Episode 206 – Best Laid Schemes…

This episode is full of difficult things, but unlike the last couple of episodes where I questioned some of the adaptive choices, this one is perfection, with only a couple of tiny quibbles. Matthew B. Roberts has done a fantastic job.

First, a costuming note. I saw a vague reference to an interview where Sam Heughan said he campaigned for Jamie to wear more kilts in France, but I haven’t read the interview, so I don’t know what he said. But whether it was his idea or Terry Dresbach’s, I just realized that Jamie was wearing trousers when he was in his darkest place after Wentworth. Alistair at The Scot and the Sassenach said in one of their podcasts that Jamie only had civility left to him, that he had lost an essential part of himself and was being formal and disconnected from Claire as a result. The trousers were a costuming-representation of that internal crisis.

Ever since Claire told him that BJR was alive, and he knows he’ll be able to kill him (even after agreeing to wait a year), he started wearing his kilt again. He is reclaiming his identity, as a warrior and as a man, and the kilt (for a Highlander in this era) is absolutely a representation of his essential self.

Now, on to the episode!

Once again, the title card disappoints, but it’s really the only thing in the episode that does. It appears to be attempting to represent their scheme to undermine the prince’s money-making venture, but I’m not sure what is supposed to be going on. Also, I dislike when the title card includes action from the show, as it did two episodes ago with the man sabotaging the Fraser’s carriage. But it’s not a huge thing, so I’ll let it pass.

One other possibly sour note in this episode is Murtagh. I feel like the show can’t quite decide what to do with him this season. They’ve extrapolated his character so far beyond what is in the books, and in most cases they’ve been wonderful extrapolations, but I feel like they sometimes give him reactions that fit the plot of the episode because they don’t have a bedrock understanding of who TVMurtagh is. As a result of that lack of understanding, his characterization is somewhat inconsistent.

I’m still formulating an opinion of this episode’s Murtagh, but my gut reaction is to say that he’s a little too upset about Jamie’s choice not to fight BJR, and at their continued scheming rather than killing Charles. I understand that the show wants us to feel that Murtagh’s patience is fraying, and if it had just been the later scene where he talks about assassination, that would have been fine, but I don’t like that he doesn’t accept Jamie’s decision not to duel Randall. That is Jamie’s business, and it’s personal. If Murtagh feels that it’s something Jamie needs to do, he should say that, rather than accusing him of being like a woman at her flux (which is, I think, a misstep from a writing perspective – it’s a terrible stereotype, and men have natural shifts in their hormones and feelings, too).

It was a wise decision to move Mssr. Forez’s discussions of execution techniques to L’Hopital, and to have them motivated by his desire to warn Master Raymond. In the book, it feels very odd (why would he be so graphic with a random couple that he doesn’t know?), but here it feels purposeful.

Claire is then able to go and warn Master Raymond, and we’re able to see how much their relationship has progressed over the months in Paris. They have truly become friends, and Raymond hints a little more subtly this time that he is also a traveler, when he says, “We will meet again, Madonna, in this life, or another.”

This scene also sets up what I assume will happen next week – that Master Raymond will come back to heal Claire, and end up being caught afterward by the king.

Jamie has spent his day re-framing and re-contextualizing his agreement not to kill Black Jack Randall. This allows him to be solicitous toward her, and warm, because he has decided that it is actually in her best interests, and his child’s, to have Frank waiting in the future. He turns the oath around, and forces Claire to swear she’ll go back to Frank if they can’t stop the Rising.

It is lovely that they found a place for this conversation, originally had in the carriage on the way to the Royal Stables. 

The scene does two important things. First, it reminds us of the vow that Jamie has made, and gives that vow greater weight than it had when it was forced upon him at the end of the last episode. Now, when he breaks that vow at the end of this episode, we feel it keenly, along with Claire, rather than being a little sympathetic toward Jamie.

Secondly, it reminds us that Claire’s vow in return is one she will be forced to keep. She will go back to Frank, and they will fail to stop Charles.

EDIT: during the live tweet, many people commented that this scene undermines the tension from the final scene of the last episode. I agree, a little, but I think that’s why we saw Jamie and Murtagh first. Jamie wraps his head around the fight with Claire, and convinces himself that his promise is actually a good thing. Also, notice that he immediately brings up the issue in question- rubbing Claire’s feet is an opening gambit in his strategy, not a tender gesture of solicitude. Claire figures that out, too, and pulls away. 

EDIT 2: In an interview, Matthew B. Roberts said that the episode was supposed to open with a dream sequence that would have helped move Jamie forward from the tension at the end of 205. But for various reasons, they were unable to film that material. So that’s why the transition doesn’t work as well as it should. 

