Raise up that MVP trophy, folks, and hand it right over to Lauren Lyle. What an incredible performance. Let’s discuss this week’s excellent episode.
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 602: Allegiance
Allegiance, noun: 1. Loyalty, devotion, or commitment to a person, group, or cause; 2. the fidelity owed by a citizen to a sovereign or government.
This episode kept its own sort of allegiance, in that it stuck extremely close to the source material of the novels. With rare exception (notably, the ether use, which I think has been discussed ad nauseam at this point), nearly every scene and a good chunk of the dialogue this hour kept fidelity to the books. And when an episode so tightly adheres to the novels it can be difficult to parse what the episode’s writers perhaps intended theme-wise. But it’s all there in the title, in that nearly every character explores what it means to be faithful to those we love (Jamie and Claire, Marsali and Fergus, Ian and his indigenous family), or devoted to a belief system we hold or has been forced upon us (Tom and Malva Christie), or loyal to a government that cannot be fully trusted (the Cherokee).
Episode 602 was co-written by Alyson Evans and Steve Kornacki, who also teamed up to write last season’s Perpetual Adoration (505), another episode that explored the concept of devotion, the ramifications of time-travel, and the expectations for women in centuries two hundred years apart. Similar to Perpetual Adoration, this episode also references Greek mythology in understanding how our characters balance the burden of fate and pre-determinism against free will. You look like Atlas, Brianna tells her father, recalling the Greek Titan who was sentenced by Zeus to hold up the heavens for all of eternity. As the myth goes, whoever assumed Atlas’s burden was destined to carry it forever. Such is the also case with our characters– once they assume the burden of knowledge of the future they are also destined to carry it forever.
The reference to Atlas is also interesting in that they myth itself is rooted in a story about allegiance. In Greek mythology, war was waged between the Olympians (the new gods) and the Titans (the old gods). Gods and goddesses were forced to declare their own allegiances, hedging their bets as to which side would ultimately be victorious. The myth is an early story of political loyalty and why we choose a side on which to fight. Ultimately, as in this episode, much of it came down to family– most of the Titans, descended from the same genealogy, banded together to fight against the ultimately victorious Olympians, who were the siblings and offspring of Zeus. (Incidentally, Atlas’s brother was Prometheus, who famously introduced fire to humankind and is also obliquely referenced in this episode via Brianna’s invention of matches.)
With the knowledge of what will ultimately be a victory for the American rebels, our characters also must deftly navigate metaphorical old gods (Britain) and new gods (the United States), and choose their allegiances accordingly. “The land of milk and honey,” snarls Tom as he rages against Malva, using a phrase that is used to describe the United States but is also a reference to Zeus, who was fed milk and honey as an infant while he hid from his Titan father. A new world order (a New World order? there’s a metaphor hiding somewhere in there) threatens to usurp what is known; choices must be made.
And while we’re on the subject of old gods versus new gods, the conflict of Catholicism versus Protestantism is prominent again in this episode, with some tense dialogue exchanged between Tom and Jamie over the building of the church. Ever the careful navigator, Jamie effectively convinces Tom that the building should be a meetinghouse, open to people of all allegiances.
The episode opens with Jamie and Ian visiting the Cherokee, who implore Jamie to deliver them more firearms. The Cherokee are understandably frustrated that their previous allegiances (via early trade agreements and their involvement in the French and Indian War), are being taken for granted as settlers continue to ignore established treaty lines. As Claire and Brianna point out later in the episode, the Cherokee and other tribes are in a no-win situation– no matter where they pledge their loyalty they will ultimately suffer. Which is partially the reason Jamie decides to aid them later in the episode– Jamie wants to give them the best chance possible against future injustices. As he explains, Ian’s loyalty is to them and Jamie’s loyalty is to Ian, neatly tying into this episode’s themes of devotion. Jamie’s earlier refusal of the Cherokee women, in the name of allegiance to Claire, is also thematically supportive.
