Ranking Outlander Season 4 episodes is no easy task. Anne Gavin took the annual challenge and ranked the episodes from worst to best. See if you agree with her choices.
Outlander Season 4 is done and dusted and the dreaded #Droughtlander has begun once again. It appears the break between seasons may be the longest yet with one fewer episode in Season 5. SIGH!!!! Outlander fans around the world are processing emotions about all of this but upon reflection, I don’t think there has been a season of Outlander that has been more discussed, more talked about and more dissected than Season 4. Perhaps this falls into the category of “all publicity is good publicity”? Or, on the flip side perhaps the series has run its course with fans who can’t seem to get over the book vs. TV series comparisons. It’s really not for me to say other than I hope the future of Outlander the TV series is bright despite the nitpicking and lamenting. As a fan, first and foremost, I refrain from seeing the glass as half empty with regard to the television production. To me, it’s a glorious adaptation of some of the best books I have ever read. Blessed with an amazing cast of passionate actors, writers, production staff and crew, the series remains some of the most compelling TV on air today.
For the last several seasons, I have compiled my ranking of the season’s episodes. It gives me the opportunity to view the season as a whole as I watch back all the episodes in sequential order. Inevitably, there are episodes I like better than others. It is generally not because of the production value, the directing or really even the writing. It is more about the feelings I get when I watch and whether the story emphasizes character development. The characters are the story of Outlander for me. That said, I am not a television production expert or critic. There are plenty of places you can go for that perspective on the season. What I do know is what moves me and touches my heart and my head when it comes to the story of Outlander.
This season was very different than seasons past. Jamie and Claire started a new life in colonial America and with that came the struggles of learning a new culture in a new land. Scotland, unfortunately, is firmly in the past for our lead couple. I struggled at the beginning of the season to not let my feelings about Scotland and the story’s glorious beginnings there cloud my judgement. The tale being told in Season 4 was not in Scotland anymore and this was a tough pill for me to swallow. But, I soldiered on (thanks, Frank Randall, for that advice!) and found many, many things to love about Season 4.
So, without further ado, let’s get on with the ranking, starting with the bottom and moving up to my #1 favorite episode of Outlander Season 4.
#13 – “Do No Harm” – Episode 4.02
Despite bringing up the rear of the ranking, Episode 4.02, “Do No Harm,” contains some gems. Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta is a pivotal character given her link to both Jamie’s past and his present in the New World. She is a Mackenzie after all, so to be able to match the acting chops of Graham McTavish’s Dougal Mackenzie and Gary Lewis’ Colum Mackenzie, the actress chosen would need to be believable as the lady-boss of River Run and as another sharp-witted and sometimes conniving Mackenzie. I was unfamiliar with Maria Doyle Kennedy’s previous work, but her introduction as Jocasta hit all the right notes with me. Beautiful as we imagine her older sister must have been whilst also canny and charming, I get the sense from Jocasta that it was not just her many marriages to wealthy men that propelled her forward in New World society. It was in part due to her intelligence and ability to manage around difficult situations.
Doyle Kennedy plays the role to perfection, including the fact that Jocasta is blind – an interesting challenge to any actor. Despite the distasteful aura of slavery that permeates life at River Run, Doyle Kennedy’s Jocasta provides a believable understanding into life at that time in American history. And, with Jocasta at the center of River Run, she ably goes head-to-head with Claire throughout the episode. Claire’s indignation of the slave society she finds herself surrounded by is made well-known throughout the episode. As usual, Clare is driven by both her priority to heal the sick and the injured but also by her 20th century morals. This is something we have seen many times before from Claire in previous seasons – a natural reaction given her time travel from the future. It was a pleasure to see these two women knock heads over their very different views of the world.
The introduction of Jocasta was a standout for me in this episode as well as the genius set design of Jon Gary Steele. I hadn’t really thought much about what River Run would truly look like but it exceeded anything I may have had in my mind’s eye. And, Jocasta’s costumes were exquisite. Another triumph for Terry Dresbach in her last season as Outlander’s head costume designer.
But, the reason for the last spot in the ranking has mostly to do with the overall letdown I felt coming off the heels of the previous episode, which ended with a horrific attack and a death. Despite the brutalities of plantation life, I know that there is a story to tell. River Run is a big part of that story and how it plays a role in, ultimately, where Jamie and Claire land in the New World. But, the story the episode told felt like 90 percent exposition and only 10 percent character development and that isn’t a winning ratio for me. The time getting to know Jocasta was well spent. I care about her now and to some extent, understand her. Well done. But, the scenes between Jamie and Claire as they discussed their future and the compromises that would need to be made seemed trite, contrived and cliché. It was a downer of an episode in ways beyond the sad commentary on slavery in the American Colonies of the late 1700s. Jamie and Claire are at their best when we see evidence of their incredible partnership. I didn’t see that, sadly. Lack of time, perhaps, but it was a pretty big decision they were making and deserved more than a few furtive glances, Claire eye-rolls and terse porch talks. But, ah, what a porch. Again, set design wins the episode. And, Auntie Jo!
