Discussion coming up, just as soon as I finish enrolling my kids in Lord John’s Manners for Children Bootcamp.
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 406: Blood of My Blood.
“You ken how to deliver a fatal shot?”
“Yes sir, aim for the heart.”
We cannot have a discussion- and an episode title- about blood without considering the heart, and so it should be no surprise that this hour centers on love and forgiveness. Our characters push each other right where it hurts the most, delivering blows to the proverbial heart and then doing the hard work of relationship repair.
Murtagh views Jamie’s friendship with a British soldier as a personal affront. Claire and John accuse each other of bad intentions, grappling with jealousy and pain. William, risking his own life, unknowingly almost breaks Jamie’s heart in the process. All of them in the end searching their own hearts about what it means to be family, regardless of blood relationships. Everyone, including the Cherokee, extending a branch of forgiveness in the name of love.
Blood of My Blood is an obvious reference to Jamie and Claire’s wedding vows, and so it’s fitting that the episode ends with the gift of a new ring. But on closer examination, the title also speaks of the commitments we make in the name of family. We become family when we marry, when we adopt, and when we godparent. To a certain extent, we become family when we invest in close friendships. We are family with whomever we love; it’s the heart, not just blood, that makes such a determination.
Outlander, in its fourth season, has the marked advantage of drawing upon the previous three seasons for history and reference (see last week’s discussion for an example of this). This episode is no different, in that it is very reminiscent of The Garrison Commander (Episode 106). Both episodes feature an awkward and politically charged meal…
…as well as multiple two-character scenes:
And just as The Garrison Commander delved quite deeply into themes of identity, so too does Blood of My Blood, albeit on a more individual and personal level. The former asks us to question how we view ourselves in regards to our politics and citizenship– which country do we love– while the latter asks us how we define ourselves (friend, spouse, parent, stepparent, godparent) in consideration of who we love.
Jamie emphasizes to William that the things worth earning in this life take hard work, whether it’s dressing a deer or making peace with yourself or others. Our characters struggle this hour to understand and sort complicated feelings. For the most part they are successful, setting aside jealousies, self-loathing, and fear in the end. Like food, relationships taste better when you’ve “earned every bite.”
But it takes some seriously hard work and, as with any journey, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Lord John shows up unannounced at Fraser’s Ridge under the rather flimsy pretense of being on his way to Virginia. David Berry and Sam Heughan are pretty great together and I absolutely love the visible joy and vulnerability that Berry allows his character.
We don’t see this arrival and interaction in the novel (as this chapter was from Claire’s POV) and it’s nice the show included it. Jamie and John don’t get too much time alone in this episode but they make the most of what they have.
William is also on this trip and is waiting by the creek while Lord John preps Jamie. We learn that Isobel died on the passage from England to Jamaica, and Lord John’s face reveals just how complicated his emotions are about her death (although we don’t know the full extent of those feelings just yet).
Murtagh and Claire stumble upon William (identity yet unknown), who is generally freaking out (in the most polite way possible) about the leeches who are enjoying the blood of his blood.
Surprise! This was some excellent acting from Caitriona Balfe as we see shock, composure, acceptance, and empathy wash over Claire’s face in a mere matter of seconds.
Actually, everyone does a phenomenal job in this scene. John and Murtagh exchange identical looks of surprise at seeing one another, while Jamie alternates between searching Claire’s face for understanding and looking at his son with unabashed affection. The hard swallow Sam Heughan gives as he very obviously struggles to contain his emotions was extremely moving. And Oliver Finnegan, making his Outlander debut as William, pretty much hits a home run this episode walking that fine line between the needs of childhood and the independence of adolescence.
Lord John basically asks everyone to “ix-nay on the Ardsmuiryay” and Murtagh wonders why he’s doing this dude any favors…or why this dude is in Jamie’s life in the first place.
Everyone sits down for an awkward meal and political zingers are shot across the table. Some things never change!
Honestly, my takeaway from this scene is that I seriously need to up my parenting game. William’s impeccable manners are quite impressive, interest in rats-as-meals notwithstanding. I perhaps did not realize children could make it through meals without YouTube? Eighteenth century parenting #goals.
Outlander always does an excellent job of demonstrating that so much of politics is perspective, and this episode is no different. Again, this scene felt very similar to the luncheon scene in The Garrison Commander, with Claire doing her best to smooth out some of the more uncomfortable moments.
After dinner, William recognizes Jamie as the groom, “Mac,” from his childhood. It is another deviation from the novel but I think it works quite well to tie into this week’s themes. For William, Jamie is just one of many trusted (and loved) adults who have come and gone during his short life. William was hurt and felt betrayed when Jamie left Helwater, and so now he is grappling with the same emotions with which the adult characters struggle this hour, namely love and forgiveness.
In fact, most of our characters in this episode struggle to redefine their relationships as they revolve around Jamie. With Murtagh, we are reminded that we can only ever fully understand the life we are living ourselves, and even then we aren’t always our own most reliable narrators. Murtagh, having not experienced or witnessed John and Jamie’s long and complicated history, cannot immediately fathom their friendship.
