This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 5, Episode 2
“Between Two Fires” makes the most of following up a fan-favorite episode by engaging viewers on the gray areas of pre-Revolutionary War politics and morality. In terms of the historical aspects and character development, this episode actually outshines the season premiere. However, there are slight inconsistencies with events from previous episodes and some of the moments of foreshadowing have the potential to hinder future episodes. Let’s dive in…
The goal of the episode is to question the viewer’s loyalties in the same way the characters are questioning one another’s, and it is incredibly effective in doing so. Close-ups exposing the looks of anger and stress on the actor’s faces as well as Stephen Woofenden’s directing work hand-in-hand to make viewers uneasy about siding with the Regulators. Some might call the cold open exceptionally brutal, but Outlander is well known for carefully staged reproductions of historical events. Everything from the dark lighting behind the actors to the camera focusing on the open wounds on the Justice of the Peace and Murtagh standing proud by the destruction he is in charge of forces the viewer to realize that the little guy may have gone too far in taunting Goliath.
Just when viewers expect to completely condemn Murtagh, Lt. Hamilton Knox’s confrontation with the three jailed Regulators proves that siding with the government in this episode isn’t the best option either. Knox stabs one of the suspects before a jury and judge can hear their case. Although this scene is far less flashy than the cold open, it’s still incredibly well-acted and more importantly staged to maximize the tension in the room. Jamie’s efforts to act as a mediator completely fail as the Regulators taunt him with class-driven insults. The script cements that Jamie’s path this season is shades of grey and damage control.
Back at the Ridge, Claire faces a moral dilemma of her own. She is unable to help Mr. Parris from dying of appendicitis because the remedies at the time contained poison. The close-up shots on Mr. Parris’ chest area before death and during his autopsy are equally important for convincing the viewers Claire’s choice is the correct one. In a slight twist from the novel, Claire assumes Mr. Rawling’s identity to circulate medical advice in pamphlet form. These changes not only help the flow of translating extended descriptions from the novel to the screen but also address criticisms of Claire’s character development last season. This conflict between Claire’s medical expertise and the misogyny of the times will presumably make for more compelling storytelling across the season. Claire’s medical experiments with penicillin and autopsies to reveal possible treatments also benefits Marsali’s character development as she becomes the right-hand woman.
The one downside to these scenes is Bree becoming the voice of dissent against Claire’s experiments with moldy bread. This feels out of character, though one could argue the ethics question had to be raised somehow. Marsali’s brief horror and the reference to Laoghaire’s old accusations may balance this out. However, Bree being set up to be as a potential antagonist to Claire’s public health campaign may pose a problem in later episodes, especially if Jemmy or Roger are affected by a medical event.
Roger’s plotline is slightly more convincing than last episode because we see him failing at shooting which is a necessary skill for the time. His musical talents find a place at Mr. Parris’ funeral but he has yet to discover the occupation that will finally prove to Jamie he’s a worthy son-in-law. His moral conflict this season is over staying in the past to keep the Frasers together or leaving to ensure Jemmy’s safety from the war and disease. Bree also has to wrestle with this decision, but her conflict is centered moreso around Jemmy’s potential for time travel. Roger’s decision to flip through Bree’s sketches is an interesting foreshadowing to the future but it partially cements the argument of Roger critics that his redemption so far hasn’t being fully earned.
“Between Two Fires” ends the episode with a great cliffhanger and yet another moral pitfall for our favorite characters: Stephen Bonnet is back as an agent of chaos clearly taking advantage of the volatile political situation for personal profit. This reveal was far more effective than the initial one last episode because it didn’t come with any reminders of Bree’s trauma. He creepily admits to one of his associates he wants to set a better example with his schemes because he’s embracing being a father. Will Jamie and Roger be forced to kill him or will one of the Regulators solve the problem for the Fraser family?