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November 2018

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Title:  Common Ground

Written by Joy Blake

Directed by Ben Bolt

The podcast for this episode was narrated by executive producers Maril Davis and Toni Graphia.

The title card for the episode was a Native Americans adding various ornaments and other elements to their dress.

These season 4 Recaps on Steroids incorporate an OLA writers’ opinion on the episode woven in with information from both the official Starz podcasts along with comments from the official episode script including things changed or edited for television.

The episode begins with a scene in Wilmington that is not in the book.  Jamie is meeting with Governor Tryon to sign the deed for his 10,000 acres.  The deed has several red ribbons at the bottom and to me they signify there’s plenty of strings attached to this transaction.   The writers had an interesting take on this scene in that Jamie is getting revenge on the British for taking Scottish lands after Culloden.   They review the map of what will become Fraser’s Ridge and Tryon offers Claire a place in Wilmington until the house is built.  Jamie assures him that his healer wife has seen it all and he couldn’t do it without her.  I’m sure Tryon was more than surprised.

The discussion between Jamie and Tryon is a bit of cat and mouse.  Tryon is making his point clear that those red ribbons on the deed were a metaphor for the strings attached to such an offer.  He compares the Indians to the Highlanders and warns of the Regulators (later to become American revolutionaries).  Jamie takes it all in stride even though he himself is playing a game of duplicity.  He comments that “savagery exists in many forms”.  After all he’s seen it himself in the British-one in particular.

Toni Graphia commented that both know it’s a loaded deal and Maril Davis added that this sets up the rest of the season.   They discussed Jamie’s frame of  mind with Sam Heughan before filming.

Claire is at the Wilmington store picking up some supplies and we meet up with Marsali who is now five months pregnant.  (In the books, she remains in Jamaica to give birth.)  They have a lovely discussion with several undertones as Marsali confesses she misses her mother right now.  Claire is generous in her understanding despite her history with Laoghaire as she missed her own mother.  Marsali says that she wants Claire as a healer but “there is delivering a bairn and then there’s raising one”.  As the script notes, Marsali does not know that Claire has had a baby.  The two women bond over their own mother/daughter bonds in the past and future and also share a tender moment with each other.

Jamie, Ian and Fergus enter and Jamie is giving Fergus instructions about looking for Highlanders and men from Ardsmuir who were sent as indentured servants.  He checks, as any father would, that they have enough cash and they tell them they will have a place for them after the baby is born.  Claire looks pensive and Jamie, because he’s JAMMF, can tell she’s thinking about Brianna and how she will miss the births of any of her children.  He tells Claire how he coped with missing her and assures her “our daughter will do the same”.

The writers emphasized again that they want to insert a bit of Bree into each episode as it is obvious that Jamie would want to know as much about the daughter he’ll never see and it helps Claire to remember her and connect the two.   It was a lovely scene, my only fault with is that they keep saying Marsali is almost as old as Bree when they were about 3 years apart in the show and much more in the book.

The Fraser-Murrays head out.  The script notes there is a white piglet in the wagon (who becomes the infamous White Sow).  A line is edited out about Fergus worrying that they will have enough room for them and Jamie assures him there is always room for family.

Jamie stops the wagon at their spot.  Ian hangs back by the horses (whispering something about fear of heights) while Jamie and Claire stop to enjoy their awesome view.  The landscape scenes were actually shot in North Carolina and green-screened into the episode.

The time comes now to stake out ten thousand acres.  I hope Clarence had a lot to eat as he’s lugging around the stakes.  Claire maps it out as Jamie pounds them in.   Claire quotes the first few lines of My Country tis of Thee (OK who had to sing that in elementary school after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance?  Just me?)  Jamie is quite tickled to learn that the Americans stole the melody from King George and the British.  It’s also interesting here that Claire identifies herself as an American.   But none of that really matters as apparently Jamie gets quite turned on when his wife sings and he has her up against a tree to describe all the things he wants to do to her but…Ian interrupts as he has found the witness tree.  (These were often used to mark property edge.)  Jamie carves F.R with an arrow so people will know that’s where they are.

Rollo warns of something coming and Claire rightly senses they have visitors behind her.  Jamie tells her to hand him the big knife and then step away.  He walks out toward the Cherokee and makes a deliberate point of dropping his knife to show he will not be armed. (Interesting that the knife drop is not in the script.)  The Cherokee ride away but all know they will return.

We move back to the 1970’s in Oxford.  Roger is in his office looking sad and distracted and that does not go unnoticed by his office-mate, Peter.  (Peter is not in the book but the writers wanted someone to comment on Roger’s change behavior and mood.)

A quick but seamless back to the Ridge and the Frasers are working hard to clear their land.  Jamie cuts down a large tree (note Sam made the last couple of hacks on the set, although a professional did the first ones to make sure it fell the right way).

Roger starts to read the book Bree gave him and we see she also left the drawing of the two of them.  He notices a reference to a hillside now called Grandfather Mountain that was settled by Fraser’s Ridge.  He reads this as the scene returns to that very place and Bree’s family is building their cabin.  (Nice choice.)  Roger, being a researcher, checks out the author on the back of the book and an idea sparks in his mind.

On the ridge, Claire notices Jamie has staked out what looks like a cabin.  He gives her the nickel tour, describing the house, a meat shed (as opposed to the hanging sack of meat strung up by Ian) and  a surgery where she can work and even see patients once they recruit settlers.  She’s touched that he thought of that for her (because hey, he’s JAMMF-haven’t we established that already).   They talk about how John Quincy Myers (JQM) will teach them how to make beef jerky and I know I’m not the only one who likes how Jamie says that.  Claire responds that it is damned delicious.  The script only said delicious-does Caitriona Balfe really, really like beef jerky?

