They sang us a sorrowful song … a reflection on Outlander 5.07 “The Ballad of Roger Mac”

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Once asked to describe what her books were about, Diana Gabaldon responded, “History, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling(with cards, dice, lives), voyages of daring, journeys of the entire body and soul, you know, the usual stuff of literature.”  It seems this week Outlander on Starz decided to portray the same in one single episode.  JHRC was that an amazing hour of T.V.  This episode was indeed like a ballad, a poem set to music, full of vivid, visceral, shocking, tender, and moving stanzas.

There were some fantastic words of dialogue spoken this week, but the words that are still reverberating for me are words that were spoken by Jamie in episode 5, “It was all for naught”.  All the efforts, the planning and plotting, Jamie’s balancing act between loyalty to the crown and those he loves and cares for, Claire’s search for penicillin, Murtagh’s fight against tyranny, and Roger’s acts of bravery,… were all for naught.

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“But, just in case, do you know the words to Clementine…”

The first stanza of this ballad begins with Roger’s voice.  He sings to wee Jem as Bree looks on, a bittersweet family vignette.  This season I have noticed that Bree is ever mindful of others’ feelings.  She takes care to hide her fears while she sets about reassuring her husband, who is one of the most woefully underprepared soldiers I have ever seen.  My granddaughter recently was sent to Ft. Jackson for National Guard training.  She writes of what she is asked to do and what she is being taught. She is being prepared to be a soldier, it is a strenuous, rigorous and lengthy education.  Roger has none of this to fall back on. He has not the training nor the mindset to be a Captain in this war. This is nothing he wanted or could ever have imagined.  Roger’s life as a professor has not prepared him for the harsh reality in which he finds himself.  “If we were back in Oxford in our time, we would be making our lunch boxes and seeing each other off to work”, observes Bree. They are hell and away from tweed jackets and faculty cocktail parties.  He is headed off to war with nothing, but a desire to survive.

We are reminded that Roger himself is a war orphan. He says that he barely remembers his own father and worries that Jem will not remember him should he die in this battle.  Bree once again reassures him and Roger makes the kind of joke we often make when the truth makes us uncomfortable.  I loved the nod between Bree and Roger so reminiscent of Jamie and Claire in moments like this.  In the true definition of bravery, Roger feels the fear but does it anyway. He gave his word to Jamie and…himself.  As Roger leaves, Bree gives him an encouraging albeit tremulous smile. But, after the door shuts we see her real feelings, the dread in the pit of her stomach, and we wring our hands with her.  She has a right to be fearful.

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“The world and each day in it is a gift. Whatever tomorrow brings, I am grateful to see it.”

The scene in the tent came straight out of the books and straight into my heart.  The intimate moments between Jamie and Claire were perfection.  Sam and Cait were able to portray the ease in this relationship, how easily they move from light-hearted banter to seriousness, to the physical expression of what they feel, and the complete trust they have in each other.  One of my favorite lines from the “books”, did not make it to the screen, but this scene reminded me so much of those lines.

“…to have you with me again_ to talk wi’ you, to know I can say anything, not guard my words or hide my thoughts_God Sassenach” he said, ” The Lord knows I’m as lust-crazed as a lad and I canna keep my hands from you _ or anything else_ ” he added wryly, ” but I would count that all well lost, had I no more than the pleasure of havin’ ye by me, and to tell ye all my heart”…. Diana Gabaldon Voyager

They are safe in each other’s arms, able to be themselves without fear.  Time has only deepened their love and need for each other.  They truly are each other’s soul, each a half of one whole.

In this stanza,  we find Jamie, like Roger, also has his father on his mind.  He stares at his hand in wonder as he realizes he will soon be older than his father was when he died.  I’m not sure the “viewers only folks” will place the same significance on Jamie staring at his hand as I do.  In the books, Jamie often looks at his damaged hand, a symbol of his strife and Claire’s redemptive power.  He has lost it all and with her return gained it all back.  What was once a useless mangled mess is now only a reminder that he survived to live and …love.  Each day now is a gift.  Little does he know how much grief and loss tomorrow has in store.

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“There will be a day when you and I will part again, but it willna be today.”…

We once again see Jamie going to war for other men’s purposes, but he is doing so because he must, there is a lot at stake.  He is facing friends and family across the battlefield.  And so, he prepares himself.  I continue to be so grateful that the show continues to feature Jamie’s faith as it is inextricably part of him.  Jamie’s faith, is syncretistic in nature, a perfect blend of the old ways and his Catholicism.  He gives reverence to both simultaneously.  The scene in the creek was a perfect example.  He calls to his dead Uncle, war chieftain of clan McKenzie, for help in the upcoming battle and then crosses himself in blood.  Quite frankly, I find Jamie’s brand of Christianity to be…beautiful.  It fits.

