Thursday, July 27, 2023

“Forts, Foes and Friends” - a recap of season 7 episode 6 by your Aussie Blogging Lass


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At its heart, the sixth episode of season 7 deals with connection - connection between families, connection between culture and the connection one feels between one’s own beliefs and the actions that are taken as a result. 

As the episode begins, William rides into the now British occupied Fort Ticonderoga. He is looking for General Simon Fraser and is told that the Brigadier will be found on the battlements, where he is surveying the spoils of victory. William wastes no time in locating the man in question, where he explains his reason for his tardiness and expresses regret for not having arrived in time to assist with the battle. A largely disinterested Fraser (played by Angus McFadyen of Braveheart fame) remarks that it was hardly a battle, given that no shots were fired and that the rebels had departed, leaving their canon behind. He tells William that there is a battle coming, however. They are going to garrison the fort and then pursue the rebels south, having hatched a plan with General Hough of New York. William realises that General Hough’s position means that the plan must be to cut off the Northern army and isolate New England from the rest of the colony. Fraser is impressed with William’s deductive reasoning, but says that he would expect nothing less from the son of Lord John Grey. 

Meanwhile, Jamie and Claire, together with the rest of the rebels are coming to shore. Claire comments that many of them will not get far on foot, but Jamie says that they have no choice but to keep moving. The plan is to move them into the woods in small groups as quickly and quietly as possible. 

Two women however, remain on one of the boats. Rachel is trying to persuade a terrified Mrs Raven that Ian is not about to skin her and is, in fact, trying to help them all. Finally, the older woman agrees to come ashore, but it is obvious that she is not convinced as to her safety.

Slowly, the party make their way through the woods, when loud noises sounding like Indian war cries break the silence. This further spooks Mrs Raven, who screams that the Indians are coming to get them all. Jamie orders everyone off the road, while Ian goes ahead to see what is happening. On his return, he informs Jamie that it was a party of redcoats pretending to be Indians, trying to scare them into revealing their position. It is decided that Claire, Denny and Rachel will take everyone further into the woods while Jamie and Ian will draw the soldiers away. But as they begin to do this, Claire realises that Mrs Raven has disappeared and goes to look for her.

In 1980s Scotland, Roger is meeting with the principal of Jem’s school, trying to resolve the issue between Jem and his teacher. Mr Menzies is sympathetic about punishing Jem, but points out to Roger that he really had no choice: Jem had chosen a particularly colourful Gaelic curse, calling his teacher “a haggard old goat breath daughter of a witch.” Managing to keep a straight face, Roger conveniently blames Jamie for the curse, saying that he himself would never have used that particular phrase. 

On realising that Roger is a Gaelic speaker himself, Mr Menzies is more candid with his own opinions. He comments that he fears Jem’s teacher is an example of a larger problem: people are now focused on students only speaking English, to allow them to leave the Highlands and find good jobs. Roger laments this attitude, saying that the Gaelic language represents their history and culture, and Highlanders had been fighting for the right to speak it since before the Rising. Roger’s passion for his heritage is all that Menzies needs. He has wanted to hold a class about the Gaelic culture for some time, he says, and with Roger’s teaching background, he is the perfect person to run it. 

Jamie and Ian have made short work of dispatching the redcoat party. Convinced that they have found them all, they begin to head back to the others. Meanwhile, Claire is searching for Mrs Raven, calling for her in hushed whispers. Finally she sees her, rocking hysterically underneath a tree. Claire tells her that she will be safe with the others, but Mrs Raven disagrees.

“I’ll never be safe,” she cries and pulls a pistol from beneath her skirts. Before Claire can stop her, she has shot herself in the head. A shocked Claire moves over to her, but as she does so, a hand is clamped over her mouth and she is dragged away by a redcoat soldier. 

Jamie and Ian have almost made it back to the group when another figure emerges from the woods. It is Denny, with some troubling news. Everyone is camped safely, he says, except for Claire, who had gone in search of a patient and not returned. Denny explains that he has now come to look for Claire. 