But the Cherokee return and they are not happy.  They yell at the Frasers and slam the boundary stakes down in front of them like spears.  They will not take lightly to their land being invaded.

In Oxford, Roger gets a package and is stunned to see old copies of the deed Jamie signed with Tryon and evidence that Claire was with him.  He decides to call Brianna, despite the fact that they have broken up.   Bree answers at her apartment in the most expensive part of Boston and her roommate Gayle (holding the Carrot, the french bulldog of Maril Davis) who knows all about Roger.  Bree and Roger make small talk and he tells her what he’s found.   For Bree, this is great news on several fronts.  She didn’t know if her mother had even made it through the stones.  She didn’t know if she had found Jamie and if they stayed together.  Now she knows they not only did but they were in the very same place where she and Roger were at the festival.  Roger gave her a priceless gift with this phone call that she gratefully acknowledges.  But the conversation grows awkward again because Roger is a dumb guy and doesn’t apologize for his behavior in North Carolina.

Maril noted that actors had telephone scenes as they are usually being filmed by themselves.  Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton filmed theirs at separate times but Richard was there on set for Sophie’s (filmed on the last day of filming S4) and he fed her Roger’s lines behind the camera.

It’s evening in the Ridge and Ian sleeps while Jamie and Claire discuss what to do about the Cherokee.  Claire suggests moving away from the border but Jamie talks about how the mountain spoke to him.  In the script Jamie suggests a gift of good will but Claire does the suggesting in the book.  This was another one of those great scenes where they discuss together and Jamie is always thinking.   Jamie says he will discuss with JQM in the morning.  Rollo is alerted to something outside and they leave the lean-to armed for another Cherokee encounter.  But this is just Findlay the white horse, injured and bleeding. Claire realizes it is a bear attack and another danger is added to the mix.

JQM is making beef jerky and offers most to Jamie to make up for the fact that the bear stole their meat.  He gives him advice about the Cherokee and tells him not to build the cabin until they resolve this issue.  He offers to bring some of Aunt Jocasta’s tobacco to them on Jamie’s behalf.  JQM teaches Jamie to say Siyo Ginali if he encounters the Cherokee to show that he basically comes in peace.  Jamie inquiries about a bear and JQM says the Cherokee references a Tskili Yona which means bear but something more than just a regular bear.

Ian and Claire have caught some trout and Claire is gutting it while Ian repairs the net.  (Caitriona had to gut a real fish and it was one of the coldest days of the year in Scotland.  She shared with Maril how cold her hands were by the end of it.  The cast is really resilient in that weather-true pros. )  Ian is surprised to learn that Claire can’t knit as all Scots learn when they are young, even Jamie.  This news delights Claire in a way when you find out your husband does something cute and you never knew.

Claire is practicing shooting and has a good aim but didn’t pack her gun good enough.  Jamie tries and is just as good of an aim but also destroys his target.  In a bit of foreshadowing, Claire comments how good soldiers can load their guns under pressure.   Nice touch by Sam Heughan here who remembers that Jamie can’t close one eye and kept both eyes open when he shoots.

That night they hear the bear roar but they are ready.   Rollo doesn’t find the bear, he finds a man who is JQM. He’s been mauled, badly.  They bring him into the lean-to and Claire and Surgical Assistant Ian tend to him while Jamie heads out with a torch and a gun.

At the same time, we see several Cherokee with torches headed to the place where Adawehi, the medicine woman, is doing a cleansing of the Tskili Yona.   Maril commented in the podcast that Jamie was trying to kill the bear in the physical way while the Cherokee were trying to kill it in a spiritual way.   The translation of the chant is in the script

Tskili Yona is our responsibility

We pray to be rid of Tskili Yona

We pray for Tskili Yona to leave us and never return

Let us make it so

Jamie sees and hears the bear.  (At this point, I’m getting the sense this is either a bad prop or something is up with the bear.)  We move back and forth between Jamie and Claire when Claire realizes that JQM has been bitten by a human.  Jamie misfires and starts to reload when the bear, who is not a bear but a very large man dressed in a bear skin, with sharp teeth hanging over his head and bear claws strapped to his arm.  Jamie is caught off guard mentally and physically and loses his gun.  The Tskili Yona claws at him and tries to bite him.  Jamie gets free and runs, grabbing one of the boundary stakes and stabbing the man to death.   Sam Heughan noted that it was about 19 degrees Fahrenheit when they filmed this!

Maril noted that in a very early draft of the script, JQM dies.  But they like the actor, Kyle Rees, and decided to let him live.  I wonder if this is for the season or for another episode or two.

Maril also addressed the several reasons why they did not use a real bear.  First, there are no black bears in Scotland so they would have had to fly in a trained bear.  Second, the most famous bear attack scene is Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.  That scene took several weeks to rehearse and film and also used very expensive CGI.  (Leo had to undergo four hours of prosthetics for his injuries every day by a team of four!)  That kind of time and expense is obviously not in the Outlander budget.  And finally, they did not want to do anything that might risk Sam’s safety.   Matt Roberts met with Cherokee leaders to discuss why a man might be banished from the tribe.   Maril felt that Sam excelled in this bear fight scene and it was very complicated to film.  Flint Eagle, the actor and stunt man who played Tskili Yona said he has done this type of work for 30 years and never fought with a man as fit as Sam.

