‘Outlander’ 4×04 Review: Family Ties

For all that Outlander is, ostensibly, a love story; family is at the center of all the show has always been. Back in Season one, Claire became Jamie’s wife, not because of love – not at first, but because by becoming his family, she’d be protected. The story later grew and expanded the family: first came Murtagh, then Faith, then Brianna and then even more …young Ian, and in many ways, even Rollo.

Because at the core, this has always been a story about a family. About Jamie and Claire’s family – about the people they share blood with, and the people they love and have taken into their hearts.

And that family is all the more closer to being reunited.

Despite that, and despite knowing this is where the story was going, I can admit I let out a good curse when this episode faded to black, with all that entailed. The show has deviated from the books in small ways, never in big ones, and yet a part of me kinda hoped Brianna and Roger would find ways to communicate before she made her fateful decision. What can I say? I’m an optimist at heart.

But, of course, that is not to be, and we end the episode knowing – more than Brianna does – what she’ll be walking into when she travels through the stones. The road that awaits her is full of peril and uncertainty, but from Brianna, especially a Brianna that is not totally alone, it’s one hundred percent worth it.

We do crazy things for family, after all. And yes, we also do crazy things for love. That one has been established again, and again.

Even with all of those warnings, considering that the promo for this season made it clear, even for non-book readers, that we’d see Brianna travel through the stones, I’m not here today to worry about the hows – we’ll do that when they come – but to celebrate, in a way, how well-crafted this story is, and how it has, in many ways, come full circle.

For Claire, who made a decision that broke her heart in two and went back to Jamie, leaving her daughter behind. For Jamie, who has never know what a whole heart is, ever since he sent Claire and Brianna through the stones and only got one of them back. And for Brianna, who never truly knew all that she was, or that she was meant to be, and is not closer than ever to that moment of certainty.

This is Outlander, though, so don’t expect it to be easy. Expect it to be worth it, though. Always that.

So, let’s go into “Common Ground,” and discuss how man can be monster, what a mother’s love means and how, as hard it might seem sometimes, it is almost always possible to meet in the middle.


Courtesy Starz

The storyline of this episode is one of compromise, of finding common ground, as the title indicates. But finding common ground is not easy. To find common ground, you require respect. There’s no common ground to be found with people you consider inferior, and there is definitely no common ground to be found with people you consider intruders.

But there is common ground and this episode, and it is hard earned. It takes Jamie killing a metaphorical bear – gaining the name of “Bear Killer,” which we all have to admit is pretty cool, and making a gesture of goodwill, and most importantly, promising respect first, unequivocal respect, without conditions, to get there, but they get there.

It was all up to Jamie, from the beginning, even if it took a while for him to understand. He’s not privy to the history of the natives, and yet he’s coming into their territory, and they have absolutely no reason to trust him. Often times, and in their experience, probably most times, men is monster, after all.

Outlander approaches this the right way, even if it approaches it from the only perspective they can – Jamie’s. Still, it says a lot that Jamie doesn’t have to be taught respect, and that the journey of this episode is about finding that compromise and not about another white man learning that there are other perspectives other than his.

For him, and for all of us, however, it’s important to remember that when you’re coming into a situation where the politics of privilege work in your favor, you should come into it with all the knowledge of what you’re walking into. Good intentions are just that, good, but information makes everything better. And easier.


Courtesy Starz

The contrasts between Roger and Brianna and Jamie and Claire continue, and the biggest one the past two episodes have showcased isn’t about love, it’s about communication.

Of course, it’s impossible to compare one love to the other, just as you can’t compare any two relationships to each other. Jamie and Claire have known each other for over twenty four years, and they have literally been through war together, Roger and Brianna aren’t there yet, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. That doesn’t make them any less.

It’s important for us to remember that we’re now in the middle of Roger and Brianna’s journey. We’ve already seen Jamie and Claire, and though Outlander is giving us the almost unheard of opportunity to see what their happily ever after looks like, they’re also setting us on a new journey, one that has its own ups and downs, its own issues and a very, very different path to traverse.

But, even as we remember that, it’s impossible to avoid the comparisons: Jamie and Claire are what a couple effectively communicating look like, and Roger and Brianna are very much not. In fact, I really, really wanted to shake both Roger and Brianna during various times in the past two episodes.

Talking to each other about your fears, and your hopes, is important. Roger wants to build a life with Brianna, just like Jamie is building one with Claire, but if he can’t be honest with her not just about what he wants, but what he fears, that will never be possible. And the same goes for Brianna.

And yet, this journey is just starting. Buckle up. We’re in for quite a ride.


Courtesy Starz

We all wanted Claire to go back to Jamie. We all thought, well, Brianna is an adult, and it is time for Claire to go find her happiness, and yes, at the time we understood how hard that would be for Brianna and Claire both – or we thought we did – but after a lengthy Jamie/Claire separation, we all believed it was worth it.

And I include Claire in this. She believed it was worth it. That’s why she walked through the stones.

“Sometimes I worry it was wrong to leave her,” she says in this episode, and what she really means is I wonder all the time, because that’s what a mother does. She wonders. She worries. She loves. Despite the separation. Because of it.

What does Claire have, in the end, other than her memories and her worries?

