A sweetness that cuts…a reflection on Outlander episode 4.9 “Birds and the Bees

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I signed up for a Diana Gabaldon talk and book signing in Fairfax, Virginia well before Outlander Starz was a thing.  It was a sold out event and the one and only time I ever stood in line to meet someone famous. Worried about my navigating (and rightfully so) D.C. traffic, my husband drove me five and a half hours for an event he didn’t have a ticket for. Unbeknownst to him, I had put him on the waiting list and he got in!!!! He was thrilled (hard eye roll here)!!!! As it was our first time at such an event, we didn’t know what to expect and were a little shocked to see a line into the auditorium that wrapped itself through and around a very large campus building.  I was walking with a cane at the time and crestfallen, I knew I would not be able to stand in line. My big burly manly man of a husband breached the crowds of plaid clad women to secure us a place while I sat feeling guilty in a chair.  It remains one of the nicest things he has ever done for me.  Listening to Diana speak and meeting her in person was a surreal ordeal, but well worth everything we went through.  As great as it was to meet her and despite my love for the actors on the show, I can’t see myself waiting outside or inside a venue for the hours it seems to take to meet them.  However, …I swear I would for Matt B. Roberts, LOL! What can I say?  I’m a fan of writing and Outlander and he is my favorite Outlander script writer. I feel like I “get” him and the way he thinks. Well. at least about Outlander. No, …I really DO get how he thinks BECAUSE of Outlander.

I have learned that not everything a writer wants to be said or happen on a show comes to fruition. There are a lot of voices and logistics influencing the final product.  However, it is obvious to me what are Matt’s focuses and influences when I see an episode he has written.  In my humble opinion, he truly understands why this story and its characters are special. He sees through to the heart of what is happening. He gets what the story is saying about people, life, love, and family. That he is able to translate that visually continues to be a wonder to me.  Case in point? Outlander episode 4.9 “The Birds and the Bees”.

I recently republished a blog post  in honor of the 4.9 episode. I wrote about how I have grown to appreciate Diana’s imaginings of the first meeting of Jamie and his adult daughter. In that article, I point out how the expectations of that moment would have to have been unrealistic. The import placed on this meeting cannot be understated for either the characters or the fandom. I remember the first time I read it, I was a bit disappointed. Not exactly sure why, but I think I was expecting some equivalent of colonial fireworks.  Diana didn’t give me or Brianna what we expected instead she gave us what we …needed. I found myself measuring this episode against that standard.  Did Matt B. Roberts and writing partner Toni Graphia give us what we expected or what we needed?

We Needed to See Their Faces

I’m starting to appreciate how important it is for actors to emote. Not everything can be communicated in dialogue nor should it be in a visual medium.  We sometimes need to see what a character is feeling and I felt there were some really important feelings revealed in this episode.  Lizzie, Ian, Murtagh, Roger and all three Frasers told us volumes with a mere expression.

I found myself really looking at Roger’s face in this scene.  At first he seems just irritated that he still has to deal with Bonnet.  He doesn’t have time to deal with this piece of shit. He needs to find Brianna. When the reality of what the Captain is saying, he will be sailing to Philadelphia, starts to sink in you can see the resignation.  I’m not sure why, but I felt like Roger’s expression was slightly sardonic. Of course he isn’t done with Bonnet, of course he is about to get pulled away from Brianna before he can tell her he hasn’t left.  This is no idle threat. He is well and truly screwed. However, he cannot show too much emotion. You don’t want to give this monster any clues as to how you are feeling and give him any ammunition. How ironic that the one person he is desperate to protect from Bonnet is already his victim. His “especially when it comes to women” line made me cringe.  I think uttering “poor Roger” under my breath is about to become a regular thing.

Brianna…Within the span of a few minutes we see her face reveal what has to be the entire span of human emotion. I felt emotionally exhausted just watching her swing from grief to hope and back again.

 

I’m not sure I need to comment.  These faces speak for themselves.

We Needed to Know Roger Didn’t Leave

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There were some pretty big departures from the book in the last few episodes and I have learned (not easily mind you) to be patient.  Episodic TV can try that patience when you have to wait a whole week to get answers and everyone in the fandom is speculating and spouting disappointment. There are some things I still need to know about Roger and his storyline, but the biggest thing I needed to know was if he actually left. I needed to know he didn’t. I needed to know that it was just an argument fueled by some really piss poor communication, but that it was just an argument and not an abandonment. Nothing more happened than what has happened in my own and many other’s relationships. People got angry and said stuff they really didn’t mean out of hurt and stubborn pride. I needed to see when Roger did leave it wasn’t his choice. I knew when he left with Bonnet, he was coming back.

