"The Hail Mary," Outlander's penultimate episode, is about courage and the lack thereof. It features characters who possess the courage to enter the fray, to be selfless, but also characters who lack the courage to remain loyal, or to choose the sliver of good over an abundance of evil.
When the episode begins, five months after Sandringham’s beheading by Murtagh, Jamie and Claire and company arrive outside Inverness to a camp full of empty crates and baskets and mens’ bellies, and a Jacobite army exhausted, worn by the elements, and disheartened at months of retreat. “Our worst nightmare was coming true,” Claire admits, “and I felt completely helpless in the face of it.”
Rupert and Ross have become a pair more out of support than admiration, as their respective best friends are gone and Rupert now needs help more than he cares to admit. “What good is a rebellion that runs from a fight,” he wonders, and after weathering the Scottish winter, his fellow soldiers don’t look like they have much fight left.
A rather stately house has been quartered for Jamie and Claire and their immediate group, and Fergus is so exhausted that he falls asleep sitting at the dining table. As most of the furniture has been covered by sheets, the remaining small articles packed in trunks, and much of the interior light due to pervasive candelabras and glowing fireplaces, the atmosphere is cold and isolated, with the Frasers seeming further away from home than ever before. Both Jamie and Claire look wet, ragged, and dirty from life on the road, long past expecting food as a constant. Either actor Sam Heughan lost weight or the makeup artist did an excellent shading job on his cheekbones, because Jamie in episode 212 versus Jamie in 201 is noticeably thinner, his blue eyes more haunted.
Jamie sends Dougal to scout the countryside for the whereabouts of the British army while he stays at camp to “see to the welfare of the men.” He instructs Murtagh to fetch Prince Charles at Thunderton House in Inverness, as Lord Murray will be calling a war council soon. Murtagh surmises what the Frasers are thinking: that the council will decide on Culloden Moor as the location of the next battle, and they all know what will happen then. Claire is despondent, as the recorded day of the battle, April 16, is only three days away. “All that work,” she wonders to Jamie, “How did we end up here?” I think more than ever, she is questioning her place in a world whose events continue despite her interventions across time, bringing up her old anxiety about what truly is home to her. Jamie assures her that “it wasna from lack of trying,” and not to wave the white flag yet as he still hopes to convince Charles to see reason.
For Claire, work has always been her solace, and rather than stay in the house stewing over fate, she decides to go into town to pick up more medical supplies. As she enters the apothecary’s shop, the customer before her is none other than Mary Hawkins (Rosie Day), whom the Frasers had sent home after leaving Sandringham’s house. In that time, she has reconnected with Alex Randall (Laurence Dobiesz), who had procured a new job on an English estate. Mary is not especially happy to see Claire as Alex had told her of their conversation in Paris and Claire’s advice for him to leave Mary behind. Claire tries to explain that she was concerned for the girl's future as Alex was already ill and with no prospects, but Mary is still not convinced. As Mary is purchasing items such as arsenic and laudanum, Claire surmises that Alex is still sick and probably worse off than in Paris, so she asks to see him to both help and apologize and Mary agrees to let her come to the room they share at a local boarding house.
* You have to hand it to Mary, a young girl who has already been through the physical and social ringer with her assault in Paris and subsequent “ruin” as a candidate for any marriage of substance. Her godfather was willing to bargain against her even narrower prospects by selling/marrying her off to an older gentleman desiring a good name. Once Mary had killed Danton and rid herself of any business entanglements, she seems to have liberated herself even further than Claire by choosing to live with Alex over her family. The most practical choice? Perhaps not in the 1740s, but she is young and still unspoiled by reality over romance, and she is brave enough to risk it all for the man she loves.
As the war council convenes, Charles still looks dandy in his bright red plaid (again, I say he looks like a freshly painted, moving bullseye), sipping whisky as his troops starve at the camp. Jamie continues to contend that Culloden is the perfect spot for battle…for the British, as it is flat, plain ground. More importantly, he begs Charles to “walk the camp, see the poor state of the men” before making any grand decisions for glory on the battlefield. He suggests to the council to wait for the supposed French gold (watch Charles’s face change as Jamie mentions this) that will purchase food and weapons for the troops, and in the meantime the army can split into smaller, more manageable units that will be easier to move and more difficult for the British to follow. It will give the Scots a chance to rest and scour the land for better ground on which to fight.
With Lord Murray (Julian Wadham) before him and Quartermaster O’Sullivan (Gerard Horan) behind his chair, Charles continues his decent into imbecilic delusions of grandeur by stroking Jamie’s cheek (again, ew) and calling him a “most loyal companion and friend,” but declaring he is “not some frightened hare to be run down by a pack of British hounds.” Gingerly grasping the scabbard holding his sword, he boldly declares that “I am a man, and I am a soldier, and I shall comport myself as one!” By now, his statements of gallantry have become so ridiculous that his officers are either encouraging them to satisfy their own agendas or reacting, as Murray and Jamie do, with the kind of tired acquiescence of a parent agreeing with a child just to make him shut up.
