Episode 507: "The Ballad of Roger Mac" (SPOILERS!)
Here are my reactions to Episode 507 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "The Ballad of Roger Mac". I thought this was a fantastic episode, easily the best one of the season so far!
*** SPOILER WARNING!! ***
There are SPOILERS below! If you don't want to know yet, stop reading now.
The opening "title card" shows Roger, in the 20th century, writing a song to play on his guitar -- and the title of the song, like the title of this episode, is "The Ballad of Roger Mac".
As the episode opens, the militia has gathered in Hillsborough, preparing for battle with the Regulators.
Hearing Roger singing "Clementine" to Jemmy, I got tears in my eyes, thinking of what's coming later. I'm very glad they included this bit.
Brianna, Lizzie, and Jemmy are staying with the Sherstons in Hillsborough, not far from the site of the battle.
"I barely knew my father before he was killed in WWII, and Jemmy is much younger than I was."
I could quibble with the details here, but I won't. In the books, Roger's father only saw him once, as an infant, so Roger has no memory of him. And clearly that's what Roger is afraid of, that if he's killed in the upcoming battle, Jemmy will be too young to remember him.
Their farewell is sweet (with a heavy dose of foreshadowing, for those who know what's coming!), and I like the way they call each other "Roger Mac" and "Mrs. Mac".
I loved the "Happy Birthday" scene, which is taken almost verbatim from THE FIERY CROSS chapter 58, "Happy Birthday to You". It's always been one of my favorite scenes in this book, and they did a really wonderful job with it!
“This is a morning my father never saw,” Jamie said, still so softly that I heard it as much through the walls of his chest, as with my ears. “The world and each day in it is a gift, mo chridhe--no matter what tomorrow may be.”The next scene shows Governor Tryon inspecting the troops, discussing preparations for the upcoming battle. Jamie points out that Tryon's troops have cannons and other heavy artillery, but the Regulators do not.
I sighed deeply and turned my head, to rest my cheek against his chest. He reached over gently and wiped my nose with a fold of his shirt.
“And as for taking stock,” he added practically, “I’ve all my teeth, none of my parts are missing, and my c*ck still stands up by itself in the morning. It could be worse.”
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 58, "Happy Birthday to You." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
And here comes Roger to join the troops, just a little late. Now that everyone is assembled, Jamie passes out cockades for the men to fix to their hats or coats. (In the book, they wore metal badges with "F.C." for Fraser's Company stamped on them, but the cockades work just as well and I think they're easier to see on TV.)
"I'll have one of those as well," says Isaiah Morton, stepping out from the crowd.
We haven't seen him since the episode in Brownsville, and it's clear Lionel Brown is still furious. "I should have killed you there and then. Nailed your hide to the tavern door."
Jamie breaks up their fight before it can escalate, addressing all the men in a commanding voice. "This man is willing to lay down his life. I'll not turn him away. If ye canna find it in yourselves to fight alongside him, ye may go."
That isn't in the book, but I liked it. It's totally in character for Jamie.
The next scene, with Jamie and the two young Findlay boys, is based on a scene from the book:
“[The] point of hunting is to kill something. The point of going to war is to come back alive.”In the book, Jamie addresses his words to Claire and Roger, but I think it works well here to have him say this to the Findlay brothers, about to face their first battle, especially in view of what happens near the end of this episode.
Jamie choked on a bite of corn dodger. I thumped him helpfully on the back, and he rounded on me, glaring. He coughed crumbs, swallowed, and stood up, plaid swinging.
“Listen to me,” he said, a little hoarsely. “Ye’re right, Sassenach--and ye’re wrong. It’s no like hunting, aye. Because the game isna usually trying to kill you. Mind me--” He turned to Roger, his face grim. “She’s wrong about the rest of it. War is killing, and that’s all. Think of anything less--think of half-measures, think of frightening--above all, think of your own skin--and by God, man, ye will be dead by nightfall of the first day.” He flung the remains of his corn dodger into the fire, and stalked away.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 26, "The Militia Rises." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
"Ye canna waver," Jamie tells the boys, making sure to meet their eyes for a long moment, so they won't forget.
In the next scene, one of the British army officers informs Governor Tryon that a large group of Regulators, led by Murtagh FitzGibbons, is approaching.
