Top Ten Moments from Outlander Episode 411: If Not for
Lizzie is slightly tragic. Meant to be a young girl, Lizzie is ripped directly from her loving family to the New World, and does so while sick with malaria. She’s adjusting to all types of tragedy and hardship and the unknown, while also becoming a young adult. And for the most part, the woman she’s supposed to be serving, the only one to really teach her how the world works, is ignoring her or outright frustrated with her. Of course she makes naive mistakes and jumps to radical, superstitious conclusions; she’s essentially been left to maneuver her new reality on her own. Thankfully, in this opening scene, Brianna has found the small corner of her heart that is still somewhat soft. Despite her own trauma, or maybe because of it, Brianna easily forgives Lizzie for her part in the misunderstanding that led to Roger’s abduction. Part of Brianna’s character is that she tends to punish the people in her life that deserve it the least, and dole out mercy to the ones who use her. In this instance, at least, she makes the correct move.
Da Remains the Best
When faced with a two month slog through an unfamiliar and unforgiving wilderness, Jamie’s empathy and love for his daughter is spurring him on. I was so thankful for the line where he relates the pain he has felt being separated from Claire, unsure of her fate, to what Brianna must be feeling for Roger at the moment. Each day and week that passes is not a problem for him; it’s a problem for her, proving that once again, Da is best. His thoughts have always been a desperate tangle of what is best for her – even when faced with sending the love of his life away forever – it was for her. The writers could have easily focused on his particular guilt in this moment – and they do highlight it when he calls himself a brute, but I’m willing to forego that for this moment instead: Da sees Brianna’s pain, and aches to alleviate it. That’s all and that’s enough. Also, that’s JAMMF.
Rollo is cute as hell. I appreciate that this sweet doggo is such a fine actor and has no problem traipsing after horses and through creeks. He’s worth all the good snugs.
Perceptive and sick of their shit, Young Ian decides to let Auntie Claire know that she needs to let it go and reconcile with Jamie. No one likes to be in the car when their parents are fighting, and even worse: camping with them. Beyond the usual levels of awkward, Ian has to keenly feel their estrangement as he is also very much responsible for the trajectory of their current trek. He loves them both, and this scene was evidence of it. I only wish he’d been as blunt as he is in the books: he doesn’t just ask them to chat, he wants them to start sexing again. That’s right, even Ian, who’s been sleeping nearby since Jamaica knows that there hasn’t been enough intimacy between these two this season.
Marsali as Matriarch
I’ve mentioned this before, but every time we see Fergus and Marsali on screen we are treated to the right kind of chemistry. Here’s a young couple who I don’t have to suspend disbelief to believe they love one another. But it’s Marsali who makes an impression in this episode, so much so that it’s painfully evident that we’ve been missing her story (and Fergus’) for the bulk of the season. It’s this section of the episode (because it does things right) that highlights where the narrative choices this season have been failing. There were several episodes where we wondered how Fersali were fairing in Wilmington. If she had given birth yet. If Fergus had gotten work. Why have we not spent more episodes with a story-telling structure that allows us to see the parallel settings in real time? The show moves slower than Roger through the gauntlet (and just as jerky), and editing through-lines that explore the secondary characters is one way to speed it up AND to keep us interested and invested in characters that matter to the outcome of the story. Not to mention, Lauren Lyle and Cesar Domboy do some of the best character work in the cast. Marsali is conniving in the same way her mother can be, but without the selfish malice that makes Laoghaire a villain. She knows what she wants, and she is set out to make it happen, but with goodness of heart and clear-headed tenacity of purpose. I would watch her take on more than just Fergus’ self-pity and Murtagh’s dirty boots.
Remember the last time we were at River Run and Claire was so affronted by slavery that she couldn’t countenance Phaedre making her new clothing or helping her in any way? Suddenly it seems as if Brianna, who by all accounts is far more modern than her mother, isna bothered. She even goes so far as to tell Phaedre to “let her deal with Mistress Cameron” as if Phaedre not seeing to her immediate duties won’t be problematic for her. Bree might as well have just said, “Just sit down and shut up, Phaedre, God.” I hated this scene. Later, she has the gall to ask Judge Alderdyce if he’d like her to “have Ulysses to fetch it,” without a blink or a scruple. Just straight up relegating a human being in her midst to a dog. Where is the modern woman? Is this the same season of television that spent an entire episode exploring a modern time-traveler’s abhorrence to slavery? Does no one in the writer’s room even consider the implications of one episode’s entire theme on another’s?
When all else fails, or when an episode is severely lacking in anything interesting, have John Grey bust up in the room like Aaron Tveit at the Oscars (that is a deep, deep TN dive and if you get that reference, you ARE OUR PEOPLE). But even if you don’t, you understand the sentiment I am going for because the sun absolutely comes out in the person of Lord John Grey when he enters that parlor. And thank God for him in this episode. When there is very little going on besides old aunts trying to get young wards married off to rich, single, ugly neighbors, what you need is a wealthy, closeted, English lord who is love with said young ward’s biological father and raising her unbeknownst younger half-brother for her father’s sake and of course, his own sake in order to feel intimate with said father … to mix up the dinner party. In other words, adding Lord John to the mix always adds the healthy dose of Gabaldonian drama that this tropey dinner party crap needs. He, himself, is a vortex of pain, tragedy, honor, chivalry and just … damn good character. Not to mention, David Berry is excellent.