#12 – “Providence” – Episode 4.12
While the episode was an absolute tour-de-force for Richard Rankin as Roger Wakefield, it wasn’t enough for me to get over my lack of interest in getting to know all there is to know of the Mohawk Village. If I could have spent all my time in Wilmington with the Margus & Friends Rescue Crew or down on the plantation with Lord John and Brianna, I would have. The Father Alexandre story line and Roger’s time in the idiot hut, brief escape and questionable heroics accompanied by odd choice of music did nothing to move the story along for me. These one and done characters like Alexandre and Johiehon, while well-acted, seemed intent on telling a story that frankly didn’t really need to be told. It was something author Diana Gabaldon had the luxury to tell as a way to provide exposition to Roger’s captivity, but not really necessary in the TV production to either appreciate Roger’s suffering or his mindset. We had already seen plenty of that in previous episodes.
The more interesting stories were Brianna’s budding friendship with Lord John, confrontation with Stephen Bonnet and Murtagh’s jail break. I could have also done with a few more Jamie and Claire scenes from the redemption trail. Spending the better part of the episode inside the Mohawk village didn’t advance the story for me. It only served to muddle it and make it a requisition that the final episode would need to pack an entire season-ending wrapper into an hour of television. I adore me some Rik Rankin and the man can definitely act, but to me it was an odd choice to include the Father Alexandre conundrum and subsequent gruesome death. I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure this one out. No answers yet!
#11 – “America the Beautiful” – Episode 4.01
It pains me to have the season’s premiere episode so far down the list of favorites. Again, I will admit to struggling with the story not being set in Scotland. If I am being honest with myself, it hit me over the head hard in this episode and colored the way I view it. It was most definitely a shock to the system.
There were some laudable aspects to the episode, however, as far as character development. In particular, Stephen Bonnet lands in the story with a thud. So charming that he fooled even our clever Jamie and Claire. It was a jarring intro for this new Season 4 villain. He is very different than Black Jack Randall but you could sense from the beginning that there was something not quite right about the man. Kudos to actor Ed Speleers who, in one episode, dispensed with the visage of his role as footman “Jimmy Kent” from Downton Abbey fame and instead believably inhabited the role of the manipulative Stephen Bonnet. Repercussions from Jamie’s actions with regard Bonnet will resonate throughout the season and it was a masterful first cut at this deeply important character in Season 4.
Another high point of the episode was Jamie and Claire’s tender moments whilst “camping.” Like Claire stated, at any moment I expect something to yank these two apart once again as has been the case so many times in the past. It was, therefore, very satisfying to see their intimacy and feel the passionate physical connection they have and that we all love about their relationship. It was a needed moment in an episode filled with so much sorrow and death. This was followed by several other wonderful scenes illustrating the depth of the connection between these two. A particular favorite was when Jamie presented the medicine box to Claire as an anniversary gift and all the intimate dialogue that took place after that. It was a rich exchange of sentiments between two people who had been through 20 years of separation. They understand each other and are able to express themselves so well that as a viewer you actually envy their ability to do so. It’s something that makes Jamie and Claire unique among TV couples and I am grateful the production finds ways to let those moments happen.
Despite some high points and some quality time with our characters here and there, overall this episode left me feeling flat. It was, indeed, a bold choice to use a contemporary version of “America the Beautiful” during the robbery scene. I understand why the writers and producers went this direction, but it seemed out of place for me. I can appreciate the stellar acting of Caitriona Balfe and others in that scene, but it rattled my own sensibility and took me out of the “Outlander moment” and into a confusing state of mind that was not Outlander-like at all to me. Perhaps that was the point? I have to say, though, that even when the production makes choices I question, I still feel the emotional impact. As an audio story-telling trope, the use of the song was impactful. I can’t deny it. But, unfortunately, this and other aspects of the premiere episode left me feeling hollow and therefore this episode lands in the bottom three for me.
#10 – “Blood of my Blood” – Episode 4.06
Confession. I am not a huge fan of the Lord John Grey character in the Outlander series. While I admire Lord John’s sense of honor and his loyalty to Jamie, I found myself annoyed more times than not reading the book series that John could never quite get the clear message that Jamie was not interested in him the same way he was interested in Jamie. More than once while reading, I audibly yelled, “get over it!” But, that said, I do know that Lord John does play an important role in the story and thus seeing his character develop onscreen is important. So, having this episode be about John finding Jamie and bringing young Willie with him packed an emotional punch.
