Image: Outlander (Starz)
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Outlander’s passionate defense of true love has long been foundational to its narrative. Jamie and Claire have gone to great lengths to be together, traveling through time and space, grappling with war, loss, grief, drama, facing their fears and challenging their beliefs in the name of their magnetic, blazing love. Roger fancies himself a romantic, too. He reveals as much in “Providence” when he meets a French priest who has been captured by the same tribe as him. And he’s over it now. He has time-traveled and been through hell, all in the name of his love for Brianna. Now, he just wants to save himself. Until he’s starkly reminded of the lengths people will go through to love by way of a clumsily executed, disturbing subplot that once again reiterates the flaws in the storytelling around Roger and Brianna.

Outlander continues to paint its Native characters in broad strokes, only portraying traditions that connote violence and playing into uninspired tropes. For example, Roger of course encounters one kind face among his captors, a beautiful woman who shows him empathy. Johiehon is introduced into the narrative solely to teach Roger a lesson. The subplot barely pays attention to her at all. Instead, another character is introduced: a horny, guilt-ridden priest. He fell in love with Johiehon and is now being punished by the tribe because he refuses to baptize the baby, convinced he’s incapable of carrying out the church’s traditions anymore because he must be punished for his lust. It’s all a hamfisted way to get Roger to recap the love journey he’s been on all season and wax poetic on the tribulations of deep romance. The subplot is wildly over-sympathetic toward a proselytizing priest converting Native people, presenting him as an ill-fated hero. Roger attempts to convince him to lie to his captors and pretend to perform the ceremony, but he won’t. He instead chooses to be slowly burned alive over a pyre.

The newly jaded Roger doesn’t remain so for long. He escapes, but the screams of the priest bring him back into danger, and Outlander once again treats him like the hero, too. He kills the priest quicker in order to end his suffering, and then Johiehon steps into the flames herself. So not only is she an undeveloped character who functions more as a plot device, but she also is quite literally introduced just so that she can die. Her death reminds Roger that true love is worth sacrifice. It’s incredibly prosaic despite its desperate attempts at poetry. It’s not just sappy; it’s stupid. And it certainly doesn’t assist with Outlander’s persistent problem with the way it portrays its Native characters this season. Johiehon does nothing other than service Roger’s growth. And the show continues to frame the Mohawk people as aggressive, offering little by way of depth and dimension.

An episode of Outlander nearly devoid of Claire and Jamie at any point is tough to swallow, but the fact that this is the penultimate episode makes it even tougher. It’s a strange time to introduce new characters and spend so much time with them. And the episode’s stronger storylines end up truncated. Things certainly build toward the incoming finale, but it’s setting that finale up for a big Roger and Brianna reunion, and the show just really hasn’t earned that, despite this last minute effort to heighten the stakes by killing off characters we only just met.

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One of those stronger storylines in the episode include Fergus plotting to break Murtagh out of jail. There hasn’t been nearly enough Fergus this season, but this episode allows for some fun character development for both Fergus and Marsali and their relationship. I haven’t cared much about Marseli in the past, but this dynamic of them being partners in crime is sweet, especially when they both try to consider what Claire and Jamie would do in their position. Even though we’ve spent significantly less time with them, I’m more convinced of their love for each other than Roger and Brianna’s.

The bag’s a little more mixed for Brianna’s big character moment in the episode. She decides to face Stephen Bonnet in jail, convinced to do so by Jamie, who writes her a letter insisting that forgiveness is better than taking revenge into her own hands. The fact that Jamie killed his own rapist and also admits in this very letter that he would still like to kill Bonnet makes this assertion seem unfair and almost as if revenge isn’t a suitable option for her as a woman. Killing Bonnet will damage Brianna’s soul, he argues. But shouldn’t it be up to her? Asking her to forgive Bonnet under the assumption that he will get his comeuppance is a wildly tall order. And leveraging her guilt in the matter by pointing out that he might die on his journey to rescue Roger makes it an even messier piece of supposed fatherly advice.

Brianna’s tense, emotional encounter with Bonnet has its strengths, particularly in Sophie’s Skelton’s performance—vulnerable but resolute. But it also strangely sees Bonnet go from monster to woeful father in quick, unconvincing succession. He rips a ruby from his teeth to give to Brianna for the unborn child, and his face softens in a way meant to suggest a transformation that is...far tougher to swallow than a Claire-less episode of Outlander.

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Stray observations

  • “You’re impossible not to like,” Brianna tells Lord John, which is practically the writers screaming at us to like Lord John.
  • More Fergus/Marsali jailbreak plotting, please!
  • It’s left open-ended as to whether Bonnet perished in the explosion or got out just in time.

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