Episode 703: "Death Be Not Proud" (SPOILERS!)

Claire in Outlander Episode 703

Here are my reactions to Episode 703 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "Death Be Not Proud".


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









We begin in the 20th century, watching a delivery truck driving along a road in the Scottish Highlands, toward the manse in Inverness. As the driver sets down the heavy antique box, we see "JEREMIAH ALEXANDER IAN FRASER MACKENZIE" (Jemmy's full name) printed on the top.

The "title card" for this episode shows Jem, in the 20th century, answering a telephone, a reference to the dream Jamie mentions later in the episode.

As the episode opens, the MacKenzies are visiting Fiona and her family at the manse. Fiona hands over the box with Jem's name on it, saying that it's been kept in a bank vault for 200 years. The box is hard to open, but Roger pulls a Swiss army knife from his pocket and manages to pry it open. The box contains an 18th-century musket ball -- and a collection of letters from Jamie and Claire!

Roger became aware that his hands were trembling, the paper shaking so that the sprawling, difficult hand was hard to read, faded as the ink was.

December 31, 1776
  My dear daughter, As you will see if ever you receive this, we are alive ...

His own eyes blurred, and he wiped the back of his hand across them, even as he told himself that it didn’t matter, for they were surely dead now, Jamie Fraser and his wife, Claire--but he felt such joy at those words on the page that it was as though the two of them stood smiling before him.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 2, "And Sometimes They Aren't". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The next sequence, showing the fire that destroys the Big House, is spectacular and riveting, just as I've always hoped it would be. I admit I'm not unhappy to see all those much-too-ornate furnishings go up in flames.

"Run for help! We need water!" Jamie shouts. I can't help thinking that even modern firefighting equipment wouldn't be up to the task of putting out a blaze this big!

As they watch the house burn, we see occasional glimpses of objects inside: a bathtub, the "Dr. D. Rawlings" nameplate on Claire's medicine box.... Soon Jamie realizes the futility of trying to put it out, and they stand helplessly watching.

So the obituary that Bree and Roger found in Season 4 was partially right -- a fire did indeed destroy Jamie and Claire's home on Fraser's Ridge -- it just happened on a different date than they expected.

That visual of the entire house consumed by flames from the inside out is really striking!

The next scene, with Roger and Bree in 1980, comes straight from the book, modified slightly to account for the fact that in the TV version, it was Donner, not Ian, who struck the match:

“So you did it,” [Roger] said, aware that he shouldn’t say it, but unable not to, unable not to snort with laughter. “You and your bloody matches—you burned the house down!”

Her face was a study, features shifting between horror, indignation—and, yes, a hysterical hilarity that matched his own.

“Oh, it was not! It was Mama’s ether. Any kind of spark could have set off the explosion—”

“But it wasn’t any kind of spark,” Roger pointed out. “Your cousin Ian lit one of your matches.”

“Well, so it was Ian’s fault, then!”

“No, it was you and your mother. Scientific women,” Roger said, shaking his head. “The eighteenth century is lucky to have survived you.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 2, "And Sometimes They Aren't". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

In the next scene, we're back on the Ridge, the day after the fire, as they comb through the wreckage to salvage what they can. There's not much left. Claire's casebook is badly singed, but some pages are still legible. Jamie finds a trunk full of clothes, including his kilt. He also finds the bar of gold that they discovered in Mrs. Bug's bag in Episode 702 ("The Happiest Place on Earth") just before the fire broke out.

I think it's amazing that the front steps, and the wooden railings on either side, survived the fire. But I suppose they wanted to have a place for people to sit with the ruins of the house in the background. Jamie and Claire's conversation here comes from ABOSAA:

“And when ye go to a sick man’s bed, Sassenach—to a wounding or a birth—how is it, then, that ye can rise from your own bed, even from mortal weariness, and go in the dark, alone? Why is it that ye willna wait, that ye dinna say no, ever? Why is it that ye willna forbear, even when ye know the case to be hopeless?”

