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