Warning: This recap, by its very nature, contains major spoilers about Sunday’s Outlander
Rationally, I know that this week’s Outlander was written, filmed, edited and locked down months ago. So there’s no way that my — and part of the fandom’s — voicing our grievances with last week’s episode had any bearing on anything that happens on screen in this Sunday’s installment. But “The Ballad of Roger Mac” is so well crafted, so well acted and so heartbreakingly fulfilling that it almost feels as though we collectively dreamed it into being.
Did we somehow manifest The (Scottish) Secret? With all of this episode’s crushing loss, talky sex and that knife-to-the-gut of an ending, I’d say aye. Read on for the highlights of Episode 7. (And make sure to go here to hear what series star Duncan Lacroix had to say about the hour… for reasons that will become very clear really soon.)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BIG RED | We open in Hillsboro, where Roger sings “My Darling Clementine” to Jemmy while Bree looks on. They’re staying with a friend of Jocasta’s; Bree wanted the family to stay together as long as possible before the militia actively engaged in fighting. After Lizzie collects her wee charge, Roger worries to Bree that Jem won’t remember him if he dies in battle. She fervently assures her husband that it won’t happen.
At Governor Tryon’s camp, Claire wakes up in a tent to see Jamie examining his hand. She observes that he’s taking stock to mark the passage of another year: It’s his 50th birthday. They talk about how his father died when he was 49; Claire says Brian Fraser would be proud to know Jamie is alive and has a large family. Their conversation meanders to how much he’s changed over the years, but I love the gentle way Claire reassures her husband that he’s still the same man he always was. There’s some joking about how the southern region of his anatomy can still rise to the occasion, then she climbs on top of him and softly sings “Happy Birthday” as they get it on.
If you will, let’s pause a moment: THIS is the Jamie and Claire I adore, and this is the type of love scene that Diana Gabaldon (pardon the pun) nails in her books. It’s sexy. It’s sweet. It’s fun. It’s natural. In my opinion, the exchange between the Frasers on the morning of the battle is the most (again, I’m sorry for the word choice but) satisfying Jamie-Claire sex scene we’ve had in the past few seasons. And now I’ve spent far too much time talking about them making the Loch Ness Monster with two backs, so let’s move on.
BREE’S MEMORY FLASH CHANGES EVERYTHING | When Jamie assembles his men later that morning, there’s an extra soldier among their ranks: Isaiah Morton, last seen running off with Alicia Brown, is back to help his commander. Richard and Lionel Brown are not pleased to see him, but Jamie intercedes before they can kill the man.
Next thing we know, Jamie is shirtless (though still pantsed… pantsful… panted?) and dripping wet in the middle of a stream. Claire finds him there, dabbing himself with blood from his own palm and chanting/praying. She wonders who he’s invoking, and he says his uncle Dougal, who was the clan’s war chief and who knew a thing or two about going into battle. (Apparently murdering someone doesn’t put you on their non-blessing list forever?)
Meanwhile, back in town, Bree hears someone discussing the area where the fighting might happen. The man refers to an area called Alamance, and that jogs something in Bree’s mind: She kinda remembers that an important battle took place there, so she hops on a horse and speeds to her parents to warn them. “Some people consider this to be the spark of the American Revolution,” she says. The bad news: Tryon and his men win.
Jamie immediately wants to get a message to Murtagh, whom he thinks might retreat if he knows the future outcome of the skirmish. But Bree points out that if the stop the battle, perhaps the American Revolution will never happen, and America won’t become America. Jamie considers this but then dismisses it as Not Important Right Now. And then Roger volunteers to infiltrate the Regulators’ camp, even though it’s a highly dangerous undertaking. “He knows me. He knows I’m from the future,” he says. “He’ll believe it.” In the interim, Bree decides to stay at the camp and help her mother in the medical tent.
WELP, THAT’S THAT | Roger arrives at Regulator Central as Murtagh is stirring up his men. Tyron’s “blood will soak this ground!” he shouts. After, when Roger makes contact with Jamie’s godfather, he tries to talk some sense into the older man. “Tyron has cannons, for chrissakes,” Roger says. “You cannot win. You do not win. The history has been written.” He points out that, in a few years, all of them will be fighting against the British together. “D’ye ken how long a few years is to men who’ve lost everything?” Murtagh asks quietly.
Early the next morning, the Regulators get word that Tryon has rejected their attempt to parley and avoid fighting. Murtagh sadly reports to Roger that he tried to change his men’s minds, but to no avail. He sends Roger Mac back to his own camp. On his way out, Roger urges Murtagh to leave himself, “for the love your godson bears you.”
SIDE TRIP | Roger is walking back to the British camp when he sees Morag MacKenzie — aka the woman whose child he stopped Stephen Bonnet from hucking overboard during their sea passage — hanging laundry. Her husband is a Regulator, and she’s tagging along like a bunch of the other men’s families have. Roger tells her to get her husband to leave, but she lets him know she’s pregnant and sadly says they have no home to return to. He hugs her. The embrace is one-armed and nothing but casual, but it’s straight-up porn to the eye of Morag’s very 18th-century husband, who thunders over and demands to know who the heck Roger is.
