Episode 506: "Better to Marry Than Burn" (SPOILERS!)
Here are my reactions to Episode 506 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "Better to Marry Than Burn".
*** SPOILER WARNING!! ***
There are SPOILERS below! If you don't want to know yet, stop reading now.
The opening title card shows Phillip Wylie, covering his face with a cone while a slave powders his hair.
I loved the opening scene, a flashback showing Jocasta, her husband Hector, and their sixteen-year-old daughter Morna fleeing for their lives after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. This whole sequence is riveting, suspenseful, and reasonably faithful to the book version, although they changed a few of the details.
Their coach is galloping down the road when the sight of a pair of English dragoons forces them to stop. Hector Cameron gives a false name, but that doesn't prevent the soldiers from searching the coach. At first they find nothing, but then one of the soldiers bends down to give the girl, Morna, a boost into the coach, and he spots a heavy box hidden underneath.
"Gold! With the King of France's mark on it. It must be intended for Charles Stuart."
Hector pulls out a pistol, and in the confrontation that follows, he manages to kill both Redcoats, but in the process, he accidentally shoots his own daughter, Morna. This scene comes straight from the book:
A pistol shot startled all of them into momentary immobility. Leaning from the coach’s open door, Hector had fired at the soldier holding Morna—but it was dusk and the light was poor; perhaps the horses had moved, jostling the coach. The shot struck Morna in the head.Maria Doyle Kennedy gives a wonderful performance as Jocasta, here and throughout the whole episode. She's really a joy to watch. Her face is so expressive!
“I ran to her,” Jocasta said. Her voice was hoarse, her throat gone dry and thick. “I ran to her, but Hector jumped out and seized me. The soldiers were all standing, staring with the shock. He dragged me back, into the coach, and shouted to the groom to drive, drive on!”
She licked her lips and swallowed, once.
“‘She is dead,’ he said to me. Over and over, ‘She is dead, you cannot help,’ he said, and held me tight when I would have thrown myself from the coach in my despair.”
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 53, "The Frenchman's Gold." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The next scene takes place at River Run, some 25 years later. Finally, we get our first look at Duncan Innes, Jocasta's fiancé. Duncan is much older than I expected (in the books, he's described as being in his mid-fifties, only a few years older than Jamie), but he's a shy, kind, considerate man, just as in the books.
Duncan gives her a gift that comes straight from the book (FIERY CROSS chapter 4, "Wedding Gifts"): a pillow filled with lavender. It's embroidered with the MacKenzie clan motto, "Luceo non uro", which I thought was a nice touch.
I really disliked the way Jocasta rudely interrupted Duncan's earnest little speech with a curt, "Thank you," as though she was speaking to one of her slaves, rather than her about-to-be-husband.
"In time, Mr. Innes may afford me a wee bit of...peace," Jocasta tells Ulysses. But in the meantime, she can barely even manage to be polite to him? Geez.
In the next scene, we see Jamie holding a formal document where Jocasta names Roger and Bree's son Jemmy as heir to River Run.
"What??!?!?" I said, when I saw this. I really hated this. It's awfully contrived, and it blatantly contradicts what we saw just a few weeks ago in Episode 501.
So Jocasta just blithely ignores Roger's reaction (“I do not want your money. My wife does not want it. And my son will not have it. Cram it up your hole, aye?”) and does whatever she feels like doing anyway. And Jamie doesn't just stand by and let her get away with it, but actually signs his name to the document as a witness? Didn't it ever occur to him that Jemmy's parents might have something to say about this?
"River Run has a new master," Jamie says, smiling. I admit the thought that the "master" is barely old enough to walk is slightly amusing, but I still don't like this At All.
Meanwhile, back on Fraser's Ridge, Bree and Roger are caring for Jemmy, who is suffering from a cold. Suddenly Adso the kitten comes in, dropping a dead grasshopper at Brianna's feet. Roger and Bree notice more grasshoppers at the window.
Back at River Run, a gigantic wedding gazebo has been set up to hold the wedding reception for Jocasta and Duncan. Only Jamie and Claire are not joining in the festivities. Jamie seems preoccupied.
"It should be Murtagh, at Jocasta's side," Jamie says. Oh, come on! The most wanted Regulator in the Colony of North Carolina, marrying Jocasta Cameron? That was never going to work, and Jamie of all people should be smart enough to know that.
I like Claire's hairdo in this episode.
