Did “The Ballad of Roger Mac”, reduce our Outlander fan roundtable to emotional rubble?
In an episode called “The Ballad of Roger Mac”, this episode wasn’t precisely about Roger Mac, but let’s get into anyway. We begin with leave-taking. Roger (Richard Rankin) is trepidatious about leaving Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and their child. Jamie (Sam Heughan) is celebrating his 50th birthday with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) in every man’s favorite way. But enough shenanigans, Jamie. Governor Tryon (Tim Downie) isn’t particular interested in a peaceful resolution to the battle and manages to be more of a jerk than he’s ever been before, which is saying a lot since he was always a jerk.
Suddenly remembering that the regulators lose at Alamance and spark the American revolution, Brianna rides hell for leather for Jamie and Roger to tell them and then the latter goes on a dangerous mission to warn Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix). He unsuccessfully tries to stop the battle and on his way back meets his ancestor Morag (Elysia Welch) and her husband Buck (Graham McTavish)- who is Dougal and Geillis’ son, don’t forget! Buck’s a jealous guy and Roger is caught hugging her so it doesn’t go well.
In the thick of battle, Jamie desperately searches for Murtagh before he’s caught by a regulator. Murtagh saves him, but then one of Jamie’s own militia men shoots him. A desperate Jamie tries to take him to Claire but he’s already long dead. Jamie tosses his red coat at Tryon’s feet and burns that bridge but good. But where’s Roger? Oh, that’s right, still missing. And the last moment of the episode is everyone staring it mute horror at one of the “regulators” hanging from a tree with the scrap bit of white cloth Jamie had given Roger to identify himself later.
Lots of feelings here, guys! Let’s dive in.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – An obsessed knitter, teacher, costumer and Outlander fan. Hunkering down and this too shall pass.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – Languishing during the era of the corona virus. Trying to avoid ANOTHER re-read of the Outlander series and adjacents. Hoping Diana Galbadon has pity on us and releases BEES to help us get by. No spoilers will be shared, but remember, I know what comes next …
Jane (@RRankinFans) – Lead admin of The Rank and File, Richard Rankin’s official fan group since 2014. He has a CV of a dozen shows, for which he’s played much larger roles than Roger in several. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter!
Teddie (@teepe54) – An obsessive Outlander book reader and later, show watcher, Outlander brought me into the world of blogging as a now former staff writer for Outlandercast.com. I’m also a long-time Registered Nurse working in the field of Brain Injury Rehabilitation. Amid all this, I somehow discovered Turkish television and I blog for that, too. I blame Droughtlander.
1. Happy birthday, Jamie! This is the kind of birthday celebration we can get behind. How about you?
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – Happy birthday indeed! Loved seeing the intimacy between him and Claire, and the reflection as he appreciates just how great of a life he has despite every challenge and loss. Plus, if that’s what 50 looks like, I’m really looking forward to seeing Jamie age.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – Happy 50th, Jamie! What an excellent way to start your new year. All feeling from the book was right here. And a wonderful way to start the episode.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – See, this scene shows the type of intimacy between Jamie and Claire I’ve been hoping to see. There was nothing gratuitous or hot and heavy about it, and yet they were able to convey that closeness and caring – “intimacy” really is the best descriptor – between Jamie & Claire that harkens back to S1 – S3. I thought it was great and it was a tension reliever right before the battle commenced.
Jane (@RRankinFans) – Box ticked for the J&C fans. It was a recitation of book lines without much connection between beloved book characters for me.
Teddie (@teepe54) – I’d call this one a mutual celebration, and Claire was indeed in control. Sorry not sorry.
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – It was so enjoyable to see the old Jamie and Claire we know and love from the first seasons back in “action”. I think by starting the episode showing them in a happy and playful way was a tease, considering what was to follow for them. This scene showed us Jamie considering his mortality, reflecting on his general health at half a century, and discussing his father for the second time this season. Then he got his “gift’ from Claire, Marilyn Monroe style.
