Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Making the Heroic Choice: A recap of season 5 episode 9 by your Aussie Blogging Lass

Outlander Homepage Originals by Susie Brown 

What qualities make a hero? Is heroism measured by a character’s ability to charge into battle regardless of the danger, of staying true to their word, even if it costs them their life? Or is a true hero the person who, when faced with two choices, can bring themselves to pick the harder option? No character escapes soul searching in this, the ninth episode of season 5, and we certainly witness plenty of heroism during the hour. 

As the opening credits conclude, we find ourselves looking at a rural scene. Everything is peaceful enough, with animals grazing in the field - although for book readers, the realisation that these animals are buffalos is a definite clue as to part of the plot line to come. 

Claire is examining Marsali, who is now in the advanced stages of pregnancy. Everything is going beautifully and Claire comments that Marsali, having already had two children, would be quite capable of delivering this one herself. Marsali though, is glad, that Claire will be there - not just because Claire is her physician, but because she will be able to share it with her “as me Ma.” 

It’s often the simplest moments in Outlander that have the most impact and this is the first such moment for the episode. It is expertly played by Lauren Lyle and Caitriona Balfe, and indicates just how close the two women have become. Even so, Marsali, can’t quite express her true feelings to Claire’s face, waiting until Claire is standing behind her to use the term of endearment. Claire, mindful of this, doesn’t say anything in return, but we certainly see her joyful response. Lauren Lyle portrays the perfect amount of vulnerable young woman hidden underneath all of Marsali’s usual sassiness, while Caitriona Balfe hits exactly the right mixture of doctor, friend and maternal figure.

The scene leads into another “life at the Ridge” montage, as Claire comments on the marking of time and the shift of the seasons. As Claire’s voiceover says, the colours of everyone’s lives are changing.  It is now Autumn, which has brought with it russet tones, the brown hues of harvest and the blue-violet shades of indigo dye. There is a hive of activity at the Ridge and a harmonious atmosphere abounds. This is a brief but effective love note to Scotland itself, which is certainly beautiful when Autumn is in full swing! (Or so it was when this reviewer visited last October!) 

In Bree and Roger’s cabin, the mood is equally harmonious - or rather, amorous. But any plans that Roger and Bree have of some quality time together are quickly dashed - firstly by Jemmy, who Roger inadvertently also manages to teach a new cuss word and then by Jamie, who knocks on their door and leaves the young couple with little time to look presentable. (Sam Heughan does a wonderful job of portraying a parent’s uncomfortable expression, as Jamie realises precisely what he has just interrupted!)  Game has been sighted west of the Ridge and Jamie is looking for more people to join the hunt. He is thinking of Brianna, but Bree has her sights set on helping to dye the cloth with the women and immediately volunteers Roger for the task. Jamie, after a moment’s hesitation, says that all able bodied men are welcome and with perfect deadpan humour and a slight look downwards, proclaims Roger to indeed be “able bodied.” 

A short time later, Jamie, Roger, Josiah, young Ian, Fergus and a couple of the other men from the Ridge are tracking buffalo. Jamie gives instructions for the other men to spread out while he and Roger drive the herd towards the group. The men are to take what they can and to meet back at the Ridge at the end of the day. It is a sound enough plan, but one that goes horribly wrong very quickly. Jamie and Roger do indeed come across the herd without difficulty, and Jamie fires a shot. Roger moves ahead to try and get a shot of his own while Jamie reloads, when disaster strikes. Jamie is bitten on the leg by a venomous snake and although he kills it quickly, the fact remains that this is a serious situation. After Jamie douses his knife with alcohol from his flask, Roger cuts his leg and sucks out as much of the venom as he can. He binds Jamie’s leg and asks if his father-in-law can walk, given that there is no sign of anyone nearby. But even standing is too painful, so Jamie tells Roger to go and find the others on his own. Roger leaves, taking the snake’s head with him and Jamie slides back down the tree trunk to wait.

