Saturday, June 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Jamie Leads Prince Charles' Army into Battle Against the British Soldiers in 'Prestonpans'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.10 "Prestonpans"

Trusting in Claire's knowledge of "history," Jamie leads the Jacobite army into a critical battle with British opposition. Meanwhile, Claire attends to the dead and dying, a reminder of the truest cost of war.

The war has officially come to Outlander. Jamie and Claire have assembled their army of well trained soldiers. They have now rejoined with Prince Charles' forces. They won't know for awhile if they have successfully changed history. But they are still fighting under that belief. All of their actions need to have a purpose. All the death and trauma that surrounds them needs to have happened for a reason. So they approach this first battle of the war with optimism but also realism as well. They know the true costs of war. Things are going to get so brutal and lethal long before they reach the Battle of Culloden. They have been changed by this war already. They understand the grave consequences if they fail with this mission. And yet, the people that surround them are still filled with so much hope and vigor. They are still the same people that they were before. They are now a part of an army but the war hasn't changed them yet. It's only a matter of time until that happens - with the final third of this episode providing a strong reality check to a number of characters over how lethal every battle will be.

The leaders of this rebellion are all fighting for different reasons. Claire and Jamie want to change the future to ensure this uprising is a success and thus preserve the Scottish culture. Dougal and his fellow Scottish soldiers are fighting because this is a cause they believe in. After years of being oppressed by the British army, they want to fight back to uphold their values and way of life. And lastly, Prince Charles is in this war because he wants the rightful ruler of England back on the throne. He's a devout Christian who believes this is his destiny to unite the world under God's rule. He believes he has been divinely blessed and can't lose in this endeavor. Charles has come across as a one-note character as this season has progressed. He's a bit pompous and naive. Plus, he says "mark me" in every single scene he is in. It has gotten very boring and annoying. It is interesting to see him on the battlefield in Scotland. But he hasn't been changed by this war yet. He still believes he's destined to lead the Jacobite rebellion to victory. He's hardly the man to lead the army into battle. But that's what he still believes.

All of these different beliefs and agendas aren't exactly creating a winning strategy for the rebellion. Right now, they are in a standstill with the British forces. Both armies reside on opposite ends of a field with a bog in between them. The generals advising Charles in this war disagree over the strategy they should take. But the more pressing concern is the army that is close by. Jamie recognizes that and knows something needs to be done to unify this army. Right now, the leaders are disagreeing with one another. They aren't presenting a unified front for the soldiers. That could be such a critical error later on in this war. The different agendas are taking over and everyone has to appease the desires of everyone else. It's a lot for Jamie and Claire to handle. They have their own unique missions to deal with. Claire is setting up the hospital to tend to the wounded soldiers. Meanwhile, Jamie actually has to prepare and lead the men into battle. Jamie also has to find a way to be proactive about the situation. He's the one who comes up with the solution. While all of the other generals are back in the quarters, Jamie is the one deciding what to do to handle their current reality with the British army closing in.

It is tense when Jamie sends Dougal out on horseback to judge whether or not the bog can be crossed. It's a dangerous mission because the British soldiers are expert marksmen with guns far superior to the Scots. They can fatally strike Dougal. And yet, he takes on the mission with so much pride. He wants to be in the middle of action and not just wanting around for something to happen. He wants to be on the path to victory. He doesn't care what stands in his way of getting what he wants. He wants to kill the British soldiers because they represent a people who have long been oppressive to the Scottish way of life. That's how he sees them. So yes, he may die during this mission. But he accepts that as a possible consequence in order to advance the war forward. The bog turns out to be a crucial part of the battle's strategy as well. It helps give the Scottish forces the element of surprise again. The bog cannot be crossed. So a local land owner conveniently shows them a way around it. Sure, it's a huge plot contrivance. But it still sets up some interesting angles of what everyone is hoping to get out of this war.

