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.