“May we all become diamonds”…A Reflection on Outlander 5.08 “Famous Last Words”

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You simply cannot talk about Outlander 508 “Famous Last Words” without talking about the episode’s silent movie extended metaphor. So, let’s get it out of the way…I got it, I just didn’t care for it.  The horror was minimized rather than strengthened by the stylized effect. Juxtapositioned against Roger’s obvious trauma, it just didn’t feel serious enough. I kept waiting for Snidely Whiplash to show up (even though Tim Downie’s Gov. Tyron was a good substitute). I felt the flashbacks could have worked, seeing Roger’s eyes behind that mask was very powerful, but the flickering silent movie presentation took me out of the story.  Once again, I know what they tried to do, the silence, the movement from black and white to color, but this was ROGER hanging from a tree, not Penelope Pureheart tied to a railroad track. I needed to HEAR the commotion, panic, and anguish. So, having stated my opinion on the matter, as I’m sure many will, let me say I felt the rest of the episode was strong.  I always think Outlander shines when they focus on relationships, it is what makes it unique and watchable tv.

I know that the title of this episode “Famous Last Words” should be an obvious guide to what this episode was about.  Words said or left unsaid was definitely a theme worthy of delving into, but what stood out for me was how we all deal with the unimaginable, unexpected, and unfortunate.  I continue to be amazed by how timely these episodes are.  I can’t help but make comparisons with the unimaginable, unexpected, and unfortunate times we are currently experiencing.  The world as we know it has changed, probably forever.  How we will all deal with that is happening in real-time.  I find myself fluctuating between hope and despair sometimes hourly. The unimaginable, unexpected, and unfortunate has come to visit us all. Our plans, our dreams, our well-being, our safety are threatened and like Young Ian, many of us don’t know how to go on or if we even can.

Words

The episode opened with some lovely backstory.  Roger in his element was a joy to behold.  As a teacher, I felt the power of his words as he challenged young minds to think, to examine their response to the world around them, and to consider what legacy they might one day leave.  Words are indeed Roger’s stock and trade, his weapon.  He reminded us and his students that words are powerful and that they can wound and so, we must be careful how we use them.  Roger strives to make his words count and his deeds match.  He hopes that in the end, he will have lived a life worthy of those he loves. The irony that he was unable to have last words is not lost on me nor the fact that using his weapon to try to save Murtaugh and Morag led to the loss of a hugely significant part of his identity…his voice…his words. He is not the man he once was and as a result, like Clementine, he may be lost and gone forever.

Rik Rankin’s performance of a traumatized Roger was moving.  I’m always amazed when actors can communicate everything without saying anything.  His eyes were haunted, his demeanor subdued to the point of pain, and his attempts to use his voice excruciating to watch.  I felt the sharp needles when he swallowed and choked along with him when he tried to speak. I was moved to tears by his attempt to express his gratitude to Ian.  He is the shell of the man he once was.

Grief

How magical must Jamie think the future to be, full of cures for wee invisible beasties (don’t we wish) like the germs that make you sick and so, maybe they have a cure for something else invisible too…grief.  Claire assures him that no, the future has no cure for the heartache of losing someone, only time can cure such things.  When she said this, I was overwhelmed by how many people are grieving right now.  How raw and immediate is their grief, time hasn’t had a chance to cure them, however, I’m not sure we are ever truly cured of grief. We just find a new normal that includes our grief.

I found myself sadly smiling at Jamie self-medicating with whiskey because it is such a normal universal way to deal with things we can’t control. I think there are a lot of folks hoisting a drink right now.  Here in Ohio, our governor has a press conference every day at 2o’clock.  Folks have started calling it “Wine with DeWine” time (there are t-shirts).  The occasional need for whiskey aside, I have always admired Jamie’s emotional maturity.  He is allowing himself to feel and to share his grief with Claire and Jocasta.  With time, he will find a way to live without Murtagh.  Ian is another story.  We aren’t let in on the details of what happened to Ian in the Mowhawk village or the reason for his return, but it is obvious that something is wrong. Like Roger, he is no longer the man he once was, he isn’t the Ian we all knew and loved, but neither is he Mowhawk.  You can see the struggle he has to acclimate himself to life on the Ridge.  I was relieved to see John Bell play Ian with the same earnestness.  It is obvious he is now a man, but there are hints of the old wee Ian.  Lauren Lyle’s Marsali continues to be a revelation. She steals every scene she is in with her portrayal of our spunky Scottish lass.  Marsali has no idea how much her heartfelt admission of guilt means to Ian.  No, he reassures her, it is a good thing to feel you belong somewhere.  We all want Ian to feel he belongs in this family.

Fear

Roger being saved wasn’t enough.  His body is home, but HE isn’t and no amount of cojoling and patience will bring him back to the man Brianna loves.  Her fear is palpable.  She is losing him.  It all comes to a head when she walks in and finds Marsali picking up her tarot cards from the floor and Roger holding on to the Hanged Man card.  She tries to reassure him that she understands his loss and how, ultimately, it doesn’t matter to her how he sounds. This scene reminded me so much of Claire and Jamie in the Abbey. Bree loves him and will take him any way she can get him. Bravo to the actors for letting us see Bree’s fear and frustration and Roger’s pain at his inability to react the way he wants to, to give her what she needs from him. She needs to know that he is coming back and that he won’t forever be the hanged man. He cannot reassure her.

Soon after, she sends him off with some wisdom in the form of a piece of paper that is able to bend and fold and adapt.  Because it allows itself to be manipulated, it becomes a new creature, able to soar.  There is a reason paper, she says, is a gift for first wedding anniversaries and why diamonds are the gift for couples who have been married for 60 years.  She wants them to be like a precious diamond, the hardest substance on earth, able to withstand the pressures of life.  It was an excellent analogy and a heart-tugging hope.  Roger packs the plane and heads off to be useful, surveying the 5000 acres gifted as compensation from Governor Tyron.

Choice

Claire discovers missing hemlock and voices her fears to Jamie that maybe Roger is in so much pain he might want to end his life.  We then discover it is Roger’s traveling companion Ian who cannot live with the pain of losing his wife. He symbolically buries his weapon, his hatchet.  He will no longer fight.  He wants the peace death will bring him.  But, the fates intervene when Roger, who has had his own epiphany, kicks away the poison tea before Ian can drink it.  Roger picks up his weapon, he uses his words to save Ian. They ride home to …fight.

Sing us a song

Roger returns to Brianna.  He tells her even though he was saved, a part of him died that day.  She does understand, she too survived a dark time.  He thought he knew what his last words would be, what his life would be, but circumstances changed and changed him.  In the end, it wasn’t his words that mattered, it was the people in his life, specifically her.  He will always sing for her, even if she isn’t there or even when his voice is unable.  He has allowed himself to become the paper airplane, so that he can have the chance to become a diamond.

May we all become diamonds

Our lives have been hijacked by an invisible wee beastie.  Like Ian, we haven’t the words yet to express our fear and grief. Many of us have difficult decisions to make, life-altering decisions. Like Jamie and Jocasta, we have to find a new normal.  Like Marsali, we have to grab on to happiness and belonging where we can find it.  Like Bree, we must hold on to hope. Like Roger and Ian, we must pick up our weapons and fight.  May we all weather the storm and emerge knowing what truly matters, may we all become diamonds.

God Bless,

Beth

 

 

 

 

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!