Episode 109 – The Reckoning

Outlander is back!

I’m still working on some of my hiatus content. We’ve had several rounds of the flu, strep, and stomach viruses at my house, and I’ve got three different posts in various stages of completion but nothing ready to post.

Instead, I moved straight on to my blog for the first episode of 1B.

May I say first, I am surprised and pleased that my theory about Colum (and Dougal, to some extent) turned out to be correct! The book never explicitly states that Colum wanted Jamie to be laird (or at least regent for Hamish), but it is certainly something you can read into their interactions if you want to. I’m excited to see how this will play out over the course of the rest of the season, particularly the next episode, with the Duke of Sandringham and Jacobite issues. There will be even more implications for season two when the issue of how the clan will “jump” is paramount.

I wonder whether the show is going to show us Dougal killing Colum in Edinburgh. That’s another thing that is implied, but never stated, in the books. It will have to be done in a way that lets Claire and Jamie know the truth, but not be able to prove it, or else Dougal won’t be allowed to lead the clan to war.

But let’s backtrack to the episode. I loved Jamie as the narrator. The whole cold open, and the monologue, did an excellent job of placing us in Jamie’s PoV. That’s an important choice, because I don’t think we could have made it through the strapping otherwise (it didn’t really work for me as is, but I’m choosing to whistle past it).

I’m a fan of the change that Ned told them not to kill anyone, rather than Jamie having an unloaded pistol because he’d already killed a guard. I’ve never liked the fact that, in the course of proving his innocence in the death of an English soldier, he kills a different English soldier. Plus, wouldn’t the shot have alerted the guards? So not loading their pistols on purpose makes much more sense.

One drawback to this scene (and the end of “Both Sides Now”) is that we’re still not getting the knowledge from Claire that BJR really can’t rape her until Jamie is present, and someone else’s humiliation or pain is involved. I realize that would take some of the immediate danger out of the scene, but I’m actually OK with rape being off the table. BJR is dangerous enough with a knife. But the show has skirted the issue a few times now, so I’m guessing it isn’t going to come up until Lallybroch, when it becomes the point of contention between Jamie and Jenny. Or maybe not at all.

The scene by the brook between Jamie and Claire was beautiful and raw, but I have to admit I was terribly distracted by the fact that the men and horses were only a few feet away. I wish they would have staged that differently. All I could think of the whole time was that I would have been mortified to be having that conversation in front of Angus, of all people.

Still, I would have preferred just about anything rather than what happened next. I’m not going to go too far down this road, because everyone’s reactions to the scene are different, but the strapping is one place where I wish they wouldn’t have stuck so closely to the books. It wasn’t so horrific that I will refuse to watch the rest of the season, but it was uncomfortable enough that I’ll probably always skip this scene when I re-watch the episode. For most purposes, I’m going to pretend it never happened.

The pacing of this episode is totally weird, and the quick cut to Leoch is one of the reasons why I wish they hadn’t filmed the strapping scene so closely to the source material. I can accept the strapping there because of Jamie’s stories on the road afterward. The show doesn’t have time for that, so I really wish they’d set things up differently.

Then we have the conflicts between the Brothers MacKenzie and Laoghaire and Jamie. I’m actually a big fan of what the show is doing with Laoghaire. Most of what we know about her in the book of Outlander (not including what we learn in later books) is really just Claire’s speculations. The show is setting her up to be a little more sympathetic. Yes, she’s forward, but she’s sixteen and having her first “love,” which is an intense and powerful thing. She thinks that Jamie’s arranged marriage is like most of the ones in this era- loveless and mostly on paper. After all, he took a beating for her and then snogged her in an alcove.

I’m also totally OK with the way Jamie handles her. He isn’t used to dealing with women on a romantic level. He knows how to talk to his sister and his tenants, and Claire acts enough like Jenny or “one of the guys” that he’s fairly comfortable with her. But Laoghaire is something completely different, and he’s treating her gently. I think he’s also still attracted to her, which makes it hard when she throws herself at him. He’s tempted, but this is one of the choices he mentioned in his opening monologue. The choice wouldn’t matter if the other option wasn’t at least a little viable. That doesn’t make Jamie less of a hero or a bad person. All it means is that he’s not perfect. But he does make the right choice. He turns her down, even if he could have done it in a less-fumbling way.

In general, I think everything with Laoghaire and Jamie could fit perfectly into the books. We never see their interactions at Leoch. Jamie says nothing happened, but from his perspective, nothing did. Seeing her awkward advances and his even more awkward refusal makes me understand why Laoghaire would say what she says during his return to Scotland thirty(ish) years later. Her accusations that he led her on and yet never really saw her meshes well with this encounter.

Getting back to the episode, the political tensions were fun, and I loved how Colum listened to Jamie’s advice. It reminds me of what he tells Jamie in DiA, how Ellen used to be his best friend and how they would make plans for the clan together, before she ran off with Brian. I saw the same thing from Colum during the Gathering when Jamie gave his oath. He was so angry that Jamie was even there, because Colum was sure Jamie would end up dead. Instead, Jamie proved that he was just as savvy and sure-footed as Ellen, and managed to find the middle path. The smile Colum gave was an acknowledgment of his sister-son, and the heir he would place above his hot-heided brother.

