Jamie and His Children
A Look at How the Show Adaptation Has Portrayed These Relationships
There’s been a lot of discussion since A. Malcolm aired over the scene of Jamie looking through the photographs of Brianna and Jamie’s emotional reaction to them –– or lack of reaction, as many see it. In these discussions a lot of comparisons have been made about Jamie’s levels of emotional attachment to his other children. Reading through the reactions has really got me wondering and thinking about how the show has portrayed these relationships, especially because I didn’t have that reaction to the scene at all (and let me be clear, everyone’s reactions are completely legitimate and valid; I love reading through the discussion to see the show through others’ eyes and catch elements that I miss). I found Jamie’s reaction completely believable and in character, albeit different from the book. My disappointment with the scene was with the photographs themselves; they weren’t… very… convincing? Aside from the one baby Bree and the one of young Bree they struck me as overwhelmingly either over staged or badly photoshopped and completely unnatural, even for photos of a teen appeasing her parents with an awkward pose (maybe that’s part of why I get Jamie’s lack of a breakdown… they didn’t move me emotionally at all… hmmm…).
Anyway, here’s a little exploration of how the show has portrayed Jamie’s relationships with each of his children so far.
Jamie never gets to see Faith or hold her in his arms but the show has done a fantastic job of demonstrating the tangible, emotional attachment Jamie has to her. He is there for Claire’s pregnancy and goes through the steps of preparing for welcoming their child. He interacts with Faith as she grows and develops within Claire, talking to her and feeling her move. He writes to Jenny and Ian and asks for the Apostles Spoons. He and Claire
fight over discuss baby names. If anything, the fact that Jamie never got to see her properly, never got to hold her, only makes his constant calls back to her and her loss that much more believable for me. He’s seen her grave but not her body so there’s a disconnect between the living, kicking baby he felt in Claire’s belly and her sudden absence. Even though he’s conscious of the fact that she died, it’s almost like there’s a part of him that is still and will always be half in denial. It reminds me of the passages in the book between Jamie and LJG at Ardsmuir where they talk about how important it is to see a loved one’s dead body in order to be able to accept their death, to grieve and move on. It’s something Jamie only sort of got with Faith being able to at least pray at her grave and leave her the St. Andrew spoon.
Jamie’s relationship in the show with Brianna is a very difficult one to parse out. He obviously made huge sacrifices for her in sending Claire back and he definitely loves her but it doesn’t automatically make her feel real to him. Claire wasn’t very far along in her pregnancy when she left and that’s all Jamie’s had to base his hopes and dreams on for twenty years. He literally only just found out a minute before looking at the photos that the child Claire carried was even a girl. It’s clear from his brief conversation with Murtagh in Ardsmuir that it pains him to think about Claire and the baby because it brings back the gaping grief of his loss and he acknowledges the loss to Lord Dunsany as well, telling him he’s lost two children. He has had twenty years to accept that he will never know anything about the child that Claire carried. Then suddenly, not only is the love of his life back, but she is telling him about this child that he has had twenty years to speculate over… and he has to reconcile everything he’s thought/hoped/dreamed with what Claire tells him is fact. She shows him the photographs –– and while I don’t like them that much in terms of execution, I think they do speak to Jamie’s lack-of-visibly-breaking-down.
In the book, the stack of photos Claire brought is extensive and there are a LOT of pictures of Brianna at very young ages. In the show, there’s one of baby Bree and one of 7-year-old Bree and the rest are of a teenager/grown young woman. Bree’s age in the show’s photos is distancing in many ways. He’s not seeing her life and gradual progress, only the final result. Without the journey, the destination doesn’t have the same meaning or impact (it’s the same thing with so many of the lines in the show that are drawn from the book but which reference earlier episodes/scenes; the lines weren’t included earlier so they don’t carry their full weight here). If he’s spent twenty years picturing Bree as a baby or toddler but there’s only one shot of her that way, it’s even harder to reconcile/transfer whatever emotional attachment he established through his imaginings with the Bree he sees in the photos.
And beyond the photographs themselves (as a technology) being something completely foreign for him to wrap his head around, he is seeing Brianna in a time and place that he has next to no reference for. She doesn’t resemble the children he’s familiar with in terms of dress or setting, which reinforces the distance and disconnect between the child Jamie’s spent twenty years imagining and the reality in his hands. The inclusion of the bikini pic seems to emphasize this as well (though it isn’t one I personally would have included when there were so many adorable wee Bree shots described in the book). It’s not a way he ever would have imagined his daughter dressing or behaving and there’s nothing but Claire’s word that this is normal for him to build an understanding of the situation pictured or the child at the heart of it. The little context he has for the twentieth century is based on what Claire told him before she left but 1945 is a far cry from 1968 so even that knowledge is outdated.
