Episode 408: Wilmington

Warning- Contains spoilers for Outlander Episode 408: Wilmington.

The next time someone tries to dismiss Outlander as romantic fluff, I would like you to 1. first squash your impulse to smack the back of their head and then, 2. gently redirect them toward this episode. And all of Season 4. And then the novels and the prior three seasons. Try not to gloat as they apologize.

Because themes of pretense and theater, an example of the Bystander Effect, use of Shakespearean elements, and subtle commentary about American history are just a few motifs explored this hour. Shallow romance? I don’t think so.

This was an interestingly framed episode as we, the audience, watched nearly every other character in this episode also, in turns, be an audience member and an actor. Whether it was quite literally attending a performance…

…or watching a surgery (note, I love the makeshift surgical theater within an actual theater)…

…or observing things we might not understand…

…or watching history happen before our eyes…

…or seeing the happiest night of one’s life turn into the worst…

…or, most disturbingly, watching a horror unfold and doing nothing about it…

…everyone engages in theater in this episode. “All the world’s a stage,” quotes Governor Tryon from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and that’s true to a certain extent– we do see our characters acting quite a bit in this episode: Claire feigning she can’t fully empathize with parenthood, Jamie “accidentally” elbowing Edmund Fanning in the gut, Brianna and Roger pretending that their fight doesn’t devastate them as much as it does. Everyone does their fair share of acting in this hour and there is no shortage of drama. But, as this episode deftly illuminates, the men and women aren’t merely players. They are real people for whom the actions of others have real consequences.

American playwright Thomas Godfrey wrote Prince of Parthia in the neo-classical style and borrowed much of its plot and structure from Shakespeare. And this episode, perhaps in a meta nod to neo-classical tradition, is also similarly structured. We have all our main characters descending upon one location (Wilmington), with the events of this episode (our play) taking place over the course of twenty-four hours, and a prominent Shakespearean theme of mistaken identity and misunderstanding.

As much as Governor Tryon would love to believe otherwise, however, Wilmington is not London, Godfrey is not Shakespeare, and the governor’s mansion is not a palace. The presence of George Washington in this episode is an overt reminder that nowhere is the inevitability of change most prominent than in pre-revolutionary Colonial America. Whether it’s a family of two expanding to three, an adjustment of our expectations in a new marriage, a female surgeon assuming a male-dominated role, or a country beginning to embrace the ideals of democracy, change invariably comes to us all; it’s no use pretending to be something that you are not.

We open with Roger roaming the muddy streets of Wilmington, searching for Brianna and unknowingly also running into Fergus. While we’re on the subject, can we petition for César Domboy to be in every episode? I find his sweet intepretation of Fergus totally heartwarming.

Claire and Jamie are also in Wilmington, squeezing in a visit with Fergus, Marsali, and Germain (who is the cutest little muffin of a baby EVER) before heading to the theater later that night.

New mother Marsali is gobsmacked with the overwhelming love and surge of emotions that many of us feel upon becoming parents. She would do anything for Germain, she tells Claire, tying into the prominent theme of Season 4: family and what we will do for those we love.

Roger and Brianna eventually reunite and it is in equal parts romantically great and aggressively passionate. Did you note the tavern patrons watching their love story unfold? All of Wilmington is an audience.

Very much not an original thought, but I am totally here for Richard Rankin’s long hair and perfect beard stubble.

Anyway, even though they take their defensive-but-sincere “I Love You’s” outside, they still can’t escape the one-person audience of Lizzie. She has apparently never seen Atonement and thus might not suspect that her interpretation of Roger and Brianna’s reunion- the drama she is watching unfold- is perhaps… subjective.

Roger and Brianna move things indoors and there’s apparently nothing like time travel, a long ocean voyage, and being lost in a different century to give everyone a new perspective.

They agree to be handfast, and Roger looks at Brianna the way every man should look at his newly affianced: like he’s won the biggest lottery in the world.

Meanwhile, across town (I’m assuming it’s across town?), Brianna’s parents are rubbing elbows with the Wilmington gentry at the new theater. Among attendance are Edmund Fanning (fictional hernia sufferer but real-life financial extortionist), Margaret Wake Tryon (for whom future Wake County, North Carolina is named), and, of course, George and Martha Washington.

I really love how the series makes a point of showing that at this time in history it is Martha who is arguably the more famous member of the couple. Margaret Tryon is quite in awe of her; Colonel Washington is a bit of an afterthought.

Book readers know that Washington pops up in the later novels, so it’s interesting that he is introduced earlier here. Although Jamie and Claire would certainly find themselves at odds with the Washingtons over certain issues (namely, slavery), there are a few parallels to draw between the couples. Both Martha and Claire are on their second marriages married to younger men, and know the pain of losing a child. Jamie and George Washington are military men, fathers to adopted children, and husbands to fiercely independent women. And, of course, we know where Washington’s ideals and loyalties will eventually lie.

But more than commonalities with the Frasers, the presence of Washington here ties in nicely to this episode’s theme. Perhaps no other American will have the story of his life explode into larger-than-life proportions to the same extent as George Washington. The parable of the cherry tree, somewhat embarrassingly blurted out by Claire, is only one example of the man eventually becoming the myth. And so, in an episode devoted to pretense and acting and theater, the presence of Washington- whose life becomes the ultimate American drama- is very fitting.

