Thursday, August 24, 2023

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp” : A recap of season 7 episode 8 by your Aussie Blogging Lass


Outlander Homepage Originals 

As all good episodes do, this one, the midseason finale, shows many characters at turning points in their lives. Jamie is torn between fighting and family; Ian between his attraction to Rachel and his promise to return to Scotland. Instead of her usual penchant for getting herself into trouble due to her own stubbornness, Claire finds herself as the giver of wisdom and advice, with most of the male characters turning to her this episode. William is now seeing the complexities of war, with the heaviness of loss overtaking his previous feelings of excitement and glory. Rachel is torn between her faith and a forbidden attraction, while Denny questions his choice of profession. And in the twentieth century, Roger and Brianna must risk danger and separation in their quest to save their child. Even as viewers we face our own turning point -  as we balance our love of the story with the knowledge that we must wait an uncertain amount of time before we learn the characters’ fates! 

The episode opens post battle, on an eerily quiet field littered with bodies. A woman and her son are looting, and the body they turn over happens to be one James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser. The boy souvenirs Jamie’s hat, while the woman starts looking for other treasures. Finding William’s miniature first, she tosses it away, but helps herself to Jamie’s blade. Suddenly Jamie begins to cough, and they realise that he is still alive. The woman instructs her son to slit Jamie’s throat and the boy is about to do so, when out of nowhere Claire appears, holding her own blade to the boy’s throat. The woman and Claire begin to argue over Jamie, the woman mistaking her for a fellow looter and suggesting that Claire take one of the other  bodies instead. Not surprisingly, Claire is not about to do this. The boy manages to get away, but Claire picks up a sword from the ground which she brandishes in front of her, daring the woman to try her. The woman decides it is all too much trouble and after spitting on Jamie in disgust, mother and son move off. 

Claire immediately begins checking Jamie’s wounds and as he regains consciousness he tells her that she is ticking him. Most of the blood is coming from a deep wound on his hand, but as Jamie recalls what had happened to him, we discover that he had also been kicked in the head by a dragoon’s horse. He asks what has taken Claire so long and she replies that she has been out all night looking for him. The fear of losing Jamie has made her cross, and she berates him for his carelessness, accusing him of grandstanding, a comment to which he takes exception. But Claire isn’t finished. Retrieving both the miniature of William and the blade that the boy had taken, Claire takes him to task for his hero complex, telling him that she has better things to do than follow him around sticking bits of him back on. It is unnecessarily harsh and she realises this, apologising and admitting how scared she has been. He is still unsteady on his feet, so, putting his arm around her shoulders, she begins to help him from the battlefield. As they walk, he comments that while she might have a tongue like a venomous shrew, she is also a bonnie wee swordsman.

Back at the camp, Claire begins to tend to Jamie’s hand, which has indeed been slit open by a sword. It will need stitching, but Claire has patients that are worse off, so contents herself with cleaning the hand and dousing it with alcohol, an extremely painful procedure for Jamie if his facial expressions are anything to go by. As she bandages the hand, Jamie asks who had won the battle. Claire says that the British are claiming victory because they held the field, but in reality they had merely retreated back to their own camp when night fell. Reports are that their casualties could be double that of the Continental Army. Jamie is immediately concerned for William, but Claire points out that just because William was at Ticonderoga, there is no guarantee that he was in the most recent fighting. Promising that he will sleep if he can, Jamie sends Claire off to tend to her other patients. 

The number of casualties is also something that is concerning Denzel Hunter, who comes to find Claire as the next scene begins. In his entire career he has only lost four patients, he tells her, but in one battle that number has increased tenfold. Denny seeks advice from Claire: how does she go on? 

“By knowing that without me the number would be even greater,” she replies. 

But Denny is having a crisis of confidence. As a Quaker, he is finding all the violence particularly hard. He muses as to whether he should have chosen a more peaceable profession, all the while apologising to Claire for presuming that the situation is harder for him than for her. Claire gives him a weary smile, reminding him that the number of people he has helped has increased as well. Denny is emotional: he doesn’t doubt their cause, but is the number of deaths truly worth it? Claire admits that she has asked the same question many times, not always with confidence. 