Back at the Ridge, the women are preparing the cloth, while Lizzie remarks that it is “a good day for dying.” Unaware of the possible prophetic nature of her words, Claire and Brianna laugh at her turn of phrase. As they stir the dye, Brianna and Claire begin a serious conversation about career. Brianna asks her mother if she had always wanted to be a doctor. Claire replies that it wasn’t something that she had thought about initially, as when she was Brianna’s age, nursing was the closest that she could get. Brianna remarks that Claire had certainly been singleminded about it later on and Claire agrees, adding that she had to be, given that no-one was going to open the door for her willingly. Still, Claire says, she had been lucky enough to know what she wanted to be. 

Brianna has another question: “What if you know but can’t do it?” she asks. 
Claire replies that for most people the life they find is the life they lead. She asks whether Brianna is speaking of herself or Roger, and Brianna admits that it is both. They have talked about teaching, she says, but the trouble is that Brianna doesn’t know how to apply her calling in the 18th century. Claire replies that the label itself doesn’t matter - whether she is called doctor, healer, or witch, she is still what she was born to be. If she were to lose Jamie or Brianna, she would still have her profession, despite never feeling quite whole again. “You’re an engineer, Bree,” she says. “Whatever it is they call that here, you just have to find a way to be that.” 

Brianna asks if Jamie knows what he is, and when Claire says that he does, Bree wants to know if Jamie is truly content to be a “laird.” Claire adds a couple of professions to this list, adding that laird, husband and father are no small things to be. Finally, she gives Bree a piece of maternal advice, telling her daughter to be patient. If travel back to their time isn’t possible, both Brianna and Roger will find their purpose. Bree smiles in response, but we can see that she doesn’t completely believe this. 

Roger has been looking for the others, but is having no luck. We see his frustration - as well as not being a hunter, he is also not a tracker. His voice has not recovered enough to allow him to yell, so he fires his rifle and pistol into the air, hoping that someone will overhear.

The rest of the party return to the Ridge, empty handed. Marsali asks how they have gotten on and Josiah explains that the herd of buffalo had moved off faster than they had thought they would. Ian asks if Jamie had had more luck, but Claire explains that neither Jamie or Roger have returned. The group had gone as far as to the boundary of Bree and Roger’s land, the implication being that the other two men should have returned by now, but Fergus suggests that perhaps they have made camp instead.

This is precisely what Jamie has done, and he has begun to cook the snake when Roger returns. He is obviously not well though, his face already an unhealthy colour and sheen. He still has his sense of humour, saying “Fair is fair” as he holds up a piece of snake meat. Jamie asks Roger if there was any sign of the others and Roger is forced to admit that there wasn’t. Hoping that they will see the smoke from the fire, he starts to pile it higher with sticks. He asks how Jamie is, and Jamie admits that he now has pins and needles in his fingers and his lips are numb. He asks Roger if that is usual and Roger tries to joke in response, asking if his father-in-law has drunk too much whisky. Jamie asks what would be done in Roger’s time for snake bite and Roger replies that a dose of anti-venom would be given. He is concerned, but tells Jamie to get some rest. 

Later that night, Jamie calls out to Roger asking if he knows the last rites. Roger says that he doesn’t, telling Jamie that he doesn’t need them anyway, as he isn’t going to die. He reminds Jamie of the obituary that Bree had found, but Jamie responds that while he knows he is meant to die in a fire, he is already burning up as they speak. The best Roger can offer is a prayer for the sick, that he only knows in English, not Latin. He encourages Jamie to get some more rest, but Jamie wants to talk. 

