***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Outlander through Season 4, Episode 2, and Book Spoilers through Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn follow. Spoilers***
This was a rough one, folks — especially that ending. Before we get to the part where the tears start rolling, let’s take a moment to ponder Claire and Jamie’s thirty seconds of hopefulness about the possibility of creating their own American Dream. As the boat transporting them sidles up to River Run’s — Jamie’s Aunt Jacosta’s North Carolina estate — shore, Jamie again frets over his pennilessness and Claire duly reassures him they’ll be fine. After all, they’ve wealthy relatives to turn to; another chance to sleep in luxurious bedding and wear beautiful clothes … and the pair are somehow always invited to the best parties, replete with sumptuous food and drink.
Stepping perfectly into Jacosta Cameron’s and Ulysses’ respective shoes, we’re introduced alongside Claire to The Tudors‘ once and former Queen Catherine of Aragon aka Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Doctor Who/Torchwood regular, Colin McFarlane. As I mentioned, all’s well a moment or two, until Claire has a proper look around and spies the many slaves hard at work. Of course, though she knows things in America will eventually get (to a certain extent) better, Claire can’t help but bristle at the sight, nor hold her tongue.
Ian and Rollo momentarily break the tension with a terrible smell; poor pup’s had a skunk run-in and as always, there’s someone nearby with just the right remedy for his malodorous condition. While John Quincy Meyers (Kyle Rees) clues young Ian in on hairy arses, and the ways of “Indians”, Claire bucks the system by getting to know the house slaves better; Phaedra (Natalie Simpson) and Mary (Mercy Ojelade) are duly confused, and Jamie shoots his wife stern looks when she challenges his kindly aunt’s purported friendship with her servants.
At their obligatory welcome party (sorry, no nipple dress this round), Auntie Jacosta tells the world that in their short time together, she’s decided Jamie is master of and will inherit her estate, causing Claire immediate and irreparable concern. While Jamie proposes freeing River Run’s slaves and giving them fair wage for services, he quickly learns the price for that freedom may be more than can possibly be earned (One hundred pounds sterling per slave — over fifteen hundred pounds), as well as the specter of those who’ve shared Jamie’s views (“… disappeared; never heard from again.”). When Claire reminds her husband of the Governor’s land offer, I wonder why they wouldn’t instead head for less conflicted pastures.
And now, here we are, back at the beginning — or rather, the end. With a wonderfully warm-despite-the-horrific-goings-on performance, Caitriona Balfe once again infuses Claire with the every-person emotions we all share, as she and Jamie hear of a slave about to be executed for his (good reasoned) attack on a white man. As the healer within her calmly takes over (and despite her historical foreknowledge), she rushes with Jamie to a terrible sight — young Rufus (Jerome Holder), stolen away from his home as a child, has already been nearly gutted with a hook and is being hanged, even as the Frasers arrive. Not a moment to spare, Jamie doubly draws down, demanding Rufus be cut free so that Claire may treat him. Though the couple succeed in temporary rescue, nothing can save the young man from his fate. Admonished by Ulysses and Jacosta both, Jamie convinces Claire that her greatest power is in easing Rufus’ inevitable suffering as an angry mob arrives at River Run, threatening everyone if their demands aren’t met. To “save his soul”, rather than allowing it to be torn from his body, Claire prepares a tea that will take away his life without any more pain. Comforting Rufus as he fades away from childhood memories, Claire holds his hand; the couple prays until midnight strikes, and Jamie must deliver his body to the vile folks who won’t be sated until they commit their final, despicable defilement.
As I mentioned at the outset, this was a rough episode. On the one hand, there’s the fact that as a country, we’re smack dab in the middle of yet another round of terrible history — with a leader who encourages hatred and is openly racist, emboldening those in the shadows to remind America that we haven’t come as far as we might like to think. There is still ongoing violence happening against people of color; it’s either so boldly accepted that we pretend we can’t do anything, or it hides in places we do our best to ignore. Maybe it is in some strange way “good” for the audience to come face to face with our history, unable to look away from who we have been and apparently still are. At the same time, perhaps it was just too heartbreaking on top of current events … I can’t quite decide. There are portions of Diana Gabaldon’s books that haunt; some are just terribly handled (Mr. Willoughby) — and I do appreciate that this series writers attempt to share her stories in the most eloquent way they can. In following an author’s written works, the show is almost damned if it does or doesn’t adhere. Claire and Jamie can’t stop slavery on their own, so they use what little power they have to ease a man’s suffering. That said, maybe someone should have at least asked Rufus; let him make his own choice.
Likewise, the discussion of Native Americans this hour was difficult to listen to. It does appear from promotional photos that at least Claire will attempt to get to know Adawehi (Tantoo Cardinal) in a future episode.
I don’t know if it was intentional, but there was a pretty clear Star Wars (The Last Jedi) crossover with Jamie’s line to Claire that they might be “We could create a spark that might light a fuse.” (“We are the spark that’ll light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down.”) I knew Jamie had some secret Jedi powers.
You take one look at my buttocks and you think my dad was a buffalo.
That isn’t the law, it’s a mob.