Drink with me
To days gone by
Can it be
You fear to die?
Will the world remember you
When you fall?
Could it be your death
Means nothing at all?
Is your life just one more lie?
– Grantaire, “Les Miserables”
And SPOILER ALERT Please watch episode 210 first ‘cause we’re about to talk about it!
So let’s find out if Dougal will play along with the war plan this week, and if Jamie and Claire can change history.
PS: How fun has it been to watch the opening credit sequence evolve over the season? We’ve now added some 1940s driving; a bit of Claire on the ground with PTSD; a Redcoat on his rearing horse; and of course, naked Scotsmen. Best music video ever.
This episode is called Prestonpans, which is the name of the battle it’s going to detail for us.
And our opening image is dire—the drums of war.
And now it’s just Claire: “I feared in my heart that history would not be rewritten, that no matter how many battles we might win, victory would remain forever out of reach.” As she surveys the body of a dead Scot soldier—a young man who looks like he’s but a child—she muses: “How many men had I seen killed in war? Far, far too many.”
So now we’re in the war room with the Bonnie Prince Charlie, and we learn that “Quartermaster O’Sullivan”—who apparently has just been given this title—and the lord general cannot agree on a strategy on how to attack the Redcoats who are camped out just across a meadow from the Scots.
Jamie discusses the problems with storming the meadow— or, as he calls it, “the bog that lies between us and the enemy.”
The problem lies in the marsh itself, which they fear is too muddy and dangerous for the men to traverse. So who’s right? The Irish-born quartermaster who wants to do it anyway, despite the fact that they have no cavalry? Or General Murray, who is more concerned for the men’s well-being?
O’Sullivan claims the fierce Scots will prevail through force of will, and is ready to send them in without much of a plan. Because that always works really well in a war.
So now a new question: Can Charlie get the general to just surrender peacefully, and avoid war? Or is “the time for talk done”? O’Sullivan insists: “We sailed from France to fight a war. Let us fight and be done with it.”
Oh, dear. The internal fighting isn’t going to help things.
So let’s leave this war room from hell. “Why must the Scots be such intractable people?” asks the prince. Well, because they’re Scots. Don’t you know?
Meanwhile, Claire is setting up a field hospital. British casualties shall be tended to before the Scots, insists the prince. “They are our enemies now, but one day soon, they will be our friends again.”
This is the introduction of one of the themes of the episode—Charlie considers the Brits to be his subjects and his countrymen. He still has the idea that after this “unfortunate war business” is taken care of, they’ll be one big happy family again. Can war ever be so simple?
“I’m afraid the British have never been a friend to the Scots,” reminds Jamie. Besides, Claire will never do that anyway. And I love that Charlie thinks Claire will do whatever she’s told… if her husband—sorry, “lord and master”– gives her an edict. Yeah, he’s never met Claire, apparently.
So the men must sit around, waiting for war. Not knowing what kind of timeline they’ve got. It’s the ultimate test of patience. Even a spitting contest isn’t going to make imminent death seem funnier.
Murtagh is not interested in this conversation about why exactly they’re dying. Nor does he want to watch the men kill themselves before they get a chance. But nervous men with weapons are historically a dangerous combination.
And Dougal cuts in: “For the love of Christ, how can a man nap with all this blathering?” And I’ve got to say, Angus is the worst of all. The fearful energy is getting the better of the men already.
Okay, so what can they do to be proactive? Recon of the marshland is probably a good idea. Maybe they could plan a sneak attack, although, as Jamie himself admits to Dougal: “It’s the better part of valor to force the British to come to us.” (By the way, I love how the writers—especially Ira Behr, who wrote this episode– have captured the language of the day, including classical literary allusions which Jamie would know with his education. “Better part of valor… is discretion” is spoken by Falstaff in Henry IV Part I, when he fakes his own death on the battlefield in order to save his own life. A cowardly act, but a successful one.)
So Jamie can’t do the recon himself, because whoever goes will probably die in the process, and that would piss off the prince—one of his favorite soldiers dying. And yet… “someone has to risk the doing,” says Jamie.
“Then all I need to do is stay out of the range of their guns,” says Dougal. “I’d like to prove my mettle to the prince, Lord Murray, and the rest of these Jacobites.” So we’ve learned something here: calling Dougal chicken is a great way to get him to do something dangerous and slightly stupid.
And the Redcoats get wind of Dougal as he approaches. They stagger to their feet as an officer casually starts doling out orders. They start firing, but Dougal won’t let a couple bullets deter him. Mud, however—mud is pretty undeniable.
Angus and the other watch from the sidelines, proud of Dougal. Even Prince Charlie comes out, impressed with Dougal’s nerve. (And Angus, meanwhile, is impressed with himself for talking to a real live prince! At least Rupert manages to be a bit more formal.)
And sure enough, it is some boggy marshland that Dougal is trying to traverse. The horse is stuck, the bullets are zipping. They even blow off Dougal’s tam, leaving a slight scratch on his bald head.
Dougal rides back to a chorus of cheers. But the men are too eager in their celebration. Even Charlie says, “Surrender! Bravo! Bravo!” He gives Dougal the big hug of appreciation: “Mark me, if I had 100 men like you, this war would be over tomorrow.”