The conversation turns to Stephen Bonnet. Jamie tells Roger that Bonnet is alive and that if he can’t kill Bonnet himself, Roger must do it for him. He begins to share details of the plan, but Roger is uncertain whether he could kill another person, even one as evil as Bonnet. Jamie lists the litany of crimes that Bonnet has committed since Jamie had helped him escape his original fate at the gallows: murdered his friend, attacked his wife and violated his daughter. It is obvious that Jamie blames himself, but Roger reminds him that he cannot change his past actions. Jamie muses that perhaps his current situation is penance, something that is doubly unfortunate for Roger, as it means that “the son must pay for the sins of the father.” Roger tells Jamie that he has chosen a hell of a time to get philosophical, but Jamie replies that there is no time like the present. His condition is deteriorating and he tells Roger that if he dies, Roger must look after Claire and the people of the Ridge. Again, Roger tells him that he doesn’t need to worry, as he will live, but adds that vengeance is a dangerous path to go down. Jamie argues again that they are merely defending their family, reminding Roger of Jemmy’s inheritance of River Run and the fact that Bonnet has waged war against them. Jamie believes that Bonnet will try and claim Jemmy as his own, and will bring witnesses from the tavern to say that Brianna had lain with him willingly for Claire’s silver ring. Bonnet’s crimes are unforgivable and Jamie says that it will be better to rid the world of him, so that he cannot harm another being. “There is a fine line between a monster and a hero,” he says. 

Facing his own mortality, Jamie tells Roger that despite initially blaming him for taking his time to return to the Ridge, he is glad that Roger is there. “We have to have faith that the Lord has a plan,” he says, laying a hand on Roger’s arm. Again Roger tries to be lighthearted. He tells Jamie that if Jamie wants him to face Bonnet then Jamie will have to teach him how to fight. 
“I will,” Jamie says, exhausted, “if I live.” 
The scene ends on Roger’s worried face, as he keeps vigil by the fire. 

It is early morning and Young Ian is shocked to see Jamie’s horse returned to the Ridge. He looks around, but there is no sign of his uncle anywhere.

Meanwhile, Roger is dragging Jamie on a makeshift sled. Jamie is barely conscious, but is able to give Roger some tracking advice, in order to lead them home. It is slow going. Roger is exhausted and Jamie is getting weaker. When Roger stops to give Jamie some whisky, Jamie is intent on giving Roger some “last instructions.” If he dies, he tells Roger, he wants them all to return through the stones, once they have confirmed that Jemmy can travel. His sword is to be given to Jemmy, he wants Bree to know that he is glad of her and that Claire should be told that he meant it. Roger is overcome with worry and finally does what he has so far refused to do: pray. Putting his hand on Jamie, he asks God to hear his prayer and to not let Jamie die.  At last, he hears the calls of Ian and Fergus, who have come in search of them. His voice still too hoarse for yelling, he bashes a large stick against the trunk of the closest tree. The noise echos in the forest and brings Ian, Fergus and Rollo to his side, the latter rousing Jamie by licking his face.  In short order, Jamie is loaded onto the horse and taken to Claire.

Claire examines Jamie’s leg, which is red and inflamed. She has never seen anything like it, she says. As a surgeon, she didn’t see many snakebites, other than to observe the autopsy of someone who had been bitten by a King cobra. She shares this information without thinking, then quickly checks herself when Jamie reacts to the word autopsy. Leaving Brianna with Jamie, Claire draws Marsali aside and puts the young woman in charge of a maggot gathering party, to try and stop the infection. Privately, she shares her fears. Jamie’s condition is bad and with the venom already in his bloodstream, his body will need to fight it. Onion poultices and oral penicillin broth will only do so much. Marsali laments the loss of Claire’s syringe, but tries to be positive. Jamie has stopped vomiting and was making snide remarks to Fergus and Ian, both of which are good signs. Claire agrees, but is worried about the leg becoming gangrenous. Marsali offers comfort, promising to have the whole Ridge out looking for the maggots that Claire needs. This is done immediately, with everyone pitching in to help save their laird.

Bree is sitting with Jamie, who rouses briefly to ask if any of the men had brought back the buffalo he shot. Bree tells him that they haven’t and that Josiah was angry at himself for letting them get away. Claire administers more penicillin broth and sends Bree out to join the others gathering maggots. While the two women are talking, Jamie notices the amputation instruments on Claire’s table. 

Returning to Jamie’s side, Claire asks if he is feeling any better. Jamie comments that he had thought he was, but is now unsure, given that Claire has not scolded or reproached him since his return. If she had done so, he says, he would have known that he would be all right, but her “tender as milk” approach has him worried. Jamie asks if she thinks he is dying. Claire dodges the question, calling him a fool for not watching where he was going. She adds that they can’t both be scared at the same time and that currently, it is her turn. As she turns away, Jamie tries to wriggle his toes. 

