Tuesday, October 17, 2017

“Gang Thegither” - when original writing and TV adaptations combine! A recap of season 3 episode 5 by your Aussie Blogging Lass


Outlander Homepage originals by Susie Brown



The thing about good writing is that it really makes you think. When it’s writing that adapts a story that you already knew, it makes you think about things from a whole new perspective. When it’s really good writing, it brings you to new understandings as a result. When it does all three, there’s a good chance that you’ve just watched an episode of Outlander that was written by Toni Graphia. “Freedom and Whisky” was an amazing episode from start to finish, not because of the fact that it contained the beginnings of the longed for reunion between Jamie and Claire, but rather because it brought the perspectives of Claire, Brianna and Roger together in a way that the book doesn’t. In doing so, it complemented the original beautifully. It was clever, clever stuff and an honour to watch! 

The episode begins with an operation in 1968. Back in Boston and back doing what she does best, Claire refuses to stop the surgery even when the patient’s blood pressure is lowering and Joe tells her she is out of time. Using a mixture of instinct and determination, Claire finds the necrosis that would otherwise have gone unnoticed and saves a life. 


It is a short scene, but one that establishes a couple of very important facts: Claire is a talented surgeon back at the top of her game and she will not back down from what she knows to be right, even if it involves danger and risk. As the scene ends, she and Joe share a brief look; hers of satisfaction, his of respect.

Meanwhile in a history lecture, Brianna is doodling on a notepad. While the lecturer speaks of the historical figure of Paul Revere, Brianna is drawing archways. Her attention is captured however, when the lecturer announces the famous poem about Revere’s ride to be a lie, speaking instead of the man who did complete the mission, a man who has been lost to history because, “Revere had a better publicist.” The other students chuckle, but Brianna is obviously affected by the words. After class, the professor speaks to her. A previously outstanding student, Brianna is now failing, not only in history but in other subjects too. If her results do not improve, her future at Harvard is in jeopardy. Declining the opportunity to talk to her teacher, who was both a colleague and friend of Frank’s, Brianna merely says that everything is fine. 

Brianna returns home to an empty house and spends a few minutes lost in nostalgia. In quick succession, she looks at an ornament on the Christmas tree from her first Christmas,  Frank’s armchair, his pipe, (which she smells) and photographs from when she was a baby. 


This is such a clever scene. Much has been written about the character of Bree, as well as the portrayal of her by Sophie Skelton, a lot of which has been negative. But with this simple scene, Sophie Skelton does a superb job of portraying the sadness that Bree is feeling, in a way that must surely give these critics food for thought. With the book shown through Claire’s perspective, readers don’t get the chance to focus on how hard the events have been on other characters too. In a short space of time, Brianna has lost the man she thought was her father, discovered an almost impossible to believe tale about her actual father, begun to reconnect with her mother and become attracted to a man who she has left behind when her mother announced it was time to give up the search and go home. Is it any wonder that she has behaved in what many have said is a “bratty” way? In the few moments of this scene, Brianna has no dialogue, but we are left in no doubt as to the depth of her emotions, her loneliness amplified by the soulful Frank theme playing in the background throughout. Bravo to actress, writer and director, for bringing in another dimension that complements the original story and shows the weight of events on Brianna. 

The next scene begins with a pensive Claire looking at a photograph of Brianna in her graduation robes. Given that he is now the person who has known Claire the longest in Boston, as well as being her closest confidante, Joe notices that his “Lady Jane” is miles away, and comments that she has the look that she had when she first returned from Scotland. Not one to give up, Joe asks Claire if she had met a man and finally gets her to talk in somewhat guarded terms about Jamie. 


