Episode 605: Give Me Liberty

Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 605: Give Me Liberty.

Give me lib-

Scratch that. Give me Lord John.

Actually, give me Lord John and Charles Stuart and “Mark me” and Season Two flashbacks. Give me Claire Fraser toking up with historical figures. Give me Jocasta and her MacKenzie manipulations. Give me foreshadowing about French gold. Give me sweet moments between Brianna and Roger and a carved wooden airplane and a pregnancy announcement. Give me Stephen Bonnet’s balls in a jar. Give me stolen gemstones and someone whistling the Colonel Bogey March. Give me all of Season Six, Outlander, because I simply cannot get enough.

But let’s back this up a bit. Two hundred thirty-five years, to be exact. Mr. James Madison, if you please?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

…or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…

…or the right of the people to peaceably assemble…

…and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

For any readers outside the United States, the above text is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It also seems to be the template for this excellent episode, and apparently we have James Fraser to thank for planting the seeds of true commonality into the minds of North Carolina’s Founding Fathers.

Although not explicitly stated within its text, the First Amendment also extends to the freedom of association, which is the right of an individual or an organization to form a group and take collective action for that group’s interests; we have a right to associate with others who might share our interests- religious, cultural, political, or otherwise- and, within the rights and freedoms of other amendments and laws, we cannot be punished for that association (unless that group is violent or harmful to others).

And association is a theme thoroughly explored in this episode. “I understand how my association with Governor Tryon must have appeared,” Jamie admits to Harnett. “I fear my name will be forever associated with him,” Flora MacDonald confesses to Claire and Jocasta, speaking of Charles Stuart. “You must dissociate yourself from them at once,” Lord John urges Jamie, regarding the Sons of Liberty. Claire’s name is still associated with her surgery at the Wilmington theater. Brianna worries how Roger’s association with Amy appears to the other Ridge residents. As with all things Outlander, association in this episode is both personal and political.

Moreover, as the series has argued more than once, so often politics are personal (Episode 105, Rent, examined this in depth). And that concept is also at the heart of this episode, which I thought was a subtle but intelligent commentary on our country’s often messy but beautiful experiment in democracy. Because it’s one thing to draft a declaration of independence, but it’s quite another to fight for it. It’s one thing to risk your own life, but it’s another to risk the lives of everyone you love. It’s one thing to say you believe in individual freedoms, but it’s another to allow others their own freedoms– to speak and worship and print and assemble and associate in ways that are in direct contradiction to that for which you stand. It’s complicated and hard and glorious and romantic and frustrating. It’s democracy and, hey, over two hundred years later? Well, we’re still figuring it out.

Indeed, what are you willing to sacrifice for freedom, Flora MacDonald asks of Charles Stuart as she helps him escape to Skye at the start of the hour. This was an exceptionally well-acted opening and I just love how ambiguously the British officer plays it here as he allows them to leave…we can never be truly sure of anyone’s association. The Skye Boat Song, sung in Gaelic as the credits chronicle Stuart’s escape, was also such a poignant touch…finally we see the song’s lyrics and meaning come to fruition.

Nearly thirty years later, Jamie and Claire are in Wilmington to attend a party in tribute to Flora and Lord John is in Wilmington to remind everyone how handsome he is (and also to help assuage Governor Martin’s fears that Jamie is aligning himself with rebels).

Jamie meets up with Cornelius Harnett, a future member of the Continental Congress, future signer of the Articles of Confederation, and for whom future Harnett County will be named. At current, he’s the chairman of the Sons of Liberty, a Freemason, and a man trying to enlist Jamie’s alliance.

Roger’s kept his word in helping the widow Amy McCallum, patching her hearth and absentmindedly singing a twentieth century song as he works. The song he sings, The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen, is about homesickness and loneliness and reminds us, as Jamie did earlier, why so many in the colonies would be reluctant to join the revolution– those colonists who have finally found a home would understandably be hesitant to sacrifice their relative peace and stability, especially for ideas about representation and self-governance that seem pretty far-fetched to eighteenth-century ears.

Brianna has meanwhile roped Marsali, Lizzie, and Malva into going for a walk in the woods and she’s made the rookie mistake of not bringing along enough snacks. Truly, this is every hike I have ever taken with my kids– everyone is tired and complaining and someone invariably ends up getting sick on the way home.

