‘Outlander’: Dark Memories Plague the Frasers in ‘Famous Last Words’ (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 5, Episode 8 of Outlander, “Famous Last Words.”]
After two weeks of waiting, Outlander‘s fans were treated to some relief following a major cliffhanger regarding Roger’s (Richard Rankin) fate after he was mistakenly hung following the battle at Alamance in which Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) beloved godfather Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) perished.
Below, we’re breaking down the one of the season’s most unique episodes to date, but beware of major spoilers. You won’t want to read without having seen this latest installment, “Famous Last Words.”
The title stands symbolically in many aspects of the episode, but is used quite literally in the beginning when we’re transported to 1970s Oxford where Roger is lecturing his history students about famous last words as Brianna (Sophie Skelton) observes in the back. “People live and die by words,” he tells his pupils who ask in return what his last words will be. Roger’s response? He tells them that he’ll let history forget his name so long as his words and deeds can be remembered by his loved ones.
The remark is clearly pointed at Bree who, after the students have taken their leave, mentions looking forward to their planned silent movie marathon. This mention then leads to a stylistic flashback in Roger’s mind where his recollection of the hanging is seen as silent movie frames, capturing him and the Frasers in black-and-white. This first flashback is one of many throughout the episode, but begins by showing viewers whether the promising young man lives or dies.
When Jamie calls for Roger’s body to be cut down, he notices that his son-in-law is still breathing and must act quickly. Thankfully, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is on hand and she performs an emergency procedure known as a cricothyroidotomy, in which a small slice is made in the throat that is then filled with a tube to clear the airway. As Roger opens his eyes, they quickly meet Bree’s, answering the concern over his mortality once and for all.
Finally we’re brought to the present where Roger sits silently as Claire examines his healing and Bree tries to coax her husband into speaking. Claire confirms that his healing looks good, but despite the weeks since his traumatic event, Roger has kept to his silence without a peep. Bree tries to be supportive and jokes that they can pretend they’re in a silent film, but this elicits no response.
When Bree asks if Roger wants to join her and the family at the big house on Fraser’s Ridge while Lord John Grey (David Berry) is visiting, he declines. It’s clear by this point that Roger is vastly changed and uncomfortable as he attempts to clear his throat when left alone. The action transports him once more to the black-and-white silent film style flashback where he remembers Buck (Graham McTavish) delivering him to the red coats who are unaware of his ties to Jamie’s militia on the battlefield. Roger was one among three selected for hanging and we experience the terror with him.
In a scene between mother and daughter, Bree recalls her roommate whose boyfriend had gone through the Vietnam war, describing his affect as zombie-like with a “thousand yard stare.” Bree worries that she’s lost her husband and Claire reassures her girl that she’ll have to have faith that she’ll find him again.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Ridge Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) bids farewell to her former love Murtagh, who has been buried on the property, as she wears the necklace he gifted her earlier this season. Accompanied by her servant Ulysses (Colin McFarlane), Jocasta speaks with her nephew Jamie, saying she’s willing to have a headstone made for Murtagh despite not being his wife. Reminiscing about Murtagh, she says the man was loyal above all to which Jamie agrees, and before parting ways Jocasta reminds him that you never know which goodbyes could be your last. After sharing a hug, Jamie is left alone on the porch where he pulls out Murtagh’s tartan and brooch from his pocket, sparking some serious tissue-inducing tears.
When the family sans Roger convenes for a chat with Lord John, they look over a letter that was sent by Governor Tryon (Tim Downie) in apology for Roger’s hanging. In exchange for the trauma endured, Brianna is offered a spread of land. Angry over the offer, Bree leaves the table and heads outside where Lord John speaks candidly with her, gifting her with a gadget that tells time by means of the sky. Looking the device over, he tells Bree to be patient and she takes his advice in stead.
As for Roger, he attempts to get busy renovating his and Bree’s cabin, but when his finger comes into contact with some rope he’s dragged into another flashback. This time it shows him with a burlap sac over his face which provides a shrouded view of three red coats standing on the ground as Roger stares back at them. While Roger deals with his own grief, Claire helps Jamie through his over the loss of Murtagh, saying there’s no medicine for it but promising that time heals all wounds.
The next day as chores around Fraser’s Ridge take place, Jamie and Claire visit Roger and Bree’s cabin for a snack. When little Jemmy almost touches a hot kettle, Roger yells out to prevent the impending injury and startles his son as well as everyone else in the process. As grandparents Jamie and Claire whisk the toddler away, Bree tries to get Roger to say more but he can’t. Later on, she sings to their son and it appears to move Roger in some way, but we don’t observe long enough to see if he acts on it or not.
On a separate occasion, Jamie and Claire take Jemmy for a game of hide and seek in the woods when they run into trouble with a boar. Before the creature can harm them though, an arrow shoots from out of nowhere, killing it. The culprit behind the shot? Young Ian (John Bell), who fans last saw in the Season 4 finale when he agreed to stay with the Mohawk in order to release a captured Roger from their clutches. Sporting a Mohawk makeover, Jamie’s nephew greets his family with little emotion.
