If you haven’t watched Outlander from the beginning, you’ll have missed some important callbacks in “The Ballad of Roger Mac.” It’s worth noting that although this episode has some eye candy moments, it isn’t as diverting as last week’s. Considering the rough time we’re living through now, the blows this episode lands hit extra hard.
Some useful things to know in order to really appreciate “The Ballad of Roger Mac”:
- Jamie (Sam Heughan) killed his uncle, Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish), in Season Two, Episode 13, “Dragonfly in Amber,” the same episode in which Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin) were first introduced.
- In real life, Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish are besties who have a show and whisky company together.
- Jamie suffered terribly at the hands of the Red Coats in Scotland, and his back is heavily scarred from a whipping he was given by one of them, Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). These are the men who stamped out the Clans at / after Culloden.
- In the books, Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) dies in Ardsmuir prison after Culloden. His presence in the show since then has been a GIFT.
Governor Tryon (Tim Downie) has rallied his men and Jamie’s, and he’s ready to take on the Regulators once and for all. Murtagh has gathered a force twice the size of their oppressor’s and is eager to fight. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Roger have traveled with Jamie to the battlefield, and Brianna and Jemmy have been stashed with friends in town for safety’s sake.
As they’re winding down for the evening, conversation between Brianna and her hosts, Hubert (Matthew Cole) and Phoebe Sherston (Charlotte Asprey), turns to the looming conflict. Hubert shares some scuttlebutt he picked up, that the shiz will go down near Alamance Creek. “Alamance” rings a bell for Brianna, and as soon as she places the name, she’s off like a shot to warn her family.
You see, Brianna remembers learning about the Battle of Alamance as the spark of the Revolutionary War… and a decisive victory for the British.
When she comes galloping into the militia’s camp, Jamie, Claire and Roger know something’s up. They duck into a tent for privacy, and she shares what she knows. Roger announces that he’ll sneak into the Regulators’ camp to warn Murtagh. Despite the risk, he’s the only one who can go. He knows Murtagh will believe him because he knows Roger and Brianna are from the future.
Roger departs on his mission, and Brianna opts to stay and assist Claire in the medical tent to stave off worry.
Roger is successful in infiltrating the Regulator camp and in getting Murtagh alone to warn him, but it’s no use. The Regulators are determined to fight if they must. They’ve sent an emissary to Tryon to attempt a peace treaty, so Roger stays the night with them to see what the Governor’s response will be. In the morning, word comes that the Governor wants a fight, and the Regulators choose to meet him. Roger heads back to the militia having failed to convince Murtagh to stand his men down or to leave on his own for Jamie’s sake.
As he’s winding through the camp, Roger is surprised to see his ancestor, Morag MacKenzie (Elysia Welch), whom he saved on Bonnet’s ship.
He stops to greet her, discovering that her husband is a Regulator and they have another baby on the way. Her Jemmy is well, and he’s excited to share that he’s got one of his own now, too. Then he warns her that the Regulators will lose and urges her to find her husband and run. She says they have nowhere left to go, and he promises her a haven on Fraser’s Ridge if they make it out of the battle alive. Then, in a fit of modernness or stupidity or something, he embraces her.
Now, in the book he kisses her, so this is at least better than that. But it doesn’t help him when Morag’s husband, Buck MacKenzie (YES!! IT IS Graham McTavish!!!) sees it. Buck and his buddies grab Roger, and his militia badge falls out of his pocket. They see it and knock him unconscious.
Meanwhile, back at the militia camp, it’s time to go to war. Everyone is a little worried that Roger hasn’t come back yet, but that’s not the most urgent issue, so they focus on the tasks at hand. Before they march off to start the fight, Tryon insists on gifting Jamie a NEW. RED. COAT.
The look on Jamie’s face as he reluctantly dons the uniform of his life-long enemy is gutting. It’s closely mirrored by the look on Claire’s face when she sees him wearing it. She knows. She understands how hateful the garment is. She tells him she loves him and they kiss as he leaves her.
Jamie does what he can to encourage his men to mercy. He tells them to fight hand-to-hand as the Regulators do, to spare lives and save souls by taking prisoners. It doesn’t matter. The militia has cannons and superior weapons, and the Red Coats on their team are ruthless. The battle is relatively short, and Murtagh is shot and killed moments after saving Jamie from the same fate.
Jamie goes mad with grief, fully appreciating how awful it is that he should bear witness to his godfather’s death while wearing the hated Red Coat. He orders John Quincy Myers (Kyle Rees) and another man to help him carry Murtagh to Claire, desperate to somehow save him.
In the hospital tent, Claire gives him the final verdict that Murtagh is really gone, and Jamie loses it. He goes outside, where a smug and smiling Tryon invites him to celebrate their victory. Jamie lays into him, telling him that history may record it as Tryon suppressing rebellion, but that they know what it really was- an unjust massacre of Tryon’s constituents.
Tryon tells Jamie that because he did his duty, he’ll overlook this impudence. Jamie says yes, that he has done his duty. His debt is paid, and he’s done with Tryon and the Crown. He throws the red coat on the ground as his men look on and goes off to have his feelings.
As he does, he sees Bree having her own feelings at the edge of the clearing. Still no Roger. This pulls Jamie out of his grief and rage, and they go off with Claire to search for Roger in the crowd of men returning to camp from battle. Amongst the many wounded, they discover a tree with several Regulator prisoners who’ve been hung on Tryon’s orders… and they recognize Roger as one of them.
Some things I didn’t include in this narrative that are important:
- Jamie turns 50 at the beginning of the episode, and he and Claire celebrate his equipment still being in good repair in their tent in the militia camp while she sings him “Happy Birthday.”
- Jamie calls on the soul of Dougal MacKenzie to support him in battle during a private bathing ritual in a creek, where he splashes lots of water on his topless self before slicing his hand open and anointing himself with his own blood. Claire witnesses this, and he explains that he’s made peace with Dougal in his heart since killing him and trusts that his uncle would understand why he did it.
- The aggrieved father Brown whose daughter was impregnated by one of Jamie’s men makes a pest of himself intermittently in this episode, culminating with batting Claire’s only syringe of Penicillin to the ground and stomping on it.
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