First, a note: Outlander’s fourth season is based, accordingly, on Diana Gabaldon’s fourth book, Drums of Autumn. If you have skimmed these recaps at any point, you’ll know I don’t read Gabaldon’s originals, and by now I’m consciously not reading them because I want to see if the show stands on its own (which it should). I welcome discussions in the comments about how and where it diverges, but if at all possible, please don’t post spoilers for things to come that haven’t been featured on-screen yet. Thanks!
And now we can dive in, with apologies if you don’t know Hamilton, but given the location I could not resist. Previously on Outlander…
How does an outlaw redhead son of a laird and a Scotsman
Dropped in the middle of a colonized spot
in the Americas, by providence, without a single dollar
get right into a nasty spot of bother?
fighter of Brits at every level
and a printin’ devil,
so hot, so dishevelled,
and he and Claire together
at the pelvises are tethered.
but they have bionic nethers.
And then while nephew IAN! was being kidnapped and carted away
across the waves,
’twas John Grey who got them pardoned.
Inside he was longing to nibble the redhead’s garden,
but sadly, he never got to floss his teeth on his hero’s lardon.
Then a hurricane came, devastation reigned,
our man saw his watercraft crack-cracking in the rain.
The surge knocked him over and he reached for Claire in vain,
Then he spied his ball-and-chain, caught in ropes and almost slain.
And he swam to her, thinking maybe, “This shit is insane, man,”
took off all the ropes and hauled them both right to the mainland
Coughed up all the water and found out to where they came.
And then told the colonists his name.
What’s his name, man?
JAMIE “Red Jamie Dunbonnet MacDubh Alexander Mackenzie Alexander Malcolm” FRASER.
My name is JAMIE “Red Jamie Dunbonnet MacDubh Alexander Mackenzie Alexander Malcolm” FRASER.
And there’s a million names I haven’t worn. Just you wait. JUST YOU WAIT.
Yes, the Frasers are starting over in the good old pre-USA, land of the Bri, and it gets real in record time. If you thought a lucky landing in America would put an end to the caravan of bad luck and betrayal and casual violence that pocks the Frasers’ life together, then you were WRONG.
We don’t begin at the beginning, as it were. Presumably so as not to get mired in details, like how exactly they started over with no money nor worldly possessions, we jump ahead to Wherever, North Carolina (I think it’s Wilmington?), four months into their slow journey up the coast. We open with a droning monologue from Claire about circles, yammering about symbolism and wedding bands while we see some Creigh na Dun cosplay, until we crossfade to a shot through the tidy, cruel “O” of a hangman’s noose. Yes, the Curse of MacDubh continues: Anyone who plays a friend or associate of Jamie’s is doomed to die unpleasantly, or, in the case of my beloved Murtagh, to disappear forever. Here, it’s Hayes, the short sprightly ginger dude who replaced the short sprightly dude who died at Culloden; Hayes was unknowingly shagging a married lady, and killed the hubby in self-defense. Jamie has an elaborate plan to save him from the noose, but because all his short sprightly dude pals are heroic with open and heartbreakingly friendly faces, Hayes refuses to dodge his fate and instead makes Jamie promise to smile at him while he’s on the gallows. He wants a friend to be the last thing he sees. A fellow prisoner eavesdrops and makes a little small talk, and we recognize him as Cute Jimmy the Footman from Downton Abbey and that’s how we know we’re supposed to pay attention to him.
Then, Hayes bites it. He really does. He gets the bejeesus hung out of him. It’s actually quite sad, as it so frequently is when nice and loyal fictional characters die, just so your tear ducts will remember they are still alive. We are basically two minutes into this episode and a perfectly lovely character (whom we barely knew, but whatever, they’re all in the same vein) has been offed. Hayes, as his ilk always does, comes with a Gruff But Caring Brotherly Protector, who replaced Other Dude’s Gruff But Caring Brotherly Protector With Eyepatch (who also died at Culloden). That dude is really upset and they have to carry him away, and in the commotion, several prisoners try to escape. One does: Downton Jimmy.
At the pub, Fergus and Jamie and Burly Dude — and eventually the whole bar — sing Hayes to death with a traditional Gaelic shanty.
Raise a glass to freedom
Something Hayes will never see again.
‘Cause no one survives with MacDubh.
Raise a glass to the four of us
In a mo, there’ll be more of us
Exactly as dead as Hayes tonight
(He’s super dead right now tonight.)
They have obtained the body, which must smell a treat, and make plans to bury him on consecrated ground (the British won’t, because he died a criminal). This leads to some saucy late-night grave-digging, which gives Ian acid-flashbacks to Geillis and her bath of blood and all the sexy witch sex. He freaks out and cowers. Jamie tells Ian that confession is the best medicine. FULL confession. Like, he urges Ian to speak the demon’s name AND all her deeds in COMPLETE FULL DETAIL, because he’s a gossipy old cow except for how he still looks about 33. He knows, because he’s had pain that never went away until he unburdened it to Claire. So Ian opens up.