Jamie drags the Tskili Yona to the Cherokee camp via a travois.  An English-speaking Cherokee asks him if he killed it.  (Maril noted that many Indians in pre-colonial North Carolina spoke English according to their research.)  Jamie hesitates (this could go either way for him) and said “I did”.  The Cherokee explain the man had raped his woman and so they had banished him.  They could not kill what was dead to them and the man lost his mind over it and terrorized the village.   Jamie asks if there will be peace for his family and that they have no intention of making trouble and as he often did in Scotland, he gave them his word.

Back at camp, JQM apparently has the healing powers of Wolverine because he’s already sitting up.  Jamie invites him to stay with them until he’s better and then the Cherokee return.   The chief (via translation) tells him they want no more blood to be spilled.  They give Jamie the name Bear Killer (and that just tickles one Ian Murray).  Jamie invites them to join their campfire.

Claire speaks with a young woman and her husband’s grandmother, the medicine woman.  She tells Claire that she has medicine now but she will have more when her hair is white.  She also tells her death is a gift from the gods and that it won’t be Claire’s fault. Naturally, Claire is a little confused and taken aback.  The White Raven prophesy will be interesting as it plays out.

At Wakefield house, Roger is taking the last of his boxes out while Fiona is hanging drapes.  Fiona reveals that she knows all about Jamie and Claire going back through the stones.  She shares a horrifying piece of information from a Wilmington newspaper in the 1770’s that Jamie and Claire died in a fire at their home.  Roger feels he cannot break Bree’s heart with this.    The book showed the date but the show smudged the date.  This was because the time between discovery and the fire was a very long time and they wanted to give a sense of urgency.

The cabin walls are slowly going up.  Jamie carries Claire over the threshold and takes her through the floor plan and says he’ll make sure their bed faces east to watch the sunrise.   In a creepy foreshadowing, the scene slowly changes back to Roger’s fireplace.  He decides to call her only to have Gayle tell him that Bree left two weeks ago for Scotland…to visit her mother.  Roger (and the audience) are quite alarmed.   In the book, Bree sent Roger her box of things but the writers wanted to show that they were truly broken up at this point.

All in all, this was a very good episode.  There was a lot of information, the story moved forward and there were lovely Jamie and Claire moments.  Next week, we may find out just what Bree is up to.

 

Many thanks to the following for images and gifs: farfaraway, laird broch-tuarach, whiskeynottea, Starz, ecampbellsoup, owlnguava

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Title:  The False Bride

Written by Jennifer Yale

Directed by Ben Holt

The podcast for this episode was narrated by executive producers Matt Roberts and Toni Graphia.

The title card for the episode was the wicker stag (also the symbol of Clan Fraser)

These season 4 Recaps on Steroids incorporate an OLA writers’ opinion on the episode woven in with information from both the official Starz podcasts along with comments from the official episode script including things changed or edited for television.

 

The script and the show have two different openings.  In the script, we begin with River Run and it is the next morning after the horrific scene with the lynch mob and Rufus.  In the show, they started with Roger selling Wakefield house.  This recap will follow the script and for the beginning and then the two sources converge.

On the porch at River Run, Jamie and Claire discuss how they cannot stay any longer.  (This discussion was edited out, one of several unfortunate edits in what was a stellar script.)  In the show, all we see is Claire looking at the slaves on the plantation.  The writers struggled with what to say about the night before and chose to say nothing more than the decision that they must leave. (Matt thinks Claire may even have told him about Joe Abernathy and how much he had to overcome to be a doctor.)  In the book, they took 3-4 months to make this decision but the TV show must continue to move the story along as they only have 13 episodes for 1000 pages.

Jamie goes inside to tell Aunt Jocasta that they can no longer stay.   Matt Roberts notes that Jocasta is a product of her time, this is not excusing being a slave owner but it does help understand why she thinks the way she does.  (Some may argue after seeing how the British oppressed the Highlanders but I believe she left for the US long before that.)  Jamie hates to disappoint her but as he notes “I will only be master of my own soul”.  She convinces him to keep the money he was given and gifts him with his mother’s candlesticks.   The candlestick scene was added later as they became important in another episode.  The scene was beautifully played by Sam Heughan and Maria Doyle Kennedy (who was wonderful as Jocasta).  Jamie is grateful for another memory of his mother.  Matt notes that Sam played this wonderfully as he continued to make eye contact with his aunt, even though she is blind.

Jamie and Ian argue up the stairs about Ian returning to Scotland.  (The script actually calls for them to argue down the stairs so the director must have shot it both ways.)  Ian convinces Jamie that he’s experienced enough in these past few weeks to make his own decisions and Jamie agrees.  John Bell does a great job showing Ian growing up and taking charge of his own life.  In the book, his parents write him to stay in America (I believe he misses his ship) but the writers felt it was important for Ian to make this mature move in support of his future story arc.

Claire goes to say goodbye to Jocasta. Toni Graphia loved this scene.  Both women love Jamie even though they disagree about what is right for him.  Jocasta challenges Claire about whether Jamie can be fulfilled being a printer when he’s a born leader.  Claire reminds her she barely knows the man.  Matt Roberts said this is when both women are right and that those are great scenes to write and watch play out.

