Episode 212 – The Hail Mary

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Ye gads, this was an amazing episode. So well structured, with the parallel brother stories, and with such amazing character work and emotion. It absolutely displays the best of Ira Steven Behr and Anne Kenney’s talents. So well done.

I am at a writer’s conference this weekend so I fear this is another short blog for me. I promise to come back over the hiatus and expand these blogs, filling in more detail after I have time to re-watch the season during the break.

A couple of thoughts for the future: I am so glad that they brought in the French gold now, as a viable option for avoiding the fight at Culloden. As a book reader, when I first heard it mentioned, it jolted me a bit, but after I thought about it more, I liked it. I know a lot of readers dislike that whole plot line, but it is rather a large thread in the series and they can’t remove it without doing a LOT of changes. So I’m glad it’s introduced here, in a way that actually makes sense to the plot, and won’t just appear out of nowhere in Season Three.

At first I thought I would be upset that Dougal doesn’t kill Colum, because I wanted some canonical evidence of what is heavily implied but never stated in the book. But by the time I got to the end of the scene I was weeping and I totally did not care. This Dougal is not book Dougal, and Graham McTavish is AMAZING. I don’t know which writer had that scene, but I am betting it was Anne Kenney because the emotional notes were perfectly on point. I was so moved, and the scene encapsulated every nuance of the relationship between Colum and Dougal.

That is contrasted with Black Jack Randall. They have pushed him much farther into the monster than the book did. At this point in the book, I actually had some sympathy for him. The fact that he approached Claire with the bargain spoke well of him. But the show has her propose the bargain. When Alex spoke of the good man behind the dark wall, I thought we might actually see that man. But BJR immediately proves that he has become the dark wall. Yes, he marries Mary for his brother’s sake, but when Alex dies, he descends into a fit of rage.

On the one hand, I’m a little sad that we’re losing some of the complexity of BJR. On the other, it is so beautifully contrasted with Colum and Dougal that it’s hard to care too much.

Some other little moments I loved:

  • When Colum arrives and says he thought, if Wee Angus ever died, Rupert would be right behind him. And Rupert says, “I did, too.”
  • When Murtagh offers to wed Mary. I love that man so much!!
  • All of Jamie’s interactions with Colum and Dougal. So well written and well acted.

I think this episode is my favorite of the season. I have a lot more to say about the ins and outs, but I’ve got my first workshop at 9 am (it’s 7:50), and I’ve got to go get ready for the day. I won’t be live-tweeting tonight because of the conference, but I can’t wait to see what everyone else thought of the changes!

EDIT: Apparently a lot of people are super upset that this episode didn’t spend more time with Jamie and Claire. I have to admit that, now that it’s been pointed out, I totally agree. But only in the context of the season as a whole, and only in the sense that we ought to be ramping up to the devastating separation that’s about to happen in the finale. On the merits of this episode by itself, I did not really care. It felt natural to me that the war was pulling them in different directions. Their few scenes together were nice, and I LOVED when Claire told Jamie that she would help him kill BJR. Yes, I miss the romantic elements from S1. Yes, I miss the sex (go to caramckinnon.com and look at this week’s blog posts for my total love and appreciation of sex and romance). But I’ve missed them more in other episodes where they felt conspicuously absent. In this one, I was very happy with the story I was given.

 

EDIT 2: I forgot to mention that, with the break next weekend, I am going to be posting some wild speculations about future seasons of Outlander, based on changes the show has made. Come join the conversation and tell me what you think is going to happen next!

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Episode 204 – La Dame Blanche

Here we are, a quarter of the way through the season, and I’m conflicted about this episode.

It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t wow me, either. I think I’m most troubled by Jamie and Claire. I do not mind, at all, that Jamie doesn’t get mad at her for keeping the secret about Jack Randall. What I mind is that Sam Heughan was directed to act elated (or he chose that, I don’t know which). I’ll discuss it more when I get there in the episode overview, but I think of Jamie being determined, vengeful, maybe even with a sense of triumph that he can be the one to end Jack Randall’s life. But not…joy. Not laughter. Anyway.

