Sitting in front of a homey fire, laughing with his friend over bad whiskey and a good chess game, Jamie glances at the bed that holds the sleeping son he can never claim. Lord John sees the direction of Jamie’s gaze and wonders at his thoughts. “Do you feel yourself content?”, he quietly asks. Jamie responds that he is. He has a home, honorable work, his wife at his side, good friends and the knowledge that his child is well cared for…he wants nothing more and I ask what else is there? And yet, there is much yearning in this episode of Outlander.
John, Jamie, Claire, and even William are yearning for something missing from their lives, or regretting choices, and struggling with acceptance.
John is such a great character and David Berry plays him to perfection. I’m completely onboard with fan efforts to get him a spinoff. As he approaches Jamie in the clearing, you can see John steeling himself to act appropriately. He makes sure his face reflects nothing but friendship before he calls out. I really truly thought Jamie was going in for a hug, delighted to see his friend, but Lord John stops him with the news of Willie’s presence and I had to wonder if this wasn’t an act of self-preservation. A hug might have crumbled the walls John had erected around his heart and revealed more than he could afford.
It is hard for us book readers to sometimes disassociate ourselves from what we know. So, when I think of the relationship between these two men I think of what I know about each from the books and I can’t help but believe that Lord John’s friendship became the most important of Jamie’s life. On some level, it is not surprising that they would become friends. Had they met under different circumstances, they would have found they had a lot in common. John and Jamie are both learned men who share a love of books and philosophy. They are both soldiers who have had the responsibility of leadership. They get each other’s sense of humor. They are both fiercely loyal and protective of those they love. And, I think as men of integrity they recognize the honor in the other. John challenged Jamie’s beliefs about love and friendship and helped him heal and Jamie gave John a purpose of sorts and someone worthy to love. I marvel at this bond and friendship. Jamie has very real reasons for associating homosexuality with the abuse he suffered at the hands of BJR and despite this association, Jamie chose John to be Willie’s surrogate father. The fact that he sees beyond John’s orientation and that John can love Jamie unconditionally speaks volumes about the character of both men. However, John still yearns for what he cannot have.
The quiet conversations between Claire and John were marvelous character revealing moments. I think John started off treating Claire like any other woman of his experience. At first, he treats her with what I can only describe as the polite tolerance one gives to someone they see as an intellectual inferior and misinterprets her motivations. She quickly sets him straight. She truly is unlike any woman he has had experience with in the 1700’s and truthfully, he should have known better. Jamie is no ordinary man and it serves to reason that he would not love an ordinary woman.
Lord John Grey’s character arc of being a gay man in the 1700’s is thought-provoking. What would life be like for this man in a time when knowledge of your sexual orientation could get you killed and ruin the lives of everyone you care about? Some would say not so different from now. I had cause to wonder if Claire’s directness, in reality, wasn’t a bit of a relief for John. He was a man who had to hide who he was and what he felt practically every moment of his life. I wondered how often, if ever, he could talk openly as himself not guarding every word. To find a trusted confidante in the object of your great love’s affection had to be the irony of all ironies for John. He finds himself openly confessing regrets over his feelings for and life with Isobel, but in truth he “just wasn’t born the right person” for… Jamie. He yearns for the satisfaction he sees on Claire’s face, her surety that she loves and is loved in return by the one person she was born to love. I took a ragged breath when he reminded us with a single tear that he too was born “this way”. John has the tragic misfortune of loving someone who cannot love him in return and thus joins the Outlander ranks of unrequited love beside Frank, Isobel, Murtagh, and Loghaire.
As far as I know, Jamie has not shared John’s preferences with her, but Claire is astute enough to have figured it out. John has certainly given her enough information in his facial expressions, manner, and the wearing of the sapphire. Despite her being sure of Jamie’s love, I think Claire, at least momentarily, did see John as a real competition for Jamie’s affection. Always playing with expectations and gender roles, leave it to Diana Gabaldon to make Claire’s only real competition a gay man. Claire knew how to deal with her feelings about Loghaire, but this is an entirely different kettle of fish. She can see what Jamie sees in Lord John and is a bit threatened by their connection over William. Fiercely protective of Jamie, I think she sees John as a threat to his happiness. His connection to Govenor Tyron puts him at odds with history and Murtagh and his regulators, but most of all she is angry that John has risked Jamie and William’s happiness over his perceived need to see Jamie.