As they pack up the wagon, we meet Clarence the mule.  The writers said they decide at the start of the season which animals they will need and felt they must include Clarence as a fan favorite.  John Quincy Myers (JQM) rides up and offers to escort them to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Jocasta, in her way, was looking out for them by sending word to JQM that they were leaving.  Jamie tips his hat to the plantation.  The show edited out a voiceover by Claire that they were sad to leave as they really wanted to change things but the events of the previous night showed them that they really couldn’t stay.

The script then takes up to Inverness 1970 and Wakefield House.  The show begins here and then shifts to the River Run scenes just described.  Roger has sold his house to Fiona and her new husband, Ernie.  He is playing a guitar and tells them he’s been invited to a Scottish festival in the States.  They toast to their home and the show edited out Roger playing more while Fiona and Ernie dance a jig.  Fiona does some exposition here by saying Roger is courting Briana and Roger admits they only spent last summer in Oxford and Christmas in Boston again. (This mean Claire has been gone about 18 months.)  Since this is 1970 and they do not have the technology of today to communicate, they resorted to letters and expensive international calls. Not the best thing to move a relationship forward.

Sidenote:  I can see Bree getting into Harvard since her father taught there but it is hard to get into MIT, harder for women in the 1070’s and she likely had minimal courses in high school to fit Engineering.  I always thought it was a stretch for the books to just pop her into MIT as an engineering major.

We see Roger coming through the small concourse at Logan Airport in Boston where Bree greets him in a place that you can no longer do in today’s airports due to security.  Their greeting is one of happy to see you but not sure if we should kiss.  In the script, they kiss but in the show they do not.

In the book, the Scottish festival is in New England but they changed it to North Carolina so that Bree could walk the same paths as her parents-although she does not yet know in the story that they migrated there.  The writers also felt a multi-day drive would be good for them to get to know each other even better.  There was debate in the writer’s room whether to keep the Minister’s Cat scene, it seemed to be split. (I think it is too old fashioned, I remember seeing it in A Christmas Carol.)  The reason it was kept was that the writers knew that some tough talks were coming and they wanted a moment of levity.   Bree kisses Roger and he swerves off the road (that scene was done with a stunt driver).  Dairy Queen got some free product placement in that scene, albeit with old school cups.   The road they are driving by Grandfather Mountain morphs into an unpaved road by the same Mountain being traveled by her parents 200 years earlier.  (The best use of CGI in Season 4 so far.)

The Frasers, JQM and Ian are riding and talking.  Ian is fascinated with the Indians and the land.  JWM’s story telling reminded me of Rupert. It was important in this scene to show the beauty of the land so that Jamie could fall in love with it.  Many Scots settled here because it was far from the coast and reminded them of the Highlands.  In some ways, they could make their own rules.

They make camp where JQM tells them he will part with them to trade with the Cherokee.  The writers chose to change from Tuscarora to Cherokee as there was no information on the Tuscarora ways and Cherokee also settled in that area.  Ian wants to go and his aunt and uncle agree with some trepidation.  Jamie asks Claire where they should go and suggests perhaps Boston since she knows the area.  She wants to start somewhere new and reminds him that Boston is soon to be the epicenter of the American Revolution.

Jamie and Claire ride on the next day and chat about Bree and what her life is like in 1970.  The writers planned to have Jamie always ask about Bree so that he can continue to make a connection to her even though he will never see her.  Claire talks about how close Bree and Frank were and I watched Jamie’s face to see if this bothers him.  I personally thought Claire was too cavalier here, not caring that mentioning Frank raise his daughter may sting a bit for Jamie.   Matt Roberts comments that Sam and Caitriona do much of their own riding and are both accomplished at it.

Jamie must repair the shoe on his horse and Claire decides to “test the waters’ about what Jocasta had said to her earlier.  The editors slashed a lot of dialogue in this scene and that was extremely unfortunate.  It was well-written and I have no doubt, well-acted.  In the edited out parts, Claire admits she is still shook over the attack on the river boat.  Jamie admits he’s a violent man and in some ways may be no better than Stephen Bonnet.  Claire disagrees vehemently.  He explains to her that it’s one thing to live as an outlaw and he’d be just fine with it if he was alone.  But he has to provide for his family and especially Claire, who he wants to give the world to if he could.  The scene was still good but it was really disappointing to read the edited parts, perhaps they will include the full scene on the DVD.

There is a crack of thunder and Clarence bolts.  (Real life Clarence is too nice and liked hanging around Sam so they had to coax him to run.)  Claire, being Claire, takes off after him before waiting for Jamie.  He yells after her but assumes she’ll be right back with the mule.  Instead, she gets lost as it gets dark and windy.

We return to the Scottish festival which was recreated by the set and costume team.  They also bought 30-40 American vintage cars.  Toni Graphia attended a few Scottish festivals after Season 1 and they looked a lot like this one, just updated for clothing.   They shot the inside and outside scenes at different times.

The Scottish festival begins to remind Bree of her mother and whether she made it back and found Jamie.  They enter a tent and are asked if they want to dance the ceilidh dance and we see them arm in arm in a circle. (I thought the slo-mo-added in post-production- was a little bit of a cliché.)  Next stop is an artist and Bree wants a picture drawn.  She indicates that her “boyfriend” is a  Mackenzie and Roger is both encouraged by the term boyfriend and that she asked for two Mackenzie tartans.  The other pictures on the wall are the crew.  They edited out a scene where Roger and Bree bang heads in the dance.

Back in the 18th century, Claire is still missing.  Clarence returns so Jamie gets on his horse to look for her.  Claire realizes she’s lost and then a bolt of lightning hits a tree, startling her horse and throwing her to the ground where she hits her head to the point of losing consciousness.