Jamie and Ian take over the search, soon discovering the body of Mrs Raven. While Jamie makes the sign of the cross over her body, Ian notices the markings of soldiers’ boots, plus evidence that someone has been dragged away. 

“Claire,” says Jamie at once. 

The direction of the footmarks is north - whoever it is is heading towards the Fort. 

Sure enough, the next scene sees Claire being ushered into a fenced off animal pen, now being used for captured rebel prisoners. The pen is in the open air, and there is no water to be found. Claire wastes no time in starting an argument with a young redcoat. Everyone needs water, she says, and asks permission to go to the well and fetch some for the sick and injured. When the young soldier says he has orders that no-one is to to leave the area, Claire suggests that perhaps he should fetch the water instead, unless he wants the prisoners to die of thirst. 

Reluctantly, the soldier leaves and Claire takes stock of the situation. She notices one man leaning up against a wooden beam - it is Walter Woodcock. Claire asks what he is doing there and Walter comments that the British must have needed the hospital for their own. He had, however, insisted that he be moved with care. Claire examines the site of the amputation, which is dry and healing nicely. However, something else is wrong. Walter is breathless, telling Claire that he hasn’t been able to get enough air. Claire listens to his chest, asking him to take a slow steady breath. Walter obliges, but coughs as he does so. 

Claire is concerned and asks when Walter’s symptoms started. Walter replies that he was feeling well until a few hours earlier and asks Claire what is wrong. Initially Claire tries to deflect, saying it could merely be mucus in his lungs from the damp air. But Walter does not believe her - the look of worry on her face has given her away. Claire apologises and gives Walter the truth: he could have an embolism, where his blood is beginning to clot in the lungs.  It is a known complication after an amputation.

“That doesn’t sound good,” Walter says.

“It’s not,” Claire agrees, “which is why I’m going to keep a close eye on you.” 

She tells Walter that water will soon arrive and she is also going to try and find some medicinal herbs. Walter attempts a joke, saying that since he doesn’t have much on that afternoon, he supposes that arrangement will be just fine. 

Elsewhere in the fort, William knocks on another officer’s door. It is Captain Richardson, the man who had entrusted William with delivering the letters. William explains that had been unsuccessful in this regard, as The Great Dismal Swamp had deprived him of not only his horse, but also Richardson’s correspondence. 

Richardson probes further: had William attempted to break the cypher in the letters? Had he succeeded and committed the contents of the letters to memory? 

“I did not read the message, Sir,” William replies, reminding Captain Richardson that he had issued instructions not to. Nevertheless, William has learned something about the message’s intended recipients, naming each of the three men as rebels. 

Far from being shocked, Richardson asks William how he thinks wars are won. 

“With victory on the battlefield,” William replies at once. 

“But how do commanders know where that battlefield will be?” Richardson continues. How do they know about the size and strength of an opponent or identify what their weaknesses will be? The best intelligence, he tells William, comes from men the enemy trust.

The penny finally drops with William. “So those men are spies!” he breathes.

“Eyes and ears for the British cause,” Richardson corrects. He tells William that the letters had contained vital information and the young man is full of apologies for failing in the mission.

But Richardson seems unconcerned. The other thing his years of experience have taught him is that war is long. 

“ No doubt an opportunity for redemption will present itself,” he says.

“I will be ready when it does, Sir,” William promises. “You have my word.” 

With that, William is dismissed, and told to reacquaint himself with his uniform, his trunk having travelled to the fort alongside Richardson’s own. 

Outside, Claire has switched into doctor mode and is talking to a woman with a baby. The woman is worried because her child is hungry and her milk isn’t coming in as it should. Claire remarks that this isn’t surprising, given the conditions. Instructing the woman to drink as much water as she can from the bucket they now have, Claire promises that she will see about getting some food too. 

Before she does this though, she takes a second cup of water over to Walter and tells him to drink it, as it will help. Walter does, although his swallowing is punctuated with coughing and he covers his mouth with his sleeve. When he sits back up, there is blood on the fabric. 

This galvanises Claire into action. Immediately disobeying the order not to leave the fenced area, she opens the gate and strides out, pursuing the first soldier she can find, who she admonishes for the lack of basic care for the prisoners. 

