Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 1

Season 4 has begun! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 401: “America the Beautiful”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Claire and Jamie cross paths with Stephen Bonnet, a pirate and smuggler who enlists their help. Claire illuminates Jamie on some of America’s history, leading him to wonder if it’s possible for them to lay down some roots.

My take:

Major plot points:

Aaaaaand we’re back! It’s 1767, in North Carolina:

  • Jamie’s friend Gavin Hayes, who was imprisoned with him at Ardsmuir and came on the journey last season to find Ian, has been sentenced to death for killing a man. While Jamie had an escape attempt planned, Gavin feels he deserves to pay for his crime and asks for the rescue attempt to be cancelled.
  • Gavin is hanged, but other prisoners escape.
  • Jamie and Claire plan to sail back to Scotland as soon as they can sell some gemstones in order to afford the voyage. First, they need to bury Gavin, and take his body to a cemetery.
  • They find one of the escaped prisoners hiding in their wagon, a man named Stephen Bonnet, who describes himself as a smuggler and a pirate, and asks for help in escaping. Because he claims to have been a friend of Gavin’s, Jamie agrees to help.
  • Jamie and Claire, along with Ian and Lindsay, sail upriver. They’re heading toward River Run, the plantation owned by Jamie’s aunt Jocasta.
  • On the river, they’re attacked by a band led by Stephen Bonnet. He kills Lesley, beats Jamie, and steals their gemstones and one of Claire’s wedding rings.

Insta-reaction:

Season 4 opens rather quietly, all things considered. It feels like the start of a new chapter — which it really is. Jamie and Claire are together, Culloden and the Rising are long in the past, and they have an opportunity to start a new life in a new country.

Of course, if life went smoothly, it wouldn’t be Outlander. What would Jamie and Claire do with peace and quiet?

The episode begins with a scene from 2000 BC, somewhere in North America, as a primitive tribe constructs and dances around and through a circle of stones**. Claire’s voice-over muses on the meaning of circles and the importance people attach to them as symbols… and we cut to the hangman’s noose, shortly before the execution in 1767. Jamie, being Jamie, can’t stand the idea of letting one of his men die (although he did actually kill a man, in self-defense) — but Gavin doesn’t want any thrilling heroics. He just wants to meet his end while seeing the face of a friend, and Jamie agrees.

**Sorry, I thought the dancing at the stones scene was a little silly. I suppose the show needed to demonstrate that there are stone circles everywhere, so when they stumble across one later on, it won’t be completely out of the blue… but really, 2000 BC? It came off a bit silly. (It also reminded me of the First Slayer from Buffy, but I digress.)

Anyhoo…

There’s a lovely moment later in a tavern, after Gavin is already dead, when first Lesley and then the entire group begin singing a Gailigh song in Gavin’s honor. Quite beautiful. (Of course, book people will be shaking their heads a bit, since book-Jamie is utterly tone deaf, can’t recognize songs, and certainly never sings.)

The priest has denied burial to the hanged man, so Jamie determines that he and the gang will take Gavin’s body to consecrated ground under cover of night and give him a decent burial. While driving the cart, Jamie and Claire discuss their gemstones and the plan to sell the stones so they’ll have enough money for all of them to book passage back to Scotland. Little did they know that a living man was snuggled up with the corpse in the back of the wagon… listening to every word.

At the cemetery, Jamie and Ian dig a grave. Ian has a flashback to Geillis (season 3) and freaks out, and Jamie has to talk him down. Ian describes being forced to have sex with Geillis, even though he didn’t want to, and asks Jamie if he’s ever lain with someone against his will. Yes, he has, Uncle Jamie tells Ian, and he offers him words of wisdom for getting past it. It’s a touching scene, showing Jamie at his paternal best, being strong for someone who needs him.

Stephen Bonnet turns up in the back of the wagon, and turns on his charm. He speaks fondly of Gavin, and asks Jamie to give him the chance to escape. He doesn’t seem particularly dangerous. Jamie and Claire agree to drive him in the cart into the woods and to a meeting point near the river, where he’ll find a way back to his friends. Despite a close encounter with a redcoat roadblock, they make it and say good-bye to Bonnet. Jamie and Claire settle in for some sexy cuddles and a night of camping in the woods, then wake to appreciate the beauty of the land all around them.

Back in town, Jamie and Claire prepare for a fancy dinner where they expect to meet a man who’s known for collecting expensive things, including gems. The governor of North Carolina will also be there. At the dinner, Claire wears a beautiful ruby around her neck, which definitely catches eyes as intended. Meanwhile, Jamie has caught the governor’s eye. He offers Jamie the chance to settle on his own piece of land and start a community of his own in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s a tempting offer. Claire reminds Jamie that the American Revolution is only a few years away, and they don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of history. Jamie thinks about Brianna growing up in the United States, and sees this as an opportunity to help create a country that will be a home for his daughter in the future.

