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 far-away town based on overturning an established geography.
Plus Brianna meets Laoghaire in this cottage of Laoghaire's: surely Brianna might wonder if 'Laoghaire' (sounds like Leer-he) is the same unusually named woman as the one who sought to have Claire mixed up in the Geillis witches trial? When Laoghaire looked at Brianna, did she not consider a likeness and that Brianna has a sound like Brian, Jamie's dad?
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 car scene between Frank and Bree before he died would have led to Brianna playing merry hell with her mother. Waving her off with approval at the quayside was good. How much better it would have been, however, if in series 2 and then with series 4 he had not died, but lived and claimed Brianna's conflicted loyalty.
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. The problem with the script was that the priest was following a heresy: that a priest's worthiness affects the sanctity of the sacraments. The "finer details of Catholic doctrine" (as Roger puts it) would inform the priest not to make such a mistake and baptise the baby. Despite the heresy, and despite the cost to the timings of the series for the ultimate episode, the engagement of Roger and the priest was in the penultimate episode is fulfilling.
Murtaugh continues to deliver an emotional connection, in this original life beyond the books, but his is 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's 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 confusion and uncertainty instead, whilst staying put. Plot seemed to overwhelm everything, 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 never gets Laoghaire's name, and then, 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.

The podcast told us that Laura Donnelly's (Jenny's) absence meant a last minute alteration away from Brianna going to Lallybroch, and that also they wanted Brianna to be in a rush. (She rushed to get to Ayr? What was wrong with Inverness? Perhaps she had a timetable of ancient shipping.) Yet within the rush they needed her ridiculous hillside fall to stall her, by which she magically wakes up at Balgriggan. And yet the stones she came through were 55 miles SSE of Inverness. This story writing was little short of terrible.
Moderns in the past should have felt unsure, not getting the accent, not knowing the way. So much more was possible here: actual cultural awe and displacement, and people who will have recognised that Brianna was not of their time.

This is basically how they should have run the Lizzie story: by cultural misunderstanding both Roger and the lovemaking. Except that it was overrun by the rape plot. Lizzie surely learnt that the man she saw was the man Brianna handfasted, even if Brianna did not mention the rape. Brianna ran to the harbour, after asking about Roger, and Lizzie knew where to find her. Over two months Brianna spoke of Roger to her mother. Lizzie slept in the same room as Brianna. Lizzie is shown as highly tuned into her mistress. When Roger arrives and asks the way to Fraser's Ridge (in those days a rapist might, to make a claim over the woman) Roger is unable to say who he is in case the idiot plot is blown.

An idiot plot is one where a simple conversation to the benefit of both parties takes place to remove a dilemma. The idiot plot that allows Roger to be misunderstood as the rapist, thanks to Lizzie's incredible lack of information, simply does not hold. And therefore the central plot fails.
Older Ian took Brianna completely on trust, when she finally was taken to Lallybroch by Laoghaire's daughter. Not only did he accept who she was, but he took her a very long way indeed to Ayr. Why Ayr is still baffling. And why did Ian disappear in a flash in Ayr, once Lizzie was strangely added to the tourers? In the end they should have kept to the story even with Jenny absent, and had the arrival with family scenes located at Lallybroch. The cost of the alternative was greater than the benefit.
Lord John Grey was very Lord John Grey, but whilst he told Brianna that he would be ruined if people discovered he is homosexual, 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 then that would not serve the dramatics.
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.

The worst "retrofit" (podcast) writing was concerning Frank in series 4 episode 07. That Frank had the obituary meant it must have been in his archive for the group's later document search yet in season 2:13 and 3:4. Brianna's run in with her father, regarding his reluctance to tell her about the Obituary notice, which she there picked up, was a significant moment because her father was not being honest with her. Just as in 2:13, when she remembered her father's document box and a letter from the reverend, so she would have remembered this in the 3:4 document search. She might have remembered the notice in 2:13 itself - because Claire Fraser suddeny would make sense. Indeed this obituary notice was in Fiona's granny's archive, the reverend's archive and Frank's. Indeed it would be in the reverend's journal, highlighted in 2:13. Thus, immediately, they would have discovered not simply Jamie's eventual whereabouts but that he and her mother died back in time. This is irresponsible writing.
It is not just that the writers departed from the books. It is what they wrote as variation. It does not work, and it wrecks earlier series' episodes.

Why not bite the bullet? Make changes! For example, Roger describes himself as an idiot to the priest for not going through the stones on his escape from the Mohawk. They play with the audience with the shower scene in 4:10. But his explanation, his 'idiocy' in considering Brianna, is no explanation. This is because he could have gone through those stones, recovered, resourced himself, and gone back in time and to Brianna. Ian could still have given himself to the Mohawk, on he three finding that the Indians did not have Roger (in this scenario).

The problem is, they change Lizzie, they change where the obituary notice is found, they alter Brianna's move back in time, but they try to get back into the book after these changes have been made. Series 4 was Outlander's self-destruct button.
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 cultural reaction and Ian and Jamie's disapproval of Brianna, and less violence as a result. Let Roger be less of an idiot. Treat Brianna as intelligent. Earlier slow episodes would have allowed a second meeting between Brianna and Roger. Also we are led to assume it takes weeks and weeks to get from North Carolina to Mohawk country. Even if going needed tracking, it might actually be a quicker journey, but can be made quicker through editing. It becomes possible, then, for Claire and Jamie to be at River Run in time for Brianna giving birth. This is not some incidental moment: it is when Brianna truly forgives her father and reconciliation takes place before she finally gives birth. Instead we get her simply saying that she had already forgiven him - a bland statement to miss out the drama of bonding.
The lead actors gained more directive power over the series. The team gives out plenty of publicity with whoops from the audience. But we know that the moves for more responsibility and direction suggest dissatisfaction, and podcasts and reactions showed that the producers realised they had upset their audience.