A short time later, a crash brings Claire back to Jamie’s side. He has managed to grab the amputation saw, telling her that he knows what she is thinking and he won’t have it. He would prefer to die than be without a leg. He demands her word, which she refuses to give. Still he persists: he has made his choice. 

Bree and Roger have joined the maggot search, Bree reassuring Roger that he did everything he could to help Jamie. She declares that Jamie will be fine, that he is too stubborn not to be. But there is more upsetting Roger. He tells Bree of the plan to kill Bonnet, including the fact that Bonnet may well be able to claim Jemmy as his own son. The fact remains that there were no witnesses to their hand fasting ceremony and a school of thought in the 18th century indicates that Jemmy’s birth proves that Brianna was a willing participant, rather than a victim of a rape. Moreover, Roger reminds her, Bonnet cares little for the law and what is right. It is a worrying situation, exacerbated by the fact that they also can’t find the maggots they want to help Jamie. Luckily, Josiah has had more luck and the scene ends with his triumphant cries.

Back at the Ridge, Lizzie is hanging up the dyed cloth and minding Jemmy, when suddenly a buffalo appears close by. Her screams alert Brianna  (a possible continuity error here, as she was just searching for maggots in the woods). Brianna immediately tries to distract the buffalo and draw it towards her and away from Jemmy. She succeeds and the buffalo begins to charge at her. She is flung into the air, but is fortunately - and somewhat unbelievably - unharmed. Claire appears on the porch with a rifle and succeeds in shooting the animal dead. Crisis averted, the women scoop up a distraught Jemmy, as Jamie drags himself outside, also wanting to help. It is distressing to see how weak he is.

The next scene sees Claire simultaneously admonishing Jamie for coming outside and packing his leg with the maggots. Roger comes to ask how Jamie is faring, telling his father-in-law that the maggots will not hurt, only tickle. With a wry smile, Jamie declares Roger to be a great comfort. Brianna smiles briefly at Roger. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the relationship between the two men has obviously taken a huge turn. 

Watching the buffalo being cut up for meat, an image that is uncomfortably similar to the appearance of Jamie’s leg, Claire and Brianna discuss the situation honestly and Claire allows her fear to show. While Jamie’s body is fighting the venom, the infection in his leg is bad. It is too deep for the maggots to make any difference and without the syringe, Claire has no way of getting the penicillin into his bloodstream. The thought of amputating Jamie’s leg makes Claire feel ill. Brianna suggests waiting a little longer to see if the maggots can have an effect. Claire nods, but time is running out. If there is no improvement, she will not have a choice, she says, other than the fact that she had promised Jamie that she wouldn’t do it. Brianna replies that at least Jamie would be alive to be mad at her, but Claire counters that every time Jamie looked down, it would be a constant reminder that she didn’t keep her word to him. This is the most vulnerable that we have seen Claire for a long while, with Brianna immediately taking on the role of comforter. It is another brief and beautiful scene between Sophie Skelton and Caitriona Balfe. 

Inside, a seriously ill Jamie has asked Roger to help him. He wants to sleep in his own bed, he says. Joking that ferrying Jamie about is becoming an everyday occurence, Roger begins to lift Jamie up, but needs help. Help comes with the arrival of young Ian, who tells Jamie that he should stay where he is, so that Claire can heal his leg. Jamie tells the two men that Claire feels that the only way to do that is to amputate, adding that he would be no good with one leg. Ian asks if Jamie had ever said anything similar to Ian Murray senior, or to Fergus. Jamie tries to argue that Fergus’ situation is different, as he was only a boy when he lost his hand. 

