The time Claire and Jamie have been dreading and fighting to prevent is upon us in Prestonpans, the historic Highland victory and the title of this episode. The rebellion has begun. They couldn’t stop it, so Claire and Jamie are determined to try and change history, to help Scotland win it.
Claire has seen men die at war. Many of them. We saw the after effects of her time at the front in Je Suis Prest and there are still shadows now as we open upon her stumbling across the body of a Highlander. She isn’t keen to see more men die, but this is war.
The advisors to Charles illustrate quite well the main reason Scotland’s early bids for independence failed: none of the clan leaders can agree with each other and form a cohesive unit. All of the advisors are fighting and refusing to compromise or look for a solution other than their own. The advisors are at just as much of a stalemate as the army is with the English. Charles wants to have his cake and eat it too, it seems: not wanting to shed English blood in a war, and asking Jamie to order (ha!) Claire to treat the British wounded before the Jacobites. That will surely end well, as Jamie can clearly tell.
Meanwhile back at the encampment, what tends to happen when men are ready to fight but don’t have the chance to happens. There is infighting and everyone is anxious. There hasn’t been any movement and that is as bad for morale as a loss would be. In order to kill about 29 birds with one stone, Jamie asks Dougal to take a single horse down into the marsh. They need to figure out how far the British can fire, how accurately, and whether the ground can support an army. Happy to oblige (and to maybe earn some brownie points with Boss Man Chuck), Dougal makes a show of strutting down the Scot side of the hill. It’s a good way to prove his mettle and it entertains the other men. When he gets to the bottom, though, the British musket balls get a little close for comfort (one even knocks off his hat) and his horse gets stuck in the boggy ground. Satisfied he has all the information he needs and adjusting his cap, Dougal heads back to the encampment to the cheers and praise of the men and Prince Charles.
While Dougal was shitting his pants and getting his accolades, Claire is training the women (and Fergus) on tending to the wounded. I can’t help but think the Jacobites and British men who were sent to her with wounds were the lucky ones, since she may be the only healer in all the UK who knows what sterilization means. A young man comes to Claire and tells her of a back way which no one knows that the men can use to attack the English by surprise. Charles orders the attack, and finally something is happening. Later that night, while preparing, the men are talking to friends, and making arrangements to have their families and possessions taken care of. Other Rupert and Angus tell each other that they’ll watch over their farms and kids, while Real Rupert and Angus well… Angus tells Rupert he can have his sword, dirk, sporran, and the part time whore, Scarlet. Rupert tells Angus the shut up, neither of them is dying, so Angus can’t have any of his shit.
Murtagh’s mood is different, more pensive. Most these men have never actually seen a real battle. In raids with their clan, their death is felt and remembered. But in a group of thousands, hundreds have to die for the impact to be felt. It’s a hard thing to come to terms with, especially thinking about the fact that the other side has just as many (well, more, actually) men. History is on their side for this one, yes, but it’s little comfort when you’re one of thousands and you don’t know your own future. The men (and Fergus, who sneaks away despite being told to stay and man the fires for Claire) leave and the women, and audience are left in suspense.
The anticipation and tension in both the makeshift hospital and the men moving under cover of fog is palpable. It’s visually wonderfully done, and by the time the battle begins, I was as ready for it as Jamie and his men. It’s a beautiful scene, and I would have probably pissed my pants seeing that Highland charge. In the fight we see a lot of British men die, Fergus being a ten year old boy in a battle, which basically means I want to wrap him in a blanket and hide him away, and Rupert gets sliced by a man on horseback. There are other men hurt, killed, and crying on the field, and though they are background sights and sounds, the battle is shot in such a way that they all sit with you.
The battle lasts 15 minutes. Angus brings Rupert in and insists Claire see him before caring for anyone else, including the British prisoners needing aid. Angus saved Rupert’s life, and was thrown by an explosion, but insists he’s fine. Claire does a quick triage and determines there is no concussion and gets back to the business of saving Rupert.
Meanwhile, Dougal is taking no prisoner and giving no quarter, slaughtering any and all Englishmen he comes across on the field, including cutie patootie Jeremy Foster, whom we met in season one. It’s been shown several times that Dougal’s idea of warfare doesn’t mesh well with Charles’s or Jamie’s, but watching him casually killing the wounded really drives it home that he is not the man for the job, and the Highlanders are still not a single unit with one purpose.
Claire yells at Jamie for getting himself stepped on by a horse and demands a urine sample. This starts a wager between Jamie and the English prisoners about how far dude can piss. Of course Charles walks in while Jamie is upholding the family honor, but his embarrassment is short-lived and minor, compared to Dougal charging in, trying to kill the prisoners. Charles is horrified and kicks Dougal out, until Jamie convinces him to promote the “barbarian,” effectively banishing Dougal from the Prince’s sight, but not totally shaming him.
While all this has been happening, Angus has been quietly bleeding internally. Claire gets to him, but it’s too late. She can’t help him and our beloved Angus dies in her arms. The end of the day, and the battle, is bittersweet, as this kind of victory has to be. Victory is theirs but it doesn’t feel quite right, because the people who should be there to celebrate it aren’t.
Bannocks: 5/5 I loved this episode so much.
Stitch in time: Rupert and “Other Angus” singing and mourning the loss of their best friend. It’s sad and perfectly encompasses the mood at the end of the episode.