Post by Contributing Author, Traci Wood Thompson
The title of episode 305 is from a Robert Burns poem, which Claire quotes to Jamie, then Jamie re-quotes in print, and the paper travels down the years back to Claire in that anachronistic circle of life which is Outlander. True to the title and the poem, in this episode freedom and whisky often do “gang thegither.” The metaphor of Claire being a trapped in the cage of her current life is a recurring one this season, pointed out very obviously in episode 301 when she stares longingly out of her kitchen window at a sparrow living freely outside. In “Freedom & Whisky” Claire ponders freedom and the consequences of it, while many parallel themes move the story along.
The episode opens with Claire elbow deep in surgery, completely in her element and illustrating how much her skills have grown. She successfully performs a risky maneuver as Joe nervously watches; his incredulous look, and the improbability of what she has done, suggests her skills have gone beyond the normal scope. Maybe even into the realm of the supernatural, perhaps? After all, there is also the scene with Claire, Joe, and “dem bones.” (As a book reader, I won’t comment here on who “dem bones” might belong to.) There is certainly a hint of the supernatural there, as Claire suddenly knows the deceased was a 150 year old murder victim merely by touching the skull. But whatever the nature of Claire’s skills, and whether she is operating on a patient or engaged in forensics, practicing medicine is part of Claire’s freedom within whatever circumstances she finds herself. The expansion of her medical talents is one way she breaks out of limitations.
Claire and Joe have the first glasses of whisky we see in the episode. He asks what happened in Scotland, and she explains vaguely about wanting to reconnect with the man from her past, “…but fate had other ideas.” Joe replies, “F*** fate.” Freedom and whisky gang thegither here for sure; Joe is one of the few people – and maybe the only person at this point – Claire feels she can freely talk to, especially about something so important and so deeply personal. His reply is an affirmation that she should not give up and not let go, but should pursue what she wants against all odds. He encourages her to allow herself that freedom.
We see Claire having the second glass of whisky after Roger shows up like an adorable puppy on the doorstep. Roger has news, but before he breaks it, he asks, “Can I pour you a whisky?” Sure, says Claire. (Like she would ever refuse!) Roger drops the bomb – he has found Jamie, and only a year ago in the parallel timeline. He expects Claire to be overjoyed, but she has reached a limit of hope and disappointment and she just can’t take it. Roger has offered, along with the whisky, the hope of being free to return to Jamie – but such freedom comes with a high price.
A major theme for Claire is that of guilt. To both book readers and show watchers, many of Claire’s actions and decisions sometimes seem hard to understand; but they are clearer if one understands her motivation, and nine times out of ten, her motivator is guilt. At this point in the story, Claire’s main guilt is maternal in nature. How can I leave Brianna? she asks. (And book readers know there is a backstory to her maternal guilt where Brianna is concerned.) She may be guilt-ridden no matter what choice she makes; while it is clearer in the book than the show, she probably has some inkling that Jamie, since he did not die at Culloden, has suffered through the years without her, just as she has suffered without him. To not return to him means his suffering continues; to return to him means abandoning their daughter. Freedom from the guilt of letting someone down seems out of reach for Claire, no matter how much whisky is involved.
The guilt theme is also brought up in a fairly obvious way by the “other woman,” Sandy, at the Harvard reception honoring Frank. “You should have let him go…You never wanted him, but you wouldn’t give him up,” Sandy accuses, “A part of him was still in love with you and always would be, no matter how much you broke his heart…you were selfish. You wanted it all. So you lived a lie and made Frank and Brianna live it too.” Some viewers have wondered why Claire stood there and listened. I propose that she did because Sandy is merely a symbol of Claire’s own conscience, and she might as well have been talking to herself. How many of the accusations are true or not is very debatable; but the fact that Claire has always carried guilt over Frank and Brianna is clear, and this scene is a manifestation of it. The accusation of “living a lie” reaffirms Claire and Brianna’s agreement to only have the truth between them now and spurs Claire on to share Roger’s news, which she had previously hidden.
