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“Time is marked and measured in different ways.”
So says Claire Fraser in 1773, in the opening words of the long awaited premiere of season 6. For viewers here in the 21st century, the time between seasons 5 and 6 has been marked and measured by a global pandemic and a change to our way of life as we previously knew it. While not the span of 20 years famously endured by Jamie and Claire, it certainly feels like an age since we could last lose ourselves in the lives of Diana Gabaldon’s characters.
Perhaps this is the reason for the edited montage of season 5 events that begins the first episode. Each recalled memory marks and measures a different point in time: some joyous and romantic, others dramatic and heartbreaking.
“Give everything enough time and everything is taken care of,” Claire philosophises, “all pain encompassed, all hardship erased, all loss subsumed. And if time is anything akin to God, I suppose that memory must be the Devil.”
It is a somewhat sobering monologue to lead into a new season, but it certainly sets the scene for the episode that follows, one which deals primarily with memories and their impact over time upon a variety of different characters.
After the montage, rather than the well known choral theme, the action begins in the past. We see the prisoners of Ardsmuir in 1753, not long after Jamie’s arrival. But this is not James Fraser, leader of men. In this scene we revisit the haunted and broken Jamie, traumatised survivor of Culloden, captured after years of isolation in a cave, still mourning the loss of Claire and fervently wishing to be left alone.
The man actually taking charge is named Tom Christie, holding aloft a brace of rabbits and speaking exclusively to the Protestant members amongst the group. His speech is not appreciated by the Catholics, and he is immediately branded a “sermonising bastard” by none other than Lesley and Hayes - who make a welcome cameo return in this flashback. (While some other members of the Ridge are also visible in this scene, one notable absence is Murtagh. Fans have commented that he should also have been present for the sake of continuity, given that the character was kept alive for the tv series and was also a prisoner at Ardsmuir, but sadly no Duncan Lacroix appears.)
Hayes suggests that Jamie should reason with Christie, but Jamie is unmoved, asking, “Why would he listen to me?”
“Because you’re MacDubh,” Hayes replies. “If anyone can put him in his place, it’s you.”
At this point, another prisoner begins a speech. This man believes himself to be none other than Bonnie Prince Charlie and is pleading for provisions before the Battle of Culloden begins. “Old Charlie” is humoured by the others, with one man bowing and referring to him as “Sire.” This byplay angers Christie, who begins to yell at the Catholic men, telling them that Scotland’s fate lies in the hands of a Protestant king. The exchange quickly becomes a brawl, but rather than intervening as the redcoats race to break up the fighting prisoners, Jamie stands back.
The next scene begins with dinner in the Governor’s quarters. The Governor concerned is not Lord John Grey, but his predecessor, and the prisoner seated next to him is not Jamie, but Tom Christie. Jamie is in the room though, standing silently behind the table. The Governor has been mistaken as to the identity of the James who bowed before Old Charlie and Christie explains that it was not Jamie, but a young man known as James McCready. Nevertheless, the Governor asks Jamie to sit and we hear the rattle of the manacles around his ankles as Jamie suspiciously makes his way to the table, commenting that he has done nothing.
Two plates of food are placed in front of both Jamie and Christie, with Jamie’s containing nothing more than a couple of slices of meat. Neither man eats, as the Governor reminds them both of his expectations. He is their superior, he tells them, and he cannot have prisoners rioting or bowing to each other as lairds, which he regards as a flagrant disrespect of law and order. Jamie remarks that Old Charlie is not of sound mind. This comment angers the Governor, who also believes himself above dealing with degenerate prisoners, and the plates are swept away from both men. The Governor remarks that he can reason with Christie as an educated man, and that he knows the men respect Jamie, having seen him on the field at Culloden. He is concerned though, that Jamie’s arrival has caused excitement amongst the men and warns Jamie that he is to do nothing to further aggravate them, a warning that earns him a cursory nod.
The conversation then turns to punishment, with Christie agreeing that the men need to be taught a lesson. The Governor decides on another day of hard labour for all of the men bar Christie and Jamie, with the latter told to consider this a “welcome” to the prison. As Jamie is led back to the cell, he turns back just in time to see the Governor and Christie give each other the secret Masonic handshake.
