Pssst. Come closer. I’m going to tell you a secret.
I really liked Season 4.
Want to know something else?
It’s okay if you did, too.
In the weeks since the season finale I’ve read some thoughtful and constructive criticisms of this past season, each of them well-written and with merit. For the millions of people who read and watch Outlander there are just as many subjective viewpoints; each of us carry our own background, biases, and unique perspectives to our approach and opinion of the show. It would be an impossible task to please all of the people all of the time.
My readers know that I try to avoid a lot of negative criticism in my posts. Not because I’m an eternal Pollyanna type– my family will affirm that I most definitely am not. Rather, I don’t want to negatively influence another person’s viewing experience. When I’ve really enjoyed something and then subsequently read a harsh critique of what I’ve just watched, I always have a momentary flash of “Wait, maybe I wasn’t supposed to enjoy this as much as I did?” And while I’m generally not the sort to let the opinions of others influence my own emotions, I find that after a while too much negativity does detract from my enjoyment.
That said, I don’t feel compelled to sugarcoat Season 4 because overall I found it very enjoyable. The writers had a monumental task of adapting Drums of Autumn into a dictated 13 episodes, and I think they did so fairly cohesively and effectively…especially when I try to determine what the writers were trying to accomplish thematically.
Diana Gabaldon states that the overarching theme of Drums of Autumn is family, and in the context of Outlander’s Season 4, “family” encompasses not only Jamie and Claire, but also Brianna and Roger. And while some of the fandom was perhaps disappointed with how much story time was spent with the latter relative to the former, I found it incredibly necessary.
We cannot tell the story of the Fraser family without spending time with Jamie and Claire’s daughter and son-in-law…and also Ian, Fergus, and Marsali. And Murtagh and Jocasta. AND Lord John and Willie. And…(ducks out of the way)…even Frank and Laoghaire. They are all family and thus their stories are all relevant.
Rebecca Phelps wrote a great article last year in which she proposed that Drums of Autumn is Brianna’s story. She asserts that while Jamie and Claire are essentially the same at the beginning and end of the novel, it is Brianna who undergoes the hero’s journey and drives the plot.
I mostly agree with that assessment, but I’d add that Roger’s story runs parallel in terms of importance. The climax of Drums of Autumn (and Season 4) is arguably Roger’s rescue from the Mohawk– it is the storyline which involves nearly every character and around which much of the action and drama rotates. It also carries consequences that reach far into the later novels.
Taken further, if we sign on to the idea that Brianna and Roger are driving much of the action of the season, then it isn’t enough just to see the end result. We have to also be invested in their respective journeys, otherwise it feels emotionally short-changed. And so, to understand how we get from this to this to this:
We also have to experience this:
Likewise, in getting from here to there:
We also need this right here:
We cannot simply accept that these two characters are changed people in the end; we have to bear witness to that metamorphosis. And in that regard we maybe didn’t see enough of that transformative process.
That’s an argument with which many will disagree (or have already disagreed). Which is fine; many fans would argue (and they wouldn’t be incorrect) that Jamie and Claire are the heart of the series. And, indeed, there would be no Outlander without them.
Despite the emerging stories of other characters this season, I don’t see Jamie and Claire’s significance as diminished. Rather, their importance is highlighted through the stories of the other characters. Brianna and Roger might drive much of the plot, but they are in the eighteenth century because of Jamie and Claire. In fact, most everyone this season finds themselves in North Carolina because of Jamie and Claire. They are omnipresent in every episode this season, even episodes in which they had minimal screen time.
What Jamie and Claire set out to do in Season 4 is build a home. We see them not only laying the literal foundation of their actual home on Fraser’s Ridge, but also figuratively laying the foundation of their family’s legacy in this New World.
And that circles us back around to the prominent themes of Season 4: family and home. The two are intertwined and this season was essentially a long discussion on how we define home. Is it determined by your century, your allegiance, or your heritage? How do we build a home in a new land, far from loved ones, with an uncertain future? What are we willing to do to fight for that home?
“Home” is an interesting concept in Season 4 of Outlander, as eighteenth century North America was different things to different people. For Native Americans it had been their home for centuries. Slaves had no say in their home. For immigrants, Colonial America was a new world upon which to establish old customs. This season attempted to pay respect to all concepts of home, at least as much as it could within the context of the larger story.
The construction of Fraser’s Ridge features prominently this season. The Frasers’ home is not just an actual roof with walls, but also an emotional shelter for their various visitors throughout the season. Think of all the character development that took place within that cabin this season: Lord John making peace with his feelings, Willie finding another source of love and support, Murtagh seeking protection and reconnection, and Brianna finding the family she never knew (and never knew she needed).
Ultimately, that’s the unifying force for all our characters this season: finding home through family. Jamie and Claire settling in Fraser’s Ridge, Brianna finding her parents, Roger finding Brianna, Ian finding his place among the Mohawk, Fergus and Marsali establishing themselves as new Americans…in finding each other they discover home, and vice-versa.
As cliche as it may sound, home in Season 4 is where the heart is. And that’s maybe a nice note to end on for this Valentine’s Day. As Frank tells Brianna, sometimes life takes unexpected turns; we rely on family and home to be centering forces in a hard and unpredictable world. And often on our journey home we end up discovering ourselves along the way.