Roger tries to explain. Morag tries to intervene. Her husband, William, goes to hit her, and then Roger hits him. As it sinks in for Roger what a quagmire he’s gotten himself into, he tries to flee; William’s friends grab and detain him. William finds the cockade that designates Roger as one of Fraser’s militia and realizes he’s “a wife stealer and a traitor, all tied up in a wee bundle.” Then there’s a lot more male posturing — good God, Roger, please learn when to SHUT YER EVERLOVING TRAP — and William knocks him out with the butt of a rifle.
BETTER DEAD THAN REDCOAT | Claire comes out of the hospital tent in an apron, drinking from a flask — nice callback to World War II Flashback Claire! — and nearly drops her drink. “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” she mutters, staring at Jamie who stands a few feet away. He’s wearing a British red coat, and he looks like he’d rather be dead. Tryon forced it upon him, and though he tried to decline, he really had no choice. And to make matters worse, Roger is missing and “the battle is upon us.”
Claire wishes him luck and then seems to realize how mundane that sounds, so she tearily yet steadfastly tells him she loves him. “Good luck will do,” he replies, smiling and not totally steady himself. “I love you does so much better.” (Side note: I thought Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan were perfection here.) Before he leaves to join his men, he adds: “I do know this — There will come a day when you and I will part again, but it willna be today.” Then he goes.
UGH, THE BROWNS ARE THE WORST | Jamie advises his men to try not to kill the Regulators, who are fellow Scots, but all of that becomes moot after the firing begins. At one point, Isaiah Morton gets hit; both Brown brothers are having their wounds treated when he’s brought in, bleeding profusely. They make some snide remarks, and Claire realizes that one of them probably shot him in the back at close range. When she says as much, Lionel Brown knocks her one and only glass syringe to the ground and stomps on it, destroying it. Claire is devastated. So much for that penicillin!
THE SILVER FOX’S FINAL REST | Eventually, the battle is mostly over. The British are brutal to the men they take prisoner, dragging them behind their horses and treating them like animals. Deep in the forest, Jamie is about to get shot by a Regulator named Lee Withers when someone brains Withers from the side: It’s Murtagh! The silver fox himself is smiling widely at Jamie when the unthinkable happens: A young member of Fraser’s militia shoots Murtagh in the gut, then gleefully reports to Jamie that he “didna waiver!” just like Jamie told them.
Murtagh falls onto his godson, who looks like he can’t believe what’s happening. Jamie eases him to the ground as best he can, chastising him for protecting him even after he released him from his vow. “I’d never betray your mother, no matter who asked,” the older man gasps. He puts his hand on Jamie’s cheek. “Dinna be afraid, [Scottish term of endearment I don’t know how to spell],” he says. “It doesna hurt a bit to die.” Then his eyes close and his hand falls.
Of all of the diversions this show has taken from the books, keeping Murtagh alive is the one I loved the most. A character I only kinda connected with in the novels was made deeper, funnier and more resonant by Duncan Lacroix’s gorgeous portrayal. And the Jocasta stuff? Are you kidding me?! I will miss Murtagh very, very much.
JAMIE, UNDONE | I’ve talked before about how I’d like to see the scripts let Jamie lose his stuff a little more when it comes to the big, emotional moments (tl;dr: I’m still not over the choice to have him be stalwart instead of a big puddle of bittersweet goo upon seeing the first photos of Brianna in Season 3.) Well, ask and ye shall receive. Though it’s clear to everyone that Murtagh has gone to that big Gathering in the sky, Jamie demands that his fellow militiamen help him carry his godfather back to the medical tent. “We’ll take you to Claire. She’ll know what to do,” he says calmly to the corpse as they make their way. (Side note: That moment broke me almost more than anything else did this episode. If you want to hear my TED Talk on Claire and Jamie’s partnership and the myriad ways it sings, hit me up on Twitter.)
Once they get Murtagh up on Claire’s table, Jamie is in a frenzy, asking her what she needs and telling her to do what she must to “heal him.” Big Red sees the looks on Claire and Bree’s faces, sees that they’re starting to cry, but he needs his wife to shake her head and quietly say, “He’s gone” before he starts to believe it. Bree steps out and pulls the curtain to give her parents some privacy. Jamie steps close to Murtagh, who is graying on the table, and says, “I take it back. I dinna release you from your oath. You canna leave me. You canna leave me.” Then he stagers out of the tent, and Claire cries over Murtagh’s body as she readies it for burial.
Outside, Jamie rebuffs Tryon’s congratulations and throws the redcoat at his feet, accusing the governor of kindling a war for his own glory. The much put-out Tryon says he’ll overlook Fraser’s insolence because he did his promised duty. “Aye, I’ve paid my debt,” Jamie says coldly, then nearly falls down in front of a nearby fire, gasp-weeping as he tries to keep his face away from anyone else in camp.
THE END OF ROGER MAC?! | Throughout, Bree hasn’t been able to locate Roger. So she, her parents and a bunch of the militia members set out to look through the prisoners and the dead, hoping to find him. They come across three Regulator prisoners hanging from a tree, executed under Tryon’s orders.
Though the men’s heads are covered, Jamie recognizes one as Roger. Bree is silently horrified and shaking as her mother holds her close, her father crosses himself and the body is brought down from its branch.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments.