Episode 508: "Famous Last Words" (SPOILERS!)
Here are my reactions to Episode 508 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "Famous Last Words".
*** SPOILER WARNING!! ***
There are SPOILERS below! If you don't want to know yet, stop reading now.
The episode opens with Roger teaching a class at Oxford in 1969. I didn't care for this scene. I thought it went on for far too long, and I was distracted by how dimly lit the classroom was. What kind of university classroom, especially in a prestigious school like Oxford University, doesn't have overhead electric lighting? I couldn't figure out why they didn't just turn the lights on.
On re-watching, the bit about the phrase "bury the hatchet" is clearly foreshadowing of the end of this episode.
"Like bullets, once fired, we can't take [our words] back. They have impact, so choose them wisely." Ironic, considering that Roger doesn't always follow that advice.
I was a little taken aback by Roger being a silent-movie fan, but it makes a nice segue into the "silent-movie" motif that we see throughout this episode, starting with the "title card" sequence.
The immediate aftermath of the hanging, shown as a silent movie, takes some getting used to. This is such an emotionally intense, suspenseful scene, and I was disappointed that we didn't get to see and hear it in the usual way. (I feel much the same way about the sequence that ends Episode 401, "America the Beautiful.") But it's clear they were following the book fairly closely, complete with the broken pipe stem used as a makeshift breathing tube, and Jamie's lines at the end:
“You are alive,” Jamie said. Blue eyes stared intently into his, so close he felt warm breath on his face. “You are alive. You are whole. All is well.”In the next scene, Claire is examining Roger in the cabin on Fraser's Ridge, three months after the hanging. Claire and Bree try to get him to speak, but he just sits there, silent. I liked the closeups of Roger's face in this scene, as a way to let us see exactly what he's feeling. Because he doesn't speak, we have to pay much closer attention to his facial expressions, body language, and so on.
He examined the words with a sense of detachment, turning them over like a handful of pebbles, feeling the weight of them in the palm of his mind.
You are alive. You are whole. All is well.
A vague feeling of comfort came over him. That seemed to be all he needed to know just then. Anything else could wait. The waiting black rose up again, with the inviting aspect of a soft couch, and he sank gratefully upon it, still hearing the words like plucked harpstrings.
You are alive. You are whole. All is well.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 70, "All is Well." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Richard Rankin did an amazing job in this episode, just as I hoped he would. He's known this moment was coming since fans first started lobbying for him to be cast as Roger, and I couldn't be happier with his performance in this episode! His eyes are so expressive, and that helps a lot.
I thought the use of the "silent movie" technique to show us Roger's memories of the events leading up to the hanging, and his PTSD throughout this entire episode, was creative and very effective.
Governor Tryon's words are chilling: "Pick three. Hang them and leave them there as an example to all."
The next scene, with Bree and Claire, is not in the book, but I thought it was a good way to show what Bree is feeling. I hadn't heard the expression, "the thousand-yard stare", before, but it definitely fits.
"It's like he's drowning in silence." Good line.
"I'm afraid that he's lost."
"No matter how lost he is," Claire says, "you just have to have faith that you find him."
Claire is obviously remembering Jamie after Wentworth, and the nightmares and other signs of PTSD that he suffered for a long time afterward.
In the next scene, Jocasta has come to mourn Murtagh. Standing before his little cairn, wearing the brooch he gave her around her neck, she sings a version of a traditional Scottish song called "The Flowers of the Forest". (See the lyrics here.)
After Jocasta and Ulysses depart, Jamie sits on the steps, taking from his pocket the brooch Murtagh was wearing when he died.
Jamie's voice sounds odd in his conversation with Jocasta. I suppose Sam was trying to show that he's still choked with emotion at the thought of Murtagh's death, but it's been three months already. I would have thought he'd be more accustomed to the loss by now, but it's clearly been a major blow to him, and the pain isn't lessening much with time.
