Community Themes in Outlander Season 5
Every Outlander book and season have overarching themes beyond the obvious love story and action. Here, we take a look at community themes in Outlander Season 5.
I had never heard the term “social distancing” before February. It almost felt like some implausible concept, unless you are possibly a troll or a hermit. Most human beings crave connection and community. We learn this in Sociology 101. Then the Covid-19 virus came rolling in, and the world drastically changed. It seems like some divine intervention that the end of our very long Droughtlander arrived just before our detached social distancing began.
Outlander Season 5 eased us through the very difficult adjustment to this new isolated lifestyle. As our Outlander “fanmily” vacillated between frustration, irritation, fear, stress and loneliness, our point of connection and happy place each week became the new Outlander episode (and all of our pre and post episode routines around it). Outlander Season 5 gave us a much needed escape and a way to still connect with certain friends that resembles normal.
As if that wasn’t kismet enough, Season 5 (mostly) derived from Diana Gabaldon’s fifth book, “The Fiery Cross.” Can you guess the one-word theme of that novel? Drumroll…. “Community”… Perfect. It’s as if the Outlander Gods, book and show, conspired together to fill that empty space in our souls.
It’s hard wired within us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Part of it is physical — our drive for safety and survival. In the animal kingdom, creatures form packs, swarms, flocks, herds, etc. Isolation often leads to death. We draw strength from developed healthy communities, and each person contributes their talents or efforts to improve the whole. Individual threads weave together to create a blanket for warmth, security and protection from the harsh outside elements .
We also thrive from human interaction. The strands in the community web connect to form key relationships and roles.
Outlander Season 5 integrated characters and established their community roles and responsibilities. Deep bonds of friends and family tightened to support our characters through their darkest times.
The home and family of Outlander Season 4 have now become an integrated thriving community of over 30 families with Jamie and Claire as its figurative Laird and Lady.
Our first glimpse of this community theme in Outlander Season 5 emerged with a dramatic shift in the opening credits music. The solo voice of Raya Yarbrough turned into a chorus of male and female voices. We also see a shift from Appalachian instrumentation to a capella choral, relying on the harmony of many voices to create the beautiful musical sound. What a brilliant idea to reflect the growth and community reliance of Fraser’s Ridge!
Outlander composer Bear McCreary explains: “Where [Season 4] explored new frontiers, Season 5 plants roots, digging into themes of building community, forming civilization, expanding families, and forming allegiances. For the first time in the history of Outlander, my score for Season Five had no need to introduce bold new instruments or styles.” He focused this score on the integration, growth and flowering of previous themes.
Part of the community growth of Fraser’s Ridge includes our key characters finding and establishing their roles in this society and responsibilities to each other.
Diana Gabaldon has a great line in her upcoming book, Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone, that she revealed in one of her “Daily Lines” excerpts. Roger says to Bree…
“Aye. The essential social services of Fraser’s Ridge….Your mother’s the ambulance, and your da’s the police.”
These roles are established for Jamie and Claire this season, each using their special gifts to ensure the safety and well-being of the Ridge.
On the other hand, Roger and Bree struggle a bit to find their place and worth as they try to adapt their skills to enhance this community outside of their time. Our secondary characters — Fergus, Marsali, Ian, the Beardsley twins, Lizzie, Young Ian, and John Quincy Myers — use their talents to strengthen the community. A group effort tackles the big projects like the hunt, the fabric dyeing, the candle making, the house building, saving the crops, searching for maggots to save Jamie, butchering meat, digging privies, and finally rescuing Claire. New and deep bonds form as well between characters. In hindsight, it’s truly incredible what this show accomplished in 12 hours of television!
(I have to say, some moments during this season felt eerily close to real life in the midst of our pandemic such as plague, finding the right strain of penicillin, and even a mention of limiting gatherings to no more than 10!)
The Fiery Cross examines all of the dynamics of community — its necessity, types, strengths, weaknesses, the power of the mob, internal destructive forces, protection, culture merge and clash, roles and structure, etc. (Within this book, Diana created a somewhat historical sociology study). The writers have reflected this theme to some extent in each episode. As an adaptation, that is impressive! Let’s take a look:
501 – THE FIERY CROSS
Matt B. Roberts, showrunner and writer, hit us hard with the community theme in the first episode. Fraser’s Ridge is a thriving, growing community now with over 30 families living on the Ridge, including Jamie’s Ardsmuir men as well as new immigrants. They’ve created a thriving hub in the back country, and we join them to celebrate Roger and Brianna’s wedding. Merging several book events to the Ridge allowed the show to establish the Ridge community immediately. A richer version of Fraser’s Ridge theme swells as Bree walks down the aisle.
