Episode 210 – Prestonpans

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My book is releasing in less than two weeks, and there is so much work to be done. This will probably be another short/choppy post, so I apologize in advance. If you want to see what’s been taking up my time and energy, check out my website – caramckinnon.com – and find out more about my new series of fantasy romances!

Well…I don’t even know what to say about this episode, except that I wept like a child. Most of the episode didn’t grab me. I watched, but wasn’t engaged by the war story. Aside from the some of the elements with Dougal (wildness vs civility), this felt like a typical battle narrative. Then, Fergus’s reaction to having killed a man tugged me in. Finally, seeing Rupert grieve for Angus ripped my heart out.

I’m not going to talk much about the episode, because the broad strokes of it align with the book. I might come back after my book releases and talk about the beautiful cinematography and excellent acting, but for now I will focus on changes from the book. The changes are few, because both book and show are interested in what really happened at Prestonpans (with a little bit of fictional license). The battle is a part of history, so they couldn’t change much of the chronology or outcome without breaking their premise – that history really can’t be changed.

A few things I miss from the book:

  • Jenny Cameron. I know we already have an amazing Jenny, and they may have decided to remove this one because of name confusion, but I really, really miss having another strong female presence here. There is some historical confusion about who this woman actually was (accounts at the time may have attributed the actions of three separate women to a single person), but that just means that Outlander can decide for itself who she was and what she did. And they could have called her Jeanie, which is close but not the same. I would have loved to see her there, fighting all the way through to the end of the Rising.
  • The quiet moments with Jamie and Claire. Sometimes I feel like this show barrels through the story at such a terrific pace that we can’t catch our breaths. This episode only really slows down once we get to the end, and see the price of war. With that said –
    • Particularly missed is their lovemaking after Jamie tells her the story of the battle. I think the episode ended well, but I wish there’d been space for that. It is so beautiful and poignant when he says he needs Claire, and they come together to remember that they are alive, and what they are fighting for.
    • Also missed-Jamie’s Act of Contrition and reciting his list of the men under his command. I hope we see this at some point, because it helps establish the kind of leader-and man-that Jamie is. The list is also going to be relevant at the end of the season, when Claire is interested in finding out about the men from Lallybroch.

Now, on to what they added.

Having Dougal present allows us to continue exploring the dichotomy between the wild Highland Charge and modern warfare. At first, his abilities are an asset. He proves that the ground is poor and keeps the Jacobite leaders from making a poor decision about the battlefield. And this battle proves that the Highland Charge does have a place in the war – the same as the “commando raid” Jamie went on in the last episode, or any type of what will later be called guerrilla warfare. Knowledge of the land, and the ability to exploit the terrain, is important.

But Dougal also represents a sort of rage and brutality that makes the rest of the leadership–especially the Bonnie Prince–first uncomfortable, and then disgusted. I just read an article about Prestonpans that said Charles actually took to the field to beseech some of the Highlanders to stop slaughtering the wounded, so Dougal’s actions have historical precedent. Likewise, other clans took in the British wounded and gave them what medical attention was available. So everything here is being drawn from the actual events of the battle.

I’m sad that Lieutenant Foster had to die to prove that Dougal is a right bastard–since we knew that already–but I suppose we hadn’t seen him be quite this brutal before.

The other changes–namely the presence of Rupert and Angus–were gut-wrenching. We’ve seen Ross and Kincaid now several times throughout this part of the season, but Kincaid’s death alone would not have hit as hard as Angus. Although I have to admit that it wasn’t Angus’s actual death that made me cry. It was watching Rupert grieve for him that broke me. Grant O’Rourke’s face in that final shot before the end credits is so powerful. I don’t know if his role is big enough to get any kind of supporting actor award, but my god he deserves it.

The fact that they killed Angus this week does make me wonder. Will they make us go through Rupert’s death next week? I saw the church in the preview, and from what dialogue we got, we know that Jamie and Claire are going to be separated. So they’re following the books that much.

