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 208 – The Fox’s Lair

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There are a few small missteps in this episode, but I think that Diana Gabaldon doesn’t understand the phrase “jumping the shark.” I am actually a little happier after this episode, because I couldn’t see how, after the witch trial in the show, there was any possible way in the world that Jamie would ever marry Laoghaire. But if she is truly contrite, and still in love with him, and Claire has made her peace with her (if not actually forgiving her), then maybe, just maybe, it would make sense for him to be worn down by Jenny and agree to the marriage.

I adore the title card this week. It reminds me of the cat for The Wedding. I suppose it’s a bit on the nose, but foxes are one of my favorite animals, so it works for me.

Opening with them already in Lallybroch was a wise decision. I wish we’d had time for the rest and peace of the year in the books, but it’s implied that they have now been there a while and are already settled in. Wounds have had time to heal, at least a little. The highlights from the book are there – the potatoes, the letters and books from Louise, and Jamie’s late-night conversation with his niece.

The changes are understandable. It makes sense for Charles to charge Jamie with recruiting the Frasers at the beginning of the uprising. That part feels organic, at least.

The mention of Jocasta gives me great hope for future seasons! She’s as canny an old bird as the Auld Fox is cunning. If they split Voyager over two seasons, we won’t meet her until season five, but I can wait.

Jamie’s reaction to the Bill of Association is exactly as I imagined it. He is so angry, and can’t let his rage loose with the family all around him. And Jenny and Claire are devastated.

Can I stop for a moment and say that Sam Heughan is amazing? He is so faithful to the text, using Jamie’s physical tics, including keeping his fingers stiff on one hand and tapping with the other.

I like that Jamie uses the arguments that came from Father Anselm in the book- that Claire has already changed things by being in the past. And her argument that they flee is something that Jamie, as laird and head of his family, cannot accept.

It’s nice to have Claire and Jamie working together again, instead of being pulled apart.

Watching Jamie and Jenny spar is one of the best things ever. When Jamie says, “Janet,” in that tone that only siblings can get, it makes me chuckle.

Jamie confessing about his father being a bastard is both cute and heartbreaking. It obviously bothers him, but Claire could care less. Of course, he takes his shirt off half-way through the confession, and that’s enough to distract anybody. The way the shot fades out on him standing there, silhouetted, is bloody gorgeous.

Then there’s another beautiful shot, of the light glinting off Claire’s ring as she searches the bed and doesn’t find Jamie. It must tear at her heart, and yet warm it, to see him holding his fussy niece. Jenny’s dialogue is drawn pretty much directly from the book, but I wish there’d been a little space in this scene for Claire and Jenny to talk about Faith. Jenny references Claire’s pregnancy, but then moves on. I’d like Jenny to tell her that what happened wasn’t her fault, that sometimes these things happen and no one can stop them, and there is no reason or logic. That Claire will be a mother some day.

But I suppose I will live without that assurance.

Claire and Ian’s exchange – “take care of your Fraser” – made me smile. They’ve been allies ever since Claire and Jamie first showed up at Lallybroch. We don’t get to see much of them interacting, but he is her brother-in-law, and this is Claire’s family in a way that she has never had before. When Jenny instigates their hug, and they hold each other close, it breaks my heart. Because of the way events have been moved around, I don’t think Claire is going to be coming back to Lallybroch in this season. This is the last time she will see Jenny and Ian for twenty years.

I wonder if the rosary that Jenny gives Jamie is the one he will later give to William?

Jamie deals perfectly with Fergus. He’s too old to be treated like a wee bairn, but too young to be allowed to fight with the others. Making him subordinate to Murtagh, as a sort of page, is a brilliant idea.

The Claire-ification during the travel montage is probably not necessary. Jamie references Simon’s way of getting wives to his face (rape and trickery) and we know he had affairs and bastards – or Jamie wouldn’t be alive. Jenny already said that his loyalties shifted to whoever could line his pockets. We don’t get any additional information in the voice over that isn’t organically found within the episode.

Colum at Beaufort Castle is…odd. I mean, I get why he’s there, and I suppose it makes sense, but he is definitely more healthy in the show than he was in the book. By this point, he was very close to death, and considering euthanasia.

I’m not particularly bothered by this first scene with Laoghaire. I wish they hadn’t pushed her quite so far last season – that she’d been more like the book, wanting to get Claire in trouble but not really wanting her dead – but I’m willing to go with her change of heart. She’s obviously still in love with Jamie, but if she sincerely regrets hurting Claire (and it seems she is, because of what she later agrees to do), then I’m willing to go with it.

I want to like Maisri, but I am a fan of The Decoy Bride and when she’s on screen, I can’t stop seeing Maureen Beattie saying she wants to be thrown into a volcano. I also think that we lose some of the weight of her character in the show, and that she is turned into more of a plot element, but I’ll get to that after her conversation with Claire in the church.