They discover a love charm, and Malva is quick to point the finger bone at Amy McCallum, prompting Brianna to have a heart-to-heart with Roger about how much time and energy he is investing in another woman’s home. I really loved how these two played this scene…Brianna isn’t jealous but she knows the power of appearances and gossip. Roger explains he’s just trying to keep up with Brianna in contributing to their community. “It’s nothing the Romans didn’t do,” Brianna shrugs as she dismisses her engineering inventions. But, as Roger reminds her, what she’s accomplishing is smart and novel and beyond the imagination of what anyone else around them is doing. It’s- wait for it- revolutionary. Democracy: also nothing the Romans didn’t do (kinda), but still novel for the eighteenth century.

Meanwhile, Claire convinces Jocasta and Flora to partake in the smoking of some hemp flower and Maria Doyle Kennedy’s cannabis-induced giggling in this scene was hilarious. Flora admits she didn’t really care for Charles Stuart or his politics but she was motivated to help him based on her own morality. Girl, same, we surmise from Claire.

Flora clearly has a bit of a girl crush- a tendresse, if you will- on Claire, and later uses her as inspiration for her speech. She implores the party attendees to remain loyal to the King, which they likely have no problem doing; the people at this party are probably some of the wealthiest in the Southern Colonies… why on earth would they want to overthrow a system from which they benefit?

Lord John singles out Jamie and asks him for reassurance that he’s not joining up with the Sons of Liberty. Jamie sort of hems and haws around the discussion…he has loyalties to his friends and his family but his loyalties also lie with his certain knowledge of the future. And, like Flora, he feels compelled to act based on his innate sense of morality.

Before they can finish their conversation, however, they’re called upon to intervene as a mob threatens the life of a Loyalist printer. “Better a printer up my ass than a fool with a torch!” is perhaps the best retort ever and I’ll be waiting for an appropriate time to use it. Perhaps the next PTA meeting.

Gosh, this recap is getting long. Apologies! Okay, Jamie realizes that Jocasta, as always, had ulterior motives in purchasing the printing press for Fergus– she wants influence and control over the news that’s printed (relevant!). Brianna reveals she’s pregnant (yay!). Malva’s crazy just got dialed up to eleven (blackmail! fingers!). Jamie breaks John’s heart (again!). John saves Jamie’s hide (again!). Roger’s not the only one humming a twentieth century song (mysterious prisoner!). Oh, and Claire’s still self-medicating with ether (sigh, no exclamation mark).

The line “Give me liberty, or give me death,” is attributed to Patrick Henry from a speech he made at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775. But the line was likely influenced by Cato, a Tragedy, a play that chronicled the last days of Cato the Younger and was wildly popular in the American Colonies. A dissenter during the rule of Julius Caesar and a defender of Roman republicanism, Cato the Younger chose death by suicide rather than live in Caesar’s tyrannical Rome. Patrick Henry, at the conclusion of his famous speech, pretended to plunge a letter opener in his chest, miming Cato’s death.

To be engaged in a revolution is to shift a paradigm of thought and the success of a revolution depends on the faith people have in that shift. It’s incomprehensible, Lord John exclaims in bewilderment at the thought of the revolution being successful and the colonists governing themselves. And, really, it is entirely incomprehensible. It’s ludicrous that it should ever have worked, and yet here we are.

We can’t all be time travelers, foreseeing the success of different political efforts. But if there’s one thing Outlander has taught us, it’s that the present is the future and the future is the past. So, time to call upon all lovers of history and politics (ahem, William, Eighth Earl of Ellesmere) to remind us that things that seem inconceivable aren’t entirely unprecedented. Julius Caesar was assassinated. Rome eventually fell. The most powerful countries in the world can be overthrown. Revolutions can win.

What do we do when faced with that which seems incomprehensible? Well, as Jamie tells the Sons of Liberty, we decide where our associations truly lie. We decide that for which we are willing to fight. Past or present, join or die, tyranny or democracy, liberty or death.


Special thanks to my friend Jess, one of the smartest women I know, who graciously helped me with all things Constitutional.

Screengrabs provided by Outlander-Online.

2 thoughts on “Episode 605: Give Me Liberty”

  1. Another great commentary! I am so impressed this season by how the writers are compressing the important elements of so many of the high points in the books into these episodes and still doing justice to the various story lines. I appreciated your thoughts on how the theme of association is explored in several ways.

    Liked by 1 person

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