Young Ian immediately takes Jamie to task, saying that it makes no difference and that perhaps the real difference between Fergus, Ian and Jamie is that the other two were not as proud or as stubborn. Roger looks at Ian, impressed at his willingness to take his uncle to task. Jamie argues that it is a matter of honour, but Ian will not accept this either. 
“They lost a hand and leg in battle,” he counters. “There’s nothing honourable about being bitten by a snake.” 
Uncomfortable, Roger offers to go, but Ian wants him to stay. He wants someone else to hear what he has to say. He had always felt guilty, he tells Jamie, for secretly wishing as a young boy, that Jamie had been his father, and for following Jamie to Edinburgh in order to be with him. Now he has realised how courageous his own father truly is. 
“I never thought the day would come when I’d be ashamed of you, Uncle,” he says, before striding out. But his words have had an effect. 

Claire comes inside to see an empty bed where Jamie had been lying. She hurries to their bedroom, where she finds Jamie and Roger, who quickly excuses himself. Jamie is obviously gravely ill, his breathing laboured. He tells her that he won’t have Claire sleeping on the surgery floor. He wants her there with him.

Fergus has arrived to see Jamie, but is stopped by Ian, who suggests that this isn’t a good idea. Ian tells Fergus about the possibility of amputation and Jamie’s stubbornness at not wanting to lose his leg. “He’s acting like it’s the worst possible thing that can happen to a man and I didn’t want you to be upset,” Ian says. 

But Fergus has his own perspective to share. He tells Ian about the “man of leisure” saying and how he had said that to Jamie when he had lost his own hand. It was a teasing bargain he had made, he explains, that Jamie would always be there for him if he were to lose an ear or a hand in Jamie’s service. Rather than thinking about what he lacks, Fergus and Marsali have always focused on what they have. “You and I have a father and an uncle,” Fergus says. “We should be there for him when he needs us. That’s all we can do.”

Jamie’s breathing is shallow. He calls Claire to his side, asking her to sleep beside him. She strokes his face asking how he feels and he replies that he feels like a pile of mouldy tripe with maggots. It is an attempted joke, but Claire can see how grave the situation has become. Her eyes shine with tears as she asks Jamie if it hurts much. He says that he is tired and asks her not to leave him. She moves closer, declaring that she could never leave. Jamie is cold and asks Claire to touch him before he sleeps. He slips into unconsciousness and Claire realises that he Jamie is dying before her eyes. Desperately, she kisses him, pleading with him to stay with her as she removes her shift and lies on top of him. “Don’t leave me,” she whispers, touching him as he had asked and begging him to stay with her. Whether it is the desperation of her intimate touch, the power of the love between them, her skill as a healer that Master Raymond had recognised in her years before, or a combination of all three, Jamie, with a long gasping sigh, returns to consciousness.  Still lying in each other’s arms, Jamie releases her from her promise not to amputate. When the time comes, he tells her, she can take his leg.

The chemistry between Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe is nothing new, but this scene ranks as one of the best between the two actors in the entire dramatisation of Gabaldon’s novels so far. Caitriona Balfe is perfect here and we feel every moment of Claire’s desperation and fear as she fights to keep the man she loves alive. The scene plays very true to the novel and many fans have commented on how much it affected them to see it onscreen. 

Roger and Brianna are eyeing the snake’s head. Roger tells Bree that he still isn’t sure why he took it, other than the hope that if Claire knew the species it would help somehow. He is about to throw the head into the fire, when Bree stops him. She has noticed something, her fingers touching the creature’s fangs.

Fergus, Marsali, Germain and baby Joan are in the woods. Fergus and the children are smelling and picking flowers, when Marsali goes into labour. Fergus says that he will go and get Claire, but there is no time. Marsali tells Fergus he is not going anywhere. Despite her plans, she will need to do as Claire said that she could, and deliver her baby herself. 

The time has come. Claire is preparing for the surgery, with Ian to assist her, although Claire wants to know where everyone else is, commenting that she will need more than one pair of hands. Ian apologises to Jamie for his harsh words, saying that he hadn’t meant them. But Jamie reassures him, telling Ian that he had been right to say what he did. Jamie tells Ian that he needs to take the leg afterwards and bury it, but not tell him where it is. With one final look down at his toes, which he flexes for one last time, he declares that he is ready. Claire tells Jamie that if he is inclined to pray, now would be the time. Jamie crosses himself and Ian hands him a cloth to bite down on. Jamie puts it between his teeth and grabs onto Ian’s hand. Claire begins to sterilise the knife, trying to steady her hands for what she has to do. 

