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Outlander: The Ballad of Roger Mac

"It doesn't hurt a bit to die."

This was the best Outlander episode I've seen in awhile. Certainly the best of the season. So far.

For me, the prevailing feeling throughout was dread. We were meant to feel that something awful was coming, as Roger said goodbye to Brianna and Jemmy and went off to war, and Jamie woke to a milestone – his fiftieth birthday, a day his own father never saw. Brian Fraser died of shock at the age of 49 during Jamie's horrible ordeal at Fort William. Roger's father died even younger in World War II. Wow, no foreshadowing there at all.

Let me pause a moment to praise that lovely scene in the tent where Jamie and Claire talked about taking stock on their birthdays, and Claire mimicked Marilyn Monroe singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" as she made love to him. It was sweet, amusing, intimate, and very like the best of their love scenes in the books, much more to my taste than the one last week in the stable. More like this, please.

I also really liked the scene where Jamie anointed himself and prayed to the spirit of his uncle, Dougal MacKenzie. Although that choice was a bit strange, since Jamie and Claire were forced to kill Dougal right before the Battle of Culloden. Jamie said that Dougal would have understood why they had to do it. I'm not so sure.

The prayers didn't help, because the battle itself was wrong. Governor Tryon never had any intention to parlay. He had no respect for the Regulators as human beings, and the cruelty was the point. Tryon meant to crush the rebellion with one swift stroke, and that was exactly what he did. Redcoats and artillery versus farmers with knives and pitchforks. The Regulators had more soldiers, but no chance at all.

Jamie was forced to fight on the wrong side, and it was exemplified by that red coat Tryon forced him to wear, a symbol of all the terrible things that have happened to Jamie his entire life. I was surprised at how uncomfortable I was, seeing Jamie in that coat. Initially expressionless, Sam Heughan's eyes told us what Jamie was thinking. He wore that coat as if he was flinching away from it, as if he found it physically painful. When Claire saw Jamie wearing it, she knew exactly how he was feeling, too. "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ."

Did that red coat kill Murtagh? Would that exchange of shots have happened if Jamie hadn't looked like a redcoat?

Murtagh's death made me cry like a baby. But even more shocking than him dying under that tree, even more moving than his last words, was Jamie screaming "Help me!" – something I don't think we've ever heard him say. Dragging Murtagh's body to Claire and begging her to save him when deep down, he must have already known it was too late. Sobbing afterward, his hands literally covered with Murtagh's blood. Losing our parents is another huge milestone in our lives, and sadly, Murtagh was the only parent that Jamie had left.

The scene where Jamie took off the red coat and, shuddering with suppressed emotion, told Tryon off, was also powerful. Like the late Lieutenant Knox, Tryon thought he knew the real Jamie Fraser, but of course, he did not. Tryon was lucky that Jamie didn't kill him. I'm certain Jamie was considering it, no matter what it would have cost him. Gold acting stars for Sam Heughan; he gave an exceptional performance in this episode, beginning to end.

And that brings me to the shocking final moments, with Roger hanging from a tree, the white handkerchief of truce poking out of his pocket.

After showing great courage in volunteering to meet with Murtagh behind enemy lines, Roger was trying to do the right thing by saving his ancestor Morag and her family. But Roger was still a fish out of water in the eighteenth century, and a casual hug set off a fiery wave of jealousy in her husband, Buck MacKenzie. I kept thinking, did Jamie's prayer to his uncle Dougal somehow conjure up Dougal's son, Buck?

What a surprise that they brought Graham McTavish back to play him; I really hadn't expected it. We don't know how Roger ended up hanging from that tree, but Buck certainly had something to do with it. I assume we'll find out at some point.

Book versus series

What happened here was very close to what happened in The Fiery Cross. I found the series version more powerful, especially with the addition of Murtagh's demise. As mentioned before, Murtagh died at Culloden in the books. I was relatively certain, way back when Murtagh became leader of the Regulators, that he would probably die in this episode. Although I thought they would likely have him hung with Roger. I'm glad Murtagh died with Jamie, instead.

Book Murtagh's last words to Jamie were the same that they gave him in the series. Except they were on the battlefield at Culloden, and Jamie told Claire about it in the latter half of book three, Voyager.

Jamie never wore a red coat in The Fiery Cross, but it was an excellent dramatic choice. Did I read somewhere that it was Sam Heughan's idea? If so, good for him.

Bits and pieces:

— The title card vignette was a man writing the musical notes for "The Ballad of Roger Mac."

— Brianna galloped to the battlefield after realizing what battle was about to take place. I enjoyed the "What if we screw up the American revolution?" time travel meeting in the tent. Again, the eternal Outlander question, can they change history? So far, no.

— In the books, Buck looked like Geillis, not Dougal, and since he was born in 1744, he would have been around 27 here. Even with de-ageing and all that hair, Graham McTavish didn't look 27. But I still loved that they brought him back. It was a pleasant shock.

