No cold open.
Title card is a man in 1960s or ‘70s clothing writing, “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” which is our episode title. Is this Roger? If so, when?
1771 (finally, we know what year it is!) Hillsborough
Roger is singing “Oh, My Darling, Clementine” to Jem, which seemed like an appropriately old-timey song to me (compared to songs from earlier episodes), but according to the internet was written in 1884, and that’s what happens when you have time travelers flitting about, singing to their children. Roger is always singing; in this episode especially, it’s foreshadowing. (“I promise, I will be back to sing again for you.” Will you?)
Bree is talking about how benign their lives in their own future time would be compared to this. Roger is talking about his father dying in World War I. “If I don’t make it back . . .” Arrgh, this scene is making me tear up.
Jamie and Claire are waking up in a battlefield tent on Jamie’s 50th birthday. (May 1? Was that the actual date of Alamance? No, but they are close — Jamie’s birthday is May 1 and the battle of Alamance was May 16, 1771.) Claire reassures him that he’s as handsome as ever. Jamie notes he has now lived longer than his father did. And they get it on with Claire singing “Happy Birthday” to him. (Another song out of its time, originally written in 1893.) Well, it’s his birthday and he’s going to war. So OK.
Redcoats discussing the coming war. Jamie really doesn’t like being on this side, understandably. Isaiah Morton shows up to fight in the militia alongside the Browns, because he is a moron. Claire angers Lionel Brown by daring to speak to him. She never did learn her place as a woman. I am 100% certain a Brown is going to try to kill Morton during the battle.
Jamie gives Mistress Findlay’s sons (whom Roger recruited in episode 3) a gruesome pep talk, basically, “kill or be killed.” I hope these kids don’t die.
Reverend Caldwell (who married Brianna and Roger) brings a petition for peace/list of demands from the Regulators. Tryon barely pretends that he will consider it and then as soon as Caldwell is gone, tells everyone to be ready to fight. “I am Governor of this province!” Baaaahh! Manly! How many wars have been fought because someone in power was asserting his manliness?
Bree hears “Alamance,” says, “something happened there,” then takes off on her horse to warn Roger. Not suspicious behavior at all.
Oh, Jamie is shirtless. Excellent. Doing a pre-war ritual in the creek. (My husband points out that cutting your palm is not smart right before war. Wouldn’t the wound just reopen again and again?) Claire interrupts him because she has no sense of privacy. Turns out Jamie’s calling on Dougal, not God. He tells Claire that he made peace with Dougal a long time ago. I assume that’s easy to do when it’s a one-sided conversation. Or did Dougal’s spirit talk back?
Keeping Murtagh alive has been great overall, but now they have to fight on opposite sides of this war, and ouch! It huuuuurrrrrts.
Bree arrives with her portent of doom. They decide to send a message to Murtagh and that’s how Roger gets sent across enemy lines: “He knows me, he knows I’m from the future, he’ll believe it.” That makes sense. In the book, Roger is sent by Jamie to try to reason with Herman Husband, head of the Regulators. We saw Herman previously, looking like Blackbeard the Pirate. Is he here now? I haven’t noticed him.
Claire is getting ready to treat the wounded. In addition to a chest full of herbs and alcohol, she has a glass syringe and her homebrewed penicillin.
Murtagh’s riling up the Regulators before battle. Not a great time for Roger to sidle in and say, “so . . . have you thought about not fighting?” But here he is: “Listen to me, man. You cannot win. You do not win. The history has been written!” Murtagh, looking triumphant for catching Roger in his own logic: “Then I do fight.”
I like this back and forth with Tryon writing and Murtagh reading aloud what he has written. And here is the shot of Jamie’s back from the credits.
Roger is still here while Murtagh reads Tryon’s message and it feels to me that means he has stayed too long. Murtagh comes back to the tent and tells Roger he tried to convince the men not to fight. I don’t believe that. Roger asks Murtagh to leave and save himself. Murtagh doesn’t dignify that with a response.
Walking back, Roger finds Morag MacKenzie. I am filled with a sense of doom and cursing Roger’s stupidity. Later, I asked my husband (since he has not read the books) if he felt like something bad was going to happen when Roger started talking to Morag. He said yes, since Roger was where he wasn’t supposed to be and talking to a woman he shouldn’t, although he wouldn’t have guessed it would end that badly. Roger makes me nuts here — and what must Morag think of him? Here is this man who saved her and her child, but also seems weirdly attentive to her and willing to repeatedly risk his own life and safety after only meeting her once? Offering to take care of her and her family? Naturally, here comes her angry husband.