The soldier is none other than William, who introduces himself with his full title: Lieutenant Lord Ellesmere, William Ransom. Smiling, he tells Claire that he knows her and remembers visiting Fraser’s Ridge as a boy. 

“You saved my father’s life,” he says.

“William,” Claire says, softly, as the young man in question suddenly realises that if Claire is a prisoner, then she must also be a rebel. 

“Yes,” Claire confirms. “My husband is a colonel in the Militia. We were separated and I was captured.” 

Trading on their past relationship, Claire asks William for linen for bandages, as well as some food, explaining that they have a starving baby and sick and injured amongst the party. William says that he will try, but confides that it may be difficult, as supplies are still two days away. Any food left in the storehouses had been burned by the rebels before they left. 

“I’ll see what can be done,” he says, with a formal bow.

“Thank you,” Claire replies, before making one final request: some herbs and medicines from the regimental surgeon. “It would do the world of good.” 

William bows once more. “Your servant, Madam,” he responds, before walking away.

This was a lovely scene, the first between Charles Vandevart and Caitriona Balfe. The actors waste no time in establishing a bond, with Vandevart’s William immediately softening in Claire’s presence, and allowing glimpses of the little boy he was to emerge. There is a gentleness about William in this scene, which is perfectly matched by Balfe. It is going to be wonderful to watch future scenes between these two.

In 1980s Lallybroch, Roger writes in his notebook, struggling to keep up as Brianna describes her experience in the tunnel, where she had experienced sensations similar to travelling through the stones. She saw something else, she tells him, some sort of energy that looked like heat shimmering off asphalt.

“it’s hard to describe, but there’s something down there,” she says.

Roger has had an idea. He asks Brianna to confirm the position of the dam as being right on the Loch, and whether she knows the bearing of the tunnel in relation to the dam. Pulling out a map, they begin to formulate a theory. Perhaps a ley line connects this dam to other groups of standing stones -Craig Na Dun among them - creating a kind of portal. 

It is an exciting new “working hypothesis” as Brianna calls it. Roger tells her that he needs to get this idea written into his “Hitchhiker’s Guide To Time Travel,”  a paraphrase of the radio series, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They laugh at the name, until suddenly Brianna realises the time - Roger will be late for his Gaelic class at the school. He rushes to change into his kilt, asking Brianna to pack his bag for him.

Jamie and Ian have arrived outside the fort and are hiding nearby. Jamie tells Ian that as soon as it is dark, he will find a way inside. But Ian tells him that it is he who must go inside to rescue Claire. If Jamie were to be caught, he would be hanged, Ian says, whereas he can pose as an Indian scout without raising suspicion. 

“The Mohawk have aligned themselves with the British. The guards will think me an ally. Uncle, I can do this,” Ian urges. 

Jamie is not happy, but agrees to the plan, adding that there might be something he can do himself to draw the guards away, with the assistance of Ian’s bow and arrows. 

Claire has established a working party of ladies, who she is instructing to collect some sticks so that they can light fires for boiling water to sterilise bandages. A different soldier, Lieutenant Hammond, arrives with the herbs that Claire had requested, telling her that they come with William’s compliments. Claire expresses her thanks, but asks if there is any possibility of getting food.   Hammond replies that William had sent to the bakehouse to check, but the soldiers are living off whatever limited qualities of food they had brought with them in their packs. There is nothing spare. William has provided something else instead though, with Hammond handing over a hip flask.

“Please thank the Lieutenant for the libations,” Claire says. 

But something else is puzzling her and she asks Hammond how he knew who she was. 

“He said you’d be the curly wig giving orders like a Sergeant Major,” comes the reply.         

Roger is holding court in the school classroom, entertaining children and adults alike with his presentation on the Gaelic language. Beginning with the irresistible offer of teaching them to curse, he has them all giggling with the story of a farmer who cursed at a cow in Gaelic, with a string of words that translated as “May your intestines burst through your belly and be eaten by crows!” Taking a more serious tone, Roger tells them that Gaelic has been spoken since the 4th century. Proud traditions, including walking songs, shouldn’t be lost, he says, a sentiment that is echoed by everyone in the room. 