Every stanza in this poem that deals with war reminds me that despite the difference in time and methods of battle, what was once true is still true.  As he tells the proud young possum hunters, “War is killing…nothing less.  If you think of anything, but your own skin, you’ll be dead by nightfall. You canna waver.”  And, the passage of time hasn’t seemed to change the fact that sometimes people who are supposed to care about serving others only care about themselves. Tim Downie’s perfectly portrayed Governor Tryon, a politician whose choices are informed by his concern for his image and legacy, made my skin crawl.  He is not interested in doing what is best for the country and its people.  He doesn’t care about peace or compromises only whether or not he has been insulted and how to feed his need to punish those who would dare to stand against him.  He is resolute and will force others to bend to his will including Jamie.  It was painful to see Jamie put on that redcoat so …incongruous.  Jamie’s mortification and struggle to comply was subtle but obvious to anyone who cared to look and Tryon was watching.  I’m still amazed by Sam Heughan’s ability to emote.  I felt the weight of that red coat on his shoulders. And, Claire’s reaction to seeing him so adorned was perfection, she stopped dead in her tracks and quietly uttered what we were all thinking, “JHRC”.  Her empathy was expressed and they share a tender moment of understanding. Jamie shares his concern for Roger and then before he goes off to fight, he gives a wee gift to us book lovers, “There will be a day when you and I will part again, but it willna be today.”…sigh

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“…I know, but I’m the only one that can do it…”

Time travel rears it’s ugly head in this next stanza and is the impetus that moves the plot forward.  This change from the books expertly blended the Murtagh story-line with Roger’s.  It put him in the enemy camp where he, unfortunately, needed to be, ” I’m the only one who can do it.” The scenes of Roger with Murtagh rang the same notes as in the book when Roger met with Herman Husband, the leader of the regulators.  He was trying to broker peace and save lives.  This is the caring and compassionate man I know from the books.  And, it is that same caring and compassionate nature that gets him into trouble in the very next scene.  Being a man out of time may have proved fatal for Roger. He forgot where he was, what the rules were, and what the men of this time were capable of.  He hugged his multiple great grandmother.  At least, in his mind, that was who she was.  Innocent, completely innocent, but no way to explain.  The Ballad of Roger Mac is a song of woe.  The irony.  Roger is about to be hung by his own grandfather for hugging his grandmother.

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“We are not here to kill our brothers…”

And it was all for naught…those words kept coming to mind as I watched the end of this ballad.  Despite Roger’s bravery behind enemy lines and Jamie’s efforts to guide his men’s actions, they could not control what was about to unfold.  There was too much fodder for fate to feed on.  There was too much room for coincidence and foolish mistakes.  It all came crashing down.

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I was called back to the last time Jamie said goodbye forever to someone he loved. He danced Murtagh to the base of the tree as he had once danced Claire to the stones. “Do not be afraid.  It does not hurt to die”, were Murtagh’s last words to his godson.  Be they uttered at Culloden or in America, they were still as impactful.  This was a devasting loss for Jamie.  I was not surprised that he took him to Claire, that he demanded that she heal him, book lovers will recall a scene where Jamie’s sister Jenny demanded the same of Claire. He needs Murtagh to keep his promise to never leave him.  His grief is great and she understood.

What followed was a natural progression.  We saw angry Jamie, angry at having to play by other men’s rules, angry at the crown that had caused so much pain in his life, anger at injustice, and tyranny, angered by senseless violence and loss.  He is a changed man. This was the moment Jamie became a revolutionary.  As painful as it was to watch Jamie put on that red coat it was worth it to watch him take it off and throw it on the ground at the shallow man’s feet, “You and I both know what really. happened here today…”.  Jamie proclaims his debts paid and his obligation to the crown at an end. I could not help but be overwhelmed by how steep was the price he paid and how much more dear that debt was to cost him.

We then see a grief-stricken Jamie fall to his knees by the campfire, holding his heart with the blood of his Godfather on his hands.  He stumbles to his feet and suddenly sees his daughter staring off into the direction of the creek and it is as if a switch is turned off.  His battle face is back on.  I suspect he knows there is more, more loss and grief to face this day.  They all go looking for Roger, but it is if they are all dream walking, moving through a waking nightmare.  From a tree, the white flag of truce half out of his pocket hangs Roger Mac…it was all for naught …and all fades to black.

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PS. I see you Graham

 

 

 

You never really know what’s coming, do you? … a reflection on Outlander episode 5.05 Perpetual Adoration

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by Beth Wesson

 

God the infinite. God the merciful. God the eternal.  Someday I will stand before God, and I will recieve answers to all my questions about everything in his universe, and I do have many questions…

This week’s blog is truly a reflection upon and not a review of “Perpetual Adoration”.

At times, I have wondered at how timely the themes of the Outlander’s episodes have been.  It seemed so coincidental that the show was reflecting what was happening in my life or… the world.  This week it was both. There was no way that the show could have known what was going to happen when they scheduled the dates for airing season 5.  And yet, here we are, “You never really know what is coming, do you?”  This week, I watched an episode about being in the grip of mysterious powers that we cannot fathom while living in the grip of mysterious powers that I am struggling to fathom.

The show decided to show us how events in our lives and our response to those events can lead us to the place we are meant to be.  Like a great spiderweb, the smallest of touches, decisions, events, words, can set off vibrations through the eons. You can be lying in bed with your husband, basking in the glow of lovemaking, and never see you are about to have a fight that could change your relationship forever.  And, maybe you don’t know that your embarrassment at getting sent home from battle will eventually lead you to discover your strengths and purpose in life, “You know how to get through to people”.  There was so much truth about the nature of life in this episode, I felt a bit overwhelmed at times.  It all rang very true to me. Maybe because I too am on the other side of letting go and trusting a being I can’t see, cannot hear, and at times, cannot feel.

How many times have I put my hopes, my fears, my secret longings into the hands of a being I can’t see, can’t hear, can’t even feel? And how many times have my prayers been answered?