Reverend David Caldwell, the Protestant minister who married Roger and Bree in Episode 501, arrives with a message from the Regulators. Caldwell, like Tryon, is a real historical figure.
"I come in hopes that we can settle this matter without bloodshed," he says.
Unfortunately, Tryon isn't in the mood to negotiate. "No," he tells Jamie. "A bold stroke is needed. To hesitate could mean defeat. I am Governor of this Province, and I cannot tolerate such a blatant disregard for the law to be allowed to go unpunished!"
Meanwhile, in Hillsborough, Bree and Jemmy are staying with Mr. and Mrs. Sherston. Mr. Sherston brings news that the Regulators are across the Alamance Creek.
"Where is that?" Bree asks.
"I can show you on a map."And Mr. Sherston very conveniently produces a large map showing the area around Alamance.
If you'd like to see it for yourself, Alamance Battleground is located near present-day Burlington, North Carolina.
Bree has a vague memory that she's heard of Alamance before, but she can't recall any details, only that "something definitely happened there." And the next thing we know, she's on horseback, galloping toward the battlefield.
This is a change from the books, where none of the characters had any knowledge of the Battle of Alamance from the history books, but I think it makes sense. If Bree has information that might make a difference, then she needs to bring it to Jamie and Claire in person. It's a logical, plausible explanation for her presence there on the day of the battle.
The next scene, with Jamie washing himself in the creek, comes straight from the book.
He took his dirk from its discarded sheath, and with no hesitation, drew the edge across the fingers of his right hand. I could see the thin dark line across his fingertips, and bit my lips. He waited a moment for the blood to well up, then shook his hand with a sudden hard flick of the wrist, so that droplets of blood flew from his fingers and struck the standing stone at the head of the pool.I thought they captured the essence of this scene beautifully! And I have to say, after seeing Jamie for most of this season with his hair in a formal queue, it's nice to see him (twice!) in this episode wearing his hair loose for a change.
He laid the dirk beneath the stone, and crossed himself with the blood-streaked fingers of his right hand. He knelt then, very slowly, and bowed his head over folded hands.
I’d seen him pray now and then, of course, but always in public, or at least with the knowledge that I was there. Now he plainly thought himself alone, and to watch him kneeling so, stained with blood and his soul given over, made me feel that I spied on an act more private than any intimacy of the body. I would have moved or spoken, and yet to interrupt seemed a sort of desecration.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 22, "The Fiery Cross." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I liked the way Jamie speaks about Dougal. It's been twenty-five years since Dougal's death at Culloden, and Jamie really does seem relaxed and at peace, talking about him.
And then Claire mentions Murtagh, and Jamie sobers at once. "Murtagh and I have fought back to back as well. This time we'll fight face to face, and no amount of prayer will help."
In the next scene, Brianna arrives at the militia camp. "I've come to warn you," is the first thing she says, before Jamie or Claire can utter a word of surprise or protest at her arrival.
"My professor said that some people consider this to be the spark of the American Revolution."
Well, Bree was (for a while) a history major in college, so it's just barely plausible. There's a clear parallel here to Claire, before Prestonpans, telling Jamie what little she could recall about the battle to come.
Mentally flicking the pages, I could just recall the two-page section that was all the author had seen fit to devote to the second Jacobite Rising, known to historians as “the ’45.” And within that two-page section, the single paragraph dealing with the battle we were about to fight.Bree is certain that Tryon's side will win the battle. Jamie's thoughts turn immediately to Murtagh. Could he be convinced to call off the fight if they assured him it was hopeless?
“The Scots win,” I said helpfully.
“Well, that’s the important point,” he agreed, a bit sarcastically, “but it would be a bit of help to know a little more.”
“If you wanted prophecy, you should have gotten a seer,” I snapped, then relented. “I’m sorry. It’s only that I don’t know much, and it’s very frustrating.”
(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 36, "Prestonpans." Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
To my surprise, Roger actually volunteers to deliver the message to Murtagh. This is a change from the book, where it was Jamie's idea to send Roger across the lines, but I liked it.
"It's too dangerous," Jamie says.
"I know. But I'm the only one who can do it. He knows me. He knows I'm from the future. He'll believe it."
