This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 4 Episode 12
The first two-and-a-half seasons of Outlander had the suspense of Claire and Jamie’s relationship to anchor it. Would Claire choose Jamie? Would they both survive the war? Would they be reunited?
Following the print shop scene in Season 3, the show has expanded its focus to other characters, storylines, and romances. This has given it the opportunities to become more textured, giving us some of the best episodes of the series thus far, but it has also led to some narrative meanderings that are harder to become invested in. The Roger Is Kidnapped by Mohawks storyline is one of those meanderings for me.
Coming into this episode, Roger has been pulled across the eastern seaboard of Colonial America as a prisoner of the Mohawk tribe. The party has finally reached their destination in New York, but life has not improved for Roger. Upon arriving, Roger is immediately beat up by the men of the tribe as part of a gauntlet that we get very little explanation for within the context of the show (an ongoing, problematic theme in the show’s representation of native peoples).
When we catch up with Roger at the beginning of this episode, he is shoved into a hut with another white European prisoner: Father Alexandre. Father Alexandre is a Jesuit priest who, during his time working to convert the Mohawks to Christianity, fell in love with a Mohawk woman named Johiehon and had a child with her. Apparently, he did his preaching a bit too well? Because, when he refused to baptize the child, as Johiehon is not Christian (it’s like, dude, just do a fake baptism or something?), the tribe turned against him.
Roger is psyched to meet another white dude who has been screwed over by love. He launches into his story about how he was the nicest, most romantic man, stalking Bree across centuries to demonstrate his love (even though she never asked him to), only to get yelled at by Bree, beaten up by her father, and sold to the Mohawks. To love is to be an idiot, Roger concludes to Father Alexandre, looking for what he has wanted all along: validation that his life choices are the correct ones, that he deserves the girl, and that he is the noble, suffering hero-protagonist of this story.
Father Alexandre is mostly not playing along. Though, unfortunately, he doesn’t call Roger out on being the epitome of the dude who thinks that just because he made a grand gesture, he deserves unconditional love and sex from the object of his affections, Father Alexandre doesn’t believe love is stupid. He will literally walk up to the pyre in order to prove a point.
Frankly, I think they are both idiots who have bought into the masculine ideal of the selfish, ego-driven act as the noble one without thinking about how their actions affect anyone else. Father Alexandre would rather burn at the stake than find a compromise that might allow him to stick around to support the woman he claims to love and his child. If he believes so wholeheartedly in his faith, then wouldn’t he rather fake a baptism and stick around to make sure his son doesn’t grow up a heathen than make a point that leads to his immediate death and, though he couldn’t know this, the death of his child’s mother?
Meanwhile, Roger continues to learn all of the wrong lessons from his suffering (which, I admit, is intense). He blames his circumstances on the foolishness of love, rather than taking any responsibility for his actions. He was the one who slut-shamed Bree for wanting to have sex before marriage, and shut down their relationship when she gently refused to marry him when they had only just begun to get to know each other romantically.
Furthermore, it was Roger who chose to follow Bree into the past. It was Roger who left Bree when she got upset that he had kept the information about her parents’ deaths from her. That wasn’t the foolishness of love. That was Roger reacting badly and refusing to listen and validate Bree’s feelings when he himself felt rejected or attacked. That’s not love’s fault.
Ultimately, Roger doesn’t choose to escape the Mohawk village when he can, instead returning to end Father Alexandre’s suffering by throwing fuel on the fire that is burning him alive. This is a noble decision, though not one motivated by love so much as a recognition of shared humanity and the bravery to do the humane thing to save this man he barely knew from suffering.
Watching Johiehon throw herself into the fire to die with the man she apparently loved was obviously an affecting moment. I would have liked if we were given more context for that decision. While the episode gives us tons of insight into Father Alexandre’s perspective, we are, again, mostly kept from a nuanced perspective of the non-white character.
In the end, Johiehon’s death is not about her character. It’s about Father Alexandre and it’s about Roger. It’s even about Kaheroton, the Mohawk man who seems to care for Johiehon. Throughout this epsiode, Johiehon seems pretty well-adapted. She loves and looks after her child, shows kindness to Roger and stands up for him to Kaheroton. Given the small moments we get with her character, she doesn’t seem the type to leave her child in order to die with his father.
That being said, I predicted her rushing into the fire. Not because it makes sense within the context of this story, but because it is par for the course when it comes to Outlander and mainstream storytelling for a woman, especially a woman of color, to die in order to further the theme, plot, or character development of a white, usually male (though less so prominently on this show) character.
