This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 5, Episode 9
“Monsters and Heroes” is the rare Outlander episode this season to have every character’s plot revolve around one single event. Once again, wildlife threatens the lives of the Fraser’s Ridge residents and the aftermath affects every single member of the Fraser family. Compelling cast performances plus a script reconciling show canon with book canon mark this episode as one of the best of the season.
Many scenes from the book The Fiery Cross focus on daily and seasonal routines, which is something we see translated onto the screen here. The bison from the Season 4 credits return. Originally, they were a symbol of British colonists moving further west, but now they present a more practical purpose: as a food source. While few may associate bison with North Carolina, they also roamed the east coast before overhunting drove herds west. Josiah Beardsley spots a herd in the woods which could provide more than enough meat for the wintertime. Roger, Ian, and others answer Jamie’s call to assist in the hunt.
The hunting party splits up in order to cover more distance and catch strays from the herd. Jamie and Roger move through the trees and nearly succeed in catching a slow-moving bison. Unfortunately for Jamie, a snake gets in the way and bites him. Roger does his best to draw the venom away, but the poison moves through Jamie’s bloodstream. We take antivenom for granted today, but snake and other animal bites were a common cause of death in the colonial backcountry.
Jamie’s snake bite is the pivot of the episode’s action, and it is quickly followed by a scene that sees one of the bison straying into the Big House front yard. Bree and Claire act quickly to distract and shoot the bison before it can destroy crops or attack people. Not only does this scene give Bree and Claire their own hero moment, but it also depicts colonial women as well aware of the dangers wildlife posed. It all would have fallen flat if not for the stuntwomen and director Annie Griffin balancing the motherly instinct and action in its staging.
Roger takes on the physical and emotional burden of helping Jamie stay awake through the night until they can reunite with the hunting party. He saves the head of the snake in case Claire needs to identify the species for treatment. The title of the episode comes into play as Jamie realizes he’s survived several wars only to have something as trivial as a snake bring him to death’s door. Not only does this conversation include a philosophical musing and a title name drop, but Jamie also outlines his last wishes. Jamie’s mood is clearly altered from the venom and he is coming to terms with possible death. He wants Roger to carry out his plan to kill Bonnett disguised as a whiskey trading deal. Roger cites a bible passage on vengeance as his main argument against the plan. Roger’s quote is a possible easter egg for later events in the novel. This showdown at Wylie’s Landing will definitely be the most important part of the season finale.
The only flaw in this episode is that the conversation about Jemmy’s inheritance still does not have any sort of acknowledgment that Jemmy would then own slaves. Some may dismiss this as a trivial matter but, as outlined in this editorial published last week, it is still a sore spot for POC Outlander fans.
At sunlight, Roger uses the last of his physical strength to drag Jamie home. Claire has treated Jamie’s wounds before, but the broken penicillin needle from “The Ballad Of Roger Mac” has clear consequences. Boiling the fungus is less effective than a direct injection and the bite mark has become infected. One of the strengths of this episode is that we see not only Claire’s medical diligence but also her intuitive bond with Jamie. As the infection worsens, she has to consider amputation. Jamie initially wants to give up on the leg and on recovery, and we see Claire’s fears as a doctor intersect with her fear of losing Jamie. One of the most powerful scenes in this episode is when Jamie wants her to hold him in his fevered state. Many fans primarily watch the show for the endurance of their marriage, and his love for her is what ultimately helps him heal.
Jamie’s illness becomes a focal point for the other members of the Fraser family as well. The discussion of amputation also allows the story to touch upon Fergus living with a wooden hand. Although by this stage of the books, Fergus is more of a background character, he has even fewer scenes this season in comparison. His conversation with Ian reveals his earlier injuries also affect his relationship with Marsali. Ian’s relationship with Jamie also gets a much-needed spotlight. Ian is the one who talks Jamie off the ledge with the amputation by telling Jamie he’s ashamed of his attempts to take the easy way out.
Bree’s bond with her father hasn’t been shown on screen as often this season, but we see her not only comforting Jamie but also using previously unseen skills to assist in the recovery. Before Bree traveled back in time, she was building a career as an engineer. On the show, Bree has made sketches or talked about designing additions to her home, but her own journey to adjusting to the 18th century has been downplayed to feature more of her journey as a wife and mother. Her work with turning the snake fangs into a syringe is essential in Jamie’s recovery and in her mission to incorporate her career into 18th-century life.
Marsali is just about ready to give birth but she still assists Claire in the surgery. As she is learning more about medicine, Claire is clearly relying on her as a sounding board, which gives dimension to her character and their relationship. Fergus helps Marsali with gathering maggots to clean the infected wound but her water breaks. Claire isn’t able to help bring Felicité into the family, but she’s very excited to meet her fourth grandchild.
“Of Monsters and Men” ends with Jamie reflecting on his near-death experience with Claire. He admits his love for Claire stopped him from slipping away. Bree and Roger are in a comfortable place with their relationship. Fergus and Marsali are celebrating their growing family. Ian is settling into life on the Ridge. Will there be another threat to Frasier family harmony aside from Bonnet in the season finale?