The episode title card is the man with the birthmark sabotaging Claire and Jamie’s carriage. I like when the title card is linked to the story, but this one is actually part of the story, so I’m not sure how I feel about that.

The poisoning scene is obviously meant to make us suspect Saint Germain, and I hope they are going to make him actually responsible for this. He certainly rises to the bait of her necklace (although that particular aspect wasn’t explored much in the show – no time), and he is a friend of Sandringham, so they could be setting him up as a secondary antagonist to the Duke.

So here we are at Claire’s confession. I absolutely think it was the wrong choice to go for levity here. It undercuts all of Claire’s tension and unhappiness in the last episode, and makes what was real conflict there feel false here. Again, I don’t mind that he isn’t angry with her, but I don’t think he should be grinning and laughing, either. He should be fierce – an avenging Scot – not the good-humored lad from the stables at Leoch.

There’s a moment where we get that darkness, but then when he sits down on the bed, it’s back to near-silliness. Murtagh names it – a cheery mood. And Claire is smug about it, which doesn’t strike me as funny at all.

But then we move on to Raymond, and I adore this scene. Especially when Raymond says “I’m fascinated by things not of this time” and then basically winks at Claire. But it isn’t overt – it isn’t screaming “we’re both travelers – WOO!” so it’s great.

The reference to the Zulu and chicken bones makes me think of what is to come in the West Indies.

Rational Claire is absolutely stunned, and, I think, frightened when Raymond says she’ll see Frank again. Not because she doesn’t believe in this sort of thing – but because she does.

Her nature reasserts itself for the stone pendant, but that will come back in a spectacular way later.

I’ve always thought the cuckoo clock and Louise’s cuckoo in her husband’s nest was a bit on-the-nose, but the show draws the parallel even more closely than the book by placing the clock in the same scene where Louise tells Claire about the baby.

Because Louise and Charles weren’t a known couple yet, I wondered if this subplot would be cut. But it works nicely here as a tension point to center the episode around.

Louise is so lovely. “You mean, sleep with my husband? But my lover will be furious!”

EDIT: I totally did not notice the first two times I watched this episode, but another thing that is missing is the Louise from 202 and 203. Where is the woman who unabashedly had her ladybits waxed in front of her friends? Or the woman who laughed hysterically at Mary’s lack of understanding about what happens on a wedding night?

In this episode, Louise feels very much like the book, which is why I didn’t really notice the change at first. She felt familiar to me, and so I went with it. But Lani over at the Scot and the Sassenach pointed out the discrepancy in TVLouise, and now I can’t unsee it. Her uncertainty and loyalty to Charles feel out of character. I wish we hadn’t been introduced to the romance in this episode. If we’d found out last week that Louise has fallen in love (even if we didn’t know it was Charles) for the first time, and perhaps made a big deal over her being uncharacteristically infatuated/swept away by her lover, then I would be 100% on board with her reaction to her pregnancy and Claire’s suggestions. But as written, her subdued, uncertain reaction feels odder the more I examine it.

Jamie’s ardor reminds me of the first time they had sex on their wedding night. He’s so eager, but he really doesn’t understand women. This entire scene, he just keeps digging himself in deeper, but is so earnest about it at the same time. He isn’t hiding anything from Claire, and can’t understand why she is freaking out when he is just so happy that he finally can imagine sex without Jack Randall getting in the way.

(Side note – is there an accepted interpretation of a sixty-nine where one gender is supposed to be the six and the other the nine? Jamie acts like we/Claire should know which is which when he says, “I think she would’ve settled for the six. The nine could go hang.” And I can’t decide if the girl really wanted his mouth on her, or really wanted her mouth on him. The latter, I suppose?)

But I understand why it takes Claire a while to come ’round to his position, though. She is pregnant, which makes you feel gigantic and swollen and unattractive, and her husband hasn’t touched her for months. Now he’s coming home all aroused by someone else.

This is more the reaction I wanted in the last scene. He is darker, and angrier. Claire is a little petulant, but I completely understand because pregnancy can do weird shit to your head.

