Sunday, November 4, 2018

Episode 401: "America the Beautiful" (SPOILERS!)



Here are my reactions to Episode 401 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "America the Beautiful". I thought this episode was very well done, and I really appreciated the fact that they used so much dialogue from the books.

*** SPOILER WARNING!! ***

There are SPOILERS below! If you don't want to know yet, stop reading now.


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The opening scene took me totally by surprise. 2000 B.C. ?!?  Wow! I stared bug-eyed at the screen the first time I saw it, mesmerized. This is a clever way to convey the idea that there are stone circles in North America (foreshadowing!), and they have evidently been there for at least four thousand years. I thought the closeup of the noose was a very effective transition into the next scene.

Jamie slips a handful of coins discreetly to the jailer, and he's let in to speak to Hayes. The explanation of what exactly Hayes did to deserve hanging is different from the book (here, a man caught Hayes kissing his wife, they got into a fight, and Hayes kicked him down the stairs, where he presumably died from the fall) but I think it works pretty well. I think Jamie's concern for Hayes is very much in character, a side of him that we haven't really seen much since Ardsmuir.

"What about a drop for my soul as well?"  And here we get our first look at Stephen Bonnet, played by Ed Speleers.  I think he's just terrific in this role!

I liked the drumming as the prisoners approached the gallows, very much as it's described in the opening scene of DRUMS OF AUTUMN. And true to his word, Jamie makes sure that Hayes sees him smiling just before the end.

In the commotion after the hanging, you can clearly see Stephen Bonnet observing the scene and thinking, "That's it, I'm outta here!"

I have commented elsewhere about the new opening credit sequence for Season 4, so I won't talk about it here, but for the most part I like it.

Beautiful shot of a bald eagle in the title card, and certainly fitting for an episode titled "America the Beautiful".

The scene in the tavern with Gavin's caithris was well done, even though I didn't understand the Gaelic words. They included the celebration of his life, but omitted my favorite part:
Duncan, drunker than ever, fixed the soldiers at the next table with a baleful glare, sweat pouring down his face.

"A Shasunnaich na galladh's olc a thig e dhuibh fanaid air bàs gasgaich. Gun toireadh an diabhul fhein leis anns a bhàs sibh, direach do Fhirinn!!" Wicked Sassenach dogs, eaters of dead flesh! Ill does it become you to laugh and rejoice at the death of a gallant man! May the devil himself seize upon you in the hour of your death and take you straight to hell!

Ian blanched slightly at this, and Jamie cast Duncan a narrow look, but they stoutly shouted "Èisd ris!" along with the rest of the crowd.

Fergus, seized by inspiration, got up and passed his hat among the crowd, who, carried away by ale and excitement, happily flung coppers into it for the privilege of joining in their own denunciation.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 1, "A Hanging in Eden". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
It's fitting that Gavin's friend Lesley should be the one to sing the caithris, though I miss Duncan Innes and I still hope they haven't eliminated his character from the TV series entirely.

Young Ian's flashback scene was very effective, and I really liked the scene between Jamie and Ian afterward.

"Some ghosts can only be banished by speaking their name and foul deeds aloud."

At first I thought this sounded like a rather modern attitude (has Claire been telling him about psychotherapy? <g>), but in the context of Jamie's recovery after Wentworth, it makes sense. And it gives Ian time for the sort of emotional catharsis that he did not get in the final episode of Season 3.

John Bell is terrific in this scene! And I really like the way Jamie comforted him. Most of the dialogue in this scene comes from VOYAGER chapter 62, "Abandawe."

Their discovery of Bonnet hiding in the wagon also comes straight from the book. Watching Jamie with his hands around Bonnet's neck, I couldn't help thinking that if he had killed Bonnet then and there, it would have saved everyone a tremendous amount of trouble and heartache. But of course he didn't.

