outlander 103 – the way out

John Hammond: [Ellie prepares to go out to the maintenance shed to switch on the circuit breakers] It ought to be me really going.

Dr. Ellie Sattler: Why?

John Hammond: Well, I’m a… And you’re, um, a…

Dr. Ellie Sattler: [gives Hammond a look that could kill]  Look… We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.

Jurassic Park – 1993

NOTE: This is going to really spoil you if read this without reading the book and seen the episode.  Read further at your own peril, otherwise.

the way out title card

Written by Anne Kenney, the episode is probably just about perfect.  Although a lot happened in this episode that wasn’t directly about it, in the end the focus was on Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) need to go back to Craigh Na Dun, her need to find ‘the way out.’  As the story unfolded, her need to go back, to find her way out, became more and more urgent. The rising stakes turned the screws on Claire almost like nothing else had up to this point in the series.

I liked how it started, even though I couldn’t make sense of it at first.  Claire’s remembering leaving Frank (Tobias Menzies) at the train station to go to the frontlines in France seemed a bit abrupt.  It just didn’t seem to come from anything in 1743 anyway.  Yet, I liked Claire’s telling Frank that his suggestion that he contact a high ranking officer to get her orders changed wasn’t right, I don’t think there was anything like that in the book, but it fits her perfectly.   Although, I almost wish she had been a little more emphatic and had said something more like Dr. Sadler’s (Laura Dern) sharper exchange in Jurassic Park with John Hammond about sexism in survival situations.

Claire isn’t shy about telling the men in her life what she thinks, although I guess it makes sense she wouldn’t be quite so harsh talking to Frank about her need to do her duty. Her memory, which ended with her promise to go back to Fran, segued quite well into a little daydream about what would happen if Claire were to tell Mrs. Fitz (Annette Badland).  That was beautifully shot, with a nice period British Army World War II uniforms for the actors, by the way.

Her fond memory contrasted quite sharply with the cold water being dumped over her head as it ended.  The end of her imagined conversation with Mrs. Fitz was about as shocking to her as the bucket of ice water was.   That gave the housekeeper’s advice to Claire extra weight:  her only hope in finding the way out was to win some trust from Colum (and thus a decrease in the security around her) through doing a good job with the ‘physicking.’  The first five minutes or so did an excellent job setting up Claire’s motivations in the episode.

This episode was remarkable in several ways, one it was the first one to have made a major departure from the story in the original book, yet the additions worked so well.  The story of boys who die or get sick after visiting the Black Kirk, the ruins of a Benedictine monastery and the current favorite lurking spot for demons and evil spirits, seemed to fit even though it was invented for the show.  Also, Colum’s (Gary Lewis) sycophant tailor was another excellent addition, but both of these served different purposes in the show.

The Black Kirk exposed the superstition of the time, which showed Claire that as quaint as the 18th Century Scottish Highlands seems to be, these superstitions can have deadly consequences, as the story of wee Lindsay MacNeill’s death proves.  Claire’s understandably skeptical on the demonic possession story, but the next scene with Colum and his harried tailor served as another good object lesson for Claire.  Colum’s willingness to threaten violence when the tailor didn’t do what his Laird wanted must have been quite shocking to Claire.  Colum’s resolve to impose his will on a servant through threat of physical harm was probably warning enough to want to avoid crossing the Laird.

She is understandably wary of Colum the almost all of the rest of that scene, but her success in helping him leads her to look almost relieved and vindicated when she finally makes a difference, easing Colum’s pain and garnering a personal invitation to see the bard perform as Colum’s guest.  Maybe, just maybe, it seems that Claire will be able to work herself into the good graces of the mercurial Laird of Clan MacKenzie, like Mrs. Fitz recommended in the first scene.

Yet, the Black Kirk storyline underscores the fact that Claire was probably being led to feel a false sense of security.   The poisoning of the boys serves several purposes, but probably the most important part is the introduction of the menacing Father Bain (Tim McInnerny).   As distasteful as his backward attitudes toward the females of the species are, the vehemence of his misogyny is yet another warning.

Father Bain becomes important in later in the story, but Diana Gabaldon doesn’t have him play that big of a role early on in the book.  In this episode, like in the book, Father Bain does get involved with the apprehension and punishment of the tanner’s lad (Blair Cunningham) who’d stolen bannocks from his employer, but in the book his part in this portion of the book was largely as a ‘walk-on’ part. The addition of Bain’s attempt to exorcise the demon that possesses Mrs. Fitz’s nephew, Tammas Baxter (Daniel Kerr), expands the role he plays, but is also a stellar opportunity to introduce Claire to the rampant sexism of that time, and the additional menace that men like Father Bain could pose to her.  A danger that will lead to worse things for Claire later, so introducing him now is a nice bit of foreshadowing for Father Bain.

He is a first-class woman-hater, holding all women in suspicion, and it seems that he especially distrusts women who won’t do as they’re told. This especially seems to be true for women like Claire.  The support Mrs. Fitz and her sister, Mrs. Baxter (Lynsey-Anne Moffat) give him initially is a blow to Claire, but it would have been something that women in their position (relatively uneducated women of the working class) would have believably have done.