Honestly, I don’t think they’re going to do it. I could be wrong, but since Willie is gone and now Angus, too, I think it’s going to be Rupert who sees Jamie kill Dougal in Culloden House. It means we wouldn’t get to have the echo of the scene from “The Gathering” when Claire and Dougal sat together over the dying Geordie, but it could be much more powerful for Rupert to see Jamie killing Dougal – and understand why Jamie had to do it. Rupert in the books is loyal to Dougal until he dies, but this version is far more complex, and he has now lost his best friend. I can see him turning that to vengeance for a while, but by the time the Highlanders limp to Culloden, he will be disaffected and just want to stop the killing and the dying.

No matter what they do, I’m sure the finale will make us all sob pretty much non-stop.

Now, back to looking over proofs and making sure everything is perfect for Essential Magic. It’s coming out June 23rd, available at all major book retailers online!

Post Script: Holy crap Ira Steven Behr has a glorious purple beard. I adore it!

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Episode 209 – Je Suis Prest

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This week’s blog is very choppy. In some places, I just wrote a single sentence. Other elements got more attention. I don’t have time to re-watch the episode and do a more thorough job. My daughter has her big dance recital today and my husband is away for work, so one viewing is all I have time for!

If I get the chance later this week, I’ll come back and flesh this out. What you’re seeing is my initial gut-reactions, that I typically tweak and expand after my second watch. But it might be interesting to see those, anyway.

Nice title card, reminding us that Claire was in WWII. It has been said that all wars are the same war, being fought endlessly.

Murtagh’s wink at Claire is so sweet!!

Claire touches her wrist when Jamie mentions a watch. Different meanings for different words.

RUPERT AND ANGUS – Ye Wee Smouts!

Willie got married and isn’t here? Who is going to witness Jamie killing Dougal? I really thought that was the point of making him a bigger character last season?

Seriously, show. Dougal is right. There really is no time to waste. So why are we wasting this episode on something completely pointless?

Drill Sergeant Murtagh? Also, the snow in the air proves that this is really the wrong season.

Not sure how I feel about the training montage(s).

I like that Jamie is more interested in the welfare of his men in particular than the Cause overall, or what he can gain by being near the prince.

The origins of JHRC! I wonder if this is something they made up, or if it’s from DG’s notes.

I am starting to figure out what they’re trying to do in this episode – to pit the old Highland ways against modern warfare. Because the truth is, the Highland Charge is going to be broken with terribly efficient and brutal ease at Culloden. Jamie is right – Prestonpans and their other wins worked because of a mixture of surprise and good fortune.

Claire tries to psychoanalyze Dougal, but she isn’t entirely successful. Her own psyche is too troubled. I’m not sure how I feel about what they’re doing with Claire this episode. PTSD is a real thing, but Claire has always dealt with hers by compartmentalizing, by fracturing part of herself and focusing on the immediate, literal dangers and problems. She turns off emotion and then deals with it later. In the post-show behind-the-scenes, Matt B. Roberts talked about how PTSD can be triggered years after the fact, so, again, I believe that this really happens to people. I just think Claire already has a coping mechanism for hers. I also think that, while her conflict speaks to tone and theme, it doesn’t do much for plot or even much for characterization. Claire isn’t transformed by what happened. Rather, it reinforces her beliefs and convictions. So while it is interesting, I don’t know what it adds to the story.

I really, really don’t like that they changed the reason for Ross and Kincaid’s lashes. The men were brought in by Dougal. Why shouldn’t they have believed they were supposed to be there? Jamie’s punishment seems unduly harsh. It makes sense to punish them – and himself – for Lord John (or William, as he calls himself at this point) managing to enter the camp and attack. That is a totally legitimate dereliction of duty. This is…not.

