“Better to Marry Than Burn” burns us up halfway through Outlander’s fifth season
Outlander’s “Better to Marry Than Burn” begins with a short scene following Culloden. Looks like Hector Cameron (Christopher Bowen) and Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) fleeing Culloden with the French gold. They’re caught and their daughter is shot, and even more brutally they have to leave her there. Back in the later 1700’s it’s Jocasta’s wedding to dupe Duncan Innes (Alastair Findlay). There’s a lot of politics between one James Fraser (Sam Heughan) His Excellency Governor Tryon (Tim Downie), and his wife, for some reason?
Also skulking around is Philip Wylie (Chris Donald), wearing a wig and a hell of a lot of powder. He’s got the hots for Claire (Caitriona Balfe) which she uses to try to get some information about Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speelers) to no avail. Wylie tries to assault her and she puts him on his ass before Jamie storms in. Jamie and Claire still need Wylie though, so each tries to think of a way to keep him hooked, so to speak.
In the meantime Roger (Richard Rankin) and Brianna (Sophie Skelton) are dealing with a Biblical plague of locusts, which Roger effectively quells with smoke, and that’s about all they get up to this week. Back to Wylie, Jamie wants to bet Claire’s gold wedding ring to win a horse which he could then use to bribe Wylie into a whiskey partnership & a meeting with Bonnet. Claire wants him to use Jamie’s silver ring instead of just the gold one. Got all that? The plan works! Jamie and Claire have angry sex in a barn and then have a heart to heart.
Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) arrives at Jocasta’s the night before her wedding. Even though she offered him the opportunity to tell her he loves her months ago, he waits until the night before she’s getting married. Because of her past she’s unwilling to call off her wedding and Murcasta is over. Oh, and Jocasta has also willed River Run to Bree’s son Jemmy (despite everyone previously objecting?) and somehow Neil Forbes (Billy Boyd) knows, and he told Bonnet. Oh, and nobody took Tryon’s pardons so everyone is going to war.
Yeah. That was a lot. Anyway, on with the good stuff. Let the fan roundtable commence!
Heather (@taterbug160) – There is never enough Lord John Grey.
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – Full time writer, part-time Outlander fangirl with Claire hair (give me book 9 already)!
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – I’m a thirty-something anglophile that loves books, movies, and musical theatre. I live in Louisville, KY with my partner, John, and my six-month puppy, Marty McDoo.
1. We haven’t seen a lot of Jocasta’s past. What did you think about her family history?
Dee (@OL_America) – What happened to Jocasta is a mother’s worst nightmare, and, as we learned from the book, she never quite forgave Hector for the loss of her daughters. She blamed him for putting politics and the gold before her and the family. Above anything now, even love, Jocasta wants someone who will put her first. This scene helps us understand why she rejects Murtagh.
Heather (@taterbug160) – It’s nice to get a glimpse of her life, but it was hard with such a short scene to find where this mattered in the course of THIS episode. I feel like in this century most everyone has some trauma in their past. what made this relevant to her wedding? When she shared this with Murtagh he of course felt terrible for her, but I don’t think it had the impact it was meant to? Sure, she says because of that incident she’d never marry a man like Murtagh, but we all KNOW she would have had he told her how he felt when he had the chance.
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – Hmm… This condensed version of her past (versus what I remember from the book) was interesting. Whew, it’s hard to believe Hector accidentally killed Morna with so little remorse, Jocasta being able to carry on and with the man afterwards, and Jocasta accepting a life built off the gold that got her daughter killed. Where’s the sassy schemer? This episode presented her as a much more meek and soft character than before. She’s got more fight in her than that!
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – I am a fan of the books so I was curious if they would include this history in the show. It definitely made us understand why Jocasta is at present. I found it heartbreaking in the book and Maria Doyle Kennedy moved me to tears with her performance.
2. Claire, you sneak! What were you thinking as she tried to play out her plan to find Stephen Bonnet?
Dee (@OL_America) – Claire’s intentions are good, but she almost bites off more than she can chew. She never should have followed Wiley into that barn. Jamie enters and saves her just in the knick of time. He is clearly irritated that she has been so reckless, reminding her that she is “just a woman.” That struck a nerve, so Claire struck Jamie!
Heather (@taterbug160) – Honestly, it’s not a BAD plan. She played to Wylie’s weaknesses, his lust for money, and his interest in her. I was not surprised at all that she figured it was in Bonnet before he told her, because she’s smart, and resourceful, and pretty bad ass when allowed to be.