The best bits of this episode belonged to Sam Heughan. Jamie’s inability to acknowledge Willie as a father would a son was heartbreaking to watch. Jamie slipped effortlessly back into the roll of “Mac” for William and resumed his tutelage of the young boy while getting a chance to see the man he was becoming. And, we saw a glimpse of Willie’s Fraser courage when set upon by the Cherokee. Honorable mention for character bits also goes to David Berry and Caitriona Balfe as John and Claire’s tense conversation about their mutual love for James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser reached a crescendo of emotions and tears.
But, despite some memorable moments, I remain lukewarm about this episode. The John/Jamie conflict remains the least interesting part of the overall story for me. It’s an enduring friendship for sure, but I find myself annoyed and somewhat bored of the same plot line playing over and over – John wants an unattainable Jamie. Can we move on, please? Thankfully, as part of this episode we got a scene that punctuates while John’s love will always be unrequited. The very sensual bathtub scene and Jamie’s gift to Claire of a new wedding ring was such a beautiful homage to the original wedding ring from the book series. A thousand kisses, indeed. However, this lovely, intimate scene wasn’t enough to bump the episode any further up the ranking for me.
#9 – “The Deep Heart’s Core” – Episode 4.10
The core of this episode for me were the scenes at Fraser’s Ridge. Jamie is still getting used to the fact that his “child,” who he sent away still unborn over 20 years ago, has returned as an adult. Willful, headstrong and now unwed and pregnant, Brianna struggles to reconcile the differences between both her fathers as she tries to connect with Jamie under awkward circumstances. An episode highlight for me was the glimpse into family life around the dinner table and life at Fraser’s Ridge. That dialogue-free montage accompanied by musical director Bear McCreary’s haunting Fraser’s Ridge theme, brought me to tears.
What didn’t ring so true for me was Brianna’s confrontation with Jamie over the case of mistaken identity. While good drama, it seemed a tad unfair to me and a little overly dramatic. Claire never acknowledged her part in this stramash, which was significant given she didn’t tell Jamie that it was Stephen Bonnet who had actually raped Brianna. But, back at River Run, I was thrilled to see Auntie Jo again and her fabulous fashions. And, was more than a bit intrigued by her flirty scenes with Murtagh. Where was THAT going?
But, as much as I might want to, I can’t overlook the Roger portion of this episode. Roger’s trek north could have been more neatly condensed. The endless trudging through the woods was tedious for a TV audience. Again, better suited for a book format. I did like the scene at the Stone Circle (reminds me of Scotland!). Rankin’s acting was exquisite. You could see the internal conflict all over his battered face. Without speaking he conveyed the agony of his choice. Master Class again from Richard Rankin, who most certainly gave his all to the role this season. I could hardly recognize the once neatly tailored historian we met in Season 2. So, while Episode 4.10 brought a few good moments here and there, it’s not one of my favorites of the season and lands in the top half of the bottom of the ranking.
#8 – “If Not for Hope” – Episode 4.11
Being hit over the head time after time with the “hope theme” caused some minor annoyance for me in this episode. I think sometimes the writers think they are being clever, but some things don’t always have to be said. Show us!
The best bit in this episode was the development of Lord John Grey and Brianna’s friendship. Actor David Berry’s John Grey is magnetic on screen. He walks into a room – literally in this episode – and the ground shakes. The dinner party was amusing but awkward, especially Brianna’s “psychology game.” I don’t understand the purpose of that nor why it was necessary to tell that story in this episode. That said, all the time spent on John and Brianna’s blackmail and marriage “negotiations” was delightful. I was really starting to ship these two by the end of the episode! Such a well-done sequence when John speaks of William as a child with which he shares “no blood.” He provides Brianna with the hope that Roger could love a child maybe not his own. This is what I mean by showing us, rather than telling us.
The other couple I enjoyed in this episode was Fergus and Marsali. The brief glimpses we see into their relationship gives viewers a reason to like them and care about them. Both the adult Fergus and Marsali burst onto the scene rather abruptly in Season 3. Since then I have loved seeing this relationship develop. Theirs is a true partnership, not unlike our lead couple. And, we saw our lead couple struggle this episode. Jamie and Claire prove themselves time and again so relatable. The pitfalls of misunderstandings, miscommunication or lack of communication can lead to resentment and conflict. As is the case in most relationships, there is suffering when things are left unsaid. Once Jamie and Claire simmer a bit, they help each other understand their individual suffering and find the forgiveness to move forward. Their beautiful, intimate conversation toward the end of the episode was a lovely nod to the fact that the imperfections of our perfect couple remain one of the most interesting things about them.
The reason this episode lands somewhat in the middle of the pack is the continued, and unneeded, suffering of Roger. The cold-open shower scene seemed trite. And, why end this episode with the gauntlet and Roger’s repeated beating? The point has been made. The man is a captive, doesn’t want to be there and is being brutalized. I have no idea what this adds to the arc of this episode or to Roger’s story – already clear as day up to this point in the season. If it weren’t for this final scene, I think the episode would rank higher for me. But, I grew weary of the #PoorRoger scenarios and it ruined what otherwise was an episode filled with some brilliant character development.
