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