Still Farther to Go…A Reflection on Season 6 Episode 1 “Echoes”

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by Beth Wesson

Hello, my Outlander Peeps! I’ve missed you! This Droughtlander has been a long and “unique” one to be sure. The return of Jamie and Claire and all the folks of the Ridge was a welcome respite and a momentary reprieve from real life. I missed them too! 

Despite being one of my favorite methods of escapism, I find that Outlander often reflects many truths about real life and our relationships with others. Echoes, the first installment in season 6, was no exception.  After watching the episode, I found myself thinking about the truths I had just seen and about my life as a teacher these past two years.  I was musing about how similar the Outlander writers and producers’ job must have been to what I experienced creating lessons and teaching during a pandemic. 

As a teacher, I am tasked with teaching skills and concepts. These are often presented to us in an extensive list of standards and goals created by the State Board of Education. The chance that a teacher is able to teach every standard in a normal school year is rarely actualized.  In times like these? Impossible. The pandemic forced me to identify which items in that long list of concepts and skills were essential. I asked myself, what are the things my students absolutely have to know?  What concepts and skills are vital to their future learning? I had to get creative, I had to be flexible. I had to combine some lessons with other lessons and I had to let go of some lessons because there just wasn’t time, even if that lesson was one of my favorites! I then had to decide how to present the new lessons in a way that was engaging and made sense. I had to make lessons that would be accessible to both students in the classroom and those learning remotely. It was challenging to say the least, I used every bit of my own teaching knowledge, experience, and skills, and then begged and borrowed ideas from my peers.  Teaching in a pandemic wasn’t ideal, but it was my reality.  I made the best of it out of love for my students. 

I imagined that Outlander’s producers and writers had similar challenges with creating the show during a pandemic.  They are tasked with bringing the essence of Diana Gabaldon’s books and characters to life on the screen. We all know that even in a normal year that is difficult, they are big books and with big characters. Allotted screen-time and seen and unforeseen circumstances require them to make difficult decisions about how to adapt the story.  I’m sure the pandemic made circumstances exponentially more difficult and time dramatically shorter. Sunday night, I recognized that they too had had to decide what was essential.  They had to decide what viewers absolutely had to know to move the story forward. They had to get creative, they had to be flexible. They had to combine some story lines with others and had to let go of some story lines, even if they were one of their favorites. They then had to decide how to present their adaptation in a way that was engaging and made sense for both book readers and show-only viewers. I’m sure it was challenging to say the least.  I’m sure they used every bit of their knowledge and experience and maybe they too asked for help from their peers!  I’m sure creating a show in a pandemic wasn’t ideal. But, I KNOW they made the best of it out of love for Outlander and its fans. 

As one of the fandom’s book readers, it is always a struggle to just watch the show during the first viewing. The book is always there coloring everything I see.  The second time I watch it is always easier to just watch what is happening for what it is.  I still notice the changes, but I can accept them as part of this “new” story.  Every change, save one, felt as if it could have happened the way I was seeing it.  In an episode that seemed to be about people being unable to escape the truth about themselves that one “truth” rang false.

The Ridge And Its Truths

Jamie

The episode begins with a flashback. After Fergus lost his hand, outside the cave at Lallybroch something else broke in an already broken and grieving Jamie. He had been hiding from the British in a cave and knows his existence there continues to put his family in danger and he can no longer live with that knowledge. Without his Claire, he determines that he is never likely to ever live any differently than he has been and decides to exchange one type of prison for another.  He arranges for himself to be captured for the reward money it would bring his family and begins his life at Ardsmuir. Jamie, in the early days of his captivity, is a man who just wants to be left alone to serve his time with what peace he can find.  He has lost much and is now longer the man he once was… or at least, that is what he believes. But, despite appearances, the truth is that Jamie can no longer stop being Jamie than the tide can stop beating against the shore. Faced with the strife and misery of his fellow prisoners, he naturally falls into being the leader of men that he is and has always been.  He isn’t happy about it, but he does it. And, we know that the “having care” of these men kept him whole. He had a purpose. 