#7 – “Common Ground” – Episode 4.04
Oh, my – the “Bear Episode.” I’ll get to that in a bit!
I enjoyed the time spent with Jamie and Claire as they began to build their “dream home” on Fraser’s Ridge in this episode. It was a lovely respite from some of the conflict that had taken place up to this point. Finally, a bit of settling-in for the Fraser crew. Mixed in with the hard work of building the cabin and settling the land were some intimate Jamie and Claire scenes. We see that spark between them throughout the episode – still blazing strong.
Example: “When you sing all proper and polite like you are in church… I must confess, it makes me want to do indecent things.”
And, I adored how Jamie proudly showed Claire the framing of their new home and carried her over the threshold. The tender kisses and the love between them shone bright. However, as with most plot lines in Outlander, the calm (and happiness) lasted but a wee second. Inevitable that the Native Americans happened upon our earnest homesteaders and were none too pleased about the encroachment. Shout out to the First Nation actors and for Outlander production for bringing them over from Canada to offer an authentic aspect to the story of early American settlers and the indigenous people they encountered. So many great performances by these actors. The conflict with the Native Americans built up throughout the episode finally leading to the climax of Jamie fighting a man in a bear suit. What? Again, I can see why this iconic book scene was handled this way. But, I don’t have to like it.
Finally, we spend some time with Roger in Scotland. He’s pining still for Brianna and can’t seem to let go of his search for the Frasers. Good to see this couple on screen – if not together, but clearly still feeling the love for each other and awkwardly trying to manage those feelings. Sophie Skelton as Brianna receiving the news of her parents’ settlement in America was mesmerizing. Her face reveals so much of what she must be feeling not just about receiving the news of her parents, but also about the depth of her feeling for Roger. A lot left unsaid between these two and it was palpable with the director’s closeups of each of their tortured faces. The ending of the episode was a good capper for moving the story forward. Again with the Richard Rankin face. With the exception of Sam Heughan this season, I have never seen an actor convey so much with his eyes and facial expressions. Clearly, Roger has an even larger conflict facing him then just whether or not to tell Brianna of her parents possible impending death by fire. I loved how all the Roger scenes were shot and played in this episode. Rankin proves again his ability to portray a very complicated and conflicted character. A lot to love about this episode as it lands solidly in the middle of the ranking.
#6 – “The False Bride” – Episode 4.03
I’ll admit my bias in that one of my favorite parts of Drums of Autumn – the novel upon which Season 4 is based – is the development of the relationship between Brianna and Roger. Despite lots of nay-saying last season among fans about the “lack of chemistry” between these two actors, I didn’t feel that way. These two are no Jamie and Claire. Their relationship starts and evolves quite differently. And, they are forced to face many unique obstacles and challenges along the way. They are the true embodiment of the old adage, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” But, thank all that is good in the writers’ room for including the charming “Minister’s Cat” game played by Roger and Brianna on their drive to the Highland Games.
And, speaking of which, my all-things-Scotland-loving heart was really looking forward to the Highland Games scenes from the book. And, on both counts, this episode did not disappoint. What a delight to be transported to Grandfather Mountain and walk with Brianna and Roger amongst the Highland Games set, complete with Ceilidh dancing, men in kilts and – be still my heart – Roger singing a Scottish lament. There were so many details. I was overcome with emotion when Roger shouted “Tulach Ard!” with a tear in his eye as that magnificent stag burned behind him. The depiction of the Highland Games was a feast for the eyes and lifted my heart, which up to this point in the season had been trampled upon by some extremely weighty episodes.
The “fight” between Bree and Roger was powerful and frustrating to watch. So much had been leading up to these two finally acknowledging their feelings for one another. And, when we thought that was all manifesting, it all fell apart with Brianna’s rejection of Roger’s proposal and the realization that the reverend’s kid hadn’t yet reconciled some of his conflicting emotions about marriage and intimacy. I’ll admit, this behavior does not stand Roger in good stead with the television audience and comes across quite harsh. Rankin plays off aspects of Roger based on the material he is given. Unfortunately, there just isn’t time in the television production to give us the man in full that we see in the books. Things move at a 13-episode television pace for these young lovers and sadly, we don’t have time to really invest in the relationship. Rankin carries most scenes in this episode and is at times lovable and maddening at the same time. We curse his hypocrisy in the cabin scene, but at the same time, what’s not to love about a man who wants to do right by the woman he truly loves?
“I want you, Brianna. I cannae say it more plainly than that. I love you.”
Swoon. When I went back and re-watched this scene a few times, I better understood Roger’s perspective.
“Will you marry me? We can have as long an engagement as you like. I just want you to say yes. I want to give you my name and I want when the Mackenzies stand at the calling of the clans tomorrow for you to stand by my side when one day you’ll be my wife. I want to have a home with you. I want to have a home big enough for 4 or 5 wee Mackenzies.”
