The first episode of a season must be the bridge between the previous and the one to come, recalling – without repeating – what has been preponderant in the past and exposing – without revealing it – what will be important in the future.
Of an exceptionally long duration (1 h 20, credits and summary included), this first opus offers us, as usual, a summary of the previous season. Behind the cleverly selected excerpts, Claire's voiceover philosophizes about the choices that fall to each, providing in a masterful way a link between the two seasons.
« The colors of our lives were changing.
Is time God's eternal web? The slightest brush triggering vibrations that resonate through the centuries, forcing events to happen, getting ahead of the future.
Wherever we are, we make choices. Silly choices, or choices that save us, or that save someone else. All we can hope for is that the good effects of these choices outweigh the bad ones.
With enough time, everything can be settled. Pains can fade, trials can fade, grief can become bearable. And if time is comparable to God, I guess memories are the devil."
The subject is stated: what will the choices of the past cost over time?
This is followed by a 20-minute flashback to introduce us to one of the new characters around whom the plot of the season will revolve.
Indeed, here we are projected in 1753.
As he arrives in Ardsmuir, Jamie reunites with his fellow Jacobites. These are divided into two distinct and opposing groups: Catholics on one side and Protestants on the other, led by Tom Christie, an austere and vindictive man. Christie seems to have some favors from Harry Quarry, the governor of the prison, because both are Freemasons. If it were not for his great piety, Christie is portrayed as someone detestable, manipulative and fearful.
After witnessing several quarrels between the two groups, Jamie asks the governor to make him a Freemason in order to unite all the inmates under one ideal and put an end to religious and political conflicts. Tom Christie then loses his influence with the prisoners, but also with Quarry who now invites Jamie to his table.
In addition to the presentation of Tom Christie (Played by the masterful Mark Lewis Johns) and especially the heavy litigation that will persist between the two Scots, this first part reminds us how Jamie is a born leader and that beyond his personal suffering and his particular journey, he has always been able to rally men between them, whether or not they are from his clan.
After this (too?) long introduction, we find ourselves again in 1773 in North Carolina, on the snow-capped ridge of the Frasers.
Tom Christie walks towards the big house. He seems both hesitant and resolute.
One of the nice surprises of this season is the revival of the magnificent version of "The Sky Boat", created by Bear McCreary.
Until then divinely performed by Raya Yarbrough, the composer's wife, it is, this time proposed in duet with Griogair Labhruidh. It's simply sublime!
The next scene introduces us to Marsali whom Claire has come to visit. Claire notices bruises on her arm. Marsali finds an excuse, but the discomfort is there, without being able to name him.
"Your pregnancy is well advanced," says Claire. Fergus has to take care of you when he's at home. You shouldn't run right to left after the kids and do all the housework.
New malaise. Something is wrong and we won't learn anything more for now, but as the episode progresses, we'll come across Fergus lost and avid, seeming to no longer know where his place in the community is. Although she doesn't fully open up yet, Marsali feels lonely. Neglected.
As the episode progresses, Fergus will appear increasingly haggard, both drunk and provocative, unable to sympathize with Marsali's loneliness let alone hear his prayers. We struggle to recognize him, as if something is broken in him.
In a few shots, we find the good atmosphere of the ridge, Lizzie, the Bug, the Beardsley twins, and Ian who apparently returns from the hunt with a deer on his shoulders.
- General plan on the estate accompanied by a musical crescendo. The stage is set so that the story can begin.
- Close-up on the flow of Claire's hourglass and it's well found, because is there a more telling symbol when it comes to evoking time? Whether it is the one of memories or the one to come?
Jamie enters Claire's infirmary and discovers her asleep on the bed. The picture is beautiful! Looks like a painting by Jan Vermeer! Yet this peaceful painting quickly becomes the bearer of Jamie's greatest anguish, because Claire does not wake up despite her calls.
"Claire, wake up!