Although Claire rightly thinks that meeting Washington is pretty great and she wishes Brianna could be there, I’m going to suggest that losing your virginity to your hot new husband might be just as exciting? This was all very sweetly and beautifully done. I’m also assuming everyone in Wilmington besides these two is at the theater seeing Prince of Parthia, since no one comes to investigate why there’s a fire going in this building that does not belong to Roger and Brianna.

Tryon lets it be known to Jamie that at this very moment he has plans to arrest Murtagh. He knows, thanks to an espionage mole, that the Regulators intend to rob a Treasury carriage that night. If Murtagh is arrested he will surely be hanged, and so Jamie sits there in agony trying to figure a way out of this mess.

The solution comes in the way of administering agony to another. He elbows Fanning in the abdomen so hard that some bowel loops are likely dislodged through his herniation, thereby causing a much better drama (and distraction) than the one currently on stage. I’m not sure if it was intended to be comedic, but in my last-minute Christmas deliriousness I found Jamie’s “THIS MAN NEEDS A SURGEON” absolutely hilarious. Again, another example of our characters being actors in this episode.

Claire sets Fanning up on a table in the lobby and we finally have our famous hernia repair surgery from the novel. Watch Margaret Tryon’s face in the background as Claire successfully takes charge of the situation…she maybe has a new girl crush to add to her admiration of Martha Washington? Can we petition for a spinoff series in which Colonial women form a clandestine group and find ways to subvert the patriarchy under the guise of a quilting guild? Maybe get Betsy Ross in on the action?

Sorry. Too much eggnog. Moving on.

Governor Tryon assists Claire during the surgery and even he is able to “act” during this episode, as he briefly assumes the role of someone who is brave and helpful.

The surgery is successful, everyone claps. Take a bow, Claire, your performance was stellar.

Meanwhile, Jamie is able to slip out and catch a ride with the Washingtons, who have no doubt decided that Wilmington is a bit of a drag and are high-tailing it back to Mount Vernon. Or, perhaps, they have a premonition of what happens to United States presidents in theaters. Thanks for the lift, George, see you at Valley Forge! Bring a coat!

Wisely, Jamie does not go to warn Murtagh himself but instead sends Fergus out to prevent the debacle. Thus, we get a pretty cute reunion scene between Murtagh and Fergus. The crisis is averted as Murtagh calls off the raid. Note: more acting by the Regulator who pretends to be a drunkard lost in the woods. All the world’s a stage.

But the biggest make-believe this hour comes from Roger and Brianna, who both pretend that their argument (over the newspaper article) and subsequent separation isn’t totally devastating to them both. I don’t need you, I’ll go if you want me to, I want you to leave. They are angry and hurt and there is truth in their words, but they are putting up a proud and defiant act for the other. I’m sorry, I messed up, I love you, I don’t want you to go— words that they undoubtedly mean but do not say. It’s nothing but extremely painful pretense.

A heartbroken Brianna stumbles across Stephen Bonnet in the tavern and spies Claire’s ring in his hand. Everyone’s an actor in this episode, but none so convincing as Bonnet. A sociopath masquerading as a charmer, he proceeds to rape Brianna behind closed doors. The tavern patrons do nothing as they hear the horror. In an episode where everyone puts on some sort of an act, these witnesses pretend not to care.

So where does that leave us? Hopefully reflecting on our own pretenses. There are countless horrors that happen in this world each day– to what or whom are we turning a blind eye? Who are we hurting when we pretend not to hear or see or care?

It’s a sobering but relevant thought as we head into the holiday. Let us help those who need us. Let us not play pretend with those we love. ‘Tis the season to tell our loved ones how much they mean to us.

For those who celebrate, Merry Christmas from my family to yours.

Slàinte.

photos: STARZ

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21 thoughts on “Episode 408: Wilmington”

  1. As always, a wonderful, well-thought out review of the action. Thanks for pointing out the “all the world’s a stage” aspect, because I didn’t realize its extent until reading this. I did have to laugh at Washington’s confusion over Claire’s cherry tree comments, since it’s generally acknowledged an early biographer made the whole thing up! I was glad to (finally!) see the very public hernia repair in the story, but in a place in which it would advance the season’s story along so well. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent. Your analysis made me reconsider an episode about which I have decidedly mixed feelings. Of course, Jamie and Claire have displayed their talents as a theatrical couple many times and I always smile when watching how good a team they really are. (My favorite is in episode 209 – the confrontation with a young LJG.) I When you consider how much of the story going forward is driven by the audience (I think particularly of Lizzie,) I am amazed at how easily people are motivated by simply “blowing smoke up their behinds”.