My answer to Claire’s question is many and perpetually.  At the ripe old age of sixty-two, I find I can now reflect upon my life with the blessing of distance. Without a doubt, the most impactful event for me was the loss of my mother when I was seventeen years old. I know now her death changed the trajectory of my life.  And, as painful as it was at the time, I can credit her death for giving myself and my siblings a fresh start and a chance at lives we most probably wouldn’t have had had she lived.  All the choices, words said during that time have reverberated throughout my life. In fact, I can even trace my involvement in this fandom, the many friends and connections I have gained, and my interest in writing to her death. I began writing this blog as a way to practice writing. The only people who knew about it were two of my nieces. Unbeknownst to me, they sent this piece about my mother to Diana who read it and tweeted it and the rest, as they say, is history, A place where peace dwells… The irony that I wrote about the chapter when Jamie finds Adso is not lost on me…coincidence, if I am to agree with the premise of this episode, probably not.

Do You Ever Feel Like Everything is Leading You to a Certain Point?

I think THIS question is the theme of season 5, things happen to us over which we have no control, and yet, how we respond, every choice has consequences, and the words we speak matter. In this episode, we are told Claire has been thinking a lot about the past and we are treated to flashbacks of the events and choices in Claire’s life that lead her back to Jamie.  Like myself, she has the blessing of distance to help her reflect. I’ve always thought it an interesting dichotomy that Claire a woman of science was caught up in such a preternatural event as time-travel.  She is so pragmatic and grounded and yet, here she is 200 years in the past discovering penicillin, history be damned,  and discussing whether or not her grandchild will be able to “hear” the stones, and reflecting on how she was lead to this unbelievable point.

Both Jamie and Claire have hard choices to make this season.  I think it is difficult to determine whether their choices are right or wrong. Our response to the events in our lives depends on our perspective, which side of the battle we are on. As a result, who is to say, who is righteous? Loss has changed both Claire and Jamie and the threat of more loss influences their choices. They have lived without each other and their family and with each other and their family and they both will do what it takes, be it flouting history or committing murder, to preserve the life they both suffered and fought for. I cannot blame them, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t do the same to protect my family.  Try as you might to walk between two fires, some times it is “all for naught” and you must act and then “ask the Lord for forgiveness and receive it” because there will be “more battles to fight”.  I’m sitting here shaking my head because I am watching this play out in real life. Many people with the responsibility of the care of others are being forced to act, to make unpopular choices, risk being wrong because they know there will be more battles to fight.

Sometimes Truth Hurts and Don’t be Careless

We never really know what is coming, do we? Sometimes we are faced with truths that hurt like finding out you aren’t who you thought you were, or that your wife didn’t tell you the whole truth or that you must fight yet again in a battle of duty to other men’s ambitions.or …that your way of life has just been threatened by an enemy so small you cannot see it. Roger can hang on to the hurt, the sense of betrayal and let it ruin what he has with Bree or he can choose what really matters, the woman he traveled through time for. Jamie can choose which oath to give his loyalty to and be branded a traitor once again, and we can choose to make the best use of this time, and look at the hard truths of our own lives. What really matters?  Right now we are all facing the hurtful truth of a pandemic. It is a fearful and uncertain time. In a few short days, we have been witness to the best and worst of humanity; denial, greed, selfishness, empathy, heroic selflessness, love for our fellow man.  Claire asks Roger not to be careless.  I’ll ask you the same..hang on to what is important, let the rest go, and if you can… trust in time… “…time is, of course, all-healing.  Give anything enough time, and everything is taken care of: all pain encompassed, all hardship erased, all loss subsumed.”

Diana Gabaldon “The Firey Cross”

 

A Show Worth Caring About…A Reflection on Outlander 5.04 “The Company We Keep”

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by Beth Wesson

 

Back before Outlander on Starz was on the air, I wrote an article that I hoped would be prophetic.  It was my prediction that viewers would care about Claire because she was a character worth caring about. In fact, I felt Outlander had a chance to be different than anything on TV at the time.  We were about to see if a show with characters with redeeming character could hold an audience’s attention.  Starz must have been hoping I was prophetic too because they posted it and Caitriona read it and said, “I concur”! Pretty heady stuff for a fledgling writer.  At the time, folks were comparing Outlander to Game of Thrones.  I always felt it was a very short-sighted comparison. GOT was full of characters acting out of warped emotions, values, and needs, lots of titillating stuff to discuss around the water cooler. I have nothing against R.R. Martin or the show based on his works. They are what they are, but what they are is a far cry from what Outlander is or tries to be. And, I think I was prophetic, I believe that the potential for Outlander to be something more has come to fruition.

As I watched this week’s episode “The Company We Keep”, I thought about my hopes for Outlander back in the day. This whole season has a vibe that I’m liking and I’m happy to say that that it seems the show has returned to its roots; a focus on people who struggle to make the right decisions and the relationships they have with others. If you were to judge ME by the company I keep, you would have to include the people I spend my Sunday nights with, the folks of Fraser’s Ridge. They are indeed people worth watching because they are people worth caring about.

Roger Mac

I care about Roger because he is man worth caring about.  In this episode, we continue to see Roger struggle to be a man in the 18th century. When Roger makes a decision, I find myself saying a little prayer, “please, please, please let him be right”. He tries so hard, but he has no experience or skills to draw upon except his academic knowledge. Right now it is of little use to him. He may know the words to the songs, the history of battles, but he has not lived them. He is literally bringing a book to a gunfight.  And yet, he gets up every day and tries to be the man everyone needs him to be despite feeling like he is letting everyone down. Roger’s only motivation is to be there for Bree and his small family.  I find it heart warming that a man whose only real experience of family is being raised by an elderly uncle is so all in.  He is a father to Jem, a husband to Bree no matter what time they live in.  He is loyal, honorable, and peace-loving. I trust he will find a way to be of use and earn Jamie’s coveted faith in him.

