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Outlander: Better to Marry Than Burn

The title of this episode didn't make much sense to me. Although it was sort of about marriage. And sort of about burning. Or possibly about the danger of making a pass at a woman married to Jamie Fraser.

The gold acting stars this week go to Maria Doyle Kennedy, who stole this episode with a moving assist by Duncan Lacroix. On the eve of her wedding to Duncan Innes, Jocasta received a secret visit from Murtagh, who had the nerve to ask her to call off the wedding and wait for him.

The tragic flashback to 1746 and the aftermath of Culloden explained how Hector and Jocasta wound up as rich plantation owners in North Carolina, and why Jocasta won't bet her life on Murtagh. Hector Cameron seemed to care more about his cause and that box of French gold than his sixteen-year-old daughter, whose body was left to rot in the mud. Jocasta survived the loss of all three of her daughters, something that would have destroyed most people. She may love Murtagh, but her heart is too broken to give it to yet another man with a cause.

The wedding of the unhappy Jocasta to Duncan Innes, a nonentity, at least gave us a gorgeous party at River Run and some intrigue that furthered a few plotlines. Philip Wylie, one of the guests and a character we met before at a dinner in Wilmington, became fixated on seducing Claire. And who could blame him? She was stunning in that blue dress.

Wylie's tactics included trying to bribe Claire with access to pretty things acquired cheaply and tax-free through smuggling, as he boasted about knowing what the King of France gave his mistress, Madame du Barry. (Even though it wasn't mentioned, this is the same King of France that Claire had sex with in season two.) Always thinking, Claire loosened Wylie's tongue with Jamie's magical whisky and pumped him (not in a sexual way, of course) about the current location and activities of Stephen Bonnet. And I get it, but Claire really shouldn't have gone to the stables with Wylie alone.

Jamie to the rescue. You know, Jamie may be the King of Men, but he's not perfect. Of course, he'd want to make Wylie suffer for trying to assault Claire, even though the card game was undoubtedly mostly about Stephen Bonnet. And again, while Jamie is remarkably mature about not being threatened by the existence of Frank's ring on Claire's finger, I can understand why he asked Claire for it to bet with. I also understand why she was so reluctant to give it to him.

The sex scene afterward in the stables was a bit awkward, though. Jamie and Claire have had violent sex before, but what did he mean, she's "just a woman"? Was that a sexist comment, Jamie acting like a jerk? Claire is a spectacular woman, and I'm not just talking about her looks. I'm usually all in when it comes to sex on Outlander, but this wasn't their best effort.

I'm not sure that the "Alexander Malcolm" deception will work, either, since it turned out that Forbes is cahooting with Stephen Bonnet. Forbes even knows that Brianna's son Jemmy, now heir to River Run, is Bonnet's, if indeed he is. Bonnet is operating on the information Brianna gave him in that jail, and that didn't include the fact that Roger could also be Jemmy's father. Since Brianna gave birth before marrying Roger, does that mean Roger isn't legally Jemmy's father? Today, a DNA test would sort that out, but what does the law of 1771 say?

There was some movement on the Regulator front as well. Jamie realized that Governor Tryon had used the pardons and the Riot Act as a deception to execute Regulators, but it didn't work. I think. If anyone can explain exactly what happened there, please do so in the comments, because I just didn't follow that one.

Anyway. Jamie now has two weeks to put his militia back together and report. Not good.

Meanwhile back at Fraser's Ridge, Roger is in charge and things have gotten biblical. When Roger realized that the locusts were about to become a serious problem, he remembered something he'd once read, and organized smudge pots and green fires to protect the fields. I found the skies blackening with clouds of locusts somewhat effective, although I kept wondering how everyone was still able to breathe. At least the residents are now calling Roger "Captain" without the sarcasm.

Was anyone else expecting this episode to end with locusts descending on the wedding pavilion at River Run?

Book versus series

This episode was pretty much on point with the books, with a major exception – no Murtagh, since he died at Culloden. For practicality's sake, Jocasta did marry Duncan Innes, Jamie's one-armed buddy from Ardsmuir prison. The bits with Philip Wylie, Lucas the horse, Claire's rings, etc., all right from the book. But one of the River Run slaves was murdered, Claire performed an autopsy, and Stephen Bonnet actually showed up at River Run with henchmen. The locust thing happened at a different time, and Claire burned an entire field to stop them.

