outlander 305 – freedom & whisky – thoughts on the episode, sam heughan, caitriona balfe, sophie skelton, richard rankin, the costume design, and the book adaptation

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NOTE: Spoilers ahead, so read no further if you haven’t seen the episode or read the books, especially “Voyager” and “Drums of Autumn.”  

Screencaps courtesy of Outlander Online.
Other images by Terry Dresbach, STARZ, Entertainment Weekly, and other respective copyright holders.


NOTES on Episode:

For possibly the last time this season, there were 18th Century and 20th Century parts to this episode. The 18th Century portion was based on events from about the first half of Chapter 24. The 20th Century bits were taken from Chapters 17 – 23 of Voyager.  There were also a few 20th Century bits from book 4, Drums of Autumn, Chapters 3 & 17.


Review:

As I watched the ‘Previously’ montage at the beginning of the episode, I was annoyed.  It was clear, with zero physical evidence of Jamie being shown in that, and that after a surprisingly Jamie-free preview of the episode, that we would see Jamie … I felt my fears were coming to pass, that again telling Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) story would come at the expense of Jamie’s (Sam Heughan.)

Yet, as the wonderfully written episode, penned by Toni Graphia, unfolded, I realized that I shouldn’t have worried.  While at times the back-and-forth between the two different centuries was handled less elegantly in some episodes than it was in others, it’s in this episode is where that structure finally pays off.

It’s a very smart adaptation.  As usual, they twisted things from the books slightly, moving stuff around, giving Claire’s lines to Brianna (Sophie Skelton), or vice versa, or maybe having Roger(Richard Rankin) speak the line; and having Roger  flying to Boston to reveal the article Jamie wrote, instead of sending a telegram, bringing Claire back…

Even though, like I said in my review for ‘Of Lost Things,’ I didn’t really like the idea of Claire of giving up and leaving for Boston because it seemed out of character, but I feel that it paid off in the end. After all, conflict reveals character and (as long as it’s well-motivated) makes for a better story, so the relatively smooth search for Jamie in the book had to change.  Claire being less willing to go back and needed to be convinced, made the interactions between Roger, Bree, and Claire far more dynamic.  It was probably more realistic as well, she had made a life with her daughter.  Why would giving all that up be easy?  A benefit of this change to the story is that it provided excellent opportunities for some beautiful acting, and had the added advantage of also moving things along a lot more quickly.

In the book, Diana Gabaldon took her time telling this part of Claire’s story.  So, Toni had to distill eight chapters of Voyager, and some events from Drums of Autumn, into one episode.  That is a lot so, if things were going to be trimmed, the narratively meandering bits of this section of Voyager were obvious choices to get the ax. (So, no trips to Loch Ness or to London to find that Royal Pardon for Jamie, and no Claire taking long introspective baths.)

So, things were changed, some quite a bit, and a few things were added.  One addition that I liked a lot was Roger showing up unannounced in Boston.  His revelation about Jamie’s writing was better done in person, than through a telegram like in the book.

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It’s not only quicker, but also that was a far more dynamic choice since he ended up in the same place as Claire and Brianna so it added additional opportunities for conflict.

I loved that Roger told the story he did about his father’s attempt to build a martin house that let in cuckoos.  In the book, it was an example of something simple that Roger knew about his father as a child that made him more human, and less like a man who was the father he didn’t remember. In the show, it’s changed a bit, and morphed nicely into Roger’s argument for the need for a history. And it gave Bree her opening to speak about the fuzzy nature of history.

Historical facts can be inaccurately reported or misunderstood, so recorded history isn’t always a reliable way to know what really happened back in the day. It fed into Brianna’s obvious frustration with history as a college degree, which no doubt led to her failing grades, but those bits are from “Drums of Autumn,” not “Voyager.”

It is a significant change, moving stuff from another book to this season, but it makes sense.  It’s smart.  It allowed Brianna’s existential crisis, her confusion about her rightful place in the world, to be expanded from the books. Bree’s change in heart about history had not come up at all in Voyager. She didn’t really have time.  Brianna in “Voyager” was more involved with the search for Jamie and Claire’s pending departure for the past, and not the more mundane dilemma of her own life choices.

But even in the fourth book, Bree’s decision to leave Harvard and study engineering was handled ‘off-screen.’  It was disclosed only in retrospect while Bree thought about it while doing engineering homework from MIT in Chapter 3.  In the book, she found comfort in the exact nature of math and engineering.  It’s something that pops up from time to time in subsequent books.  In this episode, expanding on Bree’s recognition that history isn’t definite enough for her foreshadows her decision to study engineering later.

