outlander 102 – castle leoch

NOTE: Spoilers abound ahead, so read no further if you haven’t seen the episode or read the book.

Also, for anyone curious why I’m coming so late to this party: I had planned getting further along with my reviews at this point, having made the decision to write them in January or so, but in the midst of Droughtlander, as it was called, it was hard to stay motivated to write. This was especially made difficult because the first 8 episodes were shown six months ago.  Still, I do plan on reviewing them all. Given my current track record, I am not sure how long that will take me.Castle Leoch Title

Written, Directed and Photographed by the same team that worked on Sassenach, Ronald D. Moore, John Dahl and David Higgs, this episode flowed almost seamlessly from the ending of the previous episode.

Ronald D. Moore had handled the events in this episode in his typically elegant way.  What was retained was in keeping with the original; otherwise what was left out, altered or added was done in a very smart way.

He does this over and over in the series, it’s probably key to the show’s success as an adaptation, but Moore started out right off the bat in this episode with a fairly a major change:  Claire having visited the castle before and how that compared to what it was like in 1743. He had introduced this idea in the first episode, of course, but it gets underscored more strongly here.  That had not happened in the book, she only mentions knowing the castle was home to the Laird of the MacKenzie clan, but it was an excellent choice because that gave Claire memories of a ruin to juxtapose against a Leoch that was whole and fully occupied.  If she hadn’t been convinced before that she was in the past, seeing the castle as it was in 1743 really proved it.

It was a nice touch that Colum basically gives Claire that five day deadline (before Tinker Sean Petrie comes to the castle and gives Claire a lift to Inverness) to fight against in her hopes to get back to Craigh Na Dun.  She has to play nice, as it were, but only long enough to get out of there.  I also liked that they added the little bit with Dougal and Hamish, showing his uncle being extremely fond of the lad.  Seen from the outside, it makes sense Claire would mistake Hamish’s and Dougal’s relationship as more like a son and father… It’s a very nice bit of foreshadowing and a beautiful addition to the series, rounding out Dougal’s and Hamish’s characters quite a bit.

Probably the primary example of changing things for the better happens at the end of the episode.  In the book Claire isn’t under direct threat of imprisonment by Colum if she tries to leave.  It’s certainly implied, and in her inner dialogue she figures it’s pretty much a given she’s there as long as Colum wishes her to be, but Colum had not outright mentioned imprisonment as a threat if things didn’t go well.  To have him threaten her in the show was a fantastic choice which seriously upped the stakes for Claire while throwing a pretty daunting obstacle in the way of her getting back to stone circle.

One of the best things about this show is how well everyone involved collaborates to bring about a more cohesive whole. Although this seems like a small thing, probably the best example of that is in this episode when Claire and Jamie follow Mistress Fitz back into the castle through a dark and twisting hallway, shortly after their arrival at the castle.  That contrasts sharply with the shots of when Claire had visited the ruin in 1945 with Frank.  Even though it only lasts a fraction of a minute, it was a beautifully designed sequence, and added a nice touch to the episode.

The overlapping sound from the two times Claire was there was striking. The same echoing footsteps, Frank’s the more leisurely, a future Oxford don taking his time exploring a ruin to satisfy his intellectual curiosity; that contrasted to the more emphatic pace set by the very intense Mrs. Fitzgibbons with a traumatized Claire and tired Jamie following closely behind.  I also liked how the shots matched between Claire’s walk through that hallway in 1743 and when she was there in 1945. That added a sort of resonance between the future and the past that might not have been there otherwise.   Editor Michael O’Halloran, director John Dahl, and writer/producer Ron Moore must have worked closely on staging, shot choices, and editing to get the sequence to work so well.  The attention to detail is outstanding, all for a sequence that lasted barely 15 seconds.

The acting was, almost without fail, fantastic.  Caitriona Balfe was nearly pitch-perfect as Claire.  She went through quite a lot in this episode.  I love how blunt she is, just like Claire in the books, but without coming off as too abrasive.  Maybe Rupert wouldn’t agree, with his quotes from St. Paul in the first episode, but she doesn’t hold back when she gets emotional.   She tries to hold herself in check when talking to Jamie after she’s bandaged his shoulder, but she believably falls apart as the gravity of her situation hits home, leaving her sobbing in Jamie’s arms.

