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The third episode of season 6 is called “Temperance”. A simple definition of this word is “the abstinence of alcohol", but a more nuanced one mentions “moderation in action, thought or feeling.” A number of characters throughout the episode are forced to moderate their actions, thoughts and feelings, and none of these moderations come without challenge. It is a masterclass of writing, directing and acting and definitely this reviewer’s favourite of the season so far.
Roger tells them that the baby floated because he was in a basket. Scooping some water from the river, he immediately baptises the child, drawing the boys’ attention to the name, Henri-Christian.
“He belongs to the Lord,” he says. “Trouble him again and Satan will pop up and drag you screaming straight down to Hell!”
This terrifies the boys and this time Roger lets them run, aside from Germain, who he stops by bellowing his name. Head down, the young boy returns to stand in front of Roger, who stares at him, incredulous.
At Fergus and Marsali’s cabin, Claire and Jamie have arrived. Claire has examined Henri-Christian, who is now warm, dry, sleeping and unharmed. Germain sits in disgrace in a corner, as Marsali rages. She should drown all the boys in a well, she says. Roger explains that the trip down the river had been a test; the boys’ parents having apparently told them that Henri-Christian was demon born and that water would reject the wickedness. Claire comments that it is a good thing that they didn’t try to take the baby out of the basket. Roger replies that the boys were afraid to touch the child because they thought Henri-Christian would burn them.
A disturbingly still Fergus looks at Germain and asks, “And you believed this? You think your brother is a demon?”
Germain replies that he thought they would leave them alone, to which Marsali scoffs that he should know better than that. The baby starts to cry and she leaves to tend to him. Roger promises to talk to the boys and tries to tell Fergus not to let them trouble him, but Fergus leaves the cabin without a word, as Claire and Jamie share a look of concern.
Jamie eyes Germain sternly and tells the young boy to find his associates. They are all expected in Jamie’s parlour that evening to receive a punishment. Roger takes pity on the crestfallen boy, promising to go with Germain to find the others, receiving a tearful nod in response to his offer.
Outside, Claire sits down next to an equally tearful Fergus. He explains that in the mountain villages of France, a dwarf child would be left for the wolves. Claire assures him that they won’t let anything like that happen on Fraser’s Ridge. The child will be surrounded with love, she says and begins to paint a rosy future for the boy, that includes education, a trade and children. But Fergus is not convinced. He tells Claire that with respect, she has never seen the life of a dwarf. He tells her of his life in the brothel, and of times when someone known as “The Dwarf Master” would bring dwarf children to satisfy clients who wanted something more “exotic”. The children were not badly treated, but considered of value, so much so that the dwarf master would buy such children from their parents or collect them from the streets.
Fergus recalls one child who he knew quite well. Luc and Fergus would sometimes work together pickpocketing the wealthy customers. Fergus tells Claire that he found Luc in an alley with his throat cut, and that after the body had been retrieved, it was sold to a physician, who cut it up into parts which were sold for divination.
It is a horrific story and one that also moves Claire to tears. Fergus tells her that when he first met herself and Jamie, he had finally found a world beyond the brothel and had vowed never to return to one. He worries now that it may lie in his son’s future. Claire immediately tries to reassure him again. He can’t think that she or Jamie would allow such a thing? Fergus replies that neither of them will live forever and neither will he. But his child will be a dwarf forever, something for which he blames himself. The child was beaten in the womb, he says, and he wasn’t there to protect Marsali. Claire tries again, telling him that Henri-Christian’s condition has nothing to do with what happened, but an anguished Fergus simply stands up and walks away.
This was a beautiful scene, poignantly acted by both Caitriona Balfe and Cesar Domboy. We are used to seeing Ms Balfe’s emotional work, but this was Cesar Domboy’s time to shine. From being frustrated with Fergus’ behaviour in recent episodes, we are immediately sorry for him now.
