Though titled “The Hail Mary” — a reference to both Jamie’s final attempt to thwart the Battle of Culloden and Mary Hawkins’ return — this week’s Outlander episode was all about two men at the end of their lives and how their deathbed decisions would affect generations.
We open just outside Inverness, as Jamie, Claire, and the rest reunite with Prince Charles’ encampment. And the men — once vigorous and vital at Prestonpans — are broken and demoralized following five months of retreat.
And it’s hardly coincidence that Culloden Moor is just a few miles away and that April 16 — the historic date of the Battle of Culloden — is just three days away.
“Our worst nightmare was coming true, and I felt completely helpless,” Claire muses. “How the bloody hell did we end up here?”
“It wasn’t from lack of trying,” Jamie says to offer some solace, adding there’s still time to avoid a deadly fate.
Once settled, Claire sets out to find the local apothecary so she can stock up on medical supplies for whatever awaits the clan, but she stumbles into an unexpected reunion with Mary Hawkins, instead, who’s buying laudanum for Alex. (The couple reunited in Inverness after Alex took a new position there and are engaged to be married.) Claire — understanding that Alex must be in even worse health than when she saw him last and dissuaded him from pursuing Mary — asks if she can stop by to offer her services. Now that Mary knows the truth about Claire’s scheming to keep the two apart, she’s cross with her but can hardly turn down the favor.
Meanwhile, Jamie is busy trying to dissuade the Prince from engaging with the British troops at Culloden. After all, the location gives the Red Coats the upper hand. Jamie instead suggests they wait for the promised French funds and use them to invest in food and weapons (not to mention buy the weary men some time to rest and recuperate). Once they’re in better health and stocked up, they can then choose the better place for battle. But, in yet another act of hubris, Bonnie Prince Charlie wants to show he’s both a man and a soldier, so he orders the men to rest and then march to Culloden.
When Claire finally arrives at Mary and Alex’s boarding house, she finds a much-diminished man, bedridden and racked by bloody coughing fits. She’s in the midst of concocting a poultice to ease his discomfort when “Johnnie” walks in. As in, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall! (I will say that one of my favorite small details from the source material Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon is Alex’s nickname for his big brother. It speaks to the nugget of humanity that can still be found inside the sadistic soldier.) Mary also bears witness to Black Jack’s small kindnesses after Alex was no longer able to work: “I don’t know what would have become of us without John,” she says.
Still the young naif, Mary doesn’t realize Alex isn’t going to get better. “But he must be cured!” she exclaims, as the camera pans to her burgeoning midsection. Yes, Mary is pregnant.
Claire’s had enough and runs out of the boarding house with Black Jack close on her heels. He tries commanding her to heal his brother (a fool’s errand if ever there was one), but Claire does strike up a bargain. She’ll help ease Alex’s pain in exchange for intel as to where Cumberland and the British Army are encamped. He feigns disgust at her proposition, but ultimately accepts, divulging that the troops are 12 miles away and will soon be otherwise preoccupied celebrating Cumberland’s birthday.
NEXT: A Wedding and Two Funerals [pagebreak]
Jamie is enraged that Claire would make such a bargain with his former tormentor, but he can’t deny the intel. But that’ll have to wait for a moment as Colum — on death’s door — arrives in Inverness, asking to see his brother and nephew. Claire administers to him first, and he tells her she’s just wasting her time. He asks for a final favor: Help to die.
“Isn’t suicide a sin?” she asks.
“What’s one more sin?” he responds.
He asks for the kind of death Geillis exacted on her no-good husband. Claire demurs — cyanide is a terrible way to die.
Colum does use this request as an entrée into one bit of gossip: Geillis’ child (and, as you’ll recall, Dougal’s, as well) lives. Geillis wasn’t burned until after the baby was born and placed in the home of William MacKenzie.
Claire agrees to assist him, but not with cyanide. She slips him yellow jasmine, which will be like drifting off into a deep sleep, when he’s ready for it.
