This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 4, Episode 13
“Man of Worth” was an uneven end to an uneven season. Like the rest of the season, there were some soaring high points, moments when carefully-built character development paid off in an emotionally-complex climax. And there were some low points, moments when the narrative made choices that highlighted the show’s sometimes problematic priorities.
Let’s start with the good. Young Ian’s decision to stay with the Mohawk in order to save Roger was brilliant. Young Ian is a character we have been with for a long time—heck, he’s the reason Claire and Jamie came to the Americas originally. He’s been a constant presence, a constant comfort, a constant joy. As much as Young Ian has been through—and he’s been through a lot—he’s managed to hold onto a capacity for wonder, curiosity, and adventure.
That’s what Ian’s new life with the Mohawk represents. Sure, it is a plot-driven, somewhat ham-fisted consequence that Ian be forced to stay with the Mohawk, but it works as well as it does because it doesn’t feel like a punishment to Ian; it feels like the opportunity to understand the world and himself better. It feels like an adventure. And, like any adventure, there is sacrifice, sure, but there is the opportunity for something great, too.
The sacrifice here is his life with Team Fraser, and most especially his relationship with Jamie, who has truly become a surrogate father for Young Ian in their time in the New World. In writing this article, I can’t help think about that scene in the Season 4 premiere (another high point of the season) in which Ian tells Jamie about being raped by Geillis, and Jamie comforts his nephew, and lets him know he, too, has survived sexual violence.
Outlander is a show that is known for its fierce female characters, but I may appreciate it even more for its depictions of more complex, emotionally-vulnerable men. Jamie can be a total dolt sometimes—and don’t even get me started on Roger—but, for his occasional moments of ego-driven machismo, Jamie has long been a character who understands that emotional awareness and vulnerability are the opposite of weakness. Young Ian epitomizes this even moreso.
That being said, there were moments of Ian’s integration into the Mohawk tribe that felt a bit too much like some kind of masculinity contest between Roger and Ian—literally, the measure of a man’s worth. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that Roger is the worst, but not because he hasn’t measure up to some trumped up ideal of aggressive, stioc masculinity. (Quite the oppostie, really, because he has let his desire to be seen as strong and to be in control hurt the people he claims to love most.)
When Claire and Jamie are attempting to rescue Roger from the Mohawk village, Claire needs to help carry him out. When Ian is negotiating their trade, Claire holds Roger to her in comfort, like she would a child. It could have been a nice moment, but it isn’t treated like one. I don’t think these are moments of Roger’s weakness, I think they are much-deserved moments of comfort for a man who has been traumatized. However, they are not treated as such and, as soon as Roger, Claire, and Jamie leave the village, Roger is more or less told to man-up and to instantly become The Provider by Jamie. There’s no room for Roger to be taken care of; there’s no room for him to heal from the physically and emotionally traumatizing experience.
It doesn’t help that, in the same episode, we see Ian running the Mohawk gauntlet in what is meant to be a parallel to Roger’s horrendous experience with the ritual of violence. Reader, he nails it—jumping, tumbling, and scurrying like the best of them. In the context of Ian’s storyline, it’s a great moment (totally sold by the transcendent joy on John Bell’s face when Ian realizes he has found a new place to belong and a new adventure to begin).
However, in the context of Roger’s storyline, it leaves an uncomfortable comparison: the idea that, because Ian is physically more able in that moment (Roger was pretty physically exhausted and beaten up by the time he got to the gauntlet), the Mohawk got some kind of deal. Like, Roger wasn’t worth as much as Ian.
Setting aside the grossness of talking about humans in these terms—as property to be bought, sold, and valued against one another (a concept Outlander never thoroughly explores, as it superficially and inconsistently grapples with depictions of slavery)—it also makes some bold assumptions about what makes a man, specifically, valuable. And those assumptions suck.
Eventually, Roger does make it to River Run, though notably on his own, after Claire and Jamie, always one to make a dramatic entrance. I just can’t with Roger. He waltzes back into Bree’s life like his decision to return has solved all of their problems, and remedied all of pain he has caused.
But, hey, Brianna seems to really love him or whatever, so, I guess if she’s happy, I’m happy. Personally, I think she is better off without him. As Claire points out before Roger makes his grand reappearance, Bree has tons of family that has already and will continue to love and take care of her and her baby. She doesn’t need Roger, even if she wants him. She already has a family, and they will stand by her no matter what.