When Claire arrives at the small bedchamber at the boarding house, Mary is in over her head with caring for Alex, who is in the late stages of consumption and can hardly draw breath. Claire begins to prepare a poultice to relieve the strain in his chest and back when a visitor enters behind her. As Alex exclaims, “Johnny!” Claire turns around to face Jack Randall, dressed out of character in a sharp black suit. After a momentary glance at Claire that is equal parts surprised and defensive, he tells his brother that he was granted leave and opted out of wearing his uniform so as not to attract attention in Inverness. As he sits by Alex’s side and gently strokes his brother’s cheek, Claire is aghast at such a tender moment between the men. The scene is made even more awkward when Mary tells her that John has been paying their bills, and Claire advises the girl to begin considering her future back with her family, as Alex can not be cured. Mary insists that “he must be cured,” her hands protectively covering her midsection as Claire realizes the situation the girl is in (of which both Alex and John are aware).
Jack follows Claire outside to the street, calling after her formally and then by her first name. Let’s be honest - they are beyond propriety. He immediately starts deflecting responsibility off himself and onto the other person, as he asks Claire to “not take your animus for me out on my brother (whose) youth and vigor (are) drowning in blood and phlegm.” He insists that Claire “cure him,” and when she says she can not he asks her to ease his pain. Claire agrees, but only in exchange for information as to the location of Cumberland’s army.
That old jaw twitch that Menzies does so well returns as Jack understands Claire perfectly. “Barter over another man’s suffering? You impress me,” he says, cocking his head to the right. He is always pleased when others are placed in morally compromising positions, but Claire assures him she is not the woman she once was. It was this line that reminded me of a similar discussion of pain and connection from Season One.
Ira Steven Behr, who cowrote this episode with Anne Kenney, also wrote “The Garrison Commander,” in which Claire and Jack have their infamous discussion over “the rehabilitation of Black Jack Randall” before he sucker-punches her in the abdomen. Jack is describing the details of Jamie’s flogging, seeing the whip as connecting him and the boy, creating what he thought was an “exquisite bloody masterpiece.” “I am not the man I once was,” he tells Claire, “The darkness has grown within me. A hatred, for the very world itself. I find myself doing such things.” Claire says that if “buried within is a decent man, one who can still choose right over wrong, I believe that part of you lives still.” Jack fools her with feigned sincerity towards his salvation before hitting her, knocking the air from her lungs and sending her to the floor. Standing over her, he grabs her hair and tilts her head back before whispering, “I dwell in darkness, madam, and darkness is where I belong.” I think that conversation flashed through Claire’s mind on that Inverness street, along with the realization that she finally has something precious to hold over Jack that pierces through his dark veneer. Jack informs her that Cumberland is stationed at Nairn and will be celebrating his 25th birthday in two nights time, which she relays to Jamie.
Unannounced and unexpected, Colum McKenzie (Gary Lewis) arrives at the Frasers’ headquarters looking ill at ease in body and mind. The lovely quilted coat with fur trim swallows his frail, deformed body as he insists on three things: a bed, his brother, and his nephew.
Throughout this episode, I noticed director Philip John's focus on hands as communicating emotions and things left unsaid between characters. As Prince Charles has a penchant for touching men’s cheeks as a shallow gesture of good faith, even when he is most insincere, Jack’s tender touch towards Alex is at once disconcerting and strikingly honest. He has placed his brother in an immaculate spot, a sliver of light high above the darkness surrounding him. Claire, as a healer, naturally uses her hands both to diagnose and comfort her patients, and she tends to Colum’s wrists and chest with a manner that is both practiced and concerned. “You’re wasting your time with all this prodding and poking,” Colum says, causing Jamie to ask if he travelled from Leoch just to speed up his death. When Jamie says that Dougal has gone out on a scouting mission, Colum is impressed: “Give my brother enough authority to keep him content but not enough to allow him to grab for more.” There is a mutual understanding between Colum and Jamie, and the elderly laird clearly respects the younger one.
Colum asks to speak to Claire in private, both to admit mistakes and ask for a favor. He praises Claire’s and Jamie’s marriage, a compliment he was not apt to give at one time. Then, he asks for Claire’s assistance in suicide, because “What’s one more sin to a sinner?” He knows Geillis caused her husband’s quick death by poisoning, but Claire tells him that it was an agonizing way to die. He asks for a “kinder death,” he hopes, “than that bitch gave poor Arthur.” When Claire defends her ill-fated friend, Colum reveals that Geillis was not burned until after she gave birth to a son, which was adopted by a childless couple in the MacKenzie clan. Claire then gives Colum a vial of yellow jasmine, which will simply cause him to go to permanent sleep, to which he admits “for what it’s worth, you have my deepest gratitude.”
