Spoiler Warning: The following discusses detailed plot points from the Season 4 episode “America the Beautiful.” If you haven’t had a chance to watch the episode yet, go back through the stones and return once you have.
Howdy there, sassenachs! (Look, we're in the grand ol' US of A this season, so changing up my normal greeting felt necessary here.) Last time we left our favorite lovers-across-time, Jamie and Claire, they'd literally washed up on the shores of the American colonies after dealing with, in no particular order: a trip back through the stones, a reunion, a fire in the printing press, a kidnapped Ian, a cache of gemstones, a plague, a whole bunch of superstition, snakes, another shipwreck, a vengeful Geillis — and that was just all I could recall off the top of my head. Now, they're figuring out how best to make it in America, but true to form, their choices don't come without a hell of a lot of consequence.
I'm changing things up this season as far as recaps go; rather than recount the beats of each episode, this time around I'll be checking in with certain characters and everything that happened to them, as well as any decisions they make that could have some potential ramifications later on in the season. (A reminder that while I've read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon on which the show is based, I'm going to be treading lightly around potential book spoilers/trying not to foreshadow too much for those viewers who are going in blind.) Let's check back in with how all our faves are doing after that premiere, shall we?
Jamie and Claire
Jamie’s is the first face we see when we pick back up in the present (relatively speaking) in North Carolina, 1767, and boy oh boy is it good to see Sam Heughan back on screen in the role. Too bad it's not under better circumstances, as Jamie's attempts to create an escape route for his incarcerated friend Hayes get quickly squashed — by none other than Hayes himself. While he's sentenced to hang for murdering a man, the circumstances of which remain vague and unclear, Hayes has decided to accept his fate, making two requests of Jamie instead: a final swig of whiskey, and that the last face he sees be Jamie's. I mean, if you're going to go down for murder, Jamie's glorious visage really is the best you could hope to gaze upon at the very end of your life. While Hayes ascends the steps to the gallows and ultimately winds up swinging for his crimes, the resulting chaos facilitates the escape of several other prisoners in the same custody, including someone we'll get to in a bit.
After spending a day with death, it’s probably no surprise that as soon as these two kids break camp in the middle of the woods for the night, they decide to engage in a little thank-god-we’re-alive boot-knocking. Part of me wanted to roll my eyes at the utter cheesiness of the moment, especially since it was so clear from the start where things were headed, but these two are so clearly MFEO that of course their first tendency is to talk about how not even death can stand in the way of their epic lurrrrve, their souls will always belong to each other even after their bodies are decaying (gross), okay okay time to get down to smoochin’. (And Claire trying to use the moment to teach Jamie about the rules of thermodynamics might actually be Peak Claire.) These two are always doing The Absolute Most all the time, but they also look real good doing it (and doin’ it), so maybe I can forgive them for being a bit extra.
The next morning, Jamie and Claire gaze out over the undiscovered country that will later be known as America, and Claire tells Jamie about all of the immigrants who will come after them, searching for opportunity. All I kept thinking was that she must be experiencing a good post-sex glow because Claire’s vision of America is a lot more optimistic than most. Of course, Jamie brings up the reality of the Native Americans already settled on the land. At one point, he says that “a dream for some can be a nightmare for others.” Is this the beginning of Woke Jamie? Claire can definitely be more of a realist at times, but in this instance, Jamie might have to burst her bubble when it comes to certain held illusions about the grand American Dream.
