- Outlander -We Were Wrong To Hate Brianna At First Glance On ‘Outlander’
The first time I watched the Outlander Season 2 finale, "Dragonfly in Amber," I was a mess. My friend took a photo of me on my couch, laptop burning my thighs with a box of tissues beside me crying as Jamie forced Claire to return to Frank in the future to safely give birth to their unborn child.
Fast forward two decades to when we meet that child, a 20-year-old history student at Harvard University named Brianna Randall. She's guarded, aloof, and distant — a complete ice queen to her heartbroken mother, Claire. Needless to say, I was not a fan of Brianna Randall.
But upon revisiting Bree's story, I began to empathize with her, a girl who grew up with her father (Frank) as her best friend, unaware he wasn't her actual biological father, a mother who was living in the past and completely distant from her, and in the midst of it all, discovering new revelations that her real father was "some 6’3” redheaded guy in a kilt from the 18th century." Imagine wrapping your head around that.
So, here, in print, is an apology to my first impression of Brianna Randall. As she tells Roger in "Dragonfly in Amber" that Benedict Arnold is a deeply misunderstood historical figure, so too was she a deeply misunderstood Outlander figure by me on my initial viewing. And here's why I changed my mind.
Her Indelible Bond With Frank
It's no secret that Brianna adored Frank, and he loved her with all his heart. He knew that Claire's baby was not his (check the red hair), but he agreed to raise her anyway. That was their bargain when they moved to America, to "never talk about the past," as Claire reminds him in Season 3, Episode 1 "The Battle Joined."
And Frank neither does nor holds it against Brianna, until his dying breath in a car accident in Season 3, Episode 3, "All Debts Paid". When we meet Brianna at the end of Season 2, she's still reeling from the inconceivable loss, not understanding why her mother isn't as devastated as she is. She leans on Roger, telling him Frank was "the kindest man in the world."
As we can see from flashbacks in the beginning of Season 3, Brianna and Frank are incredibly close even as he and Claire pull apart in Boston. He refrained from filing for a divorce for so many years because he didn't want to lose Bree if a court were to rule a child needs a mother more than a father. "I will not let that happen to Brianna and me," he says.
But once she turned 18, the game changed. He wanted to bring Bree with him to England, as he was offered a new position at Cambridge and sought a divorce from Claire. He'd hoped she would go with him, since she was a grown woman and could make her own decisions. He didn't suspect that she'd be reeling from the news of her parents splitting up in (as we learn in Season 4, Episode 7 "Down the Rabbit Hole").
Destroyed by everything she knew crumbling around her, she can't face the fact that her and her father's plan to study history side by side in his office at Harvard together was unraveling. He dies the night he asks her to go with him, and she's unable to bear the fact that if she had only said yes, they could have gone out to celebrate together. Everything could have been different.
So it's no wonder she is incredibly defensive of her father's memory when we first get to know her in Season 2.
Her Mother's Distance Her Whole Life
It's not a tough nut to crack that Bree feels lonely when left with Claire, who undoubtedly loves her completely, but sees Jamie every time she looks at Bree's red curls. Frank even calls her out on it: "You couldn't look at Brianna without seeing him," he says point blank in "All Debts Paid."
In the Season 2 finale and the early Season 3 flashbacks, Claire confirms in her narration that she felt like she wasn't whole anymore, that she was haunted by the ghosts of her past. She recoils from every touch of Frank's and can't stop thinking of Jamie, no matter how hard she tries, and both Bree and Frank feel it.
She dives into medical school and graduates a surgeon, to become a "part of something greater," like she says in Season 3, Episode 2, "Surrender." But the consequence is that she's never around, and Bree and Frank latched onto each other in the meantime.
We see the resentment and bitterness spill out of Brianna in the Season 2 finale, as she bemoans to Roger that her mother "lives in another world" where it seems like Frank didn't exist. As she spends her days with Roger, Bree grows suspicious of whom her mother goes to see around Inverness. In the guest room of the Wakefield home, she confronts Claire, asking her if she ever loved Frank. Bree clearly feels like she's carrying the torch of Frank's memory alone, and can't understand why her mother seems so far away, even now.
She Just Wants Answers About "The Incident," OK?
To make matters worse, on their picnic lunch date (yes, a romantic ride around the beautiful, wild country of Scotland is a date, Bree), we learn that most of all, underneath the hurt and pain and loss and loneliness, Bree is just a girl crying out for some answers. From her mother. From her father's memory. From a past she has no idea about.
She confesses to Roger that she secretly opened Frank's lockbox as a child, and in it were letters from Roger's father, who had done research for him. The Reverend mentioned an "incident" in one letter involving her mother and father in a way that seemed terrible. "Definitely something he didn't want to spill out on paper," she says.
Through their digging, Bree and Roger find old newspaper clippings in the storage room detailing Claire's disappearance in 1948, of how she returned "from the fairies" to Frank already three months pregnant. So Bree, naturally, presumes that on her days off, Claire has been visiting her former lover. Now, if you found out your dad might not be your real dad, would you be able to stay calm?! I don't think so.
And not only that, Claire tells her that her real father, James Fraser, was the love of her life, not the father Bree grew up with and loved her for 20 years. Pouring salt in the bombshell wound, Claire says she wasn't visiting him the past few days because he's dead. In fact, he died 200 years ago at the historical Battle of Culloden. Try that on for size.
Roger's Emotional Maturity Is At Its Peak Here
Understandably, Bree is completely rattled by the news and thinks her mother has lost her mind. But it is Roger's open-mindedness that encourages Bree to empathize with Claire, even if what she claims seems outlandish. Brownie points for Roger!
And his efforts pay off: Because Bree and Claire try to talk again, not so much about the "time travel delusion," but more like how Bree was named after Jamie's father, Brian. Even if Bree can't rationalize the idea of slamming one's head into a five-ton block of granite at Craigh na Dun, this is progress, here.
No More Lies
This all comes to a head when they try to warn Geillis before she travels back in time so she isn't burned at the stake after the witch trial. Bree and Roger had met her earlier at a rally for Scottish nationalists, and Claire is stunned when she sees the pamphlet they brought home with the name "Gillian Edgars" emblazoned at the top. But they are too late, and they watch, shocked, as she goes through the stones anyway.
Melting her defenses down, Bree had to see it to believe that her mother was telling the truth about going back in time and meeting her father in the past. She stops keeping her guard fixedly up, and shares with her mother a document she and Roger had found earlier, confirming that Jamie in fact hadn't died at Culloden. They promise that they'd share no more lies between them, and that vow holds steadfast as we see their relationship grow over the next three seasons.
In reviewing Bree's introduction to the show, it's now clear as day that this was a girl crying out in pain. So who could blame her for a snarky attitude as a form of defense? After all, it's hard to connect with your mother when she is living in the memories of a life you didn't even know she had.