Fergus

I care about Fergus because he is a man worth caring about. The thing I love most about Fergus is his undying loyalty to Jamie. Jamie may not have gotten to raise a child of his own blood, but it is obvious he is loved by the children of his heart.  I believe Fergus tries to emulate his father “milord” and you can see the evidence in his relationship with Marsali. As an extension of his loyalty and love for Jamie, he has Roger’s back.  He treats him as the family he is and with the respect bestowed upon him. I hope we get to see more of Fergus’ story and struggles.  There is much about life to be learned there.

Marsali

I care about Marsali because she is a woman worth caring about.  This character! How could you not love her! She is spunky, straight-forward, open, and full of life.  Her humor and good-natured wit serve her well. I’m pretty sure you have to earn her love because he isn’t a pushover, but it would so be worth the effort.  She reminds me a bit of Jenny. If you are loved by her you would know it. Her conversation with Brianna in this episode showed wisdom beyond her years. I’m sure Brianna could tell she truly cares about her and I loved seeing the blossoming of this relationship. I hope we see more of her story of perseverance and unconditional love it is worth watching.

Brianna

I care about Brianna because she is a woman worth caring about.  Right now, the Brianna we see is a woman struggling to find her sense of self again. She is fighting a demon too many woman battle, rape, and its aftermath.  Despite what has happened to her she too gets up every day and tries.  She knows she is damaged and combating feelings she cannot control. Her superhuman efforts to be a good mother and wife are admirable.  However, the show, true to form, lets us see her frailty too. We see her struggle and feel empathy. I need to see her share her burden and hope that will happen soon.

Jamie

I care about Jamie because he is a man worth caring about.  Last week, I read an article where Diana Gabaldon discussed the 5.03 episode.  One of the things she said that has stuck with me is Jamie’s identity as a warrior. It permeates everything he does. He is always ready to fight to protect the people he loves and has responsibility for. You can be sure if you are lucky enough to be loved by Jamie you have his protection. I keep saying this, but the man isn’t motivated by power.  He doesn’t seek attention or riches.  His motives are truly purer.  He is motivated by love, loyalty, and honor. In this episode alone, we see him give two young boys their freedom and then protect them from harm, negotiate the best possible situation with the Browns and the militia. give Claire a child should she wish, and help two young lovers escape to live and love together. He cares, so I care.

Claire

I STILL care about Claire because she is a woman worth caring about. I had a friend attend Wizard World in Cleveland this past weekend.  She said that Cait shared that some of the hardest times as an actor are when you are asked to play your character in ways that are counter to what you believe them to be.  I’m totally paraphrasing because I wasn’t there, but I believe that was the gist of the conversation.  I can totally understand and I feel encouraged that she has more say in how Claire is portrayed this season. Last season, I lamented the lost opportunity to see the Claire of the ridge.  As a book lover, I remembered thinking the Claire of the ridge was my favorite because it seemed the later books were when Claire became all she was truly meant to be.  I’m happy to say I see her this season. I see a Claire who is frustrated by what is available to her medically, but who knows her purpose. I see a Claire who “loves her life” together with her Jamie.  I see a kind Claire who treats everyone she meets with respect and compassion.  This Claire is a true partner of her beloved husband.  She is a mother and grandmother to many.  She is loved and loves and I love her for her unflagging principles in the face of adversity.

A Show Worth Watching

This show is more than titillation. This show is about the complexity of life and relationships.  This show never shies away from difficult topics and takes the time to portray the aftermath of trauma. This show lets us see both men AND women as fully realized people.  At its core is a long term loving and passionate relationship, a couple who works and strives to stay together.  It is beautiful, transportive, and moving.  So, I’ll be keeping company with Outlander on Starz because I care about its characters and want to watch every week and I can’t give it a better compliment than that.

 

We Are The Sum of Our Choices…a reflection on Outlander 5.03 “Free Will”

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by Beth Wesson

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This week’s episode is called “Free Will”.  I’m really happy about that because it has given me a chance to share my favorite Christian Theology story! Never saw that coming!  I was told the story came from a book called “Great Church Fights”.  I never challenged that, but I thought if I was going to blog about it I had better do a little fact-checking. Yep, in 1972, Leslie B. Flynn wrote a book about church controversy and how to solve it.  I’m totally paraphrasing, but here goes…

A church was divided on the issues of free will and predestination.  It had gotten so bad that they were on the verge of the church splintering into two groups.  They were meeting in the basement of the church and everyone had picked a side.  The freewill people were on one side of the room and the predestination folks were on the other, all that is, except for one lone soul who stood in the middle. He was still undecided which group he should join.

Finally, he went to the predestination side of the basement.

“What are you doing here?”, the predestination folks asked.

“I came of my own free will!” the man said.

He was not welcomed, and group members pointed him toward the other group.

“What are you doing here?”, the free will people asked.

“I was sent”, said the man.

I remembered this story while reflecting on this episode “Free Will”, and like the great church fight, I’m sure there will be a split in the fandom over this episode.  I might be that poor fellow in the middle.  The book purists will love it.  Others might question how spending an entire episode in Beardsley’s House of Horrors advances the story.  As a book lover, I am of two minds about the issue.  Maybe I should just “pick a side or up and away” (thanks Murtagh).  But, of my own free will,  I’ve decided to write about…free will and how it affects this storyline and let the fans decide which side of the basement they will stand on.