2. Finally, the Gaelic is back!! Tell us what you thought of Jamie calling on Dougal Mackenzie?
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – This really brought me back to the first season, where Jamie is connecting to nature, his family and traditions. Calling on Dougal seemed to provide Jamie with peace and strength, which he knew he would need to get through the coming battle. Even with how he died, Dougal was someone Jamie respected and looked up to, and as his mentor and partner in battle, Jamie will always feel a connection to him.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – Yay, Gaelic! I’m glad to hear it again, especially in a show where the language has been such a major part. Seeing Jamie calling on Dougal makes sense, since Jamie was sent to live with his uncle at an early age and learn from the War Chief. Even though things didn’t end well with Jamie, Claire and Dougal, when it comes to having someone who had your back in a battle, it was Dougal for Jamie.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – I was glad to see it included. I’ve always enjoyed it in the books, the idea of “Calling on the Ancestors.” It’s appropriate – especially since both Jamie and Murtagh are involved on opposite sides.
Jane (@RRankinFans) – Now all I can think about is that he called him up to be Buck in some weird wrinkle in space/time.
Teddie (@teepe54) – You can’t take the Highlander out of JAMMF, regardless of his current country of residence; he knows where he is from. Loyalty, bloodline, clan, and faith run deep in this scene.
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – I thought It was fitting, calling the war chief. It’s not what happened in the end that mattered, it was the journey along the way that what counted the most for Jamie. Dougal was his teacher, besides being his uncle. This scene showed the viewers the Scottish rituals and beliefs of the clan still mattered to him. Only thing missing was the kilt!
3. Roger! Why are you volunteering for this dangerous mission? Why do you think he did it?
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – Other than Brianna and Jem, Roger is really without family and always feels like an outsider. I think he volunteered because he wanted to make Jamie proud and prove that he could be useful. That, and if he helps maybe Brianna will agree to go forward to their time.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – Oh Roger. I truly think he did it to show Jamie that he can handle it and was worthy of the mission.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – I think he truly believed, as he said, that Murtagh might reconsider knowing that he, Bree and Claire were from the future. I don’t think there was anything more to Roger’s volunteering than that. I don’t think he was trying to score points, or prove himself or anything more than he honestly thought he’d make the most impact to Murtagh, save Jamie – who couldn’t go to warn him.
Jane (@RRankinFans) – To absolve Jamie from doing Roger dirty once again? 😉 I liked it, I thought that it was very in keeping with Roger’s essential nature to be helpful that we’ve seen in season two and three.
Teddie (@teepe54) – Like Jamie, Roger is “A Man of Worth” despite having been born centuries apart. While the specter of proving himself to Jamie was likely an influential slow burn, Roger acted accordingly.
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – I think it was twofold. First Roger being the historian, thought he could relay a piece of the future’s history to Murtagh. Secondly, I thing Roger was worried about being shot and killed in the battle, therefore not being there for Jemmy like his dad wasn’t there for him. He knew he had bad aim and had a good chance of missing his target,. The odds were against him. He took on what he thought was the easier job, one he could be successful at and prove his worth to Jamie.
4. When Roger started talking to Morag we thought about a hundred things. We bet you did, too. Tell us two of them!
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – Well, as a book reader I had some ideas. I was glad she was alive (ya never know with the show changes), but then I thought stop talking and get back to your own camp before… Welp…
Carole (@cbraunnj) – Roger, why did you stop and have a conversation! Should have just dipped your hat and kept going. But he had to stay and talk, and even worse, he hugged Morag. That’s a big no-no, especially at that time.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – My thoughts every time: 1) You don’t have time for this, Roger, 2) Pretty bold of you, Roger, to offer refuge to Morag and her family, 3) Talk faster and then get out of there, 4) Awww, Christ!
Jane (@RRankinFans) – As a long time book reader I was pretty sure I knew what was coming—her reticence and his deep emotion was the first thing I noticed. Roger is an orphan, so his overwhelming desire for family and connection was heartbreaking. Because of course he couldn’t really tell her what he wanted to tell her: that he was actually a member of her family from the future.
Teddie (@teepe54) – First, my brain went into the Way Back Machine mode, furiously trying to fit the pieces of Diana’s story puzzle into place. Then, Buck when zooms onto the scene, all my thoughts were with Roger, because it was all “Gang Agley” from there. The impending, “OH NO,” factor was palpable.
