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Archive for November 7th, 2022


Brianna (Sophia Skelton) helping Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to bathe — after she is brought back to Fraser’s Ridge from gang-rape (Season 5, Episode 12: Never My Love)

How many times have I put my hopes, my fears, my secret longings into the hands of a Being that can’t see, can’t hear, can’t even feel. How many times have my prayers been answered? Time is a lot of the things that people say God is. There is pre-existing and having no end. There is the notion of a Being all powerful because nothing can stand against Time, not mountains, not armies. Give anything enough time, and everything is taken care of, all pain encompassed, all hardship erased, all loss subsumed. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And if Time is akin to God, I suppose that memories must be the devil …. (from script, the overvoice for Season 5, Episode 5, “Perpetual Adoration”)

Friends and readers,

I loved this 6th season, which, while it basically adapts freely A Breathe of Snow and Ashes, like Season 5, also brings together material from a later and earlier book and re-arranges everything to the point the overall feel is very different (a handy list for viewing all recaps and commentary on Season 5). It is also, crucially and astonishingly to me, strongly dependent on the viewer having become immersed before and being totally involved before you begin. I’d say almost all the episodes had long sequences that were reflective and meditative, remembering and re-processing as it were — so how does this rivet new watchers? There is but one feature and it is all about trauma. We hear from all the major actors/characters, the central scriptwriters (those here since the first season), where they talk of each major character in terms of how processing grief is difficult; everyone processes grief differently; it’s real, violent, volatile. They are searching for their identity, what is the way forward; their past holds them. Some terrible things have happened; is Claire Teflon? No. Jamie is giving her space and time to heal; she has nightmares .. the feature goes over each character but dwells on Claire, Ian (“The Hour of the Wolf”), and Fergus. I am telling myself I must go back and finish reading/listening to The Fiery Cross and then go on to A Breathe of Snow and Ashes.

I admit since I found the fifth and sixth Outlander books so muddled, so without forward thrust, that for much of the previous season and all of this one too I relied on The Outlandish Companion: Volume II by Diana Gabaldon

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Episode 1: Echoes (a straight recap with video clip)


Ardsmuir (New Craigmiller Castle)

Just a first impression, and w/o benefit of reading the source book at all. As I said a while back I got through only half of book 5 (The Fiery Cross); I’ve never opened book 6 (A Breath of Snow and Ashes). You are at a considerable disadvantage when you’ve not read the book in these sorts of film adaptations meant in part to be faithful and using the book for deepening. A brief read of some comments on Season 6 show Roger Moore back in central place (I imagine his movements away to other shows became fewer when the pandemic hit and much new programming delayed or cancelled but I could be wrong) and Gabaldon interesting herself to the point she says that much that she cared about made the transfer but not all; we are told the opening is not in the book but taken from elsewhere.

Certainly the opening was a surprise and to me a somewhat demoralizing one. We are back at Ardsmuir, way before Lord John Grey took over, not just after Culloden, but just after Jamie gives himself up (1753) – I did recognize the actor who played the first general. It is such misery and what we see is slowly Jamie asserting himself and the men gaining minimal rights. An ambivalent relationship emerges between Jamie and a man who is at the head of Protestant faction: Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones). I felt the loss of Murtagh and found that Duncan Lacroix is no longer in the cast at all.


Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire, 1773 (after flashback) dressed with attitudes which signify they’re older

Then we fast forward 20 years to 1773 and North America. I began more to enjoy it. I have to say that this episode reminded me of the opener in Episode 5: it moves slowly and is a gradual development of our favorite characters, showing us what they are at this point. I loved it but my feeling is if you are not already deeply immersed this may not grab you at all. Seasons 1-3 openers did, and Seasons 1-2 were especially exciting and melodramatic almost throughout. I grew to love 5, but I acknowledge others might not unless they were wrapped up in the characters already.

So basically Claire is slowly overcoming the trauma of the rape-beating; Jamie keeps close to her lest anyone attack her again; she is now inventing anesthetics but Brianna worries lest they be misunderstood and attacked again – part of the animus against Claire in Season 5 was her portraying herself as Dr Rawlings dispensing contraceptive information. And lo and behold there is Christie’s daughter, Malva (Jessica Reynolds), who seems at first simply a fanatic evangelical type sniffing around the “phosporus,” saying this is the stuff of the devil.

