A controversial second episode means our Outlander Roundtable are full of feelings
This week Outlander ventures to River Run plantation. Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) are on a plantation in the south. That means this week’s episode dealt with one of the greatest stains on America’s past. Readers of the novels knows that this issue features heavily in the novels but being flagrantly confronted by an utterly grotesque period in American history on screen instead of on a page has a way of making people’s emotions bubble forward a little more quickly. Claire is a woman of the future. Southerners fought a war to defend their right to own slaves. You see the conflict.
That’s not everything that happened on Sunday. Jamie met his Auntie Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Young Ian met the mountain man John Quincy Myers (Kyle Rees). Rollo got sprayed by a skunk. We met a whole cavalcade of the cream of Cross Creek society at River Run plantation. And we met Ulysses (Colin McFarlane) and Phaedra (Natalie Simpson), Jocasta’s butler and ladies maid, respectively. But the big conflict of the episode was Claire’s crisis of conscience. When Jocasta makes Jamie the master of River Run, that comes with the 150 slaves the that are owned by the plantation. And when one breaks an immoral law, that conflict comes right to the forefront.
Let’s see what our roundtable had to say!
Kyra (@emrld_eyes76) – Armchair critic.
Michelle (@mad_maxxie) – Loves a burrito. Here for Roger Mac. Admin for @rrankinfans.
Vida (@Blacklanderz) – Author, researcher, educator, loves history, movies & jazz!
As for Blacklanderz, we are folks who love intellectual TV shows, like Outlander. Website: www.blacklanderz.com
Teddie (@teepe54) – An obsessive Outlander book reader and later, show watcher, Outlander brought me into the world of blogging as a 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. Teddie’s Outlandercast Author Page, Dizidivas.com, Kivancnorthamerica.com.
Amanda-Rae (@amandarprescott) – Amanda-Rae is a Claire Fraser cosplayer, a Blacklanderz contributor, and a frequent period drama live-tweeter. She is the host of This Week in Mammoth Screen Dramas Fancast, a podcast devoted to following the production company behind Poldark and Victoria. She is also the founder of the Poldark Costuming Project. She used to contribute to TVAfterDark, and in 2019, she will be the host of Nerdeek Life’s Roundtables on Victoria Season 3.
1) This was a heavy episode. How do you feel that the show handled race and slavery?
Kyra (@emrld_eyes76) – I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy episode to watch. Slavery is never a comfortable subject for me to watch. That being said, it could have been worse. Well, with the exception of the ending.
Michelle (@mad_maxxie) – This was by far the hardest episode for me to watch. Extraordinarily difficult subject matter. I think they did a good job of explaining the times without exploiting it but as a white woman I don’t think I’m qualified to speak about how well they did or didn’t cover slavery and the degrading circumstances that these folks lived through. I will say that It absolutely ripped my heart out to watch this episode.
Vida (@Blacklanderz) – I think they handled it well. Yes, it was a heavy episode that dealt with slavery, one of America’s greatest stain in her history. And yet it is difficult for people to see it and have a discussion about it. The episode illustrated the mindset behind the institution of slavery, how slaves were viewed as chattel and inhumane ways Blacks were treated. The residual effects of this reverberate in our society and country today. I believe the latter is what is shocking to people and making them feel uncomfortable. They were forced (unbeknownst to non readers or the ‘politically correct’) to look at the inception of what we are faced with today.
Teddie (@teepe54) – It had to be addressed with the appropriate level of immediacy and gravity, and that they did; glossing over, minimizing, or sanitizing was never an option. The writers bravely took a short but powerful scene from the book and expanded it to an entire episode, confronting slavery head-on.
Claire’s naturally ingrained aversion to slavery makes the thought of owning slaves simply untenable. There are several instances where Claire reaches out to show respect and kindness to Jocasta’s slaves—humanizing them by calling them by name, treating them with the same level of respect as she would any other human being—unwittingly causing surprise and fear in the subjects of her good intentions. Under Claire’s care in the mansion, Rufus’s exclamation that, “I should not be here,” was unspeakably sad to me. Claire is at first defiant, and in the end, heartbreakingly resigned to the impossibility to change the world order at River Run.
Amanda-Rae (@amandarprescott) – The show approached it in a very blunt way which was entirely necessary. People SHOULD feel offended, traumatized, and depressed. They need to think about if their ancestors were more than likely the ones braying for Rufus to die because the middle-class whites and immigrants at the time benefitted from slavery. I was still uneasy, however, that Claire was still very much the White Savior. I had trouble with this when I read Drums of Autumn 5 years ago, and in a way, the medical focus of this episode reinforced this. Although the episode was better than I expected on the topic, I still feel S4 should have had black scriptwriters.
2) We met another one of Jamie’s Mackenzie relatives, his Auntie Jocasta. What did you think of her?
Kyra (@emrld_eyes76) – Jocasta was just like her book character, conniving and manipulative. She’s definitely Dougal and Colum’s sister. Maria Doyle Kennedy did a great job.