Back in the quarters, Jamie is disturbed by young James McCready crawling along the floor. McCready apologises for bumping into Jamie, explaining that he has been slowly losing his sight. Jamie asks what he is doing and McCready explains that he is looking for a lock of hair that was given to him by his wife, Rebecca. It has fallen out of the little pouch that he has been keeping it in and Jamie remarks that it is probably long gone. McCready is upset, worried that he is forgetting his wife’s face. He asks if Jamie had done the same thing, as the men have told him that Jamie’s wife is also gone. Christie has told him to put his mind towards God instead, but McCready worries that what they have gone through has all been for nothing. Moving closer, Jamie comforts the young man, saying that the two of them know something that the others don’t. If McCready’s wife loves him as he loves her, then she is always with him.
“Bring her to mind,” Jamie says gently. “She’ll come.”
The two men are marking and measuring their time by the memories of their lost wives and we begin to see a spark of life returning to Jamie's eyes.
The next day, the prisoners continue their work, building a wall that Old Charlie says will protect them on the battlefield. Christie is sitting and watching them, enjoying his governor-earned reprieve. Yet Jamie is still carrying rocks, a fact that is noticed by the other men, who start to turn on Christie. The Jacobite members of the group begin calling insults and join Lesley as he sings “Johnny Cope.” The redcoats call out to Christie to bring the men into line and the mood quickly turns.
Again, Jamie watches as the men ignore Christie’s sermonising and begin to brawl. During it, James McCready is hit on the back of the head with a rock and the blow is severe enough to kill him. This spurs Jamie into action and he halts the fighting, kneeling down by McCready’s side, while Old Charlie places a piece of tartan on the young man’s body for the journey ahead. Since the possession of tartan is outlawed, the soldiers immediately demand to know who owns it, threatening to flog everyone if no one owns up. Christie is about to point the finger at Old Charlie, when Jamie claims the scrap of cloth as his.
In the prison, Christie and the others watch while 10 lashes are administered to Jamie’s already scarred back. But Jamie barely seems to notice, watching as a vision of Claire walks towards him and stays with him until the lashes are done. As a bleeding Jamie is led away, Christie remarks, “That wasn’t justice.”
“Was it not?” Jamie answers.
When the soldiers come to escort the prisoners to work the next morning, only Christie stands. Jamie tells the redcoats that James McCready has died and that no one will be working on this particular day. The soldiers turn and leave without further comment and thus, MacDubh is born.
Later, when Jamie is brought in front of the Governor, the older man comments that Christie has branded Jamie a troublemaker, on account of Jamie being a Jacobite and Christie being a “more decent sort.” Jamie says he only wants to be left alone to serve his time and the Governor asks why he has chosen to defy orders, if that is truly the case.
“A life was lost,” Jamie replies, adding that the men themselves are divided and Scotland has been torn apart. Some of the men follow Christie because he had told them that if they changed their beliefs they would not be afraid, yet fear still exists. The men need food, medicine and above all, peace.
Jamie tells the Governor that the two of them actually want the same things: to serve their duty and then move on to greener pastures. He asks to be made a freemason, admitting to having seen the greeting that had been shared with Christie. The Governor comments that Jamie will be excommunicated by the Pope, but Jamie counters that the Pope isn’t there in the prison with them. Any man can be a mason as long as he believes in a supreme being, which he does.
“Why do you want this?” the Governor asks.
“The men,” Jamie replies. “They will listen to me.”
As indeed they do. The next scene begins with Jamie laying a tribute to McCready beside a rock cairn. There will be no more senseless fighting, he tells the men. They are all Scots and the prison will become a lodge, with all the men freemasons, united by their belief in the architect of the universe. Talk of politics and religion will now be forbidden.
“Who will join me?” he asks and one by one, the majority of the men come to shake his hand. One of the redcoats summons Jamie to luncheon with the Governor and this time, Christie is not invited. It is a changing of the guard.
Suddenly the time shifts to 1773. A lone man walks up to Fraser’s Ridge in North Carolina and looks about him. It is Tom Christie.