Tom Christie

We meet Protestant Tom Christie, who despite not being a soldier, finds himself caught up in the aftermath of Culloden and imprisoned at Ardsmuir.  He has been relegated to some position of power over the other prisoners and believes himself to be a leader of men. However, the viewer quickly realizes that Tom is not the leader of men that Jamie is.  Mark Lewis Jones plays Christie’s righteousness and then his confusion and incredulous disbelief to perfection. Tom doesn’t understand Jamie or his leadership style, but he does recognize him as a rival. The scene where Jamie is moved to act on behalf of his fellow prisoner exposes the stark differences between these two men. When the guards ask who the tartan belongs to, Christie is quick to point to the guilty party, but Jamie beats him to the punch and takes the blame. It is obvious that Christie is gobsmacked. The guilty should be punished. Christie’s black and white version of justice doesn’t take into account any extenuating circumstances and certainly doesn’t extend the mercy offered by Christ.  When Jamie’s lash scared back is revealed, his sacrifice becomes even more meaningful. His back is witness to his suffering at the hands of a whip and he chose to feel that cruelty again for the sake of another…a true Christ-like act of mercy. I could not help but believe that Tom Christie recognized this and it shamed him. Men like Christie do not like being shown their own failings, he is seething.

My favorite scene is a small one that told me everything I needed to know about Tom Christie.  It was when he sat down at the table in this obviously beautiful and clean home and brushed away an imaginary crumb from the table. It reminded me of a time when an unnamed relative was given a tour of her sister’s brand new kitchen. While we all exclaimed appreciation for the beauty we saw, she walked around the room with a face void of emotion and then pointed out a dead fly in the windowsill. We recognized what she wouldn’t acknowledge with her condescending display…she was jealous.  Christie’s actions at the Ridge smack of jealousy and show the viewer he has not forgotten or forgiven being shown his own truth. He believes himself the better man and is angry at the unfairness of a man like Jamie Fraser, a catholic, having good fortune. I am anxious to see where the writers take Tom’s story and truth.

Fergus and Marsali

Cesar Domboy and Lauren Lyle steal every scene they are in! Brilliant!  Viewers can already tell that Fergus and Marsali are struggling. Something is up with Fergus; the subtle reference to the helpfulness of two hands and his reaction leads us to believe his phantom hand has come back to haunt him. He apologizes for being a disappointment.  The truth is that having any disability during this time period would make you question your worth.  Very excited to see more of these two and see their story unfold. 

Brianna and Roger

Brianna is struggling to find her truth.  Who is she? What is she to do with her knowledge and skills? How do you live here and now? Her fears are real. She saw what happened to her mother. Claire reminds Brianna that you can’t live your life being afraid of who you are. Who will she decide to be?

Roger is pretty much in the same boat as Brianna. There is not much use for a historian on Fraser’s Ridge.  So, who will he become?  I was delighted to see a glimmer of the truth Roger will find about himself in his concern for Adian and his mother. 

And finally,… Claire

We have been told that we will see Claire struggle with the aftermath of her ordeal and rape.  I’ve always supported the show’s commitment to showing the aftermath of trauma.  Too many times other shows have characters move on to the next struggle without acknowledging the past.  Outlander has done a wonderful job of showing us the real consequences in people’s lives and relationships. Claire saying she is fine, changing the subject, throwing herself into her work are all in character.  But, abusing ether? Sorry, I can’t make the jump. I can’t make it make sense.  Not that it doesn’t make sense! People who have suffered what she suffered often turn to substances to ease their pain and I don’t judge them a bit.  But, I can’t reconcile the Claire, who in the book angrily and defiantly says…

 “I have lived through a f**king world war”, I said, my voice low and venomous. “I have lost a child. I have lost two husbands. I starved with an army, been beaten and wounded, been patronized, betrayed, imprisoned, and attacked.  And I have f**king survived! My voice was rising, but I was helpless to stop it. “And now, should I be shattered because some wretched, pathetic excuses for men stuck their nasty little appendages between my legs and wiggled them?!” I stood up,seized the edge of the washstand and heaved it over, sending everything flying with a crash, basin, ewer, and lighted candlestick, which promptly went out. 

