This review contains Outlander spoilers.
This week’s Outlander feels like two episodes in one. Strong performances from the entire cast supported a script that streamlined many book chapters into an hour and 10 minutes. The dysentery outbreak in the first half is seamlessly linked to the shocking cliff-hanger ending through Claire’s hallucinations, but sorry history nerds: the Hamilton song lyric episode title is more about the shocking cliff-hanger than the war!
Roger finishes another Sunday sermon at the meetinghouse but realizes the MacNeil family is missing. Claire, Brianna, Lizzie, and Malva go to their cabin for what we call today a wellness check and it turns out the entire family is severely ill. Mrs. MacNeil and one of the children dies of dehydration. Claire curses her inability to save them but forgets her medical assistants are 18th Century folks who are convinced something’s wrong with her.
Under the microscope, Claire discovers the amoeba that causes dysentery. The Ridge residents call it “the flux” and are encouraged to boil water until they can figure out the source of the contamination. Several more residents died of the infection. Watching this episode during the Covid-19 pandemic certainly gives this plotline an extra punch that reading A Breath Of Snow And Ashes didn’t deliver before now. Claire is running on little sleep and food leaving herself vulnerable to illness. Bree notices that they haven’t seen the Sin-Eater in weeks, if not months, which isn’t like him as there are several funerals. Claire faints which means she’s too ill to treat anyone else sick from dysentery.
Claire spends over a week in bed in and out of consciousness due to headaches, chills, and a fever. Before Claire fainted, Malva was doing her usual apprentice work and insisted on staying after Alan called her home. Roger, Bree, Lizzie, and Jamie take turns monitoring her illness. One night in a dream/vision, Claire sees her own heart, the body of a snake, and Jamie sitting next to the window with Malva touching his back. This confuses her as she tells Jamie later on when she was ill in Paris she saw a blue heron in her dreams as a sign of healing. To add to Claire’s confusion, Malva and Mrs. Bug cut Claire’s hair in an attempt to stop the fever. Unfortunately, time is the only thing that cures the fever. Tom Christie was also sick but he had the same symptoms as her which were unrelated to dysentery. Claire asks him for a stool sample to confirm what illness he had. Jamie discovers a dead elk upstream from the MacNeils contaminated the water causing the dysentery outbreak.
Once the outbreak ends, there’s a time pass to the following spring. In the meantime, Jamie and Roger are attending the meetings about boycotting British trade. These measures mean the war is drawing closer. As they are packing up to go to the meeting to select delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, the real shock of war on the Ridge begins. The Christies roll up to the big house and demand to speak to Jamie. Malva confesses that she’s pregnant and she believes Jamie is the father. Claire’s vision of Malva touching Jamie’s back turns into Malva describing what happened as Jamie drunkenly persuading her to sleep with him. Malva stops short of describing what happened as rape but the details do not make any sort of denial easy for Jamie. Tom and Alan are convinced of this story and demand Jamie pays child support. Claire slaps Malva in shock and then runs out of the room confused and panicked. Jamie tells the male Christies to get out.
The entire season was building up to this moment of darkness and betrayal of Claire’s innate trust. Fans who didn’t read the books could have predicted Malva was going to undermine Claire somehow but the way Jessica Reynolds switches from “helpful apprentice” Malva to “manipulative lying for survival” Malva makes this heel turn extra compelling. However, it must be pointed out that Malva’s falsehoods in a series that already had several rapes/sexual assaults play out on screen reinforce negative ideas about rape, specifically myths around false rape claims. Purposeful lies are extremely rare and studies show it is much more common that victims do not have enough evidence to result in a conviction or doubt their own memories due to emotional or physical abuse. Claire is the only character who questions the narrative Malva is a “whore” which implies she deserved to get pregnant.
Jamie realizes Claire needs to know that her whole life in the past isn’t a lie and that her trust in him wasn’t wasted. He admits he slept with Mary McNab before he was taken to Ardsmuir after Claire returned to the 1940’s. Claire knows Jamie is telling the truth and that Malva had to cover up whatever mistake she made with a male suitor. Unfortunately, everyone on the Ridge is convinced that Jamie’s the father. Roger and Jamie can’t escape the rumors in New Bern and it turns out Jamie made a good political impression but was not selected to represent North Carolina in Philadelphia. Claire is the village pariah for defending Jamie on top of already being suspected of witchcraft. Claire tries to get Malva to admit who the father really is but Alan stops that from happening. Ian admits to Claire that Malva flirting with him in Episode 3 did indeed turn into a one-night stand. He feels responsible but doesn’t know what to do about it. The story of Roger breaking up Malva and Obadiah Henderson comes back around. Could Henderson be the father or is there someone else unknown?
Claire’s not coping well with the emotional stress. She gets another flashback to Lionel Brown. While she takes ether she hallucinates stabbing Malva after she taunts her about being old and ugly and satisfying Jamie. Claire is the type of woman who values female friendship above everything else and Malva herself being the snake in the vision is making things so much worse. This is the symbolism behind the title of the episode in action. Claire wakes up from the ether and walks outside. She finds Malva dead and fails to save the unborn baby via C-section.
Not only does the audience mourn for the innocent baby, but Malva’s death also raises more questions than answers. Who murdered Malva and what was their motive? Is Ian or Obadiah Henderson the father of the child? If someone else was the father of the child, did Malva lie to cover up an assault? What illness did both Claire and Tom Christie suffer from and was Malva the cause?
We have a long wait in store for answers! Unfortunately, the next episode of Outlander won’t air until April 24th.