The dancing scene seems to be an excuse to show off the costumes, which are well done.
Lord John is among the dancers. "I must have danced with every young lady in the province," he says, and from the expression in his eyes, he didn't enjoy it much. But then, of course, he's gay.
Governor Tryon is also at the party, along with his wife. She seems to be a friendly and likeable character.
I didn't like the way Jamie seemed to be sucking up to Tryon: "We're fortunate to have a governor so wise and merciful to offer pardons to [the leaders of the Regulation]."
Tryon mentions an act recently passed, "prohibiting ten men or more from gathering under certain circumstances." I'm sure many of you thought at once, as I did, of "social distancing" and other efforts being made all over the world to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Back on the Ridge, the tenants have all gathered at the Big House to discuss what to do about the swarm of grasshoppers approaching their farms. Everyone is talking at once, until Roger shouts, "Fire!" and they all fall silent.
"That panic you felt in your chest, the instinct to protect yourselves from danger. Now imagine if there really was a fire."
And again, we're seeing this play out all over the world right now, with people panic-buying toilet paper and other supplies. Panic is a natural reaction, but we have to fight against it, and I'm glad Roger understands that.
Unfortunately for Roger, the men are looking to him for answers, and he doesn't have any.
Back at River Run, Claire is chatting with the Governor's wife when they notice Phillip Wylie arriving by boat. He looks distinctly odd, with his face powdered and ghastly white, but this is very much as described in the book:
Phillip Wylie was a dandy. I had met him twice before, and on both occasions, he had been got up regardless: satin breeches, silk stockings, and all the trappings that went with them, including powdered wig, powdered face, and a small black crescent beauty mark, stuck dashingly beside one eye.I liked Claire's description of Wylie:
Now, however, the rot had spread. The powdered wig was mauve, the satin waistcoat was embroidered with--I blinked. Yes, with lions and unicorns, done in gold and silver thread. The satin breeches were fitted to him like a bifurcated glove, and the crescent had given way to a star at the corner of his mouth. Mr. Wylie had become a macaroni--with cheese.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 39, "In Cupid's Grove." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
"I found him rather..."
"I was going to say annoying."
Claire wanders over toward a group of ladies, one of whom is telling the others about advice she read from a "Dr. Rawlings" on how to avoid becoming pregnant. I thought it was a good thing Claire hadn't been sipping her drink, or she surely would have choked on it. "Dr. Rawlings", of course, is a pseudonym for Claire, and the medical advice they're discussing is hers.
Watching Claire butting into their conversation with her own unsolicited comments, I was reminded very strongly of the scene in Episode 206 ("Best Laid Schemes...") where Claire suggests to some French ladies in Paris that they might consider helping the poor, or words to that effect. She means well, but the ladies just don't know how to react.
As Claire turns to go, she nearly collides with Phillip Wylie, and accidentally spills her drink. They make small talk for a few minutes, but it's clear that Claire wants him to go away, and fortunately Mrs. Tryon shows up to rescue her, claiming that Jocasta wants to see her.
Back on the Ridge, there are more grasshoppers in evidence. Bree tries to console Roger, but he's still mentally comparing himself to Jamie.
"I wish your father were here."
He's sure Jamie would have found a solution, but he has no idea what it might be. "I'm done trying to out-think him," he says -- and then he has an idea.
Roger remember a story his father used to tell him when he was a boy, about farmers who used smoke to drive away a swarm of locusts. I don't know if there really is a story like that, but plagues of locusts and grasshoppers have certainly occurred from time to time throughout history. Look here, for example.
The swarm of grasshoppers in this episode is based on an incident in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, but in that case it was Claire, not Roger, who came up with the solution:
I shuddered in memory. A cloud of the nasty goggle-eyed things had come whirring through, just at the end of the barley harvest. I’d gone up to my garden to pick greens, only to discover said greens seething with wedge-shaped bodies and shuffling, clawed feet, my lettuces and cabbages gnawed to ragged nubbins and the morning-glory vine on the palisade hanging in shreds.Roger's solution is somewhat different, but certainly worth trying, and I love the way his whole face lights up as he explains what he has in mind.
“I ran and got Mrs. Bug and Lizzie, and we drove them off with brooms--but then they all rose up in a big cloud and headed up through the wood to the field beyond the Green Spring. They settled in the barley; you could hear the chewing for miles. It sounded like giants walking through rice.” [....] "We torched the field, and burnt them alive.”