“But yes,” she says, “I believe it will be.” 

Excusing herself, she returns to Jamie.

Claire has saved the last of the laudanum to operate on Jamie’s hand. Instructing him to sip it, she  promises to do her best to leave him with a working hand free of pain and infection. Jamie is not keen on taking the laudanum as it makes him feel sick and gives him terrible dreams. Claire comments that as long as he doesn’t twitch like Rollo dreaming of chasing rabbits, it will be ok. Ignoring the instruction to sip the liquid, Jamie tosses the laudanum back, making a face as he does so. While they wait for it to take effect, Jamie tells Claire of a visitor to their tent earlier, a Commander Michael Johnson. When Jamie and a few others of Morgan’s company had entered the fray during the battle, they had succeeded not only in scattering the British charge, but also in protecting Johnson’s company. 

“So you saved them,” Claire says.

Jamie minimises the achievement, saying that not all the members of the company would have been killed. He is reminded of a bible story where Abraham had bargained with God for the lives of just men.

“10 men would be worth a finger, Sassenach,” he says, “or five, or even one.” The laudanum finally takes effect and he loses consciousness. He has given permission for Claire to take a finger if she needs to and she looks at him tenderly for a moment before she begins to operate. 

“You bloody man,” she whispers, “I knew you’d make me cry.” 

She gets to work, deftly stitching the wound. When she is finished, she strokes the side of his face gently. 

“Sweet dreams my love,” she murmurs. “You can chase those rabbits now.” 

In the twentieth century, Brianna is waiting anxiously for news of Jemmy, Mandy asleep on the couch next to her. Finally, Roger and Buck return, with the news that she has been dreading. Rob Cameron has taken Jem through the stones. Roger searches for a reason as to why Rob would do this, but Brianna knows the answer. She has been through the box of letters and discovered that one is now missing- the letter that mentioned the gold. The musket ball too, has gone. 

“What do we do, Roger?” she asks. There is only one answer. Roger is already uncovering the crate that contains his 18th century clothes. He needs to travel back through the stones immediately, in order to catch Rob before he takes Jem to the Spaniard’s cave. 

Buck is confused as to what is going on, so Roger and Brianna explain. Immediately, Buck announces that he is going too. It is his own time, he reasons, and he would have been sent back anyway. But there is one main difference now: they are kin. Perhaps in some way, Buck wishes to atone for his previous treatment of Roger in the 18th century. At any rate, it is obvious that Roger and Bree appreciate his help. Brianna goes to the drawer and returns with gemstones, in the form of a brooch that she had picked up at an antique store, never knowing when it might be needed. She is trying to be brave, but the emotions are building up. Another farewell is coming.

Two weeks have passed and Claire is examining Jamie’s rapidly improving hand. While not ready for “fisticuffs” yet, Jamie is free of pain. He excuses himself, leaving Claire and Ian to chat. Ian notices Claire’s serious expression and wonders if she isn’t as happy with Jamie’s progress as she had appeared to be. But far from being unhappy, it is the fact that Jamie’s hand is healing so well that is causing Claire’s worry. Jamie will soon be free to fight again, something that she had hoped he would be able to avoid. Another battle is coming, she tells Ian, one that has to be serious enough to draw the French into the war. But there are gaps in her knowledge, and she has no idea as to the time frame of such an event. Perhaps though, she muses, Jamie is meant to be there. She asks Ian if he has heard anything from the scouts. Ian knows that the Generals are waiting for aid, in an attempt to divide the Continental Army, but they can’t afford to wait forever. 

Rollo interrupts the conversation by helping himself to Claire’s medicinal supplies of goose grease, which she had been planning on giving to Denny to help treat a patient. Immediately Ian offers to get her some more, and Claire is quick to suggest that he could also deliver it to Denny, or to Rachel. Ian can barely contain his pleasure at the thought, a fact that is not lost on Claire. 

