Outlander: The Battle Joined

"Am I dead?"

Jamie fights a war as Claire battles sexism.

Finally. The much anticipated and dreaded Battle of Culloden. Much of it was shown in flashback from Jamie's perspective as he drifted in and out of consciousness, trapped under a redcoat's body. Cinematically, it was as gritty and impressive as every other major scene in this series: the Scots charging into the British lines through volleys of bullets, the bloody chaos of hand-to-hand combat. Jamie actually killed a redcoat by pushing a clump of grass and sod down the man's throat.

And finally – the long-awaited death of Black Jack Randall. Jamie and Jack saw each other across the crowded field, eagerly ran to each other like lovers and engaged, fighting viciously until they were staggering with exhaustion. As the grievously wounded Jamie finally took his revenge with a mortal blow, the dying Jack threw himself at Jamie and embraced him.

What were they trying to say here? That in his horribly twisted way, Jack Randall loved Jamie? Certainly, Jack was sexually obsessed with Jamie, but I can't accept that it was anything resembling love. What worked for me was the reveal that it was Black Jack's body covering the barely conscious Jamie, protecting him as the other injured Scots on the battlefield were being killed. As if in death, Black Jack gave Jamie the tiniest bit of recompense for the horrible things he'd done to him.

I thought this was one of Sam Heughan's best performances, especially the close-ups of Jamie's stark, hopeless face, his colorless eyes staring at the sky as he waited for death. As the snow began to fall, he hallucinated Claire dressed in white, walking through the battlefield toward him. "Are you alive?" she asked, and turned into Rupert MacKenzie. As his friends carried him off the field, Jamie dropped the piece of amber, his last remembrance of Claire.

As horrible as the actual battle was, the scenes afterward at the barn were worse. The Scots were wounded, defeated, devastated down to their very souls. There was no need for them to die. But the Duke of Cumberland's orders were that they all be executed, so die they did. What a heartbreaking and pointless waste of life. Again, we saw the executions from Jamie's perspective as he lay prone and helpless in the straw, unable to do anything to change his own fate or that of his fellow soldiers. He even refused to have a letter written to his family, and said simply of Claire, "She's gone."

Still ambulatory and no longer pissed about Dougal's murder, Rupert MacKenzie argued for the lives of the two teenage boys, but in vain. When it was Rupert's turn, he said goodbye to Jamie with a joke, and spoke of meeting Angus in the afterlife. It was so sad to see Rupert go. He's been with this series from the pilot.

When every Scot that could walk was shot, it was time for the seriously wounded, followed by a large helping of karma. When Jamie volunteered to go first, Lord Melton was shocked to hear Jamie's full name. The mercy that Jamie once showed toward Melton's brother, the sixteen-year-old John William Grey, saved his own life. Lord Melton was a man of honor, at least when it came to his own brother, although I find it hard to assign such a description to anyone who could so easily execute all of those wounded, helpless men.

Believing that Jamie would die of his wounds anyway, Lord Melton sent him home to Lallybroch in the back of a wagon. Home to Jenny and Ian.

The battle and its aftermath took less than a week for Jamie. The passage of time didn't sync as months passed for Claire. And yet, they both took a similar emotional journey from despair to hope.

In 1948, Claire tried to be the wife that Frank wanted as they bought a house and settled into life in Boston. I thought Claire's battle with the kitchen stove was a great way to show how difficult she found this new life. One would assume that for a woman accustomed to cooking over a campfire, a modern stove would be a great convenience – but Claire couldn't even manage to light it. So of course she went out for firewood and cooked in the fireplace, instead.

At a faculty gathering, Claire was supposed to just look pretty when she met the boss; instead, she dared to contribute a political opinion, drawing the Dean's disdain. He even discounted Claire's battlefield contribution during the war, saying that it was just the little women "pitching in" at a time of crisis.

At least Frank showed pride in Claire's accomplishments, and kept trying to love her as if the past three years hadn't happened. I couldn't help but feel a twinge for him as she kept him at a distance, flinching away when he tried to touch her. Jamie's name was never mentioned, but his ghost was in the room with them, always on her mind as well as present in her very pregnant body. It was inevitable that Frank would eventually confront her with her infidelity.

