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.
“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.
“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.
“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
“…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.
“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.
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.
PS. I see you Graham