Ian wastes no time in delivering said grease, and Rachel tells him that Denny will be pleased. In a move all too familiar from romance novels, Ian drops the parcel and both of them bend to retrieve it, their hands touching in the process. Ian takes things a step further by pulling Rachel to him and kissing her, an action that initially works. But as quickly as she responds, Rachel pulls away, slapping his face. 

Ian is not angry. He tells Rachel that he is not concerned that she loves him, more that she might die because of it. Unaware of Arch Bug’s threat, Rachel finds this claim rather egotistical. The chemistry is palpable, with them not able to stop touching hands, moving closer again as if to embrace. But when Rachel says that they must not, Ian tells her she must move away. If she continues to touch him, he tells her without a hint of arrogance, then he will take her and it will be too late for them both. He walks from the tent, Rollo in pursuit, leaving Rachel looking after them. 

An officer is wandering through the Continental camp, looking for Claire. He has heard of her prowess as a healer and has come hoping for a trade of supplies, in order to treat a man suffering from malaria back at his own camp. He presents Claire with his portable chest of bottles, explaining that he used to run a shop with a lot of apothecary supplies and adding that he had wanted to give Claire a decent range to choose from, not knowing what she might need. Claire quickly finds what she wants: a bottle of laudanum. She asks if he has any extra supply and he assures her that he does. They begin a careful dance to check that neither of them is addicted to the substance. The man offers a bit of his story: he had been badly injured once and had used laudanum but has now weaned himself off it. Claire tells him that relief from pain is the one thing she can offer her patients, given that she is unable to heal many of them. Laudanum will allow her to do this. 

The man is impressed: most healers  he has come across have claimed to be able to heal everything. Claire comments that it helps to know one’s limits and this starts the pair on a philosophical debate: Does the admission of limits actually hinder one from accomplishing what is actually possible? They are still debating this when Jamie appears, bowing to the man and referring to him as Sir. Jamie is soon drawn into the debate and the man asks his opinion. In his answer, Jamie riskily quotes poetry by Browning, musing that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. It is a sentiment that appeals to the man, who asks where Jamie has heard this. Jamie and Claire quickly brush off the details and the trade is made. It is at this point that Claire realises that she doesn’t know the man’s name and the officer introduces himself: Major General Benedict Arnold. He walks away and Jamie acknowledges the risk of quoting a poem not yet written. But Claire is still staring after Arnold. Jamie comments that she looks as if she  might fall over. 

“I just might,” she responds. 

Meanwhile, Rachel and Denny are having a heart-to-heart. Rachel asks Denny if he will pray for her, as she fears she is in great danger. Denny knows why she is asking: he has seen Ian leave. He comments that he doubts that prayer will help over much. While he has endless faith in God, he is not as sure about Rachel. Rachel tells him of Ian’s matter-of-fact declaration that she is in love with him, and avoids directly answering Denny when he asks: “And is thee?”

Denny points out that if she wasn’t in love with Ian, he doubts that she would be asking him to pray for her. The situation is made almost impossible by their faith: were Rachel to wed someone like Ian, no Quaker meeting would accept her. He is happy, he says, to tell Ian to stay away, or to tell him that her feelings are only that of friendship. Rachel does not like either option, but knows the reality of her situation. 

Claire explains to Jamie what Benedict Arnold will do in the future: at some point he will become disillusioned with the American army and make overtures to the British, which will be seen as the ultimate act of betrayal. In fact, Arnold’s name will become synonymous with being a traitor. 

“200 years from now, if someone betrays you, you call them a Benedict Arnold,” Claire tells him. “It’s all he will ever be remembered for.” But while she knows that Arnold’s future actions will result in the Continental Army’s victory, she has no idea as to the time frame. 

