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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A contemplative Outlander messes with memory and time

Illustration for article titled A contemplative Outlander messes with memory and time
Image: Outlander (Starz)

In “Perpetual Adoration,” Outlander employs an extended metaphor regarding time. Time is god and memory is devil. But time is also a spider’s web, an elegant and effective image in which the tiny reverberations of a web’s threads signify the choices we make, the signs and actions that thrust us in a particular direction.


For the first time of the season, we pop into Claire’s life in the past-future a.k.a. her time post-Jamie in 20th century America. The story of her Scottish patient who died of an allergic reaction to penicillin touches so many different parts of Claire’s life. The memory jolts back to her upon her new discovery of penicillin at Fraser’s Ridge. Claire has decided to play god by inventing it well before the time it was previously invented. The memory touches on all the risks associated with medicine and allows Claire to reflect on what it means to work in this world. She doesn’t know what the ripple effects of creating penicillin could be, but she knows that it’s all she can do to save the twins. Penicillin was the reason she lost a patient in the past-future, but it also saved so many lives and allows her to save these, too. What “Perpetual Adoration” suggests is that we can never fully know the outcome of our actions. Even if we do what we think is best in the moment, there could be consequences. Claire thought her patient was going in for an easy surgery, but she couldn’t control the outcome. Characters on the show are constantly taking a leap of faith.

Jamie certainly does when he confesses to Knox that Murtagh is his godfather. His arrival at Hillsborough is a bit anticlimactic, as Tryon has decided to pardon all the Regulators except for Murtagh, trying to lure the others away from dissent with the promise of a pardon and also making an example out of their leader. Jamie knows he’s caught and has to come clean, but he seems to think he has at least a shot at convincing Knox that the issue is nuanced and that he and Murtagh are not the enemy. But of course it doesn’t work out that way. Knox, after all, stabbed a boy in the chest previously. He sees things in black and white, and Jamie confessing his connection to Murtagh immediately makes Jamie a devil in his eyes. So Jamie has to kill him in order to get away. It’s another huge risk, and in this case he’s intentionally taking a life, but there’s no other way out for Jamie. He made his choice, and there will undoubtedly be consequences down the road. Because this episode in particular drives home the concept of action and reaction.

Brianna, Roger, and Claire are all limited in their choices in the past, unable to live the lives they used to live but trying to figure out how to survive in their new time and also do some good. Roger wonders if he should open a university (which admittedly seems to be for selfish reasons rather than for the greater good but alas). Brianna’s all for it, which is a little confusing since she was so hesitant about Claire’s decision to make penicillin. How is starting a whole ass new university not also playing god? It’s yet another example of Brianna being written inconsistently.

Over and over again, Claire has made carefully calculated but risky choices, in both her medical work but also her personal life. She left Jamie the first time around because it was what was best for Brianna. But her Scottish patient—intensely devout to his wife even after her death—eventually set her on a path back toward Jamie. So many coincidences had to line up in order to bring Claire and Jamie back to each other. I’ve previously written on how sometimes Outlander relies a little to heavily on seemingly impossible coincidences, so I think it’s actually a brilliant choice to have a bit of a meta meditation on that here. One sequence actually compiles a lot of the significant moments in Claire’s journey, showing us how much time has passed and how much time itself has factored into the story.

Because in a way, time isn’t just a thematic device on Outlander. It’s almost a character in and of itself, interacting with each of the other characters in intimate and complex ways. “I guess you never really know what’s coming,” Brianna muses to Claire after she tells her in the past-future about losing a patient. There’s immense dramatic irony here, of course, because Brianna has absolutely no clue what’s to come for herself: a journey through time and space and a complete overhaul of her life as she knows it. The past, present, and future all collide in Outlander and in “Perpetual Adoration” in particular.


Characters’ choices and consequences interplay and incite in “Perpetual Adoration,” with Claire suggesting that even the mildest touch can set off echoes. “Words have consequences,” Roger cautions. He’s hurt that Brianna hid the fact that she met with Bonnet before his death from him and also hid the fact that he isn’t even really dead. Most of all, Roger’s hurt by her choice to tell Bonnet that he is Jemmy’s real father. Roger discovering the ruby Bonnet gifted Brianna joggles a memory of his own, a flashback that doesn’t serve the episode all that much other than to let us in on how Roger recognizes it and also re-establish Bonnet as a nefarious figure. There are lots of flashbacks in this episode, and this one isn’t really necessary but alas! Roger is very upset, which also brings back the show’s big ol’ Roger Problem.

I am totally fine with characters falling somewhere between likable and unlikable. People are nuanced. Jamie is this story’s hero, but he also kills a man with not much forethought in this episode. Claire makes bad decisions all the time. But with Roger, the issue is more that Outlander doesn’t really treat him like a bad guy even though he absolutely is one! There’s a huge disconnect in the way the character is written and the way other characters interact with him. He completely flips out about Brianna saying something to Bonnet, but in truth, Brianna really doesn’t have any way of knowing who the father is. There’s no way to know for sure!


Maybe he’s hurt that she thinks it’s Bonnet, but in any case, it shouldn’t require a lecture from Claire about parenting and biology—and the fact that the two are not necessarily dependent on each other—to get him to calm down. It often seems like Roger forgets that Brianna was brutally assaulted by Bonnet. He gets so in his feelings about Jemmy possibly being Bonnet’s that he acts immaturely and sometimes straight up cruelly toward Brianna. She shouldn’t have to assure him. Doesn’t Roger remember that he himself was raised by someone who was not his biological parent? He was adopted! And yet he makes no reasonable mental or emotional connection in his huffy-puffy brain about this. Rampant coincidences on this show can easily be forgiven, but the short-term memory loss its characters sometimes seem to suffer is frustrating. Yes, they have lived complicated lives. But there needs to be some kernel of emotional honesty and believability to their actions to really sell the story. Who even knows who Roger MacKenzie is? The complex concept of time is more easily grasped than he is.

Stray observations

  • The fact that Jamie immediately recalls which patient Claire is talking about is a nice touch, because it conveys how close they are and how much they’ve shared through the years. She has probably told him about every significant medical case in her past-future.
  • Adso the kitten is my new favorite character.
  • Well hey, at least Roger doesn’t sing this episode!