More Perfect Unions

Raise your hand if you’ve had Never My Love stuck in your head since the finale! Let’s discuss Season 5.

Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Season 5 and Episode 512: Never My Love. 

Wholeness, noun:

  1. the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole; unity
  2. the state of being unbroken or undamaged

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To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure I would recap the finale episode. Episode 512 was beautifully executed, with some of Caitriona Balfe’s finest acting, but writing the recaps requires multiple episode viewings and this one was tough to rewatch. My family has also had a rough week with a sad diagnosis for one of our pets; emotionally I haven’t quite been up for it. And so, as a bit of a compromise, I thought I would not only reflect on the finale, but also the season in its entirety.

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Beyond the deeply textured and stunning set and costume designs of Claire’s mid-century dissociative scenes in Episode 512, what stands out to me is who was included and how they are included in this imaginary safe space: Murtagh is alive, Jocasta has her sight, and Fergus has both hands. Jamie this season first tells Roger and then Claire, “You are alive. You are whole.” The family members in these dissociative scenes are alive. They are whole. The underlying message breaking through Claire’s subconscious: you will be safe.

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And looking back on Season 5 we can see that “wholeness” is a theme repeatedly addressed. What does it mean to be whole? Can a man be complete with only one leg? Can your identity survive if you lose your voice? Are we permanently broken if we lose our spouse, a lover, or a family member? Can a family survive if its members leave…perhaps forever? Are we still spiritually intact if we take another’s life? The finishing- the wholeness– of the Big House is a continued story in nearly every episode. In a world where a shattered opal provides clues to the past and future, this season examines what it takes to feel complete. Spiritually and physically and on the eve of the American Revolution, our characters work toward a more perfect union of mind and body.

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Back in December and February I made a number of predictions regarding Season 5 (you can read them here and here), and I argued that the tone being set for this season was religious in nature. From the choral music employed in the new opening credits, to the multiple biblical references in the episode titles (Free Will, Perpetual Adoration, Better to Marry Than Burn, Mercy Shall Follow Me), this season frequently references fate and faith. Our characters repeatedly examine their spiritual wholeness, questioning their actions, morality, and place in a universe where time travel is possible and the future can be known. Isn’t this playing God, Brianna asks? Genesis and many other creation stories tell us that humankind was made complete with a physical body and spiritual soul…man was made whole. Much of this season focuses on free will and destiny, with our characters struggling their way back to that original state of completion.

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Physically, our characters “take stock” of themselves more than once this season…personally examining their wholeness. Jamie inspects his body on the morning of his birthday (The Ballad of Roger Mac), while Claire surveys her injuries following her rape and beating (Never My Love). In both these episodes, however, the true “taking stock” is of their mind and spirit following intense trauma– affirmations that life goes on after their worlds feel shattered…after their worlds feel not quite whole. Claire promises she will survive, while Jamie pushes through his grief in order to help his family. Physically and spiritually, they know they will heal.

We know it, too. After eight novels and five seasons with these characters, we know they are individually capable of survival. Jamie and Claire spent twenty years apart, learning and growing despite their separation. Brianna and Roger each independently traveled to the past, more or less successfully making their way to their intended goals. Fergus and Marsali both survived difficult childhoods to form their own loving (and large) family. Ian often moves through this world alone, with Rollo as his sole companion. Everyone in this family has repeatedly proved they are competent when alone.

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Yet Season 5 argues that although our main characters are individually qualified, they are most whole when united: I will fight for you, I will be loyal to you, I belong here, I was thinking of home. As Jamie affirms in the finale, “It is myself who kills for [Claire].” Our characters fill in the gaps in each other’s lives– where one cannot go another will tread. They take turns killing and saving, confessing their sins and offering absolution. One will push as another pulls. In this way they are more complete when together… together they are most whole.

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Wholeness this season, then, is an unsurprising union of the physical and spiritual. Jamie’s leg heals, but he comes to recognize that his entire being transcends his physicality. Roger regains his voice and his will to live. Ian contemplates ending his physical life, but eventually heals his spirit enough to overcome such thoughts. Brianna, Roger, and Jem physically come back to their family, also gaining a realization of their sense of belonging. In the end the Fraser family has succeeded in achieving those definitions of wholeness: united and unbroken in body and spirit.