When Claire mentions that she had hoped to reconnect but that fate had had other plans for her, Joe responds with his opinion of fate - a line that has fast become a fan favourite. (This is another example of where a writing adaptation complements the book, as it was not a sentiment expressed in Diana Gabaldon’s version!)  A nurse interrupts the conversation with the delivery of some files, but Joe is not about to let Claire off the hook, saying that their conversation is to be continued. 
A taxi pulls up outside the Randalls’ Boston house and with the lyrics of “Show me a man who’s got a good woman” playing in the background, a nervous Roger Wakefield gets out of a cab, telling a disinterested driver that it’s probably the most brilliant or most daft thing he has ever done. As he rings the doorbell, he can hear a spirited argument coming from the two good women inside. He sighs, realising that once again, he is about to be in the middle of a Brianna and Claire quarrel. 


An irritated Brianna opens the door, but her mood quickly brightens at his “Happy Christmas”. She leads Roger inside, to greet a surprised Claire, who tries initially to make light of the situation that he has interrupted. She tells him that Brianna has decided to withdraw from Harvard and move out, a decision that Brianna states is hers to make. With this the argument begins again, with Brianna expressing a little of the emotion that we had seen in her previous scene. She tells her mother that she couldn’t just come back to Boston and be who she was. Despite her trying to do just that, it hasn’t worked. A car horn beeps outside, and Brianna grabs a box of her belongings, telling an uncomfortable Roger that they will hang out the next day. 
Claire insists that Roger stay in the house and, over drinks, they begin chatting. Roger too is readjusting to a different family situation: with the Reverend dead, it is his first Christmas alone and so he has decided to swap the Inverness house of books, dust and old Christmas traditions for an American festive season, where hopefully he will be able to make some traditions of his own. Claire tells Roger of the Randall Christmases, where she and Frank would read Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to Brianna, until either she grew out of it, or they did. With a brief humorous mention of the quarrel, Claire questions the reason that Roger has arrived unannounced. She knows that it can’t only be for an American Christmas, but adds that she is pleased that Brianna will have someone with her who understands what she has gone through in the past few months. Fortified by whisky, Roger tells Claire the real reason for his visit. 


Describing himself as a historian who pursues something like a dog with a bone, Roger takes an envelope from his case. He tells Claire that he has succeeded in tracing Jamie; showing her an article written by an Alexander Malcolm in 1765 that quotes lines from a Robert Burns poem that Claire had once shared with Jamie. Given that Robert Burns was only 6 years old in 1765, plus the fact that the writer has used Jamie’s middle names, an excited Roger is sure that the author is Jamie, therefore proving that he is still alive just one year earlier in the parallel time period. 

But Claire doesn’t react in the way that Roger expects. Pacing around the room, emotions rising, Claire says that she could have lived the rest of her life not knowing; that she had shut the door to the past 20 years before. The news that Jamie had survived Culloden had started her hoping, something that she tells Roger she can’t go through again. Roger persists: this isn’t just hope, he says. With this news, Claire can return to Jamie. His face falls though, when Claire reminds him that in doing so, she would be leaving Brianna in the midst of her own personal crisis. As a mother, she can’t abandon her daughter. Roger is crestfallen, immediately asking what he can do to help. 


He agrees to Claire’s request not to tell Brianna of his discovery and retires to bed, citing jet lag. Left alone, Claire spends a sleepless night, looking first at the article, then Ellen’s pearls, as the Jamie and Claire theme plays softly. 

When Claire enters Joe’s office, she discovers him looking at a skeleton. Joe’s friend, an anthropologist has sent the skeleton looking for a cause of death. Claire picks up the skull and describes it as a 150 year old murder victim. On examining other pieces of the body, Joe confirms that someone had indeed tried to cut the woman’s head clean off. He wonders how Claire knew it was a murder victim, to which she answers that the skeleton just “felt like it”. The mystery isn’t completely solved though: although found in a cave believed to be a slave burial place, Joe knows that the woman wasn’t black, by the length of the the tibia bone. 


A somewhat disquieted Claire says that “bones don’t lie.” Joe agrees, adding that they tell all and immediately segues into their previous discussion, asking Claire what she hadn’t told him about “her man in Scotland”. 


