‘Outlander’ Review: Episode 603, “Temperance”

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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 603: Temperance

Written by Shaina Fewell, Directed by: Justin Molotnikov

Temperance. Merriam-Webster offers two definitions, both of which fit the bill for Outlander episode 603. The more literal interpretation reads “moderation in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic substances” (let’s replace ‘alcoholic’ with ‘addictive’ for the sake of argument).

The second — and notably more universal definition — is “the habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions.” Herein lies the continuity thread for our beloved characters on Fraser’s Ridge.

The episode opens with the latest adaptation of Bear McCreary’s haunting theme; this time, he juxtaposes a traditional Scottish interpretation with a Colonial American style. My ears read this as a literal interpretation of the Frasers’ attempt ability to walk the delicate line between two worlds: one old and one new.

The establishing shot focuses on a crackling fire, one that evokes a sense of security. Then you notice the poker in the lower-left corner. Hmmm …

The shot quickly changes to a rushed pan over a rushing river. A baby cries, and an aerial shot reveals an infant in a basket, floating down the river. Roger (Richard Rankin) is chopping a wedge at the foot of a log when he hears local children yelling in distress.

“He’s heading for the rapids!”

Roger springs into action, leaping after the basket in the river. While he’s just out of reach, the children grow increasingly alarmed as the basket heads toward a waterfall. Just then, the basket goes over.

But Roger has the baby. He scorns the children, who then inform him they believe the baby is cursed. “We wanted to see if he’d float!” (News for the kiddos, if they’re anywhere near modern-day Derry, Maine, “THEY ALL FLOAT.” At that moment, Roger counters the boys’ superstition and baptizes baby Henri-Christian.

“You hear that? His name’s Christian. He belongs to the Lord.”

He then proceeds to threaten them with eternal hellfire and damnation. They flee. In what I can only describe as the classic Angry-Dad voice, Roger bellows, “GERMAIN!!!!” (Roger may not be Dad. But he’s family.)

Back at the Ridge, Germain (Robin Scott) is clearly in the dog house, and he knows it. Claire (Caitriona Balfe), Marsali (Lauren Lyle), Fergus (Cesar Domboy), and Jamie (Sam Heughan) discuss the event at hand. Claire confirms the baby is unhurt, and Granddad Jamie is relieved. Marsali, on the other hand, is — understandably — filled with rage and on the verge of going nuclear.

 “Well?! I should drown the lot of them. IN a well.”

Again playing the major dad hand, Roger attempts to explain, “it was a test.” The boys have been told that children born like Henri-Christian, with dwarfism, are “wicked born.” And the boys were (I’m paraphrasing here) just trying ta see if that theory checked out.  As it turns out,  Germain was not, in fact, trying to harm his baby brother; he went along with the idea thinking the other boys would leave them alone.

PERSONAL ASIDE: Yeah, I didn’t love how the writers basically assign Roger, and later Jamie, the position of “kids being kids.” Fergus, who remains insatiably self-consumed and perpetually whiskey-logged at this point, appears troubled and exits. Jamie proceeds to address Germain as though he’s a fully-grown 30-year-old man:

 “Find your associates. And tell them to be in my parlor for their punishment before supper.”

Roger, in his now-signature dad sweater fashion, attempts to ease Germain’s nerves; he commits to assist the young ALLEGED perpetrator with conveying the news of consequence.

Meanwhile, Claire approaches Fergus outside. She’s worried about him for many reasons, but the most immediate is the recent attempt on his son’s life (Cute how they shot this scene at the odd angle. I’m guessing, to hide a baby bump.).

AND THEN THINGS GET DARK:

Fergus comments on how not long ago, a “dwarf” child would be left for the wolves. Claire says she’d never let something like that happen and commits to surrounding the child with love, protection, and equality. But Fergus has other worries. Dark worries, and real worries.  He recalls a horrible story from his days working in the French brothel when customers craved:

“Le morilles … exotic delicacies valued for the rarity of their twisted shapes.”

(I wanted to claw my skin off.) Fergus continues about his friend Luc, with whom he “worked.” He eventually found Luc dead in the alley, throat cut. But that wasn’t the end. His body was sold to a physician who dismembered him and sold his parts for divination.

“When I met you and MiLord, I found a world beyond a brothel and vowed never to return to such a place. That my son might find himself in such a life….” While strongly implied, Fergus confirms he feels responsible that the beating Marsali took in season five led to this. Claire, mortified, assures him that not only would she and Jamie would never let that happen; moreover, Marsali’s assault was not the cause for Henri’s condition.

