by Beth Wesson
I picture the Outlander’s writer’s room looking a lot like my house when I decide I need to organize. My husband always shakes his head because my organizing tends to look like anything, but. “You KNOW it always looks worse before gets better!”, I remind him. It seems I have to put everything out where I can see it before I can decide what is important, what can be thrown away, and how to put it all back together in a way that functions. It is a very long and messy process. I’m pretty sure the task of adapting Diana’s Gabaldon’s big novels feels very much like cleaning at least three closets that haven’t been truly gleaned in 25 years. You have this huge amount of material to work through, favorites that you can’t bear to live without, limited space, and a need to have a system that helps connect things in a way that makes sense so that tomorrow you know where things go.
Now, here’s the difference. They are working with words, ideas, metaphors, images, and characters instead of old clothes, purses, and boxes of children’s art projects. Pulling on the threads of words and images both light and dark and weaving them into a pleasing pattern is a challenge I would love. What I probably wouldn’t enjoy as much would be having to argue about those choices and having to compromise. I understand the importance of having different voices in this kind of creative process, but I’m pretty sure I would feel strongly about my choices and find it difficult to let go. Imagine finally getting that closet in beautiful working order only to have your mother-in-law come and tell you it’s all wrong! Now, I don’t know who is supposed to be the mother-in -law in this Outlander writer’s room scenario, but you get my point. I know these writers are dedicated to creating the best adaptation they can bring us whether we be book fans or not. I’ve watch them give space and respect to too many sensitive subjects to ever believe otherwise. This week, I saw Matt B. Roberts and the Outlander writer’s room tackle some significant storylines and character development, and arrange them in a way that will make sense tomorrow and in episode, 6, 8 or 10 for that matter. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to throw away some favorites, make hard choices, and fight to make the whole thing honor the source story and still be a its own story. They have fought the good fight and in my opinion, they won.
What Frank knew and didn’t know, what Frank did and didn’t do and whether that makes him one of the best or worst husbands has been a topic for debate in the fandom for a long time. Diana has gone on record with her now famous “Defense of Frank” to let us know there is more to Frank’s story than meets the eye and reminds us that we only hear things from Claire’s perspective and that she has her own reasons for wanting to believe the worst of Frank. And, so I was surprised to see Matt and team had decided to go with the Frank is “cheating” route right out of the box. I’ve written a couple of posts about Frank and in each, I found it completely understandable that Frank would look for companionship, sex, and maybe even love outside this marriage. What, after all, is a man to do with the knowledge that his wife has loved another man for almost 20 years?
When I think of Frank and Claire’s marriage warped things come to mind; intentions, plans, relationships, and love. What started out straight and good and true has become a twisted volatile mess. The choice to make Frank less than perfect and less the martyr is a good one, in my opinion. It also made this whole situation that much more painful and real. I’m still not sure how I feel about the “separate lives” thing being Claire’s idea. It sort of goes against the belief that she wanted the marriage to work and that she was still trying. I’m not sure if they are trying to suggest that perhaps she was trying to be kind to Frank or that she thought she could handle a “modern” marriage? Either way, she sure seems surprised he is seeing other people and that her marriage has truly become one of convenience.
On the night, where she should be celebrating with her family, with those that love her, she instead has to face the demise of her marriage to Frank. Claire coming face to face with Frank’s infidelity and his strained, slightly intoxicated reserve was unnerving. His mumbled comments, pointed emphasis on “Dr. Randall”, and the out of character insult “green ain’t your color Claire” felt as real as any argument over a “dead horse” subject as I ever heard or felt. The idea that this conversation is really going nowhere, that you’ve heard it before, and that you are just wasting your time, energy, and emotion, is familiar.
Tobias’ allowed Frank’s frustration and his reaching his limits to be communicated subtly with a shaky sigh, a thrown pillow, his not knowing what to do with his hands, and his furrowed brow. Cait’s portrayal of a hurt Claire with her eyes brimming with tears, a lifted chin, and arms crossed around herself was a painful thing to watch. The reason they can’t play charades isn’t just because they are bad actors, it is because they aren’t close enough to read each other. Their marriage is an absolute train wreck, full of anger, regret and remorse.