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The glimmer of promise from the Season 5 finale may indeed be in Claire’s affirmation that she feels safe. But the sign of hope for me comes a few minutes earlier in the episode. Throughout the course of this series Brianna has effortlessly quoted Nathan Hale, Herman Melville, and Robert Frost. “Never quote an American to an American,” Roger once told her, knowing we eagerly consume our own history when it is fed. And so here is Outlander, offering it to us by the spoonful. Like the country that is forming, the Fraser family stands united. The storm clouds loom, the American Revolution approaches. Beyond that distant North Carolina horizon thirteen colonies will come together as one. They will come together to be whole.

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Slàinte

 

photos: STARZ

18 thoughts on “More Perfect Unions”

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful, reflective Outlander essays. I love the way you identify and discuss the themes for each episode providing a rich context for us viewers. I never miss any of your postings.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Each week through this season (and past ones) I have looked forward to your thoughtful, intelligent and insightful overview of each episode. I usually have to reread each post (as I rewatch each episode) to make sure I have not missed anything. You write beautifully, and these Outcandour posts have enriched my Outlander viewing. Thank you for sharing them with us. Best to your family in this time with your ill pet.
    Slainte

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for those kind words- I really appreciate when people take the time to comment and let me know they enjoy the writing. It means so much. Best to your family as well. Stay safe ❤️

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  3. I’m glad you decided to write this, because I kept checking back to see your season wrap-up. Finding the thread throughout the season was, as always, a great take on the episode, too. Thank you for all of your posts this season.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so very sorry for the diagnosis of your fur baby. That’s not an easy thing in the best of times. Hugs! Thank you so much for all of your thoughtful/thought-provoking recaps this season. I haven’t missed one and have been challenged by each. This one was no exception. Simply beautiful and I love applying the concept of wholeness to the entirety of the season. Ep 512 was difficult to watch, but those final scenes took my breath away; Jamie giving one of my favorite quotes (“…if my last words aren’t I love you, you’ll ken it was because I dinna have time”) and that absolutely stunning final scene; “I feel safe”… whole. Jamie says in a later book (I don’t think it’s too spoilery!) “Am I not your army?” and I kept hearing that throughout this episode. Jamie is her army and she is a brave wee thing and without each other they are not whole. For those who wanted the arc of the story changed to eliminate what happened to Claire, I don’t think anything, in the entirety of the series hammered home just how much Claire NEEDS Jamie to remain whole quite the way that final scene did. Just stunning. I wish you a safe Droughtlander and hope your family continues to stay well!

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    1. I had forgotten the “Am I not your army” quote, but you’re right- it encapsulates how they complete each other. Thank you so much for reading and your thoughtful feedback ❤️

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  5. Thank you for this summing up. I have found all of your discussions of the episodes provided some thoughts on the underlying meaning that I hadn’t considered, or had only thought about peripherally. I am sorry that you have had bad news about your family pet. We have had quite a number of cats and some other pets over the years, and currently have 4 cats. It is never easy to deal with when one becomes ill.
    And, to answer your question at the beginning of your post, Yes! Never My Love is on instant replay in my head! How do I get it out?!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading, and for your kind words. It’s always hard with pets…they give us such unconditional love. And I’m not sure how to get songs out of one’s head- if you figure it out let me know!

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  6. Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful retrospective of Season 5. I liked the idea of “wholeness”. It even harks back to Episode 112-Lallybroch. Claire and Ian are having a conversation and Ian tells Claire “and Jenny made me whole again.” Our sense of being “whole” is a mental, not physical one. Isn’t that what Young Ian dresses Jamie down for in Ep 509? We all have lessons to learn in this journey called “life”. And if anyone can make the journey back to feeling “whole”, it’s Claire.
    I too looked forward to your synopsis each week and will miss them through this even longer Droughtlander. I wish the best to you and yours.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Your blog is the most thoughtful and insightful Outlander one that I’ve found. I appreciate your knowledge and intelligent synopses. I am so sorry about your pet. It is such a difficult and sad time, especially now, to lose a good friend. I will miss your posts and this will be the longest Droughtlander ever, I fear. Please stay safe!

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  8. “You are alive, you are whole.” Despite something terrible having happened – to Roger, and then to Claire. Previously to Jamie, and to Briana. And as you mention, Fergus and Marsali had very difficult childhoods. Thank you for picking up this thread from the whole season, and from Jamie and Claire’s journey together since they met. The other family members seem to draw wholeness from their relationship to these two, the main anchors for their lives. The idea of wholeness reflects the blessing and greeting of some of my Christian and Jewish friends: “Shalom”. I offer that to you and yours as I look forward to more of your writing in the Droughtlander time. Thank you once again! Xxx

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