As Claire returns to her surgery patio, Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones) is waiting, irritated. She informs him she’s been preoccupied, as some jerk neighborhood children tried to drown her grandson earlier. He is objectively taken aback but assures her he has not been instigating and asks after the child’s wellbeing. He vows to speak to the families. Claire thanks him and then informs him (again, paraphrasing here), “yeahhhhh, Jamie’s got this.”

As it turns out, Christie’s other hand is healed. “It Is time.” Claire invites him into the surgery. For the surgery. As she preps her tools, she recommends her grown-up drink the ether, and he declines, assuming it’s a potion. Claire comments that she thought only highlanders were “stubborn as rocks,” and ON CUE, Jamie enters. Heh?! You rang?

When he questions the context of her claim, she clarifies:

 “God wants him to have the surgery. The masochist is refusing the ether.”

Jamie, understanding Claire’s concern but also empathizing with Tom’s spiritual commitment, attempts to influence Tom’s ultimate decision through his personal story. But Tom remains absolute: NO ANESTHETIC.

Cut to Germain and Roger walking to Aidan McCallum’s (Caleb Reynolds) house. Aiden pops out of the wood stack and begs them not to tell his mum. Roger informs the young lad that his business is not with his mother but with him. He informs Aiden of Jamie’s earlier demand to see him and his mates.

“Otherwise, HE’LL come round. And he WILL talk to your mother.” We hear a scream from inside. Roger tells the boys to stay together. Outside. Upon entering the abode, he finds Mrs. McCallum (Joanne Thomson) against a wall, praising God a minister has arrived. She claims her milk, delivered by Lizzie Wemyss (Caitlin O’Ryan), is “haunted.” Roger approaches and lifts the cheesecloth. We hear a low growl. Roger leaps back. There’s a five-pound bullfrog in the milk. (EWWWW) She slumps to the floor, relieved but upset, questioning God’s intentions. Roger encourages her to trust. He makes her laugh that this new land is not such a terrible place: it doesn’t rain as much as Scotland. She worries she’ll never see her home again. Roger understands, and while he can’t promise that she will, he does promise he won’t let her starve.

Meanwhile, Marsali is at the wheel. Her spinning wheel! We learn it’s yet another one of Brianna’s (Sophie Skelton) “inventions.” The kids are fighting in the background, and Bree lovingly scolds Jem that if he doesn’t knock it off, his “vrooms” go away. Marsali asks why they’re called vrooms, and Bree makes an excuse. They wonder as to Roger’s whereabouts.

In addition to commenting that the parents of the children who put her kid in the river also deserve thrashings, Marsali also shares that Fergus has promised to dry out. Bree has an odd look at this that shifts from surprise to pity to doubt to support.

Cut to Claire heating her scalpel. She approaches Christie with care while Jamie busts out whiskey and a Bible. She straps Christie’s hand down and gives him something to bite on. He insists he only needs his prayers. Claire proceeds to sterilize the area, the center of his hand, where all the important stuff is located. And then … Jamie knows what’s coming he makes eye contact with her. He positions himself just behind Christie, likely to leap in and hold him down in the event of agonizing pain. She makes the first cut, and Christie proceeds to lose it.

Jamie grabs the vomit bucket (what my South African mother would call the “chunda” bucket), force-feeds him more whiskey, and reads the Bible verse, all while keeping a solid grip on the patient. The three amigos work through it. Someone approaches through the back window, and it’s Christie’s daughter, Malva (Jessica Reynolds).

She peers in like a voyeur. But Young Ian (John Bell) watches her and gains her attention. He says, “you’re the apprentice, in ya go.” It is abundantly clear that they are into each other and proceed to make small talk. About her eternal soul. Naturally. With this, he offers to walk her home, and she accepts. Christie, on the other hand (GET IT?!), has made it through. The surgery ends with Christie and Jamie recalling, “yay though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death….” Claire finishes the scripture, and she finishes the final stitch. Already his fingers have more range of motion. She requests he stay overnight.

At this point, Young Ian and Malva are walking and talking.

 “We are all sinners, but surely you’ve done no wrong.”

Malva informs Young Ian of her dark past that her mother was hanged as a witch, and Malva claims she “hardly” remembers. Regardless, she warns that her brother should not like to see them together. They bid farewell, and Young Ian and Rollo bop back to the Ridge.

So remember that warm embrace of a fire at the opening credits? That’s Jamie, pulling out a red-hot poker as the Children of the Corn arrive to face their punishment. Jamie claims that as a consequence, the boys have a choice to make: touch the bairn or the poker. Shocker, the boys approach the baby: the sweet baby who giggles and responds like any other. While Germain confirms to his friends that his brother is not a demon, Jamie reminds the youngsters that Jesus is not Henri’s only protector. “Henri-Christian also belongs to me.”

