‘Outlander’ Recap/Review: Episode 407, “Down the Rabbit Hole”

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[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.]

Episode 407:  “Down the Rabbit Hole”

Written by Shannon Goss, Directed by Jennifer Getzinger

This is a Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin) episode and, while the lack of Jamie and Claire may upset some, I found it particularly refreshing. In fact, I have found this the most exciting season for me since season one. While it is bittersweet to realize that this episode marks the halfway point for the season, there is still so much to unpack in the second half of this season, and I cannot wait to see how they translate it to the screen.

The episode opens with Brianna already in 18th Century Scotland, trekking across the highlands in the snow on foot – not her most brilliant decision, to be sure. As expected, she trips on some rocks and tumbles down a small hill, severely twisting her ankle, as evidenced by the bruising we see when she ices it in a small creek nearby. The injury slows her already glacial pace on her journey to the sea, and she is forced to spend more time out in the elements than she had apparently anticipated.

Though Brianna has a head start on Roger, he is not daunted. We see him arrive, ready for travel, with Fiona (Iona Claire) at the stones. He is cleanly shaven – horror upon horrors – and is dressed for the period, though still skeptical as to whether he will be able to follow her through. Roger, able to travel through time like his ancestor Geillis, can hear the call of the stones. With a quick farewell to Fiona, he touches the center stone and is whisked away.

After her collapse, Brianna has a memory of her father, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), carrying her to bed as a small child. We assume she remembers this because someone else is similarly carrying her to the home of Laoghaire (Nell Hudson), Jamie’s ex-wife. Rather than the cow-eyed child or homicidal lunatic we have seen previously, this is Laoghaire, the mother who, despite her current financial hardship, does not hesitate to feed, clothe, and house this foreign-born girl found half-dead near her home. We are again presented with evidence that Brianna has not thought through her decisions in detail, as she has no explanation for her odd accent when she claims to be from England. Of course, we the viewers know that she has a New England accent, which does not yet exist in the 18th Century she has traveled to. Though her mother, Claire, was an ‘Outlander’ upon her arrival, Brianna is even more so, further removed in time and place from the world she now finds herself in. Laoghaire is kind to her, however, and does not question her strange explanations. Laoghaire and Joan (Layla Burns) are eager to make Brianna welcome there and even speak fondly of Marsali and Fergus and the new grandchild in the colony of North Carolina. The whole situation almost makes you like Laoghaire, and forgive her for all the crazy we have seen from her before. Almost.

That evening, after Brianna is in bed, Ian Murray (Steven Cree) comes to visit Laoghaire, offering her money that has been sent by Jamie. Unfortunately, it is not enough to satisfy her, and she takes her anger and disappointment out on Ian instead. The sounds disturb Brianna, reminding her of fights Claire and Frank used to have when she was a child, and she goes out to see what is happening. They are apologetic, and Laoghaire encourages her to go back to bed. In an attempt to appease Laoghaire, Ian offers her some of his own money, but she refuses, too proud to take his money. Again, she is working to gain our sympathies, and it seems to be working.

The next morning, Joan and her mother are gardening, and Brianna – wearing one of Marsali’s dresses – learns more of their backstory and why the girls’ father and step-father are both absent. Laoghaire clearly mourns the day that her younger daughter will marry and leave her, as well, though it is years away. She heads back inside, leaving Joan and Brianna together in the garden. There is an immediate connection between them, and Brianna shares with Joan about her own fathers and how her mother, through no fault of her own, did not love her father Frank as much as he did her, similar to how Joanie sees the collapse of Jamie and Laoghaire’s marriage.

We are provided with a perspective we have not seen before – that of the father-daughter relationship between Frank and Brianna. I really liked seeing this side of Frank. Sometimes – as with Frank and Laoghaire – it is easy to see the negative sides of a person and view them solely as a villain. The reality is that people are rarely so easily categorized, and it was very cool for me to see the more redeemable qualities of these otherwise overlooked and easily dismissed characters.

In this scenario, Frank is drinking away the evening in his office when Brianna barges in to check on him, worried about him since he was not returning her calls. Through their interaction, we realize this must be the moment when he has discovered that Claire has been telling the truth all along and that Jamie did not die at Culloden. It is also how Jamie and Claire’s supposed obituary ends up in her hands later on, though she does not understand what it is right now. There is a moment when it seems as if Frank might tell her the truth about her heritage, but he changes his mind, most likely because he does not want his daughter to know that he is not her real father. At least, not yet. It is hard to imagine Frank’s situation, faced with the knowledge that he cannot father a child himself and then presented with a pregnant wife and an unborn, fatherless child which he could raise as his own. While he may not have been a perfect husband and had planned to divorce Claire before his untimely death, he tried to make the best of an impossible situation and did not throw them both out on the street as he could have when she returned to him in that state.

Jamie’s quick temper is evident in his daughter, as Frank’s reluctance to share with her the truth of what is bothering him irritates her. At first she stubbornly refuses to return home when he asks her to, but eventually, she does what he asks, storming out with a snarky comment and a slammed door.