“I can’t.” I kept my gaze on the ruin of the house, its ashes growing cold before my eyes. I knew what he meant, the unwelcome truth he would force me to speak—but the truth lay between us, and must be told. “I cannot … can not … admit … that there is anything to do but win.”

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 124, "Property of the King". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I've always admired that attitude in Claire, her absolute refusal to give up. And it seems to give Jamie a bit of comfort, too. He's lost everything before, after all, more than once. The loss of the Big House is devastating, but they will survive it, and go on.

The next scene, between Jamie and Ian, is not in the book, but I liked it. Ian gives Jamie the miniature of his son William, retrieved from the debris. Ian makes it clear that he remembers William from his visit to the Ridge a few years earlier, in Episode 406, "Blood of My Blood". Jamie seems nervous, avoiding looking at Ian.

"You must be proud," Ian says, catching Jamie off guard. Too late, Jamie realizes that his secret is out.

How did Ian figure it out? Blame those "stubborn as a rock" Fraser genes. <g> "He was a stubborn lad. Wasn't afraid to speak his mind, either. Reminded me of my mother, and you." I like that.

Ian is quick to reassure Jamie that he won't tell a soul. "Ye need Fraser blood to see it in him," he says, offering an explanation, of sorts, for how William will eventually come to realize Jamie is his biological father, despite the fact that they don't have the striking similarity of features on the show that they do in the books. I thought that was a reasonable way to deal with the situation. It also explains how Murtagh (who also had Fraser blood) was able to guess the truth about William so quickly in Episode 406.

The scene between Jamie and Arch Bug is based on ABOSAA chapter 124, "Property of the King". I was really impressed with Hugh Ross as Arch Bug in this episode. I think he did a fantastic job!

Notice Young Ian hovering in the background throughout this conversation, absorbing every word.

Arch made frequent trips to Cross Creek as factor, to buy and trade. He was not usually a guest at River Run, but had been there often enough to be familiar with the property. If anyone saw a figure near the mausoleum at night—well, everyone knew that Hector Cameron’s ghost “walked,” confined to one spot only by the lines of salt; no one would ever go close enough to investigate.

And so he had simply abstracted one ingot on each trip--and not on every trip--eventually removing the whole hoard.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 124, "Property of the King". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I've always liked this particular plot twist, because on re-reading, you can see the subtle clues in the text that corroborate Arch's story. It's a little harder to find those clues in the show, but we certainly have seen Arch Bug going to and from River Run on multiple occasions.

Jamie gives Arch the gold ingot. "You are free of your oath to me. Take this. Take your wife and go. Do not return!"

The scene between Arch and his wife Murdina is not in the book, but it gives a little more insight into what Mrs. Bug is thinking. She believes they have a right to the rest of the Frenchman's gold because of all the years of hard work they've given in service to the Frasers. "We've earned this," she says.

Late that night, Jamie and Ian keep watch over the ruins of the Big House, watching for any sign of Arch coming to retrieve the gold. Suddenly they see a figure moving in the dark. Jamie calls out, the intruder raises a pistol and fires (barely grazing Jamie), and Ian raises his bow and lets loose an arrow, which strikes the intruder. It's Murdina Bug, dressed in her husband's clothes, lying fatally wounded.

[Jamie] pushed back the hood of the cloak, and passed his hand, gentle, helpless, over the soft round face of Murdina Bug. She breathed against his hand—perhaps … but he felt the shaft of the arrow, too, against his hand. It had come through her neck, and her breath bubbled wet; his hand was wet, too, and warm.

