I had an Uncle who helped free the camps in World War II. You didn’t talk to Uncle Harry about the war. He never talked about his experience and in fact, it was a hushed topic in the family. However, when I was old enough to realize my uncle had been in a war, I gathered up enough courage to ask. I wanted to know what it was like. The only thing he would ever say was, “More terrible than God willing you’ll ever know”. This week’s episode of Outlander, let us see how terrible it was for Claire and gave some weight to the seriousness of the battle Jamie and the highlanders face. War isn’t an abstract concept for Claire. She knows full well what lies ahead and the cost to everyone involved. This was one of those times a visual adaptation added to my experience of this story and deepened my appreciation.
What I was told was that these next two episodes would be about battle. These were the episodes about training and fighting, swords and strategy. What it was really about was much more than what was presented on the surface. This was an episode about characterization and character.
PERSPECTIVE, EXPERIENCE, AND DREAMS
I loved that Matt and Ron chose to let us see different perspectives. We got to see how many different ways folks could look at this upcoming battle. Claire, Jamie, Dougal, Lord Lovat, and the highlanders with families and crops to tend, and even Bonnie Prince Charlie, all had their own ideas about what this war meant based on their own experience and dreams.
Claire: Maybe, more than anyone Claire knows what war means. Before this episode we have seen some of what she must have experienced. Episode one showed us a Claire taking charge of a man whose injury was causing him to bleed out. Blood splattered, she looks around her at people celebrating and we get the sense that too much has happened for her to feel joy at the ending of the war Later, we see her treat the wounds of a boy whose leg is badly damaged by a boar and we see Claire’s anger at what she sees as a senseless risk. We see her lament the fact that she must be destined to see mangled and maimed men in her dreams when she helps amputate the British soldier’s arm and Geordie’s fatal injury reminded us that Claire has seen men die before….many of them.
Despite these reminders of Claire’s experience of war, over the course of these last two seasons, her focus was first on surviving her fall through time and then trying to change it. This episode helped us understand more deeply why she needed to try to change the future. It is because that future means death for people she has grown to care about and love. These aren’t random Yanks eating shit on a shingle. This is Rupert and Angus and all the others she has lived with and cared for…and Jamie. She locked her worst experiences away in order to keep going. It made sense to me. Claire’s pragmatic nature would have made it necessary. Of course, she is remembering her previous experience now. How could she not? Everything about this preparation for battle reminds her and us that people are people no matter when in time and that war is the same whether it is fought in 1940’s or the 1740’s. It is always bloody, painful, and full of death.
Dougal longs for the glory of war, the Prince rightful and righteous power restored. Claire just wants people she loves to survive. Like my uncle Harry, Claire knows that war is “more terrible than God willing we’ll ever know”. She experiences her own bout with PTSD, but it was so Claire like for her to feel fear and do it anyway. More than anyone save Jamie, she knows what lies ahead for these men and despite her fear she knows she could not live with sitting at home alone and helpless like a dragonfly in amber She can only make what is coming bearable for herself if she can be there to ease what suffering she can. I thought the flashbacks were a brilliant vehicle for bringing the truth of war home to the audience. They put a personal face on the trauma to come, Claire’s. The Claire we saw in last night’s episode was the real Claire intensely caring and real.
Jamie: Kudos to Terry Dresbach for putting Jamie back in his father’s leather jacket…it finally fits. This is the laird of Lallybroch, this is the clan chieftain, this is Himself. The Jamie we saw in last night’s episode was the real Jamie. This is the Jamie we book readers all knew him to be. As one of my readers told me, she and many others struggled with the adaptation , “Mostly it came down to I wanted book Jamie from day 1. But I now see how much more interesting a character he is to see him grow and become that man he will be.” I’m not sure that there was any other way to show viewers how he got to be THIS man without letting us actually see that growth happen. This man is a warrior to be sure, but he is a warrior tempered by knowledge of war, knowledge of the future if he fails, and by personal trauma. He is a man sure of his responsibility and himself. He knows himself like few of us ever will. This Jamie has earned his identity, his soul. Poor Dougal doesn’t understand how insignificant his barbs and attempts to undermine Jamie’s confidence are. This Jamie has been to the depths of Hell and back. Never has there been a man more sure of who he is and what he stands for. The boy with the scarred backed is gone. The man with the scarred back is here and those scars are no longer anything he feels the need to shamefully hide.
INTIMACY, MATURITY, AND NECESSITY
The intimacy in this episode shocked me. I didn’t expect it. It wasn’t even the fact that I thought for a minute we might get a version of Jamie’s issues with after “battle hardness” that caused me to feel this way . Seriously, how many of you thought we were gonna get a version of sex on the rocks and water-weed?! It was the closeness, the touches, the looks, the concern, and the knowledge that there is still a truth between them that caused me to feel the bond between the two of them was strong. This is the Jamie and Claire I longed for, as Claire told Dougal, “my husband and I share everything. This is a couple who are always aware of the other, working beside each other, caring for each other above themselves, riding side by side through life. This couple has been through the fire and it has forged a love that is strong and… sure. I saw a Jamie and Claire who were totally able to be themselves with each other without fear. Poor clueless Dougal cannot even come close to understanding either of them. Matt B. Roberts using Dougal as a foil was a stroke of genius. We were able to see the difference between these two war chiefs and it highlighted Jamie’s maturity and worthiness. Jamie has more important things to do than earn a place at the Prince’s table. Neither he nor Claire are motivated by power and greed, instead they are motivated by care, concern, and a sense of responsibility. In Dougal’s defense, I think he really does love Scotland and having Dougal announce their arrival to the prince was a nod to Jamie’s intuitive leadership. This is a man who is a leader of men and I for one would follow him.
THE ADAPTATION: It worked. There was so much going on in this episode I could have written pages, but I felt I had to focus my reflection on what stood out for me the most, the revealing of character. But, I don’t want to ignore how well done this was. There wasn’t a bit of dialogue, music, set, costumes, that didn’t advance the story of these characters. Everything was telling us a story. I felt transported. There was humor, and tenderness, and hope, and fear. In short, great story-telling. This episode came pretty close to perfect and Je Suis Prest for more.