Outlander: The Hail Mary Review

In the season's penultimate ep, Outlander moves the focus off our central couple to examine brotherly love.

This Outlander review contains spoilers.

Outlander Season 2, Episode 12

Outlandertook a surprisingly low-key approach in its season’s penultimate episode, keeping the focus off of Jamie and Claire and putting it, instead, on two sets of brothers: the MacKenzies and the Randalls. The result was a quietly powerful hour that saw Dougal MacKenzie and Jack Randall say goodbye to their kinder brothers forever.

The death of Alex Randall.

“All that work. All that plotting. How the bloody hell did we end up here?” Claire asks in the opening minutes of “The Hail Mary,” and it’s a valid question. The Jacobite army is tired and hungry and generally ill-suited for battle as they camp oh-so-close to Culloden, the site of that fateful battle that will turn the tide of the war and end the Jacobite rebellion for good — or so history tells us.

Luckily, we and Claire are distracted from this fact and our knowledge of the future by the arrival of Mary Hawkins and Alex Randall into town. The two have reunited in the wake of Mary’s escape from the Sandringham estate and despite Claire’s earlier meddling. Though Mary is initially upset to see Claire now that she knows her supposed “friend” convinced Alex to earlier break her heart, Mary has always been easily swayed. She agrees to let Claire visit her and Alex at their boarding house.

Ad – content continues below

The reunion of Claire and Mary was a little jarring for me. As viewers, we just saw them working together to avenge their rape in the final moments of the earlier episode. Though we’re given a quick bit of exposition to catch us up on what’s happened since to cause their rift, the pacing of Claire’s personal life feels somewhat at odds with the pacing of the Jacobite rebellion. 

When Claire visits the happy couple, her fears about Alex’s condition are confirmed: he is, in fact, dying. Mary, who is pregnant with Alex’s child, is reluctant to face the truth — about Alex’s condition or the reprehensibility of her lover’s brother. Jack Randalls storms onto the scene like an avenging night and it is, perhaps, one of the most discordant moments Outlanderhas ever done. After two seasons of seeing Jack as the most sadistic and supremely messed up of monsters, “The Hail Mary” asks us to see some measure of humanity in the vile excuse for a human being.

To Alex, Jack is his loving brother. To Mary, he is the man who has paid all of their bills now that Alex can no longer work. Alex is, perhaps, the only person alive who both knows Jack and loves Jack, despite his terribleness. More than that, he somehow still believes in his humanity, seeing the sadism of his brother not as his true self, but as the defense between the world and that man: “You think I am unaware of the density of the dark wall you have built to protect your better self from the world?” Alex asks this man to marry the mother of his child.

At first, Jack straight-up refuses. He knows his nature. To him, his love for his brother can be better honored by staying as far away from Mary and Alex’s child as possible (while still supporitng them), rather than making them his own family. It is, perhaps, the most noble act Black Jack has ever undertaken on this show (admittedly, not a competitive category). So, of course, Claire works to undo it.

This has been a season of Claire justifying the means for a specific end: the changing of history. Not so long ago, it involved risking Louise’s happiness to sabotage Charles’ bid for French gold. This week, it means Claire convincing Jack to marry poor, sweet Mary. Murtagh assumes it is for Frank’s sake: “Hasn’t enough suffering been had in the name of saving that mythical prick?” And that’s probably at least part of Claire’s motivation (bless you, Murtagh). But Claire also argues that she knows Jack is to die in a few days time, meaning Mary will have to live as Black Jack’s widow rather than his wife. We’ll see, Claire. We’ll see. Later in the episode, Collum MacKenzie says: “What’s one more sin to a sinner?” A logic Claire, too, may be using.

Ultimately, Mary and Jack are married as Alex watches, dying on a bed. As far as weddings go, it is up there with Game of Thronesas one of the most depressing on TV. When Alex finally dies, moments after Jack and Mary say “I do,” rather than comfort his new bride, Jack immediately starts pounding Alex’s face in with his fists. This is not the only demonstration of the fine, sometimes unimportant line between brotherly love and hate in this episode…

Ad – content continues below

The death of Collum MacKenzie.

Seriously, all of the brothers died in this episode, and, as affecting as Alex’s death was, it was Collum MacKenzie’s quiet passing that really made this episode an emotional powerhouse. Though the Outlandercast has almost no weak links, Graham McTavish was particularly phenomenal this week as Dougal MacKenzie, a man trying to explain to his brother why he can never forgive him and, somehow, making that sound like “I love you.” It is a testament both to the writing of Collum’s death scene and the acting of McTavish that the line is so satisfyingly blurred.

Like Alex and Jack, Collum and Dougal have a complicated relationship — one made even more complicated by Dougal’s announcement that Jamie will be taking over leadership of the clan (until Dougal’s son comes of age) after his death. It doesn’t seem to surprise Collum, but that probably doesn’t lessen the sting. Like Jack, however, Collum knows his own nature. When Dougal tells him point blank that, if he can say he will place the lives of the MacKenzie men over a lost Jacobite cause then he can have the leadership role, Collum cannot lie.

Collum also cannot lie when he begins his speech of reproachment to a brother he has never been able to forgive for being physically weakened, for giving Collum his first lesson in the injustice of the world. Really, Dougal cannot seem to forgive Collum for the fact that he loves him and for the fact that, when Collum takes a poison to end his suffering, Collum will never get the chance to finish reproaching him for his many betrayals. Really, no time will be enough.

It’s telling that Collum chooses to kill himself in Dougal’s presence, as his brother is talking to him. It’s the last thing Collum will ever hear. There’s something tragically and beautifully sweet about that, same as there is about Collum’s final words to his brother’s body: “So you turn your back on me one final time, and you leave me alone in the dark, the darkness of the world. And all I meant to say to you, it remains trapped in here. Right here. Unsaid. Forever.”

The death of the Jacobite army.

OK, technically, this one is too early to call, but, with the Jacobite army poised to face the British on the dreaded Culloden, it only seems a matter of time — especially given what we know from the season’s flash forwards. “Perhaps. Is that good enough for you?” Jamie asks Claire. “Sometimes, that’s all we get,” she tells him. They’re certainly singing a different tune than earlier in the season. The weariness of war will no doubt do that to a person — as will the reminders in both Alex Randall and Collum MacKenzie’s expiring mortality. 

Outlanderseason 2 has done an impressive job this season maintaining a level of urgency and suspense, despite telling us in the season’s opening act that Claire and Jamie will not change history. Much of this is done by keeping so tight to Claire and Jamie’s own feelings on the subject. As of now, they seem all-too-tragically aware that their time together may be coming to an end. Perhaps they don’t suspect more time travel, but they would be fools not to assume the Battle of Culloden doesn’t imply Jamie’s imminent death. The present is all we have and, while Outlandermay not always have the best practices in pacing its plot in season 2, keeping that self-aware truth at the center of Jamie and Claire’s love story has made this season one worth worrying about.

Ad – content continues below


4 out of 5