This particular scene was much discussed in the fandom. But, isn’t this one of the great things about this television show? Even with these two 20th century characters, there is a gap in experience, views of the world and a strong female perspective juxtaposed with a more traditional male perspective. Maybe they are more like Jamie and Claire than we first thought?
All things considered, I enjoyed this episode immensely. The Otter Tooth story line and Claire’s never-ending coincidences seemed a bit awkwardly inserted to advance a later story and I didn’t have much love for that. It was the Brianna and Roger story that captured my heart and my attention and for that reason landed this episode in the top half of my ranking.
#5 – “Down the Rabbit Hole” – Episode 4.07
I may be in the minority here for placing this episode in the top 5 of the ranking, but I appreciated the continuation of the Brianna and Roger saga and the dual story-telling in the episode that shows their journey back to one another. And, again, I must admit my bias when it comes to Scotland. While it seemed a long time to spend watching Brianna trudge through the Highlands, I relished it. Beautiful Scotland. And then there was the music that played throughout that sequence – a exquisitely combined rendition of the Jamie and Claire theme and Roger and Brianna’s theme music. Plus, any time the production returns to Craigh na Dun is a goose-bumps moment for me.
Roger’s sweet leave-taking at the Stones was well played. Rankin’s ability to wordlessly display emotions is striking. The controversial bits about this episode involving Brianna’s bed and breakfast stay at Laoghaire’s didn’t really bother me that much. Would I have rather Brianna spent that time at Lallybroch? Of, course! But, I trust the production had its reasons. Actress Nell Hudson rarely gets her due for her brilliant portrayal of the shrewish Laoghaire. I thought Hudson’s performance was interesting and highly nuanced as the older, slightly more likable, but ultimately still crazy-after-all these-years, Laoghaire. Kudos to Hudson for the moment when Laoghaire realized her house guest was the daughter of that “thieving whoooor” Claire Fraser. The crazy was back with a vengeance. But, oh, how I love to hate this Outlander villainess!
Speaking of controversial characters, this episode brought the unexpected return of Frank Randall proving again that the Outlander producers remain obsessed with actor Tobias Menzies. Can’t say I blame them. It was interesting, though, how the writers found a way to insert Frank into Season 4. And, if I am honest, it made some good sense by providing us with a bit of the back story of how Frank came to find out of Claire’s return to the past. This bit also gave viewers more of an understanding of Frank’s love for Brianna. Whether she knew it or not, Brianna has been dealing with her parents’ complicated relationship her whole life. Sophie Skelton’s scenes with Tobias Menzies were poignant, heartbreaking and very, very sad. It’s a really stand-out performance for Skelton all the way around as we see a side of her relationship with Frank that’s easy at times to set aside in lieu of the desire we have to see her meet her biological father, Jamie. There are many life lessons to learn from this TV version of the Brianna-Frank relationship. Surrogacy fatherhood or motherhood can be just as powerful a bond as blood ties. The fact that the producers took the time to explore this was laudable. And, there may have been a Frank-related Season 4 Top Musical Moment in some of the final scenes of this episode. Wait and see about that one!
The return of Stephen Bonnet was another episode stand-out. Richard Rankin and Ed Speleers play off each other well. Speleers continues to make this character his own. His facial expressions and movements reveal just enough of his sociopathic behavior to keep us wondering what this character is truly capable of. His “heads you live, tails you die” approach to life is chilling and quite believable. Poor Roger saw a bit of the man’s black soul throughout his voyage to America. But it’s clear from Speleers’ disturbing performance that we have only scratched the surface of this depraved yet juicy Season 4 villain.
Ah, yes. It was so good to return to Scotland for this episode. Add to that some terrific exploration of characters and some outrageously good acting from Skelton, Menzies and Speleers, it puts this episode in the top five of the ranking.
#4 – “Wilmington” – Episode 4.08
I was so happy the production didn’t beat about the bush with the Roger and Brianna reunion coming so early in the episode. Very satisfying. Yet we see right away these two continue the push and pull of their differing sensibilities and oftentimes equal and maddening immaturity. They are a bundle of emotions as they reconnect and declare their love for each other. The hand-fasting was sweet and innocent. And, the consummation of the relationship was sensual but awkward as I would expect these two to be. The love scene had a very different vibe about it then the infamous Season 1, “The Wedding.” Again, I feel this is totally appropriate given this couple’s journey differs quite a bit from Jamie and Claire’s.
These two exasperate me in many ways because of their inability to quell their tempers and see the forest through the trees. You want to shake the both of them and tell them to “grow up!” I give Skelton and Rankin a lot of credit for these nuanced scenes that have them running a range of emotions in a quick period of screen time. This is a difficult thing to accept and understand for non book readers who see only what is presented to them on screen. Once again, Roger looks the louse in his reaction to Brianna’s anger at not hearing directly from Roger of her parent’s future demise in the fire on Fraser’s Ridge. Little time is allowed for viewers to see this bond evolve as we are rushed through the relationship highlights in short order. It’s unfortunate but Skelton and Rankin do an admirable job with the material they are given.
