Why did “Famous Last Words” leave some of our Outlander fan roundtable without words?
Outlander’s “Famous Last Words” gave us an episode full of on the nose metaphors. Roger (Richard Rankin) starts us off in the 1960’s with Brianna (Sophie Skelton) waiting on him to finish a lecture about famous last words before they head to a silent film marathon. This becomes the framing device for the entire episode as Roger relives his trauma. Despite being hanged last episode, he isn’t dead. He’s barely alive and as Jamie (Sam Heughan) cuts him down, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is the one to save him. But one doesn’t get over being hanged so easily. He can’t speak and is frightened to try. He’s suffering from PTSD and nobody around him knows how to help, including Marsali (Lauren Lyle) who keeps giving him the Hanged Man tarot card. Nice, Marsali.
While Jamie and Claire are trying to take the pressure of Roger and Brianna they’re met in the woods by a boar. Just as Jamie is about to be gored, who turns up to help him? Young Ian (John Bell) to the rescue! He’s back from his time with the Mohawk but won’t explain why. He’s having trouble speaking and relating to everyone. (Get it? “Famous last words” and Ian’s having trouble speaking?)
Lord John Grey (David Berry) has brought the news that Tryon feels bad about hanging Roger so he’s given them a land grant. So he’s brought an astrolabe and off Roger and Ian go to be sad bros together to survey the land. Turns out they’re exactly what each other needs. Roger is able to process his trauma as his “silent movie” flashbacks slowly colorize and become real so he can let go of them. Meanwhile Ian is a lot worse off than he lets on and he tries to kill himself with Claire’s hemlock. Roger stops him and they have a heart to heart. They both return home and Roger is finally able to talk to Brianna, and he reveals it’s her that got him through.
Hugs! Tears! They sing? Let’s dive in.
Susan (@S_Grekin) – Mom, grandmother, book lover, art lover, traveler and most likely a gypsy in a former life.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – Teacher Existing On Humor And Charm.
Amanda (@prizedham) – A 5th grade teacher, history nut, and all-around Richard Rankin/Roger Mac stan. (I also have a cat named Mac – yes, after Roger).
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – Thirty-something bookworm hiding in the corner with a big stack of books and a cuppa.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – Used to be a book purist. Now, I’d be a much happier fan if Ron D. Moore would return as the show-runner.
1. Oh, we get it. A silent film, like the marathon they attended. What are your thoughts on the silent film framing device for Roger’s trauma?
Susan (@S_Grekin) – The silent film. Let me start by saying this is how I remember most of my dreams. As though they are silent films. My first impression was they producers were trying to sugar coat Rogers awful memories. After his dream, it became more clear TO ME that he was living his worst nightmare over and over.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – Truthfully, I didn’t like it at all. I thought it was a distraction tactic, almost belittling to the seriousness of the trauma Roger went through. It felt comical in a way; not suitable for the story or the episode as a whole.
Amanda (@prizedham) – It was jarring, but a decent device. I think the best part about it was when he had his moment of clarity later on and the film/memories became colorful and added the sound. However, I think they are clapping themselves on the back for this amazing idea they had when it was really obvious to go that route…?
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – At first, I was a little thrown by the silent film depiction, but as it developed throughout the episode it began to truly move me. By the end, I thought it was a totally unexpected yet genius way to put us in Roger’s head.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – Initially, I thought the silent film worked, but that was my first viewing, pre-coffee at 5am this morning. During rewatch, it fell completely flat. It was meant to represent the injustice inflicted upon a character not in his own time, but the silence of it, sucked the humanity out of the scene. Richard Rankin is a really good actor, but production did him a huge disservice by taking away crucial emotional time for his characters healing. It felt rushed and that makes me very sad because this was a golden opportunity for us to really connect with this character. Per Matt B. Roberts, if I have to watch this episode twice in order to grasp anything, something is wrong.
2. These scenes with Roger not speaking and seeing the flashbacks were a lot. How did you feel about them?
Susan (@S_Grekin) – The scenes with Roger not speaking and seeing the flashbacks over and over became almost overwhelming. I think it was necessary to feel Rogers pain, both physically and mentally.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – I didn’t enjoy the flashbacks because I thought them in a strange comical style. I understand what they were doing with the concept; he was seeing, at first, like he was watching it all happen to him, almost disconnected. Then when reality struck in that it happened TO him, his perspective entirely changed and he was seeing everything through his own eyes. Again, the way it was done seemed like cheap theatrics and completely unnecessary. So many other ways that it could have been done that would have made much more of an impact.