Around the fire, Daniel Morgan is holding court, egging on the crowd with an anti-British speech. The British have renamed Sugar Loaf Hill as Mt Defiance, a poor choice of words, Morgan says, given that they weren’t able to defy the Continental army. A man named Colonel John Brown, while unable to retake Ticonderoga, has successfully apprehended some of the British officers and infantry, while also releasing some of their own men. 

“And why do we hate the British?” Morgan asks, dramatically.

Under his breath, Jamie mutters that he knows what is coming. Morgan removes his shirt and turns his back to reveal scarring like Jamie’s own: the result of 499 lashes given because he had fought back after being struck by a British officer. Morgan had counted each lash, he tells the crowd, choosing not to let the officer know that he had missed one, with 500 lashes being the original punishment. 

Quietly Claire asks Jamie if Morgan knows of Jamie's own scars. Jamie replies that while Morgan sees him as a kindred spirit, the man is unaware that they are kindred of flesh as well. With a final look back at Morgan, the two of them leave the fireside.

This scene was reminiscent of Dougal MacKenzie in season 1, when Jamie and Claire were in the rent collecting party and Jamie’s scars were used in order to elicit bigger donations to the Jacobite cause. This time Jamie is not the one under the spotlight, but it is obvious that he stills finds the situation an uneasy one. 

A date comes up on the screen: October 7, 1777. It is the second battle of Saratoga. Whereas the first battle was seen largely through William’s eyes, this one is seen through Jamie’s. As before, the fighting is brief and fierce, with casualties falling on both sides. Major General Arnold is shouting directions, drawing attention to the fact that the enemy battle commander is within shooting range. Morgan agrees: while he admires General Fraser, the man must die. Jamie looks, only to see Simon Fraser in his sights. The command comes to shoot, but Jamie hesitates. He does not want to kill his cousin. Instead he creates a diversion, shooting the hat from another officer’s head. As the officer turns around, Jamie’s eyes widen: it is William. Shocked, Jamie ducks down out of sight, as another of the company does what he did not want to do and shoots Simon Fraser in the stomach. Chaos ensues: William tries to get Fraser to safety, the rest of the British try to fall back and Major General Arnold leads the Continental Army’s jubilant cries. Morgan and Jamie watch for a moment, before Morgan says: “Follow that goddamn fool. He will win us this battle, if he survives it.”

Jamie does so, and the next part of the battle is brief and bloody. The Continental Army defeat the  British, but it is not without a near miss. Distracted by seeing a man killed that he believes at first to be William, Jamie almost loses his own life, saved in the nick of time by Ian, in full warrior face paint. As the British flag is removed from the ramparts and Jamie looks across the battlefield, we see Major General Arnold has also been injured. It looks as if Morgan’s statement could be prophetic. 

Back at the Army camp, Claire has tended to Arnold’s broken leg. He will soon be taken by carriage to the hospital at Albany. It is the same leg that had been injured in the past and it is obvious that Arnold is in a lot of pain. He tells Claire that he wishes it had been his heart not his leg, then at least he would be remembered as a martyr. He waves away Claire’s offer of more laudanum, beginning a heartfelt speech. He tells Claire of his hatred of his superior, General Gates, who will be the one to tell the story of the battle, a retelling in which Arnold’s achievements will be left out. Arnold is used to Gates’ conscious omissions and the fact that he has been robbed of honour and of promotion, but he asks Claire is it wrong for him to feel hatred. Claire assures him that it isn’t wrong and also tells him that he will be remembered. Later she wonders if she has done the wrong thing, but Jamie assures her that she has only spoken the truth. Arnold is as good a leader as any that Jamie has seen. 

“I just hope it wasn’t a mistake,” Claire says.

Speaking of mistakes, Jamie shares his own: in trying to avoid shooting Simon Fraser, he had almost shot his own son. Jamie tells Claire that at least William was alive the last time he saw him. It is Claire’s turn to offer reassurance. The fighting is over now, she says, so William will be safe. It will take a few days for the terms around the British surrender to be drawn up and Jamie announces that he intends to sleep until them. But no sooner has he lain down than a voice is heard outside the tent, asking if he can come in. 

