[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 507: “The Ballad of Roger Mac”
Written by Toni Graphia, Directed by Stephen Woolfenden
“…What no one can prepare for is to face family in the time of war.” –Claire
Confession time. I have been stuck midway through book six in the Outlander series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, since 2017. What can I say? Life happens. I promise to be caught up by the start of season six. Sometimes, I lose track of when (in which novel) a pivotal moment takes place. Then, in watching the show, it comes to me like when you vividly recall a dream you had the night before, midway through the day. It sort of smacks you in the face. Because you didn’t see the memory coming. YOU. DIDN’T. SEE IT. COMING.
I make this next statement objectively and with a clear head: This is the best episode of the season. FIGHT ME.
OutlanderTVNews reporter Sarah first cunningly noted that we should view episode seven, The Ballad of Roger Mac, with caution as he doesn’t show up anywhere in the preview following episode six, despite his name in the title. It’s also worth noting that Toni Graphia penned this episode, and she’s basically Outlander royalty now, an institution since season one. The show opens on someone in a red sweater, playing an acoustic guitar, presumably Roger (Richard Rankin). The hands turn and scribble juvenile music notes on staff paper. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) narrates over the footage again, as she’s done this season. I really love this kickback to season one. It feels right. According to said narration, they’re on their way to Hillsborough, preparing for war.
We see Roger singing Oh My Darling Clementine to baby Jemmy, who happily enjoys from his spot on the floor. Bree (Sophie Skelton) listens from her post at the fireplace, very a la Jamie in the Wedding episode from season one. Roger promises he’ll be back to sing more. They’re not at “the Big House.” They’re in Hillsborough. A maid enters and takes the babe. Bree pulls the futile move of fanaticizing what would happen if they had remained in Oxford. In the 1960s.
Roger confesses his true worry; he barely knew his father before his death in WWII. He’s worried Jem won’t remember him at all. (As the mom of a two-year-old, I have absolutely had this thought.) Bree comforts him, assuring him he’ll come home and, in the meantime, promises to tell Jemmy often of his old man and his bravery. They kiss. He jokes that at least she knows the words to “Clementine” in his absence.
“Goodbye, Roger Mac.”—Bree
“Goodbye, Mrs. Mac.”—Roger
They exchange a deep and serious glance. He leaves. Bree is worried. (I do appreciate that he leaves the guitar upright, leaning on the couch.)
Cut to Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire. It’s morning, they’re in a tent, and he’s shirtless. (Mental Note: the tent seems to be a cream color.) “Happy birthday, Colonel,” she coos to him from inside his left arm pocket space. He’s busy examining his left hand (straight from the pages, y’all). She lovingly teases him about his age, asking if she needs to get him a cane. He lifts the blanket and checks the status of his… member. “It’s all seems to be in working order, he says.” (uh-huh…) Claire declares there’s no shame in taking stock; she does it too as she gets older.
“I like to reflect on the year past … making sure you’re the same person as you were the day before.”—Claire
Jamie asks his Sassenach if she sees any marked changes. She says, “No, you’re still you.” They kiss. I love them. (Hey, remember when I pointed out that the tent looks cream? On the outside, it’s red! Whahhh?!?!?) Jamie notes that he is now older than his father ever was. He wonders what his father would think of his life. Claire is sure he’d be happy to know Jamie is alive, with a full and ever-growing family. As it is, Jamie is content with life.
“The world and each day in it is a gift. Whatever tomorrow brings, I’m grateful to see it.” —Jamie
As for “taking stock” as she put it—a new term for Jamie—he’s decided that he has all his teeth, none of his parts are missing, and his middle wicket still stands up in the morning, so uhh he’s good! (SMH.) Claire climbs on top of him, doing her very best Marilyn Monroe, and disrobes. Is this the first time we’ve actively seen Jamie and Claire have sex this season? Like not in a creepy montage incorporating their extended family? (Roger and Bree’s wedding. Creepy. Rewatch it. It cuts from Bree and Roger to Jamie and Claire, to Auntie Jocasta and Murtagh. All family. All doin’ it. At the same time.) All I’m saying is, I’m glad I can focus on ma two faves.
Cut to a post-coital Jamie taking stock of the regiment with Governor Tryon (Tim Downie). They have 1,068 men. Someone reminds them not to forget General Waddell’s brigade in Salisbury. Jamie points out that the regulators are farming people. They won’t have artillery or cannons. It won’t be a fair fight. Tryon says too damn bad. Jamie nods and confirms his men are present and accounted for. He has concerns, to put it mildly. Just then, Roger runs up, reporting for duty. He falls in line per Jamie’s orders.