Next, Claire tests her herbs on Jamie to fake smallpox. She gives another reason why they can’t kill Charles (although it’s rather flimsy – James doesn’t have another heir, and even if Charles becomes a martyr, there’s no one else to take the throne after him).

Murtagh’s outburst is a little too harsh, but I’m going to whistle past it, since the show is only using it to motivate Jamie into telling him the truth about Claire.

I wish they’d taken the opportunity to bring in material from The Exile here. Murtagh is the one who found Claire at the foot of Craig na Dun, even in the show. It would be nice if he’s always known she was different, and a traveler.

The jab to the face places Murtagh back into the godfather/father-figure role, rather than the laird and vassal role. We’re supposed to be amused, but the only thing I liked was Murtagh rubbing his hand and Jamie rubbing his face.

Claire and Murtagh would not have had this conversation in the book, but they’ve developed a much deeper relationship in the show, and it is poignant and beautiful to have him show her such sympathy and feeling. When he tells her he wouldn’t want to bear her burden, and takes her hand, it makes me smile.

I like that Fergus, as the stealthy pickpocket, does the actual work of planting the herbal concoctions.

This plan seems a bit more complicated and a bit less personally dangerous than the one in the book, but it does allow for a more direct confrontation with Saint Germain. I like that Jamie just keeps getting wrapped more tightly inside these schemes, and that every single bit of rope is there because Jamie and Claire were trying to use it to snare Charles. It almost ends up hanging Jamie instead.

Murtagh reluctantly agrees to play a L’Disciple, although I don’t think that’s made quite clear enough at the time (I guessed, but it wasn’t until Charles drew the supposition after the fact that my guess was confirmed).

I almost cry when I hear Claire say, “Bad things tend to happen when we’re apart,” and Jamie responds, “We always find a way back to each other, no?” Because, show viewers already know that she’s going to go back to the 1940s, and book-readers know that they’re going to be separated for twenty years.

Sigh.

Claire is so sure that they’re having a girl. And Jamie is beyond precious, talking to his wee lass. I love that the knowledge of their physical connection, through the body of their child, encourages them to connect in a different physical, and emotional, way.

Murtagh’s accent during the robbery is so atrocious, and Saint Germain is clearly suspicious, to the point that Jamie has to attack Murtagh and be knocked out.

I am very unsure why this scene with the ladies and Louise is included. I assume it was a way to repurpose some of the material from the Royal Stables, and to show how Claire truly does not fit into this world, but Claire is the kind of person who distracts herself with work. She would have gone to L’Hopital to begin with. This feels like Claire trying to prevent the French Revolution, but there is absolutely no motivation for her to say anything.

Still, a minor problem, and she ends up at L’Hopital anyway. Where Fergus and Bouton are SO STINKING CUTE.

The bleeding is much more of a foreshadowing here than in the book, since it happens so much closer to the miscarriage.

Side note – it totally bothers me that Claire is laying on her back all of the time. I get that they wouldn’t have known, in the 1940s or the 1740s, that laying on your back causes the fetus to press against the artery that feeds the uterus/placenta, but  that’s irrelevant. I have been pregnant twice. Laying on your back feels AWFUL. It’s like you have an elephant sitting on top of you. The only comfortable position is on your side, and usually only when there’s a pillow or something propping up your belly.

Caitriona Balfe gets a lot of other things right about pregnancy – like resting her hands on her belly pretty much all of the time – so maybe I’m just being overly sensitive.

Anyway, moving on!

Charles is so pitiful. I can see how he would end up drowning his sorrows in booze and women and then refusing to pay his bill.

But the real conflict in this scene is between Jamie and Le Comte. Saint Germain smells a rat, and Jamie is a little to quick to defend himself and his choices. Saint Germain is not a fool, and he can tell that something is going on. We don’t know for sure yet (and not at all in the main series books), but he’s a traveler, so there could be additional reasons why he suspects Jamie.

When Jamie and Saint Germain get up in each other’s faces after Jamie “monsieurs” him, I thought they were going to tear each other apart. But at the same time, I could not stop thinking about how very pretty both Sam Heughan and Stanley Weber are!

Jamie and Fergus have such a wonderful relationship. The way Jamie treats him like a man, approving of his decisions, is perfect. Jamie is only partially Fergus’s master. He is becoming Fergus’s father. I cannot wait to see Sam as Jamie, giving his own name to Fergus and Marsali next season (or maybe in season 4, if they split Voyager the way I think they will).

This scene is also a nice way to drop in some exposition about Murtagh being away, and unable to assist in the events that are about to occur.

I’m not sure why they’re emphasizing “out of sight, out of mind.” It isn’t a modern phrase – I just looked it up, and it first appears in print in the 16th century. So I’m not sure the relevance here, or why Claire would say it to Fergus every day.

