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.






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

  1. I think my eyebrows flew clean off my head! I was shocked at first at Murtagh’s fury and willingness to brutally harm. Seemed so at odds with the man/character we fans fell in love with and wanted kept alive. I do understand that he was changed by what happened after Culloden, but it pained me to see it. And Claire and her determined actions…again, I understand her desires, but srsly, Claire?? And I actually laughed aloud when she quickly covered the man’s face but left his gaping torso exposed. Really, Claire? LOVE what they are doing with Marsali’s character in the series even though it’s “not in the books”. She is so spunky and someone I could hang out with. lol And that ending…that man is so detestable. Very much looking forward to his demise at some point. I hope they make it painful. I think he got away far too easily in the books. Anyway…hope your eyebrows grow back quickly. Not sure I’ll ever find mine. – Dawn

    • Barbara Brown

      I know, right?!!! When I watched the first time, my brain was going, Oh .No. Oh. No. Didn’t appreciate it at all. And I love the show for what it is and does, even though I am a forever book fan. So I watched it again, and was intrigued and drawn in to the story and images. So, ok, BIG and Totally Unexpected changes, but I am all in and along for this scary ride now. (So glad you are writing about Outlander again.)

  2. Joan Tinnin

    Thank you, Beth! I enjoy your critiques so very much. On Twitter, there were a number of people that found this episode “boring”. Huh?! Tarring and feathering is “boring “? Claire putting them in huge danger “boring”? Yes, I’d like to shake her as well. Sometimes her family being sucked into danger by having to save EVERYONE is bothersome. Bonnet surfacing again? “Boring?” I am in agreement with all your comments and loved your insight, as always! Thank you!

  3. Laine Andrews

    Part of medical training is learning that there are limits to what one can do yet there have always been people driven to push those limits. In Claire’s life in the 1960s there were far more limits on what a surgeon could accomplish than now so her great upset at not being able to save the thug who tried to rape and kill her just after her reunion with Jamie was risible along with her prideful comment that she had seldom lost a patient. All surgeons in the 1960s had patients die no matter how good they were and there was no indication that Claire was a star.

    She went back 200 years knowing the primitive medical conditions she would face with nothing more than a one-person supply of penicillin. Perhaps she should have taken instructions on how to make it instead of trying to “invent” it over a century earlier than Alexander Fleming, messing with bread mould? Well, it is a fantasy after all and Claire’s insistence on sticking her neck out, risking many others as well is a constant source of dramatic events easing both Ms. Gabaldon’s and the TV writers’ jobs. However in the series, it often veers into almost satire as headstrong Claire becomes some kind of Superwoman – brain surgeon, ship’s infectious disease specialist, obstetrician, pathologist and inventor or re-creator of giant steps in medicine like the first antibiotic or later, general anesthesia. This stomping around as a Medical Great of the Ages throws the relationship with Jamie out of balance who pales by comparison, limited to what one man can accomplish with a sword and a brain. Going a little easier on Claire’s exploits, introducing more willingness to accept the past she chose would be a more realistic direction. I bet most of the largely female readership would say that they like Jamie better than Claire. As one such, I feel his diminishing to Claire’s medical bag carrier grates and makes the couple a lot less sexy. I wonder what solely TV viewers think?

      • Laine Andrews

        Hi Beth. I don’t write a blog of my own, just visit ones that add to my enjoyment of Gabaldon’s oeuvre and yours is one of the best in that regard with gentle but incisive analysis and original points. It’s quite possible I’ve made similar comments along the way as my view is pretty consistent on where the books and TV series diverged if not fatally then significantly. I have a medical background so that thread of the story often gets my attention and frustration. The books are so voluminous and content rich that Claire’s medical heroics are diluted into being less bothersome but the TV writers have made this her major identity. There’s only a little corner left for family (just like Bree’s childhood now that I think of it) and unfortunately even less space for the Jamie Claire romance that should be the main ribbon compared to the medical thread that’s developed into a rope. You know what they say about giving someone enough rope…they end up hanging themselves. Did Gabaldon readers really desire a remake of the Jane Seymour show “Medicine Woman”?