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – Oh, Claire finds a moment where she can hatch a plan that doesn’t quite work out? Not surprised! Haha. It was all going along too easily for it to work her way.
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – Claire always knows how to think on her feet. As soon as she had an inkling that Wylie was working with Bonnet, I knew she would do anything she could to find him. I love how Claire schemes even when they don’t work out.
3. Now doesn’t seem like the best time to be talking about plagues, but. What did you think of the plague of locusts and Roger’s scheme to save the Ridge from them??
Dee (@OL_America) – The plague of locusts actually happens in the next book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, when Claire gives Jamie the idea of using smoke to stop the infestation. Instead, the writers chose to keep Roger and Bree at Fraser’s Ridge where Roger, with a little help from Bree, tells the tenants about using smoke. The writers used the locust plague to re-establish Roger’s credibility with the tenants and to strengthen the bond between Roger and Bree. It allowed them to work together for a common purpose.
Heather (@taterbug160) – Sometimes I can’t tell if this show wants us to hate Roger, or love Roger…. I think he needed to do something big to earn the respect of the people on the ridge and thankfully this gamble played out. It was glad to see what was happening back on the ridge, even if we can’t have a moments peace!
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – Besides the eerie timeliness of the plague—boy, I’d take locusts over the coronavirus any day—this part of the episode was fine but could’ve been better. In the grand scheme of things, it felt like an anti-climactic way to show Roger and Bree not fighting, which is usually their M.O., and Roger trying to do something to impress Jamie. For a band of writers and producers who are all about the drama these days, I’m surprised they didn’t zhuzh this up more.
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – This was something that diverges from the books so it was nice to not know what would happen. I do think Roger has not been given enough credit. He’s someone who has so much learning but it’s learning that he is being repeatedly told in words and actions don’t matter at this point in time. It was great to see him finally speak up and have people listen even if they did think it was a ludicrous plan at first. I hope this positive direction is only the beginning.
4. Jamie and Claire don’t agree on how to get to Wylie and thereby Bonnet. Whose side are you on, and why?
Dee (@OL_America) – Claire takes a risk trying to manipulate Wylie on her own, but Jamie takes a risk gambling with Claire’s rings. I can’t say I’m on either side. I would never have followed a powder-faced, serial killer looking guy into a barn alone, horse or no; and, I would have been very angry if my husband had ever asked to use my rings to gamble in a card game. However, I don’t believe Claire should have slapped Jamie.
Heather (@taterbug160) – If not evidenced by my answer to the 2nd question, I’m on Claire’s side. She plots more cleanly, and at the end of the day, the exact pitch she gave Wiley is what ends up happening anyway! Jamie’s been a little reckless lately, which is a bit out of character for him but hey he’s NOT perfect. They get what they want, a bargaining chip to use against Wylie to get close to Bonnet.
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – Claire’s approach was definitely less risky, but she was never getting out of it without Wylie creeping on her and causing trouble. Jamie would have to get involved and it was always going to get messy. Jamie putting Claire’s rings on the line was a jerk move, but also a very Jamie thing to do. The other very Jamie thing to happen? Winning the rings back as he said he would. So I guess he wins this round?
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – I sympathize with both but do feel it wasn’t right of Jamie to ask Claire to give up the ring. I know many hate Frank but he was her first love and made a real impact on her and Bree’s lives. One of the reasons I like Jamie and Claire’s relationship is that he respects who Frank was in her life. So, when it comes down to it, I was more on Claire’s side on this one.
5. Way to go, Murtagh, telling her not to marry Duncan Innes the night before her wedding. Did you feel for them in this scene? Why or why not?
Dee (@OL_America) – As much as I like Murtagh, I can’t blame Jocasta for rejecting him. Apparently he has been in North Carolina for some years and never visited Jocasta until he brings Brianna there while her parents search for Roger. This visit results in an intense but sporadic love affair, yet he will not give up his Regulator rebellion to stay by her side. He is a wanted man and Gov. Tryon intends to see him hanged. His association with Jocasta has put her in jeopardy as well. His very presence on her estate with all the guests, including Tryon, is reckless and puts them all in danger. Asking her to wait for him on the eve of her wedding is way out of line. She tells him that she needs a man who will put her first, unlike Hector. While there is no passion or “burning” desire between Jocasta and Duncan Innes, she decides she is better off marrying someone who will put her first and not threaten her livelihood.
