- Outlander -The Likability Of Roger MacKenzie On ‘Outlander’
When Richard Rankin's Roger first appeared in the Season 2 finale of Outlander, there was something exciting about this relative newcomer getting involved in Claire's time travel. He brought historical and insider knowledge, was accepting of Claire's (truly) outrageous story, and represented a possible love interest for Brianna. Yet, something happened over the course of the Starz show, Roger — a very intelligent, reliable, compassionate character — became very unlikable.
Now, likability is not all it's cracked up to be, especially when it comes to TV characters (see Walter White and Carrie Mathison). But the problem is I don't think Roger was ever supposed to be "unlikable." And while the show has seemed to make an effort to display that Roger is a worthy partner to Brianna in Season 5, it was a painful road to get there.
But first, a quick word on Book Roger vs. Show Roger. We all know that things get lost when adapting characters from page to screen, so let's quickly acknowledge that the Roger in Diana Gabaldon's books has more opportunities to prove that he's a "man of worth" than the screen version. (Though, hey, book readers can find Roger annoying too.) For the sake of time, let's just focused on the Roger as portrayed on Starz's Outlander.
The Early Promise
The fourth episode of Season 3, "Of Lost Things," picks up in Scotland 1968 where the Season 2 finale ended for Claire, Brianna, and Roger, with them now searching for evidence of what happened to Jamie after the Battle of Culloden.
Aside from his wee crush on Bree, Roger is overly eager in helping them since Claire's a freakin' time traveler searching for her long-dead Highlander husband. It's fascinating no matter what, let alone when you're a historian. Plus these women offer him companionship and a distraction following the death of his adoptive father Reverend Roger Wakefield.
This Roger — the Roger introduced in Seasons 2 and 3 that adorably bumbles at Bree's advances, doggedly pursues Jamie in the 18th century, and so patiently understands and complements the dynamics of the Randall family women — is the real Roger. That's what makes what happens in Season 4 all the more painful.
The Steep Descent
Season 4 is when things go off the rails for Roger's character. In "The False Bride," Roger lost me when he shamed Brianna for wanting to have sex with him before they got married. You can defend Roger's stance by saying he's a product of his times as a man from the mid-20th century, but how can one defend his hypocrisy and defensive anger toward Brianna? Would even the 18th-century Jamie have acted like that?
Instead of seeing things from Bree's perspective (who, by the way is about 10 years younger than him and wasn't ready to commit herself for life), he chose to play mind games on her and make her feel like she wasn't worthy of his love.
Now, if Roger realized he had been an ass and apologized to Brianna, he and I might be OK. But instead, he lets his hurt feelings get the better of him again when he purposefully doesn't tell Bree that he found a newspaper clipping that reports Jamie and Claire die in a fire. (Not! Cool! Dude!)
But it doesn't end there. Feeling guilty after Brianna goes back to the past, Roger embarks on his own time-traveling journey to find her. And he does, but their reunion is complicated since it feels like Bree is being forced to move their relationship forward quicker than she previously said she wanted to. And when she learns that Roger didn't tell her about her parents' impending death by fire, good ol' Rodge leaves her all alone in the 18th century, claiming he's going back to the present.
Now, Roger couldn't have possibly known that Stephen Bonnet would sexually assault Brianna after he left, so my problem is less about him leaving a young woman in a strange time and place. (Brianna is an independent person who time traveled there by herself after all.)
My problem is that Roger up and left a person whom he just swore to love forever. (And I will not hear anything of Bree telling him to go, as he argues later to Jamie — she told him nobody was stopping him and he made the choice to leave.)
The Trials & Tribulations
If you believe in karmic justice, Roger does pay for his sins after Lizzie mistakenly accuses him of being the man who assaults Brianna. He's also put through the ringer by the time Jamie and Claire ensure his freedom from the Mohawk. But so has Brianna. And to Jamie's point, Roger should stand by Brianna when he learns she is pregnant... whether it's by him or by Bonnet.
I guess I can't condemn him for taking time to seriously consider whether he can accept the baby — especially when he hadn't been sure if Brianna had been behind the beating Jamie gave him. But once he knows the truth, it shouldn't be a question if he truly loves her as his wife as he proclaims. Nor should it have taken him so long to figure out that he doesn't return to Brianna with Jamie and Claire, leaving Brianna to believe he doesn't want or love her.
While Roger returns to Brianna and accepts Jemmy as his own in the Season 4 finale, it wasn't always smooth sailing for the family, or for Roger's character, in Season 5.
Roger struggles to get along with Jamie (who, to be fair, is a bit tough on his son-in-law), he doesn't fit in in the time period (he is a scholar trying to learn how to fight and hunt), and he still engages in a fair amount of whingeing about it all (really, the worst sin of all). Even when Roger gets a win, like saving Fraser's Ridge from locusts in "Better to Marry Than Burn," it doesn't feel like a triumph since he's still too desperate to prove himself to Bree's family.
Yet, the worst experience of Roger's life may have been the best thing to happen to his character. After surviving a hanging by the British, Roger suffers PTSD and has suicidal thoughts. But thanks to Ian, Brianna, and his own resolve, he quite literally finds his voice again and a will to live in "Famous Last Words" — and with these hardships overcome, his character changes for the better.
He tells Brianna he'll never be the same man he was before the hanging, and the viewers start to see such a change. His relationship with Brianna finally makes sense as they become a true partnership. He and Jamie bond when Roger saves him from his snake bite. To protect his family, he finds the bravery to go after Bonnet and stand next to Brianna when she shoots the man who had terrorized her and their family.
By the time Brianna and Roger were going back to the future, I genuinely liked Roger again. And now that he's staying at the Ridge in the 18th century, I want to see more of that Roger.
Maybe Roger is just a victim of circumstance since he's forced to carry the burden of one of the most controversial plots of Gabaldon's series. But Roger — and Rankin for that matter — deserve more. And with the "new" Roger of Season 5 being more of the thoughtful man we saw back in Seasons 2 and 3, Roger Mac, as he was intended, may be back in Outlander Season 6.