[This is not a spoiler-free review of the episode. If you have not seen the episode yet, read it at your own spoiler risk.]
Written by Bronwyn Garrity, Directed by Denise Di Novi
“We risk what we must for our beliefs” …
The above quote sums up this entire episode whether ye be a white man looking for a fresh start in a new land, a native protecting what is yours, or a hard-working member of society willing to defy the local law in the name of principle. In almost every situation, our characters are simply defending their beliefs. And nearly all, save Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire Caitriona Balfe), reveal gradients of savagery in the means by which they justify ends.
Like in all the season four episodes thus far, episode 405 incorporates multiple interpretations of the title into the storyline, from “Indians” to colonists to tax collectors. There are also numerous throwbacks and subtle shot-framing choices that pay homage to key creative style decisions in prior seasons. For example, the timeline in Savages comprises quick edits, spanning multiple storylines and centuries; Jamie and Claire spend this episode apart, so we spend the hour dancing back and forth between her and Rollo’s experience at Fraser’s Ridge and Jamie and Young Ian’s (John Bell) in town. The episode felt overwhelmingly like the first half of season three, where we watched Claire experience 1960’s Boston congruent to Jamie’s life after Culloden. There are also one or two … well … I’ll call them “OH F*$K!” moments.
The title card opens on a small doll, obviously a gift for a child, wrapped in black and white gingham plaid. I could be overthinking it, but I saw the use of the gingham plaid as a nod to heritage refreshed. Taking something old and breathing new life into it. The plaid pattern is comfortable and familiar, but the tartan is gone and, in its place, the gingham symbolizes change.
Claire and her spirit animal Adawehi (Tantoo Cardinal), the Cherokee healer, sit across from one another by the river sorting and trimming herbs for medicinal purposes. Their matching grey streaks imply that in a sense they mirror each other. It’s clear the two are bonded by more than their ability to heal others. They don’t have to share a common language to communicate. Adawehi hands Claire a bundle of thyme (pretty sure it was thyme. Looked exactly like thyme. I love thyme.) for the “mother.” We learn Claire will soon be delivering the baby of a local German family, the Muellers.
Major book moment alert! We cut to the pig! Back at the homestead, Claire and Jamie are wrapping up their morning routine and each preparing to head out on their individual excursions. This includes the feeding of a white pig who in the book is the source—at times—of much-needed levity. Claire is packing for her trip to the Muellers’ to deliver the baby, and Jamie is searching for his hat before he heads into town with Young Ian to recruit tenants. This is a sweet moment as Jamie is finally at peace with his wife being a “working woman,” a concept he struggled with in season two. It signals a comfort level in their marriage they never had the opportunity to reach together. The cabin is now complete, so we know time has passed. And the damned beef jerky jar is empty! Jamie packs a silver candlestick from the fireplace mantel, Ian pops in and declares his love for bacon, and with that, the two parties split ways. But first, Jamie asks Claire two critical questions:
- Do you need me to come back sooner? (Foreshadowing?)
- Does Brianna have a birthmark?
“I saw it. In a dream. A wee brown mark shaped like a diamond just behind her left ear.”—Jamie Fraser
Meanwhile, back in Inverness, 1971… Roger (Richard Rankin) is on the hunt for Brianna (Sophie Skelton). The taxi log shows a one-way ticket to Craigh na Dun. Roger walks through the town square, harkening to episode one, season one. Not much has changed since Claire and Frank took their admittedly disastrous second honeymoon there. He approaches bed and breakfast belonging to Mrs. Baird. Now it’s run by Ms. Baird (Hilary Lyon). Brianna also stayed there before “leaving to visit her mother.” Ms. Baird claims she left nothing behind but then thinks better of it. After popping inside, she reappears with a letter.
“She asked me to wait a year to send this, but you’re here now.”—Ms. Baird
Hard edit to a small village nestled in foothills. For a moment you’re unsure which time you’re in. Young Ian and Jamie confirm the century. They’re in town trying to attract tenants to Fraser’s Ridge with an offer so good it’s practically criminal.
But first, he approaches the abode of the local silversmith. (Remember the candlestick?) Jamie knocks on the door. A young lady answers, the smith’s wife. And she is T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Jamie senses this and ducks out quick. (I really wish Ross Poldark would take a cue from Jamie.)