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – Well. Being a book reader, I knew what was in store for Roger so I yelled, ?NO! Don’t, stop!!” But of course, he didn’t listen! I also thought it was so cool for him to chat with Morag again. How often would he get this opportunity to chat with an ancestor? Roger being the nerdy historian and all! A dream come true!
5. Jamie in that red coat! It was even more shocking than the preview. You must have had a reaction. What was it?
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – Noooo! Don’t do it! Oath and land be damned. I know putting that coat on must have killed a small part of his soul.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – You can feel the pain and disgust coming off Jamie, in waves. How belittled Jamie felt by this move. And then Claire’s face when she saw him. Her look spoke volumes.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – Being a book purist (I’ve admitted this before), when I first saw the red coat in the S5 trailer, I was confused and angry. Jamie does not don a red coat in the books, not ever. But I have to tell you – in this episode, the change and the way it was enacted made perfect sense. What also helped was the disgust, hatred and rage on Jamie’s face as a delighted Tryon walked away. Well done, Sam! It was made perfectly clear that Jamie did not enjoy wearing that coat! Sam sold it.
Jane (@RRankinFans) – I thought it was well done as part of the story, I didn’t have an overwhelming revulsion to it as a character choice.
Teddie (@teepe54) – When this pic was first released, I blabbed all over social media, “Never in a million!” This episode’s fine script and direction combined with Sam Heughan’s and Tim Downie’s block buster performances had me believing in it with all of my Outlander heart. Who knew?
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – I was absolutely disgusted! We all know what Jamie has been through, bad enough he has to fight for the redcoats, but wear the uniform? That was blasphemous!! I cheered when Jamie threw the coat down in front of Tryon after telling him off!
6. Graham MacTavish is playing William Buccleigh Mackenzie!!! What did you do when you first realized it was him? And what did you think when Roger punched him?
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – When i first heard Morag’s husband speak, I thought I know that voice. When he came on camera I did a double take, and literally sat up in excitement. Such a great choice! When Roger threw the first punch, I’m pretty sure I yelled at the TV. What a stupid thing to do. Roger is not a fighter, and Buck is the son of Dougal so you know he has fight in him.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – The voice!!! I heard Graham before seeing him! It was perfect for him to play Buck. But when Roger punches Buck, it was, “Now you did it.” And Roger is really in trouble. Big time trouble.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – When I realized it was Graham (I had to squint, LOL), I sat up and gasped very loudly. Then I apologized to my fiancé. And then I squealed in my head. This Easter Egg was perfect, done perfectly, held perfectly. Outlander has not been getting these right so very recently, so when they do get it right – man, oh man! I was delighted. Then horrified as the rest of the scene unfolded. Oh, Roger!
Jane (@RRankinFans) – It completely took me out of the story and that’s all I could think of. I lost track of what they saying because I was looking at what they did to his face and the super thick wig on his head. It was completely the wrong choice that took the show into the realm of camp.
Teddie (@teepe54) – My antennae came out as soon as Buck started speaking. From the visual realm, Dwalin the Dwarf was the next fleeting impression. Soon, Roger and his ancestor are beating the living crap outta each other! Buck, the clod, has time and history on his side, and I wonder if Roger knew in the moment that he had better not kill the guy. I mean, existentially.
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – I said, “Boy that voice sounds familiar!” Wow, kudos to the writers for using him as his own son. I now realize the ritual, calling the war chief was foreshadowing. I laughed when he punched him, as knowing Dougal (his dad), that would really piss him off! But I bet Roger felt good for a split second.
7. The battle scenes in this episode were intense. What did you think of them in this episode overall?
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – These scenes were so well done, showing just how differently the Militia and Regulators were prepared. The scenery was hauntingly beautiful, such a contrast of death amongst such natural beauty.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – The battle scenes were excellent. They showed the buildup and how tense things could be. Then once the battle started, the chaos was overwhelming.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – I enjoyed the battle scenes. How the fight went from the very proper British firing line formations to the Regulators fighting in the woods – I thought it was well done. I was glad they included the Browns/Morton bullet in the back – you could see that little thread earlier in the episode. Also, the tension between Lionel Morton and Claire as well as the destruction of the syringe (which will be important later) I’m glad they took the time to set up those two storylines. This is the Outlander I love. This is why I stick with the show, because these are the scenes I hope to see when reading the books.
