‘Outlander’ Season 5 Episode 8: ‘Shell-shocked’ Roger is forever changed, Young Ian makes a surprise return
Roger is now a changed man, no matter what century he decides to live in. Young Ian returns as well, steeped in grief, and he reveals that his love is lost to him
During the week's hiatus, three months have passed in the 'Outlander' universe. When the episode starts, the camera focusses only on Roger Mackenzie (Richard Rankin) sitting on the edge of the bed. You hear Brianna's (Sophie Skelton) and Claire's (Caitriona Balfe) voices as they fuss over him. But you never see them.
It is a brilliant way of showing Roger's disconnect from the world and those who love him the most. Brianna tells Claire, he is "physically fine" but has a "thousand-yard stare" like her friend's Vietnam vet boyfriend. Of course, the term PTSD hasn't been coined yet so Claire uses words like "war neurosis" and "shell-shock".
But Brianna, having gone through trauma herself, knows exactly what Roger is going through. So at first, she tries patience. After Roger speaks his first word "Stop!" to protect baby Jemmy from singeing himself on a hot kettle, she is hopeful. But then, she finally yells at him for not even trying to engage. "Fight for us", she screams into his face, pointing out that she did too.
However, it's not as if Roger doesn't want to fight but he seems to have broken down in a fundamental way. When Brianna sings the "Clementine" song to baby Jemmy, the same song he sang to him before heading to the Battle of Alamance, he tries to ignore it. Then he breaks down sobbing. When Marsali draws the "Hanged Man" card for him twice while doing tarot, he clutches it because he thinks that is what will define him till he is dead.
To bring home what Roger experienced in those terrible minutes when he was hanged, the show uses the visual effect of a silent movie. It both works and doesn't work. The really effective parts are when the burlap sack is over his head which allows the viewer to enter Roger's mind space. It is a bit unreal and disconnected -- like a nightmare happening to someone else.
The sound being absent also works because it is how we have been trained to watch traumatic war scenes -- where someone who is shell shocked temporarily loses his hearing. This is not what happens to Roger but he is also in shock and we all know how we disassociate when we go through something truly traumatic.
What doesn't work is the silent movie cards that read "He's breathing!" with shots of Jamie (Sam Heughan) cutting down Roger from the tree and Claire making an incision in his throat out of which blood flows as she does an emergency tracheostomy procedure. Filming that like a silent movie, especially with the title cards, make Jamie, Brianna and Claire look cartoonish in their shock and somehow takes away from the very real horror of what has happened.
The cutesy insertion of flashbacks of Roger lecturing on "famous last words" also doesn't work -- there is something like being too on the nose. But other aspects of Roger's trauma are well portrayed - like when he handles the burlap material of a bag, he is immediately thrust back to the nightmare moment of how the burlap sack felt over his face.
Salvation comes in the return of Young Ian (John Bell), the lad whose brave decision to stay with the Mohawks enabled Roger to return to Brianna in Season 4. His unexpected reappearance is welcomed by all at Fraser's Ridge, including Roger. But Young Ian, just like Roger, is no longer who he used to be -- a bright cheery boy. His mohawk hair with feathers, his discomfort at being indoors and something tragic lurking in his eyes mark the ways in which he has changed. Even Jamie can't get him to talk.
It is only when he and Roger are out together in the open surveying the parcel of land gifted by Governor Tryon (as recompense for Roger's injuries) that things come to the surface. Roger thinks of committing suicide by flinging himself off a cliff but stops himself by remembering Brianna's face. Then he stops Ian from killing himself, who is in the process of boiling the roots of the water hemlock he stole from Claire's medicine cabinet to make himself a lethal draught. Ian tells Roger that though the woman he loves is not dead, "she is lost" to him.
In the end, both men have decided to live but as Roger tells Brianna when he is back, he will never be "that Roger" referring to his former self. Roger has had a traumatic time in the 18th century overall and the hanging was the straw that broke the camel's back. Roger is now a changed man, no matter what century he decides to live in.
'Outlander' airs on Sundays at 8/7c on Starz. Episodes are available on STARZ, the STARZ app, and STARZ On Demand.