It is a soldier from the British camp under a flag of truce. Jamie’s presence has been requested in the British camp. Simon Fraser is dying and wants to see Jamie before it is too late. The messenger asks if Jamie will come and Jamie replies that both he and Claire will attend.

When they arrive at the camp, Claire can see that Simon does not have long. Jamie steps forward and Simon jokes that he must have eaten something that has disagreed with him. In the same way that Dougal and Claire gave Jordie a peaceful death in season 1, and Claire gave Walter a peaceful death in a recent episode, by leading the dying person to a memory that brings joy; so Jamie begins to reminisce with Simon, speaking both in Gaelic and English, recounting times when they were boys, carrying shinty sticks bigger than themselves. Jamie also expresses regret, that Simon’s death is coming without kin and far away from Scotland. But Simon corrects him: he has kin with him now and he is content. 

Claire leaves Jamie alone with Simon for his final moments and moves outside. As she stands quietly outside the tent, she is joined by William and they make polite small talk. Claire asks if William is going into the tent, but William has already said his goodbyes. He asks if Jamie is there to do the same and Claire confirms this, before adding that she is sorry for his loss. William thanks her, and it is obvious that the brigadier’s imminent death is weighing heavily on him. But then he has a thought - did Claire mean the battle loss? Claire replies gently that war is a terrible business, no matter who wins. William responds that he is beginning to understand this. It is a lovely exchange, with William appearing quite lost and Claire speaking to him in an almost maternal way. 

An officer approaches and delivers the news - Simon Fraser has died. Jamie emerges from the tent, pushing aside the tent flap and ritualistically tying it open, before making a formal bow towards his kinsman’s body. Claire approaches him to let him know that William is nearby. Jamie stands a little straighter before he turns, almost as if preparing himself for the conversation to come. Jamie and Claire overhear William being reprimanded for his lack of hat, the younger man explaining that a rebel whoreson had shot it off his head. Immediately, Jamie strides over to William and holds out his own hat.

“I believe I owe you a hat, Sir,” he says, allowing himself to meet William’s eyes briefly before walking away.

“Why did you do that?” Claire asks, as they leave. 

Jamie explains that this is the second time that he has come close to shooting his own son. The first was the night of his birth, the second during the recent battle. It has occurred to Jamie that the next time he might not miss, and he wanted the chance to speak to William at least once man to man, in case it should be his only chance. 

Behind them, William is instructed to put on the hat. But instead of being addressed as Lieutenant, the officer refers to William as Captain. It is the final gift from Simon Fraser, who had ordered William be promoted following the first battle at Saratoga. General Burgoyne has now signed the official order and William wants to know if Fraser was aware of this, smiling when he is told that he was. The two men walk back towards the tent and William begins to untie the tent flap. The officer stops him though, explaining that Jamie had instructed the tent be left open to allow the soul an exit. 

“Impressive gentleman, the Brigadier’s kinsman,” he observes.

“Indeed,” William replies, removing his newly acquired hat and looking at it thoughtfully. 

This is a cleverly written scene, with family very much at the heart of it. William has obviously seen Simon Fraser as some sort of father figure, unaware that his own father is right there in front of him. He has also shown vulnerability in front of Claire, receiving her advice without realising that he is actually talking to his stepmother.

Back at the camp, Jamie and Claire are discussing the terms of the British surrender. Burgoyne and his men have been forbidden to fight in the war again. Their conversation is interrupted yet again by an officer - this time it is General Gates, Benedict Arnold’s aforementioned nemesis. Gates wishes a private word with Jamie, so the two retire to Jamie’s tent. Gates explains that Burgoyne had made one last stipulation before agreeing to signing the surrender. General Fraser had once expressed the wish that, should he die abroad, his body should be returned to Scotland to lie in peace there. Burgoyne wants to honour that wish, stating that the General was much loved by his men and that by returning his body to his home country as he had wanted, the men would feel more resigned about leaving the war, as they would not be abandoning their leader. 

