‘Outlander’ Season 4 Episode 1 Recap: “America the Beautiful”

Outlander season 4 episode 1 recap
Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in ‘Outlander’ season 4 (Photo Credit: Starz)

Droughtlander is OVER!!! Season four episode one of Starz’ Outlander opens well before that period though, 2000 BCE (“before common era”) to be exact. The scene is not from the book, given the time frame is thousands of years ago with North American natives. They’re building a standing circle with stacks of stones. The natives start dancing ritualistically around the circle, just as we’ve seen performed at Craig Nah Dun in Scotland.

You will see a reoccurring theme of ‘circles’ throughout the episode. The concept of a circle of standing stones in North America was introduced much later in the books but does make sense to keep that in front of the season so viewers understand the stones are closer than our hero and heroine might expect. The books explain a lot more about the concepts of the stones and other mysteries they hold, but I won’t get ahead of the show. You’ll have to read the books or wait for the season to unfold. Into the wilds of colonial America we go.

We see a rather sturdy scaffold with a hangman’s noose as we jet to North Carolina 1767. Not one of my favorite circles I must say, but a hangman’s noose is a circle nonetheless. Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) voice-over takes us to where she and the rest of the shipwrecked cast have now traveled…the colony of North Carolina from Georgia over a four-month period. Jamie (Sam Heughan) has kin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

Jamie slinks through the crowd and into the area behind the scaffold to visit one of several prisoners headed for that cringe-worthy noose. His good friend, Hayes (James Allenby-Kirk), has managed to get himself into a rather bad spot. Naturally, Jamie and the others are willing to break him out of the situation, but Hayes tells Jamie to let it ride as ordered by the magistrate. We don’t see that scene in the book. Claire just speaks to Jamie’s wish to comfort a friend and be there for him in his hour of greatest need. We don’t see Jamie get his first look at Stephen Bonnet (Edward Speleers) at that moment in the book, but it makes sense given all the condemned men are being held together.

The others in Jamie and Claire’s party are surprised they’re not breaking Hayes out when Jamie returns outside with the crowd. As the men are brought out to meet their fate, the occasion is very solemn as you might expect. Hayes looks around to find Jamie and his dear comrade-in-arms, Lesley (Keith Fleming). Hayes rung a promise from Jamie to be the face of a friend staring back at him as they drop the trapdoor and send him to his maker. As Hayes is positioned in the noose, he has a little look of panic since he cannot see Jamie anywhere. Jamie and Lesley force their way through the crowd, so they’re standing close enough for Hayes to see.

Jamie and Hayes smile as Hayes is dropped into oblivion. Lesley is not so peaceful about it and tries to push his way to his friend. The stir allows two of the others waiting for their chance to fight gravity, and lose, to make a run for it. Naturally they don’t get very far, but it’s enough to allow the cool and collected Stephen Bonnet to slip away successfully into the crowd and down the side street.

Que the new intro with amazingly beautiful title cards. Love the episode title scene where the Bald Eagle is snatching a fish from the waters of a lake. America the Beautiful indeed!

The group retire to a tavern to plan their next move. One key deviation from the book is that Marsali (Lauren Lyle) is not in Jamaica at that time; she’s sitting with Jamie and Claire in the North Carolina tavern. Fergus (Cesar Domboy) and Lesley return after trying to find a churchyard in which to bury poor Hayes. Jamie and Lesley opine about how afraid of spirits Hayes was, so they’ll not see him laid to rest anywhere that isn’t consecrated ground. The story that Jamie and Lesley reference about a spirit Hayes encountered will raise the hair on the back of your neck. They don’t go into it in the show, but I would recommend reading it in the book. Super creepy doesn’t even cover it.

They decide to lay him to rest in the churchyard after dark. Lesley believes dear friend should have a proper Scottish lament sung over him, so he starts low and soft. Jamie and the others at the table join in, and suddenly the entire tavern is giving a rousing chorus to dear departed Hayes. In the book, Jamie doesn’t sing because he’s tone deaf, but it’s a subtle detail that doesn’t bother me at all to see Jamie join in for his friend in the show. Slainte Mhath!