In the next scene, Lord John brings the news that Governor Tryon has given Roger a grant of 5,000 acres of land in the backcountry. This comes from the book (THE FIERY CROSS chapter 73, "A Whiter Shade of Pale"), but unlike in the book, where Bree learned the news in front of strangers (the Sherstons), here she is free to say exactly what she thinks.
"Tryon can keep his land. I don't need land! I need my husband back," Bree says, and stalks out of the room. I liked that very much.
The scene shifts to Roger. He appears to be packing some papers, but when he reaches for a knapsack to put them in, just the sensation of his fingers brushing the rope handle of the bag causes another flashback. I thought that was very clever, and probably realistic, that the feel of rough rope would be a trigger for his PTSD.
In this flashback, for the first time, we get a good look at Roger's face through the burlap sack, staring out at the Redcoats, and it becomes clear: we're seeing exactly what he saw on that day. That's an intriguing idea, and I'm glad they found a way to convey Roger's point of view.
We see Roger free one of his hands from the rope binding them, slowly enough that the Redcoats don't notice. At the moment of the hanging, we see a closeup of Roger's eye, terrified but obviously thinking very fast. He reaches up and manages, just in time, to hook his free hand under the rope around his neck -- an action that may have saved him from suffocating before the others found him.
This comes straight from the book:
His hands had come free; he had managed to hook the fingers of one hand beneath the rope. The fingers were nearly black, all circulation cut off.But I think seeing him do it on screen is even more effective. Imagine having the presence of mind to do that, knowing you may only have seconds to live.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 69, "Hideous Emergency." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I really liked Roger's reaction afterward, seeming battered and exhausted by the memories.
The next scene, in which Lord John brings Brianna an astrolabe as a gift, is based on FIERY CROSS chapter 77, "A Package from London." It makes sense, in the show, for Lord John to bring the astrolabe himself, but I was a little taken aback that Bree knew how to use it with no instruction whatsoever.
Later that evening, Jamie comes home to find Claire sitting at a table in near-darkness. Again, the lighting is odd. There are candles in glass sconces all along the walls, but Claire has no candle to see what she's doing at the table? That makes no sense to me.
"Is there a medicine for grief in your time?" Jamie asks.
Again I'm surprised that Murtagh's death has hit him so hard. It's strange to see Jamie depressed, and I think it's somewhat out of character. He's lost loved ones before, including his brother Willie, his parents, his uncles Colum and Dougal. And of course he was separated forom Claire for twenty endless years. But this feels different, as though he's more affected by Murtagh's death than any of the previous ones. I don't like that.
Meanwhile, life on the Ridge goes on, and it appears the women are doing all the work of maintaining the farm. Laundry, cooking, candle-making, feeding the chickens, etc., etc. Roger is keeping busy building stairs for the loft in their cabin, which is a good sign, as he's starting to take a little interest in something other than his own problems.
Jamie sees little Jemmy's fascination with the steaming teakettle, and warns him to be careful, calling him "a chuisle". This bit comes straight from the book, and I'm glad they included it, along with the bit that follows:
I caught a glimpse of firelight shining on the bones of [Roger's] face, and then his expression changed in an instant, from wariness to horror. He lunged to his feet, mouth open.Richard Rankin played that just perfectly, in my opinion. But then Bree asks him to say her name, and he can't bring himself even to try.
“STOKH!” he roared.
It was a terrible cry, loud and harsh, but with a ghastly strangled quality to it, like a shout forced out around a fist shoved down his throat. It froze everyone in earshot--including Jemmy, who had abandoned the fireflies and stealthily returned to an investigation of the coffeepot. He stared up at his father, his hand six inches from the hot metal. Then his face crumpled, and he began to wail in fright.
Roger reached across the fire and snatched him up; the little boy screamed, kicking and squirming to get away from this terrifying stranger. Bree hastily took him, clutching him to her bosom and burying his face in her shoulder. Her own face had gone pale with shock.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 75, "Speak My Name." Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The next scene, with Roger sawing wood outside while listening to Bree singing "Clementine" to Jemmy, was very well done. Sophie Skelton has a lovely singing voice! But it broke my heart to see Roger's reaction, as he burst into tears.
