Outlander: Famous Last Words

"It's like he's drowning in silence."

A surprisingly good aftermath episode about grief, trauma and change.

I thought showing what happened to Roger as a silent movie was downright clever. They could have jumped right in at the hanging tree with a heavily dramatic scene where Jamie realized Roger was still alive and Claire performed a field tracheotomy, but that silent movie gave us some distance from the violence, some objectivity, as well as an obvious metaphor for Roger losing his voice. As the episode progressed, the silent movie Roger kept seeing in his head acquired color and sound and turned into the real thing, but only when he was finally ready to accept what had happened to him.

It was a lovely surprise when Young Ian turned up out of the blue, just in time to save Jamie from being gored by a boar. I was quite touched when Roger walked up to Ian and simply hugged him, expressing his gratitude for what Ian did for him in "Man of Worth." These two men barely know each other and yet, they had a deep and permanent bond even before the events of this episode.

Because Ian has changed, too. Like Roger, he was present physically but not engaging, and his eyes were haunted, turned inward. It was particularly obvious during the uncomfortable welcome home dinner as Fergus and Marsali tried and failed to get this new and different Ian to talk about what had happened to him.



(What did happen to Ian when he was with the Mohawk? We did get some facts, but not enough. The Mohawk were good people, but Ian doesn't plan to return to them, and they won't be coming after him. Ian had a wife who isn't dead, but she is lost and gone forever. Much like my darling Clementine.)

Sometimes helping someone else can take you right out of yourself. During their surveying trip, Roger returned Ian's gift of life by saving Ian right back, keeping him from killing himself. And the astrolabe, this episode's Most Obvious Symbolism, helped Roger to find his place in the world again.

Traveling two hundred years back in time to rescue the woman he loved must have initially felt like a great adventure to Roger Wakefield, the academic, the historian. Instead, he's had to weather one horror after another. He's become a different person and, hopefully, he may have reached a point where he can live with that. Bree wasn't able to reach Roger before he left, but he did return to her. I liked her anniversary gift to him: a paper airplane, a reminder of his childhood as well as the world they had both left behind, and a message that Roger must bend and reshape himself.

As Roger and Ian found their way together, Jamie grieved quietly for Murtagh, who now has a grave near the big house. Jocasta, wearing Murtagh's last gift to her around her throat, sang a dirge for her lost love. Is Jamie self-medicating with alcohol? He did just lose one of the most important people in his life. I don't like the idea of Jamie struggling with alcoholism, and I hope they're not going to go there.

Before I close, I have to mention how much I loved every Marsali moment in this episode. While the tarot cards may have been a tactical error (fortunetelling on Outlander always unearths uncomfortable truths), I really loved her enthusiastic encouragement at the too quiet welcome home dinner, and later on the steps, the way she tried to draw Ian out by talking about his family at Lallybroch. Marsali, expecting her third child, feels a bit guilty that she is so happy at Fraser's Ridge with her new family. What a sweetie she is.



Book versus series

What happened here was pretty much what happened in The Fiery Cross, although Buck's deception in getting Roger hung was a bit more complicated. I don't think we ever saw Roger teaching in 1969, but it was a clever way to show that Roger had lost more than just his singing voice. And Ian's return was near the end of the book; it happened as we saw it here, but Ian did not go surveying with Roger – Roger went alone.

Combining Roger's trauma with Ian's in this episode was so smart, though. These two characters were in much the same mind space and have such an interesting history together. It reminded me of the deaths of Colum MacKenzie and Alex Randall. In Dragonfly in Amber, their deaths were unrelated and chronologically separate, but the series put them together in the same episode, "The Hail Mary," and it worked beautifully. As if it was meant to be.

Bits:

— The title card vignette was an old Bell & Howell projector and silent movie titles.

— It is three months after Alamance, so this episode took place in August of 1771. Jamie and Claire have been back together for four and a half years. And there was a flashback to Roger and Bree at Oxford in 1969, as Roger gave a lecture on famous last words.

— Jamie and Claire playing hide and go seek with Jemmy was so cute, although I'm still adjusting to the idea of the two of them as grandma and grandpa. Jemmy has a serious case of TV baby now. How many babies and tiny children have played Jemmy, including last season? Does anyone know? (Note from later: I asked the Outlander Facebook group I'm currently following, and the answer is ten sets of twins. That's a lot of littles.)

— Roger is building a loft in the cabin. The way it looks from the outside, it should have a loft.

— Burying the hatchet means achieving peace. For Ian, that meant dying.

— In the scene on the porch, Ian said that Jamie and Claire keep things hidden from others. It sounded like Ian meant something specific.

— It was so nice to see Rollo again.

— In the books, Roger often sang "My Darling Clementine." Since it was about the 1849 Gold Rush, it would have been anachronistic.

— Thank you to Outlander Online for the last screencap.

Quotes:

Roger: "It is my dying wish, O Lord, that my students write structured arguments, supported by evidence and legible handwriting. Amen."

Brianna: "Maybe just try to whisper? All right, well, just know that I'll be teaching Jem to say 'sweater' and 'aluminum.' It's not gonna be 'jumper' or 'aluminium'."
Good one, Bree.