[Jamie's] body jerked in surprise, and he looked down at me.
“What? Who thought of that?”
“I did,” I said, not without pride. In cold-blooded retrospect, it was a sensible thing to have done; there were other fields at risk, not only of barley, but of ripening corn, wheat, potatoes, and hay--to say nothing of the garden patches most families depended on.
In actual fact, it had been a decision made in boiling rage--sheer, bloody-minded revenge for the destruction of my garden. I would happily have ripped the wings off each insect and stamped on the remains--burning them had been nearly as good, though.
(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "Le Mot Juste." Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Back at River Run, Governor Tryon explains to Jamie that he intends to arrest any of the Regulators who have been involved in rioting -- and obviously that includes Murtagh. Tryon makes it clear that he wants to resolve the Regulator problem once and for all before leaving for his new post as Governor of New York.
Meanwhile, on the Ridge, Roger is making smudge pots, to produce large amounts of smoke. A pot full of dung mixed with oil and goose fat must stink pretty powerfully when heated, and I found it a little odd that despite the smell, Bree and Roger and the others don't even bother to cover their noses or mouths.
Meanwhile back at River Run, the party is still going strong. Phillip Wylie catches Claire alone. I liked the "choreography" in this scene, as Wylie moves to block her every time she attempts to leave.
"I know an Irish seafaring gentleman who does business in the port of Wilmington." That can only be Stephen Bonnet, of course.
Claire takes Wylie to another room and pours him a glass of whisky. "My husband makes it," she says -- but surely the raw spirit Jamie has been distilling on the Ridge won't become fine whisky for a few years yet? I choose to believe that Claire was fudging the truth a bit, and that the decanter was filled with Jocasta's whisky, not Jamie's.
"Which one is he, pray tell? Silver, or gold?" Wylie has noticed that Claire wears two wedding rings, and he seems intrigued by the idea.
Wylie asks when her first husband died. Awkward question! Clearly she can't say 1966, and there's a long pause while she searches for words. "A lifetime ago," she says at last. Good answer! I liked that.
"He must have been quite the man to have inspired such devotion after all these years." I have to smile at that, thinking of the enormous amount of discussion I've seen on the subject of Frank on TheLitForum.com and its predecessor, the Compuserve Books and Writers Community, over the years.
Now Claire is asking Wylie for help with Jamie's whisky-making venture. I was really startled that she would bring it up behind Jamie's back like that. Why is she trying to draw Stephen Bonnet's attention to Jamie? That sounds extremely dangerous, and very much out of character for Claire, who (in the books) wanted both herself and Jamie to have as little as possible to do with anything connected to Stephen Bonnet. I don't like it.
"[Bonnet] doesn't do business with people he doesn't know."
"Thankfully we -- I -- would be dealing only with you. And of course, there'd be your share of the profits."
Again -- this is Jamie's whisky-making operation, not Claire's. Where does she get off proposing a scheme like that without even consulting him?
Back on the Ridge, the tenants have started lighting the smudge pots. It's a big operation, but Roger seems to have things under control.
"You know, when your father left me in charge, I thought I'd have to mend a fence, wrangle the odd runaway cow. but no, I get a Biblical plague." Good line.
The next scene is based on FIERY CROSS chapter 43, "Flirtations". Phillip Wylie takes Claire to the barn to see Lucas, his prize stallion. I don't know what kind of horse that is, but in the book, Lucas was a Friesian, like this.
I thought this scene was really well done. Even though I knew it was coming, seeing Phillip Wylie kiss Claire without warning or consent like that seems much more shocking on screen, in this age of #MeToo, than reading about it in the book.
Claire shoves Wylie backward and he lands on his backside in the manure pile. Just then Jamie walks in, takes one look at the situation, and hauls Wylie upright, holding a knife to his throat.
"Stop!" cries Claire. "Are you really going to kill someone at your aunt's wedding? He's not worth it."
Good question, especially since we viewers saw Jamie choke a man to death with his bare hands just last week!
Jamie's reaction, once he's alone with Claire, is much more subdued than in the book. "What were you thinking, spending time alone with a man like him?" is all he says.
Contrast that with his reaction in the book:
“I’m up to my ears in Majors and Regulators and drunken maid servants, and you’re out in the stable, canoodling wi’ that fop!”I think Jamie should have shown more jealousy here.