Now Jamie is proving just how good he would be as Laird. It’s a shame that he’ll never truly hold that place, not even on the Ridge. He sees the people there in North Carolina as his, but not all of them view him the same way. And his brief time as Laird of Lallybroch ends in pain and isolation; he’s able to save his men only after great personal sacrifice.

The last scene is probably my biggest disappointment in the episode. Not so much because it’s a bad scene – it actually works very well within the framework of the episode, and I really like what Jamie says about going a different way than his father and grandfather – but only in comparison to the same scene in the book.

I am fine with losing some of the fight (although I’ve always seen Claire’s jealousy over Laoghaire as the first sign that she has truly fallen for Jamie). The bit about the money has always rung a little false for me, but the moment when she chooses to stay, and when they come together in violent, passionate lovemaking, is one of the major turning points of the book.

The scene is still a turning point for the show, of course. Jamie tells Claire about the key to Lallybroch, and that she’s his home now. Claire asserts herself, and proves that they are equals in their marriage, not one subject to the other. But it’s not quite the same. When Jamie says he’s going to make her call him Master, there is no impetus for that assertion. And when he says that he is her master, and she’s his, it feels just the tiniest bit hollow.

In the end, this is not my favorite episode. In fact, it is probably my least favorite so far. But that is only in comparison with the very excellent episodes that preceded it, and some much more weighty scenes in the book. It’s still one of the better episodes of television I’ve seen.

What do you think? Do you have an opinion about Laoghaire’s strip tease? Leave a comment and tell me your reactions to the episode.

PS- If you want to talk about the strapping, all I ask is that you be open to other interpretations than your own. I’m uncomfortable about it, but I know others found it funny, or at least non-objectionable. I don’t think they’re wrong, or morally bankrupt, or terrible people, for having a different reaction than me. Basically, be polite!

Speculations – Season Two Episode Breakdown

EDIT: I have cleaned up this post and turned it into a permanent page. Check it out here

It has been a while. I meant to do more posts during the hiatus, but my real life and my own writing have taken precedence. Now there are only seven weeks until the second half of season one starts, so it’s time to get back in the habit of blogging. Between now and then, I’ll do commentary blogs on the teasers, extended scenes, and trailers that have been released as part of droughtlander, and I still want to track the evolution of Jamie and Claire’s relationship over the first eight episodes in a post. I also updated my blog post about the breakdown of the second half of season one. The big change was the addition of the titles that have been released, but I made a few tiny changes to my predictions, too.

But to get things rolling with a new post, I’m going to speculate about season two!

So all we know at this point is that Starz requested 13 episodes for season two. That’s three fewer than this season (although they may ask for more). The question is, how will Ron Moore et al decide to structure their season? From what I can tell from Matt B Robert’s twitter feed, they are already breaking the season and have started writing.

If I were in the writer’s room, I would have two big questions that need to be answered before deciding how to break the season.

EDIT Jan 2016: This question has probably been answered by the fact that they *just* cast Roger and haven’t announced Brianna yet. But they could always be planning to film the 1960s stuff at the end and still put it into the 1st episode. We don’t have an air date yet, so they’ve still got time. 

The first and most important: should the series keep up the 1740s story and run straight through until Culloden, then end the season with a few episodes in 1968? Or is it better to follow the book’s structure of using the 20th century as a framing device?

EDIT: The following question has become moot, since a different actor has been cast for Alex. But he looks similar enough to Tobias to make my breakdown still function. 

The second question: do they actually have Tobias Menzies play Alex Randall? This, I think, is a vitally important question that must be answered before you can start to pull apart the story and restructure it as episodes. Because, if you don’t have him play Alex, things start making less sense. The resemblance between all three men is supposed to be very striking. Alex is possibly the least similar simply because he is younger, but he is, after all, Frank’s true ancestor. So if they don’t cast Tobias, you have to ask if they will follow the books in that respect at all. Do they make BJR Frank’s direct progenitor? How does that change what happens in Paris? Do they cut Alex from the story entirely? If so, what about Mary? What about all of the stuff in Edinburgh?

To make my life easier, I’m going to assume that they will follow the books, both in the bookended story structure and having Tobias play all three Randalls so we can keep Alex’s story intact. Tobias isn’t going to have much, if anything, to do as Frank in this season. Claire has a few memories of what happened when she got back in 1948, but that’s it. They will have to do some tricky camera work to have him interact with himself as Alex and Jack, but that isn’t exactly unprecedented.

So. A 13-episode breakdown of Dragonfly in Amber, following the books pretty closely:

Episode 201 – Through A Looking Glass Darkly

I would condense all of the stuff from part one into this first episode. It’s a nice episode for montage, anyway, with all of the research bits and various travels into the Scottish countryside. It’s hard to decide which parts to keep, but you obviously need to have the first scene, where Claire and Bree visit Roger, and you need to have the scene where he visits Lallybroch. You also need the scene where Bree and Roger go to Culloden, and then the one in the garage since that’s where Roger finds the Reverend’s notebook that gives him the information about Bree’s parentage. Fiona will be there, although perhaps not quite so intrusively as she is in the book, since her flirtation with Roger isn’t really important in terms of the overall story.

