After an increasingly brutal fourth season, Outlander marks its return with a party! In contrast to the dark irony of last year’s premiere “America the Beautiful,” “The Fiery Cross” delivers exactly what it says on the tin: one big, blazing eponymous event, and lots of little moments sprinkled around it like so many sparks. It’s not the most thrilling way to kick off the season, but there’s a nice warmth to it—sweet interludes of connection and tension for the fans who have eagerly followed the triumphs and tragedies of Clan Fraser. Considering that this season looks to be building up to the American Revolution, that calmness is probably welcome before everyone invariably winds up on opposite sides—and possibly affecting the course of history.
Spoilers for Outlander 5×01 “The Fiery Cross.”
It’s a wedding at Fraser’s Ridge! About time, as some of the stodgier folks like Aunt Jocasta would say, considering that the bride already gave birth some months back. Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin) are turning their handfast into an official union, and the only thing about it that makes Jamie (Sam Heughan) uncomfortable is that it’s a Presbyterian ceremony instead of Catholic.
Jamie’s wedding-day neuroses are amusing to Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and super endearing to viewers. Yes, the highlander is peak romantic fantasy when he straps on a kilt (something we’re treated to later in this episode), and dozens of times over he has demonstrated admirable courage and resolve. But what gives the fantasy depth is all of his specific quirks: the glasses that he’s growing more comfortable with wearing, fainting when he first saw Claire again after twenty years, and bustling over Brianna’s “something old/new/borrowed/blue” collection (including, if I’m not mistaken, his mother’s pearls, which he gifted Claire on their wedding) like a mother hen.
The wedding is also an excuse for a gathering of all of the Frasers’ (found) family and friends and tenants, many a Scotsman among them. The festivities are marked by a dozen sweet and funny character moments, from Marsali beating Fergus and everyone else in a tongue-twister drinking game to Brianna and Claire joking about introducing these 18th-century wedding guests to some 1970s dance moves. There should be a name for this subgenre of television episode—it’s not quite fan service, though the emphasis on these little character portraits certainly seem more for the benefit of longtime viewers than for someone just tuning in.
It’s not all happy memories that night, however. At one point, Jocasta steals away to see Murtaugh, hiding in her tent because he cannot risk showing his face at his charge’s daughter’s nuptials for fear of getting caught by Governor Tryon. They have a sweet but all-too-brief interlude, because Murtaugh is not protected even with Jocasta…and she’s entertaining a marriage proposal from Duncan Innes. Murtaugh says he won’t get in the way of her happiness, yet somehow he’s the blind one if he misses the look on her face clearly conveying that she would rather marry him.
The governor himself corners the father of the bride to intimate that he finds Jamie’s missives unsatisfactory and that he prefers action—namely, for Jamie to bring in Murtaugh and deal a blow to the Regulators.
Stephen Bonnet Lives
But the prize for worst wedding gift ever is Brianna’s discovery that Stephen Bonnet is alive. No surprise that he escaped the prison explosion last season, but it cuts harder for her to overhear Jamie discussing his whereabouts. It’s unclear if he intends to keep this information from his daughter, or if he’ll eventually clue Bree in. This family really should have learned from last season that being anything but forthright with one another will end in some manner of tragedy.
Roger’s Time Displacement
Speaking of brief moments seeded for later this season… It’s a passing line, but Roger comments to Bree that “when we go back” they can have another go at a proper wedding. He misses his wife’s frown, but she also lets the comment pass for now, clearly not wanting to have that conversation in the midst of the festivities. While Brianna initially went through the stones in order to save Claire and Jamie from dying in the obituary she glimpsed, and Roger followed back in time to save her, Bree’s pregnancy halted any attempts at discussing whether this was a one-way or round trip. It would seem that her best bet to go back to her present would have been while still carrying Jeremiah in her womb; now that he’s an infant, there are a lot more potentially dangerous variables to consider. That Roger just assumes they’ll go back through at some point is unsettling—especially if it implies that he’s not necessarily considering bringing Jemmy back with them.
Now, he never says as much, but it is telling that this episode includes a scene in which Jocasta challenges Roger’s commitment to his son. Doubting (or at least acting as if she does) how closely he regards the wee bairn, she informs him that instead of leaving River Run to her niece, she is signing over the deed to Jemmy—so that even if Roger doesn’t consider the child his blood, any land-owning prospects are tied up in his future. Roger is understandably upset to have his fidelity to his family brought into question—harsh wedding gift, Jocasta—but also he kinda deserves it? Consider that the main gossip everyone knows is that he left Brianna after she told him she was pregnant, and that he didn’t return until a day after she gave birth. Good to make him sweat a little.
Jocasta’s gambit forces the best possible outcome, more than she had hoped for: “I may not have money or property,” he tells her, “but I have time. And I will give it all to Brianna and Jeremiah.” Then Roger returns to his wife and makes a proclamation in front of just the three of them, claiming Jeremiah as the son of his blood. It’s a fitting conclusion to their wedding; it was one thing to assert their bonds to one another in front of everyone, but what’s most important is how they stand together as a family unit. Too bad the young lovers had barely any time together, just the two of them, before their lives changed; no doubt that will cause some friction later in the season, especially if Roger is a dog with a bone about traveling back. After all, as established multiple times in the episode, he’s the least suited to living in the past.
The Fiery Cross
While the MacKenzies have their moment in private, trust Jamie to bring about the dramatic public proclamation. If Governor Tryon wants a Scot, he’ll bring him a Scot…which means donning the kilt and lighting the cross at the center of their gathering. It’s what a chieftain does before going to war. In Jamie’s case, he knows to anticipate the Revolution long before any of his kinsmen do, but he’s asking for their allegiance before the first shots are fired. That means asking his two present sons Fergus and Roger to pledge themselves to fight at his side, and making the latter a captain (hoo boy). “I will not light the cross again until the time has come for you to do battle,” he promises…but what do you want to bet that time will come sooner rather than later?
It’s fitting that the final moment is another small but pivotal character interaction: Jamie releasing Murtaugh from his oath for the older man’s safety. Before he goes, Murtaugh shares this bit of wisdom: “There’s always a war comin’. But it’s for us to decide which ones we fight.”
To be honest, the stakes of the Jamie/Murtaugh Regulators conflict are still unclear. Tryon has put more pressure on Jamie to actually go hunting for the Scotsman, but it seems easy enough for Jamie to avoid actually bringing him in. The more likely conflict will be what comes after. History seems divided on whether the Regulators’ uprising actually catalyzed the Revolution, but at the least it seems to have had an impact. Depending how much Jamie is forced to make nice with Tryon will determine how stuck he is on the Redcoats’ side when it comes time to face the American Revolution.
For now, watching Murtaugh arrange some stones in a circle and talk lightly but sadly about the impact that the travelers have had on their lives is a poignant ending note for the premiere. “You cannot change a man,” he told Jocasta, “you can only change his circumstances.” Whose circumstances will change this season?
- I know it’s meant to be tender, but Bree telling Jamie “da, I will always be your wee girl” comes off kinda funny considering they’ve only known each other in her adulthood.
- “Wee invisible beasties” is the only way we can refer to bacteria from now on.
- Lord John Grey spends most of the episode staring wistfully at Jamie and his family. It’s too bad the Frasers can’t make room in their romance for him; LJG would do so well in a cute little polycule.
What did you love (or not so love) about “The Fiery Cross”? What are your hopes for Outlander season 5?
Please no book spoilers! I’m watching the show without having read the books, and so am discussing these episodes in the context of the television series only.