Outlander adds another episode to its “trauma” category with “Never My Love,” the Season Five finale. The episode opens with the sternest trigger warning I’ve ever seen, and for a show that I regularly joke alternates between trauma, sex, wounds and battle, that says something.
Last week, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) was abducted by Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) in retribution for his realizing she’s the “Dr. Rawlings” who advised his wife to avoid his bed. This week, he and his men pause on their way to Brownsville, where Brown wants her to reveal herself as a sham to their women, to brutally beat and sexually assault her.
I’ll spare you details of the graphic depiction of violence against Claire. It’s intercut with her dissociative dream of a Thanksgiving holiday dinner in a gorgeous midcentury modern home with almost all of her loved ones from the past transplanted to the late 1960s.
The Association’s “Never My Love” plays as Jamie (Sam Heughan) checks the turkey and the guests arrive. Young Ian (John Bell), kitted out as a soldier likely on his way to Vietnam, Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) loving on each other and playing with Marsali (Lauren Lyle) and Fergus’ (César Domboy) children.
Everyone looks super groovy in their ’60s attire. The light is warm. The music is all around Claire. And the scene is shot at angles. And there’s a soft-focus painting of their home on the Ridge and other symbols of her life in the 1700s scattered throughout the home. And something isn’t right.
As Jamie gives a toast over the Thanksgiving table, a leak in the ceiling draws Claire’s attention. And there are empty chairs where Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin) should be. And the image of Lionel Brown appears at the window before he arrives at the door in the garb of a policeman coming to say that Brianna’s family has been killed in a car accident.
The dissonance of Brianna being permanently absent, even in fantasy, breaks the escape of the dream, and leaves Claire in the miserable reality of being attacked by the Browns.
Before the worst of the assault begins, a man in Brown’s party comes to her to ask if the name “Ringo Starr” means anything to her. His name is Wendigo Donner (Brennan Martin). He heard her say “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” but he’d suspected she was a time traveler like him before that. He came through in 1968 with American Indians who wanted to save their forebears, and he’s shocked to learn of Otter Tooth’s death at the hands of the Mohawk. She begs him to help her escape, offering him information and the gemstones and the stone circle he needs to get home. He leaves her bound and abandons her to her captors, too frightened to be helpful.
Meanwhile, as the men respond to Jamie lighting the cross on the Ridge and gather to find and save Claire, a miracle happens. Brianna and Roger thought of “home” when they stepped through the stones, and the stones sent them… right back to the time they’d expected to leave. Young Ian shares their surprise when they reappear, and the group returns to the Ridge with a new peace about being in their right place.
They arrive in time for Roger and Ian to join the war party.
When Jamie and the men catch up with the Browns, they quickly plow through all of them. Roger kills his first man in hand-to-hand combat. Ian goes full Mohawk in his garb and method of attack. Jamie calls out for Claire repeatedly, and it takes a while for him to find her whimpering on the ground where she’s been essentially discarded. He cuts her loose, then authorizes Fergus and Ian to kill the handful of survivors of the initial fight.
Likely inspired by the freedom he felt when he finally saw his own torturer die at Culloden, Jamie leads Claire to see the bodies. Wendigo isn’t among them, and Lionel Brown is somehow still alive. They decide to take Brown back to the Ridge with them to get answers about what their plan had been.
Once home, Claire is relieved to see Marsali mostly unharmed by the attack that rendered her senseless when Claire was taken. She’s overwhelmed to have her daughter back in her arms. And she is thoroughly traumatized.
Because this is a family with a few awful things in common, Jamie and Bree both have a sense of how to give Claire space to heal. They make it clear that they are with her and there for her. She doesn’t share what happened with Brianna, and when Jamie reaches out in private, she rails against the idea that THIS will be the thing that shatters her after all she’s survived in her life.
Lionel Brown is bound to a table in Claire’s surgery, mouthing off to her and Marsali in a fashion that suggests he’s learned nothing from his experience with the Frasers. He sees women as beneath him, even in this state. Claire marshals her fear and approaches him, but his words almost push her to breaking her Hippocratic Oath. She chooses the oath over revenge, then escapes to sob on the floor outside her bedroom.
Marsali, however, made no oath. She’s learned a lot from Claire, and instead of administering medicine to her talkative patient, she injects a solution of water hemlock into his jugular and sends him off to hell with a vengeance.
Jamie finds her in a stupor on the floor later, frightened that she’s sent herself to hell as well and that Lionel Brown will haunt her. He assures her that she’s well and safe, then takes on the fraught job of returning Brown’s body to his brother. When he does, Richard Brown (Chris Larkin) acknowledges that his brother reaped what he’d sowed… and makes a veiled threat that, like Jamie, he’ll do what he has to when the time comes.
Back at the Ridge, everyone gathers for an ordinary day at the big house, and Claire and Jamie pause to appreciate the peace they know won’t last. They make declarations of their unwavering and eternal love for each other, and later she’s able to let him hold her (nude) and feels safe in his arms.
Roger, also traumatized by what he experienced in this adventure, turns to Brianna to confess that he’s killed a man, and asks her to reassure him that he’s done right.
For now, everyone is home and well. With revolution brewing, another time traveler somewhere in the area and a new rift with the Browns, we can be sure that that will change soon enough.