Meanwhile, Brianna’s journey – which seems sadly abbreviated, due to lack of time – is a parallel of Claire’s journey through the stones. Claire had a former life in her own time, then a new one in the past, and then the former life was thrust back on her again, a pattern referenced often in this episode. “How can you take a trip like that, and come back to life as you knew it?” asks Joe, as they watch the space flight of Apollo 8 on t.v. Claire’s voice-over affirms, yes, you can come back to your life after an impossible journey, but it is never the same.
Similarly, Brianna had a former life, one in which she believed Frank was her father and time travel was a fantasy; after she knows the truth, she comes back to her life in Boston, but it cannot be the same. Brianna thus wrestles with an identity crisis – who is she? Is she a Randall, is she a Fraser? Is she both? Is she neither? Even without any dialogue or voice-overs, Brianna’s struggle is clear as she looks at the smoking pipes, photos, and other artifacts of Frank’s life.
Brianna’s talk with Roger under the arches at Harvard is an illustration of her identity problem, as well as being a nice bit of foreshadowing for the future choices of her character. “What is history?” she questions bitterly. “It’s just a story. It changes depending on who’s telling it….like Bonnie Prince Charlie…like my parents.” Likewise, Brianna had a story; but now that her parent’s story is different than what she thought, as a consequence her narrative is also changed irrevocably. After questioning her mother about herself (under the same arches, another nice parallel) Claire affirms that she loves Brianna for herself, not for the man who fathered her. Brianna ultimately decides she is more like Claire than either of her fathers, a realization that promises to help her begin to forge a new identity.
Brianna’s resolution of her identity problem enables her to more fully accept the idea of Jamie. She is able to think about the sacrifice Jamie made for her, and how he must have wondered about and missed his wife and child over the years. Her eventual response is to be willing to send her mother back to him, so Jamie can know that they are both alive and well and Claire can experience again the happiness she once had. This selfless act is the absolution Claire needs to free her from her guilt and enable her to return to the past. Brianna also begins to be more open to forging new bonds of family and tradition, illustrated by her grateful expression when Claire gives her Ellen’s pearls and suggests she wear them on her own wedding day. The ornament appearing in the episode’s title card, “Brianna’s 1st Christmas, 1948,” symbolizes her life as the child of Frank Randall; the Christmas of 1968 is her first Christmas as the child of Jamie Fraser.
The Christmas ornament illustrates perhaps another way Claire pursues freedom in this episode: through creativity. Here is an interesting side of Claire we have not seen much of before; “artsy-crafty Claire” makes hand-painted ornaments and sews homemade clothing, customized with hidden pockets. And to the Batman theme, no less.
Freedom and whisky gang thegither the last time, appropriately enough, as Claire prepares to leave for Scotland. Roger brings out a celebratory bottle and he, Claire, and Brianna toast simply, “To freedom and whisky.” Claire is now as free as she will ever be to return to the past and to the freedom of the kind of love she had with Jamie.
Brianna, after maintaining a brave face for her mother, collapses into Roger’s arms in tears after Claire leaves. She is now on her own, free to make her own choices; but like Roger, she is now an orphan, another new identity for Brianna and a new bond to bring them even closer together.
At the end of the episode, the Voyager monologue is used. Claire expresses a childhood distrust of puddles, fearing they are really portals to a fathomless space, but even so she pushes onward past them. Likewise she manages to push past her empty life with Frank, her guilt and fears, and move onward. However, in the book monologue, she says if she saw a star reflected in the puddle, she could splash through unafraid, because “I could grab hold of the star, and be safe.”
In her journey through the portal of the stones, Jamie is her star, and she is guided towards him and towards a most anticipated and satisfying conclusion to this episode. We can look forward to Claire “grabbing hold of him and being safe” next week – if she can get him off the floor!