This review contains Outlander spoilers
Outlander Season 6 Episode 3
This week’s Outlander moves Fergus, Marsali, and Henri-Christian to center stage. The Frasers not only have to contend with the ignorant superstitions of the Ridge and also Fergus’ struggle to stay sober and mentally well. In between, Tom and Malva Christie are creating their own chaos. Although many characters have experienced trauma and depression before, Fergus’ path forces the audience to consider their own attitudes on mental health, alcoholism, and most importantly ableism. Ableism is defined as viewing the disabled as “incomplete” or “damaged” which leads to discrimination.
Henri-Christian is only a few weeks old and he’s already being bullied for being a dwarf. Germain didn’t do anything as his friends threw his basket into the river to see if it would float. If he floated, he would be a child of the Devil. Roger saves Henri-Christian from the waterfall, puts on his lay preacher hat, and tells the little trolls that the baby belongs to God and was baptized. Jamie has decided the boys will be punished for their terrible deed by allowing them to choose whether they want to touch the baby or touch a hot poker. Jamie’s test is about proving to the boys that Henri-Christian may look different but he acts like a human baby.
Claire checks Henri-Christian and she doesn’t see any evidence of internal or external injuries. Marsali and Fergus are worried that something similar may happen in the future, and Fergus reveals to Claire that he’s also afraid of the future for his son. He tells the story of Luc, a dwarf he knew back in France who worked in the brothel and was eventually murdered. Dwarves and others with disabilities were fetishized and often discriminated against in other forms of employment, forcing many to turn to sex work. Fergus’s fear goes well beyond his beliefs about the cause of Henri-Christian’s condition. He’s just as scared about the future in a world that will inevitably find ways to dehumanize the disabled.
Some fans may resent the episode’s focus on Fergus but there are also scenes that develop the other characters in a way previous episodes didn’t always offer. We see grandpa Jaime lovingly correct Germain so he can be a good big brother. Brianna helps Marsali endure. Roger offers spiritual and practical assistance to Ridge residents. This is a good thing for Season 6 as its clear either the writers are learning from past critiques or that new writers are taking a different approach to storytelling.
Marsali understands some of the pain Fergus is going through but she can’t understand why Fergus is choosing to drink instead of being there for her and the children. She tells Fergus she poisoned Lionel Brown because he wasn’t there to defend her. Marsali’s decision to kick Fergus out until he can stay sober isn’t about scorekeeping, it’s about making sure she doesn’t go through again what she saw with her alcoholic father. This boundary setting also strikes a nerve with Fergus as his child is once again forcing him to confront his own disability.
Although Jamie and Claire help try to help Fergus, a lot of their attention in this episode is turned to Tom Christie. He finally agrees to the hand surgery. He refuses the ether, and instead Jamie reads Bible verses to him. Tom also still has issues with Claire’s medical authority. Meanwhile, Malva is spying outside instead of helping Claire or her father. She runs into Ian more than once during the episode and their interaction is somehow flirty and creepy at the same time. Claire keeps Tom overnight to make sure there are no side effects from the surgery. She wants to take ether after the conversation about the punishment for Henri-Christian’s bullies triggers a memory about Lionel Brown but Christie’s complaints of pain and a fever prevent her from doing so.
While Claire is checking his wound, Tom quotes St. Paul to justify his misogyny but Jamie reveals later on this is likely a trauma response from their ordeal in Ardsmuir. Through these conversations, it’s revealed that the discrepancy between Malva’s birth and Tom’s release from Ardsmuir may explain the abusive family dynamic and also why Malva’s mom was convicted of witchcraft. Even though Tom eventually apologizes to Claire for being a jerk during the surgery, he slips back into his old ways by calling the novel Tom Jones ”filth” instead of being glad Claire gave him something to distract him from the pain.
Usually, Quarter Day or the day Jamie collects rent from Ridge residents is a happy day. For Fergus, it’s a nightmare as Mrs. MacGregor calls Henri-Christian “grotesque” and scolds him for being publically drunk. Tom tells Mrs. MacGregor to be nice, but also has a tone of condescension to it. Fergus walks off and Jamie finds him attempting suicide with a knife. Fergus’ actions in the last two episodes clearly were building up to this moment. It doesn’t feel added for extra dramatic value but the culmination of months of severe depression. Jamie patches up the wound while talking him out of his alcohol-fueled depressive episode. Later on, Claire and Jamie walk Fergus back home to Marsali signaling his renewed commitment to sobriety and better mental health.
The end of the episode circles back to the increasing political tensions. Tom Christie reveals that the dangerous Committee Of Safety came around to his side of the settlement but he doesn’t tell Claire if he agreed to anything from them. Major McDonald brings the weapons promised to the Cherokee and also a newspaper report of the Boston Tea Party. Next week on Outlander will surely reveal if the Frasers are ready for how others will react to this escalation of the conflict between the colonists and the royal government. Hopefully, next week’s episode will also further address Fergus coming back from rock bottom.