Yes Tom Christie turns up with his family; he saw the ad and wants to be part of the settlement. Jamie, a bit reluctant, nonetheless accepts them in. Tom is a tyrant to his family, and his son is going bad, partly a result of this repression and bullying. Marsali (Lauren Lyle) is pregnant again, but this time she has a bruise on her arm, and soon it emerges Fergus (Cesar Dombey) has become an alcoholic. She is deeply ashamed and he’s in denial: we are given clues some of this is the result of his having one hand and not being of service like the others. Problem here is this was not a problem before: he was always as active as ever (partly from Jamie’s influence but that’s not gone). Brianna and Roger (Richard Rankin) just there, in support (not given much to do beyond that). Young Ian (John Bell) active in hunting animals with bows and arrows; there is a conversation where he brings up the idea that perhaps Claire could help him change his destiny as he sees it with respect to his wife. This is the first we’ve heard of her explicitly.

Central scene is love-making, gentle and tender between Claire and Jamie – as befits this grandparent couple. Both of them have bad dreams or memories: Jamie’s shorter (of Ardsmuir) and Claire’s of the rape and beating. We see them as kind grandparents to Brianna/Roger’s children and one of Fergus/Marsali’s.

Plot-design of episode; governor’s aide arrives early to ask Jamie to become a chief crown agent dealing with Indians; he does not want to involve himself (as he refused in episode 5 – reminding me of Ross Poldark’s reluctance). The governor is going to tax the Frasers heavily for not agreeing to take on Indian tasks. But what happens is the threatening presence our enemy group (one must have a true villains) are what is left over the Brown gang, headed by Richard Brown (Chris Larkin), the brother of man who instigated the rape of Claire (hated her for helping his wife, his daughter) and whom Jamie murdered and returned in a body bag. The Browns demand that Jamie punish Tom Christie for stealing an object and Jamie is forced to whip him (we see a flogging of Jamie at the opening in Ardsmuir). Jamie hates this. Jamie now told Lionel (Ned Dennehy) will become the Indian agent. So at the end of the episode Jamie relents and takes the position as it would be dangerous for them, for the Indians, for everyone for such a gang to have power.

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Episode 2: Allegiances (another recap, this time with still, more evaluative)


Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones)

I’ve watched Episode 2 now and find that it’s making me very curious about A Breath of Snow and Ashes. I have the feeling the film team has done the same thing they did for Season 5, from (more or less) The Fiery Cross. They have picked a few of the episodes, and rewritten and rewoven them to fit a theme (or themes) across this season. Despite the re-appearance of Roger Moore’s name in key places (writing too), it has the quietude of the fifth season, with this difference, I am continually worried or feeling anxious about our six principals: Jamie and Claire; Roger and Brianna; Marsali and Fergus.

The threat is from the people Jamie has allowed to build and live in their compound (the religious ideas of Tom Christie are paranoid and aggressive, including an obviously misogynistic inspired distrust of Claire as a witch), and now the Indians that Jamie has (paradox this) become an agent to the crown (George III) to. Every doctoring deed Claire does is worrying, and now Brianna, matching Claire’s invention of ether, invented matches.


Still brings out the quietly comic feel of the operation

Story: it opens with Claire trying to mend Tom Christie’s more crippled hand, which she says she will have to operate using ether on. As in later conversations when Christie brings up the idea God doesn’t want him to have a good hand, Claire refutes this with secular and ironic understanding. Marsali’s pregnancy is quite advanced and Claire now with Malva (dangerous because Christie’s daughter-in-law) goes to take care of Marsali. The baby is near birth, but something is wrong, and Claire dare not do a C-section, for that would kill Marsali. Claire also gets out of Marsali, the bruises are from Fergus; they fight intensely over his drinking. Jamie deputies Roger to go get Fergus who is very drunk when Roger arrives, and Roger becomes disgusted and angry with Fergus, who finally agrees to come.


Fergus with Claire

A second thread moving through this is Jamie and Ian’s overnight visit to the Indians who are asking Jamie to ask the governor to give them guns, ammunition. Jamie consults Claire as to the future allegiance of the Cherokee and she says she doesn’t know as she did not read that far into American history: this Is part of a scene where they make love.

