Outlander season finale recap: Safe In Your Arms
Here we go, Sassenachs. It’s the season 5 Outlander finale, and it’s perhaps the most brutal finish since season 1. To make matters worse, we’re about to head into what might just be the longest Droughtlander ever since it’s unclear when production might be able to start back up again.
On that very dismaying note, let’s jump into this episode. It begins back in the late 1960s with Claire fantasizing about a different version of her life then. This fantasy is what she’s using to cope throughout her abduction with Lionel Brown and his men. She imagines Jamie safe with her there, as well as Murtagh, Jocasta, Marsali, Fergus, and Ian. It’s incredibly fun to see all these folks in more groovy threads.
Claire’s reality is far grimmer. She’s lying gagged, beaten, bloody, and tied to a tree, trying not to flashback to how she’s arrived here. After being kidnapped by Lionel and his band of men, they brutalized her, with Hodgepile suggesting they just kill her. Lionel throws the fact that she’s Dr. Rawlings in her face and tells her of his plan to bring her to Browsnville to confess to the women there that she’s a charlatan.
She tries to run away, so they slash her breast open with a knife. One man warns not to draw her blood, fearing her powers as a conjure woman. She runs with this, threatening that they’ll all be dead by dawn if they touch her again. Later, the man who warned against hurting her introduces himself as Tebby and shares his food with her. He wants her to remember he tried to help and not hurt him.
They arrive at a creek and Claire tells Tebby if he takes her into the stream and lets her go, she will spare him from the kelpies. But Lionel grabs hold of her and they scuffle. She screams and tries to curse them, but Lionel gags her with a piece of cloth. When she stares at him in fury around the fire, he punches her and drags her over to the tree where he ties her up. Look, I’m not saying Black Jack Randall or Stephen Bonnet are upstanding gentlemen, but I do think it’s safe to say that Lionel Brown is the biggest piece of misogynist trash to ever appear on this show.
Later that night, a man who calls himself Donner removes her gag. He wants to know if the name Ringo Starr means anything to her, and Claire realizes he’s a time traveler like her. Donner guessed she was like him because of the medical advice she gave. He traveled back to this time from 1968 with a group of American Indians, including Otter Tooth, who he says is named Robert Springer.
Claire tells him Springer was killed by the Mohawk, and she begs Donner to cut her loose. She pleads with him to help her escape, offering to give him gemstones and show him the location of a stone circle so he can get back to his own time. But he insists they need to wait until the others fall asleep and re-ties her, advising her to act more afraid of men from now on, like the other women of the era.
Things quickly go from bad to worse when Lionel and his nephew approach, and the nephew pulls down his trousers. She struggles against them, then tries to lose herself in her fantasy. But even her imagination reflects her terror, imagining police arriving at the door and telling her Bree, Roger, and Jemmy were killed in a car accident on Thanksgiving.
First, Lionel’s nephew rapes her, then Lionel himself, before he invites the rest of the men over to gang-rape her. It’s filmed mostly in shadows and heavily done through what is implied with cutaways, sound effects, and the haunted, stoic expression on Claire’s face. It’s done sensitively and with care, when it could easily have been gratuitous. This plot point has always been a sticking point for me in the books and is really where I lost much of my interest in storytelling.
Gabaldon uses sexual violence far too often as a source of conflict or drama. Regardless of accuracy to the era, it’s tiresome and excessive when you consider every member of the immediate Fraser family has been assaulted. Since first reading this incident, I have long wished Gabaldon found ways besides sexual violence to traumatize her characters and introduce conflict. But that’s simply not the story she chooses to tell, which I find problematic, but you can take as you wish. All that is to say, to give credit where credit is due, the showrunners did their best with a truly heinous plot point and made it appropriately emotional without being exploitative. Depicting rape on television now is perhaps more fraught than ever (as it should be), and the Outlander showrunners deserve credit for handling trauma with great care.
Getting back to the episode, we return to Roger, Bree, and Jemmy moments after traveling through the stones. Only to find, they didn’t! Ian is right there. They were thinking of home and this is where the stones brought them. So, they set out to return to the Ridge. Bree is perturbed when she sees Jamie has lit the fiery cross.
Back at the house, Jamie is arming and preparing his men when Roger and Bree ride up. They tell him the stones didn’t work, but beg to know what’s happening. He tells them Claire has been kidnapped. Bree wants to go with him on the rescue mission, but he won’t allow it. Josiah Beardsley volunteers to go, as does Roger. He is honoring his oath to stand beside Jamie.