As Jamie and young Ian (John Bell) are digging the grave for Hayes, Ian starts having a PTSD flashback about the deeds that Geillis had him do with/to her in Jamaica. He explains he didn’t want to do what she wanted, but she forced him into performing sex anyway. Jamie is all too familiar with being forced to do things against his will, sexual or otherwise. The flesh is weak as the saying goes. I do very much like how Jamie puts it to Ian. “Your cock doesna have a conscience, but you have.”

Jamie manages to get Ian on his feet and they go to get Hayes from the wagon. As Lesley is letting down the tailgate, something comes rising out of the wagon. Lesley and Ian freak out like it’s a spirit, but Jamie tests if the form is more substantial by hitting it with the shovel. Surprise, surprise, it is the crafty opportunist dujour, Stephen Bonnet.

Bonnet explains he had been lying next to Hayes since noon, and in the book, you get the understanding of the sacrifice that took, so you feel a bit sorry for him. The body would have been rather ripe all that while, and under the tarp it would have been extremely warm during the day making the odor even worse. Not exactly a restful afternoon.

Jamie inquires about the reason Stephen was headed to the noose. As Bonnet explains his reasons, they mirror several occasions Jamie had faced himself. Very silver-tongued in his begging of help from the group is Stephen. If you haven’t read the books, you don’t know the mask being worn by the very charismatic Bonnet.

After they bury Hayes, Jamie and Claire take Bonnet to a place near the river where he indicated he should have companions waiting for him. In the book everyone goes together to take Bonnet, but in the show, it’s just Jamie and Claire driving the wagon. They’re stopped by British soldiers – not good! It’s just like our Jamie to put his neck on the line for someone he feels has had a hard and forced path, such as his life has been. He doesn’t know yet that Bonnet chose the path he walked and that led him to the noose. But he soon finds out the hard way, as tends to be the case with our honorable Fraser family.

The soldiers are picking around the back of the wagon when Jamie indicates a body is there. The soldier decides to test Jamie’s assertion that the body is a corpse by taking a bayonet and stabbing the leg. In the book, the bayonet is plunged into Bonnet’s leg, but in the show, he missed most of Bonnet’s leg and got a leg of venison instead. But Bonnet didn’t get away without a bit of a wound that Claire must fix up for him.

Bonnet comments about Claire’s rings when she’s tending to his leg. They don’t have this exchange in the book, but it’s a way for him to deceptively charm Claire. It’s also another reference to the underlying theme of the ‘circle’ for the rings and the hangman’s noose. Bonnet explains he has a fear of drowning, not the noose. I don’t recall the book having this level of vulnerability about Bonnet as he explains his fear to Claire. She reveals she nearly drowned in the hurricane landing in Georgia those months before. Bonnet gets to his feet and bids the couple goodbye, but not before warning them of thieves and outlaws infiltrating the woods. You can’t say he didn’t warn you!

Jamie and Claire decide it would be best to camp in the woods and not take the risk of passing the soldiers again. Here comes more of those amazing Diana Gabaldon lines fans love so much as Jamie and Claire are alone together for one of those rare moments of intimacy. Given the events of the day, they of course talk about death. Claire voices her concern about death parting them again, but Jamie says death is a small thing compared to the bond they share. Their souls are together no matter life or death. They decide to feel alive instead of dead and take full advantage of their time alone by joining their living flesh together as one.

The next morning, Claire’s looking out into the mountains from where they camped. She explains much about modern-day America including what the American Dream is and why people come to the American shores. Jamie asks about Native Americans and what becomes of them. He sees the parallels to the Highland way of life. It is true, America isn’tt without her growing pains and deep scars that every nation inflicts upon itself.

Jamie and Claire get ready for a dinner with Governor Tryon (Tim Downie) of the territory, invited because of Jamie’s kinship with River Run Plantation and his Aunt Jocasta. Jamie is able to get one of their gemstones mounted so Claire can wear it to the dinner. They need to sell one for spending money and transport to River Run and then back to Scotland.

At the dinner party, there’s the typical talk of taxes being imposed by the Crown. A very hot topic in any day or time. {snort} Catty women are jealous of Claire, and lecherous men eye her ruby necklace and the fleshly setting it ordains. The Governor speaks to Jamie about his aunt and her land. Jamie mentions his intentions to see her and his eventual departure back to Scotland.