“The ‘Fraser’s Ridge Theme’ is about more than the geographical location. This season, I lean on the theme to underscore the notions of civilization and societal camaraderie. This is evident during the premiere episode’s wedding ceremony when Brianna walks down the aisle to the cheers of the adoring crowd. Yes, this moment is about Roger and Brianna, but just as significantly, it is about the entire crowd. Fraser’s Ridge has become a spiritual home for them all, important symbolically and physically. Throughout the season, I use the ‘Fraser’s Ridge Theme’ to underscore this concept,” says Bear McCreary.
The Big House’s main structure is grand, but still under construction with all of the Ridge tenants chipping in their varied talents. Cash didn’t flow regularly around the Ridge, but it didn’t need to. In this time, a varied community became prized. They worked together to thrive. The residents brokered deals in a barter system, especially for Himself. Jamie had already started building this house, laying foundation, before leaving to rescue Roger. While he was gone, loyal tenants would have continued his work. When he returned, they all helped, especially with a wedding on the horizon!
Jamie, skilled at building settlements, selected tenants partially based on the needs they would have and the holes they would fill. He recruited people with wide ranging talent that could all barter with each other.
Although they left Scotland, Scotland did not leave them. They carried all their customs here, and those merged with other customs to create this New World, where you see the pockets of influence in certain areas of concentration, even today. Music, traditions, customs, culture, beliefs, storytelling (a big Appalachian custom even today… passed down from the Scots).
In a call back to Scottish community tradition, Jamie emerged in his kilt (to audience cheers), lit the fiery cross, and started a calling of the men. He wanted to ensure their loyalty and tighten their bonds to him (which will come full circle in the last episode). He says he will only light the second cross when they go to war.
Roger’s courage and loyalty begin to emerge in the calling. Jamie establishes him as “Son of His House” (Jamie’s right hand and heir) and militia captain in front of all. The tenants certainly recognize Claire as the area healer with a line around the house. However, the Fraser paradise faces threat. Governor Tryon is calling in his chip. He wants the Regulator leader Murtagh Fitzgibbons, dead or alive.
502 – BETWEEN TWO FIRES
In episode 502, we saw the violent clash of the Regulators impacting the corrupt county seat, Hillsboro, causing fear, damage and injury. Jamie begins his walk between two fires as he tries to fulfill his role as protector of the Ridge, while covertly trying to help his godfather and his men stay safe.
Meanwhile, we are treated to the ladies of the Ridge making candles while discussing old wives’ remedies. Claire is desperate to fulfill her role as resident healer for the community after losing a tenant.
She creates a recommendation list from “Dr. Rawlings” for the Ridge tenants (an act that will cost her at the end of the season). She decides to try to grow penicillin, and Marsali takes on the role of physician’s assistant. This is a prime example of Claire seeing inherent skills in someone and using those natural talents (butchering and sewing) to fill a needed role.
503 – FREE WILL
This episode gave viewers a deep micro study in some of the macro concepts Outlander tackles this season. What is the cost and commitment to an oath? What are you willing to stand for? What do you sacrifice when faced with an impossible choice? What are the consequences of choices made? Destiny versus free will. The power of teamwork.
Additionally, we see the dangers and results of isolation and having no community support at all. In this time, even more so than today, community was key to survival. Throughout this season, we saw how community groups can strengthen, hurt, destroy and protect. This episode reveals what can happen when you have no community at all. Isolation will often breed abuse. I wrote a blog piece on the horror and isolation aspect of this episode. For more detail, check that out here.
On another note, through this horror, we gain two new Ridge community residents, twin brothers Josiah and Keziah Beardsley.
504 – THE COMPANY WE KEEP
In episode 504, we meet a very kin-based, back country, tight knit community — the menacing Browns of Brownsville. The Browns have their own rules and don’t want outside intrusion. The episode introduces the idea of “rival communities,” which will become more pronounced as the season progresses.