Claire arrives back at the Ridge to find Tom Christie waiting for her. He makes a slightly barbed comment about the length of time that he has been sitting there and she tells him the reason for her absence, adding that she hopes that he hasn’t been encouraging the sort of nonsense and superstition that has resulted in Henri-Christian’s trip down the river. Christie bristles a bit at this, telling Claire that he is an educated man and doesn’t believe in superstition. He is sorry for what has happened and vows to talk to the boys and their parents. Claire replies that this isn’t necessary as Jamie is handling the matter. She asks Christie what she can do for him and he replies that it is time to have the operation on his other hand. Claire invites him in, saying that she will prepare the surgery and the ether.
But Tom will not agree to the ether, branding it a potion that is the “devil’s work.” Jamie enters just in time to hear Claire use the phrase “stubborn as rocks.” He tries to tell Tom that the pain will be considerable. He knows, from experience, how much it hurts to have your hand cut into, telling Tom how Claire had healed his own hand years ago. But Tom has made his choice and won’t change his mind.
Roger and Germain have reached the McCallum cabin. Aidan immediately begs Roger not to tell his mother what has happened. Roger explains that Jamie has requested Aidan and the other boys to visit before supper, otherwise Jamie himself will come and visit Amy McCallum and explain what the boys had done. The conversation is interrupted by a shriek from inside the cabin and Roger goes to investigate, telling Germain to stay with Aidan.
Amy McCallum is standing with her back against the wall, and expresses relief that God has sent the minister. Roger tries to explain that he isn’t really a minister, and Amy replies that nevertheless they had enjoyed his sermon the previous week and asks for his help. She points to the covered milk jug, saying that she had gone to pour some out for Aidan, but that the devil himself or something else has gotten into it and it is haunted.
Roger lifts the cloth over the jug, flinching back at the sound of a groaning noise. Realising with a chuckle what it is, he steps forward and pulls out a large bullfrog. He puts the frog outside, commenting that one of the local boys must have been playing tricks. But Amy has collapsed to the ground, asking Roger why she has been brought to this place. Why has God allowed her to be left without a husband, left to starve here so far away from Scotland. She asks Roger if she will ever see Scotland again. He replies that he doesn’t know what God has in mind, but he can promise her that he won’t let her starve.
Meanwhile, Marsali is marvelling over the spinning wheel that Brianna has made for her. She says that she will work twice as fast now, and will have more time for the children. A wooden toy, thrown by Jem, interrupts their conversation. Brianna tells him to be careful or there will be no more “vroom.” It is a toy car, but of course Marsali doesn’t know this. She asks why it is called a vroom and Brianna replies that it is just the noise that Jem makes when he plays with it. She changes the subject, wondering if Roger and Germain have had any luck finding the boys. Marsali comments that it’s the parents of the boys who should be punished, adding that they have agreed to go up to the house with Henri-Christian later on, for whatever the punishment will be. Fergus has yet to return and Marsali is worried. She tells Brianna that Fergus has promised to stop drinking.
“Good,” Brianna replies, adding that she is sure that Fergus will return soon. “It will get better,” she says, putting her arm around Marsali. “You’ll see.”
An obviously nervous Tom Christie is watching Claire make her preparations. The scalpel has been heated, his hand strapped down, and Jamie has placed both a glass of whisky and a bible in front of him. Claire offers Tom a stick to bite down on for the pain, but he refuses, saying that he would prefer to say his prayers. Jamie and Claire share a look and after a “At your convenience then, Mistress Fraser,” the operation begins.
Tom’s composure is quickly shaken, with the pain of the first cut. Jamie clamps a hand onto Tom’s shoulder, holding him still as he reads loudly from the bible while Claire works. Tom speaks along with Jamie, punctuated by cries of pain.
Malva is peering through the window, and is caught by Young Ian. They begin a brief, but flirtatious conversation. Ian asks why she doesn’t go inside, given that she is Claire’s apprentice. It is a label that obviously pleases Malva, but replies that her father is concerned about her female sensibilities and wouldn’t want her to see him suffer. Ian comments that she is strong enough to stand the sight of a bit of blood, but Malva says that her father is more worried about the health of her eternal soul. Ian offers to walk her home, rather than them waiting around like two souls in limbo. Malva comments that she is not Catholic, so her soul is not in limbo, but agrees that Ian can walk her home.
