Episode 407: Down the Rabbit Hole

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.

Slàinte.

photos: STARZ

12 thoughts on “Episode 407: Down the Rabbit Hole”

  1. This recap is great. I know people have been upset by so much Laoghaire and no Aunt Jenny, but Laura Donnelly was appearing in “The Ferryman” on the London stage when this was filmed, so she wasn’t available. I was very happy that “Uncle Ian” was there, however.

    It was interesting to see Laoghaire’s parenting style. She had the capacity to be a good mother, just as Claire told Marsali a couple of episodes ago, but she always has an agenda that is very self-centered. I was also reminded of Murtagh’s comment in the first season about her immaturity. Despite this, she raised two remarkable daughters.

    I LOVED seeing Layla Burns again. She was so good as Joanie in “First Wife.” I was very glad for her to play a part in this episode. And Frank…I paused the screen to read the letter from Rev. Wakefield with the obituary. I think it’s straight from one of the books. It mentions “heart trouble.” I think Frank knew exactly why Claire would go back to Jamie to die in that fire. Intimations of mortality…

    Looking forward to next week (and your next review!)/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Little Layla Burns is equal parts talented and adorable. I sometimes wonder if Marsali and Joan turned out so well despite having Laoghaire as a mother, and not because of her. Hard to say; she is realistic in her immaturity and egocentric view of the world.

      All in all I thought it was an excellent episode- one of my favorites.

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  2. What bothered me most is that of all the people who might have lived in the vicinity of Brianna’s wanderings, it was Laoghaire who found her. Come on. That is so hard to swallow. And when was Leery ever such a warm and caring person that she would have taken such good care of a slightly wounded redhead with a very strange English accent? Warming her bed. Telling her a Bible story. All of these scenes were a ridiculous waste of time. And what’s the deal with an Outlander episode with nary a glimpse of Jamie and Claire?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. I have a feeling Laoghaire is kind to those she considers friends, and then is capable of turning on them in an instant. It would have been nice to see her spend more time at Lallybroch, but I rather liked what they did in this hour. I think not seeing Jamie and Claire in this episode only amplifies the anticipation of Bree reuniting with them…much like how we did not see Jamie for the whole of the episode before the printshop reunion.

      I appreciate your perspective!

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  3. I really enjoyed the Frank backstory in this episode. Trying to figure out if he was grieving the loss of Claire to death and feeling powerless to change history or grieving the loss of his relationship with her and knowing that there would have to be some event (perhaps the catalyst for his asking for a divorce) that precipitates her returning to the 1700s was an interesting exercise. Could be it’s both. Flip a coin! I’m sure the fandom is losing its collective mind over this episode, but I actually quite enjoyed the Laoghaire departure. I initially wondered who was this generous, caring woman was who rescued Bree, but was thrilled when the immature, Jamie-centric, violence prone whacko returned in full force! Your assessment that Frank and Laoghaire are two sides of the same coin really hit the mark!! Thanks for another fascinating read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading. This Episode was a really interesting move on the part of the show writers…taking arguably the two least liked characters in the fandom and basically devoting a whole hour to their stories. I actually loved it, but I’m a Frank and Laoghaire sympathist. 😉

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  4. Awesome recap – I loved the comparison/similarities to Alice In Wonderland. It was great seeing Frank again and a wonderful surprise; I had a feeling he would be back for a cameo since we heard his voice in one of the season trailers – but this was a BIG cameo. Personally was not as happy to see Laoghaire, but an interesting twist on the writers part. I knew Jenny would not be back this season as the actress sadly had another commitment, but I would have loved to have seen Bree interact more with young Jamie and Uncle Ian as that is my book heart wish; this was one of my favorite parts in the book, especially her interaction with the entire family, the revelation of the pearls and the walk with Uncle Ian to the cave. I think it is important to keep us book readers on our toes and see the story from a different perspective, as usually we are “seeing” it from Claire’s perspective. I just can’t wait for Brianna to meet Jamie and finally reunite with her mother! I don’t think it will be next week though, but fingers crossed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading! I really enjoyed last night’s episode. More time at Lallybroch would have been nice but I loved what they did with the adaptation. Next week should be good!

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  5. Thanks for the recap!! I am disappointed though because of all the changes they made!! It is nothing like the book.. I would love to see Brianna’s interaction with little Jamie and all her other relatives and her happiness when she found out about how many relatives she has.. Actually she liked the time she spent there.. Also Brianna portrait in that episode,traveling through the stones,as a not very strong person. In the book she was getting herself a horse, finding her way to Lallybroch with no difficulty, meeting little Jamie on the road, and the way she gives a piece of her mind to Laoghrie when she tries to take the necklace ( I was looking forward to see that actually)she was a very strong person in the book. I know the writers need to do some changes but this is too much and nothing like the book!!! And Elizabeth… she suppose to be tiny little young girl..which of course nothing like that!! All on all I didn’t like it very much.. even though I am really fond of the show and all the books a few times!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Berna, this is exactly how I feel. As told by the book, Brianna at Lallybroch found a whole extended family, and also an undeniable inheritance, demonstrated by the unmistakable likeness in the portrait of her grandmother, which was spine-tingling to read let alone to experience. She was already strong, as you say, but her family gave her the extra help to go on. What purpose is there in making Frank her encouragement instead?
      As for Leery and Frank being similar, I’m not too sure …… surely the essential difference is that Claire and Frank had originally been very much in love, whereas that was never the case with Leery and Jamie ( which also makes it a bit mystifying that in this episode Frank was supposedly planning to run away from his discovery about Claire’s eventual death – surely he would have warned her?)
      No sensible person expects total fidelity to the books, this is an adaptation, and a very good one at that. However, I think sensible concerns are raised when the essential natures of the characters in the story seem to be changed rather than just the storyline. When we see them acting ‘out of character’, that is when we worry that the adaptation has crossed a line.

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