‘Outlander’ Episode 504 Reflection: The Kobayashi Maru

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Outlander Season 5, Episode 4 Reflection: The Kobayashi Maru  

Starring Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe, Sophie Skelton, Richard Rankin, Cesar Domboy, Lauren Lyle, Caitlyn O’Ryan, Ed Speleers, Anna Burnett, Jon Tarcy

The theme of the fourth episode, “The Company We Keep,” is frailty: both perceived and real, physical and emotional, masculine and feminine. We witness choices made and consequences faced, which, from another perspective or in a different context, would be very different. Male characters behave bombastically, but, as their language lies within matters of business, they are dealt with differently than female characters who behave similarly due to matters of the heart.

For Colonel Fraser and Captain MacKenzie, questions of leadership and identity boil down to the trust of the men they need in the militia, and the perception those men hold for the ideal for which they will be fighting. Whereas Jamie has more connections to the collective identity of the men he is gradually assembling – their homeland, their future in America, their sense of community and heritage – Roger is an outlander who was given his post by his father-in-law. At best, they can’t figure him out, which breeds suspicion. At worst, the university scholar is an errand boy with soft hands and a bullhead for street smarts, which leads to discord. Once the militia comes across a family feud in Brownsville along their recruitment drive to Hillsborough, Roger deals with the impossible position he is in by attempting to Captain Kirk his way out of a gunfight by embracing his nature and background more than ever before. In a way, he is both setting himself up for Jamie’s disappointment in his measurement as a leader and rebelling against the notion that he should bend himself to fit someone else’s ideal. He sacrificed his pride, and it cost him men and further convinced Jamie of his ill fit on the road, but he saved himself.

Roger must see the Brownsville folk like characters in a storybook in which he is now living, like Bilbo amongst the dwarfs, and while awaiting Jamie and Claire, he soothes the irate crowd with drink and song. To Jamie, this appears wasteful and unprofessional. Still, Roger approaches the failed business deal – in this case, the Brown family marrying off a young daughter to a much older man with property – like a contentious faculty meeting: by concession of a sizable demand to appease the whole and move forward. The girl, Alicia (Anna Burnett), had fallen in love with one of the militiamen, Isaiah Morton (Jon Tarcy), and the affair had ruined her family’s prospects. To make matters worse, she is pretty unapologetic and loud about her love for the painfully awkward man, which only inflames her father’s ire. Roger needs men above any extra drama, so he agrees to hand over Morton to the angry Browns and a certain hanging. To Jamie, this is less of a placation and more of a weakening of the unit, not to mention a delay in their schedule.

For Alicia, her fate is, in those days, worse than death, as she is a marked woman and thus a failed commodity with which her family can no longer bargain. Once Morton reveals that he is married, albeit unhappily, it only makes her situation worse. Jamie sees this as the frailty of Morton’s character, but Roger has a bit more sympathy for young lovers in between a rock and a hard place. Everything he is doing is for Brianna, so impetuosity and passion and love’s labors are less of a hindrance and more of a provocation to new beginnings.

Back at the homestead, Brianna is confronted by traces of a wolf prowling about the henhouse as Mrs. Bug tells her of an Irishman who was passing through and gave Jemmy a coin. Not only does it erase the line between nightmares and consciousness, but it lengthens the shadows over the security of home that, until now, had insulated Brianna from the horror she had endured with Stephen Bonnet. Fighting the monsters in one’s head is hard enough, but fearing their manifestation at a time when your husband and parents are far away, as well as protecting a young child who is even more vulnerable, further chips away at her bearing.

Increasingly evident throughout this season is the strength and gumption of Marsali (Lauren Lyle), whose insufferableness in the third season has matured with age, motherhood, and experience into a tenacious and inquisitive character that has steadily grown on me. My educator background has led me to see Marsali as that stubborn, defiant kid that makes you pull your hair out in September, but as you learn about their unstable home life and rocky upbringing, you realize that you have to adapt to them rather than unsuccessfully drag them to meet you, and by the spring they have matured enough to start making real progress. Claire is a mother and mentor to Marsali in a way Laoghaire never was or possibly ever could be and opens possibilities for learning by identifying and fostering her talents and skills. As much as she initially hated Claire, Marsali saw her as a way out of a future she already saw in her birth mother, and now she has someone who sees her as an asset. For Brianna, it becomes a comfort to have someone in the house so handy with a meat cleaver and a comrade to share a dram within the wee hours.

After Alicia’s suicide attempt and a suitable family found for Bonnie, it makes sense that Jamie would, at last, agree with Roger to help Isaiah and Alicia elope and escape. He and Claire never had the chance to raise children together, but he can aid the young couple in at least attempting a future together. Sometimes, when a situation seems impossible, the only thing to do is reprogram the system in which the situation exists.

by Brooke Corso