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Outlander: Prestonpans

"War tastes bitter, no matter the outcome."

If this is victory, what will defeat be like?

The episode began with Claire encountering a dead body in the woods. "How many men had I seen killed in war? Far, far too many." A bit of foreshadowing there. Claire has realized that nothing they do will change the outcome of the Rebellion.

But Jamie is still trying, because there is no other alternative. With Claire's knowledge of the future guiding him, Jamie used his influence and backed Prince Charles' most sensible advisers. And continued to manage his difficult uncle.

Reconnaissance of the marshland between the Scots and British armies was necessary, so Jamie baited Dougal into doing it. In a powerful and even somewhat amusing scene, Dougal walked his horse into the bog and didn't flinch when the British started firing at him, even when they shot his hat off and creased his skull. Cheers from the Scots, applause and even an awkward hug from Prince Charles, and Dougal was the man of the hour. Jamie was clearly proud of him.

After a young man named Anderson gave them an unmarked path through the bog, Jamie again pushed Prince Charles to accept the lucky break they'd just been given. At dawn, in a literal fog of war, the Scots walked single file through the bog and took the British by surprise with a Highland charge. Again with the wily instead of the straightforward, like the cow offensive at Wentworth or the cotter pin commando raid.

This series is gutwrenchingly cinematic. I mean, look at this.

And again, the focus was on Dougal. Post battle, drunk with victory, he went from body to body and brutally killed the injured, including Lieutenant Foster, a decent redcoat we'd encountered before in season one. Why kill Foster? Because he told Dougal the truth: that the Scots won the battle, but cannot win the war.

Even in victory, men still died. This series constantly impresses me, and I was particularly moved by how they got this message across. Before the battle, best friends Ross and Kincaid made an agreement – if one of them fell, the other would take his possessions and care for his family. Angus thought that was a great idea and tried to do the same with his bestie, the reluctant Rupert. Later, Ross carried the dead Kincaid from the battlefield to Claire's field hospital, just as Angus dragged in the seriously injured Rupert. So concerned about losing his friend, Angus didn't seem to realize that he himself was bleeding internally from a cannon blast.

So Angus died, drowning in his own blood. He was crass and vulgar, but he was also one of the handful of men that risked their lives to free Jamie from Wentworth. What is a friend's life worth? Rupert rose from his hospital cot just as Angus died and saluted him with his own sword, keeping the bargain Angus had wanted him to make. I thought Rupert and Ross singing together for their dead best friends was incredibly touching. Come, let's drink while we have breath, for there's no drinking after death. Down among the dead men let him lie.

Even in an episode about a major historical battle and the death of an important character, this series never forgets that it is about Jamie and Claire. Yes, there was a typically romantic goodbye: a long kiss, an even longer look into each other's eyes, a brave "On your way, soldier" from her as he bowed and departed. When Jamie returned, covered with blood but elated with victory, Claire noticed the horseshoe print on his back and realized Jamie had been trampled by a horse.

Honestly, I can't think of any other love story in existence where the heroine handed the hero a mug and ordered him to give her a urine sample – and in front of an amused audience of injured Scots and British soldiers. It was so like Claire to demand it, and so like Jamie to obey her and then make a joke about it.

Like a particularly bad punchline, Prince Charles walked in as Jamie was obediently filling the mug, followed by Dougal, who put his foot directly into his mouth at the worst possible time. Again, Jamie thought quickly and managed to get Dougal a promotion instead of a court martial. Come on, Jamie. Dougal may be blood, but he is just not worth it. How many men did Dougal kill needlessly?

This battle proved to Jamie and Murtagh that Claire was right about Prestonpans, and we know she will be right about Culloden. This entire episode felt like foreshadowing, like fate closing in. History is right down the road, and there is no way to avoid it.


— We knew little Fergus would go off to fight and he did; he killed a British soldier with a knife. I thought at first that we were going to lose him. At least Fergus no longer thinks war is glorious. Maybe he'll be more amenable now to staying out of harm's way.

— It was absolutely infuriating that the Prince ordered Jamie to order Claire to treat the English wounded first, before the Scots. As if Claire would do that.

— In a little echo of the urine sample, Claire found the body in the opening scene because she was looking for a place to pee.

— Angus demanded a final kiss from Claire in case he died. I knew in that moment he wasn't going to make it. His romantic fixation on Claire has been comical as well as rather sweet. At least he died with her.

— Prince Charles wanted to actually lead the troops, but Jamie talked him out of it. I almost liked Prince Charles this time. Almost.

— Interestingly, the foggy battle scenes were filmed inside a huge white tent because they couldn't get the weather and the smoke to behave. I would never have known.

— The Battle of Prestonpans took place on September 21, 1745. It is just over six months until Culloden, which will occur on April 16, 1746.


Prince Charles: "Extraordinary fellow."
Angus: "That's Dougal MacKenzie. That's an old friend of mine. You are?"
Prince Charles: "I'm your prince. Charles Edward Stuart."
Angus: "Are you really? Did you hear that? I'm talking to the Prince!"

Dougal: "It's just a scratch. And now I'm off to change my breeks because the hero of the hour has shat his pants."

Jamie: "In Paris, I almost lost my marriage trying to stop all of this from happening. I failed."
Murtagh: "We. We failed."

Claire: "Watch over Jamie."
Murtagh: "Always. We will win the day, correct? It is the promise of history."
Claire: "Yes. We will win this day."

Jamie: "Regaining the throne would never mean as much to King James if the son that made it possible wasna there to share the moment with him."
Prince Charles: "A touching sentiment, James. Mark me, I don't believe my father is all that fond of me."

Murtagh: "Our losses can't number more than fifty men. The whole thing took all of fifteen minutes."

Dougal: (to Jamie) "You champion me and you exile me, both at the same time. That's a plan worthy of my brother Colum."

Murtagh: "I expected the flavor of victory to taste sweeter."
Jamie: "Aye. War tastes bitter, no matter the outcome."

So sad that half of Outlander's sidekick comedy team is now gone. Things will never be the same. Four out of four... I want to say urine samples, but that doesn't reflect the seriousness of this episode,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

  1. Watching the episode, I thought one line was the perfect pull quote. Great minds!



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