Jane (@RRankinFans) – I was left wondering why the show was entitled The Ballad of Roger Mac because so little was about him. It’s clear Roger is not an important character to this show. It is Jamie first, and then everyone else. Which is really a shame because Richard is a spectacular actor. Oh, you asked about the battle scenes, well I don’t really understand the length of time devoted to them, let’s put it that way.
Teddie (@teepe54) – The shades of Culloden were utterly haunting, even before the battle theme started playing. Brilliant direction and editing. #WarIsHell
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – It was perfect, a book lovers dream. It was a roller coaster of emotions, happy, sad shocking and then more sad!! Wouldn’t change a thing!
8. Oh, Murtagh. There’s not much more we can say than that. What would you like to say about his end?
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – Murtagh quickly became one of my favorite show characters, and while I knew it had to happen sometime, I was really not ready. I had hoped he would make it through, and for a split second i was so happy for his and Jamies reunion. I know having Jamie there at the end was a source of comfort for him, although it was a hard scene to watch. This part of the episode was well done and had me tear up. Such excellent acting all around. I personally like that his storyline deviated from the books, and I will really miss him.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – Although I had misgivings about having Murtagh kept alive past Culloden, he was a beloved character. Having him die in Jamie’s arms was heartbreaking. He went out as a warrior.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – We all know now that Murtagh was written to have died at Culloden. His death here on the show was not unexpected. It still was painful. The cast did such a wonderful job of portraying that pain. When Jamie begged Claire to save Murtaugh, heal him, perform some magic – it was heartbreaking. Claire’s loss, Bree’s deepening horror realizing that if Murtaugh was here, then where is Roger?! The camera staying with Jamie as he rapidly goes through the last 3 stages of grief (again, well done, Sam!). It was amazing. The stuff that makes Outlander The Show magical and keeps us coming back.
Jane (@RRankinFans) – I thought it was extremely out of character for Jamie to act the way that he did, yelling at Claire first of all. I think the fandom knew, or at least had a strong guess, that Murtagh would die in this episode.
Otherwise again, it was very long and drawn out. It’s interesting that the show has used their time differently this season. Longer scenes have become much more typical and gives the show a different feel, more like vignettes.
Teddie (@teepe54) – I haven’t been able to see Murtagh as a political being, so his transition to a leader of the Regulation made it all the more dissonant. Yet, his death scene was pure Murtagh, closing that awkward circle with grace and truth to character.
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – Honestly, I would’ve written it exactly that way. A fitting ending for Jamie’s godfather. Saved Jamie’s life and sacrificed his own!
9. Just when you thought your heart couldn’t break any more, talk to us about that ending!
Rachel (@OutlandishNCA) – Before watching this episode, I cringed at the thought of what would happen to a certain someone. This episode left such a devistating cliffhanger, and while I have a small inkling of what will happen next time thanks to the books, I was literally on the edge of my seat. This episode is my favorite so far this season, and I cannot wait until episode 8.
Carole (@cbraunnj) – Finding Roger like that was a punch to the heart. The look on Bree’s face was enough to make a person cry, how can she comprehend what she’s seeing.
J. La’Shay (@Endurance97) – Okay, here is where the plot was lost for me. Up to this point, I was as emotionally invested in this episode as any fan. And even with them locating Roger (though not quite in the way it was done in the books – I missed seeing a winded Morag running into camp to warn Roger’s people), I was in it – I was invested. I don’t want to spoil WHAT COMES NEXT, but I will say, the way Roger was positioned and one glaring omission of detail from the book– I was VERY UPSET and it took me right out of the episode. I wanted to throw my tablet across the room. To say more would ruin the next episode for those who don’t already know. I liked this episode, I liked most of the changes they made – I think they made sense for the most part and made the episode more enjoyable. This one thing, I don’t know – maybe they were trying to avoid the spoiling it as well.
Jane (@RRankinFans) – Instead of being with the characters, I was wondering why no one was doing anything. No one was screaming, no one seemed particularly upset. It doesn’t seem real that it was even Roger to me. It’s interesting that Jamie quit because of Murtagh, not because of Roger as in the book. Roger really doesn’t seem to mean much to him at all as evidenced by his lack of movement to cut him down, like the book. I just couldn’t connect to anyone in that scene at all. I guess that’s good because I’m not overly upset about waiting for two weeks.
