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.