This extended scene from the past serves two important purposes. Firstly, it fills in some of the gaps from Jamie’s own history and explains the loyalty that the Ardsmuir men now living on the Ridge display. The men not only have the shared experience of their time in prison, but also the bond of being freemasons. Secondly, the scene establishes the relationship between Jamie and Tom Christie. It is obvious that Christie envies Jamie’s leadership and has a deep dislike of the men who fought on the side of the Jacobites. So, when an older Christie appears at Fraser’s Ridge, we are immediately curious. What has brought him here - and what will happen as a result?
At last, after more than 20 minutes, we finally hear the opening theme. Changing every season, the Skye Boat Song arrangement has employed bagpipes, French translations, Jamaican drums, country instruments and an entire choir. This time though, there are just two voices, a man and a woman. Perhaps, this is a nod to the heart of the Outlander story. No matter what else happens, the story revolves around the love of one man and one woman - Jamie and Claire.
Life on the Ridge is thriving and we reacquaint ourselves with the familiar faces of its residents: Lizzie, the Beardsley twins and young Ian, all hard at work. Meanwhile, Jamie comes into Claire’s surgery to find her lying unconscious on the bed. He shakes her until she awakens with a start and utters her traditional “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ” phrase, claiming that he has scared her. Jamie retorts that since he had just found her looking like she had gone to meet Christ himself, he was the one scared.
As it turns out, Claire’s unconscious state is something to celebrate. Using herself as a test subject, she has succeeded in the creation of ether. It has worked, she tells him, explaining that she no longer has to rely on whisky or laudanum when performing operations. Ether creates a state deeper than sleep, and her patients now won’t feel a thing until they wake up.
Jamie draws her into an embrace, remarking that it would be a shame not to feel anything, but also expresses the desire to be able to put everyone - apart from the two of them - to sleep for 100 years.
“Stop time?” says Claire. “Wouldn’t that be lovely.”
Jamie adds that they could wait for the war to be over, and forget about the Browns and the committee of safety and just be with each other.
It is indeed a lovely thought, but Jamie has news to bring them back to reality. He has been asked to be an Indian agent, he tells her, to act as a representative of the Crown and improve relations with the Indian neighbours. Both Claire and Jamie see through this ruse, Claire remarking that all the Governor wants is for the Indians to keep fighting for the King.
“New governor, same thumb,” she adds.
Jamie states his intention to say no to the offer, which pleases her.
Claire is heading to see Marsali, so Jamie accompanies her in the wagon. She assures him that she is all right, and Jamie replies that he just takes pleasure in the sight of her. Claire comments that Jamie has been her shadow “ever since”, leaving the rest of the sentence unspoken and we know that they are both marking and measuring a tragic point in time. But Claire simply asks if Jamie plans on accompanying her to every home visit from “now to Kingdom come”.
“Longer than that, Sassenach,” Jamie says in reply.
At the MacKenzie cabin, Brianna has brought home parcels, marvelling at Mrs Bug’s ability to hide them. Roger offers her tea or coffee and they exchange brief banter about the Boston Tea Party, with Roger wondering aloud how many cups of tea will be hurled into the harbour and reminding Brianna that he and Claire were “on the losing side.”
Brianna wonders, since Roger is now in America, is he a patriot?
“Of course,” Roger answers. “If America doesn’t become America, what would that world look like? World War 1, World War 2, how would they play out?”
The two of them share a serious moment. It has just started to hit them how close they are to the beginning of conflict and the fact that they will actually be living through what they had only known about from the history books.
This is a brief but clever scene, with parallels to early seasons, after Claire had shared her knowledge of Culloden with Jamie. Despite that knowledge, they had been unable to stop the battle. Brianna’s question, “But what can we do?” highlights their similar dilemma. Will their knowledge of the outcome of what lies ahead actually change anything? Indeed, Brianna and Roger continually mark and measure time in different ways, with the past, present and future forever intertwined.
Meanwhile, Jamie and Claire have arrived at Marsali and Fergus’ cabin. Jamie takes the three young children off for an adventure, leaving Claire to examine a heavily pregnant Marsali in peace. Claire asks if Fergus is at the still and Marsali comments that she can’t keep him away. They discuss the baby and the fact that it hasn’t been moving much in the past few days, which both women see as a sign that the birth will be soon. As Claire helps Marsali onto the bed, she notices bruises on the younger woman’s arms. Marsali pulls her hand away, saying that she has been clumsy lately. Claire doesn’t press the point but says that she wants to keep an eye on her, and stresses that Fergus needs to help. Marsali looks away wistfully when Claire says that she shouldn’t be running around after the little ones as well as doing the housework. Something is wrong, but we are yet to find out what.