Back to visit to Indians overnight: a supposedly comic scene of two Indian women trying to have sex that night with Jamie, stopped finally by Ian speaking to them. Jamie will only promise to consider asking the governor.

Fergus comes and he is transformed (one hopes more than momentarily) to the Fergus we knew: sweet, loving, he begins to make love to Marsali, as enormous as she is, sucking her breasts. He says in the brothel they did that to help women give birth. All leave the couple alone, but and eventually hear the baby coming. We see Marsali giving birth with Claire and Malva on either side, also Brianna there, but when Fergus takes the child after a few minutes he is horrified (“nain” he cries and runs off): the child is perhaps a Downs Syndrome baby; Marsali loves it immediately.

The thread of the Christie group appears again with Christie building a church; and an old woman in the group dying. Roger is to be minister at the funeral and lo and behold she awakens momentarily. Claire explains this – a semi-comic, semi-deeply felt scene ensues with the old woman alive but dying still is what happens. Again the modern ideas that Claire brings to this endanger her in the eyes of these people. A little later Jamie comes up to their compound and queries this building of a church before houses; Tom Christie stands up for this idea, and Jamie appears to allow it as long as the new church is neither Catholic nor Protestant specifically but rather a meeting house for all – he refers Tom to the opening at Ardsmuir where he, Jamie, resolved constant fighting by joining the Freemasons and telling the others too and thus defusing religious conflicts.


Bree and Roger, playful

Brianna and Roger are seen having private time together with her hurt because over the meal they had just before Marsali went into labor, everyone thought good news was a new baby, when it was her invention of matches. Only Claire seemed to understand how important and convenient these are. It’s frustrating to Brianna that her abilities have nowhere to flourish. They talk of how they have decided to stay permanently and how they have been trying to have another child with no result as yet. We see Brianna a little later walking to stables where she meets Ian. She overhears him praying for a child he apparently had with his Mohawk wife. Ian is bothered by Jamie’s refusal to ask the Governor – a refusal that the Indians learned of and came to be angry over. Claire says if Jamie gives them arms, they could end up the Fraser’s enemy as the Frasers right now are on the British (not rebels) side. Ian says that nonetheless the Indians deserve weapons if they are to be endlessly displaced by these white colonialists.

In another scene (I’m not sure exactly where these all occur in the sequence) Brianna and Jamie sit on the porch together talking and cleaning their two guns. Brianna tells Jamie that Ian had a child who is probably still with the Mohawk.

A small later episode shows Jamie talking to Mr Bug about some supplies he is taking with Kessie to trade; up to them comes Mrs Bug and Lizzie (Caitlin O’Ryan) and we see that Kessie and Lizzie have a flirtation going on.

The episode concludes with Jamie writing a long letter to the governor (at first from some dialogue we assume it is to his Aunt Jocasta); late at night Claire comes out of the bedroom to ask about the letter. He confides to her he is going to give it to the Major (then with them) to give to the governor to ask for the Indians to have guns. She says I thought you were against this. He replies that he now realizes that Ian’s allegiance is to the Mohawk, to these Indians, and that he, Jamie’s, allegiance is to Ian so he will do as Ian asked him to.

Just about all these scenes are quiet thoughtful ones, filled with mood and complex feelings – even quieter and less overt aggressive action than Season 5. I find I have no trouble staying up and watching intensely, ever worried for everyone and caring about them. Snow on the ground showing it’s winter. The whole episode is beautifully photographed throughout.

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Episode 3: Temperance (detailed straight recap, emotional, with still)


Jamie offering Malva Christie friendship

I am now not puzzled altogether about the curious tone in which people who wrote about Season 6 when it was airing on Starz: the third episode is as oddly quiet, non-violent, non-active as the first two. Season 5 did have violence and action by the third episode – the fight with the Browns, then regulators versus the royal governor. The first sign we will have any is a newsletter that appears at the end of the episode telling of the Boston Tea Party. It’s not called that in the paper, but Claire refers to it that way. This is again a series of mostly non-violent incidents which are exemplary in different ways.