“Well, I won’t”, I said quite calmly.  .

A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Diana Gabaldon

…with the one that abuses ether to escape her own thoughts and feelings. Can I picture her pushing forward without acknowledging what is really going on inside her and then falling apart? Yes.  But, I can’t reconcile her abuse of a compound she was so careful with, one she believes to be extremely dangerous. This just doesn’t fit her character and how she deals with the difficult things in her life. 

There have been a few times in the show where I felt the characters were made to say and do things they never would do or say.  Jamie’s request of Fergus while he was imprisoned on the ship comes to my mind. It was understandable for a human being to act as he did under the stress and strain of his situation, but just not that particular human, Jamie. This situation with Claire feels the same.  

I understand sometimes things are done for dramatic impact. I’m sure an ether huffing Claire would be interesting to play and I am willing to see where they take this story, I’ve been wrong before.  However, I am reminded that just because you can make a character wander around a jungle speechless for half of a show doesn’t mean you should. And, just because you can have a character make ether, it doesn’t naturally follow that they huff it.

To conclude

I couldn’t help but notice how effectively the show juxtaposed Ardsmuir with Fraser’s Ridge.  The prison was stark, gray, cold and …lifeless. In contrast, the ridge was bustling with light, warmth, and…life. Jamie tells Tom Christie he would trade some of his blessings for peace for himself and Claire.  He acknowledges that he has come a long way from Ardsmuir, but he has farther to go…and we are reminded…war is coming…

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63 thoughts on “Still Farther to Go…A Reflection on Season 6 Episode 1 “Echoes”

  1. HI! Glad you are back. Yay! I agree 100% on the ether. I was “okay” with the first scene with it. I mean, as a book reader, we know she didn’t experiment on herself but that she did need to experiment to find out if it would work and how it would work in that time. So, I was prepared to accept that first choice with the stuff. BUT, I did NOT like that she used it to escape and abuse it. Claire wouldn’t have done that, and I don’t think it was necessary. I think it would have been more powerful had she put her hand on it, considered using it, but then gone to a window with some tea and stared out into the night. How exactly did her abuse of ether move the story forward? It didn’t. But, oh, well…they didn’t ask me. Wish they had. LOL – Dawn

    • Linda Canfield

      And we’ve missed you! and your clear sighted analysis.
      I can only hope that the actors/producers wouldn’t have let this thread continue without strong objection if there wasn’t a redeeming storyline to follow it.
      Caitronia has been very protective of Claire and would have surely voiced some objections. And surely the writers expected this viewer reaction (Matt B. Roberts is grinning.)

  2. Susan Kamlet

    Welcome back Beth and welcome back Outlander. As one teacher to another, you were spot on with your description of teaching during the pandemic. Retired, as I am, you described what my friends at school had to endure. As for your comments about Claire, I agree. But, in the book, she was not gang raped! She was raped by that pathetic little man who kept on calling her by his late wife’s name. That is a lot different than what Claire experienced by Lionel Brown and his cohorts. The drama of 512 needed a dramatic counterpoint. I hope that Caitriona’s producer instincts will bring the “book Claire’s ” persona back as she heals. On another note, I’d like to share your column with my local Outlander FB page. It’s called the Hudson Highlanders. Please check us out. Susan Kamlet

      • Susan Kamlet

        Congratulations on your retirement! When we created the Hudson Highlanders I invited you to join us. The invitation still stands. We zoom meet on Friday at 3:30 and our discussions are almost college depth Gabaldon -ian. If interested, send me an email or private FB message.

  3. Atlanta Gal

    Yay! You are back! I could not possibly agree more wrt the ether. Very clumsy move, writers! My husband’s theory is that somehow they are trying (ineffectively) to create a contemporary reference to addiction and substance abuse. Bad move, poorly done and 100% out of character.
    I found the episode good, darker, a bit low in energy once the very well-done prison vignette was complete. But it is the calm before the storm.

  4. Parveen

    Welcome back! I also agree with you that it is out of character for Claire to be huffing ether? I was quite dumbfounded by that scene but as you say, let’s keep watching and see where they take us!