Back at the Ridge, Christie walks up the steps of the Big House and knocks. After a few moments, Roger answers. Brusque words are exchanged and Tom asks to speak to Jamie. Roger explains that Jamie and Claire are out, but invites the new visitor inside. Roger asks if he can be of assistance and Christie explains that he has been told that Jamie might be in a position to “put something his way.” Brianna appears and Roger introduces her, as Christie explains that he has arrived from the old country with his own son and daughter, plus some fisher folk who have nowhere to go. He has left them up the river while he came in search of Jamie, he tells Roger, holding out a paper that proves him to be an Ardsmuir man. Realising this connection, Roger begins to name other men that Christie would know from his time at the prison. Christie remarks that he hopes it is not an inconvenience and Roger dismisses the notion, saying that they are happy to help. Holding out his hand, he formally welcomes Tom and his party to the Ridge.
While they wait for Jamie and Claire to return, Christie explains that he had been indentured as a school teacher after Ardsmuir. Roger remarks that he is something of a teacher himself, or was, “once upon a time.” Christie asks if there is a school on the Ridge and Roger answers that there are plans for one, but in the meantime, he has been teaching Jem his letters.
“As long as there’s a church,” says Christie. “A man must surely build a house for God before he builds one for himself.”
Roger admits that there is also no church, but that his father would have agreed with Tom’s sentiment, being a minister himself, albeit a Presbyterian one.
“I am not Catholic,” Christies replies, making the observation that there were some men at Ardsmuir who had merely wanted Scotland’s best interests served, as opposed to the Pope’s.
Roger looks back at him somewhat uncomfortably, just as Jamie and Claire return.
The reunion between Jamie and Christie is cordial, but certainly not warm. Tom remarks that he stands there in humble gratitude, while Roger awkwardly explains to Jamie that since Christie had revealed himself to be an Ardsmuir man, he has already invited him to stay at the Ridge permanently. We can tell from Jamie’s expression that this is not welcome news. He remains polite, introducing Claire as his wife, but his smile does not reach his eyes. The tension is palpable.
In the next scene, provisions are being loaded into a wagon for the new tenants, and Brianna enters Claire’s surgery. Noticing the still that Claire has used to make the ether, she asks if her mother is opening a bar. When Claire explains what she has been doing, Brianna calls it radical.
“I prefer the term revolutionary,” Claire replies.
Brianna remarks that lots of people will be using that term before too long.
“A revolution of hearts and minds,” she quotes, adding that she is glad that Claire did not lose her heart and spirit and hopes that her mother is taking care of herself.
Claire replies that she is fine, but Brianna is not fooled. She tells her mother that there was a time when she would have said the same thing when asked, hinting at a different mark and measure of time, where she had endured her own assault at the hands of Stephen Bonnet.
But Claire changes the subject. She asks what Brianna has been up to and the conversation shifts to Brianna’s plans for her future. Brianna has made sketches of things that she wants to introduce into their life on the Ridge, but doesn’t want the people to be scared of her ideas, citing what happened to Claire as a reason to be cautious. Claire says that they are just trying to make the lives of others better, using their knowledge as a gift.
“Some will appreciate your inventions,” Claire tells Brianna “and some won’t”, adding that they can always remind any naysayers that the ancient Romans had plumbing and under floor heating. The conversation has become more lighthearted now and the two soon head off with supplies to help the fisher folk.
The supply wagon arrives at the spot where the new tenants have set up camp, and Tom introduces Jamie to his children, Malva and Allan. The greetings are still tense. Malva says that they have heard much about Jamie and Allan remarks that it is a pleasure to meet someone who was such a friend to his father. This is plainly not true, but Jamie keeps up appearances, introducing Claire to them both. Allan is quickly dispatched by Tom to unload the wagon and Malva leads Claire towards the injured and unwell tenants. This leaves Christie and Jamie alone and Tom remarks on the impressive size of Jamie’s land, sarcastically remarking that the great architect of the universe has seen fit to put some blessings Jamie’s way.