An abrupt edit here back to the festival where Roger is singing on a stage and Bree sees a new side of him.  He sings a ballad called the False Bride (hence the episode title).  The writers had toyed with the idea of an American folk song from the period but realized he himself was Scottish and it made more sense to do a Scottish ballad.  Richard Ranking rehearsed for days and recorded it in advance.  The show is a blend of him singing the song and lip-syncing to his own studio performance.

Bree gives Roger a book of Scottish settlers in colonial America (totally created by their art department) and a bottle of moonshine as this was a dry county in 1970.  They go into her cabin to drink it.  Roger is looking at a mounted deer head when Brianna takes off her shirt and tosses it on the deer.  They begin to kiss and end up on the floor when Roger stops and says he wants it to be perfect.  (As an aside, the script called for much more nudity and “hands on”)  He covers her with her shirt and gets a silver bracelet.  He tells her he wants her and then really gets carried away talking about marriage, kids, etc.  Bree’s head is spinning and she rightfully says it’s too fast and she’s not ready.  (Research shows that in the UK in that time period, a ring was not always used for a proposal.)

The writers explained that they tried to show a balance of the positions of both Roger and Bree so you don’t end up hating either one.  I don’t think they succeeded.   Roger showed a bit of double-standard here by not liking that she wanted to have sex when he himself has had sex.  He was rude and chauvinistic in the scene.  Matt pointed out that the era of American free-love hadn’t reached a minister’s son in the highlands of Scotland and he was still old-fashioned.   He felt this was another scene where they were both right.  Matt and I will have to agree to disagree on that one.   They also edited out a scene where he forcefully kissed her and she bit him.  That explained why his mouth was beating from what looked like a simple slap.  I didn’t understand that when I watched the episode.  That’s a miss by the editing, IMO.  One of many in this episode.

Back in the forest, Claire wakes up and it is now raining.  The writers joked that this was one of the few times in Scotland where they had to create rain.  It’s usually a rule of thumb in the writer’s room that you don’t write weather.

Claire finds a large uprooted tree for shelter.  In the book, it was a cave but there are few inhabitable caves in Scotland to shoot.  (Jamie’s had to be somewhat created for the first part of S3.)  She takes her boots off and finds a skull with a crack in the top and an opal stone.  They had to film the stone a few times to get it to show up.  Claire sees a torch in the distance and thinks it is Jamie but instead sees an Indian who we will later know as Otter Tooth.  The writers discussed how to make this look like a spirit.  Should he flicker, should you see through him?  Claire knows something is up, his torch isn’t going out in the rain and he comes and goes.  It was Matt’s idea to have him turn so she could see he was scalped like her newly found skull.  I thought this was one of the best scenes in the episode.

It is evening at the Festival and time for the calling of the clans.  This was filmed in an over-night shoot, likely around 3 AM.  Brianna tries to talk to Roger but he digs in and wants all or nothing.  The clan caller (UK producer David Brown) starts by calling the Gordons.  When MacKenzies are called, Roger gets up to announce the clan but Bree has gone.  They filmed her leaving but decided to have an empty seat had more impact.  The wicker stag falls away as Roger realizes a beautiful weekend was also burning down as well.  (Fun fact-Sam’s uncle, a renowned wicker artist, created the stag.)

Claire wakes up the next day and her boots are gone.  She sees mud tracks and decides to follow them.  They actually cast the foot prints in cement to make them come out right on film.  She follows them to a stream where Jamie (and her boots) are there.  She sees him with such relief and he runs to her.  They are confused because both don’t realize that the boots got there on their own or with a little  mystical help.  The writers had a hard time explaining to Jamie what Claire saw and what probably happened but in the end, Matt says you have to believe in magic.  She’s a time-traveler and he is a superstitious Highlander so it isn’t a stretch.  She also notices that the skull has silver fillings indicating that her late-night visitor was a time traveler too.  Maril Davis and Toni Graphia debated whether this should be in the trailer but decided the spoiler provided a bit of excitement.  Matt noted that they added more than one filling so that it showed up well on camera.

Claire finds strawberries on a cliff and Jamie tells her the story of the first Fraser, a Mr Freseliere.   There was a lot of discussion about the view by the writers.  They wanted to make it epic and majestic.  Matt knows that even though the theme of the season is “what is home”, he knows Jamie’s home is Claire.  Yet, Jamie wants to give her four walls of her own.    Jamie already can see his entire vision for what to do with the land and Claire knows that look.  He needs to know if she trusts him because if they stay, they must make a dangerous deal with governor Tryon.  I get the sense it becomes a cross that Boston Tea Party bridge when we come to it scenario.  The first law of thermodynamics scene was originally meant to be here but they ended up editing it out and refilming it in episode 401 at the very end of the filming season when it was warmer.  I think it was a good decision but more book dialogue for this scene would have been a nice replacement.

 

The scene ends with some beautiful music by Bear McCreary so that they realize it’s home and it will be called Fraser’s Ridge.  The laird is back.

 

Image Sources with thanks to:  laid-brochtuarach, ecampbellsoup, nighean-donn, Starz

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Title: America the Beautiful

        Written by Matthew B. Roberts and Toni Graphia

      Directed by Julian Holmes

The podcast for this episode was narrated by executive producers Matt Roberts and Maril Davis.

The title card for the episode was an American bald eagle catching a fish in a lake.

