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Outlander - Mercy Shall Follow Me - Review - Bullet to the Brain

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Your regular Outlander reviewer had to step out this week, which means you’re trapped with me in 1770-something where a casual stroll on the beach will almost certainly lead to being snatched by your worst enemy. To make a full confession, I am a reader of the books, hence some discussion of of how things unfold in the written account.

“Brianna, was that mercy or was it to make sure he’s dead?” There’s no point in replying to such a clunky question, so Roger gets no answer from his wife. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our own inquiries. And there was only one thought in my mind at the end of Mercy Shall Follow Me. Is Outlander shooting itself in the head? The events of these past couple episodes have prompted me to wonder if the show is rushing to a conclusion à la Game of Thrones. Diana Gabaldon plans to write 10 books total, but it’s rare for any TV show launched in the last decade to make it to 10 seasons. There’s also the fact that talent and production can get bored. Could the show be planning to condense material in hopes that they will be able to finish sooner and craft their own ending? One hates to ponder such a dire thing. While I don’t love every part of the books, Gabaldon has a way of building things up that keeps you breathlessly hooked on her characters, their actions, and their fates. The television series appears to be as sweeping of a success as the books. (I saw not one but three Outlander quilts at my county fair the last time I went!) One reasons that Starz wouldn’t tank their flagship show like that. Would they? (Being vastly successful didn’t save Game of Thrones).

I don’t want to spoil the books for those who haven’t read them, so in a moment I’ll post a SPOILER ALERT. We all know that adaptations of books are free to chart their own course. However, when you follow the course from the beginning, only to veer sharply off the course partway through, then your new direction doesn’t quite work. There was something paint-by-numbers about this entire episode that felt unforgivably stale. The ending had little impact as a result. In the books, Bonnet does not die in The Fiery Cross, and Brianna’s final battle against him is significantly more dangerous, complicated, thrilling, and terrifying. Seeing how Sophie Skelton has grown into this role, I am flabbergasted and annoyed that they didn’t give her another season to develop Brianna and let her tackle that challenge. The unreadable simmer of emotions in her gaze at the end of this episode broke my heart, because Skelton deserved better than this episode.

Instead of the book's epic conclusion to Bonnet's arc, we got a rather tawdry abbreviation that gave no one a chance to shine. The show seemed to just want to make us and Brianna squirm, as if we wouldn't be doing so anyway. Even worse, the interactions were boring, and the stakes were low. Not even the most casual viewer could have thought Brianna wasn't going to make it out just fine. And there were even miscellaneous boobs, to make sure it was impossible to take any part of it seriously. Ed Speleers was just scratching the surface of this villain, without whom there's going to be a shortage of proper antagonists next season. Removing Bonnet at this stage will make it very difficult for the show to follow Gabaldon's course in the next season, which can only indicate they won't be following it very closely at all. How they removed Bonnet, however, was by shortchanging Brianna's entire journey, cutting off her development at the knees. That gives me little confidence for their handling of future story lines along the same vein. (At this point, there needs to be a prayer circle that the show nixes THAT gang rape from the next season. If you're going to cut something, that's what you cut).

Let’s return to Roger’s inane question. I’ve seen my share of comments on Richard and Sophie/Roger and Brianna not being all that compared to Jamie and Claire. Here’s the thing with that. No one can compare to Jamie and Claire. Not a soul. And the kind of chemistry that Heughan and Balfe zap through the screen into our hearts and other parts is one-in-a-million, and they get all kinds of weird attention for it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of how they like Brianna and how they like Roger, but the show seems to be deciding it doesn’t want to invest in them anymore either. This is deeply uncool. Again, this is just my opinion that I am drawing based on the storytelling decisions. In the book, SPOILER ALERT, Brianna and Roger have an incredible, heartfelt conversation about what it means for her to be the one to end Bonnet’s wretched life. (That conversation also includes a fantastically romantic line from Roger: “I said I would never put God before my love for you.”). On the show, they might as well have had him turn to the camera, break the fourth wall, and ask the silly question of us.

To summarize, I am not disappointed that Bonnet was killed early because I wanted more Bonnet. I am disappointed that his demise was executed in such a dull manner that robbed us and Brianna of an excruciating but cathartic battle for survival. (Also, is anyone else getting the sense Outlander’s budget has shrunk? Everything just seems smaller and simpler and fewer, and it’s not just because they’re in colonial America.). And I fear that Brianna and Roger’s arc for the next season will suffer as a result. Next week’s episode is written by Diana Gabaldon, so we shall not lose hope yet. And the scene this week with Ulysses saving Jocasta was a bright spot of brilliance as well.

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