The Tragedy Awaits
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
A Hail Mary is a long pass made in desperation with an understanding that there is a fairly limited chance at succeeding. The phrase, as Google so helpfully tells me, originated in the 1970s from an American football match where one of the players happened to be of the Roman Catholic faith. The phrase is quite apt in the penultimate hour of Outlander’s second season, one that finds everyone stranded at precipices of desperation, hoping for something or someone to save them before the seemingly inevitable entraps them in whatever horror awaits. A literal manifestation of the title in the return of Mary Hawkins, whom had seemingly returned to her father’s home after the events of last week. Five weeks had passed since that eventful stabbing and beheading sequence and in that time, Mary had become reacquainted with Alex Randall. The coldness in Mary’s demeanor doesn’t require an explanation, but she gives it nevertheless. Alex, as one would presume, told her what Claire had expressed to him in Paris and that leads to some bitter feelings in Mary’s mind towards Claire for her interference. Claire, tenuous in her congratulations, apologizes for said interference, noting the logical reasons for why she told Alex what she did. She notably omits Frank, but requests to see Alex nevertheless. Alex is, as Claire quickly discovers, incredibly sick. His breaths are coming in rasps, products of significantly labored breathing. Arsenic, the Hail Mary Mary was using in vain hope to ease her fiancé’s pain, was used in a variety of compounds for healing purposes but it and other herbs in this specific context were only going to do so much. Claire, worried when she met Mary in the shop as to Frank’s future, turns towards a path that brings with it considerable moral questions but the only way she could ensure Frank’s continued existence.
Claire’s quest to ensure Frank’s survival one more time is a Hail Mary but the logic behind her decision is more sound than the attempts to save the life of an ailing Alex, the latter of which was primarily driven by an understandable swath of emotion. That desperation would be quite understandable without any further complications, but as it turns out, Mary is pregnant with a child Claire is sure would become Frank’s ancestor. With Alex on the verge of death, however, Mary’s child wouldn’t have the Randall name and that was essential. Alex of course doesn’t know anything about Frank but his timely and dramatic decision provides just the thoroughfare Claire needs to ensure the survival of her husband from the future and she grabs it. Alex is quite aware, as much as one could be aware of such things at these moments, that he was going to die far sooner than later. As a good man, he appreciated greatly the Hail Marys of herbs and medicines Mary was so desperately gathering for him and the help Claire was providing in his final moments. But he’s afraid that without any security, Mary and his child would starve not just for resources, but also for respect. He requests in rasping breaths that his brother Jack marry Mary, giving her and their child proper legitimacy, ensuring that their child would have a respected upbringing. Jack is revolted by this request of his brother, but Claire seizes the opportunity and bargains with the man she detests so much. Murtagh, in his everlasting kindness, offers to take Mary’s hand in stead but Claire notes that it wasn’t just Frank’s future in doubt. If Murtagh fell in battle (an abhorrent thought, mind you), then Mary would be left with nothing. If Jack Randall fell, then Mary would at least be entitled to his home and a widower’s pension from the British army. She would, as uncomfortable as it made Claire, be better off.
The Hail Mary’s emotional heft doesn’t arise, as one would expect, from the respective deaths of Alex and Colum, although they do pack an unexpected punch emotionally. It arises from the clever parallel structure between two pairs of siblings, one of whom is far more kinder than the other but they must reconcile in the face of their imminent death. Jack Randall knows he’s a monster. He’s perfectly aware of what a terrible human being he is, if he even has any semblance of humanity left in his bones. He notes what he did to Jamie, telling Claire in no uncertain terms that he felt no regret, expressing instead that he saw his arousal of Jamie as a triumph. He is, however, bereft that a man as kind as his brother would fall to the snares of death while his awful soul would be left alive. Nothing within him could be appealed to except for that and that is what Claire taps into. She trusts, as despicable of a man as he may be, that the love he has for his brother would be enough for his monstrous tendencies to tempered when it came to Mary. Dougal as a parallel to Jack Randall is an interesting construction from the script. If one looks at Dougal as a straight line for lack of a better phrase, he’s an inconsistent man. That’s not necessarily a fault of the script, but it makes sense when the man is looked at as whole. He’s torn apart by a plethora of contradictory moments in his life and all of them turning on a crux to face his brother, who himself is at death’s door. He doesn’t want the Hail Marys of herbs and medicines, either. His pain has become unbearable and he wants nothing more at that juncture than a quiet death and Claire grants him as much, handing him a vial of yellow jasmine to keep his dignity and self-respect intact.