I loved the "hide and seek" bit with Jemmy (who is finally old enough to talk!) That little boy may not be a redhead, but he's awfully cute!
The game is interrupted suddenly by the sound of a wild animal, which turns out to be a large boar. And suddenly I realized what we were looking at, and I sat bolt upright, staring at the screen in shock. I hadn't expected Young Ian's return to occur until much later in the season, and it took me totally by surprise. (But in a good way. <g>)
Young Ian is considerably changed from when we last saw him, of course. He seems older than a nearly two-year absence would account for -- definitely no longer a teenager, but a young man. I liked the way they did the Mohawk tattoos, very much as described in the books. But it's the sadness in his eyes, the frown lines on his face, that stopped me in my tracks.
“Do you suppose something dreadful happened to his wife? And the baby?” I felt a deep pang of distress, both for Ian, and for the slight, pretty Mohawk girl called Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa--Works With Her Hands. Ian had called her Emily. Death in childbirth was not uncommon, even among the Indians.I think John Bell captured that very, very well.
Jamie shook his head again, looking sober.
“I dinna ken, but I think it must be something of the kind. He hasna spoken of them at all--and the lad’s eyes are a great deal older than he is.”
I knew what Jamie meant about Ian’s eyes, and knew for certain that he wasn’t the same impulsive, cheerful lad we had left with the Mohawk.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 109, "The Voice of Time". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Roger's reaction to seeing Ian was well done. He looked like he badly wanted to say something (whether that was "thank you", or "good to see you", or only, "glad you're OK"), but the words wouldn't come out.
I laughed at Ian's reaction to seeing the Big House for the first time: "It's...big." <g>
The scene with Marsali reading tarot cards for Roger was just ridiculous, and not at all believable. Marsali was raised as a Catholic; she was only fifteen when she left home; and it's impossible to imagine her mother, Laoghaire, who was absolutely sure Claire was a witch, approving of this.
I can only conclude that the TV writers fell in love with the image of the "hanged man" tarot card from the brief mention in the book (FIERY CROSS chapter 73, "A Whiter Shade of Pale"), and decided, as they sometimes do, that they needed to hit the audience over the head with a sledgehammer in order to make sure that every single viewer got the point. ("HANGED man, get it?") The way it's done here seems unnecessarily cruel to poor Roger, showing him that card over and over again. And to what end?
"Just a bit of harmless fun," Marsali says, as though she's a middle-schooler caught tormenting a weaker child on the playground. And she never does apologize to Roger for causing him distress. I really hated this!
Bree is trying hard, but for someone who's just suffered a sudden disability, I don't think "You're still you" is persuasive.
Look at it from Roger's point of view. His old life, everything upon which he based his image of himself as a man, husband, provider, his feelings of self-worth, etc. -- all of that is gone. Even before the hanging, he could barely cope with his new role as a man of the 18th century. He was already feeling grossly inadequate, especially as compared with Jamie. Then he loses his singing voice -- seemingly, the only thing he had that was of value to the 18th century people around him. OK, it's gone, possibly forever. So what does he do next?
Well, it seems to me there are basically two choices. You either spend the rest of your life wallowing in self-pity for all the things you've lost...or you pick yourself up and try to do what you can to live your life to the fullest with whatever you have left. And over the course of this episode, we see Roger struggling with this. I think it's very realistic, and it will take time for him to come to terms with it.
Seeing that her approach isn't working, Bree tries a different tack:
"I know how badly you were hurt, and how scared you must have been. But I went through something awful, too, something dark and ugly. And believe me, all I wanted to do was to crawl into a hole and die. And sometimes I still do. But I didn't, and I don't, because I have a husband and a son who still need me!"