  5. pjbriglio

    Everybody is saying the same thing. “Claire wouldn’t abuse ether.” While all I could think was why wouldn’t she. She was repeatedly raped and abused by multiple men. Ether put her in a deep sleep that kept nightmares away. I have never been in a situation where I needed an escape from real life, but the strongest people can have issues that they feel the only way out is to find an alternative: drugs, alcohol, even death.

    While we hate to see Claire go through this or are disappointed in her and the way it was written, I think the writers reminded us that she is human and enough was enough.

    I loved the books and I love the TV show, both in there fabulous storytelling.

    • They are indeed. And, I was hoping that I made it clear that I think people who have experienced trauma cope in different ways. Someone pointed out to me that the rape was much worse on the show than in the books as well.

  6. Dorothy

    I missed you, too, Beth! Thanks for your thoughtful commentary on each episode. I always look forward to reading them, and am, as usual, of like mind. As soon as I saw where the ending scene was going, I said to myself, “Claire would not do that…” As soon as I read your “except one” reference, I knew where you were going, too. Getting creative & being flexible during extremely challenging times are commitments to be applauded. The choice to end an excellent opening episode by cheapening Claire’s character, unfortunately cheapened the episode somewhat for me.

  7. Mary King

    Good to see you back. I absolutely agree with all you wrote, especially Claire misusing the ether, and with lit candles nearby! How dangerous.
    I appreciate your dedication to teaching. I retired in 2019 and have seen my friends struggle with all the issues that you have. I know you are only telling part of the challenges. Thank you.

  8. outlanderbmarlene

    Boy you must have read my mind. On target of all my thoughts. So there must be many sensing the same. Claire has a resolve she would never use either she was proud of. As well as too stubborn to submit. I hated that ship/Fergus scene. The one thing you never touched was the sex scene. I thought it was too much about Claire. Claire was the empowered one, I would have liked to see a joining of minds more. Well written. Thanks.

    Marlene

    >

  9. Violet Daraitis

    I agree about the huffing. Totally out of character and unnecessary.
    Now what about that fire danger!!! Passed out near an open flame? Jamie asleep in the next room? Are they going to change the firestarter from Donner to Claire?
    How dare the writers ask us to accept this foolishness?

  10. Claire is a physician and would know that her experimental ether should be used with caution and care. I was concerned when she used it the first time and appalled the second time. She would have made sure someone was with her when she first tested it. Ether is highly flammable and dangerous. It’s totally out of character as proved by your quote from the book. I’d like to direct you to a post by EW (entertainment weekly), where Maril Davis is interviewed and speaks on the reasons for filming the ether use. I have read other posts, including Diana’s FB post and it seems the majority of both series and series/book readers agree that it was unnecessary and out of character. Some even said they would stop watching if it continues. But do the producers ever learn from our comments…. apparently not. I also think the threads of future stories was well done. Glad you are here to guide us through.

  11. Elizabeth Krueger

    Agree – that ending was a completely wrong note.
    I also find the Big House’s appearance as similar to the governors mansion at Williamsburg – and the number of servants/people constantly in the yard jarring.

  12. hilariec

    Hi Beth
    You’re my first review of season 6 episode 1. I’m also a book lover. Haven’t yet seen the episode. Your comment about how they are portraying Claire make me not want to even watch it. I hated when they showed all those loaves of bread in the last season. Like Claire would be so dumb to waste all that flour to make bread that would not be eaten. Ugh. Oh well.
    I’m sure I’ll watch anyway.
    Thanks for the review
    /Hilarie

  13. Linda Smith

    Lovely to hear from you again after this long Droughtlander. I’m a former teacher and identified with your comments about picking and choosing what to teach and how to teach in your confined time frame. You very succinctly compared that to the writers and producers of S6E1, loves what you said about our King of Men and his family, and agree that Claire’s choice of ether didn’t fit her personality. Thank you. You’re a wonderful writer!