Claire’s rounds continue in town as she looks after Alex Randall. Pressing a mix of coltsfoot and thorn apple into a pipe, she exhales the smoke into a funnel for Alex to inhale, thus opening his airway. Witnessing his brother’s rapid deterioration, Jack accosts Claire in the bedchamber, saying “We had an agreement; you said you would help him.” Claire insists that she will help ease his pain but there is little else she can do, and Murtagh intervenes by saying he will be more than willing to receive the brunt of Jack’s frustration.
His lucid moments waning, Alex makes a final request of his brother John concerning Mary and their unborn child. While John has already promised to look after her, Alex wants something more permanent and official, something that will benefit them in the long run. He wants Mary and John to be married, “commend(ing) the wellbeing of those most precious to me to the one I have loved the longest,” a request that makes John obviously recoil. Alex’s eyes sharpen as he looks pointedly at John: “You think I am unaware of the density of the dark wall you have build to protect your better self from the world?” It is this “inner man” who Alex wants to take care of Mary and the baby, but Jack storms out in response, with Murtagh close behind, as Claire tends to the dying man.
Returning to the camp, Dougal's reconnaissance confirms Jack’s intelligence: the British are indeed camped at Nairn. Jamie tells Dougal that “Black Jack” was the one who told Claire about the upcoming birthday celebration, and that British commissary officers have been seen in town buying wine and food. He then informs Dougal that Colum is here and awaiting him.
As Murtagh and Claire leave the boarding house, he is disgusted that all these efforts surrounding Jack and Mary are being made to ensure the survival of the “mythical prick” Frank Randall. Claire counters that Frank is "neither a myth nor a prick,” and insists that Mary needs security or face living destitute on the streets with her baby. In the latest of a long succession of truly chivalric gestures, Murtagh offers to marry the girl, despite their differences, and thinks that “they could learn to get along” despite his inexperience being a husband or father. Claire is flattered by his kind and gentlemanly offer and knows that any woman would be lucky to have him, but she and Murtagh have an honesty with each other from way back, and she says that in war time, he could die at any moment, and the most advantageous position for Mary to be in is with a man whose station can render her financially stable, despite a lack of romantic attachment. It is a sad fact that this places Jack Randall at an advantage over Murtagh Fraser.
Claire enters the public house where Randall escaped his brother only to drown himself in drink, “despite those titles, power, and pelf; the wretch, concentred all in self,” as Sir Walter Scott would describe such a creature. Claire and Jack’s previous interactions, from as far back as “Sassenach” and on to “Wentworth Prison” and “Untimely Resurrection” have been an ongoing seesaw of two people trying to get the better of the other, circling each other while gingerly gauging when and how to call the other’s bluff. Jack said to her once that “the truth carries a weight no lie can counterfeit,” and sitting opposite each other in that tavern, Claire exposes each rationalization, each falsity that Jack uses to argue against Alex’s wishes.
Jack asks, “What kind of God creates a world where monsters thrive, and beauty and purity are rewarded with poverty and death?” Claire responds that the same God offers the opportunity for redemption, mirroring their conversation in “The Garrison Commander.” Jack brings up Claire’s “curse,” the date of his death she had foretold in Wentworth Prison: April 16, 1746. As he assures her that he has never harmed Alex, Claire says that “perhaps that immunity will extend to those he holds dear.” Jack bristles at the mention of Alex, and his old method of causing shock and pain emerges as he asks Claire if Jamie ever told her the things he did to him in Wentworth. Of course, she says yes, and Jack obviously thinks he has the upper hand by connecting to her through Jamie again, saying he knows the sounds Jamie makes “when he has lost himself” and admitting to Claire that “I regret none of it: the pain, the fear. I revel in it. Do you really want Mary in my bed?” Again, he’s putting the accountability all on Claire, as if he were too weak to assume it himself.
When Jack ultimately asks Claire, “Help me, persuade my brother to give this up,” his entire argument stands in stark contrast to his boast before Jamie’s rape in “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” (also written by Behr and Ronald D. Moore), which is one of his most powerful lines of the last two seasons: “You think I cannot control the darkness I inhabit?” At the time, he held complete power over a human being, as he had with Claire in “The Reckoning.” Here, when he is helpless to prevent his brother’s suffering and death, and is faced with caring for Mary and her child, his boasts are now exposed as lies, his protestations indicative of his weaknesses. Shrewdly, Claire sees this and calls him on it: if Jack loves Alex, it should be “enough to stay (his) impulses with Mary,” if he is in such command of the dark as he claims. Jack can’t argue with that; his ego won’t allow it.
