Episode 502: "Between Two Fires" (SPOILERS!)
Here are my reactions to Episode 502 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "Between Two Fires".
*** SPOILER WARNING!! ***
There are SPOILERS below! If you don't want to know yet, stop reading now.
The episode opens with a mob setting fire to a redcoat uniform, and it quickly becomes clear that we are in the middle of what became known as the Hillsborough Riots, a real historical event that took place in 1770. The Regulators drag men from their homes, tear off their shirts, and proceed to tar and feather them. It's a brutal and horrific scene, made even more so by Murtagh, standing there impassively saying, "Go to it, lads!"
As portrayed in this scene, Murtagh could not be further from the likeable, sympathetic character, Jamie's godfather, whom we saw in last week's episode, and frankly, I was appalled. It reminded me somewhat of Dougal in Episode 210, "Prestonpans", killing the wounded English soldiers on the field, and I lost a lot of respect for Murtagh when I saw that. Not a promising start to this episode, to put it mildly!
The opening title card features Claire's bread-making (more about that later).
On the Ridge, Brianna has started drawing in charcoal again, just as she did when she stayed at River Run in Season 4. But the subject of her sketch is Stephen Bonnet, and it's clear that she is still very much affected by the trauma of her rape.
The quiet is shattered by the screams of a woman driving a wagon at a gallop toward the Big House, yelling for help for her husband, Mr. Farrish, who is having trouble breathing. They bring him into Claire's surgery, and his wife says she's given him purgatives and bled him, to no effect.
"Mrs. Bug, get me a bowl of cold water, please." And that's the only introduction we get to Murdina Bug, one of my favorite minor characters from the OUTLANDER books. Sadly, she doesn't speak or act much like the Mrs. Bug we know from the books. I hope that changes as we go through this season!
On further questioning, the man's wife admits she gave him "Blue Mass" pills containing mercury. At that point Claire says there's nothing more she can do for the patient, and moments later, he dies.
The next scene is a lengthy conversation between Jamie and the Redcoat officer, Lt. Knox, as they ride on horseback with Knox's troops and some of the militia members from the Ridge. Knox is complimentary toward Jamie and somewhat envious of Jamie's land, but he makes it clear that what he really wants is to capture Murtagh FitzGibbons.
They come upon a family on the road, and Knox tosses them a coin, as though he's an English lord and they are his serfs. The man spits at him contemptuously, and Knox takes offense at his lack of manners.
The conversation between Jamie and Knox resumes as they proceed on their way, and I'm starting to grow impatient. None of this dialogue is in the book, and this journey seems to be taking forever.
"I admire a man who puts duty and honor above all else," Knox says. Ironic, considering what he does later in the episode.
A rider approaches with the news that there have been riots in Hillsborough, and three of the Regulators have been captured. Jamie, Knox, and the other men proceed to Hillsborough.
Meanwhile, back on the Ridge, Claire is in the middle of an autopsy on the dead Mr. Farrish, with his belly slit open and his abdomen a gory mass of flesh. Bree comes in and is understandably horrified.
"His appendix burst, he was in septic shock, and bacteria in his abdomen created a serious infection. Blood-letting and mercury pills weren't going to do a damn thing except--"
"Kill him faster."
So the man died from a ruptured appendix.
"I can't watch someone die like this, knowing that if he'd just come to me sooner, I could have saved his life."
Saved his life, how? I don't have a medical background, but that makes no sense to me. Even in the books, Claire couldn't have prevented his appendix from rupturing without the sort of abdominal surgery that would require ether for anesthesia, as when she performed an emergency appendectomy on young Aidan McCallum in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES. She's not thinking straight or being logical here, and it's very much out of character. I didn't like that at all.
Bree finally leaves, saying she needs to get some air. I don't blame her, considering how much that corpse must stink already!
In the next scene, Claire watches as Marsali dismembers a deer. She stares off into the distance, then at Marsali. It's clear she's thinking, but it drags on for too long, a seemingly pointless silence.
Jamie and Knox and the others arrive in Hillsborough as the townspeople are cleaning up in the aftermath of the riots. They encounter Edmund Fanning, a real historical figure whom we met in Episode 408 ("Wilmington"). Fanning takes Jamie and Knox to a tavern where they meet one of the victims of the tar-and-feather incident, whose injuries are still fresh, and quite gory.