    • Rebecca I Gill

      Laine, I completely agree with your assessment. In this hyper-feminist portrayal of Claire, with her bull in a china shop attitude toward her importance to the medical profession, the TV character Claire has veered too far away from who Claire truly is. . .even accepting the allowances given to the portrayal of Claire by Cait as written by way too many folks who don’t understand Diana Gabaldon’s Claire. She’s actually becoming unlikable and unbelievable.

      Having said all that, I’ll still watch, but, it’s a shame really that the writers feel the need to veer so far from the core of these amazing characters. My husband is soley a TV viewer. This episode of how Claire behaved has suspended belief for him that Claire would actually perform an autopsy in that setting, in her own home, and basically fake a burial so as to further her experiment. Knowing of the times, and the superstitious beliefs of the people of the times, the writers have taken Claire out of true character. My husband sees this behavior as putting herself, and her family, in grave danger of being accused of witchcraft (AGAIN!) because of it. Would Claire really do THAT? He thinks not. I tend to agree.

      Yes, Diana wrote Claire doing an autopsy, in a different setting with a different purpose. This one is trying to combine two story lines to make one story and it’s not working. (Will there not be a Malva?? If not, I get it, but more Marsali??). Yes, Diana wrote Claire experimenting with making penicillin, but not as was done in Ep502. It seems that the more they use terms such as “time-traveler” in common discussion with each other, the more I need to suspend my belief that the writers have the best interest of the viewers in mind.

  4. Bonnie

    I believe that the location of the Regulator’s attack and where the three were imprisoned was Hillsborough, not Wilmington, which is far to the east. However, the town in this episode looked a lot like the sets of Wilmington from Season 4.

  5. Anne

    I am really moved by the Murtagh story line. At first I didn’t understand why he was being so violent and not the ” God father ” Murtagh that we have seen, but then I thought ” Well, he did cut off Sandringhams head! ” So after more thought, and recalling the end of episode one with Jamie in his kilt and his fiery cross scene, I looked at the long picture. The pain and suffering at the hands of the English after Culloden, and the clearances and now, as you said, the English are taxing and treating them unfairly again, to the point of confiscating what little they had. In my limited experience, the Scots ( my family) that I have known have very long memories. I completely understand why they were so angry. The methods the regulators used are certainly not appropriate for today, but in 1771….. T

    So much happens in this episode that sets up the rest of the story to come. I think that show only folks will have a better appreciation of this episode after all of the episodes have aired.

    Happy that Roger is getting to sing more in these episodes, such a variety of songs and what a great voice.

    I am really happy about the new Marsali storyline.

    As for Claire, she worked very hard to gain the medical knowledge that she has and will not accept that she can’t use it. She keeps trying, recklessly at times. I wouldn’t call it selfish exactly, but certainly a refusal to accept the reality of the times. She is very frustrated to not be able to use her knowledge and tries to find ways around those boundaries.

    Looking forward already to reading what you will have to say about the next episode…

    Thanks for writing. 💖

  6. Nancy

    I’m having a hard time posting comments. Not sure why. I’ll try again. Loved this episode. While I gasped out loud at his being the leader of the pack of tar and featherers, I did appreciate the fact that he is much more than just Jamie’s guardian. Stephen Bonnet is exceptionally creepy. Is it wrong to like that? Marsali is absolutely a delight to watch. Thanks, Beth, for always putting each episode into such lovely perspective.

  7. Roberta Jane Rohwer

    I was in shock at the complete turn around from Episode 1 to Episode 2…. light to dark…. joy to sorrow…. etc. I realize that they needed to an awful lot of ‘adjustments’ to get on with it for this season… but whoa! I really needed to decompress after watching! Thanks for your great explanation… because I think it was needed. I’ve read the books… but this has now slipped way off course and is sometimes difficult to follow! Waiting in anticipation for Episode 3!!!

  8. Di

    You summed it up very well Beth. I thought it was a very good episode which managed to squeeze in so much. I can’t believe people were bored. I thought Bonnet in the book was charismatic as well so I expected it but Mr Speelers really plays him with a charming side as well as a very nasty side. I, so glad they veered from the books and kept Murtagh because I just love watching Duncan but I was surprised at just how despicable his actions were. I’m sure there were a lot of similar incidents though and I’m sure a lot of the men got what they deserved. I wish we had more time watching Roger and Bree and we Jemmie.

