Hello! Apologies for the delayed absence! I spent all winter coordinating my kid’s school auction…listen, I have a veterinary degree but planning a massive school fundraiser is a ridiculous test of patience and organization. Tip of the hat to all the PTA parents out there.
Halfway during the auction planning process I began to refer to my voluntary, self-induced torture as “The Idiot Hut,” as coined by my favorite Oxford academic-turned-time traveler.
Yep, that one. And my wheels about Roger have been turning for quite some time– both during the majority of Season 4 and in the post-season. Because of all the characters I expected to cause controversy this season, this guy was near the bottom of my list.
So how did we get here? How did critics and the fandom end up debating one of the most endearing and relatable characters from the entire canon? Roger is supposed to be a slam-dunk in terms of character likability, but somehow we went from affability and lobster rolls to accusations of misogyny. What happened?
While I’ve previously gone on record defending Season 4 (I actually enjoyed it quite a bit), I will offer one criticism: Roger, as we know and were expecting him, was somewhat misrepresented.
Not misrepresented by Richard Rankin, who is exemplary. Not even totally misrepresented in terms of physical looks and costuming; although I always imagined Roger looking like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid (who we all know is the most handsome Disney prince ever)…
…and Richard Rankin comes amazingly close…
…I’m willing to overlook the beanie and many, many layers because I can see what was achieved in witnessing Roger’s physical transformation from start…
Rather, there were missteps in the adaptation process that somehow left many viewers wondering what, exactly, does Brianna see in this dude? After two major fights back to back, following Brianna to the eighteenth century despite her wishes not to, and keeping important information to himself, viewers were forced to make some fairly large mental leaps to believe that these two will have a happily ever after.
So I’m about the lay out the case for Roger, because if we want to continue to be invested in this show and its future seasons, it behooves the fans to actually really like him. He’s the second leading man of the series, the husband to Jamie and Claire’s daughter, and the father to their grandchild. He’s important and we should be invested in his story. And, because of that, I’m going to suggest that going into Season 5 people should consider reading (or re-reading) the books.
I readily admit it’s difficult to be a book reader and not bring pre-conceived biases about the plot, characters, or story direction into the television series. I try very hard to separate the novels from the show because I think both are excellent in their own right and I respect the creative processes of two very different media. Additionally, I don’t think reading the novels is necessarily a prerequisite for watching the show; the show should be able to stand alone without relying on the novels to fill in story or character development.
That said, the novels help support much of Roger and Brianna’s story that was somehow altered or omitted in Season 4, and so much of the controversy surrounding Roger in recent months is explained in the length, dialogue, and context provided in Drums of Autumn.
Take, for example, Roger’s inner monologue surrounding his and Brianna’s engagement fight, most of which is lost when we jump from novel to screen:
“He felt suddenly afraid, not to himself but for her; as though something might materialize from [the loch] world to snatch her back, away from him. He grasped her by the hand, as if to prevent her. Her fingers were cold and damp, a shock against the warmth of his palm.”
“It was a great effort to turn and face her; he had no wish for empty comfort, no desire to hear a feeble offer to ‘be friends.’ He didn’t think he could bear even to look at her, so crushing was his sense of loss. But he turned nonetheless and then she was against him, her hands cold on his ears as she gripped his head and pushed her mouth hard onto his, not so much a kiss as blind frenzy, awkward with desperation.”
Richard Rankin did a beautiful job in this scene, as did Sophie Skelton. The anger, pain, and rejection were obvious for both their characters. But what cannot be translated is the empathy of those crushing emotions when we actually read them.
Revisiting and exploring this scene in the novel a bit more, we can understand how much of it was changed for the show. Brianna, being much taller and physically forceful in the novels, actually bites Roger. The absence of her physical roughness therefore changes the dynamics of their dialogue. Additionally, the scene in the novel takes place immediately following Mass, providing a different context for the “nice Catholic girl” comment. It’s not totally forgivable from our modern perspective but it adopts a bit more irony than when it’s said at the Scottish festival. Also consider an alternate scenario, in which it is Brianna who is insists on marriage before sex and Roger is the one rejecting the proposal…would we view it differently?
Most importantly, in the novel Brianna and Roger end this scene on sad but mostly okay terms:
“’It’s not only your body that I want—though God knows, I want it badly. But I’ll have you as my wife … or I will not have you. Your choice.’
She reached up and touched him, brushed the hair off his brow with fingers so cold, they burned like dry ice.
‘I understand,” she whispered.'”
Neither one is angry, only heartbroken. And so when Roger later decides to follow Brianna to the eighteenth century, it’s seen less as an apparent violation of boundaries and more as the necessary protection of someone he loves.
But beyond novel Roger versus television Roger, there is much to love about this character when we remember that he doesn’t merely exist in the vacuum of Season 4; he’s been present in every season, either in child or adult form. He plays a prominent role in most of the novels and some of the novellas. He’s been here the whole time, quietly helping advance the plot.
What we learn when we spend so much time with this character is that Roger is a man who often believes in things despite evidence that he should believe the opposite. Take, for instance, his willingness to believe in Claire’s story of time travel. He routinely chooses to believe the best in people. Some might call that faith.
“Faith” is the perfect descriptor for Roger and is especially fitting for a man raised in a manse. Faith guides Roger’s thoughts and his actions are usually rooted in some good or moral intent. Providence” (Episode 412) explores that theme deeply; it was the closest we came this season to seeing the character many of us were expecting.
Roger is a self-described “dog with a bone” and, as such, he rarely gives up. He keeps searching for Jamie long after Claire and Brianna give up the literal ghost. He fights for his relationship with Brianna, seeing the foundation of love beneath the rubble of miscommunication. He sacrifices his freedom to help Alexandre, choosing to believe in a higher righteousness. He is a man who trusts in abstractions, and isn’t that just a different way of describing faith?
And think about how that investment guides his choices, both in what we already know of Roger and who we know he will become (no spoilers, please). As the son of a minister, his whole childhood was an assumption in the metaphysical and theological. As an adult, what is being a historian except studying events that (for the living) are fairly abstract? The same goes for musical emotion. The same can be said of love. Sometimes the most important things in our lives are the non-material.
How surreal it must be, then, for such a man to study the abstract and then face the tangible flip-side: the reality of heartache, the phenomenon of time-travel, the actuality of the eighteenth century. Of all the characters in the Outlander universe, he is perhaps the best-equipped emotionally and intellectually for such an adventure.
So let us embark on our next Outlander chapter as Roger would: with a leap of faith. He’s a character worth believing in; he rarely gives up and neither should we. Let us remember the biscuit-eating child, the academic who searches for lost loved ones, and the man who crossed two centuries in the name of love. From Drums of Autumn:
“It was a leap of faith—to throw one’s heart across a gulf, and trust another to catch it. His own was still in flight across the void, with no certainty of landing. But still in flight.”