Outlander America the Beautiful Review
Starz’s Outlander: Season 4, Episode 1: America the Beautiful has one of the most grueling finales of any Outlander episode. It’s not the action in the ending that makes it stand out, it’s the: mixture of suspense, betrayal, music, and the chief antagonist perpetrating the crimes that creates an indelible flashpoint in the viewer’s mind.
The ending scene of America the Beautiful is an arresting construction, a maelstrom that swirls around a good deed spat back in the do-gooder’s face. The music that plays during the scene (Ray Charles‘ “America The Beautiful”), with idealistic immigrants facing the harsh realities of America’s current inhabitants, is a complimenting element that few people would have thought to add to the scene.
I doubt any other song, sung by a black artist who had suffered through oppression in the greatest country on Earth, would have been more effective. The choice of music is so good in fact that dialogue is not necessary during the scene. The viewer gets what is happening from the stark, brutal visuals of the scene.
Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) is one of the most unscrupulous, ungrateful sociopaths that the viewer may have seen on television in some time. Even Wilson Fisk / Kingpin on Daredevil feels gratitude and is still capable of showing it. Stephen Bonnet seems to be far beyond that point, wrapped in his own myopic psychosis. Those points notwithstanding, Bonnet’s near split-personality, affability, smooth-talking, and rage make him an extremely fascinating character to behold, like a water-down version of The Walking Dead‘s The Governor.
Psychotic Pirate Captain Edward “Ned” Low was given multiple episodes on Black Sails in which his personality unfurled. Stephen Bonnet has only been given one episode (so far) on Outlander but Bonnet already seems more memorable than Captain Ned Low. With Captain Low, what the viewer saw was what they got. With Stephen Bonnet, his pathology is hidden, he is self-aware, and is able to disguise his true nature until it suits him. That makes him one of the most dangerous people James “Jamie” MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Dr. Claire Beauchamp Randall/Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) have ever encountered, even more so than Captain of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall.
Preceding the group hanging, Stephen Bonnet saw Jamie Fraser and Gavin Hayes (James Allenby-Kirk) interact, people with hearts that Bonnet could manipulate. One wondered why the camera lingered on Bonnet while Fraser and Hayes interacted in jail. Initially, the viewer thought Bonnet was nothing more than an outgoing, and somewhat garrulous, condemned convict. In actuality, Bonnet was sizing up everyone and everything in that room, including Jamie Fraser and Gavin Hayes, calculating, estimating, running “what if” scenarios through his mind about these good-hearted people. After his escape, Bonnet seized upon and activated a story that would appeal and tug at the heart-strings of those good-hearted people. Stephen Bonnet played the Frasers and then he came for them and all they had, Bonnet over-hearing them talking about their gemstones as he hid in their carriage, though the former (coming for the Frasers) could have been a coincidence. The only way Bonnet could have known it was the Frasers on the river barge is if he had them under surveillance and subsequently had been following their river progress onshore.
The look of contempt on Jamie Fraser’s face during the robbery when Jamie and Stephen look at each other says volumes yet the emotions that would be dragged kicking and screaming to the surface in another person aren’t present in Stephen Bonnet. If those emotions (gratitude, compassion, etc.) truly aren’t present within his personality, sociopath Stephen Bonnet is better at acting human than the viewer first imagines.
Countering this non-verbal section of America the Beautiful, a dialogue moment of strength that distinguish itself in the episode is between Ian Murray, Jr. (John Bell) and Jamie Fraser during the grave digging scene. Relating to each other through pain shows how each deals and is dealing with previous sexual assaults. Though Gillian Edgars / Geillis Duncan / The Bakra and Black Jack Randall are deceased, they live on and endure in the minds in their victims.
One of Outlander‘s positives is that the series is not just a succession of separate episodes with separate inter-episode plots. It is a continuous narrative where the characters deal with the residuals of previous episodes in real-time. It impacts them, their reactions to others, and their reactions to innocuous stimuli. Ian and Jamie are both rape victims in need of counseling, a concept as alien to them as flying through the sky. In place of counseling, as is shown in America the Beautiful, the two of them have each other. Perhaps that may be enough.
Even after his sexual assault admission to Ian in the graveyard during America the Beautiful, Jamie Fraser continues to look inward as he stands on the precipice of a major decision – staying in America and making a new life there with Claire. Jamie knows he is out of his league with Claire Fraser. This fact was evident before Claire went back to the future preceding the Battle of Culloden. When she came back, now a full-fledged medical doctor, Claire was even more so. America the Beautiful lets the viewer see Jamie’s insecurities through his honest self-examination and self-effacement to Claire. That level of honesty does not come easy but it must have been gnawing at Jamie as they plot their next move in life.
Now that Jamie, Claire, and company are destitute once again, they will have to rely on the kindness of others to stay in America or for the return voyage home to Scotland.
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