[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 412: “Providence”
Written by Karen Campbell, Directed by Mairzee Almas
Whenever Samuel Barber’s Adagio movement from his String Quartet, Op. 11 is used in a film; it is usually either during a birth scene or death scene or otherwise torturous combination of suffering and grace while spectators look on in silent witness, be it a scaffold or gurney or Cliff of Insanity. It is meant to spiritually blanket the scene where a character may be unjustly punished or executed, or a birth is beset by complications, and the audience is supposed to understand that such a present crucible is necessary for what will be in the future. We are meant to assign meaning to suffering, and Outlander uses pain, both physical and spiritual, as a medium for transformation and redemption.
I remember a lesson from a university linguistics course about the context and semantics of words and the necessary presence of belief and logic behind their power. This is why wedding vows between two actors on a television show do not mean they are married in real life (as much as some fans desperately want otherwise), but also why a woman in Texas can marry an astronaut in space (as happened in 2003) via satellite hookup. How does time and space, setting and context, literal translation versus figurative meaning contribute towards the belief in something to be real?
Though moments of physical suffering permeate the penultimate episode, “Providence” placed emphasis on dialogue between two sets of characters at moral odds with each other, one of each duo so entrenched in the structure of his existence – either self-made or God-given – that he is willing to justify it to the end of his life, and the other desperately trying to build a foundation of belief that will sustain him/her for the rest of theirs.
After Lord John tells Brianna the news of Stephen Bonnet’s capture, she insists upon seeing him before his execution. While his official crimes are smuggling, piracy, and murder, there will be no explicit punishment for her rape, and her inward struggle to move forward with that reality and her insistence upon her own worth is viscerally seen in Sophie Skelton’s performance. Brianna’s rapport with John continues to grow, and his admiration for her tenacity is matched by her gratitude for his attentiveness. Skelton and David Berry display a charming chemistry reminiscent of young Fergus (Romann Berrux) and Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) in earlier seasons, and Young Ian (John Bell) and Jamie this season.
Roger continues to be ensnared in the Pit of Despair that is the Province of New York, where the Mohawk hold him captive at Shadow Lake. Within the prisoners’ hut, he meets Father Alexandre Ferigault (Yan Tual), whose story of love and suffering is salt in the Scotsman’s wounded soul. It becomes not just a battle of words, but a battle over words as the priest and the professor debate the structure and semantics of communication, as well as what it means to commune with God and other human beings regardless of faith, culture, or background. As both men have been tortured with more beatings (or worse) guaranteed to come, both emotions and senses are heightened, and cultural and spiritual decorum is anguished over as death becomes clearer.
As Brianna admits regret at not saying goodbye to Jamie before he left and acceptance that both her parents and Roger may never return, her meeting with Bonnet is within a vacuum of self and soul as she outwardly reclaims her life and body before her violator in chains. It matters less how Bonnet feels towards her statements than her belief in her own strength to raise her child in goodness – a small but persistent step toward agency in a world where her rights as a female are secondary to her worth as property. Skelton’s intense speech in Bonnet’s cramped cell while Grey waited nearby is more powerful than Murtagh’s jailbreak by Fergus and the Regulators shortly after, and Bonnet’s assumed escape (I’ll just leave it at “assumed”) assures the audience that the rascal will return to his dastardly ways soon. Like Tobias Menzies, Ed Speleers continues to bedevil our senses regarding Bonnet and his malicious charm.
Ironically, the pirate, who possesses a “ride or die” mentality towards his life and lifestyle from cradle to scaffold and truly believes in himself as a self-made man of means and opportunity, is set against the priest, whose adherence to the tenets of his religion cannot allow his spirituality to falter against its practices. Father Ferigault also believes in his calling as a man of God, and as such, his corruption by loving a woman named Johiehon (Sera-Lys McArthur) means he cannot perform the ceremony of baptism of their child in good conscience and faith, despite Roger’s protestations.
Within the prisoners’ hut, as the men argue about the meaning of ceremony and ritual, spiritual succor versus religious exercise, screenwriter Karen Campbell and director Mairzee Almas are wisely commenting upon Outlander’s ongoing depiction of suffering and its context, and whether its intentions are successful. How much should audiences see in order to feel? Should a character’s physical suffering be explicitly shown to equal his or her spiritual torment? After four seasons, Outlander has included murder, rape, torture, and death in its characters’ journeys of physical or spiritual corruption and redemption, and the show is not afraid to turn judgment towards itself and what is necessary on screen. As the Frasers and their extended group remain splintered from the Ridge, we glimpse enough tiny comforts of love and understanding through the different displays of anguish to see how they might be mended together again towards a new future.
NEXT WEEK, SUNDAY, JANUARY 27TH AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 413: “MAN OF WORTH”
“Jamie, Claire and Young Ian’s attempt to rescue Roger from his Mohawk captors goes awry when a ghost from Claire’s past lays waste to their plan. Meanwhile, Brianna worries Claire, Jamie and Roger might not return and contemplates life as a single parent without them.”
Photos and clips are courtesy of Starz.