"I won't bother you again," Bonnet says. "You have my word." Ha! And as I always do when I reach this part in the book, I'm mentally yelling at Jamie, "No! Don't trust him, you idiot, what are you doing?! You're going to regret this, big time!"

I liked the sweet, innocent expression on Bonnet's face as he asks "that you allow me to bury a friend."  Note to self: psychopaths can be charming!

The next scene, with the soldiers inspecting the wagon, is taken almost word-for-word from the book. But when Claire asks Bonnet if he's wounded, he replies, "Danu the Luck-Giver was with me." (Foreshadowing, for anyone who's read the book!)

The scene between Claire and Bonnet is very good. I was surprised to hear Bonnet telling her about his fear of drowning, because we don't learn that in the books until ABOSAA chapter 105, "The Prodigal". But it's effective here, making Bonnet appear even more sympathetic, and I liked the way they made the connection to Claire's near-drowning in the hurricane at the end of Season 3.

"Travelers in these woods -- they're often set upon by thieves and outlaws." I love the way Bonnet says this with a straight face, the picture of innocence. <g>

As soon as I saw Jamie bare-chested in the next scene, I thought, rather cynically, "OK, the show's almost half over, time for a sex scene!"

"It isn't wrong to be alive, Sassenach." Huh? Why would anyone think it was wrong? Claire certainly hasn't given any indication that she feels this way. Or is this Jamie's way of saying he feels guilty over not being able to save Gavin Hayes?

"Don't you see how small a thing death is between us?" I wasn't expecting to hear that in this context, but I'm glad they included even part of this quote from DRUMS OF AUTUMN chapter 16, "The First Law of Thermodynamics", in the show.  It's one of my all-time favorites!
“So long as my body lives, and yours—we are one flesh,” he whispered. His fingers touched me, hair and chin and neck and breast, and I breathed his breath and felt him solid under my hand. Then I lay with my head on his shoulder, the strength of him supporting me, the words deep and soft in his chest.

“And when my body shall cease, my soul will still be yours. Claire--I swear by my hope of heaven, I will not be parted from you."

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "The First Law of Thermodynamics". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
In the next scene, with Jamie and Claire looking out at the woods, I like the kerchief (or whatever it's called) that Claire is wearing tucked into the bodice of her costume. The dialogue in this scene is very good.

The next scene shows Claire and Jamie dressing for dinner with the Governor.  Terry Dresbach did an excellent job with both of their costumes, and the ruby pendant looks just right. The other thing I liked about this scene is that J&C are finally, FINALLY, comfortable in touching one another casually, showing affection even in small moments like this, as when Jamie puts his arms around her from behind. That's a good sign.

I found the dinner scene a little hard to follow, because of our unfamiliarity with all these new characters. All these gentlemen wearing wigs are hard to tell apart! I'm sure one of the dinner guests had to be Philip Wylie, but I couldn't quite figure out which one he was.

"I'm sure the very thought of inequitable taxes brings out the savage in all of us." Good line.

Does this dinner party scene remind anyone else of the infamous dinner party in Episode 204, "La Dame Blanche"?

"Cross Creek....at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains." Um, no, not unless they moved the mountains a whole lot further east!  All you have to do is look up the distance from Fayetteville, NC (the modern name for Cross Creek) to Asheville or Boone, NC, to see that it's quite some way from Cross Creek to the area where Fraser's Ridge will be located.

The scene with Jamie and Governor Tryon is well done, but I don't understand where this reference to a quitrent that must be paid in coin came from. In the book, the issue was that Jamie, as a Catholic, was not eligible for a land grant; it had nothing to do with money. Here, it appears that Governor Tryon is willing to waive the requirement of the cash payment in return for a pledge of loyalty to the Crown.

"And with [the money] left over, I can purchase a printing press...." I was a little startled by this, until I remembered that in the TV show, Jamie's printing press did not survive the fire in Episode 307. But I was glad to see that the rest of the dialogue in this scene was taken almost word-for-word from the book.

