Some episodes of TV are hard to watch.
In some cases, that’s because we relate to the characters so much that we feel for them. In others, it’s because the story the show is trying to tell touches something deep within us. And then, there is the third possibility – the times when TV manages to teach us, or in this case, reinforce a historical lesson that we know, one we understand, and yet one that we could always use a reminder of.
Especially in this day and age.
“Do No Harm” is an episode about healing, yes, but it’s mostly an episode about racism and about how much the world has changed, and how much it hasn’t. Since Outlander is a story told mainly through the eyes of two white people, I’m not going to say this is an episode about slavery. The pain we see presented in the forefront is not the pain of the slaves suffering through truly inhumane conditions that, for them, are normal, but the pain of Claire and Jamie at realizing there’s nothing they can do.
But Outlander had no other way to tell this story, and they could not have these two characters show up in North Carolina in 1766 and just pretend like this wasn’t a thing that was happening. The episode – the time period – demanded this subject be tackled head on, and though it is infinitely more important to tell stories about slavery from the point of view of the slaves and their descendants, it’s also important that when a show like this tackles such a subject, it does so without losing sight of the fact that, as much as Jamie and Claire might feel pain at not being able to help, their pain is nothing, not really.
And it’s also important for me to acknowledge that, even as a minority, this isn’t my pain. The experiences of all minorities aren’t the same, and our pain cannot be equalized. So, I can only do my best to talk about this episode in something resembling the way Jamie and Claire felt it, as an outsider who hopes, desperately to be an ally in the best way she can, but that, in order to do that needs to first acknowledge that I cannot – and will not ever – understand this pain.
With all that being said, let’s go into “Do No Harm” and discuss the Frasers, the hanging threat of Stephen Bonnet, Aunt Jocasta and Claire’s decision.
THE RESILIENCE OF THE FRASERS
There’s a moment at the beginning of this episode, with Jamie and Claire hugging as they contemplate all they’ve lost, that speaks to what this show is, deep down – a story about a couple that has conquered anything and everything thrown their way, and have come out ahead, each and every time, because they have each other.
And, twenty four years and a long separation later, that hasn’t changed. Jamie and Claire are still partners in this journey, and they’re partners not just because they swore to be, no, they are partners because they choose to be, every day, and because they are very good at doing this thing TV rarely shows couples doing: communicating.
There are little hints of this everywhere, in all Jamie knows of the future, in the ways they know what the other one is thinking without long conversations, but then there are the conversations, and though in the first few seasons those were more about Jamie seeing Claire’s POV, those conversations have evolved into the conversations of two people who really and truly see eye to eye.
When Claire says she doesn’t want to own slaves, she doesn’t have to convince Jamie of seeing things her way, she doesn’t have to tell him about the future to get him to see the light, because Jamie already knows and he already understands. He might be a Scotsman in the 1760’s, but he’s also, in very real ways, a modern man.
And that’s why Claire and Jamie are, in very real ways, the kind of soulmates that are about more physical attraction (which yes, this is still very much a thing) or convenience. They are partners, and that means through good and bad, they choose to have each other’s backs.
A CROSS TO BEAR
Look, I understand Jamie trying to take on the blame for Stephen Bonnet robbing them, and basically for Bonnet being alive in the first place. That’s just who Jamie is, someone who, despite the fact that I just called him a modern man a few paragraphs ago, is still very much tied to the idea of honor.
And, in his mind, this thing is on him. That’s his cross to bear.
Without spoiling anything of what’s coming, I just have to say, that’s a lot to put on Jamie’s shoulders. He can’t take responsibility for everything Bonnet does from now on, because those are not decisions he made. In fact, as we discussed last review, this was merely the result of Jamie trying to do a good thing, with very bad results.
But Jamie can’t go on with his life without shedding this cross that he’s chosen to bear. He must accept that he did something and that something had terrible results, yes, but in life, to be happy, we cannot carry all of our mistakes with us every single second of the day.