After dinner the Governor invites Jamie to a private conversation about furthering his stay in America. They speak of land grants and subtle undertones of allegiance to the Crown. Jamie, no stranger to hidden meanings, is fully aware of the strings that come with such a land grant. They don’t mention the religious element to the issue in the show. In the book it’s explained that Jamie’s Papist beliefs could be ignored, but the subtle understanding of it being a decidedly heavy string that could be pulled if necessary, for loyalty to the Crown. The Protestant and Papist war is in full bloom for Scots and Brits during this time.

Back in their room, Jamie and Claire discuss the events of the evening. Claire managed to sell the stone to a particularly lecherous ogler who Jamie didn’t find to his liking. But the money is very needed, so he let it pass.

As Claire heard Jamie mention returning to Scotland, she looked sullen and turned quiet. It doesn’t go unnoticed by Jamie, but Claire deflects with the half excuse of the offer made by the Governor. If you have read the book you know that’s not the only concern on her mind. The stone in the churchyard she found 200 years in the future came to mind if Jamie returned to Scotland. The conversation between the pair turns to the stirrings of the Revolutionary War that’s to come a short eight years hence. Another war! Je Suis Prest! But Jamie has another reason to see this war as his cause…Brianna’s future is part of the outcome.

Outlander season 4 season 1 recap
Rollo and John Bell (Young Ian) in ‘Outlander’ season 4 (Photo Courtesy of Starz)

The next morning Jamie and Claire meet a new friend, though it is more Ian’s new best friend. Rollo!!! The white ghost wolf-like dog was won by Ian in a game of dice with sailors. The confession that he was playing dice isn’t welcome news to Jamie and Claire. In the book we meet Rollo much sooner, shortly after Hayes was executed.

Jamie and Claire tell the group as they’re all sitting down to a meal at a nearby tavern that they’ve decided to stay in America to make a home. The group goes around the table making their own decisions about whether to stay to help the Frasers in their task of making a life there. However, Fergus and Marsali have a bit of news of their own. They’re expecting a child. The first Fraser grandchild, given that Fergus is their adopted son and took the name of Fraser at the wedding on Jamaica. It seems all feel they should make their home in America.

As the group’s traveling down river Jamie’s explaining about his aunt’s life and how she ended up in America. Claire takes notice of the black man managing the pole guiding the barge and assumes he’s a slave. The captain of the boat explains that he was a slave but was given his freedom. The slave saved the captain’s life, so the captain returned the favor by giving his slave his life to manage as he chose.

Claire’s visibly surprised and pleased to hear the news.

As Claire’s getting an instruction about the workings of the oar, Jamie calls her over to give her an anniversary present. Jamie found a complete and full surgeon’s kit in Wilmington. Claire’s overjoyed to receive the thoughtful gift. Jamie regrets not having been able to give her very much, but Claire points out all the amazing gifts he has given her. Brianna, for starters. They’ve had a tumultuous 24 years as husband and wife, but neither regret any of it.

That night as all are asleep, Bonnet and friends storm the barge looking for stuff they can steal. Jamie gets tricked to leave the cabin and is overpowered and beaten in the front of the boat. Inside the cabin, Claire, Ian, and Lesley are fighting with a few of the crew. In the scuffle to save Claire from one of the attackers Lesley manages to get caught from behind by Bonnet.

As Claire watches, Bonnet slits Lesley’s throat. He then approaches Claire in expectation of taking her rings. The gold band from Frank and the silver band from Jamie are all she ever wears. Claire manages to get them off her fingers and shoves them in her mouth to swallow them. Bonnet chokes her and attempts to retrieve them from her mouth. He does get one ring out; the silver ring Jamie gave her. In the book it was the gold band he took. The entire time all this is happening in the cabin, Jamie’s being dreadfully beaten on deck. The gang take their leave and the episode ends with Jamie staggering to make his way to see the heartbreak inside the cabin.

Bonnet’s character has come full circle. I see him as Black Jack Randall with charisma, but that’s just me. {wink} His path crossing with the Frasers’ has only just begun. If you’re a fan of the books you probably were hoping for a certain entertaining rough-edged character to show up with a rather poorly placed hernia. I hope we do still get to see him in the next episode somehow. I cracked up at him several times in the book. Television viewers, sorry but you must read the book to find out of whom I speak. Tulach Ard! And NO, the man isn’t a Scot.

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