Of Monsters and Mercy… a reflection on Outlander 5.10 “And Mercy Shall Follow Me”

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I almost felt sorry for him, as he seemed so eager to be a proper father, and a gentleman worthy of his son.  His tears moved me when he spoke of being an orphan.  I reminded myself that most people are not born monsters they are created.  I wondered how we can hold accountable someone who has had no moral guidance? How can we not pity a man who has no first-hand experience, but only “heard” someone can learn to love?  I know it is true that hurt people hurt people, but …I don’t understand how… Despite my being able to see Stephen Bonnet as human, it didn’t take me very long to stop feeling sorry for him.  No matter how he became who he became, he is damaged goods without empathy or a moral compass.

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It is my opinion that most human beings are guided by a sense of morality, conscience, empathy, and warmth towards others.  I don’t believe Stephen is guided by these things, his “personality disorder” causes him to have a rigid and unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaving no matter what the situation.  As a result, he has significant problems and limitations in relationships and social encounters, he can merely mimic others’ behaviors and actions. People like Stephen Bonnet tend to interpret words and behaviors personally.  They think of themselves as victims who have been treated unfairly. This then results in the type of behavior we saw on our screens, the mistreatment and abuse of those they perceive have hurt, slighted, or even inconvenienced them. He experiences no guilt or remorse for the people he has brutalized.  They deserved it.

At the core, Stephen Bonnet believes he is less than others.  We see evidence of this in how quickly he reacts to any suggestion that he might not be a gentleman or that he isn’t honorable.  Most hurt and traumatized people will do anything to protect what little self-respect they have. This is then how their reality becomes contorted. The people they hurt deserve it.  He believes whatever version of reality serves his belief system. He thinks he wants to be a good father to Jemmy and learn to love Bree.  He sees this as a noble gesture on his part.  He expects everyone else to buy into his version of reality.  That kiss.  The one that took so much sacrifice for Bree to make?  It seemed remarkably gentle and tender given the situation, but Bonnet saw her lack of lust as a betrayal.  He then “shows” us his idea of what constitutes lovemaking.  I had to look away.  I was a traumatized Bree hiding from the monster she knew was coming for her next.

Damaged people like Bonnet will repeat their version of reality to themselves as many times as is needed to believe it wholeheartedly. Stephen has decided to believe in a nihilistic view of life where fate rules. Throughout the series, he reminds us of his belief by talking about fate and flipping a coin to determine his choices.  Bree picks up on this belief and tries to use it to her advantage.  In fact, Bree’s navigation of this situation was fascinating.  Her thinking on her feet and manipulating his personality disorder made me curious.  I looked for information on how women trapped in abusive relationships cope. I didn’t conduct an extensive or particularly scholarly exploration, but I didn’t find a lot.  No matter what I typed into the search box on my computer, what came back was information on “how to leave an abusive relationship”.  Which was good information, but I kept thinking about how do women survive the moment.  How do they keep living to be able to leave?

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The dynamics between Bonnet and Bree in this situation felt pretty realistic to me.  Bree KNOWS Stephen is crazy, but true to form he thinks he is sane.  His actions make perfect sense to him, he can rationalize everything he is doing.  She is left trying to reason with a crazy person.  I felt the tension inherent in that sentence just typing it.  How does she try to survive?  At first, she is defiant, dropping insults and snide comments. But, soon it becomes clear that Bonnet is sincere in his delusions and they pose not only a danger to herself but to Jemmie.  I watched the realization cross her face as she shakily held the creepy doll Stephen had bought for his “son”.  She has to quickly switch gears, think on her feet.  She knows how fragile is this desire of his and how temperamental are his reactions.  I kept thinking he was like a pet alligator.  No matter how many times you feed it or pet it, one day it is going to snap your hand off.  She cajoles, feeds his delusions, gives him the nurturing he seems to so desperately need.  She reassures him and treats him with gentleness, and plays on his desire to be a gentleman and father.  She pretends to buy into his reality.  She tries to act her way through this until she can find an opening.  Stephen seems to believe her.  But, he is always hyper-aware of what he perceives as a betrayal.  The problem with alligators is you never know what will make them snap.

A simple kiss was all it took to change Stephen Bonnet, gentleman, and potential father, into a man who would sell his son’s mother into sexual slavery.  How quickly he devalued her, “6lbs is all she is worth…just property…”.  She is doomed and knows it.  She makes a final plea for Jemmie. Suddenly, Bonnet has consummate narcissistic confidence in his abilities and tells her not to worry he “will take good care” of him.  I shivered with fear.