I love this! Sophie is just wonderful in this scene. The dialogue is just terrific. And through it all, Roger just sits there like a block of wood, hearing her words but not reacting at all.
The family gathers for dinner, in a dining room that is getting more luxurious all the time. Where in the world did they find the money for a chandelier, fine china, and fancy glassware? I can only conclude that Jocasta must have brought a wagon-load or two of gifts and supplies when she visited.
Everyone is curious to hear about the Mohawk, but Ian will say only, "They were...good people." A very awkward silence follows.
Jamie brings up the need to survey Roger's land grant, to have it properly registered with the government. But Bree says she doesn't think Roger's quite up to that yet, and so Jamie proposes that Young Ian go with Roger.
This is a change from the book, but I like it. It will give the two of them a chance to get to know one another, and they're both clearly suffering from major personal traumas, so it makes for an interesting dynamic betwen the two of them. Having Ian along as a companion on this trip will also enable them to avoid yet another episode of a lone character wandering through the wilderness for an extended period of time, as they did with Claire in Episode 311 ("Uncharted") and Bree in Episode 407 ("Down the Rabbit Hole").
Late that night, Roger is alone, playing his guitar, and still being tormented by PTSD flashbacks, while he tries to sing "Clementine", in a voice barely louder than a whisper. I was relieved that he didn't smash the guitar when he set it down, but my heart just breaks for him, realizing the immensity of what he has lost.
I liked Jamie's conversation with Ian.
"There are things ye keep hidden from others. Ye and Auntie Claire both." That made me think of Jamie saying, "Respect has room for secrets, but not for lies," on his and Claire's wedding night.
That shot of Ian in profile, as Jamie says, "I understand," makes him suddenly look far more Mohawk, far more alien and unfamiliar, than he does when we see him face to face.
Fortunately, little Germain is not scared by this fierce-looking Mohawk warrior. I loved the interaction between the two of them. It seems very natural that a child that age would be curious rather than frightened.
"Sometimes it feels as though I'm herdin' cats!" Marsali says. I laughed at that. You think herding cats is a challenge? Ha! Try herding bumblebees, which is Diana Gabaldon's term for what I do, managing the OUTLANDER discussions on TheLitForum.com.
"Bairns are only lent us for a short time by the Creator, if we're lucky." And here's our first, subtle hint of what is troubling Ian. But I was glad to see he relaxed enough with Marsali, reminiscing about their childhood, that he smiled a little.
As Marsali talks about sometimes feeling guilty about how happy she is with her life on the Ridge, it seems to me that Ian must have had similar thoughts, because we know from the books that for the most part he wasn't unhappy, living with the Mohawk.
Back at Roger and Bree's cabin, Roger is preparing to leave with Ian on the surveying trip.
"I didn't get to finish my degree [before going through the stones]," Bree says. Really? That's a change from the books.
She folds a paper airplane. "I know that a sheet of paper is not meant to fly, but sometimes we have to adjust our expectations, to bend and reshape ourselves." That's bordering on preachy, in my opinion. He'll do that when he's ready, not because she's telling him to. But he puts the paper airplane in his bag anyway.
So the three of them, Roger, Ian, and Rollo, set out on this surveying expedition. Ian, naturally, does the talking for both of them. When they camp for the night, Roger lets Ian hold the astrolabe. In the process, he sees a wampum arm-band that Ian wears, and reaches out to touch it. But Ian pulls back, not letting him examine it. Book-readers will recognize the significance of that arm-band, but Ian isn't ready yet to talk about it.
Back on the Ridge, Claire discovers some poisonous water hemlock is missing from her surgery. From Wikipedia:
[W]ater hemlock is considered one of North America's most toxic plants. Ingestion of Cicuta can be fatal in humans and there are reports in the medical literature of severe poisoning and death as early as 1670.With preschoolers wandering through the house, I wonder why she doesn't keep something that poisonous under lock and key!
Meanwhile, Roger and Ian are taking a break from the surveying. Roger shows Ian the paper airplane.