It happened this very season with Nayawenne, who died to make a point about the savagery of white racism and to give Claire another chance to play the horrified white witness to barbaric colonialism. And it happens again with Johiehon, who dies presumably to teach Roger a lesson about the nobility and value of romantic love.
While I don’t think it’s an acceptable excuse that narratives kill off or non-white characters to further the storyline of a main character just because they are a main character, it is even less acceptable when it is done for a random we just met. In “Providence,” we meet Father Alexandre, a character we have never met before and will never meet again. We, through point-of-view character Roger, spend a lot of time with him. Narrative space that could have been used to better contextualize the Mohawk’s actions, culture, and characters. Instead, the epsiode decides to give Roger another white dude to talk to and empathize with.
I get it; it’s hard to break the patterns and formulas that have ruled mainstream storytelling for a very long time, but there’s an easy solution: bring in more diverse voices to tell the story. It’s admirable and necessary to attempt to see from another identity’s perspective, but it’s not enough. We are firmly in the era of adaptation, and I’d like to see us get better and more ambitious with adaptation as an art form in terms of representation and diversity and #ownvoices. Intersectionality can be difficult to represent within a culture and industry that is not set up to support it, but more complex, varied depictions of identity is a worthy goal that will make our storytelling and society stronger.
Elsewhere in the episode, the unlikely duo of Brianna and Lord John Grey continue to hang out. This time, they hang out all the way to Wilmington where Stephen Bonnet is being kept following his capture, orchestrated by Murtagh, Fergus, and company.
Most shows are at their best when character drives plot rather than the other way around, and Outlander is no exception. This is why the Brianna storyline falls so flat for me here, as the plot seems to dictate that she decide to confront Bonnet. I don’t buy that Bree would want to confront her rapist and I especially don’t buy that she would (or should) try to forgive him, especially so soon after the rape.
To be fair, the episode tries to convince me. Bree finally reads the letter Jamie sent her via Lord John; it espouses the foolishness of revenge and the power of forgiveness. Now, I agree with these statements, but they would have a hell of a lot more power if Jamie lived by them. I also don’t think Bree needs to forgive Bonnet, or even should, given that he has shown no level of remorse.
More than anything, I think Bree needs to forgive herself because she did nothing wrong—a theme touched upon in the previous episode when Jamie tried to convince her that there was nothing she could have done to fight back harder; that her rape was not her fault. To follow that brief exploration up with an episode that puts forth the idea that Bree should work to forgive a remorseless Bonnet is infuriating. Bree, as a character, deserves better.
Bree’s choice to visit Bonnet means that not only does he find out about his maybe-child, but that Bree and Lord John Grey are in the prison when Fergus and co. break Murtagh out. It makes for some hurried, fun reunions, but all feels so contrived as a way to ensure that Bonnet is not actually killed, which he presumably isn’t due to the group’s careless deposit of the keys right in front of his open cell. This is the second time #TeamFraser has accidentally broken Stephen Bonnet out of jail. Once can be ruled an accident; twice, and it’s starting to look bad.
It was especially frustrating to see Outlander continue to drop the ball on native representation in a week that saw a video of white Kentucky high school students taunting a Native American elder during a peaceful march in Washington, D.C. went viral. The underrepresentation and misrepresentation of Native people (in both period and contemporary media) is a serious problem and, though Outlander put some effort into improving upon the rep from the books, but it’s not enough. Outlander is a show that has immense cultural power and resources; it needs to do better, perhaps by starting by getting some Native voices in the writers room.
On my TBR list: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, soon to also be available in a young adult edition.
Male characters in relationships should not get a cookie for telling their friends and loved ones basic information rather than “trying to protect them from the truth,” such a low bar is this, but I am still going to give one to Lord John Grey for actually telling Bree about the Stephen Bonnet situation.
The best part of this episode was easily the Marsali/Fergus relationship, which continues to be the unsung hero of the second half of this season.
I laughed a bit at how casually everyone was having a conversation in the jail when they only barely made it out of the exploding building only moments later.
I’m looking for more feedback and reactions from indigenous voices about Outlander, if anyone knows of any? I found this piece on the casting process for Season 4 that is interesting, but I’d love to read more from indigenous fans and critics watching Outlander.
Marsali driving that getaway carriage? Yes, please.
Hot showers are pretty amazing.
As always, the performances in this episode were phenomenal. Special shout outs to Richard Rankin, Sera-Lys McArthur, and Braeden Clarke.
Outlander Season 4 airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz. Stay up-to-date on all things Outlander Season 4 here!