Claire, meanwhile, continues to tend to Tom Christie’s injured hand and again asks him to consider letting her surgically repair his other hand that is affected by Dupuytren’s contracture. Take note of Malva’s costuming this hour, as she is dressed in blue throughout the episode. As we know, blue is a color in Outlander that is often tied to Claire, and indeed Claire also wears shades of blue in this episode. The two characters are connected via their costuming, and we slowly see Malva’s understanding of the world altered as she spends more time in Claire’s presence. Malva’s allegiances, as imparted to her by her father’s dogma, are gradually changing. And this is likely why Tom attempts to beat Malta later in the hour… he is as much frustrated by this dogmatic shift as his inability to grasp his belt. Poor Claire doesn’t realize that an allegiance she took long ago- her Hippocratic Oath- will ultimately result in further abuse for Malva once she fixes Tom’s hand.
Marsali is in the last few days of her fourth pregnancy, and Lauren Lyle did an amazing job in this episode of conveying the sadness and frustration that come when we are angry with our loved ones but also empathetic to their pain. She and César Domboy are just really wonderful together, and their relationship is wholly believable. A marriage vow is a form of allegiance, but that allegiance can be challenged in the face of certain obstacles (depression, alcohol, domestic labor inequality).
I was rather amused with everyone’s lackluster (pun intended) reaction to Brianna’s invention of matches. Honestly, the “it works just fine the way it is” attitude is a pretty accurate portrayal of how many (most?) people respond to new technology. Indeed, over my life I’ve given an underwhelmed shrug to the following inventions: credit card readers at gas pumps, digital cameras, and smart phones. All of which, it should be said, I now cannot imagine living without.
Marsali and Fergus’s fourth child, Henri-Christian, is born with achondroplastic dwarfism, and I thought these scenes were extraordinarily written and acted, imparting sensitivity and understanding with relatively little dialogue. Marsali sees her new son as nothing less than perfect, speaking of the unconditional allegiance mothers have for their children.
And this allegiance- one that speaks of love and reassurance- is a reminder of why we give allegiance to a country or a person or a cause in the first place: because we want some sort of promise that we will be taken care of. We pledge allegiance to a country in exchange for its constitutional rights. We pledge allegiance to our family because they offer us safe harbor and love. We pledge allegiance to a cause because it helps unburden our conscience. We pledge allegiance to religion or religious customs because want assurance for our souls. When Mrs. Wilson unexpectedly awakens at her own funeral, Roger implores her to resolve herself with God– essentially, to confirm her allegiance to Him in her final moments. Special shout-out to Richard Rankin, who managed to emote shock, confusion, humor, and gravitas all within about ninety seconds of acting.
Allegiance has an interesting history in the United States, in that the Supreme Court established fairly early on that citizens of the United States can have dual citizenship…that they can pledge allegiance to more than one country. And so we see our characters this hour also exist in various forms of duality: Claire is a healer but also needs healing; Tom is a pious man who acts in immoral ways; Brianna is a modern woman living in an antiquated time; Ian was born Scottish but has a Mohawk family; Jamie acts as an agent of the Crown but he knows of (and empathizes with) the impending revolution. Fergus loves his family but does not feel worthy of their love. And so on.
Brianna makes a seemingly off-hand remark this episode about white phosphorous, in that it is safe until it is exposed to air. But I have a feeling this line speaks to the challenges and themes of this season more broadly– things are peaceful until a catalyst blows everything apart. The relations between the Cherokee and the settlers, Brianna and Roger’s decision to remain in the 18th century, the reluctant truce between Tom Christie and Jamie…everything seems tranquilly inert, waiting to spontaneously ignite given the right conditions. Our characters’ world is outwardly peaceful, threatened to be torn apart by Zeus’s lightning, with allegiances determining where exactly that bolt will strike.
p.s. I was very happy to see Adso and Rollo back this episode, however briefly. As a veterinarian I can assure you that in terms of allegiances, dogs give allegiance to us and cats demand allegiance from us, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.