Thursday, July 20, 2023

“A Battle of Egos” - A recap of season 7 episode 5 by your Aussie Blogging Lass

Outlander Homepage Originals 

Whether camped at Fort Ticonderoga in the 18th century, or living and working in 20th century Scotland, it doesn’t take much for ego and prejudice to get in the way. Nearly every character must do battle with egos in this hour, the fifth episode of the eight that have been promised to Outlander devotees this year. While Jamie clashes with an pigheaded General; and Claire with an equally pigheaded would-be surgeon, Brianna is coming up against misogynistic attitudes as the female inspector of an all male crew. Jem is dealing with both religious and cultural prejudice at school,  Ian must battle the insecurities of his own ego when faced with confronting his past, while William, Denny and Rachel must wrestle with their beliefs when faced with sudden and unexpected violence. Roger, meanwhile, seems to have conquered his own ego from the previous episode and has settled into his role of the head of the MacKenzie clan. This is an excellent episode that lays the foundations for many events to come, both in this half of the season and the next.

Following the sound of her children’s laughter, Brianna is taken aback to see Jem and Mandy playing in the graveyard. She reminds them that she had told them not to do this, but Jem explains that in addition to wanting to play hide and seek, Mandy had wanted to talk to Jamie. Brianna asks Jem why they have come to the graveyard to do that, and Jem replies with a question: isn’t that where Jamie is? Brianna admits that it is possible, and then asks whether they have actually found a grave. Jem replies that no, they haven’t, but that Jamie had told him that should he ever visit, he should leave a stone. Jem has done one better than that, and has actually built a cairn. He wants to show her, but this is too much for Brianna and she tells them they need to come away. They head back to the house, but she is visibly shaken. 

The next scene begins with Brianna holding one of Claire’s letters. She is crying, quickly trying to dry her eyes when she hears Roger calling for her. She shares her discoveries with him when he enters the room: the children have been going to the graveyard to talk to Jamie. She hasn’t seen Claire and Jamie’s headstones, she says, and she doesn’t want to. 

Roger promises to talk to Jem, saying that the boy is just making up stories, citing the Nukalavee as an example. Brianna points out that it is possible that Claire and Jamie could be buried close by, with Roger recalling that the letters had mentioned them travelling to Scotland. Brianna indicates the letter she is holding. She knows that they had decided to wait, but she is really missing her parents. 

“We’ve waited long enough,” Roger says, gently, moving to comfort Brianna, who is grateful for his understanding. She opens the letter, but the location listed at the top of the letter takes her by surprise. 

“Fort Ticonderoga,” Roger reads.

“What on earth are they doing there?” Brianna asks. 

Claire’s voiceover explains. Jamie was conscripted into the Continental Army and so their trip to Scotland has been delayed, with them having been stationed at Fort Ticonderoga for a few months. Jamie being Jamie, he is now in command of a group of men he met on the ship, who have proudly dubbed themselves Fraser’s Irregulars. They are building defences to protect the fort from attack. Claire being Claire, she is doing battle with a man who believes himself to be a surgeon, and who has dismissed her own skills because of her gender. Ian has rejoined them and the English forces are approaching, although the men in charge are confident that the defences will hold. The whole situation has the all too familiar ring of Culloden about it, even if history has them on the winning side this time. The letter closes with Claire’s love and the news that Jamie dreams of Jem and Mandy. 

Brianna knows Fort Ticonderoga, as she had been there with Frank. Roger suggests scouring the history books to see if there is news of anyone, but Brianna stops him. Perhaps it is better not to know, she says. Just like the graveyard, she is not ready to think of her parents as being dead, even if logically, living 200 years in the future can mean nothing else. 

In the days of Culloden, Jamie tried to reason with the Bonnie Prince. Now, he is trying to reason with General Fermoy. They are vulnerable to attack, Jamie says, from Sugar Loaf Hill. If the English take it, they will have the higher ground. Jamie points out where they should station their men to avoid this eventuality. But, reminiscent of the Bonnie Prince, General Fermoy rejects Jamie’s suggestion. Fermoy says that the ground is too treacherous, and that no one would try to take the hill. Jamie reminds him that Highlanders are among the army, and Fermoy responds with a barb like likens the Highlanders to goats.  Jamie is unamused. 