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The rescue, Roger’s beatdown of Bonnet, and Bree having the final word in how Bonnet will be held accountable for his actions was satisfying.  We always like it when evil has to pay the price for its evil choices.  But, the show wasn’t done messing with our emotions just yet.  We had one final scene to process.  During Bree’s captivity, we learn that Stephen has a fear, reoccurring nightmare. The writers decided to use the story of Moby Dick as a vehicle for revealing Stephen’s fear of drowning.  Pretending to read the story to Bonnet, Bree tells the tale of a sea captain who nails a coin (I see you Megan Ferrell Burke, nice catch) to a mast as a reward for the killing of the white whale he so relentlessly pursues.  Bonnet, charmed by the story and the fact that his “son” likes tales of the sea, is absorbed in the story.  He wants to know if the sea captain wins and is dismayed when he hears the “monster prevails”.  She shares that the ending depends on who you think the monster is… He tells us that the sea is full of creatures that feed on each other and that the sea itself is hungry for souls, “she calls to me”.  He shares that he has a recurring nightmare wherein he drowns and no one comes to rescue him.  He is worried about his momentary moment of weakness, and that sharing his fears will cause Bree to think less of him. She assures him and us that she “Couldn’t think less of him”.  I had to wonder at her tremulous smile and eyes shining with tears, perhaps it was her own fears that this ruse would not protect them from THIS monster and she would never be able to comfort her son again.

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I know the final scene will cause a lot of discussion.  Was it mercy or just making sure he was dead? I love that they did not tell us.  I, of course, have my own opinion.  I have to wonder if when Bree said she would let the courts decide his fate, she truly understood what that meant in this time even though her father said Tyron might make sure Bonnet hung.  Was her mind thinking of justice in her time?  The court’s choice for Bonnet’s justice was to hang him on a post in the sea, and wait for the tide to drown him.  The visual irony of three criminals hanging from crosses wasn’t lost on me nor that Bree’s decision to let the court handle justice resulted in Bonnet’s living his last moments in his recurring nightmare.  The whole scene begged for mercy.  We watched as everyone walked away, no one came to help just as Bonnet feared.  But then,…we follow Stephen’s eyes to the shore where Brianna stands with her rifle against her shoulder.  We see the relief on Bonnet’s face right before we hear the shot…mercy at last.

Roger’s question caused us all to reflect was it mercy or revenge? When I reflected on Bree aiming her gun at Bonnet, I saw all three of her parents.  I saw Frank teaching his daughter to shoot preparing her for a time without him, I saw Jamie protecting his family at any cost, and I saw Claire …giving mercy where it wasn’t deserved.  Bravo. A story well told.

 

 

 

 

40 thoughts on “Of Monsters and Mercy… a reflection on Outlander 5.10 “And Mercy Shall Follow Me”

  1. Renata Brannen

    What can I say? Yet again Beth you nailed it. Brilliant review. I shall miss your outlander blogs so much in the l o n g ggg Droughtlander. I like reading all the different posts, comments from fans on Facebook, listen to different podcast reviews and watch different reviews but you are the only one who really gives a deeper perspective about each episode. Some reviewers especially men did not understand or get the depth of this episode. I agree with all you have written. I thought Ed Speleers was amazing – he was so unsettling as Bonnet. And Sophie Skelton was spot on.

      • jshipleyj

        Unsettling is too benign a word for my reaction to this episode. The actors were excellent, but I was stunned that Meril and Matt condensed the Bonnet story to “get it over”. I’m wondering if they have info that season 6 is the last? That’s what was the punch in my gut.

        Your review is excellent Beth. Thank you.

  2. Susan Kamlet

    WOW your discussion of Bonnet’s traits are eye opening! Don’t Bonnet’s ethics resemble a certain someone’s in the news?

    Bree had to think on her feet the same way Claire did when she first set foot in 1740’s Scotland.

    I believe this was the first episode written by Megan Ferrell Burke. Very well done, don’t you think? Director Annie Griffin did well too.

    I think that this episode was a good combination of both novels and a truly fine adaptation.

  3. Mary Kay

    Beth, Thank you, thank you for analyzing the story on the screen and not griping about how it is different from the book, as I have seen in so many other posts and comments elsewhere.

    Your essay captures the thoughts and motivations of Bree and Bonnet perfectly. The performances by Sophie and Ed were so sensitive to each other. You could see how they listened and connected emotionally, until they didn’t. This sequence was absolute chilling.

    Well done again.

    Mary Kay

  4. jehscribbler

    I think you captured the complexity of this episode so well. And I think that Bree probably felt both a need to be certain Bonnet died, but also was willing to tender him some degree of mercy in sparing him those last agonizing moments of slowly drowning. And, in doing so she proves herself a better person than he would have been, if the situation had been reversed. I am so impressed by the thought that goes into many of the episodes of Outlander. This is what makes it not just the usual adventure/romance/historical fiction show that some others are. It is especially true this season, I think. You do it credit by rising to the occasion and discerning the underlying themes that we don’t always think about, at least consciously.