Honestly, I think you can cut most of the stuff with Bree and Claire, and the several visits to the manse. Maybe keep the part where Claire wakes up from her erotic dream of Jamie and whispers, “You are so like him” to her sleeping daughter.

I would end the episode at St. Kilda’s, in the graveyard, with Claire collapsing on Jamie’s tombstone.

Episode 202 – The Pretenders

I would start this episode with the briefest of scenes in the manse, with Claire explaining the truth about what happened at the stones. We would open in medias res, so that you don’t bore the viewer with an overview of things they already know from last season. Instead, I’d start with her telling them about the Abbey, and then flash to the 18th century.

There, we’d get Abbott Alexander telling them Charles is in Paris, and then maybe montage some of the journey to Le Havre. There, we’ll get morning sickness and sex, and then break Claire’s perspective and follow Jamie to meet with Jared. Then back to Claire, then to the ship in the harbor. I’m tempted to say that they should pad this episode out with more direct conflict with Le Comte, but it may be enough just to do the plague ship. The episode should definitely end with the plague ship being destroyed.

Episode 203 – Royal Audience

This episode would be all about the Fraser’s introduction to the Court. We’d see a little bit with Jared because they need to introduce Mary’s uncle (and the subsequent conversation Claire and Jamie have about Frank, and Jamie being reassured that BJR is dead), but it would focus on the parties. There would have to be some kind of episode conflict, probably using the Comte since he also appears at society events. But this is where we’d see the King’s levee, Claire puking in the fountain, Raymond’s apothecary shop, Jamie’s story about dueling over Annalise de Merriac, and Alex Randall. I’d move the bit with Alex to the end of the episode, so it leaves the audience assuming it’s BJR. Of course, that only works if, as I said, they cast Tobias as Alex. (Edit: or maybe have them do a hazy dream-effect, and then at the beginning of the next episode, it clears to reveal the new actor.)

Episode 204 – L’Hopital des Anges

We open on Alex, and the realization that he is not BJR. Then I would have the scene where Claire dreams of Frank, and have her and Jamie’s talk afterward. Then we’d have the party where she meets Herr Gerstmann and he suggests she go to L’Hopital des Anges. The conflict in the episode will start with Jamie forbidding her to go, and then we’ll get the encounter with Charles and the monkey, and Claire waxing with Louise de la Tour. I would move Jamie’s meeting with Fergus up a little bit, and have her tell him, if he’s going to be getting into so much trouble and allowing Fergus to put himself in danger, then he shouldn’t mind if she does what she is meant to do. He will acquiesce, and we’ll get the introduction of Mother Hildegarde and Bouton. This may also be a good place to put Jamie having to discipline Fergus – maybe on Claire’s first-ever trip to L’Hopital she refuses to leave and gets home late, and Fergus demands that Jamie punish him.

Episode 205 – Deceptions (NOTE – this is the episode that can be trimmed in order to expand the episodes focused on the Rising – the only really important bits are what they learn from the cipher and Claire’s poisoning)***

I would open this episode with a montage of Claire at L’Hopital des Anges, possibly with some intercutting to Raymond. Then have the scene with Louise’s illegitimate pregnancy, some action shots of Fergus stealing and returning letters (nice bits of tension- will he be caught?), Jamie bringing the cipher to Mother Hildegarde, Claire’s poisoning, and the implications that St. Germain is still out to get Claire. I would probably excise the bits with Mssr. Forez. He’s interesting, historically, but doesn’t do much for the plot. I’d probably get rid of the bit with Jamie and the whores, too. Not plot-relevant, and we don’t need the Claire/Jamie conflict. The end of Part Two in the book makes a great end to the episode- Claire feeling Faith for the first time.

Episode 206 – Malchance

This is just about the half-way point, and the whole of Part Three in the book makes a nice episode. It starts with Claire and Mary Hawkins being attacked, and ends with Jamie agreeing not to kill BJR until after he’s fathered the child that will one day be Frank’s ancestor. In the middle, we have the revelation that Claire is Le Dame Blanche, the disastrous dinner party, Raymond acknowledging Claire’s skill as a healer (help to heal) and trading information for the true story of the party, Jamie and Claire encountering BJR at Sandringham’s, Dougal in Paris, Claire getting BJR arrested, and then the awful scene between Claire and Jamie when she begs him not to kill BJR for Frank’s sake.

Episode 207 – The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

I can’t decide if this episode should bother including the bit at the stud farm. It would be hilarious to watch Fergus with the stable boys and the horse, but they don’t get that much info there. So it might be better to go straight into planning to hijack the wine ship with the fake smallpox outbreak. There would have to be a little bit in here about how they know about the wine venture, but that’s easily explained by Fergus’s letter thefts. ((Assuming the previous episode was trimmed, there also needs to be at least some hint about the cipher promising money for landing on English soil – that becomes relevant at the end of the book, and very relevant in Voyager)). Something less random would have to draw Jamie to the whorehouse where he sees BJR raping Fergus. It needs to be something associated with their plot against Charles, something that will really make Jamie think that what’s happening is his fault. Then the episode ends with him and BJR dueling, and Claire collapsing in a pool of blood as she miscarries.