Lionel is the drunken, angry, brooding younger brother that leads the mob that will enact his sense of warped justice. Richard is the calculating, manipulative, dangerous older brother and patriarch of the family. They remind me a bit of a backwoods hick version of Dougal and Colum.
(#funfact: The Hatfields and McCoys partially inspired Diana Gabaldon when she created the Browns and their story tentacle. As a matter of fact, Isaiah Morton’s wife’s name in the books is “Jezebel Hatfield Morton.”)
Again, this episode focused on some of the core themes this season — the power (and consequences) of choice. What will you stand for? Making and keeping oaths as well as exploring varyious cultures of community.
The title “The Company We Keep” is layered throughout the episode. First, we meet this somewhat significant neighboring community of the Browns of Brownsville, and we “keep company” with them drinking, dancing and singing (after a wee showdown, but nothing like a little gunfire to kick off a party, eh?)
Then, Roger has to “keep the militia company” in his care safe. However, some members left after he agreed to allow Morton to be confined. Alicia Brown also keeps company with Isaiah Morton.
We see a bond form between Marsali and Bree as they “keep company” and share a whiskey to get rid of Bree’s waking nightmares.
I think we all need Marsali in our lives. Even though Bree is older, Marsali feels like the “Big Sis.” Remember, she was the older sister in her family and probably shouldered abuse and protected Joanie. It’s wonderful for Bree to have a sister relationship for the first time. We can already see their boys becoming cousin besties.
Likewise Roger and Fergus form a bond. Even when they take cover, Fergus drapes his arm over Roger to protect him. Fergus’ smuggling days with Jamie emerge in his instincts. He scopes a new situation for danger as an immediate response. Roger scopes for information to assess the read on people and to work the situation. A good team bond. Part of me thinks that Jamie likely pulled Fergus aside before they left and told him to keep eyes open.
505 – PERPETUAL ADORATION
“Perpetual Adoration” reiterated the big season themes but in a slightly different way. What propels choices? What consequences result from them? Making and keeping (or breaking) oaths. Defining loyalty and community. While the plot of this story did not progress much, each character or relationship arc did. Claire’s character and her role as healer for the Ridge community took a giant step in this episode.
Claire finally found her penicillin spores, and cultivated them quickly to conduct tonsillectomy surgery on the the Beardsley Twins (pretty gruesome I must say). Note the way everyone lent support (including Lizzy, Marsali and even Mr. Bug) to make the surgeries successful.
Meanwhile, Roger is desperately trying to find his way and place in this world as a man. None of his strengths and skills feel valuable here. He believes Jamie sees him as a disappointment and failure. Everything Jamie thinks a man should be, he isn’t. Does Jamie see value in his strengths, such as knowledge, music etc? Roger doesn’t think so. He is not even the right religion. He desperately wants Jamie’s respect. Bree believes in him, and so does Claire, but it matters to him that Jamie does as well. Inside, he has doubts in himself in this time, too. This struggle formed a major arc for Roger’s character this season.
In Hillsboro, Jamie must take a drastic measure, and kill Lieutenant Knox, to protect the Ridge residents, his family and his godfather, Murtagh.
506 – BETTER TO MARRY THAN BURN
“Better to Marry Than Burn” profiled the differences in two NC communities. First, the powerful plantation wealth of Cross Creek and coastal elites, deeply in bed with the Crown, government and military. The plantations of this area survived on the large naval contracts for lumber, pitch and tar. They are a wealthy, competitive and superficial society, but not self-reliant. Their power depends on connections and politics.
Contrast that to community of Fraser’s Ridge in the back country. An episode like this one demonstrates the differences. Fraser’s Ridge only survives and thrives by working together to overcome trouble and obstacles. Their strength lies in unity, each contributing all of their power and talent for the greater good, uniting as one to beat seemingly insurmountable foes, for instance, when a giant plague of locusts arrives. A great reminder of our American motto “E Pluribus Unum” — “out of many, one.”
We also see the community difference in this wedding compared to the one at Fraser’s Ridge in episode 501 through the décor, dancing, food, and interactions. One felt genuine and connective, while the other was very much a show. “The social event of the season.”
Additionally, the high decadence emphasizes the spoils of Jocasta’s life in her “palace” after the tragic opening scene. In some ways, Jocasta is very strong, made of the steel walls she’s erected to survive her heartache and pain. She has an opulent, but lonely life, built from the gold that cost her all of her daughters, leaving her childless.
