Claire and Jamie aren’t in Lallybroch anymore. They’re in Kansas (or somewhere south of there). Tara Ward recaps the second episode of season four of Outlander.
When we last left Outlander, things were more desperate than the time Jamie had to eat Mrs Crook’s lumpy bannocks. The Fraser’s journey to Aunt Jocasta’s plantation River Run had turned into the cruise from hell, and Jamie blamed himself. He’s not even happy when they finally arrive at Jocasta’s crib, which looks fancier than the houses in Happy Days and Who’s the Boss put together.
Hold me closer, Tony Danza, because Jamie’s reunion with his beloved aunt was a right old Scottish lovefest. Ian gave Jocasta some fresh swamp weeds and Claire forgot to curtsey and the love flowed like a fine drop of crème de menthe. Better yet, nobody called Claire a ‘trollop’ or a ‘Sassenach witch’, which makes this the best MacKenzie family get-together since 1743.
But River Run is built on the profits of slavery, and Claire was uncomfortable about what the plantation represented. Her new aunt Jocasta was a complex woman, angry at not taken seriously by the men around her but proud of being a “benevolent” slave owner. When Claire announced she didn’t agree with keeping slaves, Jocasta replied “Jenny was right. You are a peculiar lass”.
Through Jocasta we met other intriguing characters of River Run, like slaves Ulysses and Phaedre, pompous surveyor Farquhard Campbell, and mountain man John Quincy Myers, who impressed Ian with his classic banter like “you take one look at my buttocks and you’d think my daddy were a buffalo”.
Sorry not sorry, Jamie Fraser, there’s a new hairball in town.
Hairy arse or no, nothing makes Jamie madder than an idiot planting wheat in dumb places. “I know my dirt,” Jamie said, and Jocasta was so impressed with her nephew’s soil expertise that she bequeathed River Run to him. Claire’s not pleased, even though that joint must be heaving with fancy vases. It’s all she’s ever wanted; a vase, two husbands and a few life-or-death situations where she can shout “I’M A HEALER, WHERE IS THE INJURED MAN?”
Claire’s modern sensibilities mean she’d never agree to owning slaves, while Jamie saw owning River Run as an opportunity to break the system by speaking only in metaphors. “This could be the spark that lights the fuse!” he told Claire. “With a fuse comes an explosion!” Claire replied. “Once the smoke clears, the enemy has gone!” Jamie answered. It’s a fun game, but the only thing exploding was my tiny brain.
The government officials were shocked at Jamie’s plan to free Jocasta’s slaves. It’s expensive! Imagine the paperwork! Impossible! Little does Farquhard know that the Frasers have survived 200 years of shipwrecks, witch trials and talking coconuts. There’s no ‘too hard’ basket for them, only a ‘do the right thing’ basket, which sits next to the ‘the more problematic the challenge, the better’ basket and the ‘I miss Frank’ basket.
Wait, that last basket is at my house. Be right back, just looking at some old photos of Prof. Randall in a tweed blazer.
Life at River Run became more complicated when the human stick of dynamite that is Claire Fraser caused an explosion of her own by inserting herself into a situation at the sawmill. When one of Jocasta’s slaves attacked his overseer, Jamie and Claire arrived to see slave Rufus being hung by a hook in his stomach.
Claire’s decision to save Rufus made the shit hit the colonial fan. A vigilante mob of angry men beared down on River Run, and Jocasta was steaming mad. “Your wife’s foolishness will get us all killed,” she told Jamie. Put it on a t-shirt Jocasta, this won’t be the last time. Even Ulysses told Claire she was naïve to interfere. “It would have been better for us all if he’d died on this hook,” he said.
Claire and Jamie realise Rufus will die either from his injuries or at the hands of the mob, so Jamie suggests Claire give Rufus the same medicine she used to euthanise Colum. It’s an uncomfortable moment when Claire makes the moral decision to end this man’s life as a way to protect it.
Rufus dies peacefully, and Jamie hands his body over to the baying crowd. They drag Rufus along the ground before lynching him, as Claire and Jamie watch in silence. It was a shocking and horrifying ending, unflinching in its brutality. Jamie and Claire aren’t in Scotland any more, and this episode reminds us that Outlander’s depiction of the Frasers as two colonial settlers building their own American dream will be a complex and problematic one.