Free Will vs Fate

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This whole episode could have been used as a lesson in a theology or philosophy class. As I understand it, the Christian theologists believe that God gives free will to man because he desires our love.  He wants us to choose to live for him  He has the power to force us to do as he bids, but to do so would negate choice and therefore real love.  We must be free to choose if we are to truly love.  The irony is that he already knows what we will choose, hence the belief in predestination.  Philosophers have spent centuries trying to answer the same question of whether we have free will or are just the puppets of fate/determinism.  Are we free to make our own choices or is every choice the result of cause and effect making us the product of our past experiences.

Free will is defined as “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” It is extremely hard, in my humble opinion, to know where free will begins and ends.  I am of the mind that we are inextricably connected to our experiences and circumstances and that they invariably inform our choices.  We may sometimes move beyond what is expected, of what is the norm, and as a result, we perceive we are acting at our own discretion.  It is comforting to believe we have free will, however more times than not, we make a choice that is clearly within the boundaries of the life path we are on, the constraints of necessity or fate are always there. Then again, personally, I believe in miracles and grace…so…yeah, you can see why folks have been discussing this one for centuries.

Breaking Free of  Fate

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Everyone in this story is held in some kind of bondage to their nature or to necessity. Claire starts off the episode with a voiceover about growing mold. She is tempting fate because she cannot live with having knowledge that would save lives and then doing nothing. It is an odd bird this time travel thing.  She affects history every time she saves someone’s life and yet every time she consciously tries to change history she fails. But, she tries again. She is trying to create penicillin 157 years before its time and daring the fates to stop her. This made me smile. It would appear Claire has exercised her free will by forging ahead, consequences be damned.  But, does she really have a choice, she is Claire after all. This seems consistent with everything we know about her nature, she has no choice but to choose as she does. She is destined to try to help and heal, and we love her for it.  The episode did a wonderful job of showing us a kind Claire who cares deeply about everyone who crosses her path, be it a bondservant, abused wife, or the man who abused them all.

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art credit to Sylvia

Jamie has been walking between two fires for as long as I can remember.  He has been an outlaw trying to stay alive, an outlander at Castle Leoch, an outcast Jacobite leader trying to care for fellow prisoners, a man without a heart trying to live without a heart, a changed man asking to be loved for the man he was, and a laird trying to protect loved ones on opposite sides of a revolution.  Better than anyone, Jamie knows what it is like to be the plaything of fate. It feels like very few choices have been his to make. So much has been out of his control.

I was so glad to see the return of the anchor that holds Jamie to his course in life, his faith .  For the most part, it has been sadly missing in this series.  The Jamie that stands by Claire’s bedside thanking the Lord for his blessings is the Jamie I know.  He has always been grateful for his blessings and thoughtfully prayed over the decisions in his life.  His choices are always colored by his Catholicism and his God.  He could of cursed God for all of his sufferings, but instead, he chooses to live his faith. Throughout the episode we see Jamie keeping his word and living his faith.  He is not perfect, he makes his share of mistakes, but he also chooses to live with honor and the kind of mercy that gave Beardsley a choice.

Jamie’s life would have been much easier if he had never met Claire.  He might have lived a more solitary and selfish life, join the watch and become a soldier for pay.  But, I want to exercise my free will and believe he was fated to love Claire and that that choice changed everything. I was tearful as I watched the reunion scene, they need each other, they are soulmates.

Fannie and the Beardsley twins are an uncomfortable example of how necessity affects free will.  Imagine living in servitude since you were a toddler and facing a future of completing a 30-year term of indenture to a man who beats and starves you.  Josiah took whatever opportunity there was to escape. His choice to leave gave them the possibility of a future, but what choice did Josiah really have? It was a matter of survival, necessity.

Fannie is a frighteningly accurate portrait of an abused woman.  She feels betrayed by her father, given to a man who beats and abuses her.  Imagine living with the knowledge that you are this man’s fifth wife and fearing that your grave will soon be under the Rowan tree with the others. It is no wonder that she finds herself capable of such cruelty.  Her free will had been beaten from her and her choice to give her rage permission to act its revenge, although horrifying, is at some level understandable. Her conversations with Claire revealed that she wasn’t always as she appears.  Her fears for her child’s future and her wish that the twins find some happiness showed us that despite the evidence, she is still a human who can feel pity and concern.  Her choice to leave her child was one of necessity and I felt her desperation as she left the trading post as the damaged goods Beardsley’s choices had created.

We Are the Sum of Our Choices

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The episode reminded us of some of life’s truths about choices.  Claire reminds us that we can’t be responsible for the choices others make, Bree and Roger that no matter how much we prepare, life can throw us curves, and Jamie that some choices require sacrifice. One other truth found in the episode is that in the end, whether governed by free will or necessity, we are the sum of our choices.  Mr. Beardsley is the visceral embodiment of that truth. The scenes in the trading post were beyond my expectations.  I knew what was coming and was still shocked. The slow reveal of what Fannie did to her husband built on the horror.  When the truth is clear, Claire states the obvious, “What you must have done to deserve this”.  The fact of the matter is Beardsley is reaping the repercussions of his selfish and evil choices.  When he most needs mercy there is no one in his world willing to dispense it.

The most chilling part of this episode for me was when Jamie offered the paralyzed man a quicker death, an escape from his torture.  “Let it be his choice, his will”, he tells Claire. He gives the man the choice of being treated by Claire or an assisted death. His only request of the man was so true to Jamie form.  Knowing Beardsley was a wicked man, he does not want to take his life and risk sending him to hell.  He asks if the man will not pray for forgiveness.  I found myself breathlessly waiting for the second blink.  This for me was the most disturbing of the choices we were shown, whether made of his free will or of necessity, he chose hell.  Maybe he chose to be defiant even unto death or maybe he felt he deserved eternal damnation.  We will never know, but he will forever stand in my mind as a wretched cautionary tale.