And, across town, I enjoyed George Washington’s cameo at the theatre and Claire’s utter delight in meeting this scion of American history. The Outlander novels are replete with real historical figures and this was a fun nod to the pre-Revolutionary War American colonies.
Strangely, the standout of this episode was one of the more horrifying moments of the season. No one in the fandom was looking forward to Brianna’s violent encounter with Stephen Bonnet. Book readers knew this was coming but had no idea how exactly it would fit into the television production. Rape is a recurring theme in Outlander. Gabaldon often gets criticized for this, but I have always been one to see it as a reflection of the time period. The truth is what is depicted in the book and the show is very typical for the times. The book was not written to adhere to modern-day sensibilities when it comes to sex, power and rape. I have always been bewildered by those fans who somehow think the books and the show should deviate when it comes to the depiction of rape.
I do, however, applaud the production for the way this particular rape was handled. By not showing us, they told us through our other senses. The horrifying reality of Brianna’s screams and the absolute disinterest from the men in the pub painted a vivid picture of what Brianna was experiencing and why it haunts her for some time afterward.
Much peril in this episode between the rape and Murtagh’s near arrest. However, the strength of “Wilmington” lies with the Roger and Brianna saga and the ups and downs that befall them. For this reason, the episode sneaks into the top four of the ranking.
#3 – “Man of Worth” – Episode 4.13
I watched the finale at midnight when it became available, surrounded by my fellow writers at Outlander Cast Podcast & Blog. It was the same way I had watched the Season 3 Finale. I watched again at our Outlander Cast Finale Party the next evening with 100 of our followers and listeners. I confess to feeling overwhelmed by the Outlander love that weekend. At the end of the day, a big part of Outlander for me is the wonderful community of people that I have met because of it. I think my initial enthusiasm for the finale episode, “Man of Worth,” may have been impacted slightly by being securely inside my warm Outlander bubble that weekend. I like this episode as it wrapped up some lingering story lines while also giving us a particularly interesting cliffhanger for Season 5. But when I stacked up the finale against some of the season’s earlier episodes, I could only manage to sneak it in the top three of the ranking. However, lots to love.
The good of this episode includes probably one of the top five scenes of this season. Jamie and Ian’s farewell makes me weep each and every time I watch it. When actor John Bell burst on the scene in Season 3 he was the perfect young Ian. We have watched this actor grow into this meaty role during Season 4. I would have enjoyed seeing more of him, but the bit I did see was superb. He offered the perfect combination of naivete and brashness with a bit of a wee devil thrown in. Ultimately, Ian embraced his deeply seeded spirit of adventure no doubt inherited from his Uncle Jamie. Seeing him off to his new life with the Mohawk was difficult to watch, but somehow you knew the kid would be just fine. Sam Heughan had so many incredible moments this season but proved again he has mastered the art of the single tear. You could see in Jamie’s face the absolute anguish he felt knowing it would be the last time he would see his nephew. But, beneath the surface of those anguished eyes you could also see the pride and admiration swelling. Ian had indeed become a Man of Worth and Uncle Jamie was proud.
My second favorite part of this episode was the Murtagh and Brianna and Murtagh and Jocasta scenes. I realize there remains controversy in the fandom about the return of Murtagh. Murtagh’s presence has changed the story and could be said to have taken away from aspects of book 4 that might have been told. But, once the decision was made to keep Murtagh alive, you cannot have him come back and not embrace him fully. What would be the point? Murtagh as portrayed by British actor Duncan Lacroix, is a deeply beloved character. He was and is an important touch stone for Jamie and thus creates a pivot point for some of the drama and tension in Season 4. And, so it was lovely to see his tender moments with Brianna in this episode. Jamie had confided in only Murtagh that Claire was with child and this was the reason he sent her back through the Stones before the Battle of Culloden. Murtagh grieved along with Jamie the loss of Claire but also the loss of his child. It was wonderful this season to see Murtagh jump right into his “godfather” role with Brianna. The two shared some special heartwarming moments and I am grateful for that.
Murtagh’s presence at River Run after his escape from the Wilmington jail created a separate line of tension with Jocasta, who Murtagh challenges to join his cause. Aunt Jo and Murtagh share a common history and homeland. I cannot say I was surprised by their assignation in this episode as it seemed to be building up almost as soon as they first met again in Episode 4.11, “If Not for Hope.” It was weirdly satisfying to see these old friends find a common bond and affection for one another. Murtagh was unable to capture Ellen Mackenzie’s heart, but it’s easy to see her feisty sister offered much the same fierce mind and beauty that attracted Murtagh to Ellen in the first place. Everything happens for a reason in life and in this case, better late love than no love at all. I am so curious where the production will take this story line in Season 5.