We Needed This Scene, This Exact Scene

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Jamie meets the child he sacrificed all for. The child he never thought to see. Like all important moments like this, reality is never quite as we expected.  Nothing is ever as good or as bad as we might think.  Brianna only knows what she has been told about her “father” Jamie. He had to seem the stuff of legend and fairy tales to her. Her first view of her father was of him relieving himself. That very human reality took him very quickly from fairytale hero to just a man.  It was exactly what she needed. Her expectations needed this adjustment.  I was thrilled to see they kept this part of the book!  Well, maybe not actually thrilled, maybe a bit uncomfortable, but you get the point.  She rounded that corner looking for someone bigger than life and found a man, a man whose arms were a safe place to rest.

In my blog, I point out that Brianna learned more about her father in the few minutes he didn’t know who she was than in all the stories she could have been told about him.  We know fans can often loudly complain about any changes from the book. There were changes to this scene, but none that greatly affected its impact. Brianna learns that her father is loyal, firm, but kind and most importantly that he loves her.  It was so very close to how Diana imagined it.  Creating that visual representation of her imaginings was definitely made easier by actors who seem to inhabit their characters. Sam Heughan was absolutely amazing.  Sophie Skelton played Bree’s excitement and trepidation to perfection. When she fell into Jamie’s arms all felt right with the world.

We Needed Our Mothers

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I still struggle with Claire’s decision to leave her daughter in the future. I appreciate that the show allowed Claire to show us she still struggled with that decision. Although she seemed shocked and overjoyed to see Bree, I had the sense that she was also dismayed.  The past is a dangerous place for a woman and I was struck by all that happened because Bree needed her mother. I would find it difficult to reconcile all that loss and wondered at how it would affect Claire’s relationship with Jamie. Bree is obviously struggling and Claire can see it, but she also knows that Bree is a woman now and as such can no longer be compelled as a child to tell her what is going on. However, Brianna needs her mother maybe more than she ever has.  She needs her mother to draw her out and comfort her.  We needed to see that happen.

We Needed To Feel Our Way

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I love that this show takes its time with people. The tender and tentative dance between Bree and Jamie was needed.  They are virtual strangers. Strangers who want and hope and long and need to find a way to a come together and build a relationship. We needed to see them tiptoe around Frank. We needed to hear Jamie’s gratitude towards Frank and Bree’s guilty feelings about wanting to be with Jamie. We needed to see Jamie’s avid attentiveness to Bree’s every move and his constant furtive glances and smiles. We needed childhood stories, working together on the ridge, and time around the family table.

We Needed to See That Bree Understood

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While it was obvious that Jamie was studying Bree.  It wasn’t quite as obvious that she was studying him and maybe more importantly, she was studying Jamie with Claire.  Bree telling Claire about Franks’s knowing she came back to Jamie was unexpected. The sadness with which this news was received gave me a lump in my throat. I felt for all of well-intentioned choices and unintentional pain in Claire’s marriage to Frank. I’m not sure what Claire was supposed to do with that knowledge except feel guilt and regret, but Bree’s acknowledging she understood why Claire had to return was also unexpected and a…gift.

We Needed to Share Our Feelings

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The quiet conversations between Jamie and Claire were everything. I get another lump in my throat just thinking about them. Jamie sitting on the edge of the bed rubbing his aching hand, a reminder to us that he too suffered what he does not yet know Brianna suffered. It reminds us that he has known so much pain and loss in his life and Brianna’s return is an unforseen and never dreamed of reality that he doesn’t want to end. He is human after all and a father wants his child to stay. Jamie’s openness and vulnerability with Claire is one of the main reasons this couple holds a special place in my heart. He is able to share his fears and regrets and his joys with her and know she does not judge him. In her arms, he is safe to be himself without fear. In return, we know that he constantly thinks of her and a large part of his joy in Brianna’s return is because he knows Claire misses her so much. This child was the impetus for all the sacrifice and the 20 years of loneliness. The couple’s constant touching and silent looks communicate their gratitude for all they have. But, I also feel each touch acknowledges the weight of all they have lost. They have Bree now, but they lost 20 years together with her.

We Needed Something to be Simple

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In the end, Bree’s pregnancy, Claire’s promise, Lizzie’s mistaken assumptions, Jamie’s parental protective instincts, will result in complications that will change everything for everyone and I can’t say I’m looking forward to witnessing what happens.  And so, I’m grateful that Matt and Toni gave us something else we needed. They gave us something simple. They gave us birds, and bees and a simple name Jamie has longed to hear …Da.