And the revelation that Jamie is William’s father doesn’t fully explain it or immediately pacify hurt feelings. Murtagh knows there is more to the story and recognizes that this secret Jamie keeps with John as a form of intimacy. Not romantic intimacy, but the intimacy that is only achieved when two people are fully honest. That’s why Lord John and Claire’s scenes are so pivotal later in the hour– they unburden themselves of secrets, establishing their own friendship. Telling a secret is very often a way to extend forgiveness.
And that’s how we know Murtagh and Jamie will be fine. They are honest and they are forgiving– they will be fine. And that’s essentially the conclusion at the end of everyone’s journey this hour. Relationships are repaired and bonds are strengthened; the human heart always allows for more love.
I’ve previously opined that John and Jamie’s friendship is very much like their chess games: you save my life, I save yours. Check, mate.
But chess is also very much about contemplation and moving forward, and that also neatly ties into broader themes this week. John and Jamie each have what the other wants– John is afforded the chance to raise a child, while Jamie is blessed in a happy marriage and romantic relationship. How they make peace with what they lack constitutes their internal struggles in this episode.
The next morning Lord John resembles death warmed over, and Claire deduces he contracted measles while passing through Cross Creek. It is thus decided that John will stay behind under Claire’s care while Jamie takes William away from the danger of infection. Jamie threatening to tie William’s feet to the stirrups is very much the eighteenth century equivalent of “Don’t make me pull this car over.”
Jamie’s time with William has some really touching moments, and we are again reminded that Jamie would have been (is) a damn fine father. His affection and pride for William is obvious.
“Have you never seen such a glorious thing before, sir,” William asks Jamie of the view?
“Never,” Jamie replies, looking only at William.
They have a few uneventful days- tickling fish, bagging a deer, etc- until William crosses the treaty line and “finds” a fish very obviously caught and belonging to the Cherokee. Despite his protestations to the contrary, this is solid evidence that William is still far from being an adult; only a child who is used to constantly taking what he wants would ever think this is okay.
Jamie offers to take William’s punishment with the confession that he is William’s father and is therefore a worthy replacement. This scene nicely mirrors Lord John’s deathbed confessions to Claire; both men unburdening themselves of secrets in the moments before their assumed deaths.
But William, in echoes of both his adoptive and biological fathers, bravely attempts to re-take the punishment. Instead of the fatal blow, however, the Cherokee let them off with a warning; they recognize love…and extend forgiveness.
Does William now believe Jamie is his father? I think it could be argued either way, but I’m going to venture that he does not. He likely assumes Jamie was lying to save his life; a young boy isn’t usually willing to give up the only identity he’s ever known…especially if that identity comes with some plush perks. But perhaps the seed of doubt has been planted. Again, we’re tying into themes of love and identity.
As Jamie tells William, the Cherokee can be fierce when provoked, and that’s true for most of us. Indeed, while Jamie and William are busy un-provoking the Cherokee, John and Claire are busy provoking each other. Delivering their own metaphorically fatal shots, their fierceness comes out as they attempt to understand the other’s motivations.
Claire and Lord John’s scenes contain some beautifully delivered monologues, again acutely resembling Claire’s long conversation with Blackjack Randall in The Garrison Commander. Lord John is obviously not the evil madman that Randall was (I’m not sure he has an evil bone in his very beautiful body), but like Randall he occupies a large slice of Jamie’s life. In both episodes we see Claire unable to contain her emotions when she hears of Jamie’s pain. In both episodes we see her struggle to understand.
But as is often the case when we take the time to listen, Claire and John realize they have more in common than just jealousy and Jamie. John confesses to feeling numb at the news of Isobel’s death and Claire can undoubtedly relate to the inability to fully love the person to whom you are married. Upon Isobel’s death, John likely felt very similarly to how Claire felt upon Frank’s: a guilty sort of relief that the charade is finally over.
David Berry is far too handsome to die and so Lord John, of course, survives the measles. Jamie returns home with William and doesn’t rat him out (pun unintended) about the whole Cherokee incident…trust is thus re-established between them. Forgiveness, too.
And trust is established between John and Claire– they know that each one only has their love for Jamie and his best interests at heart. Heart.
Diana Gabaldon defines the predominant theme of Drums of Autumn as family, and the series writers seem to be adhering to that motif fairly consistently each week. This hour was arguably the most intimate look at family thus far, testing the emotional limits of our main characters. They say when you love someone fully- whether spouse, child, friend, or family- it’s as if a little piece of your heart is walking this earth, leaving you vulnerable to grief, worry, and pain. But it’s true that there is also immense joy in seeing someone you love experience life- whether it’s catching a fish, relishing in a friendship, or enjoying a happy marriage.
The Garrison Commander ends with Claire’s decision to marry Jamie…a decision that changed her identity in a defining way. That decision is referenced and beautifully reaffirmed at the end of this hour. Jamie never needed Claire’s forgiveness for losing the ring, and she never withheld it. To borrow from another classic tale of time travel, that’s the power of love.