It’s just uncomfortable/infuriating to me that the story puts the onus of this relationship on Bree. Like, Roger is treated like a hero just for returning to the unwed mother of his child. When, from where I’m standing, Bree is a catch and Roger has done nothing but treat her poorly. Even if Roger had chosen to leave Bree and go back to the 20th century (which, frankly, I would have understood as a decision), dude would have at least owed Brianna a real conversation.
If Bree really would have felt more secure with a husband, then I would have gone the Lord John Grey route. The two could have had a legal partnership, and then had any dalliances on the side. I think they both deserve better, but if this show is so intent on marrying Bree off (which it seems to be, even though Bree was hesitant earlier this season), then it seems like the best option available. Well… aside from the fact that then Bree would be her biological half-brother’s stepmother. That’s just plain awkward.
The Otter Tooth narrative was another storyline that didn’t work for me. Compare Otter Tooth’s story of reckless time travel to improve the future with Geillis’. One of those characters got a lot of screen time, character development, and a relationship with one of the main characters. (Claire running into Otter Tooth’s ghost does not count as a relationship.) The other got a story told in retrospect by another character we barely know. (Guess which one of these characters is a white character.)
What if this entire episode had followed Otter Tooth? OK, realistically, not many TV shows give their season finales to a non-main character, but give him the penultimate episode then, or another episode earlier in the season. Or give him more of this season finale, and let him tell his own story. Let him be a true point-of-view character, if only for a moment.
I hate to be a broken record here, but it feels worth restating that: if Outlander were serious about improving on some of the representation problems from the book, then the show would have done this—not only with Otter Tooth and other native characters, but with other supporting characters of color like Phaedra or Ulysses, who never become more than plot devices in the white characters’ stories and development.
Also, maybe give Otter Tooth a better plan? Because his existing one—which seems to involve just trying to kill any white people he comes across—is understandable, but not a very good one. Maybe he could have influenced the decision of the Six Nations Confederacy? Like Geillis, it’s unlikely Otter Tooth would have been able to sway the course of history—those in power, historically, go to great lengths to secure and build on it—but it would have made for better characterization.
While most of Team Fraser was hanging with the Mohawk this episode, there were some happenings at River Run. Bree had a baby. It looked painful. But, more importantly, Murtagh and Jocasta hooked up! The transition from Jocasta throwing whiskey in Murtagh’s face and these two waking up the morning after was abrupt, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense that radical Murtagh would sleep with loyalist Jocasta, but the heart (and body) wants what the heart (and body) wants.
It leaves Jocasta in a bit of an awkward position when the Red Coats show up at River Run’s door (which, screw that, Jocasta actively profits off of slavery), presumably to take Murtagh, aka the best character on this show, away. Plot twist! The troops are actually there to deliver a very important letter to Jamie. It’s time for Jamie to show his loyalty to the crown and to hunt down and kill Murtagh Fitzgibbons. Well, at least he won’t have to look very hard…
I definitely though the Mohawk leader was going to be like, “You can just have Roger because we don’t sell people like you do.” But he didn’t. That’s not what this show is about.
I have never found Claire more relatable than in the scene when she has to watch Jamie The Idiot let Roger The Idiot beat him up to his heart’s content.
I refer to the manner of Roger’s return as a “Homeward Bound moment.” He’s the Shadow of the situation: Everyone’s back and you’ve given up hope of that golden retriever making it back alive, and then he comes hobbling out of the bushes. (Note: Shadow is a much more likeable character than Roger.)
Speaking of Roger’s return, it’s hard not to get distracted by the casual depiction of slavery always on display at Jocasta’s plantation and the reunion scene between Roger and Bree was no exception. I know the dude who takes the reins of Roger’s horse from him without so much as a nod of acknowledgment from Roger could have been a paid employee, but, um, he probably wasn’t.
If there was ever an Outlander spin-off I would go for, it is the story of Young Ian and his new, Mohawk family. (If it were done well, i.e. much better than this season’s treatment of native representation managed.)
I was so worried about Murtagh. Going into Outlander Season 5, I am still very worried about Murtagh.
Would have been cool to see a bit more of a sex scene between Jocasta and Murtagh, given that this show is known for pioneering TV sex scenes and we hardly ever see people over the age of, like, 45 get it on TV.
Sadly, there was no Lord John Grey in this episode.