As Claire went into labor, she was again treated like a decorative moron in the hospital. Her perfectly reasonable demand to stay awake for the birth was ignored, and the doctor pointedly talked with Frank, not with her. There was yet another awkward moment when Frank told the doctor it was Claire's first baby; she had never told him about Faith. And in a very similar scene to the one in l'Hôpital des Anges, Claire woke up alone, realized that her baby bump was gone, and asked frantically, "Where is my baby?"



But the ending this time was different. Frank brought her a living, breathing daughter, and their mutual joy signaled that maybe their marriage was going to work after all. Until, like a splash of cold water, the nurse said, "Where'd she get the red hair?" and Jamie Fraser was once again in the room. He won't be easily dismissed from their lives.

The two distinct sections of this episode were parallel emotional journeys from despair to hope. Jamie lived, and his daughter lived. But throughout, Claire and Jamie were going through the motions. They often looked off into the distance, their minds elsewhere. Outlander doesn't do the obvious; they never spoke of each other. But we knew what they were thinking.

Bits:

— The new credit sequence is more orchestral than the previous one, and included bits of Culloden. And this episode began with a pan over a pile of dead bodies, all Scots.

— There was a good bit of Jack Randall as well as a lot of Frank Randall, and I swear this time that I didn't even think of it being the same actor. Tobias Menzies has done such an exceptional job of making Jack and Frank into two different people.

— Claire expressed an interest in becoming an American citizen, but Frank was strongly opposed. Maybe it felt like yet another rejection of him on her part.

— When Jamie was at his lowest point, he saw a living rabbit on the moor, a sign of rebirth.



— We saw Murtagh during the fight, but not afterward. What happened to Murtagh?

— Frank wrote to Reverend Wakefield and asked him to do research on James Fraser; we saw the result in the previous episode, "Dragonfly in Amber." As the clerk in the barn recorded each man's name before execution, I kept thinking of the Reverend finding that very log.

— When Claire initially came through the stones back in the pilot episode, she left her gray shawl on the grass. One of the flashbacks here was Jamie at the stones after Claire had gone, lifting that shawl to his face. Some lovely continuity there.

— It's ironic that Claire's eighteenth century marriage to Jamie was much more of a partnership. I kept thinking that Claire shouldn't be cooking Frank's dinner; she should be treating Jamie's battle wounds.

Quotes:

Rupert: "Do we run for it?"
Killick: "I'm not running anywhere. Barely a man here can stand."
Rupert, you should have run for it.

Dean: "Professor Randall, you're going to have to pay closer attention to your wife's reading habits. She keeps reading The Globe, the next thing you know, she'll be trying to get women into Harvard Law."
Claire: "Harvard Medical enrolled female students three years ago."

Lord Melton: "Does any man here claim innocence of treason?"
Rupert: "No, my Lord. Traitors all. Shall we be hanged, then?"
Lord Melton: "You will be shot. Like soldiers."
Rupert: "Thank you, my Lord."

Frank: "Can you walk away from your heritage that easily? Hastings and Magna Carta, Drake, Marlborough, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Plantagenets. These are things I fought a war for."
And I was thinking, what about the oppression of the Scots and the horror of Culloden? Did you fight for the glory of that?

Rupert: "Rupert Thomas Alexander MacKenzie. I mean to set a quick pace, so try to keep up."
As last words go, Rupert, not bad at all.

Jamie: "Either shoot me, or go away."

Lord Melton: "John Grey is my brother. He told me of his meeting with you, that you had spared his life, and he made you a promise. Is that true?"
Jamie: "Aye. He promised to kill me. But I dinna mind if you do it for him."

Claire: "I'm glad I missed you with that ashtray."
Frank: "Your aim was spot on. It was my cat like reflexes that saved me."

A powerful episode. Four out of four rabbits,

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

2 comments:

GourmetGal said...

Ruperts last words kill me every time I watch this episode.

Billie Doux said...

GourmetGal, I so agree. This episode was heartwrenching in so many ways.