“Where a goat can go, a man can go,” he says. “And where a man can go, he can drag a gun.” 

But Fermoy refuses to budge. No man could drag a canon, he says, Highlander or otherwise. They will have no attack from the mountain across the water. Even this phrasing links to Culloden. The Fort Ticonderoga equivalent of the “King across the water” dismisses Jamie, much to his obvious annoyance. 

William and the Hunters are travelling, discussing morality. William is teasing Denny, saying that for a Quaker who abhors violence, he has chosen a strange profession, particularly when his training involves him cutting up dead bodies for practice, and bodies of executed criminals at that. Denny is on the defence, pointing out that there is only so much that can be learned from texts. Besides, his acts are for medical purposes, he argues, and therefore not violence as such. Rachel asks William whether he believes it is a sin to take a life. 

“Of a murderer?” William replies. “No. I call it justice.” He asks Denny why he hasn’t chosen a more peaceable profession.

Denny replies that he finds it to be a noble profession that suits him well. 

William tries again. What if a crime had been committed against one of them? Rachel counters this by saying that they rely on God’s judgement. 

“Or the willingness of others to commit violence for you,” William responds. 

Eventually, the three agree to disagree. They round a bend and come across a man chopping firewood. On discovering the three of them are travelling to Albany, the man tells them that they are on the wrong road and have missed the turn. To get to the correct path would mean a considerable retracing of steps for many hours, so the man suggests that they come along to his farm, where he and his wife can offer them supper and a bed. 

The gratitude for the offer soon evaporates at the sight of the stew. Served up a truly disgusting meal of cooked rat, the party struggle to be polite and choke the food down. The man explains that their once thriving farm has been decimated by the armies marching through, who have helped themselves to crops, livestock and clothing . Uncomfortable at this thought, William asks which army was responsible. 

“Both of them,” the man replies.  

Rachel is unable to stomach the stew, excusing herself to get some air. William follows to ask if anything is wrong. Rachel is struggling to be charitable, saying that they should be grateful that the couple has been prepared to share anything at all, given the fact that they clearly have so little themselves. William assures her that they will leave in the morning, and will refuse any offers of breakfast. 

Brianna is nervously preparing for her first day at work. Roger tells her to bring her hard hat home, suggesting she can wear it to bed. This begins an amorous conversation, that heats up when Roger realises that Brianna is not wearing underwear. Brianna tells him that she had been used to not wearing it in the 18th century, so now it seems strange to do so. They kiss, and are interrupted by a giggling Mandy.  Roger scoops his daughter up into his arms, as Brianna leaves, with instructions to Mandy to be good for Roger, and for both of them not to get into any mischief. 

Brianna arrives at the plant, is issued with her keys and driven out to where a group of men are working. Predictably, the men do not seem overly keen to meet a female inspector. The manager instructs the men to give Brianna a tour of the grounds, as she is already familiar with the tunnel schematics. They are to introduce themselves and get Brianna up to speed. The manager wishes her good luck and departs. 

Left alone with the men, Brianna attempts to sound authoritative. She knows they are repairing a turbine, she says, and asks to be taken to the valve room. The man in charge of that project introduces himself as Rob Cameron and also introduces two of his men. There is a lot of staring, scowling and then smirking, as Brianna tries to be the professional overseer. 

On arrival at one of the sites, Cameron asks Brianna for her keys, so that he can show her what unlocks what. Unsuspecting Brianna hands the keys over, and he unlocks the door. He gallantly steps back and gestures for Brianna to enter the tunnel first. This she does, also accepting a torch from the other man. But as soon as Brianna is inside, the men pull a childish prank, pulling the door shut and running back to the ute, calling over their shoulders that her keys will be left on the desk. They drive away and Brianna has no option but to find a way out,  a task further complicated by the discovery that the torch does not work. Pulling some matches from her pocket, she creates enough light to find the power boxes and soon manages to switch on some dim lights. 