Yet Jamie doesn’t rise to the bait.
“Perhaps you can have my share of the blessings Tom, and I’ll have some peace and quiet,” he says, adding that Claire would certainly be thankful for a more peaceful life.
In their bedroom that evening, Claire wonders if allowing Christie and his party to settle on the Ridge was the best idea, given everything that has passed between the two men. Jamie comments that he can hardly offer a home to every Ardsmuir man except for Tom. Claire understands this and begins to make a list of what they will need to provide for the new tenants, adding that it will be “a bit of mend and make do, but we’re good at that.”
Taking her hand, Jamie tells her that he thinks that Tom had received word of his wife’s death while at Ardsmuir, but that Claire had always been with him. He had seen her, he says, and that was what had got him through.
“Sometimes I think you’re an angel, Claire,” he says, kissing her hand.
“Would an angel do this?” she replies, kissing him and helping him to remove his shirt.
“Maybe I’ve died,” Jamie murmurs, “and gone to heaven.”
As with all love scenes between Jamie and Claire, this one is beautifully acted by Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe - even with the noticeable artistically placed shift to hide the latter’s real life pregnancy!
The next morning, Claire is in her surgery when she hears footsteps behind her. She assumes it is Brianna and asks how her daughter has gotten on with the phosphorus that has been sent by Lord John. Turning around, she sees Malva Christie standing there. Malva is curious, immediately translating the meanings of phosphorus as ‘Lucifer’ or ‘Light Bringer’. Claire comments how lucky they are to have educated people joining them on the Ridge. She tries to deflect Malva by commenting that Jamie also speaks Greek and Latin, but Malva won’t be deterred, asking Claire what the phosphorus is for. Claire replies that it is an ingredient of sorts and asks Malva if her father has ever taught her any Science. Malva shakes her head, saying that her father prefers theology, history and grammar. Returning to the phosphorus, Malva asks if Claire is going to use it to light a fire.
“We’ll see,” Claire replies and asks if Malva had needed anything specific.
“A loaf of bread,” Malva replies, adding that her father needs it for the congregation. Right on cue, Mrs Bug appears and offers her a freshly baked loaf.
Jamie is talking to Major MacDonald, who is trying to convince him to accept the role of Indian agent, for the sake of peace. When Jamie tells him his mind is made up, the Major attempts a bit of blackmail. He tells Jamie that while Governor Tryon had deferred the taxes on Fraser’s Ridge, the new Governor might not be so generous. Jamie is not swayed though, saying that if taxes need to be paid, he will pay them, as the settlers have worked hard and they are about to build more cabins for the new tenants who have just arrived. The Major then refuses Jamie’s offer of a bed for the night, saying that he has business in Brownsville, but will stop by again on his way back, just in case Jamie has had a change of heart.
At their camp, Christie is preaching a sermon to the fisher folk, telling them that Jesus fed the 5000 with fishes and loaves, but that their own miracle has been to come to the Ridge and find a home. They will build the Ridge a school and a church, he tells them, in order to demonstrate what pious men and women of faith can do. Unbeknownst to the group, Jamie, Roger and Brianna have come up behind them and Jamie speaks up, asking if any of the fisher folk have ever built a cabin before. When all he gets in response is confused glances, Jamie suggests to Christie that perhaps he had better explain how things are done.
Brianna greets Marsali, who has come to join the group. Lizzie has taken the children for a walk Marsali says, and she didn’t want to be alone. They are overheard by a young woman carrying a baby. The woman approaches Marsali and ask if she is a widow too. Marsali begins a garbled explanation as to Fergus’ whereabouts, but it soon becomes apparent that the other woman is also lonely. Marsali commiserates over the woman’s loss and fusses over the baby in her arms. Roger and Brianna watch this scene, as Roger explains to Brianna what had happened to the woman’s husband and how she is now alone with two young children. Brianna says that she wishes there was something they could do, offering to see if any of Jem’s old clothes would fit the children.