That evening, Brianna is in her room when Laoghaire comes in to check on her, removing the bed warmer from under the sheets and lamenting again about her upcoming empty nest (seriously, how old is your daughter? Like, ten years old??). Brianna tries to reassure her that there are good men out there and that she is sure Joan will find one who would do anything for her. Laoghaire is not convinced, reminiscing about how Jamie had once been like that for her. Except that we know she remembers the events at Castle Leoch with Jamie through the rose-colored glasses of the young girl she was then. It is her opinion that Jamie had loved her, but had stopped only when bewitched by Claire. Of course, Brianna is still unaware that she is speaking about her parents, and consoles Laoghaire. She remembers when she and Jamie were still married and would spend evenings by the fire with herself and the girls, reading from the Bible. She agrees to tell one story to Brianna, and Joan sneaks in to join them. Again, we know from Jamie’s previous account that the marriage was anything but a happy one and that he left her long before Claire showed back up, despite how Laoghaire tries to romanticize it.

Roger, down at the docks, runs into none other than our favorite sea captain, Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers). Captain Bonnet is indeed heading back to Wilmington in North Carolina but is not interested in taking on any new passengers. It would seem he already has a ship full and he is at capacity. Roger insists, explaining that he is chasing after a girl who, he believes, has sailed ahead of him. He is refused again. Roger asks to join as a member of his crew, but Bonnet is less than impressed when he examines Roger’s hands, which are soft and lacking callouses. As he walks towards the ship, Roger grabs one of the barrels being loaded on to the ship and asks the captain where he wants it. Amused, Bonnet pulls out a coin and, based on the result of the toss, allows him to join his crew. He tells Roger that he hopes Brianna is worth the arduous voyage he is about to make.

Brianna, meanwhile, has not crossed the ocean yet, as Roger believes, but is still staying with Laoghaire. For a badly twisted ankle to be almost healed, and taking in to account the significant lead Brianna had on him, it is possible that she has spent a couple of weeks here by now. She assures Laoghaire that she will be on her way soon. She has been helping out around the house in the meantime, which Laoghaire appreciates since much had gone undone since Jamie left her. Brianna sings a song that was a favorite of her mother’s as she works, and Joan is entranced by it. There is a line in the song about girls putting flowers in their hair. It reminds Laoghaire of her girls doing the same nearby at Lallybroch. The name is known to Brianna, and she immediately perks up, remarking that she has family there. For a very tense few minutes, Laoghaire puts the pieces together regarding Brianna’s parenthood while Brianna remains in the dark. It seems, though, as if she is going to handle matters with a newfound maturity.

Having pointed out that she carries her adoptive father’s last name and not her birth father’s, and that her adoptive father has been dead several years now, she remembers the day that he had the fatal car accident. It was the morning after their fight, and she wakes him up with tea and scones, his favorite breakfast. He broaches the idea of studying abroad, but she insists that she wants to attend college in Boston since this is where her parents are, and she is reluctant to leave them. He smiles, but you can tell he has something else on his mind that he cannot share with her yet.

The niceties do not last long, and Brianna quickly picks up on Laoghaire’s mood change. Laoghaire goes as far as to lie to her about her father, insisting that he abandoned Claire because of her pregnancy, not wanting a child, not wanting her. Brianna, hurt and confused, refuses to believe this, still insisting on finding her parents to help them. She slips up, mentioning her foreknowledge of the fire to Laoghaire, which of course makes her suspicious, especially since she still believes Brianna’s mother to be a witch, as well. She drops her pretenses at last and begins screaming hurtful things at Brianna, making her relationship to Brianna’s parents obvious now. The crazy has returned. Joan enters just in time to hear that Jamie is Brianna’s father, which in a way makes them step-sisters.

Brianna, full of righteous indignation, defends her parents and leaves the room to pack to go immediately. Laoghaire follows, insisting that Claire should have burned at the stake 20+ years ago and saved her much heartache. Brianna is appalled to hear that Laoghaire was behind her mother’s attempted murder. Laoghaire threatens to do the same to her and locks her in the room. Brianna is effectively trapped.

The evening Frank died in the car wreck, he picked up Brianna from an evening with her friends. He explains to her that he is divorcing Claire and taking a job at Cambridge. He again asks her to come with him, smiling the entire conversation, happier than we have seen him in a long time. Brianna is shocked and refuses to believe that their marriage is over yet. Despite his soothing tones and insistence that she comes with him to England, she refuses to leave her mother and give up on the plans she and her father had worked out so perfectly for her future at Harvard. As she leaves the car, he calls out to her that he loves her, but, still upset, she does not respond. Later on, she is at the graveside and confesses to him that if she had just stayed with him, that if she had agreed to go with him, they might have gone out celebrating and he would still be alive. Though she feels that she could have prevented his death, she is pragmatic and repeats a phrase he had used earlier about ‘soldiering on.’

