Here we go, Sassenachs, the best Outlander episode of season 5 yet. Titled “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” it opens by riffing on Roger’s love of singing, before taking us to much deeper, darker climes.
All of the Fraser clan are in Hillsborough in 1771, ready to face whatever comes from the stand-off with the Regulators. Brianna and Jemmy are staying in a house nearby with friends, while Roger goes off to fulfill his duty. Before he goes, he sings “My Darling Clementine” to Jem and Bree frets about how they could be singing each other off to work in the future, but now they’re singing each other off to war. Bree, this was all YOUR CHOICE.
But anyway, they both hope things won’t come to a fight and share a romantic kiss goodbye.
Similarly, Jamie and Claire have a bit of quiet before the coming storm. They wake on what is Jamie’s 50th birthday (Jamie is the best-looking 50 year old man quite possibly in the history of the world. Except probably George Clooney.). He is grateful for everything, and we do mean everything, still being in working order. So Claire celebrates that achievement by putting some of his best parts to use, while singing a version of “Happy Birthday” that is perhaps even sexier than Marilyn Monroe’s famously breathy rendition.
But soon we’re back preparing for battle, with Tryon running through his preparations of his 1068 men and another brigade with more ammunition on the way. Jamie helps prepare his men to distinguish themselves from the Regulators by passing out yellow cockades, small fabric pins they can wear to help them know who is friend or foe.
Isaiah Morton returns to the militia, much to the dismay of the Browns who still want Alicia back. Claire tries to insist Alicia made her own choice, but that doesn’t go over well with 18th century patriarchy. Morton wants to repay Jamie for helping him and Alicia, so Jamie tries to convince the Browns to accept another man willing to lay down his life. He tells him they can go if they won’t fight alongside them – so they begrudgingly agree to let the unpleasantness go.
Jamie also talks to the Findlay boys that Roger recruited, teaching them the differences between hunting and war. He tells them to focus on killing as the only way to defend themselves. With troops so young, he's just trying to give them a fighting chance and knows hesitating could be the difference between life and death.
Things ratchet up as Tryon learns the other brigade was ambushed by Murtagh and his men and had their munitions destroyed. But before they launch an assault, Reverend Caldwell comes from the Regulators with a plea to settle the matter without bloodshed, offering Tryon a list of demands from the rebels. Tryon won’t assent, however, insisting he will demand nothing less than surrender since he can’t let their blatant disregard for the law go unpunished.
Back in town, Bree discusses the battle with others, and they mention the Regulators are across the river at Alamance Creek. This triggers a memory in Bree, a sense that something important happened there, and swiftly she’s on a horse to warn her family.
Now, it’s the time for the best moment of the season: Jamie bathing in a lake. Finally, we are getting our money’s worth!!! And Jamie looks good! Claire thinks so too, but then is surprised when Jamie makes a blood oath and prayer. He tells Claire he’s calling on his deceased relative Dougal for aid through this difficult time. Jamie remembers having to face off against Dougal, his former war chief, and now he fears doing the same with Murtagh.
Back at camp, Bree tells Roger, Claire, and Jamie that the Battle of Alamance ends with the militia victorious. But she also remembers that her professor said many consider this skirmish the spark of the American Revolution. Jamie thinks they should get a message to Murtagh that the Regulators are doomed to fail – though Bree and Claire also worry that could alter the course of the revolution and history. Roger volunteers to go and deliver the message to Murtagh. Since Murtagh knows he’s from the future, he’ll listen to him. Jamie advises him to hide his cockade and gives him a white flag of truce to wave if he gets into trouble.
Still, Claire and Bree prepare a medical tent, reviewing her many medicinal herbs, as well as her previous penicillin. Bree resolves to stay and help as a way to keep her mind off things.
Roger comes upon Murtagh in the night, urging his men to fight against tyranny and injustice. After this impassioned call to arms, Roger hits Murtagh with the truth, urging him and his men to disperse. The Regulators cannot win, but Murtagh also can’t tell his men to cast aside what they’ve fought for. Roger insists soon there will be another battle where they can all fight on the same side, but Murtagh’s not willing to wait that long.
Tryon’s response is as merciful as we might expect, a.k.a. not at all. He says the only way to avoid bloodshed is for the Regulators to surrender their leaders and submit themselves to the leniency of the government. Roger makes one last stab at just getting Murtagh to leave and save himself, but c’mon this is Murtagh – we all know that argument would never work.
So Roger starts his journey back to the militia and along the way, he happens upon Morag Mackenzie, the young woman/descendant of his he encountered on Bonnet’s ship last season. He inquires after her and her child, telling her he now has a son of his own. He tries to warn her about the battle, urging her to convince her husband and family to leave – but they have no home to return to. He tells her they would all be welcome on Fraser’s Ridge and hugs her. An innocent hug interrupted by the words, “Get away from my wife.”
