Why Outlander's Surprise Character Return Proves Season 5 Is Back On Track
Spoilers ahead for the eighth episode of Outlander Season 5, called “Famous Last Words."
Outlander aired its first episode since the heartbreaking death of Murtagh with “Famous Last Words,” and it featured the return of a long-lost character: Young Ian. Jamie and Claire last saw their nephew when he traded himself to the Mohawk for Roger since his mistake resulted in Roger being tortured by the Mohawk in the first place, and he seemed gone for good. His return in “Famous Last Words” didn’t come without some ghosts, but he’s back, and his return and this episode proved to me that Season 5 is back on track.
Outlander wasn’t necessarily bad in the first portion of Season 5, but in my mind, it ran into the same problems that frustrated me in Season 4: rushing through plot without giving the story and characters time to breathe and feel the impact of the plot. In the previous episode, Murtagh’s death was a heartbreaker, and Outlander allowed the characters to feel that heartbreak.
Admittedly, that episode did still end on a cliffhanger about a major character’s possible death, but since Roger survived and Murtagh’s death was handled as well as anything from back in the earlier seasons before Outlander started churning through the source material at a furious pace, I have no complaints. “Famous Last Words” proved to me that the success of the previous episode wasn’t necessarily a fluke.
Most of “Famous Last Words” dealt with Roger’s lingering trauma from coming terrifying close to being hanged to death, only surviving because he managed to squeeze a couple fingers beneath the rope before the support was kicked out from under his legs. He was too traumatized to even speak for most of the hour, but it was the return of Young Ian and their field trip to survey some land that proved Outlander can still be more than just plot.
Although the episode didn’t actually clarify what happened to traumatize Young Ian, he was seemingly no better off than Roger, with his trauma simply expressing itself differently. Both men contemplated suicide in “Famous Last Words,” with Young Ian going so far as to begin brewing the drink that would end in his death. When Roger eventually began speaking in their confrontation, Ian clarified that his wife isn’t dead, but she’s still lost to him.
There is still clearly a lot of story to be told on the Young Ian front, and the end of the episode proved that Roger taking the step of speaking again doesn’t mean he’ll be the same man he was before being hanged. There is also plenty of plot on the way, so those who prefer plot to character development shouldn’t despair that the rest of Outlander Season 5 will be character studies from start to finish.
Still, I’m very encouraged by the effort Outlander went to show Roger’s trauma, Young Ian’s suffering, and how their pain impacts the people who love them. I want to care about these characters, and episodes like “Famous Last Words” remind me of why they’ve made me laugh, cry, and everything in between at the show's highest points. Give the characters room to breathe and screentime to react and feel, and Outlander is better.
See if Outlander continues its trend of character development with the next new episode of Season 5, airing Sunday, April 19 at 8 p.m. ET on Starz. For more viewing options, swing by our 2020 midseason premiere schedule. Find out when Outlander Season 5 will end (and enter an even longer Droughtlander) on our rundown of all the big TV finales coming in spring and summer 2020.
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Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.
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