While last week's Outlander episode was titled “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” it might be more apt to deem this episode “The Ballad of Roger and Ian.” That’s right, folks, Ian Murray, formerly goofy nephew, has returned. But he’s not the same, and neither is Roger, as these two deeply wounded, lost men take up the bulk of this week’s episode to really go through it.
We kick things off back in Oxford in 1969 where Roger is lecturing his students about papers they wrote on famous last words (look, I went to Oxford for a Master's in History, I know #humblebrag, and we did not have such softball paper topics as famous last words – but anyway, I digress). He talks about what his last words would be, an ominous notion given what we know of his future (or technically, past?).
We then cut to a black-and-white silent movie version of his fate, seeing the ordeal of Jamie cutting Roger down from a tree and noticing Roger is still breathing. Claire intubates him, and his eyes flicker open to see Bree. Jamie assures him, on a silent movie title card, that he’s alive and whole, and all is well.
Three months later, however, all is not well. Medically, Roger is in good shape. His throat is healing nicely and his scars from the rope are healing. Claire and Bree urge him to try to speak, but he refuses. Bree tries to make the best of it, referencing the silent movies they used to go see together and the importance of non-verbal communication.
But Roger is haunted by a different kind of silent film, the horrifying flashbacks of his hanging after Buck handed him over to the red coats. We see glimpses of his ordeal, the view through the canvas bag over his head, and the sight of his boots flying off the barrel.
Bree discusses Roger’s mental state with Claire, likening it to her college roommate’s boyfriend when he came back from Vietnam. Claire identifies it as what she once called war neurosis or shell shock. Bree fears Roger is lost to her forever, drowning in silence and a thousand yard stare.
There’s plenty of loss to go around, however, as Jocasta has come to visit Murtagh’s grave on the Ridge. She mourns for him and wears the metal symbol he once tried to give her on a velvet chain around her neck. Jamie sees her off with a tearful goodbye, and he loses himself in his own memories and tears. Later, he asks Claire for a remedy for grief, but she insists only time can heal that wound.
Lord John has come for a brief visit bearing gifts, including a land grant to Roger and Bree for 5000 acres as an attempt at compensation for the hanging error. Bree is mad they’re trying to buy her forgiveness. She doesn’t want land, just her husband back. And it’s clear when we see him in their cabin that he’s not the man he once was, seized by panic attacks and terror from the nearly constant flashbacks.
John has a gift just for Bree, an astrolabe, that allows them to find their position in the universe and tell the time. It’s a metaphor for trying to find their place in the world more broadly. He tenderly teaches her how to use it, while reminding Bree to have patience.
On another day, Jamie and Claire go to visit Bree and Roger, who has thrown himself into building stairs as a distraction. Jem goes to touch a burning hot kettle, and Roger cries out, protecting him. Jem starts to cry, but Bree is overjoyed that Roger spoke and urges him to say more. He can’t and walks away looking overwhelmed. Later, Bree sings “My Darling Clementine” to Jem and the memories it stirs in Roger make him sob.
Claire and Jamie play hide-and-seek in the woods when a wild boar starts to attack. They’re saved at the last moment by a Native American, who it turns out is none other than Ian returned to them. He’s fully assimilated into the Mohawk now with tattoos, a shaved head, feathers, and more. And that’s not the only way he seems changed – all of his joy is gone, and he doesn’t respond at all to Jamie’s welcoming hug.
For those hoping Ian’s arrival might finally bring Roger to speak, no such luck. The two stare at each other, and a lot passes between them without words. Ian did, after all, sacrifice himself in Roger’s place. But all they can manage is a silent embrace. Ian seems quite changed, insisting on butchering the boar himself and begging to stay outside.
Marsali is reading tarot cards for herself and Roger. Oh, ok, fine Claire practicing medicine makes her a witch, but tarot cards, no those are fine. Right. Things go dreadfully wrong when Marsali draws the Hanged Man card. It triggers another PTSD episode for Roger. When Bree comes in, she pushes him further, begging her to talk to him and telling him that he’s still the man she married even without his voice. She reminds him that she too went through something so terrible she wanted to crawl in a hole and die, but she fought for him and their son. She needs him now to fight for them in return.