Inside, Tom and Jamie are reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Claire joins in for the last few lines. Tom is pleased to see his hand laid flat: the operation has been a success. Claire tells him that more movement will return to the hand once the wound heals and the sutures have been removed. Obviously pleased by this,Tom agrees to stay the night in the surgery, so that Claire can observe him.
Malva and Ian are discussing why there should be any concerns over Malva’s eternal soul. Ian remarks that he can’t believe that Malva would have sinned too much and she replies that looks can be deceiving . Ian adds that if his mother could see him, she might be concerned for his eternal fate as well. Malva says that her own mother was not so spiritually inclined, having been hanged as a witch. It is a shocking admission and Ian is rightfully shocked, asking when this was. Malva says that she hardly remembers, as she was very young. They have nearly reached the Christie cabin and Malva remarks that her brother will be home and wouldn’t be pleased to see her walking with a young man, so they part, Malva looking briefly back over her shoulder and smiling as she walks away. After a moment, Ian, now accompanied by Rollo, walks off himself.
Back at the Big House, Jamie is in full Laird mode. The boys who had put Henri-Christian in the basket stand before him, watching as Jamie heats a poker in the fire. Pulling it out, glowing red, he remarks that he knows that they had been eager to play with fire. He says that he is half tempted to burn them himself, but given that they are growing men and need to learn by doing, he will give them a choice. They can touch the baby (Henri Christian is now lying in a crib nearby) or they can touch the poker.
One boy is volunteered by the others to go first. He doesn’t want to touch the baby, but does so. Henri-Christian gurgles in contentment and the boy reluctantly smiles. Jamie remarks that the baby is a sweet child and that surely the boy must see that. Aidan goes next, ticking Henri-Christian under the chin and making him laugh. Jamie comments that the baby likes him. The remaining two boys follow suit and Germain says, “See? I told you he wasn’t a demon.”
One of the boys asks whether what Roger has told them is true: does Henri-Christian belong to the Lord? Sternly, with arms folded, Jamie replies that they shouldn’t argue with anything they have been told by Mr MacKenzie, but whoever the baby belongs to, Henri-Christian also belongs to him and that they had best remember that. After a round of “Aye, Mr Fraser, Sir,” the boys are allowed some bread and honey before being on their way.
Left alone with Germain, Jamie reminds the young boy that Henri-Christian belongs to him too. “He is your wee brother,” Jamie says, kneeling down in front of Germain. “He needs your protection. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Grand-Pere,” Germain solemnly replies.
When Marsali returns home with Henri-Christian, she hears the cries of the other children. They are hungry. Fergus is sitting in a chair, a mug in his hand. He has been drinking. Marsali is upset. He had promised, she reminds him, saying that he is so much better than this. She asks how she can help. She has seen what drinking does to a man. Her own mother had put up with it, and she and her sister had suffered because of it. She will not put up with it again. Fergus says that he is the one who is meant to protect her and the children, but Marsali reminds Fergus that the burden is not his alone. She can fight for them too. Not against Lionel Brown, Fergus argues. Marsali disagrees, saying that she did just that, admitting that she is the one who killed Lionel when he threatened them.
But rather than this news being the comfort that she had hoped, Fergus reacts badly. He says that he doesn’t need a woman to protect him, but he does need a drink. Marsali responds by pouring water over his head, remarking that she hopes it has quenched his thirst and yelling at him to leave the cabin. When Fergus yells back that he is the man of the house, she retorts that he can come back when he is acting like one. He drops his mug and takes his cloak, moving to the door.
“You promised me, Fergus Fraser,” says a tearful Marsali, “And I will have a whole man, or none at all.” Fergus leaves, and Marsali begins to cry, as does Henri-Christian in the background.