Episode 208 – The Coming of the Light

This episode has a lot of ground to cover. We have to get from Raymond healing Claire, to Fontainebleau, to Claire’s deal with Louis to get Jamie out of the Bastille, to the wizard’s duel and the supposed death of Saint Germain, to Jamie and Murtagh’s successful sea venture, to Jamie’s return to Claire. I would end it with her lie – that she didn’t have sex with Louis – but I would make sure that the audience already knows that it is a lie. It isn’t playing fair with the reader in the book when Claire lies to us, too.

Episode 209 – “I Am Come Home”

Start with Jamie and Claire reconciling in France (from part four), but probably skip the cave. It’s interesting and beautiful, but not plot-relevant. Montage to Scotland, and then the little bits of daily life at Lallybroch. Rabbie’s seizures, Ian and Jamie’s difficulty after Jamie tells Ian about BJR, and end with the letter from Charles and the Bill of Association, and Jenny telling Jamie to ask Ian to come. The Ian/Jamie conflict would be the driving force of the episode. ((NOTE – this is also a place where trimming could happen. If so, the battle of Prestonpans would end the episode.))

Episode 210 – The Flames of Rebellion

This episode would definitely have the infamous encounter between Jamie and young Lord John, and I think it would be best to go through the battle of Prestonpans, intercut from Jamie’s PoV and Claire’s. Then, it would have to segue to Edinburgh, and Colum and Dougal’s arrival. Colum dies, and Claire makes her deal with BJR for information. The episode ends with Charles sending Jamie to Beuly. ((If the earlier episode is trimmed, there is more time to expand on BJR and the MacKenzies.))

Episode 211 – The Stuart Witch

Again, lots of ground to cover. Highlights: Jamie eventually gets his Fraser family’s support, but is incensed when the Old Fox wants to take credit for the Lallybroch men. I would probably skip the part where they go back to Lallybroch, and just have them go back to Edinburgh and find the men in the Tollgate. I’d cut the bit where Jamie and Simon go to talk to Charles, maybe the whole bit where the men are imprisoned. Honestly, I would cut the whole section with Lovat, if not for that important line – “One Fraser from the Master of Lovat’s regiment…”) Claire encounters Mary, and Jamie and BJR become unwilling allies over Alex and Mary’s unborn child (Damn all Randalls!). I am fairly certain that the night of Alex’s death is also the night Claire got pregnant with Brianna, so there will probably be sex. Then the episode has to end with the battle of Falkirk, Rupert’s death, and Claire in the hands of the English.

Episode 212 – “Sing Me a Song of a Lass That Is Gone”

It’s too complicated to get Claire all the way to Sandringham’s estate, so I would just say that he’s taken over a local Scottish estate and Claire is brought directly there, along with Mary (who BJR has sent back to her family, although she is now protected by his name). Then the events cascade, leading to Hugh Munro’s death, Murtagh killing Sandringham for what happened in Paris, Jamie killing Dougal over Claire, signing the Deed of Sasine and sending it to Lallybroch with Fergus, then Jamie and Claire marking each other in the croft and Claire’s flight through the stones. ((see note below for how trimming would affect this episode))

Episode 213 – Hindsight

Brianna refuses to believe, but Roger is convinced. The changed wedding ring will come into play here, because it isn’t going to be engraved, and it won’t allow for that moment of absolute sorrow from Claire. Of course, it’s rather unlikely that a surgeon would never have removed her rings in twenty years, but I whistle past that when I read the books. In any case, Claire will present Roger with the choice to try and save Gillian Edgars. Of course he tries (and they fail), but in the process, Claire proves irrevocably to Roger and Bree that time travel is possible. The season ends with Roger quoting the line about the “officer from the Master of Lovat’s regiment” who survived. “He meant to die on Culloden Field,” Roger whispered. “But he didn’t.”

———-

If the decision is not to use the framing device, then all of the episodes get shifted. What I listed as 201 would become 212, and 202 would become 201. If the decision is not to use Tobias as Alex, that would cause subtle shifts in the way things are shot and written, and how much you can get away with in regard to the physical similarities. Does Tobias have a brother that acts? Or a very similar-looking cousin?

***Another thing I noticed while breaking out the episodes is that, like Diana, I spent a lot more time with episodes in France than I did with the actual Rising. It may be better for the show to shift things a little more and devote another episode to the ’45. Some of the court intrigue and plotting can go, and I marked the episode where pretty much everything can be cut or at least slipped into another episode (For example: is it really important that Mother Hildegarde solves the Goldberg Variation cipher? They could just get that info from a stolen letter). Also, although I love the quieter moments and character development at Lallybroch, that can be trimmed, too. Those cuts would allow for more time with the MacKenzie brothers and BJR’s deal with Claire, as well as providing a whole extra episode to split between dealing with the Frasers at Beuly and BJR marrying Mary Hawkins. I would call that episode “Damn All Randalls.” The existing episode 211 would then start at Falkirk. Everyone loves Rupert, and we need to have some time to grieve his death in the church. But then I stand by Claire’s capture and transport to Sandringham needing to happen much more quickly than in the book, and I would end the episode with Sandringham’s death. Then the final episode of the 1740s section would start with the party’s arrival at Culloden House, and end with Claire going back to Craigh na Dun.

