Season 4, Episode 5: ‘Savages’
Jamie doesn’t often fail. Sure, the broad strokes of history may be too powerful for him to change, but charisma is his calling card — those trustworthy leadership vibes have carried him through a lot of trouble. They certainly got him the 10,000 acres from the governor, which he’s eager to fill with Highland tenants.
He just can’t find any.
It’s fascinating to watch Jamie fail to charm, particularly with something this good to offer. Even Jamie is taken aback by the cool reception. He has to give farmer Brian the Full Court Jamie just to find out the problem. Turns out there’s unfair taxation by corrupt British officials who are lining their pockets, and Jamie is now a British landlord. Surrounded by regulators, he slowly realizes the precarious position he’s in.
What a perfect time to reintroduce Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix). He and Jamie fall right back into their old camaraderie. But even Murtagh doesn’t agree to resettle. He’s a regulator, too, righteously angry at a new British government that is too much like the old one.
In fact, Murtagh feels like Jamie as Jamie used to be, violently resisting unjust powers. Jamie is the one who changed, and now he is trapped between wary revolutionaries and a promise he made to a governor he doesn’t trust. This cold shoulder could be powerfully humbling for a man used to leading. It would feel more powerful if Murtagh hadn’t been wooed back quite so quickly, but this wasn’t an episode where Jamie was scheduled to suffer.
Claire is another story.
Claire is always interesting when separated from Jamie — sometimes more interesting than in moments when their relationship tends to make for consensus. (It’s one thing for Claire to assure Jamie she is fine with homesteading, and another to watch her contentedly feeding animals and knitting in the cabin.) She also makes her own friends among the Cherokee, picking herbs and exchanging vocabulary with Adawehi. It’s a quiet, genuine moment, which suggests that Jamie and Claire have worked to be good neighbors.
That changes after Herr Mueller (Urs Rechn), a neighboring German homesteader, pulls his gun on Cherokee men who have come to draw water from the stream outside his cabin, and Claire intervenes. The Muellers are set up as foils to Claire and Jamie: superstitious, bigoted, violent. Unfortunately, their position in the story doesn’t do much besides make Claire look good. When Tawodi (Will Strongheart) declares, “Water belongs to no one,” Claire gets the convenient heroism of agreeing, for all the good it does the Cherokee to hear “You’re right, but he doesn’t see it that way.”
There’s a lot of promising tension here. Claire and Jamie’s good intentions don’t go any farther than their front yard and could endanger them among their white neighbors. The Cherokee are uninterested in capitulating to interlopers’ preferences. Claire’s oaths as a doctor compel her to help anyone in need, and with a contagious disease, things could have gotten complicated in a hurry. Soon Claire is alone in the house and Mueller is said to be on the rampage and coming to find her. And he is happy to kill anyone he thinks is in his way.
Including Adawehi, whose scalp he brings to Claire as proof that he has vanquished the “witch” who gave his family the measles. (“They are supposed to die of the pox,” Mueller says, “not us!”) We haven’t been permitted to know Adawehi enough outside her relationship with Claire to mourn her. So once more, a character of color has died — violently — to remind us that people were racist, and to make Claire sad.
Given Mueller’s armed threats and his racism and his murder of Adawehi, some self-defense seems called for; it is hard to condemn the Cherokee who burn the Mueller cabin and kill him and his wife. Still, it’s an eye-for-an-eye quagmire — no doubt someone else will. This episode has given us what the last few were missing: a reminder that settling was often a violent business, and that some problems not even Jamie and Claire can solve.
• Somebody else about to discover hard living: Brianna makes it through the stones.
• Measles killed that family! Get vaccinated, kids.
• Claire’s wardrobe has gotten even more practical over the winter: wrap jacket with ribbon tie, shirtwaist and rabbit-fur vest. It sets us in deep winter, and suggests how well they’ve all been making do.
• The world of “Outlander” is mystical enough that Jamie has dreams of Brianna we know are premonition. Adawehi didn’t also need to tell Claire “She is here.” It takes away from the power of Jamie’s dream, and plays into stereotypes of the Mystical Native American.
• It’s worth noting the way Mueller’s argument (“They have no reason to set foot on my land”) reflects an extremely similar attitude to Jamie’s when the Cherokee tried to warn him off, even though the show treats them as vastly different.
• Odd that Claire treats Adawehi’s scalp as something she was given and not something she should, say, return to her family.
• “You’re here now, and I can see she broke your heart” is not a good enough reason to hand over a letter a year early, Miss Baird, I don’t care how handsome you think he is.
• That knit hat is presumably part of Roger’s penance.
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