[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 502: “Between Two Fires”
Written by Toni Graphia and Luke Schelhaas, Directed by Stephen Woolfenden
The episode opens with a brutal scene, watched over by Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix). The regulators pull men from their homes, dragging them into the street to pour burning hot tar over them and then cover them in feathers. It is a level of brutality that we have not seen from him before.
Meanwhile, Bree (Sophie Skelton) is still reeling from the news that Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) is still alive. She sketches his deeply shadowed face, not the charming Irishman we have met before, but the violent pirate who might have fathered her child. She is interrupted from her thoughts, though, by the screams of a man in great pain. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is there as soon as the wagon pulls up and brings him into her surgery. Under the eyes of Bree and others of their household, she questions the man’s wife about his symptoms and the treatment she has offered. She is clearly not pleased with what she hears but is particularly surprised by something the woman says, which she understands contains high levels of mercury. Claire quickly realizes that she cannot do anything more for him and has to break the news to the man’s distraught wife.
Jamie (Sam Heughan), as discussed in the previous episode, is with the redcoats that Governor Tryon has left behind. Despite the apparent tension, Lieutenant Knox (Michael Xavier), the leader, seems to hold Jamie in high regard. The moment is ruined, though, when he immediately brings up the topic of Murtagh again, and how he hopes to profit off of his capture and subsequent hanging. Jamie’s opinion of Knox seems to improve when he tosses some coin to a poor family on the side of the road. The father of the family did not seem to share Jamie’s appreciation of Knox’s generosity, as he spits at the lieutenant in return. Knox is offended, talking about the importance of respect for the British Army. Surprisingly, Jamie agrees with Knox’s opinions about the army being there to protect the less fortunate from anarchy and war. It is unclear, though, whether Jamie is sincere, or playing a good hand of poker with a man he knows is meant to keep tabs on him. Before we can get much more from the conversation, they are met by a man who brings word of the attack by the Regulators.
Claire, unwilling to let go so easily, has decided to open up the man who died so she could learn if her suspicions about his death were correct. Bree comes to the door of the surgery, and Claire lets her in, but she is immediately ill at the sight of the body, flayed open on the table. She is anxious about her mother’s safety, understanding that it is not accepted during this time period for her to be doing this. Bree leaves, and Claire takes a break, stepping out on the front porch of the house. Marsali is butchering a deer on a table in the front yard. There isn’t anything particularly interesting to the scene, but you can see the wheels in Claire’s mind beginning to turn.
Back in the town, the locals are reeling from the devastation brought by the Regulators. These don’t seem to be people who are happy about the “good deeds” these men had done to resist the over-taxation of the British. There are beaten and bruised people, the town vandalized and in chaos. Mr. Fanning, an acquaintance of Jamie, meets them and brings them inside to one of the men who had been tarred and feathered. He appears strong, though badly scarred, and understandably pissed off. The younger man was not as fortunate, and there was speculation regarding whether he would be strong enough to survive. Mr. Fanning’s house had been torn apart in the attack, as well. After hearing these stories, Jamie is deeply disturbed, not thinking the men capable of these acts.
Three of the Regulators were captured and being held, and Jamie is concerned about who the men might be and whether they will know him or not. While relieved that none of the captured men are Murtagh, he does know one or two of them and tries to steer the conversation in a way to make it evident that they should pretend not to know him. He succeeds in this, but the men have an apparent disrespect for him, seeing him as no better than the British soldiers, being in Tryon’s pocket, essentially. The men are antagonistic towards both Jamie and Knox, and one even claims to be Murtagh. He pushes Knox too far by spitting in his face, and in a moment of anger, he stabs and kills the man. Jamie has only a moment to think before others enter the jail and see what has happened, but he quickly covers for Knox, insisting he had done it in self-defense.