I’m actually way happier with that breakdown, but I’ll leave my initial thoughts up since they follow the book a little more closely.

Whenever we get an episode order for Voyager, I’ll break that down, too. Although I would actually like to see Voyager as two seasons of twelve episodes. One season for before C & J are reunited, and one for after.

What do you think of my episode breakdown? What would you do differently? There are all kinds of things that could probably be cut, and characters that can be conflated. Leave a comment with your ideas.

Episode 108 – Both Sides Now

First things first: every time I see the title of the episode I start singing Joni Mitchell. The lyrics of the song do have some relevance to the show. It’s a song about changing perspectives, about seeing familiar things, important things, in different ways.

And that is what happens to Claire in the past. She starts to look at love and life in a different way, and that change is part of what drives her decision to stay with Jamie. And part of why she is never truly happy or content, back in her “own” time, during Brianna’s childhood. So it’s thematically appropriate, even though the title is a more literal reference to the audience being able to see both sides – Claire’s and Frank’s – of the story now.

I would also like to crow a little bit and say that I totally called the cliffhanger ending. And although I don’t think I said so in any of my previous blogs, I always imagined them ending the first half of the season with Jamie in the window, saying “I’ll thank ye to take yer hands off my wife.” It just made sense, given what we knew about the episode splits (since we knew episode seven would be the wedding, this one had to end with Randall).

One thing I want to bring up before I dig into the changes in the episode:

A friend of mine who is new to the series (hasn’t read any of the books and just marathoned all of the episodes to catch up right before the mid-season finale), made what I feel is an accurate criticism of the books/show: there’s an awful lot of rape, or at least attempted rape, in it. I wanted to say: “you don’t even know what is going to happen at the end of the season,” but I didn’t. I try not to spoil people, really I do. That’s why I named this blog Outlander Spoilers- so you would know what you were getting into if you stopped by!

She’s right, though. While rape was commonplace in the 18th century (and is still more commonplace today than most people want to admit), it isn’t something that would have happened quite as frequently to the same woman (unless she was a prostitute). The fact that nearly every man who meets Claire wants to rape her does stretch the bounds of verisimilitude.

I didn’t give my friend any spoilers, but what I did tell her is that, while I do feel that rape is slightly overused as a form of conflict in the series, Diana doesn’t treat it lightly. It’s never glossed over, used purely to push the plot forward, or forgotten by a character in the next scene. It stays with the characters forever. You know, just like in real life.

I also think it is important to point out that Claire killed the English deserter before he raped her. I’ve seen several reviews today saying that Claire was raped by the soldier. Depending on your definition of the word rape (and that’s a touchy subject), you could argue that any sexual assault with the intent to rape is tantamount to rape, at least in the psyche of the person being assaulted. But in most places, the legal definition of rape includes penetration, and that didn’t happen here. It sure looks like it did, because the camera goes all fuzzy and things start to lose narrative cohesion. But Claire wasn’t penetrated in the book, and per the interviews I’ve read with Ron Moore and Anna Foerster, she wasn’t in the show, either.

I don’t know that that makes a difference to the viewer, or even that much to Claire. But it is something BookClaire clings to, in the aftermath. It didn’t happen. And, in the book, Jamie and Claire have desperate sex afterward. It is absolutely not making love; they’re driven by the need to copulate, to remind themselves that they’re alive and together. They couldn’t really do that in the show. It wouldn’t make sense without an awkward voiceover, and they needed to move on more quickly to keep the forward momentum of the narrative. In the book, Claire has a little while to recover and try to start making sense of what happened. But the show needs to use her disconnection to reality and her shock and anger to fuel her flight to the stones.

Moving away from that touchy subject, I want to say that I adored Jamie and Claire in their quieter moments together. I’m still waiting for the honesty conversation (and I think my call that it will show up during their fightsex scene may turn out to be accurate), but I was very happy to get “Is this usual- what it is between us – when I touch you, when you lie with me?” As I said in one of my last blogs, I’m re-reading Voyager right now, and I just got to Claire and Jamie’s reunion, and Claire reminds him of that question. And they both acknowledge that whatever it is, is still there.

I also LOVED that they included the bit where Jamie says he feels like god himself when he’s inside Claire. Although I hope they echo the “does it ever stop, the wanting you?” later in the show, in a quieter moment. It was a little rushed, this time, since they put it into a sex scene that wouldn’t end well. But the laughter, and the fun between them, before the deserters show up, made me very happy. That’s one of my favorite parts of Jamie and Claire. They go through so many horrible things, and their relationship isn’t all sweetness and light, but they are able to laugh together and let go of pretense and solemnity.

One sad thing – the “I feel like God Himself when I’m in you” scene is the one where BookJamie goes down on BookClaire for the first time. It’s also where the hedgehog joke originally appeared. I’m fine with losing the joke, but I’d really like to see Jamie get into the business of pleasuring Claire. Obviously not in this context (in the book they’re still at the inn when that happens), but maybe we’ll get it later.