Meanwhile, Claire swaddles a fresh, new baby. The mother Petronella Mueller (Marie Hacke), sings in German with her mother Rosewitha (Nicola Ransom). The delivery went well. Even though Claire delivered the bairn, we get the sense she is a voyeur, looking in on the mother and daughter. Their interactions make her homesick for Bree. They name the baby girl, Clara.
“Do you have a grandchild Heir Claira? … then you will share mine.”—Rosewitha Mueller
Back in town, Jamie and Ian make their play to interested potential tenants. They’ll receive 100 acres and no rent until the land yields a harvest. We see the flyer:
Informations Concerning the Settlement of Fraser’s Ridge in the province of North Carolina
One man stands, wishes Jamie luck on his endeavor to attract residents and leaves. The other men follow suit. Jamie is stunned as is Ian.
“Did six farmers just refuse the offer of land?!”—Young Ian
Jamie approaches one of the men at the bar to better understand the hesitance. He hears a familiar story: once a farmer’s land becomes plentiful, tax collectors show up to proceed to embezzle funds in the name of taxes. It was from this practice that the Regulators were born. The Savages theme emerges beyond the derogatory parlance frequently used when referencing Native Americans.
Cut back to Claire at the Mueller house. She approaches the patriarch, Gerhard Mueller (Urs Rechn), and informs him the baby and mum are fine. “Danka Heir Claira.” He gives a doll wrapped in gingham cloth to mother and child.
“Savages. They steal our water for the horses.”—Gerhard Mueller
The dog barks and Heir Mueller curses in German. The baby cries. The Indians are feeding their horses from the stream nearby. Mueller and his son head out with rifles loaded, prepared to attack. Claire, realizing these Indians are her and Jamie’s acquaintances, intervenes and beckons both sides to yield.
SIDENOTE: Composer Bear McCreary’s accompaniment here is insane. Did you feel incredibly uneasy and queasy here? Like something horrible was about to happen? That’s thanks to his augmented string arrangement with a side of tremolo. He’s doing some fantastic stuff this season.
“Water belongs to no one!”—Tawodi (Will Strongheart)
Claire ends the standoff and makes her way home. It’s quiet and dark. Relieved and exhausted, she collapses in her own bed. We’ve ALL been there. The next morning, it’s back everyday life. We see her new normal as she feeds the animals, preps poultices, and practices her knitting. Rollo spends the days cuddled by the fireplace.
Jamie and Ian are packing up to head for home, disgruntled that after three pitch meetings they have no settlers to show for it. He admits he can’t pay taxes on 10k acres but can protect tenants from embezzlers. To make matters worse, a broken horse bit requires mending before they get on the road. Jamie sends Ian to the blacksmith with instructions to get it done.
Ian approaches a grey-haired fellow from behind. “My day is done!” the blacksmith barks. Y’ALL. I heard the curmudgeonly voice, and my ears perked like Rollo’s. Soooo familiar. I know that gruffy twang… MURTAUGGGGHHHH!!!! (This would be the first of my two “OH F&%K!” moments. The best part is Ian has no idea who this Sean Connery-looking grump is.
“That blacksmith was a tough old coot.” –Ian
Upon hearing how this “old coot” took Ian for 21 shillings, Jamie turns right around to confront him. (*Hehehe.*) Their reunion is so similar to the Claire and Jamie reunion in season three. Jamie speaks to him from behind. Murtaugh’s ears—like mine and Rollo’s—catch the familiar tenor. He does the slow, hesitant turn. Now Jamie is in Claire’s old spot. My heart is melting, and I’m crying like a dumdum as I watch this. “Christ. Murtaugh.” Jamie exclaims. I feel for poor Ian. He must have been so confused!
Then Jamie says, “There’s so much to tell ya.” And then Murtaugh says “I want to hear every word.” Melting, I tell you!
Claire gets word from Pastor Gottfried (Albert Welling) that there’s been devastation at the Mueller house. Both mother and baby are dead after contracting Measles. What’s worse, Heir Mueller blames the Indians for “cursing” the stream near the home. He blames Claire for intervening. She loads her rifle.
Back in town, the men catch up at the tavern. We learn Murtaugh spent 12 years as an indentured servant before being sold off to the blacksmith. “More than once I considered severing his neck,” he says of his previous master. This was a great callback to a critical season two episode, one in which Murtaugh literally severed the neck of the Duke of Sandringham.