      • I felt the tar and feathering were out of character for Murtagh. Fighting in a battle with a sword is different and cutting off the Duke’s head was quick retribution. The tar and feathering are torture in fact and I don’t think this would have been part of Murtagh’s character. I think he is an honourable man, even if to his standards of honour. I can see him being part of the Regulators but not egging them on in that way.

  9. jehscribbler

    I was not surprised at Murtagh being involved in the tar and feathering. A man who can cut off a head as he did to avenge the attempted rape of his godson’s wife and the rape of a young woman is a man with a rather stern sense of justice. And as was said by others he had lived through the slaughter at Culloden, the deaths of many afterward, and seen the toll taken on the Scots as a people. The English imprisoned women and small children along with the men and many died of starvation and disease. He would have seen that happen in prison. Now he sees the English behaving with similar cruelty toward settlers who can’t pay unfair taxes. And he isn’t going to let them do this again.
    As always, I enjoyed your insight into this episode.

  10. Violet Daraitis

    Good point about the English showing no mercy at Culloden. These Scots have seen wholesale slaughter by the English. Their property seized, family killed, been enslaved and imprisoned. Ok. I get the tar and feather thing now. Thanks for your insight.

  11. Atlanta Gal

    Great to see you back, Beth. I have enjoyed your reflections since early days. I was a book reader many years ago and now am a Starz viewer. This episode – as so many others – reminds me of how all humans are so complex, so ambiguous, so nuanced. A generally kind person can do something brutal. A wise person can do something incredibly foolish. A brave person can be so confused about what to do that he or she is paralyzed into inaction. That’s what I’ve always loved about Outlander is this accurate depiction of three-dimensional humanity.

  12. I’m really having difficulty finding the virtue in this episode. I didn’t find it boring but did find it very disjointed. I was shocked by the tar and feathering but thought they showed the brutality of this act with horrific reality. I didn’t like that Murtagh was kept alive. I loved his devotion to Jamie and all the Frasers but felt his death at Culloden allowed Jamie the freedom to find his own way knowing that Murtagh was somehow always with him.
    Murtagh knows Jamie is stuck between a rock and a hard place and his actions are making things a lot more difficult for him. Somehow, I can’t see Murtagh doing this after a lifetime spent guarding Jamie – it just didn’t ring true to me.
    I loved seeing Jamie be more assertive even if I didn’t like the way they showed less committed to the Regulators more on the side of the English. Sam really does a masterful job.
    Claire is Claire and yes, I wanted to slap her for being so reckless. I can understand her frustrations but “hello” you knew what you were getting into when you went back. Somehow or other I can’t believe she would participate in a felonious burial so she had a body to work on. There were good reasons Diana didn’t make Marsali Claire’s apprentice that’s Malva Christie job.
    Poor Bree. It’s heartbreaking to see how much Bonnet still haunts her. How she struggles to overcome her demons. I just LOVE Roger. So lovely to hear him sing and so sad to see how much he just wants to get the hell out of Dodge because he simply doesn’t fit in. Really don’t understand why they changed Claire’s diagnose of his eye issues. It would have helped him understand why he can’t shoot and hit the barn door.
    Oh God Bonnet. Ed Speleer is amazing he plays him so well. charming and soulless. I so won’t mind if hey make his demise long and painful.
    One last observation. Mrs Bugg!!!!! I hadn’t realized there was a Mrs Bugg until my second viewing. I so wanted her to be a short, tubby bustling blabbermouth – I may yet get my wish.
    All in all not my favorite episode by far.

    • I feel exactly as you have explained so clearly above. All the points you mention above are the ones that I groaned at. It was disappointing after last week but I live in hope that things may improve. I do think Murtagh would NOT have been tar and feathering. That is torture and as an honorable man, no matter what the English had done to him and as a Highlander, he would exact swift retribution but not torture.

      • Rebecca I Gill

        I agree. It seems as if the writers are taking our beloved characters and making them something else. Sad.

      • Shae

        The Regulators did riot in Hillsborough and tar and feathering was a common torture used against the Loyalists at that time. The problem here is that since they decided to keep Murtagh alive and make him a Regulator then giving him this tar and feathering scene is consistent with ‘their’ interpretation of his character, not the book’s. Yes. He had every reason to hate the British, but quick, savage retribution should have been his action, not torture.

