Only Outlander could have a plague of locusts be the least intense storyline of an episode. This show is always more emotionally affecting when it’s about the personal relationships of our characters rather than big set pieces, and never has that truth been more on display than in “Better to Marry Than Burn.” So, yeah, am I happy that Roger MacKenzie finally gets a win and saves Fraser’s Ridge from, again and I cannot stress this enough, A LITERAL PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS, with his smoke-some-shit-in-a-can plan? Yes! Roger needed that win. With Jamie and Claire away at River Run he finally gets to prove his worth to some of the other settlers on the Ridge. That is great and cool but also I really can’t care all that much because, not to be dramatic, but there are things going on with two of our most beloved couples that ripped my heart from my chest, tossed it on the ground, and stomped all over it while wearing six-inch heels. Please join me on this devastating trip to Jocasta Cameron’s wedding.
Guys, we’ve gotta talk about Jocasta and Murtagh. Outlander gives them a full, uninterrupted ten-minute scene to hash out their relationship on the eve of Jocasta’s wedding to sad sack Duncan Innes, and I will never recover. In TV land, it’s unheard of to get a ten-minute scene like this, and it’s used so effectively here: Being trapped in Jocasta’s room as these two people metaphorically gut themselves in front of us just makes the heartbreak all the more palpable. It is devastating and I am unwell, my friends.
On the day before Jocasta’s wedding, not one person really thinks she should be marrying Duncan Innes. Okay, probably Governor Tryon, but that dude is the worst. Jamie looks on forlornly as the to-be-wedded couple greet guests, wishing it was Murtagh standing there with his aunt. Even Ulysses, typically stoic, is like, um are we really doing this? But Jocasta insists she isn’t looking for happiness, she just wants peace. Duncan Innes can give her that. It’s all well and fine until that evening when Ulysses, apparent fan of true and everlasting love, shows up to tell Jocasta she has one last wedding guest to see — it’s Murtagh, you guys. MURTAGH. “You’re mad,” she tells him, reminding him that Tryon, the man who is desperate to see Murtagh hanged, is on the property. “I suppose that’s part of my charm,” he replies before gifting her with a pendant that matches his brooch. Guys, enjoy this swoony stuff right now, because it all goes downhill from here.
I don’t know how to fully explain how heartbreaking and special this scene is, except to say that it STARTS with Murtagh telling Jocasta he came here on the night before her wedding to ask a question that he’d regret not asking for the rest of his life: Down on one knee, he asks her to wait for him until they can be together. When she had told him Innes proposed, he told her he wouldn’t stand in the way of her happiness, but he’s standing in the way of it now. He has to. They kiss, but Jocasta pushes him away. It doesn’t matter that they both want to be together, it’s impossible. And, as Jocasta finally makes clear, it isn’t just because Murtagh is a wanted man — it’s why he’s a wanted man.
“Better to Marry Than Burn” opens with a flashback to Scotland in 1746, right after the Scots lose the Battle of Culloden and Jocasta, her husband Hector, and their teenage daughter Morna are fleeing to America. They’re stopped by British soldiers and discovered to have French gold, which gives them away as Jacobite supporters; a skirmish ensues and Hector accidentally kills Morna while the British officers also die. They have to leave her body on the side of the road as they continue on. Jocasta tells that story to Murtagh, as well as the story of her two older daughters being burned to death not soon after. It was 30 years ago, but she still hears the screams, still smells fire, and she believes she went blind as punishment for all of this. By the way, she is weeping as she recounts this and Murtagh is holding her, in case you needed another punch in the heart.
Hector believed in the Jacobite cause and “he believed he could change the world,” and they lost everything. Murtagh is the same way. She promised herself that she’d never give her heart to another man who would be willing to lose everything for his cause. She tells him to leave. “I love you, Jocasta MacKenzie. This world may change, but that will never change,” he tells her on his way out, wishing he had “been brave enough to say it sooner.” Murtagh is destroyed. Jocasta openly sobs. I’m screaming into a pillow. Honestly, will we ever recover from this heartbreak?
Obviously, I could talk about that scene and how incredible Duncan Lacroix and Maria Doyle Kennedy are in it for, I don’t know, actual days, but Claire and Jamie also have some real drama brewing. Drama that is going to have repercussions for the rest of the season.
