Outlander recap: Jamie gives us a fiery cross to bear
Sassenachs, welcome back to your weekly Outlander recap and the official end of the Droughtlander.
Full disclosure: The book on which this season is based, The Fiery Cross, is my least favorite in the series, but let’s see if the writers and talented cast can make me a convert.
We start off with a flashback — it’s a young, once-again brown-haired Murtagh (what say ye, silver fox or tall, dark and handsome? I prefer the latter personally). He pledges an oath to young Jamie shortly after Jamie’s mother Ellen dies, swearing to always be with Jamie from here on out.
Then, we get a new, STUNNING, choral arrangement on the Skye Boat theme song, complete with a plethora of Americana in the montage that ranges from Revolutionary War era redcoats to some good old buffalo (oh give me a home).
The real meat of the premiere kicks off on the morning of Roger and Bree’s wedding. Roger is struggling to shave with a cutthroat razor, so Jamie assists him while they fret over Roger’s general lack of applicable 18th-century skills. Oxford professors — dashing and hot in the 1970s, not so great in the Carolina wilderness a few centuries earlier. But Jamie also has a peace offering for Roger, a beautiful wedding ring they’ve fashioned for him to put on Bree’s finger.
Claire’s voiceover fills in some gaps for us. They’re now living on Fraser’s Ridge among a much larger community of settlers. Jamie and Claire have a much bigger, beautiful house, while Roger and Bree have moved into their old cabin. Now, it’s time to celebrate the harvest and the wedding day.
Claire has fashioned Bree’s homespun dress, complete with some appropriate thistle embroidery. The two get emotional while Jamie adorably fusses over preparing something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. He also gifts Bree a silver sixpence from Murtagh, who can’t attend the wedding since he’s in hiding. Jamie frets over giving Bree away having only just met her, but he sends her off with his mother’s pearls, a glass of whiskey, and the good old Fraser motto, “Je suis pret.”
Time for a wedding. With a Protestant minister, much to Jamie’s chagrin. Everyone they love is there — Fergus, Marsali, Lizzie, Sir John, and some people they don’t — oh, hi Governor Tryon. But it’s a beautiful exchange of vows, one made all the more lovely by Claire and Jamie remembering their own vows in flashback.
Mostly, the wedding is a joy. Roger hilariously discovers Jamie thinks he’s a heretic when Fergus and Marsali’s son worries about his “hair ticks.” It’s a lot of cake cutting and joy. They have a ceilidh (a Scottish wedding tradition involving dancing and folk music), people are playing drinking games (raise your hand if you felt personally victimized when Lord John’s attempt at bringing Shakespeare to the game was declared a forfeit), and everyone’s making merry.
But not everything is as fine and dandy as it seems on the surface. Roger is making off-hand comments to Bree about returning to the future. Jocasta wants to speak with Roger. Governor Tryon is hinting at Jamie that his correspondence is no longer satisfactory. Worst of all, Lord John has heard rumors that Stephen Bonnet is alive and has been sighted in the province. Of course, Bree overhears him tell this to Jamie, so now she’s having PTSD and flashbacks to her rape (I really wish we didn’t have to see them onscreen, but that will never be this show, sigh).
All of this can wait until morning though because first, it’s a wedding night — which means everybody gets some! Jocasta meets Murtagh at what she kindly calls a shed in the woods (he tries to pass it off as an enchanted woodland palace, but Murtagh, you’re lucky she’s blind babe). Roger goes for one of the oldest tricks in the book, serenading Bree with his guitar (his own take on “L-O-V-E,” which is charming and delightfully out of place in 18th century America).
Then, we get a L-O-V-E making montage. Jamie and Claire hilariously try to get it on while not waking Jem, while Jocasta and Murtagh reunite and Roger and Bree passionately consummate their marriage. It’s not pure bliss, though, as Bree lies awake afterward haunted by the news of Bonnet.
The next morning, Jocasta confesses to Murtagh that Duncan Innes has proposed marriage. Murtagh and Jamie knew him in Ardsmuir (and canny book lovers will know Duncan originally made the transatlantic journey in season 3 with Jamie, Claire, etc.). Murtagh knows they can never have a life together though, so he instead tells Jocasta he won’t stand in the way of her happiness.
Back at the Ridge, we meet Josiah Beardsley for the first time. He’s a local lad with a talent for hunting, and Lizzie quickly takes a shine to him. Jamie invites Josiah to join them and settle on the Ridge. But first, Josiah wants Claire to look at his throat — his tonsils are abscessed and she can remove them. Claire is wary of Jamie welcoming the young man to their settlement because he has the brand of a thief on his hand, but Jamie is more sympathetic.
Meanwhile, it’s time for Roger to honor Jocasta’s request to meet with him. She informs him she’s decided not to make Bree her heir, but instead leave everything to Jeremiah. The reason is a pointed one — since a woman’s property becomes her husband’s, if she leaves it to Bree, it automatically becomes Roger’s. This way maybe he’ll treat Jem well for the sake of his prospects. This angers Roger, telling her to take her money, and I quote, “cram it up your hole.” But apparently, something of this nature is exactly what Jocasta wanted.
It does light a fire under Roger because he storms into their cabin and claims Jem for his own with a blood oath, swearing, “I claim thee as my son before all men for this day and forever.”