After watching the rest of the episode, it’s clear that they were: 1) putting Dougal’s men on sentry duty with weighted emphasis and 2) establishing the penalty for this kind of infraction, but I think we all understand that corporal punishment was used at this point in history for military discipline. No need to flog two men who didn’t really do anything wrong in order to justify doing it later to Jamie. Or, if you want to contrast the two floggings, make the first one for a real offense.

Claire’s dialogue attempts to anchor us into a more specific time – for two years she’s tried to stop this war.

I am confused about why they added them swearing that Claire wouldn’t be alone again after she tells Jamie about her WWII experience. He already asked her to promise him that she would go back to the 20th century if things got bleak. He’s going to hold her to that promise. I don’t like that he’s going to break this one. Unless he decides that it isn’t alone as long as she’s pregnant and is going back to Frank? But that’s the letter of the vow, not the spirit of it. Dislike.

Why change the Lord John scene from him attempting to help Claire to just attacking? It makes it feel much more awkward when Claire happens along and starts the farce that she’s being held against her will. Maybe it’s just that I dislike whenever Claire tries to pull one of these scenes (like lying to BJR about Sandringham, faking her vision last episode, etc.). It made sense to me in the book that Jamie really didn’t want to torture this boy, especially since he didn’t yield at first, and was looking for a way out of it. The fact that John had attacked to protect Claire in the first place was what gave Jamie the idea to use her to coerce him.

I can see that Claire’s trying to do the same thing in the show, but why does she think it will work? It is nice that Jamie picks up on Claire’s idea and jumps to use it, because it’s always nice to see Claire and Jamie working together, but it doesn’t feel particularly motivated. And, sigh, here’s another threat of rape, even if it’s not a real threat and is being used as an alternative to torture.

Also, Lord John never finds out in this version that Claire is actually Jamie’s wife. So his little speech at the end isn’t motivated by the same feelings of shame and humiliation. He’s unhappy at being forced to give up information, but he would feel justified because of the inducement. We could have trimmed a few training montages and allowed him to ask, as he does in the book, what assurance he has that they will let the lady go. And then why not allow Claire to treat the broken arm? This is their first interaction of what is going to be a long and very fraught relationship. It needs to be…more.

Not that I advocate for keeping things just because they set up something in the future. I honestly feel that the scene in the book works to establish character, and it is plot-relevant because of the cannon and the upcoming battle. I can’t imagine why it was trimmed and changed so much. Although I did love when he shouts that he isn’t a spy, since I know what’s in his future. 🙂

I don’t mind adaptive changes when they enhance the story, bring out unexpected nuances, or fix minor problems in the source material. But this show has started to create problems for themselves that they’re going to have to solve in unnaturally twisted ways if they want to keep the broad strokes of the story intact (which they say they want to do).

In aggregate, I’m really not sure what this episode adds to the overall story. I guess it is trying to show Jamie changing from a Laird into a General, not just in the eyes of his men, but particularly in the eyes of Dougal. But I still feel that most of what happened wasn’t necessary and didn’t advance the plot. A much shorter training sequence, then Lord John, and then the battle of Prestonpans could have all fit neatly into this episode.

But perhaps my feelings will change when I get the chance to come back and watch again. I won’t be live-tweeting tonight, but I hope everyone has fun watching and tweeting!

Episode 115 – Wentworth Prison

Whenever I get to this part in the book, I always think “I could just skip it and jump to the Abbey.” But I don’t, because you’ve got to go through the deep darkness if you want to appreciate the light.

These episodes feel the same way to me. I get so frustrated and upset – which means I’m in the hands of skilled, master storytellers – but the end is in sight.

Of course, there’s a lot more awful to come in season two (Dragonfly in Amber is not my favorite book). But let’s leave that for now.

I like that we open with Jamie and MacQuarrie watching the hangings. It’s unfortunate that they chose the choking-to-death-and-having-to-be-pulled-down-to-suffocate rather than instant neck-breaking for MacQuarrie, but he was always a fighter.

And then Randall rides in and death would be a kindness for Jamie.