Balfe is probably at her best, as Claire, when she confronts someone about something that has made her angry.  I liked the way she got in Rupert’s face after she had changed Jamie’s bandage out by the stables.  I’m not sure anyone else would have been able to play Claire as so determined to find out what Rupert was up to, and who was responsible for it, without coming off as a complete Harpy. Somehow, Balfe manages it.  Later, when she has strong words with Colum at the end of the episode, Balfe is effective at conveying Claire’s confusion on why he wants her to stay and then moves quite naturally into anger that is tinged with desperation at being stymied in her goal to leave Leoch.  Balfe is truly wonderful as Claire.

As Jamie, Sam Heughan is self-effacing, gallant, and almost endlessly charming.  I am sorry so much of the scene in the hall where he offers to take Laoghaire’s (Nell Hudson) punishment is in Gaelic; I would have liked to have understood it. Maybe I’ll spend some of ‘Droughtlander part 2’ (what will likely be the interminable television wasteland between the end of the airing of season one and the beginning of season two) learning Gaelic. There are actually free apps and web sites trying to educate folks about the language…

I have a bit of Scottish in me, although the names of my Irish forbears are all pretty Irish-sounding, so I’m a bit skeptical what my mom said about her Irish forbears being of Scots-Irish descent.  My dad’s side had settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1740s and 1750s, at about the same time most Scots had settled there, as depicted in the books.  Even if that’s not true, and I don’t have a drop of Scottish blood in me, it’d almost be worth learning Gaelic if the show isn’t going to bother using subtitles.  The spelling seems a bit daunting, however, and doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how something is pronounced.  For example: ‘Laoghaire’ being pronounced like ‘Leery’ is proof enough of that, so we’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, Heughan was so expressive in that scene I could almost guess what he was saying, even if I didn’t understand the exact words.  It was a very heroic thing to have done. He barely knows Laoghaire and he did that to spare her the humiliation. It could have been so heavy-handed, and played so seriously, but Heughan played the scene with a light touch and a sense of humor, even as O’Rourke’s Rupert was beating him pretty soundly. Heughan’s a complete joy as Jamie.

I absolutely ADORED Tobias Menzies in his dual roles of Black Jack and Frank.  He was only in the episode a few seconds as earnest Frank, but it was his time as Black Jack that he was stupendous in this episode.

I loved how, when in the flashback Black Jack was tormenting in turn both Jamie and Jenny (Laura Donnelly), he looked at the sibling rather than the person he was hurting at the time. His eyes were on Jamie as he nearly stripped Jenny, his hand in her hair holding her still.  After he’d ripped her dress, Menzies played Jack so coolly. He almost completely ignored the display of her breasts to instead look at Jamie, curious to see the effects his torment and humiliation of Jenny was having on her brother.  He seemed detached, and emotionless, like the sociopath he no doubt is. His face had a look of bland curiosity, nearly completely untouched except in the physical effort it took to hold Jenny still.

Conversely, when he had Jamie tied to the archway and was using the riding crop on his bare back, Menzies looked at Jenny to better judge just how much further he had to go to get her to do what he wanted.  It wasn’t a long scene, but it was a remarkably effective one.

The Directory of Photography, David Higgs, shot a remarkably beautiful episode.  This episode showed the depth of the sets by Production Designer Jon Gary Steele, along with the beautiful food and set dressing…

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There were shadows and sunlight and firelight and candlelight all working to light the scenes.  The lighting and photography made the castle interiors look like some old master had been transported 200 or 300 years into the future to work on the show’s design and photography.

This show is absolutely gorgeous. Starz is to be commended on paying whatever it is they pay to make each episode have such a wonderful cinematic quality.  Each episode looks more like a movie than almost any other TV show I could think of.