“Arch?” she said hoarsely. “I want Arch.” And died.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 2, "And Sometimes They Aren't". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The sequence of events depicted here is basically the same as in the book. The difference, of course, is that the TV version of Murdina Bug is completely different from the character we know from the books. Mrs. Bug has always been one of my favorite minor characters in the OUTLANDER books, I was genuinely shocked and saddened when she died in ECHO, and I'm really disappointed that they didn't make any effort to give her a personality on the show. They took one of the funniest characters Diana Gabaldon has ever written, and turned her into a humorless old woman who never smiles, let alone makes us laugh. Having given us no real reason to care about her while she was alive, it's difficult to feel much sympathy for her in death, and that's a shame. A real missed opportunity, if you ask me!

Young Ian, of course, is devastated at having killed Mrs. Bug by accident. John Bell is very good here, and in the following scene with Claire.

I was distracted in the scene with Ian and Claire by the blue top that Claire is wearing. At first glance it looks exactly like a modern turtleneck, except for the single button by the neckline. I can only assume there are more buttons down the front, hidden under her jacket or something? The modern style of this top kept pulling me out of the scene, and made it hard to concentrate on what Ian was saying.

"Keep breathing" is excellent advice, in my opinion. Claire is right, sometimes that's all you can do.

Later, Jamie says farewell to Mrs. Bug. "Murdina, wife of Archibald, you'll be missed." Really? This is the same Murdina Bug that Jamie treated like a human coat-rack in Episode 602 ("Allegiance"), rudely tossing his coat at her as he entered the house, in his eagerness to rush upstairs and have sex with Claire. Book Jamie genuinely did value her. But I'm not sure any of the Frasers ever really paid attention to her until now.

In the next scene, the mourners are walking slowly toward the graveyard. I liked the discussion about the guardian of the graveyard, which is based on this passage from ABOSAA:

“Did ye ken, Sassenach, that some folk believe the last person to lie in a graveyard becomes its guardian? He must stand on guard until the next person dies and comes to take his place--only then can he rest.”

“I suppose our mysterious Ephraim might be rather surprised to find himself in such a position, when here he’d lain down under a tree all alone,” I said, smiling a little. “But I do wonder: what is the guardian of a graveyard guarding--and from whom?”

He laughed at that.

“Oh … vandals, maybe; desecraters. Or charmers.”

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "Dangerous Gifts". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

They arrive at the grave site, and Arch Bug appears, wearing his hair loose over his shoulders for the first time since we've known him. Most of what follows is taken straight from the book, and I thought Hugh Ross was just riveting throughout this whole scene!

"Will ye sing, Mrs. Fraser?"

Claire sings a different song in the book, but I thought the choice of "Ave Maria" worked very well here. It's solemn and appropriate (the Bugs are Catholic), and of course it's well-known to many viewers.

I definitely felt sympathy for Arch Bug, saying this final farewell to his beloved wife. He's clearly devastated, to say the least. Notice the gold brooch he pins to her clothing. In the book, Claire speculates that it was made from part of the gold ingot that Jamie let him keep.

Jamie recites the poem, "Death Be Not Proud", by John Donne. As he finishes, we get a good look at a corbie (crow), come to observe the ceremony. I'm not sure if there is any symbolic meaning attached to seeing a corbie at a funeral, but who knows, there might be?

Young Ian steps forward, reluctant but determined to say what he must. This part comes straight from the book, and I found it as chilling to watch on TV as it was to read in the book. He holds out his dirk, offering "a life for a life", his life in exchange for Murdina's. But Arch Bug refuses. Instead, he looks at Rollo.

“Will ye give me your hound to kill?”

Ian’s mask broke in an instant, shock and horror making him suddenly young. I heard him gulp air and steady himself, but his voice was cracked in reply.

“No,” he said. “He’s done nothing. It’s my--my crime, not his.”

Arch smiled then, very slightly, though it did not touch his eyes.

“Aye. Ye see, then. And he’s no but a flea-ridden beast. Not a wife.” “Wife” was spoken in barely a whisper. His throat worked as he cleared it. Then he looked carefully from Ian to Jamie, and then at me.

