This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 4, Episode 7
Brianna may be traveling through time to find Claire and Jamie, but it’s Frank who is on her mind when she first sets off on her ambitious, brave mission. In “Down the Rabbit Hole,” Outlander tells the story of Bree’s first days through the stones intermingled with a series of flashbacks to her time with Frank and, man, is it emotionally-devastating.
It’s an emotionally-effective choice for the show to focus on the relationship Bree had with the man who raised her, especially at this time when she is so unsure of the kind of man she will find when and if she eventually stumbles upon Jamie. Frank was always the person Bree could count on when times got tough, so of course he is the person she thinks of when going through one of the scariest periods of her life.
Through the series of flashbacks, we see Claire and Frank’s relationship through young Bree’s eyes. Brianna may have had a safe, mostly happy childhood, but she still fell asleep to her parents arguing and, even when her parents weren’t asking her to choose between the two of them, Bree felt that choice. It’s not a surprise to know that, though Bree loved her mother, she chose her father every time. After all, Frank was her hero. This was something Claire could allow Frank when she couldn’t give her husband the kind of love he so desired from her… the kind of love they once had.
It’s a smart storytelling choice for Outlander to show that Bree’s perspective on her father doesn’t change after Frank’s death. It is the memory of her father and the love he always had for her that keeps Bree moving forward, as much as it is the hope to meet this other father she has never met and to save Claire and Jamie from certain death. Outlander doesn’t present these two emotional motivations are diametically opposed, but rather two truths that can exist at the same time.
While Bree is remembering just how steadfast of a presence her father was for her, even in the worst moments of his marriage with Claire, Bree is getting some rather conflicting reports on the nature of Jamie’s character. Laoghaire is the first person Bree meets when she ventures through the stones. It is Jamie’s ex-wife who gives her clothes, shelter, and medical care for a sprained ankle. The two share a cautious camaraderie that turns bitter as soon as Laoghaire realizes who Bree’s mother is.
Scorned harpy of an ex-wife is not my favorite trope ever, but at least Outlander has been consistent in Laoghaire’s characterization since the beginning. Ian’s apparent sympathy for Laoghaire’s financial concerns adds some texture to the situation, as does Laoghaire’s loving relationship with Joanie, who is the one who helps Bree escape from the room Laoghaire locks Bree in.
It’s a bit of a mind trip to see Joanie and Bree ride up to Lallybroch, knowing that they are step-siblings of a sort and that Bree is meeting her uncle for the first time. Ian immediately gives everything he can to help Bree on her journey. It’s in moments like this one when Outlander fully makes use of its time travel plot, grounding these supernatural structures in the deeply emotional.
Outlander‘s strengths as a drama are on full display in one of the simplest, yet most emotionally devastating moments of the entire season and show: As Bree prepares to leave England and set off on this journey to the New World in a strange time, she sees Frank, her father, wishing her luck and so much love. It’s a reminder that, no matter what happens, Frank will always be with her.
Of course, Bree isn’t the only new time traveler featured in “Down the Rabbit Hole.” We also see Roger’s first days and weeks after going through the stones in search of Bree. Without a sprained ankle, he makes much better time than Bree, somehow ending up on Stephen Bonnet’s ship. Like Bree’s storyline with Laoghaire, the viewer gets a great deal of dramatic irony here, waiting for the other shoe to drop and for Roger to understand this character’s true nature.
Bonnet’s true nature is exposed in the most horrific way possible: When smallpox surfaced on his ship, first seen in the form of a sick child, Bonnet throws the child overboard to certain death without so much as a sliver of remorse. Her mother jumps in after her, a display of a very different kind of character motivation. To Bonnet, the murder of a sick child is not worth an extra thought. But this mother would sacrifice her own life just so her daughter does not have to die alone. It’s a powerful moment, and one that only serves to strengthen the theme of parental love that runs through this episode.
Roger’s realization that Bonnet is sociopathic does not keep him from trying to help a mother and her baby, hiding them away so they are not subject to the smallpox purge. When Bonnet finds out what Roger has done, he flips a coin to determine if Roger should be killed, telling a story of a time when the fate of Bonnet’s own young life was determined by the flip of a coin.
It’s moments like these that hint at how Bonnet became the way he is. I love that the show works to put Bonnet’s character in context, while also never glamorizing just how monstrous of a person the man is—a lesson more dramas could stand to learn. Roger survives the coin flip, but is still on Bonnet’s ship when the episode ends. Roger doesn’t seem to regret his desire to go through the stones to find Bree, but he is no doubt recognizing just how much he underestimated the dangers of this time period.
“Down the Rabbit Hole” is one of the best episodes this show has ever done. Bree and Roger’s trip through the stones gives this story new life, imbuing Outlander with the wonder of time travel it had in its early episodes when Claire first traveled through the stones into a strange land. Bree and Roger’s story isn’t just a repeat of what has come before, however. We have already met this time and these characters, giving us viewers a power we didn’t have in Season 1 (even if you are a book reader).
“Down the Rabbit Hole” uses that dramatic irony in massively effective ways, while simultaneously using Bree’s reminiscing about Frank to remind us that, even when time can be crossed for the people we love, there are some people that time keeps from us forever.
While Claire and Jamie’s presences are very much felt in this episode, neither character appears in this hour of television.
It was pretty gratifying to see Bree defend her mother to Laoghaire, especially after how rocky their relationship has been in the past. Her life may be in danger, but Bree will not let Laoghaire cast aspersions against Claire, and isn’t that a very Jamie quality to have?
It’s such a bummer that Jenny is away from Lallybroch when Bree visits. It would have been such a nice character introduction to see.
Bree gets a servant for the voyage to the New World: a young woman whose virtue would have been compromised if she stayed in Scotland. I can’t wait to see how this new character comes into play. I’m not sure she quite knows what she is getting into with Bree.
Damn, this episode was beautifully shot. The sequence of Bree wandering around the Scottish wilderness in opening moments were particularly wondrous and magical, but this hour was filled with devastatingly effective visual moments.
Give Tobias Menzies all of the awards, please.
Outlander Season 4 airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz. Stay up-to-date on all things Outlander Season 4 here!