In Colum’s temporary bedchamber, there is a painting above his bed of a warrior atop an elephant. With his brother and nephew around him, the dying man can set his mind at ease by laying out the future of his clan. It is interesting to note the physical placement of the men in this scene: Jamie sits by Colum’s side until Dougal arrives and then respectfully stands (and later sits) behind his elder. Colum begins by placing the matters of the clan itself over Dougal’s talk of “righteous rebellion,” stating his desire that young Hamish will be the next MacKenzie chief and that a guardian will be appointed for the boy as he grows into manhood. When he offers Jamie the position over Dougal, the latter is justifiably upset but Colum has a solid case. “I am skeptical that the clan would choose you as their chief,” he confesses to his brother. “If you were half as popular as you believe yourself to be, then there would be more men here today in this army of yours.” It is a sobering admission that no one in the room can deny, so Dougal resorts to petty and selfish insults, saying Colum only wanted to “punish (him) for fathering the son (he) never could.” Everyone is tired of this old argument, especially Colum.
Next, Dougal tries attacking his brother’s position on the war, saying that Jamie will rouse the clan to fight the moment Colum dies. Jamie admits that if it comes to that, he will “use every option to defeat the British,” but Colum distinguishes between the mens’ leadership, saying that Jamie “would not sacrifice your men needlessly” and “if the cause is lost, (he) will put the lives of the men above all else.” This is a vow Dougal can not make, and he leaves the room in anger.
At the foot of Alex Randall’s sickbed, with Claire and Murtagh witnessing, Mary Hawkins and John Randall are married by a priest. Claire closes her eyes through most of the ceremony, as if wrestling with the moves she has pushed across the board to save Frank’s life, and their costs. When the priest asks if she will “do all in her power to uphold the marriage of these two people,” you know she means it when replying, “I will.”
At Thunderton House, Prince Charles is finally proving that while he was borderline for a time, he has now crossed over with the fate of an army resting on his thin, weak shoulders. He isn’t sure about a surprise birthday attack because it “doesn’t sound very gentlemanly.” He doesn’t know if the men are capable of the twelve-mile march to Nairn, seeing as how he has provided them with barely any food or reinforcements. He now looks to O’Sullivan for the deciding vote, and the quartermaster agrees to the plan as long as he and Charles can command one column while Lord Murray and Jamie command the other. You can see in Jamie’s eyes that this is a horrible proposition, but Charles will not be swayed. “Mark me,” the prince tells his officers, “I shall bring my finest bottle of wine as a gift for Cumberland. I shall present it to him when he is my prisoner. It will be most amusing to see his reaction.” As a ludicrous smile spreads across his face, the looks that Jamie and Murray give him in return are priceless. They literally have no words for such idiocy.
So Dougal returns to Colum’s room, full of cheap wine and extreme self-pity, to lay it on his dying brother some more. “What about all the pain you’ve put me through?” he laments. “You’re life is your own,” Colum replies, at peace, “I take no blame for it.” Dougal reminds him that he was the big brother, that nothing was supposed to hurt him; after his horse-riding accident as a young boy, however, he never recovered. This, Dougal felt, was the ultimate betrayal: that his role model and idol could be broken. Again, Dougal is a self-fulfilling prophecy as he makes the situation all about him, failing to grasp the last moments with Colum before he died. “All I hoped to say to you,” the war chief says through tears, gesturing to his head, “remains trapped in here.”
In town, another brother stands at a deathbed, holding in everything that should and all that can never be confessed. As Alex Randall’s breaths turn into death rattles, and then silence, Jack can not take it. He can’t allow himself to cry, but he can’t control the darkness like he had boasted over a year ago, so he explodes by climbing atop his brother and beating his corpse mercilessly while the women cling to each other in horror. Afterwards, just as he had done in front of Claire in “The Garrison Commander” and Jamie in “To Ransom a Man’s Soul,” he composes himself, smooths his hair back, and departs.
When Claire returns to the camp, Jamie is furious that she participated in such a dangerous union, but she assures him that Mary is less Jack Randall’s wife than his widow, and that should the surprise attack succeed and Culloden never happen, thus Jack never dying upon the battlefield, then she will help Jamie kill him together.
Thus, Jamie and Lord Murray take their half of the troops through the dark woods towards the British camp at Nairn, bedraggled soldiers following their leader by faith alone. Murray is apprehensive since there is no sight of the “imbecile Charles,” and he feels they have placed “too much faith in starving men.” When Murtagh finds them, he reports that O’Sullivan and the Prince got lost in the dark and turned back, scattering their column throughout the forest. Against Jamie’s protestations that they can still fight, Murray insists on returning to Inverness, thus giving Charles his battle on Culloden Moor the next day and Jamie the most important decision of his life up to that point.