Without telling him the full story, Claire admits that Jamie was Brianna’s real father, a fact that she had told Brianna while they were in Scotland and that the revelation is the reason that Bree has been struggling so much. Joe replies that the news explains a lot. He tells Claire that no one had ever thought that Frank and Claire were a perfect couple and that he has watched her live a half life for 15 years. If she has a second chance at love, he tells Claire, she should take it, adding that Brianna will “come round”.

Roger is watching daytime tv when Brianna comes home, a drama called “Dark Shadows”, where the characters are discussing the feelings of a woman time traveller. 


(Interviews since the screening of the episode have revealed that not only was this a legitimate episode of an actual show, but that it also screened on the date that the episode is set: December 23rd 1968. It is a rather amazing coincidence!) After discussing the perils of Roger’s addiction to day time tv, the two begin an hesitant flirtation once again. Brianna tells him that she is glad he has come; Roger says that he wanted to experience an American Christmas, complete with lobster rolls and Boston Cream Pie. Saying that she can probably help him with that, Brianna invites him to a function that afternoon, where a fellowship is being named in honour of Frank. Brianna suggests they go early, so that she can show him the hallowed halls. Roger agrees and they settle in on the couch to watch the rest of the episode.

Later that afternoon, the two are indeed walking through the halls of Harvard, which look remarkably like the ones that Brianna had been sketching in her history lecture. While Brianna is interested in telling him about the cloisters and the fact that they are the only example of Gothic architecture in the building, Roger is more interested in how many people have walked through the halls over the years, what conversations they may have had and what secrets were etched in the arches’ nooks and crannies. 
It highlights the differences between their ways of thinking: as a historian, Roger focuses on the people; whereas despite visiting the place many times since Frank first brought her as a young girl, she has only ever been intrigued by how the arches were built and how each stone is held in place by the pressure of another. It is a formula, she says, based on measurements, calculation and precision and that as a result, there is a truth to the building. Roger comments that she doesn’t sound like the daughter of a historian. This is precisely the point, says Brianna. She isn’t the daughter of a historian, but of an 18th century highlander. Again, we are reminded of her struggle. Roger tells her a story of his own father, of whom he has few memories, other than stories that the Reverend told him. With emphasis that becomes important later, Roger tells her that knowing his father helped him to know himself and that everyone needs a history. But Brianna is not convinced. History is just a story, she counters, that changes according to who is telling it and compares her own story to that of Paul Revere or Bonnie Prince Charlie. History can’t be trusted, she says. It is an important conversation, not only in order to better explain why she has withdrawn from studying history at Harvard, but why she has been struggling in general. Everything she had thought to be true has been turned upside down. She would much rather put her trust in stone and measurements than in people. 

At the service for the bestowing of the Frank W Randall Fellowship in the field of European Studies, Claire finds herself face to face with none other than Professor Sandy Travers, the woman who had shown up at the house on the evening of Claire’s graduation and the woman that Frank had hoped to marry. After a couple of moments of uncomfortable small talk, Sandy confronts Claire. Claire should have let Frank go, she says. 


Despite Frank telling her that he was only staying with his wife for Brianna’s sake, Sandy had known that part of him was still in love with Claire, something that wouldn’t change no matter how much Claire broke his heart. Sandy lived with this knowledge, she says, because Frank was the love of her life and she had wanted him, even if it meant sharing him with another. This is a sad parallel to Frank’s situation, who had known he was sharing Claire with Jamie’s ghost. Sandy calls Claire selfish, making Frank and Brianna live a lie while she threw away 20 years, whereas Sandy would have given anything for one more day. 