I was a little confused, as a book reader, about what was happening during the scene where Claire makes her break for Craigh na Dun. In the book, she’s like a day’s walk away, but in the show she can actually see the stones. I had a wild moment where I actually calculated dates- Jamie says they’ll be back at Leoch by Yuletide, and I was thinking “OK, so how close are we to the solstice, then? Will she actually be able to travel?” But then I realized that was silly. They only changed things so that Claire and Frank could have this moment, talking across time and at cross purposes. Because Claire has come in a desperate attempt to get back, and Frank has come in a desperate attempt to let go.

The slightly extended scene with Randall, where Claire pretends to know things about Sandringham, made me want to throw up. I say this about all scenes in which characters pretend to have knowledge that they don’t. Something about that particular type of conflict makes me queasy, because I know it is going to turn out badly. And it does. At least in the book, Claire had the sense to shut up and not fabricate too much. TVClaire tries to get all super spy, and Randall sees right through her.

After he ties her up, they deviate from the books a bit in a way that I’m not sure I agree with. It’s in this scene that BookClaire learns that Randall is only aroused by someone else’s fear and pain. When she stops acting afraid, he literally can’t get it up. It’s only when Jamie arrives, and Randall is able to feed off Jamie’s fear, that he becomes aroused. That’s important, and is reinforced later- Jenny’s revelations about what happened when she “went with Randall” indicate that he can’t get an erection because she laughs at him.

I feel that’s an important aspect of BJR that isn’t coming across yet in the show. We understand that he’s aroused by other people’s pain. We saw that in the way he recounted the flogging. But we don’t yet know that he has gotten to the point where he can’t feel pleasure unless there’s also fear and pain.

And that’s an important distinction, I think. There’s the bit with Jenny still to come, though, so we may still see this.

EDIT #1 One of the recap/reviews from this week (I can’t remember which one- it may have been “Talking Outlander”) talked about this problem, and they got at the heart of what I was fumbling around and trying to say here. It isn’t so much that we need to know this about BJR (although we do), but that Claire had agency in this scene in the novel. She had power here. BJR had the power to kill her, but he couldn’t rape her unless she cooperated by being afraid. And that is taken away in the show. I’m not sure how they would have done it, logistically, but I wish they would have tried. /edit

Now I suppose I need to talk about Frank.

Despite none of the Frank stuff happening on the page in Outlander, every moment of this felt like something that could have happened. And the bit with Mrs. Graham…I wonder if Ron talked to Diana about that scene? She keeps saying she’s going to write a book called “What Frank Knew.” We see in the letter that Brianna finds (she finds a draft in Echo and the actual letter in MOBY) that by the time she was a teenager, he’d done the research and had come to cautiously accept the possibility that Claire was telling the truth about the stones. He’d found Jamie Fraser (had possibly found proof that Claire would eventually travel again…I’ve often wondered about that) and was at least afraid that it was true- afraid enough to warn Brianna about it.

If something like this did happen “off screen” in the books, then it suggests that Frank already knew or suspected something about the stones.

Edit #2 I just re watched the episode, thinking about what Frank knew, and I was struck by the way he looked at Wee Roger Mac. Because he knows who Roger is. “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” tells us that Frank has met Roger before- when he brought the news of Jerry MacKenzie’s death/disappearance. And Reggie (the reverend) is Frank’s best friend. They would have talked about Reg’s adopted son. So, I think when Frank sees Roger there, he has to be thinking: is this the same? Weren’t there standing stones in Northumbria? Could this be true?

He denies it, of course. But it’s nagging at him, enough so that he drives up to the stones, trying to come to grips with what is real. I don’t think he should be able to hear her through the stones, btw. Her hearing him makes sense. There’s a precedent for that in the books. But even so, he convinced himself that he’s a fool, and that he has to let her go, or go mad. /edit

And then when Claire does come back, nearly three years later, pregnant and talking about time travel, some part of him will believe her. Being the practical and rational man that he is, he will ruthlessly suppress that inclination. But it will always be there, niggling. And so, eventually, he will start to look for James Fraser. Will ask Reverend Wakefield for help. Will start asking discreet questions of his old colleagues at MI6 about time travel. And will discover a Fraser lineage with his daughter at the bottom.

It all makes sense. And those are the best kinds of extrapolations in this series- the ones that fit as though they were always meant to go there.

The scene with the intended extortion, where Frank goes a little mad and shows that the ruthless anger of BJR is somewhere inside of him, makes me wonder. Why does he have a cosh in his pocket? One possible answer is that, even drunk, desperate, and despairing, he is smart enough not to trust a random woman in a bar. I’m leaning toward this explanation. He was, after all, a spy. Another possible answer, though, is that he always has it with him. Just in case. And that says something maybe a little darker about Frank. Or about the world he lives in- a world Claire knows little or nothing about.

Edit #3 I was double-checking my use of the term “cosh” for Frank’s weapon (some of the podcasts were wondering what it was called), and the Internet tells me that it is also called a blackjack. Hello prop symbolism. /edit

Either way, the answer to that question is intriguing. Also – hooray to getting to finally see Wee Roger! He was so bleeding cute! Now I shall wait until we get casting announcements for adult Roger and Brianna.

And so, here we are, with six months of drought looming ahead of us.

I plan to fill that drought with more blogs. I plan to put something up at least once a week, and will look at individual characters, story arcs, the plot structure of the series as a whole so far, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I’ll also be posting some of my pet theories about Dougal and Colum, a treatise on time travel, and some other fun stuff.