In their room, Claire asks Jamie what he would have done if the boys had chosen the poker over touching the baby. He remarks that he would have let them take their punishment.
Claire replies that she hopes that the boys will go home and tell their parents. Jamie muses that if people truly believe that the boy is demon born and they are his grandparents, what does it say about them?
“It says that you’re of the devil yourself,” says an apparition of Lionel Brown, appearing in the mirror in front of Claire.
Obviously shaken, she turns from the mirror and Jamie asks her what is wrong.
“Nothing,” Claire replies, looking back at the mirror. The apparition has gone, but she tells Jamie that she is going downstairs to check on Tom.
This she does, but her obvious intention is to head for the ether and the oblivion it will provide. She is distracted from this by the voice of Tom, who has heard her come into the room. She snaps back into doctor mode. He is slightly feverish and she reaches for the water. He flinches away from her touch, but she assures him that she only wants to check his hand. As she does so, he asks why she never properly covers her head, quoting once more from St Paul. Claire remarks that the man obviously had a bee in his bonnet about women. Showing him some exercises to do, Claire can see that the touch of her hands is having an effect on Tom. She asks if he is hungry and goes to get him some food.
Claire is still struggling to get her control back after the vision of Lionel, and is helped by the appearance of Adso the cat. She begins to talk to the animal, saying that she will find some milk, but that the ham is not for him. When she returns to Tom, he asks if there was anyone in the other room, as he had heard her talking. She says that she was talking to the cat, adding that it is not her familiar.
Christie reminds her that he is an educated man. He doesn’t believe her to be a witch. He goes on to apologise to her for not being able to keep still during the operation. Claire remarks that she wouldn’t expect anyone to remain still while their hand was being cut into.
But Tom compares himself to Jamie. Jamie wouldn’t have cried out, he muses. Claire replies that everyone is different and that she has treated many highlanders. Tom asks if she knows that Jamie’s back bears the scars of flogging.
“Yes, of course,” Claire replies.
Tom remarks that Jamie had arrived at Ardsmuir with a great many scars, but recounts the tale of how he earned more, by claiming a piece of tartan that had belonged to an old man. It was an act of courage and he wonders why Jamie had done so. Claire says that Jamie would do anything to protect his men. Tom asks if that was the reason for Jamie’s presence during his own operation. Does Jamie believe him to be one of his men, because he does not consider himself one. Claire replies that she is sure it was just an act of kindness, one that Christie would surely perform himself in similar circumstances? This assumption earns her a curt nod, before a now tired Tom lies back down to sleep.
Claire returns to Jamie and asks whether Tom is afraid of women, remarking that he had seemed so uncomfortable being touched. Jamie tells her that he was the same himself, at Ardsmuir. It was shocking to be touched. He tells Claire of the atmosphere at Ardsmuir, and how sometimes it would change, with the longing and need of the men. Some men would reach out to each other. But Tom, Jamie says, turned inward. Claire confirms that Tom was already at Ardsmuir when Jamie arrived, and that they left at the same time. She is trying to work out the timeline of Malva’s conception - wouldn’t Tom have still been at Ardmuir? Jamie muses that perhaps Tom remarried when he arrived in the colonies.
Claire brings the subject back to touch: had any of the men attempted to touch him? Jamie replies that none would have thought to do so, as he was their chief and they loved him. Did he want them to? Claire asks again. Jamie tells her that he hungered only for the touch of a hand and for sleep, so that he could dream of her.
Malva and Ian are working in the field, collecting rushes. The tension between them is charged, the flirting continuing. Malva asks about Ian’s relationship with Jamie, assuming that Jamie doesn’t mind about the marks on Ian’s face, or him not being a Christian. Ian replies that Jamie would give him the coat off his back if he asked and that Jamie has given him some land of his own to farm. Jamie must think of Ian as like his own son then, Malva muses and Ian agrees, calling himself a man of worth, adding that he is not sure whether his place is on Fraser’s Ridge, or for how long.
