Episode 4 “Common Ground” marks a quarter way through Season 4 of Claire and Jaime’s epic journey through the colonies. In true Outlander fashion, much has already happened and I’m wondering how will the story unfold from here? The teaser for Episode 5 dangles a carrot by way of Brianna: She looks awfully close to those stones! Will she or won’t she?
To be fair, I have read the fourth book “Drums of Autumn” on which Season 4 is based and no this isn’t a comparison but rather an assessment of what the episodes thus far have meant to me and what I look forward to seeing! Can’t wait for the next ep!
“America the Beautiful” Episode 1
To me the premiere episode “America the Beautiful” wasn’t their best opening. Compared to the others, this one was a little uneven for pace due to a lot of “business” that needed to be taken care of as we follow our favorite characters into the New World. The stakes were lower going into this episode compared to past seasons.
For example, in the Season 2 premiere we suddenly saw Claire in the 20th century after last seeing her on a ship with Jamie headed to France. For non-book readers, we’re left wondering how this happened. We then saw the dynamic between her and Frank’s reconciliation and eventually a flashback to France where the groundwork for the season’s tension was laid. Season 3’s premiere had us in the middle of the battle of Culloden in 1746 while also seeing a quieter battle between Claire and Frank as they settle in Boston in the 20th century.
To me both of these premieres had tension that helped drive the themes like love, loss, and redemption. It buoyed the tension of “will they or won’t they?” in a way that by Season 4 is gone because we know Claire and Jamie are together with no foreseeable external threats to keep them apart. Now we’re in the colonies with new villains who must provide new drama and tension that threatens our favorite couple (or second favorite if you now prefer Brianna and Roger). Also, there was the “business” of introducing new characters like Governor Tyron (whose conversation with Jamie about land made my eyes glaze over just slightly), Stephen Bonnet (we thought we could trust him at first!), and finding a place to bury their friend which was never interesting to me as I read it in the book but that took some time in the episode. Oh and don’t forget the introduction of Young Ian reliving some trauma after meeting Geillis.
All of this plot building is a reflection of the adaptation process. Each season the show’s writers are tasked with cramming Diana Gabaldon’s door-stopper-size books into thirteen episodes and I’m happy to let them do their jobs while I sit and watch the results. I don’t envy this mammoth responsibility! Whittling down events (including many of Diana’s tangential subplots) still leads to a lot happening in each episode and “America the Beautiful” had to hit a few plot points that made it a little clunky for me. The stakes were slow to simmer and then boil–Not until the end do we realize that this New World has some ugly and dangerous spots behind its promising beauty.
“Do No Harm” Episode 2
This episode created a lot of conversations about race, history, slavery and how we view these through our 21st century experiences. Generally, I didn’t care for this episode and the show’s writers didn’t improve a lot since the end of Season 3 about slavery in Jamaica. I read a review that mentioned Claire’s “righteous” indignation and I think that was the right term that crystallized the reason for my predominant frown during this episode. There’s a little bit of “historical tourism” in the books that the show is also guilty of at important moments (like slavery) and for me, it comes off slightly tone-deaf. The writers walk a razor sharp line of trying to be sensitive but they have work within the limitations of a show that can not go into great depth about something as contentious as American slavery simply because it’s not that “kind of show”. Yes they wrote beautifully about Jamie’s sexual assault but they didn’t hit the mark here in my opinion. There was opportunity for a little more nuance and Claire not appearing like she was above it while quietly grumbling about it as she’s getting dressed by Phaedre.
Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore mentioned at the New York Comic Con this year that Outlander is not a political show and I think that’s true that it’s not a vehicle for opinions on current US political issues but I think it still has a responsibility to take some elements that the (25 year old) books touch on while keeping in mind the 21st century viewers. You can’t tell the same story Diana wrote many years ago about Chinese characters, male or female rape, or even American slavery to a predominantly American 21st century audience. The storytelling needs to be updated but for me this episode still stumbled.
