(Obligatory Spoilers Alert. Read at your own risk.)
by J. Canning
So, during Droughtlander 4, you are standing there, with your dirk shielding Murtagh’s back. Imagining what must happen for your favorite supporting character to survive another season……
I have a confession. I really love this series, and follow the stories of the two main characters Jamie and Claire Fraser with passion as with most fans. However, I feel more passion about some of the supporting characters and actors. I fangirl on the supporting cast. Why? The support characters need love, too. They are also more tangible for many series fans. I have always found it strange that some people become so very obsessed about the lead romantic characters and ignore some really fine acting going on in the background and side stories with support characters. These characters make the story rich and varied. I am not alone, there are many of you out there that have grown to love great supporting characters. We really like being along for the ride with some of the other characters created by the writers. We can’t get enough of them.
Series and film writers may initially create the characters, but the actors absolutely bring them to life. My favorite character is Murtagh Fitzgibbons-Fraser, Jamie’s Godfather. In the books Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber this character is not very detailed, book Murtagh is mostly in the background. I always thought he could have had more to say and do, being so important to Jamie Fraser. I, and an army of supporters, are so glad the writers and producers of the television series believed in him too, a character that needed to be really expanded upon, woken up if you will. The amazing casting of a daring actor, Duncan Lacroix, took on that very challenge, and Murtagh has not been allowed to sleep.
We are shown that Murtagh can be deep, and Lacroix slowly builds this feeling over several episodes, coming up from a bubbling bern. We first see him as a member of Dougal MacKenzie’s band of cattle raiders, seemingly just along for the ride. But his true purpose is to keep his Godson alive. While the writers and producers took a great gamble in fleshing out the mostly background character of Murtagh FitzGibbons-Fraser, they struck a fantastic goldmine in casting the very talented Duncan Lacroix, an English stage and screen actor little heard of this side of the Atlantic, but known on the stages of Ireland and in the UK. Due to his superb skills, Duncan Lacroix took a hold of the character and made him the most believable and loyal curmudgeon you could ever encounter. He created a Murtagh that the fans just couldn’t live without. He is afterall Jamie’s Godfather, but really a father, friend, guardian, confidant, touchstone, and loyal companion to the end.
Out of Scotland
The role of Murtagh changed drastically with season 2, when Jamie, Claire and Murtagh enter the spiky toothed mouth of a very dangerous Parisian crocodile, and the gently smiling jaws of Court of King Louis. While Murtagh was a fish out of Scotland for the most part, his role became that of Jamie and Claire’s conscience, a reminder of reality, with a thump on the heid. This is much needed, as Jamie and Claire lie, cheat, and steal their way through Paris in Series 2, subsequently putting their lives and the life of their unborn child at risk. Murtagh demands to be told what is really going on, what is this they are really trying to do with the secrets and lies, and why? When the man is finally told the truth, that Claire is a time traveller, and knows the fate of the Highlands, he eventually accepts it and supports Jamie’s belief in her. We see a side of Murtagh who is a deep thinker, and expertly played by Lacroix with furrowed brows and a punch, that shows the character’s frustration and sympathies with a complex concept seemingly impossible in their time. The man is willing to believe in the pair and their young fostered son, Fergus. Whether it’s pistols, swords, dirk, or ax, Murtagh will find a way to fight out of any situation. At mid season when Claire and Jamie finally leave Paris, fans were on the edge of their seat, let Murtagh get back to Scotland and to Lallybroch. You cannot leave him behind.
He Really is Deep
No greater scene of pathos is rendered by Duncan Lacroix when we have the aftermath of the scene of Mary Hawkins rape and how it changes the lives of all involved in La Dame Blanche. The anguish felt by Murtagh, when he blames himself for not protecting Mary and Claire from their assailants and of what could have happened to the unborn bairn, will just melt you. We see a great moment of deep trouble for the otherwise indefatigable Murtagh. The man beats himself up, and with Jamie rallying behind him, vows to seek vengeance. When the man says he will do something, he will. Lacroix plays the man with such an elastic range that you have to know the part was written for him and inspired by his abilities, including the swinging of an ax with such an expression of satisfaction at a job finally well done.
With all the subsequent Murtagh insights that finished out in season two, the offering of marriage to Mary Hawkins when she is to be left destitute by the death of Alexander Randall, to the fighting leading up to the ill fated Battle of Culloden, that a great and troubled soul will stand behind the Frasers. We are left with a character we know from reading the books, doesn’t live past the battle. Fans of the books and series together took to social media and bombarded the shows producers that Murtagh must live. #SaveMurtagh was one of the longest running tags on Twitter.