Work on the new cabins is in full swing, and an obviously drunken Fergus staggers through the clearing. Jamie comes forward to greet him, trying to gently suggest that Fergus spend less time at the still and more time at home. The exchange is witnessed from a distance by both Roger and Christie, the latter looking on disapprovingly at Fergus’ inebriated condition.
Meanwhile young Ian has taken Allan Christie hunting: Ian with his bow and arrow and Allan with a rifle. When they come across their prey, Ian easily makes the kill. Allan comments on Ian’s skill with a bow, asking if it is true that the Mohawk taught him. Ian confirms this, joking that he never has to worry about running out of gunpowder. Allan replies that he doesn’t have to worry either, pulling back his coat to reveal a large powder horn with intricate carvings. Ian notices the carvings in particular and asks Allan where he got it. Allan turns away, saying that he made it himself. Ian doesn’t appear to believe him, but changes the subject, asking whether Allan’s father had taught him to shoot. Allan says that his father would want him to put down his weapon and take up the shield of faith to quench the fiery darts of wickedness. Ian holds up one of his arrows in response, asking if this is the fiery dart that Allan means, adding that he doubts that Christie would approve of Ian’s customs. Allan doesn’t disagree, but the silence is suddenly broken by a gunshot that forces both men to duck for cover.
The shot has been fired by one of Richard Brown’s men, who have appeared on the hill above them. Getting down from his horse, Brown swaggers towards Ian, telling him to be careful as he had nearly mistaken him for an Indian hunting on the wrong side of the treaty line.
“You know who I am,” Ian retorts.
Brown replies that he indeed knows Ian to be “kin to the Frasers” and that maybe he should dress in a more civilised fashion. He says that he also knows that there are real Indians roaming about, setting cabins on fire. Angrily, Ian tells him that Brown has no proof that Indians set any of the fires, but Brown cuts him off. He introduces the men with him as his committee of safety and tells Ian that they are seeking justice. One of the committee men notices the powder horn that Allan is wearing and whispers something to Brown, who fixes Ian and Allan with a long stare before the party leaves.
Back at the cabin, Christie and Malva are in Claire’s surgery. Tom’s hand had slipped while cutting rushes and there is a nasty gash across his palm. Malva begins to compliment Claire, only to be sent packing by her father, in search of Allan. It is obvious that she wants to stay, but she does not disobey.
Claire unwraps the bandage around Christie’s hand, commenting that cuts often look worse than they are. But at the sight of his bloodied hand, Tom swoons, just as Jamie comes into the room. Claire and Jamie rouse Tom, who is mortified that Jamie has witnessed him faint. Jamie offers him a dram of whisky, but Tom refuses, calling it the devil’s juice. Jamie responds with a bible quote praising the drinking of wine and goes to fetch some. He jokes that some Catholics can actually read, and in English too, to which Tom replies that that is a good thing, given that there are no priests in the province.
Meanwhile Claire has discovered the reason why Tom’s hand had slipped, noting that a number of his fingers are curling painfully inward. It is a condition that she can correct, but Christie is not keen. Instead, Claire stitches the wound. It obviously pains him, but Tom does not move, drinking the wine and sitting stiffly while Jamie stands behind him. Finished, Claire wraps the hand and says she will make Tom an ointment which she can give to him at the hog roast the following day. She also offers to fix his other hand at the same time and Jamie jollies him along, saying that he has had worse himself and that it is no worse than a nick.
“At least it will be an honourable scar,” Christie shoots back. “Won’t it, MacDubh?”
It is a nasty comment, and does not go unnoticed by Jamie and Claire. Once alone, Claire asks why Tom would say something like that and Jamie explains that when he had been flogged at Ardsmuir, Christie had seen the scars on his back and must have assumed that Jamie had done something to deserve them. He also suspects that Tom hadn’t liked appearing vulnerable in front of Jamie while his hand was being stitched and remarks that Christie would probably have preferred pokers to be put into his eyes before he would cry out.
Claire comments that the two of them are like rams, butting heads to see who is the strongest.Jamie adds that in all the years that Christie had lived at Ardsmuir with Gaidhlig speaking men, he had never tried to learn it, but that this stubbornness might actually lead Christie to fight with them when the time comes.