It’s raining. The men huddle under a tent. Jamie instructs every man to fasten a coin of sorts to their jackets. It will identify them as militia and not regulators. This sounds super upper crust, but the rain is mixed nicely here. Not too much. It sounds like it’s hitting the tarp. A comfortable rain if you will, lol. Then guess who shows up.
Isaiah Morton (red herring) (Jon Tarcy) randomly shows up to enlist. If you recall, this jebronie played a pivotal role in the plot of episode 504. “The Company We Keep.” He knocked up Alicia Brown, and her dad was having none of it. Alicia’s dad, Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy), tells Isaiah there’s no place for him here. Threats are made. Jamie finally intervenes and says, “enough!” He separates them and orders all men who won’t fight by Isaiah to leave now.
Two younger members of the militia chat with each other. War is no different than hunting, right? Jamie informs them that killing possums is in no way the same. After all, possums aren’t trying to kill them. He ends his lecture with, “you can’t waiver.”
Just then, General Waddell appears. His men have been forced to retreat due to Fitzgibbons (Duncan Lacroix) and his regulators across the creek.
“Prepare the men. Engage the enemy here.”—Gov. Tryon
Claire is prepping her surgery with Bree’s help. She asks Jamie if there’s been any sign of Murtagh. Someone approaches with a petition to the Governor; it’s the Reverend Caldwell (Mark Cox) on behalf of the Regulators. They’re hoping to avoid war. The Reverend and Governor have met before, at Bree and Roger’s wedding. Tryon circles the Reverend in a condescending, intimidating manner. He reads the petition and disagrees with its claims that he hasn’t lent a kind ear, among other things. He agrees to have a response ready by noon the following day. The Reverend leaves hopeful; however, Tryon instructs the men to be prepared for battle overnight. Jamie asks, why do they not parlay?
“A bold stroke is needed. To hesitate would mean defeat… Their course is set, so is mine.” —Gov. Tryon
Back at the Sherston House, Lizzie (Caitlin O’Ryann) informs Bree that Jem is asleep. Mr. Sherston (Matthew Cottle) enters the room and gives the ladies the scoop: the word is they’re on the verge of war over at Alamance Creek. He opens up his trusty map to show Bree exactly where. Alamance Creek … Alamance Creek, why does that location ring a bell to Bree? In school, she learned something happened there, but what? The cameras zoom in on her face. She remembers. Hard cut to an areal shot of her racing to her family on a horse. This shot is effectively the same as the one in the season one opening credits of Jamie (and Claire) galloping in the Highlands.
Meanwhile, Jamie is, well, shirtless in a creek. Gonna need a moment. Claire “happens to” stumble upon him, like “oh, you’re here? Washing? I was unaware…” Ok. Sure. Unaware of her, Jamie speaks in low Gaellec, as if saying a prayer. He crosses himself, then turns to acknowledge her.
“I wasna callin’ on God. I was callin’ on Dougal MacKenzie. He was a war chief. Taught me everything I know.”—Jamie
She’s surprised at this, but he clarifies that he made peace with his uncle a long time ago. He did what he had to for his men, for Claire. In speaking with her, we see his scarred back for the first time in what feels like a few seasons. I don’t recall it in season four, but I could be wrong. Season four feels like a lifetime ago.
Bree finally arrives at the camp. Roger also approaches.
“I’ve come to warn you. The fight happens here at the creek, and the militia will win.”—Roger
This battle is the spark. Jamie wants to get a message to Murtagh. Maybe he’ll retreat if doomed to fail. BUT, if they stop it here, will this act prevent the American Revolution? Are we all doomed to become Limeys? They hypothesize that the so-called spark could light from some other instance. Roger “ovary’s up” (term thanks to SyFy’s Magicians, based on the novels by Lev Grossman—huge fan here) and volunteers to warn Murtagh. Jamie gives him a militia totem and a white flag, a flag of truce. He instructs Roger to use it if need be, ask for Jamie and say nothing more until he arrives.
“I’m the only one who can do it. He knows me. He knows I’m from the future. He’ll believe it.”—Roger
Claire “takes stock” of her numbing agents, disinfectants—as we all are currently (QUIT HOARDING THE GD TOILET PAPER, Y’ALL!)—and of course, her prized penicillin.
