By Maureen Lee Lenker
December 09, 2018 at 09:00 PM EST
Mark Mainz/Starz
S4 E6
B+
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  • TV Show
Network

This week’s Outlander brings back old wounds for both Claire and Jamie with the return of Lord John Grey and his “son” Willie, which makes for more paternity reveals than an episode of Maury.

For some unknown reason, we start with Jamie pulling a snake from the privy. Why Outlander, why? You have manifested my worst fears with an opening shot that honestly doesn’t need to be there. Thanks, guys…..And now back to our regularly scheduled programming sans snakes in toilets.

Jamie is out splitting wood, which means thank ye writers that he gets to let his hair fly wild and show off what made us all fall in love with him in the first place — his rock hard bod commitment to care-taking. John Grey approaches in the trees and takes a minute to appreciate Jamie splitting wood (*cough* — super subtle guys). John is in the Americas now because he has business in Virginia, but once he heard Jamie was here he couldn’t resist stopping by. And he’s brought Willie, who now prefers William, with him.

Claire is collecting water from the river with some assistance from Murtagh, who she says has made Fraser’s Ridge feel like home. Murtagh has to return to his forge to pay his taxes though. He’s sent men from the regulator camp to petition the governor for lower taxes. They happen upon Willie, who is covered in leeches, and like the entitled member of the English aristocracy he is, he demands Claire remove them from his legs.

Claire brings Willie back to the cabin, where Jamie and John have already been discussing whether the boy will remember Jamie from his time as a groom. When Jamie is introduced to him, he doesn’t show any sign of recognition. Also, Isobel, John’s wife, has died while crossing from England to Jamaica. John is the only family William has left now. Or so he thinks. Jamie invites them to stay for a while. Murtagh also recognizes Lord John from Ardsmuir, and John begs he not reveal the circumstances under which they all met.

Later at dinner, Lord John sings the praises of Governor Tryon and his new “palace.” Entirely failing to read the room, John gets into an argument with Murtagh over the government’s excessive taxes and how they’re going to build a stately home for the governor. John calls the regulators an angry mob, while Murtagh insists the stories are exaggerated. John asks if they’ve had any trouble at Fraser’s Ridge, but Jamie wisely sidesteps the issue and tries to remain neutral. Oh, and by the way, Ian is off hunting with the Cherokee and conveniently absent for the duration of this episode.

Lord John wants to play chess with Jamie for old times sake, and dinna fash, he always travels with a set. But first, Jamie has to teach young William how to use an outhouse instead of a chamber pot because this kid is such an entitled s–t that he thinks his is literally someone else’s problem. But as they walk to the outhouse, the sight of Jamie with the horses triggers his memory and he asks if Jamie’s name is also Mackenzie. Willie does remember Mac – though he insists he does not still have the wooden snake Jamie carved because he’s too old for toys. Back inside, Claire continues to mistrust Lord John and tries to suss out if he’s been sent by the governor to spy on Jamie and ensure his loyalty.

Claire and Jamie are stoking a fire outside. Claire isn’t surprised William remembers Jamie, and Jamie is filled with longing by how much the boy is still like the small child he knew. He promises Claire a moment alone with her as soon as they’re free of all their houseguests. Heading into the house, he runs into Murtagh and warns him he’ll be eating rats in prison again if he’s not careful. But Murtagh doesn’t trust John’s sympathies for the governor — he wants to know why Jamie does and then realizes Willie is Jamie’s son.

Jamie and John return to their favorite pastime, playing chess, and throwing back some of Jamie’s homemade whiskey. John is emotional to learn that Jamie has everything he wants — a home, honorable work, his wife by his side, good friends, and knowing his son is safe and well-cared for. David Berry is the master of the silent look of unrequited yearning, and he turns it on full-force here. It’s enough to almost make you wonder (and maybe even want) what could have been if Jamie didn’t love the ladies, specifically Claire, so much.

The next morning, Jamie wistfully watches Willie tend the horses, brushing them the way he taught him. Lord John is preparing to go when he doubles over feeling ill. Claire realizes he probably caught measles in Cross Creek. She tells Jamie to take William and stay away for at least six days since the disease is infectious. She’ll be fine because she’s been inoculated.

Jamie tries to take William on a tour of their property, but Willie refuses to leave, afraid that his father might die. Jamie finally manages to convince him, and they set off. He explains that the initials on the trees mark the treaty line between the King’s land and the Indian’s land. Willie has a lot of ignorant questions about the Indians and why they can’t just take their land. But Jamie distracts him with the breathtaking view from the top of the Ridge.