Major MacDonald has returned and he and Jamie are sharing the last of the good whisky. Jamie asks if the Major has heard of the fire that destroyed his whisky still. The Major has, and adds that Richard Brown and his committee think that the Indians were responsible. Brown has brought some evidence, the Major continues, and as a result he intends on offering the position of Indian agent to him. Jamie is horrified by this suggestion and begins to argue against it, prompting the Major to complain in frustration, “Don’t do this to me!” Both Jamie and Brown are respected men in the community he says, and it is one man’s word against the other.
The Christies arrive early for dinner and introductions are made. The Major comments on the generosity of Jamie and Claire to host the dinner. Malva asks if Claire will be present so that she can thank her for being so kind and Allan comments on the house, saying that Jamie lives like a king. Again, Christie cannot resist a thinly veiled insult, remarking that Jamie has come a long way since Ardsmuir.
“Yet somehow there always seems such a long way to go, Mr Christie,” Jamie replies. He and the Major share some more whisky, while Christie looks on disapprovingly.
In the kitchen, Lizzie and Mrs Bug are making final preparations when Marsali and Fergus arrive. Fergus is drunk again and Marsali tries to deflect this, cutting bread for her husband and saying that he has been working hard and needs some food in his stomach. Meanwhile Lizzie is flirting with one of the Beardsley twins. She asks where his brother is and he responds that he thought she only had eyes for him. “Two hands would be more useful,” Lizzie replies, “to carry these plates to the kitchen.” Fergus has overheard this banter and remarks that he only has one hand.
“But two would be better, eh Lizzie?” he slurs.
Lizzie is embarrassed and beats a hasty retreat. Marsali also looks embarrassed, not by Lizzie’s comment, but by Fergus’ behaviour.
In the main room, it is the widow Amy McCallum’s turn to be embarrassed, by her young son Aidan, who loudly declares that he wants to leave. Allan tries to distract the boy with the powder horn, but Aidan is not impressed, saying that his father was a fisherman, not a hunter. He storms off to sit on the stairs, while his mother tries to admonish him.
Roger and Brianna have been watching the exchange and Roger has an idea. Sitting next to the youngster, Roger tells Aidan that he should have a bite to eat, as he will need all his strength if he is to help Roger build their new home. This does the trick, and the boy is astonished that he can help to build a cabin. Equally astonished is his mother, who stammers to Roger that she never expected a cabin of her own and that she would never to be able to repay him. Roger explains that she doesn’t need to, and that he and Brianna want to see the family comfortable.
The sound of horses’ hooves outside interrupts the proceedings. Richard Brown is back, along with his committee of safety. The sight of Brown unnerves Claire, who has been outside as the men have approached. She immediately goes into the house, while Jamie confronts Brown, commenting that this mustn’t be a social call.
Brown agrees. They have come to arrest Allan Christie for theft, he says. The powder horn that Allan has been wearing contains the initials PB, for one of Brown’s relatives. Christie comes forward and grabs Allan by the collar, asking him where he got the horn from and asking his son if he wants to burn in the fiery pits of hell like his mother. There is obviously more to this story, but no more is revealed at this point.
Christie loudly demands that Allan swear in front of the assembled crowd that he is innocent of the charges, but Allan cannot. Christie then apologises to Brown, but asks that they don’t take the boy away, promising to punish his son for his sin. Brown suggests 10 lashes and Christie agrees. Jamie retorts that Brown has the powder horn back and that no harm has been done, reminding them that it is his land they are standing on, and that he and Christie can see to the matter of punishment together.
“Thank you for bringing the matter to my attention, Mr Brown,” Jamie says. It is meant as a dismissal and Brown takes it as such, but not before making a final observation. He says he finds it strange that gunpowder was stolen, and wonders whether Jamie is harbouring a rebel, asking Major MacDonald for his opinion. Christie replies that if his son had any treachery in him, he would beat it out of him, because the family is loyal to the King.
Holding out the whip, Brown says that Jamie should give the punishment and set a good example to the loyal residents of Fraser’s Ridge.
“My land, my means,” Jamie replies.
He takes Allan over towards the house and instructs the young man to remove his jacket. Jamie then removes his belt and administers the punishment, whipping Allan through his shirt while Allan cries out.
