Sunday, November 25, 2018

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie Deal with the Neighboring Cherokee Tribe in 'Common Ground'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 4.04 "Common Ground"

Having been led by providence to Fraser's Ridge, Jamie, Claire and Young Ian begin to build a home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the 20th century, Roger tries to reconnect with Brianna.

Issues of race have very much been on the forefront of the story this season. It's the show doing what's necessary in order to tell an American story in the appropriate way. It would be difficult to tell the story of Jamie and Claire coming to America to build a new life together without addressing the concerns of slavery and land owners pushing the natives away from their homes. Sure, the show still struggles in telling stories from those characters of color. It's frequently Jamie and Claire reacting to them with more compassion than their peers do from England. That continues as a major plot concern for Claire and Jamie throughout the "Common Ground." They have found the place to settle. They are beginning to build their home. They have the freedom to do whatever they want as land owners. Jamie has tasked Fergus with finding new settlers who would be a welcome additions to the community that Jamie and Claire hope to build. But right now, it's just Jamie, Claire and Young Ian out in the woods dealing with whatever lurks out there. At times, the threat is very physical like when everyone believes they are being hunted by a dangerous bear. Other times though, the threat comes from those who don't wish to recognize that this land is now owned by Jamie. The English government doesn't care about the natives who lived on this land before they arrived. They just see them as barbarians who don't wish to honor the Crown's rule. That's absolutely horrifying. And yet, Jamie and Claire still believe their lives are in danger whenever a tribe of Cherokee show up. They don't know what to believe. At first, there is a language barrier. Jamie wants to prove that he isn't a threat. He wishes to be allies in the region who can work together to help each other whenever possible. He sees the value in delivering a present to show his good intentions. But the tone of this story still makes the audience nervous about anything possibly destroying this life that Jamie and Claire are hoping to build.

However, the threat that comes to Claire and Jamie's life doesn't come from the present. Instead, it lurks in the future as Roger is able to discover. Claire and Jamie can only imagine what the future might bring. They hope that Brianna will have a fulfilling life without her parents in it. They still talk about her and wonder what her life could possibly be like. The audience has the satisfaction of seeing how the last few years have been for her after she was abandoned by her family. She formed a connection with Roger but wasn't willing to marry him. That showed that she is just as independent a spirit as her parents are. The future remains bright for her as well. She has a world of possibilities open to her. Of course, she is only seen here through Roger's perspective as he tries to win her back. He is able to provide the comfort of knowing that Claire and Jamie were reunited in the 18th century. For these last few years, Brianna never knew what happened to her mother. It's the same agony that Claire and Jamie have felt about each other in the past and continue to feel in the present about their daughter. Moreover, knowledge of the future is very beneficial for the two of them as well. Their decision-making process was helped by Claire knowing that the American revolution will be fought in just a few years. That's very ominous and makes their deal with the governor very problematic. It means that Jamie will be bound by the law and ordered to carry it out or risk losing all of his land in this deal. They don't want to be on the losing side of a revolution again. But that's the deal that they've made. Plus, that's a conflict that is still a ways off in the future. It's years away. The most pressing concern at the moment is building a home in order to live on this land and provide for the family. Settling is the most crucial detail. In that regard, neither Claire nor Jamie know what the future may bring because they are just learning about their neighbors in the region.

And yes, that does include the Cherokee. Up until this point, the Native Americans only existed through stories that John Quincy shared with Young Ian. The young man was so intrigued by these exotic women as well. He had the glint in his eyes towards new adventures. That's why he wants to stay in this new land. He wishes to explore and have a fulfilling life. It's just difficult being away from home with the uncertainty of what this new land may provide. It's a struggle that Marsali is dealing with as well. It's even more depressing for her because she is pregnant and doesn't have her mother to help guide her through life as a new parent. And yet, her letter back home is eventually discovered by Roger who knows with certainty that Jamie and Claire survive this entire ordeal together. That too continues to show that there is a grand tapestry that the overall narrative is playing with. What's gone at the moment may not be missing for very long. There are characters who are always likely to return into the story no matter how improbable it seems. The pacing of the story moves so quickly as well. It may not be long until the Fraser home is built and Marsali gives birth to her child. These characters may just be getting started in establishing their lives in North Carolina. But they are already making quick progress as well as a good impression on those in the area. That stands in stark contrast to the life being offered to them when they were visiting Aunt Jocasta at River Run. That was a community they couldn't stand behind. Here, Jamie and Claire have the potential to befriend the Native Americans in the hopes of being able to share information and live off the land together. That is the outcome at the conclusion of this hour as well. It just takes awhile to get to that point. That also means there is a lot of narrative uncertainty as Jamie once again gets brutalized in order to make the larger point of the story.