So keep checking in during the hiatus. I’ll also share any Outlander-related news we get during the down time, and I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you!

Episode 106 – The Garrison Commander

Even having seen (and loved) the wedding, this is still my favorite episode. Tobias Menzies is amazing in ways that words cannot express. He takes fantastic writing and elevates it to a transformative experience.

Black Jack Randall is one of my favorite characters in the books. He wasn’t when I first read them, but I’m older now, and have written a few books of my own. I understand the darkness better, and the need for it.

Because pretty much this entire episode is an expansion/extrapolation/fabrication and is not in the book, I’m going to abandon my usual review style (looking at differences from page to screen) and just talk about what is going on with BJR (and Claire and Jamie). I’ll make some comments about Dougal at the end, too.

One of the things I love about BJR is that, within his own particular boundaries, he has a very intense sense of honor. Claire has never fallen within these bounds. He doesn’t know who or what she is, but he knows what she isn’t: a stray 18th century Englishwoman lost in Scotland, as she claims to be.

Even without Claire’s legendary glass face, BJR is very, very good at reading people. He knows she is lying from their very first encounter, and the lies and her reasons for them both intrigue and infuriate him, the moreso because he cannot ascertain them. Nothing about her makes sense, or will fit into his understanding of the world. Therefore, he needn’t treat her as he would treat a real stray 18th century Englishwoman lost in Scotland.

To that woman, he would show absolute courtesy and hospitality, if not actual respect. To Claire, absurdly, he can show his true self. In the show, he does it here, at Brockton. In the books, he doesn’t do it until Edinburgh in 1745, but there is something about the way she is outside of his understanding, and the way they are both connected to Jamie, that allows him to speak of things he hides from everyone else in the world.

Tobias has spoken of his portrayal of Jack as someone who was changed by war, just as Frank was. Jack’s is an insurgency war, on the edge of rebellion, and we know (from the books, and it’s hinted at with the talk of Sandringham in 101) that he is an agent provocateur in the Highlands. Whether he means to draw out Jacobites and arrest them, or rile the Highlands to later support the Jacobites is unclear. But we know he has been given the task to be, basically, as vile and despicable as possible to the people of the Highlands.

What happened to him in that process was that he discovered that he liked it. That the brutality, the cruelty, the pain and blood and terror, woke something inside him, called to him with a lover’s song. And so he reveled in it, steeped himself in the sweet miasma of fear, until one day he met a boy named James Fraser. And in that boy, he found a spirit and a flesh capable of withstanding everything he could inflict. At least in public. He promises Jamie that he will break him, and in that promise is a lust and a longing, and a sick and twisted form of love that binds them through Jamie’s flesh and blood.

“I will break you,” Randall says.

And he will.

But not by flogging.

In the episode, we also see that BJR has a flagrant disregard for his foppish superiors. Lord Thomas is not stupid, but he is lazy and willfully ignorant. Jack cannot respect a man who is more interested in the integrity of his claret than in possible Jacobite sympathizers sitting in the taproom below.

In fact, Jack doesn’t truly recognize the chain of command at all. He is somewhat protected from it by the Duke of Sandringham (in ep. 101 we’re told he must have had a powerful patron to protect him from the censure of his superiors), but it’s another example of him adhering only to the code and the rules inside his own head. He gets to decide who is worthy of respect, and Lord Thomas isn’t.

Foster might be, by the way. BJR doesn’t condescend to him, although he does play off of him. But I get the sense that, of everyone in the room during the officers’ meal, the only two men who are actually soldiers and not just officers are Randall and Foster. That is probably because they are the only two who aren’t wearing wigs.

Note that that’s a change from the books- there’s a scene where Claire pours blotting sand into Jack’s spare wig, and after he punches her during this first interrogation, she tells him, “your wig is crooked.” But I’m totally fine with the change, because it makes him seem more…connected to his job. The wearing of a wig is an adherence to faraway London rules of etiquette. Jack is beyond those, now.

There is also a sense in this whole episode that Jack is a mixture of a cat toying with a mouse, and a spider spinning webs to ensnare its prey. I can see Claire as both mouse and fly here, unwittingly falling into his trap. She wants so very much to help him, both for Frank’s sake and his own. Although her good sense is probably screaming that there’s nothing she can do, that he’s dangerous and shouldn’t be trusted, she needs for him to be redeemable. She needs that for Frank, to be able to believe that he isn’t descended from a sadistic sociopath and that he might eventually find solace for the horrors he was responsible for during his war. And she needs that for Jack, because she is a compassionate healer who can’t stop herself from helping anyone who needs it. Even people who have tried to kill her (see Lionel Brown).

So she is sucker punched along with the audience. I’ll admit that I wasn’t certain what was happening, when BJR talked about redemption and making Claire happy. They were so far away from the books at that point, I wondered for just a moment if his plan was to take her away, but head south toward Edinburgh and the Tolbooth, not west to Inverness. I never really thought he would let her go. And then he punched her, and we were right back to the book.