Roger has been much maligned this season, but here we see him taking action on his own initiative, including putting his life at risk, because he's the best person for the job, and not wasting a moment in worrying about what Jamie will think. That speaks highly of his character, if you ask me.
Bree looks worried, but Roger gives her a very slight smile, and she doesn't protest as he leaves on this very dangerous mission.
In the next scene, Claire and Bree are in the medical tent, making sure the supplies are ready to treat the wounded from the battle. Claire points out the penicillin, calling it "my secret weapon".
"Will the flag of truce really help him, if he's still over there when the shooting starts?" This is almost a direct quote from the book (FIERY CROSS chapter 63, "The Surgeon's Book 1"), and I felt my stomach start to twist in knots, in anticipation of what's coming. (On the first viewing, it stayed that way for the rest of the episode.)
In the Regulators' camp, Murtagh is rallying his troops. "We cannot submit to tyranny!" he shouts. "We are not resisting law and order. We are fighting injustice!"
Sorry, but I can't get the image out of my head of Murtagh in Episode 502, ordering a man to be tarred and feathered right in front of him.
"[Tryon's] blood will soak this ground!"
These words, coming from someone I used to think was a likeable, sympathetic character, just turn my stomach.
Murtagh dismisses his men, and then sees Roger across the fire. They go into a tent for a private conversation.
"Tryon has a trained militia. You have farmers with knives and pitchforks."
"And they're brave as lions. They'll fight when the time comes."
"They have cannon, for Christ's sakes!"
I was a little startled to hear that kind of language from Roger, the minister's son.
Roger goes on, listing all the reasons he can think of why the Regulators can't possibly win, but Murtagh is unconvinced.
"If they wait--if you wait--in a few years, we'll all be fighting on the same side."
"Do you ken how long a few years is to men who've lost everything?" Good line.
The next sequence, showing Governor Tryon's ultimatum to the Regulators and Tryon and Murtagh reading it aloud, was very effective. I thought it was a clever and visually interesting way to include multiple points of view at once. The text of Tryon's letter comes almost word-for-word from the book:
To the People now Assembled in Arms, who Style themselves RegulatorsAt the words, "I lament the fatal necessity," notice Jamie, standing alone with his head bowed. This is a bit from the opening credit sequence of Season 5, but we didn't know the context until now.
In Answer to your Petition, I am to acquaint you that I have ever been attentive to the true Interest of this Country, and to that of every Individual residing within it. I lament the fatal Necessity to which you have now reduced me, by withdrawing yourselves from the Mercy of the Crown, and the Laws of your Country, to require you are assembled as Regulators, to lay down your Arms, Surrender up the outlawed Ringleaders, and Submit yourselves to the Laws of your Country, and then rest on the lenity and Mercy of Government. By accepting these Terms in one Hour from the delivery of this Dispatch, you will prevent an effusion of Blood, as you are at this time in a state of War and Rebellion against your King, your Country, and your Laws.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 61, "Ultimatums." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Afterward, Murtagh meets again with Roger in private. Murtagh seems subdued, very quiet, almost regretful. He tells Roger that he tried to persuade the men to disperse, but they would not. Roger must leave, now, while there's still time.
Roger begs him to leave as well, "for the sake of the love your godson bears you." But Murtagh says nothing.
In the next scene, Roger encounters a woman hanging out laundry in the Regulators' camp. He recognizes her as Morag MacKenzie, the young mother whose baby he saved from being thrown overboard on the Gloriana in Episode 407, "Down the Rabbit Hole".
Most of this scene is taken from FIERY CROSS chapter 64, "Signal for Action".
He gripped her hand hard, pulling her toward him, overcome with the need somehow to protect her and her children. He had saved them once; he could do it again.When William Buccleigh MacKenzie stepped into view, I was so caught up in the story, and so distracted by the fact that he doesn't at all resemble my mental image of the man we came to know as "Buck", that I completely failed to notice that the actor playing him was Graham McTavish, who played Dougal in Seasons 1 and 2!
“Morag,” he said. “Hear me. If anything should happen--anything--come to me. If you are in need of anything at all. I’ll take care of you.”