Michelle (@mad_maxxie) – I loved Jocasta! She’s better than I remembered and Maria Doyle Kennedy did an excellent job bringing her to life. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.
Vida (@Blacklanderz) – I’ve loved Maria Doyle Kennedy in anything she has a role in and was looking forward to seeing her. She was the perfect choice for the role. I thought she was pretty much like in the book. However, with Kennedy in this role, it elevated her to me. She was very stoic I could not believe how convincing she was with her blindness. I tried watching her really hard to see if she would make contact with any of the actors and she never did.
Teddie (@teepe54) – A Mackenzie, through and through: wily and calculating, with more passive aggressive moves than your old high school nemesis. In short, she’s perfect. Maria Doyle Kennedy plays her fabulously, swathed in Terry Dresbach’s swoon-worthy fabrics and surrounded by John Gary Steel’s breathtaking set decorations.
Amanda-Rae (@amandarprescott) – Auntie Jocasta is evil since she owns slaves and makes weak excuses for why she does so. There’s nothing more I can say.
3) Speaking of Aunt Jocasta, she and Claire aren’t exactly getting along like gangbusters. Tell us your thoughts on their treatment of each other?
Kyra (@emrld_eyes76) – I think Jocasta was just reacting to Claire’s disapproval. I’m the last person who would defend slavery, but that’s the way of life in that time period. One of the things that always drive me crazy about Claire is her determination to flaunt the “rules” of the times. It’s like she has no self preservation.
Michelle (@mad_maxxie) – I think they’re both very similar women. Strong, independent and they don’t shy away from their true feelings.
Vida (@Blacklanderz) – With Claire, she has met her match. She could see some of herself/MacKenzie in her. Aunt Jocasta is the typical Southern woman, who knew her position in her time and that clashed with an independent woman with a 20th century mindset. Their conversations were strained. While Claire tried to be respectful (it surprised me she went overboard), Aunt Jocasta did not hold her tongue or thoughts to herself. She told Claire exactly how she felt about her or about any situation that arose in the episode. But I tell you what, she’d [Jocasta] better watch out. Claire is not one to trifled with, especially naming Jamie her heir. Claire might have been polite and respectful this go ‘round, but Jocasta better tread lightly.
Teddie (@teepe54) – Claire had a fine time dodging the sweetly veiled insults Jocasta was serving up. Funny how Auntie Jo projects the “Mackenzie Fire” onto Claire; more like a warning of the firestorm that could be headed her way, where bloodline is used as both bait and ammo.
PS: I’d love to get a wee keek at just one of those letters Jenny penned to Jocasta
Amanda-Rae (@amandarprescott) – Claire had every right to not act so deferential to her. Look at how she doesn’t care about making Ulysses, Phaedra, and Maria feel like they are fully human. I have no sympathy at all for Aunt Jocasta. If she’s so much like Jamie’s mother, that makes the Fraser women even worse from my POV.
4) Talk to us about the scene where Farquad Campbell talks about everything that Jamie would have to do to free his slaves.
Kyra (@emrld_eyes76) – I thought it was ridiculous how hard it was to give someone their freedom. I agree with Jamie when he said there’s no price on freedom, or something along those lines. That being said, he was being a naive idiot. That was Claire speaking through him. He could have been smarter about it. Maybe if he had become heir, he could have made sure the slaves were very well cared for or quietly paid them a small wage undercover for their work so it won’t seem like he and Claire actually own slaves. Anything was better than the tantrum he threw.
Michelle (@mad_maxxie) – It was frustrating because we can see how much they want to help free the slaves but the laws and the times have their hands tied. As a person who is clearly not from that time period it’s super hard to comprehend why it’s so hard to free the slaves and why they aren’t seen as human beings.
Vida (@Blacklanderz) – As incredulous as it seemed, the people who wanted to maintain the institution of slavery made laws to ensure its continuance from both sides. If slaves tried to escape they were hunted down, brought back, and beaten. If a slave owner wanted to set his slaves free, for someone like Aunt Jocasta with over 150 slaves, her plantation would go bankrupt. You could tell from his exasperation the astronomical amount that would have to be paid was about to explode in his head.
Teddie (@teepe54) – Book to film adjustments were in order, so pardon me while I throw my copy of Drums out the window. James Fraser’s mind works like a steel trap; the man grasps complex social and political issues before the words spell it out. He is neither naïve, nor unfamiliar with the more brutal aspects of the world. I think that in my own snarky way, I found the scene incongruous with the inscrutable but acutely aware Jamie Fraser that I know and love. I’ll get over it.