Simon is cunning, and knows how to needle his grandson. I like that Jamie loses his temper, that he isn’t quite as polished and canny as he is around the MacKenzies. But the problem isn’t entirely the Auld Fox – it’s the situation, where Jamie needs something and Lord Lovat is absolutely willing to use that to squeeze what he wants out of his grandson.

I also notice that Jamie isn’t wearing a kilt in this scene. I wonder if he’s taking his cue from Simon, who also doesn’t wear a kilt?

I dislike that Jamie uses La Dame Blanche again. It’s better to call her a Wise Woman, but it’s much better later, when he calls her one of the Old Ones. This is what Jamie believes in the book – or at least half-believes, anyway. But I guess this is better than in Paris, because he knows that his grandfather is superstitious, and at least this time he’s using the accusation to protect Claire rather than his man card.

I like Young Simon better in the book. He was a bit of a bastard, and a brawler, but he was loyal and willing to follow Jamie. I’m not sure what to make of this version of the character. He reminds me of Lord Byron, except the famous poet wouldn’t be born for another forty-ish years.

Claire’s decision to have Laoghaire give Young Simon confidence is also odd. I suppose this is the “jump the shark” moment, but I use the phrase loosely, because what I think was really meant was that this is the moment when Claire does something completely out of character. The idea itself is fine, but when Laoghaire balks, Claire should have relented. Instead she persists. She does tell Laoghaire that she doesn’t need to use her body to entice Young Simon, but Laoghaire is young. She’d only be about seventeen now, or maybe closer to eighteen, and doesn’t understand subtlety.

Also, holding forgiveness over Laoghaire’s head is unkind.

In the next scene, Colum is saying all of the things that Jamie is already feeling, and the things that Jamie fears, but Jamie has chosen to fight. This is another change from the book, where Colum seeks Jamie’s advice and decides not to support the Stuarts. I wonder how they are going to get Colum to Edinburgh later? Perhaps, after they begin to win battles, he decides he has no choice? Or perhaps, the series will have Dougal kill him at Leoch, and then lead the clan to join the prince.

Young Simon is so awkward, declaiming poetry. Laoghaire is used to the MacKenzie men, like Rupert and Angus, or even like Willie, who are more primal and physical. I think that’s why she likes Jamie. He has the strapping physicality and warrior spirit that is familiar to her, but also the keen mind and curious soul of an intellectual.

Something is definitely missing from this scene with Claire and Maisri. I think it’s the acknowledgment of Claire’s foresight. There is a connection between them in the book. Although she doesn’t have visions the way Maisri does, she knows things that are going to happen. It is made much more explicit in the book how that kind of knowledge can be difficult, or even impossible, to carry. That isn’t even touched on in the episode. In fact, I feel like the only reason Maisri is here is for Claire to co-opt her vision later, in a very false and theatrical display that was a much more out of character action than anything she could have done with Laoghaire.

Jamie goes to the stables to calm himself down. I like that he wants to be a beast – the second reference to “To a Mouse” in this episode. I suppose that Jamie’s off-hand remark that Claire should reveal herself as from the future is what gives her the idea to fake a vision, but I very much dislike that scene.

As soon as Claire drops the tankard, everything feels so very false, not only because I know it isn’t true, but because everyone else seems to know it. Colum even shouts it out as a pretense. Only  Jamie’s reference to the Old Ones saves it at all for me, because he actually believes that.

But the rest feels so fake, especially the way Lovat reacts. I think he’s acting, too, trying to create a scene as much as Claire is. Young Simon walks directly into his father’s trap. You can see the gears turning as he makes his choice – pretend neutrality and send troops as though they decided on their own to follow his son.

Colum’s farewell is lovely. He truly does care so much about Jamie, and wishes his nephew would take any other path. We linger so long on their goodbye, that I think we may never see Colum again. I’m going to make the guess that Dougal will return from Beannachd to kill Colum at Leoch, then lead the MacKenzies to join Charles Stuart.

Laoghaire’s wish to one day earn Jamie’s love is the final thing that makes me think this episode was supposed to put Laoghaire into a more favorable position to marry Jamie in season three.

The Auld Fox’s parting shot – that he hasn’t gotten Lallybroch “yet” is nice. But even better is the show’s casual assumption (the second so far this season) that the “secrets but not lies” conversation actually did happen on their wedding night. Two episodes ago, Claire told Jamie that it was OK for him to lie to her occasionally, and now Jamie tells Claire they may have to “rethink their agreement not to lie to one another.” Both of them are teasing, but they are obviously referencing their vow to maybe keep secrets, but when they do tell each other something, it will be the truth. Head canon is now official canon!