JAMIE JAMIE YO
MY NAME IS IAN!!!
I’M NOT A VIRGIN!!!!!
IT’S RELEVANT THAT I AM NOT A VIRGIN!!!
TOUCHED GEILLIS’S THIGHS
I DIDN’T WANT HERS BUT SHE WANTED MINE.
SHE MADE ME SEX HER AND IT WAS GREAT BUT I RESISTED .
SHE SHOWED ME BODY PARTS I DIDN’T KNOW EXISTED.
SHE GOT MY MAN BIT ALL EMOTIONALLY TWISTED.
AND I LOVE-HATED THE BLOOD-COVERED LADY PUTTING HER FOOT UP MY NOSE AND THEN THINGS IN MY MOUTH AND NOW I’M SUPER NOT A VIRGIN AND COULD I ALSO BE A VAMPIRE NOW PLS HELP! IAN!!!
Woeful little Ian is actually a pretty good crier, and he SOBS his way through this confession, although it’s not very detailed and Jamie — like most dudes — asks no follow-up questions. If only I had handled this. Also, Outlander is not messing around this season. EVERYONE is sad. But getting serious for a second: Yes, this part feels a bit clunky within the episode, like a rushed #MeToo PSA about the issues inherent in Geillis keeping sex boys and making them do her bidding. But consent, and the fact that men can withhold it too, is a relevant topic of conversation and I’m not trying to make light of it. I assume this is in the books, too, because of how neatly it dovetails with Jamie’s mental torture in season 1, stemming from him not understanding entirely why he eventually responded to Black Jack (and also with how he was raped by blackmail to produce his son). Like Jamie, the issue for Ian is that he is super confused because he didn’t want to do any of those things, but his body responded as if he did. Jamie’s response is both comical and kind of amazingly perfect for a twisted motivational poster. He says, “Your cock doesn’t have a conscience. But you have.”
This is enough to calm Ian, and now he’s totally fine. Hooray for therapy.
Claire and Jamie, meanwhile, had been trotting along openly discussing their sachet of jewels, which they managed to recover from the shipwreck despite there being no logical reason for this and ZERO pieces of the boat ashore. Then later, when they go to grab Hayes’s body, they learn Downton Jimmy has stowed away in their carriage. He admits to being a pirate and a smuggler, but insists he never killed anyone who wasn’t after his head first — “just like your friend” — and manages to tell them just enough truth that they believe he’s being completely honest. He’s way too slick, but whatever, Claire and Jamie are nothing if not conveniently bad at reading people. Downton Jimmy, whose name is revealed to be Stephen Bonnet, says he wants to help bury Hayes in exchange for their help escaping to a safe spot, and a promise never to cross their path again. Jamie and Claire agree, but along the way naturally there’s also a run-in with British soldiers who stab at the “dead body” Claire and Jamie claim they’re carting around… and fortunately, only hit a leg of venison. Wait, were they toting raw meat just as bonus decoys, or… for snacks? I hope they weren’t ever planning to eat it, because that is going to be some maggoty protein right there after hanging out with a corpse for the better part of a day. Anyhoo, Mr. Bonnet only gets a wee scrape. As Claire stitches him up, he makes a point of noticing both her wedding rings, and then tells her all about how what he fears most in life is the sea — and yet, the sea seems to call to him. It’s a long and ponderous scene and frankly I am not that interested in it, even though Ed Speelers is actually quite good in this episode. I also can’t tell if it’s true, or if he overheard enough to know that Claire and Jamie were shipwrecked themselves, and is thus telling her whatever will make them trust him. Regardless, it works; they release him into the night, and we have but to wait for him to show up again, because you don’t go from Downton to a half-episode arc. And the Dread Pirate Bonnet leaves no survivors.
Suddenly, the producers realize no one has banged yet, so Jamie and Claire camp out at night on their way back to civilization. On this freezing cold eve, as both their blouses fall alluringly around their bare shoulders with nary a thought to the chill, Jamie and Claire talk bravely about they feel surrounded by death but they won’t fear it because death cannot stop true love, “my soul is always yours,” etc. Claire finally climbs aboard Jamie and purrs, in a full-on romance novel pickup line, “I WANT TO FEEL ALIVE WITH YOU RIGHT NOW.”
Writhing ensues. I suppose we’ve progressed, though, because in Season 1, someone would’ve stumbled upon them and very nearly murdered them in the act. Here, they make it all the way to completion, the threat of death saved for another day. The next morning, they sit and gaze out upon the mountains, while Claire gives Jamie a junior history lesson in the American dream and how millions of people will flock here for the promise of it. Jamie is like, “Okay, but what about the natives?!?” And Claire’s like, “Ummmmmmmm it sucks for them, OOPS.” In case we missed it, Claire compares the fate of the Native Americans and the Highlanders, both shoved aside by the greedy British. “A dream for some can be a nightmare for others,” Jamie intones. I guess he’s woke now.