And why does Fergus say he will come with Jamie to guard his right? That’s an Ian-thing from the books, but Sam isn’t left-handed, and so TVJamie isn’t left-handed. I’m a little confused. Is this a common idiom from the period in France that I just don’t know?

In any case, I am very happy that it is Jamie’s own schemes with Charles that bring him and Fergus to the brothel and the confrontation with BJR. It adds a layer of conflict that wasn’t present in the book, when it was a random foreman in the wine business who brought them there. Much better to have everything be tied to Jamie and Claire’s choices and actions.

I am also glad that the show avoids making Fergus sell himself to Black Jack Randall. It allows some of his innocence to be preserved, although he is still a thief – and that’s what gets him into trouble.

I can hope that BJR will not be shown at some later date trying to rape Fergus, and that the worst that will happen is that BJR will attack him because he tried to steal something from the room. I wonder if the show will mention that BJR is distraught and unhappy before he ever encounters Jamie and Fergus? I like my villains to have lives and feelings not connected to my heroes. I also like for them to have multiple dimensions and things that make me feel sympathetic, even while I despise them for other things.

But above all, I am happy not to have to watch a little boy be raped in this episode, and I very much hope that the show will avoid that entirely.

The end of the show builds up tension like a whip, from Suzette reluctantly telling Claire about the duel and how it started, to Claire racing to the Bois de Bologne, and everything that follows. The music is an amazing mix of baroque and the show’s existing themes, becoming a driving anthem that pushes Claire and the carriage forward.

I am so glad that there is no voice over until it becomes absolutely necessary to give us additional information. And when it comes, it is the exact line from the book, which increases the conflict and tension rather than diffusing it the way so many of the voice overs do. It also shows us just how distraught Claire is – to the point that she is conflating Black Jack with Frank. Because Frank isn’t going to die if BJR does. He’ll just never be born. When she says “which of my men will die” she is quite literally referring to BJR as Frank.

It’s wonderful that we stay so firmly in Claire’s PoV (close-ups of the duel and BJR’s face excepted; we know that Jamie stabbed in the groin, which Claire doesn’t know) for the last few minutes of the episode. And it is a dirty brawl, too, not a restrained and gentlemanly affair, fought to first blood. These two want, very desperately, to kill each other.

It is heartbreaking to watch Claire miscarry, and to have Jamie unable to go to her because of the gen d’armes.

I speculate that Saint Germain was having Jamie watched, and is responsible for them showing up where Murtagh assured Jamie that they do not usually patrol. My guess is that Saint Germain’s interference here is going to be what causes him to end up in a wizard’s duel with Master Raymond in the next episode.

Are we supposed to think that BJR and Claire are both dead at the end of the episode? Claire is supposed to assume that BJR is, at least if they follow the book. But obviously Claire isn’t. There’s half a season still to go, and we know she lives long enough to go back to the 1940s. (Also, she’s very much alive in the “next time on Outlander” segment).

It’s another short episode (almost exactly 51 minutes, not counting the credits), so I wonder if there was supposed to be a brief scene following this, with Claire at L’Hopital? Maybe not. This is a very good place to end the episode, conflict-wise, so it may just be that this is where things ended up, time and pacing-wise.

I only wonder at the way BJR and Claire are both portrayed as slowly closing their eyes. It’s too close in composition not to be intentional, or at least, not to have been noticed during editing.

Not a big deal, just curious.

I imagine that the next episode is going to pretty closely follow what happens in the book, except without the very long stay at Fontainebleu. I’m assuming Claire will be in L’Hopital for a while, probably several weeks, recovering from the miscarriage and fever, and then she will find out about Jamie in the Bastille and will go to Louis.

But they’re also going to have to lay some groundwork for getting Claire and Jamie back to Scotland and into the “Fox’s Lair” for episode 208. That’s obviously a reference to Simon Fraser, but I still can’t see how the show is going to get Jamie and Claire to Beuly this early in the timeline. I hope to have more information with which to speculate after the next episode. 

EDIT: Lani at The Scot and the Sassenach suggested that this whole episode would work better if it revolved around a central element. She suggested the baby, and I think that’s a brilliant idea. A few tweaks to show Jamie is worried about the baby, and maybe a scene where Claire starts having pain before he goes to Le Havre, would have given the episode a cohesion and overall shape that it lacked. 

They also mentioned that there’s a lot of “to-ing and fro-ing” with multiple trips to the same locations that could have been combined. I think that’s partially true, but some of it actually contributes to the emotional resonance of the episode. Things feel a little frantic and frustrating, maybe even fruitless when their plans don’t work the first time. So I don’t mind so much. 

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