“You want me to take Simon’s body to Scotland?” Jamie asks. 

It is almost impossible to believe, but at last the moment has come. Jamie and Claire will be escorted on one of His Majesty’s ships. They are going home. As Jamie tells Claire, we see the relief on her face and hear her deep sigh. The fighting is over for them and everyone is safe.

The news that a trip to Scotland is imminent is bittersweet for Ian, however. Although he had promised to return and intends to honour this promise, the reality is that he now must leave both Rachel and Rollo behind. He asks Rachel to watch over Rollo for him, a request that Rachel is pleased to agree to, not only because she adores Rollo, but because it means that Ian will eventually return. She tells Ian that the army is marching south, and that he will be able to find her at Valley Forge.

In twentieth century Scotland, another farewell is imminent. Roger, Brianna, Mandy and Buck are approaching the stones at Craig na Dun. Mandy has her hands over her ears and the adults look apprehensive. Brianna hands Roger Jem’s scarf, complete with its Tufty club badge.

“He’ll be cold,” she says, stroking Roger’s face and professing her love.

Roger strokes her cheek too. He promises to find Jem and bring him back. They kiss, and while Roger then moves to hug Mandy, Buck and Brianna exchange a look. Buck gives her a slight wink of reassurance and Brianna nods in response. It is clear that she is taking comfort from the fact that Roger is not going alone. 

There is no point in delaying any longer. 

“Go,” Bree says, stealing herself for the departure. 

“Bye Daddy,” Mandy says, with a smile. 

Turning away from them, Roger and Buck link arms and walk towards the roaring stones. Seconds later, Brianna and Mandy are standing there alone. A slight frown crosses Mandy’s face, while Brianna fights back tears. 

Rachel is walking down a path, Rollo at her heels, when he suddenly barks and runs towards a man. As the camera pans up, we see that it is none other than Arch Bug. 

“You have a handsome hound,” he says.

Rachel smiles and thanks him, telling Arch that Rollo is not hers, but that his master has gone abroad and she is looking after him until he returns. Rollo is still sitting at Arch’s feet and Rachel comments that he must like Arch, as he doesn’t behave that way with everyone.

“Your friend must love you very much to entrust you with his dog,” Arch observes. 

The look on Rachel’s face confirms this, and we see Arch’s satisfaction. 

“I hope he returns to you soon,” he says, moving out of her way. 

Rachel smiles and keeps walking, completely unaware that she has just put herself in grave danger. Ian now has someone worth taking and Arch knows it.

Yet it is not Rachel who Ian mentions first when he knocks on Jamie and Claire’s cabin door on board the ship. 

“I miss my dog,” he says.

Claire comments that Rollo will be much happier on dry land with Rachel and Ian nods. Rollo is not the only one who would prefer dry land. Jamie is lying down, clearly seasick once more. He would sell his soul for dry land, he says, and Claire offers to use the acupuncture needles once more. 

But Jamie has his pride. They are on the ship as the dignity of the American cause, he says, and he won’t walk around looking like a porcupine.

“Was it the dignity of the American cause I saw earlier puking his hardtack into the Irish sea?” Claire asks.

“It was, aye,” Jamie confirms and Ian laughs.

Suddenly a bell begins to ring and they all look at each other. 

“Is that what I think it is?” Claire asks, as the cry of “Land ho” is heard from above. The three of them hurry onto the deck, to catch the first glimpse of rolling hills.

“Scotland,” Jamie says, his eyes bright with tears. Together they stand and watch as they draw closer. They are home.

And just like that, another Droughtlander begins, the length of which is unknown, due to the current writer’s strike. In the meantime, we will just have to try and ensure that our reach exceeds our grasp!

This recap was written by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher-librarian who lives in Australia. She has thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this penultimate season and will try and employ some Quaker patience as she waits for the remaining episodes!

No comments:

Post a Comment