He gives them bread and honey and sends them on their way before turning his sights to Germain.

“Henri Christian also belongs to you, Germain. He is your wee brother. He needs your protection. Understand?”

Nightfall. Fergus sits by candlelight with a full cup while children call for him. They’re hungry. Marsali is furious. She sits by the window, trying to reason with a drunk. But the thing about Marsali is she’s seen a thing or two. This isn’t her first rodeo with alcohol addiction in her family. She saw what happened with her household growing up, and she refuses to go through it again.

Fergus is in full-on self-destruction mode. “I’m supposed to protect him and provide for you” blah blah. He acknowledges he wasn’t drunk when she was attacked. But then, like a badass, she drops a bombshell; she defended herself. She tells him Lionel Brown (Ned Denney) did not die as previously thought. Marsali killed him. And she is fine with it.

 “An evil man is gone. And no harm will come to us.”

This part was hard for me. Fergus feels emasculated and loses his cool further. This is his problem, not hers, yet he attempts to gaslight her, insisting he needs a drink, not a woman, to protect him. With that, she dumps the pitcher of hooch on his head and shoves him out the door.

“I will have a whole man or none at all.”

In Claire and Jamie’s bedroom, they discuss the day’s events, including what Jamie would have done if the kiddos had grabbed the poker. CONSEQUENCES. She hopes they tell their parents. He teases her that if the baby is “demon born,” what does it say about the two of them as the grandparents?

At that moment, Claire stares at the mirror and experiences a flashback of Lionel Brown claiming she’s “of the Devil” herself. Jamie senses something uneasy in her, and she snaps out of it and stares back at the empty mirror. If anyone knows about PTSD is Jamie. But rather than be vulnerable with her partner, she redirects her attention to her patient and heads downstairs to check on Tom Christie. This is a really poignant scene. In Claire’s time, PTSD was known as shell-shock. Further, her training as a surgeon combined with professionally identifying as a minority likely would have instilled in her an obligation to repress these sentiments. In her line of work, emotion equaled weakness. (Not ok.)

Tom is asleep in the surgery, and Claire eyes the bottle of ether with intent. But Tom is not fully asleep and announces himself. She notices he is slightly fevered and gives him something to drink while examining his hand. He prudishly pulls away at her touch but then thinks better of it, recognizing the medical need. He seems fascinated by her and inquires why she does not cover her head, like a respectable or pious woman in prayer. She – politely for Claire –points out she is not currently praying before teaching him how to perform physical therapy on the operated hand.

The two are suddenly amiable. She leaves to fetch him some sustenance from the kitchen. This is her first moment alone since experiencing her flashback, or so she assumes. As she lets her guard down and exhales, who should pop up but Adso the cat, who seemingly eases her mind, if only for a moment.

Claire re-emerges to the study with some ham for Tom, who inquires after to whom she was speaking. She acknowledges she was talking to the cat but quickly clarifies that she is NOT a witch. And of course, so turns the discussion. Not to be outdone, Tom reminds her that he is educated and does not “think” she is one. He then apologizes to her for his behavior in the morning. By this, he is referring to his inability to sit still during surgery. His toxic masculinity gets the better of him, and he passive-aggressively suggests that he’s sure Jamie never struggled. (Oh, please.)

He asks after Jamie’s scars and then proceeds to tell her a story of how he claimed someone else’s tartan, an act he describes as courageous and incomprehensible. His insecurities resurface, and he stubbornly claims he is NOT one of Jamie’s men. Claire calms his feelings and assures him Jamie was only supportive of him during the surgery to be kind and then pivots, “Wouldn’t you?” He doesn’t exactly answer. The conversation was good for Claire. With that, she says adios and heads to bed.

HOT TODDY! Claire finds a shirtless wonder Jamie dozing in bed. “Is Tom afraid of women?” she asks before describing his awkward behavior when she examined him. Jamie proceeds to explain a condition that comes with imprisonment with a dark story of their shared days in Ardsmuir. “Tom turned inward,” he tells her. And from there, he went to the colonies as an indentured servant. At this point, Claire starts doing some math regarding Malva’s supposed birth. It is sus.

“I hungered for the touch of a hand—only that. And sleep. When I slept, I dreamt of you.”