Claire is dreaming about slow dancing with Jamie in the future, when Jamie and his men burst into the camp at night. She can dimly make out the violence taking place, as Jamie, Ian, and then men slaughter the entire posse. Ian puts an axe straight into Hodgepile’s face, while Roger slits another man’s throat.
Jamie runs to Claire in the dark, horrified to find her in such terrible condition. She’s crying and practically catatonic. He tells her that is alive and whole. Ian and Fergus are devastated and angry to see what has happened to her. They hand Claire a knife to exact her vengeance, but Jamie says since she is bound by her oath they will kill for her. Jamie asks how many of them hurt her, and she says she doesn’t know, so he orders his men to kill them all. The men of the Ridge line up the prisoners and execute them one by one.
Jamie carries her over to see her torturers are dead. Lionel Brown, however, is still alive. Roger suggests they keep him alive to question him, so they end up taking Lionel with them back to the Ridge.
On the journey home, Jamie reassures Claire that Marsali and the baby are alive. She asks if Donner was in the group who died, and she explains he was from the future. Jamie asks if he hurt her, and she replies only, “He didn’t help me.” Jamie also tells her that Roger and Bree have returned.
They return to the Ridge and Claire embraces Bree, while taking Marsali’s hand. Later, Bree helps Claire bathe, gently cleaning her scrapes and bruises. She offers her hand and her ear if Claire needs it.
Later that night, Jamie rages, wanting to kill someone for Claire’s injuries. Lionel is downstairs in the surgery, and he wants to find out what Brown and his men were planning. Claire says she’s glad the others are dead and tries to play it off, saying she doesn’t want Jamie to worry. She gives an epic speech about the sheer level of s—t she’s lived through, including a miscarriage, a World War, being imprisoned, betrayed, and more. “I am supposed to be shattered by this,” she proclaims. “Well, I won’t be.”
Her trauma is evident in her words, but it’s also incredibly powerful to see her resilience, her refusal to let what they did to her break her. Caitriona Balfe does award-worthy work throughout this episode, but in this scene especially. She’s heartbreaking and fierce, the complexities of her pain and courage wrought in every line of her face.
Back at their cabin, Bree tells Roger that Claire didn’t tell her what happened, but she’ll be ready whenever Claire needs her. Roger wants to make his own confession to Bree in the dark: the fact that he killed a man.
The next day Claire comes down to find Lionel in the surgery and immediately starts to have a panic attack. Marsali isn’t taking his lip, insisting he is getting mercy. Claire asks Marsali to prepare a comfrey for him, and passes her the herbs. She picks up one of her scalpels, considering revenge, but then she drops it and runs from the room. Upstairs, she collapses, crying.
Lionel doesn’t know when to quit when he’s ahead, insisting Marsali bring him his supper with a smile. He threatens that his brother will come and slaughter them and burn their houses down if anything happens to him. She raises a syringe to administer, but at the last minute tells him that she has not taken the same oath as Claire to do no harm. She tells him she’ll watch him burn in hell before he harms anyone else in this house and stabs his neck with the syringe. We pan over to her table of herbs, revealing that she put hemlock in the mixture.
Jamie walks in to find Marsali on the floor and Lionel dead. She fears that Lionel will haunt her or she’ll go to hell, and Jamie comforts her.
Jamie brings Lionel’s body back to Brownsville and his brother. He explains how Lionel and his men abducted and violated Claire, and they followed the men and killed them all. As a courtesy, he has brought Lionel’s body back for burial. At first, Richard seems understanding, saying Lionel reaped what he sowed and Jamie did what he must. But then he ominously reminds him that he will do the same when the time comes.
As Jamie returns to the Ridge, he delivers a monologue about knowing what is worth a fight and what is not. He reminds us that what a man would kill for and would die for are often the same thing, and in his case, it is only for the sake of love.
Roger and Bree approach the house, marveling that they are back on the road less traveled. Bree recites that famous Robert Frost poem. Roger confesses that he is not disappointed in the turn of events, the stones were supposed to bring them home and they did.
Claire stands surveying the land and her family, still bruised and battered. She wants to just enjoy the ordinary day, knowing that peace will soon be gone. She and Jamie take hands and pledge to meet the oncoming storm of revolution as best they can, helpfully underscored by a literal approaching thunderstorm. Jamie tells her that when they finally are parted by death, if his last words aren’t “I love you,” it’s only because he didn’t have the time to say it.
Later that night, the two lay naked in each other’s arms in a very John and Yoko pose. It seems Claire has told him what has happened to her, as he tells her she is brave. He asks how she feels, and she replies only, “Safe” before we cut to black.
And that’s all Sassenachs – the rain may be falling on the Frasers, but for us, it’s time for another very long drought.