outlander 201 – thoughts about the episode, tobias menzies, caitriona balfe, and sam heughan

title-card-through-a-glass-darkly

NOTE: There be spoilers ahead, if you haven’t read the book, or seen the episode, you might want to steer clear if you don’t want to be spoiled.  Otherwise, read on…

Most of the Screencaps thanks to Outlander-Online. Other artwork and photos from Starz.

I was completely spoiled before seeing this episode. Or as spoiled as I could be not having seen the episode, that is.

I had my own theory of how things would go with the start of the first episode of season two based on those spoilers, and how it did start was actually pretty close to how I thought, but no matter what the truth was going to be I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be how the book started.

If you haven’t read it, let me tell you the book started out in a way that was more than a wee bit confusing.  Past the prologue, which was in first person as Claire reflects on waking in the night three times (it’s really rather heartbreaking, actually, once you realize she’s really talking about missing Jamie).  After that, the first character the reader encounters in the book is Roger Wakefield. And he is a 27-year-old adult, not the adorable a 6- or 7-year-old in this episode.…

Written by Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore, directed by Metin Hüseyin (who previously directed season one’s The Watch and The Search), and shot by Cinematographer Stephen McNutt (previously of Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica and Tom Welling’s Hellcats, of all things), the episode starts incredibly strong.

The tease (that’s the bit before the credits, if you weren’t aware), in fact, was brilliant.

Poor Claire (Caitriona Balfe) waking up, obviously confused, and alone, at the top of Craigh na Dun.  I’m not sure the deal was with the ring, that wasn’t in the book, but it no doubt ties into what happens later, the gemstones ‘travelers’ carry to help them steer through the passageway through the stones.

For those of you who haven’t read the books: the time-traveling thing evolved as the story progresses, as the characters discover more about time traveling via the stones, and get more experience doing it.  They don’t know all the secrets yet, not at least by of the end of book eight, My Own Heart’s Blood, but having a gemstone of some kind, whether it is an opal or a diamond or a ruby, allows the person in traveling through the stones to be more sure of their destination.   This was not something Claire was aware of in book two, Dragonfly in Amber, so adding the idea here (via a ring clearly missing a stone after having traveled through time) is interesting.

Anyway, Claire really suffered the torments of the damned as she finds herself alone and missing Jamie (Sam Heughan).  Her desolation was painful to watch… I was close to sobbing myself watching her so destroyed when she found out that the Scots still lost at Culloden.  And I’ve seen it quite a few times while writing this… Caitriona really has come a long way acting-wise since episode 101, Sassenach.

What were the non-book readers thinking?  I cannot imagine… They are probably as confused as any who read Dragonfly in Amber had been who didn’t know how 27-year-old Roger Wakefield was standing in the middle of his adopted father’s living room in 1968, when the last time we saw him in Outlander he was five.

I loved the new title sequence, with the French added to the Composer Bear McCreary’s version of the Skye Boat Song.

And I thought it was a nice touch for the book readers out there that under the title card, ‘Through a Glass, Darkly,’ is wee Roger, asleep on the large wingback chair, and his very 20th century toy airplane slips from his hand to the floor.

Although, from what Executive Producer Maril Davis said, that was shot like that due to another episode title card later in the season.

Maril Davis title card explanation.png

Oh, well. I liked my idea of why they did that better…

Anyway, I adored that Claire flashed back, even if it only for few seconds, to Black Jack as Frank approached her (both played by Tobias Menzies).  It was a beautiful touch, mirroring what Jamie experienced in To Ransom a Man’s Soul when his memories of Claire got corrupted through Black Jack’s actions in torturing him.

When Frank was examining the clothes that Claire had worn, it was freakily Black Jack-like to smell her shift like Frank did.  A hint that Jack is somewhere under the surface in Frank, like him beating the guys in that alley in Both Sides Now, or nearly strangling that woman nearly to death.

Claire’s past experience with Black Jack, reinforced by the flashback (as brief as it was), seems to have colored Claire’s reaction to Frank for the rest of the episode.  Caitriona does SUCH a good job with this part of the episode… She looks like she’s on the edge of completely falling apart, despite apparently keeping her cool until after Frank snaps.

And Tobias… Man. What an emotional roller coaster ride! Tobias Menzies’ performance was so powerful.

Frank listened calmly to Claire tear his heart out, yet he held everything back, kept himself in check, while it must have felt like she was twisting the knife deeper and deeper into his gut. She was trying to get through to him that she loved someone else. How cold and reserved she acted toward him would have been completely maddening to him, yet he held back his anger and frustration because he loves her that much.  He was that desperate to reestablish their relationship.

Even as understanding and accepting Frank is, she really was trying to push him away. After her night-long confession, and the argument about what he was offering to have a life together, still she didn’t accept him in return.