Roger’s ‘piece de resistance’ is to lead an example of line singing, which, Roger tells everyone, dates back to a time when books were scarce. A gathering would be held, someone would sing and the rest of the group would echo a refrain. Jem and his friend Bobby are pressed into service at this point, handing out 19th century hymnals from the Reverend Wakefield’s collection for everyone to look at. Roger then leads a song, and everyone joins in, including a very proud Jem. 

This is a great scene, with Richard Rankin impressing not only with his Gaelic, but also with his singing. (In the book, Roger’s singing voice had been damaged by his almost hanging, but there is no evidence of that here.) 

Claire has used the supply of herbs to brew Walter a tea of ginger, garlic and cayenne pepper. She asks him to drink as much of it as he can, in an attempt to thin his blood and dissolve the clot in his lungs.  Walter tries, but a fresh bout of coughing soon follows. He voices a wish for something stronger and Claire quickly adds some brandy from the flask William had sent to her. It is obvious now that Walter is about to die, so Claire’s attention shifts to making his last moments happy ones. In a conversation reminiscent of one way back in season 1, when one of Dougal McKenzie’s men was dying, Claire asks him to think of something and someone important to him. 

“You told me you liked to dance, didn’t you?” she says. “That’s how you met your wife? Think of her now. Think of that first time you held her in your arms and you danced together.” 

As Walter does, the life ebbs from him.

Roger is receiving compliments from some of the crowd, when Mr Menzies comes forward and asks him to do another session. Roger is pleased. He confesses that he has been feeling adrift lately, but that the teaching has given him a grounded feeling. He is happy to accept, and Menzies says he will organise dates and times. 

As the crowd disperses, Rob Cameron comes over to pay his own compliments and to introduce himself. Roger is initially standoffish. 

“I know who you are,” he says, shaking Rob’s outstretched hand with a little more force than is necessary. “You work with my wife.”

But Rob is immediately complimentary, saying that Brianna is the best inspector they have had in years. He explains that he has come to the presentation with his nephew Bobby, as he is giving his widowed sister a break and helping her out whenever he can. 

Roger softens a little, saying that he is glad Rob has enjoyed the class. 

“I love all the old stuff,” Rob says, adding that he had been looking forward to reading the Reverend’s old hymnal. 

“Did you not get a chance?” Roger asks.

With a grin, Rob says that he got to read something with a bit more action instead, handing Roger his Hitchhiker’s Guide To Time Travel, which had mistakenly been mixed in with the old hymnals. We see the concern on Roger’s face, but Rob seems to think that Roger is writing a novel. It’s a theory that Roger is happy to adopt by way of an explanation.

“Maybe you’ll let me read it when it’s finished,” Rob says. “I’m a great one for the Science Fiction.” 

“I’ll have to finish it first,” Roger answers, playing along. 

An awkward silence falls, which Roger breaks by saying that he should take Jem home and make the dinner. 

“How’s that working for you?” Rob jokes and more awkward banter ensues, ending with Rob inviting himself over for dinner the following week. It is clear that this is not what Roger wants, but he has been thrown by the appearance of the notebook and is firmly in rescue mode. 

This is a clever scene: all of the ease and confidence of Roger’s presentation has been replaced with uncertainty and awkwardness. Chris Fulton presents a Rob Cameron who seems charming and personable enough, but who has also shown a mean streak in his hazing of Brianna. Throw in the fact that the Time Traveller’s Guide has been glimpsed and it’s no wonder that Roger is uneasy. Both Richard Rankin and Chris Fulton have now laid the basis for some interesting times ahead. 

Claire has farewelled Walter, closing his eyes and sending a prayer Heavenward. 

“Godspeed, Walter,” she says, softly.

Later, she and some of the other women are lining up pails of water, when Ian detaches himself from the group of Indian scouts standing around the fire. 

“Mistress Fraser,” he calls.

Claire looks up, startled, and hurries over to him. Ian quickly explains that Jamie has sent him. He begins to share the plan for escape, when their conversation is interrupted by the ill-timed appearance of William. Ian hastily tells Claire to go, and attempts to walk away himself, but it is too late. William has seen him and calls out after him. 