On the Ridge, Roger is not thrilled to have been left behind to “protect” the place. Instead, he believes Jamie doesn’t respect him. As Bree is showing him how to shoot at squirrels, things seem to heat up a little between them, until they are interrupted by some turkeys. Roger moves to take a shot but misses. Bree acts quickly and bags one of the turkeys for them before they run away. A shadow crosses Bree’s face, and there is a hint that her recent turmoil over Bonnet may be affecting their intimacy. The conversation turns to returning home to their time, and it becomes clear to them both that Roger is keen on returning, but that Bree wants to stay with her family. Their future together seems to be in jeopardy if they cannot agree on this, as we have already seen how stubborn and fiery both parties can be when pushed.
Jamie and Lieutenant Knox process what has happened in one of the local pubs. Knox feels that he is a hypocrite by not coming forward and admitting what he has done. He seems to take something Jamie says wrong, and suddenly his view shifts, insisting that he gave the man a soldier’s death, which is more than he would have deserved. He reminds Jamie that they have both sworn oaths to “King and Country,” and so their loyalties have already been decided.
It is time for the funeral for the patient Claire had lost, and Roger sings a beautiful song over his coffin. Except, we find out that he isn’t in the coffin after all – they just held a funeral for a coffin full of rocks. Instead, the man is still on Claire’s table in the surgery, insides on display. Claire convinces Marsali to come into the surgery with her and shows her the autopsy she is in the middle of performing. Marsali is scandalized at first, but her curiosity seems to win out as she listens to Claire’s rationale and offer to apprentice her as a surgeon. She wants Marsali to practice on the dead man’s body, promising to have him safely buried when they are done. Convinced, she agrees.
Jamie, meanwhile, bides his time, and as they are removed Ethan’s body from the prison, he hides a tool up his sleeve and slips into the jail where the other two men are still locked up. Although he is there to help them, they continue to argue with him, insisting that what they did was the right thing. They reveal that Murtagh was there for it all, leading them, and Jamie is shocked to hear this. He had been under the impression that the men had done all of this without Murtagh’s knowledge, but this forces a shift for him in how he sees his godfather now. The men insist that they are at war, thereby justifying their brutality. As they escape, they tell Jamie to get his men ready because they have an army, and war is coming.
It isn’t long before Claire hears of another case that bothers her healer sensibilities. She and the other women of the Ridge are dipping candles as they talk about the severe burns one of the area boys had suffered. Claire tries to dissuade the boy’s mother from administering him medicine that is making him vomit. Still, the women blow her off, preferring to listen to the trusted physician of the area instead. Claire refuses to give up, though, and so we find her writing up a list of recommended home remedies for the locals, but under the pseudonym of the man whose doctor bag she now owns. Bree finds her in the midst of this project and is, again, concerned for her mother’s safety. Hearing about the idea of the pseudonym, however, she relents and even agrees to help her mother with copying the work.
The next morning, Knox is less than pleased about the escape of the two Regulators and knows that they did not escape without help. He insists that Jamie go back to the Ridge and gather as many of his men as possible for a militia because he fears war is coming with the Regulators. News of what Knox did to the third prisoner is not going to take long to spread.
Roger, hoping for some reason to explain his terrible shooting, has Claire examine his eyes. She finds nothing wrong with him, and so he has to admit that he is just a lousy shot. Claire mentions Roger’s father, who was a Royal Air Force pilot, and the fact that his eyesight would’ve been perfect, and therefore, it’s unlikely he would’ve inherited anything wrong, either. The mention of his family brings the Reverend to his mind, and how all of his family is gone, regardless of which time he is in. Claire mentions something Roger had told her before, that his great-grandparents are in the near area, but he laughs since that familial connection would be hard to explain. Claire admits to him that she wants them to go home through the stones, that there is so much danger in this time for them and, especially, for little Jeremiah. We realize, though, that until they know for sure that Jemmy can hear the stones, they don’t know if the little guy can even travel back with them. They have no way to predict how long it might take for them to find this out, so they just have to be patient.
The two escaped prisoners find Murtagh and the others and waste no time in telling them what happened to Ethan. They question Murtagh’s loyalty, as his godson will be on the opposite side of this war, but he eventually insists to them that his loyalties are here, with the Regulators.