It’s also worth mentioning that Murtaugh’s resurrection is a show plot point in direct contrast with the books. I suspect this change will be incredibly well-received. It certainly was for me. Though I also shudder for the future. Who knows what mischief the new three amigos will get up to in the coming episodes?
Among other things, they discuss Murtaugh’s new trade including limited knowledge of silversmithing, Claire’s return, Jamie’s now adult daughter and Murtaugh’s side gig that prevents him from resettling at Fraser’s Ridge. He’s not just a Regulator; he’s the ringleader! Ian and Jamie witness this first hand that evening as they observe a secret meeting of the minds. As Murtaugh incites the crowd, his passion and vigor are reminiscent of a man he once loathed, Dougal raising funds and support for the Jacobite rising roughly a quarter century earlier. There are many who would consider retaliating against government officials an act of savagery…
“We risk what we must for our beliefs.”—Murtaugh
Evening at Fraser’s Ridge is also anything but uneventful. Heir Mueller wants to talk. He tells her how his daughter and grandchild passed quickly from the measles. He’s calm at first, but then the anger comes forward. He hands Claire the gingham plaid package we saw earlier. At first, she’s touched, expecting the doll. But it’s something else, Adawehi’s necklace and also her scalp. He leaves. She wraps the scalp and places in a wooden keepsake box along with a sprig of dried herbs. She ceremonially places it into the fire.
“They are supposed to die of the pox. Not us! Not the ones who believe in God!”
Again, we see the theme this season of the dehumanization of others based on superficial differences. Claire, adept as she is at adapting to change, is unprepared to deal with this level of adversity. Before her time in colonial America, her experience confronting traditionally accepted cultural mores was more or less limited to civil rights for women and African Americans. And even then, those confrontations occurred in the middle of the cultural shift.
Cut to black. A torch lights an arrow. The arrow streaks across the sky and into a cabin. But who’s? We already know Roger and Bree found documentation of a fire at Fraser’s Ridge. It’s the Muller home. Frau Mueller walks out of the house with an arrow in her back. Heir Mueller rushes to her when he is also struck. The house burns. The Cherokee watch from the shadows.
It’s morning at the Ridge. Claire and Rollo hear someone approaching. “Sassenach!” Jamie chirps. They embrace and their original theme from season one plays. Later, Claire collects firewood outside and hears a familiar melody being whistled. There aren’t many in 18th Century America familiar with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”… But Murtaugh is! (Remember the end of season one?!) Our gang is back together. For now, anyway.
We cut back to 1971 one last time at Craigh na Dun. Our POV shifts and Bree narrates as she approaches the central stone.
“Roger, if you’re reading this. It means that I couldn’t make it back. I found out something terrible is going to happen to my mother and Jamie.
“I need you to know that I cared about you very much. Please don’t try to follow me, Roger.” You once told me to think of my mother happily in the past. That’s how I want you to think of me.”
And like that, she’s gone.
I’m thoroughly enjoying this season. Politicking in a time when laws and cultural identity are in the throes of invention must have been no easy fete. But then we’re experiencing a shift in cultural identity now. There are so many layers to each component of the story this season that parallel one another regardless of time and place. Prior seasons felt more coincidental. Season four has been crafted with aggressive intent to call out mistakes made in our history as a young nation. Violence begets violence. Hate begets hate.
MANDY’S MUSINGS: For when I can’t suppress my inner fangirl.
- Those bangs on Jamie though! We know, some readers want us to “cut” all the wig talk (hehe). But if you have share-worthy thoughts on JAMMF’s bangs or Claire’s hairline, let us know with the hashtag #OutlanderSplittingHairs
- THE PIG!!!
- Aly McGraw plug. Cute. #lovestory
- Seriously? Roger doesn’t have a photo of Bree?!
- Old Murtaugh looks like Sean Connery.
- Found myself happily laughing like a dumdum through this episode. The feel-good moments bring on ALL THE FEELS.
- McCreary is doing some HEAVY lifting this season musically. WOW. Strings. Tremolo. Augmented chords. Makes your skin crawl and your tummy knot up with anxiety and anticipation. That’s how ye know he’s doing it right.
NEXT WEEK, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9TH AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 405: “BLOOD OF MY BLOOD”
“Jamie and Claire are surprised when Lord John Grey drops in on Fraser’s Ridge with an unexpected traveling companion. When Grey takes ill, Claire must reconcile her personal feelings with her duties as a doctor.”
Photos and clips are courtesy of Starz.