Now, this is easier said than done, I realize, but that’s still a lesson he needs to learn before the season is over. How to let go of his anger and his pain, and probably, how to put someone else’s first. Sometimes, people need us to be angry and to do things in their stead, but sometimes people just need us to be there.
And love is always, always, stronger than anger.
YOU CANNOT PUT A PRICE ON FREEDOM
River Run looks like paradise to Jamie and Claire after losing the stones, but River Run isn’t the kind of paradise they want, or the kind they always dreamed of, not even close. This paradise comes with a hefty price, and it’s one that the Claire and Jamie we know are not willing to pay.
Because to be the master of River Run means benefiting from slavery, plain and simple. It means that, good intentions or not, Jocasta or not, they’d have to submit to the law of the land, and treat their slaves, as well …slaves.
At some point, Jamie thinks, I can do real good here. I can treat people better, and I can help them get their freedom. And yet, the realities of 1776 are that this is pretty much impossible on the scale he wants it to happen, on the scale Claire would want. They’re two forward-thinking people stuck in a world that will take a long time to catch up to what they believe in.
Which sucks, big time. It sucks for Jamie and Claire, yes, but it especially sucks for the people they can’t help. When I think about this time period I always think everyone agreed with what was going on, but the reality is probably not so. Jamie even gets told he isn’t the first one to try to change things. It’s just that whoever disagreed couldn’t do anything about it, not really. And that’s heartbreaking.
But we must all remember this part of the story, this pain, isn’t about Jamie and Claire. When we look at these scenes, let’s pay attention to what’s behind the two people this show normally centers on. Let’s pay attention to the realities of history. That’s the only way we, in the now, can make sure they don’t happen again.
FIRST DO NO HARM
Claire is put in a no-win situation in this episode, though what strikes me is that, in a way, she isn’t really the one that can’t win, Rufus is. He has no choice but to die, basically, and whether he dies a peaceful death or a horrible, gruesome one, depends on the mercy of the white people he’s surrounded by.
Everything in his life basically depends on that.
So yes, Claire does the humane thing and helps Rufus avoid the horrible death the townsfolk have planned for him, but that isn’t really a win, not for Rufus, certainly, and not even for Claire. There is no way to win here, and that will remain true for as long as they stay at River Run.
But even if – when – they go, these people will stay behind. Claire and Jamie’s conscience will be better served by leaving, yes, but will the slaves be better off by it? The answer is, of course, no. No one is better off here, and there are no easy solutions to absolutely everything, and basically it all sucks, and writing about this episode has made me sick to my stomach more than once, but these are important things to think about, especially in this day and age.
Slavery might be a thing of the past, but racism clearly isn’t. And if reminders of the past like this episode help us better understand, not our pain at seeing it happen, but the pain of the people actually suffering, then this episode will have done some good.
What is that thing they say? Oh yes, those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Things I think I think:
- So cute, Jamie bowing to Aunt Jocasta. So cute.
- Dude, she played that as if she wasn’t blind really well, didn’t she? Not that she was really trying.
- I love you, Rollo.
- The moments of Jamie remembering his mother and comparing her to his aunt are super touching, because that’s such a natural thing to do and it’s always great when shows remember to add those little details.
- It is, of course, way easier for shows like this, based on books.
- The little reminders of all Jamie knows of the future because COMMUNICATION and couple who TALKS TO EACH OTHER are one of my favorite things.
- Young Ian comparing Native American tribes and Scottish Clans already makes him smarter than many people who live on that land.
- Jocasta plays the ‘benevolent’ plantation owner to a ‘T.’ The sad part? She probably thinks the things she’s saying are true.
- Even so, she’s still a woman, and her power is limited. Ah, the ways of the world.
- Claire’s absolute refusal to adapt to the ways of the world in those days is understandable. What’s a bit more remarkable and should be pointed out? The ways Jamie has become, really and truly, a modern man.
- “I can’t change River Run without you.” How many versions of this conversation have they had so far?
- The last twenty minutes of this episode were some of the hardest minutes of TV for me, ever.
- Fuck the laws. Fuck people.
Agree? Disagree? Share with us in the comments below!
Outlander airs Sundays at 8/7c on Starz.