These season 4 Recaps on Steroids incorporate an OLA writers’ opinion on the episode woven in with information from both the official Starz podcasts along with comments from the official episode script including things changed or edited for television.

When we last saw Jamie and Claire at the end of Season 3, they had washed ashore on the (not yet) United States in the colony of Georgia.  We also learned that the ship had run aground with survivors.  We learn in this episode that Young Ian, Fergus, Marsali, Lesley and Hayes all survived the shipwreck.

The episode starts in 2000 BC in North America.  No, Claire has not traveled in time that far back, although the creation of the stone circle in North America is a harbinger of things to come or as Matt noted “a payoff if you’re paying attention”.   This scene was planned well in advance of the season and was admittedly random and not connected to a specific episode.   The voice-over from Claire notes man’s fascination with circles of all kinds.  From this ancient stone circle, we shift to 18th century Georgia and a hangman’s noose.

Jamie is on a mission and pays off a guard to be able to see a friend who is scheduled to hang.  We see that it is Gavin Hayes who looks scared and sad and admits to sleeping with a married woman and then killing her husband in self-defense.  The writers wanted to make sure that the person to be hanged was someone we cared about.  In the book, the hanged Scot is charged with theft but show research showed that this was not a hanging offense during that time period so the writers changed it to something more serious.   Jamie has a plan to help Hayes escape but Hayes is reluctant to have Jamie risk his own safety and that of the others.  (They had to shoot this scene a few times due to the actor’s heavy brogue-the dailies showed that he was hard to understand.)  Hayes instead asks Jamie to grant him the final wish of seeing a smile from a friend.

Jamie has brought rum to help Hayes get drunk and maybe lesson the fear of his imminent death.  Another prisoner asks for the same and thus is the first encounter with the new antagonist for the Fraser family.   He is described in the script as one Stephen Bonnet, late 30’s handsome and Irish.    He is smooth in both charm and the way he moves his body, reminding one of Jack Sparrow or even a snake, but the producers say that was all the choice of new cast member, Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey).

The town of Wilmington was created by Jon Gary Steele and his set crew.  Everything in Scotland was old and stone while everything in the colonies was new and wood.  Much of the town is just a façade with interior scenes shot on set.  As most know by now, all of these scenes were actually shot in Scotland and they even brought in their own mud!

Claire, Lesley, Fergus and Marsali are there to witness the hanging and support Hayes, despite Jamie suggesting that they not watch.  The drums beat out the march of the condemned men and this was deliberate start to associate the episode with Drums of Autumn.  Hayes is first and Jamie pushes his way to the front with a forced smile on his face as Hayes requested.  The floor gives way and Hayes is hanged. (My 7th grade English teacher once told me that pictures are hung, people are hanged.)  The smile leaves Jamie’s face and is replaced with one of sadness and regret that in this new land, he does not have the credibility or knowledge of the laws to help him in a way he might have in Scotland.  A brilliant job of physical acting by Sam Heughan here and Matt was very complimentary about him in the podcast.   Lesley is distraught over the death of his longtime friend and in his grief, he creates the distraction that Jamie had originally planned for Hayes.  The handsome Irishman escapes.   (Producers note-this scene had 150 extras.)

We cut to the Sky Boat song opening credits with this season’s version including a very American southern sound with banjos.  It’s always great to watch the first episode credits, not only for the new song version (although I miss the original) but also to see if you can make out book scenes in the quick glimpses shown.

A deleted scene was next where Jamie and Claire are walking to the tavern and discussing how they should sell the gemstones they salvaged from the wreckage.   This is a famous book scene where Jamie is storing them in his crotch and Claire notes wryly that he’s a walking inducements to Harlots.  I hope they include this in the DVD.

In the tavern, Fergus, Ian and Lesley enter and tell Jamie that the local priest will not bury Gavin in the cemetery since he was a murderer.   They decide they will go there at night to bury him.  Lesley’s grief is still palpable and he is adamant that Hayes will have a proper send-off.  He begins to sing in Gaelic this song of mourning and tribute.  The English translation is below.  Matt noted that Keith Fleming sang this in the table read and had everyone in tears.  She said if they had known he had such a beautiful voice, they would have written more songs into Season 3.

Och na och. We are full of despondency that you left us, Gavin.  

And we are aggrieved, Son of Seamus, Son of Louisa. 

You left the place where your youth was nurtured.

Hear him, hear him, you left us all with sadness, Gavin.

Hear him, hear him, It’s a pity that you are not so very young.

You were raised in Cihl-Mhartainn in the area of Dun Domhull.

You were born in the town of 1727.

Hear him, hear him, you left us all with sadness, Gavin.

Hear him, hear him, It’s a pity that you are not so very young.

Hear him, hear him, you left us all with sadness, Gavin.

Hear him, hear him, It’s a pity that you are not so very young.

 As Lesley sings, Jamie joins in with a low (slightly out of tune) voice and the rest of the family does as well.  Scots in the tavern hear a song of home and also join in.  Music has bound them together as a people, despite being so far from home with so much uncertainty ahead.  But family and culture survive no matter where you are.      Matt commented that Jamie is known to be tone-deaf in the books so there will be no solo for him (although rumor has it that Sam has a nice voice).

In the book, the singing actually drives the British soldiers away but that was cut for time.  As it turns out, there was debate of making this episode into two parts but it was rejected as not a good idea for an opening episode.   I’m very glad because that would have been a waste of an episode when there are only 13 to cover 1000 pages.   And I think it forced them to make the story tighter.

