outlander 203 – thoughts on useful occupations and deceptions, duncan lacroix, caitriona balfe, & sam heughan

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NOTE: There are spoilers in here, from both the books and the episode, so proceed at your own peril if you wish to avoid learning details of the episode.

Screencaps thanks to Outlander-Online.

Directed by Metin Hüseyin (The Search, The Watch) and written by Anne Kenney (The Wedding, The Way Out, and most importantly, Lallybroch), this episode was far more successful than the last one.  Though, it’s probably not perfect either.

I didn’t really think about it until someone pointed it out online that Jamie (Sam Heughan), Claire (Caitriona Balfe), and Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) talk openly about foiling Prince Charlie’s (Andrew Gower) schemes in front of the Jared’s servants. The servants of a man who is solidly a Jacobite.

It’s a bit perplexing. I mean, wouldn’t they tattle to their absent boss? He’s in the West Indies, but he’s in contact so they could write him or fill him in once he gets back…

Originally I wasn’t sure that it was all that egregious… I mean, how close were the servants when the Scots were talking about sabotaging the Jacobite cause? I couldn’t remember an instance where the servants were all that close… I mean, they’re usually in the background.

So, when I watched the episode again to work on this review, I planned on keeping an eye out for when Jamie or Claire says something incriminating in front of a servant. I wanted to see whether any servant was close enough to hear what Jamie and Claire were saying.

Well, I didn’t have to wait long before that happened since it happened less than two minutes into the episode. And I’m pretty sure the servant, Jamie’s (thus Jared’s) butler Magnus (Robbie McIntosh), had no problem hearing what Jamie said since he speaks English and was buttoning up Jamie’s waistcoat at the time.

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It’s like the servants, well aside from Suzette (Adrienne-Marie Zitt) and Magnus, are mostly treated like scenery, only there to provide ‘window dressing’ and little more.  Jamie grew up with servants and should know better than talking about sensitive info in front of the help.

In fact, he had demonstrated this sort of discretion back in season one’s Lallybroch (also written by Anne Kenney) when he had chastised Claire for criticizing him in front of the servants.  And he not only lectured Claire, but (in a pretty big ‘I practice what I preach moment’) he had taken her into another room in order to do it away from the gossipy help.

A year later, they forget this? It’s an odd choice…

Anyway, aside from that, the episode started out strong.  It’s nice that it’s clear right from the start that Claire and Jamie really are getting further and further apart from one another.

Claire sleeps alone while Jamie comes home after a night of drinking in a brothel, only for Jamie to leave again almost right away… Add that to Jamie’s PTSD keeping him from making love to Claire, this is not really a good indication they’re happy. It’s not where we want them to be, but it’s realistic and gives them a conflict to deal with.

They’re not newlyweds anymore and it makes sense they would struggle to achieve balance in their relationship. They just have so much to deal with, Jamie running Jared’s business while trying to foil Charlie’s planned rebellion… And Claire being bored silly while trying to get details about the nascent Jacobite rebellion by attending teas and salons isn’t doing her mood ring any good. (It’s probably no surprise her mood ring is pretty dark, but it’s still not as black as Jamie’s.)

As Jamie heads out, dressed in a silk satin waistcoat even more beautifully embroidered than the one he’d been dressed in at the start of the scene, I’m curious why he felt the need to describe what Sawney looked like to Claire.  (Sawney, of course, is the small toy snake his long-deceased older brother Willie had made for Jamie when he was a child.)

Claire, of course, knows what the little toy looks like.  They even showed a snippet of when she gave the adorable wooden snake to Jamie in Lallybroch in the ‘previously on’ segment a few minutes before Jamie made a point of describing it to Claire…

Is his time spent with Bonnie Prince Charlie turning Jamie into a ‘mansplainer?’  It was another thing that was a bit odd.

The tea with Mary (Rosie Day) and Louise (Claire Sermonne) was a terrific scene. It showed how really naïve Mary Hawkins is, but also gave the show a fairly organic way to introduce the idea that Mary is Frank’s ancestor.   (I found Mary a bit annoying in the scene.  Rosie Day is adorable as Mary, and she gets so many things right, but she really doesn’t do the stammer very believably…) Remembering the day Frank shows her his family tree (which is oddly devoid of any dates, despite what Frank says about it, a rare lapse by Production Designer Jon Gary Steele’s staff) of course segues into Claire’s shocking realization that Jack has to live long enough for him to father a son, although Claire’s voiceover said he needed to live a ‘year.’

As I understood it, the show was still portraying events from 1744, there was that whole thing about Claire and Jamie’s arrival in Le Havre being mislabeled to 1745 when the first episode hit.  It took them a couple of episodes to fix the titles in the first two episodes, but Executive Producer Maril Davis said they arrived in France in early- to mid-spring 1744… So, several months later, we’re probably now in May, or there about. So, just how is Jack going to wed Mary in a ‘year’ if the nuptials are in 1746 and the show’s still in 1744?

Yet another odd thing…

Of course, finding out that Mary is Frank’s multi-great-great grandmother seriously rattles Claire. Not because she found someone related to Frank, but because (and maybe she’s right) if Jamie finds out Jack is alive and kills him, Frank might never be born.  Or does it really mean that?