Back at the cabin, Claire tends to John and they have a serious heart-to-heart. He admits that he thought of his wife, Isobel, as more of a sister and Claire wonders if she was satisfied with that. John calls her out, saying he knows she envies the time he shared with Jamie at Ardsmuir and Helwater. Moreover, she’s jealous he’s raising Jamie’s only son. She reveals to John that she and Jamie have a daughter, Brianna, living in Boston and that they were denied the chance to raise her together because of Culloden. She needles at him, questioning his motives for coming to the Ridge and risking William discovering the truth of his paternity. She knows he came to see Jamie, not to give Jamie a chance to see his son. He says he’s never met anybody so devastatingly straightforward, and slightly cowed, she says she was born that way. “So was I,” he responds. It may be a reference to a very modern Lady Gaga anthem, but damn if it’s not effective (and goes miles to counterattack some of the homophobia implicit on the page).

Back on Jamie and Willie’s episode of Naked and Afraid, they are trying to rustle up some dinner. Willie is fly-fishing, but Jamie says it’s the wrong time of year and then goes full Jeremiah Johnson and catches a damn fish with his bare hands. They also hunt deer together, but Jamie will only let William take a shot if it’s to kill, not to wound and prolong the animal’s suffering. He then forces William to gut and clean the deer himself because the colonies aren’t for the faint of heart — or the whims of the nobility. They eat around the campfire later, and Willie is overcome by emotion worrying about his father. He wants to go home right now, but Jamie says it’s too dark and puts him to bed. Willie blames John wanting to visit Jamie for his father taking ill — and though it’s harsh, he’s not wrong….

John is even worse, the sickly pattern of the measles out in full-force on his face and chest now. Claire is struggling to bring his temperature down and he makes a confession, fearing he will die. He felt nothing when Isobel died. He came to see Jamie to discover if he was still capable of feeling anything. It’s so hard for him to watch Jamie with Claire. “Why has he come to torture himself when he can never have Jamie?” she wonders aloud. And Lord John lets it slip that Jamie offered himself to John in exchange for agreeing to watch over Willie — he, of course, wouldn’t accept him on those terms.

The next morning, Jamie awakens to find William is gone. He tracks his footprints and finds the boy has violated the treaty line and is taking a fish from the Cherokee traps. The Cherokee approach, looking pretty pissed off at this turn of events. Jamie tries to speak to them in their language, returning the fish to them and trying to apologize/indicate they mean no harm. The men aren’t having it though, throwing the fish in the bush and saying the boy has to pay with his blood. In desperation, Jamie cries out that the boy is his son and they should take his blood instead. He urges William to follow the stream back to the house. But Willie won’t let Jamie take the fall, telling the men Jamie isn’t his father and admitting he is solely responsible for his actions. In an act of mercy, the men merely cut Willie’s hand with a tomahawk. Jamie says they were spared because of Willie’s courage.

John is finally feeling better now, and he begs Claire’s forgiveness for the things he said while he was ill. It’s not his inability to have Jamie that pains him, but the knowledge that he could never satisfy Isobel the way Jamie satisfies Claire. He is tormented by the knowledge that he loved someone but couldn’t give them happiness simply because he wasn’t born the right person for them. Claire admits she knows what he’s talking about — because of Frank. She also admits she is envious of the time the two of them shared. The two reach a quiet détente as John admits coming here has helped him to see he can still feel, while Claire says having William is having a part of Jamie. Both Caitriona Balfe and David Berry are devastating in this scene, saying so much with their faces of the quiet yearnings and deep wounds they’ve endured. The fragile understanding they have reached sharing love for the same man is a heartbreaking bond that they treat with all its due reverence and emotion.

Jamie and William ride back to the cabin. William wants to know why Jamie did not look back at him the day he left Helwater. It’s because he didn’t want to give him false hope since he believed he would never see him again. They return to find John has recovered and is no longer contagious. William fiercely hugs Lord John, while Jamie tells him he was a brave travel companion and John is a good father.

John wants to repay Claire for saving his life, but she insists he only rest, eat well, and never give up hope — he deserves the love and satisfaction she has with Jamie. John gives Jamie his chess set as a parting gift, and they all bid farewell. Jamie and Claire watch them go, but William can’t help but look back at Jamie — a wistful glance at a man he idolized and perhaps a promise that they’ll meet again. And if you’re not crying at this moment, what kind of soulless monster are you?!!

At last, Jamie and Claire can get some of the alone time they’ve been craving. Claire is taking a bath, and Jamie is washing her, laying metaphors about rain and his kisses on her real thick. He kisses her ring finger, and she insists she doesn’t need a ring to know how much he loves her. But he has a surprise – he had Murtagh make a beautiful, patterned silver ring out of a piece of his mother’s candlestick. It has an inscription in Latin that reads “Give me a thousand kisses.” He carries her from the bath and starts counting his way towards those thousand kisses, and we close on what we love most — the flaming passion and enduring love between these two.

What did you think Sassenachs? Was Lord John Grey’s return worth the wait? How soon before William figures out Jamie wasn’t lying when he claimed to be his father? And for those who love the book, did you miss Ian’s involvement and Willie’s ego-puncturing trip into the toilet? Sound off in the comments below or hit me up @themaureenlee.

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Diana Gabaldon's genre-bending time-travel novels come to life in Starz's series.
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