He changed tactics when logic didn’t sway her to see his side. And, after she tried to interrupt, it was painful to see him confess what it was like after she left, the agony he suffered, and Tobias totally sold it. So, when she still wasn’t responsive, Frank actually got on his knees and begged her to see that they could have a life together. It was a heartbreaking to watch.

When she finally made her own confession and explained she was pregnant, the joy on his face was so profound, if brief. Then he almost attacked her when his inner Jack Randall almost took over…

She looked petrified, but managed to not lose it until after he left the room.  That’s another heartbreaking moment in the episode.

Frank completely losing his shit in the garden shed was so primal… Frank’s quiet, bitter desperation as he talked to Reverend Wakefield (James Fleet) about Claire’s pregnancy afterwards was less flashy, acting-wise, but also very powerful.

When Frank talks to Claire about how they should give her child a home with a living, breathing father, his very logical argument makes sense for him, and for her and the baby.

Frank initially didn’t seem happy Claire agreed to his plan because Jamie wanted her to move on.  Yet, at that point, he loves her and was seemingly willing to take her any way he could, even though he didn’t say those exact words.

It’s likely no accident that he meant pretty much the same thing Claire had told Jamie, that she would take him anyway she could.  Now Frank pretty much agrees to do the same thing for Claire. Another nice similarity to To Ransom a Man’s Soul.

It was another heartbreaking moment from Caitriona Balfe when Claire started to take the ring off, a ring made from Jamie’s key to Lallybroch.  As much as that choice maybe wasn’t popular, the ring as it was described in the book sounds far more pretty, it reaped some benefits here, and will likely to continue to do so as the series goes along.

I mean, that ring isn’t just a wedding ring.  It’s made from Jamie’s key to Lallybroch, his home. Jamie said that Claire is his home now, supplanting his beloved childhood home’s place in his heart.  Although she never said it, Jamie’s her home too now.  The ring is a reminder of that, that she meant more to him than his home, and that he meant as much to her. How could she ever give that up?

When he saw how hard it was going to be to take that off, Frank told Claire that she could take it off when she was ready.  Unless the show treats this a lot differently than the book, she never will be.  I’m guessing it won’t go over too well with Frank when he finally realizes that fact.  Hopefully, this will be something the show will go into later on in the season.

If anyone thought this episode was going to be a happier one based on the hopeful ending of To Ransom a Man’s Soul, they were mistaken.  I don’t cry often watching TV, I’ve seen a lot, but I cried at several points during this part of the episode.

He could have played this so broadly, but Tobias Menzies gave a remarkably restrained performance, and believably displayed such a huge range of emotions in a very short space of time, even sometimes changing 180 degrees within a few moments.  It really was an extraordinary performance.

Once back onto more familiar ground back in the 18th Century, things were not much better for poor Claire.

I was glad to see Jamie again, but while there was a touch of humor at the docks it was clear once he and Claire made it to the inn that things weren’t all that happy for them.  Jamie is still in some physical pain, given how gingerly he laid down on that bed, but then he’s also still suffering from the emotional trauma from the end of the last season.  Him feeling Black Jack touching him is probably the tip of the iceberg, as it were, in terms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder…

As Claire pressed Jamie to follow her plans to stop Prince Charlie, it was apparent they weren’t on the same page.  In fact, throughout the rest of the episode they seemed to almost be at cross-purposes.  Jamie was obviously uncomfortable with the idea of betraying the trust of his cousin and his Jacobite allies.

In the very next scene, when they talk to Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) about the need to stop the rising before it starts, Claire tries to take the lead, despite the fact that he’s Jamie’s godfather.  Jamie should be the one doing the talking, but unused to her new role Claire doesn’t see that.  Not used to being duplicitous, Jamie’s completely off-balance, or he might have pointed this out to her. Instead, he interrupts at one point and tells Murtagh that he would explain how they know the rising will fail when the time is right.  Ever loyal, Murtagh takes Jamie at his word and accepts that his Laird will do as he says he will.

In the scene with cousin Jared (Robert Cavanah) Claire lets Jamie do the talking, but the way she and Jamie look at each other I’m not so sure the way the conversation goes was Jamie’s idea.  It’s subtle, nothing is said outright, but the way that Sam Heughan plays his part it’s plain that Jamie really doesn’t like the way the conversation turned out.   All the while Claire had a smug look on her face, as her plans are firmly put into place.

