Jamie brings the bad news to Claire, admitting that change feels impossible under the current laws. He wants them to reconsider Governor Tryon’s offer to take a land grant and recruit free settlers so they can live on their own terms. But Claire fears that will lead directly to their involvement in the Revolutionary War. They don’t have time to discuss it further though, as Jocasta comes to find them. She needs their assistance in an incident between the slaves and Burns the overseer. A slave cut off Burns’ ear and requires Claire’s medical prowess, while Jamie must go with a pistol to stifle any unrest.
They run off to handle it while Andrew MacNeill explains that the slave, named Rufus, attacked Burns after being whipped. But the scene they encounter when they arrive is one of horror — slaves cowering as the overseer, holding his ear in one hand and an ax in the other, has Rufus strung up with a metal hook plunged into his side. Jamie immediately jumps into action to assist Rufus, and Claire springs into doctor mode, doling out orders to get Rufus to the house so that she can try to remove the hook and perform life-saving surgery. Needless to say, overseer Burns is pissed…
Claire operates on Rufus while Ian, Mary, and Phaedra assist. Mary is extremely pregnant and looks ill, so Claire dismisses her. The flurry of surgery goes on when Jocasta storms in outraged. She tells Jamie there is no way around Rufus being hanged — he broke the law by drawing the blood of a white man and that is the punishment. Furthermore, Wolff and Campbell would like a word with him about his choices. In the parlor, Wolff and Campbell harangue Jamie while Jocasta tries to dismiss it as a single error in judgment. They tell Jamie he and Claire could go to jail for taking the law into their own hands.
Back in the dining room, Rufus wakes up and Claire tends to him. She tells Rufus she thinks Burns is a son-of-a-bitch (go Claire!) and that Rufus’ actions were likely justified. Rufus tells his story of how he and his sister were kidnapped from his home in Africa while playing in the trees and sold into slavery. Ian can scarcely hold back his tears at the prospect of such injustice. Claire tells Ulysses she intends to do whatever she can to make sure Rufus recovers, but he warns her that if she persists, Rufus will suffer a fate worse than death. And that the punishment will extend to other slaves at River Run.
Jamie learns the same hard truth from Wolff and Campbell. They must hand Rufus over for execution by midnight or fellow slaves will be punished. He goes to tell Claire, and they look out of their bedroom window to see a lynch mob approaching complete with torches and rifles (and did I see a pitchfork?). The image, with its eerie similarities to the recent rally in Charlottesville, is a chilling one. Claire astutely notes that this group approaching isn’t the law, it’s a mob. The mob calls out for Rufus to be handed over and throws rocks through a window.
Claire and Jamie now face an impossible choice as their lives potentially hang in the balance (again). Jamie suggests that though Claire has sworn an oath to do no harm, might she be doing right by Rufus if she hastens his death and saves his soul before the men tear him to pieces. Claire grapples with the decision, while Jocasta tries to talk the mob down, assuring them Jamie will deliver Rufus at the strike of midnight and not a moment sooner.
Rufus awakes and as the mob grows increasingly restless, Claire makes her decision. She tells Rufus she’s going to give him a tea to help him sleep. She pulls atropine, a poison, from her case and pours it into his tea, even helping the weak Rufus to drink. Then, she sits at his bedside, asking him to tell her about his sister. He shares a heartbreaking story about looking up at the moon and imagining his sister under the same moon, hoping they might see each other again. Through tears, she tells Rufus he will as he draws his last breath.
The clock strikes midnight and the mob breaks yet another window. Jamie and Claire prepare Rufus’ body as Jamie prays for his soul. The sound of Jamie’s prayer plays over the somber image of him presenting Rufus’ body to the frothing mob. Rufus is barely laid at their feet before they put a noose around his neck and string him up, gathering around him with their torches and rifles. The residents of River Run, including Jocasta, Claire, Jamie, Ian, Phaedra, and Ulysses look on in grim horror. Phaedra cries while Ian looks distraught. Jamie and Claire stand side-by-side as they all struggle to witness this dark moment.
Outlander doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to its most brutal moments, whether they be rape, the battle at Culloden, or any of Claire’s various medical ministrations. Yet, this moment felt different — having to bear witness to this grim scene that has played out time and again in our nation’s history. Watching Claire and Jamie stand relatively powerless to this lynch mob while they exacted their vigilante justice on an enslaved black man was truly horrifying in a way this show has never been before. The moments of Burns’ brutalization of Rufus and his final fate may not be as graphic as other scenes Outlander has tackled, but it hammered home the deep scars of racial violence and injustice in an unflinching manner that felt neither gratuitous nor like it was trying to sweep the issue under the rug.
The novels have often been put under fire for their handling of racial issues, and last year’s slave market scenes in the Caribbean drew ire from many viewers, but this felt like a definitive step in the right direction when it comes to how the series handles tackles such sensitive subjects. Last week’s polarizing use of “America the Beautiful” underscored the dark side of the American Dream, while this week’s episode worked harder to expose the horrors and inequities of colonial America. For Claire, Jamie, and audiences, “Do No Harm” took pains to demonstrate that we’re not in Scotland anymore. B+