Warning: major spoilers ahead for the second episode of Outlander Season 4, called “Do No Harm.”
Outlander has taken the Frasers to a whole new world for its fourth season. Aside from the hanging of a countryman, that whole new world seemed full of great opportunity for them up until Stephen Bonnet’s deadly attack. The Frasers’ circumstances weren’t the best as they approached Jocasta Cameron and her River Run. The good news is that Jamie’s aunt Jocasta welcomed Jamie, Claire, and Young Ian with open arms. The bad news is that River Run is a North Carolina plantation, and Jocasta owns more than a hundred slaves.
Given that Claire is a woman originally of the 20th century and Jamie knows all too well how it feels to be forced into labor by an oppressive ruling class, neither was happy about the slave situation, and even Young Ian didn’t see them as property. As if it wasn’t bad enough that River Run was tended by slaves, Claire was forced to make a devastating choice between her modern sensibilities and the general attitude toward slavery in Colonial America. Here’s what happened.
It didn’t take long for Claire to stand out at River Run with her attitude toward slavery. Upon meeting a slave by the name of Phaedre, she asked her to call her Claire, and only amended it to “Mistress Claire” when the others in the room where clearly aghast at her comment. Jocasta picked up on Claire’s distaste for slavery, and needled at her until Claire came clean about what was bothering her.
Claire’s statement that she doesn’t agree with holding people as property (while Phaedre was present to help fit Claire into one of Jocasta’s old dresses) shocked Jocasta, who asked if Claire was a Quaker, as only Quakers were known to hold such views. Claire covered well enough by claiming that she’d picked up her attitude toward slavery after treating some Quakers.
The stakes got even higher when Jocasta used a party that celebrated Jamie, Claire, and Young Ian’s arrival to announce that she was naming Jamie as her heir to River Run, which she just so happened to do without consulting Jamie. Claire made it clear to Jamie that she could not own slaves, so Jamie suggested that they free the River Run slaves to do their small part to make the world better.
Unfortunately, Jamie soon learned courtesy of another slaveowner by the name of Andrew MacNeil that freeing slaves wasn’t as simple as just declaring them free and then paying them a fair wage. An owner had to prove via petition that a slave had done something like save his or her life, and a hefty fee was involved for freeing slaves. Furious, MacNeil told Jamie that there was danger to their idea of freeing slaves.
Freeing slaves could mean trouble for slaveholders en masse in the area, and they wouldn’t take kindly to Jamie’s actions. According to MacNeil, others came forward with similar ideas (and ideals) in the past, and they disappeared. Jamie was not to be discouraged, but they didn’t get much further into the discussion. News came of trouble at the River Run sawmill, where a slave had cut off the ear of a white man.
Jamie and Claire raced to the scene, with Jamie as Jocasta’s representative and Claire as healer intent on trying to reattach the man’s ear. When they arrived, however, they discovered the newly de-eared man and his friends hoisting a slave by the name of Rufus up by a hook that was embedded in his abdomen.
Horrified, Jamie pulled a pair of pistols and demanded that the men stop hanging Rufus on the hook, and Claire decided it was more important to get Rufus back to River Run for treatment than to reattach anybody’s ear. More than one person made the point to the Frasers that the law was not on Rufus’ side, as any slave who attacked and drew the blood of a white man was to be hanged. The local plantation owners and other white men did not take well to the Frasers’ action.
Claire did everything in her power to save Rufus, and she succeeded in removing the hook, putting him on the road to recovery. He woke up long enough to share the heartbreaking story of how he became a slave when he was kidnapped from Africa and separated from his beloved sister. All signs seemed to point toward Rufus having the physical fortitude to survive… but he did not have the lot in life to be allowed to do it by the slaveholders.
The other white men in the area formed an angry mob and stormed toward River Run, and Jocasta had no choice but to stand outside her own house and stall for time until Jamie produced Rufus. He only had until midnight, at which point Rufus would apparently be horribly tortured rather than just simply hanged now. Jamie went to Claire, and he shot down her suggestion that they protect Rufus and say he ran away.
Jamie revealed that the slaves who worked with Rufus would be punished for what he had done if he ran. There was no good choice, and he made a suggestion that appalled Claire and explains the title of the episode. He asked if she could perhaps ease Rufus on his way, as she had previously done for Colum. Claire was repulsed at the prospect of ending the life of somebody she was capable of saving, and her oath to do no harm was clearly on her mind.
With rocks flying through windows and a torch-wielding mob screaming for blood outside, however, Claire’s 20th century oath was far from the top priority. She made Rufus a tea that she laced with a poison and gave it to him, telling him that it would help him sleep. Weeping, she talked with him as he began to shut down, and he finally asked if she thought he would ever see his sister again. She said he would, and he died.
After Rufus was dead, Jamie took him out of the house to the angry mob waiting outside. Not dissuaded by his death, the men lynched his corpse, hauling his body high up into a tree and leaving him there. Jocasta, Jamie, Claire, Ulysses, and many other slaves had to watch as the awful thing happened.
Claire likely won’t soon forget the men and system that forced her to kill a man out of mercy despite her oath to do no harm, and the death of Rufus likely means the Frasers won’t be staying at River Run for too long. We’ve known for a while that Season 4 wasn’t going to take place entirely at Jocasta’s plantation, and Claire is going to want far from slavery as soon as possible. They may leave River Run sooner than some viewers expected.
The Frasers do have some obstacles in their way when it comes to leaving River Run. Stephen Bonnet’s attack (and the change from the book that will impact a huge plot twist later on) left them without any money or gems to sell, and Jocasta may not be inclined to supply them to leave River Run behind when she clearly intends Jamie to run her plantation.
Who knows? Maybe the ordeal with Rufus and Claire’s distaste for River Run with all its slaves will bring Jocasta around to the idea of them leaving a little easier. Maybe Young Ian needs to continue bringing a sprayed-by-skunk Rollo into the house for Jocasta to want them gone! We’ll have to wait and see. New episodes of Outlander air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.