At first I couldn’t make the connection between the title, “To Marry or to Burn,” and the events in the episode. (The title is actually derived from a quote from the first book and represents a confession of sorts by Jamie makes to Claire, on their wedding night I believe: “It is better to marry than to burn,” meaning that it is better to marry instead of committing the sin of fornication outside of marriage, which Jamie believed is punishable by burning in hell. It has a slightly different meaning as it is used for the episode title.) Then it dawned on me that it describes Jocasta’s decision to give up Murtagh to marry Duncan. She gives up the “burning” love she shares with Murtagh for the safety and security of a marriage to Duncan Innes. Love does not always conquer all.
Heather (@taterbug160) – I’m a sentimental sap, of course I feel for them in this scene. Because Murtagh is not alive at this part of the books, it’s actually something I don’t know the end of. I think we’ve all been in some sort of relationship where you were too scared to make your feelings known, and it may have cost you someone you loved. I can relate to them and it makes me wish for more for them.
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – Look, I’m probably the wrong person to ask this question to as I felt Murtagh’s story should’ve ended on the Culloden battlefield. I’ve admittedly had a hard time feeling Murcasta as a couple and any of their more intimate scenes. Jocasta needs NO man! Murtagh is a fugitive! This was never going to end well. I did think Jocasta had a completely valid reason to reject Murtagh based on her experience with Hector, but I also wished she were the stronger, more independent character I enjoyed from the books.
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – This was the standout scene of the episode! Holy moly, the acting in this made me feel so much at once. The foundation set in the opening scene with Jocasta showed why she couldn’t marry Murtagh. He was right on the money when he said he should have said something earlier and when Jocasta gasps at the end when he leaves, I was full-on sobbing.
6. Ah, love in the stables. If you’ve read the books, did this scene live up to your expectations? And if you haven’t read the books, just dish on what you thought!
Dee (@OL_America) – The scene seems a little rushed and doesn’t have carry quite the punch the book version carries. It’s hard to tell what Jamie expects her to see when he tells her to, “Look down.” I imagine all she can see it a wad of skirt and petticoats. It must be noted that Drunk Jamie was really sexy in that scene.
Heather (@taterbug160) – I have read the book, but it’s been a HOT minute, so it’s not fresh in my mind. I thought the dialogue was a little… strange? Claire and Jamie have had make up/angry sex before but this certainly seemed a bit off? Their fire just seemed lacking. It wasn’t all bad, just not all that great.
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – It…did not. Look, I’ll take any Jamie and Claire sex scene I can get, but this one was really clunky. I may have seen Diana’s comments about it on Twitter, and I can’t disagree. Between the slap (which I think Jamie would’ve stopped by the way) and the comedic back and forth, it didn’t land for me like I’d hoped. The music and tone made me think back to the S1 moment when Jamie tried to spank Claire, but this time, they tried to make it more sexy? (Also, I’m not really sure what he wanted Claire to look at because they were both fully clothed with multiple layers. He wasn’t even wearing a kilt so I’m curious how they came together so quickly…)
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – Unfortunately, I did not feel like the scene worked in the episode. Maybe because it was directly after the Murtagh/Jocasta scene but it fell flat for me. There was none of the passion of the book and everything just felt so off.
7. Gerald Forbes, what are you doing??? When he told Bonnet about Jemmy inheriting River Run, what were your first thoughts?
Dee (@OL_America) – My first thought was, “How in the hell does he know that Jemmy could be Bonnet’s son?” My second thought was, “Forbes, you rotten bastard!” Forbes must be all butt hurt because Brianna rejected him before he could even propose and married Roger.
Heather (@taterbug160) – Oh HEELLLLLLL no, this is not good. Those were my first thoughts. Forbes knows exactly the kind of man Bonnet is, but what is in this for him? Why would anyone want to be involved with Bonnet at all?! What on heaven and earth will Bonnet do to get to Jemmy and therefore claim River Run…
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – Since when does Gerald Forbes know about the connection between Bonnet and Jemmy?! I do not believe for one second that Bonnet would tell anyone about his potential fathering of young Jemmy. It wouldn’t have benefitted him, particularly during that time. I imagine information like that would spread like wildfire. Roger would never live this down if the town thought his son was actually related to a smuggler. Or that his wife was a hoor and got with such a man before they were wed.
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – Forbes is a fool and it’s going to catch up with him at the end.
8. Well we knew from Jamie and Claire’s previous attempts at preventing war, the War of the Regulation is inevitable. Give us your predictions about how you think he’s going to handle it?
Dee (@OL_America) – From promo videos, we’ve already seen Jamie in a redcoat uniform, but we know it will just about kill him to wear it. It is doubtful that he will wear it for long. I believe he will do whatever he can to prevent Tryon from hanging Murtagh.