Amanda (@prizedham) – Listen, Richard Rankin is one of, if not the best actor on the show and if he couldn’t pull off relating to the audience his thoughts and emotions without saying a word, I would have been very surprised. They were difficult to watch, but I think it was more stressful because everyone kept pressuring him to talk or be himself again and it’s not that easy. Even Brianna, who said she knows how he feels, had moments of impatience with him. That for me was difficult to watch. I did want him to give a signal, but he had a lot to work through.
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – I was not sure what to expect after the last episode and am still processing. Processing grief is such an individual thing to go through. Roger is mourning the man he used to be and that’s something that will take time.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – So often, I wish they’d keep a little closer to the books on these big scenes and allow these actors the chance to really shine. The original material is available and the actors are good enough to pull the scenes off when given the chance. Production should have given Rankin more screen time to portray the shell shock, and left the majority of the flashbacks on the cutting room floor. Roger’s gaze looking through the sack with panicked heavy breathing would have been enough for this viewer to grasp what his character was feeling. I liked the actor’s performance but wish he’d been given more time.
3. Did anyone else think Brianna and Lord John had a lot of chemistry?? …Just us? Sorry, but we needed SOME levity in here!
Susan (@S_Grekin) – Brianna and Lord John have almost always had chemistry. He sees Jamie in her, and would comfort and protect Brianna as he would Jamie. And how could we not love everything David Berry!
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – I absolutely think they do but not in a sexual way. They have this unique friendship built from trust and admiration for one another. They see each other for who they are and enjoy each other’s company. They are not friends just because of Jamie, they are friends because they truly like the one another.
Amanda (@prizedham) – Of course they have chemistry. That man can have chemistry with a stump.
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – I love that there truly is a deep friendship there between Brianna and Lord John. I would love to see it developed more as the series progresses.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – They’ve always had great chemistry because neither is competing with the other in any sense. Lord John is part of Brianna’s support system and she’s an extension of Jamie which will always bond him to her. Is Lord John even in Book 5? Wasn’t it Jamie who gave Brianna the astrolabe? I wish they’d given Jamie & Bree that moment instead. At this point, I feel like production doesn’t understand the balance of emotion between this parent & adult child, this father-in-law & son-in-law etc. By this point in the book, Jamie was so much more bonded to his daughter.
4. This episode spends a lot of time delving into Roger’s PTSD, as it moved from a silent film recollection to his recollection without that lens. Tell us your feelings about how they dealt with this difficult issue.
Susan (@S_Grekin) – I don’t personally have any experience with PTSD but I imagine it’s a process with a beginning, a middle but never really an end. I like the silent movie mode. It allows each of us to explore Rogers PTSD with our own thoughts. That’s the beauty of silent films. The silent film is the perfect metaphor for Rogers story. Just as the astrolabe is the perfect symbol for the Outlander story as a whole.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – Extremely uncomfortable to be honest. This episode should have come with a warning like, “If you suffer from any sort of PTSD, you may not want to watch this episode.” With that being said, Richard (Rankin) did an exemplary job with his reactions to the flashbacks. It was seemed so real that you felt it on a visceral level. You could see and understand what Roger was going through by way of Richard’s communication with his facial features, his mannerisms and just the raw emotion flowing off the screen. I think that’s why I was so uncomfortable. He made me believe that he was actually going through all of those flashbacks himself. Award worthy performance in my opinion.
Amanda (@prizedham) – Like I said in the first question, that was the best part of it for me, the clarifying of the mind and so the memories becoming less “cinematic” and more real, embracing all of the senses slowly.