Jamie’s speech is straight out of the last pages of Outlander and it is gorgeous coming out of Sam Heughan’s mouth.

Claire is too proud to bend right away, but she does go to him in the end. I disliked this scene of reconciliation the first time I watched the episode, but it’s growing on me with additional viewings.

I’m glad that this show is being made on premium cable, so we don’t have to cover up with strategically-placed sheets. That always bothers me on network TV.

Charles is so drunk, and imperious, and a complete ass. How Louise could be interested in him is a mystery.

This addition to the plot is terrible. Louise already told Claire what could happen if Jules finds out about the affair the the baby. That Claire would risk her friend in such a way is despicable. I can’t believe that they think when Charles comes “unhinged” that he won’t expose Louise.

They set up Fergus needing to have Claire home on time, but it doesn’t play out in the same was as the book (unless they’re saving Fergus and Murtagh asking for punishment until the next episode).

I absolutely adore that Murtagh says “a man does not concern himself with the affairs of women” and then immediately asks about Suzette.

Here we have the image from the credits, of Forez putting the block on the nerve. I wonder if Forez will come to Jamie and Claire to talk about execution, as he does in the book? I can also see him playing into future conflict – possibly even being present at the Wizard’s Duel, or a threat over Jamie’s head in the Bastille.

Ugh, the Duke waiting for Jamie to kiss his hand. Oily bastard. And Sam does the “Jamie shrugging his shoulders” bit when Alex is introduced. I love that he pays so much attention to the body language described in the book.

Mary is so sweet when she talks about Alex. And for a moment, Claire thinks she’s talking about Jack, and imagining the marriage to come in Frank’s family Bible.

The next scene is difficult to watch. And, just as in the book, it makes very little sense to have one of them recognize Claire as La Dame Blanche, especially since we know (if we recognize the birthmark from the title card) that they were hired to do this specifically to Claire, and were meant to have killed her. (EDIT – some of my traffic is from people who want to know who is responsible for the rape/assault. If the show follows the books, the guy with the birthmark is in the employ of Sandringham, but Claire assumes it is Saint Germain. They’re under no obligation to follow the books, though!)

Saint Germain as a friend to Sandringham is well-placed to develop an acquaintance with Charles. I assume we’ll soon be hearing about a plan to make money shipping port.

I LOVE that Alex does not victim blame, that he cares for Mary and doesn’t care what happened to her. Jamie outlines the social standpoint on the issue at the time (and -sadly- now, too), and so it is even more lovely that he stands by her, and in the next scene, tells her he loves her and will take care of her. Such a contrast to his brother.

I wonder if the throwaway mention of cutting off someone’s head is foreshadowing about Sandringham, or a nod to book readers that they aren’t going to do that in the show?

There is some tension between Sandringham and the prince over the pope – but Claire inadvertently punctures the tension by having Sandringham tell a joke.

Charles is ready to have an apoplexy. Everyone is having so much fun – telling jokes, talking about the opera – and he’s reeling from the fact that his mistress left him and now he’s just found out she’s having his child. He definitely reveals himself as unworthy of becoming a king.

Saint Germain remarks on her stone and tries to insult her by implying that she might poison her guests. She flips the insult, turning it into a threat.

And then we fall into a farce. I dislike this closing scene immensely. I find it difficult to believe that everyone would just launch themselves into the fray. I’m imagining more of what happens in the book – anger, insults, shouting, and a little violence. Not this out-and-out brawl.

The bits of humor with Sandringham lamenting the lack of dessert, Fergus helping himself to the food, and Jamie whacking people with a bit of curtain fringe just push things even further over the edge. The only thing that works is Claire, and Saint Germain taking the prince away, summoning the gen’darmes as he goes.

I also dislike that we end right in the middle of the scene. I hate cliffhangers. Finish this conflict and give us the game-changer – when the gens d’armes take Jamie away.

The preview focuses entirely on the central conflict of the next episode – that Black Jack Randall needs to live for a year to father Frank’s ancestor, and therefore Jamie can’t kill him right now – and almost nothing else. So I don’t know how the disastrous dinner party will play out. But I can’t see why they wouldn’t follow the book at least a little.

