This week’s Outlander uses unique editing and strong performances to deliver the best episode of the season yet as viewers go inside Roger’s mind.
When we last left off with Outlander, Jamie, Claire, and the rest of the Fraser Clan brought the Regulator and Redcoat confrontation to a head in the Battle of Alamance, and sadly, there were casualties including one Murtagh Fitzgibbons.
This week’s episode picks up in the immediate aftermath, focusing on what happened to Roger who disappeared in the middle of the battle to attempt to help Murtagh get the Regulators to surrender.
After a solid episode last week, “Famous Last Words” delivers one of the first big shifts in style we’ve ever seen on Outlander in order to help viewers process Roger’s trauma. And it pays off by delivering the best episode of the season.
The episode begins with a flashback to 1969 Boston of Bree watching Roger teach a history class about famous last words (which, hello obvious symbolism). As his class ends, he and Brianna discuss plans to watch a silent film marathon later.
As the main credits end, the show switches to a silent film as Roger hangs and Jamie grabs his body to pull him down but discovers he’s breathing. (Dialogue through title cards tells us what we need to know.)
Doctor Claire, ever prepared, performs an emergency tracheotomy (as his airway is presumably collapsed) and Roger lives.
Cut to three months later (with sound and color): Roger is all healed up physically, but he still won’t talk, despite Claire and Brianna’s kind urging to try. Bree seems resigned and says they can pretend they’re in one of those silent movies he loves.
This establishes a firm motif for the episode: the “present” is shot normally (with sound and color) while Roger’s PTSD flashback to the hanging is shot like a black and white silent film. Since Roger can’t, or won’t, talk anymore, the juxtaposition between film styles importantly showcase what Roger has lost: his voice.
Overall, it’s an effective episode, covering months in time as Jemmy gets bigger leading up to Brianna and Roger’s first wedding anniversary as Roger seems frozen (and mute) all the while.
While his ancestor, Buck, was the one who attacked him, we learn through progressively revealing black and white flashbacks that the Redcoats were responsible for his hanging after assuming Roger was a Regulator.
This brings Lord John Grey with a letter from Governor Tryon apologizing for Roger’s almost murder and offering 5,000 acres of land as compensation.
Thankfully, even as Roger is silent and whittling away the rest of his life, Claire and Jamie are there to take care of their grandchild. And watching them with Jemmy is pretty sweet as they all play hide and seek in the woods.
Of course, nothing stays peaceful long on Outlander, and just when Jamie is about to hide again, a boar appears. Jamie is about to stab it when it falls dead from an arrow. A Mohawk appears in the distance–Young Ian has returned and shot it dead!
We don’t learn in this episode what the circumstances of Young Ian’s return are or what happened during his years with the tribe, but it is so good to have the boy back.
There’s a bittersweet moment of recognition when Roger and Young Ian hug that they aren’t the same as when they last saw each other, but Roger still doesn’t talk.
Of course, despite basically serving to be placid and take literally all of the horrors that life throws at her without blinking, Brianna does talk a little bit of turkey to her husband. She reminds him that she has been through some hard times, too (ahem, being sexually assaulted by Stephen Bonnet).
But Brianna didn’t have the luxury of shutting down into herself. She had to take care of Roger and Jemmy. I actually love this scene and Sophie Skelton does a lovely job of being stern without patronizing or egocentric.
It’s a nice reminder that in the rough world of Outlander, everyone has a cross to bear (if not multiple). When you live in such tough times (or at all), you have to find a way to go on for the people who love you and depend on you, not just yourself.
(And it’s a nice feminist note that women who bear the load of caretaking don’t really have the luxury of completely shutting down, even when living with depression and PTSD.)
Young Ian’s return also serves as a helpful reminder of this–that Roger isn’t the only one who’s suffered. While the boy is back, he’s no longer the happy-go-lucky kid he once was.
While Claire and Jamie are quick to embrace him and welcome him back to the Ridge, Ian has locked that piece away from himself for so long, he doesn’t even know how to sleep in a bed anymore.
This leads to possibly my favorite scene of the episode. The morning after Ian arrives, Jamie finds Ian sleeping outside and asks him to tell him what happened with the Mohawk. Ian isn’t ready to tell him yet, and responds that he knows Jamie and Claire have their secrets, too.
There’s a flash of awareness in Jamie’s eyes as he realizes Ian has grown up and is allowed to keep things from him. Ian tells him he doesn’t have to worry, but Jamie sits with him nonetheless. It’s a sweet and lovely scene that Outlander does so well when it is getting things right.
With Young Ian back, he and Roger go to survey the land from Tryon. After they leave, Claire discovers that some of her hemlock is missing and worries Roger will kill himself while he’s gone.
For a moment, that appears to be a possibility as Roger stands on the edge of a cliff. There’s one final flashback, but it transitions from black and white to color and we see the full scene play out rather than just flicker.
As Roger’s eyes dim and he begins to die, the film projector kicks in and Brianna appears before him. Just like she pushed him forward when he was hanging (he was able to free one of his hands and pull at the rope around his neck), he walks away from the edge.
When he gets back to their camp, he discovers Young Ian is gone and has left his dog, Rollo, behind. As it turns out, Ian is the one who stole the hemlock, but Roger quickly throws it away and talks–yes, talks–Ian, apparently heartbroken over a woman, off the ledge.
In the final scene, Roger comes home and talks to Brianna. Once again, Sophie Skelton’s acting is great as she listens to her husband say, “Everybody wants the old Roger back, but I’ll never be that man again.”
But then he goes on to say that last words aren’t as important as last faces, and hers was that last he saw. If Outlander can keep up the stellar work done with this week’s episode, perhaps not all is lost.
Thoughts on this week’s episode of Outlander? Let us know in the comments.