Roger approaches the Regulators’ camp at night, and someone is preaching at the bonfire. I’m having Deja vu. It’s like Dougal (Graham McTavish) asking for Jacobite support all over again. But alas, tis Sean Connery Murtagh. The speech is over, the men wrap, and Murtagh spots Roger the outlier. They talk privately about Bree’s historical memory. Roger recommends he incite the men to yield. Murtagh knows it’s too late for that.
“Do ya ken how long a few years is to men who’ve lost everything?”—MURTAGH
Governor Tryon dictates a letter. The shot alternates between his dictation and Murtagh’s receipt and read. Tryon requires the regulators to submit to the “leniency of the government.” If they accept within the hour, everyone will stand down. If not, their actions will be considered an act of rebellion against the king, country, and laws. Roger and Murtagh talk in a tent. After bringing the demands to the men, they will not back down. The battle will happen. Murtagh heeds Roger to leave now before it begins. Roger tries one more time to convince Murtagh to go with him, and he pulls the “godson” card. It was in vain.
As Roger makes his exit, he spots a familiar face, a woman hanging laundry. Son-of-a-B, it’s Morag Mackenzie (Elysia Welch)! The friend he made on the ship to America! She seems happy—and confused—to see him. She and her child are well. He informs her that he now also has a son with the same name. She clearly recalls his bravery against the awful sea captain. Their exchange is awkward. Before he leaves, he gives her a heads up on what’s to come. He also quickly realizes she’s pregnant again.
“If anything should happen, come to me. I’ll help you, family welcome on Fraser’s Ridge.”—Roger
And then he does a thing. In short, he “Biden’s” her. He gives her a full-frontal hug. DUDE. Not cool then. Not cool now. NOT COOL! “Get away from my wife!” A REALLY familiar voice pierces the exchange. It sounded SO familiar to me. Did y’all notice? We’ll get there.
Back at Camp, the Governor is asking for Jamie. He has a gift, a proper British captain’s red coat. Jamie stalls. He claims the gesture is appreciated but doesn’t think it appropriate. (Doesn’t the Governor remind you of Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live? Like 20-years-ago SNL). Having exhausted his efforts, Jamie begrudgingly puts it on. Sam Heughan’s acting here, and later in the episode is superb. He says nothing, but he looks like he wants to vomit. His men pick up on his underlying sentiments. I’m reminded of when he’d sought refuge in the trees, looking for something safe to punch.
Speaking of old episodes with Dougal, back in Roger’s situation, he’s scrambling to explain to Morag’s new—and clearly jealous—husband exactly how he knows her. His militia deblune falls from his pocket. He takes a musket butt to the face. (Y’all, that’s totally Graham McTavish incognito!)
“We’re blood, that’s why I was trying to help her.”—Roger
At Camp, Jamie’s men are preparing for battle. They mount horses and load weapons. Claire comes out of her tent, swigging water from a canteen, similar to her first shot in episode one, season one, during World War II. She sees Jamie and about falls over. He informs her Tryon insisted. Only she fully knows his burden—still no sign of Roger. And the battle is about to begin. He asks for her wishes of luck. She says she loves him. He confirms her love is better than her luck.
Cut to Outlander producers’ favorite thing: a wide shot of a battle standoff. It’s Redcoats v. Regulators.
“We’re not here to kill our brothers; we’re here to end this.” Put the fear of God in them. They’ll retreat. Take prisoners. Save souls. “and watch for MacKenzie”—Jamie
The Redcoats fire. The militia holds. Finally, Jamie orders they fire. They march. Men go down. The regulators retreat. Occasionally we see a band of regulators entrap the British soldiers by popping out of the brush. I enjoyed the guerilla warfare touches—still no sign of Roger.
We see Sam in all of his action-hero gusto, running the gauntlet. Claire is busy managing the triage unit. She comforts Bree with words of positivity.
Isaiah is brought into her surgery. He’s been shot. “Tell Alicia I love her,” he says. Their baby is due next week. She assures him he’ll be there and asks Bree for the alcohol. Cannons explode, and men are carried off—Redcoats on horseback and regulators behind trees.
Alicia’s dad Lionel is now in Claire’s surgery, and he is PISSED. He calls Isaiah a coward. Claire observes he was shot in the back and at close range, implying he is, in fact, negating his claim.
As a long-term sufferer of toxic masculinity, he’s threatened by her and demonstrates it with a ridiculous and completely unnecessary physical demonstration of force; he grips her hand, shakes the penicillin syringe from it, and stomps on it. Claire is incensed. More slow-motion fighting.