Brianna’s knowledge of the tunnel schematics serve her well, up until the point where the passage divides and she must make a choice. She turns right and soon sees light ahead. But between her and the exit is a strange blue shimmering light, and a noise that makes Brianna cover her ears. Scared, Brianna runs through the light, pausing briefly to look back before heading for the exit.

Much has been made of this phenomena on fan sites. Was this a portal? If it was, why doesn’t Brianna travel when she runs through it? Book readers know that answers will be forthcoming, but in the short term, we are just as relieved as Brianna when she pushes open another door and is back outside. Standing on the hill, looking back down over the water, Brianna takes some deep breaths. Things are not going well. 

Back at Fort Ticonderoga, Ian has been given the task of delivering a message to the Mohawk village of Shadow Lake. The British have offered the Mohawk land in return for an alliance and the Continental army is keen to prevent this. Ian is to deliver a message containing an offer of their own. However, he is most reluctant to go, for “personal reasons.” But there is no choice. In the army, he is told, there is no room for personal reasons. 

Troubled, Ian seeks out Claire. He wants to know about babies, not from a conception point of view, but from a medical one. Why was he not able to father a child? Jamie has told him about sperm, Ian tells Claire and he wonders if something is wrong with his. He asks Claire to check, but she replies that she would need a microscope. 

Claire asks if he had seen his daughter after she had been stillborn and Ian says that she had already been prepared for burial, but he had been told that she was perfect. Claire tells Ian that women can lose babies for many different reasons and reassures him that it was nothing to do with his spirit and everything to do with science. There is every chance, she adds, that there will be no problem with another woman. Ian’s relief is palpable and his thanks are heartfelt.

William’s stomach has woken him, the rat stew not having gone down well. He sits up, at the same time as Mr and Mrs Johnson creep down the stairs. Mrs Johnson heads towards Rachel and Denny, and Rachel wakes up too, in time to shout a warning to her brother. Suddenly the Johnsons attack. William fights Mr Johnson, who menaces him with a knife, while the Hunters fight off Mrs Johnson. William manages to grab the poker from the fire and after a brief fight, he stabs Mr Johnson in the belly, before assisting Denny and Rachel in subduing Mrs Johnson. Suddenly all the earlier talk about violence and killing take on new meaning. William has killed, in order to save their own lives. 

In the aftermath, Rachel seeks out a visibly shaken William. She tells him that Mrs Johnson has confessed to them, saying that her husband had forced her to attack other travellers, and showing them a cupboard full of jewellery and ill gotten gains. She has offered the contents in exchange for being left in peace. William is angry: how many other travellers have been lured inside and butchered in their sleep. But Rachel replies that the woman has now lost her husband, which William muses is punishment enough. 

“It is in God’s hands now,” she comments. 

But William is still upset. He has never killed anyone before, he confesses. If it had been in battle, it would have been different, but now he doesn’t know how to feel. He tells Rachel that she must think him disgraceful, and she replies that he knows her well enough to know that it isn’t true. The two of them share a teary smile.

What fabulous casting of the Hunters and William! If these early scenes are anything to go by, there are many wonderful moments ahead. 

Jamie and Claire are discussing the situation at hand. Jamie has learned that a Fraser relative, a second cousin to the old fox, has a position of command with the British army. The British are running short of food and supplies and will need to take the fort by force. Jamie repeats to Claire what he said to Fermoy, if there is higher ground to be taken, the opposition will find a way, particular if that opposition includes a Fraser. But going over Fermoy to General St Clair would not be appreciated and Jamie worries that this will be bad for his men. Fermoy is convinced that an attack will come by land, not water. Claire comments that the situation is similar to the battle of Singapore, only in reverse. In her explanation of that battle, Claire uses the expression “Seeing is believing.” This gives Jamie an idea. 

On their way again, William and the Hunters part company. Denny and Rachel are heading for Fort Ticonderoga, whereas William’s journey will take him further north. William issues instructions, telling them that if they get into trouble, they are to drop the name Harold Grey, Duke of Parloe. Denny asks who Grey is, but William will only say that the man is kin to him. He also tries to give them the money that Ian had given to him. They refuse at first, but he insists. 

Rachel watches William ride away. She looks wistful and Denny remarks that William is a British soldier and likely a deserter. 