The bear that has been roaming around in the woods isn't an animal who has somehow avoided hibernation for the upcoming winter. Instead, it's a man who has assumed the identity of a bear after being banished from the tribe. The Native Americans uphold a strict moral code that he didn't abide by. He was sent into exile and could never be welcomed back. But that also meant that no one in the tribe could kill a man they already believed to be dead. They understand the threat from this creature. It still lurks in the woods and represents a significant threat to whomever is in the area. But they believed that they couldn't do any more than what they had already done. As such, it's up to Jamie to put an end to these attacks. He is the one armed with a gun willing to fire at the creature running at him. It's only then that he realizes it's a man and not a wild bear. But the threat is still very real and dangerous. This creature has already mauled John Quincy. As such, Claire and Young Ian are back home trying to tend to his wounds while standing guard for whatever may be coming for them. It's up to Jamie to defend and protect his family. He succeeds in doing so. He stabs the creature before he does any more damage. That is ultimately the peace offering made to the Cherokee as well. They appreciate this threat being taken care of. It means that their future looks brighter. It means that a connection can be established with Jamie and Claire even though they fear that the white man only brings death to the area. They are afraid of what this new family will do. And yet, their generosity also stands out in this story. Claire and Jamie see themselves as better and more compassionate individuals. It's their responsibility to stand up for those oppressed in this world. It's a nice gesture at the moment. But it still hints at danger in the future especially when the healer of the tribe tells Claire about the vision she's had of her and the healing she is capable of doing.

The Cherokee healer explains to Claire that she is magical because of the journey that she has taken. She is already a profound and powerful healer. She will only get access to better medicine in the future as well. She will become so wise and compassionate. That is all good news. She will live until her hair has gone white. She will still be giving back to the world. However, all of that stands opposed to the news that Roger learns at the conclusion of the hour. He discovers an article clipping that states that Jamie and Claire die in a fire on Fraser's Ridge. The year on the paper is illegible. And so, this could be something that happens in two years. Or it could be something that happens in 10 years. There's no telling how much of a life they will be able to live here. Jamie and Claire hoped to plant down roots and be able to enjoy their lives together for as long as they should life. And now, Roger fears that won't be very long at all. They may once again be condemned to a tragic fate of not being together for more than a few years. That only becomes more scary and ominous with the news that Brianna has traveled to Scotland in the hopes of reuniting with her mother. It's a decision she made but not because of Roger. She didn't inform him of her plans. He doesn't run into her while mulling over what to do with this information that he has come across. He wanted to keep it a secret at first. He didn't want to devastate Brianna with this news while he was also trying to woo her back. But he's still armed with this information. He has it whether he likes it or not. He could potentially use it in order to warn Claire and Jamie in the hopes of potentially changing their fates. That's a mission characters on this show have embarked on before. And yet, there is the tragedy that comes from no one succeeding in that endeavor so far. It may be a hopeless venture. However, it still adds more urgency to Brianna and Roger as characters. That's intensity that seems bound to reunite them with Claire and Jamie in North Carolina. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Common Ground" was written by Joy Blake and directed by Ben Bolt.
  • Jamie makes a passing reference to Fergus about him needing to search for Highlanders in the area to settle their new land. He also notes that this is the area that people he served in prison with could have been sent to. That seems like nothing in the moment. And yet, the audience should remember that Murtagh was sent to the colonies. That's how he was separated from Jamie. And so, hope may not be lost about him being gone for good.
  • A lot of screen time is also devoted to the visual of the Cherokee performing a ceremony. There is the implication that it's to drive out this bad spirit that they believe has possessed the bear. At least, that's how it can be inferred in the moment. But they also have more history with the creature. One that also proves how this moment really just adds to the atmosphere that comes around this mysterious new world that Jamie and Claire are now in.
  • Claire believed that the skeleton head that she discovered reunited her with Jamie at the exact place where they should plant down roots. It does seem like an absolutely perfect spot for them. However, she now fears that his death could also signal that this is a place they should stay away from because only additional tragedies will occur here. She doesn't know which side to believe. The audience should be curious as to what happened to this time traveler as well.
  • It's a huge decision for Brianna to want to travel through time to be together with her parents. She has the conviction to do so now because she knows that they are alive and are building a life together. She knows exactly where to find them. But it's also bound to be a treacherous journey. She may think that she's ready but she's not. Moreover, it's lame how more time isn't devoted to her making this decision. If the show did that though, it would rob the surprise of that final moment with Roger.
  • Roger has to reach out to the author of the book that Brianna got him in order to find the information that proves that Jamie and Claire survived and were reunited. And yet, the letter that states their deaths is already at the house that he has known for many years. Sure, it has new owners now who are friends with him. But he only gets this letter after his friend reveals that she has heard everything he has said to Brianna about the existence of time travel and its impact on her family.