Diana Gabaldon, the author of the Outlander books, doesn't usually say anything negative about the series, but she didn't like the way they did the sex scene in the stable. I must agree that the book version was much better, a lot sexier and much more complicated. I also seem to remember that in the book version, Jamie was much angrier about Wylie and said things to Claire that the series version of Jamie probably wouldn't get away with.

Bits and pieces:

— The title card vignette was Wiley powdering his hair. Or his wig, already on his head. Wylie looked like a mime with that white powder on his face, didn't he? Nobody deserves mime, of course.

— We saw both Philip Wylie and "her excellency," Governor Tryon's wife, in the season four episode entitled "Wilmington."

— In 1771, River Run would have gone directly to Duncan Innes because married women couldn't own property; only widows. That document transferring River Run to baby Jemmy was a smart move on Jocasta's part.

— Jocasta and Ulysses are very frank with each other in private. He was doubtful about Innes but wanted her to be happy. In another time, they could have been a couple themselves.

— That was some wedding pavilion. Wow.

— Adso the kitten got his first real dramatic scene, bringing a dead locust to Brianna.

— "Dr. Rawlings" and the rhythm method were the talk of the female wedding guests.

— We didn't get nearly enough Lord John, who is, understandably, a primo marital target these days.

— Governor Tryon will soon be governor of New York. Would that be a step up in 1771?


Roger: "What I wouldn't give for a box of tissues."
Brianna: "Yeah. Or some baby aspirin."

Wylie: "Do you mean to say that Mr. Fraser permits you to wear another man's token so near his own?"
Claire: "My husband is a very…"
Wylie: "Clearly an extraordinary man."

Roger: "When your father left me in charge, I thought I might have to mend a fence, wrangle the odd runaway cow, but no. I get a biblical plague."

Brianna: "Maybe when Da returns, he'll promote you to major."
Roger: "Christ, I hope not."

Murtagh: "I will not risk your happiness. After the war to come…"
Jocasta: "There will be another and another, on and on until long after we're gone from the world."

I enjoyed this one the first time through, but wasn't eager to watch a second time. What does that make it, two out of a possible four rude wedding guests? What did you all think?

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


  1. I wrote a novel set in 1776 in NYC, so from my research I'm fairly certain New York would be a step up for the governor. NYC was the first capital city of the US, which speaks as to its importance. Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Massachusetts would be the other prominent colonies.

    Looked it up since I was curious - if we go by the early House of Representatives since that's based on population, the 3 states mentioned above had more seats than New York, which was tied with Maryland at 6 representatives. North Carolina had 5.

  2. I didn't feel the need to rewatch this one mostly because it's not that intricate or out there in Subtleland to require one. Pretty straighforward in terms of plot direction, although I may rewatch just for that Murtaugh-Jocasta scene.

    And it is setting up the inevitable confrontation with Bonnet in a way I hadn't anticipated.

    Glad Roger finally got a victory. I know he's no Jamie but who is? And the relationship between Roger and Briana has deepened.

    And I liked that both of our superheroes had "what were they thinking" moments.

  3. "Better to marry than to burn" is a Bible quote from St Paul. In the Biblical context, he's saying it's better not to get married and to devote yourself to God, but that if you're basically too horny to do without sex, it's better to get married than drive yourself crazy from lust! In the context of this episode, for Jocasta, I think it means she prefers to marry someone dull than to die or lose everything thanks to Murtaugh's cause.

    I totally and forever ship Jocasta and Ulysses :) The sort of relationship that wouldn't be written down and would be kept secret, but would happen all the same.

  4. Nobody deserves mime, of course.

    Thank you for making me laugh out loud.

    Adso the kitten got his first real dramatic scene, bringing a dead locust to Brianna.

    I think the actor (cator) playing Adso has a real future. Shakespeare, maybe?

    Juliette and Billie, I love the idea of a Jocasta/Ulysses ship.

    And congrats to Roger, doing something really useful and good! Way to go, Captain!

  5. Jamie's comment "you are just a woman" was not sexist or insulting at all. It was a fair warning to his wife that her careless behavior and language with men (including going with a stranger man to the stables) have consequences that fall on Jamie to solve. That happened a lot in the past, and at times happens again after her return. Claire in turn never hesitated to reveal Jamie's flaws to him. But, of course, it so convenient to play the identity card in this 21 century...

