I’ll start by saying that this is one of my least favorite episodes. Now, that’s not saying I actively disliked it or hated it. Just that I had more problems with it than I had with any of the others so far. Even the pilot, with all of its VO/pacing issues, could be forgiven a little. It had to wrestle with a massive amount of exposition and manage to ground us in Claire’s 1940s world in a short period of time before thrusting her and us into the 1740s. That’s yet another argument in favor of a two-hour or at least two-part premiere. More space to pace the story.
But I’m beating that horse into the earth, so I’ll get back to The Gathering.
Here are a few of my big issues:
- Claire is trying to be a super spy, but has somehow missed the fact that there will be extra guards around and that these guys drink heavily every day. Side question: did anyone else think of Metal Gear when she’s darting through the shadows? I totally envisioned a big red exclamation point over the head of the first drunk clansman she encounters, and then, just like in the game, a bunch of other guys materialized out of nowhere. Claire doesn’t quite have Snake’s skillz, but she does manage to get one guy in the stones. Good job Claire!
- The wisdom of Claire’s escape attempt is also problematic in the book, although in the book she doesn’t have this master plan with how many steps between guard stations and such. She also doesn’t have official “minders,” so doesn’t have to come up with distractions. The way it works is that pretty much everyone in the castle is keeping an eye on her. So the fact that they all have a lot of work to do for the Gathering is, in itself, a distraction that she plans to make use of. BookClaire doesn’t know about the extra guards because she hasn’t been making huge plans. It’s almost a last-minute decision: “OK, the staff’s busy, there are extra horses in the stables, and there’s going to be this big oath-taking where all of the warrior guys will be distracted. I’ll grab some food and head out.” So when Jamie explains about the trackers and guards, we don’t feel like she ought to have known better. But I do feel that way in the show because they try so hard to show us how smart and resourceful she’s being.
- The kid playing Hamish is very good, but the rest of the mock boar hunt scene was weirdly awkward. Caitriona was being a little too condescending to the kids; I’m not sure if that was how she thought Claire would be (Claire having zero experience with children), or if it came out of having to do 20 takes with a passel of children who would probably have liked to be doing something else. In any case, it was distracting to me, and to my husband. He said it was the first time in the series so far that he thought it was “too TV.” That’s a pretty broad phrase for him, and includes: overacting, cheesy “swells” of music, flowery dialogue, wooden acting, clichés in plot or dialogue, stereotyping, and a host of other things I’m forgetting. He said the interaction with the kids was stilted, and I have to agree with him.
- I was a wee-bit weirded out at Rupert and Angus drawing straws over who got to “settle their cock to roost,” with the lass by the cook pot, and even more weirded out that Claire encouraged this. But I was mildly assuaged when we later saw that the girl had made up her own mind who she wanted. (I’d pick Rupert over Angus, too).
- Geillis. I’ve already said that, by the end of the scene in her parlor in 103, most of the internet had started to guess that she was a traveler. In this scene in Claire’s surgery, people were sure of it. The “when I first arrived in Cranesmuir with just my wits” bit couldn’t have been more obvious. So much for surprise smallpox vaccination scars. Although Claire will have to explain that one to the audience as much as Jamie, since we don’t vaccinate for that anymore in the US. Hmm…that’s an interesting question. I wonder when they stopped doing those? I’m in my thirties and didn’t get it. So when the younger MacKenzies show up in the late 70s, it wouldn’t have been a standard vaccine. Would Bree have had Jem and Mandy vaccinated in 1980, knowing they were going back? “Uncle” Joe could have hooked her up with the vaccine, I’m sure.
- Colum & Dougal, again. This is tying in to the same issue I brought up in my 102 review. Obviously Colum is the star of the Gathering (and looks much more lairdly with his hair pulled back and face shaved), but there was definite tension when Dougal took his oath. Then he went off immediately and got totally shit-faced, rather than standing by Colum’s side as he did in the books. Now, let me remind everyone that I’m not opposed to changes. I’m just not sure I like where this one is going. But I’ll say more about it in a later blog (which I will post during the hiatus…OMG, I can’t believe we have to wait until APRIL) devoted to the brothers MacKenzie.
- The bit with Laoghaire is both intriguing and problematic. It’s obviously another piece to add to the witch pile later, but I’m not sure that Claire would have done this. Later in the story, she begrudgingly starts to mix superstition with her healing because she hopes it might encourage people to actually do what she tells them (like she does with Mary MacNab in Dragonfly– Claire gives her the carved stones from Monsieur Raimond as a charm against the devils Mary believes are causing Rabbie’s seizures). But what Laoghaire asks for isn’t healing. It has no other explanation other than magic. So I dunno. It just doesn’t feel right. I will try to put it down as a snap decision, made under pressure, and out of character because she didn’t have time to think it through or figure a way out of it.