Gah, Tryon making Jamie wear a red coat. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh! So wrong. And Sam Heughan does a good job showing us Jamie’s discomfort.
I love that they have Graham McTavish playing Buck, who is Dougal’s son. That makes me smile. Roger cannot help his chivalric idiocy and punches Buck before Buck can punch Morag. Not that I think anyone should hit their spouse, but much like Claire, Roger does not adjust his behavior to fit the time and seems to have no sense of self-preservation. Roger is standing in the middle of Buck’s camp and Buck has friends, who restrain Roger and help Buck kick his ass.
Claire’s reaction to seeing Jamie in a red coat is spot-on. It’s weird to see her wearing a cap, but I understand it’s to keep her hair back while she works on people. Where did she get the cap? (How delighted was Mrs. Bug or Marsali when Claire asked one of them for a proper head covering?)
Jamie gives a speech to his troops that seems to directly contradict his earlier advice to the young Findlays. He wants the men to be careful and watch for MacKenzie (and Murtagh, though he can’t say that), but earlier he said with conviction that “war is killing” and that’s how you survive.
It’s really hard to tell who is who, watching this battle, and cinematically I’m sure that is one of the reasons they put Jamie in a red coat, but it’s also probably how it was in real life. Neighbors fighting neighbors with very little way to tell the difference between “them” and “us.”
Very shortly after Jamie and the Browns split up, Morton is shot in the back. Not a coincidence.
I am surprised to see the man being dragged in this scene is Isaiah Morton. As a book reader, I have spent the entire season believing that shot in the credits was Roger.
Lionel Brown crushes Claire’s syringe because he is an incredible asshole and she is a woman who hasn’t adjusted to the time and circumstances she’s in. She and Roger have some things in common, as I said.
The battle turns and the redcoats start taking prisoners.
In the woods, Lee Withers is going to shoot Jamie, and Murtagh knocks him out with a gun stock to the head. Then Murtagh is shot by one of the Findlay boys, who proudly did not hesitate, Colonel. Of course. Dammit. Jamie and Murtagh embrace (Murtagh falls into him) and Jamie gently lays him down on the ground and tries to staunch his wound. I wonder what Young Findlay is thinking?
Jamie tells Murtagh he shouldn’t have saved him, because Jamie released Murtagh from his oath. Murtagh confirms what I said back when that conversation happened — Jamie saying he releases him doesn’t matter; Murtagh’s promise to Ellen is what matters. Ellen MacKenzie, forever in our hearts. Now I’m crying as Murtagh says to Jamie at Alamance what Murtagh in the books said on Culloden Moor: “Dinna be afraid, a bhalaich, it doesn’t hurt a bit to die.”
But Jamie doesn’t know that’s Murtagh’s death line, or won’t accept it, because here he is calling for help and dragging Murtagh to Claire in her healer’s tent. John Quincy Myers knows he’s carrying a dead man. Jamie demands Claire heal Murtagh, but she can’t. He’s gone. Jamie is unhinged here and it’s heartbreaking. It’s only after Jamie stumbles away in shock that Claire cries over Murtagh’s body.
Oh, Tryon, you have picked the wrong moment to gloat in Jamie’s face. “You may have your coat back, sir.” And he throws it at his feet. (Then stumbles over it a minute later.) Yes, indeed. I love this moment and that Myers and the other men see it. Jamie can say he’s met his obligation to Tryon and the crown, but he knows and we know that Tryon can take that land grant back at any time. (“Oh, you’re Catholic? I didn’t understand that. So sorry, Catholics can’t own land, there must have been a misunderstanding . . . “) But Jamie is grieving and this is awesome, so let’s set his continuing vulnerability aside for the moment.
Jamie’s hands are red from Murtagh’s blood. His shirt sleeves are stained with it. Such a painful detail. He notices Brianna alone, worrying, and asks about Roger. He is not back. Now Jamie has purpose again. They search among the wounded and captured for Roger.
Jamie is the first to notice that one of three “Regulator prisoners” hanging in a tree is Roger. Jamie goes to get him down. Brianna looks terrified. Poor, stupid, long-suffering Roger. Dammit.