The militia now has the Regulators surrounded. They’re literally rounding them up like cattle. Jamie is now in a shoot-off. As he’s about to meet his fate, he’s saved (whew!) by an unsuspected head butt. Murtagh! Huzzah! Always there to watch Jamie’s NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
“I did what you said, Colonel! I did not waiver!”—I don’t even know or care
Y’ALL. I can’t. I’m writing this a day after watching, and I still am just. I mean, Murtagh is not even supposed to be here according to the books. We lose him (never quite clear how or when) but at some point in prison in book three, Voyager. And his addition was the one major adaptation that EVERYONE was cool with. We didn’t see it coming. And if you DID see it coming, then play the damn lottery. This scene was my full-on, “I’m not crying YOU’RE CRYING” moment. I mean WTAF?! Jamie is furious. At Murtagh. He chides him, “I released you from your oath!” Ever the romantic, Murtagh reminds him there is one he’s more faithful to, “I’d never betray your mother, no matter who asked.” Having experienced the loss of a parent, I’m glad that in this Outlander universe, Murtagh leaves this earth looking at Jamie. But who’s to say that’s not what he saw assuming he died in prison, as was implied in the books? And in true, fatherly spirit, he spends his last breath comforting his godson.
“Dinna be afraid. It does not hurt a bit to die.”—Murtagh’s last words.
Jamie is beside himself. He asks for help. He doesn’t care at this point who from. “HELP ME!!! HELP ME NOW!” They take him to Claire. Jamie assures him she’ll know what to do (ugh).
“CLAIRE! SAVE HIM! WHAT DO YOU NEED. WHAT IS IT? DO WHAT YOU MUST. HEAL HIM.” He’s so sure. Claire confirms Murtagh is gone. Jamie goes into a rage, he yells and threatens Murtagh’s lifeless body.
“TAKE IT BACK. I DINNA RELEASE YOU FROM YOUR OATH. YOU CANNA LEAVE ME.”—Jamie
Keeping Murtagh through the season was a fantastic journey. I know it’s hard sometimes for purists to break with any constructs from the pages, but seriously. We all came together when Murtagh re-appeared in season four. We hooted and hollered with excitement. And how the writers constructed his arch and intertwined it with Aunti Jocasta’s was in a word, lovely. Here is to “our” Murtagh. Jamie’s Murtagh. Claire’s Murtagh. He was our tried and true “fuck the Man” anti-hero.
[Murtagh’s moment of silence.]
Shortly after my meltdown, I had my hub pour me a finger of bourbon, and I hit play. The fighting is done. Governor Tryon claims he understands it was hard to go against one’s own country. Jamie is still infuriated. He hasn’t even had time to begin grieving, let alone mourn. Jamie points out that he brought cannon fire on his own citizens. History will say that the Governor preserved order, but the men involved will know the truth. (So this is massive. It’s only a moment in the show, but it indicative of how history becomes history. There is what happened. And then there is what was written down.)
Tryon responds that they did their duty. And for that, he’ll overlook Jamie’s insolence. He promised we wouldn’t leave North Carolina in a state of disorder, after all. Jamie is done. He informs Tryon of this. He’s done with his obligation to the Governor and the Crown.
“You may have your coat back, sir.”—Jamie
He finds a moment of solitude, takes a knee, and sobs.
In doing so, he realizes his hands are soaked in blood. There will be time to mourn later. There’s still work to do. Claire is watching over Murtagh. She pulls a sheet up and over him. Almost the way you tuck in a child. Bree is stares off into the distance but is lost in her own worst thoughts. Jamie approaches and asks again after Roger. With that, he’s on the move once more, this time with family in toe.
As they wander through fields of dead and wounded men, they ask after Roger. A majestic tree stands in the distance at the top of the hill. Three bodies hang. Jamie asks the Colonel what happened and why the men were hanged. It turns out Tryon ordered it. They ask after Captain MacKenzie. Just then, they spot a white flag in the pocket of one of the swaying corpses. It’s Roger. Jamie crosses himself once more, and he and the men go to cut him down.
The episode ends here. At first, I was relieved that we didn’t see it go down. I remember this part in the books clearly. It was painful to read. Right up there with Wentworth Prison from book one. Just as graphic. Equally brutal, though, in different ways. And just as the relief came, it left. If the writers do treat Roger’s hanging similar to their treatment of Wentworth Prison, we’ll get an in-depth revisit in next week’s episode (FFS).
MANDY’S MUSINGS: For when I can’t suppress my inner fangirl.
- There are no musings this week. Only Murtagh.
IN TWO WEEKS, SUNDAY, APRIL 12TH AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 508: “FAMOUS LAST WORDS”
Photos and clips are courtesy of Starz.