As many fans of the Outlander television series agree, when you have such an amazing gift as a character that was lost in the original Outlander Book series at a pivotal moment in Dragonfly in Amber, given another chance in the series to live, you can get on the cheer squad. It was hard for the writers to keep the secret and they were up against some formidable fans. That pain and suffering of a favorite character’s loss, then when rescued becomes the breath you need to believe in series miracles. Well, after many years of Game of Thrones deaths, it’s nice to feel like you can breathe a bit with this series. In Season 3, The Battle Joined, where Murtagh turns up fighting with Jamie, even if it was a brief moment, the tears were flowing and boxes of tissues torn through. Twitter had a torrent of love.
After two seasons of the fight to stop the ill fated battle, and the insurmountable task of changing history, Jamie and the Highlanders find themselves outnumbered and on the moors. Through a subsequent flashback, in flies the frenzied remnant of the Viking heritage of the Scots, otherwise known as Murtagh the Berserker FitzGibbons-Fraser, with a grin that none other than Lacroix can deliver. The man is slaying Government officers right and left, the whole while book readers are cringing thinking, is this the moment? We lose sight of him again. It is not until the episode of All Debts Paid that we see what happened to Murtagh. We find him alive, barely, with Jamie years later in Ardsmuir Prison. And true to Outlander writing, they are subsequently parted again as Murtagh is lead off with other indentured prisoners to serve out a 14 year sentence in the American Colonies. If you pick up the Outlander Season 3 Collectors edition, you will find a treat in the outtakes. Watch the Murtagh, Jamie and Lord John Grey scene that was cut. Not a word from Lacroix, just pure look and feel in this one.
Where Will Murtagh Go From Here?
Speculation. We all love to do it in our favorite series. Anticipation drives us wild, and our fourth season of Droughtlander is killing us with the wait. I know I have a few ideas on how the path of Murtagh could go from here. I try to be pragmatic and look at the evidence of the soul of Murtagh we have so far. It may not be romantic, not in the sense that we attribute to the romantic pairings of Claire and Jamie, Bree and Roger, or Marsalie and Fergus. These are classic romances. Murtagh is not classic, he is a creature unto himself. His romance is of the soul that Duncan Lacroix has put into him. One with great soul that can be very deep, for the right people he wants to love and protect.
So, what about season 4? Indenturement in the colonies is 14 years time. Given that Murtagh was about 20 when he became Jamie’s Godfather, and in his 40s around the time he met Claire, this will put Murtagh well into his 60s. Did he survive his servitude? Many are speculating that he take another character’s place from the books. Pictures have leaked out on Twitter from filming around January. What do I think? I always thought if he had survived the boat trip, I wouldn’t put it past him to be snagged by pirates. But I could see him as a Mountain Man in the backcountry of South Carolina. Pelt hunting and Davy Crockett aside, it is what would be natural to him. The man lived off the land in the Highlands, so it makes sense to me he would end his days doing this, and hopefully fighting at Jamie’s side in the upcoming battle for independence of the American Colonies. I think Murtagh a tough enough character to be fighting into his eighties. Oh yeah, in the books there was this guy that had a very “interesting” operation performed by Claire, that’s one scene I could see Lacroix pulling off like no other could. I really shouldn’t say that. We will find out in November 2018.
So, I salute you who support minor characters. Raise a glass with you. We are fans of the underdog, the character that helps enrich a story to make you feel like you are along for the ride. We love having an alternative viewpoint, a conscious for the main character or characters that stops them from doing something really morally bad, or just plain makes them think. Then there are the rescue scenes and the great Murtagh sarcasm that echos in our heads. Maybe that character, like Murtagh, takes on the bad decisions, the risks to keep the main characters alive, sacrifices him or herself to give some reality to the viewer. We got this in the resurrection of Murtagh FitzGibbons-Fraser and owe Duncan Lacroix a debt of gratitude for fleshing out this fate making curmudgeon. We salute you, sir, and wait for your next performance.
You can next see Duncan Lacroix in The Outlaw King with fellow Outlander Alumni Stephen Cree on Netflix this November, and in the upcoming dark comedy Western, The Sisters Brothers@SistersBrosFilm.