SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Do No Harm,” the second episode of “Outlander” Season 4.
In the wake of Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) robbing Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) in the “Outlander” season four premiere, the weary travelers still managed to make it to River Run, a stunning North Carolina plantation run by Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who was left blind by glaucoma. Jamie was slightly ashamed to show up penniless, but Jocasta welcomed them with open arms. Still, it was not an easy road as almost immediately Claire and Jamie experienced what it was like to see slaves working such land up close and personal.
And Jocasta’s motives were not entirely selfless anyway. She knew that it would benefit her to have a man like Jamie around. Remember, this was 1767 — Jocasta was definitely fending off advances from men who had designs on her plantation and didn’t think a blind widow could run it. Having Jamie there gave her a buffer from would-be outsiders like Lt. Wolff (Lee Boardman). The sneering Wolff seemed to think he knew best about what kind of crops River Run should grow, but Jamie stepped in when Wolff was going to run roughshod over Jocasta about the running of the farm.
It seemed like a good arrangement, but Claire immediately felt very uncomfortable at River Run because it, of course, was manned by over 150 slaves. Season 3 touched on this a bit when Claire and Jamie were in Jamaica, but at River Run the issue of slavery was even more immediate, and Claire wanted no part of it — which made things a bit tricky when Jocasta told Jamie that River Run was his as her sole heir.
The show drew an interesting parallel between someone like Claire, who represented 20th-century thinking about slavery, and Jocasta, who was put forth as a benevolent slave owner. For the time period, Jocasta was wonderful — letting families stay together, treating her slaves well — but she still owned other people and didn’t bat an eye when comparing them to livestock. It made Claire even more uncomfortable with possibly owning River Run, something Jocasta just couldn’t wrap her head around. When Claire made her feelings known to Jocasta, she had to pretend she came to her feelings after healing some Quakers because there was really no other explanation that Jocasta would accept. But Jocasta didn’t fault her for it; in fact, she admired Claire’s fiery opinion and headstrong nature and announced Jamie as her heir at a party that night.
While figuring out what to do with their possible new fortune, Jamie, Claire and young Ian (John Bell) met John Quincy Myers (Kyle Rees), a gruff man who knew his way around the back country and had experience with Native Americans. If you’re a book reader, Myers was the boisterous man for whom Claire repairs a inguinal hernia during one of Jocasta’s dinner parties. They’ve changed the character slightly for the show.
Anyway, Claire and Jamie did take a little time to consider owning River Run. Jamie suggested they could work to free their slaves and try to make a difference in their little corner of the world. It was an admirable idea, but Jocasta and her friend Farquard Campbell (James Barriscale) informed them that freeing the slaves would cost over 15,000 pounds sterling, which is a huge sum of money back then. According to a currency converter, it’s about $2.5 million in today’s money. Jamie and Claire definitely did not have that kind of money, but even if they did, they would have to get the freeing of the slaves approved by the courts by showing that each slave performed a meritorious service (like saving someone’s life). Needless to say, it would be extraordinarily difficult.
Before they could come to a decision, Jocasta dispatched Claire and Jamie to act as her representatives at the sawmill, where a slave, Rufus (Jerome Holder), assaulted a white man and was now being strung up on a meat hook. It was a horrific scene and Jamie would not abide the white men taking the law into their own hands this way. Claire immediately rushed to save Rufus, taking him back to the estate and performing surgery right on the dining room table. Jocasta was horrified at the mess they’ve gotten River Run in — she said the violence perpetrated on Rufus was “regrettable,” but he should be hanged for assaulting a white man and that’s all there is to it (in her mind).
Wolff demanded they hand Rufus over or they would arrest Jamie, but Jamie said Rufus was under his protection, and Claire continued to treat him on Jocasta’s dining table. As Rufus recovered, he told Claire and Ian about being kidnapped from his home in Africa, which seemed to open Ian’s eyes a little bit about the horrors of slavery.
Meanwhile, tensions were running high as Jocasta and Jamie butted heads about the situation. Privately, Ulysses (Colin McFarlane), Jocasta’s right-hand man, advised Claire to let it go. Ulysses was also a slave and he told her that if she continued on this path, the angry white men would eventually win anyway and then they would tear Rufus limb from limb as a message to the other slaves. The men gave Jocasta until midnight to turn Rufus over for execution.
Claire initially refused, but Jamie explained to her that if they help Rufus escape, the other slaves would be punished in his place. As an angry mob gathered outside, Claire finally realized there really was nothing she could do. So she euthanized Rufus as a small measure of mercy and Jamie turned his body over to the men, who promptly strung Rufus up as Claire and Jamie looked on disgustedly.
Suffice to say, this will probably bring Claire and Jamie’s time at River Run to an end, at least for now. They clearly can’t stomach taking over as the master and mistress of a plantation, and they definitely have not made friends with the people they would have to deal with as the owners.
“Outlander” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.