The scene where we meet Rollo is just priceless. "I won him. Lucky roll of the dice, so I called him Rollo." <g> I like Rollo's coloring, which is more wolf-like than I had pictured from some of the behind-the-scenes photos. Young Ian seems to be more self-assured in this scene than we've seen him before. I liked that and I want to see more of it.

In the next scene, I love Young Ian's reactions throughout, from his obvious excitement on learning that Jamie and Claire will be settling in America, to his blatant eye-roll when Jamie says, "Your parents....want you to grow to be a man of learning and influence, a man of worth," which made me laugh. Typical teenager!

I liked the way Fergus and Marsali announce that Marsali is pregnant. I think it makes sense for them to stay behind in Wilmington for the time being.

Watching Lesley in this scene the first time I saw the episode, it occurred to me that he wasn't going to survive. He's basically fulfilled his dramatic function at this point, and therefore he's expendable, like one of those "red-shirt" security guards on the original STAR TREK.

Finally, they set out on their journey up the river to Cross Creek. I was happy to see that the TV version of the Cape Fear River looks very much as it does in real life.

I loved the scene where Jamie gives Claire the medical chest. Just wonderful, and very close to the way I imagined it from the book. Great job!

Now, about that final scene. I'm sure it was meant to be riveting and emotionally intense, just as it is in the book, but IMHO the effect was nearly destroyed by that "America the Beautiful" song overlaying the final action sequence.  It was anachronistic (much too modern, IMHO), FAR too loud, distracting (not in a good way!), and completely inappropriate, emotionally, when juxtaposed with the very disturbing and violent scene taking place on the screen. This is a life-and death situation (Lesley is actually murdered right there in front of our eyes!) and one that will have major repercussions for the rest of the season and far beyond, as book-readers know all too well. Why couldn't they simply have let us hear what was going on, and left the song for the closing credits? Major fail, IMHO.  I will be muting this whole scene every time I watch it from now on.

Overall I thought they did a good job with this episode, and I'm looking forward to next week!

I hope you enjoyed this recap.  Look here for my recaps of all of the OUTLANDER episodes so far, and please come back next week to see my recap of Episode 402.

Looking for a place to discuss All Things OUTLANDER? Check out TheLitForum.com, formerly the Compuserve Books and Writers Community. You have to sign up in order to read or post on the forum, but it's free.

26 comments:

Wendy Holt-Stone said...

I personally liked the song over the fight. We could see what was happening, we didn't need the sound. To me it made the point that America can be a place where dreams come true, but it can also be a nightmare. I found it interesting that Claire loses Jamie's ring, not Frank's, but it makes sense later on as an iron ring made from a key is rarer than a plain gold band.

Loved the recap and I'm looking forward to next week too!

Theresa said...

Completely agree about “America” played over the brutal ending. I’m not a fan of using 20th century music to tell an 18th century story and that includes “Hard Rain” in S3 “Of Lost Things”.

I also loved the opening stone building towers scene.

Cathie Jones said...

After reading your comments I may watch it again. On first watch, I didn't like it at all, though I do like all of the actors.

It appeared to me that they must have cut joining scenes. It was a jumble that jumped from here to there without any coherence.

Jamie's hair in the dinner scene was inappropriate. Clair wearing the knit shawl that she wore in Season 1. Surely that would have been lost, if nowhere else, in the shipwreck. Sex scene came out of nowhere and wasn't followed by anything related. And Ray Charles ..... just no.

Looking forward to meeting Jocasta next week. They've had a very long time to put this season's episodes together. Let's hope they get more cohesive.

Shana Jensen said...

Hi Karen,
I agree with most everything you've written, but I didn't have the same aversion to the final scene. I think, up until this point in the episode that everything is going so smoothly. They talked about the American Dream. They are in the New World, the happy news with Fergus and Marsali, etc. (Yes, there was the hanging, but we really weren't connected to that character.) I think by overlaying that scene with THAT song, completely opposite of the visual - really was cool. It's like a warning. Yes, this is a new and exciting time, and things are going well..but never, ever let your guard down. America (then and now) can be an ugly place. It's not going to be happily ever after for J & C. :( I'd love to hear from whomever choice it was to include that song, and hear their reasoning.