507 – THE BALLAD OF ROGER MAC
We opened the season with a flashback to Scotland, shortly after the death of Jamie’s mother Ellen. Murtagh, Jamie’s godfather, comes to a sad wee Jamie sitting on a log, and promises to always have his back and fulfill his oath to Ellen. That arc comes full circle in this episode where we say a final goodbye to this final remnant of Jamie’s old Scottish community.
Meanwhile, Roger takes on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines to warn Murtagh. History says they lose. Retreat while you still can. Unfortunately, Murtagh couldn’t stop this train now. On his way back to Jamie’s camp, Roger spots his many times great grandmother, Morag, who is pregnant and homeless. Roger immediately wants to help her and extends an invite to come to Fraser’s Ridge.
Unfortunately, her husband doesna appreciate Roger’s attention, and disaster results.
Murtagh’s last act is fulfilling his oath to Ellen to protect Jamie, preventing his death at the hand of a Regulator. This will be a heartbreaking turning point for Jamie.
While he is not outwardly declaring himself a rebel yet, he makes it clear that he is no longer obligated to the Crown. He is no longer between the “rock” of his love for his godfather and the “hard place” of his need to appease the Crown to protect Fraser’s Ridge and all who depend on him.
508 — FAMOUS LAST WORDS
You may feel this episode focuses on isolation, not community. However, that is the point. We see community examined through the pain of feeling you don’t belong, that you no longer have a role. How does one withdrawing affect the whole? How do you find a purpose in the whole when your sense of identity is lost? Roger has lost his voice, the last piece of himself that seemed to serve some purpose here. He is devastated and completely withdrawn.
How do you reconnect? Can you? How does being part of a community help or hurt your recovery from trauma?
Ian returns to the Ridge like some prodigal son, and he is very changed and withdrawn as well. Of course he makes a grand hero’s entrance:
Ian loved two very different communities and became an integral part of both. He helped start Fraser’s Ridge. He was there in its infancy, and that creates a bond in his heart. He looks at the old cabin when he approaches, a place he built with his uncle. Now, that’s the only familiar touchstone about this place. Laying timber for this cabin feels like a lifetime ago.
How can he possibly belong here again? He feels he has no place here. He has no place with his tribe either. How do we see the community and family that still loves him dearly try to reach him? We see Marsali compare her own life, displaced in this new world, yet now it’s become where she belongs.
How does Ian finally begin to try? How do two lost souls (Roger and Ian) connect and find their way back together? A new support bond begins to be created within this community.
Oh no… Dinna be fooled. The community theme still underpins this entire episode.
509 – MONSTERS AND HEROES
This episode was a favorite and filled with community themes of teamwork, understanding and role reversal. The men team together to hunt meat to sustain them for winter. The women gather for cloth dying. Ian leads a search party to find Roger and Jamie. Roger spends a terrifying night, desperate to keep Jamie alive after a snakebite. The tenants all go on a hunt for maggots to save Jamie.
In the end, Roger’s forethought and Bree’s engineering skills save the day with a makeshift syringe made from the snake’s fang. Through it all, a solid strong bond and respect forms between Roger and Jamie.
Everyone’s roles in the community are questioned, turned upside down and then reaffirmed. Jamie has always been the strong one, the provider, a shield of protection. Now he is helpless, and Roger, Claire and the rest of the Ridge must step up. Bree discusses with Claire that both she and Roger (and engineer and a historian) don’t seem to have a purpose in this time to use their talents. Jamie has to come to terms that he may have to live as a cripple, not something he is willing to do at first. If Jamie forces her to choose, Claire has to decide what role she will honor, her duty as a healer or her word as a wife.
“Roger has been slowly defining his own role in a world that he never expected to inhabit,” Gabaldon told Parade Magazine in regard to this episode. “The only role he was looking for was that of husband. But being a father is an additional role he welcomes, and even though [his fate at Alamance] snatched away his most important tool — his voice — he’s doggedly fought his way back from disaster to reclaim his place in his family. Roger lives through a long, long night, keeping watch over his likely-dying father-in-law, desperately trying to absorb Jamie’s last advice and the news that there’s a plan to kill Stephen Bonnet: a mission that will be Roger’s, if Jamie does die,” Gabaldon continued. But it all feels beyond him.
