This week, “Prestonpans,” and a study in how our characters deal with a war that they have been either eagerly awaiting, or dreading. And while the battle may be a victory for the Jacobites, it is a defeat for our hearts.
Since the Frasers joined up with the Jacobite army, Prince Charles has taken Perth and Edinburgh basically without a fight. Now his force has met with General Cope’s army, facing their first true battle across a few hundred yards of boggy marsh.
Prince Charles, Jamie, and the other leaders are divided on how to proceed. Some say retreat; some say charge; some say don’t give up the high ground, but rather wait for the British to make a move.
A young man named Anderson turns the tide by showing the Jacobites a way through the marsh. He leads them through the morning fog, where the army sneaks up and catches the British unawares. It’s a rout - all of 15 minutes, and the Jacobites have won, with a ton of British soldiers as prisoners to boot. The ones that Dougal didn’t finish off, anyway.
Let’s talk about Dougal. He has a pretty interesting arc in this episode. First, he takes it upon himself to go find out just how boggy the boggy marshland is. Can it support the Jacobite infantry or would the troops just get slaughtered in the mud? The man who finds that out would be very highly regarded by the Prince, you say? Well then, mount up!
Dougal actually gets pretty far before his horse starts to get bogged down about 100 yards from the British. (Distance estimated based on the range of the British guns and the fact that Dougal gets a little kiss from a musket ball on his noggin during the trip.) He certainly earns the Prince’s respect:
Dougal is not a nuanced man. He wants to fight the British, has thirsted for battle with them for years (See last year’s “Rent,” “The Garrison Commander”). In last week’s episode as well, you could see he was just so thrilled to be in a Jacobite army he wasn’t thinking straight. So when it actually happens, an honest to goodness battle with the Redcoats, his bloodlust gets the better of him. He ends up slaughtering every British soldier he sees, even after the battle is over, not thinking - as the Prince is - that every British subject is technically a Stuart subject.
He even comes across poor Lieutenant Foster - who gallantly came to Claire’s “aid” last season, unfortunately with rather Black Jack results - and, when Foster point blank says the Jacobites can’t defeat the British, responds by executing Foster with a stab to the gut. After all of this killing, he comes into Claire’s field hospital and brags about it - right as Prince Charles is telling the wounded British how he respects them and wishes to treat them with civility.
Jamie saves Dougal’s ass, though - he has Charles “promote” Dougal to the head of a cavalry unit who will go off and harass British supply lines. This neatly keeps Dougal out of the Prince’s way, but also keeps him in the fight.
The other throughline to this episode is that of Rupert and Angus, and their foils, Ross and Kincaid. The latter two are cottars who signed up to fight with the Frasers - who at first earn Angus’ ridicule. He pokes fun at them, joking that they’re not real warriors and they will turn tail at the first sign of battle.
Meanwhile, Ross and Kincaid make a pact: Should one of them fall, the other will look out for what’s left behind (even all six bairns, in Kincaid’s case). They are here to do their duty, but are pretty matter-of-fact about what might happen. I suspect Rupert and Angus - who have traveled with Dougal for so long they likely share his “BLOOD AND GLORY RAAAHR” mindset - haven’t thought about what it means to fight in a war until now. This is echoed by Murtagh, who monologues to Jamie about the overwhelming sense of scale of the war, especially compared to the cattle raids the clans are used to, and how it seems that the larger the battle, the less meaningful their deaths.
How does one face such empty purpose? Cling to your battle buddies, perhaps. Bring the scale back down to just you and the guy next to you. Ross and Kincaid seem to have grasped this; Angus takes a hint from them and offers to make a deal with Rupert. He doesn’t have any land, or family, but can offer Rupert his sword, among other things.
Rupert isn’t eager to pick up on the thread of “what happens if I die” and rejects Angus’ offer. (He also gets a bit superstitious, thinking that if they talk about the possibility of death, they might actually bring it about. Rupert’s response to the potential of a meaningless death is denial, it seems.)
And then, the battle. Rupert gets slashed in the abdomen by a British blade, and then when another mounted soldier comes rushing at him, he is going to be run through until:
Angus shoots the Redcoat off his horse, saving Rupert’s life long enough to get him to Claire. (But not before Angus himself gets hit with some British cannon fire.) Angus brings Rupert to the hospital that Claire has set up, and she is able to stitch up the gash. She also checks Angus for a concussion - all seems clear, so she moves on to other wounded soldiers.
Everything seems fine until Angus finally gets a swig of whiskey.
He has been bleeding internally, and only now succumbs to his wounds, as Claire, Jamie, and Dougal look on, helpless.
Rupert is the first to act - he roars out of bed, walks over, and takes Angus’ sword. He clutches it to his chest for safekeeping. And later, he and Ross drink and sing to honor their fallen battle buddies, now equals both in fighting experience, and in loss. And both determined to bring meaning to the deaths of their friends.
Next week, the group gets trapped by the British army, and the only way out is for Jamie to give himself up!
But really, is there any point to all of this without this smarmy mug?
Charles: “Why must the Scots be such intractable people?”
Jamie: “Aye, we can be pigheaded on occasion. On many an occasion. As can the Irish, I fear.”
Jamie, on the Prince’s order to treat British wounded before Jacobites: “Nor do I believe my wife would follow such an order.”
Charles: “From her Prince, perhaps not. But surely Lady Broch Tuarach would prove obedient to an edict from her lord and master.”
“Put that blade down! Or I’ll ram it up your ass until you taste it.” - Murtagh
“And now, I’m off to change my breeks. Because the hero of the hour has shat his pants.” - Dougal
“I can sneak into the very tent of General Cope. I will steal his sword! A general cannot fight without a sword.” - Fergus
Claire: “Watch over Jamie?”
“Well, I must admit, I’m bone weary. But I’ll be keeping both eyes on this big belly going up and down.” - Angus
“I know what you’re up to. You champion me, and you exile me, both at the same time. That’s a plan worthy of my brother Colum.” - Dougal