Unknown said...

I actually liked the final scene with the song. It was a contrast, while the songs says America The Beautiful, we see that things are not always "beautiful". It was much more powerful than hearing the action. We know that Jamie is grunting as he is being pummeled, and that Claire is calling to Jamie and Ian and then trying to reason with Bonnet. And we know that Bonnet is saying evil things to all.

SHanson said...

Thank you for your thoughtful synopsis. All in all, a great job by everyone involved. I did think that some of the scenes were quite disjointed however and I did totally agree with you on the use of the song over the ending. It rather ruined the scene for me. Terry D. said the decision was made by the writers to use the song and Ron chose the Ray Charles version. Just wished they would have used it over closing credits.

Vicki @ lifeinmyemptynest said...

Loved all the book dialogue and Jamie's characterization was really good (finally). The music in the final scene was jarring and I think that made it really effective. I think the ring stolen was changed because Brianna no longer needs to look at the engraving to discover that the gold band is Claire's. Still, those kind of small changes bother me. All in all, a good start to my favorite book.

Jeanie said...

I originally commented before I read your review. Like you Enjoyed it for most part. Story ok although I thought it jumped around with sudden big gaps. Guessing they had to cut scenes. Hope they will be on DVD so it will flow better. Really liked the scene singing to honor Gavin & the interaction with Jamie & Ian in the graveyard. & the medical box was lovely! Writing still seems not nearly as good as S1&2; if same writers they must not like this book as well. Stilted in places. Hated absolutely HATED the music at the end. The scene was cartoonish, hard to follow & the music just annoying. Really annoying & distracting & I love your suggestion to mute it. I will too. Oh & Jamie’s hair ...what is with that? Raggedy Andy hair - ick. Will I continue watching? Of course but ... meh. It kind of left me cold. Sad after all this time waiting. Maybe it’ll improve if I watch it again in a couple days. Thanks as always for your review!

Unknown said...

After looking forward to this part of the series for over a year, this devoted follower was delighted to have Jamie and Claire in North Carolina, and most of the episode was brilliant. Its a shame so much has to be compressed, losing a lot in the translation. In particular, the last scene was way too much to digest, especially with the distractingly loud ovetplay of the very modern America the Beautiful. It ruined the entire episode for me.

Susan said...

Hi Karen,
I too agree with you on all but the last scene. I really liked this episode but I have to agree with Shana Jensen on this last point. The horror of watching the last scene and the the feelings we usually have listening to this particular song are at such a juxtaposition to each other that it intensifies the ending beyond words, as if screaming No! This can't be happening!!

Anonymous said...

Karen

I liked your comments. Very well thought out. You picked up things that I did not. When they free Bonner, I expected him to pop up in the next scene by the campfire - violently - and it ruined the love scene for me. Loved the dog. Need to see more of him.

That last scene was over the top and unnecessarily violent. Clare staring with Jamie at the distant vista was majestic giving us a feeling of beauty and peace. Then ending with the last scene with the song slammed me right in the face. That scene puts the viewer on an emotional roller coaster. It was inappropriate and a derogatory use of the song - all the words of that song now represent hatred and to hear Ray Charles beautiful rendition of that song is shamefully misused.

I've read all the books and love the show but this one makes me wonder if I want to see more. Up until now I was a true fan of the show.





Alexk said...

Totally agree with the song America , thank you for the excellent recap.

Unknown said...