I looked at the summary of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in the 2nd Outlandish Companion and find it as unreadable as I found the last 2/3s of The Fiery Cross – there is no thrust forward but rather stories about our characters as they live an isolated life on Fraser’s Ridge. They are interwoven but again I’ll tell each incident or thread together as I cannot remember the order they are in as there is no weaving forward to some conclusion; they are self-contained. Another problem with these episodes is Jamie and Claire are too perfect, as are Roger and Brianna. The only un-exemplary character is Fergus – for Ian is also without any real flaw. I love them myself but recognize the incidents lack inner conflict. Yes, Claire carries on being haunted by images of Lionel Brown who insulted and raped her and uses ether sometimes to sleep. But that is not enough

By contrast, The Crown (Netflix series about British monarchy, 20th century) has shows Philip to be very flawed while we feel for him; and Elizabeth to be conflicted over how to behave towards him, angry and also torn in her role as queen.

So we have Tom Christie giving in and coming to have his hand healed – cut and re-formed and sewn the way Claire did Jamie’s hand – the man refuses ether (horrified by the idea) and won’t even bite on a piece of wood but reads aloud passages from the Bible with Jamie chiming in and holding him down slightly – he does scream from the pain. By the end of the hour (this time it is just an hour) he is healed, grateful, and takes away a copy of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones, saying he thought novels were evil until he heard Jamie telling aloud tales at Ardsmuir. Now he agrees they are forms of escape and distraction. However, when he reads the book, we look over his shoulder and see him reading one of Fielding’s many ironic passages about love, and he closes the book, and returns it with a note to the effect “this is filth” and he had thought better of Claire.

Another incident occurs when Roger sees a baby in a basket floating on the river towards a water fall and its death. He jumps in, barely saving it, all the while realizing a group of boys had done this. They include Germaine, Marsali and Fergus’s son. He is incensed at their idea this child is a demon – because it’s a dwarf. The boys are scolded fiercely and then required to turn up to Jamie who gives them the choice of touching a red-hot iron or the baby. They had also thought they’d be burned if they touched the child. Of course, they choose the child and find they are not burned, and the baby behaves sweetly.


Marsali (Lauren Lyle) spinning

Roger has become the minister of the place and we see him deliver a sermon against superstitions about dwarves using the Biblical story of Moses. Brianna seems to have built a spinning wheel, and we watch Marsali learning to spin fibre into yarn or thread. Brianna needs to be doing something too.

Marsali is not having much success stopping Fergus from drinking to excess all the time; now he blames himself for having such a child. He tells Claire how he saw dwarves treated in Paris – it sounds like the dwarves here are Downs Syndrome children. Claire says none of that will happen now for they will take care of Henri-Christian. Fergus wants to know what happens to the child after they all age and die. At one point the Frasers are collecting rent (in just the way of the Highlanders) and one couple find Fergus “stinks” and say he is responsible for his freak child. He physically attacks them. Later Marsali says to Claire, Fergus has promised to stop drinking; but when he comes home, he is drunk as ever. She throws him out and says she’d rather have no man than a drunk one. And later in the episode Jamie is out in the wood and from afar sees Fergus slash his wrist badly; Jamie saves Fergus, and there is a scene of traumatic talk, with Jamie the father hugging his son and when they return it does seem as if Fergus will reform and accept himself again and his new son.

Ian and Malva are striking up a friendship. I had mistaken and the young man I thought her husband is her brother — but there is an important hint here: they are behaving as if husband and wife. We are of course to see love blooming in Malva, but Ian seems attracted. Touching dialogues about what they believe, her father’s cruelty (in one scene we see the father whipping her now that his hand is fine), but she mentions that her father would be upset if she had a “lover” and it’s implied even more were he like Ian – Indian like, not Christian. Ian says he does not know what he believes.

Somewhat improbably Brianna builds a glorious spinning wheel. She needs to do something but it is Marsali who sits turning fibres into thread or yarn.
Lizzie makes an appearance at one point and again we see she is courted by Kezzie. She appears very happy in her position as working beloved servant-companion.

Christie tells Jamie and Claire his group of people have accepted the offer of the Browns to protect them – Claire tells Christie this is a bad move.
The end of the episode has Major Macdonald returning with the guns for the Cherokee, and bringing the newsletter about the Boston Tea Party. Claire says “the storm” (or war ) has started.

For my part I love watching it because I’m fond of the central six characters and worry about them.

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Episode 4: Hour of the Wolf (recap from an amusingly anachronistic POV, with 2 clips!)