I felt the blood rising behind my eyes, and curled my fists, in order to control the impulse to slap him. “I was not ‘canoodling’ in the slightest degree, and you know it! The beastly little twerp made a pass at me, that’s all.”
“A pass? Made love to ye, ye mean? Aye, I can see that!”
“He did not!”
“Oh, aye? Ye asked him to let ye try his bawbee on for luck, then?” He waggled the finger with the black patch under my nose, and I slapped it away, recalling a moment too late that “make love to” merely meant to engage in amorous flirtation, rather than fornication.
“I mean,” I said, through clenched teeth, “that he kissed me. Probably for a joke. I’m old enough to be his mother, for God’s sake!”
“More like his grandmother,” Jamie said brutally. “Kissed ye, forbye--why in hell did ye encourage him, Sassenach?”
My mouth dropped open in outrage—insulted as much at being called Phillip Wylie’s grandmother as at the accusation of having encouraged him.
“Encourage him? Why, you bloody idiot! You know perfectly well I didn’t encourage him!”
“Your own daughter saw ye go in there with him! Have ye no shame? With all else there is to deal with here, am I to be forced to call the man out, as well?”
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 43, "Flirtations." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
"How are we supposed to get him back on side?" Claire asks. It sounds as though there's a word missing. Shouldn't it be "our side"?
Back on the increasingly grasshopper-infested Ridge, the tenants are setting out smudge pots in the fields, using sheets and other cloths to create a breeze to try to control which way the smoke drifts. There certainly is a lot of smoke!
Suddenly, the main swarm of insects arrives. It's immense, filling the whole sky, much as the passenger pigeons did in Episode 503. Everyone hunkers down in the fields, choking and coughing, to wait it out.
Watching all this, I couldn't help thinking that as visually interesting as it is, there's not really any dramatic tension here. Once Roger decided on this plan, it seemed inevitable, at least to me, that he was going to succeed, and so the outcome was utterly predictable. But maybe I'm biased, knowing how the similar scene in ABOSAA turned out.
Back at River Run, Jamie finds Phillip Wylie in the library. He drops a bag of coins on the table in front of Wylie.
Jamie threatens to tell the Governor's wife all about Wylie's activities. "One word in her ear and within a fortnight, every man, woman, and child in the province of North Carolina will ken what kind of 'gentleman' you are."
Instead, Jamie proposes that they play a game of whist, where Wylie will wager the stallion, Lucas, against Jamie's bag of coins. Wylie laughs out loud (and he has a very high-pitched, distinctive laugh), saying, "If you want to play at this table, Mr. Fraser, you're going to have to produce something far more valuable."
The next scene is based on FIERY CROSS chapter 46, "Quicksilver." Jamie asks Claire for her gold wedding ring to use as a stake.
"If we get the horse, we get to take revenge on a man much worse than Phillip Wylie." How? This makes no sense to me. How will taking Lucas damage Stephen Bonnet in any way?
"Stephen Bonnet tried to rip this [the gold ring] out of my throat, or have you forgotten?" Good line, and I loved the way Cait said the lines through her teeth. Furious, but in control of herself.
The whole question of whether Jamie is doing this for Bree's honor or for his own seems blatantly obvious to me. Phillip Wylie offended Jamie's honor by trying to seduce his wife, and so by 18th-century standards, of course it's Jamie's honor that he's fighting for.
"Then you might as well take both of them," Claire says -- and just as in the book, she drops both rings in his palm and walks away. I thought Cait was very good here.
Watching this, I'm really, really glad that they finally replaced Claire's original wedding ring with this silver one in Season 4! I can't imagine how they would have pulled off this particular scene if she'd still been wearing the old one.
Back on the Ridge, after the crisis has passed, Lindsay comes to thank Roger for his help. "My family willna go hungry this winter, thanks to you -- Captain."
So Roger has now won the trust and gratitude of Jamie's tenants, and that's a good thing, but his relationship with Jamie is still on very rocky ground. We'll hope that Jame looks on him a little more favorably after this experience.
Bree sees one last grasshopper crawling away, and brings her hoe down hard on it with a satisfied expression.
The next scene, between Jocasta and Murtagh, is well-written and well-acted, but I really didn't care for it. I'm just sick of what the fans have taken to calling "Murcasta" at this point, and I'm amazed they spent so much of this episode on such a lengthy scene between the two of them. Enough already!!
