Sneaky, sneaky. Did you catch that this was a cleverly disguised Laoghaire and Frank episode? Let’s break this sucker down.
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 504: The Company We Keep.
So let’s take it back to last season to Episode 407, Down the Rabbit Hole, in which we had Stephen Bonnet playing with a coin…
…and a twentieth century Oxford man who’s sometimes prone to pedantry and serves as a character foil to Jamie…
…and a heartfelt discussion between Brianna and a member of the MacKimmie-Fraser household…
See? They pulled a fast one on us.
But it’s totally okay because this was a great episode. If we look back at episodes that are Frank and Laoghaire heavy we see that they are like two sides of the same coin— both in love with people who cannot fully return that love. And Frank and Laoghaire episodes are, at their heart, really about Jamie and Claire. In this episode, in which a person who is already married falls in love with another and all is fair in love and war, the parallels are pretty obvious.
Frank and Laoghaire are omnipresent even though they are not physically in this episode. Marsali recalls her abusive childhood at the hands of her father, a man married at one time to Laoghaire. Moreover, when Isaiah explains he is in a loveless marriage, having not lain with his wife in two years, Jamie very visibly comes to an understanding about the situation…because that very succinctly describes his own marriage to Laoghaire (and Claire’s marriage to Frank).
Claire explicitly remembers Frank in her voiceover, understanding that we all make excuses for immorality when love is at play. And Frank’s ghost surely haunts any scene in which Claire and Jamie regret not having had the chance to raise a child together. Jamie never saw Claire with an infant, but another man did.
So that brings us to a larger theme of this episode, which is that our past never really leaves us. Our memories are the company we keep — always with us, welcome or not.
The Company We Keep obviously deals with a theme of friends versus foes, family versus strangers, us versus them…the company we keep. As a bit of a play on words, it probably also refers to the men who desert the militia under Roger’s leadership…the soldiers of Fraser’s Company whom Roger literally could not keep.
But this hour also examines the company we keep all the time: our own. Marsali tells Brianna that our thoughts alone cannot conjure actions. But what do we do when we cannot escape the pain of our thoughts, the guilt of our past, or memories that haunt us? First husbands, second wives, rapists, abusive fathers…they are ever-present in our minds. They are the company we always keep and they are often uninvited. We can burn drawings or drown our sorrows in drink, but the company of our thoughts is one that is with us constantly.
The impetus for plot in this episode revolves around two star-crosses lovers in the form of Isaiah and Alicia Brown. And if you’re wondering (as I have been) why Isaiah is always wearing that particular hat, it occurred to me in this episode that he is perhaps costumed to resemble a fourteenth century Italian man… say Romeo Montague?
But we cannot have a story of a Montague without a Capulet, and that’s exactly where we begin this episode, with Roger and company riding into a whole heap of angry Capulets.
As Roger and the militia come into Brownsville they are besieged by the men of the town and forced to take cover. The Browns demand that Isaiah be given over and Roger, very understandably not wishing to die or get all the men killed, turns Morton in.
Now, I’ve seen arguments in other reviews deriding Roger here for his lack of courage. But, honestly, I’m not sure what other choice he had. This is a man who has never been in a battle, never fought in a war, and can barely aim a rifle. The writers very clearly want us to know that this is a man who has studied war but doesn’t truly understand it.
But, to his immense credit, Roger has the self-knowledge to realize that engaging the militia under his leadership is irresponsible. Getting the men of Brownsville drunk and catching them unaware is a better plan given Roger’s skill set…as a humanities scholar he would know that the smartest Greek gods plied their enemies with drink and merriment. Catching more flies with honey, and all that.
But this runs counterintuitive to a man like Jamie, who was raised upholding honor and loyalty above all else. He and Claire arrive later into Brownsville, wee bairn in tow, and are quickly caught up on the situation at hand.
While Claire searches for a lactating mother among the Brownsville women, Jamie lays into Roger for his lack of leadership. And the thing is, as with most good fights, they’re both right. To betray a man who has pledged his life to you is not how a Highlander operates. But, as Roger points out, he was apt to get them all killed if he engaged. What good is loyalty if you’re dead? The Capulets and Montagues would surely have something to say about that…loyalty is worthless by the end of Act V.
Jamie manages to free Isaiah while the guards are inebriated (see? Roger’s plan had its merits!) and, like Romeo banished from Verona, tells Isaiah to get the heck outta Brownsville.
Claire is introduced to the Brownsville women and quickly enmeshed in poor Alicia’s personal drama. And if there was ever an Outlander episode that makes you appreciate the continued fight for women’s equality this is it. No one seems to truly care about Alicia except for the monetary gain she could have brought the family. Is it any wonder that she thinks she cannot live without Isaiah? He seems to be the only person in this world who truly loves her.
Oh, also, Claire discovers that her “Dr. Rawlings” medical advice has been published and is circulating among the colonists. And if you think we’ve seen the last of that story you’re probably wrong…nothing draws more attention and instills more fear in a power structure than a discussion of birth control, no matter the century.
Chaos naturally erupts when Isaiah is discovered missing and the two sides nearly come to blows until Richard Brown comes riding back into town and tells his side to stand down. He and Lionel pledge men to Jamie’s militia, but not before being general mouth-breathers and making creepy foreshadowing references about Claire.
Back at the Ridge, Brianna is dealing with her own devil as she discovers Bonnet is alive, knows about Jem, and sneaked a coin into his bassinet while everyone was in town. When Jem wanders off later that night she naturally panics, fearing the worst.
(Minor writing quibble: considering Germaine is old enough to repeat a comment about Presbyterians being heretics, he is likely also old enough to give more than a one-word answer when asked where Jem went).
Marsali can see that Brianna is dealing with some heavy emotions and invites her to share a drink and share her troubles. Marsali, as always, cuts right to the matter. Our thoughts cannot make things true, for better or worse. It’s hard to escape fear or negativity, as these seem to be the thoughts that stick with us more than others…our constant company as human beings. Making peace with that constant presence is sometimes the best we can do.
And speaking of making peace with one’s life, Jamie and Claire share a really sweet moment when they consider raising the Beardsley baby themselves. But they ultimately decide she is best left in the care of Lucinda Brown, who lost her own infant shortly after birth. Jamie and Claire are in harmony with this stage of their life, having had over twenty years to manage what haunts them: Frank, Laoghaire, war, loss, death. Such is the benefit of age— we either get used to the company or we are more comfortable telling them when to leave.
Which is perhaps why Jamie and Claire ultimately take pity on Alicia and Isaiah, recognizing their own star-crossed love from two decades prior. The visual cues are there to remind us that nothing was going to stop Jamie and Claire, and nothing will stop this young couple either:
And thus we end the episode with our original Juliet, gazing down from a balcony, looking at her Romeo.
As Claire narrates, we make choices and we live with the consequences. Helping Isaiah and Alicia will certainly have its consequences, as did Claire and Jamie’s choices about Frank and Laoghaire. Our choices are the sum of our life. We live with our painful memories and decisions…they are our constant company. It’s who we choose to love and keep that makes those memories worth bearing.
Juliet: I will not fail. ‘Tis twenty year till then. I have forgot why I did call thee back.
Romeo: Let me stand here till thou remember it.
Juliet: I shall forget, to have thee still stand there. Remembering how I love thy company.
-Romeo and Juliet, 2.2