Ulysses: "Your carriage awaits, Mistress."
Laugh out loud. He actually said that.

Jamie: "Goodbye, Auntie."
Jocasta: "How careful we'd be if we kent which goodbyes were our last."

Jamie: "Is there a medicine for grief in your time? Some of your wee invisible beasties to gnaw away at it?"
If only.

Marsali: (telling cards) "How many bairns is too many, Fergus Fraser?"

Fergus: "What a tale you must have to tell."
Marsali: "Start at the beginning and don't leave anything out."

Roger: "My own ancestor tried to kill me. Maybe I wasn't meant to exist."

A terrific episode. Four out of four astrolabes,

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

4 comments:

milostanfield said...


So glad the 10th rule spared Roger's life. So I guess you and Josie deserve some credit? ;)

Being between two worlds, and being pulled in opposite directions, has been a recurring theme for most of the main characters. For Claire, Brianna, and Roger, it has been between two times. Claire was also between two loves. It was resolved for Claire when she returned to the past. For Rog Mac and Bree there is still the pull to go back to 19 whatever. Jamie was between two clans early on rather than two times.

Now Ian is between two worlds in the 18th Century, Iroquis and settler, and no longer fits in either. So sad to see that. One of my favorite highlights of the whole series was the look on Ian's face when he was accepted by the Iroquis. That look is so gone now.

ChrisB said...

This one wrecked me. Watching these two young men suffer so badly was tough to take. I was glad they were able to reach each other when no one else seemed able to. Interesting choice not to let us know what it is that is causing Ian's suffering.

My first time though the episode, I thought the silent movie was a tad gimmicky. The second time, however, I appreciated it much more. And, shout outs to the production team. Those images were fantastic.

"I will always sing for you." Sigh...

Billie Doux said...

Here are my notes on the podcast for "Famous Last Words," episode 5x8. Commentary was by showrunner Matt Roberts.

The key here was to show what Roger was thinking. They did a lot of voiceover in season one and it wasn't easy, and they didn't want to just do a flashback, plus Roger couldn't talk so he couldn't tell someone how he was feeling. So how? Danielle Berrow, who wrote the episode, wanted to show Roger's physical and emotional trauma by stripping out color and sound; the "projector" is Roger's mind trying to make sense of what happened. And Roger isn't just dealing with the hanging. He probably thought he'd live out his days teaching, but instead, he's had to deal with multiple traumas: Jamie nearly beating him to death, being sold into slavery, watching Bonnet throw that little girl off the ship, etc.

Unlike the book, they couldn't go multiple episodes without Roger speaking, so they had to decide what he would sound like going forward. Richard tried several things and they settled on one. Roberts heard Sophie singing and wanted to work it in, since Roger couldn't sing to Jemmy any more. (Roberts added a warning to the actors that if he hears you singing, he's going to work it into the show.) One line in the book Roberts said they *had* to fit in somehow was "I will always sing for you."

Jamie and Claire belong together, obviously, but where does Ian belong? Where does Roger belong? Roger and Ian are both trying to figure out who they are now. Roberts talked with John Bell about how Ian would have to hold a lot in emotionally, because Jamie and Claire don't get the old Ian back. It was great to show this with Marsali. She feels like she belongs where she is, but feels guilty about it.

Roberts praised both John Bell and Lauren Lyle and said they were scene stealers, adding that they put these actors through the wringer and they all bring their best performances every day. The little scenes and moments add up to a big show, like the one with Jamie and Ian in the breezeway of the Big House. Jamie was closed off himself back in 302 and 302 and he recognized it in Ian.

John Bell shaved his head, it isn't a skull cap. Of course, he didn't tattoo his face, but they looked at different designs and showed photos to their Mohawk consultants for approval. Roberts said that they'll definitely reveal what happened to Ian when he was with the Mohawk at some point, but wouldn't say when.

Production notes:

-- They looked at a lot of silent movies and filmed the hanging scene both traditionally and with a different frame rate. Brianna is in all of the silent movie stuff, just obscured early on until Roger could see her clearly.

-- Caitriona and Sam really enjoyed the day they played with Jemmy outdoors. Roberts also praised their scene where Jamie asked Claire if there was any 20th century medicine for grief, saying the two of them are just so good.

-- The dinner scene was wonderful, the most awkward Fraser dinner of all time, and the actors did it beautifully.

-- Research: Oxford didn't just have those huge amphitheater classrooms. There were indeed more intimate rooms for classes. They wanted one where Brianna could just walk in and see Roger in his element.

-- They often use stock shots of North Carolina. Drones are improving so they're using more drones with cameras this season instead of crane shots, which are a lot harder to set up.

Billie Doux said...

(continued from previous comment)

-- They're working on book six now and they always read a book ahead. Roberts often goes back and rereads the earlier books, and encourages the writers to always consider the entire scope of the book series.

-- Stephen Woolfenden directed both this episode and "The Ballad of Roger Mac" in a block, and Roberts said he didn't think there could be two more diametrically opposed episodes. Roberts said they try to spread out the heavily emotional scenes so that it's easier on the actors and they don't have to do more than one challenging scene on the same day.