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As war looms, Outlander has more to say in its quieter moments

Illustration for article titled As war looms, iOutlander /ihas more to say in its quieter moments
Image: Outlander (Starz)
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With the series’ main villain out of the way, Outlander is back to focusing on the other conflict that has been brewing steadily all season: the incoming Revolutionary War. The threat of war is palpably felt, even by the characters who don’t know for certain that it’s coming. Lord John says “a storm is coming” during his nice little visit with Jamie where he gifts him a portrait of young William. Ian tells Brianna that it doesn’t take being a time-traveler to know that something big and bad is brewing.

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On that note: Ian knows about time-travel now. The characters on Outlander tend to take it so easily when Jamie and Claire tell them the truth that I’m surprised they don’t let more people in—though, of course, it poses a risk. In any case, Ian readily accepts that his aunt and cousins are from the future, but it gets the gears working in his mind: He wants to go back in time and fix something between him and the woman who is part of the reason he returned to the Ridge in the first place. It’s a very believable reaction to learning about the existence of time-travel. Ian sees the magic as a possibility for fixing something

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The penultimate episode of the season plods through plot a little painstakingly. But paradoxically, it’s the slower, quieter, more intimate moments in the episode that are the most captivating and engaging. Scenes like Claire and Jamie explaining time-travel to Ian, Claire tending to Mr. Brown, and the Browns explaining the newly formed Committee of Safety drag a bit. The horrific opening scene of the episode sets an immediately somber and unnerving tone—albeit with a little too heavy a hand. Sometimes Outlander mistakes graphic imagery for urgency, and this is absolutely one of those instances, especially since the trauma of this young dying girl seems to exist only to develop Roger and show how far he has come in terms of being able to stomach certain things in this time? No thanks.

While not a lot happens, there’s still a lot of plot to contend with, including the aftermath of Ulysses killing Mr. Forbes. He’s hiding out in the woods now, as he knows he will not be pardoned for killing a white man even if it was to save Jocasta. Then he also reveals to Claire and Jamie that despite having freedom papers he chose to stay and serve Jocasta, implying it was done out of love. This whole storyline is so supremely dumb and reiterates that Outlander really has no interest in meaningfully or incisively engaging with the presence of slavery in its narrative. Ulysses’ arc ends up getting wrapped up tidily by Jamie’s idea to have him travel with Lord John under the guise of being his manservant so that he can get to England, where he will be free.

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And that’s all for Ulysses apparently. Outlander has a lot of characters to juggle at once, but the characters it chooses to develop more deeply are rarely the black or native characters on the show. Now Ian is the only voice for the Mohawk on the show, and that’s another misstep. He delivers a book written by Otter Tooth to Jamie and Claire, who marvels that it was written in a ballpoint pen. But Otter Tooth remains more concept than character.

The scenes that Outlander does best in “Journeycake” really are those very character-driven, less plotty moments. They’re not action-packed, and the episode indeed feels overlong, but Outlander often provides a strong argument in favor of slow storytelling. Even just Brianna and Roger explaining to the other characters that they need to go packs a punch. Brianna talking to Lizzie is the most devastating of all.

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There are several big reveals in the episode. Jemmy can indeed time-travel, news for everyone. Jamie has a son, something we already know but that gets revealed to Brianna in the episode. These reveals are interconnected and prompt complex emotions for everyone involved. Jamie immediately wants to know if Brianna and Roger will leave. And of course they will; they have to. They’re sad about it, but they also know it’s the right choice. It’s safer for Jemmy and for them, too. They may have acclimated to their new setting, but they don’t belong here, and they learn that lesson over and over this season.

Jamie’s reluctance to let them go makes sense. He had let go of Brianna all those years ago when Claire passed through the stones pregnant with her. He thought he would never meet his daughter, and now that he has had the chance to get to know her, he wants more time. But on top of that, Jamie also can’t be with his son. Willy continues to be raised by Lord John, and Jamie is—not entirely by choice—a childless parent. Rather than building to one big, overwrought goodbye scene between Brianna and her parents, instead the entire episode is imbued with sadness, loss, the knowledge that everything is about to change. It’s an effective choice, making the looming nature of Claire and Roger’s departure a clear through-line in an overpacked episode. War is coming, and on a more zoomed-in level, Claire and Jamie are about to lose a huge part of their life.

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The scene of the family all having dinner together is a lovely example of the way Outlander can pack a bunch of emotion, character history, and meaning into a small, intimate moment. It’s family dinner, but it’s also the last that will ever be like this. And they finally eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that Claire and Brianna are preparing for throughout the episode: such a simple end product after a lengthy process. The peanut butter and jelly sandwiches look toward Brianna and Roger’s future, a symbol of the time they lived in before and a treat that Claire has a lot of emotional connection to. “Journeycake” brims with sentimentality, but it’s well executed and underlines just how big Brianna and Roger’s decision is. It’s an inevitable sadness.

Things do pick up speedily at the end of the episode, sparked by Lionel Brown’s discovery that Claire has been operating as Dr. Rawlings. It’s an effective ramping up of the stakes. There have been so many plotlines unfolding on the periphery of the season, and Claire knew she was taking a risk by disseminating medical advice under a pseudonym, but nothing prepares her or Jamie for the sudden violence this invokes. Jamie and Claire are once again separated, a conflict well that Outlander dips into time after time. It’s a jarring end to the episode, but it ramps up the stakes ahead of the season finale.

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Stray observations

  • Claire is casually studying Jamie’s sperm under a microscope.
  • Was anyone else worried for Claire’s safety when Jamie eats her out IN AN OPEN WINDOW?
  • Lord John and Jamie bonding over Willy is another sweet character moment, as is Brianna talking to Lord John about the boy. They’re all part of an unconventional, sprawling family.
  • What do we think Roger and Brianna are looking at after passing through the stones? Did they end up in the wrong time? (Remember to label any spoilers from the books in the comments.)
  • Is any couple on TV as horny for each other as Jamie and Claire?
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