“Violence follows such a man,” he observes. 

But Rachel points out that since he is taking them to join an army, Denny is being a hypocrite.  He offers to find her a place of safety, but she refuses. They are sticking together. 

Meanwhile Ian has arrived at the Mohawk village. It is not long before he sees a familiar face: that of his ex-wife, Emily. The two exchange pleasantries, awkward at first, but they become more heartfelt. She tells him of her two children and he says that he is happy that she has a family, apologising for his failure to give her children when they were married. He asks if she is happy and she assures him she is. When he comments that she hasn’t asked if he is happy, she replies that she has eyes. She knows that he is not. 

Ian asks if he can meet her son. She hesitates a moment, before calling him over. A little red headed boy joins them and we see the confusion on Ian’s face, when he realises that the little boy’s colouring is far more like his own than either Emily or Kaheroton. Hearing her daughter cry, Emily leaves Ian alone with the boy, who first introduces himself as Swiftest of Lizards, before telling Ian that his grandmother has said that he is the child of Ian’s spirit, but that this is news he should not share with his father. Emily reappears and asks Ian to choose an English name for the boy, for a time in the future when he walks in that world.  The two share a long look and Ian thanks her. He kneels in front of the boy and tells him that his name is Ian James.

“Ian James,” the boy repeats. “I like it.” 

This scene was beautifully acted by John Bell, who manages to look vulnerable, caring and strong all at once. While nothing is confirmed, we are left in little doubt that Swiftest of Lizards is his child and that his previous fears about fathering more children can now be put to rest. 

Roger is putting the finishing touches to a billy cart when he sees Jem arrive back from school. But rather than come up to the house, Jem disappears into the Dove Cote. Sensing that something is wrong, Roger follows him and draws him out for a heart to heart chat. Jem admits that he got into trouble at school. While defending himself against bullying taunts from another student, Jem had spoken in Gaelic. This was frowned upon by his teacher, who had grabbed him by the ear and shaken him. This had further angered Jem, and he reacted with a Fraser curse, which earned him a trip to the headmaster and 3 cuts with the belt. Jem asks Roger if he is mad.

“Not with you,” Roger replies. 

Jem wants to know why it is bad to speak in Gaelic, and Roger lets him know that it isn’t.

Roger tells Jem not to worry, as they will sort it out, which seems to comfort the young boy. As they head back to the house, Roger tells Jem to pick up the wrappers that he has dropped on the ground. But Jem says that they aren’t his. Roger looks back again, puzzled. Who do they belong to?

This was a beautiful scene. Richard Rankin is in his element as 1980s Roger. Far from last episode’s indecision. this episode sees Roger take perfect charge. He is a loving father, offering Jem understanding and reassurance. 

Claire is also offering understanding and reassurance to a hysterical woman at Fort Ticonderoga, when she overhears an argument. Denzel Hunter is disagreeing with Lieutenant Stactoe, the man that Claire had described as the man who believed himself to be a surgeon. An amputation needs to be performed on Walter…… and the men are disagreeing over the level of amputation required. Walter asks Claire for her opinion. At first, Claire actually agrees with Lieutenant Stactoe, until Denny explains a complication that means Walter’s artery could rupture. Claire immediately takes Denny’s side, and offers to fetch boiling water to sterilise the blades. Stactoe is furious - no-one will put his blades in water, he says, as it will destroy the temper of the metal. Claire replies that hot water will do nothing to his blades other than clean them, adding that she can’t let him use dirty instruments. 

Let me‽” Stactoe challenges, angrily.

Denny suggests that he should do the operation, given that he is the one with a degree in medicine. He turns to Claire and asks if she would like to assist. This is the last straw for Stactoe, who storms off in a huff, saying that the operation will not be performed with his blades. This is of no concern to Denny, who tells Claire that he has his own set, which he will happily sterilise with boiling water. He goes to fetch both - an alliance has been made. 

Meanwhile, Jamie is dealing with another stubborn man, in the form of General Fermoy. Jamie has decided to take the “seeing is believing” approach, and has had some of his men haul a cannon up Sugar Loaf Hill. 

