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 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.

Theory – Colum and Dougal

Even though we have 26 weeks until the show returns with the second half of season one, Saturdays are still Outlander day here at my blog.

Today, I’m going to dig into my theories about Colum and Dougal. I’ll talk both about the books and the show.

In the books:

Colum wants Jamie around because he’s hedging his bets. He is the one who called Jamie back from France when they got news of Horrocks. He knows his brother is an impetuous hothead, and he worries about what will happen to the clan under Dougal’s leadership. Jamie may not be a unanimous choice for Laird (Jamie tells Claire that it would split the clan), but Colum thinks Jamie has what it takes to see the MacKenzies through the troubles that are looming. Also, although he’s still very upset with his sister Ellen for leaving him and going away with Brian Fraser, he sees in her son the qualities that would have made her a good laird: intelligence, courage, wisdom, charisma, cunning, and strength.

Another element to this theory is that Colum knows Jamie doesn’t want to be laird. The old adage is that the right person for the job is the one who doesn’t want it (with the caveat that they also need to be good at it). Jamie would be good at it, and he would take the responsibility seriously, but not let the power go to his head. That would make him a good regent for Hamish, until Hamish is old enough to take over the position.

But the most important aspect of this theory is that, if true, Colum’s choice would drive a wedge between Colum and Dougal. They’ve always acted in harmony, in everything they’ve done. So for Dougal, having Colum place even tacit approval on Jamie’s claim is a betrayal. Remember that it is Dougal who tries to kill Jamie with the Lochaber axe. Dougal’s man Rupert shoots Jamie in the back (well, the shoulder) when he makes a break for Fraser lands just before they meet Claire. Dougal sends Jamie to the stables and away from the major goings-on at Leoch. And then it’s Rupert, again, who brings Jamie in to take the oath during the Gathering. Rupert’s motives aren’t entirely clear, but you could say that he was trying to force the issue- either so that Jamie would be killed by angry, drunken clansmen, or so that Dougal would have an excuse to kill Jamie “accidentally” elsewhere.

Colum clearly did not want Jamie to take the oath, for the same reasons. He wanted Jamie to stay clear; even if he’s not a sworn MacKenzie, he is still eligible to become laird. He can swear the oath and change his name when he takes up the position. So, when Jamie walks the knife’s edge and comes out alive and popular on the other side, Dougal has to think of something else. He humiliates Jamie by showing his scars to everyone in the MacKenzie lands. Sure, it helps Dougal raise money for the Jacobites, but it has the nice added benefit of making his rival feel trapped, shamed, and exposed.

Finally, it’s Dougal who arranges for Jamie to marry Claire, neatly removing him from the succession. Colum does not do any of those things, and is actually surprised when the party returns to Leoch and Jamie is married. On the other hand, I think he’s very aware that Dougal hates their nephew and would like to see him dead. In a way, every time Jamie escapes with his life is an affirmation that he’s a better choice to be laird.

Dougal wants to be laird, and there’s a kind of restlessness to him that suggests he thought he would be by now. But more than that, he wants the MacKenzies to rise and support the Stuarts. Jamie would never allow that to happen, and Colum isn’t sure he wants it to happen. Later, Colum actually accepts Jamie and Claire’s advice on whether or not to pledge the clan to the Rising. Unfortunately he dies before he can put that into effect. And I’ve always wondered at that. Is it possible that he and Dougal talked, and Dougal killed him before he could announce that the clan would not join the Jacobites?

Dougal is a complicated character. The only person who has his loyalty for most of the books is his brother. He doesn’t love his wife, and is known to be promiscuous and an adulterer. Case in point: Geillis Duncan and their child, William Buccleigh MacKenzie. He loves Jamie, his foster son, but he is jealous of him at the same time. Because as much as the brothers MacKenzie have always acted in accord, it was Ellen who was Colum’s confidante and advisor. Dougal’s afraid Jamie will take up that same place. Dougal takes after his father, Red Jacob, in temper, and that gets him into trouble. Many of the things he does to Jamie are done impetuously- that’s why most of them don’t work. The one that comes closest to killing him is the axe blow- and that was foiled when other people showed up and he had to flee.

Then Claire shows up, and he develops an immediate attraction for her. That desire comes out at the Gathering, although even while drunk he has enough self-possession to let her go. And we see his malicious digging at Jamie during the events surrounding the wedding. He doesn’t stick to the good-natured insults of the others, but says truly hurtful things. Because, if he were free, and it wouldn’t ruin his chances of becoming Laird, he’d have married her himself.

So how does this theory apply to the show?

One of the things I talked about a couple of times in my episode reviews was the way the Colum/Dougal relationship is different in the show. Dougal seems to hold more of the power, and he is more openly hostile toward Colum and definitely angry at the Gathering. I think that the show is trying to show us all of the things I just talked about from the books. But it’s hard to get all of that subtlety across on screen, and Dougal can’t tell us what he’s thinking the way Claire can. So they’ve given him actions to make his disaffection and jealousy clear. Unfortunately, those actions make it look like he and Colum are more at odds than they are in the books. Of course siblings fight – we get to overhear one of their fights after the return to Leoch – but the bedrock principle of their relationship is absolute, unflagging loyalty.

That’s overshadowed by Dougal giving a begrudging oath and then going off to get stinking drunk. And by Dougal being the one that is clearly in charge of Jamie’s beating at Rupert’s hands in the Hall. And the implication (made by the way the episode was edited and written) that Dougal is the one who convinced Colum that Claire shouldn’t be allowed to leave.

The Dougal we see on the road, collecting rent, is very much like the one in the book. He is comfortable and confident, glad-handing his tacksmen and tenants. In the book, Colum leads inside Castle Leoch, and out in the wilds, Dougal is in charge. The difference in the show is that Dougal took away some of Colum’s thunder at Leoch.

That may change when the show returns, though. Ron Moore said in the podcast for episode 104 that he thought the look for Colum was much better clean-shaven and with his hair pulled back. He looks more like a laird, more like the man in charge and less like an invalid. So what I think is that the show made a couple of missteps with Colum at first. In 102, nearly all of his authority is usurped by Dougal. Sure, he hands out a few judgments about cows, but when there’s real tension, it’s Dougal who takes over.

In 103, we see Colum as menacing and temperamental, but not really “in charge.” Dangerous, for sure, but that’s not the same thing. Finally, in 104, he is allowed to make the important decision to accept Jamie’s vow in place of the Oath. Maybe I’m reading into things, but when Gary Lewis smiled in that scene, I was thinking, “He isn’t smiling at Jamie. He’s smiling at Ellen. He made this decision because Jamie reminds him so much of her.”

So I’m hoping that they’ve turned things around with Colum, not just in looks, but in action. I want to see the cunning, powerful, intelligent, sly, charming man from the books. Because we’ve seen a lot of Dougal, and even though he doesn’t always do things the audience likes, we have a good idea of who and what he is. Now we need to see who Colum really is.

What do you think about my theories? The big extrapolation is that Colum actually wants Jamie, rather than Dougal, to be the next laird. He lets go of that, over the course of the first two books, but at least in the beginning I think he’s absolutely hedging his bets. Do you disagree? Or have another explanation? Leave me a comment and let me know.