Another highlight was the resolution of Roger’s captivity and reckoning with Jamie . Honestly, I was just ready for #PoorRoger to get the heck out of the Mohawk Village. Rankin again with the master class for how to play the downtrodden and desperate. I had missed the first Roger and Jamie fight from the book series which was much less one-sided than the show version. Weirdly satisfying again to see Roger get his licks in. And, while the Brianna reunion was a tad over-dramatic, I find it hard to believe that most Outlander fans weren’t moved to tears when Roger said, “take me to see my son.”
There were clearly many highlights in this episode as it took us on a roller coaster of emotions and showcased some terrific character acting by our leads. However, after the glow of the Finale Party wore off, I couldn’t manage to place this episode any higher than the #3 spot in the ranking for the simple reason than my top two just eclipse it. That said, I loved the ending as a setup for an exciting Season 5 that will have both book readers and show watchers wondering how it will all play out. Roll on, Murtagh!
#2 – “The Birds & the Bees” – Episode 4.09
The aftermath of Brianna’s rape was difficult to watch. We can finally see with our own eyes Bonnet’s brutality and Brianna’s trauma. Sophie Skelton shone in this first half of the episode. It’s a delicate thing to portray a victim of a violent rape. Skelton did so sensitively and believably. But what came next impressed me more. Just as viewers were beginning to absorb the gravity of what happened to Brianna, she carried on and re-focused herself on the mission that brought her to Wilmington in the first place. I was reminded then that we were dealing with a true Fraser. I loved, too, that we had a chance to see the very strong connection that Brianna had to her biological father – both of whom experienced a violent sexual attack but found the will to move forward. These are subtle character bits that propel the story forward for me.
The absolute peak of this episode for me was Jamie and Brianna’s first meeting followed soon after by Claire and Brianna’s reunion. I read that Sophie Skelton and Sam Heughan did not rehearse this scene. It was the first scene these two actors filmed together in the series. The result of this choice was magic and incredibly captivating. The genuineness of Jamie’s wonderment and the plainness of Brianna’s relief at finally meeting her biological father was palpable for the viewer. I smiled, I cried, I laughed, I rejoiced and, most importantly, I felt all the emotions these two characters were feeling at this moment. Claire’s reaction to seeing her daughter on the streets of Wilmington was equally as captivating. Jamie’s “Sassenach!” and Claire’s absolute shock at seeing the beloved daughter she thought she would never lay eyes on again was total perfection. The reunification of this family and the love between these characters is what I mean when I say that Outlander’s relationships are what makes this story sing for me.
Continuing along this theme, the production took us inside the happy days that followed the family’s reunion. The depiction of the daily chores around the Ridge and the family chatting happily around the dinner table warmed my heart. It felt intimate, seamless and unspoiled. But for Brianna’s secret, it was the picture-perfect life that Jamie and Claire had been searching for since they married and fell in love what seemed like so long ago and so far away. I loved every minute of Jamie getting to know his daughter on the “bee hunt” and Brianna’s careful consideration of the man she didn’t know, but in many ways was beginning to recognize. And, when Claire guessed Brianna was expecting, the heartbreaking revelation of the secret that Brianna had been keeping showcased Caitriona Balfe’s ever-extending range of her portrayal of Claire. Written all over Claire’s face was the horror she felt at this news, but yet you could see her struggling with disguising that emotion for the sake of her daughter. Lovely scenes between all three of these actors and beautifully performed.
In truth, my heart was a big puddle for most of this episode. The pace was slow but comforting. The few times in this series that Outlander’s story slows down can be a nice break from the nonstop, hard-driving tension we generally find in the travails of the Fraser Clan. I think back to Season 1 episodes like “Castle Leoch” and “Rent” where we really have a chance to dive into characters and their motivations and feelings before all hell usually breaks loose. For these reasons, this episode lands solidly in the #2 spot of the ranking.
#1 – “Savages” – Episode 4.05
I take choosing my #1 favorite episode each season very seriously. And, I am about as subjective about it as most reviewers! That said, what really makes an episode #1 for me may be totally different than others. I acknowledge this and expect there will likely be many who will disagree, particularly with this season of Outlander so fraught with controversy. However, Episode 4.05 was almost as close to a perfect episode of Outlander as I can recall. There were smiles mixed with tears mixed with laughter mixed with horror – all rushing over me in wave after wave after wave. The episode was filled with powerful moments. Another lovely montage of Claire’s domestic life. Why do I love these so much? I think it’s the music and just the warm feelings seeing Claire in her element. She is independent without Jamie there – which I admire – yet needy when he returns, which I also enjoy seeing. Life on the Ridge delights except when filled with peril, which it so often is. I so enjoy, though, those moments when we can just breathe and delight in the domesticity of everyday tasks on Fraser’s Ridge.
