Photo credits to OutlanderOnline.com
My husband said, “I could almost predict what was going to happen.”
Curious, I asked, “How, so?”
He explained, “It’s the way they’ve been portrayed. You knew Claire was going to take charge and Jamie was going to fight to do what was best for everyone and that Dougal was going to throw himself into the battle.”
After speaking a bit more, I understood that he didn’t mean the plot was necessarily predictable, but that the characters had been so well drawn for him that he felt like he knew them. Personally, I think that is a good thing. If you are able to feel you know a character that well then the actors have done their job. They have made you feel something about the person they are portraying and we are able to suspend our disbelief and go with them into battle and care about what happens.
Ensemble: a group of musicians, actors, or dancers who perform together.
Sam Heughan said this was his favorite episode because of the performances of the ensemble. In truth, I felt Outlander’s actors were able to act off of each other in a way we haven’t really seen before. All of their character’s beliefs, experiences, values, and personalities arrived in Prestonpans and we were treated to seeing everything that has come before come to a type of fruition. I understand what Sam was saying, this ensemble made the whole, the episode, better…because of its parts. There were some truly wonderful performances. The actors emoted so much through a subtle swallow or a momentary grimace, glance or the blink of an eye. Bear McCreary’s musical score, the realistic costumes, sets, makeup and special effects, and the filming (wow, just wow) all combined to make me feel like I’d fallen through the stones. Our characters were going to war. What would Murtaugh and Dougal do? How would Claire react? What was each of their places in this battle? My husband was right; I could practically predict how each character would react.
I love that this show has a depth that allows me to make connections with real life and its truths. My husband was definitely on my mind this morning as I reflected on this episode. He is a school principal and as such, he is asked to make hundreds of decisions a day. Most of those decisions have very little to do with reading, writing and arithmetic. Most days, he finds himself navigating issues that are less about academics and more about impact on his students’ lives and well-being. I never worry that he will make the wrong decision because of what motivates him. He bases every choice on what is best for his students. His integrity won’t allow him do anything else. He makes his judgments based on his belief that his responsibility is to care what happens to his kids. As a result, despite how difficult or unpopular that decision might be, I know it will be the right one and that he can defend his choice and sleep with a sound conscience.
Here in lies the problem for the highlanders in our story. Unlike my husband, who has a clear idea of what he is fighting for, they are making life-altering choices based on an idea and ideals that are not based in reality. Murtaugh had it right when he said they needed a better reason to fight than just a more sympathetic ass sitting on the throne.
DOUGAL’S DREAMS vs REALITY
Of all the “stories” told in this episode, I felt Dougal’s was one of the most interesting. You just knew his zeal and desire for glory wasn’t going to end well. His hopes for Scotland and a Stewart restored to the throne were based on an idea that just didn’t match reality. Prince Charles’ idea of what this battle is about does not match with Dougal’s idea of England as the enemy, but Dougal doesn’t know that. The Prince is fighting for the restoration of a kingdom, a faith, and his father’s approval. Dougal fights for a free Scotland. The enemy is easy for Dougal to identify, but the Prince doesn’t see it as Dougal presumes and the Princes repeated belief that the English are his father’s subjects and the highlander’s brothers confuses the issue for everyone. Dougal has a romanticized idea of the Prince, I felt sick to my stomach when I saw the look of awe and humble gratitude on Dougal’s face when the prince hugged him and for what this selfish young royal’s desires meant for this war and what that then in turn meant for the future of Dougal’s beloved Scotland. In short, Clan McKenzie’s war chief has committed himself body and soul to something that doesn’t exist. The result can only be decisions and actions that will be disastrous for himself and others.
CLAIRE AND JAMIES’ DESPERATION
I was so moved by the interaction between these two in this episode. They truly are good and honorable people who are trying to make the best of a horrible situation. Everything they do is colored by the knowledge that the “promise of history” is not in their favor and I could feel their desperation. It is a desperate state of affairs. Every touch, every look, every word was filled with poignancy. I wanted to reach through the screen and hold them both as Claire held wee Fergus. They have no choice, but to move forward and try to effect change and make decisions to save those they love despite their knowledge of the future. They have no idea if the decision to turn right or left, do this or do that, will be a sound decision or one that will lead them closer to the abyss that is Culloden Moor. Even Jamie’s incredulous joy that the battle was won so quickly with so little loss of life was tempered with the knowledge that it was written and might be the harbinger of the future.
There were so many wonderful moments between these characters. Jamie giving Dougal his opportunity to shine before Prince Charlie and then rescuing him from banishment and disgrace, Rupert and Angus’ touching attempts at intimacy, Claire and Jamie’s moving moments of goodbye before the battle, and… Murtaugh and Jamie. I was struck by Murtaugh’s loyalty and his life of sacrifice. He tells us that when you fight for your clan every man has a part to play and if you are forced to wound or kill or be killed yourself you would know your memory would live on in your clan and your death would have meaning. He knows he goes to war without that close connection and purpose and he fears his death will go unnoticed and his sacrifice will mean nothing. He knows the future too and he knows that because they failed to stop the rising they face almost certain defeat and maybe…a meaningless death. But, despite this knowledge he too fights on because of his own integrity and loyalty and for love of Jamie.
“Watch over Jamie” asks Claire.
“Always” assures Murtaugh.
LOYALTY AND FIGHTING FOR A CAUSE
The cost of war is always in lives, future and love lost. In the end, it is the equalizer. In the end, we all value and fight for the same things and are destroyed by its loss whether you’re a Fraser or a McKenzie, a lieutenant or prince, a crofter or a war chieftain. The episode’s writer, Ira Behr reminded us from the opening scene that the wages of war are death with the image of a highlander lying dead and swollen alone in the woods and in the end, with Angus newly gone covered in his own blood and surrounded by the helpless ones who loved him.
In the end, I too could predict what would happen to the characters dreams and fears in this episode because of a universal truth the show so wonderfully and effectively allowed us to see, “war tastes bitter no matter the outcome”. The song to life sung by Rupert and the crofter was a song sung for all of us. Love and live life well while you can because death comes for us all.