 

 

I’m pretty sure I singed my eyebrows just watching…a reflection on Outlander 5.02 “Walking Between Two Fires”

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by Beth Wesson

Last week a fan blog wished the show would be more gritty…all I can say is be careful what you wish for!  It felt like the show went from quaint to queasy as quickly as you could say “tar and feathers”.  The storyline was so full of foreshadowing I was actually squirming.  Claire continues to be uncompromisingly principled …to a fault.  AND…Steven Bonnett “is a father now.”  The portent of these words was so ominous I actually gasped and cried out loud, “Jemmie!”  AND…no matter what Jamie does he is wrong.  I felt so much second-hand anxiety, I wasn’t sure I would be able to watch it again.  I did, but I wasn’t much more comfortable the second time! In preseason interviews, the actors said things were going to quickly turn to shite and they weren’t kidding.  Hold on to your tricorns we are in for a bumpy ride.

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Torn between loyalty and loyalty

“I didna think them capable of this”, says Colonel James Fraser. I found myself to be incredulous, as well, this seemed, unlike Murtagh.  The insurrection in Hillsborough seemed an overreaction to the provocation.  Then I thought again.  I kept wondering what emotions lie under the skin of a revolutionary.  How strong must it be to allow them to believe the actions we witnessed were justified?  I thought of all Murtagh and the others had been through and how tired they must be of not fighting back.  This New World Murtagh has spent years in prison and servitude, all at the hands of the English. His righteous anger at this treatment had been impotent, as he had no way to express it that would make any difference to himself or others.  This anger wouldn’t have just gone away, it had to have simmered under the surface.  Then just when he and some of his fellow countrymen have finally gained their freedom, here comes the English taxing away their hard-won lives.  Anger would have come to a boil.

The crown believes themselves to be the superior and sovereign rulers of this country.  Lieutenant Knox is aghast at what he perceives as ingratitude, from these backwoods people, “there is always a need to respect his majesty’s army”.  Murtagh and the regulators have lost all capability of caring what the crown thinks or wants.  The English’s arrogance and disdain toward the colonials is no longer to be born. The fatal flaw of Lieutenant Knox and the English is their underestimation of these people and their desire to be free and treated as the equals they are.  They are not living by the King’s leave and will not “take what is offered and be thankful”.  The English are failing to see they are reaping the mercy they showed at Culloden and in its aftermath.

I think Jamie Fraser is just beginning to fully understand what he is facing and how truly narrow is the path between the fires of loyalty to Murtagh and the settlers of Fraser’s Ridge.  He knew his balance was precarious, but I don’t think he expected Murtagh to be such a zealot and that he would not make himself hard to find.  He is shocked to find Murtagh so public in his defiance.  It has become obvious that he is not waiting to fight at Jamie’s side. It seems to me that Murtagh understands that without information about the part the regulators play and how they fare in this “coming war”, he must blindly go ahead with his plans. They may not make a difference, but then again they may.  In fact, none of us truly know how the actions of men like Murtagh shaped the revolution that led to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Jamie is left trying to navigate his way between loyalty to Murtagh and loyalty to his settlers, his empathy for the regulators and his need to protect his family.  Sam Heughan’s ability to emote that strain and its consequence is nothing short of staggering.

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Torn between truth and truth:

The “truth fires” that Claire walks between are the truth that she is fighting the knowledge that she could be saving lives and the truth that that same knowledge could place them all in danger of losing everything.  Right now, I’m worried they are all going to get burned because Claire cannot stop fanning the flames.

Life here is hard, dangerous, rife with ignorance and violence.  The scene in Hillsborough was a harsh reminder, but the scene in the surgery cemented the truth for me.  The Farrish’s wagon comes careening up to the Big House with an obviously ill Mister Farrish.  A distraught Mistress Farrish has no idea how she could have done anything more to help! She has given him laxatives! She has let his blood!  Claire confirms to her horror and ours that the man’s veins have been cut open and much needed blood drained.  Then the clincher…the man’s wife has given him “Blue Mass Pills”…mercury.  There is literally nothing Claire can do, but watch him die.  She is fighting both the “illness and its cure”.  She is a woman with knowledge, living in a world with none.

In an effort to get at the truth, Claire decides to do an autopsy.

I felt that that sentence needed to be given its own space.  The danger in which she has placed herself and those she loves cannot be overstated.  I kept thinking she has a body ripped open in her house! Literally, anyone could discover it just like Brianna.  Brianna is right, it intellectually and practically makes sense in 1969, but that is not the time in which they live.  What if someone does find out?  We all know what will happen.  But, Claire forges ahead consequences “be damned”.  I’m not a doctor, but at some level, I understand her need and her frustration.  If people would just listen to her, just come to her sooner, she wouldn’t have to watch helplessly while they die. But again, Brianna is right, Mistress Farris just helped her husband “die faster”.  The truth is that there really wasn’t anything Claire could have done either way.  Once again, we see Claire blinded by her need to help.  At this point, it is starting to feel pathological. Her need may appear selfless, but in truth, it feels selfish.  I want to shake some sense into her, has she learned nothing?

 

Torn between fear and fear:

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Last week we heard that Bonnett, Brianna’s rapist and potential biological father to her son, was spotted in the province.  This week we saw that he was more than a charcoal nightmare.  Stephen, the sociopath, is alive and well and proud to be a papa.  Excuse me while I shiver in fear.  Bonnet was an absolute creep and brute in the books, but Ed Speelers’ portrayal of him might just be worse than BJR, and that, my friends, is quite a feat.  Black Jack Randall was very much in control of his darkness.  That in itself was frightening, but he was at least predictable.  Bonnet’s duality of charm and savage brutality is frightening because of its capricious instability.  He can be smiling one minute and cutting your eyes out the next.