Malva steps forward, brushing her hand over Ian’s facial tattoos and asking what they mean. It is a highly intimate gesture. Ian answers that they mean there is much that he is proud of, and also much that he regrets.
“You’ve lived then,” Malva replies.
“I have,” Ian replies. “There’s no sin in that.”
“No,” Malva agrees. “None at all.”
The scene ends with them standing close, but not touching, looking into each other’s eyes.
A week has passed and Claire is once more examining Tom’s hand. It has improved a great deal and Tom agrees when Claire asks if he has been doing his exercises. He is looking forward to having the full use of his hand, he tells her. He notices the books on the table. Claire says that she has been having trouble sleeping, so she has been coming downstairs to read. She asks if Tom reads novels and he says that he does, but has not read the book that she is reading, “Tom Jones.” Tom says that his wife had read novels, but that he himself had not approved, back then, and had thrown them all away.
Claire remarks that his wife must not have been pleased and Tom agrees. When asked what changed his mind, Tom replies that it was Ardsmuir. They had no books there, but Jamie had recounted stories to the men and he had come to the conclusion that fiction was perhaps not evil, but merely a distraction. It was always desirable to return to prayer, he says, however he saw that it nevertheless drew the men together. The men were starved, cold, covered in sores, but could still comfort themselves that they did not suffer in the way that fictitious characters did. Claire offers for Tom to borrow the book. Initially he refuses, but Claire insists. It will be a good distraction, she says, promising to collect it in a few days when she comes to check on his hand. Christie agrees and smiles. He is clearly warming to Claire.
As he goes, Tom tells Claire that Richard Brown has come to offer the River Folk the protection of his Committee of Safety. Claire warns him that Brown is not to be trusted, adding that she hopes he has refused. A knock interrupts them before Tom can answer. It is Claire’s next patient and Tom takes his leave.
Jamie is out hunting and comes across Malva, who is looking for mushrooms for her father. Jamie remarks that Tom will need to find someone to do for him once Malva has left the house, adding that she must have many suitors. Malva remarks that she doesn’t intend to marry for quite some time and hopes that Jamie will not say such things to her father. Jamie adds that he was only teasing and offers to show her where there are more mushrooms.
As they walk, Jamie asks if she and her brother have the same mother.
“Of course,” Malva replies.
Next Jamie asks whether she was born in Scotland or the Colonies.
“Am I such a curiosity to you, Sir?” Malva asks, before adding that she was born in Scotland, although she doesn’t much remember it. She says that some people have remarked that Fraser’s Ridge reminds them of Scotland and Jamie agrees that there are similarities, although there is no peat and no heather. They walk off, companionably.
Meanwhile Tom is reading through Tom Jones. He quickly becomes horrified at the language used, shutting the book after reading the word, “fuch” a number of times.
It is Quarter Day at the Ridge and the tenants are paying their rent. Lizzie is flirting with the Beardsley twins, while inside Jamie and Roger are collecting the money. Marsali and Brianna are enjoying some child free time, courtesy of Mrs Bug’s babysitting and Fergus is wandering around drunk, to disapproving stares from one couple. He also notices Evan Lindsay, who is talking to Marsali.
Brianna asks Roger if they should set Evan up with Lizzie, but Roger replies that he would need to get past the Beardsley twins first. He is surprised that Brianna hasn’t noticed how protective they are of her.
Outside, Fergus confronts the disapproving couple, asking them to say whatever is on their mind, since they have been watching him all day. The woman refers to him as hideously drunk, and to Henri-Christian as “grotesque”, asking whether Fergus can bear to look at the boy himself. Fergus responds by throwing the contents of his hip flask into the woman’s face and punching her husband in the stomach.
The others rush to intervene. Claire asks Lizzie what happened, while Allen Christie restrains Fergus. Lizzie says that it is the woman’s fault for saying what she did.
The woman concerned doubles down on the insult, saying that it is surely a curse from God for a child to look that way.
“How dare you!” Claire responds.