To sum up my thoughts on this episode:

Lots of good stuff, but the central Jamie and Claire conflict and resolution did not work for me, and that cast a shadow over everything else. Also, I wasn’t happy with the ending, but I already knew that this creative team likes cliffhangers. Ah, well.

Until next weekend!

Episode 201 – Through a Glass Darkly

Outlander is back!

So, they did what I thought they would do, rather than what I hoped they would do. The first half of this episode, much like the first half of “Sassenach,” is set in the 1940s.  It’s 1948, three years after she first went through the stones.

I can’t say I’m ecstatic about this choice, but I did rather fear that it was coming. On the one hand, this does preserve some of the framing device used in Dragonfly in Amber. On the other, it doesn’t quite match with what is in the books. I’m usually OK with changes, but this one is a character change, and I have a little more difficulty with those.

But let’s take a look at the episode as it unfolds.

When Claire wakes up at the stones, she searches for a ring (I’m guessing this will turn out to be more significant later in the season) and weeps when she finds it because the gemstone is missing (YAY for the first foreshadowing of time-travel dynamics!). EDIT: over at The Scot and the Sassenach, they suggested that she may have dropped it in 1746, and that it has been there in the grass for 200 years. I’m still going with my interpretation, because she looked for it in her bodice first, and the fact that the stone is missing might be her first clue about gemstones and time travel. That will become a big deal in the next season. EDIT #2: According to Ron Moore’s commentary podcast, this is our first time-travel worldbuilding! They added this ring to establish the gemstones for travel.

Sadly, we have VOClaire back. A few of the things she says are tolerable, and she is giving us more information than what is shown on screen, but the only thing I wanted was the part where she says she made a promise and now had to keep it.

The interaction with the little Scottish driver went on a little long, and I think it’s a bit odd that she would think there was any way that Culloden could have had another ending. It made me wonder if they were going to go in an entirely different direction – like maybe have her forced through the stones before things start to go bad for the Jacobites. But then she and Mrs. Graham talk about Jamie’s promise to die on the battlefield with his men, so obviously they’re going to follow the books that far. This scene just feels weird to me.

I do love the new shots in the credits sequence and the new French lyrics in the Skye Boat Song (or, as my 4-year-old daughter calls it, “Lass that Was Gone” – we listen to the soundtrack together, although she is obviously not allowed to watch the show yet).

The title card on Roger is very nice, especially the juxtaposition of the airplane with the tall ships book. Did anyone else get a little teary-eyed for Jerry MacKenzie?

When I saw Frank come barreling down the hospital hallway, I thought we were going to get almost verbatim what happens in Claire’s memory from Dragonfly in Amber – the doctor telling Frank to give Claire time, and Frank arguing. Here’s what he says in the book:

“What do you mean, don’t press her? Don’t press her? My wife’s been gone for nearly three years, and come back filthy, abused, and pregnant, for God’s sake, and I’m not to ask questions?”*

Of course, in the book he already knows she’s pregnant. In the show, they save that reveal for later. But in general, TVFrank is much more considerate, accommodating, and gentle than BookClaire remembers him.

Although I don’t think they needed to spend quite as much time in 1948 as they do, I appreciated the little touches of Claire disliking the noise of the modern streets. When she was at Leoch, the score used to play 40s songs as though that’s what she was hearing, and she hummed them all of the time. But by this point, she has completely embraced a different kind of life.

I’m surprised that they only went for the Frank-as-BJR thing once in this episode. But they do a good job of portraying the awkwardness and distance between Claire and Frank.

In reference to the quote above, Frank says the exact opposite in the show – Reverend Wakefield says that it’s time Claire gave them answers, and Frank says he can wait. It’s almost as though they are deliberately breaking from BookFrank, and I don’t like it. In the books, there is no love triangle. Claire is loyal to Frank when she is with him because that is a bedrock part of her personality. And Frank isn’t a bad man. But there is never any question that Jamie is her true match. The show keeps making Frank more of a partner to her. Again, I don’t mind changes in general, but this one seems like it will have far-reaching implications. Would TVFrank cheat on Claire many times over the years? Would TVFrank plan to take Brianna to England and leave Claire behind? If not, then what are the circumstances of his death? Does Claire still feel responsible? These are all questions the production will have to answer.