Jamie’s also presented with the alluring opportunity of a land grant without having to put up the cash for it first, but it comes with a certain condition: that he swear loyalty to the Crown. Although he initially turns it down, he’s still mulling it over through the course of the episode even after Claire tells him that the Revolutionary War, which will kick off in less than a decade, would put them fighting on the losing side, again . After Jamie narrowly survived the battle at Culloden, Claire doesn’t want to put them in a position of trying to fight in a war for the Loyalists, who won’t win anyway. Clearly, there’s a patch of land sometime in Jamie and Claire’s future, but it can’t come with the cost of being on the wrong side of history. Either way, they’ve decided to stick around in America for the near future — along with Ian and Lesley in tow. First stop: Jamie’s aunt Jocasta’s digs in River Run.(Not-So-Young-Anymore) Ian
While assisting his uncle Jamie with the stealth night burial of their friend Hayes, Ian starts experiencing a little PTSD over his time spent with Geillis (and with good reason, as it also allows the show to remind us, via flashbacks, how very terrifying she was). Apparently, the act of digging a grave triggers a reminder of all the young, virginal boys that found themselves becoming victims of Geillis' desire to use them for their innocence, and there’s a very powerful moment in which he shares the pain of his experience with Jamie, someone who can verra much relate to being forced into doing something he didn’t want to do. While it was a scene that felt as though it should have happened last season (and was likely bumped to the Season 4 premiere given how quickly everything went down in Season 3's finale), it’s definitely something that needed to occur for Ian to be able to move on from his trauma.
On a much lighter note, we also meet Ian’s new dog Rollo in this episode, a four-legged friend who will come to be very important (because all doggos are, really, and John Bell, the actor who plays Ian, has been adorably tweeting out a lot of excitement about Rollo in general) but who I am convinced is definitely part-wolf, if not all-wolf. Claire shares my concerns about the fact that Rollo may not be entirely domesticated, but if it means Ian gets to have a new cuddly bestie in his life then I'm all for it. Don't we all need more good things?
Downton Abbey’s Ed Speleers joins the cast of Outlander this season in a role that may prove to be as insidious as Tobias Menzies’ Black Jack Randall was for three seasons prior. A convict who managed to slip his chains around the time that Hayes was hanged, he convinces Claire and Jamie to let him go after stowing aboard their wagon (next to Hayes' dead body), only to track them down with a raiding party on their later journey down the river to meet Jamie’s aunt Jocasta. The ensuing scene is, by far, one of the most disturbing, tough-to-watch moments this show has ever closed an hour with, all sound and dialogue removed and jarringly set to a Ray Charles cover of the episode’s title.
Not only does Bonnet make off with the Frasers’ cache of gems, which they’d been counting on to pay their way into acquiring some land and other luxuries, but he also brutally murders their friend Lesley and steals one of Claire’s wedding rings after she attempts to defiantly swallow both. Props to Caitriona Balfe in this scene for pulling off the visceral range of emotions Claire experiences once she realizes Jamie’s ring has been taken from her. And double props to Speleers, who didn’t entirely convince me that he wasn’t up to something as Bonnet but who pulls off the smooth duplicity of the character in a way that’s both intriguing and disturbing. The whole time Claire was patching up his leg, I couldn’t help but think this decision was going to come back to bite her and Jamie both, especially when Bonnet made note of how he’d always been partial to rings. Thanks, show, for the narrative symmetry but also the sense of looming dread.
- From the top of the episode, the theme of circles comes into play in a big way, first in the construction of standing stones in North Carolina, then with the noose involved in the hanging of Jamie’s friend Hayes, and ultimately, with Bonnet stealing Jamie’s ring from Claire at the end of the episode, a moment foreshadowed when Bonnet mentions to Claire in an earlier scene that he's always been fascinated by rings, given that they represent "the notion of an infinite circle."
- I am very into this new bluegrass version of the show’s theme song; the fact that they change it up every season to fit with the new setting, accompanied by clips hinting at certain sequences that will come to pass over the course of Season 4. is a great little touch.
- Marsali and Fergus haven’t wasted any time in getting busy, something I could’ve guessed when Marsali mentions being tired in the middle of the afternoon but is confirmed when they announce it to the rest of the group: they’re going to be parents! Again, at this point, Claire and Jamie are going to have to cling to all the happy news they can, because I have a sinking feeling that there's still plenty of awful ahead of them this season.
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. Personally, I can't wait for us to finally meet Jamie's aunt Jocasta (played by the absolutely phenomenal Maria Doyle Kennedy; I've missed her desperately since Orphan Black ended) and see how many dated sensibilities Claire inadvertently offends with her newfangled views. Time travel, am I right? See you next week!