As an uncharacteristically silent Claire watches Sandy walk away, Brianna has noticed the exchange and how unnerved her mother is. Afterwards, Brianna asks who the woman was, revealing to Claire that she had recognised her. When in a bookshop with Frank years ago, they had stopped to talk to Sandy and Brianna had noticed Frank look at Sandy the way he had once looked at Claire. Brianna reminds Claire of the promise they had made to each other at the stones; that there would be no more lies between them and so Claire tells her daughter the truth: Frank had loved Sandy for many years and had been planning on marrying her. Brianna then shares one of her fears: if she looked so much like Jamie, then Frank must have seen another man every time he looked at her and must have hated her as a result. Claire is quick to dispel that fear, telling Brianna that she had been the most important thing in Frank’s life and that raising her had been his greatest joy. The dam broken now, Brianna continues. Surely Claire must have resented her then, as she was the reason that Claire had lost Jamie? Again, Claire reassures her. The moment she had seen Brianna and nursed her, she had never felt another feeling like it. She loves Brianna for Brianna, she says, not for the man who fathered her. She does agree though, that she still thinks of Jamie and, adding that there is something else she needs to be honest about, pulls the copy of the article written by Alexander Malcolm, from her purse. Immediately, Brianna recognises the name, and tells Claire that this means she can go back. When Claire tells her that her life is in Boston with her daughter, Brianna counters that she is all grown up and can live on her own. While she loves her mother, she doesn’t need her in the way that she did when she was little. Although she knows this, it is something that Claire doesn’t want to discuss any further.

The scenes involving Sandy have caused much controversy since the episode aired. Some have said that they were unnecessary, given that in the books it was never confirmed that Frank had had an affair at all. Furthermore, others argue, Claire would not have remained silent in such an exchange. To have her say nothing was not true to Claire’s personality. However, these scenes also serve to remind us of the ripple effect that actions can have on others. Again, in the book everything is viewed from Claire’s eyes. We can’t see how others think and feel and here, we can. We can see that the sadness was not contained to just Claire, but that her decision to stay in a marriage where love, despite the best of intentions, had gone, had consequences for others too. While Sandy was a character invented for television, Frank was not. It reminds us again, of the sadness that he endured, tempered with the joy of raising Brianna. Finally, Claire’s actions of finally telling Brianna the truth totally threw her daughter’s life into turmoil, causing her to doubt not only her own family history, but whether Claire and Frank had ever truly loved her. Far from being unnecessary scenes, it can be argued that these are strong complements to the original, allowing us to think far more deeply. 

The next scene too, where Claire, Joe and the other medical staff are watching a broadcast of the Apollo 8 mission, has been criticised by some as unnecessary. Again though, it is important to consider the symbolism of the lines it contains. As they listen to Jim Lovell’s voice, Joe says, “How can you take a trip like that and come back to life as you know it?” 


The answer is, of course, that you can’t. You have seen things that you couldn’t have imagined and your life can’t be the same as it was. This is a direct parallel to Claire’s experience, as she suggests in her following voiceover. Travelling through the stones is as foreign to most people as travelling into space. You can come back to your life, but it can never be the same. Perhaps, she muses, it is enough to have gone once. To contemplate travelling a third time, with all its risks and associated losses, is becoming a decision that Claire is unable to make. The scene ends with the Jamie and Claire music reaching a crescendo as Claire stares up at the moon, whisky in hand. 

In fact, it is Brianna who must make the decision for her. Sitting on their couch, Claire tells Brianna that they may never see each other again and that she is not sure whether she can cope with never being able to see Brianna get married or have children of her own. 


Brianna agrees that it won’t be easy, but that she has realised while trying to figure out her own identity, that she is more Claire than either of her fathers. If she turns out to be half the woman Claire is, she says, then she will be fine. Claire has to go back, she says, to tell Jamie everything about his daughter, so that he will finally know her too. But then Claire shares her own insecurities - what if Jamie has forgotten her, or has ceased to love her? In a beautiful switch of mother/daughter bonding, it is Brianna who takes on the reassuring parent role now, saying to Claire that she has to trust that the feelings she has for Jamie, which are unlike anything else she has ever felt, must be the same for him. “You gave Jamie up for me,” Brianna tells her mother, “Now I have to give him back to you.” The two embrace, with Jamie’s place in the hug being represented by the theme music playing as mother and daughter cling tightly to one another. 

But Claire still requires an opinion that Brianna cannot give her. In their office, Claire puts Joe on the spot: is she attractive sexually? Joe is suspicious, asking if this is a trick, but Claire says that she needs an honest male opinion and he is the only male she can ask.