Jamie and Claire’s intimacy in this episode shines bright for me. The way they speak to each other about mundane activities around the cabin and Jamie’s revelation about his vision of Brianna shine a spotlight on these two and their ease of communication. Their intimate looks, touches and ever present chemistry warms my soul.
The plot point of the War of Regulation gets more fully introduced in this episode as we come to find out that one very important person is in the middle of the movement in Woolam’s Creek. The return of Murtagh was the most anticipated moment for me this season and not one single part of me was disappointed about how that played out on screen. I have written numerous times about this character for Outlander Cast. I adore Murtagh. Duncan Lacroix deserves ALL the credit for bringing what was a relatively minor character in the books to glorious life in the television series. For a show that has few secrets, the disposition of Murtagh in the series was a well-kept secret. Bringing him back as a leader of the Regulators was a stroke of genius as it introduces an exciting story line that will surprise both book readers and show watchers. I realize there is another school of thought about this in the fandom, but for me, this direction for Murtagh was spot on.
But, I could never talk about this episode without reveling in the incredible performances of Sam Heughan and Duncan Lacroix and their reunion scene. Fellow Outlander Cast writer, Nikki Gastineau, touched on her feelings about the Jamie-Murtagh reunion in this poignant blog post. I couldn’t agree more that this reunion rivaled the Print Shop and, in many ways, bested it. The Sam Heughan facial acting was on full display and I could genuinely feel that bear hug that Murtagh bestowed on his long lost “son.” Also, I could feel the baritone vibration of that hearty laugh that escaped from Murtagh’s scarcely seen smile as he reached to hug Jamie. It was absolute perfection and finally all felt right with the New World. And, when Jamie said, “I have so much to tell you,” followed by Murtagh’s, “I want to hear every word,” my heart burst. Not only was this the high point of the episode but for me, is the high point of Season 4. Yes, it changes the story, but it changes it for the better. It’s an exciting addition to an already exciting tale of life in the New World. It adds conflict and drama and a bit of mystery for book readers and show watchers – something we haven’t seen before. I understand the Murtagh Regulator story-line was suggested to the series writers by Gabaldon. Bravo! I am onboard wherever this takes us.
Lastly, the development of the Mueller family plot line and conflict with the Cherokee was interesting, dramatic and well-played by all involved. The episode moved swiftly back and forth between plot lines but stitched together seamlessly. My emotions ran the gamut culminating in the horrific burning deaths of Herr Mueller and his wife. The brutality of that scene juxtaposed with Claire’s horror discovering Adewahi’s unceremonious scalping and death was drama at its finest. I was actually quite uninterested in the Mueller story line in the book series, but the television series gave it shape as part of the overall theme of strangers in a strange land and conflicts that arise when indigenous people feel threatened. This theme runs through all of Season 4 and was best illustrated to me through the dramatic events contained within Episode 4.05.
And, I could not review this episode without once again calling out the performance of Richard Rankin. The final scenes of the episode combining Brianna’s approach to Craigh na Dun and her voiceover as Roger reads her “Dear John Letter” was so moving. Rankin nailed the emotions – again with no words spoken from him. Roger’s perilous journey was about to begin and the foreboding of that was all in his eyes.
Characters. Outlander is full of them. There are so many, but it’s what we remember when we read the series and watch the show. Characters must always drive the plot and when Outlander the TV show does this, it is at its finest. Episode 4.05 redoubled my investment in Outlander’s characters and what motivates and drives them. The episode ran smoothly between plots because of the emphasis on the characters contained within those plots. I felt such a gamut of emotions for the entire hour. It was compelling television and compelling storytelling. For that reason, this episode rises to the very top of the ranking without prejudice or reservation. Episode 4.05 “Savages” is my #1 Outlander Season 4 Episode.
Note: For the record, despite overwhelming fan sentiment decrying the lack of intimacy between Jamie and Claire this season, I do NOT share that opinion. On the contrary, I believe the season displayed many, many intimate moments between this couple reflecting the continued growth, maturity and familiarity of their union. They use intimacy as a means of communication. There were SO many spots within the season where I saw this. Balfe and Heughan continue to astound as they clearly have taken the time to understand the dynamics of the Jamie-Claire relationship and seek to add layers to this goal-worthy couple as the story progresses. I missed nothing of their intimacy in Season 4 and find their ability to communicate beyond just physical coupling much more satisfying in many ways.
What is your #1 favorite episode of Outlander Season 4? Least favorite? I would love to know your opinion!
Please discuss in the comments.
Anne’s obsessenach tendencies have changed her life in many ways including providing the opportunity to explore Scotland, its people and many of the locations upon which Outlander had its beginnings. Follow Anne on Twitter here, Instagram here or at Outlander Cast’s Instagram here, where many of Anne’s photos of Scotland are often featured.