We are way overdue for a fancy-dress evening in which Claire spouts modern views that make upper-crust men spit their wine. Ergo, Claire convinces Jamie to sell one of the gems to fund them, and so they get invited to a dinner at the governor’s house where some rich people will bid on it. They gloss over HOW they got this invitation. It’s very easy for Jamie and Claire to finagle their way in places, isn’t it? And of course Claire withstands some slings and arrow about her being of the dumber sex before she snaps and tells them that poor people shouldn’t bear an unfair tax burden. “CHORTLE CHORTLE, CHOKE CHOKE,” go the aristocrats. Then another female guest patronizingly asks if Claire’s hair is “the style in Edinburgh,” and gives her a very pitying smile indeed. So basically, everyone they meet is always awful, period, full stop.
Jamie gets pulled aside by the governor offered some tax-free land in exchange for bringing more settlers to the area. It’s a complex and dull plan that only comes into relief when Claire provides Jamie the coming historical context: The governor, having sniffed out that Jamie was a soldier, wants to buy Jamie’s sworn loyalty to the Crown — which would inevitably end in Jamie fighting for Brits in the American Revolution. “We would be on the wrong side of history again,” she points out, and they’d also be fighting against the country that would one day become Brianna’s. So they decide not to take him up on the land offer, and find their own way to settle in America without having to owe the British anything. Jamie wouldn’t even mind finding a way to help the nation find itself. Perhaps Claire should shuttle him up to New York, where they could scamper around trying to make sure A.Ham doesn’t sabotage himself.
And now it’s time to clear the decks: In the wake of the ruby sale, which went screamingly well, Jamie announces that he and Claire are going to see his aunt Jocasta at her River Run estate. Fergus and Marsali aren’t going with Jamie OR back to Scotland, because she’s pregnant, so they’re going to put down some roots there in Wilmington and see if she can get work as a seamstress while Fergus polishes his resume or whatever. Then, given who Marsali’s mother is, they will open a fish restaurant and begin the ancestral line of Dawson Laoghaire.
It makes complete sense now. Of COURSE Dawson would come from one of Outlander’s worst characters.
However, Jamie and Claire are effectively Fergus’s parents, so it’s a bit odd to me that they’re all parting so cheerfully, but we need to make room for new people who can threaten Jamie and Claire but also not murder EVERYONE we know in case they want to pop up in season six. Outlander has little use for friends. As such, they’ve also booked Ian passage home to Scotland. He’s going to sail the river as far as Jocasta’s place and then catch his boat up there, or something (it doesn’t matter because ultimately he’s not going anywhere). Ian is annoyed that he can’t ditch his parents and be a rad New World sailor, but Jamie will hear no arguments, insisting Jenny and Old Ian want him to grow up respectable and educated and important, and I guess he’s assuming none of that will happen where they are.
What to say to you?
You’ve Jenny’s eyes, you have your father’s name.
When you came into the world you cried
And we nearly all died.
Then you got kidnapped
and we rescued you
You’re kind of a lot
Please go to Lallybroch
And say hi.
‘Fore sis knocks me out, rips me apart.
Please, just for once, be smart.
We are drifters here in this big nation.
We’ll bleed and fight a bunch
I really have a hunch.
You should go and get an education
So you will grow up cool
Stuck here, you’ll stay a fool,
So don’t throw it all away,
Don’t throw it all away.
Ian, by the way, won a dog rolling dice with sailors — let me tell you, there is nothing as unsexy as the phrase, “I was DICIN'” — and so accordingly he named it Rollo. Does Rollo know that everyone who hangs out with these people DIES? I hope this show turns into John Wick. Joining Ian and Rollo with the Frasers: Gruff Dude, who believes his place is to ensure MacDubh gets where he means to go. It is not even a spoiler to tell you that this means he’s going to kick it. Honestly, at this point, please DO NOT have them run into Murtagh; it can only end in blood. (It’s my understanding that seeing him leave prison in Scotland to be transferred to the colonies was a change that the series made, which is what made me wonder if they were keeping him on the table for future divergent plotlines; one never knows.)
The Fraser Four (Plus Dog) finds river passage from a man and his black helmsman. Claire assumes he’s a slave and gets pretty huffy about it, as one would, but the captain says that he is a free man who earns a fair wage. Well, he was the man’s slave – no angels here — but then the man saved the captain’s life and so the captain petitioned for his freedom. Now they work together. It seems unlikely that they so quickly would meet one of the few progressive minds of the colonies, but it’s always nice to see Claire be surprised. We delve more into slavery next week; this may have been there simply to give Jamie something to chew on, perhaps? Though Jamie has always been extra willing to let Claire open his mind, presumably because she opened so many other things on his body and they all went SUPER WELL.