— The battle scenes, as always, were excellent. I was struck by how green everything was; interesting contrast, the green with the death. I also liked that Jamie insisted on backwoods tactics, even though it clashed with that red coat.

— One of the despicable Browns shot Isaiah Morton in the back. When Claire accused him, Lionel Brown said, "No woman speaks to me like that" and stepped on her glass hypo. Was that the only one Claire had? So much for all that work with the penicillin.

— Baby Jemmy looked older, and blonder. I hope that isn't implying that he's Bonnet's, especially after what just happened to Roger.

— No episode next week. The next episode will air April 12.


Jamie: "War's not like hunting. The deer and the possums aren't trying to kill you."

Roger: "If they wait, if you wait, in a few years, we'll all be fighting on the same side."
Murtagh: "Do ye ken how long a few years is to men who've lost everything?"

Jamie: "I appreciate the gesture, your Excellency, but I dinna think it proper for me to wear such a... garment."

Morag: "But he hasn't done anything."
Buck: "Listen to me. Ye think it's nothing when a man coories into ye in public like a common radge?"

Coories? Radge? Not important. We can tell what Buck meant.

Jamie: "Will ye wish me luck, then?"
Claire: "I can't let you go without saying something. I suppose 'good luck' will do. I love you, soldier."
Jamie: "'Good luck' will do. 'I love you' does so much better. That obituary Bree brought us, I dinna ken if it's true. But what I do ken is this. There may come a day when you and I shall part again, but it willna be today."

It is my considered opinion that Jamie and Claire should live together to a very old age, and then die together. Although Jamie's ghost in the pilot episode suggests that won't happen.

Jamie: "I released ye from yer oath. Ye had no cause to save me. Ye should have done as I asked."
Murtagh: "I'd never betray your mother, no matter who asked."
Jamie: "Ghoistidh." [Godfather.]
Murtagh: "Dinna be afraid, a bhalaich [beloved boy]. It doesn't hurt a bit to die."

Just typing that made me cry again. Murtagh's passing means that all of the original characters from season one are now gone, with the obvious exception of our leads.

An outstanding episode. Four out of four red coats,

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


  1. Excellent episode. Also devastating, dark. And we haven't even gotten to Bonnet yet. One that you pace around the living room trying to come down from. All four of the main stars brought their A games.

    For now I'm in denial about Roger, and hanging on to Billie & Josie's 10th rule for dear life, hoping April 12 will bring a pleasant surprise. But you seem to have accepted his death as fact. I know, you can't spoiler, Billie, and I respect that, but the fact that you've read all the books, and like a time traveler, you know the future, I'm worried now. Still, fingers crossed.

    Also a bit pissed that they used his death(?) to do a totally unnecessary cliffhanger. After 20 minutes of awful 18th century carnage, after Murtaugh, they couldn't show one more dead body. Why do that?

  2. milostanfield, they all did bring their A game, didn't they? Caitriona Balfe is always good, although it was definitely Sam Heughan's episode. Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton were great, too.

    I don't know why, but I keep thinking of what Geillis said to Claire about her baby, the only time she got to see him. "They let me hold him, and he was as warm as his father's balls." Buck didn't seem all that warm to me. :)

  3. Ah, Geillis! What a wonderful villain! I do miss her.

  4. This episode was such a gut punch. I've read the books which has prepared me for many of these moments. Oddly it was Jamie wearing that red coat that most unsettled me. Murtagh is one of my favorite series characters and like you mentioned in your review, our last link to season one. But I am comforted that this time around he got to see Jamie and Claire again and even meet Bri even if they didn't get enough scenes together.

    I don't know what it is about these last two seasons of Outlander, but they just feel different. it's like we barely spend time with the characters. Fergus is on screen for maybe 30 seconds each episode. I still love the show, but I am just not as excited for it as I used to be.

  5. Valerie, thanks for your comment. The series definitely changes, and I'll agree that the first three seasons are the strongest. It's probably the difference between characters in their twenties in Scotland, and characters in their forties in America. It's a different feel.

  6. It was very interesting that they cast a child that looks so much like Bonnet (not just the blond hair, but his face around the eyes as well) for the slightly older Jemmy.

    Yeah, I'm definitely not enjoying the show as much with it set in America (and that's with the American Revolution being one of my favorite periods of history). Maybe just too much of a frontier feel?

  7. While I think the first two and a half seasons were the strongest, there's something I really enjoy about seeing Jamie and Claire getting older. It's a subversion of the happily-ever-after thing, and an affirmation that older people have passionate love affairs, too.

    I should have said fifties, not forties, in my previous comment, since Jamie just turned fifty and Claire is at least four years older than he is.