Angus (Steven Walters) echoes this, scolding Claire, or complaining loudly, whenever she does something unexpected or when she fails to follow orders. His annoyance with her just pours salt on the wounds.  Claire is hugely unhappy and is pretty much getting it from all sides in this episode.  She really is a stranger in a strange land, as she tells Geillis later, and it isn’t that easy to try and to fit in.

Yet, going from how the rest of the episode goes for, she needs to win Colum’s favor and it couldn’t come soon enough. She tries so hard to make a difference, only to be marginalized and isolated. Even Jamie (Sam Heughan) kisses Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) in front of her, which proves again just how alone she truly is. Even 16 year olds get intimate with handsome men, while all she gets is a lecture from Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) that she should know better than to tease Jamie.

Even as beset as she is on all sides, Claire is determined to do what she thinks is right, no matter what.  Initially, it seems like her stubborn refusal to follow the expected gender roles of the time will pay off.  It is only through using her medical knowledge will she get the men of the castle to trust her enough to loosen the security around her, but things don’t work out that way.  In helping Colum’s pain and saving Mrs. Fitz’s nephew from poisoning (something only she was equipped to do), is also what will make Colum do whatever he can to keep her working for him as long as he can.

It’s a depressing catch-22, which leads her to a fairly deep depression at the end of the episode.  Luckily, Gwyllyn the Bard’s (Gillebride MacMillan) song about a woman who traveled through the stones gives her hope and serves to strengthen her resolve to go back to Craigh Na Dun, to go back to Frank, no matter what the cost.  It was a beautifully constructed episode, serving up hope and dashing it for Claire over and over, until the end she finds it again at the end.   It was a fantastic episode.

The acting from the main cast members was excellent in the episode, but I was especially impressed with Lotte Verbeek as Geillis and Annette Badland as Mrs. Fitz. Their characters came to the forefront more than in previous episodes and the actresses were completely up to the task.

Badland played a woman so completely mired in the time she lives in that the superstition is as real as the castle she works in, yet still believably portrayed her resolve to act against the priest once Claire offered a reasonable alternative explanation to the demons the Priest feared.  Badland’s Mrs. Fitz is a force to be reckoned with, as any head housekeeper of a house big enough to be called a castle would need to be.  The way she played Mrs. Fitz’s ferocity as she tried to protect her nephew, even in the face of a man most women would not lightly cross, was quite something to see.

Lotte Verbeek is excellent as Geillis. It seemed that Geillis wasn’t all that convinced the demons everyone had talked about were real, but her almost sociopathic disregard for the possibility that the Tanner’s lad would lose a hand, or the Baxter boy would die without intervention, came off more as pragmatic acts and less as a necessary evil.   I loved how Verbeek played that so it seemed like a game to her. She did what she felt she needed to in order win Claire’s trust so that she could find out the odd Englishwoman’s secrets.  It almost worked too, if Jamie hadn’t come in when he did.

I loved how Heughan played Jamie as so focused on Claire, even though he didn’t do anything overt.  When Jamie joined Claire and Laoghaire at the first performance that Gwyllyn gave, he all but told to get lost so he could talk to Claire uninterrupted, the biting remark about her as a kid didn’t seem truly mean spirited the way that Sam read the lines, but his unthinking insults cut her down to size in a huge way. Later on, however, Heughan had put in more subtle hints that Jamie has become very fond of Claire.

When Jamie went to the fiscal’s house to fetch Claire a few days later Heughan played him as very polite when he greeted Geillis, but it wasn’t until he talked to Claire that he removed his hat and dipped his head down in a bit of bow to her. His voice also dropped in pitch and had a bit of a sexy growl to it as well, making it clear that Jamie has strong feelings for her, if not downright lustful ones.

I love the wide range of emotions that Caitriona Balfe had portrayed for Claire.  She went through a lot of ups and downs in this episode, but probably my favorite part was at the very end. The voiceover made it very plain that Claire was close to feeling it was completely hopeless, her messy hair helps convey that (so good onya, hair folks), but as Jamie relayed the story in the song that Gwyllyn was singing, her face changed, from resigned defeat to hopeful awe.  She said so much without saying much of anything at all.

That’s not easy, I know. So many TV actors tend to lean on the crutch of the dialogue written for them.  An actor’s body is his or her canvas, but it’s probably difficult to get to the heart of what they need to portray without words to provide a framework to work within.   At least it seems that way mostly because it’s so rare that TV actors do it as well as Cait did in this episode.  Well done, Ms. Balfe.

The designers all had done an excellent job, as usual, but not having even a self-imposed deadline has turned into me tinkering with this review far more than I had normally done when I was writing for Krytonsite, so I will have to cut this bit short (well, if you call almost roughly 2,000 words and 4 pages in Word short).

Suffice it to say: the direction, photography and costume designs were all stellar.  The show exhibits nearly perfect cohesiveness, adding beautiful depth to show, which gives it rich production values that few shows on the broadcast networks can match.

This was another excellent episode.  Each one just builds on the perfection of the one before it, and ties so beautifully into the episode that follows it.  The beauty of the show and it’s amazing achievements make this Outlander fan eternally grateful that Ronald D. Moore had a passion for the books and worked so hard to do it right. He is an absolutely genius for finding Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe and then designing the show so that they could so believably breathe life into Diana Gabaldon’s complicated characters.

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