 

 

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Just Simple…Jamie meets Brianna…a look ahead to a beloved Outlander season 4 scene

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I’m republishing because I think tonight is the night! 

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt inspired to write about my favorite books and show. However, after re reading  Drums of Autumn, I found my self itching to pound on my keyboard about a particular scene we are all looking forward to seeing, the meeting of Jamie Fraser and the daughter he never thought to know, Brianna.  At this point, I shouldn’t be surprised by the coincidences that happen when I sit down to write about Outlander because guess what they were just filming?

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Executive Producer Maril Davis’ tweet has confirmed my belief that I must be clairvoyant and, …made me excited to see how the show will handle this particular moment!

One of the things I love about the TV version of Diana Gabaldon’s story is the gaps they sometimes fill in, like what would life have been like for Jamie apart from Claire and Claire apart from Jamie, what would the battle of Culloden have been like, and to wander the courts of Versailles. So, I’m hoping we will get to “see” how Brianna decides to go through the stones.  Enough time has passed between Claire leaving and Brianna living without her for reflection and maybe regret.  Her mother is dead by all that we understand about the laws of nature and physics and yet, she isn’t.  She isn’t really an orphan because she can time travel, she can see her mother again, and…meet the father she never knew.

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Brianna makes the choice to go through the stones and back in time because she has discovered information about her parent’s future and feels the need to warn them.  As altruistic as I believe Bree’s motives are, I think at least in part, she takes the risk because she misses her mother and wants to meet her father.  Who wouldn’t?  Her mother is dead in Bree’s world of the 1960’s and yet, …not.  Time travel makes a lot of things at least possible including meeting your “dead” parents. The temptation must have been strong, the chance to be reunited with her mother must have been upper most in her mind, she was living on her own, alone and most certainly longing for her mother. She sneaks off because she is afraid that Roger MacKenzie would stop her or come with her and she needs him to stay in the future.  She believes that, in part, a safe trip through the stones depends on having someone in the future or past that “draws” you to them.  As is true of most things in the world of Outlander, Brianna’s plans go awry, Roger follows her, and she experiences a multitude of hardships on the road to reaching her parents. Her journey’s setbacks and adventures only serve to build the suspense that will culminate in her meeting her father. We find ourselves holding our breath when it looks like her bond servant Lizzie’s illness may stop Brianna from getting to Cross Creek and cause her to miss meeting her father.

While thinking about this scene, I was reminded of the old saying that nothing is as bad or as good as you think it will be.  The eagerness and trepidation that Brianna experiences in her search for her parents is heartbreaking and her feelings for Jamie Fraser are complicated to say the least.  He is her father because her mother told her so, but she has had no experience of him.  She is told he loves her, in fact, she has been told that her father sacrificed the one thing that meant the most to him to keep her safe.  He sent her mother back through the stones for his unborn child’s sake, her.  All she really knows of her father is contained in the stories her mother has told her and I couldn’t help, but believe that Jamie Fraser must have seemed like the stuff of fairy tales to Brianna.  He couldn’t have been less real to her than the tales of King Arthur and yet, she knows he is real.

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You all know that I longed for the moment in the print shop when Jamie falls apart in Claire’s arms, the moment when he realizes that Brianna is safe and all his sacrifice was not in vain.  It wasn’t quite what I got, but what I did get was wonderful in its own way.  This scene, I’m sure, will come with its own set of fan expectations and I’m sure the writer’s and actors know this.  However, I find myself more ambivalent about this scene than the print shop.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure what they will do or if the way Diana wrote the scene would play well on the screen.  She played with my expectations and it took me awhile to appreciate how the author told this part of the story.

When I first read the “reunion” (is that what it was?), I’ll admit it felt a bit anti-climatic and left me feeling somewhat disappointed.  I’m not sure what I believed it should have been, but I think I was expecting a lot more overt emotion.  I have certainly had time to reflect and re read that scene and now find Diana’s choice to write this with some subtly a bit of genius.  Brianna had most certainly built this moment up in her head.  In fact, she shares that she had gone over the moment she would meet Jamie in her mind again and again, what would she say, what would he say?  Her expectations of the moment and her father had to have reached “bigger than life” proportions.  So, how does Diana subvert the expected and turn our notions of what should happen on their head?  Well,…she has Brianna rush out of a tavern, hard pounding in expectation of finally seeing her father, and …finds him peeing on a tree.  Brianna’s first glimpse of her father made him seem human pretty quickly, just a man after all.