Still determined to bring modern medicine to the backcountry, Claire has been up baking all night to have enough bread for her mold experiments – she is trying to make Penicillin. Bree is concerned, but this time it is about the damage that might be done by her mother inventing things that shouldn’t be created yet. Claire points out to her that their presence, the very fact that Jamie is alive when he would have otherwise been dead without her meddling, means that they are changing the future with every action they take.
Outside, Roger is singing one of Bree’s favorite songs to Jemmy as he plays on a blanket in the yard. Bree compliments his fathering. Roger, wanting to be helpful, offers to take the laundry inside for her. When he does, he accidentally knocks over Bree’s sketches, and, as he is trying to put the book back, he sees not just one, but several dark and sinister sketches of Bonnet’s face. Roger is deeply disturbed by what he sees but is interrupted by Bree shouting from the yard for him to look at Jemmy, who had chosen that moment to begin walking. Despite Bree’s excitement, Roger’s face is clouded with fear and confusion as he rejoins his family.
Suddenly, we are watching a couple of rough women boxing in a ring; their dresses hiked up for greater movement. Mr. Forbes (Billy Boyd) is present, but then, so is Bonnet, who seems to have survived the prison fire just fine. Bets are placed on the fight, and Bonnet, of course, comes out on top. Another man nearby calls him out as a cheater, insisting that he only won those bets because he had an agreement with the woman who had lost. Bonnet, his honor insulted, insists that they settle this appropriately – which apparently means a sword fight before the already gathered audience. Bonnet gets the upper hand, and the other man calls out to yield, but instead, he pulls a dagger and savagely cuts across the man’s eyes and the bridge of his nose, blood pouring down his face as he screams. The man accompanying Bonnet pulls him aside and comments about how he has never seen this behavior from him before and asks why he didn’t just kill him. Bonnet replies that he has to set a better example, now that he is a father. As he leaves the building that housed the fighting ring, he seems to have a thought that brings a smile to his face, and then heads off for his next adventure.
Overall, I don’t have a lot to comment about this episode. We are still in the exposition phase of this season, as would be expected, and there seems to be a lot here that is being set up. For those of us who have read the books, there are hints dropped throughout the episode that seem to foreshadow what we know is coming, some this season, and some that will be a few seasons from now still. If the books are followed, we know Marsali won’t be the last of Claire’s apprentices, though that should be a storyline in the next season of the show. The same goes for references to Roger’s father, who we won’t know more about until several more seasons. What stood out to me the most, though, was the re-introduction of Roger’s singing. We know that he is a talented singer from the earlier days of his and Bree’s relationship, but the fact that they are reintroducing it now is significant. So, for those who haven’t read the books, it is something to pay attention to. Overall, I thought it was a good episode and fleshed out how relationships are shifting and changing in this new world (and season) and leading to some exciting new stories coming this season (and those to follow it).
I also thought it was interesting how Claire believes they are changing the future by being there and that Bree is afraid of that. In previous books (and seasons) we have seen a different presentation of time, one that is fixed, as we see evidence of Claire’s presence with Jamie both before Bree’s birth and after it when they are looking for proof that she should return through the stones to the past. The books had this same back and forth in regards to time travel, the characters struggling with whether or not they could change events that had not yet happened in their current time but that they know would happen in the future. Despite their episodes in season two, they couldn’t stop the war between England and Scotland, and it had devastating effects for the Scots and their homeland. Will they be able to affect the outcome of the coming battle with the Regulators or the Revolutionary War as a whole? That is left to be seen, but I fall on the side of a fixed timeline, rather than the ability to change it. After her experience in Scotland in season 1, let’s hope Claire learns to be more discrete with her meddling…
What did you guys think of episode two? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
NEXT WEEK, SUNDAY, MARCH 1ST AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 503: “FREE WILL”
“The growing Regulator threat forces Jamie, Claire and Roger to embark on a mission to raise a militia. When one of their settlers reveals he’s a bondservant, and asks for help freeing himself and his brother from their abusive master, Jamie and Claire are forced to make a difficult decision.”
Photos provided by Starz