“Now take your men off my land,” Jamie hisses. The Browns depart and Jamie heads over to Major MacDonald. He will agree to be the Indian agent, he tells the Major, because he cannot let Brown do the job.
It is time for Jamie to settle things with Tom Christie. They got by at Ardsmuir, he tells Tom, living under someone else’s command. But Fraser’s Ridge is Jamie’s land, and if the Christies are to stay, then Jamie’s word is law. Christie retorts that God’s word is law, quoting the bible verse about having no other Gods before Him.
“You should see to your son,” Jamie responds and Christie stalks away.
That night, at Marsali and Fergus’ cabin, Marsali puts a mug of hot milk down in front of Fergus. Deliberately, he unscrews a hip flask and adds whisky to the brew.
“There it is,” he says, as Marsali rolls her eyes in frustration, “the same look you gave me at the gathering.”
Marsali tells him that his drunkenness had embarrassed her, and it is also keeping him from his family and from being a husband.
“Is your husband not sitting in front of you this very moment?” he slurs.
“Is he?” Marsali replies.
At this, Fergus stands, taking the cup with him. “I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment,” he says, and leaves the room.
This was a brief scene, but beautifully played by Lauren Lyle and Cesar Domboy. We have been so used to seeing a playful Fergus and a couple clearly in love in previous seasons, so this dark turn in their relationship is shocking and sad. Time is indeed being marked and measured in different ways for them now. Book readers know that there is quite a bit in store for the pair in future episodes and if this scene is any indication, there are some powerful performances ahead.
Sadly, Fergus and Marsali are not the only ones to be in torment this night. Claire is dreaming, seeing flashes of action from previous traumatic experiences. We hear the voices of Lionel Brown, Geillis Duncan, Black Jack Randall and Stephen Bonnet in quick succession, as the scenes blur into one and Claire jolts awake, breathing heavily.
Jamie wakes with her, commenting that she looks like she has seen a ghost.
“It’s fine,” Claire replies. “Go back to sleep.”
Jamie presses her, asking if the Browns had unsettled her, but Claire replies that she just wants a cup of tea. She heads downstairs, and puts the teapot onto the stove. But then she changes her mind, heading into her surgery as the episode’s final monologue begins.
Claire says that she has never been afraid of ghosts, as she lives with them daily. Her mother’s eyes stare back at her from the mirror, her smile is the same as the one that lured her great grandfather to the fate that was her.
“But it isn’t the homely ghosts that trouble sleep and curdle wakefulness,” Claire’s voice continues, as the still begins to produce a dose of ether. “One needs to look back and hold a torch to light the recesses of the dark and listen to the footsteps that echo behind when you walk alone. All the time, ghosts flit past and through us, hiding in the future, each ghost comes unbidden from the misty grounds of dreams and silence.”
Claire pours the dose into its container and places the leather mask over her face, breathing in. As she loses consciousness, we hear, “ By blood and by choice, we make our ghosts. We haunt ourselves.”
This was certainly a traumatic end to a dramatic episode, as it revealed the true state of Claire’s mind, and the fact that she is certainly far from being recovered from the ordeal she suffered at the end of season 5, despite her protestations to the contrary. Claire is marking her time with the memories of her trauma, and measuring out ways to escape them. But for book readers, this scene is hugely problematic, as it indicates a large change to Claire’s personality. In the book, Claire is very careful with the ether, knowing full well how dangerous it can be and certainly never uses it to self medicate. One wonders where this altered plotline is heading, and whether more personality changes are in store.
And so, an episode of ghosts comes to an end. The past ghosts of Ardsmuir mingle with the ghosts of past assaults. The present ghosts of a drunken husband, now absent from his family, mingle with the ghosts that haunt a strict father obsessed with maintaining appearances and keeping control. And then there are the future ghosts of an approaching war, that lie lurking in the shadows. The passing of time has not made any of these ghosts rest easy and whether they will ultimately be banished will no doubt be the subject of future episodes. Regardless of what happens, this was certainly a compelling way to begin a new season.
This recap was written by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher-librarian who lives in Australia. She thinks she might have seen a ghost once, but is in no hurry to be haunted by one. In the meantime, she will mark and measure her time by counting the days until episode 2!