Not that the time-traveling conundrums are easy to figure out. I mean, hasn’t all this happened before, from Claire’s perspective anyway?

Jamie’s ghost found her in 1945 way back in Sassenach, so he knew her, loved her, and waited through time to see her again.  So their love story had occurred back in the 18th Century at some point before Claire went back, otherwise he wouldn’t have a reason to search her out.

If that is true, why isn’t Jack living long enough to die at Culloden, after marrying Mary and fathering a son, also true?

This is probably the weakest part of this book.

In the book Claire’s sudden fear that Frank wouldn’t ever live if Jamie killed Jack, like in this episode, sorta comes out of the blue.  Maybe it’s her hormones making her act a bit erratic, or maybe she’s not really thinking about how time travel might work.

Claire doesn’t strike me as a sci-fi fan. She seems more like a nonfiction book reader to me.  Books about plants, flowers, and medicine would have probably been more her style.

Yet, time travel probably wasn’t an alien concept to her. It wasn’t like it was a new idea, not even in 1945. There were numerous stories and myths that had time travel in them before H.G Wells had published his book about time travel, The Time Machine, in 1895, but he probably made the idea more popular.  Still, it’s probably not something Claire thought about much before falling through time. Who would, really?  So, perhaps it’s not surprising that she really has some odd ideas about how time travel works.

No matter what, Claire’s nearly complete freak out about the possibility of Jamie skewering Jack will present her with some huge obstacles to overcome.  So it’s a good thing for the story, even if it’s going to make her life miserable until Jamie discovers the truth.

It was extremely interesting that Murtagh hooked up with Suzette.  As if Claire didn’t have enough shit to deal with, right? She’s got her lady’s maid, slacking on her duties, having sex in the middle of the day with Jamie’s godfather.

While the scene where Murtagh talked to Claire about Jack being alive wasn’t exactly a stellar one acting-wise for either actor, something about it felt flat to me, it was an excellent addition to the story. Since they decided to have Claire find out about Jack before Jamie does, this scene worked well to prompt Claire confess to Murtagh the truth.

Murtagh is probably correct that it will be difficult to predict how Jamie will react to the news that Jack wasn’t trampled by Highland cattle.  Jamie could even brave the trip back to Scotland, puking his guts out the whole way, risking his life to accomplish his goal, likely ending up hanged.

I adore that Claire thought of birth control for Suzette.  Claire didn’t slut-shame either her or Murtagh in the process either.  Well done.

I really like the guy who plays Duverney, Marc Duret.  He’s very charming.  So when Duverney and Jamie are in the same scene together, it’s almost like they they’re having a ‘who’s the most charming’ contest.  When Duverney was teasing Jamie about letting him win sometimes it was like a charming overload.  They’re both completely adorable.

Once Claire makes it to the Apothecary shop to pick up the contraceptive for Suzette, it’s probably no surprise that Raymond (Dominique Pinon) thought Claire buying such a thing for her maid was remarkable.  Most well-bred ladies in Paris in 1744 probably left the servants to take care of things on their own.

Claire can’t completely hide the fact that her relatively progressive attitudes toward sex and the role of women in society are totally outside of the norm.  It’s good that Raymond seems to like that about her.  He really seems to be becoming a good friend of hers, so it makes sense it is his idea that she volunteers at the charity hospital.

I like this better than how it worked out in the book, actually.  The court choir master shepherded a half dozen ladies from the court to the hospital, with only Mary and Claire lasting longer than an hour.  It gave some comedic relief, Mother Hildegarde and Sister Angelique seemed to have found it amusing to give tasks to the ladies which turned their stomachs.  Silk gets ripped when a couple of the women can’t get out of the hospital quickly enough in fact… It’s a funny scene.

While not quite as amusing a scene as the book, I’m glad how much of the first hospital scene still made it into the show.  Though I’m not glad about what Claire wore on her first visit to the hospital. It’s just too severe and the scarf wrapped around her neck somehow made it worse.

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I liked it better when she lost that while doing the rounds with the slop bucket…

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It wasn’t as funny as in the book, but show Sister Angelique (Audrey Brisson) giving show Claire bedpan duty is a wee bit reminiscent of the sort of icky tasks book-Sister Angelique gave book-Claire.

I really liked how watchful Mother Hildegarde (Frances de la Tour) had been while Claire was doing that.  Like she was taking the measure of Claire, trying to see what was up with an apparently wealthy Englishwoman doing menial tasks in her hospital.

Claire diagnosing the case of diabetes the way she did was just as gross as it was in the book. Yet, it certainly acted as a fairly effective set of bona fides for Claire, as far as Mother Hildegarde was concerned.  So, for her efforts Claire got to help Sister Angelique bandage a boy with an advanced case of scrofula, which apparently is fairly disgusting disease, with pus filled pores.  We all should be grateful that happened off-camera.

In the next scene, Prince Charlie (Andrew Gower) is downright annoying… and what is the deal with Sam’s hair in that scene?  Or even this entire episode?