"In time you will wear your scars wi' honor, knowing you received them doing your duty."
That's a very odd sentiment coming from Jamie Fraser, who knows all too well what it's like to be subjected to humiliating and very painful punishment (in his case, flogging) for a crime he didn't commit. Can he not bring himself to show any sympathy whatever for the injured man where Knox can see it?
"They tore apart my house by the timbers," Fanning says. That is a historical fact, according to this site:
[In] the riots of September 1770 his house was cut from its sills and leveled to its foundations, "every article of furniture destroyed," and his papers and wearing apparel "carried into the street by armfulls and destroyed."Jamie and Knox go to see the three Regulator prisoners. Jamie's dialogue is really clumsy and contrived here, making it abundantly clear that he wants to talk to the Regulators alone, presumably on the assumption that Murtagh might be one of them. Unfortunately for him, Knox insists on going with him.
Jamie questions the prisoners. "Look me in the eye, and tell me what you did was justified." So he, at least, has a sense of honor and morality, unlike just about everyone else in this episode.
Knox demands to know where Murtagh is, and the bearded man refuses, whereupon Knox draws his sword, saying, "I will remind you that I am a Lieutenant in His Majesty's Army."
The Regulator is not impressed. "I am Murtagh FitzGibbons," he says, in a vivid reminder of the famous scene from the movie SPARTACUS. Knox reacts instantly, running him through the belly with his sword, killing him in a very gruesome way.
Jamie is furious. "You executed a man without trial!" But Knox says nothing. He appears to be in shock.
Meanwhile, back on Fraser's Ridge....
A third of the way through the episode, and finally, we get our first scene that's taken at least partly from the book: Brianna giving Roger shooting lessons. I enjoyed this scene very much, and it's a relief to have a break from the grim tone of the episode so far.
I liked the "Tufty Fluffytail" bit, though I'd never heard of the character before. According to this site,
Tufty - full name Tufty Fluffytail - had his origins in 1953, created by the late Elsie Miles. In 1961, the Tufty Club was set up as a network of local groups - which at its peak had nearly 25,000 branches throughout the country. Parents would join the Tufty Club on their children's behalf, and children would proudly wear badges showing that they were members. By the early 1970s, an estimated 2m children had been members, and the movement continued well into the 1980s.Roger still feels very much inferior compared to Jamie. "He doesn't respect me, Bree. It doesn't help matters that we had Jemmy baptized by a Presbyterian."
So does that mean we won't hear Jamie's infamous confession featuring Claire and the butter churn? I hope they'll manage to work it in somewhere else in the season.
Bree leans against Roger's shoulder, correcting his aim with the rifle and thoroughly distracting him in the process, which made me smile. They take aim at a flock of turkeys, and Roger misses, but Bree hits one, just as in the book:
"What a thing," he said. He held it at arm's length to drain, admiring the vivid reds and blues of the bare, warty head and dangling wattle. "I don't think I've ever seen one, save roasted on a platter, with chestnut dressing and roast potatoes."It's clear from their conversation that Roger wants to go back to the 20th century.
He looked from the turkey to her with great respect, and nodded at the gun.
"That's great shooting, Bree."
She felt her cheeks flush with pleasure, and restrained the urge to say, "Aw, shucks, it warn't nothin'," settling instead for a simple, "Thanks."
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "Shooting Lessons". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
"Our family is here."
"You and Jemmy are my family. James Fraser is my Colonel."
His colonel, not his father-in-law? Wow, that's harsh! Is that what he really thinks of Jamie? It will be very interesting to see how their relationship evolves over the course of this season.
In the tavern in Hillsborough, Knox feels guilty for killing the Regulator. But he seems to think being run through with a sword is a better death than being hanged, and I can't say I agree.
"To die for king and country," Knox says. "For that is an oath we both have sworn."
"Aye, we have."
I'm confused by this bit. When did Jamie swear an oath like that?
In the next scene, Roger is singing "Abide with Me" at the funeral of Mr. Farrish, the man who died in Claire's surgery. Richard Rankin has a beautiful singing voice, and I'm glad they're giving us plenty of opportunities to hear him sing early in the season.