She made no effort to pull away, but searched his face, her eyes brown and serious, a small frown between those curving brows. He had an irresistible urge to make some physical connection between them--this time for her sake, as much as his. He leaned forward and kissed her, very gently.
He opened his eyes then, and lifted his head, to find himself looking over her shoulder, into the disbelieving face of his many-times great-grandfather.
"Get away from my wife."
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 64, "Signal for Action." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I think it was a brilliant casting choice, and I'm so glad Graham was available and willing to do it! I can't imagine a better way for the show to emphasize the fact that Dougal and Buck are father and son.
Back in the militia camp, Jamie is searching for Roger, with no success, when Governor Tryon appears. He offers Jamie a Britisn army uniform coat, just like the one Tryon himself is wearing. (And very similar to the one Black Jack Randall wore.)
Jamie manages not to say what I was thinking, which was, "Are you insane?!?? Hell, no!!" He replies politely enough, but Tryon won't take no for an answer. And eventually, Jamie has no choice but to submit, and wear the uniform of the same British army officers who tortured, imprisoned, and abused him, and menaced his family at Lallybroch, all those years ago.
I really hated this! I can tolerate it only because I understand on some level that they needed to make Jamie stand out visually, so that the viewers would be able to spot him at a distance in the filming of the battle. But I just don't think Book Jamie would have done this in a million years.
Meanwhile, back at the Regulators' camp, Morag's husband, Buck, is furious with Roger, barely able to contain himself. Most of the dialogue in this part comes straight from the book (FIERY CROSS chapter 66, "A Necessary Sacrifice").
Back at the militia camp, the troops are moving off toward the battlefield. Claire comes out of her tent, takes one look at Jamie, resplendent in the Redcoat uniform, and says, "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!" I loved the look on her face when she said it.
I'm so glad they included Jamie and Claire's goodbyes here, almost verbatim from the book:
“I couldn’t let you go without saying … something. I suppose ‘Good luck’ will do.” I hesitated, words jamming in my throat with the sudden urge to say much more than there was time for. In the end, I said only the important things. “Jamie--I love you. Be careful!”As the battle begins, notice the very tall pine tree snapped in half by a cannonball. That made me smile, because I have pine trees like that in my back yard.
He didn’t remember Culloden, he said. I wondered suddenly whether that loss of memory extended to the hours just before the battle, when he and I had said farewell. Then I looked into his eyes and knew it did not.
“‘Good luck’ will do,” he said, and his hand tightened on mine, likewise frozen to the current that surged between us. “ ‘I love ye’ does much better.”
He touched my hand, lifted his own and touched my hair, my face, looking into my eyes as though to capture my image in this moment--just in case it should be his last glimpse of me.
“There may come a day when you and I shall part again,” he said softly, at last, and his fingers brushed my lips, light as the touch of a falling leaf. He smiled faintly. “But it willna be today.”
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 63, "The Surgeon's Book 1." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I liked the battle scenes very much. They must have taken a tremendous amount of time and effort to film. I liked the way it started out very orderly, very "civilized", the two armies facing one another and firing in ranks, but soon degenerated into something like guerrilla warfare, with the militia hiding in the woods, and eventually morphed into hand-to-hand combat.
In the confusion, we see Isaiah Morton go down, wounded. A few minutes later, he's brought into the medical tent, where Claire assesses his condition.
"He's been shot through the lung, from behind," she says.
Back in the thick of the battle, the situation has descended into chaos. One man is beating another man's face in with a rock. William Buccleigh MacKenzie appears to have gotten away, uninjured.
In the medical tent, Lionel Brown has noticed Isaiah Morton being treated, and he's not happy about it, to say the least. When Claire points out that Morton was shot in the back at close range, Lionel knocks her syringe to the ground and stamps on it, shattering the glass and spilling the precious penicillin into the dirt.
Claire stares, in shock, unable to believe what just happened. And the first thing to go through my mind was, "So, I guess they're going to need the snake-fang syringes after all."
On the battlefield, the Redcoats are taking prisoners. It's difficult to make out what's going on, but you can clearly see a group of men surrendering, and then some of them tied behind horses.