At night, they slumber in the houseboat. And who should burst through the door of their humble cabin but Stephen Bonnet.
Yo! Turns out we have a secret villain.
An immigrant we know and like who’s secretly so wretched.
His trickery has blinded the Frasers to his potential for major assery
Everyone give it up for our favorite human haberdashery.
“I’m named after millinery but I’m still good for a crime spree!”
“And I’m gonna steal your money and my hat pin’s gonna make at least one of your friends bleed!”
“Watch me come menace you and murder you even though I’m like five foot two!”
“You want to fight for your cash back?”
“Ha! You’re not gonna get your cash back.
No. You’re not gonna get you cash back.
My name’s a hat and you’re not getting cash back.
You can joke about ribbons, brims, and ladies, but the fact is that Man Hat’s not givin’ you your cash back.”
Yes, it’s the Dunbonnet vs the Dread Bonnet, and the latter will emerge the victor. We can only really intuit what happened, but I’m assuming Jamie’s and Claire’s relative indiscretion about all their belongings means that Bonnet overheard enough to know they’d be a profitable hit eventually. He’s presumably targeted them using the information he gleaned to rob them at their richest and most vulnerable. It does seem like an unrealistic amount of trouble for him to have stalked them from Wilmington up the river, but like I said, everyone they know is terrible. Except for John Gray. I miss you, John.
The entire ensuing attack — from the peaceful moments before Rollo is alerted to Bonnet’s presence, to the brutal end — is scored to “America the Beautiful,” as sung by Ray Charles. It’s extremely strange to see this show being so anachronistic. At first I thought maybe he’d recorded it back in the time that is Claire’s proper era, but unless we’ve gotten to where it would be 1972 where Brianna is, then that argument goes out the window. So I am assuming it’s simply a very on-the-nose attempt at pointing out how little things have changed — how inhumanity among supposed bedfellows still exists, how we cheat each other and betray each other still, how the dream society that’s about to be born is as flawed and violent as any — but frankly it’s tonally very weird. It might have worked better if we’d spent some time with Bri and Roger in this hour and were somehow juxtaposing their lives to her parents’, in a past/present situation that anchored the Ray Charles performance in something approaching its rightful era, but… then again, who wants to spend more time with Bri? It’s possible even Roger has given up on that by now.
At any rate, Jamie had already spent some cash on a nifty apothecary’s box for Claire that’s tucked away, so she will still be able to heal the world and make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race. But Bonnet gets all their other money and the bag of jewels. Bonnet’s henchmen have tied up the river pilot and his employee (but do not kill them… why?) and beaten the tar out of Jamie (but do not kill him, because… why?), while one bandit wrestles vigorously with Ian (but does not kill him, because… why?) and another waves his gun at Claire over and over again (but does not kill her, because… why?). He is thwarted by Gruff Dude, who then does meets his inevitable end when Bonnet blithely pops up behind him and slits his throat. Oh, Downton Jimmy. Who taught you this? Was it Mr. Bates?
He then puts a knife to Claire until she takes off the two wedding rings he’d spotted on her (but again does not kill her… why?). Defiantly, she tosses them in her mouth and tries to swallow them. Bonnet jabs his finger in there and flicks Jamie’s wedding ring back out across the room, and then leaves — but still does not kill her or him or anyone else, because… why? His total willingness to slit Gruff’s throat doesn’t track with him leaving zero other dead bodies, and we all know the Dread Pirate Bonnet has no mercy. Maybe the captain helped pass him information, so they left him alive? But it didn’t seem so, and that still doesn’t explain Jamie and Claire and Ian surviving. Of course, there are like six more books, or something, so obviously it would be inconvenient to murder the leads AND leave them without transportation. Also, did anyone else think that was a weird amount of trouble to go to for Claire’s tiny bands? The one Bonnet made off with, Jamie’s, isn’t even necessarily as valuable, is it? He already had cash and jewels. Maybe he’s obsessed with circles, too. Maybe he IS the prologue. At any rate, at this point, we doff the Bonnet and are unclear whether we’ll ever get to wear him again.
As Jamie staggers back into the cabin, he surveys the destruction and sees Claire cough up Frank’s wedding band. She sobs, gasping for air. Everyone is traumatized and everything sucks. Raise a glass to freedom, y’all.
Next week, we meet Aunt Jocasta, whom Jamie described this week as having worked married her way through the Cameron brothers, all of whom died ignominiously. And there will be some harsh talk from Claire about owning other human beings. Also, possibly, back to the original rhyme scheme, because writing Hamilton is apparently super hard.