SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Famous Last Words,” the eighth episode of “Outlander” Season 5.
When “Famous Last Words” first started, it took “Outlander” viewers out of the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Alamance and instead showed Roger (Richard Rankin) and Brianna (Sophie Skelton) back at Oxford in 1969 when they were first dating. He gave lecture about different historic figures’ famous last words and then, after the class ended, he and Bree talked about going to see a silent movie.
It felt like a weird way to start the episode, especially since when viewers last saw the Fraser clan, they were cutting Roger down from having been hanged after his ancestor Buck (Graham McTavish) turned him over to the Red Coats as a Regulator rebel. However, as the episode went on, the framing device’s purpose became clearer.
What happened was that Roger was clinging to life when Jamie (Sam Heughan) cut him down. A time jump revealed that three months later, Roger still wasn’t speaking to anyone after his near-death experience and it was taking its toll on the whole family. Instead, Roger kept reliving his would-be execution as if it were a silent movie playing over and over in his head. He was clearly struggling with PTSD, feeling alone and disconnected from his loved ones.
Bree bore the brunt of Roger’s isolation, desperate to have her husband back. She even talked to Claire (Caitriona Balfe) about it, saying that Roger reminded her of her roommate’s boyfriend who fought in the Vietnam War. When he came back, he was distant and had a haunted look in his eyes — that was what Bree was seeing in Roger. Claire told her that was what people refer to as “shell shock” and it’s not uncommon in people returning from war. For Roger, this was very much the same thing.
So Bree soldiered on, trying to be patient with Roger. When he cried out for the first time in months because he had to stop Jemmy from touching a hot kettle, it brought everyone to tears, but Roger still wasn’t ready to deal with his pain, even though it was right there under the surface — just hearing Bree sing to Jemmy got him weeping quietly outside the cabin.
Even Bree yelling at Roger that she went through trauma too and that she, too, wanted to curl up and die wasn’t enough to jolt him out of his PTSD paralysis. In the end, what was enough was the reappearance of young Ian (John Bell).
For non-book readers, this was a change to the timeline in the fifth book. There, Ian doesn’t return until the very end; he is not with Roger when Roger surveys the land given to him by Governor Tryon as settlement for the Red Coats trying to execute him. But this was a clever change on the part of the show’s writers because Ian was just the jolt Roger needed.
If you’ll recall, at the end of Season 4, Ian sacrificed himself to save Roger: He voluntarily stayed with the Mohawk tribe so that Roger could return to Brianna. Seeing Ian again clearly gave Roger a wake-up call about how he needed to lean on his family instead of pushing them away.
Then in a clever move, Jamie asked Ian to help Roger survey the land. In the book, Roger does that by himself. But here, Ian and Roger bonded over their shared trauma, and Roger actually stopped Ian from committing suicide with some hemlock root he stole from Claire’s surgery — which Claire had assumed was stolen by Roger for that very purpose.
The two men found some commonality in how their respective traumas resulted in some profound loneliness. Ian didn’t get into too many details about why he left the Mohawk and how he lost his wife, though. (That will most likely be revealed in a future episode because it was a big part of Ian’s return in Book 5.)
When they returned from surveying the land, Roger made up with Bree — though he did tell her that part of him died that day in the hangman’s rope and he will never be the same man. But based on Bree’s first-anniversary gift, which was a paper airplane, it seemed like she already knew that. When she gave it to Roger, she told him, “Sometimes we have to adjust our expectations to bend and reshape ourselves.”
That also means a year has passed since the Season 5 premiere, and it’s been more than a year since Ian left them. When he came back, he accused Jamie and Claire of hiding things from people — which is another thing that will likely come to ahead as the season continues.
While Roger, Bree and Ian took up the lion’s share of the plot this week, there was a nice acknowledgment of Murtagh’s (Duncan Lacroix) death. It was a tricky thing to do because of the three-month time jump, but the writers solved that by having Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy) finally make the trip to Fraser’s Ridge to say goodbye at Murtagh’s grave, which was both a good conclusion for their romance and also a way to avoid making it feel like the show completely ignored his death in favor of Roger’s storyline.
“Outlander” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.