present either spiritually or, perhaps, already physically in the New World.
We learn that Jamie and Ian will be traveling to Woolam’s Creek to recruit settlers for the ridge. Claire is staying behind to tend to the farm and to Petronella Mueller, the pregnant daughter of a German immigrant family.
p.s. I think I speak on behalf of the fandom when I say THANK YOU to Ian for rescuing Jamie’s tricorn hat from the gilt. Seriously, anything but that hat.
Jamie surreptitiously grabs one of his mother’s silver candlesticks, and we later learn that he intends to have it repurposed for Claire (most likely a new wedding ring to replace the one that was stolen). An example of something handed down through the generations that Jamie is willing to give up for his belief in love. See how it’s all connected?
Jamie and Claire share a sweet scene, taken from the novel, in which they discuss a dream Jamie has of Brianna. We’re only a few minutes into the episode, but already we’ve referenced Brianna twice. In fact, she is present, directly or indirectly, in most scenes this hour.
Speaking of which…
Back in the twentieth century, Roger is roving the streets of Inverness in search of clues about Brianna. Like so much of this episode, he is asking “What did she leave behind?” What gets left behind?
He gets what essentially amounts to a Dear John letter from Brianna, left in the hands of the proprietor of Baird’s Bed and Breakfast (who we can assume is the daughter of the original Mrs. Baird).
Another reference to generations and inheritance. This Ms. Baird is very kind and can see Roger is suffering under his many layers and so she advises him to move on with his life. It was a bit reminiscent of Reverend Wakefield giving the same advice to Frank (under very similar circumstances).
Back in Woolam’s creek, Ian sets about hunting down fellow Scots and farmers while Jamie attempts to seek out the silversmith.
What did I tell you about that tricorn hat? Said silversmith is out of town but we meet his wife, who I’ve decided is the eighteenth century Colonial version of Mia from Love, Actually.
Honestly, though, I think her response is pretty consistent with how most of us would be if Jamie Fraser randomly knocked on our door. Her character is simply credited as “Hester,” which may or may not be a reference to The Scarlet Letter. Question: will we see her again? I sort of think we will.
Yes, my wife is a great “cook,” Jamie tells Hester later in the episode, as he again dismisses her advances. I’m ALWAYS full. She likes to cook in ruined castles, and in fields, and on boats. She cooks with her hands and her…er, she’s just a very good cook, okay?
Meanwhile, we learn Claire has helped Petronella successfully deliver her baby. The image of Petronella holding her newborn and commenting on how much the baby resembles her deceased father is almost identical to Brianna’s birth:
Yet another reference to generations, parenthood, past episodes, and Brianna. It’s all familiar and it’s all family.
Jamie and Ian hold a small meeting to pitch their proposal, and to their surprise no one takes them up on their seemingly great offer of free land. They learn that discontent is growing in the colony and farmers are unwilling to accept an offer of land that comes from the governor. They feel they’ve been unfairly and egregiously taxed…their perspectives and beliefs already shaping what legacy they leave behind, as most of them have already given up their farms.
Back at the Mueller home, a standoff occurs when some Cherokee stop to water their horses at the creek that flows on the property. Claire throws herself between the men, urging each side to consider the other’s perspective. “Water belongs to no one,” Tawodi tells the settlers. In reality, water belongs to no one and everyone, a reminder that things in nature are meant to leave behind for all generations.
Crisis temporarily abated, Claire returns home exhausted. Bed flop game 10/10.
I love the scenes of Claire tending to the farm, reminding us of how extraordinarily competent she is. I also fully appreciate that she has full conversations with the animals, as it makes me feel not so crazy when I ask my cats where I left my shoes.
Jamie and Ian are readying to leave Woolam’s Creek when the horse’s bit breaks, causing Ian to seek out the local blacksmith.
Oh friends, I just knew this was going to be our Murtagh moment, didn’t you? I swear my heart was racing just as fast (if not faster) as it was during the printshop reunion.
As with most Outlander surprise reveals, we heard Murtagh’s voice before seeing him. I found myself grinning ear to ear when I heard that grumpy, grumbling Scottish gruff.
So many feels, as the kids say.
