The American dream for some comes quickly, for others it can be a lifelong struggle. This season of Outlander shows Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) trying to build their own American dream – a life together. For the first time there is nothing standing between them and a future together, so they make plans to stay in the North Carolina colony, but they receive a less than warm welcome.
The premiere episode of Outlander season four, “America the Beautiful,” follows a few months after Claire and Jamie were shipwrecked on the beaches of Georgia in 1767. Since, they have moved to North Carolina along with their ward, Fergus, and his wife (and Jamie’s stepdaughter) Marsali. We learn that a man is to be hanged who is an acquaintance of Jamie’s from Ardsmuir Prison. When the condemned men head to the gallows one prisoner breaks free, though Jamie’s fried still sees his end. The group then sets up a plan to bury their friend when the escaped prisoner, Stephen Bonnet, asks for them to help him move through a checkpoint.
A New Life
The momentum of the episode comes from the duo trying to find a way to settle in the new world. Claire and Jamie have always found a way to make ends meet and Jamie always seem to have a wealthy cousin who can help them out. This season we will meet Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta, who has settled in North Carolina. Jamie and Claire rummaged up some jewels from the Artemis ship and they hope to trade them for cash, starting with a large ruby. Claire manages the sale of the ruby easily at a dinner party. At the same party, Jamie is propositioned to receive land from the British to be an early settler, but Claire warns him they won’t want to be on the British side of the American Revolution. The offer is appealing to them both as they will have a real chance of building a home together for the first time, despite the possibility of ending up on the wrong side of history, again.
Claire and Jamie have been struggling to be a real couple for as long as they have been married. Because so much time passed between them, they have been married for 24 years. Yet, for the first few years, Claire was torn between life with Frank or life with Jamie. She did return to Frank and raise her and Jamie’s daughter Briana in modern Boston for twenty years. Only once Claire returned to Jamie after learning he was still alive and after Frank passed away were they able to plan on permanent future together. This has changed the dynamic between them as they seem to be more in tune with one another as they begin to establish themselves in America.
This episode does lack the mystery of previous seasons. With every previous year there have been larger questions looming over the storylines. For season one, this was can Claire get back to Frank? For season two, will Jamie and Claire stop the Battle of Culloden? Season three spent over half the season with Claire and Jamie on opposite ends of the timeline until they reunited. But, now, there is very little unanswered. The main time travel story line for this season focuses on Briana, which was not mentioned in the premiere leaving the audience to follow a story that doesn’t move anything forward.
A Modern End
The ending of this episode pushed a little too far. Stephen Bonnet, escaped prisoner and admitted pirate, tracks Claire and Jamie as they move along a river towards Aunt Jocasta’s home. They take a break for the night when pirates tear into the ship and steal everything and kill their travel companion. The scene itself is very jarring and does not shy away from the violence. The song overlaying the scene was “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles. The song is modern and took away from the emotion of this fight because it felt so out of place. The song is beloved and respected as a patriotic anthem for many Americans. To juxtapose this with the harsh attack from pirates robbing them of everything, is not in line with the messaging of this song. This is used to show the violence of early American life, but this idea that American life is overtly violent is too far of a step. One of the features of Outlander is its attempt at historical accuracy. So the song choice is set to imply this negative messaging on American life, which feels unfounded and out of sync with the rest of the series’ tone. A different song more in line with the music of the rest of the episode would have allowed this moment to keep emotional impact without overlaying a modern commentary.
Overall, this episode was not a strong premiere for the established series, but with so much more on the horizon for all generations of Frasers, there is action to come.
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