  8. I started watching the show partway through season 3 I think (or maybe the beginning of season 3) so I haven't seen the earlier episodes. I really like the frontier feel and the American setting, though it's increasingly obvious how much younger the actors are than their characters!

  9. Juls, you haven't seen season two??? It's my favorite.

    The lead actors both turned, or are turning, 40 this year, so they're not *that* much younger than their characters. They were both 34 when the series began and were playing characters in their twenties then. They do definitely look different now than they did in the pilot episode.

  10. I watched the pilot ages ago (and commented here, which I'd forgotten!) but then didn't get around to keeping up with it until I moved in with Justin and he watches it, so I came back in at the beginning of season 3. I've been meaning to catch up, if Justin ever gets back to work he'll be travelling a lot and hopefully I can watch it then!

  11. Juls, I'm glad that Justin got you watching. I did the same thing -- watched the pilot, and then I didn't get back to it for quite awhile. I hope you do get a chance to catch up on the earlier episodes.

  12. Excuse me while I get another box of tissues. OK -- better.

    As Claire pulled the sheet over Murtaugh's face, I realized that we have just said goodbye to the last of the initial Scotland tribe. They are all either dead or back in the home country. I have loved Murdoch since his conversation with Jamie in the stable before Jamie's wedding. Since then, he has always been there, always keeping his word to Ellen.

    But, speaking of the first season, when I heard "Dougal's" voice, I shouted at the TV. When they first showed Buck, I had to pause the screen to make sure I was looking at what I was looking at. What a genius move to bring McTavish back as Dougal's son. Although, he's still a hothead, isn't he.

    Again, flashing back to the first season, Jamie putting on that red coat gave me chills. All I could think of was Black Jack. The thoughts that must have gone through Jamie's head as he slipped it on I can't even imagine. I cheered when it threw it at Tyron's feet.

    What a great episode. Seriously. Just when I am finding this series nothing but eye rolling, they give me an episode like this and I back in.

  13. I just went back and double checked my gut feeling. Murtaugh is the Scot who rescues Claire from Black Jack right after she has come through the stones in the first episode. In effect, he was the first person she met and it was he who took her to Jamie.

    What a role he has played. Sigh...

  14. Josie "Sad about this Ep" KafkaTuesday, May 19, 2020 at 1:23:00 AM EDT

    Milo, thank you for invoking the 10th Law of TV! I am also holding out hope for poor Roger.

    I also liked that Jamie insisted on backwoods tactics, even though it clashed with that red coat.

    Whenever I see the redcoats, I think of that skit--it must by Monty Python, but I'm not sure--about the French going to their first WWI battle wearing literal targets. (A dig at the fact that it took the French a while to realize that 20th-century warfare wasn't about bright colors.) Guerilla tactics and the British uniform have the same issues.

  15. Here are my notes on the podcast for "The Ballad of Roger Mac," episode 5x7. Commentary was by showrunner Matt Roberts. He said that the performances in this episode were phenomenal, as well as the writing and direction, and the production values were off the charts -- a stellar episode.

    The writers started talking about Murtagh's possible death at Alamance all the way back in season three. Roberts told Duncan Lacroix at the beginning of the season five because he didn't want him to find out just reading a script, and Lacroix said he had felt it coming.

    Murtagh's death was a such a huge moment for the series since Lacroix was the last member of the original cast (other than Sam and Cait). They did some additional filming of Murtagh's death scene a month later because they wanted to get it right. (You can see Sam's breath in some scenes and not in others because the second time, it was colder.) Roberts also said Lacroix is a terrific guy and everyone was sad about losing him as a colleague.

    Roberts said that some shows have car chases and battles, etc., but where Outlander lives and breathes is the connection between Jamie and Claire. The tent scene was intended to show what Jamie was fighting for. It was Sam Heughan's idea that Jamie don a red coat. Roberts didn't like the idea initially because he didn't think it was something Jamie would do (obviously, Roberts changed his mind). He said Sam knocked it out of the ball park with his performance.

    The Alamance battle scene was different from all the others they've done because they had to film intimate scenes like Murtagh's death, so it had to be wooded. They did a lot of second unit shooting this time because it was a huge episode with so many extras and there was so much to fill in.

    Production notes:

    Roberts praised Tim Downie's performance as Tryon, Sophie Skelton's, and of course, Sam Heughan's.

    Caitriona improvised the birthday song in the tent.

    They didn't pre-record Richard singing; they just filmed it live. Richard has an amazing voice.

    They digitally de-aged Graham, like they did with Duncan in that scene at the opening of the season. Buck has a lot of Dougal's qualities, too.

    They created the medical tent twice, on location and in the studio, in case of weather.

    During Murtagh's death scene, the "blood" was full of sugar that drew wasps that had to be taken out digitally.

    The night scenes with Roger and Murtagh required careful planning because in summer in Scotland, it's only full dark between eleven and three a.m.


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