They stick pretty close to the books in this episode, with some embellishments from Jamie’s perspective. I do adore that Frazer Hines plays Sir Fletcher, since his Jamie McCrimmon partially inspired our Jamie Fraser (though DG says she didn’t know the actor’s first name was Frazer – she picked Fraser because of the quote that is so important in DiA, the one about the Fraser of Lovat’s group that escaped Culloden).

Catriona Balfe kills in this episode, from the way she is so obviously close to breaking, but manages to hold herself together in front of Sir Fletcher, to her vomiting in the gatehouse.

Angus and Rupert are amazing in the pub. I adore them, and how they play off of each other. Their camaraderie is genuine and delightful. Of course, Murtagh’s dour reaction is also perfect.

Marley doesn’t look much like I’d pictured him in my mind. I was thinking something more along the lines of an evil Sloth from The Goonies.

The complaint is dealt with very easily, probably because it was a silly side-step on the part of the production to create an episode’s worth of conflict with Sandringham, and now needs to be removed in order to get back to the main course of the plot.

I start to sweat the moment Claire re-enters Wentworth. I wonder why they didn’t keep the part where she had a vague idea where Jamie was being held? I think there’s plenty of conflict, and higher stakes, in going to a place you think is right, only to end up being wrong. Wandering around in the dark is only frustrating, and lacks purpose.

The scenes with Randall and Jamie really anchor and propel this episode. They’re the backbone upon which Claire’s frantic efforts rest. I like the elaboration of very tiny things that Jamie tells Claire in the book. This whole episode’s worth of interactions is condensed into a few sentences. The flashbacks in the final episode are more fully fledged.

I have never personally broken a bone, but my son just broke his forearm in wrestling practice and it was agony watching what he went through, so I ache for Jamie’s broken hand.

The part where BJR leaves Jamie alone feels weird to me. “I will not give in to course passion.” I think, rather, that it’s another form of torture. The pretend reprieve, the attempt to make Jamie feel that what is happening is his fault- that makes more sense to me.

Also, deus ex machina door much? Claire, I know you’re from the future, but even you can’t see what’s going to happen next, only the big strokes of history.

BJR comes back really quickly to interrupt Claire’s attempt to free Jamie. What, exactly, was he doing when he went off? And what’s with the soldiers? Did they just need to fill a few seconds of screen time?

Poor Claire. It’s hard to kick ass when you’re wearing bulky wool skirts. She’d have done better in her nurse’s uniform. And it leads to the worst devil’s bargain. But it’s the only way Jamie knows to be strong, to save the life of the person he loves the most. As he’s said, he can withstand pain. It’s the rest of Black Jack’s darkness that warps and scars him. The gentleness, the twisted love and hate and pride and bitterness.

I have wondered about Claire giving BJR the hour of his death. I mean, she knows it’s at Culloden, and over a year away. I guess it was the only thing she could think to do. But he keeps his word. It’s the one bit of honor he has, and it will come back in season two, when he makes the deal with her to care for Alex in return for information about English troop movements.

I miss the wolves. They gave us the little howl, almost an “I’m sorry.” They cut both of the interactions with wolves – the first on the road, and the second here, when Claire manages to kill one bare-fucking-handed.

MacRannoch is a bit of a disappointment. I want a Beorn-like bear of a man, and we get a smallish hobbity-man instead (his hair is distinctly hobbit-like). And the pearls- how did he possibly recognize a generic rope of pearls? Maybe the clasp?

Also, I miss Rupert’s cow-wrangling skills. It is heavily hinted in the book that he got bored and stole MacRannoch’s cattle. It was still Murtagh’s idea to use them, but I like it when the bit players get to do actual plot-related things, rather than just hanging out like wallpaper.

This episode really works for me because they never stray too far from the plot of the books. There’s a rather big break in the next episode, but it was done for expediency and production reasons, and I understand the choice. But I’m glad that what they elaborated on in this episode was almost entirely plausible and would have fit perfectly into the book.