Suddenly Jamie comes face to face with one of the Regulators he knows, a man named Withers. The action in this scene is based on an incident from FIERY CROSS chapter 65, "Alamance", involving a pair of minor characters called Joe Hobson and Hugh Fowles.
Withers aims his pistol straight at Jamie, but before he can fire, a blow from a musket butt knocks him down. Jamie finds himself staring at his godfather, who has just saved his life. Murtagh takes two steps toward him -- and suddenly he's shot by one of the young Findlay boys.
"I did what you said, Colonel," the boy says proudly. "I didna waver." Watching this, I felt a little sick, but nothing compared to what Jamie is feeling.
Sam Heughan and Duncan Lacroix are just marvelous throughout this whole sequence. Jamie lays Murtagh down gently, tries to put pressure on the wound in his abdomen, but it's clearly futile.
"I released ye from your oath. Ye had no cause to save me. You should have done as I asked."
Murtagh shakes his head. "I'd never betray your mother, no matter who asked."
I liked that very much.
"Dinna be afraid, a bhalaich. It doesna hurt a bit to die." That did it, now I have tears in my eyes. I'm so glad they remembered this line, one of Jamie's few memories of Culloden.
“He was sitting against a tussock near the middle of the field--Murtagh. He’d been struck a dozen times at least, and there was a dreadful wound in his head--I knew he was dead.”I loved the expression in Jamie's eyes when Murtagh died. He looked lost, alone and afraid, like a young boy.
He hadn’t been, though; when Jamie had fallen to his knees beside his godfather and taken the small body in his arms, Murtagh’s eyes had opened. “He saw me. And he smiled.” And then the older man’s hand had touched his cheek briefly. “Dinna be afraid, a bhalaich,” Murtagh had said, using the endearment for a small, beloved boy. “It doesna hurt a bit to die.”
(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 54, "The Impetuous Pirate." Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Jamie calls for the other men to help him get Murtagh to the medical tent. Claire feels for a pulse, finds none. Jamie looks at her with desperation in his eyes. "Heal him!" But there is nothing she can do.
Murtagh's death and the reactions to it were handled with great sensitivity, befitting a character who is so beloved by fans and who has been part of the OUTLANDER TV series since the very beginning. It reminded me somewhat of the reaction of the other characters after Angus died in Season 2.
Watching Claire tenderly caressing Murtagh's face, crying, I was struck by a thought. Murtagh was one of the first people Claire encountered on her arrival in 1743. In fact, if it weren't for Murtagh, she and Jamie might never have met in the first place. It's rather mind-boggling to contemplate, isn't it?
Jamie stumbles outside, still overcome with shock and grief, and immediately runs into a jubilant Governor Tryon, who is eager to celebrate his victory in the battle. What he says to Tryon here comes almost word-for-word from the book, and I love the way Sam delivered these words:
"You will kill and maim, for the sake of your glory, and pay no heed to the destruction ye leave--save only that the record of your exploits may be enlarged. How will it look in the dispatches ye send to England--sir? That ye brought cannon to bear on your own citizens, armed with no more than knives and clubs? Or will it say that ye put down rebellion and preserved order? Will it say that in your haste to vengeance, ye hanged an innocent man? Will it say there that ye made ‘a mistake’? Or will it say that ye punished wickedness, and did justice in the King’s name?”I liked the way Jamie drops the red coat on the ground just before he walks away. He only makes it a few feet away before his mask crumbles and he starts to cry, but he's turned away from the others, and no one notices.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 72, "Tinder and Char." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Claire takes Murtagh's brooch, presumably to give to Jocasta as a keepsake.
Jamie finally pulls himself together enough to realize that Roger is still missing. He and the others search the field, finding no trace of him.
And then, without warning, we see a huge tree in the distance, with three bodies hanging from it. I gasped when I saw it, even though I knew it was coming.
Jamie comes closer, and now we can see the white flag of truce in the pocket of one of the hanged men. Roger!!
Slowly, they start to lower him to the ground -- and then the episode ends.
I hope you enjoyed this recap. Look here for my recaps of all of the OUTLANDER episodes so far.
*** IMPORTANT NOTE! ***
STARZ will NOT be showing a new episode of OUTLANDER the week of April 5th. (Look here for details.) Please come back in two weeks to see my recap of Episode 508.
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