Still recovering from Stephen Bonnet’s betrayal in the fourth season premiere, “America the Beautiful,” the Frasers arrive at River Run, the plantation home of Jame’s Aunt Jocasta, at the beginning of “Do No Harm.” Having arrived in Georgia back in the third season finale, “Eye of the Storm,” the intrepid family of misfits has made their way to North Carolina. Along the way, their bag of gems is stolen, one of their party is executed for murder, and one of their party is murdered himself. At least Young Ian has a loyal, and somewhat threatening, dog.
The Frasers arrive at River Run penniless, but Jocasta welcomes the trio of immigrants warmly. Claire’s introduction to Jamie’s functionally blind Aunt Jocasta is a bit prickly, but everyone is civil. It’s obvious that Claire appreciates Jocasta, and vice versa, but neither agrees with the other’s politics. Jocasta seeks to keep an even keel, where Claire, more often than not, actively tries to upset the status-quo.
OUTLANDER: “Do No Harm” – Putting On Heirs
In a somewhat foreseeable development, Jocasta names Jamie her sole heir. This means that the administration of the River Run estate will fall to him. Having already decided to stay in ‘the colonies’ in “America the Beautiful,” Jocasta’s offer seems pretty good indeed. The only issue is that Jocasta’s plantation is managed by a force of over 100 slaves, and, quite rightly, neither Jamie nor Claire will agree to keep slaves.
The obvious answer to Jamie and Claire’s ethical dilemma seems to be to free the slaves. But as Jocasta and Farquard Campbell point out to Jamie, doing so would involve an astronomical cost and a bureaucratic nightmare: the Frasers would have to prove to the North Carolina government that each of the 150 or so slaves belonging to them had performed a meritorious act, such as saving a life.
OUTLANDER: “Do No Harm” – “More laudanum please…”
Newly named as River Run’s administrators, Jamie and Claire respond to a dispute at a mill where a slave has cut the ear off of an overseer — I guess Jocasta’s claim that the slaves are all happy was a bit off the mark. The overseer has threatened to hang the offending slave, so Jamie and Claire waste no time in getting to the scene of the dispute.
When they arrive, they find that the overseer is in the process of illegally executing the disobedient slave. But, instead of being hanged by the neck, the sadistic overseer has impaled the slave with a large hook and tied a rope to it. Jamie and Claire arrive too late to stop the overseer from hoisting his victim off the ground, but they manage to get him down before too much damage is done. The injured slave is rushed to the house, and Claire starts a hurried operation.
OUTLANDER: “Do No Harm” – “Uh…we’re here to subvert the legal system?”
Having drawn blood from an overseer, the injured slave, on the mend after Claire operated on him, faces the death penalty. Claire’s deft work saved the man’s life, but it appears that his death sentence will only be commuted for a short time. A mob gathers outside of the house demanding that Claire and Jamie turn the slave over to them, but Jocasta reminds the unruly group that the law states that they have until midnight to surrender the man.
Realizing that there’s no hope that the young man can escape the noose, Claire decides, instead, to euthanize her patient rather than let him be torn apart by an angry mob. Claire mixes a poison and helps the man drink. He recalls memories of playing with his sister.
OUTLANDER: “Do No Harm” – “Ugh.”
Jamie turns the slave’s corpse over to the mob who immediately seize him and tie a noose around his neck. They string the body up amid loud cheers while Jamie, Claire, and anyone else with an ounce of humanity watched in horror. Let’s just say, if Jamie, Claire, and Ian are going to move in here then they better watch out for the locals.
OUTLANDER: “Do No Harm” – Final Thoughts
I thought this was a good episode. It’s difficult to address issues like slavery in a time-travel show since failing to address the despicable social norms of the past makes characters seem callous. But, if the same characters try to right past social injustices, then the show inevitably turns into a show about the main characters fighting an underdog revolution, and we already saw that when the Frasers were in Scotland.
Outlander has also been working in subtle references to the history of sexism. Jocasta herself reminds Jamie that women who, like Claire, freely voice their controversial opinions risk the wrath of those in power. I still really like the idea of a time-traveling combat nurse, but in the 18th century people identifying as anything but adult white males would have had serious problems being treated seriously by the powers that were — read ‘adult white males’ — so it’s good that we’re getting to see a version of what those women’s struggles might have been like.