Ian explains his presence by saying that he is a scout, an excuse that William believes at first. William also takes the opportunity to thank Ian for his care when he was ill and for introducing him to the Hunters. 

“I owe you a great debt,” he says, “for saving my life.” He bows low and walks away.

Taking a breath, Ian heads back towards Claire - but of course, that would be way too easy! 

Suddenly, William remembers their previous connection from Fraser’s Ridge and that Ian is Jamie Fraser’s nephew. 

“It is a rather strange coincidence that we have a Mistress Fraser in our camp,” he says, “also of Fraser’s Ridge. I believe that would make her..”

“His aunt,” Claire finishes, stepping forward. Having overheard the conversation, there is no point in trying to bluff. 

“You are no scout,” William says to Ian. “You’re a damned liar.” 

Ian says that he has come alone, and only wants to take Claire with him. But William is not prepared to agree to that. Ian may leave, he says, but Claire must stay, as she is a prisoner. Suddenly, there is a commotion at the fort, with carts bursting into flames. We soon see the cause - Jamie is nearby, shooting flaming arrows with Ian’s bow. 

Amongst the chaos, Ian and Claire make a bargain with a reluctant William. Ian calls in the debt that William spoke of, saying that if a life is owed, he is claiming Claire’s. William is indignant: surely they don’t think that the army will be murdering women? But Claire points out that she is still a prisoner and won’t always be under his protection. Once he marches away, she will be sent to a prison ship. 

Finally, William agrees, only, he says, because Claire had saved his father’s life. He tells them of a gap in the fence where new latrine trenches are being dug, adding that no-one will see them go. 

“Thank you,” Claire says, but as they turn to leave, William grab’s Ian’s arm. They are quits, he demands, adding that Ian better not be seen at the Fort again.

Ian is leading Claire back through the woods, when they hear a noise. Ian pushes Claire behind him and turns to face the foe. But it is only Jamie, who is relieved to see them. Claire runs to him and they embrace. Claire feels guilty about the women and children that she has left behind, but Jamie says he knows that she will have done all that she could to help them. 

But two people are playing on Claire’s mind: Mrs Raven and Walter Woodcock. She could do nothing for Walter but hold his hand, Claire tells Jamie, taking out the flask of brandy and taking a swig. 

“Saved his life to watch him die,” she says, bitterly. 

“Sometimes a hand in the dark is the comfort a man needs,” Jamie replies,”before his soul takes its final journey.” Noticing the brandy, he asks Claire where she got it.

“Your son,” she answers. “He gave it to me.” 

“Tell me of him,” Jamie says. “Later. When there’s time.” 

A few days later, Claire, Jamie and Ian rejoin the refugees from the fort who had found their way back to the Continental Army. Jamie’s term of service is almost over, Claire’s voiceover announces, and they will soon be leaving for Scotland.

Ian, meanwhile, has a dual reunion: firstly with Rollo, who bounds towards him, and then with Rachel, who has been caring for the dog in Ian’s absence. After enquiring about Claire’s health and expressing relief that Claire is well and not in need of any medical assistance, Rachel tells Ian that she knows why he has come - to see his dearest companion. She indicates Rollo, and Ian chuckles, a little awkwardly. While happy to have Rollo back, it is clear Ian has had a different dearest companion in mind.

Rachel updates Ian as to what Rollo has been up to while he has been gone, including following one of the boys around, waiting for food to be dropped. Ian quips that he had better keep Rollo close, lest they be thrown out of camp for stealing rations.

“That would be most unfortunate,” Rachel replies. 

Ian says that he hopes Rollo was no trouble and Rachel tells him that far from being trouble, Rollo was a great comfort in the woods at night. 

“Well, if you ever find yourself unable to sleep at night,” Ian begins, before losing his nerve and finishing the sentence with “I’ll let you take Rollo. I’m sure he won’t mind keeping you company.”

“Aren’t I the lucky one?” Rachel replies. 

They both pat Rollo, their hands touching as they do. A courtship has begun. 