The night the clock truly does run out on their marriage was so awful. I agreed with Cait when she said this scene in the book had some powerful stuff. I can remember being so confused by Frank telling her he was leaving and taking Bree while he was spooning with Claire in bed. He seemed so urbane. In this episode, his tender regard for how she is feeling is followed by his announcement that he wants a divorce and that he is taking Bree with him. Not the same, but still satisfying. I’m sure there were a myriad of reasons for the change, but my guess is we had to see Frank walk out that door. The idea that he has been biding his time and waiting for Brianna to come of age before leaving Claire is a bitter pill to swallow. His insinuation that Bree loves him more has to sting. Did Claire’s following her calling come at too great a price? Was she in danger of losing her daughter? My guess is yes. It feels as if Frank might have cultivated this scenario whether he was conscience of it or not.
I know it is implied that Frank stepped up and fried the bacon and black pudding up in the pan , so that Claire could leave Bree well cared for while she became a doctor, but the scene where they discussed this in the books felt important to me. It was some needed insight into how this choice and arrangement came to be. We learn how Frank felt about the whole thing, and how Claire was willing to give this up for Bree’s sake. I felt it would have been important to see how Frank recognized that Claire had always know what she was meant to do and how rare it is to be so certain. He, however, prophetically warned that there was a price, a debt… to pay. In this episode, we see Claire about to “pay” that debt with the loss of her marriage and maybe her daughter. Frank seems genuinely surprised that Claire is upset. I think he truly believes she doesn’t care.
His declaration that he wants to spend the rest of his life with a wife who truly loves him is nothing more than any of us deserves. Despite his declaration, I loved that in a last moment of vulnerability, he asked Claire is there could ever have been a chance of her forgetting …”him”. It was not the simple and honest “No” from the book, but instead a poetic declaration that was just as honest and just as devastating.
I grieved with Claire for her first love, her lost love, her Frank.
“Do you find your life burdensome, Mr. Fraser?”, asks Major John Grey. A reasonable question to ask of a man whose life has been so drastically altered. A poor devil now.
Jamie answers that he believes that the real burden in one’s life is to care for people you cannot help, not in having no one to care for. Emptiness, but no great burden. There is so much emptiness in these characters lives.
This episode was full of poor devils.
Poor Claire. Poor Frank. Poor Jamie. Poor John Grey. Poor…Murtaugh. Everyone has been cold and hungry for years. Prisoners not just languishing behind barred doors and cold stone walls, but in minds, spirits, and hearts. Everyone is starving. Everyone is shivering with cold, which is the toll of living lives as prisoners to repressed thoughts, feelings, and memories.
We see a Jamie once again altered. He has indeed just exchanged one prison for another. He has exchanged one group of people in which to feel responsible for, yet another. He is quiet, but not withdrawn. He seems cautious, distrustful, reserved. And yet, he seems to have found a sense of himself he was missing in the cave. He is a prisoner, but not cowed. “There is nothing you can do that hasn’t already been done to me”, he tells John Grey. There is a sense of personal power in this statement. He has faced and survived more horrors than any one man should have to stand, and so, what is there left to fear? I see the makings of the wise man Jamie becomes. He knows what things are truly valuable in this life and what things are worth fearing.
I was glad to see the show has indeed “saved Murtaugh”. I had some pangs for how his presence might alter the story by lessening Jamie’s loneliness, but then I thought about what hell the poor man had been through and decided Murtaugh was a fair enough gift to give Jamie. We saw Jamie offered an opportunity for further healing in the form of Lord John Grey and his honorable actions. He surprises Jamie with his concern for the men under his care, his integrity, and his personal generosity. We start to see Lord John earn Jamie’s hard to be won trust and a tenuous friendship begins.
John shares a personal story and makes himself vulnerable in front of Jamie. With eyes glistening with tears he claims,”There are some people you grieve over forever”. His openness and willingness to share his personal grief with Jamie appears to give Jamie a sense his own grief is in safe hands. He shares his own loss and we see Sam Heughan utter Claire’s name in a voice so full of longing and with a face so full of emotion it would make an angel weep. The scene that follows was no less remarkable in the depth of emotion shown and restrained. Kudos to both of these actors for such a poignant heart-breaking performance. This was one of those times when the TV series truly enriched the book series for me. Seeing John’s offer of condolence turn into something more and the horror, betrayal, and pain that caused for both was heartbreakingly painful to watch.
The debts paid in this episode are all ones we can recognize in our own lives. We pay back kindnesses, give into admitting our mistakes, and reap what we sew,. Jamie and Claire are altered by their grief, changed by their experiences, and forced to move on with their lives. This episode managed to encapsulate what was most important for moving these characters and the story forward. They painted us a picture of two people who are truly missing their other half and finding living hard as a result. The show has taken on the challenge of showing us the story of Jamie without Claire and Claire without Jamie. It is not a pretty tale and yet, it has been beautifully told.