…There was no doubt in her mind, from the first glimpse.  She was at once surprised and not surprised at all; he was not quite what she had imagined—he seemed smaller, only man-sized…”  Diana Gabaldon, Drums of Autumn 

The scene that follows, I have now come to realize, is just what Brianna needed.  Jamie of course doesn’t recognize her.  Why would he, she is the last person he would expect to see.  Because he doesn’t know who she is and because Brianna can’t quite find her voice or the words to tell him, he interacts with her without that knowledge and as a result reveals his character to her.  She learns more about who this man is in the few minutes he doesn’t know who SHE is than she could have ever learned in all the “stories” she was told.

HUMOR, KINDNESS, TRUSTWORTHINESS, LOYALTY, STRENGTH, TENDERNESS, A MAN WORTHY OF LOVING

He sees her staring at him and asks her why she is there in a voice that is sharp, but not unkind.  She manages to blurt out the single word ,”You”.  Jamie looks her up and down in her male “costume”, raises an eyebrow, and with a half-smile says ,”Sorry, lass I’m a marrit man”, and tries to walk past her.  She stops him and he once again tries to courteously  disengage, but something makes him take a closer look at her.  She is able to observe him observing her general grubbiness and realizes he thinks she is destitute.  His tone changes and he reaches for his purse to give her some money to eat, kindness shining in eyes so like her own.

Brianna manages to ask him if he is Jamie Fraser, he is now wary and looks toward the tavern.  Thinking she may have been sent to him, he quietly asks if she has a message for him.  Brianna is struck by the absurdity of it all, a message? She almost laughs and finally tells him her name. She watches his face and realizes he knows it, and feels joy at the knowledge.  He is obviously experiencing shock and it takes him a moment to catch up.  Poor guy, people are always showing up unexpectantly into his life. He, of course, says exactly the wrong thing and comments on her size, lol!  At her indignation, his face cracks, and he quickly reassures her with an expression of “half-painful eagerness” on his face. He asks if  it is truly her and then explains with a gentle touch to her hair and face that his surprise is that he never thought of her as grown.

I saw the pictures, but still— I had ye in my mind somehow as a wee bairn always—as my babe, I never expected…” His voice trailed off as he stared at her, the eyes like her own, deep blue and thick-lashed, wide in fascination”  Diana Gabaldon Drums of Autumn

As always, Jamie thinks of Claire and his face breaks out in a wide grin at the joy he knows Brianna’s coming will bring his beloved wife.  Brianna realizes her mother has found her father and it is all suddenly too much. He hugs her, cries with her and worriedly comforts her.

“Dinna weep , a leannan, dinna be troubled, ” he murmured.  “it’s alright, m’annaschad; It’s all right.”

She gives her nose one last wipe and asks him the meaning of the Gaelic words A leannan and M’ annsachd.  He tells her they mean darling and blessing.  The tender words of endearment cause them both to be shy.  Brianna starts to speak and realizes she doesn’t know what to call him.  It is all so complicated.  Father seems to formal, and she can’t call him daddy, Frank was her daddy and to call him this would seem a betrayal, and she certainly couldn’t call him Jamie! True to form, Jamie sees her discomfort and interprets it correctly, and tries to help alleviate her distress.

“You can…call me Da, ” he said.  His voice was husky; he stopped and cleared his throat.  “If—if ye want to, I mean, ” he added diffidently.

“Da, ” she said, and felt the smile bloom easily this time, unmarred by tears. “Da. Is that Gaelic?”

He smiled back, the corners of his mouth trembling slightly.

“No. It’s only…simple”

And, as Diana writes, it suddenly was.  Brianna steps into her Da’s arms and what they experience there is all they both dared hope.  He is as “big” as she imagined and Jamie is holding his lost child.  And, I can’t wait to see how Ron and company, Sam Heughan, and Sophie Skelton will realize all the emotion, realization, and…hope in this scene.

 

 

 

Brianna…a hard nut to crack

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We are mid “Droughtlander” and anxiously awaiting a few casting announcements.  Brianna and Roger haven’t  been cast yet or if they have there hasn’t been an official announcement.  As anxious as I am for a peek at who they have chosen, I have to say I’m glad they are taking their time choosing these two.  Getting these two characters right is a big deal!  They are important to the rest of the books and hopefully, to the rest of the series.