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – Losing one’s voice both in the literal and figurative sense is something that I deeply relate with.. To know that you cannot be who everyone wants you to be is a truly difficult thing to work through. Yet, I am very interested in the story Roger is telling as the man he is now and the man he is becoming.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – It felt rushed. Not because it had to be condensed onto the screen, but the full flashbacks were too long & too frequent. Roger is caught up entirely with what’s happened to him, he can’t break free & won’t verbally communicate. He’d obviously have lots of triggers in normal everyday life, but cutting back constantly to the barrel being kicked over broke my emotional connection to the character. That barrel is something Roger would have felt, not actually seen. I needed more from his gaze to those triggers. But, again, that’s where production so often fails. The audience is intelligent, they want to feel it. These are some amazing actors, we know when they are emotionally compromised.
5. Holy cow, Young Ian is back! And he’s… changed. What did you think of his return, and this shift in his personality?
Susan (@S_Grekin) – Ian is back, and he’s not happy about it. His family is thrilled to see him, but he seems to have forgotten his love for his family. We need to wait and see what his Mohawk tale tell us. He didn’t really “Bury his hatchet”. There’s a sorrowful story he needs to share. I’m certainly not used to sad Ian. I almost didn’t recognize him.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – It was evident from the beginning that Young Ian had gone through some hard times. He was no longer that fun-loving, joking, high spirited young man that we all knew and adored. Young Ian returned a hard, seemingly tarnished man with clouds behind his eyes. There has obviously been loss while he was away and more than he has told Roger about. You can see it in the way he looks at the entire family. The hope is that we can get some of that Young Ian back, with the help and love from his family and friends.
Amanda (@prizedham) – It’s very much how I pictured it in the books. He is changed, like Roger, by certain events which have not yet come to light in the show. And yet, they did not push him the way they pushed Roger.
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – I was ecstatic to have him back! John Bell is an exceptional actor and it was absolutely fantastic to see how much Ian has changed in his time away. I cannot wait to see how Ian’s story develops throughout the rest of the season.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – It’s obvious Ian’s been through some type of dramatic experience and struggling with each minute of each day, just as Roger is. I thought introducing him back to the show at this juncture was a good choice. Definitely created lots of awkward silences and Jamie & Claire seemed clueless what to do for him. Jamie & Claire are written so inconsistently it’s troubling. I wonder what really goes on in the writers room. Looking forward to more Ian.
6. Roger & Ian- Are they the buddy duo you never knew you needed? What do you think this journey was for them?
Susan (@S_Grekin) – Roger and Ian, wow, who knew their adventure together in this episode would bring their relationship full circle. Ian saved Roger as nobody else could have. He single handedly almost got Roger killed, it now seized the opportunity to save Roger.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – Both men have an unknown suffering that is bonding them together. Though I’m sure that Young Ian was told about what happened to Roger, unless spoken, he couldn’t possible understand what Roger truly went through. The same can be said for Young Ian. They both suffer in silence. The trip together becomes cathartic for them both in the end. They realize that they are not the only ones who are suffering some kind of emotional or physical turmoil. You are never alone when grief, of any kind, is upon you. Sometimes, it takes another person sharing difficult experiences to really make you stock of what is important. I believe that is what Young Ian and Roger have done for each other.
Amanda (@prizedham) – I think Roger really needed someone he can properly connect with. He already owes Ian so much, which Ian would never hold over his head. And by the two of them, going through what they do, and Roger being able to help Ian in some way, bonded the two of them even more so. We’ve seen Marsali and Brianna have a connection, Brianna has her parents there, and it was even mentioned that she has chemistry with Lord John. Roger only had Brianna and Jemmy. Ian left the world he knew, became a part of the Mohawk, and now is separate from them as well. They are both alone, straddling two worlds they knew, unsure of where they belong.
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – The scene between Ian and Roger when they first saw each other again moved me to tears. I loved how no words were spoken but yet so much emotion was conveyed in their embrace. Beautiful work!
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – Two bros in critical crisis mode, completely works. Ian is one of the few people in Roger’s life that has given up everything for him. Ian’s ultimate sacrifice could pull Roger back from the brink. Roger’s near death experience pokes at Ian’s thoughts at suicide. I really want to see these two bond further on screen. They did ultimately called each other out as only guys can do.