“False Bride” Episode 3
This is my favorite episode so far and my favorite moment is the ending! Composer Bear McCreary has written a lovely melody for the new “character” that is Fraser’s Ridge and at the close of this episode, as the music swells and Jamie and Claire look out at the splendor of the vista, so too does my heart swell as tears threaten to overspill down my face (and already did a few times). The promise of a new beginning for the Frasers in the land of plenty warms my heart but we all know that this ain’t gonna be a joy ride but please let’s have this one moment!
Ok enough of those two. Let’s talk about the other two! Brianna and Roger’s fireworks crackle in a few ways this episode. Whether it’s the spark of Brianna brushing away ketchup from his face, kissing him while he drives, or saying he’s “pretty” (that might make me crash the car before she even kissed me), the gap in their long-distance relationship closes slightly only to be blown open again when Brianna doesn’t reciprocate Roger’s feelings and marriage proposal. Oops. When Jamie and Claire’s courtship generally seemed idealistic, I think it’s fitting to have the “reality” of Brianna and Roger’s. It’s messy, complicated (no thanks to that whole Time-Traveling-Mom thing), and frankly modern. I’m on both their sides in this episode and I actually kinda like Roger’s sudden coy traditionalism.
“Common Ground” Episode 4
We meet the Cherokee and we can always trust Jamie Fraser to share–with what might seem the most intimidating and stone faced people–a proverbial peace pipe particularly after he kills one of their former members gone rogue bear in the forest. John Bell, who plays Young Ian, always has a quick glint in his eye at the prospect of heading out on the rugged trail to stake their claim on new land, bear witness to the threat of exotic animals like lions prowling the woods, or the best one yet–Uncle Jamie’s new alias “Bear Killer”. Sounds like a really great folk band name when Jamie has more time later. I foresee his groupies with adorable fuzzy bear ears and brown noses who dub themselves “Jamie’s Bear Cubs”. Ever since he was kidnapped from Scotland and became the third wheel to our favorite couple in this foreign territory, Young Ian has had to grow up fast (no thanks to you Geillis)! Can’t wait to see how he becomes a man.
The pace of this episode was slower which wasn’t a bad thing. Developing a relationship with the Cherokee, Jamie and Claire establishing their fine cabin with a view that could fetch multi-millions in the 21st century (maybe there’s a way to keep this investment in the family for the next 200 years?), and of course checking in with Roger and Brianna in the 20th century. All of these need a little bit of time so let’s use an episode to tease out these threads a bit and I was along for the ride! Also, Claire needs to develop a line of Lady Boss Breeks.
Where do we go from here?
So Brianna goes to Scotland to “see her mother”, eh? I think for non-book readers we know where that might lead. What tantalizes me more is Roger Wakefield’s journey to look for her! Will he too travel in time?** What exactly is Brianna’s plan?
At this point in the season, the show might slightly shift to encompass more of the Brianna and Roger drama but it’s still the Claire and Jamie show. It’s safe to say that those two will stay put in North Carolina while building their southern villa by the cliff and facing the dangers of the colonies: The natural elements, crazed New World settlers who seem to believe they now own everything including water, and undoubtedly getting many splinters from working with all that wood.
Bring it Season 4! I’m ready for more!
**I’m most curious how the show will depict Roger’s journey on the ship. This takes up several chapters in the book à la “Voyager” the third book which Season 3 was based although I didn’t particularly care for reading about it nor how many episodes it took up in that season either. I imagine the writers will shorten it to perhaps one ep in Season 4 and I wonder if they will bypass the story of whatsherface with the sick baby since it didn’t have a resolution in the book.
**Impatiently waiting for how Frank Randall’s ghost might show up thanks to a teaser in the Season 4 trailer by way of his resonant melodious voice at the very end. I’ll be waiting with the anticipation of his former (mostly female) history students at Harvard and the (resentful) spirit of “Candy Sandy” from Season 3 seeking her revenge on the Claire Randalls of the world! Perhaps the next episode we’ll see his ghostly cameo?