I’m sure it was deliberate, but why did they feel the need to make him look good?  Maybe, it’s just me? Did anyone else think they made him look gorgeous? It was disconcerting.  Villians should look like villains, right? Then it hit me.  Lucifer was an angel.  It makes it even more frightening that he doesn’t look the part.  There are no immediate warning signs, he seems affable.   When he feels insulted by another man, he comments that they should settle the affront to his honor like gentlemen.  He is only playing at the gentlemen.  He is in truth feral.  When he doesn’t kill the man outright instead of maiming him, it is because he “…wants to set a better example. I’m a father now”.  He walks out, straightens his clothes back to genteel form, a look of eagerness then crosses his face.  I was convinced that look and his attempts to be a gentleman were all about Jemmie.

Brianna is walking between the fires of fear and fear.  On one side is the very real fear that her rapist lives.  On the other side, she lives with the fear that her PTSD will destroy any chance she has at happiness.  She fights to not let Bonnet win.  She will not let what he did ruin her relationship with the man and child that she loves. She hides her fears.  Like so many others like her, she puts on a smile and tries to live.  This might be the narrowest path of all.  She has survived, but that doesn’t mean she is healed.  Healing from trauma comes with no guarantees about what life will be like after.  Brianna lives with fear on all sides and maybe …she is walking through fire.

 

 

 

 

The Jamie of the Ridge … a reflection on Outlander 5.01 “The Fiery Cross”

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First, let me say that 5.01 “The Fiery Cross” was a masterful mix of old and new.  It was recognizably based on the book but told with enough new and yet plausible surprises to keep me glued to my screen. It totally could have happened that way.  And, although I love Diana Gabaldon, and her gathering, I’m relieved they didn’t feel the need to replicate it in this episode. Instead, they gave us the wedding of Roger and Bree. It was a wonderful and joyous reunion filled with the people I have missed during this long drought.  As each face was shown on the screen, I found myself smiling somewhat tearfully.  I really do love this story and these characters.

As usual, when I sit down to write after an episode, a blow by blow recap of what happened isn’t on my mind.  There are lots of talented bloggers out there who do a great job looking at EVERTHING! I admire their ability to do so, but that just isn’t how my brain works.  I find myself thinking about one or two things that stood out for me or an overall mood or theme for each episode.  This week I couldn’t stop thinking about Jamie.  The Jamie I saw on my screen this week was the charming, complicated, yet simple man I have been longing to see.  As he stood before Claire wearing his plaid and his father’s coat, it felt like he had finally come into his own; laird, proud Scot, husband, father, grandfather.  He is a man and “that is no small thing”.  His tear-filled eyes throughout this episode revealed his soul and I found myself proud to “know” such a man.

Jamie and Bree

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Matt Roberts writes with such love for this story and its characters.  He holds all the previous episodes in mind when he creates and tends to the small and endearing details.  In this episode, he called us back to the three conditions Jamie made when he agrees to marry Claire; a dress, a priest, and a ring.   We are treated to Jamie trying his best to make sure his daughter’s wedding day is the best he can make it, just like he tried for her mother. I was charmed by Jamie making sure Bree had her “modern” wedding tradition of something old, something new (fairly raw whiskey, ouch), something borrowed and something blue and even a sixpence for her shoe. His obvious fatherly concern is compounded by the fact that their relationship is still so new.  He just got her back and now he has to give her away.

As he turns the corner and sees Bree in her wedding dress, you can chase the emotions across his face; awe, pride, gratefulness, and finally a need to hold it all in check for this beloved and found daughter.  He could never have dreamed of placing his mother’s pearls on his daughter’s neck. He is able to pass on a family heirloom to his own flesh and blood. She is his blessing.  She is the embodiment of the fact that his sacrifices were not in vain.  He is moved to tears by her confession that she needs him and will always be his wee girl and the gift of her knowing and repeating the Fraser clan motto, “Je Suis Prest”.

Jamie and Claire

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Throughout the episode, we are reminded of Jamie and Claire’s deep, passionate, and abiding love for one another.  The looks that pass between each, the unspoken language of couples who are so close they know what the other thinks and feels, added so much to this episode. Once again, the writers or actors took care to be consistent in how this couple interacts with each other like the “let’s do this” nod when Jamie goes off to do something dangerous.  But, Lord the looks between Jamie and Claire at the wedding.  He looks around at all he has wrought, the family he is surrounded by, and then back to Claire. Who knows.  He is overwhelmed by all he has that he thought he had lost forever.  He is a laird, a father, a…husband.  I am constantly reminded of all they had been denied and wonder if Jamie feels like Job who was blessed in his latter days and given twice as much as had been taken from him.

Jamie and the Governor

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I teach literature. When I help students analyze Shakespeare, we talk about foils.  Governor Tyron was perfectly menacing and a perfect foil for Jamie. You couldn’t help but compare the two.  Their motivations, their values, couldn’t be more opposite.  The Governor has the care of a land and its people.  Jamie has the care of a land and its people. The Governor is motivated by power and his own importance.  Murtaugh has made him look a fool and must be punished publicly to restore Tyron’s pride and preserve the perception of his power.  Jamie is motivated by love, honor, and duty.  The knowledge of the future lays heavy on him.  He knows who wins the war, but first, you must survive the battle.  Instinctively he knows the best way to protect his men and their families is to assure their loyalty to him.  He creates a clan from the remnants of their memories and Scottish pride.  When he called Roger “the son of my house” and Fergus “the son of his heart”, he gave them a public affirmation of his acceptance and his love. Pledging their loyalty to him on bended knee with holy iron was one of the most moving callbacks of the whole series.  I loved Roger’s initial confusion then Jamie’s surprise as the scholar moved from academic to real with alacrity.

