You could be forgiven for mixing up the title of episode 4×06 of Outlander with the Dothraki saying from Game of Thrones, but in this context ‘Blood of My Blood’ refers to a father and son relationship rather than a blood bond between warriors. Yes, this is the episode in which Jamie (Sam Heughan) is reunited with his son William (Oliver Finnegan).
Episode six is a mixed bag of family drama, unresolved homoerotic tension and bonding road trip. It does not entirely work, in part due to some uncharacteristic behaviour on the part of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and a frankly ridiculously contrived visit from Lord John Grey (David Berry) who just happens to stumble on to Fraser’s Ridge in the back water of North Carolina in an era when it took about a month or more to travel anywhere.
John, the sweet and melancholy English Lord, who is raising Jamie’s son and used to be the Governor of Ardsmuir Prison, is homosexual in a time in which homosexuality was not just a crime but would very likely get you killed. To make things even more complicated for the poor fellow he’s still hopelessly in love with Jamie, who was once his prisoner and who he plays strangely romantic chess with. So it is no surprise that he just happens to be unrealistically wandering through the woods near Jamie’s homestead while Jamie chops wood almost bare chested. Its not an accident that the scene could have come straight from a homoerotic romance novel.
It is hard to tell what Outlander is trying to do with the character of John Grey. One would guess the writers are trying to be progressive, but they are working with difficult source material as they have to combine several different attitudes to homosexuality: the harsh views of the 18th Century, the prejudices of the 1960s and any audience preconceptions in 2018. Even Claire, who is normally so free-thinking compared to everyone else in the 1700s, is uneasy with John’s sexuality, bringing her prejudices from the 20th Century with her in to the past. All these different views sit uneasily together in a show that is essentially trying to be progressive in its message.
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William, Jamie’s illegitimate son who was conceived through barely consensual sex back in Season 3, is travelling with John, who he believes to be his father. Jamie is delighted to see William and Sam Heughan’s performance is filled with pathos as he uneasily bonds with the son he barely knows. All the performances in this episode are excellent from Claire’s conflicted feelings regarding John Grey to Murtagh’s (Duncan Lacroix) wariness at seeing his old jailer for the first time in decades. Added to the acting talent is some wonderful scenery and detailed costumes. The main problems with the episode lie with the script and the story-line.
It is not unusual for Outlander to struggle with its story-lines and predictable plot twists. It is inevitable that Murtagh, the leader of the Regulators will clash with John Grey, a supporter of the Governor and the British and that Jamie will be caught between his two friends. Historical conflicts seems to find Jamie and Claire more readily than almost anyone else in the 1700s. Since the measles was mentioned in last week’s episode we know it will appear again like a smoking gun and then sure enough John Grey is stricken with the virus. And of course this means Jamie has to take his biological son safely away on a male bonding hunting trip. Any viewer could have written this episode’s plot after three seasons of the show. It is that formulaic.
The scenes between Jamie and William are filled with feeling, but they do suffer from the fact that William is nothing like Jamie, in spite of the older man’s insistence on there being a striking resemblance between the two. It does seem like Oliver Finnegan tries his best in acting as William but he simply does not yet possess the talent to portray the conflicted feelings of the character over the course of the episode.
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The most interesting part of the episode is the conversations between Claire and John. Their discussions are openly hostile and yet still charged with unspoken feelings. The only flaw is Claire’s envy that John is raising Jamie’s son and was aquainted with Jamie for all the decades that she was parted from him. Although it is conceivable that Claire might be disturbed at the attraction John feels towards her husband, her jealously does not ring true for her character. All of season 4 has been built on the secure foundation of the Fraser’s mature and faithful marriage. Perhaps Claire’s dislike of John is more ugly than simple jealously and has more to do with prejudice than she cares to admit. Fortunately John and Claire finally bond over their shared experiences of having both been married to spouses they did not love and their shared loyalty to Jamie.
‘Blood of My Blood’ is an odd episode, like a small interlude in the wider time-travel story-line of Season 4. It is a close and intimate family drama in the midst of epic scenery and it fails to gel well with the sweeping drama of all the other episodes that have preceded it. As Claire and Jamie bid farewell to William (a relief frankly) and John, we hope next week the story will quickly return to Brianna (Sophie Skelton), Jamie’s other child who could be heading to North Carolina very soon.