SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “America the Beautiful,” the season four premiere of “Outlander.”
The tagline for “Outlander” season four is “Brave the New World,” and the premiere episode wasted no time introducing Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) to the not-so-beautiful America upon which they landed in the season three finale.
First, they bore witness to the hanging of Jamie’s Ardsmuir Prison comrade Gavin Hayes (James Allenby-Kirk) and would have seen several other men sent to their deaths if a melee hadn’t broken out at the gallows. Regardless of whether the men are criminals and whether they should be subjected to capital punishment, it was a sobering look at frontier life in the early United States, which is a running theme in the premiere. The episode isn’t titled “America the Beautiful” for nothing — it’s a commentary about how they’re in this vast, beautiful country and yet there is ugliness at every turn.
Anyway, because Hayes was a criminal, the British can’t even give him a proper burial, so Jamie and company set about burying Hayes themselves under the cover of darkness.
During the burial, we learned that young Ian was still struggling with what he went through when Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) held him captive. She not only raped him, but her dark magic scared him to death. Ian was also still carrying tremendous guilt over the fact that his body responded to Geillis’ touch even though he didn’t want to sleep with her, which was obviously something he was ashamed to admit to his Uncle Jamie. But Jamie knew exactly what Ian was talking about and reassured him that wasn’t his fault that he responded to Geillis the way he did. It was a lovely scene between the two, serving as a good reminder that Ian is still very much a young boy in many ways.
After burying Hayes, Jamie, Claire and the rest of their crew set off north to visit Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy), but found themselves with an unwelcome stowaway on their wagon — one Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), whom book readers know to hate on sight, though by the episode’s end, show watchers who haven’t read the books did get an idea of how odious a man Bonnet is as well.
Before he revealed his true colors, Bonnet merely wanted Jamie and Claire’s help in escaping the British soldiers who were looking for him after he escaped during the chaos at the gallows. He swore to them that he was not a killer and that he would never bother them again if they would help him get free of Charleston — spoiler alert: he was lying on both counts.
But Jamie and Claire couldn’t help themselves when faced with someone who appeared harmless and was in need of aid, so they helped Bonnet escape, which is something that will come back to haunt them for quite a while.
However, before Bonnet’s unwelcome reappearance, Claire and Jamie were faced with the task of figuring out just what to do with themselves now. Do they go back to Scotland? Do they settle in America? They have found themselves in North Carolina because that’s where Aunt Jocasta resides and Governor Tryon (Tim Downie) made Jamie a tempting offer — swear loyalty to the King George of England and in exchange, Jamie would receive a land grant. The catch? He can’t be party to the American Revolution and would be expected to help quell any civil unrest in his neck of the woods.
On the one hand, Jamie and Claire certainly didn’t want to face another war after what happened during the Scottish uprising 20 years’ prior. But on the other hand, Jamie knew that the eventual United States is his daughter Brianna’s (Sophie Skelton) country and he liked the idea of playing a small part in helping her future country throw off the ruling fist of England. It probably also didn’t hurt that the Scots (especially Highlanders) still kind of hate the British at this point in time — and not without good reason, as we saw in previous “Outlander” seasons.
Jamie and Claire decided they didn’t have to make a final decision just yet and would call on Jocasta first. After leaving Fergus (Cesar Domboy) and Marsali (Lauren Lyle) behind in Wilmington (because she’s pregnant), the party set off on a barge to reach Jocasta’s plantation, complete with their new traveling companion in the form of Rollo, a beautiful dog young Ian won in a dice game.
It turned out that Ian’s acquisition of Rollo was quite fortuitous because when the barge was set upon by Bonnet and his men, Rollo took down at least one of the bandits. Unfortunately, as a modern cover of “America the Beautiful” played ironically over the montage, the rest of the robbers beat Jamie to a pulp and Bonnet himself killed Jamie’s friend Lesley (Keith Fleming) who was traveling with them. Bonnet also tried to steal Claire’s two wedding rings. She attempted to swallow them to keep him from taking them, but Bonnet managed to fish one out of her mouth — the silver ring Jamie gave her when they were married in Season 1.
Bonnet also stole their pouch of gemstones, which was basically all the money they had. Now the intrepid heroes will be showing up at Jocasta’s vast plantation with nothing but the clothes on their backs, which is sure to make quite the impression. The episode ended with Claire sobbing and clutching her one remaining wedding ring while Lesley lay dead on the floor, with the strains of “from sea to shining sea” ushering in the end credits. Again, ugliness at every turn.
“Outlander” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.