“Not a wife,” he said softly. I’d thought my blood ran cold already; that froze my heart. In no hurry, Arch turned his gaze deliberately upon each man in turn; Jamie, then Ian, whom he regarded for an instant that seemed a lifetime.

“When you’ve something worth taking, boy--you’ll see me again,” he said quietly, then turned upon his heel and walked into the trees.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 4, "Not Yet Awhile". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Wow. Very, very powerful! I actually got chills, the first time I watched that.

In the next scene, Jamie shows Claire a spot in the mountains near a beautiful little lake, where he plans to build their new house. It's a gorgeous location, no question about it. The conversation about where they would like to be buried comes verbatim from ECHO chapter 4. My favorite bit of it is Jamie's reaction to the prospect of Claire's death:

“You didn’t ask what I want done with my body.” I’d meant it at least half in jest, to lighten his mood, but his fingers curled so abruptly over mine that I gasped.

“No,” he said softly. “And I never will.” He wasn’t looking at me but at the whiteness before us. “I canna think of ye dead, Claire. Anything else--but not that. I can’t.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 4, "Not Yet Awhile". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I am 100% in agreement with Jamie on this! I have said for a very long time that when it comes to the question of Jamie and Claire's deaths, I prefer to be in Deep Denial. I won't speculate about it, and I really would rather not think about it at all. For that reason, Jamie's near-death experience on Kings Mountain in BEES absolutely terrified me. It's reassuring to me that Jamie feels the same way I do about the possibility of Claire's death.

Jamie tells Claire that he wants to go back to Scotland, to take Ian back to Lallybroch now, while there's still time, before the war makes overseas travel impossible. That reason makes sense to me, and it's consistent with what he says in the book. His other reason in the book was that he wanted to retrieve his printing press, in storage in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the TV version of Bonnie the printing press did not survive the fire that destroyed the printshop in Carfax Close back in Season 3. So the writers had to come up with another reason.

What Jamie says here -- "I made a promise to myself, I would never face my son across the barrel of a gun" -- is true, but in this context, as a justification for going to Scotland, it makes no sense, IMHO. What's he going to do, hide out in Scotland for the duration of the war and come home to Fraser's Ridge when it's all over? The way they've worded it here makes Jamie seem almost cowardly, which I'm sure is the last thing they intended.

In the next scene, Claire wakes in the middle of the night to find Jamie praying quietly beside their bed. He ends with "And God, please, let me be enough."

I love that line, which comes from ECHO chapter 8, "Spring Thaw". What does he mean by that exactly? I've always thought of it something like this: They're about to leave their home for an extended period of time, to embark on a long sea voyage, full of unknown dangers. Jamie hopes he will be enough to protect Claire, to keep her safe. He promised her "the protection of [his] body", but that hasn't always been sufficient to keep her from harm. It's all he has now, and he can only pray that it will be enough. I find that very moving.

The next morning, Jamie tells Claire about a dream he had, of the MacKenzies in the future. This bit comes from ABOSAA, right after they went through the stones. He saw Bree, Roger, and the children being greeted by Fiona at the manse in Inverness. But my favorite part of his dream is this:

"There was a … thing . . on the table. I couldna say what it was; I’ve never seen the like.”

He held his hands about six inches apart, frowning at them. “It was maybe this wide, and just a bit longer—something like a box, maybe, only sort of … humped.”

“Humped?” I said, puzzled as to what this could be.

“Aye, and it had a thing on top like a wee club, only wi’ a knob to each end, and the club was tied to the box wi’ a sort of black cord, curled up on itself like a piggie’s tail. Jem saw it, and he reached out his hand, and said, ‘I want to talk to Grandda.’ And then I woke.”

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 121, "Across the Abyss". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I love this bit, and I'm really glad they included it!

In the next scene, Jamie and Young Ian are melting down some of the gold bars into balls, to be disguised as lead musket balls. I like the sight of Jamie in his shirtsleeves here. Quite a refreshing and welcome contrast from his very proper, buttoned-up look in recent episodes!