  6. Here are my notes on the podcast for "Better to Marry Than Burn," episode 5x6. Commentary was by executive producer Toni Graphia and the writer of the episode, Stephanie Shannon. Graphia said they stole Shannon from Ron Moore's other show, For All Mankind.

    Graphia said that the Murtagh/Jocasta scene was one of the best of the season, and Shannon said it was a writer's dream to write for them. That particular scene got to the crew -- not a dry eye. Graphia said that the writers had discussed Jocasta's backstory for awhile but there was no place it fit until this episode; the flashback showed why Jocasta is the way she is, and why she refused to let her passion for Murtagh consume her. They praised Maria Doyle Kennedy's performance and noted that Maria is not as old as Jocasta and got to play her younger in the flashback. The episode title is a play on the MacKenzie motto, "I shine, not burn," specifically about Jocasta.

    Graphia said that they can't just translate the books to the screen, and that sometimes they have to surprise the fans. She acknowledged how the fans had kept wondering if Murtagh would completely replace book character Duncan Innes and marry Jocasta, and there was indeed a time when they were planning to do that, but then they decided to go another way. (Graphia didn't say why, but I bet it's because of what happens in the next episode. They don't spoil future episodes in these podcasts.)

    This episode features a couple of Jamie/Claire scenes that the book fans love: their fight about her rings, and the sex scene in the stables. The writers try hard not to look at things from a modern perspective, and in the eighteenth century, a woman wouldn't go into a barn alone with a man that wasn't her husband. Jamie and Claire don't bicker; their fights are substantive. Graphia thought the stable scene when Jamie promised he would never take her rings from her again echoed season one's "The Reckoning."

    Philip Wylie is a fun character in the book; it would have been easy to go over the top with him, but they kept it real and they thought the actor did a great job. They weren't sure how they were going to show Jamie's conflict with Wylie. Cards, or something else? At one point they were going for billiards and having Tryon give Duncan Innes a billiard table as a wedding gift, but then they remembered Innes only has one arm.

    They wanted to do a Roger/Brianna story back on the Ridge, in charge while Jamie was gone. They considered having Roger and Brianna at the wedding but went instead with the locust story which was from book six, where Claire burned a field of locusts while Jamie was away. It was nice to have Roger and Bree solve a problem together; they needed a win. (It sounded a bit like Graphia was stopping herself short of saying that they needed a win considering what was coming in the next episode.)

    They went through a lot of different iterations on how to get rid of the locusts, including Brianna building a DaVinci-esque contraption, but decided that the simplest method worked best and that a contraption wouldn't have been credible.

    Production notes:

    They said Gary Steele did an incredible job in this episode with the wedding decorations and the stunning pavilion, as well as Tryon's huge, fancy tent.

    Historically, the Johnston Act was real, very sneaky legislation saying you could be arrested retroactively for anything you did. And it really was the time when Tryon moved on to New York, too.

    (more below)

  7. (continued)

    Men did wear makeup in the eighteenth, originally in France, and would apply fake moles in different shapes, hearts and stars, etc., to cover up imperfections. It was considered attractive.

    Graphia commented on the colors in this episode, how vibrant they are. It was also a big effects episode with the locust swarm. They used real locusts close up -- no locusts were injured in the making of this episode.

    The gift Murtagh gave Jocasta was a "luckenbooth," a Scottish symbol of love with two hearts intertwined, and something Jocasta could feel since she couldn't see it. The blu-ray included an extra scene, beautifully acted, called "Luckenbooth" that featured Murtagh arriving secretly and he and Ulysses arguing about him seeing Jocasta.

  8. @Liviu, I think you're right about what's going on in Jamie's head, but he could (and often has) pointed out that it was risky to go to the stables with a man in a more tactful way. It's not like he doesn't know where she's coming from. I don't like the whole plotline with Wylie. Placing their in him is crazy and I don't buy that this is the only way they can possibly find Stevn Bonnet. How hard can it be to find somebody in late 18th century Wilmington? It probably had about a thousand people.

    This may prove I'm not a real romantic, but I think Jocasta is right. Sadly, it makes no sense to wait for Murtagh. Maybe it would if she were 20, but not at this point in her life.


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