Positives and Negatives in Outlander Series Four


I have written elsewhere that the driving a plot over characterisation made Outlander Series 4 worse than it needed to be, especially when these were 'idiot plots'. There were other plot details to consider as well.
This was not all. There was a turning away from the central romance and its portrayal that has disappointed many loyal viewers.


Before this is looked at, let us note some positives, even within the negatives:
Despite the incredulity of the whole geographical set-up, the character of Laoghaire was able to show that she has a sympathetic side to a tough life in her time, especially as a single woman. This is what she conveyed to Brianna, until the Claire switch was pressed. They were able to make parallels with Frank and Claire, a sub-theme given to Brianna as she went back in time. Whilst the whole documents business is an 'idiot plot' with damaging implications for series three, nevertheless the encounters showed a more complex relationship regarding trust and expectation between Brianna and her father Frank. Frank at Ayr Dock for Brianna was a good touch: it was just the wrong town based on overturning an established geography.
We are given an extra dimension in why Frank came to want to divorce Claire: the obituary notice. The negatives simply outweigh the positives. It was enough in the TV series that he had transferred his loyalty to Sandy Travers. And the scenes between Frank and Bree before he died. That he knew that Claire went back-that knocked me out. And then when she saw him at the dock, brilliant.
Richard Rakin clearly was able to act to the limit. So there was the reward of the drama of the priest, his lover and the baby. There was a good script to allow this emotional drama.
Murtaugh continues to deliver an emotional connection, in this original life beyond the books, but a merging with the missing character Duncan. He can continue to provide plot and character development into the future.
Some of the reunions were a kind of 'This is Your Life' - which has emotional force but it was like who was turning up in this location this week. I'm only surprised that Murtagh hadn't been at the West Indies.


What was lost was the Claire and Jamie dynamic, and it wasn't just people settling down and into maturity. The story is about a continuing passion. There seemed to be a confusion and uncertainty instead, whilst staying put. Plot seemed to overwhelm, spectacle (but not sexual) took over from examining a relationship. Violence won over sex, again.
We simply cannot ignore the negatives. The turn to spectacle and misunderstanding was ruinous and unnecessary. It is about the writers' choices and questions of why.
Episode two had Jamie act in such a way that brings into question why Tryon would trust Jamie with such a huge land grant. Did he think Jamie could be controlled? We were not told. When there is a strange decision, according to the ongoing narrative, it needs explanation within the narrative.
This is the same with Brianna. Why was she so spectacularly thick? Why did she make only one sandwich? Why did she not collect coins in advance (same for Roger as well) as they did for Claire's passage in series three? Brianna ended up wandering on some hillside, and then when in the company of someone in a time of lingering superstition, she describes a fire that is going to happen. She knew about what nearly happened to her mother at the witch trial. Her stupidity continued at every turn, and it was not simply lack of cultural adjustment. She was the idiot heading up the idiot plots. By the way, this is nothing to do with the actor: she played what she was given.
So much more was possible here: actual cultural awe and displacement, and people who could have recognised that Brianna was not of their time. That is basically the Lizzie story and misunderstanding Roger and the lovemaking. It was overrun by the rape plot, in which a twentieth century response seemed appropriate (or even a 2018 response in what was shown and what was not shown, despite what was filmed).
Older Ian took Brianna completely on trust. She had a strange accent and had come out of the blue. In the book she did offer proof of identity. Not only did he accept who she was, but he took her a very long way indeed to Ayr. Why Ayr is still baffling. In the end they should have kept to the story even with Jenny absent, and had the arriveal with people scenes located at Lallybroch. The cost of the alternative was greater than the benefit.
Lord John Grey was very Lord John Grey, but one minute he told Brianna that he would be ruined if people discovered he is homosexual, and yet he had had sex with a man in a risky space (butler's pantry storeroom) in someone else's house. Indeed, Brianna was going to the kitchen! There were more discreet places to go, but that would not serve the plot.
Jamie had a long term task of taking the younger Ian back to Lallybroch. We know that this is frustrated by Ian's wishes and the location. (Jamie writes home about Ian.) So why was it just fine for Ian to join the Mohawk, which presumably is a life-long commitment.
The Cherokee Indians had a view of resources that was consistent with hunter-gatherers. They said that water was in no one's possession. Yet when Jamie and Willie were fishing, they were apparently trespassing, and thus had a very different attitude to resources and land.
There were a number of plot lines regarding the Indians that made questionable sense, regarding slaughter and conflict. Claire seemed to possess strong directive powers in one case.

What the lead actors might be seeking is more directive power over the series, and perhaps she is doing this already. Sex is the evidence of the passion and romance, and there seems to be less of it. Sex does not develop a plot, but it can develop a character. My thought is that there needs to be less plot and more character, and plot to facilitate character.
This is why faced with thirteen episodes only for series four, I would have cut out the Bonnet rape and forced the episodes to adjust: thus force more on Lizzie's reaction and Ian and Jamie's disapproval, and less violence as a result. With twelve episodes only in series five and twelve in series six secured, there needs to be tight plot selection and perhaps a decoupling of the series from the books. Books can go on and on but television has a limited life cycle for series that take time and money. Actors inevitably want to leave, and established fans drop away with disappointment.
There are three time periods in Outlander. One is where the characters go back from, the second is where they go in the past, and the third is our own time as constructors and consumers of the drama. There is nothing wrong with a present feminist viewpoint of a drama, including the romance and sex, to then add that perspective to those who come from an emergent time of feminist consciousness, and place them in a time where formal restrictions were much more constraining but where there was some personal space to be different or corners available to shine.