Nightfall and Jamie is driving the wagon and family into the cemetery to bury Hayes.  They discuss what to do with the gemstones while they are in town.  Ian and Jamie begin to dig and Ian has PTSD flashbacks to his time with Geillis, both in his sexual abuse and fear of being killed.  He tells Jamie how Geillis only wanted virgin boys and he was not a virgin (a surprise to Jamie).  Matt noted that this was not necessary plot wise but it was very necessary for character development.  Jamie tells Ian that he’s been in that same situation.    He eases Ian’s guilt by telling him that “your cock does not have a conscience but you do”.  Toni said they fought for that line and I’m glad they did.  It was something that Ian could understand.

Matt loves writing Jamie and Ian together.  Jamie sees himself in Ian-the one son who wanted to see the world.  With Ian in this scene, Jamie shows both his tender side and his warrior side.  And he sees how his memories of own sexual abuse, both violently in the hands of Black Jack and emotionally at the hands of Geneva can be overcome with time and talk.  Claire helped teach him that and he pays that gift forward with Ian.

They return to the wagon and everybody is spooked as the tarp begins to rise in human form.  But it’s that slippery Irishman again.  Jamie does not trust him yet but after hearing his story, he tells him to be on his way.  Bonnet has other plans though because he knows the redcoats will be looking for him.  And here we see why Bonnet is even more dangerous than BJR.  While BJR had power, you never questioned whether he was evil.   He was just layers of evil.  Bonnet is charming, can appear vulnerable and has a distinctive and uncanny ability to find your weakness and use it against you. In this case, he knows they are all grieving and pretends to be a friend of Hayes to stay with them and aid his escape.

Toni Graphia said they discussed his conscience to determine whether he was a psychopath or a sociopath.  I looked up the difference and it seems that while both have a poor inner voice to define the difference between right and wrong, but a psychopath has no conscience about it.   The producers always have a character discussion with a new actor and in this case, they said he should be charming but mimic your emotions and feed on your weakness.  Ed delivered these notes perfectly.

Jamie and Claire agree to drive the wagon forward while the others go back to town.  They are stopped by a group of redcoats looking for the escaped man.  Jamie thinks quickly and admits they have a body but claim it is Hayes.  The British leader still has one of his men stab the “body”.  In the book, Bonnet doesn’t flinch but the writers (and I) thought this was impractical so they added the leg of venison into the story.   Claire attends to Bonnet’s wound (Caitriona Balfe is so natural in these medical scenes) and he uses his ability to bond with his future victims with her.   So, he fools them both but the writers deliberately want to make Jamie and Claire not always right or not always the hero to make them more human.  Matt says Jamie is the hardest character to write, given his few flaws.

The Foreshadow knows:  Bonnet describes his fear of drowning and also comments on Claire’s two rings.

Jamie and Claire camp for the night and in an evening of a mutual sponge-bath, the stress of the day gets to them and they talk about how none of it compares to what they suffered in losing each other for 20 years.  And their love sustained, despite time and centuries apart.  This is the famous First Law of Thermodynamics scene brought forth from later in the book.  Their lovemaking is more urgent, bonding and one ultimately of gratefulness that they are back together.  (And this is the first time they had been alone together in a long time, although I would have wondered if anybody was in the woods.)  And Jamie teachers Claire some physics of his own.  Lovely portrayal by both the leads in this scene.

Matt called writing this the elephant in the room as most book-readers might expect the also famous sex on the river rock scene but it was far too cold in Scotland.  The scene that was actually shot was re-shot at the end of filming because it was so cold the first time that the actors needed to stay dressed and the studio feedback was not sexy enough.  They managed to make it both sexy and tender, despite the fact that I bet it was still not warm when they reshot it.   Matt commented on how their chemistry really made the scene so beautiful.  They did delete the first part of the scripted scene where he walks up to her.

The next morning, Claire is looking out over the mountainside and telling Jamie how all of this will eventually become the United States of America.  (Just loved how they inserted Jamie’s sense of humor into this scene as well.)   At the same time, Jamie learns that life will not be so idyllic for the Native Americans who will suffer some of the same indignities as the Highlanders.  The CGI in this scene was a bit troublesome as you could tell they were staring at a green screen and in one shot from behind, Claire is talking yet you cannot see Caitriona’s mouth moving.

They return to Wilmington and a deleted scene indicates that they were invited to a dinner at the Livingston household.   As they dress, Claire worries her old dress will be appropriate and Jamie assures her it will especially with a beautiful necklace that he had created out of their ruby.  He hopes that it will show off the stone for an attending wealthy Englishman who may buy it and help finance their voyage home to Scotland.   Jamie hugs her from behind as she looks at the ruby (Toni loves this shot) and Jamie bows to her to “invite” her to dinner. (Maril loved that part.)

Dinner party scenes are not my favorite.  In this case, as fellow British citizens, they fit in and yet they don’t fit in.  They don’t wear powdered wigs and they are not pretentious.   Claire manages to catch the eye of the wealthy gentleman who may buy her ruby while Jamie is brought into the library to talk to Governor Tryon.    Several fun facts to include with this scene.

  1. Governor Tryon was a real person and the real governor of North Carolina
  2. Actor Tim Downie (Tryon) used to act in a series of very funny commercials with Sam Heughan for Tennents Ale. You can find several on YouTube
  3. Sam indicated this room was haunted and our Outlander America twitter admin tweeted at Tim about it. Tim replied that every time Jamie said the word Jacobite in filming it, a book fell from the shelf.   I wonder if the poltergeist was a Jacobite or a redcoat!

