When times get so tough that even the stalwart Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser is hitting the hard stuff in an attempt to self-medicate, ye’re in a verra bad way indeed.
And that’s where we pick up with Outlander‘s Season 6 premiere, which spends significant time in a flashback to Jamie’s prison days before it brings us to Fraser’s Ridge circa 1773. In the past, a grieving Jamie deals with a pain-in-the-tush Ardsmuir Prison cellmate. In the present, Claire is having a hard time in the aftermath of the rape and trauma she survived at the end of Season 5… and Jamie deals with a pain-in-the-tush former Ardsmuir Prison cellmate.
And before the end of the supersized episode, we get a whipping, some Claire-Jamie lovin’ and confirmation that the show is going to a dark place for Fergus and Marsali this season. Read on for the highlights of “Echoes,” then make sure to check out what Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan had to say about the episode’s disturbing ending.
MEET TOM CHRISTIE | I didn’t think Ardsmuir could get less fun, but we revisit Jamie’s time there starting in 1753, when there’s no Lord John Grey and no Murtagh. Grey didn’t take over as governor of the facility until 1755 (which is when the Ardsmuir scenes in Season 3’s “All Debts Paid” take place); I’m less clear on when Murtagh arrived, but it’s also possible he’s on the premises yet too sick at the time of this flashback to be out and about with the men as they work.
Anyway, this whole section goes on for a loooooong time, but the basics are these: Tom Christie is a holier-than-thou Protestant Christian who doesn’t get along with most of the other (Catholic) prisoners but who shares a kinship with the prison’s governor because they’re both Freemasons. During a hard labor session one day, a fight breaks out between the Protestant prisoners and the Catholic ones; Jamie mostly stays out of it, rushing in only at the end when one of the men takes a heavy rock to the head and dies. An elderly prisoner puts a piece of tartan — which by that time had been outlawed — on the dead man’s body; in order to protect the man, Jamie lies and says the piece of cloth is his.
For this, he is stripped — oh, hello scarred back prosthetic! Haven’t seen you in ages! — and whipped in front of everyone. While the punishment is going on, Jamie imagines he sees Claire walking toward him, wearing white. But before she can say, “Damn baby, what did you do to your hair?,” the torture is over and the sassenach disappears.
The governor calls Jamie in for a meeting, asks why he won’t do as told. MacDubh responds that the men are divided. They need food, medicine and a little peace — and Jamie has a plan on how to bring that about. He asks the governor to make him a Freemason, as well; all that is required is that Masons believe in a supreme being “as I do,” Jamie assures him.
So when Jamie returns to the cell, he announces that “From now on, the prison will be a lodge and we will be Freemasons, united in the belief of the Great Architect of the Universe.” It’s not an instant fix — Tom Christie and his allies don’t immediately sign up — but it’s a start.
ETHER? I BARELY KNOW ‘ER! | Then we skip ahead to 1773, and Fraser’s Ridge, where Tom and a group of fisherfolk from Scotland have just shown up. Is this a good time to tell you that, while reading the books, I always pictured Tom Christie as looking more like Rev. Johnson from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and I’m having a hard time reconciling that now? Eh, it’ll pass.
First, though, let’s talk about life on the Ridge. Jamie finds Claire passed out on the bed in her surgery, and it takes quite some effort to rouse her. But when he does, she’s excited: She dosed herself with the ether she made, and the anesthetic appears to have worked! (He’s less impressed.) They quickly review all of the terribleness that might come at them in the near future: the Browns, the war, the group of vigilantes calling itself a committee of safety. Plus, the British still want Jamie to be an Indian agent for the Crown, a job he very much does not want and plans to turn down.
On the wagon ride down to Fergus and Marsali’s place, they talk about how Jamie has been perhaps a little hovery ever since Claire’s kidnapping and rape. But the conversation doesn’t get far before they arrive so Claire can examine her very pregnant daughter-in-law. Marsali is exhausted, and she has a bruise that sure looks like a grip mark on her wrist. When Claire mentions that Fergus should be helping out with the house and taking care of the kids, Marsali looks squirrelly.
