Last Saturday’s episode of Outlander, “Prestonpans,” contained some long-awaited action. The battle scene, full of smoke and indistinct shapes, gave viewers a sense of what being involved in this early-morning raid may have been like. A couple of characters introduced in Season One didn’t make it through the battle. Fergus‘s mental health is at no risk of spontaneously improving, having just gotten a taste of what being involved in a Highland charge is like. It was bloody. It was gory, check out my recap …
“Prestonpans” – My Recap
“Prestonpans” started with Claire pausing by the corpse of a slain Highlander. She contemplates the pointlessness of the man’s death, trying to determine how many dead men she’s seen during her involvement in two wars. Claire decides that however many she’s seen it’s been far too many; she’s broken from her reverie by Jamie demanding she hurry up in taking a “pish.” Demonstrating wartime frugality, Claire takes the dead man’s axe and heads back to the group.
We see Charles Stuart discussing his rebellion’s next steps with his trusted advisors. Among them are historical figures Sir John O’Sullivan and Lord George Murray, the Jacobites‘ quartermaster and Lieutenant-General respectively. Jamie is also in attendance with a couple of other Scots.
The quartermaster and lieutenant argue over which is the better move, O’Sullivan favours a speedy attack but the battle-seasoned Murray favours a well-planned offensive that will involve the fewest casualties for their side. Stuart, on the other hand, suggests a diplomatic resolution but O’Sullivan accuses him of being too tender-hearted. Jamie brings up that a frontal assault would likely prove deadly for their side since a bog stands between them and the British force. Jamie warns that if they get stuck in the mud they’ll become easy targets for the British muskets that have a range of up to 100 yards. The officers’ meeting devolves into a shouting match and Jamie tells the other Scots to continue to await orders.
The meeting finished, if not resolved, Stuart follows Jamie outside and asks him if Claire will be assisting at the Scottish field hospital. Jamie replies that she will be. Charles requests that Claire ensure that British soldiers be seen to first, before his own men, in order to promote Stuart’s message of British unity: he wants it known that the British aren’t being hewn down by a bunch of Scottish savages. Jamie says he doesn’t think Claire will obey that order. Stuart shows his ignorance of the Frasers’ marriage arrangement when he requests that Jamie order Claire to see to the British first. Jamie takes his leave of the Royal personage.
We see Dougal napping by a fire: Ross, Kincaid, Murtagh, Angus, and Rupert are also there, and Angus is spitting ale at Kincaid. A scuffle ensues and Angus draws his blade. Murtagh threatens to make Angus taste his blade from the other end and the disturbance wakes Dougal from his nap. A passing Jamie defuses the situation by ordering Angus’s blade down and asking Dougal for a private conference.
Careful not to order Dougal to do anything, Jamie suggests that it would be helpful if someone were to ride into the bog separating them from the British force in order to see if infantry could make the crossing. Jamie suggests that his uncle should come out unscathed so long as he keeps his distance from the British at about 125 yards. This minor prodding from Jamie is more than enough to get a bored and glory-hungry Dougal on his horse and on his way to the bog.
A typically disobedient Dougal gets stuck about 100 yards from the British. His hat gets shot off and he’s forced to dismount in order to turn his mired horse around. His retreat, however, meets with great cheering and a hug/beard tug combo from an awkwardly thankful Stuart. Dougal has proven that it would be impossible for either side to cross the bog without sustaining heavy losses, but he did it at the cost of his clean pair of pants. As Dougal heroically proclaims, “The hero of the hour has shat his pants.”
At the field hospital, Claire delegates various healthcare tasks to the volunteers. Fergus is being a bit of a pest but Claire is intent upon keeping him in the hospital with her and off the battlefield. It seems that the Scottish and British forces are at an impasse until a resident of the area surrounding the battlefield informs them of a secret path through the bog. They decide to strike soon and plans get underway.
We see Ross and Kincaid being very genuine with one another, each promising the other that should he die in battle the other should consider his property the other’s inheritance. Ross and Kincaid also make promises to take care of their fallen comrade’s family. Angus and Rupert have a less heartfelt exchange but Angus succeeds in telling Rupert that Rupert should take his sword should Angus fail to return from battle. Angus also offers Rupert the hand of a prostitute he frequents but Rupert reminds Angus she’s not his to offer, turning down Angus’s proffered spit-shake.
Jamie and Murtagh also exchange some, much headier, thoughts on the upcoming battle. Murtagh admits concern about the futility of dying in war. How can one man’s death mean anything in a force of 2000 men? Jamie’s out of words of comfort, telling Murtagh that he did all he could to stop the rebellion but failed. Murtagh reminds him that they both failed.
Jamie checks on Claire and finds Fergus begging to accompany the men on their attack. Jamie instructs Fergus to remain behind in order to protect Claire, and just before the Fraser family achieves an actual moment of familial bliss, Murtagh, Angus, and Rupert walk in and tell Jamie it’s time to head out. There’s a typical pre-battle goodbyes scene and Angus is able to secure another kiss from Claire. Rupert requests no goodbye, promising instead to drink with them upon his glorious return from battle. Jamie is the last one to offer his farewell to Claire. His kiss is a bit more passionate than the one Claire shared with Angus, but eventually Jamie also takes his leave of Claire.