Jamie and Murtagh

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We began and ended the episode with these two.  Murtagh pledges an oath to Jamie, a promise he gave his mother to always follow him and have his back.  He gently reaches out and takes wee Jamie’s hand in reassurance. Men in this time are definitely defined by their word and once given it is a serious and binding commitment. Murtagh pledged his life to Jamie.  We have seen him keep that oath.  We saw Jamie’s joy at being reunited with his godfather last season. However, the real depth of feeling Jamie has for Murtagh could only be guessed at… until this moment.  How much that oath meant to Jamie and his love for his godfather was revealed in this final scene. To save him, Jamie must release Murtagh from his oath and send him away.   In true Jamie and Murtagh fashion, no gushy words are spoken in their final goodbye. Jamie is tearful when he tells him to go and attempts to smile as he tells him to make himself scarce.  Murtagh’s response is to gently reach out and touch Jamie reassuringly, thinking first of Jamie’s feelings and needs always.  He leaves and Jamie then collapses in grief emitting gut-wrenching sobs. I think having loved and lost is painful, but to gain that love back and have to let it go again is unbearable.  Jamie is feeling fear as he never has before and that is saying a lot.  He has a lot to lose and will fight to the death to preserve all that he loves.

This episode and Jamie’s tears caused me to reflect on my own life. I thought of how much more easily my husband and I are moved to tears.  I believe, like Jamie, our age is a factor.  We have a lifetime of painful memories and struggles, things that we have overcome to get where we are now.  And, I often find I am now moved to tears by the simplest of things like watching our youngest granddaughters ride a pony or their obvious pride in catching a fish all by themselves, or watching the teens in all of their various sports and activities.or their inexplicable joy in a pair of gifted footed pajamas!  Sometimes watching the looks of pride on our own children’s faces as they look upon their children moves me to tears and I will look at my husband and find that he too is tearful. Like Jamie and Claire, understanding, gratitude, and love will wordlessly pass between us and end in a brief kiss and a tremulous smile.

 

 

 

My Outlander Stress Dream…Looking forward to Sunday?

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Hi!  Been an age!  I know I have been scarce on Outlander Social Platforms, but in my defense, I’ve been busy.  That is mostly because my life has been a train wreck. I’m seriously considering changing my name to Calamity Jane or Blighted Beth.  My normal every day for the last two years has included some level of elevated stress.  I’ve sort of gotten used to it, so imagine my surprise when my motivation to start writing again was, …stress.  OMG!  I had the worst stress nightmare last night!  Usually, I can tell when my life is out of control because I have the same stress nightmare, a leftover from my days as a high school drama director.  In those dreams it is opening night, no one knows their lines, the lead drops out, and NO ONE has a costume (where is Terry Dresbach when you need her?).  But, THIS stress nightmare was completely different AND Outlander related.

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In this dream, I’m on my way to a comic con in NYC.  I’ve never been to a comic con, so that might explain why NYC looked like a Pennsylvania coal town.  I’m on my own, figuring out things as I go, driving my own car.  I pull up to a country church where there is a meet and greet.  Low and behold as I walk into the vestibule there stand Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan.  They are behind lecterns on either side of the vestibule and I can see the crowd sitting in the pews beyond them.  The two are looking down perusing some papers and I notice that sitting on each lectern is a clear shoebox full of yellow tickets like the kind they sell at high school sporting events for the 50/50.  I immediately deduce that there must be some kind of drawing, so I look around to see if I could find information.  There is a small line of folks filling out tickets behind me.  Feeling relieved that the info is “right there”, I decide it’s been a long drive to the comic con and I need to use the ladies’ room and I might want to take a peek in the mirror before I speak to Sam and Cait.  When I return to the vestibule I discover everyone is gone!  I spend the rest of my night driving my car around NYC coal town looking for the meet and greet, driving on the sidewalks, weaving in out of crowds and grieving that I was going to miss my chance to meet Sam and Cait!   Nightmarish to be sure.

I find dream interpretation to be fascinating and would welcome your interpretations, someone has to have a good explanation for my geography mash-up.  I’m guessing I had this dream now because Outlander is premiering this Sunday and I feel totally unprepared!  I’ve kinda put everything Outlander on the back burner and NOW I feel as knowledgeable about Outlander as most media outlets! (What is under that kilt?  JUST kidding! Trying to be snarky).  I even had to look up Sam and Cait’s names to make sure I spelled them correctly! One good thing about being relatively absent from the fandom is that I missed a lot of the drama.  I know there was some, but I’m thankful I didn’t get drawn into any of it.  So, I’m sort of watching without bias or preconceived notions! I know the previews I’ve watched look good and I am loving what I perceive as a focus on relationships.  I was thinking yesterday about the times they got Jamie really right and really wrong and how glad I am that Sam and Cait have some control and say in how their characters were portrayed this season.

I wasn’t really sure I was going to write about the season again, but evidently, my unconscious-self disagrees!  This morning, after recovering from driving all night, I find I’m getting excited to escape to Fraser’s Ridge with all of you and talk about the whole thing like Monday morning quarterbacks.  

 

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And if you see Sam and Cait at the comic con, tell them I’m sorry I missed them last night!

Sincerely,

Beth W.