Did Murtagh suspect Ian’s uncle might be Jamie (he paused with recognition at the “guts for garters” line) and then intentionally drive up the price to bait Jamie into coming back into the shop? It’s possible. In any case, we were then treated to this…
A few minutes of the best acting you’ll ever see. Sam Heughan’s face in this moment transforms from indignation to shock, while Duncan Lacroix wavers between disbelief and exuberance. High marks to everyone.
This was such a wonderful moment, due in large part to the way we could all cherish this surprise as a fandom. None of us knew exactly how this would play out, and so for once we fans were treated to something totally new and unique.
The scene is yet another example of a call-back to a previous episode, as it mirrors the printshop reunion between Jamie and Claire. It all feels familiar in this episode, and that’s the whole point.
Later, Pastor Gottfried comes to warn Claire that Gerhard Mueller has essentially lost his mind with grief after Petronella and Baby Clara die from measles. The pastor fears that Herr Mueller may try to harm Claire, as Mueller sees her as complicit in the “curse” exacted on his family by the Cherokee.
The pastor is a messenger here, but what else is a pastor except a messenger of beliefs? Again, continuing those themes of children, family, beliefs, and legacy.
Claire understandably panics a bit and takes measures to protect herself against a madman coming to her home. I personally think she should have taken a page from Kevin McCallister’s playbook, but that was about twenty-five years after her time.
More seriously, though, any time I see Claire effectively handling a weapon I think it references her military past.
Jamie and Murtagh catch up over a few pints and Murtagh is overjoyed at the news that Claire has returned and Jamie has a super smart daughter living in the future…yet another reference to Brianna. She is here, Adawehi said. She is everywhere in this episode.
Murtagh is a bit less pleased at the idea that Jamie has accepted a land deal from Governor Tryon. It’s the only thing that somewhat sours their reunion, and it amplifies a bit later when Jamie discovers Murtagh has positioned himself as a leader of the Regulators.
Jamie finds himself in a familiar (there’s that word again) spot with a familiar decision to make: how much to position himself (if at all) in a political movement at the potential cost of his freedom, his family…and his legacy? The legacy which he is hoping to leave for Brianna and was a determining factor in his decision to accept the land grant.
Turns out it’s simply not worth it this go around…at least not yet. Jamie won’t join Murtagh, but he won’t attempt to stop him either. Murtagh declines returning to Fraser’s Ridge with Jamie…choosing for now to follow his beliefs rather than family. See how it’s all intertwined?
Note: compare how Murtagh is dressed in these scenes compared to his last scene with Claire. Here he is dressed in a bit of a military style, his black beret reminiscent of Dougal’s and other armored forces. Later, he trades in this hat for a broad-brimmed one; he literally and figuratively wears a different hat for the different person he chooses to be.
Gerhard Mueller finally shows up at the cabin, not enraged at Claire but rather coming to share his grief…and share the horrible news that he murdered Adawehi as revenge to the Cherokee. He offers Claire Adawehi’s scalp as a gift. Needless to say, Claire does not see it that way.
Caitriona Balfe is exquisite here and these must have been some emotionally tough scenes to pull off. In case you were wondering, this is the part where I was ugly crying all over my sofa. Where did I leave the Kleenex, I asked my cats.
This, however, was a moment of happy:
Where do we go with Murtagh from here? It will be fun to find out. I’m just sincerely happy this character is back, whistling a familiar tune.
But while one family is joyous in their reunion, another suffers in their grief…and from their actions. The Cherokee burn down the Mueller home and kill Gerhard and Rosewitha. An entire family gone due to consequences of one man’s beliefs.
“Death is sent from the gods, it will not be your fault,” Adawehi told Claire. The future is written and the past cannot be changed. Brianna has a different perspective.
Murtagh tells Jamie, “We risk what we must for our beliefs.” Sometimes we pay the ultimate price for those beliefs. This episode most asks us most obviously to question who we consider a savage. But more broadly, it’s an episode that asks its characters to question how they view the world and what they are willing to lose for that perspective. In the end, Murtagh is perhaps unwilling to give up a second chance at family, Jamie is unwilling to go down a familiar (and risky) political path…at least not yet. Brianna is unwilling to ignore a chance to save her parents. And Roger? We leave him questioning what he is willing to lose…or go save.