The woman looks to Tom for support, adding that whisky is the devil’s juice and that Fergus is rarely seen without a cup.
Tom admonishes her, saying that the Frasers have opened their doors to them and that they should be respected.
At church, Roger is giving his sermon, preaching on the importance of loving thy neighbour. He tells the story of a baby in a basket to the initial discomfort of Aidan McCallum and the other boys, who visibly relax when Roger says that he is talking about Moses. As Roger’s voiceover continues, we see Claire picking up her copy of Tom Jones, which has been returned by Tom Christie, along with a note that reads, “This is filth. I thought better of you.”
Roger’s voice continues, “It was fear that made them do it” and we watch as Malva is being whipped by Tom while her brother Allen waits tearfully outside. We are yet to see precisely what fear is driving Tom.
When Roger speaks of Moses’ mother, we watch Marsali and Fergus. Marsali is spinning alone in the cabin; Fergus is sitting alone outside. As Roger’s words “She entrusted him to God, in spite of her fear” are heard, we see Jamie watching as Fergus walks away. Something is wrong, and Jamie knows it. He follows his foster son at a distance.
“Many of you are parents,” Roger concludes. “To what lengths would you go to protect your innocent children? You never know what you’ll be willing to do, until…”
For Jamie, what he is willing to do immediately becomes clear, for Fergus has something truly horrific in mind. He has brought a knife and before Jamie can reach him, he slices into his wrist. Desperately, Jamie fights to get the knife away from Fergus, who begs Jamie to leave him be. Jamie pulls off his neck scarf to make a tourniquet, telling Fergus that Marsali and the children need him.
Fergus counters that he is doing this for them. Marsali can marry again and find someone to provide for her and the children and to protect Henri-Christian.
“You can,” Jamie replies.
“You know damn well I cannot,” Fergus cries. “Roger saved him. You protect him. I’m nothing, I’m useless.”
Jamie reminds him of the things that Fergus has done: keeping the family together while he himself was in Ardsmuir, helping him at the print shop while he was grieving for Claire and making fine whisky with his one good hand.
“You are the only one who can show your son what a ‘useless’ man like you can achieve and how proud he can make his father. It’s you we need.”
Fergus says that he is not the man he once was and he doesn’t know if he can be that man again.
“You can,” Jamie replies, pulling him to his feet. “You will.”
Fergus clings to Jamie, who kisses him on the forehead.
This was a stunning scene. All kudos to everyone involved with its creation, but especially to Sam Heughan and Cesar Domboy, who were perfect.
Later Marsali stands in the doorway, holding Henri-Christian, as Claire and Jamie bring Fergus home.
“I’m sorry,” Fergus says to Marsali, “Never again.”
She hands him Henri-Christian and kisses him, as Jamie and Claire turn and walk away, their arms around each other.
Claire and Jamie return home to find Major MacDonald and a number of soldiers bringing wagons of guns to the Ridge. Jamie’s letter about weapons for the Cherokee has been well received and MacDonald remarks that the support of the Cherokee couldn’t have come at a better time. He hands over a newspaper that shows a report of the Boston Tea Party, which MacDonald deems an inconvenience, but one which the King will no doubt view as an act of aggression. He asks where Jamie wants the weapons stored and directs the men to deliver them.
As the soldiers move off, Jamie asks Claire what it means.
“It’s starting,” Claire replies. “The storm, the war, it’s almost here.”
The music swells and the episode ends to a brief military rendition of a well known theme.
This was a brilliant episode, and no accident that much of the dialogue came straight from the pages of Diana Gabaldon’s novel. Every actor played their role perfectly, but the award for the most poignant performance must go hands down to Cesar Domboy, who showed the vulnerability, despair and ultimately the strength of Fergus with every word and action. As we approach the midpoint of the season, there is much emotion and turmoil ahead. This reviewer can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
This recap was written by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher-librarian who lives in Australia. She knows that she would do anything for her loved ones - but definitely wouldn’t agree to an operation without anaesthetic!