Much later, we’ll see Fergus show up to a family event drunk. When Marsali takes him aside and they talk about how he’s drinking too much, he replies, “I’m sorry I’m such a disappointment.” Oh book readers, it certainly seems like they’re going there this season, no?
BLAST FROM THE PAST | While Claire and Jamie are gone, Tom approaches the house, and Brianna and Roger invite him in. He’s there because he heard about Jamie offering land to his Ardsmuir men, and he and his group need a place to live. It quickly becomes clear that Tom has gained zero chill, religiously speaking, in the intervening years. And when Himself and Herself return, Jamie has to slap a smile onto his face to greet Tom. Then Roger’s like, “PSST, I TOLD HIM HE COULD STAY,” and the smile slips a little.
That night, at bedtime, Claire wonders if the Ridge is the best place for Tom to settle. Jamie admits he’s not psyched about it, but what can you do? He recalls that Tom’s wife died while they were at the prison; the memory makes Jamie think of how, during their decades apart, Claire would appear to him when he needed her the most. “Sometimes I think you’re an angel,” he says softly. “Would an angel do this?” she wonders, climbing on top of him. Lads and lasses, we’re only 45 minutes into the new season, and they’re already playing each other’s bagpipes! On a related note: I know they likely shot the scene sitting up in order to hide Caitriona Balfe’s then-pregnant belly, but GOD BLESS Jamie and his 50-something-year-old back. With everything he’s been through, you know that thing’s gotta creak like the hull of a wooden ship, and lying down probably would’ve been a better idea, yet ye wilna hear him complain!
TROUBLEMAKERS OF VARIOUS STRIPES | Tom has a daughter, Malva, and a son, Allan. Malva is bright and intrigued by Claire’s work. Allan is… just kind of weird. I’m not going to lie to you: This episode felt like it was six hours long, so I’m going to condense a lot here, cool? Among the fisherfolk there’s a woman named Amy who has a couple of kids and no husband, and when Roger volunteers to help her build a cabin for her new family, she’s overcome… As Claire stitches a gash in one of Tom’s hands, she notices that the other one suffers from Dupuytren’s contracture, a painful and debilitating condition that she can fix with a surgical procedure. But he won’t let her do it…
That brings us to Richard Brown, brother of the man who kidnapped and raped Claire. Richard is the head of a committee of safety that’s out to get the Native Americans in the vicinity. And, ironically, he’s been offered the role of Indian Agent that Jamie passed up. Brown and his men ride up to the Big House while the Frasers are throwing a welcome party for the Christies and their group. Richard announces that they’re there for Allan Christie, who he claims stole a powder horn. And, um, he did.
“Do you want to end up like your mother?” Tom yells at his son in front of everyone, grabbing him roughly. “Good, because she’s burning in the fires of Hell!” Tom asks Brown not to take the young man, saying he’ll punish Allan for his crime. Jamie steps in and makes it abundantly clear that he’ll mete out the punishment. “My land, my means,” he says. So he leads Allan to the side, has him take off his jacket, and then whips him with his belt while everyone watches and Allan cries out in pain. Then Jamie orders Brown to leave, and he does — but not before he implies that Jamie is harboring a rebel on his property. Tom is all, “We’re loyal to our king!,” and SHUT UP, TOM
Given this reminder of Richard Brown’s cruelty, Jamie finds Major MacDonald and says that he will step up and be the Indian Agent — if only to stop Brown from doing so. And then Jamie finds Tom and drives home one point: “If you’re to stay, then my word at Fraser’s Ridge is law.”
PHYSICIAN, STEEL THYSELF | That night, with all things Brown unsettling her, Claire has a nightmare that wakes up both her and Jamie. She rebuffs his attempts to comfort her, telling him she’ll go downstairs instead and make a cup of tea. But she actually fires up the ether still in her surgery, puts a few drops of the medicine in the mask. Then she sits on the bed and inhales deeply, falling backward in a stupor. Uh-oh, are we in a Cider House Rules situation here?
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Grade the premiere via the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts!