The finality of death unlocks and flings open the floodgates of emotion, forcing us to accept the permanent loss, heartache, and emptiness it brings. Be it sudden or lingering, there’s no negotiating, no second chances. It’s over – too late (at least in this life) for all things unsaid, un-reconciled relationships, or un-mended bridges. In “The Hail Mary,” Dougal MacKenzie and Jack Randall experience an emotional spectrum like no other. But grief takes hold of people in ways as unique as they are as individuals. With alpha males like these two, what is it like for them when somebody dies?
Dougal taunts Colum and argues with him, even up until the very end. He’s angry that Colum has chosen Jamie as guardian to Hamish until he comes of age and tells him that he’s clearly using his decision as his “last chance to punish me for fathering Hamish.” If Dougal can assure Colum that he will care for his men as Jamie does, the guardianship will be his. Dougal storms out without answering (that’d be a ‘no’), but returns later and faces Colum alone. He won’t let it go, won’t let Colum die in peace.
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Without realizing that Colum is slipping away from an earthly existence (thank you, Claire), Dougal sits on the edge of the bed and laments the life the brothers could have had. It’s amazing insight into the softer, vulnerable side of Dougal. He believed his big brother was stronger and would always be there to protect him. “Nothing hurts you,” he says. Isn’t that the way we perceived our older siblings when we were young? Invincible? Indestructible?
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The grief Dougal suppresses fuels his anger when he overhears Claire and Jamie discussing their one last chance to stop the battle at Culloden. He’s pretty sure Claire played a role in Colum’s death (he saw the small bottle of poison in Colum’s hand) and is beyond angry at Jamie’s apparent betrayal of him and all of the men who are fighting for the cause. There is no talking Dougal down, he attacks Jamie (who uses his body to protect Claire – as he vowed), and Claire ends up helping Jamie take Dougal’s life. Jamie knows he had no choice, but he mourns his uncle and apologizes for what he had to do. Death fueling anger, and death fueling sorrow and regret.
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Taking a closer look at another set of brothers, I was amazed at the tender, compassionate gestures Jack Randall displayed at the bedside of his brother, Alex. Cradling his head, holding his hand, and touching his cheek with what appeared to be genuine concern and love. He seemed fiercely protective of him, questioning Claire’s methods to ease his breathing, but ultimately relenting at her insistence, which must have been difficult.
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He even went so far as to beg for her help with Alex – begging equates to weakness in Jack’s world, and he keeps any shred of human kindness at bay. Love and compassion have no place in the darkness Jack Randall inhabits.
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There are times where there’s almost an emotional breakthrough with Jack. He comes so close that you’re sure he’s going to turn the corner and become a real human being. He sits on the bed, and Alex puts Mary’s and his hands together with his, encouraging the marriage and giving it his blessing. Jack seems accepting, swept along with his brother’s dying wish. Then something awakens in Jack, he snaps his hand away, and stands up and away from any emotional involvement.
When Claire seeks Jack out at the tavern, he begs her to talk Alex out of his request that he marry Mary Hawkins. He has enough awareness of his tortured, twisted self and has just enough decency (or whisky) to try and protect Mary and her unborn baby from him. But he can’t deny Alex his last request and reluctantly allows the marriage to take place. A sliver of decency finds its way out of the darkness, perhaps prodded along by the prediction of his own death in mere days (as provided by Claire).
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The end finally comes for Alex – the room is silent except for the labored breathing that finally ceases. Mary weeps silently, Claire stands next to her, and Jack stares in disbelief at the lifeless body of his brother. He is heartbroken, and genuinely wants to cry. He almost does, but catches himself just in time. Alex knew there was a kind, gentle side to Jack, but we really don’t know what their young lives were like, or what, if anything, happened to Jack that led him into the darkness he now inhabits.
Jack’s reaction to Alex’s death is shocking, but tragically fitting. He silently straddles his dead brother and punches him repeatedly. Is he angry at the diseased lungs that took him? Jealous that Alex is free from pain and suffering? Grieving for the one person who knew, accepted, and loved him in spite of who he was? We’ll never know. Claire watches in horror as she shields Mary from his disturbing reaction. The room remains silent as Jack climbs off and straightens himself, smooths his hair, does that thing with his jaw, and walks out.
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Two men, both uniquely and egotistically struck with having to get in the last word as a way to contend with the grief at losing their brother. Their vulnerability shone only briefly in the throes of grief before their need to remain in control took over. It might not be the textbook definition, but this is certainly on par with the many stages and forms of grief felt when somebody – especially one as close as a brother – dies.
What did you think of how the show portrayed grief in season two?