  14. Susan

    Oh my! You are so right about the either and comparing it to Jamie’s request of Fergus on the ship. Soooo out of character for both of them, I wouldn’t doubt that Diana strongly objected to both of those storylines. We have enough substance abuse with Fergus’s drinking to numb his pain.  Totally unnecessary plot deviation when there is so much story to choose from.  

  15. Hi Beth, good to have you back – I’ve missed you. I already did a “comment reply” but it doesn’t seem to be here so I’ll do it again.
    As always I totally agree with your assessment of the cast and their backstories. Mark Lewis Jones plays Tom Christie to perfection. Malva and Alan are just as I imagined them.
    I too totally disagree with the storyline of Claire using Ether to self-medicate. Alcohol has always been her “poison” of choice. She’s far too aware of the dangers of producing and using Ether to risk dropping some onto a mask in close proximity to an open flame, I think I know where the writers are going with this but I’ll wait and see.
    One thing that really bothered me and it’s trivial in the great scope of things but it’s the “richness” of the “Big House”. I know it’s to show that the Fraser’s are doing well and prosper but come on………….Looks like a battalion of Master Carpenters with an unlimited budget have been let loose. Backed up by Martha Stewart doing the interior decorating. Silly, I know but it’s totally unrealistic.
    All in all I think they did a good job weaving so many plot lines into something that was transferred to film with enough to satisfy everyone.
    Honestly, I was just happy to be able to see the Fraser’s and all the other inhabitants of Fraser’s Ridge again that I could overlook all the changes bar THE BIG ONE. Filming Series 6 during a Global Pandemic with a pregnant Cait and a Scottish winter was no mean feat in itself.

  16. Anne Hetherington

    Welcome back, Beth! So happy you are doing the blog again for this season. I wonder what the physician consultant said about the use of the ether. In addition to being totally out of character for Claire to use it on herself, it’s just not even a useful escape. Without someone administering drops regularly, a few breaths would only last a few minutes. Claire would know that. The physician consultant for the show would have told them that. Oh well, I loved the rest of it, loved reading your thoughts and am happy to have Outlander and your blog back

  17. Georgia H

    So glad to be able to read your considered and insightful comments again! I thoroughly agree about putting Claire in such an out-of-character position – what on earth was the point?? On a more minor note, I’m still having trouble with the grandeur of the Fraser house – wasn’t aware that Home Depot was so close in those days to be a source of their front door and other niceties!

  18. Nancy

    I loved this first episode so much. They came right out of the gate running. And I believe that Claire is not going to be some doped up doctor. I’d like to think she’ll see Jamie’s face while she’s out cold and will come back to him whole but damaged like we all are. Nice to have you back, Beth. Beautiful words. ❤️

  19. Lynn Conroy

    Beth I agree, the ether was a little out of step for Clair. And she has lived with Jamie and his response to rape, the night sweets and panic. I don’t like comparing book with TV. But her settings up a trial to see if it works I’d one thing that could have been easy to pull off. The mask was a little over done.
    I did not pick up the beginning with Ferguson and the cave. I thought Sam did a wonderful job being at the work gang. And his reaction to the Governor. I really enjoyed 601

  20. Lorraine Grzena

    Hi Bess, I am so glad to see you are back. The show would not be the same without you. I would like to add my two cents about the issue of Claire and the ether. Does everyone remember when Brown (what a nasty man) showed up with his crew, Claire didn’t say one word, but immediately went into the house and never came back out. No matter the problem if Claire is around she is always standing next to Jaime. Not this time. I think that the rape was such a horrific experience, and now knowing that the Browns could just boldly arrive at the house whenever they wanted, shoved her over the edge. As you repeated, Claire stated that she lived through a World War, punishment, violence. etc. I believe the rape was that one last thing and her mind and body pushed all reason aside, and she just wanted some peace by using the ether. Of course she knew the ether was dangerous, but at that point all she wanted was to quiet her mind, and from having to cope yet one more time. It just shows us how much it effected her, and she wasn’t over the incident.
    I think when she wakes up from the ether sleep, she will tell Jaime and he will convince her he will protect her. Of course he wasn’t there for the rape in the first place.

