A note before we get started: The theological themes of this episode are relevant and hard to dismiss. Thus, even though I am not a particularly religious person, the following recap has quite a bit of Christian religious tone. If that’s not your jam it’s okay to opt out now. Thanks in advance for reading.
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 412: Providence
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world– John 1:29, Agnus Dei
Whew. That was a doozy…I’m not sure my emotions have fully recovered from that one. Bravo to all involved, truly.
It is wholly appropriate that I’m writing this post on a Sunday morning– prominent religious imagery exists throughout this episode. With major themes of confession and forgiveness, a title of “Providence” (defined as the protective care of God), and a main storyline that revolves around a priest, the son of a minister, and the baptism of an infant, this is perhaps the most overtly religious episode of the series to date.
The sermon this morning: our own salvation. More specifically, how absolution is achieved through the salvation of others. This hour we find our characters elevating themselves through forgiveness, rescue, or mercy. God gave mankind free will and everyone in “Providence” struggles with the burden of choice. Ultimately, this episode argues that we can never escape our own inherent nature; good men and women will always elect an honorable path.
Through letter and voiceover, Jamie implores Brianna to seek peace through forgiveness. Such is the path of the righteous; we shepherd others through their valleys of darkness and, in turn, find absolution.
Such is the path for our characters, also. They guide others through tribulation, reaffirming their faith in love and each other in the process.
This week begins right where we last left Roger, literally running the gauntlet in the Mohawk village of Shadow Lake. He is made captive of the Mohawk and immediately makes a series of cultural faux pas. He manages to befriend Johiehon, a French-speaking Mohawk and mother of a blue-eyed infant. She attempts to ease Roger’s suffering, personally empathizing with his plight.
This catches the attention (and likely jealousy) of Kaheroton, and Roger is taken to a prisoner’s hut by order of Tehwahsehwkwe (brilliantly but all-too-briefly played by the wonderful Tom Jackson).
There he finds Père Alexandre Ferigault, a French priest and fellow prisoner. He informs Roger that they are currently in the Province of New York and that the Mohawk have named Roger Yona’kensyonk, meaning “dogface.”
Back at River Run, Lord John tells Brianna that Stephen Bonnet has been captured and is sentenced to hang. She implores Lord John to allow her an audience with Bonnet, arguing that her emotional healing depends on her ability to give her rape closure. She uses Jamie’s letter for sway, and Lord John finally agrees. Immediately we see the theme of the episode employed here; Lord John perhaps finds a sense of peace in being able to help Brianna. Salvation through others.
Fergus is doing the same, as he plans to bust Murtagh out of the Wilmington jail. Marsali interrupts his rather cute thimble-and-cup war strategy and proves her ever-increasing awesomeness by being totally supportive. Blow up the jail and act as the getaway? ALL IN. Marsali knows that Murtagh needs rescuing and, more importantly, she knows Fergus is capable and needs to prove his worth. Again, Marsali helping Fergus and Fergus helping Murtagh: salvation via saving others.
With the exception of Jamie’s voiceover, Jamie and Claire are notably not present this episode. But notice how they are invoked by others- Brianna, Lord John, Fergus, and Marsali- as they summon the courage for their actions. I wish they were here, almost as if Jamie and Claire are divine. Everyone is always so dependent upon them being the reliable heroes, but for once it falls to the others to do the saving. Just as we turn to God for guidance, our characters this hour must use lessons and strength learned from Jamie and Claire. In Jamie’s words, freedom is hard-won; grace is something our characters have to achieve for themselves.
Roger and Alexandre give confession to each other while awaiting their unknown fates. Alexandre explains that he has offended the Mohawk by not baptizing his own child with Johiehon; he cannot legitimately baptize the child since he is a sinner. Although Roger implores Alexandre to save himself and give the pretense of baptism, Alexandre cannot be swayed. He would know the truth and, more importantly, so would the Lord.
Roger tries to make the case for “looking out for Number One,” attempting to convince himself that this is the sort of man that he has become. He used to believe in love and virtue but look where it landed him– broken and alone. To say his faith is challenged is an understatement. He feels forsaken in all ways possible.
Brianna finally confronts Bonnet, offering him some semblance of peace before his death. Notice how her cloak resembles a religious robe? Brianna provides grace to the condemned man, giving him the gift of immortality through his (possible) child. Her magnanimity provides her path to forgiveness.
Bonnet, for his part, reveals the smallest glimmer of humanity and gives Brianna a ruby for the child’s welfare. It is perhaps an act of purgation before death. Everyone say it with me, now: salvation through others.
While Brianna and Lord John are visiting the jail, Fergus and the Regulators are plotting and enacting Murtagh’s escape. They effectively take control of the prison, conveniently leaving the jailer’s keys within reach of Bonnet before they leave…plot to be continued.
Notice how Murtagh and the Regulators don’t leave the unconscious guard behind? Also notice how Lord John decides not to impede their plans for escape? They all choose to make the right decision in the end– the decisions that sit best upon the consciences. It’s a parallel to the more dramatic decision Roger makes later; even as we try to convince ourselves that we are the type to only look out for “number one,” we can never fully turn away from our true nature.
Boom goes the dynamite! Listen, if I ever find myself in prison, I for sure want Diana Gabaldon’s characters busting me out. Swords, cattle, ocean jumps, explosives…by Season 4 they pretty much have this stuff perfected.
The Mohawk give Alexandre one last chance, cutting off his ear in punishment when he remains steadfast. He refuses to sacrifice his beliefs, knowing that the salvation of his soul means more than the physical salvation of his mortal body. Roger administers a prayer for the sick, attempting to give comfort as he himself wrestles with his beliefs.
Père Ferigault is sentenced to a slow death at the pyre and Roger manages to escape in the confusion. But Roger, in trying to run away, finds that he cannot truly run away from who he is. Because who he is an honorable, fundamentally good man who will always elect the righteous course. Like Alexandre, Roger cannot compromise his integrity. He turns back, symbolically choosing the path back to redemption.
In what likely amounts to a suicide mission, Roger gives mercy to Alexandre as he stokes the flames of the pyre into conflagration. Alexandre is thus spared a slow and torturous death.
Johiehon, in her grief, throws herself into the fire. Barber’s Adagio for Strings (commonly used for the Agnus Dei), plays hauntingly as a reminder of the sacrifices these characters are making in the name of redemption and love.
Roger has also undoubtedly sacrificed himself, for there will surely be consequences for his actions. But he is saved. In the end he returns to his faith in love and humanity. All he can ask for now is…providence.