On the ship, Roger sees to the lamps in the hall when a young girl comes out of her cabin singing. He smiles and talks to her and her mother before continuing with his work. There are a large number of families here on the ship, many with women and children. One mother, in particular, has a very small baby who she is trying to comfort, but it will not stop crying. Bonnet surprises them by coming over to see to the baby himself, finally putting some alcohol on his finger which he then offers to the child to quiet it. This works, and he hands the child back to its mother. The ship makes a sudden lurch, and Bonnet does little to calm the nerves of the families nearby who are not used to the usual creaking of a ship. Regardless of his actions, there is a menace to Bonnet’s actions that is apart from the horrors we have already seen him commit. Roger steps in to reassure the young mother before following Bonnet out.

In the middle of the night, he is awoken by the screaming of a woman. He quickly finds the woman in the captain’s quarters, screaming and attempting to protect her daughter. He learns that the girl – the same one from earlier – has smallpox and that Bonnet intends to throw her and every other person on board into the sea to keep the pox from spreading and killing them all. Roger cannot stomach what the captain feels needs to be done, refusing to help him do it. Instead, Bonnet grabs the girl and tosses her out the window without a second thought. The mother, distraught, jumps in after her. Horrified, Roger runs to the window, but there is no sign of them in the water below. Captain Bonnet instructs his men to search the rest of the passengers and do the same with anyone else they find with a rash.

Roger immediately searches for the woman with the baby. As he suspected, the baby has a rash, but the mother insists it is because the child is teething and not smallpox at all. He rushes them away, hiding them in the storage area where no one can find them, sneaking them rations when he can.

Just as Brianna is able to get a window open, Joan arrives at the door and helps her to escape, taking her by wagon to Lallybroch and her blood family. Joan explains to Ian who Brianna actually is, and he sees the family resemblance immediately. Jenny is, unfortunately, away helping deliver their newest grandchild. He tries to give her money for her journey and returns her mother’s clothes and other items left behind to her, telling her to ask for Aunt Jocasta when she arrives in North Carolina.

While Roger’s scheme to hide away the mother and her baby works for a time, Captain Bonnet finds out and confronts him in the hold near them. He regales them with a story of his introduction to sea life and how he was very unpopular with the other sailors for an unknown reason. One day they decide to sacrifice one of the young sailors, and they flip a coin to decide which will live and which will be thrown overboard in sacrifice. Bonnet, too sick to fight back against them, loses consciousness only to awaken with the coin in his pocket. He again pulls that same coin from his own pocket and offers to flip it for Roger’s life in the same manner, since he is responsible for stealing the rations for the mother and child. Apparently, it is Roger’s lucky day, and he leaves them to their own business.

Ian takes Brianna to the port where she can catch a ship to America and her parents at last. He reassures her that Jamie will be more than happy to meet her finally. As she enters the pub to purchase her passage on the ship, a man approaches and offers his daughter as a servant. She refuses at first, but he explains that if she does not pay his debt and take his daughter as a servant that she will instead be bought as a concubine to another man. He introduces his daughter, Elizabeth (Caitlin O’Ryan), to Brianna, and the next thing we see she is purchasing passage for them both to North Carolina.

As Elizabeth is saying her goodbyes to her father near the ship, Brianna imagines she sees Frank there, as well, offering her his blessing for her trip. There is a sense of closure for Brianna as she turns to sail to the new world where a father she has never met before – and a future she is entirely unprepared for – awaits.

All in all, I really liked this episode and felt it was well done. There is a delicious tension every time Stephen Bonnet is on screen, and I think the episode serves to show viewers that we have not seen the last of this villain, his acts from the first episode of the season still fresh in our minds. I enjoyed seeing another side of Laoghaire, as well, since the books never made me feel sympathy for the woman the way this episode did. At least up until she tried to have Brianna arrested as a witch, too. Old habits die hard, I suppose. My favorite part of the episode, however, was the relationship we get to see between Frank and Brianna. There is much romance in the series, but we really have not seen a father-daughter tenderness such as this before, except maybe here and there with Jamie and Marsali, though it does not feel the same as this. Perhaps this is because Marsali is much older when they become father and daughter. If you sat down and mapped out the web of relationships, both romantic and familial in this show, it will leave your head spinning (especially when you realize that Jamie’s adopted son married his step-daughter).

I, for one, cannot wait to see what the next few weeks will bring (and am dreading the ‘Droughtlander 2019’ which is coming way too soon)!

NEXT WEEK, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 23RD AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 408: “WILMINGTON”

“Roger’s diligent search for Brianna pays off when he finds her in Wilmington, but their romantic reunion comes to an abrupt halt when she discovers pertinent information that he intentionally kept from her. Meanwhile, Jamie and Claire attend the theater with Governor Tryon, at his request, and discover a plot against the Regulators that tests Jamie’s loyalty to Tryon.”

Photos and clips are courtesy of Starz.