Roger tries to explain himself to Morag’s husband, and she explains how Roger cared for them when other sick passengers were thrown overboard. But the husband isn’t buying it, and it dissolves into a fistfight that becomes even more dangerous when Roger’s cockade falls from his pocket, revealing him to be a traitor in the men's eyes. They knock Roger out with the butt of a gun, debating what to do with him.
Back in the Loyalist camp, Jamie hunts for Roger in despair, but he’s interrupted by Tryon who has a gift for him – a red coat, the official uniform of the British soldiers. Jamie tries to demur, but at Tryon’s insistence dons the uniform with a pained look on his face. It can’t be easy, having to wear the colors of the men who killed his brethren and pillaged the Highlands.
Jamie goes to bid Claire farewell before battle, and she is shocked to see him in a red coat. They still don’t know what’s become of Roger, but Claire sends Jamie off to battle with a wish for good luck, a kiss, and an “I love you.”
Lining up for battle, Jamie urges his men to avoid a massacre, trying to insist they take prisoners and save souls. Tryon begins with cannons firing, his guns blazing, and all hell breaks loose as the red coats chase the Regulators into the trees. It devolves into hand-to-hand combat, and suddenly, Morton is shot in the back.
Claire and Bree are busy assessing wounds, while Claire tries to reassure Bree that Roger is fine. Morton is carried into their medical tent, struggling for breath. He was shot through the lungs from behind. He assumes he’s dying telling Claire to tell Alicia he loves her, but Claire promises to save him.
The Brown brothers enter the tent, also wounded, and are salty about Morton getting any medical care. She needles them by saying Morton was shot at close range, essentially accusing the Browns of friendly fire. And it seems pretty obvious they did it, when Lionel Brown’s response is to lash out and crush Claire’s hypodermic needle and penicillin under his foot.
The fight in the forest turns almost to slow-motion. Jamie comes upon a Regulator he recognizes named Withers in the forest, but Withers goes to shoot Jamie anyway. Jamie is saved when Murtagh knocks Withers out. But before they can have a happy reunion, one of the Findlay boys pulls a total Chino in West Side Story move and shoots Murtagh. The boy is proud for not wavering and following Jamie’s instructions.
Murtagh and Jamie embrace, as it becomes clear these are going to be Murtagh’s last breaths. Jamie is mad Murtagh saved him, having released Murtagh from his oath, but Murtagh said he would have never betrayed Jamie’s mother. He tells Jamie, parroting his last words from the book, “Do not be afraid, it doesn’t hurt a bit to die.” It’s a heartbreaking moment, the most crushing emotional blow of the season. Even if we did figure it was coming given that Murtagh’s been living on borrowed time, having died at Culloden in the original novels.
Jamie is in shock, yelling out for help. His fellow Scots come, and they carry Murtagh to Claire’s tent with Jamie promising Murtagh’s lifeless body that “All will be well.” He rushes in and begs Claire to save him, but she feels for a pulse and tells Jamie, crestfallen, that Murtagh is gone. Jamie is desperate, telling Murtagh’s body that he does not release him from his oath. “You cannot leave me,” he pleads. And sorry, but if you’re not openly weeping at this point, do you even have a soul?
Sam Heughan knocks this one out of the park, his heartbreak and devastation at losing this last connection to his mother and the Fraser clan of the Highlands writ across his face. I would say this should make him a definite Emmy contender, but who knows if they're even still gonna happen this year?!
As Jamie stumbles from the tent in shock, Claire also begins to cry. Tryon, who for a politician is shockingly bad at reading the room, comes to Jamie to rejoice in the sweet taste of victory. But Jamie has had it – he tells Tryon the slaughter of innocent men is no cause to celebrate. That even if history says Tryon put down rebellion, they know what really happened – there is the law and there is what is done. Tryon only did this for glory. Tryon bristles, insisting he did it for duty. This triggers Jamie to say his duty is fulfilled as well, he’s paid his debt and is finished with his obligation to the crown. He throws the red coat at Tryon’s feet.
Still, there remains the question of what has happened to Roger. They all go to hunt for him, checking among the prisoners and the wounded. They happen upon a tree where several men have been hanged, and the General reveals Tryon ordered the execution of Regulator prisoners. The men have sacks over their heads, but Jamie sees the white truce flag hanging from one of the victim’s pockets. Jamie, Bree, and Claire look on in horror and desperation as others lower what appears to be Roger’s body from the tree.
What’d you think Sassenachs? Was this your favorite episode of the season so far too? What do you think will be Roger's fate? Did the Murtagh and Jamie scenes just crush you? Sound off in the comments below.
Outlander…On Demand! is indefinitely on hiatus, but you can catch up on old episodes on the website or the app. And, if you tune in to EW's Instagram stories on Monday at 10 a.m. PT, Outlander expert Lynette Rice and I will be discussing this episode on Instagram Live.