Colonial America’s hottest couple has been in a really good place this season. That all gets shot to shit at the wedding by the arrival of Phillip Wylie. We met Wylie last season at one of Jocasta’s dinners, but now he’s back and I think he has basically invented the word “preening.” Just know that he wears a fake mole and is disgusting. Oh, and he has a major thing for Claire.
Claire is trying to steer clear of him, but soon learns a very important piece of information: Wylie has an Irish smuggler associate in Wilmington. His name is Stephen Bonnet. Claire hatches a plan to get more info: She offers Wylie some of Jamie’s whiskey and inquires about joining forces with his smuggler, but all Wylie wants to talk about is the fact that Claire still wears the gold ring from her first marriage. She answers questions about her first marriage and then eventually, Wylie wants to show Claire something important to him: his horse, Lucas. They head to the stables, but it’s clear Wylie just wants to get Claire alone so he can pounce on her. She immediately pushes him off because Claire doesn’t play and he lands in a pile of horse shit, where he belongs. Just as he’s about to go after her again, Jamie runs in and puts a knife to his throat. Now, on any other show the sentence “are you really going to kill someone at your aunt’s wedding” would be absolute bonkers, but here it tracks.
Jamie lets Wylie go, even though he calls Claire a “vile succubus,” which honestly is a badge of honor for a woman. Now alone, Claire explains why she was chatting with Wylie in the first place. As soon as Jamie hears Bonnet’s name, he wants in. Jamie finds Wylie and offers up a little gambling as a way for Wylie to make up for trying to jump on his wife. If Jamie wins, he wants Wylie’s horse. The only thing Wylie is willing to play for is Claire’s gold ring. When Jamie tells her this, she flips. He’s only asking for that ring as revenge for her humiliating him — Wylie knows how important it is. She won’t give it to Jamie and she is unbelievably hurt he’d even ask for it. Jamie is adamant. With tears in her eyes, she wants to know why Jamie is so obsessed with tracking down Bonnet, because it sure as hell isn’t some self-righteous bullshit about defending Bree’s honor. It’s for himself. For his own honor. An infuriated, heartbroken Claire hands over both of her wedding rings to Jamie. “If you’re going to take this, you might as well take them both,” she spits at him. Mom and Dad fighting like this is not what I need right now!
Later, Jamie finds Claire seething in the stables. He’s super-duper drunk, even for him, but he has good news, or at least “good” news? He won the game, has both of Claire’s rings, and traded Wylie back his precious horse in exchange for a meet and greet with Bonnet under the pretenses of getting Bonnet to smuggle his whiskey for him. Bonnet thinks he’s meeting with Alexander Malcolm. Their plan worked! That’s fine and all, but Claire is furious. “I didn’t think there was anything else Bonnet could take from us,” she says, still pissed that Jamie has let his pride become a priority over their relationship. Jamie says some insanely misogynistic things, but I’m interpreting the little smile across his face as him knowing exactly what he’s doing. At least, I hope, right? I mean, it seems like he wants to fire her up. He wants her to slap him with everything she’s got. Because oh boy, that slap leads to some extremely hot angry stable sex. It is truly a soothing balm to my soul at this time. Later, Jamie apologizes for coming at Claire like a “raving beast” and she makes him promise he won’t let Bonnet take anything more from them — which he does, while tenderly placing both rings back on her fingers. He also confesses that she’s right about his motivation to find the guy. It’s mostly a selfish one, but he needs to see Bonnet dead.
In case that isn’t ominous enough for you, two other big storms are brewing: First of all, Jocasta’s lawyer Forbes is having secret meetings with Bonnet to congratulate him — Forbes tells him that Jemmy, “your son,” is the official owner of River Run. That’s a lot of property and money Bonnet can’t wait to get his grubby hands on. Second, Tryon calls Jamie over to chat: It seems the war with the Regulators is back on. Tryon wants Jamie to gather his militia again, but he anticipates it won’t be a long fight. There’s no way the Regulators will be ready to battle the King’s Army. None of this is good for anyone and my soul once again is un-soothed. I’d rather have that plague of locusts back. It was a simpler time.