But Dougal must tell him: “It’s joyless news that I bring back with me.”
Even the prince acknowledges that they can’t charge. There’s some brief discussion of whether they should go back to Edinburgh, but the prince refuses. “The enemy is here,” he declares. And he charges the general to figure out a way to make it work.
So now Dougal needs a quick change of britches, because despite his heroic welcome, even he must acknowledge that with the fear of imminent death, he just “shat his pants.”
Enough of men. Let’s catch up with Claire, shall we?
And what is Claire doing? Well, what would you expect? Teaching the women how to “tend to the wounded,” even though the doctor seems to have left. Sweet water will keep the patients’ blood pressure up, prevent shock. And Fergus has been given “women’s work”—keeping the fire burning.
Boy, if only a deus ex machina would walk in and get the plot rolling along… oh, look it’s Richard Anderson. Who’s that, you say? It’s not important right now. He’s some guy who’s there to tell Claire—and by extension Jamie and all the guys—that there’s a secret way to sneak into the British camp. But can they trust him? Well, they don’t really have a choice.
Quartermaster John is not there to give advice, and “delay could prove fatal,” reminds Jamie.
And with the proclamation from Charlie: “We shall not return unless we bring victory back with us,” the plan is set.
Now before we go, let’s check in with the guys. And what are they doing? Promising to marry each other’s wives and take care of each other’s children, of course. Angus even tries to make provisions for the barmaid/whore that he sometimes sleeps with. No detail is going untended to. It’s a lighthearted scene, but the implication is clear. The men all know they might not be coming back.
So Jamie talks to Murtagh, who beautifully delivers the THEME OF THE EPISODE:
“It’s just… in a raid, every man has a part to play. If you’re forced to wound a man, kill him even, chances are you stare into his eyes when doing it. If you were to be killed, you’d die knowing that your memory would live on within your clan. Your death would have meaning. But this… this is different. We’re but part of a 2,000-strong army. My death, your death alone, would be meaningless.”
And though Jamie chides him: “Not a very comforting thought on the eve of battle,” the words have clearly sunk in.
“In Paris,” Jamie admits, “I almost lost my marriage trying to stop all of this from happening. I failed.” When Murtagh says, “Eh, we failed,” it is a cold comfort.
So what is the theme of this episode? Futility, of course. The whole of season two has circled around its two opposing and yet inexorably linked themes like vultures around a dead soldier: futility… and faith. Do any of our actions matter? Do our very lives matter? Can we still have faith in each other, in our fellow man, in ourselves, if the answer is no?
And Claire, like the tragic Greek figure of Cassandra, cursed with knowing the future; helpless to stop it. Or is she? Can her faith change the past? Or all of their actions merely futile?
Okay, enough philosophizing. Let’s see how the men are doing.
Jamie charges Fergus with staying at the camp and watching after the women, despite his desire to join the forces. Angus requests a last kiss from Claire. After all, “I would hate for my last thought to be how you denied me my final request.” Good point.
But Rupert insists: “None of us will be meeting our maker in this place.” Is he right? Murtagh is hopeful. “We will win the day, mo caraidh (my friend). It is the promise of history?” Lest we forget, Murtagh knows about Claire, and she has promised him that the Highlanders win Prestonpans. She assures him again.
A last kiss between Claire and Jamie, and then…
And as the men sneak off through the misty bog, Claire orders the women to get some sleep. It’s the last chance they’ll get. But where is Fergus?
Richard Anderson, having done his part, now leaves the men, and they are ready to attack. Jamie insists that Prince Charlie be kept safe, which he initially balks at. I will say this for Charlie: He’s not asking his men to do anything he isn’t willing to do himself. But he can’t die. There would be nothing left to fight for. (And that would be bad because?)
Jamie says he must stay alive for the sake of his father. And Charlie, who basically sums up his whole life with this sentence, says, “I don’t believe my father is all that fond of me.”
Back on Claire: what else can she do to get ready? The women have rested. The bandages are being prepared. “I know what you are all feeling,” she tells them. “Been there myself. The fear, the self-doubt. But our men are depending on us. And we will not let them down.” And yet, is that a flash of doubt in her eyes? No matter. “Boil these again. They need to be spotless,” she tells the women, trying her best to make 18th century Scottish women understand germ theory.
And the drums are beating now.
Jamie gives the command—a silent slash of the sword.
And what are the men coming upon? Sleeping Redcoats. They capture the British troops completely unaware. The Scots run screaming onto the field, long swords drawn, ready to taste blood.
A woman working for Claire mutters a prayer: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high…”
And her words are the music to which the British are slaughtered. The men fight fiercely. But the element of surprise only lasts so long. Will it be enough?
And back at the camp, the wounded start coming in. Ross enters, the body of a Scotsman flung over his shoulder (*note: a reader has confirmed that this was Kincaid. So sad.) There is nothing Claire can do. He is already gone.
Back to the battleground. Damn it, Fergus! You were told you mind the damn fires. Do as you’re told! Why are you on this battlefield? He stands stunned, helpless, his tiny sword hanging limply at his side. What good could it possibly do in such carnage?