It's completely implausible, anyway. Are they seriously expecting us to believe that Murtagh, the most wanted man in the entire Colony of North Carolina, just arrived and walked into the house under the Governor's nose, so to speak, without anyone seeing him except Ulysses? (Though to be fair, I can understand Ulysses not wanting to have him shot the night before the wedding.)
Murtagh gives her a brooch made of silver, similar to the one he wears on his chest.
"Will ye wait for me?"
What kind of a ridiculous question is that, the night before her wedding? It makes no sense at all, and I really do think Murtagh has lost his senses.
"[You said] you wouldn't stand in the way of my happiness."
"Well, I'm standin' in the way of it now!" he shouts at her.
My reaction to that was, "Why don't you just go away?" Honestly, I'm so tired of this plotline!
"My father told us that you could place a MacKenzie in the hottest fires of hell itself, a fire that would burn any other man to bones, but a MacKenzie wouldna burn. A MacKenzie would survive." I like that.
And then she proceeds to tell Murtagh her version of the events we saw at the beginning of this episode, when she and Hector and Morna fled after Culloden.
"I left [Morna] there in the mud, lying next to strangers. Her bones may be there still, on the road, gone to dust, while I've sat here for thirty years, growing old in a palace made from the gold that took her from me."
I like that very much!
"My blindness is punishment for leaving her, for not looking back." Wow. That's a line I didn't notice on the first viewing.
"And I ken what sort of man you are."
"What sort of man is that?"
"A sort of man who will lose everything for what he believes in. The sort of man I swore I would never give my heart to again."
And then Murtagh finally says the words: "I love you, Jocasta MacKenzie."
I'm wearing out my eye-rolling muscles, watching this. Enough already! OUTLANDER is not and never was meant to be the story of Murtagh and Jocasta's One True Love, and I for one am utterly sick of it, no matter how beautifully written or well-acted it might be.
In the stables, Claire goes to see Lucas the stallion. "I hope you're worth it," she mutters, clearly still upset about the rings. Then Jamie comes in, obviously drunk, but holding the rings.
"Ye say and do what ye like, no matter the consequences. You think too much from your own time."
This sounds very much like Jamie in Episode 109, "The Reckoning." Surely they know each other better than that by now?
"You're a woman like no other, Sassenach, but don't forget, you're still a woman." This is really clunky writing. What does that even mean? Claire slapping him at that point made no sense to me either.
I did like the way they came together afterward, though. I sometimes think of Jamie and Claire's love for one another as a giant magnet, drawing them closer even when they try to fight against it. And you can see that here, in Claire's body language.
The sex scene here is taken from FIERY CROSS chapter 49, "In Vino Veritas".
I made a noise, and he clapped a hand over my mouth. Speared as neatly as a landed trout, I was just as helpless, pinned flapping against the wall.The scene afterward starts out very much like the book, but then Jamie says something I didn't expect:
He took his hand away and replaced it with his mouth, engulfing mine. I could feel the small urgent growls he was making in his throat, and felt another one, much louder, rising in mine.
My shift was wadded high around my waist, and my bare buttocks smacked rhythmically against the roughened brick, but I felt no pain at all. I gripped him by the shoulders and held on.
His hand skimmed my thigh, pushing at the drifts of linen that threatened to come between us. I remembered, vividly, those hands in the darkness, and bucked convulsively.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 49, "In Vino Veritas." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
"[Wylie] was almost in tears, 'til I told him I'd trade him the beast for a whisky partnership."
"And an introduction to the best smuggler in North Carolina."
Did I miss something? When did Claire have a chance to tell Jamie the details of her conversation with Phillip Wylie? It seems he's following her plan to the letter, but how did he even know about it?
"Promise me that Stephen Bonnet will never take another thing from us again."
And Jamie takes the rings from his bag and gently puts them on her fingers, one at a time. I really liked the way he did that.
The next scene shows Forbes the lawyer and Stephen Bonnet in a coffeehouse.
"Your son is now the proud owner of River Run," Forbes tells him.
So the earlier scene with Jocasta and Jamie signing the formal document was only needed to set up this specific plot twist. That feels very contrived to me, and I don't like it at all.
In the final scene, Governor Tryon appears to be done with his attempts to pursue the Regulators individually. He tells Jamie to gather his men and meet him in Hillsborough within a fortnight, prepared for war. And on that very ominous note, the episode ends.
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 507.
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.