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literary inklings

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Outlander: Prestonpans


This article includes spoilers for a character death on Outlander. Please do not read further without having previously viewed the episode.

"The rebellion Jamie and I had labored to prevent was upon us. Our only hope was that somehow we could change the outcome." Claire (Outlander, Prestonpans)

Outlander's tenth episode marks the beginning of the battle for the Jacobite cause as Claire and Jamie join Charles Stuart in the fight for the British throne. In Prestonpans, adapted by writer Ira Steven Behn we see the Scots embark on the historic Battle of Prestonpans, a battle that Claire’s knowledge of history finds the Scots winning. As the world of Outlander sees its first official challenge on the battle-field, the audience is given a look at what previously unearthed layers the Starz adaptation can tap into. Through lighthearted and hopeful comedy to a final heartbreaking scene, the cast of Outlander once again proves their merit as one of the finest collections of actors on television while director Philip John orchestrates an extraordinary rendering of an embattled Scotland and an important chapter in Highland history.

Charles Stuart and Jamie Fraser in Outlander | © Starz
Charles Stuart and Jamie Fraser in Outlander | © Starz

At the forefront of the episode’s intense action is Jamie, with his company of Jacobite warriors and clansmen-turned-soldiers. Claire, meanwhile, has dedicated her focus to rallying other women in an effort to set up a field hospital. In keeping with his bizarre sense of natural order, Stuart insists that the Redcoat prisoners be tended to and saved before the very warriors fighting for his father’s rule. Although we don’t get the opportunity to witness Claire’s response to such an order from Jamie, her “lord and master” as Stuart suggests, Jamie’s disbelieving smirk tells us it would be something along the lines of, “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” As the awkwardness and unpreparedness of the Jacobite leaders begins to show, the army must find a way to mount an attack on the waiting British, separated by an impassible bog and daunted by the petulant bickering of the commanders.

"I feared in my heart that history would not be rewritten. That no matter how many battles we might win, victory would be forever out of reach." (Outlander, Prestonpans)

Prestonpans gives viewers a new look at the Highlanders as warriors, from their different approaches to the anticipation and waiting period of battle to the gory brutality of the fight, and the way they deal with success as well as loss in the aftermath. In no other, perhaps, is the contrast so starkly drawn than it is in the MacKenzie war chieftain, brash as we have known him in the past yet well and truly bloodthirsty here. “Where is your Christian sense of charity?” an enraged Charles Stuart demands of Dougal after a particularly vulgar display of celebration and malevolence following the battle. While Dougal is perhaps only human in his dislike of his enemy, we see very clearly that a line has been crossed between duty and obsession as he discharges the wounded British soldiers after the battle, assisting them none too compassionately into eternity. Alternatively, Dougal shows a more forthright side earlier in the episode when he rides within firing range of the Redcoats to test whether the separating marshland is passable, a plight that wins him the momentary favor of the prince, which he values so highly, but does not ultimately win him the glory he’s so determined to achieve.

Dougal in Outlander | © Starz
Dougal in Outlander | © Starz

By contrast, we see a more benevolent and humble approach to the soldier’s experience through the men of Clan Fraser, most notably Ross and Kincaid, Lallybroch farmers who've followed Jamie into action. While the two take a decidedly somber view of the impending battle, they are determined to do their part for the good of Scotland. And ultimately, their vow of devotion to each other on the field inspires a normally cynical Angus, who is moved to make a similar accord with a less enchanted Rupert. When the swords are raised and we see the full, devastating effect of the famous Highland charge, it’s hard to imagine the ruthless Scots with grand ideas of fraternity in their minds as they commence to slaughter their enemy – with a disobeying Fergus heartbreakingly there to witness the carnage. Yet those oaths are not forgotten as amid the calamity of war the Highlanders risk all to save each other’s lives. In an utterly demanding episode, both physically and emotionally, the cast likewise comes through bloodied and victorious, without leaving an ounce of passion behind.

Although the Battle of Prestonpans was a success for the Frasers, it also brought with it the loss of one of the show’s most delightful and primarily original characters whose story has drawn a vast difference in the journey from page to screen. Brilliantly introduced into the Outlander world by actor Stephen Walters, Angus has contributed vastly to the series from the beginning: it’s perhaps in Angus that the creative minds behind the show have shown their greatest measure of ability in not only bringing a beloved book series to life, but adding to it in a way that enhances its charm with heartfelt authenticity – and a vivacious serving of delightful vulgarity. Many thanks to Stephen Walters for giving us an unforgettable variation of Angus Mhor.

While the next two Saturdays bring us new episodes of Outlander, Starz will take a break for the July 2nd broadcast, showing all twelve of the season's earlier episodes throughout the day. The finale, coming to us all too quickly yet on the end of a most extraordinary season, will air the following Saturday, July 9, with a 90-minute episode that will close the final pages on Diana Gabaldon's wondrous Dragonfly in Amber.