  5. jehscribbler

    I think you captured the complexity of this episode so well. And I think that Bree probably felt both a need to be certain Bonnet died, but also was willing to tender him some degree of mercy in sparing him those last agonizing moments of slowly drowning. And, in doing so she proves herself a better person than he would have been, if the situation had been reversed. I am so impressed by the thought that goes into many of the episodes of Outlander. This is what makes it not just the usual adventure/romance/historical fiction show that some others are. It is especially true this season, I think. You do it credit by rising to the occasion and discerning the underlying themes that we don’t always think about, at least consciously.

  6. Carol Jerome

    I love to read your analyses of each episode. They are insightful. You captured the complexity of the events so well. Thank you.

  7. Excellent analysis especially of Bonnet as a psychopath. But your description of his imperfections made me think of the many people around us today, like Bonnet, who simply lust for power and control and lack empathy for their fellow man. Stephen Bonnet still lives among us!

  8. Well done Beth you once more hit the nail on the head.
    Many years ago I was in an abusive relationship with a very volatile man. I spent most of my time walking on eggshells and agreeing with his absurd notions and actions. I did what I had to do to survive, all the while trying to figure out how I could extricate myself and my child from the nightmare. I did reach my tipping point and found the courage to leave. It wasn’t easy but I made a new life for us and have never looked back. While reading your blog I kept saying yep, that all sounds familiar. I could totally understand Bree’s actions I knew what she was thinking she did what she had to do regardless of the nausea and fear churning in both her mind and body.
    I believe Bree shooting Bonnet was an act of mercy not revenge. If she’d wanted revenge she would have let him drown, she knew how much he feared such a death. She despised Bonnet but she didn’t want his death on Jamie or Rogers conscience. Bree wanted Bonnet to feel the full weight of the law. Personally, I think she wanted to show Bonnet she had the humanity he lacked. To Bree it was like putting a rabid animal out of its misery. She’s made her peace with him and could now breathe and move on.

  9. I too feel the episode writer and director missed a vital point by leaving open the question of whether Brianna killed Bonnet out of mercy or vengeance. Diana’s story is clear that it was an act of mercy (and therefore a kind of forgiveness) that elevates Brianna beyond anger and trauma and leaves Bonnet in the hands of God. This is a healing point that Brianna experiences that is left unresolved in the show.

    Emily

    • kageeh

      I once heard a judge pronounce the death penalty by execution on a criminal duly convicted by a jury. It’s language is boilerplate but the last line always is “May God have mercy on your soul”. It gave me chills then and it still does.

  10. Melissa Knox

    I haven’t commented for a long time, but felt compelled to do so with this blog. Your words made me ponder having to deal with a situation, no matter the cause, to end a pattern of dangerous behavior toward self or others. Reminds me of a rabid animal. No matter how blamelessly it contracted the disease, it is still rabid and a great threat to others and must be stopped. Mercy, though violent, is shown by putting it down.

  11. Lisa N.

    Talk about a well-acted episode! IMHO, Ed Speelers absolutely nailed the character of Stephen Bonnet. I had only seen him in Downton Abbey, and he was lovely. However, in Outlander, he brought every bit of Bonnet’s psychological and pathological personality to the fore. Roger finally kicked the $%#& out of him, and Bree got satisfaction — mercy or vengeance? A little bit of both, in the show anyway — and I don’t mind it. Mercy, surely. Bonnet was a wounded soul, beyond return to anything good — although he touched on it. Got close. But after he turned on her again and all Brianna endured at his hands, if there was a bit of vengeance mixed in, who could blame her? I’m okay with that. Thanks, Beth!

  12. Cynthia

    At his heart, I believe Bonnet was a grade-A sociopath. Whether he had been raised right or not he may have never had empathy. We all know people who have been raised in less than ideal circumstances but who rise above it and become not only good members of society but also kind human beings. I doubt that would have ever happened to Bonnet because he was probably broken to begin with – and growing up the way he did only cemented his sociopathy. He was charming in the books and in the series – look at how he charmed Jamie, who is no gullible innocent, into not turning him into the authorities during book 4/season 4 – and how he repaid them all on the river. And we know he was involved in all sorts of criminal activities when he wasn’t bedeviling the Frasers and MacKenzies. His apparent sincerity in talking about all of this to Bree couldn’t last. He was playing a role – but it was never going to become his way of life as he was simply incapable of it. Ed Speleers did a bang-up job as Bonnet but I’m really glad that storyline has run its course. This is one time I’m actually glad the book timeline was ignored – otherwise, we would have had to endure Bonnet for another season.

  13. Brianna and Bonnet together and Bonnet trying to be a ‘good man’, made me think of Clair and BJR in S01, when Claire was captured and they were sitting on the table talking. BJR seemed so vulnarable, just like Steven Bonnet now. I was constantly waiting for him to show his real face, just like BJR did to Claire. Scary!

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