7. This ended up being far heavier for Ian than we had originally thought. Did his attempted suicide shock you?
Susan (@S_Grekin) – I indeed thought Roger would try to kill himself and was shocked to learn it was Ian with the suicidal thoughts. I thought the scene with him burying his hatchet would be just that. So yes, I was shocked 100%.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – Yes and no. He was obviously suffering from a loss or a wrong done to him. Did I believe that he would want to take his life over whatever it may have been? Absolutely not. The Young Ian we previously knew loved life, adventure, family and becoming that man he knew he was meant to be. But the Young Ian who returned to the Ridge was a changed man and we just didn’t know what he was suffering from. We hope for the best outcome for our beloved characters but sometimes there’s just too much of the unknown that plays into the reasons, or decisions, that they make at the time.
Amanda (@prizedham) – I guessed it, because I knew that Roger, though he is suffering greatly, could not leave Brianna and Jemmy. He’d already had several opportunities to do it! It would have been uncharacteristic of him to try.
Also, I had a feeling that the Mohawk would come into play in this episode because of the whole “bury the hatchet” speech with Roger at the beginning of the episode.
Also also, Ian is Jamie’s blood, worships the ground he walks on. This super something Jamie would have done, except he would have used a far more immediate avenue to achieve it. Ian chose to…. poison himself? I don’t want to make light of it at all, but if he really wanted to die, he wouldn’t have chosen hemlock.
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – Even though Ian sought to hide his pain, it was evident how lost he was feeling. That said, I was surprised by the attempt and was deeply moved that it was Roger who stopped him. In a way, it mirrors how Ian saved Roger last season and I truly hope these two men can lean on one another as they heal.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – Nope, not shocked. It may not be the Indian warrior way, but Ian’s loss (to be fully revealed) is bone deep. He’s a Murray/Fraser and they tend to fall hard and passionately.
8. This was one of Outlander’s darker episodes. Talk to us about your overall impressions and feelings after all of this heavy subject matter.
Susan (@S_Grekin) – This episode kept hitting and hitting. The family dinner without Roger had all the feelings. I wanted Jamie and Claire back to normal. Bree and Roger back to normal. Try as she might, Marsali couldn’t get them back to normal. Normal wasn’t going to happen without a fight.
Peggy (@TheRonTerryShow) – It was really dark but fitting to the subject matter. There is no way to make a light episode out of a near death experience and the aftermath. It is rare that a series touches on how the tragic experience effects the entire family. Roger may have been the one who was hanged but Brianna and Jemmy have also suffered emotionally. Brianna hasn’t had her husband be himself for more than three months. That takes a toll on a wife, emotionally and physically. And poor Jemmy has no idea what’s happened to his father except that he isn’t his normal loving, warm and singing Daddy. Folding yourself into your grief spills over into the people who love you. They suffer with and along beside you. I’m still shaken by the episode even twelve hours later. My emotions are very close but not exactly the same as “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” in the sense that the visceral feel is there and it will remain for quite some time.
Amanda (@prizedham) – This was by far one of my favorite episodes of the whole series. It finally felt real, they finally gave Roger some good sh*t to deal with, and it was cathartic. It’s apropos that this episode was about acceptance, forgiveness, and redemption, and came out on Easter. Mental health is so important. Life is heavy right now, and while it’s nice to escape to a place that is worry free, it’s good to remind ourselves what life is really like and that there are people out there suffering far worse than what we are at the moment.
Emily Susan (@beyondthestack1) – It’s hard to express really how I’m feeling about this episode because it almost felt like a brand new season. Murtagh is gone and both Roger and Ian (as we, the audience, and the other characters knew them) have died in a sense. I loved how quiet and raw this episode was though. I liked seeing inside of Roger’s point of view in such an unexpected way. I thought having Roger and Brianna duet during the ending credits was a really beautiful way to show how the two of them truly are now partners. They might struggle but at the end of the day, the two are stronger when they are together. I’ve been waiting a long time for that to be shown in the series and hope it continues as their journey progresses.
E. Margaret (@maggiehenry_) – I think I’ve touched on this already. The heavy subject matter was to be expected but, through no fault of the actors, the silent flashbacks broke my emotional connection to the characters in pain. Roger’s interaction with his son, other than being almost scalded, seemed like a missed opportunity. But they gave it to Jamie & Claire. I wonder if Sam & Cait have any real input on their characters as producers.