As a final comment, I was enthralled with this show for the first 2 and a half seasons. Something happened mid-season 3, and I just haven’t felt the same since. I miss an intelligent, female gaze show and would really like to know why it has so fundamentally changed.
Teddie (@teepe54) – We are all at the painful outset of a two-week hiatus, waiting for Roger Mac to kick or wriggle or gasp for breath, or SOMETHING. My nurse brain is screaming HYPOXIA, ANOXIA, CERVICAL VERTEBRAE INJURY. The upshot: Most terrifying Fade to Black EVER!
Stephanie (@olprintshop) – Again, I am a book reader so I knew what was coming. Still was difficult to see on screen. I did wonder why Bree wasn’t screaming but I guess she was in shock. I know I was on the edge of my seat yelling “Get him down!” Very heart wrenching!!
Final Verdict: “The Ballad of Roger Mac” might not be a ballad celebrating Roger Mac, but it was quite an episode
Outlander‘s “The Ballad of Roger Mac” was a vast improvement on last week’s episode. Outlander seems to do better with episodes involving epic battles. It’s too bad they’re too expensive to do more than once or twice a season. Was it a perfect episode? No. But it was definitely one of the best in seasons. A lot of action and pathos coupled with great pacing and good writing made this one an episode you couldn’t take your eyes from.
Let’s go with what we loved. Casting Graham McTavish as William Buccleigh Mackenzie was a genius stroke. McTavish is a great actor, and the fact that they kept his return under wraps for all this time is pretty great. The little throwback to season 1 and the reminder that Roger himself is descended from Dougal and Geillis makes Roger’s fate at Buck’s hand even more of a blow.
Sam Heughan does some of his finest acting this season, specifically in the scene where he’s forced by Tryon to don the red coat. You can feel the revulsion pulsing off of him in waves. He was also excellent in his final scene with Murtagh, though we have doubts about the authenticity of this moment overall. Jamie is a warrior who has seen friends and family alike fall in battle before. Would he have not accepted the death of his Godfather, heartbreaking though it was? Either way, Heughan was wonderful in the entire episode.
Tying up Murtagh’s death by hearkening back to the words he used in his death in the books was poignant. Anything that was transferred from page to screen this episode was lovingly done so. The intimacy between Jamie and Claire, something that all fans are always looking for, was in full force. Usually we dislike the constant changing things only to have to clean them up an episode or two later (did you notice Claire’s magical syringe getting busted?), but for great television they can change whatever they like.
Now what could be improved? In an episode called “The Ballad of Roger Mac”, we’d expect the episode to be a little more about Roger Mac. We also had a problem with his hanging. For one, there really wasn’t anything defining about his costume. The white handkerchief hanging out of his pocket wasn’t really enough for us to feel an emotional punch something, watching with his face covered. And after the big emotional reaction to the death of Murtagh, the lack of reaction to Roger hanging was a really stark contrast. The huge reaction from Jamie to Murtagh’s death to the lack of reaction from even Bree made the episode feel like it ended with a thud instead of an explosion. In an emotional episode where the emotional weight should have been Roger’s hanging, it felt more like an afterthought which wasn’t fair to the character.
The decision to have the impetus for Jamie telling Tryon to go stuff it switched from Roger’s hanging to Murtagh’s death was one more thing we felt wasn’t quite fair to the character, though dramatically it made sense. It provided for the opportunity to be able to tell Tryon to get stuffed to his face rather than via letter. We understand, but this change get mixed reviews from us.
It’s about time Gaelic made an appearance on the show again. It was such a key part of season one that it’s now conspicuous for not being there. Gaelic makes Jamie feel like Jamie. It’s a shame that Roger hasn’t spoken it on the show, as it could have easily been a bonding experience for them. One of the best parts about this episode was how it felt like season 1. The Gaelic definitely added to that overall impression.
Overall we were on board for this highly emotional episode of Outlander. Now that we have a two week break, what’s going on with Roger? How will Jamie work through Murtagh’s death? Will the Browns continue to pose a threat? What will Claire do without her one dirty syringe? Stick with us! And if you’re interested in being on the fan roundtable, let us know!