Well, that was quite lovely. Let’s discuss.
Warning- Contains spoilers for Outlander Episode 604: Hour of the Wolf.
The title of this episode speaks to the literal hour we spend with Ian as he recounts his time among the Mohawk, an hour in which we meet Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa, “Emily,” of the wolf clan, and we learn the name given to Ian upon his adoption into the tribe: Okwaho’kenha, “Wolf’s Brother.”
But the title of the episode is also likely referencing the 1968 movie of the same name, itself based on Swedish folklore, in which “the hour of the wolf” is defined as: “the hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are more real…when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when ghosts and demons are most powerful…the hour when most children are born.” Generally assumed to be the hours between 3-5am, vargtimmen (“wolf hour”) is a familiar feeling for most of us; who hasn’t lain awake in the small hours of the morning, wracked with anxiety or guilt or grief? Alone in our own insomniac hours of the wolf, most of us have had nights that seem to stretch on with indefinite despair.
And indeed, a great deal happens plot-wise in this episode within those early morning hours. Over the course of this episode, which I appreciated for its thoughtfully slow pace, we see Ian fall in love, celebrate two pregnancies, grieve their loss, and struggle with his identity, all under the thin light of the moon.
Most interestingly for this episode, I thought, was the way the writers chose to mirror Ian, Emily, and Kahereton’s relationships with that of Jamie, Claire, and Frank’s. It’s a connection I didn’t draw upon myself when I read the novel, but it was beautifully constructed in this episode as an obvious parallel. Although both stories consist of a love triangle of sorts, however, here there are no one-to-one analogies for the characters. At times Ian is Claire, an outlander or outsider welcomed into a “clan,” who falls in love and finds their place but is eventually forced to return to their original life. At other times the connection is made between Ian and Jamie– two men who released their wives to another man for safekeeping. Finally, at times Ian is a stand-in for Frank– a man who is still in love with a woman who has chosen a life (and a love) without him.
With those connections established, it seems necessary to revisit Episode 201, Through a Glass, Darkly, in which we see Claire return to Frank in the twentieth century. There were a few visual cues tying the two episodes together; Claire’s nearly identical costuming and Jo and Lizzie waking up from anesthesia (aka their own standing stones) are the most obvious.
But there were thematic tie-ins, as well. In both episodes our characters struggle to see things clearly– they are seeing through a glass, but darkly, with their perspective obscured. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” We often cannot see things as they truly are in the moment; only with time do we learn why things happened the way they did. Ian may not fully understand the many turns his life has taken in recent months, but with time and distance, the passage assures us, all will make sense.
Indeed, time and distance are prominent themes in this episode. Jamie sends Fergus to Cross Creek, giving him both time and distance away from the Ridge. Claire’s testing of ether on Jo and Lizzie is also an experiment of sorts in time– upon waking up both test subjects feel as though no time has passed at all. Jamie warns Bird Who Sings In The Morning of the eventual forced relocation of the Cherokee, an event in which tens of thousands of people will be displaced at a great distance from their home. Even Scotchee and Kahereton’s duel is thematically relevant, as both men count their steps in time and in distance before drawing fire.
But, as in Episode 201, it is clear that sometimes there is never enough time and distance to fully heal that which hurts us. Claire resolves to live with Frank, but she never stops mourning her loss of Jamie. Ian more or less gives Kahereton and Emily his blessing, but his own heartbreak still exists. We can make peace with where we are in time and space, but peace is not the same as healing– a grief can still exist inside our heart, but we learn to make peace with its presence.
This weekend my family finally got around to watching The Adam Project, which is a decidedly faster, more futuristic, more Ryan Reynolds-y time traveler story compared to Outlander. Still, we were all pretty charmed by the film, especially my kids, who are still too young to recognize some of the more familiar time traveler tropes employed in the movie.
Which led me to think about the genre as a whole. The reason time traveler stories endure- why they have such a lasting appeal and continue to engage audiences for each new generation- is what they have to offer to both their fictional characters and the movie viewers: a chance to have and believe in second chances. But what this episode deftly illustrates is that sometimes we need no standing stones at all– we can redeem ourselves and take that second chance in our present. Ian once again proves himself a man of worth when he saves Kahereton’s life. By the end of this episode- the end of Ian’s hour of the wolf- we find him looking once again toward morning.
Call yourself anything you like, Jamie assures Ian with the confidence and experience of a man who has lived through many a tribulation and has adopted just as many aliases. There has always been discussion in the Outlander fandom about whether or not Jamie could or should time travel (note: Diana Gabaldon has repeatedly said no way), but ultimately it doesn’t really matter. If we are lucky enough to live a long life and be touched by love, in the end it feels as though we have time-traveled regardless. Like someone waking from anesthesia, time passes us by in the blink of an eye. At some point we all find ourselves trapped in vargtimmen, but we learn to count the hours and know eventually the morning will come.
Screengrabs provided by Outlander-Online.com