She finally regains consciousness and offers us her famous "Jesus Roosevelt Christ" ("Name of a Franklin, it's not God possible", for the French version). A nod to insiders.
We learn that she has just made ether that will make future surgeries easier. As she had told her daughter some time before: "To save her loved ones, she is ready to break the laws of time."
Relief, because it means that Lionel Brown has not managed to weaken it. Despite the threats, despite the danger, she continues to move the well-being of the people she loves to her safety.
This is followed by a tender dialogue between the two lovebirds on the interest of no longer feeling anything and better still, on the mastery of time. Keep time to yourself, let that of others flow without it spilling over into their own lives, their own choices. Let the war pass, Brown and his security committee and stay both.
"If only we could," whispers Claire.
But Jamie tells him that Major Macdonald has asked him to be an Indian agent in order to improve relations between the crown and the Cherokee tribe. In truth, this is just a pretext to encourage them to fight on the king's side. The Frasers are not fooled. They are used to being caught between two opposing camps without having the opportunity to choose for themselves.
He refused at first, despite McDonald's insistence, but soon after, McDonald told him that the post would be taken over by Richard Brown, which would be dramatic. So, out of spite, Jamie will eventually accept the job.
After that comes a scene that might seem innocuous, but which will nevertheless prove decisive in relation to the following episodes and which it will be useful to remember.
Jamie accompanies Claire who goes to visit Marsali. She tells him that she has noticed that he does not seem to want to take his eyes off her since the violence that Lionel Brown and his men have subjected him to.
It is important to remember this as well, because there can be no question of ignoring this trauma. And Jamie is well placed to understand it, he who endured the same at Wentworth, from the infamous Black Jack Randall!
"I'm fine," she assures him, putting her hand on his knee. And indeed, she seems happy and soothed.
We will later realize that this is not the case, but that it was difficult for her entourage to take the full measure, since Claire does not open up to anyone, neither to her husband nor to Brianna a few scenes later.
"There was a time when I was asked how I was doing, I said the same thing," Bree retorts. But she also knows that there is no point in forcing her to confide until she feels like it. Like mother, like daughter.
We leave the Fraser couple to join Brianna and Roger. They too speak of the coming time that they know is tormented.
To history buffs, a little wink is made when Roger offers tea or coffee to Brianna.
"You can imagine how many good cups of tea are going to be thrown into this fucking port!
It is of course referring to the famous "Boston Tea Party" (see post about this) that had already been mentioned in the previous season.
Although their discussion is seemingly light, they still express this ever-present difficulty of knowing the future and questioning their right to claim to reshape it.
If America doesn't become America, who knows what the world will look like? Roger wonders.
"I know," replies Brianna, "but what can we do about it?"
She understood, perhaps because her parents had already lived it, that it is not their responsibility to change the big story. And then, how can we forget that the last time they tried to intervene with the future, Roger ended up hanging from a tree!
In a way, they too would like time to pass without them.
How to find their place? Roger, a historian ahead of history and Brianna, an engineer who does not dare to put her projects into practice for fear of being judged as her mother was.
But in the meantime, Tom Christie finally arrives at the big house and from there, the episode is almost totally dedicated to him.
First received by Roger and Brianna, he expresses his desire to find a job and a place to live with a group of fishermen who accompany him.
For a few minutes, we can wonder about his relationship with Jamie. After all, the pre-credits had given us a glimpse of their relationship at the very beginning of Jamie's captivity, but perhaps it had evolved over the years!
But this questioning does not last long, because as soon as Jamie arrives we perceive his reserve and his mistrust although he finally agrees to welcome him and his family.
In the fishermen's camp where the Frasers bring supplies, we find Tom Christie and his two children, Malva and Allan. While Claire immediately proposes to treat the suffering, Tom expresses his astonishment about the extent of the estate granted to the Fraser by the crown.
"It seems that the great architect of the universe has seen fit to sprinkle your road with its benefits," he said, "letting out again that jealousy that already predominated in him in Ardsmuir.