And what does Brianna have? Not her mother, and until this episode, not even certainties that her sacrifice was worth it. She gave up her mother so her mother could find her happiness, but for so long she was never sure that was the case, that her mother had actually found that.

Not until Roger confirms Jamie and Claire did find each other, that is.

This is the moment it all comes back to Brianna, the other side of the coin that is Claire’s love. Claire, however, has no choice. There is nothing she can do but, as Jamie said, hold onto the memories and hope Brianna is doing the same. Her daughter, however, can take that dangerous step into the past, and if she does, it’s because she’s now alone, yes, but also because she misses her mother. She wants to meet her father.

She aches for a family. And she’s willing to risk everything to get hers back.


Courtesy Starz

This story, the one Outlander is telling, and in general, the great majority of the stories we get to see in most forms of entertainment, especially when it comes to stories about this particular time period, are the stories of the conquerors, and it’s sometimes hard for us – especially those who don’t belong to a Tribe or have any Native American ancestry, to remember to frame all stories under that lens.

Outlander tries, though, and the fact that they do is incredibly appreciated. So often we are presented with notions that Native American tribes were actual savages, that they couldn’t – didn’t know how to live in peace till the white man came to teach them, and white stories are presented with an aura of superiority.

The show stays away from that stereotype of white good, anything else bad, and that, in itself, is a victory. Despite a very respectful second episode that dealt with slavery, where the show was smart enough to understand that Jamie and Claire were not the victims, or much less heroes, this episode once again approaches something of  a landmine and sidesteps it gracefully.

With that being said, however, this episode serves as a reminder that diverse stories still need to be told, and as much as I, and a lot of people enjoy Outlander, and as much as we appreciate that their story is being framed in a respectful way, it would be amazing to be able to see the other ‘side’ of this story, not framed through a white perspective.

I can only speak from my experience as a latinx woman, and my experience is this: Representation still has ways to go, and even when we do get it these days, it’s often imperfect. But when someone gets it right, when latinx creators are allowed free reign to tell their stories and cast their actors …that feels like a beautiful present. And it’s one we should all get.

So, let us take this moment to say – thank you, Outlander, for not screwing this up. Hopefully, someone is seeing this, reading this, and thinking about the story that isn’t being told. The other story. The one we still need to hear.

Things I think I think:

  • I love the glasses, okay? You look HOT, Jamie Fraser. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • TEN THOUSAND? I know times have changed, but dang.
  • Don’t you just love when men underestimate Claire and then Jamie sets them straight?
  • “Savagery can exist in many forms. I’ve witnessed it in both prince and pauper.”
  • Jamie looks like they don’t really understand each other, but he’s willing to pretend.
  • It’s sad that Claire has gotten very few chances at true and meaningful female friendships.
  • “You have that faraway look in your eyes.”
  • The quiet moments between Jamie and Claire mean so much, they make us feel so much. They’re a big part of the reason everything else in this show works so well – we just care for these two. A lot.
  • “Sing it for me, Sassenach.”
  • Claire’s like, no, I don’t sing.
  • I said this before, but it bears repeating: Jamie and Claire – long absence or not – have been married for twenty four years. The fact that this show still portrays them as too people who WANT each other is super important.
  • The visual of Jamie and Claire, facing different ways, but together in everything, is breathtaking.
  • We don’t speak enough about the directing in Outlander, and what a tremendous job they do.
  • This episode was directed by Ben Bolt, and written by Joy Blake,
  • I also don’t think we talk enough about how many women there are in the Outlander writer’s room. It’s why their female characters feel so real, even when they’re stuck in impossible situations.
  • How come no one opened that book before? Come on, Roger, Brianna!
  • We don’t appreciate how hard Claire works, and we appreciate her a lot.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if the “owner” of this land just gave away Native land.
  • Roger and Brianna are here to make us yell at the screen, since Jamie and Claire won’t.
  • Sophie Skeleton’s expression when Brianna finds out Jamie and Claire reunited made me tear up.
  • Claire being all like, okay, I’ll take the ax, is my aesthetic.
  • I don’t want no bear.
  • Jamie CAN KNIT? I feel this is important information we should have had before.
  • Rollo, I love you.
  • They’re just never going to sleep again. THAT’S IT. That’s the price you pay for settling in the middle of nowhere.
  • What was McCreary doing there so late at night?
  • Okay, thaaaaaaaaaat was creepy. Man-bear is even worse than bear-bear.
  • “Often times, men is monster.”
  • He harmed his woman – laid with her against her will – and that’s why they banished him.
  • In a lot of places that’s not even punished NOW, just saying.
  • We wouldn’t want to ruin the man’s life, after all.
  • Where is my show about THESE people? Where is my show showing me how the natives lived back in those days? Why are we always seeing them through white people’s eyes?
  • Bear Killer IS a good name, I ain’t gonna lie.
  • Roger, my love, use your head. Or wait, no, stop using your head so much.
  • Twelve years feels like so little. Two is unthinkable.
  • Jamie and Claire deserve decades together.
  • Tell her Roger, TELL HER.
  • Oh, Brianna.
  • Me, at the screen, as the episode ends: FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.

Agree? Disagree? Share with us in the comments below!

Outlander airs Sundays at 8/7c on Starz.

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