Amazingly, the incredibly fortuitous information about the trail through the bog is true and the Scots set up for a surprise attack on the unprepared British. Stuart shows a great deal of courage in demanding he lead the charge but Jamie asks that Stuart stay back and let the warriors do the fighting. Stuart protests but stays back with Lord Murray. The battle of Prestonpans begins.
Kincaid doesn’t make it, I guess Ross will have to figure out how to take care of Kincaid’s six children, even though Ross is able to get Kincaid’s body back to the field hospital. Fergus, who sneaked out of the field hospital to fight with the men, gets knocked over almost as soon as he enters battle and covers his head in his hands. We see a Redcoat chop down Rupert. We cut back to Claire’s field hospital and see Angus rush in supporting his chopped up pal. As Claire sets to stitching up the gash in Rupert’s side, we hear Rupert ask Claire if Angus was blown up by a cannon. A flashback shows us that Angus was hit by debris from a cannon blast after gunning down the Redcoat who sliced Rupert.
Claire admits that she’s done all she can for Rupert. She hopes that no infection sets in. She asks to take a look at Angus who says that he’s fine as long as he can continue to watch Rupert breathe. Jamie comes in and announces that they’ve won the day. The British are in full retreat and the attack took only fifteen minutes. After a healthy amount of kissing, Claire asks after Fergus, and Jamie says that Fergus is alive, having seen him outside of the hospital. Claire finds the lad sitting on his own. He tells her he thinks he killed a Redcoat and cries. Claire comforts him.
Cutting back to the battlefield of Prestonpans, we see a determined Dougal trudging through the bodies stabbing any British unlucky enough to survive. Dougal comes upon a familiar Redcoat, Lieutenant Jeremy Foster who, in Season One, escorted Claire and Dougal to a meeting with Captain Randall. Foster begs Dougal to take him to the field hospital but Dougal refuses, saying he has more work to do on the battlefield. Foster wonders at Dougal’s bloodthirstiness and says that, though they won today, the Scots have no chance of defeating the British. Dougal obviously doesn’t appreciate Foster’s warning, and he runs him through with his dagger as soon as the words finish leaving Foster’s mouth.
Checking in again on the folks in the field hospital, Claire finds a hoof print on Jamie’s back and demands that he provide a urine sample. A British officer challenges Jamie to fill the pint glass from a yard away. Jamie takes the challenge and as he does Charles Stuart makes his post-battle appearance (bad timing!). Stuart gives the battle-weary men, Scot and Brit, a pep talk, saying that they’re all brothers and that the British have just as much place in his new Britain as the Scots do. Dougal, full of the lust of battle, interrupts this moment of diplomacy as he rushes into the hospital, grabs a wench, and before long has threatened to kill the British wounded.
Stuart, affronted by Dougal’s behaviour after giving his rousing speech about unity, exiles him and dismisses him from the Jacobite rebellion. Jamie, though, convinces Stuart to give Dougal a promotion. Dougal becomes the leader of the new Highlander Dragoons: this will keep him away from Stuart. After Stuart has left, Dougal congratulates Jamie on being able to simultaneously champion and exile him, saying that this is a plan worthy of Colum.
Angus appears overcome with exhaustion but as Claire realizes too late, he is suffering from internal bleeding. After some fitful breaths and gurgling noises, Angus collapses and suffocates in his own blood. It appears that cannon blast was worse than he let on. With Angus lying dead, Rupert climbs from his recovery bed, hobbles over to Angus, and takes the dead man’s sword, a callback to Claire’s taking the axe off of the dead Highlander at “Prestonpans’s” opening.
Later that night at the post-battle campfire, Claire reminds Jamie and Murtagh that since her prediction of a Scottish victory at the Battle of Prestonpans came to pass, she believes it’s likely that her prediction of a Scottish defeat at the Battle of Culloden will also come to pass. We hear a drunken Ross and Rupert singing “Down Among the Dead Men” and we see the full cost of the Scottish victory at Prestonpans written on their somber faces.
“Prestonpans” – My Critique
“Prestonpans” succeeded in showing viewers the chaos of warfare, specifically that of the 18th century. The battle sequence cinematography was excellent: it didn’t rely on gimmicks, mostly just smoke and explosions.
Romann Berrux did well in “Prestonpans.” I thought his portrayal of a shell-shocked child soldier was strong and that this episode’s events added some more much-needed complexity to the French orphan. That isn’t to say that the others did poorly in “Prestonpans.” This episode was full of great performances from the leads on down to the cameo appearance from Tom Brittney as Lt. Jeremy Foster. Commendations go to Stephen Walters who showed viewers a death scene both horrifying and touching, and Andrew Gower who portrays Charles Stuart with sympathy while making him seem like the biggest fop in history.
Outlander is on a dark path right now. It’s steaming ahead to its imminent and bloody second season conclusion, the Battle of Culloden. As any viewer who’s been on board since the beginning of Season Two knows, the Scottish must lose. Claire will come back through the stones to the 20th century no matter what happens in the next few episodes. With episodes like “Prestonpans,” though, there are still plenty of reasons to keep watching.