I want to say as well that I was glad to see that the writers changed Lord John’s “assignation” that Brianna happens to see from occurring in the slave quarters to a consensual encounter with a peer. Good. You did the bare minimum with that storyline. Now, let’s examine a few things about it: first of all, Lord John is the soul of discretion. Both men had chambers for the night, and there is no way that he would defile Ulysses well-kept linen pantry like that, in full blown candlelight, no less, where anyone could have happened upon them. Also, despite looks of interest between the two men at the dinner table, what we and Brianna see is choreographed (and acted) to seem inconsequential and impersonal. Lord John nuzzles Alderdyce at one point, but the scene itself is meant to shock and leave no room for doubt on Brianna’s part. Hence, they’re in medias res. I would have preferred to see a sensual and personal moment – perhaps kissing or face touching after the fact as one of them buttons the other’s breeches, laughing and looking sated. Perhaps they break apart from a half-dressed embrace, startled at a noise, but return to one of them going to their knees with a heated look at the other. Something … lustful but sweet, romantic even. This was tawdry and unfair to the character(s).
Fake Engagement Realness
Fake engagements are a tried and true romance trope, only this one is not going to end in any real fun. Regardless, I enjoy Brianna and Lord John’s friendship, I like them plotting together, and I like that their honesty with one another gives her a true ally. This is the only moment in the episode where I rooted for Brianna. This woman is still living out her life in a foreign time and through her present trauma, all while pregnant and abandoned. And in that context, she takes charge of her erstwhile future and decides to marry on her own terms before she is forced to marry outside of them. If she and Lord John ended up truly in love and completed the HEA (happily ever after) of this trope, after this episode, I would believe their relationship was more real than hers with Roger. Additionally, I love that Lord John comes to her rescue not just for her father’s sake, but for hers. Although why does he say that he thinks she should marry, but also that he has faith her parents will bring Roger back to her? WHICH IS IT? Does he want her to abandon all hope for her husband’s safe return or cling to it? Stop being so bi, LJG.
Brianna Adopts the Local Dialect to Much Chagrin
She’s been in the 18th century for several months now, so it’s totally fine that she’s gotten the local jargon down enough to say things like, “I’ll do what I must,” and “for occasions such as this,” and “venture my own opinion” and “my condition wouldn’t allow for it” and “whatever for?” Look, I can’t spend half a day in another town without dropping as much of my southern accent as possible, but has she really adopted all their syntax naturally? Or is Sophie’s sudden reversion back to her middle school caliber acting an actual choice on her part to show Brianna is … acting a part? Hahahahahaahaha *whew* I can barely type that one. No, I don’t think it’s entirely her fault. For one, this episode was most likely filmed earlier in the season with the River Run episode, before she had the chance to cut her teeth on some of her meatier material. And for another, this script was truly abysmal.
The Frasers Borrow the Perkins’ Tent
I’ve been camping many times in modern tents that we carried in the beds of pick up trucks and not the rumps of horses. There is exactly two square feet of space in which you can sit up straight in them; it’s dead center. You certainly cannot stand near the entrance. And there most definitely is not enough room for one person to be in focus in the foreground while the other person is several feet away. TENTS ARE SMALL, unless you have to go search for horcruxes and you borrow a magically enchanted one from the Perkins’.
Beyond that, readers, watchers and Ian alike were more than ready for the Frasers to have this long-awaited talk to clear the air. Last week, we were treated to Claire sparing not one word for Jamie in the aftermath of Brianna’s ire and his betrayal, and it hurt. Beyond everything else, these two do not cold shoulder one another without a word. No, they have words. Except, in this episode, they have the wrong ones.
Let me be perfectly clear about something: Claire’s love for Jamie and his for her IS THE REASON PEOPLE CARE ONE IOTA ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS. It supercedes all other considerations for them. Sure, they love their daughter. Sure, her pain hurts them. But above all else, they hold fast to their love for one another. So, would Claire ever back down on the most iconic of all vows that she shared with Jamie – the one from the beginning – where they promised that in their burgeoning respect for one another there would be room for secrets but not for lies? No, no she would not. Would she ever consider keeping the secret of Stephen Bonnet away from Jamie only for the sake of confidentiality with Brianna? No, no she would not. Would she consider keeping that secret out of pure terror that Jamie’s own guilt for letting Bonnet go free would eat at him in ways she couldn’t bear to watch nor would have him suffer? Yes. THAT.
I appreciated that the writers included the scene that shows them coming back together and forgiving one another and that they gave space to the idea that she was not mad at JAMIE, but at forces outside of their control. But when Jamie says, “I began to think you thought [Frank was the better man], Sassenach,” the only response should have been an emphatic “NO” from Claire. Instead, he continues to be diminished by the writers’ refusal to grant Frank his proper place: secondary, if that. Claire only says that “Frank made plenty of mistakes” and that “Brianna didn’t mean what she said.” She doesn’t elucidate what those mistakes were or how Jamie’s pale in comparison. She doesn’t remind him or the audience that her love for him is far greater. Jamie is (again) lying supine to her posture, unsure of himself, unsure of his place, and she moves his chin so he will look up, and she gets on top of him. This is a show that touted the female gaze in its first season because Jamie was often shirtless and Claire was sexually free. But the female gaze includes watching a male character take responsibility and then take charge whether it’s by relinquishing his own personal pity party or by taking his wife to bed with vigor. Have we seen Jamie be the man he was in earlier seasons? Who is this diminished and insecure shell?