Joe realises that Claire is asking because of “her man” and Claire admits that she is thinking of giving it another go, but it has been 20 years. Has she changed that much since Joe first met her? With a chuckle, Joe replies that Claire had been a “skinny white broad with too much hair and a great ass”, adding that Jamie would be in heaven when he saw her. It is what Claire needs to hear, but she watches Joe with sadness as he gets his coat. She knows, as he does not, that this is their farewell. She thanks him and they wish each other a Merry Christmas. 

Back at the house, Brianna, Roger and Claire sit around the fire and exchange gifts. Claire has unwrapped a box of coins that Brianna and Roger found in an antique shop, while Roger hands her a book called “Scotland, the Nation.” Claire admits that she has also been thinking about what to take and that she has borrowed some penicillin and scalpels, as they will be needed more in 1766 Edinburgh than 1968 Boston. 


Brianna has another gift, handing Claire a topaz necklace. Not only is it to help her travel safely through the stones, it has added significance as Brianna’s own birthstone. Putting it around her neck, Claire confirms that she did indeed lose two gems in each of her previous trips - from her jewelled watch and Jamie’s ring. Brianna asks how Claire will carry everything she needs and the talk turns to the making of a garment. Brianna teases Claire as to her ability to do so, but Claire assures her that after years of making pageant costumes, she knows what she is doing. Roger is impressed. Claire can have her own utility belt, he jokes, like the caped crusader. As the Batman TV music begins under Brianna’s observation that Roger watches a lot of tv, the scene changes.

By the time the final chorus of “Batman” is done, so too is Claire’s outfit. Looking in the mirror, she then takes care of the grey in her hair.


When Brianna and Roger return, Claire is wrapping the scalpels into a leather pouch. They compliment her new look hair, assisted by “Miss Clairol” and she shows them “the batsuit”, complete with its hidden pockets that will allow her to take all her supplies. Borrowing Brianna’s blouse to complete the outfit, Brianna assures her that it will be perfect, marvelling at Claire’s ingenuity at making the outfit out of raincoats. 

This is another departure from the books, where Claire had gone shopping to buy an 18th century dress. Fans have criticised the making of the “bat suit” as well as the music used - wasn’t this a wasted scene? Yet again, this scene, although undoubtedly different to the novel, serves a number of purposes. First, to the general observer, Claire is a bit of a “superhero”. In the 20th century, she overcomes the prejudice against women and becomes a successful surgeon. In the 18th century she did the impossible, by travelling through solid rock, being impervious to many of the diseases of the time, having knowledge of the future and healing people with her combined skill of 20th century medicine and 18th century herbs. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it highlights Claire’s skills to adapt to a situation. She has made Brianna’s pageant costumes; she knows what type of outfit she will need; she is fiercely independent, so therefore she makes it herself. Thirdly, there was a humorous suggestion that it could have been a nod to Sam Heughan’s previous role as Batman in a touring production. While this one is unlikely, this scene can still stand on its own as important in terms of symbolism - and is certainly arguably more satisfying in terms of characterisation than a one-off moment in a dress shop. Again, it is an example of the tv writing complementing Diana Gabaldon’s original. 

Roger leaves to fetch a “last provision”, giving Claire and Brianna a moment alone. Claire tells her that Roger is a good one, Brianna replying that she knows.  The moment of truth has come. Claire gives Brianna her resignation letter to be given to Joe and the deeds to the house, which are now in Brianna’s name, along with all the bank accounts. Brianna hesitates. She can’t believe that Claire won’t let her come along to Scotland to say goodbye. But Claire recounts the two journeys she has already made: the first time she was terrified, the second, heartbroken. 
She wants this time to be peaceful. If Brianna was with her, she might never go. But Brianna is adamant that Claire is going.


