Outlander: Prestonpans Review
History may be about the thousands, but stories are about the individual — a distinction Outlander never loses sight of.
This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 2, Episode 10
Outlanderhas turned into a full-on war drama since its return to Scotland, demonstrating the narrative flexibility of this show. Arguably more than any other drama on TV, Outlanderis adept at jumping from genre to genre while maintaining a consistent enough tone and character focus that it never feels like a different show. This latest arc’s mantra? “War tastes bitter no matter the outcome.”
In “Prestonpans,” the Jacobite army has gathered, and all of the men are there for different reasons. Prince Charles is there because he has promised his father… and God. The Scottish are there to try to fight their way out from under the British thumb. And Jamie and Claire are there because they know better than anyone what’s at stake if the Jacobite cause should fail.
In the beginning of “Prestonpans,” it seems that this disparate force will never succeed against the British. The commanders fights about the best course of action. The infantry spit ale on one another. (Not cool, Angus.) Ultimately, it is Dougal MacKenzie’s act of bravery (or foolishness), encouraged by Jamie, that binds them all together by reminding them of their common enemy just across the bog.
When a local Scot, Mr. Anderson, gives the Jacobite army a way across the bog, the Scottish forces launch a surprise attack on the British army that leaves the Brits retreating in terror. The battle itself is beautifully shot and horribly rendered (I mean this in the best way possible). Shrouded in fog, the battle calls to mind the Snowpiercerfish scene: abstract, but brutal. A comment on the isolating and disorienting nature of violence and death.
While Claire stitches up wounded British soldiers and Fergus laments his first maybe-murder, Dougal remains on the battlefield, killing any British soldiers who is still moving. It’s a harsh, bloody business, and one that Dougal enjoys. When he admits his fondness for killing Brits in front of Charles, the would-be ruler is not pleased. To him, the British are not only the enemy; they are also his future subjects.
Jamie convinces Charles to let Dougal lead his own dragoon after the fleeing British army, effectively both championing and banishing Dougal, something Dougal himself comments on. In the time that we have known him, Jamie has learned a thing or two about strategy (much of it from Claire).
Jamie has also learned a thing or two about his relative insignificance from Claire — or, more specifically, from her status as a time traveler. Murtagh and Jamie discuss the relative meaninglessness of their lives — in the course of this battle and in the course of what Claire knows as history. History, especially the history of war, isn’t measured in the lives of single men. It is measured in the lives of thousands.
Of course, to us viewers, and to the people who loved him, Angus’ life was not meaningless. It wad filled with joy and humor and fierce loyalty and, yes, even ale-spitting. His dying act is to ensure that Rupert is treated rather than himself. It is a foolish move, but it is Angus through and through.
History may be measured by the lives of thousands of men, but stories are the territory of the individual. This story belongs to Claire and, though the people she loves may not make it into the history books, you better believe that they matter more to her than any remembrance of how the timeline is supposed to be. Our time traveler has proven this again and again and, more than anything else, that’s what makes Claire — and this show — so relatable.
Sure, we all argue about whether or not we would go back to kill baby Hitler at cocktail parties, but, when it comes down to it, most of us are driven by the personal, not the political — though the two are hardly ever separate from one another. If Outlander keeps sight of anything in its genre-mashing ways, it is the truth that, in the course of our own, finite lives, the few we love matter far more than the grand weight of history.
Outlander was a topic of discussion on the June 2016 episode of the Sci Fi Fidelity podcast. Listen on the Den of Geek Podcast Network or simply play below.