Let me talk for just a moment about Jamie and the flogging. I’m sure we will get Jamie’s perspective on the scene in an episode or two (if they follow the books, it will be after the spanking, as part of his attempt to explain his notions of justice and punishment and his guilt about his father), and so the show may veer off in some way from the books and therefore change what I’m about to say. But here’s my take on things, from my reading of the books.

Jamie is very sensitive about the scars on his back, obviously. There are several reasons for that. The first is what he told to Claire when he wouldn’t let her remove his bandages in front of Auld Alec. It makes people pity him. The second is the reason he fought with the lads in the book after Dougal showed him off- because it makes people think him weak. (If you don’t remember what happened, it’s at the end of chapter eleven. Another lad makes a disparaging personal remark to Jamie, and Jamie beats the tar out of him. We aren’t told what was said – it was in Gaelic – but Claire assumes that it was something similar to what she heard murmured another time, and was in ep. 105: “I would die in my blood before I let a whey-faced Sassenach use me that way.”) But neither of those reasons are strong enough, on their own, to explain why Jamie still is sensitive about the scars thirty years later. He hesitates when his daughter innocently tells him to take off his shirt to keep it from getting dirty. He flinches when his grandson, who idolizes him and could never see him as weak or pitiable, touches the scars.

The reason for that has everything to do with Jack Randall, and with the death of Brian Fraser. No matter how much Jenny tries to take some of the blame for their father’s death, Jamie will bear the guilt of it for the rest of his life. The flogging (or rather, believing Jamie had died from it) is what made Brian have a stroke. And if Jamie had given in to BJR’s “request” to have his body, he wouldn’t have been flogged the second time. So that’s one part.

And the other, of course, is because the second flogging – the one that truly marred him and made his back a pulpy mass of scar tissue rather than simply striped by weals and gashes – was done at the hands of Randall. After Wentworth, everything Randall ever did to Jamie has become part of that invasion, that breaking of his self and his soul. The flogging, the rape, the death of his father, the attacks on Claire, all of it has attained a kind of critical mass.

So it is more than fear of pity or of being seen as weak that makes Jamie want to hide the scars. It is guilt and shame.

Jamie has to constantly reaffirm to himself that he has forgiven Jack Randall. And in the later books he has, as far as that goes. But he has never “gotten over” it. Here is the truth: you don’t. You don’t get over trauma. You learn to live with it.

And the scariest part, the part that is hardest for people to accept, is that Randall is proud of what he did. He sees it as beautiful, as this deep, transcendent connection between them. As an act of love.

OK, enough about Randall. Let’s talk about Dougal.

This is the episode where we see Dougal start to respect Claire and to believe her when she says she isn’t a spy. And it isn’t a magical spring that convinces him (although that’s part of it). It’s the way she defended him in front of her countrymen, and warned him away when she thought he might be in danger. It’s the fact that she didn’t spill his secrets to Randall under coercion or punishment. And that she’s willing to marry Jamie (and to sleep with him) in order to escape BJR’s clutches. But the thing about Dougal is that he’s always thinking, always trying to manipulate situations to his best advantage. So while he appears to be solidly on Claire’s side in this episode, the desires that drive him are still under the surface.

It suits his purposes to have Jamie marry Claire. An English wife neatly removes Jamie from consideration as Laird of the MacKenzie Clan. It also keeps Claire safely where he can see her- even though he is pretty sure she isn’t an English spy, she is still an unknown quantity. And now Jamie is going to watch out for her, and is too honorable to do anything that will overtly damage the Clan, even for his wife.

But let’s face it. Dougal wants Claire for himself. This is coming out much earlier on the show than it does in the books (the groping kiss in the corridor during the gathering notwithstanding), but it is definitely present in both. So he’s pissed off at the thought of Jamie getting to have the thing he wants. And even more pissed off when she so clearly wants Jamie, too.

So Dougal gets to be a complicated, three-dimensional character and not a flat stereotype. He gets to do things that we don’t understand or that don’t seem to make sense right away. He gets to make decisions based on motivations that are muddy or selfish or practical.

And that is what makes this an amazing series. Because no one always makes the right choice, not even Jamie and Claire. Because everyone does bad things sometimes, or can’t forgive mistakes. And because even Black Jack Randall has redeeming qualities. Don’t believe me? Ask Roger MacKenzie. Ask Jack’s brother Alex. Now, those qualities may not be enough for Claire and Jamie, but think of it this way: in Dragonfly, Jamie actually walks BJR back to his quarters after his marriage to Mary Hawkins and Alex’s death. It tears Jamie to pieces, and he is angry and outraged and hates himself and the world while he’s doing it, but he does it. Because Jack is devastated at the loss of his brother, and for that single moment, Jamie can also feel something like pity for him.

And I am so glad that we have a second season so that we’ll get to see that moment on screen.

Although I am re-reading Voyager right now and praying to all of the gods that we get at least through season three. Although they’re going to have to cast someone as young Lord John Grey for season two, I imagine they’ll cast someone else to play him as an adult. And I cannot wait to find out who that is, and to see him and Sam Heughan interact. There will be much rejoicing.

So I know I didn’t really talk about the episode much. If you have a comment to make about any part of the episode, please do so! I’d still love to talk about the actual scenes, I was just more interested in the characters for my review. But please do comment, especially once we get into the hiatus and we’re all starved for more Outlander!