‘Outlander’ Review: Episode 409, “The Birds & the Bees”

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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 409:  “The Birds & the Bees”

Written by Matthew B. Roberts and Toni Graphia, Directed by David Moore

One year ago, as I was preparing to review the finale of Outlander’s third season, I got a frantic phone call at 5:00 AM on a bitterly cold east Texas morning. My father, who we all thought had a little cold at Thanksgiving, actually had the flu and had been rushed to an urgent-care clinic with breathing problems, then transported by ambulance to a hospital where he was in a medically-induced coma. It was now full-blown pneumonia, and my brothers and I, who all lived in Houston, were told to come home to south Texas immediately. Now. Now. Now.

I watched the finale, “Eye of the Storm,” in a hotel room at midnight, after one of the many physicians who blew into our lives that week told us that my father’s asthma was actually fighting the medication, making his lungs unable to breathe properly to fight the pneumonia. They had to paralyze him for twelve hours and let a breathing machine take over and then would try to wean him off the next morning and see if he could come out of it. Only one person could stay with him, so one of my brothers sat in the room and Mom went back to the farm, and I went to the hotel which was walking distance from the hospital. It was one of those nights when you aren’t sure if you’re entire world was going to change at dawn, so the bath water feels funny and the carpet is itchy underfoot and the traffic on the highway outside is surreal because people are in those cars and how can they be functioning normally if the world is crumbling? I remember watching Claire sinking into the ocean and thinking that was me as well, falling slowly amidst the molecules in the air.

Tonight’s episode, “The Birds & the Bees,” is again about fathers and daughters and the traits we see naturally versus the ones we strain to observe. It begins and ends with mistaken identity and the emotions – whether tender or blind with rage – that shared experience or understanding can elicit. Lizzie (Caitlin O’Ryan) has her future tied to the prospects and well-being of her new mistress, and when Brianna returns to their room at the tavern looking disheveled and dazed, with blood on her petticoats and bruises on her back, her silence communicates as much as an admission.

As the show never lets one mood settle for long, the bleakness of Brianna’s morning after her rape by Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) and assumed abandonment by Roger (Richard Rankin) is broken by Lizzie’s discovery that Jamie and Claire are still in Wilmington. The show-specific meeting of father and daughter is a testament to the approach the show takes towards its moments of bittersweet: for a young woman who has just been raped, whose fantasy-world of jumping into a chalk painting and walking amongst the caricatures has been shattered by flesh and blood and pain, the notion of walking into a narrow alley towards a large man relieving himself against a wall is both unsettling and darkly, weirdly comical. That Bree reaches out to touch Jamie Fraser before admitting who she was shows a bravery that stands out after her discovery of how dangerous it is to act assertively around men in that time, and she and Jamie share a mutual recognition of themselves in the other that is all to brief before the world floods in again.

As the Frasers are finally together in the same place at the same time, their isolation back at the Ridge provides as many instances for togetherness as separation. Brianna can see her mother’s happiness in her new home: in the design of her home and the herbs and medicines she has collected and made, in the way she has arranged the rooms to suit her daily tasks (kudos to Stuart Bryce’s set decoration), and the way she and Jamie behave together. As Claire admits later, her heart is in this world, and as Jamie observes, Brianna is still a stranger to it, possibly for good. Ironically, Jamie and Bree share this identity struggle, though at different degrees of resolution: he is making the best of being unable to return to Scotland, while Claire could choose the world in which she resides. Claire inhabits this place and time with both prior and advanced knowledge, while Jamie scaffolds each day anew like the cabins he is building for his tenants. Bree and her father share more than they currently know, and his concern for her place in his, her, or any world goes beyond a parent’s natural concern for the safety of their child. He has a knowing with which Claire can only empathize.

There is only one other character who is as entrenched in his world as Claire is in hers, and it is a surprising similarity: Stephen Bonnet, who retains uncommon ease about his environs that lends a cocksureness to his face and demeanor, equally charming and menacing. He knows the seaboard like the back of his hand, the people who come to its shores, the treasures that await his plunder. Contrasting the reserve and unease of Roger Wakefield, a stranger in a strange land, Bonnet gorges himself on the opportunities each day brings, illegal or immoral or otherwise. He is as fastidious about the structure of his world as Claire is about hers, albeit for different reasons, while Jamie and Brianna are two figures slowly converting their foundations of sand into stone.

As with William, Jamie bonds with his other child through an expedition in the forest, this time for bee honey. As reserved as Brianna still is with her emotions towards her birth father, as well as the details she provides her mother about Roger and Bonnet, writers Toni Graphia and Matthew B. Roberts (whose episodes I always love) allow Jamie the tender scenes he deserves as a father cheated of fatherhood, and all the fear and hesitation and worry that come with parenting are finally allowed to flow forth to Claire. While he has to give Brianna time to come to him, he has to admire her in bits and pieces, which is heartbreaking after the decades of loss and pain. In terms of heartache, waiting that little bit of time more rivals the years without, but he has to contend with his daughter’s life without him, and the admittance that Frank is as much a father as he is will always be a sore spot.

In his lesson to Bree about bees, Jamie talks about moving the hive to the Ridge, and the bees becoming content in their new home as they have no other choice. She reacts by admitting that she has a life elsewhere, and another man who raised her, to which Jamie gently points out, “I had to give you to him.” Her existence and upbringing were both secured because of this tall, redheaded man whom she barely knows, and maybe once she knows more about his life outside the role of “Da,” she will gain a deeper, more mature understanding of Jamie Fraser and both his place in her world and her place in his.

NEXT WEEK, SUNDAY, JANUARY 6TH AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 410: “THE DEEP HEART’S CORE”

“Jamie and Claire keep secrets from one another as they try to help Brianna process her recent trauma. But the secrets they keep cause a bigger familial rift once they are revealed and Brianna learns of a terrible misunderstanding that has had disastrous consequences for Roger.”

Photos and clips are courtesy of Starz.