After the service, we get our first good look at Fergus and Marsali's baby daughter, Joan. She appeared briefly in the wedding scene in Episode 501, but some viewers may not have noticed her.
Claire takes Marsali to the surgery. I loved Marsali's reaction to the sight of the butchered corpse on the table, which obviously reminds her of all the horrible things Laoghaire told her about Claire over the years.
"Was she right, my ma? Was she?"
"I'm NOT a witch!"
OK, Claire, if you say so, but you're certainly acting like one!
"Who did we bury?"
"No one. Roger and I filled the coffin with rocks."
I have a really hard time believing that Roger, a minister's son, would agree to that sort of crazy scheme, much less to (more or less) officiate at a fake burial in full view of the grieving widow, knowing that it was a sham. This seems wildly out of character for Roger, and I thought he had better sense than that.
So Claire wants Marsali to be her apprentice. Marsali, with a toddler and an infant at home and all the household chores -- plus the hunting -- to do, presumably has zero spare time to do anything at all, much less helping Claire in her surgery. I just don't see why she would agree to this, or why Fergus would let her.
Add to that the fact that we already know quite well what killed this poor man: a burst appendix, as Claire said earlier. What more can Claire hope to learn from examining his body?
This whole plotline is so farfetched, I doubt I'll watch this part of the episode ever again. It's just beyond ridiculous.
Back in Hillsborough, Jamie sneaks into the jail where the Regulators are being held, breaks the door open (with hardly any effort at all!), and frees the two surviving men.
I liked seeing the women of the Ridge making candles. They certainly use an awful lot of them! <g> But the purpose of this scene is to show that the women don't yet trust Claire's medical advice. They'd rather get their medical help from the doctor at Cross Creek (not Dr. Fentiman, but evidently a man with similar beliefs), and they don't believe Claire when she gives them good advice.
"Can you imagine if it was discovered that the King was being poisoned by his own physician?" one of the women asks skeptically. But in fact, there is some evidence that that's exactly what happened to King George III.
So Claire writes out tips for preventive health care, under the pseudonym of "Dr. Rawlings", whom book-readers will know as the former owner of Claire's medical box. I thought it was a good idea to use his name. A very brief nod, at least, to book-readers, as if to say that the writers have not entirely lost sight of the source material, even if they're using precious little of Diana Gabaldon's words in this episode.
Meanwhile, back in Hillsborough, Knox tells Jamie, "You need more men." Jamie is going to have to call up the Fraser's Ridge militia, but even that number of troops won't be enough. "Come prepared for war," says Knox.
Back at the Big House, Claire tests Roger's vision. This scene is loosely based on the scene in THE FIERY CROSS, but in the book, Roger's difficulty is a lack of binocular vision, not nearsightedness.
“Your eyes are fine,” I assured him. “It’s just that they don’t work together. It’s really a fairly common condition--and many people who have it don’t realize it. It’s just that in some people, for one reason or another, the brain never learns to merge the images coming in from both eyes in order to make a three-dimensional image.”We learn several more bits of information in this scene:
“You can see perfectly well for almost anything you want to do,” I assured him. “And you very likely can learn to shoot all right; most of the men I see shooting close one eye when they fire, anyway. But you might have trouble hitting moving targets. You can see what you’re aiming at, all right--but without binocular vision, you may not be able to tell precisely where it is in order to hit it.”
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 21, "Twenty-Twenty". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
- Marsali has agreed to be Claire's apprentice
- Roger helped Claire hide the cadaver under the root cellar. (Can you imagine the smell seeping into the area where they keep onions, potatoes, and other food items for the winter? Ewwww!)
- Roger's father, Jerry MacKenzie, was an RAF pilot who flew Spitfires in WWII. (Unlike the other two items, this one is actually consistent with the books.)
"As much as I love all of you being here, I hope you don't stay."
My instant reaction to this statement from Claire was, "WHAT?!?? Are you kidding?!" I could be wrong, but I don't recall Book Claire ever saying something like that to either Roger or Bree after they settled on the Ridge. Yes, it's dangerous, but would she really rather send them away forever?