Tryon mentions land grants that are available for immigrant Scots.  It is a tempting offer and he advises Jamie that even the technically a large sum of money is required but indicates a loophole there.  He asks Jamie to consider it.

Back in their rented room, Claire and Jamie discuss their next steps.  Claire has sold the ruby for 100 pounds.  But there is also Tryon’s offer.  Jamie is smart enough to know that Tryon will want his loyalty in return against the regulators (the early American patriots).  But Claire warns him that this time the British will lose the war when the American Revolution actually happens in about eight years’ time.  The biggest factor here is that Jamie knows this will one day be Brianna’s country and since it is impossible for him to be able to guide her as his father, this is the only way he could have a direct hand in making this a good land for her.   His eyes begin to water at the joy that idea brings to him.  He also sees this as a way to have a fresh start in a new place.   (Later in a scripted but cut scene, we learn that Clare had applied for US citizenship in the 1960’s.)

Jamie and Claire make a decision and head to the Tavern to catch up with the family.  They come upon young Ian who has a rather large furry friend.  He explains he won the dig “dicing” but after receiving a stern warning about continuing to gamble from his aunt and uncle, he turns over some coin as well.  Rollo becomes a new and important member of the family.

Jamie tells the group that they have sold the ruby but have decided to try and make a life in the colonies.  They are not yet sure where they will settle but will decide after visiting Aunt Jocasta in River Run.  Ian is excited about this idea but Uncle Jamie squashes is dreams by telling him that he must return him to Scotland so he can be the man his mother wants him to be.  Fergus and Lesley are given a part of the ruby profits but Lesley asks if he can stay with them for a while.  Fergus and Marsali reveal that they too will stay as Marsali is pregnant.   (This is a change from the books as she finds out she is pregnant in Jamaica and stays there until after giving birth. I’m glad they made this change.)  Jamie is delighted and Claire is tentatively so given her previous talk with Marsali about not wanting a child right away.  Marsali assures her that she is happy and Claire gives her adopted son a hug.  Jamie also stands and hugs him.  I wonder if it occurred to both at that moment that they will soon be grandparents.   

They commission a river boat to take them to Jocasta’s plantation with promise of helping the work (thanks to young Ian and Lesley’s backs).  The boat scenes were filmed separately and unfortunately you can tell because the CGI in the boat scenes are not great.  In some scenes, Jamie’s head seems almost 3D and the CGI is too obvious.   Jamie tells Claire the story of Jocasta Cameron Cameron Cameron-drawing it out like the Scottish storyteller he is.

Claire expresses her concern over the assumed slave steering the boat but she learns that the man was freed after saving his owner’s life.  This will not be the first time I agree with Claire’s position but wishes she acted with a little more finesse.  The man has a beautiful baritone voice and I wonder what he would sound like singing with Lesley.

The next morning Jamie gives Claire a gift for their 24th anniversary. It is a beautiful medical box complete with medicine, tools and a microscope.  This was a lovely scene in the book and brought to life beautifully by Sam and Caitriona (and the antique shop commissioned to make the box).   Matt indicated that they had to make a few versions as the main one was too heavy for Caitriona to carry around.   They edited out the part where she finds the physician’s notes of Dr. Daniel Rawling.  Jamie seems happy that she loves it as he feels somewhat guilty for not being able to give her much.  She assures him that all she needs is the ring he gave her as she passed down his mother’s pearls to their daughter.

That night as they slept, the boat was boarded by Bonnet and his band of thieves.  They hold the crewman at gunpoint on shore and Bonnet entices Jamie to attack him where Jamie is then grabbed by several men who steal the gems.  Bonnet gives them instructions (per the script) not to kill Jamie

Ian is shoved to the ground as is Lesley.  One thief tries to get Claire’s rings but Lesley prevents him.  Bonnet comes into the boat cabin and with complete indifference slits Lesley’s throat.  He then forces Claire to give up both her rings and on instinct she tries to swallow them.   He forces one out and leaves.  As Claire gags and brings up one ring, she is distraught to find that it is Frank’s ring and that she has lost Jamie’s.  The one thing she said was all she needed.  Jamie staggers in to find the horrific scene.  I agree with the producers’ decision to deviate from the book and have her lose Jamie’s ring as it is the more recognizable of the two.   (Book readers will know why this is important.)

As those who have seen the episode know, this last scene was without dialogue (even though there is dialogue in the script) and we hear Ray Charles’ version of America the Beautiful.  Interesting here is that Bear McCreary had written an extremely beautiful version of the same song (per Toni) but they chose to go with the other version.  I understand what they were going for with the choice but I personally did not like it for several reasons.  I didn’t like the choice of the song and especially with the words, it took me out of the scene.  I didn’t like the symbolism.  And Caitriona noted during a promotional panel that she didn’t realize that they were going to do that.   Sometimes I think the writers and/or producers fall in love with one of their own ideas that they stick with it, even knowing that a decent portion of the fans won’t like it.  (You can’t please everybody but when you can safely predict that maybe 40-50% won’t like it, then it seems kind of selfish to hang on to your pet idea.)

The episode was a very good start to the new season and an effective pivot from both Scotland and the Caribbean.  The last scene, music notwithstanding, had me captivated.   The cast did an outstanding job and all the players have gelled nicely.  Welcome to America.

 

Official images from Starz.  Gifs made by OLA.

 

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