“If we can do it,” Jamie says, “you can be certain that Simon Fraser and his men will do it.” Taking off his hat and signalling, the men on the hill duly fire a shot towards them, which lands safely behind where they are standing. This causes predictable hysteria amongst the rest of the people at the fort, but Jamie calls out for everyone to stand down, as they are not under attack. He points out to Fermoy that the fort is within range, a fact that they have just seen with their own eyes.’

“The only thing I have seen is your flagrant disregard for authority,” Fermoy replies. 

Jamie explains that he had instructed the men to aim wide, in order to demonstrate the vulnerability of the fort’s defences.But Fermoy argues that Jamie had in fact created another vulnerability, by taking the men and cannon beyond the fort’s walls. What if either had fallen into the enemy’s hands?

“This entire fort will fall into the enemy’s hands if we don’t put men on that hill,” Jamie argues. 

But Fermoy is furious, accusing Jamie of humiliating him, disobeying his order with a reckless public spectacle. It is fortunate that he cannot spare a single soldier, he adds, or he would put Jamie into chains for insubordination. 

“If and when the British attack - by land - we will need every man inside to defend the fort,” Fermoy says. The men and cannon are to be returned to the fort and are forbidden to leave it again. 

The sense of deja vu must not be lost on Jamie. It is certainly not lost on the viewers! Once again, a so-called leader is disregarding Jamie’s experience and knowledge out of pride and jealously. We can only hope that the result will not be as catastrophic as Culloden had been. 

Ian has returned and is surprised and happy to see Rachel, who explains that having heard the army to be short of surgeons, her brother had wanted to volunteer. She also gives Ian news of William, telling of his recovery and adding that they had been grateful for his protection on the road. Some tentative flirting begins. Ian offers her his protection, while Rachel says she would welcome, despite hoping that she will not need it. 

Rachel notices the herbs that Ian is carrying and asks if they are medicinal. Ian confirms this, saying that whenever he is out scouting he will forage for his aunt Claire. Rachel makes the connection, telling him that she and Denny have been working closely with Claire since their arrival. 

“I suppose I’ll be seeing more of you then,” says Ian with a smile.

“I suppose you will,” Rachel replies, with a coy look over her shoulder. 

Claire is examining Walter Woodcock post surgery. The wound is healing nicely, she tells him, although he will need to remain in bed for a while. Walter makes a joke about dancing being out of the question and Claire asks if he likes to dance. Walter replies that his wife did, prompting Claire to say that his wife must be missing him. Walker says that he hopes so, adding that they hadn’t parted on the best of terms. At least, thanks to Claire, he has an opportunity to see her again and put things right. 

The Mackenzie family are sitting around the dinner table, with Brianna telling an exciting version of her ordeal. In this rendition, Brianna’s ingenuity is met with a round of applause from her colleagues as she exited the tunnel. Jem is impressed, telling Brianna how brave she is. Roger decides that it calls for a toast, and everyone raises their glasses. 

“Cheers to my brave wife on her first day,” says Roger, adding the Gaelic toast “Slainte”, much to Jem’s delight. The toast is echoed by them all, but Roger notices Brianna’s cheerful mask slip. Telling the children to finish their dessert, he asks Brianna to come with him for a moment. 

Alone in the other room, Brianna admits the truth of her day. She is furious, not just because of the hazing, but because of the reason for it. It was done purely because she was a woman, she says. While she knew the job was going to be hard, she is worried that the men will never respect her. 

Roger draws a parallel with Claire’s first day at Harvard Medical School, musing that she must have encountered something similar. 

“It’s not going to be easy,” Roger says, “but you made it through today and I think that’s something worth celebrating.” 

Brianna smiles and Roger says that he has a little something for her. Walking behind the desk he pushes something and a hidden drawer pops out. Roger had made the discovery the previous day, he tells her, when one of the other drawers had gotten stuck. Brianna pulls the drawer out further, and sees a small box. Inside is a beautiful pen and Brianna is thrilled.

“I love it,” she says, “But you didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to,” Roger replies. “It’s for you to use at work, and to make sure that you know that I am so proud of you and I’m sorry I didn’t make that clearer from the start.” 

