Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 407: Down the Rabbit Hole.
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, who put this bowl of onions here? How about that ending, eh? So. Much. Water. In. My Eyes. One might even call it…A Pool of Tears.
How’s that for a segue? But in an episode titled Down the Rabbit Hole, the Lewis Carroll references are pretty hard to ignore…
Roger follows Brianna (who is symbolized by rabbit imagery in the show) into the Wonderland of the eighteenth century. Note the significance of the white rabbit carrying a time piece.
Brianna is trapped in a room with locked doors and windows that are too small.
And a ruthless leader essentially shouting “off with their heads.” Like the Mad Hatter’s tea party constantly stuck at six o’clock, time is nothing but an illusion in this episode. Like the insanity of Alice’s adventure, all semblance of order rapidly descends into chaos. Wonderland, while fascinating, is also extremely dangerous.
Like the disorder of Alice in Wonderland, this episode asks us to examine events– coin tosses, our parents’ divorce, car accidents– that are beyond our control. Stephen Bonnet affirms that a wise man does not concern himself with things beyond his power, and yet throughout this hour we see our characters doing exactly that. Frank laments Claire’s leaving and death, unable to change the past…or future. Roger intervenes in the fates of Morag and her baby. Laoghaire, as always, aims to manipulate the lives of those she resents. Brianna saves Lizzie from a fate of ownership and abuse. Most disturbingly, Bonnet plays God with those aboard his ship.
As is the case any time we have people attempting to play God, we must ask ourselves whose gospel we are willing to believe: those who offer morality and love, or those who spin lies and anger? If much in this world is beyond our control, we’d better know our religion.
Perhaps there is no clearer case in our own lives where we see these concepts at work than in parenthood; raising a child means constantly worrying about things that are beyond our control. And, ultimately, that is what this episode centers on: parents saying goodbye to their children. Joseph saying goodbye to Lizzie, Jenny saying goodbye to Young Ian, Laoghaire saying goodbye to Marsali, the mother aboard the ship losing her child to murder, and Frank seeing Brianna off on her adventure. We send our children off into this world to deal with the events of life, events that are arguably one coin toss after another.
As is typical in the Outlander universe, what guides us on these unpredictable journeys is faith and love. Like Ruth following Naomi in Joan’s favorite bible story, we cling to each other to see us through difficult times. We rely on the support of those in our lives– living or dead– to buoy us over dark seas. Where you go I shall follow.
But this episode first begins with Brianna alone…or seemingly alone. In echoes of Claire’s solo journey across Hispaniola, we open with Brianna stumbling across a barren landscape, motivated by love.
She is underprepared, to say the least, which is wholly expected for someone her age. (The matches and peanut butter sandwich were nice Easter eggs for book readers). The confidence of youth can carry us far, but not far enough in freezing weather.
Exhausted and freezing, she collapses and likely would have perished if not for the unlikely aid of one Laoghaire MacKenzie MacKimmie Fraser.
We briefly flash back to the gentle arms of Frank lifting a young sleeping Brianna out of the car (no seatbelt!), and so I think it’s reasonable to suggest Frank’s spirit guided Laoghaire and Joan to Brianna in her dying need.
Brianna waking up Balriggan gave off familiar vibes of another time traveler waking up in a strange bed with an unknown female caretaker…
Yep, that one, weird underwear and all.
Not surprisingly, Laoghaire is the picture of kindness with Brianna until she learns of her parentage. She almost has us fooled. Murtagh once astutely and accurately predicted that Laoghaire would carry her immaturity far into adulthood, and here we see that foresight come into fruition. I wrote fairly extensively about Laoghaire this past summer, and I argued that her greatest handicap is her inability to ever see her life as anything other than how it centers around Jamie Fraser. And that’s exactly what we find in this episode. She mentions or references Jamie at almost every chance and in almost every sentence; Laoghaire’s world is permanently fixed in 1743. It’s obviously easier for her to assume that Jamie’s love of Claire is due to witchcraft; believing that Jamie loves Claire (and left Laoghaire) due to reasons beyond his control is clearly the consolation Laoghaire allows herself.