  13. Lisa Nappi

    Again, Beth, you hit all the nails squarely on their heads! I am SO happy to read your blog again. I have missed it. So agree with your comments on Claire’s “I’m a doctor” bull. Selfish. I was furious about the same after she wasted everyone’s time trying to save the man who attacked her shortly after she and Jamie were reunited after her return through the stones (Season 3?). I am a book fan, too, but very willing to go on this wild ride. The show gets so much right! Thank you, Beth!

  14. Mary

    Beth, you have been missed! Here are my thoughts… for what it’s worth.

    I understood Murtagh’s anger and liked seeing the Hillsborough scenes, although I think they combined that with a later scene in the book (necessary since FC is so huge).

    I loved Bonnet. The sword fight and aftermath were told second hand in the book, but the visual really portrays just what an SOB he is (as if we didn’t know). That scene also portrayed that he’s a valuable asset to merchants in the area, even if they are afraid of him.

    I liked them showing just what a precarious situation Jamie is in. The fires are raging on both sides of him.

    I didn’t like the autopsy scene. Claire already knew what killed him. In the book, she was trying to find what killed Betty, so there’s a reason for an autopsy. This scene is just her desire to show Marsali. Honestly, I thought she looked rather demented talking to Marsali. Seriously, wouldn’t he start to stink after awhile?! I did think Lauren just was magnificent, and like the idea of her being Claire’s apprentice.

    Loved the Ruger & Bree scenes. When Roger found the sketches Bree did 😰. Loved him singing to Jemmy, too.


    Hello beth. Absolutely agree with you in all your thoghts! I didn`t want to see this episod twice either. It`s scaring me from the very beginning. It felt too cruel to me – eeing the tar & fethers sceen. Yes, I understand that the war – isn`t the field of cammomile, but still. I was, like Jamie, stunned.
    The turn they created with Marsaly being Claire`s apprentis is kind of pretty far-fetched for me. And Stephen terrifis me too. I just cant look at him! unbearably!
    Ty, Beth! You as always speak for me all my unspoken thoghts. love to read them. And to tranclate. 😁❤

  16. Rebecca I Gill

    Beth, remember the old adage “Be careful what you wish for.” Even in jest, you asked for more Marsali. Now we all get more Marsali. Not too happy about, I am.

  17. Yvonne

    Well done Beth you’ve put in to words all that I felt during & after watching Episode 2. I too, made myself watch it again hoping it would be a little easier but nothing doing. I agree completely about Claire being so tunnel visioned in her need to help others, that she takes way too many risks which put those closest to her & herself in mortal danger.
    I believe she did lock the door during the autopsy but hiding the body in the root cellar seemed odd. I’d imagine Mrs Bugg would have access to that in her position as housekeeper & cook. Maybe the writers had not thought that bit through enough.
    Overall, I think it was a jolt after last week but realised the quiet family time would be brief.
    The difficult issues were portrayed realistically & all the actors, especially Sam were strong. In particular, I think Spellers raised his game & I agree he’s making Bonnet seem far worse than BJR now.

  18. Shae

    One more thing about the autopsy……

    Before a burial the family would certainly have taken the body back to their house/cabin to clean it, dress it and had a period of mourning and visitation. He wasn’t contagious. He had appendicitis combined with mercury poisoning. Are we to believe Mrs. F just let Claire take the body away and present a closed casket to them along with a newly dug hole? Makes no sense at all.

  19. Lisa Furey

    I love reading your reviews every week and have been doing so for a long time
    One thing struck me this episode was the actor who plays Bonnet accent, normally Outlander do this brilliant after all Claire is played by Caitriona Balfe who is Irish, Lord John Grey is played by David Berry who is Australia, Jocasta is played brilliantly by Maria Doyle Kennedy who is in fact Irish, there are a number of actors/actresses on the show who use different accents and this has never been a problem as the show has an amazing vocal coach.
    As an Irish women who watches then show with her Irish husband we both thought Ed Speelers accent last sesason was good but this episode it sounded all over the place, he jumped from a Belfast accent (Northen Ireland) to a Galway one with a little of Leprechaun thrown in!!
    It really threw me because I really enjoy the character of Bonnet in the books well as much as one can! When an accent is bad it can throw viewers out of the storyline. I have seen alot of bad Irish accents on screen Tom Cruise was definitely was the worse! I am hoping this was just a blip and Speeler remembers how to speak with an Irish accent next week!

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