The way he closes his eyes and waits for Claire to tell him Bree’s name (for me) nails the emotion and love he feels for the daughter (he thinks) he’ll never know except through Claire’s stories. Where he felt Faith move in Claire’s womb, in many ways I think Brianna isn’t real to him. She’s an image, she’s the stories from Claire, and the expressions on Claire’s face as she tells them but she’s still too removed from him to process completely. He reaches for details and tries to put them into a context he can more easily connect to – that she has red hair like Faith did or that she liked dogs and learned to say ‘no’ so quickly. He draws on the parallels to his other children that he has more tangible connections to and brings himself closer to Brianna through them. Which is why, I think, he tells Claire about William so early in the show. That’s a change I didn’t see coming and it’s one I’m ultimately excited about. While I didn’t think anything of Jamie holding it back from Claire that first day or so, I definitely feel like it’s something he would have told her sooner than he did in the books. Where the show is so pressed for time, I think it’s a choice that makes sense and could have worked better if that whole sequence simply had more time (basically, what this episode needed was to be 90 minutes and not just 75 –– give us an inch and we’ll argue for why we need that mile, right?).
In terms of Jamie and Brianna, it’s a disconnect that Brianna has too. If she’s at the disadvantage of only finding out the truth after twenty years, she at least has a better foundation for understanding the life and times in which Jamie lived, but she still struggles to connect to Jamie in the same way and for many of the same reasons. He’s not real to her yet even if she is maybe ready to want him to be. He’s someone she’s researching, someone her mother has told her stories about, but he’s not someone she can detach from the mythic figure and feel properly connected to. I feel like the show is leaning heavily into this and drawing those parallels between them (for me at least, in the show this feels like the way they’re most like each other or even the only way they’re like each other). This all has me SO EXCITED for Jamie and Bree finally meeting each other in person next season (which is a meeting in the books that I enjoy but have never been particularly blown away by). I think that –– as with Claire’s return –– being able to touch Brianna and hold her in his arms is what will flip the switch and make it real for Jamie, and for Brianna too. Knowing about someone isn’t the same as actually knowing them. Right now they’re both still learning about each other but meeting and getting to talk will make it real.
While many of the details and scenes of Jamie’s relationship with William in the show are drawn very faithfully from the book, the rest of the Dunsanys are not –– especially Isobel –– and I think that makes all the difference in terms of Jamie’s relationship with his son. The line is still drawn as far as William being Jamie’s bastard son and one he can’t claim for more than just the boy’s sake, but there’s greater acknowledgement of Jamie’s relationship to William from key characters that reinforces his attachment. Jamie seems more relaxed around William than in the books and less like he’s worried about overstepping something. There’s very little in Voyager that gets into Jamie and William’s relationship but even in the Lord John books like The Scottish Prisoner, it’s clear that Jamie’s station at Helwater was more strict than in the show, that there was less one-on-one interaction between them. There’s also greater hints in the books that it took Jamie a while to develop an emotional connection to William (the moment he realizes he truly loves his son and isn’t just curious or feeling responsible for making sure he’s taken care of doesn’t come till William is a toddler). In the show, it’s obvious from the beginning that Jamie deeply loves his son, regardless of the circumstances of his conception and birth. In the book, we see the lead up to Jamie’s departure but not him leaving itself. The show goes out of its way to use that departure to
kill me emotionally demonstrate again that his relationship to William is not recognized in a public or societal respect but that it is recognized –– by LJG and Isobel, both of whom Jamie respects and who respect him in return (that’s arguably more than he can expect from the people in his life regarding Brianna, except Claire and at least until Brianna actually arrives on the scene). As with Faith, we see a relationship where Jamie actively gets to engage with his child directly and feel that he is receiving attention and affection back from that child. It will come with Brianna eventually, but it isn’t there yet (though having Claire pass along Bree’s kiss probably would have helped).
I guess what this rambling exploration comes down to for me is how important that tangible aspect is for Jamie. He feels a deep love for all his children but loving someone and feeling connected to them are two different things. For the television adaptation of Jamie, that connection requires a more active knowing than what he can establish in a few minutes through photos and stories alone.
For me this whole scene drives me back to the passage in Dragonfly in Amber when Claire and Jenny are talking after Jamie stayed up with Kitty.
“I’ve thought that perhaps that’s why women are so often sad, once the child’s born,” she said meditatively, as though thinking aloud. “Ye think of them while ye talk, and you have a knowledge of them as they are inside ye, the way you think they are. And then they’re born, and they’re different––not the way ye thought of them inside, at all. And ye love them, o’ course, and get to know them the way they are… but still, there’s the thought of the child ye once talked to in your heart, and that child is gone. So I think it’s the grievin’ for the child unborn that ye feel, even as ye hold the born one in your arms. […] And a daughter is born, and the son that might have been is dead,” she said quietly. “And the bonny lad at your breast has killed the wee lassie ye thought ye carried. And ye weep for what you didn’t know, that’s gone for good, until you know the child you have, and then at last it’s as though they could never have been other than they are, and ye feel naught but joy in them. But ‘til then, ye weep easy.”
“And men…” I said, thinking of Jamie, whispering secrets to the unhearing ears of the child.
“Aye. They hold their bairns, and they feel all the things that might be, and the things that will never be. But it isna so easy for a man to weep for the things he doesna ken.”
And I guess this is where I come down on the scene and how it was performed. I find it completely believable that Jamie doesn’t immediately breakdown weeping even as I find it completely believable that in the book he does.
And boy do I wish the props department could take another stab at those photos.