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One thing I hate about most TV shows, even other richly produced non-network dramas like Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey, is that as much money as there is on the screen, they still look  like TV shows. The lighting is too bright, especially in the standing set interiors. With careful lighting that might have been designed based on information found in some cinematography college text book, most TV shows are obviously shot on some sound stage somewhere.

This show also has an incredibly huge amount of location shoots, which is rare enough for a TV show, so I guess it makes sense for them to take a little extra care to make sure that the interiors shot on sound stages not look quite like they were.   Despite how some series get photographed, dark shadows and extremely high contrast ratios aren’t terrible things, so I’m glad the folks in charge of this show agree. I have a nice TV for just this very reason. I’m ecstatic that Starz is making me glad that I do.

While Costume Designer Terry Dresbach had done an excellent job with the first episode, this one was outstanding.   The costumes seem universally well constructed, with believable amounts of wear and tear.  According to one source I read, many of the fabrics (especially the tartans) used for the costumes are colored using natural dyes and fabric is woven specifically for the show. To dye and weave fabric, construct, fit, and distress the large amount of costumes in the episode must have been an almost unbelievably Herculean task. Yet, she and her crew did an outstanding job.

I love the way that Mrs. Fitz (Annette Badland) gets Claire ready to meet Colum for the first time. It isn’t just an introduction to Claire on how a well-bred lady dressed in 1743, but for the audience too.  Although, it wasn’t any surprise to me how much went into getting a lady of ‘gentle birth’ dressed.

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Back in the day, I won’t say when, I had worked at Colonial Williamsburg’s Costume Design Center.  In college and in the few years afterward I had also worked stitching costumes for period shows in theatre, so I have some experience with period costume history.  Although, I don’t think I’d worked on anything from quite this period in the 18th century.  (Colonial Williamsburg is later, of course, and I think the other early periods I had worked on were thanks to Shakespeare’s plays, usually set during the Elizabethan period in England.)

I was thrilled to see how involved dressing Claire was. To show all the layers: the shift, stockings, corset, bum roll (the padded whatsis that went around Claire’s waist on top of the corset), petticoats, skirts, bodice, and sleeves.  There have been shows that ignored the layers, mostly to have the women more easily undressed for any potential sex scenes, but a woman of that time would not have worn expensive garments without all those layers.

Certainly, it was expected socially to have all those layers, to dress in anything less would have been shocking, but it was also a practical matter too.  I mean, you wouldn’t have bare skin, with the potential for sweat and odors, next to expensive corsets and outer garments.  Laundry was far more laborious back then. A woman would be willing to dress up in heavy layers to avoid having to wash the clothes more often than it was necessary.  I can’t even really think what it would take to wash a corset, it’s probably hard enough to do with modern laundry methods much less what it would have taken back then.

I still am not happy with some of the wigs, most of them really don’t look real, but the hair in general was less successful in this episode than in the first one.  What was weird was just how inconsistent that seemed.

For example, Rupert’s (Grant O’Rourke) wig didn’t really seem to have too many problems earlier in the show. During the location shots, both in the courtyard and later up near the stables, he was wearing a knit bonnet in those scenes.  So, his hairline wasn’t visible, but later on it looked pretty dreadful. It was especially frizzy and the hairline was too obviously from a wig (a bit of his own hair peaked through at the hairline) when he was beating up Jamie in the hall.

As for Caitriona Balfe, her hair was fabulous early on in the episode, very slightly curled and wet after Claire and Jamie first arrived at the castle. Later, when Mrs. Fitz was dressing her, the frizz was understandably out of control.  Yet, in just the next scene when she was in Colum’s study, the frizz wasn’t nearly as bad. Did she get some hair conditioner on her way up the stairs for her audience with Colum?

Another example is Sam Heughan’s hair. It looked nice earlier in the episode, in the flashback scene and up near the stables, but was a frizzy mess in the hall.   Yet, it looked better in the next scene when Claire was tending to his bruises, which was really only a few minutes later.  I guess continuity is an issue for the hair folks… I think that gets better as the series goes on, but it certainly didn’t start out well in these first two episodes.

All-in-all, this was another fine outing for the show, despite a few missteps.

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