Speaking of Malva, she and Young Ian are mingling in the cattails. They discuss a myriad of topics, from her father’s difficult nature to his extended family and his general confusion as to exactly where his place is. At this point in his life, Young Ian has become a master code switcher and seems to have lost a bit of himself in the process. She asks after the significance of his tattoos: they represent things he is proud of and things he regrets. They agree there is sin in living. (This is going to lead to trouble with a Capital T.)

Fade to cloudy skies settling over the Ridge. A week has passed, and Claire examines Tom’s hand. He seems in good spirits and surprisingly reaches for a novel in Claire’s surgery. He is familiar, and while he reads them now, admittedly, he disapproved of them back in the day. His time in Ardsmuir changed his mind when Jamie would recount the stories to the prisoners. But, while he acknowledges they’re not so bad, not “a confection of lies,” prayer is far more desirable. She offers him the book and promises to retrieve it when she checks on him in a few days. He accepts before informing her that Richard Brown (Chris Larkin) has been by the settlement, offering a commitment of safety should they need it. She advises against it as he is not to be trusted. He nods. The feud between Tom Christie and the Frasers is done.

As Jamie traipses through the woods, he runs into Ms. Malva, who is on the hunt for mushrooms. Jamie makes small talk and some less-than-funny jokes about her suitors but realizes quickly he’s crossed a line. He apologizes and offers to carry her basket. He delicately prods as to her lineage, no doubt looking to confirm Claire’s earlier suspicions. While they walk, Tom is back at home, reading the novel. There’s a tight shot of the language on the page, but I could not make it out. Whatever it says, it rattles him, and he closes the book.

The mood changes to one of good spirits and good spirits. It’s Quarter Day, and folks arrive to pay the rents. Everyone jokes about imbibing before Tom sees. Lizzie and the Beardsley Twins (Paul Gorman and Paul Gorman) flirt playfully, and Bree and Marsali are happy and chatting. Fergus teeters about. And folks notice.

Podrick MacNeill and his pregnant wife arrive to pay the rent. Marsali jokes with a tenant as to when he’ll finally settle down. He responds with a joking inquiry about her sister. Fergus is in earshot and unamused. Bree leans over to Roger and scandals that perhaps they should set Lizzie up. He giggles and informs her of the Beardsley gatekeepers. She was unaware.

Back to Lizzie, who’s busy slinging the ale. Fergus bobs around outside, where he gets the stink eye. And then, he makes a drunken scene…

“You stare at me like you stare at my son! Have you never seen a man with one hand before? Or a dwarf? Are we so hideous?”

At first, I thought the onlooker responded well, “Hideously drunk!” And then the retort takes an unnecessary and cruel turn. “But as to your son, I think grotesque may be the word. But you tell us if you can bear to look at yourself.” Fergus throws a drink in her face (assault), and her husband charges. By all bystander accounts, everyone witnessed something different. Claire pounces. Tom Christie too. Sort of. He injects that the community should treat the family with pity and kindness.

The episode winds down with Roger preaching. He tells a story about a helpless child who floated down the river in a basket. His name was Moses. As Roger speaks, we see a mosaic of storylines intertwine. Claire receives a note in her novel back from Christie. Who is also now back to whipping Malva’s bare backside with his “good” hand? Marsali busies herself with her spinning wheel. Fergus reflects or blames the world. Hard to tell. And Jamie wears his kilt and a messenger bag whilst once more traipsing through the woods. He spots Fergus attempting to slit his wrist. Jamie wrestles with him, knocking the knife out of his hand. He wants to die so Marsali can marry again. Fergus is ashamed that Roger saved his son. Jamie reminds him of all the things he’s done right.

“You’re the only one who can show your son what a useless man can achieve.”

Jamie cradles him. Like that he’s little Claudel all over again. Marsali comes out of the house holding the babe. Clare and Jamie deposit Fergus. “I’m sorry. Never again,” he tells her as he holds his boy, kissing him.

Just as we expect the episode to end, the Redcoats approach. It’s Major MacDonald (Robin Laing), with a wagon full of rifles. The King across the pond is considering a certain Boston-centric act of civil disobedience as “outright aggression.”

“It’s starting. The storm and war. It’s almost here.”

In this episode, practically every character experienced a cathartic calming of past passioned aggressions. From Claire and Fergus’ literal self-medicating to Tom Christie’s steadfast inability to view women in any capacity beyond the Madonna/whore paradigm to the community and children learning empathy for those who are different.

NEXT WEEK, SUNDAY, MARCH 27TH AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 604: “HOUR OF THE WOLF”

Synopsis: “While visiting the Cherokee, Ian encounters a man from his past who dredges up painful memories of his time with the Mohawk.”

Photos courtesy of Starz