You’re never truly alone, my friends, when your scalp is covered in hundreds of parasitic insects. I think I speak for most parents when I say I’ll stand before a Committee of Safety over a head full of lice any day. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ…I shudder at the memories. Not enough whisky in the world, dear readers. Not nearly enough.
In any case, shall we discuss the Season Six finale?
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 608: I Am Not Alone.
I know the original scheduling for this season had to be reworked due to the pandemic, but you’d never know it watching this finale. Truly, this episode felt as though it was intended to be the finale all along, as it managed to neatly reference every other episode this season in regards to story and theme. Indeed, the other seven episodes seem to echo (601) within this one: Tom beseeching others to behave with honor and temperance (603); Claire and Jamie finding and consoling each other as they lie awake in their hour of the wolf (604); angry mobs attempting to assault the Frasers with sticks and stones (607); discovering that Wilmington has been turned upside down in the name of liberty (606, 605); and, finally, the Cherokee coming to Jamie’s aid in an act of allegiance (602).
We’ve had another eight-episode season finale before with Both Sides Now from Season One (which I know wasn’t technically a season finale, but given the long break between Episodes 108 and 109 it was written as such), and there were a number of visual call backs to that episode within this one, with both opening in the twentieth century and ending with Claire imprisoned.
But whereas the Claire of Episode 108 needed a lesson in protecting herself (one of my favorite Angus moments), the Claire of 608 needs no such instruction. And so, not only did we see a lovely character arc for her for this season (absolutely no Lionel Brown or ether use this hour), in this episode we are also witnessing an overarching arc for Claire that spans those thirty years. While the Claire of Season One was never incapable (she was a war veteran, after all), she was often naive. Having served on the front lines may have given her an understanding of the fragility of civilization on a grand scale, but upon finding herself in the eighteenth century she was not prepared for how easily civilization collapses on a personal scale—mobs are infectious, friendly neighbors become torch-bearing enemies, and moral order is easily lost. The Claire of this episode has no such delusions, and her stealth hidden weapon move at the start of the hour was reminiscent of some of the best cinematic elements of Western films. Somewhere Angus and Rupert are watching this whole thing unfold, cheering on their girl as she handles her own.
What’s more, while Jamie and Claire in Both Sides Now were newlyweds in awe of their connection but still imperfect in their communication, these characters now move in tandem, anticipating the other’s thoughts and actions. It’s as if every trial and complication of the previous five seasons existed as preparation for this stand-off with Richard Brown.
(Brief shout-out to Adso and cats everywhere who do not care that the world is ending as long as they get fed).
The doo-wop song that plays in the diner at the start of the episode is “Suffering With My Heart” by The Endeavors (the band also went by the name The Jaynetts), and it certainly would have been an apt song for Claire at this time in her life. But the person truly suffering with his heart this hour is Tom Christie, a man who is almost unrecognizable in his anguish. Mark Lewis Jones was fantastic in this episode, conveying with his whole being a man who is losing his grip on a previously held dogma. His hair is unkempt, his posture is downcast, and his sadness is palpable. Like Claire, he has perhaps compartmentalized much of his life, placing people in convenient categories in order to impart a certain truth on his world. But his world in recent weeks has been shattered and he, in turn, has come undone.
It was nice to spend time with the MacKenzie family in this episode, although I found their rather lackadaisical approach to Jem’s lice humorously unrealistic, as my solution to my family’s lice infestation a few years ago was to Burn. All. The. Things. But I appreciated their conversation about when to tell Jem about time traveling, as I think it spoke to what this episode addressed thematically: when do we decide to speak our truth? And what happens when we decide to do so? As Brianna explains, some truths are best learned early on. As Roger counters, some truths are best shared when the audience is ready to accept them.
And so we see everyone at the heart of this week’s conflict weighing when and how to let their truths be known. Jamie and Claire are practically shouting their truth at the Ridge inhabitants, but it falls on deaf ears. Tom’s internal struggle is written all over his face…he’s almost to an understanding and sharing of his truth, but he’s not quite there yet. Malva’s murderer (I’m trying to leave this as spoiler free as possible), refuses to let the truth be known. The truth of Jem’s parentage was a nice reveal, and the sweet look on Sophie Skelton’s face was completely endearing.
Ian had some really great moments in this episode, and Surprise-Save-Your-Life Ian is my favorite (he shows up quite a bit in the later novels). This hour served as a nice coda to Hour Of The Wolf, proving once and for all that Ian is a man who exists in both his worlds effectively and compassionately. But I’ve always thought that Diana Gabaldon created this character as the perfect blend of both his parents—with his father’s genuine loyalty and his mother’s smart fortitude, he is as much a combination of his parents as he is Scottish and Mohawk. Never leaving Jamie’s side? That’s all Ian. Showing up on a ridge to deliver a fatal blow to your enemy? That’s all Jenny.
As the writers and producers have explained, this season of Outlander explored the idea of the threats to Jamie and Claire coming from within. Whereas in other seasons the trials and challenges come from outside their world, here the disruption to their stability occurs on their own land and from their own people. And, really, it’s a broader concept for what is happening concurrently with the American Colonies during this time. As the brief glimpses of a conflict-ravaged Wilmington show us, this war started at home, erupting when pressures among its inhabitants could no longer hold. The fisher folk have turned against the Frasers in the same ways that Loyalists and Patriots have turned against each other. Specifically and generally, the greatest dangers this season emerge close to home, making it all the more heartbreaking. Then again, politics is personal in Outlander and it always has been.
I thoroughly enjoyed this season and felt it was one of the strongest in the history of the series, and as a book reader I had a sense of warm recognition for much of these episodes. But I know the season was quite polarizing within the fandom, the often quieter pace and Claire’s ether use being the most frequently discussed topics I saw on social media.
But I appreciated this season for its deliberate character examinations, for just as the threats this season emerged at home, the conflicts for so many of our characters similarly emerged from within. The Christie family…well, put a pin in that for next season. Marsali and Fergus struggled with marital discord, depression, and substance use. Ian wrestled with his place and worth within his two worlds. Roger and Brianna sought to find their roles in a century in which they do not belong. Claire grappled with the processing of her trauma. Jamie’s role was to help these other characters work through their conflicts…that’s what good leaders do.
So while these personal struggles did not always make for the most action-packed episodes, they spoke a truth to the human condition that is relevant no matter the century. Most of our life’s struggles come from within, and sometimes watching that demonstrated in our favorite characters feels uncomfortable in its familiarity. Life is sometimes messy and hard and complicated…that’s the truth we speak when we are ready to accept it. But we are not alone. When we sow trust and love we reap support and solidarity. Tom assures Claire that the Lord delivers the righteous out of danger, but I suspect he is a man who is just now learning that such deliverance is often manifested through those we love. Whether in faith or in family, we are never alone.
p.s. Dinna fash, Sassenachs. I have a feeling Season Seven is less than a year away.
Screengrabs provided by Outlander-Online.