SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” the 10th episode of “Outlander” Season 5.
Viewers who are familiar with Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” book series were in for quite a surprise in the most recent episode, “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” because the action jumped ahead to the sixth novel and wrapped up a storyline that has been on-going for two seasons.
In “Mercy Shall Follow Me,” Brianna (Sophie Skelton) was kidnapped by Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) and taken to his private home on Ocracoke Island where he decided they could make a family with “their” son.
“[The writers] felt like because Bonnet is this looming presence the whole way through [this season], then if you didn’t wrap it up, you’ve got the same thing happening next season,” Skelton tells Variety. “It was nice to wrap it up, and now we can move on next year.”
In wrapping up that storyline, the show stuck fairly close to the events of the book. While fighting with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Brianna on the beach, Bonnet knocked Brianna unconscious and she awoke in a strange house, disoriented and scared. But Skelton says that at one point there was also going to be a question of baby Jemmy’s safety as well.
“She wakes up and it’s the panic of ‘I’m trapped here with this monster, is my mother alive?’ and then initially Jemmy was actually in the beach scene with us. Jemmy and Lizzie were supposed to be at the beach with Claire and Brianna and that actually got taken out of the script, so at least Brianna knows that Jemmy is somewhat safe at that moment when she wakes up,” says Skelton. “But she’s afraid history is going to repeat itself. Bonnet is this monster and the fact that he’s being nice is even more disconcerting for her and there’s this feeling of not knowing when he’s going to pounce and she’s just trapped in this cage.”
As Skelton puts it, it’s a bit surreal how calm Bonnet was, acting like he and Brianna were destined to be together and raise their son. He didn’t seem to understand why Bree might be afraid of him.
“He doesn’t see the rape as a bad thing,” Skelton notes. “He’s like, ‘:et’s get together now, we have a kid!’ He has no idea what he did.”
This made it all the more terrifying for Brianna because she had to play along with his game to buy herself time to escape.
“As soon as she finds out that he knows Jemmy’s name, she really snaps into, ‘I’m going to play Bonnet’s game,” she explains. “She’s trying to put on this appearance and act like he cannot affect her, but she’s not an idiot and she’s aware that if she presses that too hard, he could do a complete 180 and turn into that monster. So she’s trying to put on a brave face.”
Part of the “game” Brianna was forced to play was teaching Bonnet how to be a gentleman. As such, so many of their interactions had a double meaning — including when Bonnet was worried Brianna would think less of him and she said, “I couldn’t think less of you.” Skelton says she worked hard to make those moments apparent to the audience, but also subtle enough that you believe Bonnet wouldn’t catch on.
“When she says ‘I couldn’t think less of you,’ he sees it as a compliment. So she is trying to get on his good side and have these brave moments, and I wanted to phrase them in a way where the audience doesn’t miss it, but Bonnet does,” Skelton says. “It’s a fine line to tread. It’s these tiny speckles of bravery, but they have to be masked because if she pushes too hard, the whole situation could change, and right now she just needs to play his game and figure out a way to escape.”
Part of buying herself some time was Brianna spotting a book and pretending to read “Moby Dick” to Bonnet. “Moby Dick” hadn’t even been written yet, but it opened up a conversation where Bonnet talked about his recurring nightmare of drowning and how he had no friends because they had all betrayed him. Skelton says the audience shouldn’t feel guilty if they felt a sliver of pity for Bonnet in that moment — because Brianna did.
“In those small moments, you can’t help but feel he’s been through some bad stuff that made him act the way he has, the whole nature vs nurture thing. She has those moments of pity, more than sympathy,” she says.
Still, Skelton doesn’t think that excuses Bonnet’s behavior at all.
“Brianna has been through bad things too, and she didn’t do any of these monstrous things,” she says.
Despite the small amount of pity Brianna may have felt for Bonnet, he eventually tried to kiss her and she couldn’t mask her revulsion, which blew up the entire charade. Bonnet then tried to sell Brianna to another man, but by then, Jamie (Sam Heughan), Roger (Richard Rankin) and Claire managed to arrive and save Brianna from her new captor. Brianna demanded that Bonnet be tried in a court of law, and he was sentenced to death by drowning, which meant he was tied to a pole in the water as the tide came in.
At the last moment, Brianna couldn’t let him succumb to his worst nightmare, and she killed him herself by shooting him in the head from the shore.
“I think part of it is mercy,” Skelton says of that murder. “She could enjoy this and watch him drown and let him know that she’s enjoying it, but she decides she can do this one tiny bit of goodness so he can see in his parting moments from the world that goodness does exist.”
But, Skelton also admits that part of her also thinks Brianna “just wants to make sure that the slippery snake does die and doesn’t find a way to escape again. Bonnet has a good way of getting out of trouble and out of death.”
Although Bonnet is now gone from her life, the trauma of Brianna’s experiences with him still remain, though.
“I think it gives her closure in regards to Jemmy’s safety, that Bonnet can’t hurt her family anymore. But mentally and emotionally she’s not over it. This doesn’t just fix her,” says Skelton.
“I actually want to make sure that it’s not just put away in a box and tied up with a bow. You don’t just shoot someone and then your trauma is gone along with it. She’s going to be suffering for a long time, maybe indefinitely. So I’m going to incorporate it. I don’t know how much the script will, but I will. She’s not fixed. It gets rid of the person, but it doesn’t get rid of the memories and the damage. It’s definitely something I will carry forward, even if the scripts don’t.”
“Outlander” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. Starz.