After some moving moments and heart-to-hearts between all of these pairings, including a terrific moment between Ian and Fergus about their roles as Jamie’s son and nephew, each character realigns into the roles they were meant to be. Jamie decides to live no matter what, because his family needs him. Roger’s sharp thinking to save the snakehead and Bree’s engineering skill produce a makeshift syringe. Claire is able to preserve both of her roles as wife and healer.
“It’s a neat circle, that leaves everyone (mostly) intact, emotionally and physically, and has lifted Roger into a new role within the family,” says Gabaldon.
510 – MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME
This episode wasn’t necessarily a big one for community, however we saw some wonderful bonding moments between Bree and Claire and between Roger and Jamie. Roger really makes an impression on Jamie regarding his abilities to protect and defend his family.
When Bonnet abducts Brianna, we see Roger, Jamie, Ian and Claire (as well as Brianna’s own ingenuity) come together to rescue her, and they finally end the threat of Bonnet. Brianna wants to turn him over to the law, taking the onus of his death off of her family. However, when she sees he will die by drowning (his greatest fear), she takes matters into her own hands to administer justice, mercy or both.
511 – JOURNEYCAKE
Diana Gabaldon wrote this fantastic episode. We discover that Jemmy can in fact travel, therefore leaving Bree and Roger with the decision to go back to their 20th century lives. Through their goodbyes to this community and family, they begin to realize that it has actually become their own.
These ties and bonds can not be denied. Several very emotional scenes reveal how truly loved and bonded the Ridge residents feel toward Roger and Bree. Bree learns with a shock that she has a brother:
Roger and Bree watch Jamie playing with Jemmy and reflect that neither of them ever had grandparents. Although Bree and Roger still leave, we are all screaming, “NOOOO – this is your Home! THIS is your community!” However, they have to learn the hard way with a two-week trip to the stones with Ian for company. They think of “home” and get kicked right back out to the same time.
Speaking of Ian, he learns the truth about our time travelers, bringing him in a little closer to the center of the Fraser circle of trust.
He hopes he can travel back in time to correct past mistakes with his Mohawk wife. Claire has to disappoint him by explaining it is genetic.
Meanwhile, Fraser’s Ridge faces a reckoning from the brutal Browns. First, Jamie refuses to join forces with them in their Committee of (so-called) Safety. Then, Lionel realizes that Claire is in fact “Dr. Rawlings” whose advice has worked its way through Brownsville impacting some of the women’s actions toward their husbands. While the Fraser’s Ridge men are digging a new privy, the Browns blow up the whisky still. When the men go to deal with it, the rest of the gang burst into Claire’s surgery, knocking out Marsali, abducting Claire and killing the man they were treating. When Jamie sees they took Claire, he runs to light the fiery cross, summoning all the men of the Ridge that swore loyalty to him in the first episode. They are going to war.
512 – NEVER MY LOVE
This epic finale brings all of the themes of the season together, including community. Bree, Roger and Ian see the burning cross on their way home.
They race home, and Roger and Ian join the rescue party to find Claire. Claire has been brutally raped by multiple abductors, finding solace in a flash forward dreamscape surrounded by the family she loves.
The Ridge men arrive in a rage killing many of the Browns, and Roger, now fully immersed and accepting that this is his home now, kills his first man…
They left a few alive, so Claire can exact her own revenge, but Jamie explains that she’s taken an oath to do no harm. He kills for her (and Ian and Fergus add their voice). Jamie says, “Kill them all.” The men obey without question. Jamie is the leader and law of this community.
Lionel is left alive and brought back to the Ridge to be interrogated, but Marsali kills him. She has no oath, and Claire has become a mother to her.
Brianna and Marsali embrace a battered Claire when she comes home. Abuse is something that unfortunately these three women share.
Jamie returns Lionel’s body to Richard, telling him what happened and taking the blame for Lionel’s death (a true leader). Richard lays a threat as he leaves. The Brown community remains a giant threat to the Ridge.
Roger and Bree make their way to the Big House, bustling with their family and friends, finally secure in the knowledge that they are where they should be.
Claire clings to Jamie as her fortress of safety, as we look ahead to the storms coming for the Ridge in Season 6 — Revolutionary War, a vengeful Richard Brown and possible destruction by fire. But, for now, they have their family, their community, their home, and, most importantly, each other. They are rooted and ready for whatever comes next.
What’s your favorite community moment from Outlander Season 5?