I suppose Maisri does have one other purpose in this episode – she gives Claire hope that the future can be changed. I’m not sure that’s enough to make up for the very false note of the false vision, but I suppose it’s better to go into the war with hope, even though the dramatic irony is still very much in place. We already know they are going to fail.

The preview for next week focuses almost entirely on preparing the troops, but Dougal’s presence is part of why I think he’s going to either kill his brother or somehow get Colum out of the way in the next episode. It’s also possible that he’s just there, supporting his prince, and maybe tries to take leadership away from Jamie.

I suppose we’ll see next week!

Episode 110 – By the Pricking of My Thumbs

My overall reaction to this episode was “well…huh.”

Firstly, I was quite certain that Ron Moore said in an interview at some point that they weren’t going to do the changeling. Perhaps I misheard? I can’t find it now, anyway, so who knows what he actually said. Maybe I conflated the changeling and the water horse. So I wasn’t expecting to see that.

Secondly, the whole fandom had pretty much decided that Dougal wasn’t married in the show, since his wife had never come up after nine episodes. It was weird to have it only come up here, and then to have Dougal’s extremely melodramatic reaction was out of character and just awkward.

There are times when sticking to the books makes the show have to turn itself in knots, and this episode is one of them. They needed to get to the plot points of Geillie and Dougal’s affair, and it’s more dramatic if they’re both married and both spouses die. It’s also a better explanation for why Colum exiles Dougal, but I’d have believed the exile even if the only reason Colum wanted him away was to keep them from eloping/take care of Geillis. Which is what happens in the book, anyway. So they kept things in that they didn’t need to keep and elaborated on things that didn’t need elaboration.

There are a couple of elaborations that I love. The Duke of Sandringham is one. I am fond of this new, “I don’t like work” version of the duke. The sportsman with the high-pitched voice from the book is funny, but this one feels like he’s part of a high-stakes political game, and that he would fit in perfectly at court.

I’m also a fan of Claire confronting him directly, and actually telling Jamie about the connection to Randall. It’s hard to understand why she doesn’t in the book.

The duel is a fun little moment, and I’m neither for nor against the addition. I don’t feel that it really adds anything to the story, but it doesn’t make anything worse and it gives us a little more time with Jamie, so I’m fine with it.

The summoning in the woods is gorgeous, but it makes me wonder what they’re going to do in the abbey. Claire learned the opium/hypnosis trick that she uses to save Jamie from Geillis in the book. Maybe she’ll have some kind of flashback to a soldier under opium in the war.

Speaking of flashbacks, OMG how many times are we going to have to see Reverend Wakefield and Frank opining about the Duke of Sandringham? Do they really think we’ve forgotten? Or that there are tons of people who haven’t watched the first nine episodes just now jumping in on episode ten?

Anyway, I adore Colum in the scene where he banishes Dougal and Jamie. We feel his power as Laird, not with physical menace the way that Dougal does things, or with wit and humor the way Jamie does it (although he can and will show physical menace, too), but by a kind of magnetism and strength that is inside of him. Jamie’s reluctant obedience is fantastic.

Dougal’s claim to love Geillis rings a little false until he mentions the child. We haven’t heard about his daughters in the show, and now that we’ve heard about Maura I would think they would have mentioned the girls. So I’m guessing that he is hoping to marry Geillis and finally have a legitimate child of his own. That need gives him vulnerability.

Mrs. Fitz is so sweet with Claire, but I wonder how much she guesses of her granddaughter’s affections and intentions. It’s Tammas who delivers the note – Laoghaire’s cousin – and I’m betting she asked him to do it. He probably just thought it was a prank. After all, Claire saved his life.

I like that Geillis is proud and self-assured when Claire comes to her, rather than drunk and dissolute like she is in the books. Although why Claire doesn’t say “Dougal is gone” when Geillis says he’ll protect her, I have no idea. It may be a function of the way they edited the scene, but it feels like Claire had plenty of time before Jeanie opened the door to say “Christ, Geillis, Dougal is miles away, with Jamie, and Colum is out to get you.” Then they could have both gone out the back.

Meh.

I haven’t mentioned the opening scene, although it was lovely and captured well the description from the book of butterfly wings. It felt very soft and loving and showed us exactly where Claire and Jamie are now. So did the scene with the changeling. Jamie says almost the exact same line he said in the Black Kirk (about the people not knowing much more than what Father Bain tells them), but this time with gentle affection. I still need to finish my blog post tracking the Claire/Jamie relationship arc over the season, but maybe I will wait until the whole season is done, and then I’ll have all sixteen episodes to work with.

In general, this was not my favorite episode. It did have a couple of very nice scenes, and I enjoyed it more than I did 109, but 109 tried something daring and failed (in my opinion). This one didn’t do much that was daring, and sometimes it’s better to fail spectacularly than to succeed mediocre-ly. *not a word*

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!

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.