When Claire and Jamie bring Ian to Roger and Bree’s cabin, they greet their relative with Roger offering a simple wordless hug before turning away and receding into the shows once more. Bree also embraces her cousin, giving him a loaded glance after Roger’s awkward departure from their reunion. Later when the Frasers show Ian the big house, he insists on butchering the boar he killed for a dinner later that evening.
Next we learn Bree isn’t the only one trying to help Roger’s condition as Marsali (Lauren Lyle) attempts to read some tarot-like cards. When Roger’s hand includes the Hangman, he has a bit of a tantrum and endures another flashback before Brianna arrives and tries to understand what happened. Frustrated in her own respect, Bree ends up lashing out at Roger, saying that she wants him back and that she knows what it’s like to go through a traumatizing experience like her rape in Season 4. “I fought for us,” she tells him before eventually saying that she needs to know he’s not lost and gone forever.
Dinner that night doesn’t go much better as Marsali and Fergus (César Domboy) press for details from Ian about his experience with the Mohawk. He simply says “they were good people” but that he also doesn’t have any plans to rejoin the natives. Jamie takes this opportunity to mention Bree’s newly awarded land and how Ian could help survey it, but Claire notices Ian’s apprehension and switches topics at the table.
Back in the cabin, Roger picks up his guitar but when he attempts to sing he becomes too upset to continue. As for Ian, he’s unable to sleep in the bed offered to him by Jamie and Claire and chooses to take the floor outside. Jamie tries to understand Ian’s reasoning, but the boy is hesitant to open up and says he “doesn’t have the words” for now and accuses Jamie and Claire of keeping things from people. It’s unclear if he’s alluding to their knowledge about time travel, but it is possible he could have learned something about it through his time with the Mohawk, whose former member Otter Tooth was from a different time.
Later, Ian has a chat with Marsali who speaks fondly about her babies but jokingly complains that there’s too many of them. Ian’s response is that babies are only given for a short time if we’re lucky and the words convey a deep hurt we have yet to learn about. She goes on to say that she sometimes feels guilty for feeling at home with the family she’s made versus the family she left behind in Scotland, and Ian tells her that’s not a bad thing.
Before departing for the land survey, Bree gives Roger a paper airplane and mentions that she wants to grow their marriage into something stronger than the paper anniversary, aiming for the point in which they’ll celebrate their diamond year. Setting off with Ian, Roger appears to thank the man for joining him without words, but Ian won’t accept it as he’s happy to help. Setting up camp, Roger notices that Ian’s wearing a bracelet that he’s rather protective of but doesn’t push on the topic.
That evening back on the Ridge, Claire asks Marsali if she knows where the bulk of a poisonous root in her apothecary went, but the apprentice doesn’t know. This red flag signals trouble for one of our camping men, but who has stolen the poison?
As we rejoin the men, Roger plays with the paper airplane Bree gave him and Ian asks if it’s a bird. Ian then goes on to tell Roger that he often spoke to the birds when he was with the Mohawk so he wouldn’t feel so alone. This forces Roger to look up at the sky, bringing on another round of flashbacks.
That evening at the ridge, Claire asks Jamie if he thinks Roger will return, suggesting that he’s responsible for the missing poison. At first Jamie doesn’t understand, but Claire reminds him of the suicidal feelings he had after being assaulted by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) in the past.
The next morning while continuing their land survey, Roger looks over a cliff and his resulting flashback presents his hanging in a more realistic way, ditching the black-and-white format previously used for color. Going through the trauma, Roger recalls hanging from the tree and opening his eyes as he dangled. The image that filled his vision was Brianna’s face. When he comes to on the cliff, he realizes that she’s what drove him to survive in that moment and he decides to release her paper plane from his perch.
Back at camp, Roger finds Ian’s bedroll empty and his trusty dog Rollo tied up to a post. When he finds his travel companion, the young man is burying his hatchet and brewing a tea with the stolen poisonous root Claire is looking for. Kicking the brew, Ian fights Roger back after his escape has been destroyed. Ian wonders what Roger saw in the darkness when he was dying and Roger finally speaks, revealing it was his “wife’s face.” This leads Ian to say “so there’s no escape even in death?” hinting at the motivation behind his suicide attempt.
Ian admits he fell in love while he was with Mohawk and even though she still lives, she’s lost to him forever. He wants the pain to end and to be at peace, but Roger tries to tell him that’s the wrong choice. Ian argues that he’s one to talk, considering that Roger had been eyeing the cliff, and says “you buried your weapon… your voice.” Roger admits that the young man is right and that he has to get up and keep fighting.
Upon returning home, Roger greets Bree with his voice, and at first, she’s speechless. He takes the chance to say that everyone wants him to be the old Roger but he’s different now. She admits she has been scared and Roger admits he’s been fearful as well. He reveals that it was her face he saw when he was dying. He says that last words don’t matter, it’s the last face someone sees, and for him, it was her. After sharing a kiss, he tells her no matter the circumstance between them, he’ll always sing for Bree.
This comforting ending allows for some relief after last episode’s cliffhanger, but with each happy ending, another wild predicament for the Frasers likely lays on the horizon. Tune in next week to find out where the story will lead when Outlander returns.
Outlander, Sundays, 8/7c, Starz