The two embrace, but their kiss is interrupted by a scream from Mandy.

The two children rush into the room and Jem tells them that Mandy had seen someone outside and was scared. Brianna asks Mandy who she had seen. 

“The Nucklavee,” the young girl replies, burying her face in Brianna’s neck. 

Roger remembers the food wrappers from earlier and goes outside to investigate. He doesn’t see anyone, but as he heads back inside, the camera pans back, as if we are watching him from another’s eyes. Nucklavee or not, someone or something is outside the house. 

Fermoy is on lookout duty at the fort, when through his spyglass he sees precisely what Jamie had predicted. The British are on Sugar Loaf hill and Fermoy swears in frustration. Moments later, there is a hastily convened council of war. Major General St Clair wants to know why this has happened and Fermoy answers that no-one could have foreseen such a development. Jamie gives him a piercing look, but says nothing. 

St Clair says that they have no option but to evacuate. Fermoy says that they can’t give up without a fight. but St Clair replies that they are outnumbered two fold. At this point, Jamie does step forward, telling the General that he has already told his men to commandeer boats and canoes, which will carry people faster than the British can march. And so a plan is made. Supplies need to be gathered and anything that cannot be carried must be destroyed. Nothing is to be left behind for Burgoyne’s army. 

Her confidence returning, Brianna deflects Roger’s foreplay. She has something she needs to do, she tells him. Moments later, we see her entering the pub where Rob Cameron and his cronies are drinking. Ignoring calls of “Wrong place, lassie. Knitting club’s down the street” she pulls up a chair next to Rob. 

“So, who do I have to lock in a tunnel to get a drink around here?” she asks. 

The men are silent, one of them standing and walking away. 

“I heard you made it out in record time, Hen,” Rob replies, to the snickers of one of two others. They begin to banter around Brianna, musing who out of their colleagues would still be stuck in the tunnel had it happened to them. A pint is ordered for Brianna, who turns and speaks directly to Rob.

“You had your fun and games yesterday,” she says, “so we’ll call it a clean slate. But if you ever do anything like that again, I will have the lot of you fired.” Rob stares at her intently, but she has one more comment to make. “And don’t call me Hen,” she says. 

“Fair enough, Guv,” he replies.

It is a truce of sorts.

Jamie has updated Claire with the evacuation orders. They have only a few hours and will take as many of the injured as they can. Claire goes to Walter, who, on hearing what is happening. replies that he will be able to walk with a little support. 

But Claire has bad news. It is too soon, she tells him. The sutures won’t hold and it would be too dangerous to move him. He will need to remain behind. Claire says that as an injured man, the British will have to show him mercy. Both of them know that this is unlikely to happen, and although neither says so, leaving Walter behind is as good as a death sentence. Claire presses a bottle of laudanum into his hands, telling him it will help with the pain and allow him to sleep.

“Just don’t take too much,” she adds, meaningfully. We are left with the feeling that she is giving Walter the power over his own life or death. Despite this, she continues with the positive narrative. Her eyes bright with unshed tears, Claire bids him farewell, saying that the war will be over one day and he will be able to go home to his wife. Walter nods, but it is obvious he does not believe this will be the case. 

“God speed, Mrs Fraser,” he responds. 

Soon enough, the evacuation is underway, with people scrambling into boats and rowing away from Fort Ticonderoga, but whether they are rowing towards safety or greater danger is unknown.

Brianna walks back into the graveyard and kneels in front of the cairn that Jem had made. She adds a stone to the top and starts to speak. 

“Jem said he built this for you, Da,” she begins. “He said that he and Mandy come here to talk to you.” 

And so, Brianna follows her children’s lead, beginning to tell Jamie about her new job and the associated difficulties of having to tell the men what to do. The screen fades to black and the episode comes to a close with talk of Lallybroch. 

A lot was packed into this hour, but the result was a compelling hour of viewing. There were many displays of ego throughout the episode, with virtually every character needing to overcome the challenges that such displays bring. The stage is set for plenty of action to come.

This recap was written by Susie Brown, a teacher-librarian and writer who lives in Australia. She loves 20th century Roger and feels Richard Rankin deserves lots of praise for his portrayal!

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