Finally, Jamie has to learn that making a deal with the devil means he will always collect. Governor Tryon is finally leaning on Jamie to honor his oath to the crown (you know the one he made to get 10,000 acres of land). He orders Jamie to gather his men and bring Murtagh to justice. Tryon wants Murtagh hanging in Newburn as a warning.
Jamie goes to Claire with his news, deliberating his impossible choice. If he refuses to hunt Murtagh, he’ll lose his land. But most importantly, if a war is coming, as Claire says, he needs to ensure his men are loyal to him, not the governor. So he can make one final bid for that — as he says, if Tryon wants a Scot, he’ll give him a Scot.
Jamie goes to his chest and as a Scottish song warbles on the bagpipes, we watch him lovingly look over his kilt, his dirk, his tartan, and all of his highlander garb. As a reminder to viewers, after Culloden, wearing tartan or a kilt was banned in the Highlands since the British considered it a symbol of the Jacobite Rebellion. It wasn’t lifted until 1782, over two decades after the ban was first passed.
This is an emotional moment for Jamie — the first time he is legally donning his tartan since he watched his countrymen die for all it stood for. For Claire too, it’s a reappearance of the young Scottish highlander she first fell in love with. And let’s be honest, it’s a gift to viewers too. Not to be shallow, but not gonna lie, this show gets approximately 10 percent less interesting when there are not some hot dudes in tartan. So, like, yes, this is an incredibly emotional resonant moment, but also, yasss baby, bring back the KILTS.
Then, it’s time for the most problematic moment of this episode, the event which lends the premiere and this book its name — the fiery cross. Clad in his Scottish garb, Jamie strides into his yard and sets a Celtic cross on fire. Jamie explains the history of the tradition — that Scottish chieftains would burn a fiery cross when calling the men in their clan to war. He knows he’s not their chief, and they are not a clan, but he hopes that if the time comes, they’ll stand by his side. And they do, the men of Fraser’s Ridge, including Fergus and Roger (now Captain Mackenzie), kneel and swear their fealty to Jamie by Jesus Christ and the iron of the dagger they hold in their hands.
But let’s be honest, even with this explanation and the design choice to make it a Celtic cross, this moment is so tone-deaf and problematic. The image of a burning cross in someone’s front yard is a fraught one in American history, one knit up in the actions of the KKK and acts of racist intimidation. As part of that, there’s no denying its origins in this Scottish tradition. The 1905 book The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, which first introduced the concept to the KKK, described it as “the old Scottish rite of the burning cross.”
Add this on top of the fact that this is a white man gathering a troop of other white men around him for the purpose of swearing a loyalty oath, and it’s even more problematic. Even worse, the only person of color in this crowd is Ulysses, a slave — a man who has no opportunity to swear loyalty or even choose his own path in life. One whose descendants could be terrorized by this very act and iconography.
Jamie is our hero — and yes, a crucial aspect of this season’s story will be the loyalties of the other settlers of Fraser’s Ridge. But no matter how many circles anyone talks themselves into, there’s no justifying this, no getting out of the fact that for so many viewers this action isn’t one of bravery or an inspiring moment of heroism. Instead, it’s a reminder of the virulent racism and hate still coursing through our country.
Yes, it’s a historical moment, set in a time and place where it didn’t hold that connotation. But we’re viewing this through a contemporary lens and Jamie is not a real person — we’re not bringing to life a real event for audiences to interpret it, we’re fictionalizing a tradition that has become completely warped from its original meaning.
It doesn’t matter what the tradition originally stood for — the swastika was originally a spiritual symbol of good luck and divinity, but that doesn’t mean if you display it somewhere, even with that historical context, it doesn’t automatically bring to mind the Holocaust and a fascist regime of pure evil and hatred. Once something has been so subverted, there’s a point at which there’s no going back, no re-framing it no matter how hard you try. Why Outlander couldn’t see this is beyond me –— but it’s a serious misstep that left a bad taste in my mouth. Even if it is true to the original book.
Stepping back from that to wrap up this recap, the moment of the oath swearing and the fiery cross is followed by another moment of Claire and Jamie standing next to a bigger, new cross on the edge of the ridge — one that they will presumably light when it’s time to summon Jamie’s men to him.
The final moment of the episode bookends the opening, with Jamie and Murtagh sharing a quiet moment together. Murtagh can’t wait for action any longer, despite Jamie’s protestations that if he does, they’ll eventually be fighting on the same side. But as Murtagh astutely notes, there’s always a war coming. Murtagh makes a half-hearted small stone circle in the grass, noting that those that traveled here through time made it so Jamie could have everything he ever wanted. Jamie admits he’s right and releases Murtagh from the vow he swore to Jamie as a child, urging him to go and be hard to find.
What did you think, Sassenachs? Was the burning cross moment as upsetting and tone-deaf to you? Did you enjoy Roger and Bree’s wedding? Are we worried about what’s in store for Jamie and Murtagh? Sound off below and for more Outlander listen to Outlander…On Demand! We’ll continue to do our weekly recap show for Sirius XM. And you don’t have to tune in live to catch it! Outlander…On Demand! can be found on the website or the app every Monday morning starting Feb. 17. Just search the name of the show.