Ian wants to stay with Jamie and Claire, but Jamie wants to send him home to his mother. Fergus and Marsali will stay in town, since she’s pregnant and not up to traveling. Yet another lovely bit, when everyone celebrates Marsali’s pregnancy. I love the look on Claire’s face — last season, Marsali and Claire first broke the hostility between them when Marsali asked Claire for advice on birth control. Guess she didn’t stick with the plan for very long! In any case, all are happy, and since this is Outlander, it’s actually a rare treat to see a group of happy people all at once.

And one of the most eagerly awaited moments happens this episode:

ROLLO!! Ian won a beautiful dog named Rollo in a dicing game. Awwwwww, Rollo! This is the start of a beautiful relationship. Rollo is the best.

So, things go south, as they tend to do for the Frasers. After a lovely day on a river barge on the way to visit Aunt Jocasta at River Run, near Cape Fear, the boat is tied up for the night. Stephen Bonnet turns up — because no good deed goes unpunished — and he and his men attack the Frasers’ company, beating Jamie fiercely, stealing the gemstones, slitting Lesley’s throat, and being super mean to Claire! Bonnet tries to take Claire’s rings from her. Thinking fast, she tries to swallow them, but he forces a finger into her mouth (gross, and also super intimidating) and gets the silver ring — Jamie’s ring!! — away from her.

And the episode ends, with America the Beautiful playing over the horrible scene.

Further musings:

Claire’s knowledge of the future is coming in handy once again. With the Revolutionary War on the way, America might not be the safest choice for a new home, and Jamie doesn’t want to fight any more wars — so it’s touching that he wants to help make a home for Brianna. At the same time, with the current state of affairs in 1767, sides aren’t neatly drawn, and Jamie has sworn an oath of loyalty to the King. But as Claire points out, they know the outcome of the coming war already. This time, they need to be on the right side of history.

We’ve had two scenes this episode of Claire asserting her 20th century view of the 18th century. First, when Claire describes a future US that will stretch all the way to the Pacific, Jamie asks about the people who already live there. Bad things, Claire explains. We’ll see how the show handles the upcoming encounters with native tribes. Later, Claire tries to criticize the boat captain’s treatment of his slave, only to find out that the man is free, working for a wage. Slavery will be an ongoing issue — Claire and Jamie’s next stop is Jocasta’s plantation. And yes, as you’d expect on a tobacco-growing plantation in the south, Jocasta is a slave owner.

And one more thing:

Spoilery bit ahoy: In the book, Stephen Bonnet takes Claire’s gold ring (she manages to swallow the silver ring.) Later, it’s that gold ring that catches a certain someone’s eye and leads to all sorts of trouble –and that always bothered me, because really, it’s just a plain gold band. How could someone recognize it as Claire’s while seeing it in passing in a crowded tavern, completely out of context, and with no idea that Claire’s ring had actually been stolen? So yeah, this way is much better. I’d wager all my gemstones that Claire is the only person in North American (or possibly the world at that time) with a silver ring made from a key — definitely recognizable as something quite distinct and unusual. So in my mind, the changing of the rings is big improvement. Yay, show.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Such a great new beginning, promising new adventures in a new land. I love the changes to the theme song, as it now sounds more like an American folk song. Lovely, lovely version.

As I said earlier, this episode mostly feels a bit quiet, but that’s okay. It has to reintroduce us into the lives of the characters, establish their new circumstances, and set out their goals and challenges. The Frasers are at a crossroads, living in the colonies but aiming to return to Scotland. Their lives are in a lull as they prepare, but they seem to mostly be enjoying their rather peaceful times together as a family. The peace and quiet don’t last, of course — the last few minutes of the episode make clear that the new land has its own dangers in store for the Frasers. Still, Jamie and Claire are obviously still very much in love, Fergus and Marsali are happy and beginning a new chapter in their own lives, and Ian is… well, Ian is precious and wonderful, as always. So this episode can be excused for feeling like a family reunion at times — it’s nice for us to get a chance to appreciate some smiles and happiness before diving back into the drama and life-threatening peril around every turn.

And furthermore…

Once again, the start of a new season makes me happy all over again that so much care has been devoted to turning our beloved books into a beautiful TV series. Kudos to the cast and crew for making it lovely and special. It’s obvious how much love goes into each and every episode.

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