“For what it’s worth, you have my deepest gratitude,” he tells her.
At the boarding house, Alex is also in his final hours, though he won’t be able to choose the exact moment of his death. Claire is trying to ease his fits with an herbal smoking concoction, but Black Jack wants her to do more. She reminds him she only promised to ease Alex’s pain — she can’t cure him. He’s beyond that.
As Alex is better able to breath and speak, he makes his final wishes known. He asks for a minister, but not for his final rites; for Black Jack and Mary’s wedding. He wants to ensure that Mary and their child are cared for after his death, and this is the best way to guarantee that (and that the child has the Randall name since it was conceived outside of wedlock).
Black Jack is revolted by the request. Alex tries to reassure him: He knows about his brother’s dark side, but he’s also seen flashes of his lighter, caring side. Black Jack apologizes and quickly leaves the room.
Back from his Red Coat scouting, Dougal is greeted with the news of both Cumberland’s upcoming birthday celebration (he’s dubious of Black Jack’s motives) and his brother’s arrival. Dougal mistakes Colum’s sudden appearance for an alliance with the Jacobite cause and is quickly corrected.
“I have declared my wish that my son, Hamish, be the next chief of clan MacKenzie,” Colum says.
Given Hamish’s young age, Dougal offers to help guide the clan until the heir is old enough to do so on his own. But Colum has different plans: He wants someone who will teach his son to look toward the future, and that man is James Fraser.
“You choose a Fraser over a MacKenzie to lead the clan?” Dougal says outraged. “Over your own brother?”
Dougal accuses Colum of using this moment as an opportunity to punish him one last time for fathering Hamish. But Colum knows that of the two men, Jamie is the only one who will not sacrifice his men needlessly, and that is why he is fit to be Hamish’s guardian. And despite the heated argument, in Colum’s final moments, the brothers share a heart-breaking scene, in which Dougal tries to tell him all the things he was never able to. But Colum takes his last breath before his brother can complete his mission. “Brother, so you turn your back on me one final time,” Dougal says to a now unmoving Colum. “You leave me alone in the darkness of the world, and all I hoped to say to you remains trapped right here unsaid. Forever.”
Back at the boarding house, after some convincing from Claire (the thrust of her argument being that Black Jack won’t be able to protect Mary after he dies in a few days, so she needs the protection of his name and status as wife), Mary and Black Jack exchange vows at the foot of Alex’s bed. Heaven help, her. The three — Claire, Mary, and Black Jack — then keep watch as Alex slips beyond reach. When it’s clear he has indeed passed, Black Jack jumps on top of his corpse and punches it over and over and over again. Clearly, the only way Jonathan Randall knows how to express emotion is through violence, but this felt far even for him.
With time running out, Jamie brings forward the idea of a surprise attack to Bonnie Prince Charlie, who thinks the strategy sounds very ungentlemanly, but Jamie continues, nonetheless, to lay out his plan. They (Jamie and the General) will lead two separate columns of men and surround the British. The Prince agrees to the strategy, but with one alteration: He will lead one of the columns himself. It doesn’t take a time-traveling WWII nurse with a historical cheat sheet to presage that this is a very bad idea, indeed.
In their room later, Jamie is befuddled by Claire’s complicity in marrying Mary off to Black Jack. She reminds him that Black Jack’s death is mere hours away and that she should be safe. When Jamie counters that he may not perish if the Battle of Culloden is avoided, Claire vows to keep her promise to take arms with Jamie and kill the dastardly man together.
When the hour of the ambush finally arrives, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his men are no where to be found. Word finally gets to Jamie: Charles got lost in the dark and retreated back to Inverness. The general calls off the attack and Murtagh delivers the chilling coda: “Tomorrow, the Prince will have his battle. At Culloden Moor.”
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Weigh in below, and be sure to tune in to Outlander Live on SiriusXM 105 on Monday at 2 p.m. ET for a deep dive into “The Hail Mary” with Lynette Rice and me.