Everyone welcomes Ian back with a large meal at the big house. Fergus and Marsali are extremely nosy, insisting Ian tell them all the details of his time away, but he brushes them off. When asked if he plans to return to the Mohawk, he shakes his head no, looking utterly devastated. Conversation turns to Tyron’s land grant, which they need to survey. Jamie suggests Ian and Roger go do it together, which Ian looks less than thrilled about.
Both men are haunted, as Roger tries to play his guitar alone and whisper-sing before crying and fighting off flashbacks. Similarly, Ian can’t face sleeping inside, and Jamie wakes to find him sleeping on the deck. Jamie probes Ian on why he’s out of sorts, but Ian tells him he can’t tell him right now. He doesn’t have the words.
Later, Marsali once again fails to read the room and talks to Ian about all of her bairns and the joys of a big family. She admits to sometimes feeling guilty about how happy she is on the Ridge and feeling more at home in this family than the one she was born to. But all the talk of children and family only seems to sadden Ian more.
Roger is preparing to go out and survey with Ian, and Bree sends him off with a paper airplane. It’s meant to be a sort of first wedding anniversary gift, in line with the tradition of paper for the first gift. But she wants the strength of a 60-year marriage, reminding Roger she loves him.
As Roger and Ian set off on their task, Claire asks Marsali about some hemlock missing from her surgery. Marsali didn’t prescribe it to anyone, and this does not bode well knowing that two heavily depressed men have just gone off on their own into the wilderness.
Roger and Ian find an uneasy rhythm with each other, surveying the land. Roger questioningly touches a bracelet on Ian’s arm, but he shakes him off. Ian muses about the paper airplane being a bird that flies but doesn’t sing, an apt metaphor for Roger currently. Ian dwells on his memories of talking to the birds when he could not understand the Mohawk. They both still seem haunted by nightmares, waking and sleeping alike.
In the middle of the night, Claire worries to Jamie that Roger might want to come home. She expresses her concern that Roger might have stolen the hemlock, and Jamie remembers how one time he felt a pain so deep he didn’t wish to live anymore.
Roger stands on the edge of a cliff, and it seems as if he might jump. He remembers his hanging again, but for the first time, it’s not a black-and-white silent movie, it’s a vivid experience in color and full sound. We watch as he struggles for breath and loses consciousness, the bright light of Bree’s face being the last image he sees. This memory makes him throw the paper plane from the cliff and step away from its edge.
The next morning Roger wakes to find Rollo tied to a post and whining with no sign of Ian. It turns out Ian is the one who stole the hemlock. He prepares for his death in the woods, burying his tomahawk and cooking the hemlock over a fire. But Roger storms in and kicks the pot away. They fight, and Ian can’t understand why Roger would stop him since he saw him looking over the cliff. Roger has a wife and child, so he has something worth living for, Ian accuses.
Ian finally pushes him to speak, demanding to know what Roger saw when he was dying. Roger manages to choke out that it was Bree’s face, and Ian is crestfallen to know that even in death he would see the face of the woman he loved. Ian touches his bracelet, and we see that is his link to his lost wife. Roger asks if she died, and Ian says no, but she’s lost to him. Ian confesses he just wanted some peace and to be free from pain, but Roger reminds him that he could part himself from all he loved for eternity. Ian challenges Roger, reminding him that he buried his weapon (his voice) and is now using it against him. Roger admits he did, but now he has to fight again, as should Ian.
Roger comes home to Bree and whispers her name, leaving her at a loss for words. He confesses that a part of him died the day he was hanged. Bree reminds him that she, of all people, knows how that feels. He says that everyone wants the old Roger back, but he’ll never be that man again. He once taught history and now he’s living it. He wonders if he wasn’t meant to exist since his own ancestor tried to kill him. Bree assures him that’s not true.
He circles back to the memory from the top of the episode and tells her, in the end, it didn’t matter what his last words were. It mattered what the last face he saw was – and it was Brianna’s. He pledges to sing for her no matter what, even if his voice isn’t able. They embrace and a lovely version of Roger and Bree duetting on “My Darling Clementine” plays over the credits.
What’d you think Sassenachs? Did you like this new bit of storytelling between Roger and Ian? Can Roger and Bree have some peace now? 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 Ruth Kinane will be discussing this episode on Instagram Live.