"Couldn't always understand the Mohawk. Sometimes I'd talk to the birds instead, so I didna feel so alone." Roger, of course, also has memories of being alone among the Mohawk, unable to understand them. But he can't say that to Ian.
"D'ye ever wonder how they ken which way to go, when winter comes?" This seems to be a reference to the story Jamie tells Claire in FIERY CROSS chapter 107, "Zugunruhe", about Lawrence Stern and his experiments with bird migration patterns.
And then Roger looks up into the branches of this big tree, and the sight causes him to have a nightmare, reliving the hanging yet again. I liked the way he wakes with a hand at his throat, trying to loosen an imaginary noose round his neck.
In bed that night, Claire wonders aloud if Roger might not want to come home, if he might prefer to die, as Jamie did in the depths of his despair after Wentworth. It's a real possibility, and neither of them can dismiss it.
Back to Roger, who is standing at the literal edge of a precipice, a very steep cliff. Just one step, and he could end his suffering then and there.
Another flashback, but this time it's not silent. We hear Tryon's voice, faint but unmistakable. And then suddenly we see the scene in full color for the first time, blue sky, green grass, Roger pulling desperately at the rope around his neck -- and then he sees Brianna in his mind, smiling at him.
I love the way they did this, that the thought of Brianna was what pulled him back from the brink of death, from a literal abyss of despair. (Why not? It's worked for both Jamie and Claire in the books, more than once.) And so Roger throws the paper airplane into the air, and then turns and walks away, having made his decision. He's going to live, after all.
Roger wakes the next morning to find Rollo whining, and Ian nowhere to be found. The dog is tied to a stake in the ground. Roger tugs on the rope, but nothing happens -- no flashbacks, thank God. It's just a rope.
Ian, meanwhile, is quite literally burying his hatchet (aka tomahawk), a clear reference to Roger's comment in the opening scene with the students at Oxford. It's an emotional moment for Ian, he's fighting back tears, but we don't really understand why, until he pulls the poisonous roots from his pocket. So he means to kill himself? That's a change from the books, no question about it.
Fortunately, Roger interrupts him just in the nick of time, kicking away the cup with the poison in it. Ian is furious, but what he keeps demanding is, "What did you see?" (As he was about to die, Ian means.)
Roger clears his throat painfully, then croaks, "I saw my wife's face."
Ian reveals that his Mohawk wife is not dead, but "she is lost to me."
"You buried your weapon, your voice. Now you dare to use it against me?"
"You're right. I did. And now I have to pick it up again and fight. Can you?"
"I dinna ken."
"Then dig up your weapon, and come home with me until ye do."
I like that.
When Roger arrives home, he greets Bree with a smile. "Brianna," he says, in a hoarse whisper, but clearly enough.
"Part of me died that day....Everyone wants the old Roger back, but I'll never be that man again." I think that's realistic. He can't go back to the way things were before, but he's not ready to die. He's chosen the harder option: to pick up the pieces of his life and move on.
"What mattered was the last face I saw. That face was yours." Awwww!
And as the episode ends, Roger's final words come straight from the book, the perfect note to end on:
“I always sing for you, hen.” He came behind her, drew her back against him, so that her head rested on his shoulder, her hair cool and live against his face. His arm curled round her waist, holding her secure. He bent his head, nuzzling for the curve of her ear.I loved the duet of "Clementine" between Roger and Bree in the closing credits! Very sweet.
“No matter what,” he whispered, “no matter where. No matter whether you’re there to hear or not--I’ll always sing for you.”
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "On The Night That Our Wedding Is On Us". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Finally, just a general comment. After the fast pace of the last few episodes, it's a real luxury to have a slower-paced episode, mainly focused on character development. Giving the story room to breathe, giving Roger time to come to terms with what happened. I think they really needed that.
I hope you enjoyed this recap. Look here for my recaps of all of the OUTLANDER episodes so far.
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