"Dinna fash, Uncle," Ian says. "I promise not to use solid gold balls while we're hunting." Good line! That made me laugh, which doesn't happen often enough when I watch this show.

The rest of this scene, in which they discuss Ian's upcoming reunion with his parents in Scotland, comes almost verbatim from ECHO chapter 9, "A Knife That Knows My Hand".

I liked the scene where Jamie takes Claire to see the Spaniard's cave. The cave is smaller than I expected, and (probably to make it easier to get a camera crew inside) it's level with the ground, unlike in the book, where you need a ladder to climb down. So it's not as scary as the cave described in the book:

“It was dark when I came down the shaft, and I nearly stepped on this fellow. I thought he was alive, and the shock of it liked to stop my heart.”

He’d cried out in alarm, and Jemmy, left aboveground with strict instructions not to move from the spot, had promptly scrambled into the hole, losing his grip of the broken ladder halfway down and landing feetfirst on his grandfather.

“I heard him scrabbling and looked up, just in time to have him plunge out of the heavens and strike me in the breast like a cannonball.” Jamie rubbed the left side of his chest with rueful amusement. “If I hadn’t looked up, he’d have broken my neck--and he’d never have got out, by himself.”

And we’d never have known what happened to either one of you. I swallowed, dry-mouthed at the thought.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 8, "Spring Thaw". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

But it certainly makes an effective hiding place for the rest of the gold.

In the next scene, Claire is writing another letter to Bree, describing their preparations for leaving the Ridge. She is training Lizzie Beardsley to act as healer in her absence.

Jamie's postscript to the letter combines bits from two different letters. The bit where he says, "God takes no account of time" comes from ECHO chapter 7, "An Uncertain Future". And then there's this part, which puzzles Roger and Bree when they read it 200 years later:

I wished to tell you of the Disposition of the Property which was once held in trust by the Camerons for an Italian Gentleman. I think it unwise to carry this with us, and have therefore removed it to a Place of safety. Jem knows the Place. If you should at some Time have need of this Property, tell him the Spaniard guards it. If so, be sure to have it blessed by a Priest; there is Blood upon it.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 5, "Morality for Time-Travelers". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

"Our family's safe," Roger says, and I thought, "For now."

Roger and Bree agree to save the rest of the letters for later, "when we get back to Boston." This is a change from the books, where the MacKenzies were already settled in Scotland at the time they came into possession of the box.

The next scene, in which Jamie gives Claire a knife, comes from ECHO chapter 9, "A Knife That Knows My Hand". I liked the "echo" of the blood vow from their wedding day here. "Blood of my blood", indeed!

In the next scene, we're abruptly back in 20th-century Scotland, and one glimpse of that blue car tells me it must be Bree's. (She drove a blue Mustang in the books. <g>) Roger and Bree are going to visit Lallybroch, abandoned and very much run-down, but still intact. Roger, of course, has never been here before. This scene reminded me of Claire's visit there in Episode 213, "Lallybroch".

As Bree and Roger get up to leave, a car pulls into the driveway. It turns out to be a local real estate agent. She points out the realtor's sign, which had fallen down where they couldn't see it. Lallybroch is for sale! Personally I think this scene is really contrived (what a coincidence that the real estate agent should have arrived just at that moment!), but they needed some way to get the MacKenzies settled in at Lallybroch. I hope the next time we see them, the family will have moved in at last.

In the next scene, Jamie, Claire, and Ian are making their way off the Ridge. They reach the boundary marker where Jamie carved "F.R." on a tree when they first arrived. Suddenly Claire hears a cat meowing nearby. It's Adso, her gray cheetie. She says goodbye to the cat, and suddenly bursts into tears. Fortunately, Jamie notices right away and comes to take her in his arms and comfort her.