At the last moment, Bree and Roger burst into the surgery. Bree proclaims pit vipers to have beautiful engineering. Their fangs are connected to a venom sac in their cheek, so that when they bite down, the cheek muscles squeeze the venom out of the sac, down through the fang and into their prey. Claire doesn’t understand at first. Bree explains that the fangs are hollow, handing her mother a handmade syringe. 

Jamie asks Roger if it is the same snake. 
“Fair’s fair,” Roger replies. 

Claire and Brianna test out the syringe, pouring in some of the penicillin. It squirts out the top of the fang. It will work. Jamie kisses Brianna’s hand, as Claire tells him to brace himself. She begins to inject the penicillin directly into the infected leg. 
“Beautiful engineering indeed,” she says to Brianna, who looks across at Roger with relief. 

Some time has passed. Claire and Brianna have come to Marsali and Fergus’ cabin, to greet their new baby daughter. Claire apologises for missing the little girl’s arrival, but is happy to see her healthy and safe. Kissing his daughter’s forehead, Fergus announces her name: Felicité.

Roger is sitting by Jamie’s bed, when Jamie wakes and sees him there. Roger says that he wants to point out that Jamie is in fact alive and Jamie responds that he didn’t think that Roger would be one to gloat. Roger chuckles, saying that he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity, given that he may never get another one. Jamie tells Roger that he is now no longer under any obligation to fulfil his dying wish. Roger knows this but he has decided that he wants to go with Jamie to Wylie’s landing after all. He wants to be there, he says, when Jamie meets Stephen Bonnet. 

At last, Jamie is recovering. He is sitting reading when Claire comes into their room. 
“You tried to die on me, didn’t you?” she says. 
Jamie agrees that it wouldn’t have taken much effort, and that not dying was harder. Continuing, Jamie explains that while he had resigned himself to die, that had been before he had made his choice. He had felt his heart begin to slow, he tells her, and both pain and fever had faded. Then he had seen a passageway of sorts, that he could go through if he chose. He wanted to, but knew what lay behind and realised that he had a choice  - to go forward or turn back. 
“That’s when you asked me to touch you,” Claire says and Jamie agrees, saying that he knew that she was the one thing that could bring him back. Claire asks why he chose to stay. “Because you need me,” he replies. 
“Not because you love me?” she asks.
“Whether I’m dead, or you, whether we’re together or apart, I will always love you,” he replies. There is a war coming, Jamie says, and he has a duty to do, no matter the cost.
Claire is tearful. Whatever the reason, she tells him, he made a wise choice. They kiss gently and the episode comes to an end. 

Indeed, the central theme of this episode has been one of choice and of finding the courage to do something undesirable. Throughout the hour, Jamie had to find the courage to allow for the loss of his leg; Claire had to find the courage to actually carry out the surgery; Ian had to find the courage to speak the harsh words to his uncle that would make the difference, while Marsali and Fergus had to find the courage to deliver their own child. Brianna had to find the courage to save lives: first Jemmy’s by confronting a buffalo and then Jamie’s, by discovering how to become an 18th century engineer, and create a syringe. Finally, Roger had to find the courage to agree to assume the mantle of head of the house should it be required, even if part of that mantle involved vengeance. 

By the end of the episode, every character has faced some sort of adversity and has emerged the stronger for the experience. Given that a confrontation with Stephen Bonnet grows ever closer as this season heads towards its conclusion, this is a good thing - no doubt plenty of strength will be needed! 

This recap was written by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher-librarian who lives in Australia. She was thrilled to see so many of Diana Gabaldon’s words enacted in this episode - and equally thrilled with the brilliance of the actors who brought them to life.

1 comment:

  1. This season is wonderful I could cry but with happiness that Jamie didn't die and Claire didn't have to amputate his leg, Marsali's had the new Bairn and Roger, Ian and Fergus all came to Jamie's aid. Loved this episode. Truly.