To simply say that this episode of Outlander is brutal, while true, is a complete understatement. And yet it sums up the experience so clearly. It’s a brutal episode obviously because of the subject matter. It’s a brutal episode because it is yet another example of this series relying on sexual violence to build story and character. People may argue that it’s in the source material, but the show’s deviated from the books before in ways that have made it better. They could surely do it again with this aspect of the series. They should do it again with this aspect of the series.
The first 15 minutes of this episode, in which Claire is savagely raped and beaten by Lionel Brown and his gang of men who abducted her from Fraser’s Ridge, is almost impossible to watch. Lionel, who has discovered that the Dr. Rawlings articles were written by Claire, claims that he’s taking Claire to Brownsville so that she can confess in front of all the women there. She’s been putting dangerous ideas in their heads and it needs to stop. I know this is obvious by now but seriously, fuck this guy.
These wrenching first 15 minutes continually cut to Claire detaching herself from her assault by way of a fantasy world: It’s her safe place. She is at home in the 1960s and her family is there, safe and happy, gathering for Thanksgiving dinner. Well, most of her family is there, because even in her safe place, Claire imagines Roger and Bree having been killed in a car accident, I mean, this is Outlander after all. The insane attention to detail put into Claire’s fantasy world deserves a nod. And I’m not just talking about getting to see Fergus and Marsali and Murtagh (my heart!) and Jocasta in great ’60s costumes, but of all those small easter eggs and callbacks. Things like the blue and white vase that Claire wishes she had a home for when we first meet her in the pilot — here, she has found a home for it. Or Jamie repeating the line, “you’re shaking so hard it’s making my teeth rattle” also from the pilot, reminding us of one of the first examples of Jamie keeping Claire safe and protected, as he covers her in his tartan. There’s so many of these carefully placed details (feel free to call them out in the comments!) you wish you could stay in this place, too. Alas, we cannot.
Mercifully, for a show that loves to wring out the trauma, Jamie and the men of Fraser’s Ridge find Claire and the Browns. Oh guys, they murder the Browns so hard. Just so, so hard. When Jamie finally comes across Claire, tied up and covered in blood and bruises, he barely has words. Until finally, he tells her what he told Roger after they found him hanged: “You are alive. You are whole.” Ian, Fergus, and Myers inform them that a few of the men in the group are still alive. Myers offers Claire a chance to have her vengeance, but Jamie knows that as a doctor she’s taken an oath to do no harm. “It’s myself that kills for her,” he says. “And I,” echoes Ian. Fergus, too: “And I, mi’lady.” These three men who have sworn to seek vengeance on Claire’s behalf not only love her but have all also suffered sexual assault, you know, in case you were wondering about my aforementioned complaint in the opening. It’s Jamie who gives out the chilling order: “Kill them all.”
They keep Lionel alive to ask him questions back at the Ridge, but, honestly, must we? Jamie takes Claire home on his own, she is still completely numb. During a quick stop — still wrapped up in that protective Fraser plaid — she asks Jamie first about Marsali, who is fine and whose baby is fine. She also wants to know if a Native American was found dead with the Browns — she’s asking about Wendigo Donner. Donner, you see, knew that whoever wrote the Dr. Rawlings articles could not be from this time, and when he sees Claire and she starts saying things like “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” well, then he’s convinced. He knows she is a time traveler because so is he. It turns out he traveled from 1969 with Robert Springer, also known as Otter Tooth, and he desperately wants to return. Claire promises him gemstones and instructions to the stone circle if he lets her go, but it never happens. Still, Donner survives the massacre at the hands of the men of Fraser’s Ridge and is on the run. This means he’ll definitely be turning up sooner or later.
Speaking of time-travelers, is now a good time to talk about what befell Roger and Bree? Because I have notes. Well guys, it was all a big fake-out. When Roger and Bree pick themselves up after traveling through the stones, they find Ian sitting there. The stones brought them right back to where they started. Apparently, it’s because they both were “thinking of home” and this is home and blah blah blah. All this means is that the entire last episode, which was basically an hour of Roger and Bree saying tearful good-byes to their loved ones — which, again, was a change to the books made by the show — was all in service of a cliffhanger that has zero payoff. This is frustrating? A waste of some moving scenes that will surely temper the emotion for any future scenes of similar nature if/when the MacKenzies contemplate traveling again? It’s both. Anyway, I hope those two are happy quoting Robert Frost to each other.
Their quickie time-travel u-turn also means that Roger is with the men as they attack the Browns (he kills someone and it weighs on him), and that Bree is there to help Claire pick up the pieces when she returns to Fraser’s Ridge. It will obviously take some time, especially because Claire is being so hard on herself. When Claire, in agony, lists the horrific things that have happened to her in an attempt to convince herself that this specific horrific thing will not break her, it is gutting but also highlights the insanity and violence of this show. When it’s all listed out like that? The excessiveness of it becomes tough to swallow.
It’s also hard for Claire to begin to process her trauma because, hello, they’re keeping Lionel Brown alive down in her surgery. Marsali is tending to his wounds and Claire walks in for about a minute — long enough to contemplate breaking the Hippocratic Oath and taking a scalpel to his throat — before she has to leave and breaks down crying in the stairwell. (Whatever you think of the storyline in this episode, Caitriona Balfe is, as usual, excellent.) Meanwhile, Marsali is like aw, hell no. Claire may have taken an oath to do no harm, but Marsali sure as shit didn’t. She refuses to let Lionel hurt anyone else in her family and she shoots that man up with water hemlock, instantly killing him. Marsali may be worried about Lionel’s ghost haunting her or going to hell, but no one else is. Marsali is the best thing to come out of season five.
Jamie delivers Lionel’s body to his brother Richard, who is pretty much fine with Lionel getting what he deserved, but also makes a few threats about the future. So that’s very cool and exactly what Jamie needs at this point. He doesn’t seem concerned though, mainly because he needs to be there for Claire. They share two important moments as Claire begins to heal. For the first time, she is able to look out over the Ridge and at her family and take in an “ordinary day.” She tells her husband she loves him and Jamie responds: “When the day shall come that we do part, if my last words are not ‘I love you’ ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.” Later, as the two hold each other naked in bed, he asks her how she’s feeling and she responds simply: “safe.” Jamie has always been Claire’s real safe place.
There’s no doubt that this trauma will change Claire moving forward, but even in this episode, Outlander is preparing us for the next trauma: the impending Revolutionary War. Yeah, that thunderstorm that comes rolling in over the ridge? That’s a metaphor.