This Outlander review contains spoilers.
“The Company We Keep” gives the Fraser’s Ridge militia another large bump on the road to dealing with Murtagh’s Regulators. Tensions between the men of Brownsville and one particular militia regulator could result in a mini battle before the real drama has even begun. Although the pace of the episode is faster than last week’s, the plot still has to reconcile secondary and tertiary plot lines from the novel with impactful onscreen storytelling. This episode may be a harder sell for the Outlander TV audience, but the episode makes up for that by giving us a milestone in Jamie and Claire’s relationship development.
This episode skips the cold open, leading the viewer right into the central conflict of the episode. Roger and Fergus lead the militia to Brownsville where they are hoping to get additional recruits. They’re met with gun fire from the Brown family because they had previous beef with militia member Isaiah Morton. Roger, while ducking buckshots, makes the split-second decision to turn Morton over. Three of the men bail on the militia in protest of Roger’s whiskey diplomacy. The “in media res” approach is risky for keeping audience attention but it highlights how the militia is in constant danger
What is the context of this “in media res”? Isaiah Morton had an affair with Alicia Brown, and this incident left her unable to marry the man her parents intended for her. Along with the social stigma of having premarital sex, she has the stress of early pregnancy. Morton does not help the situation by admitting to Jamie that he is already married. Complicating matters on both sides is the fact that Isaiah and Alicia clearly still have feelings for each other, despite her family’s interference. If this is starting to resemble a colonial American remix Romeo & Juliet in your mind, that’s likely the inspiration for this subplot. Isaiah leaves, but is unable to stop himself from coming back to see his lady love while Alicia declares she would rather die than be without her beau.
The dialogue at times makes the parallel overwrought, but when you put the episode in the context of the era, these small interpersonal situations have a wider impact. Political decisions for men like Hiram Brown, who were landowners, were often less about philosophical ideals and more about previous relationships with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Local disputes over property lines, usage of communal resources, marriages, labor issues and other matters could easily result in one side of a family supporting the Crown and the other one joining the rebel movements. Setting aside old scores to join a common cause was often easier said than done. The agreement that the Brownsville men will serve under Jamie but still have their own leader was clearly the result of separating Isaiah from the greater cause of ending Regulator attacks on settlements.
The episode also balances scenes devoted to the men’s point of view on the conflict with ones focusing on Alicia’s emotional and mental health. She has a chance to explain why she chose to open her heart to Isaiah. Claire is by her side providing comfort and steering her away from self-harm, counteracting the message of shame Alicia’s relatives are giving her. Although Alicia cannot see Jamie’s conversation with Isaiah, Jamie sharply criticizes Isaiah for not taking responsibility for his sexual desire, which helps the episode avoid endorsing the slut-shaming dialogue and the terrible slap from Alicia’s mother in favor of merely depicting the social structures of the time.
Elsewhere, Claire’s medical experiments and the dilemma over the future of Fanny Beardsley’s baby collide in a conversation with the Brown women while they are making apple cider. Lucinda reveals she recently lost her baby but she is still lactating. She knows the baby is biracial and this doesn’t stop her from feeding the baby and embracing the child as her own. In this same conversation, Claire finds out that the local newspaper accidentally printed her Dr. Rawlings advice sheet along with the militia ad. Her clear stifling of annoyance over the advice going unheeded in order to make sure the baby is taken care of is a subtle call back to the need for diplomacy elsewhere in the episode. Claire’s skills are still of value to the episode, especially with Alicia and Keziah developing the same illness as Keziah’s brother.
Since Lucinda takes a shine to the baby and asks about keeping her, Jamie and Claire have a heart-to-heart on the issue. This conversation, along with their moments of affection, are important for character development and redeeming the episode for those who might feel too much time is spent on tertiary characters. Claire tells Jamie that their regret over their 20 years of separation isn’t a good enough reason to keep the baby. Not only is this scene a treat for fans of their enduring marriage, this conversation corrects an error from previous episodes. The show did not allocate time last season to depict the dialogue from the novels about the possibility (or lack thereof) of pregnancy at Claire’s age. After this scene, the viewer is much more convinced Jamie and Claire are embracing life as it is and that means more grandchildren and caring for the wider community. For those who wanted to see the show confront the racial issues of the time however, Lucinda keeping the baby will not seem a satisfying conclusion.
While the residents of Brownsville are coming to terms with joining the militia, Bree has to worry about a stranger who pets Jemmy’s hair and gives him a coin. Mrs. Bug has no clue about Stephen Bonnet, but Bree gets the sense he wants to kidnap his biological child. The temporary horror of Jemmy wandering off to catch a ball while Bree gets firewood is a testament to Jamie Bell’s directing as Bonnet becomes a literal nightmare that Bree has to escape. Her moment of calm with Marsali set the tone for a scene where she could have revealed a lot about her current fears, but the script held back to the detriment of the impact of Marsali’s advice that the mind by itself cannot cause events to occur. In addition, it’s indeed rather strange Bree doesn’t have a knife or gun to ward off wild animals, let alone Bonnet.
The conclusion of the episode returns to the running theme of making the tougher decision this season. Isaiah and Alicia decide to run away together. He’s resolved to take care of her and the future baby. Jamie and Roger assist their escape by “accidentally” allowing the horses to stampede through the town while they leave in the opposite direction. Some may argue that Jamie is endorsing unethical behavior, but at the same time he realizes Isaiah and Abigail’s affair should not impact the militia’s ability to gather support to fight the Regulators. Claire also decides to return to the Ridge so she can operate on the Beardsleys. Roger is entrusted with making sure they all arrive safely.
What will happen when the Browns figure out Alicia ran away? Will Claire and Roger run into Bonnet lurking in the woods? Are the Regulators going to meet the militia on the way to Hillsborough? This episode is clearly part of the calm before the big midseason storm…