Claire is distracted by the sight of a wooden stake, one of the boundary posts they used to mark the border of their lands when they first moved to Fraser's Ridge. I thought the brief flashback to Season 4 here was effective, to remind the audience what she and Jamie are recalling here.

Claire looks heartbroken. "We will make it back here one day, won't we?" she asks. (Yes, but it's going to be a while!)

"We will," he assures her.

And then she says, very firmly, "Jamie, you will always be enough." This isn't quite how she says it in the book, and I think it's worth quoting the original, just so you get the full emotional impact here. (As a bonus, here's a video of Diana Gabaldon reading this chapter of ECHO at an appearance in Germany in 2010. She gets visibly emotional while reading it.)

Lord, he’d said. Let me be enough. That prayer had lodged in my heart like an arrow when I’d heard it and thought he asked for help in doing what had to be done. But that wasn’t what he’d meant at all--and the realization of what he had meant split my heart in two.

I took his face between my hands, and wished so much that I had his own gift, the ability to say what lay in my heart, in such a way that he would know. But I hadn’t.

“Jamie,” I said at last. “Oh, Jamie. You’re … everything. Always.” An hour later, we left the Ridge.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 12, "Enough". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

And the episode ends with them riding off into the woods, headed into a new chapter of their lives.

I hope you enjoyed this recap. Look here for my recaps of all of the OUTLANDER episodes, and please come back next week for my recap of Episode 704.

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. For more about the forum, look here.


Anonymous said...

I always enjoy reading your reviews and your encyclopedic knowledge of the books. I think the secret Ian was referring to Murdina keeping was the burial of Alan in the previous episode, which was a show-only thing, and probably contrived for just this purpose, to try to make the viewer more sympathetic to her. In my view, too little, too late.

Jules said...

Corbies (Ravens, Crows, choughs) are considered ill omens. Glaswegian expression, if someone dies they're 'away the Crow Road'

Linda in Nevada said...

I was startled to hear Jamie pray in English as Latin, French or Gaelic have been his previous prayer preferences. It worked, but I had to get past my mental "pause button".

Elizabeth S. said...

Overall, I enjoyed this episode, including the scene between Ian and Jamie regarding William, except for one thing: unlike in the books, where Ian and Willie meet when Lord John brings him for a visit, in the show, they explicitly stated that Ian was off hunting. Ian and William have never met in the show. If they had only said that Ian had learned of William’s parentage from Bree, I would have had no problem. It was also odd that Jamie still had the portrait of Willie from Season 3 as I thought that lost with the photos of Bree at the bottom of the Atlantic, but I’m willing to let that go, especially as Clark Butler looks more like Charles Vandervaart, than does Oliver Finnegan.

Anonymous said...

Jamie in a kilt - YES! Brianna in bangs -noooooo.

hazelmaye said...

No one seemed to notice that the tune Claire used for Ave Maria was completely new to them.

It would not be written for 49 years.

Rebecca said...

Thank you so much for these recaps which help to fix the episodes in my memory. I find myself tearing up at each episode, barely able to answer my mate's questions since he hasn't read the books. Maybe I'm emotional because it has been so long since we've seen the TV series and we waited so long for Bees (no criticism, Diana--just a fact). I'm hoping to survive long enough to read the last book, but I'll be 75 this fall, so I may not make it. I was a lit major as an undergrad and now that I've retired I can indulge my passion. But these books just touch me really deeply.

Kristina said...

I was really hoping for something featuring Joe Abernathy who helps the McKenzies settle in the 20th century again. Even if it was just a phone call. I do like Briana’s bangs; it really separates her 70s look from her 1770s look.

Storrme said...

Thank you for the excellent recap. I enjoyed the episode for the most part. I agree that it's hard to feel sympathy for Mrs. Bug, I feel like the show took some of the undesirable parts of her personality from the books, being nosy and a gossip and didn't take her loyalty and kindness. It made her seem cold to me.

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