Outlander: ‘Surrender’

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(Original post at The National Student)

In this week’s episode of Outlander, Jamie and Claire continue to grieve each other’s absence and search for new, lesser forms of intimacy.

Jamie has been hiding in a cave near Lallybroch for six years, complete with a great big bushy beard and a hairdo that makes him look like a ginger Slash. He largely keeps himself locked up in his grief den, emerging only to hunt in the forest or to be gruff to his perpetually pregnant sister Jenny.

English soldiers scour the surrounding area for any hint of ‘Red Jamie’, as well as a suspected Jacobite known as the Dunbonnet. One canny Redcoat officer firmly believes that there couldn’t possibly be two ginger men in Scotland, and so spends his time interrogating the Fraser family about Jamie’s whereabouts, even going so far as to arrest Ian.

Fan favourite Fergus returns in Surrender, full of teenage angst and a hot-headed streak that is destined to end badly. Although fiercely loyal to Jamie, Fergus is frustrated by his unwillingness to plan a new phase of the Jacobite rebellion. With weapons and traditional Scottish heraldry banned following the uprising, Jamie warns Fergus not to use the gun he has discovered in case the Redcoats come.

Like all proper teenagers, Fergus promptly ignores this advice when Jenny goes into labour and the children of Lallybroch notice a raven nearby. Fergus shoots the ominous sign of death, and Redcoats flood Lallybroch in search of the weapon.

Jamie is nearly discovered holding his new-born nephew, but luckily for him, the (conveniently widowed) midwife Mary is quick-thinking enough to take the blame for the attack. She bamboozles the Redcoat captain with stories of bad omens, and because the English soldiers in Outlander are almost universally incompetent, he believes her.

In the 20th century, Claire struggles with a general lack of fulfilment in her life. Thus far, the Randalls have pulled their marriage together admirably for the sake of Brianna, but it’s only in Surrender that Claire reinitiates her sexual relationship with Frank.

Although this development is initially positive, Frank soon realises that Claire is simply using him as a means of remembering Jamie. The moment that Frank realises what Claire is doing is heart-breaking, and a reminder that Tobias Menzies is one of the biggest assets that Outlander has.

Any pretence of normality is shattered by the end of the episode, when Frank and Claire settled down into separate beds. Whatever love they once had cannot be recaptured, however much Frank might want it to be.

Meanwhile, the Redcoats get lucky and stumble across Jamie’s cave, and Fergus is forced to lure the soldiers away. Jamie’s young ward becomes an unfortunate casualty of the English soldiers and loses a hand in the process.

Jamie realises that his presence at Lallybroch is threatening his family and so decides to give himself up, in a scheme that allows Jenny to claim the reward money and maintain a veneer of loyalty to the crown. The night before his faux-capture, Jamie divests himself of his hobo-chic aesthetic and finally allows himself some physical comfort by sleeping with Mary.

In many ways, Outlander is a highly traditional romance that perpetuates the idea that sometimes love can conquer all, even time itself. Yet in this week’s episode, the show complicates its own narrative regarding what love is and ought to be.

Instead of having Claire and Jamie deny themselves any future sexual experiences, Surrender shows the couple seeking out physical comfort from others and doesn’t condemn anyone involved.

It’s refreshing that Claire’s relationship with Frank and Jamie’s night with Mary aren’t condemned as infidelity. Separated by two hundred years and in the belief that they’ll never see each other again, why shouldn’t Jamie and Claire move on in whatever capacity they can? Ultimately, Claire and Jamie’s relationship is still venerated throughout the episode, even if the love they share is something stranger and sadder than it was before.

All in all, Surrender suggests that it’s sometimes more sensible to surrender than fight a losing battle. Fergus struggles with what he perceives to be Jamie’s “cowardice” because he can’t accept that some surrenders are preferable to years of futile fighting or pain. Likewise, Claire and Jamie don’t conform to a romantic ideal of eternal loyalty to one another, but when the alternative is needless suffering, then such self-sacrifice seems pointless.

By the end of Surrender, Jamie and Claire have embarked on new battles. After a few faked moments of bitterness towards Jenny, Jamie is promptly arrested by the Redcoats at Lallybroch and carted off to a cold English prison.

Meanwhile, Claire studies to become a surgeon and finds herself ostracised by her white male peers. Her only ally appears to be Joe, a black man also studying at the same college.

At times, Surrender is a little heavy-handed; the initial handling of Claire and Joe’s shared ostracism feels overly simplistic, and Ian’s heavy-handed metaphors about loss and Jamie explicate themes that are already pretty obvious.

Yet, Surrender redeems itself with its nuanced portrayal of grief and sexuality, and Balfe and Heughan continue to give stellar performances. Like the characters, it feels as though the writers of Outlander were picking their battles carefully this week.

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