Wow! I don't know who's series I was watching last night but it wasn't my Outlander. I pretty much hated it from the opening song to the end credit. I will get used to the song and can easily skip it if I don't but I found it disjointed, not cohesive and the characters not in character. I thought young Ian was just too much of a little cry baby. 16 in that era was considered a man. I do understand his anguish at what happened to him and can see shedding tears and being very upset but not crying like a little child. I did love the way Jamie comforted him though. I love the sex scene but it did seem to be just dropped in like an obligation. I did like the moaning rather than the Gasping vocalization she did in the last 3 Seasons, however. Now to that ending... OMG what were they thinking!? That was the most horrid ending since Bobby woke up in the shower in Dallas. If that had been the first episode I had ever watched of Outlander I would never have watched another. I hope they get it together in the coming season because I felt like I had cold ice water thrown on me last night. They have a winning formula for the last 3 Seasons and as the saying goes if it ain't broke don't fix it. This one's broke... Fix it!

Toni Williams said...

I tweeted about the use of "America the Beautiful". Totally inappropriate. Felt as if I were slapped in the face. Ray Charles version is sacred. I was seriously angry. Muting won't help. Damage done.

Mary Tormey said...

Hi Karen saw it 4 times and loved everything about it but for the music , but more tomorrow . please post more soon. Happy Week. Sincerely .

Anonymous said...

IMHO, the last scene playing America the Beautiful by Ray Charles was a very powerful statement. America has always been a place where many come to live the “the American Dream”. Immigrants have settled here to rebuild their lives and dreams, to raise their families and build a future. America is a melting pot filled with immigrants from different countries who have added lots of diversity to the Beautiful America.

Life in general is full of great things as well as unfortunate events and situations beyond a persons control. There is good and evil in this great country and we cannot deny that some have it better than others, but for some it is a vicious cycle.

I’m also a book reader and admire the great work and adaptation from the writers and wonderful actors/actresses. Looking forward to the upcoming episodes!

Mary said...

I have watched it three times now and I agree with Karen, I didn’t like the song playing over the violent robbery. It was very distracting. I turned it way down the next time I watched. I loved the medicine box. Anyone else have a flashback to season 2 when they saw the words Bitter Cascara? I did. I didn’t think the sex scene was thrown in like others had commented, it replaces the river scene that they couldn’t do (I’m assuming because of the weather). I love it when they connect and I think they needed to start the season off with that connection. Overall, I enjoyed the episode. I will always be a fan, I will never stop watching. I typically watch each episode a dozen times, some episodes I’ve watched up to 30+ times. I look forward to your observations this season, Karen!

Nancy K. said...

Playing America the Beautiful during that last scene was absolutely disrespectful to a song that signifies the grandeur and beauty of our country! To play it during a scene such as this is horrific and the mist inappropriate background music that could’ve been selected. Very poor judgement!!

Jacqui said...

Overall I liked the episode but it was not my favourite and I have to say I am a bit worried about where future episodes are going to go if they keep changing the storyline. I get that it is an adaptation BUT there are somethings that are crucial to the flow of the story, ie Duncan (where was he?), Stephen Bonnet talking about the sea, that should have been a conversation with Brianna, it plays into what happens between them in ABOSAA. Why did they change the rings? It doesn’t make a huge difference in the story line but I don’t get why they did it. I whole heartedly agree about the ending. That was the wrong song choice. It was too loud and too jarring and completely took me out of the scene. It was difficult to concentrate on what was happening. At the very least it could have been playing softly in the background. Oh and Jamie’s hair really needs attention.

Mary Tormey said...