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  3. Dearest Outcandour,
    Brava! And thank you for another gift of a review. While watching Outlander, I don’t think the deep and analytic thoughts you apparently do. I just have visceral reactions to the action. So it was with great delight and gratitude that I read your enlightening review of this episode, which, in retrospect, made me enjoy it all the more. I’ve gleaned (from reading the “about” section of this site) that you are a vet. A noble profession. But are you sure you are not also a professor of literature, film, and perhaps female-gaze feminism at a highly regarded university? Just asking. In any case, as a deeply devoted fan of all things Outlander, I’m very glad I found you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for your great comments on this episode! I liked this episode, but also felt that Roger and Brianna are their own worst enemies! But then again, they’re young and it’s hard to say “I’m sorry” in the heat of things. I really miss seeing Jamie & Claire enjoying each other, like Bree & Roger were able to, in that little room and it’s not the same watching them as it is watching Jamie & Claire; not sure if the chemistry isn’t there, but in the end, they both did a great job with this episode. Can’t wait for next weeks episode when Bree finally meets Jamie and sees her mother (at least that’s how I’m imagining it to be).

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  5. I look forward to reading your thoughts on the episodes. I always gain some insight into the story and characters, and you often notice details that I have missed. (I don’t watch the episodes multiple times immediately after they air as some people do). I did think that they overdid the remarks that Claire and Jamie made to Washington alluding to aspects of his military career and the apocryphal story of the cherry tree that a later biographer invented. No wonder the colonel was confused by them! It was, however, amusing as Claire ‘fan girls’ over seeing Washington.

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  6. I thought your interpretation about actors and their audience was insightful. The cherry tree incident, we know this to be a fiction invented by a later biographer. I’m trying to remember, but when was this fiction widely exposed? Claire travelled from the late 1960s. I was in my late teens then and from memory, it was after this time, the cherry tree story was debunked widely. I may be wrong here but Claire might not have heard before her return to the 18th Century but like a good medic, she thinks on her feet and recovers her apparent faux pas. The fireplace in the shed complete with firewood reminded me how the earliest buildings which served as dwellings, cookhouses etc were repurposed when sturdier larger homes and business premises were built.

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  7. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post, I really enjoyed reading it! A few thoughts I had:

    Claire and Jamie have spent so much of their lives acting, from when Claire initially came through the stones to her living a false life with Frank; Jamie with his many aliases. It makes their life on the ridge all the more special. I love seeing them acting together though like they did in the theatre, very entertaining!

    It was hard not to compare Roger and Brianna’s wedding night with Claire and Jamie’s, and their relationship in general. There were quite a few similarities but for me the very obvious difference was in how Claire and Jamie’s communication was so good, right from the start. It will be really interesting to see Bree and Roger’ s relationship develop. I also liked how they made the rape the same night – makes Lizzie’s assumption more understandable. Love the Atonement reference, very apt.

    I also totally agree, I want more Fergus!

    Merry Christmas and thanks again for your wonderful blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your insight! It’s interesting to compare Bree and Roger’s relationship as it is a bit of a mirror image compared to Jamie and Claire’s (Claire was older and the experienced one). I’m very curious to see how the character arcs for B and R progress over these last few episodes.

      Merry Christmas to you!

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  8. Hope you and yours had a very Merry Christmas! While recovering from a Christmas Cookie Hangover I’m just now getting caught up on Outlander! This is such a pivotal episode setting up so many future story lines, some known to those of us who read the books, others TBD depending on the structure decided in the writers’ room. It is apparent that however the story unfolds, it will be largely directed by misunderstandings and their consequences. I loved the parallels of “all the world is a stage” throughout the episode, but two things stay with me after watching Wilmington. One, “If I do this, it will be forever,” only “forever” got completely derailed by misunderstandings and recriminations. If only Roger had stayed, his play would have a very different second act! Two, the Bystander Effect. How much of what happened to Bree in the tavern was the Bystander Effect and how much of it was group sociopathy? Bonnet’s crew knew exactly what kind of man he was and to my mind, if they were crazy enough to play cards with him then likely they would have accepted a “turn” if it had been offered! Bree was not going to get ANY sympathy from that mob. Romantic Fluff, my arse!! Really looking forward to Sunday’s episode! See you on the other side!

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    1. Hope you had a great Christmas! I agree- I doubt any of those men in the tavern would have stood up to Bonnet under any circumstances…out of fear but also because they are bad dudes themselves. Next week is going to be so good!

      Thanks as always for reading!

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  9. I have to agree with Donna Callea’s comment Tracy about how differently we view the episodes. I think I view them with an “It’s Outlander and so I know it will be good” filter, although lately this is becoming more difficult. That’s why I love reading your insights. I have a young friend who views them much more critically than I do and makes me think more about them. You do this too for which I am grateful. This episode contained so much… Bree and Roger’s beautiful love scene… and their heart wrenching fight… Claire diving into doctor mode – much better done than the silly excise man scene… Jamie’s attempt to cause a distraction… not to mention baby Germain and his proud grandparents. The end showing a dazed Bree was such a dark, sobering moment and made me forget all the lovely scenes beforehand. I’m anxious for them all to be back at Fraser’s Ridge. Thank you for drawing it all together once again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, as always, for your kind feedback 🙂. It was a hard episode to watch and one of the few I probably won’t rewatch— at least not often.

      I have a lot of anticipation for this upcoming episode!

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