***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Outlander through Season 5, Episode 10, and Book Spoilers through Diana Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross and A Breath of Snow and Ashes follow. Spoilers***
With two episodes still to follow this most excellent installment, Outlander pulled out a bit of a shock with an early wrap to the season’s expected climax — the showdown with Stephen Bonnett. Anchored by stellar performances and some of the tensest scenes we’ve seen since Tobias Menzies’ Captain Jack met his demise, “Mercy Shall Follow Me” gave Sophie Skelton a chance to truly shine. Mirroring her mentor’s (Caitriona Balfe) onscreen evolution the actress took her portrayal of Brianna to an all-time high, rising to meet the marks of Ed Speelers’ nuanced villain and rewarding viewers with this season’s best hour.
Consulting with his similarly scummy lawyer, Bonnett twirls an invisible mustache as the pair reviews their dastardly plan before Forbes heads to River Run. When their shared attorney hears Jocasta’s intentions of gifting away her fortune in parcels, Forbes loses his mind and attempts a murder that would ensure he’d end up broke and in jail — or thanks to Ulysses, dead instead.
The Frasers plan their trap for Brianna’s rapist; Roger tells Jamie he’ll do the deed. But when the ladies separate to gather medical supplies, a different scheme comes into play. Alternating scenes between Bree with Claire, and Roger with Jamie and Ian, tension builds while hunters stalk their intended quarry. By a gorgeous seaside rife with whales, shells and kelp are collected to keep on hand for future calamity; the Fraser men ambush Bonnett’s sailors only to find their target hasn’t shown …
Of course, Bonnett’s conducting a surprise attack of his own. With Claire momentarily separated from her daughter, still hunting shells as Bree frolics by the water, Bonnett sneaks up on her and asks about his (supposed) son. Luckily, Bree happens upon them; unfortunately, Bonnet knocks both women out and kidnaps the mother he wants. As Claire comes to and quickly reunites with the boys to track Bree and Bonnett down, her daughter awakens in a much different place where her captor wants lessons in becoming a proper gentleman.
Returning to Chekhov’s whale — Moby Dick — helps Brianna settle things down. Meanwhile, her parents work their way through a brothel and the clues that will lead them to her just in the nick of time. After Bree’s act of compliance is given away by her terrible kiss, Bonnet sells her to the only bidder. The Frasers save the day (and their daughter) and her tormentor is treated to a trial where his sentence is — again — death. As the ocean waves that will drown Bonnett threaten his slow and terrifying demise, a bullet from Brianna’s weapon ensures the deed is done, perhaps with a bit of that titular mercy.
I said it up top and I’ll say it again: Sophie Skelton pulled out all the stops this hour and she really held her own, especially against Edward Speelers — no small feat, considering he was sheer perfection. We’ve all been hoping Skelton would grow in the role of Brianna and she’s finally coming fully into her own. I loved the strength and fear she brought to the hour — in that last scene with Bree and Roger, her control was great.
And oh, that Speeler …what a complicated portrayal of what at times felt rather a one-note character; how we’ve seen Bonnett until this point didn’t give the actor time to shine. I love what the writers did with him here, giving Bonnett a glimpse of who he might have been, who he maybe wanted to be. Unfortunately for him, rape’s not an easy thing to get past (“Can’t we just let bygones be bygones?“) and so he never really had a true chance at redemption and as soon as he realized Bree’s game, he went right back to his true self. The way Speeler infused such a despicable fellow just to the point of almost-empathy certainly reminds of Tobias Menzies’ perfection at the same sort of duality. It’s a shame he didn’t get a little more time on the series.
He dreamed of his death before it happened — his worst fear — and from her reactions when Bonnett spoke of his nightmare, I do believe that Bree shot him both out of mercy, and to be sure he was finally dead.
Speaking of, I’m really surprised this storyline wasn’t saved for — fully expected it to be — the finale. I thought we’d get a lead in at the end of the penultimate episode next week, and then the finish and a wind-down. I’m curious to see what’s been saved for next week’s “Journeycake”.
The scenes of Claire and Brianna together at the beach were gorgeous (beautiful cinematography), and it was nice to see the two of them reminiscing, racing down the beach, and just having time to enjoy their time without stress. I also very much love learning the little medical tidbits — how Claire would grind shells for calcium, and gather kelp for iodine. Their conversation about syringes and hypodermic needles led to me reading that Christopher Wren first used a “crude” hypodermic needle to inject dogs in 1656; they weren’t used for humans until the 1660s.
I also enjoyed Bree’s description of why she loved reading to Bonnett and his utter captivation as she narrated Moby Dick to him. Clever girl.
On the other hand, I couldn’t really get into macho Roger, who wants to be something he really isn’t. I get the whole protective angle, but trying to go against one’s true nature doesn’t often work. It certainly doesn’t here. And Bree doesn’t need him to be that way.
Ulysses is quite the devoted “servant” to Jocasta and good thing. That said, I was happy to see Bree remind Bonnett the servants at River Run are actually slaves.
“Eppie” — who Claire diagnosed with anisomelia (unequal limbs) — is a nickname for Hepzibah; she was played by Leah Shine.