In the next scene, the escaped Regulators return to the main Regulator camp. The watchword, "Caisteal Dhuni", is the war cry of Clan Fraser of Lovat, which is certainly appropriate for Murtagh. From Wikipedia:
"Caisteal Dhuni" (Castle Dounie/Downie) refers to the ancestral Castle and Clan seat, which once existed near the present Beaufort Castle.Herman Husband, the Quaker who in the book was the unofficial leader of the Regulators, looks nothing at all like I expected. That huge bushy beard is so distracting that I have a hard time paying attention to anything the man says, which is unfortunate.
So now Murtagh sounds reasonable, understanding Jamie's position ("between two fires") without agreeing with it. It strikes me as too little too late. I'm not ready to forgive or forget the way Murtagh acted at the beginning of this episode, when he ordered the tar-and-feathering.
And now, yet another contrived scene featuring Claire. This time she's baking dozens and dozens (!) of bread loaves, not for eating but to set aside to grow mold for penicillin experiments. This strikes me as ridiculous, an enormous waste of the precious grain supply that they need to get through the winter.
But even if you accept that Claire needed to bake all that bread, it's Brianna's reaction that really surprised me. When Claire says she's going to make penicillin, Bree's reaction is to tell her she can't do that, because "penicillin isn't invented for another hundred years."
"It's dangerous. What if it messes with some cosmic balance, or breaks some rule of space and time?"
Since when would Bree let that stop her, or Claire, from experimenting? Bree is an engineer by training. In the books, she's always building things, inventing things. Snake-fang syringes, matches, safety pins, water pipes....the list goes on. It's wildly out of character for Bree to object to Claire trying to do the same thing on the grounds that the technology is anachronistic. I didn't like that at all.
The next scene, where Roger sings, "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog" to wee Jemmy, is very cute and a lot of fun. Too bad Jemmy doesn't seem interested.
Roger takes the laundry basket into the cabin, and accidentally discovers Bree's drawings, including more of Stephen Bonnet. He's disturbed enough by the pictures that he doesn't really react when Bree shows him how Jemmy has learned to walk.
The last scene in the episode features a bizarre fight between two women, with a raucous crowd placing bets on the outcome, followed by a swordfight between Stephen Bonnet and another man. This is based on an incident in the book that Lord John Grey describes to Jamie in a letter.
One combatant was the man Bonnet, the other a Captain Marsden, a half-pay Army Captain known to my Guest as a good Swordsman. This Marsden, feeling himself the injured Party, damned Bonnet’s eyes, and invited the Smuggler to accommodate him upon the Spot, an Offer at once accepted. Wagers ran heavy upon Marsden, his Reputation being known, but it was soon clear that he had met his Match and more in Bonnet. Within no more than a few moments, Bonnet succeeded in disarming his Opponent, and in Wounding him so grievously in the Thigh that Marsden sank down upon his Knees and yielded to his Opponent--having no Choice in the Matter at that Point, to be sure.
Bonnet did not accept of this Surrender, though, but instead performed an Act of such Cruelty as made the deepest Impression upon all who saw it. Remarking with great coolness that it was not his own Eyes that would be damned, he drew the Tip of his Weapon across Marsden’s Eyes, twisting it in such Fashion as not only to blind the Captain, but to inflict such Mutilation as would make him an Object of the greatest Horror and Pity to all who might behold him.
Leaving his Foe thus mangled and fainting upon the bloody Sand of the Innyard, Bonnet cleansed his Blade by wiping it upon Marsden’s Shirtfront, sheathed it, and left--though not before removing Marsden’s Purse, which he claimed in payment of his original Wager. None present had any Stomach to prevent him, having so cogent an Example of his Skill before them.This is a very shocking scene in the book, but oddly enough, I think it loses some of its impact here, in the context of all the blood and gore and violence we've already seen in this episode. What Bonnet did to that man was horrific, and certainly an illustration of Bonnet's character (as if we needed any more!), but it just felt like too much violence on top of everything that's already happened.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 30, "Spawn of Satan". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Note that Stephen Bonnet has been introduced to Forbes, the lawyer whose proposal Bree rejected last season. This will be important to remember later.
I was really disappointed in this episode, after the season got off to such a good start last week. Let's hope for better things to come!
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 503.
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