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Outlander's 'Famous Last Words' illustrates a rocky road to recovery
Spoiler Warning: The following discusses detailed plot points from the Season 5 episode “Famous Last Words.” If you haven’t had a chance to watch yet, go back through the stones and return once you have.
Wow, sassenachs. That's almost the only word I have for you this week after what we just saw transpiring on-screen. There are times when this show really decides to swing for the fences in terms of how it chooses to adapt the source material, and it did something bold this time around — bold but also quietly powerful in terms of depicting one of the most devastating moments of the entire series. I won't launch into details yet in case you read right past the spoiler warning and are choosing to proceed without caution, but let's just say I was very much into the way in which everything played out.
Previously: We're back at it again in another war that one side is fated to lose; I'm having serious deja vu. Unfortunately, in spite of Jamie's attempts to warn Murtagh about the Regulators' inevitable defeat via Roger, the battle at Alamance Creek played out exactly as the history books said it would and Murtagh was tragically shot by a member of Jamie's own militia, eventually dying in his godson's arms. But his wasn't the only loss the family ended up facing; somewhere in all the chaos, Roger's gone missing, and once the Frasers manage to track him down, it may be too late to save him ...
The episode opens with a flashback first (flashforward? how do these work on this show?) to the year 1969 at Oxford, where Roger is in his element as a professor, handing back graded essays on famous last words — and apparently, he's been very generous with the red pen. The reason he was so disappointed in their papers, he says, was that he wanted them to consider why some of history's most famous figures purportedly said what they said at the time of their deaths. When one of the students asks Roger what his final words would be, he leaves them with a thought that holds even more significance in the context of what we just saw play out in the previous episode: that he'd rather his words and deeds be remembered by his loved ones, even if his name becomes lost to history. At one point, Brianna comes into the classroom and waits for him to finish teaching — they're heading to a silent movie marathon, which becomes the device through which we learn exactly how Roger ended up where he did.
If you've gotten this far, you know that, thankfully, Roger did not die; by the time Jamie orders his body to be cut down from the tree, he realizes that the man is still breathing, and Claire performs a very cool emergency tracheotomy in order to save Roger's life. But cut to three months later, back on the Ridge, and it's clear that Roger is having a lot of difficulty adjusting to life when, by all accounts, he believed that moment was essentially his last. According to Claire, the scarring around his throat has significantly healed and everything looks good on the outside, but Roger continues to refrain from speaking, something Claire gently insists he should try to make an effort in doing. But Roger's intentional silence is definitely wrapped up in the trauma of his experience, and throughout the episode, we're witness to snippets of his memory of that horrible day, which allow us to piece together what happened to him: After being knocked out by William Buccleigh MacKenzie, the man and his cronies dumped him in alongside a group of captured Regulators, which led to him being randomly selected and mistakenly hanged as a traitor on Tryon's orders.
Now, apparently, in an attempt to make up for the "regrettable error" (understatement of the century), Governor Tryhard — I mean, Tryon — has sent Lord John Grey to the Ridge with a letter and a land grant of 5,000 acres as compensation (or attempting to buy their forgiveness, as Claire drily notes). But as far as Brianna's concerned, no amount of land is going to bring her husband back, and she's still working on finding him. Roger seems to be throwing himself into a newfound passion for woodworking, so at least he's keeping busy, but he's definitely not speaking up either. When Jamie and Claire stop by for lunch and baby Jemmy curiously reaches for a hot pot of tea whistling on the stove, Roger's croaky warning shout is the first sound he's made in months, but when Brianna asks him to try for more, he can't bring himself to utter another word. So much of Roger's identity has been wrapped up in his ability to speak and sing and not having his voice means that everything about his near-death experience has just been replaying in his head like a silent movie with no way of coming out.
The Frasers are in for another surprise, though — the return of a beloved nephew. While playing hide-and-seek with Jemmy, Claire and Jamie are narrowly rescued from the deadly charging of a boar by an arrow neatly fired from a young man standing on top of the hill: It's Not-So-Young-Anymore Ian! He's a much more stoic, serious presence since last we saw him, after parting ways with the rest of the family last season, and he's clearly readjusting to the idea of sleeping in a bed, let alone sharing anything about his time with the Mohawk. But he has no plans to return to the tribe up north, and it seems that he has his own personal demons to work through.
Clearly, the thing to do is stick both Ian and Roger together for some dull busywork of surveying that consolation land Tryon gifted. But the days and nights that the two men are forced to spend mapping the boundaries of the territory give them a chance to open up about some of their own individual pain. Ian doesn't place any expectations on whether Roger will talk anytime soon, and Roger doesn't really have any sense of what Ian's going through on his end — although he finds out firsthand when he wakes up to a whimpering Rollo and no Ian in sight. He discovers the young man performing a ritual and preparing to drink a tea concocted of poisonous herbs taken from Claire's surgery. By intervening, he learns that Ian's been grieving — for a wife who is not dead, but lost to him, and possibly a child who may have been lost (based on what he doesn't say). But Ian reminds Roger that he still has something worth fighting for with his voice as a weapon, and in turn, Roger tells Ian to come home and stay with them until he figures out what he wants to do next.
And once the two men return from their surveying trip, Roger goes to Brianna and says her name for the first time in months — but he also points out that the old Roger died that fateful day, and he's going to be a changed man. That doesn't mean he won't find a way to keep singing for her, though, and it's on that hopeful note (and a happy kiss) that we leave things for now.
- Now, I'm for anything that gives Maria Doyle Kennedy the excuse to sing with that beautiful, beautiful voice of hers, but I didn't want it to be a sad song in mourning for Murtagh! Also, anything that makes Sam Heughan cry feels like a personal attack on me. Still, the quiet moment Jocasta and Jamie are afforded to mutually grieve a man who was so dear to them was a bittersweet one, and I'm hopeful that we haven't seen the last of her for now.
- Also a welcome presence this week: Lord John Grey, bearing gifts and comforting energy for good friends. David Berry is such a delight to have on this show, and I'm still waiting eagerly for that spinoff series. It's coming, right? It HAS TO BE.
- Another good scene this week: Jamie asking Claire if there's any medicine for grief in her century. Unfortunately, the only thing that can heal these types of wounds, Claire advises him, is time.
That’s it for now, Outlander fans! Feel free to sound off in the comments about your favorite moments this episode, as well as your predictions for where this season will go, or tweet at us over at @Syfyfangrrls. See you next week!