Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 2

Season 4 is here! 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 402: “Do No Harm”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Claire and Jamie visit his Aunt Jocasta at her plantation, River Run. When tragedy strikes at the plantation, Jamie and Claire find themselves caught between what’s right and the law of the land.

My take:

Major plot points:

Picking up on the river:

  • Jamie, Claire, and Ian arrive at River Run, Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta’s prosperous plantation.
  • Claire makes her feelings about slavery very clear.
  • Jocasta announces that she’s named Jamie her heir and manager of her business — meaning he (and Claire) will be de facto slave owners.
  • A slave named Rufus injures an overseer. Claire saves him from a gruesome death, only to discover that the law is not on her side.
  • The neighboring plantation owners and overseers demand that Jamie hand over Rufus, or they’ll attack River Run.
  • Claire and Jamie face an impossible choice — turn Rufus over, where he’ll be tortured and killed, or give him a painless death themselves.

Oh, and Ian learns about that fearsome North American mammal, the skunk.

Insta-reaction:

Episode 402, “Do No Harm” does not mince words when it comes to making clear what an awful chapter of American history Jamie and Claire find themselves in. The show tackles slavery head-on, and despite wanting to do good, Jamie and Claire are pretty much slapped in the face by how powerless they are to make any difference.

First, though, we have the aftermath of the attack on the river. Jamie blames himself, of course, both for trusting Stephen Bonnet in the first place, and then for failing to protect the people under his protection. Poor Lesley has been buried on the riverbank. Now that Bonnet has stolen all their money and gemstones, Jamie and Claire arrive at Jocasta’s as poor relations, with basically nothing to their names but the clothes on their backs.

Auntie Jocasta, played by the amazing Maria Kennedy Doyle, is glorious. She’s self-assured and regal, and it’s not until Ian tries to present her with flowers that the Frasers realize that she’s blind. Aided by her right-hand man, the house slave Ulysses, Jocasta is always in control. Jamie is fond of her, especially as she reminds him so much of his mother (her sister), but Jocasta and Claire butt heads pretty quickly, as Claire expresses just how wrong she thinks slavery is.

Jocasta invites all her neighbors to a party welcoming Jamie and Claire, and makes the surprise announcement that Jamie will be both her heir and her business representative, effective immediately. As Jamie points out, it’s quite the Mackenzie move — by announcing it publicly, she basically backs Jamie into a corner and doesn’t leave him any room to decline.

Jamie immediately jumps in with his intent to free all the slaves once he’s in control and pay the men and women a wage for their work. His idealistic views are quickly shut down by Jocasta and her trusted friend Farquard Campbell. The law of North Carolina places so many obstacles in the way that even with the best of intentions, Jamie could not possibly hope to afford the amount that would be necessary to pay as bond for all of Jocasta’s slaves, not to mention being able to prove that each freed slave had earned their freedom through meritorious service — saving a life.

Jamie and Claire are never not in trouble for very long. When word comes that an overseer has been attacked by a slave, Jamie and Claire rush to the scene. The slave, Rufus, is being strung up on a tree by a hook through his belly. Claire has him cut down and brought back to the main house, where she proceeds to perform surgery on him right on Jocasta’s dining room table. Claire’s amazing, so of course she’s successful, and Rufus stands a good chance at recovering…

… but that sucks too, because the overseers are demanding blood. They want Rufus, or they’ll attack River Run and take him. A deal is struck — Jamie will hand him over at midnight. Ulysses points out to Claire that it would have been better for her to let the boy die. At least, it would have been relatively quick. Now with the furious overseers demanding “justice”, he’ll be ripped apart.

Jamie points out to Claire that perhaps her oath to “do no harm” might mean in this case that she give poor Rufus an easier death than the one that awaits him at the hands of the mob. In tears, Claire agrees, giving Rufus a tea laced with aconite, then talking quietly with him and holding his hands as he dies. As the clock strikes midnight, Jamie carries Rufus’s body outside, where the angry mob drags him through the dirt and strings him up from a tree.

Welcome to the South, Claire. Maybe North Carolina isn’t the best place for the Frasers to settle down after all.

Further musings:

We meet a favorite book character in this episode, John Quincy Myers, a mountain man who will interact with the Frasers in their future adventures. He and Ian share a very cute scene in which they treat Rollo after his encounter with a skunk and talk about Myers’s experiences with Indian women. Ian seems to be finding a lot to admire about Myers. It’s pretty much the only light scene in the episode, which may be why I enjoyed it so much.

I assume since we just saw Claire doing surgery on the dining room table, we won’t get the book scene of Claire doing surgery in the same location on John Quincy Myers’s… um… private parts… during a dinner party, with a crowd of onlookers. But damn, that would have been funny.

Other key book characters introduced include Phaedre, Farquard Campbell, and Lieutenant Wolff. These are all characters we see a lot of in the books, but I suppose it’ll depend on how much emphasis and screen time River Run gets in the TV version whether we see much more of them.

And one more thing:

Claire is gorgeous in red — reminded me of those bad old days at Versailles! She looks lovely in Jocasta’s white dress too. I really liked the scene of Jocasta deciding how Claire should look, even though she can’t actually see her. Jocasta is no one to be trifled with.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Another strong episode, although the romantic in me missed having any Jamie/Claire intimacy this episode. Oh, get your minds out of the gutters! It’s not about the sex, but I missed seeing them having any deeply connected moments. (I know, it wouldn’t have fit at all in the mood of the episode… but I just love them together, always.)

And furthermore…

It was good to see that Jamie and Claire are on the same page when it comes to this chapter of history. In their earlier days together, Claire was often at odds with Jamie, who struggled to understand her point of view and often ended up explaining traditions and customs of the times to Claire. Here, they’re both strangers in a strange land, figuring it out together, and they’re a united team. Despite the painful subject matter and the no-win situation they’re in in regard to Jamie being Jocasta’s heir, it’s clear that Jamie is on the same side as Claire when it comes to slavery and the impossibility of them accepting the status quo or being a part of it in any way.

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