And using his scarred back as his bone fides to prove that he’s a true ‘brother’ of the cause obviously disturbed Jamie.  It bothered him probably as much in this episode as it did back in Rent when Dougal used Jamie’s flogging scars to raise money from Colum’s tenants, but he couldn’t say anything about it.  At least back in Rent Jamie could vent to Claire or yell at his uncle… Now, what’s his recourse?  He doesn’t really have one.  And there is more of this dynamic, Jamie grudgingly doing as Claire bids, yet to come…

Going by that, the main art of the season with Claire in the red dress walking up the steps dragging Jamie by the hand, is a perfect image. Costume Designer Terry Dresbach’s dramatic design for the red dress, and the dark, almost somber frock coat Jamie’s wearing, makes it clear that things are very different this year, look wise, but also in intent.  That is because, for once, Claire’s leading Jamie as she pulls him up the steps.

Red Dress Promo Pic

In this photo she’s taking the lead in their scheme to undermine the Jacobite cause with a determined look on her face, even as Jamie looks a bit wary, and still lets his wife pull him along…

After the smallpox outbreak on the ship, which led to the confrontation with the Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber), Jamie was even more out-of-sync with Claire.  She wouldn’t listen to him, at all, even though she is now even further removed from the life she knew in the 20th Century.

At one point Jamie asked her to trust him when he tried to get her to back down, and she still didn’t listen.  At least not until she was down to two dead sailors and a furious French aristocrat.

Director Metin Hüseyin did an excellent job staging the scene.  Even without the requisite English subtitles for all the French, it was still pretty clear what was happening.  And I love how well acted the entire scene was from even the bit players, like the Harbor Master (Christian Perez).

And Stanley Weber is fantastic as St. Germain. It’s plain who the main villain of this part of the season will be, even to the show-only fans…

I loved the choices Terry Dresbach made in this episode.  Claire isn’t wearing anything particularly flashy in this episode, so it’s not obviously a strong episode for her. Maybe the people good enough to read this far would be surprised, but probably the thing I loved the most was the sleeve garters Frank wore.

Worn by men to keep their cuffs clean while working, it’s a bit old fashioned, but those sleeve garters suggested that Frank had been called about his wife’s return while hard at work grading papers in his office down in Oxford.  The two day’s growth of beard reinforces that idea… Frank must have driven all night and well into the next day to get from Oxford to Inverness at 1948 highway speeds going over country roads.  It was a very nice touch, even if it was a subtle one.

I simply adored what Production Designer Jon Gary Steele did here.  Like with Terry Dresbach, things aren’t as fancy as they will be, but still… what he did in this episode was still very nice. I liked the design of the sea part at Le Havre.   The Outlander Community even put a few of his designs up on their new episode pages for 201… It’s awesome.

10-dressed-dock12-LeHave-Lamp-Post-cover-up

One of the things I hate about some TV shows is that the dark moments aren’t ever truly dark, they’re usually too flatly lit. Usually, the too-bright lighting underscores the fact they aren’t actually filmed on location. Cinematographer Stephen McNutt gets a real depth to his dark moments, both in 1948 scenes in Reverend Wakefield’s manse and later on in the dark inn and the night scenes at the docks.

Jamie-n-Claire-Le-Havre-Inn-through-a-glass-darkly-mp4_002641089

It was very well done.

In better TV shows, the first episode of a season aims to set up what’s going to happen for the remainder of the year.  In this episode, Outlander completely succeeded. Ronald D. Moore wrote a solid first episode, with some meaty dramatic moments from the three leads.  The episode not only sets up how Jamie and Claire intend to stop the Rising, but introduced their primary antagonist for the first half of the season.

I am not usually a fan of ‘flashforward/flashback’ starts to a story, but like The Wedding, this was unusually well done so I didn’t mind it a bit. In fact, I thought the changes the show made to how the book deals with a very similar structure were smart. So, Kudos to Ronald D. Moore for that.

Beautifully acted, directed, written, photographed, and designed, this was a brilliant adaptation of a very difficult section of the book. It was dramatic and pulled me in completely… I even cried at several points, and I am not generally a weepy person when it comes to TV. It makes it so I can’t wait to see what happens next.

On a scale from 1 to 10, this one goes all the way up to 11 in how well it was done.

Excellent. (Imagine that said with a French accent…)

Possible Goof:

The title on the screen when Claire steps off the gangplank says ‘Le Havre 1745,’ (this screencap is mine):

2x01 Outlander.PNG

But in the book Jamie, Claire, and Murtagh arrive in 1744 (this is from the Kindle Edition of Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon):

Book 2 DIA.PNG

Here’s a bit from the script pages posted on the Outlander Community pages for Through a Glass, Darkly (page 26, scenes 19 & 20):

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.07.54 AM

So, is this a mistake? I think probably so, given it throws the timing of stuff way off, but I guess we’ll see.

EDITED 4/15/16: They’re going to fix the date, it was a mistake.

image

An odd thing I noticed:

The sound of the horn honking twice in the tease sounded EXACTLY like the Road Runner’s ‘beep beep’ sound from the old Warner Brothers Loony Tunes Saturday morning cartoons from when I was a kid.

 

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