Not one to mince words or not face an issue directly, Claire of course confronts John with her knowledge and fears. She knows too well what can happen to a child who has been kept in the dark about their true parentage and what can happen when they find out they have been lied to. However, as much as she wants to stay angry at John’s selfishness, she cannot “keep thinking of him as she wishes”. His openness and vulnerability touches her. She does know what it feels like to live a well-intentioned life with another person and not be able to truly give them happiness. She does know what it is like to yearn. She had twenty years of it. For me, the most telling moment in their conversations came when John confessed that seeing them together pained him. Claire looked as if she had been slapped and asked him why he tortured himself, surely he knew before he came he could never have Jamie. The slap turned into a punch to the gut when John said he could have had him. I found myself chasing the emotions across Cait Balfe’s face, shock, maybe jealousy and finally, the realization of what it would have cost Jamie to make such an offer and what it meant in relation to his love for his son. She hurt for the pain Jamie felt and his sacrifice. She cannot begrudge Jamie time to know his son despite the danger to them all, but she yearns for her daughter and regrets the fact that she will never get to know her father and he her.
Jamie didn’t expect to see William ever again. Sam Heughan’s take on what this moment would have been like was everything, The look on his face when he’s sees Willie, the unshed tears, the look he gives John when he gives William his name were visceral. He is overwhelmed and unsure. But, it all fades when his son speaks to him. The joy on his face was remarkable. Jamie yearns for his children.
I know that some fans have expressed their difficulty in understanding why Jamie just didn’t tell people he was Willie’s father and take him home to Scotland. The unsatisfactory truth is that it was a different time. His son is an Earl and as a result has all the advantages that come with his station. Do you take that away from him? Do you label him a bastard? Do you cause the Dunsanys to be shamed over something you did? Jamie believes it is his fault their daughter died, so can he now take away their grandson? No. Complicated and heart-wrenching. With the assurance that Lord John Grey will make an appropriate and caring step-father, Jamie made the sacrifice to leave his son.
It has always grieved me that this wonderful man has been denied fatherhood so many times. He is a man who loves children and family. He would have been a wonderful father to Faith, Brianna, and Willie. Probably the most convincing evidence that Jamie would be a wonderful father is the relationship he has with children that are not of his blood. Fergus, Ian, Joan and Marsali to name a few. Through the early years, we see saw Jamie’s interactions with wee William. he stays when he could have left and becomes a role model to his son despite the difference in their stations. He cares for, spends time with and teaches William. In a very real way, Jamie is a “father-figure” to little Willie. In my opinion, Jamie was as a good of a father to William as he could possibly be. And, I am grateful that we got to see him spend time on the ridge teaching his son “how to be in the world”, to fish and to hunt, and to enfold him in his arms and offer him comfort and express his pride in William’s courage.
Personally, I loved the changes that resulted in William recognizing “Mac” and his blurting out to the indians that he was the boy’s father. Did anyone else get the feeling the indians believed Willie was the son of Bear Killer? I have since been wondering and speculating how these changes could affect the story moving forward. William will have to doubt his parentage and that sets up all kinds of wonderful conflicts and tensions and …yearnings, “I ran to you, but you did not look back. Why did you not look back?” asks William. “I wanted to.” his father replies. I tearfully smiled at the significance of Willie’s glance back at “Mac”.
Do You Feel Yourself Content?
In this episode, everyone comes face to face with the facts of their own lives. Jamie cannot be a father to his own children. Claire chose to leave Brianna. John is not free to love or be loved as he chooses. And yet, by the end of the episode there is a sense of peace and contentment and …hope. Jamie sees that although Willie is blood of his blood, John is his father and the evidence was right there when Willie bravely took responsiblity for his actions to save another just as Papa John once did to save Claire. (It makes me excited to see how Jamie will handle another of his children that was raised by another man. A man he does not feel so generous towards). He is grateful. John is given the gift of acceptance from the most unlikely of sources and Claire… the facts she faces are much harder to reconcile. Unlike Jamie and John, she was not forced by circumstances beyond her control into the life she now finds herself. She chose to leave her daughter and there is no doubt she regrets it. In my opinion, the writers chose wisely when they gave us that intimate moment between Jamie and Claire. The tenderness and gratitude and expression of their longing and love was needed. Their joy in being together was a balm to the doubts this episode raised for each of them. I love this tv show for its own story telling that allows me another lens through which to see life’s truths. None of our lives are perfect or without regret, but like Jamie and Claire we all can feel ourselves content through acceptance, gratitude, and living in the moment. May we all have a home we love, honorable work, someone we love beside us, good friends and the knowledge that those we care about are cared for.