Amanda-Rae (@amandarprescott) – The script for the scene was burdened by exposition, but it’s better than the show downplaying or ignoring institutionalized racism in this time period. Jamie is only going on what Claire told him in the broadest terms, so he had to find out that he’s dealing with a much bigger problem than he imagined. Jamie was thinking about slavery the way he was used to as a temporary situation due to war or criminal punishment. Chattel slavery was a whole new level of inhumanity and he was scared straight. Using this chart, the price of freedom Campbell quoted is about $408,150 today. As in the cost of a HOUSE. https://www.hrvh.org/exhibit/aa07/education/curriculum/1_Run_Away/5_Money_Conversion_chart.pdf
5) As we have with a lot of Outlander, we see a great deal of this episode through Claire’s lens. Do you think that served this episode well?
Kyra (@emrld_eyes76) – I don’t know that it wouldn’t have worked any better looking through anyone else’s eyes either. This episode was a no win for everyone.
Michelle (@mad_maxxie) – I do because we as the viewer needed to sense and feel her frustration and disappointment and heartache.
Vida (@Blacklanderz) – No, definitely not. Although the story is through Claire’s lens, it would have been nice to get at least one scene with Phaedre and Mary, or Aunt Jocasta with Ulysses discussing the new arrivals or their own situation now that they were there. Yes, I’ve read the books, before any one asks, but it would have made it a more in-depth episode.
Teddie (@teepe54) – Absolutely. It’s Claire’s story of her life with Jamie, after all, and her viewpoint is key. Claire’s medical calling is indelibly stamped into her psyche and drives the episode to its tragic but predictable end. The tenets of Hippocratic Oath that all physicians take begin with “First, do no harm”. Claire actions are guided by her oath, even as the specter of immediate and future consequences come shatteringly into focus for her.
Amanda-Rae (@amandarprescott) – Karen Campbell [the writer of this episode] seems to favor the plots where the focus is on Claire as a medical professional. Although this plot was in the novel, I don’t believe this was the best episode to have only Claire’s point of view. Colin McFarlane, Natalie Simpson, and Jerome Holder were amazing in their roles and their characters should have been utilized more to reclaim the history of slavery. I wanted to see more of Ulysses, Phaedra, and Maria and I was disappointed. While Claire is against slavery because she’s from the future, Claire also isn’t entirely conscious of her white privilege either. Her ethical struggle as a doctor was clouding her perspective and adding to the white savior issues I mentioned earlier.
6) What was your reaction to the final, intensely brutal scene?
Kyra (@emrld_eyes76) – I couldn’t even look at the whole thing. It made my heart hurt and I got immediately and extremely angry. I really wanted to set the whole mob on fire with their own torches.
Michelle (@mad_maxxie) – It was tough to watch, particularly the last horrific, gut wrenching scene. To be honest, one they started dragging him off of the porch, I looked away. It was heart wrenching.
Vida (@Blacklanderz) – I mentioned while live-tweeting, Rufus’ hanging from a tree should have been how the episode ended in order to let the image be seared in people’s minds, especially those who want us to forget the past. As upsetting as it was, it only showed a glimmer of slavery times and the brutality Blacks endured. It was horrific, in your face evil and illustrated the pure hatred that people had toward others; and in those final moments, the showrunners showed just enough to leave me speechless and in tears.
Teddie (@teepe54) – For me, it was cold comfort that Rufus was already dead when the mob dragged his body out of the house and lynched him; the desecration done to his body was just as enraging to me. The blind brutishness of the mob was a palpable thing, moving towards its goal. Yet, Claire and Jamie’s actions gave Rufus the urgent tenderness and mercy that echoed Claire’s time with an injured Geordie at the tynchal back in Season 1, easing the way to a more compassionate death. It was not the first time for Claire and I suspect will not likely be her last.
Amanda-Rae (@amandarprescott) – I did not cry but I felt really close to it because I was well-prepared emotionally. I felt so depressed because there’s a chance that someone like Rufus is in my family tree. I’m Caribbean-American but I haven’t been able to trace my family tree past my great-great-grandparents. Overall, I still feel emotionally drained from seeing the lynching that I don’t think I can rewatch the episode any time soon.
Final Verdict: In an episode full of the darkness of America’s past, it was hard to find the brightness
This episode dealt with issues that were faced by the ancestors of over 12% of our population as Americans. Our neighbors. Friends. Fellow citizens. Being confronted with the reality of that is shocking. For many of us, this episode was difficult to watch. But our entire roundtable agreed that this was an episode that needed to be here. And showing it in the rough, organic way they showed it was showing the truth, which is never a bad thing.
This week we reached out for a diverse panel of fans. We felt it was important. This story is not part of all of our backgrounds, but we want to be part of the conversations that are had around it because having difficult conversations around difficult subjects is how we learn.
Did Outlander go far enough in “Do No Harm”? For some of us, yes. For others, not even close. This episode was always going to be a touchstone in the Outlander fandom. Maybe you agreed with someone on our fan panel. Maybe you disagreed. Maybe you agreed but for entirely different reasons. We’d love fans to connect with members of our fan roundtable and continue these conversations. It shouldn’t stop here.