What Outlander did Wrong in Season 4, and What it Needs to do in Season 5

It’s funny to think that we’ve been here for almost five years. And by here, I mean, here, as fans of this show, here, as people who are watching an adaptation, with the good and bad that entails. Some of us, of course, have been here for longer. I read the first Outlander book when I was a teenager, and so my awareness and love for this characters has been around for longer than the show.

So have my issues, but that’s a story for another day.

Because I’m not here to talk about the books, not really. If Outlander has become the phenomenon it has, it’s been because of the TV adaptation, because of Caitriona and Sam and the way they’ve embodied Claire and Jamie, the way they’ve made us fall in love with their love. So it’s only fair that now, as the show finishes its fourth season, and gets ready for a fifth one, we take stock of where we stand, and where the show should go, moving forward.

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There was a lot to like about season four. I think the show tried – even if it mostly failed – to be more aware of the story-lines of the people of color surrounding Jamie and Claire, just as it tried to make their stories about them, not about our protagonists. The show also brought back Murtagh, a positive if we’ve ever seen one, and even allowed him to find love with Jocasta, which, despite all the complications it will bring going forward, sounds like the perfect story-line to us.

And the show finally, finally allowed the Fraser family to be a family; it put Brianna in the same place and time as her parents and allowed her and Jamie to interact, to get to know each other, just as it allowed her and Claire to deepen their bond, to really and truly see themselves, without any barriers.

These are all things fans wanted, and we all understood getting them might mean less of Jamie and Claire alone, that this was bound to become a family show, instead of just a romance, and I think, deep down, we would have been fine with it. We might have even enjoyed it – had it been done right.

It just really, really wasn’t.

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Why do we watch Outlander? For Jamie and Claire. Why do we care about Brianna? Because she’s their daughter. Why did we care about Roger? Because he was to become part of their family. It’s as simple as that. Four seasons in, our connection is and has always been with Jamie and Claire’s story, their family.

Enter Roger and Brianna.

Now, in theory, I have no problem with them. I don’t think I ever entertained any notion that I could love them more than Jamie and Claire, but I could have enjoyed them, if it weren’t for all the …drama for the sake of drama. Well, that, and how the drama made Roger, and, at times, Brianna, look.

You can say this isn’t fully on the show, and you’d be right. This is a book story-line they’re adapting. But if that finale shows us anything, it’s that they’re willing to go VERY off-book at times, so why couldn’t they have done so with Roger and Brianna?

They had many ways of doing so. They could have done away with the Stephen Bonnet of it all, and saved Brianna from becoming another victim of rape on a show that seems to have one every season, a show that uses rape as a tool to advance story-lines and create manufactured drama. But barring that, they could have at least allowed the characters to come out of this whole story-line still looking sympathetic.

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No one was spared from this drama. Jamie behaved like an asshole, and deserved his wife and daughter’s anger. But at least Jamie was allowed to grow from it, he was allowed to talk it out with Claire, and become better for having behaved like an asshole. Roger behaved like an even bigger asshole, walking away and shielding himself on the ‘she asked me to go,’ and then, after being wronged, reacted like Brianna being raped was something else that was done to him, like her pain was about him.

Did the show meant for it to come out like this? I sincerely doubt it, but since the show focused, at all times, on showing us Jamie and Claire’s POV – even when the story wasn’t all about them – and at some instances, Brianna’s, we couldn’t really understand what Roger was thinking or feeling, and that made us less than sympathetic to his plight.

Not that Brianna was presented in such a favorable light – yes, she’s the victim in all of this, and she’s rightfully presented as such, even if she’s never made out to be weak, but the whole blackmailing Lord John to marry her by threatening to reveal his sexual orientation wasn’t exactly her finest moment.

And yet, all is well that ends well. Jamie and Claire return to their daughter, Roger reunites with Brianna, and though there is doubt in his face, they’re all moving forward, together, yay!

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This season was supposed to be the foundation of Roger and Brianna’s love, the season we were going to fall for their romance like we fell for Jamie and Claire’s. That did not happen. In fact, I’ll argue most people didn’t even manage to fall in love with their individual characters, that’s how much the writing failed both of them.

Plus, there’s the reality that we sacrificed precious seconds of Jamie and Claire together for what? For this love we still have trouble rooting for? For these two unlikable-at-times characters?

It gets worse, though. Season five is meant to focus more on Roger and Brianna, as they try to make their own life, their own family.

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We all knew this was coming, I’m not saying we didn’t. We just thought it’d be easier to swallow when we got here. And, I guess we thought they would never push Jamie and Claire away completely, that this would still be their story, even if Brianna and Roger were around.

And maybe they won’t. Maybe they’re smart. Maybe they know that, four seasons in, it’s hard to change the foundations of a TV show, and that we were always here for Jamie and Claire, and that is unlikely to change, even if we love other characters.

I hope this is the case. I want to believe it will be. Because the only constant in this show, the one thing that, despite everything else that I’ve had issues with, I’ve always been able to count on, is Jamie and Claire. And if I’m not getting that, then …why am I watching?

Outlander will return for season 5 on Starz.



  1. Im new to the show, season 1-3 were remarkable. I started season 4 and could feel something completely off. 1st I’ll just say it because I want it off my chest, The American from the actor playing Brianna is so bad. So bad I had to google who the actor was. Wheew. Her acting is also horrendous for a show that had some truly remarkable scenes throughout the first 3 seasons. And .. then … the storyline after Brianna travels back to 18th century started off so damn good and it just fell apart. Im only on s4e9 … I dont think I’ll keep watching 😢 I really am trying to find a reason from my google search but it seems it’s all around bad . It’s giving me Season 8 or Game of Thrones energy

    1. Author

      The show attempts to move from the Jamie/Claire focus to focus on the family from here on out, and it takes some getting used to. I think S5 is better, but S4 dragged. Though nothing is as bad as the last few GOT episodes IMHO, lol.

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