Dougal returns from his mission through the bog as a hero. He's celebrated by his fellow men and even earns the praises of Prince Charles. But Dougal also wants to kill all of the British soldiers. To him, that's what victory means. It's a brutal side of the character. But it's what he believes needs to happen in order to emerge victorious in this war. Meanwhile, Prince Charles wants to show some leniency. He believes that when a Stuart is back on the throne, he will need to reign over these people with respect and admiration. To him, this is just a civil war. After it's over, they have to become friends and united once more. Charles is looking ahead to the future. But that could be a costly mistake for him. He needs to be concerned about the harsh realities of war right now. He can't just be telling Claire to treat the British soldiers ahead of his own army. He wants to establish peace so that the country has the ability to grow in the future. But right now, the two sides are at war. That's a mindset that could really clash with people and get them to question whether this is a rebellion they want to be a part of. It's brutal when the army descends upon the British camp under the cover of fog. It's a very cool and chilling sight. They are victorious in this battle. But it comes with so many deeply personal consequences as well.

The true cost of war is death. This hour never forgets that. It's something that looms over the entire episode. Before the army goes to war, several of the Scottish solders make pacts for what should happen to them if they die in battle. It's meaningful because it features characters the audience has seen before - including Angus and Rupert. But there's also no deep or personal connection to those characters either. They are important enough to be killed off now and have their deaths mean something to the rest of the characters. But they aren't too important that their deaths would radically shift the balance of the show. Death really does loom over this hour. Everyone feels it as they prepare for battle. Some of the soldiers are excited for it. They are ready and prepared to take down the British soldiers. They are on the front line of this war. However, Claire, Jamie and Murtagh have the knowledge that they'll be victorious in the early going of this war only to fail later at Culloden. So that makes it even more bittersweet when their friends die on the battlefield. This doesn't feel like a victory to them. It feels like an inevitability. But it's an inevitability that takes away some good soldiers and some colorful Scotsmen as well. Again, it's hard to feel anything significant toward Angus dying. It's largely played as a mystery on whether he or Rupert would die. They are both injured but it's Angus who succumbs to his injuries because they are largely internal. That's the true shock and horror of war. Angus dies and it no longer feels like a victory.

Of course, some of the characters still feel like celebrating. Dougal and Prince Charles are overwhelmingly happy by the result of this battle. They have succeeded and it's one step closer to the rightful ruler being put back on the English throne. And yet, Dougal wants to kill all the British soldiers. Charles wants to keep them as prisoners who get the same level of medical treatment as the injured from the Scottish army. This divide between the two really takes its toil after the battle is over. Dougal is loud and boisterous. He wants to celebrate. Prince Charles is happy as well but he cannot tolerate Dougal's views on the English subjects. More importantly, Charles has all the power. He's the leader of this rebellion. If he wants Dougal to leave, it will happen. Dougal may be a patriot but Prince Charles has no place for him in this war. Jamie is able to convince the prince that Dougal still has worth. But it largely showcases just how much Jamie has become Colum. He has promoted Dougal but he has also exiled him as well. It shows just how strong a hold Jamie has on Charles. Jamie is the true person leading this rebellion. He leads it onward towards victory. That's the hope at least. But he still has to be accommodating to Prince Charles who has his delusions about this war. That was an interesting character dynamic early on this season. But now, it has gotten very annoying and formulaic.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Prestonpans" was written by Ira Steven Behr and directed by Philip John.
  • What was happening to Fergus was much more concerning than what happened to Angus or Rupert. He fled Claire's side in order to be a part of this battle. He was on the battlefield lost and traumatized by the true reality of war. He easily could have been killed. And yet, he wasn't. Claire holding and comforting him in the end was truly satisfying as well. She simply couldn't lose another child in her life.
  • Fergus only runs into battle because he feels he's not being useful at the makeshift hospital. Claire knows how important it is to have hot water to treat injuries - especially considering the amount of wounds that come in. But he wants to fight instead of doing what he considers "women's work."
  • The Scottish soldiers breaking out into a song of mourning was a pretty great way to end the episode that paid tribute to the friends they lost on the battlefield today - even though things are only going to get more intense moving forward.
  • When Jamie is trying to convince Charles that he shouldn't lead the men into battle, Charles says he doesn't even think his father likes him all that much. So is he leading this rebellion just to get his father to respect him?
  • Also, it's pretty laughable that Charles wants to lead the men into battle. He even has to tell Jamie that he knows how to use a sword. Yeah, that would have been fun to see - though Jamie still has to respect him while keeping him alive.