I like that Claire has a confidante in Mrs. Graham. It’s a way to work in things that book readers already know (or, to be fair, can guess) about what is going to happen later in the season. They talk about Jamie’s promise to die beside his men at Culloden, and how she’s going to have to accept that he’s gone – dead and buried over two hundred years. This takes the place of some of the conversations Claire has with Roger and her internal monologue in Part One of the book.

I’ve been watching Claire’s hands, trying to see if there’s a J-shaped scar at the base of her right thumb. I’m guessing, if they decided to keep that detail, they won’t reveal it until the 1960s portions at the end of the season. EDIT: Apparently Ron Moore decided not to do this. I need to track down the source where he said this (an interview maybe?). It wasn’t mentioned in the podcast commentary. Still looking. Maybe they just don’t want to have to do scars on the actors every day? Jamie needs a heck of a lot of scar makeup whenever he takes off his shirt, and this would need to be placed every day. And hands are harder, since you use them all day. But still…it’s important, and I’ll miss it.

What Mrs. Graham says is nice, about putting away her memories of Jamie and living her life again, but you can tell that Claire still misses Jamie too much, and maybe even still sees a little of Black Jack when she looks at Frank.

For all that their talk begins as a way for Claire to reconcile, by the end of her confession, it seems like she’s being deliberately cruel, trying to push Frank away. Especially since this Frank seems to be bumbling around but being generally as good as could be expected in this situation.

Another departure from BookFrank is that he claims to believe her (I’m not sure I believe him, just like Claire doesn’t, but he’s putting on a good front). BookFrank doesn’t, and tells Claire so outight. Even years later, after a lot of research and knowing that Brianna looks like the portrait of Ellen MacKenzie in the National Portrait Gallery, he isn’t entirely sure what to believe. His letter to Brianna is a warning, but he still clings to his logical disbelief.

TVFrank clings, instead, to his feelings and his love for Claire. It isn’t until she drops the baby bomb (the Brianna baby bomb?) that he loses his shit. Later, when he explains himself to the reverend, he says that it is the joy of thinking that he’s become a father, and then the ripping away of that joy, that makes him go crazy. But Claire is totally being a bitch about it. I guess she thinks she’s being practical, but it feels like cruelty.

I wonder if the show is going to push on the darkness in Frank, and the connection to BJR, instead of his distance and unsuitability for Claire? Except that, unless they’re really going to break with the books, we’re going to find out by the end of the season that Frank’s ancestor is not actually Black Jack, but rather his mild-mannered younger brother Alex.

Tobias Menzies kills it in this scene with the reverend. The dialogue is so heightened, almost stilted, the words of a historian and lecturer, but he brings so much emotion and pain to the scene.

The show finally leverages Wee Roger in the way that he was intended in the book – as an illustration of adoption, and love for a child not of your own flesh.

Can I say that I adore Reverend Wakefield? His words are so perfect – a child without a father, and a man without a child – and then he tells Frank that he thinks it’s part of God’s plan, but that only Frank can decide what he’s going to call it.

Frank’s conditions match the ones he gave Claire in the book. That Bree will be raised with him as her father, and that Claire will not search for Jamie as long as he’s alive.

Not that that will stop him from searching for Jamie. And finding him. And keeping that from Claire.

It’s good that he doesn’t force her to remove the ring, but the fact that he burns her clothes is huge. It’s proof that he isn’t really as copacetic with the situation as he is trying to portray. Those clothes represent a part of history – a very valuable example of the study to which he has devoted his life – and yet he burns them, because they are also a link between Claire and Jamie.