  21. Thank you for your thoughtful, reasoned review. As a former teacher (now retired), I have prayed and grieved for all that you and your colleagues have had to bear the last going on three years. I know you all have done your best to be there to provide for your students. Your comparison to the struggles of writing these episodes in a shortened season I found quite apt.

    I have purposely avoided the fan sites and most of the caterwauling about last night’s premiere episode. Was it perfect? No. Was it good? Absolutely. Like you, I found Claire’s self-medicating use of the ether, out of character but it wasn’t so offensive that it impacted my joy at watching my characters return to us.

  22. Rebecca Rungsang

    I agree with you about Claire. She would NEVER, NEVER, NEVER huff ether. Whoever made this change to Diana’s Claire is just stupid. He or she doesn’t “get” Claire AT ALL. By the way, your analysis was spot on in every way. I just finished GTTBTIAG, and the Tom Christie-Jamie Frazer rivalry is integral and comes to its inevitable conclusion. Jealousy is an extremely destructive emotion, to everyone around, but particularly to the one jealous of another. And “righteous” men and women are not exempt from this emotion or its consequences.

  23. Dorothy Lakner

    Beth, I always love reading your thoughts after an Outlander episode. That said, I don’t completely agree with the idea, expressed by many, not just you, that Claire would never huff ether. For one thing, I want to see where the show will go with this, as both a book reader and show watcher. But just considering this episode, Claire is clearly suffering PTSD. She also does not want to admit to any weakness, not to Jamie or to Bree, the closest people to her. She says she is fine. We know, and she knows, she is not fine. She was able to recreate ether, she controls it. I think one could look at this as Claire’s way of controlling her PTSD without having to admit weakness to others—which we know she does not want to do. One thing I have loved about knowing the books and watching the show, is to see how each treats a given story line. And I’m willing to do that here as well.

  24. Barbara Merrill

    I agree, self-medicating is not who Claire is. As a reader of the books for many years, I have grown to love the series but this I could not accept.

  25. JoAnn

    So glad to see you back and read your insightful analysis. I appreciate and applaud the show for showing the aftermath of assault. I actually think the books (which I love) could use a bit more.

    With that said, I don’t but that Claire would use ether to escape. You’ve used a perfect passage to illustrate why the character would not. Claire might abuse alcohol. She might have flashbacks similar to what she experienced prior to Culloden. There are any number reactions/breakdowns etc. that I could buy. Just not this. It’s especially true knowing the books go to great lengths to show the dangers of making ether… highly combustible etc. To see it bubbling away like stew was almost laughable.

    Interviews with DG say let it play out as the season goes forward. It will resolve satisfactorily. I’ll keep an open mind on that.

    I also watch the show at least twice. Once to get past the book, then to enjoy the show on it’s own merits.
    As always, I think casting is superb. The actor playing Tim Christie is spot on.

  26. MARTHA BOESENBERG

    I was so happy to see that you had posted after this long hiatus! I always enjoy your writing. Thanks as always for your insights!

  27. Alison Stewart

    Good to be able to read your perceptive comments and analysis again Beth. Decisions in teaching about which content is essential and how best to present it are what make the job a challenge but also so rewarding when we’ll received. It must be similar to those who put together adaptations of well-loved stories … albeit with many extra layers!

    I agree that exploring human truths are the essence of the Outlander stories. DG successfully weaves so many aspects of life and human experience into her stories that it is easy to identify with emotions, humour, reactions and activities because they are common in spite of time and place. For the TV series to be true to the books, the creators have had to make decisions which present these concepts faithfully. They have, generally, but sometimes it is hard to understand why and when the plot is changed, so the ensuing consequences have to be dealt with. The change in the type of rape at the end of season 5 left the door open for a different type of trauma which, in spite of her strong words (which you have quoted) seems to have resulted in Claire’s need for personal anaesthesia and the use of ether. I wonder too how this will unfold and I hope it is credible.

    I also hope Tom Christie’s character evolves as it does in the book. He is a complex person not just a narrow minded, self righteous prig. He is another example of Diana’s brilliant ability to present fallible yet believable characters.

    Thanks again for providing a means of discussing these issues.
    Alison S

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