I know from personal experience curly hair is rarely the same way two days in a row, or even two hours in a row, but something worse than normal is going on there… I hope they figure it out and were able to stop it before they got much deeper into the season.

After the Prince presents an offer of an alliance between France and Great Britain in return for the King of France’s support of his cause, Duverney is intrigued and Jamie is stunned at the turn of events. His plan has been totally spoiled because Prince Charlie didn’t tell him about the offer of support by those English aristocrats.

So, dejected at this turn of events, Jamie goes back home and looks for Claire, but she is nowhere to be seen.  Frustrated by this, he spends time trying to write, which doesn’t go well. He goes through draft after draft, stares pensively into the fire, goes out onto the balcony, and writes some more.

Still, Claire doesn’t come home.

Once she does, Sam Heughan does a remarkable job portraying Jamie’s anger and frustration.  I thought it was a nice touch that in the midst of this confrontation, Claire places her hands on his shoulders.  It was an attempt to show support, like she had in earlier episodes.

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It’s interesting her face isn’t visible for this bit, but Jamie just wasn’t having it.

While he gently removes her hand from his shoulder, Sam conveys his unspoken urge to not be gentle.  Jamie clearly was a man on the edge of getting really angry with Claire and Sam successfully portrays how hard it is for Jamie to keep his temper under control.   All it would take is a little push and things were almost certain to boil over.

And boil over they did.  Claire is defensive, not really seeing how going to the hospital might make Jamie angry. He has a point about disease from the patients possibly might affect her and the baby.  Getting her boredom relieved maybe isn’t worth the risk, but she has a point too.

Claire isn’t doing anyone any good only going to tea with Louise and Mary.  With how society worked back then, she can’t go out to the brothel with Jamie and Charlie and she can’t run the business for him either.  Claire isn’t learning anything worthwhile from Louise and her very useful medical skills are going to waste.

The argument that ensues was probably a long time coming.   It wasn’t quite like any they had in the book, but Claire and Jamie have not been talking so it was good for the show to let them get their emotions out.  Both actors did a fantastic job in the scene.

The argument was also a good way to get Jamie to stamp out of the house in a huff, so Suzette (Adrienne-Marie Zitt) would disclose to Murtagh that Claire and Jamie had not been having sex. Not that I’m sure what he’ll do with the info, but nothing came from it in this episode, so maybe it will come up later.

Their argument was also a convenient way to make sure that Jamie would end up back at Maison Elise by himself, even though it didn’t come off as contrived.  Though the body painting of the prostitute did come off as a bit gratuitous, which really isn’t what this show usually does with sexual content, so I hope they stop that going forward.

While the way the show handled Jamie meeting Fergus (Romann Berrux), and ending up hiring him, was a lot different in the book (which was also a lot funnier), what they did in the show was a satisfying shortcut way to the same result. Jamie hiring Fergus to steal letters is a smart way to get to the secrets that Prince Charlie is hiding, but also lays the foundation for the bond between Jamie and Fergus which will last a lifetime.

In the book, Claire also met Fergus in a humorous way, and how the show did it wasn’t quite as good as how they handled Jamie meeting him, but it is probably just as well. It really got to the point.  And I am very glad that Claire acknowledged that hiring Fergus was a smart idea, and I was glad Sam played receiving that affirmation as a bright spot after their argument.

Fergus is a fantastic character, so I’m glad that he was given such a good introduction in the show.

Again, it didn’t happen quite the way it did originally since Murtagh’s role is bigger this season than it was in the book, but I really liked how Jamie and his godfather worked together to copy the letters and talk about what they contain. It acted as an excellent way to cover some expository information fairly conversationally.

The piece of music that the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Cowell) sent to Prince Charlie was really very clever, if not perfectly executed, way to convey very sensitive information about his support of Prince Charlie’s rebellion. How they worked the code out in the book was more involved, and Mother Hildegarde took on a bigger role in that than she did here.

Just as an aside, the dog they got to play Bouton is fantastic.  He was absolutely adorable when he helped to diagnose the splinter hidden deep in the patient’s thigh muscle.

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Also, I adored that, now that Jamie is now more like himself, that he wore his kilt when he went to see Mother Hildegarde at the hospital.  (Not that we get a good look at it, from the front…)

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Jamie seemed pleasantly surprised when Claire had heard of Mother Hildegarde’s friend, a German composer he didn’t know, and even knew the composition the coded song had copied.  It’s an indirect confirmation of Claire’s time-travel story. I don’t think Jamie ever really doubted her, but it seemed that he appreciated hearing it anyway.

As for the musical code, I really liked that Jamie worked it out with Claire and Murtagh’s help and that he was so excited by figuring it out.

The ramifications of this new information, and engaging with the Duke of Sandringham to try and confirm what the coded music revealed, raises the risk that Jamie will find out about Jack Randall being alive.  Claire is very right to be worried about Jamie’s reaction to the news…

In a broad sense, the episode followed the book very closely, even if the details sometimes weren’t at all the same.  While the episode covered a lot of ground, several chapters-worth from the book, the episode didn’t seem rushed at all.  Aside from a few flaws, I enjoyed it.

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