"Maybe I can give you my share of his benefits in exchange for peace and quiet," retorts Jamie who knows the character well. And he adds, "I'm sure my wife will be grateful."
A dialogue fraught with resentment on one side and threat on the other. To quote the great architect is to refer to Freemasonry, which is perhaps the only reason why Jamie accepts to welcome Christie. To quote Claire is also to propose not to rehash the past and look to the future, unless he has read something in the way Christie looked at Claire.
In the evening, Jamie confides in Claire about Christie. We learn at the same time as she that the latter lost his wife during his detention in Ardsmuir, while he, Jamie, had Claire in his thoughts. She was with him, like an angel.
Is this a way of excusing Christie? To consider your own luck?
Yet he is not naïve and knows that Christie must be kept under control. What he does on the next visit to the fishermen's camp.
Christie says she wants to build a school and a church, supposedly to thank for being welcomed. But we can already suspect him of wanting to reshape the colony in what he believes to be important.
"We have our own way of doing things," he told Roger.
— Do you know how to build wooden houses? Ask Jamie at the assembly? And in front of their silence, he resumes:
He said: In that case, Mr. Christie, perhaps I should explain to you how we do it.
The lesson is heard: we welcome you, we will help you, but here it is I who lead.
We sense the danger Christie poses to the balance of the ridge.
By small touch, we are described its rigidity and hardness.
Malva tells Claire that her father, a former teacher, only teaches her religious and grammatical subjects and that under no circumstances would he accept that she is interested in science. For his part, Allan tells Ian that his father would not risk teaching him how to shoot a rifle! That he would simply lecture him on this subject: "Let go of your weapon and brandish the shield of faith that will allow you to extinguish all the fiery arrows of the evil."
One strongly feels in the words of both the weight of the paternal authority that weighs on them
Yet, one also experiences its weakness.
When he comes to have his injured hand treated with Claire, he faints, perhaps because of the pain, perhaps because of the sight of the blood, or perhaps out of fear, quite simply. He will finally let himself be done only out of pride in Jamie who remains present while Claire sews the wound back together.
"He didn't like that I found him sweating," Jamie told Claire.
"So why did you stay?"
"Because I knew that if I stayed, he wasn't going to moan, complain, or faint a second time. He would let you push reddened peaks into his eyeballs rather than bawling in front of me.
One might think that Jamie has nothing but mistrust and disgust for a character like him. However, he confides to Claire that during all the years of their captivity, Christie refused to speak gaelic despite pressure from the inmates.
"A man who is stubborn enough to speak English to Highlanders is also a man who is stubborn enough to fight alongside me if necessary.
Here we appreciate one of Jamie's characteristics: to surround himself with men of value, even if they are on a different side than his own. And even if Christie obviously puts him out of himself, he knows how to recognize his qualities as well as his flaws.
A little later, Jamie has no choice but to give the whip to Allan, accused by Brown of stealing a powder cone. After that, he reiterated his position as a chef to Christie.
"In Ardsmuir, we were coping. We were living under someone else's authority. It was before, now it's different. If you are going to stay at Fraser's ridge, my word has the force of law.
To which Christie far from considering himself indebted and conciliatory replies:
"No, it is the word of God! We put him both first, right Mr. Fraser?
We then realize that Christie's backbone is his religious conviction. His strength is in his unfailing faith, and it is there, and only there, that he finds the courage to oppose Jamie.
The episode ends with Claire's condition not doing as well as she claims.
A nightmare mixing the different parts of her life - Gellis, Collum and of course Lionel Brown - wakes her up in a start. Refusing to confide in Jamie, she pretends to want a cup of tea to go to her infirmary where she breathes ether to escape her anxieties by taking refuge in an artificial sleep.
In conclusion, this first episode is particularly dark, full of pain and threats that push the most fragile to caulk themselves in loneliness and denial.
However, he played his part by introducing most of what will make up the entire season.