The Redcoats are down, blood gushing out of them. Their general insists they stand their ground, but it’s too late. They’ve been overcome. The Scots have been successful.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t wounded. The British prisoners have made their way to Claire. She starts a triage for them, the muscle memory of treating the dying coming back to her as she moves.
But now Rupert is deeply wounded. And Angus insists she save him… now!
Rupert’s wound is bad. “We have to close this wound before an infection sets in,” Claire realizes. She works quickly to sew it up. Will it be quick enough?
In quick flashbacks, we see how Angus saved Rupert by shooting the mounted soldier who had struck him down. But then, the canon blast—Angus appears to be “all blown up,” just as Rupert had worried. And Rupert falls. The two men stare at each other across the haze of battle, unable to move.
Claire finishes sewing Rupert up. There’s no way to know if his wound will fester. Damn, what a girl wouldn’t give for some penicillin right about now.
Angus will not leave his friend’s side: “I’ll be keeping both eyes on this big belly going up and down.”
And now, finally, deep sigh of relief, people. Jamie is back. “The day is ours, Sassenach.” Murtagh follows suit by announcing that only 50 of their men have died. Only 50… of their closest friends.
But Jamie is optimistic from his win. If only they had cavalry, he realizes, they could put the whole bloody mess of this war behind them. You can almost taste the potatoes of Lallybroch when he says this, and I’m sure he probably can too.
But first, Fergus is back. He is struck dumb, eyes glazed. He killed an English soldier.
“He fell down. He had a knife. I struck him.” The boy has lost whatever innocence he had left. Now he’s killed a man. A rite of passage at that time, sure, but one Claire wanted to keep him from for as long as possible.
Back on the battlefield, all the wounded lay moaning on the ground, mostly Redcoats. And Dougal walks through their bodies, killing them where they lay. Is this pity—putting them out of their misery– or something darker?
And now we see a familiar face, though it’s been a while: Jeremy Foster, the honorable Redcoat we met last season. Jeremy is wounded, but he has hope that if he can get back to the infirmary, he might make it. But first, he needs to level with Dougal: “You cannot defeat the British army. You’ve won a battle, but you will never will this war.” Dougal, pompous as always, declares: “God alone knows the answer to that… and if so, I’ll look for you in hell.”
Sorry, Dougal, you can stab that man as many times as you’d like, but the words will continue to ring in your ears.
Back in Claire’s infirmary, silent prayers are being said over the dead. Will Rupert be among them? Jamie isn’t sure.
Just as in the book, Claire now realizes that Jamie’s been stepped on by a horse, and makes him pee in a cup to look for blood in the urine. Jamie makes a game of it, taking a bet from a British soldier about how far he can aim.
And that’s when Prince Charlie walks in and he is congratulated on his victory.
But Charlie is torn about it. “As (the victory) is over Englishmen, it brings a damp chill over my heart.” Dougal, as we’ve just witnessed, has no use for the British in any circumstance. But Charlie insists that the men they are fighting deserve respect. “They are my father’s subjects,” he reminds the room. “And each one of them is your brother. My God, sir, where is your Christian charity?”
Dougal is kicked out of the room, having lost the good name he had made for himself with the prince earlier. It’s interesting to be reminded that things weren’t black and white for Charlie, who considered all of Britain to be his domain (and France and a bunch of other places, but that’s not important right now). It made me think of the American Civil War—when you pit brother against brother, even if you win, you lose.
So Jamie comes up with the plan to ditch Dougal. How? Promote him, of course. Dougal is now “captain of the newly formed Highlander Dragoons.” They’ll be in charge of recon of enemy troop movements… and Charlie will never have to see him. Win/win.
But Dougal is wise to Jamie’s plan:
“I know what you’re up to,” he says. “You champion me and you exile me, both at the same time. That’s a plan worthy of my brother Colum.”
But now… what’s this? Angus is gurgling, blood sputtering up to his mouth. Claire realizes with horror that he has been bleeding internally the whole time. Angus struggles to speak a few last words to Claire, but he can’t get them out. Choking on his own blood, he passes on.
But Rupert, whose life Angus saved, now groans his way to standing. Why? To take up his friend’s sword, of course… just like he promised he would.
Murtagh simply states, “I expected the flavor of victory to taste sweeter.” Truer words were never spoken. As Jamie tells him, “War tastes bitter no matter the outcome.”
So Claire was “right about Prestonpans after all,” Murtagh realizes. A bitter reward, considering what she realizes next: “That means I’m also right about the disaster awaiting us at Culloden.”
And as the men sing their song: “Come let us drink while we have breath, for there’s no drinking after death… Down among the dead men, down among the dead men, let’s have life!” we fade to black.
And the words of fallen Jeremy Foster can’t help but come back to us now—they won this battle, due largely to the element of surprise. But what will happen next time… when the enemy is awake?
We will find out next week. Till then, my friends, enjoy each blessed day.
Or just follow this blog. 🙂
And for those who wanted to get some Outlander-themed jewelry, here’s the link: Sassenach Jewelry