Jamie is returning with the spoils of his hunt, when he is stopped by a man who introduces himself as Captain Daniel Morgan, the commander of Morgan’s Rifles. He asks Jamie to go with him. But Jamie is on a mission. He needs to speak to the Quartermaster about a tent for himself and Claire. 

“Never mind the quartermaster,” Morgan replies. “You come with me and I’ll be sure you’re well taken care of.” 

Morgan is true to his word. The next scene begins with Claire and Jamie in a spacious tent. Claire has recognised Morgan’s name and Jamie remarks that the skill of Morgan’s Riflemen is talked of across Virginia. Morgan wants Jamie to join them, and even though his term of service is nearly up, Jamie has agreed to do just that, adding that Scotland will have to wait. The Northern Army will soon have a new leader, who is gathering new troops outside the village of Saratoga. The British are moving south, he says, and the battle is coming. 

Claire has heard of the battle, although she is hazy on the details. She does know that it marks a turning point in the American cause, as it is this battle that draws the French into the war. 

“Then ye ken why I can’t walk away,” Jamie says.

“I knew you wouldn’t,” Claire replies. If he is going to fight, she adds, she is glad that he has accepted Morgan’s offer. Riflemen, or snipers, in her time, fight from a distance.

“No soldier is safe,” Claire says, “but the further you are from combat, the better.”

Jamie smiles and hands her the flask of brandy. Taking a sip, Claire wonders aloud why it is that women don’t make wars. 

“You’re not built for it, Sassenach,” Jamie replies. 

Claire is indignant. Doesn’t he think that women are as capable as men, fighting for what they believe in?

But this isn’t what Jamie means. Women take more with them when they go, he explains. When a man dies, it is only him. Any decent man can add as a protector or provider of food, Jamie says,  whereas a woman takes life with her when she goes. 

“ A woman is possibility,” Jamie tells her. 

“If you think one man is just like another,” Claire replies, stroking his face, “then I can’t agree with you.” 

Claire is prepared to accept that there is some truth in what Jamie says, however. She muses that  a woman’s ability to create life makes it harder to end it. Jamie comments that he isn’t as scared of dying now as he used to be. While he wouldn’t like it, there would less regret about it, he says. His children are grown and his grandchildren are thriving, but he also finds himself less inclined to kill young men who haven’t yet lived. 

“Surely you’re not going to assess the ages of those shooting at you?” Claire asks, adding that she sincerely hopes he isn’t going to yet some young whippersnapper kill him, merely because the young man hasn’t lived as long a life. 

“Nah,” Jamie says. “I’d kill them. I’d just mind it more.” 

The talk of young men reminds Jamie of one in particular and he asks Claire to tell him about William. 

“He’s handsome,” Claire replies, “he’s thoughtful and observant and he’s stubborn and is clearly a man of honour. He looked at me and I saw the same kindness in his eyes. But there’s also a fire there, the fierceness of a Highlander under all those courtly manners.”

It is a perfect description of Jamie’s son. 

Music is playing while Roger cooks the dinner. He dances around the kitchen when he suddenly sees a figure lurking outside, peering through the window. Pretending not to notice, Roger slowly makes his way over to the door, which he then bursts through. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” he growls. 

The man turns to run, but Roger is quicker. He grabs the man and swings him around, allowing us to see the shock register on Roger’s face. The man is none other than Buck Mackenzie (although no longer being portrayed by Graham McTavish), the person responsible for Roger almost being hanged back in the 18th century.  Why he has come to the 20th century is for now unknown and not something Roger is currently interested in finding out. His fist connects with Buck’s face and the episode ends as Buck falls.

This was yet another strong episode, one that firmly laid the foundation for future events in both centuries. As Jamie, Claire, Ian, William and the Hunters find themselves heading towards another battle, we are left with the feeling that battle lines are being drawn for the 20th century too. With only two episodes to go before another Droughtlander, the stage is certainly set for drama and danger - and perhaps the need of a Gaelic curse or two!

This recap was written by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher librarian who lives in Australia. She wishes that she could speak Gaelic - although she would never call anyone a haggard old goat breath daughter of a witch! 

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