The arrival in Boston juxtaposed with the arrival in Le Havre is a little jarring. I like the way the book transitions, using Claire’s storytelling as the mechanism. There’s no real reason for her to be thinking of Jamie in that moment. Or well, that’s not true. I can see that she would think of him, would always think of him, but she’s trying to build a new life with Frank and start over. She wouldn’t deliberately seek to relive the past.

So, as transitions go, this one totally fails for me.

But it gets us back to 1745, so whatever. EDIT: I noticed the time jump, but whistled past it. Dragonfly in Amber begins in early 1744, so we’ve just excised an entire year from the timeline. It will push the show to move more quickly than the book, but judging from the episode titles, I think they’re still going to spend too much time in France (see my season two speculations for more on this).

Hooray for Jamie’s seasickness! I can’t wait to see acupuncture needles all over Sam’s head! And hooray for Murtagh, just being himself.

I’m glad that the show is still dealing with the effects of what happened to Jamie at the end of season one. DG mentioned in an interview that the show didn’t have time to give Jamie and Claire the recovery in the Abbey, and the reconciliation in the hot springs, so the wounds are still raw and fresh. Of course, BookJamie wasn’t exactly recovered, either. It will take him much, much longer to come to terms with what happened. And his anger and hatred fuel the biggest conflict of the Paris portion of the book (the duel with BJR and what happens after). But I like the way Claire handles Jamie – reminding him that she’s there, and that she cares. That she’s as stubborn as he is.

Distracting him with plans doesn’t hurt, either. EDIT: This scene has been criticized for being weighed down with exposition that doesn’t really fit what the characters would talk about at this point. That’s probably true, but it didn’t bother me enormously.

Jamie does not like lying. Later in his life, he’ll be much more comfortable with the necessity. But Murtagh likes deceit even less. Jamie knows exactly how to deal with Murtagh, though. He acts as Laird – vowing to tell him the truth when the time comes, and reminding him that he trusts him, but that doesn’t mean a laird has to tell his vassal everything right away. And that’s all Murtagh needs.

I like that Jared is wary instead of welcoming. I don’t mind this change, although I don’t like that Jamie reveals his scars. I think the show is trying to show that he’s making the choice now, instead of Dougal making it for him, but I would like for there to have been more reluctance on his part. He doesn’t like how the scars make people see him, and even if Claire persuaded him of the necessity, I don’t think he would volunteer his back as proof of their sincerity.

There is a hint, in Sam’s acting, that he dislikes being forced to do this, but he’s still willing to do it.

Jared asks why the Jacobites would want to meet Jamie. In the book, it seems to flow a bit more naturally. Jared seems to see Jamie as a possible successor to his business, and introducing him to his friends is just part of that business. I think that the show is trying to get out in front of people’s possible objections, but by drawing attention to this, I think they’re making their job more difficult than it has to be.

The scene with Claire and the smallpox victims goes pretty much the same as in the book. It looks like the show is going to push a little harder on Saint Germain as a villain, which I think is wonderful. He is underutilized in the book. He is described as a threat, but then never actually does anything against Jamie and Claire – everything that happens (the attack on Jamie that leads to adopting Fergus and the later attack on Claire and Mary Hawkins) was actually Sandringham. Sure, he is still a business rival, but that’s the only sort of revenge he attempts – making more money by dealing with their “friend” Charles Stuart.

So Le Comte as a true villain would be nice. Over at The Scot and the Sassenach, Alastair and Lani posited that he could be a secondary villain, orchestrating events  on behalf of Sandringham. I just want to see more of him, since he is also a traveler (originally from the 19th century, if I remember “The Space Between” correctly) and perhaps Claire’s ancestor.

The episode ends at the place where I thought they’d end the second episode (but that was presuming the first episode would be all in 1968), with the burning of Saint Germain’s ship. That means we’ll pick up next week with an introduction to Paris society, Monsieur Raymond, Prince Charlie, Louise de la Tour, Mr. Hawkins, and King Louis, and if I’m right, that episode will end with Claire and Jamie thinking BJR has come to Paris.

We’ll have to wait and see!

 

*Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber, Part One, Chapter Five: “Beloved Wife,” pg 61 of the 2014 Bantam trade paperback edition.