- Claire beating Dougal over the head. I’m fine with Claire taking a more active role in repelling his advances (in the book she freezes with fear, and Dougal leaves of his own accord), so the slap didn’t bother me. But the rest of this scene was jarring to me. I can’t explain why. Maybe because, when she tells Jamie about it, he laughs it off instead of being pissed at Dougal.
- Rupert knocking Jamie out. It was overkill, and out of character for Rupert. I have some questions about Rupert’s role in this scene anyway. Both in the book and in the show, Rupert is among the clansmen who force Jamie to go to the oath-taking. Rupert is supposed to be Dougal’s man, and Dougal wants Jamie as far from the oath-taking as possible, so why does Rupert push Jamie into it? Is this his misguided way of forcing the issue between uncle and nephew to come to a head? Or does he think Jamie would actually make a good laird? I’m not sure. I’ll come back to Rupert when I talk about Colum and Dougal in the separate blog.
- The cheering when Colum accepts Jamie’s not-oath. It was way too enthusiastic, unless they’re cheering because now the party can really get started.
- Claire apparently forgets about her patient who needs his leg stitched after the tynchal. I mean, I get it. A man just died at your feet, which is enough to distract anyone. And then you had some prime manflesh running around in front of you, beating each other with sticks. But I would have appreciated at least some acknowledgment that she was going to go off and finish stitching the dude’s wound.
That’s pretty much it. And none of those are dealbreakers, it’s just that there are quite a few of them. Of course there were still plenty of things I liked about the episode:
- Claire’s little pout when Jamie wasn’t in the stables at first. “I don’t mean to be a bother to him.” Oh, Claire. You know you aren’t. And it’s so cute that you’re worried about what he thinks. Here’s a hint: he’s in love with you.
- Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser. I love him so hard in the books, and Duncan LaCroix and the writers are totally delivering the best of Murtagh. You just know that Jamie took Murtagh aside that morning and said, “Look out for Mistress Beauchamp today. She’ll not know the Gaidhlig and I can’t be there to translate for her.” Then, when Jamie shows up at the oath-taking, Murtagh lays it all out for Claire, including her complicity in Jamie’s danger, with devastating understatement. And he tops it all off with a Lethal Weapon reference (well, Matt Roberts does): “I’m getting too old for this.” Love, love, love.
- Jamie’s face when Claire tells him about the drunken clansmen. I immediately pictured an older version of that face, with the hints of violence and vengeance blossoming into a berserk rage, holding Bobble in the air and slowly, slowly breaking his neck. I got chills. I can’t say this often enough, or with enough emphasis: Sam Heughan is Jamie Fraser. We see it again when he and Claire are apprehended by the guards and the young guy says “can I keep the lass?” Jamie flips out. Here is a hint to anyone who is thinking about touching/hurting Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser: Jamie Fraser will end you.
- Three words: Je Suis Prest.
- The blocking in the scene where the clansmen are putting Jamie into his finery. He keeps his back to the wall so no one will see his scars.
- Sam totally nailing Jamie’s gestures. Jamie sends Claire out to the hall to find a place to watch. As she’s leaving the room, if you look behind her, you’ll see Jamie “shrugging his shoulders as though his shirt is too tight.” Then, when he stands in the doorway, trying to decide what he’s going to do, his fingers drum against his leg. Sam, I love you. You are doing so much justice to this part!
- Jamie knocking back the quaich of whiskey. I did miss the line about the clan “whose taste in whiskey is so fine,” but it’s all good.
- Geordie’s death. This scene was so beautiful and poignant. The actor playing Geordie was fantastic, and between his acting and the writing, I mourned for this character who we have never met before the moment of his death. That’s when you know you’re doing a good job.
- Jamie putting the smack down on Dougal. Sam’s expression goes almost berserk, but then pulls it back. I imagine Jamie had to take a very strong hold on his instincts, otherwise he would have brained Dougal with his shinty stick (I assume it has an actual name). And then he looks up and when he sees Claire, his expression lightens. But my absolute favorite bit is when he and Murtagh leave the pitch, and he says, “Did we win?” Perfection.
- The moment of genuine accord between Dougal and Claire in the surgery, when he thanks her for what she did for Geordie. They immediately revert to antagonism, but for just a moment, they understand each other.
- Jamie looking over his shoulder to make sure Claire is OK as they ride away from Leoch. I love those little touches that remind us that he is aware of her at all times.
The best thing about “The Gathering” is the fact that we’ll be getting out of Leoch and onto the road! And that road is going to lead first to a wedding, and then to a deep and powerful love that will change our characters forever. So that’s something to look forward to.