Colum is, above all, a practical man whose responsibilities have ensured that he could never devolve like Dougal had done. He knew that before he handled the responsibility towards his own self by dying peacefully, he had to ensure that Clan MacKenzie had a future ahead of it. And to lead that future he chose Jamie. Dougal is expectedly furious that his older brother had passed him over in favor of their nephew, his fury brimming towards his forehead with such a passion that it seemed that he would explode at any minute with the force of a cannon. Colum is as calm as one thought he would be as Dougal erupts and he explains his decision quite calmly. Dougal simply isn’t worthy of leading the clan, it was as simple as that. The complexities of their relationship had led them to that moment and there was nothing Dougal could say except for one thing that would make him change his decision. Colum is offering his brother a Hail Mary he knows Dougal would never expect and his thoughts bear out here. Jamie points out that he would lead Clan MacKenzie and Colum’s adoptive son into battle against the British but Colum already knows and understands that. More importantly, however, he knows that Jamie would value the lives of his men over the cause and Dougal would do exactly the opposite. All Dougal had to do to become chief was to promise that he would do so with sincerity but he can’t manage it. Colum has what everyone imagines their last moments to bring. With dying, Colum notes that he could admit his mistakes and his opposition to the union between Claire and Jamie was a mistake he could apologize for at last. He could tell Claire with full sincerity that she had his deepest gratitude and the two reach a moment of understanding and sometimes that’s the best one can hope for at that juncture.
Less understanding is Bonnie Prince Charlie, who doggedly refuses to break apart from the idea that fighting at Culloden Moor is a terrible idea. Jamie has a perfectly reasonable strategy, to be fair, but the prince is beyond such reason. He notes that they ought to wait for the shipment of French gold that was reportedly arriving their way. With that gold, they would be able to ensure more supplies and weapons and while the shipment arrived and the sources were thusly gathered, their men would be able to rest. The army meanwhile would split into smaller units so the British couldn’t grab them. The Prince refuses and later that evening, the one chance they had to stave off Culloden disappears, the Prince having gotten lost and his men hopelessly lost. Culloden is coming far sooner than later and in that moment, it really hits how many of the men brimming on screen would be cut down by the British, never to rise again. In death, sometimes there is a good-bye, an opportunity for a farewell. Dougal’s confession that Colum’s handicap fostered his hatred for him was breathtaking in its emotional depth. Dougal couldn’t bring himself not to hate a crippling man for being unable to fight against his disease because he expected his older brother, the chief of the clan over him, to be able to do so. Jack Randall gets a farewell but he takes his frustrations, his angers out by punching Alex’s body to Claire’s and Mary’s utter horror. As Claire looks at him in a flabbergasted mixture of disgust and horror, Jack Randall shakes and walks away from the only human being he truly felt any actual love towards. Not everyone is even that fortunate, however, as discomforting it is to use the word “fortunate” in such a context. Sometimes there isn’t any farewell at all and as Culloden looms, my mind fills with images of bleeding soldiers dying in the greenery of Scotland, screaming out into the sky if they can before their eyes shut forever with almost nary a farewell in sight.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“God will provide for us.
+“What’s one more sin to a sinner?” The show’s handling of euthanasia, death, and the complex relationships death brings to the forefront is truly exemplary.
+“Memories remain longer than wounds…”
+Geillis’s boy survived
+“The dark wall around yourself…”
+“The date of your death.” So Jack Randall falls at Culloden? At Jamie’s hands, perhaps?
+“The pure of heart choking on their own blood, helped there, perhaps, by the monsters that walk among them.”
Episode Title: The Hail Mary
Written by: Anne Kenney and Ira Steven Behr
Directed by: Philip John
Image Courtesy: Outlander Online