She will miss her  mother so much, she says, but wants Claire to find Jamie and give him a kiss from her. Claire then gives Brianna her final gift: Ellen’s pearls from her wedding night, suggesting that Brianna can wear them on hers. The two tearfully embrace, as Roger returns with whisky as a final “nip for the road.” Claire thanks him for everything and he pours them each a dram. Brianna makes the toast: to freedom and whisky.



It is dark as Claire takes the halting steps down the path towards her waiting cab. Tearfully, she turns and blows a kiss to Roger and Brianna, who watch from the window. Brianna closes the curtains and cries in Roger’s arms, as the cab pulls away. She tells him to stay there for a moment and disappears into the kitchen. 


Then, showing the emotional strength that proves her to be her mother’s daughter above all else, Brianna dries her eyes, puts on a Christmas hat and takes a plate of prepared food from the sideboard. It is time to get on with her own life. 


Roger is waiting for her and laughs at the lobster roll and boston cream pie that Brianna is holding. Planning on starting Roger’s new American Christmas tradition, Brianna suggests that they can watch a Charlie Brown Christmas later on that day. But Roger has a final gift for Brianna. He watches intently as she unwraps a copy of A Christmas Carol. It is the perfect gift and the look on his face shows that he understands her completely. It is a look of love, and of recognition of the loss that she has experienced, both in the past few months and in the past few moments.

Her returning look is of equal tenderness and they share a kiss beyond the impulsive one of the previous episodes. Curling up together on the couch, Roger begins eating as Brianna starts to read and we are left in no doubt that they will both, indeed, be fine. 

This time, we do not see Claire’s journey through the stones. Instead, in a clever parallel to the first episode of season 2, when Frank’s 20th century outstretched hand turned into Jamie’s 18th century one; so too Claire’s 20th century step out of a cab turns into her 18th century step out of a carriage. She has arrived in Edinburgh. 


We watch as she emotionally gathers herself, reacquainting herself once again with the sights and sounds of an earlier Scotland. After a moment, she stops a young boy, asking for directions to Alexander Malcolm’s print shop. Immediately she is told what she needs to know: just down the way and to the left in Carfax Close. The moment is at hand and we see the mixture of disbelief and hope on her face as she begins to walk. 

These looks only intensify as Claire finds herself standing in front of the sign that bears the name “A Malcolm: Printer and Bookseller”. She runs her fingers briefly over the name and climbs the stairs, pausing at the top to touch her hair one last time before opening the door. The bell rings as she steps inside. She looks around for a moment, before starting at a familiar voice.


It is Jamie. Slowly, she advances towards him, her breath coming quickly. Jamie stands on the floor below, examining a page of type, calling to his assistant, Geordie, asking what had taken him so long. “It isn’t Geordie,” she says, haltingly. “It’s me. Claire.”

This is the only time we see Jamie in the episode and, like he always does, Sam Heughan conveys everything without the need for words. We watch his spine stiffen as he hears her voice, watch him turn slowly and then see his eyes widen as he looks up in complete disbelief to see her standing there. 


Their theme song swells as the two of them gaze at each other, before he faints dead away, leaving Claire to take a shocked breath and the episode comes to an end. The reunion will have to wait!



Adapting a well loved book for a television audience is often a thankless task. Every fan will have their own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be done and it is impossible to please everyone.

Even in an adaptation as faithful as Outlander’s has been so far, there have been many discussions on fan forums about the choices that have been made - and this episode was no exception. While the vast majority of the comments about Freedom and Whisky were positive, there were still plenty who questioned the validity of certain scenes. It is perhaps useful to remember the overall effect of the writing as a whole - does it complement the original, so that viewers can consider characters and events with new insight? This reviewer would argue that Toni Graphia has done this to perfection and deserves every accolade going!



This episode recap was written by Susie Brown, a teacher-librarian and writer who lives in Australia. Her heart was racing the entire time that Claire walked up those print shop stairs and she can’t wait to see the story continue. She also hopes that any criticism of Sophie Skelton stops now, as she thinks Miss Skelton did a phenomenal job portraying Brianna’s conflicted emotions in this episode! 




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