Heather (@taterbug160) – Two words and we’ve seen it in the previews… RED. COAT.
Lynsey (@itslynseyj) – I foresee quite a conundrum as Jamie has to clash with his Godfather out in the open and in a way he can’t hide or avoid. I feel that as a book reader, I’ve already had a peek into the future in some respects. I know there are some major moments ahead. With Murtagh in the mix, something else is definitely going to happen and go wrong. They can only skirt around each other for so long! (And is it terrible to say I’d be happy to end Murtagh’s storyline there?)
Emily (@beyondthestack1) – Unfortunately, I do not see the War of Regulation going well. Not just because I have read the books, but because I feel like this really lays the groundwork for an eventual Murtagh death in the show. I truly hope I’m wrong.
Final Verdict: We were a bit burned by “Better to Marry Than Burn”
Sometimes Outlander makes it a little tricky for us. We don’t expect to love every moment of every show. But would it kill us to have a little narrative structure? Things turn up that haven’t been mentioned in seasons, there’s no thread tying things together. And that’s not just this episode to the rest of the series (though some issues with missing connections were egregious in this episode). There’s very little to tie things together within the episode itself. It makes it difficult to feel anything at all when watching. There were times during this episode where you cared about so little it almost made us feel badly.
Let’s talk about some examples within this episode alone. Firstly, a few episodes ago Roger was adamant that Jemmy would not be master of River Run. Bree didn’t want Jemmy to own slaves. Jamie didn’t want River Run. Nobody wants River Run, Jocasta, complete with slaves that nobody mentions anymore. But suddenly Jemmy is getting River Run, with no discussion afterwards. Which leads us to our next point.
Does anyone have an idea how Gerald Forbes knows that Stephen Bonnet is Jemmy’s father? Brianna wouldn’t have told him when they had met at River Run. Why would Bonnet tell him? Why does Outlander need to go to this strange, contrived place? It’s not enough that Stephen Bonnet wants Jemmy because he’s a father, the writers have decided that he’d really only want the boy if he was the master of River Run. Now it makes sense, why they needed Jemmy to be the master of River Run. We’re positing that this coincidental shoehorned plot line wasn’t really necessary to ramp up the threat of Bonnet. He’s a really bad guy who has already stolen from Jamie and Claire, murdered their friend, and raped their daughter. Him being alive is enough of a threat.
There are bigger problems than this, such as Claire being incredibly attached to Frank’s ring, but without flashbacks to any good times between Frank and Claire it’s hard to empathize with Claire for wanting that gold ring when she’s barely mentioned it means something to her! Obviously Tobias Menzies is busy with other work, but with Brianna at the Ridge, would it be difficult to have them talk about Frank instead? With no context we don’t have any sense of the emotional connection Claire has to that ring.
Our roundtable has mixed feelings on Murcasta, and we do too. Again, there’s no connection between episodes, we’ve seen them together three times? Maybe four? So some of the roundtable wasn’t emotionally connected to them together and neither were we. One thing we were behind? The fantastic acting between Duncan Lacroix & Maria Doyle Kennedy. There’s no denying they’ve got great chemistry. Maria Doyle Kennedy really walked away with the episode. Between her opening scene and the scene between her and Murtagh, she gets the acting kudos for this episode.
The most controversial scene this episode was the stable scene. The dialogue was stilted, and Sam and Caitriona just seemed awkward and not comfortable with each other. Much like author Diana Gabaldon, we’re inclined to say that bad writing and really poor direction sank this scene. If someone tells you to look down and then crushes your face against theirs so you can’t, we don’t really feel the heat. Outlander has had some really wonderful intimate scenes. This was not one of them.
Choosing a hodgepodge of writers and directors without having someone really strong at the helm to guide & edit them means that quality will vary. It’s probably more efficient work-wise to hire a different writer for every episode and just have them chat together in a writer’s room. But does it make for a cohesive show? Do these writers watch every previous episode in the series? Have they read all the books? As it stands now the inconsistencies in the show makes it seem as if they haven’t. Someone higher up who has needs to be clearer. Different writers is great when someone is at the top making sure these episodes have a through line.
Overall there were definitely some things to like about “Better to Marry than Burn”. Maria Doyle Kennedy shined, and the set dressing was beautiful. But the show felt like it ended four times, but none of those seemed soon enough. Overall it felt like a hodgepodge of ideas and disconnected scenes. Characters come and go and things aren’t earned because they’ve not been mentioned enough for us to have an emotional connection to them. Jamie is going to war next week. Here’s hoping that brings the drama and emotional punch we’re craving.