Final Verdict: We have the last word about “Famous Last Words”
Our roundtable is split on “Famous Last Words”. It isn’t difficult to see why. If the show runner is talking about an episode and tells you might have to “watch it again”, is that a good episode of television? We think you shouldn’t have to watch an episode more than once to find details in order to enjoy it. We don’t necessarily dislike things because we didn’t see details. Like some of our roundtable participants we take issue with this episode, but maybe not for the reasons you think. And there was a good amount to like as well.
The silent movie framing device is a lighting up the Outlander fandom. The “Famous Last Words” metaphor is a little on the nose for us. We feel like so often Outlander finds a “clever metaphor” and then executes it with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. Starting in the 60’s with a lesson on people’s last words and then moving to the silent movie right away just felt heavy handed and clunky. One, or the other, but both?
And let’s discuss the use of silent film. As you might have guessed, we weren’t a fan. But probably not for the reasons you think. We actually like the idea of the silent films. We loved the idea that Roger can’t bear to think about his own hanging and can therefore only think about it detached from it, like a silent movie that wasn’t happening to him. As he processed the trauma the films colorized and became his memories until he was no longer imagining them as films. This could have happened more slowly and had a huge impact. But they weren’t strictly used this way.
Our issue is with the inconsistency in the purpose of the use of the silent films. They’re not only used for Roger’s memories. When we first see the silent films used, it’s when Roger is passed out. This is an issue. They’re clearly not Roger’s own recollections. So why use them? This type of psuedo-Brechtian “v effect” framing device has been used in television, film, and theatre before. Functionally, it distances the viewer from an emotional event so it can be viewed objectively. Was the purpose of the silent films here to make us as viewers emotionally distant from Roger’s hanging? Why?
The reveal that Roger is alive should have been powerful and emotional for viewers. We wanted that emotional catharsis! They could have worked with whether or not Claire could revive him and how she uses the straw to open a hole in his windpipe. We could have seen the shocked reaction of the 18th century folk around them. All of that tension was completely absent. Instead we got something that made us feel nothing. Framing it as a silent film was an egregious error. It undermined the choice they made for having it be the way Roger processed his trauma. And it made us laugh, which is a completely inappropriate reaction. It put us off the silent film conceit entirely.
The moment when Brianna is singing in the cabin and Roger is outside crying was the highlight of the writing in this episode. Sophie Skelton and Caitriona Balfe also had a beautifully written scene where they’re discussing Roger’s PTSD. The scene between Ian and Roger sitting beneath the tree also stood out. We think that’s because the rest of the writing and editing was so inexplicable, but it was nice to see those scenes and enjoy them amid an episode that was inconsistent.
Rankin got an opportunity to finally stretch his acting chops. It must be difficult to perform having to remain silent for the majority of an episode. We found his work to be believable and heartfelt in general. Kudos to him on fine work on a challenging episode.
Finally, Young Ian’s return. We were happy Ian returned in season five. But again, his return seemed wasted. His dialogue and direction (we’ll never blame an actor who was previously excellent for faltering in one episode) were one-note and hardly nuanced. Would Ian, no matter how depressed he was, not even have a modicum of happiness for a reunion with a family he thought he’d never see again? We were being slammed so hard over the head with, “Ian’s depressed!” That it was hardly surprising he was the one who attempted suicide.
We don’t think Outlander should be a PSA for what depression is supposed to look like. But it’s a television show, and we are expecting good television. Depression doesn’t look like a super sad person broadcasting their misery every moment. This was not only an opportunity to show not just a less hackneyed version of depression, but a far more interesting one. We’re happy to see John Bell back, though. And he looked fantastic, so bravo to the costume, hair, and makeup departments.
One more final note before we wrap it up. A great many shows on television deal with trauma, and suicide. After those, you always see a little note about depression, as well as information about the National Suicide Hotline. Why, Outlander, was this information absent? So we’re going to add it for you here: The WHO estimates that there are over 300 million people worldwide that suffer from depression. Depression looks different for everyone. You aren’t alone. If you or anyone you know is suffering from suicidal depression, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
“Famous Last Words” garnered different feelings for our roundtable. Reading their responses really did give us an opportunity to reconsider some things. We think Outlander works better without the high concepts. A well written & well directed show doesn’t need them. It’s been both before, and handled darkness before in a more effective way (“To Random A Man’s Soul” comes to mind). Here’s hoping it will again.
Outlander returns Sunday, April 19th on Starz!