Ian (John Bell) and his central rival, Wakyo’teyehsnonhsa (Morgan Holmstrom?)

Another quiet mostly retrospective and reflective hour — it’s curious that is the atmosphere because it includes a challenge and duel where one of two people could have been murdered. But no one is.

Ian’s Mohawk name was Wolf’s brother, and so the meaning of the title is episode devoted to Ian’s history, inner life, and watching him try to come to terms with what happened.

It opens with him remembering how he was initiated by rituals into the Mohawks, fell in love with girl whose name was so hard to pronounce, he called her Emily. They were happy but after the second bloody miscarriage, Ian was told the gods were against him being part of the tribe; Emily was given to the man called his brother, and he coerced into leaving.

Also early in the episode before they get to the camp, Jamie is giving Fergus the task of going with goods from the farm to trade for things needed, make money. Fergus is not drunk and says he knows what Milord is doing. Keeping him occupied. Jamie says he needs these things done, and as Fergus had said remembering their time in Edinburgh as printers, Fergus is a good businessman trader. Some of this was too didactic, but it’s beautifully acted and the film landscape and music and feeling is good.

These memories are prompted by a trip Jamie takes with Ian to the Cherokee to give them the guns. (Again as I’ve done before I am not trying to recap the episode because I’m not following the interlace. Some of the above is in a flashback Ian has when Jamie and he arrive at the Cherokee camp and discover Mohawks there, and (what a coincidence), just this brother who took Emily from Ian.

Before we get there Major (I’m not sure of this name) MacDonald has been at Fraser’s Ridge handed over these arms, and Brianna told Jamie that 60 years from now these Indians will be forced off the land — well after the revolution. So they will need these armaments. When they get to the camp, Jamie, now reflectively ethical, tells this to the chief. He explains his knowledge by his wife’s extra powers (so too his daughter). This is of course the cruel (infamous) Trail of Tears inflicted on these people during Andrew Jackson’s administration.

Another trader, a Scot, Alexander Cameron is there, and a fight erupts between him and Wolf’s Brother, and that’s the duel. Cameron cheats and turns to shoot before Wolf’s brother but Ian on the alert, shoots the gun (or hits it with a strong arrow), knocking it out of his hand. Wolf’s brother’s turn, but he does not kill the begging man, rather shoots in the sky. Ian acknowledges to Wolf’s Brother he can bear him having Emily (there appears to have been a daughter and be a son).

Back at Fraser’s Ridge, Claire is practicing her invented ether on Lizzie and Kezzie and Jo (I suspect the same actor plays these twins). It is worrying since Malva is watching, as her apprentice and she swears she will not tell the father, and looking at Claire’s notebooks, Malva appears not to take these as spells of a witch. Or so she says, but there is something insinuating about her.

At the close of the episode when Jamie comes home, Claire rushes to where he is, and in a barn they make love. The last still shows Malva watching them through a key hole.

Ian still has Rollo; in the previous episodes we’ve seen Adso drinking milk, sitting on the bed with Marsali …

What they must have done here is taken a group of incidents and meditations about Ian and drawn them together with knowledge of the coming wars against the Indians (the previous episode referred to the Boston Tea Party and heating up rebellion). Jamie again says she cannot be a rebel and Indian agent for the crown so he must give up this agency.

Upcoming: Episodes 5-8

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From one of the many moments of consolation, grieving, holding together …

Gentle and I hope forgiving and flexible reader, I realize two years have gone by since I blogged on Season 5, and going further back, all these blogs began in 2017 (3 years after the first season aired). What’s more at first I was putting them on my Reveries under the Sign of Austen (where many remain, except those here on JimandEllen). At first I deemed them based on a woman’s quintessentially woman’s historical romance, with a woman at the center, but then realized how many of the film team were men and how often every effort was made to create a male focus, so I also blogged here. Nowadays I’m here because the series is so popular, it seems to me to have a non-gender specific audience, i.e., both men and women (even if women are the greater number of viewers).

I confess to blogging less often and using the images I find on the Internet available openly instead of snapping my own as I watch. It’s easier, less time-consuming, and these are most of them images the film-makers have made readily available to the public.

I am doing my best and my dream is now that when I stop the teaching to write about the Outlander books and films, together with the Poldark books and films.

Ellen

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