I’ve talked to very few book fans who weren’t half in love with Roger. He’s very likable and an interesting mixture of strength and vulnerability.  He is every bit as emotionally intelligent as Jamie and I’ve always felt that he “gets” Claire. In fact, I’ve felt they have a lot in common.  He is patient, forgiving, caring, smart, strong, and capable of loving unconditionally.  He stood up to Jamie and earned his respect. That fact alone tells you that Roger is a man worth admiration and respect.

Then there’s Brianna… she tends to inspire a variety of fan responses.   Some fans love her and some hate her.

I’ve always felt that Claire and Jamie were pretty easy to figure out.  It isn’t hard to understand what motivates them.  Claire is a kind woman who cares about the people around her.  Jamie does the best he can with the gifts and people he believes God has entrusted him. I’ve come to see their daughter as a bit harder to figure out.  I’ve come to see her as complex.

I once had a conversation with some fans where I mentioned the fact that Brianna was probably more difficult to write because of her being inserted into the story as a baby. Diana had to start from scratch! Add to the difficulty of creating a persona for an already established character, the fact that she is the child of two very strong and well-loved characters and you get fan expectations. In fact, one of the fans I was discussing Brianna with said she believed “Diana got lazy with Brianna’s character. Just because she was hard to write doesn’t give her permission to do a poor job.”  SAY WHAT?!

Further questioning revealed that this fan didn’t like Brianna as a character. I believe the words she used were selfish and bratty. I can remember at the time feeling a little incensed that someone would call Diana a lazy writer.  I still marvel at how she connects every little detail, every character to the on-going story.  You better remember what she writes because somewhere in one of the eight books those details and characters are going to come into play. Lazy? Have you seen the size of those books? And how many best sellers has she written? And whose books are so full of entertaining characters and plots that they made it a TV series? Lazy? Soooo not buying that one. But, when I was thinking of the casting of Brianna for the show that conversation came back to mind; selfish and bratty. Was she?  If not, then why would someone think that I wondered? Did Diana try to make her difficult to like?

As you probably know, Diana Gabaldon often shares insight into her writing process.  She once said that when she writes she is usually dealing with three types of characters; onions, mushrooms, and nuts.  Claire and Jamie are considered onions, they are multiple-layered and with each new book she gets a chance to add to the layers. Lord John is an example of a mushroom, he just sort of pops up fully formed. Then there are the hard nuts, characters like Brianna who HAVE to be written because they already have a place in the story.

So, I started thinking about how Diana chose to write Brianna. The reader might expect that the daughter of these two characters would be pretty wonderful, perfect in fact. Given how wonderful her parents were it would be reasonable to expect Diana to write a character that reflects the best of their character traits.  But, Diana is pretty good at not giving us the usual and the to be expected in her characters and story.  Brianna should be a character that is a perfect blend of Jamie and Claire…to quote Diana, ” says who?”

I think Diana made Brianna unique.  She IS a great mixture of the two of them, but there is the key word…mixture. Jamie and Claire each brought unique skills and aptitudes and personalities to the moment of Brianna’s conception.  But, like when you mix vanilla, flour, sugar, and eggs together and then bake it you have something entirely new…cake.  Jamie and Claire are some great genetic ingredients, but sometimes just a little too much of one thing and not another can change the taste of the whole thing! And then you still have to have the right temperature and bake it the right amount of time, etc.

So, I believe Diana decided that Brianna would be a product of both nature and nurture just like the rest of us.  The fact that she is a child of the fifties and sixties in America really should impact who she is a person, as does being raised by Frank and then finding out he wasn’t her father. Her mother broke through gender barriers to become a doctor in a time of emerging feminism, that had to have made an impression.  In a way, Bri going back through the stones would have been an even harder adjustment than what her mother experienced.  At least Claire had some understanding of how to be the ” little woman” or what it meant to be submissive to men. I dare say Brianna never saw her mother playing the submissive role.

I’ve heard fans say they don’t like how she treats Roger. What I’ve seen is that she expects to be treated as an equal. She sticks up for herself and her needs. Maybe this is where people get the idea she is selfish and bratty?  But, isn’t that what we say we all want for our daughters, the ability to stand up for themselves? Brianna knows her own worth and expects to be treated as worthy of respect and fair treatment.  Roger, bless his heart, believes she is worthy too!  She isn’t easy, but he’s up for the challenge. It takes a strong man to love a strong woman.

So, what kind of person did Diana decide to create in the character of Brianna. I believe Brianna is the modern woman; she is

confident

loyal

empathetic

in touch with her own needs

not willing to settle

self-sufficient

passionate

stubborn

kind

bold

Yep, the nut didn’t fall far from either tree! Can’t wait to meet her on the screen!