Hi Karen I have seen the premiere episode 4 times I liked it every time I did and felt Jamie and Claire were more connected as a couple and represented themselves as such , loved the Grave yard scene with Young Ina and understood his reaction to the grave yard and loved seeing how Jamie was with him Stephen Bonet was charming and kind and caring and seemed to be very good as convincing them to let hi go and that's what villans like him do and he
s too faced and really took advantage of Jamie and Claire and he made a deep connection with Claire , the romance scene was beautiful and well done and they are more connected as a couple and loved seeing the NC Mountainside in the background the next day and as CLaire is telling Jamie what America will be come in the future , like the fact that Jamie thinks more of the Native Americans and love the line 'it's a dream for some but a nightmare for other meaning slaves and Indians , love the taven scenes with Fergus and Marsali and loved Young Ian's reaction to Jamie telling him he will be going back to Scotland . beautiful monment when Fergus tells them of Marsali being pregnant and love Jamie's reaction , the next scne in where the get ready for the Govenor's Dinner is a lot like Season '2 "La Dame Blanche ' but different and again Claire and Jamie are a unity and the dinner is also a reminder , love seeing Lord Standhope and Phillip Whlye and looking at Claire 's Ruby while Jamie looks on, his meeting with Govenor Tryon is different from the book the subject of Jamie 's Catholic upbringing is not used , love seeing Jamie and CLaire discuss it and their future and Claire reminding him of the Revultionary War to come , and loved seeing Young Ian with Rollo his new friend the Cape River scnes was the way I pictured it and the boat as well and hearing Jamie describe his Aunt Jocasta as a MacKenzie . beautiful scene with Jamie giving Claire her Medicine Box and how happy they are together , the ending was great and Stephen Bonnet shows his true nature and was brutal with them and didn't like seeing Lesley being killed , felt the music was too big for the scene , I understand why the used it but it took your attention away from the action that was taking place , but it made you under stand more about what Bonnet is and what he can do , in general it was great , but people need to understand the TV show is differet from the books and vice versa that's been going on for decades and will coninuue will be watching next Sunday for Jamie & Claire ;s visit t Aunt Jocasta . please post more soon. Happy Week. Loving Outlander .
s

KMC said...

I liked the premier episode and have started to get used to the changes the TV writers make. I, too, worry about how it will play as the story continues as the books rely on ALL past actions and characters to keep the continuity. What really made me like the episode is all the book dialogue acted out on the screen. Good job. I think they switched rings because a gold band isn't unusual, where a key made into a ring is. It will aid later on as a visual for Brianna if they show her horrible handling by Stephen Bonnet. I also think the intimate scene was well done. I don't think Claire and Jamie have had much time alone as they travelled from Georgia to North Carolina and it made for the perfect opportunity. As for the last scene, it really struck me having a brutal robbery, beating, assault and killing juxtaposed with one of the best version of America the Beautiful ever performed. It made its point - America is beautiful AND it certainly was dangerous in the 18th century. It would have worked better for me over the credits. Thank you, Karen for the well written observations of season 4, episode 1. Look forward to next week.

Karen Charbonneau said...

Excellent recap, Karen. While watching the last scene, I thought, "'America' would be more appropriately played during a battle scene of the American Revolutionary War, not now in the story." As for the first scene, thanks for telling us it occurred in America 2000 B.C. - I was viewing it as having occurred in ancient Scotland.

Unknown said...

Hi Karen. As always I like your attention to detail in the recaps. I personally didn't mind the song at the end. The juxtaposition is jarring and disorienting, as it's meant to be, and a little surreal, but I think that it doesn't really detract from the violence of the scene.

One small comment re the opening scene - it seemed that the 2000 BC natives were grunting at each other... not really communicating through any kind of sophisticated language, which I think is a misconception (we don't have any written records, but that doesn't mean they weren't speaking to each other).

Looking forward to more NC scenery...

Julia said...

Totally agree with you on the final scene. The music was so distracting! I love your recaps - you notice so many things that slip by me.

Unknown said...

During the closing scene “the attack by Bonnet & his gang”, why play America the Beautiful, during this horrible beating & attack on your main characters? In bad taste my opinion considering all the political divide US is experiencing at this time!!! I’d rather just heard the attack vs using my favorite song about my country, during a beating scene, not kool...oh I’ve read the entire series years ago, but believe the filming to be excellent in following the books as written except for using AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL!!

Max Braun said...

Karen - I totally agree with your assessment of the closing scene/song - totally, totally, totally!