Roger, meanwhile, bids an emotional and sweet farewell to Fiona (who, by the way, is fast becoming one of my favorite characters), and falls into the other side.
I sort of love Roger’s attempt at looking the part of an eighteenth century man; to me it appears as if someone told him there was a costume party that starts in half an hour and this is what he threw together. It’s very endearing…but also hilarious.
He convinces Stephen Bonnet to hire him as a sailor. Roger is neither the first character nor the last in Outlander to have his fate determined by Bonnet, who values life as cavalierly as he does the flip of a coin. While Laoghaire is arguably too emotionally invested in the lives of others, Bonnet is demonstrably not invested enough.
Bonnet is scary. Actually, he is beyond frightening in his utter lack of regard for life. A true sociopath, he is unpredictable in how he bestows leniency and punishment. With the mischievous grin of the Cheshire Cat, Bonnet is genial and charismatic one minute and a madman the next; Bonnet- in his actions- is the coin toss.
Life on the Gloriana quickly becomes a nightmare, as Roger witnesses the horror of Bonnet pushing a sick child overboard. As Alice laments, “When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one!” Roger studied history (which might as well be a fairytale for those not living it) but now finds himself wholly unprepared, thrown into the midst of a surreal experience. Down the rabbit hole.
Similar, no doubt, to the emotional journey Frank takes in this episode– and over the course of his lifetime. As we follow Frank and Brianna’s relationship in the last days of his life, we see a man who finds himself in his own surreality, his life entangled in the complicated narrative of time-travel.
There are a few callbacks to Rent (Episode 105) this hour. Brianna wears Claire’s beautiful coat, there is notable discussion of what is personal versus what is business (Dougal and the goat, Bonnet and the child), as well as commentary on the importance of loyalty. Like Claire realizing she knows the doomed fates of the Highlanders and the Jacobite cause, Frank in this episode is also burdened with the knowledge of the future. His inner conflict of what to do with that knowledge is evident to us and Brianna.
Children do not ask to be born; our entrance into this world is arguably the greatest thing in our lives that is beyond our own personal control. Frank knows this. He knows Brianna’s origins are not her fault and he never holds them against her. For all his shortcomings, Frank is exceptional in his unconditional love for his daughter.
Frank and Laoghaire’s stories complement each other, as they are both collateral damage in Jamie and Claire’s marriage– two sides of the same coin, if you will. Claire’s accidental time-travel and her subsequent relationship with Jamie was beyond the control for all four of them. Dougal arranged Jamie and Claire’s marriage, Claire attempted (and failed) to not fall in love with Jamie, and neither Jamie nor Claire were able to fully give their hearts to their other spouses. Powers beyond their reach set in motion the course of their lives.
Frank also perhaps senses his own fate, as he likely deduces that Claire’s eventual return to Jamie means that she either leaves Frank…or he dies. Neither is a great option, which is maybe why he ultimately decides in this episode (and in Episode 303: All Debts Paid) to attempt to take fate into his own hands by divorcing Claire and moving back to England. As Claire and Jamie discovered through the whole of Season 2, however, we are often incapable of rewriting the future.
It’s a helpless and depressing thought to feel trapped by this predetermination, and that’s likely why we see our characters wrestling control away higher powers. Joan breaks Brianna free from the room, delivering her to the safety of her family. Roger hides Morag away, keeping her safe from the impetuous danger of Bonnet. Brianna buys Lizzie’s contract, changing the course of her future.
In Alice’s words, “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” Brianna and Roger are undoubtably changed by this episode’s conclusion. There is no point in going back to yesterday (the future), because they were different people then. We cannot always change the future– some things will always be beyond our control– but we try anyway. We forgive others, we make peace with ourselves, and we help when we can. We send our children out into this world to make their own fates. We soldier on.