This was something I’m not sure I would have thought about them adding in the third season, but it sets up Bree’s character better for next season.  It’s such a smart decision, and the fact that it helped developed Brianna more as a character than she had been in the book, it must have been a win-win.

What I didn’t think was a smart addition to the series was the Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) memorial fellowship.   When I saw the episode stills from the ceremony scene, I was sure I wouldn’t like the addition. In fact, I was angry because I thought it was another way that Claire’s story would be told at the expense of Jamie’s.  But, as angered by the idea that I originally was, it turned out to be a positive addition to the show.  It wasn’t because I am feeling all that nostalgic for Frank, not hardly (the show is about Jamie’s and Claire’s lifelong love story), but it was still nice.

The ceremony was a way to get the still-grieving Sandy Travers (Sarah McRae) in the same room as Claire, while pouring salt on the wounds of both women’s grief and jealousy.

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And yes, Claire grieved for Frank, but for different reasons than Sandy had. It was good for Claire to see that Sandy truly loved Frank, and to hear that she would have given anything to spend just one more day with him.

It was through seeing Sandy’s grief and suffering, that Claire finally understood what she was giving up if she never went back to Jamie.  Sandy said she was willing to give anything to see Frank again for just one more time, why wasn’t Claire willing to do whatever she could in order to spend the rest of her life with Jamie?

Still, as much as she clearly ached to see Jamie again, Claire had to weigh the cost.  She must consider that if she goes, she may possibly never see Brianna again. That dilemma is handled differently in the book, it was Brianna who was emotionally distraught at the thought of Claire going.   Not that Claire wasn’t upset at leaving her daughter in the book too, but the dynamics were slightly different.

It’s interesting that Claire’s reasoning for not having Bree and Roger go with her back to Scotland was actually what happened in the book.  Claire had wavered, she left for Craigh Na Dun by herself and Bree and Roger were there waiting for her so she didn’t chicken out.  Bree encouraged Claire to go or she would go instead.  Brianna felt that strongly that Claire owed it to Jamie to let him know she had been born and had grown up healthy and happy.  She wanted Jamie to know that she grew up safe, just like he wanted.

I loved the line Claire gave about why she wanted to leave Bree behind, “The first time I went through, I was terrified, the second time I was heartbroken. This time, I want it to be peaceful.”

It’s lovely.

It was good they kept the skeleton scene in. I wasn’t sure they would since it shows a little bit of Claire’s weirdly above average diagnostic ability from the books that hasn’t really been shown, per se, in the book.  Diagnosing a murder on 200-year-old bones by simply holding an intact skull is a pretty neat trick.  But, I imagine the bones will come up again given that the skeleton’s origins will be relevant later in the season.  I also liked the way that Joe (Wil Johnson) and Claire’s relationship developed over this episode.

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I adored the use of the book’s prologue about when Claire used to think puddles were a sort of portal to some infinite expanse, instead of just a shallow pool of water.  It was a good transition for her to move into the past, and the visual bridge of her stepping into a puddle echoed the visual bridge in 201, ‘Through a Glass Darkly,’ episode 201, when Claire reached out to Frank in 1948 and it was Jamie who took her hand in 1744.  It was a very nice touch to echo that moment here.

Claire finally seeing Jamie again, if brief, was perfect.  It had a slow build, as the camera followed Claire as she made her way through Edinburgh to Jamie’s shop.  It was an unhurried sequence, as Claire walked slowly through the crowds, then into the close (the Scottish term for an alleyway) and took her time to touch Jamie’s name on the sign, before slowly going up the stairs, and then a quick check on her hair.  She was so cautious, so worried what sort of greeting she will get. It showed that Claire still had fears about seeing Jamie again, and whether he loved her still.

I liked the handheld shot that followed Claire to the window looking down at Jamie.  The movement was smooth and inferred it was Claire’s point-of-view, even though the take started with Caitriona in the shot, as she looked down upon Jamie standing next to the printing press. It was a nice touch, and a beautifully staged scene.

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Claire showed up in the final section of the sequence of shots shown from below, in Jamie’s Point-of-View, in an almost angelic, or ethereal shot.

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After Claire and Jamie finally see each after 20 years apart, he was so much in shock seeing what he must have thought was a vision that he fainted.

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The bit of humor at the end was nice after all the angst in the episode, and in this season.

While I’m not sure what happened would be described, as Diana Gabaldon did in the book, as for Jamie falling ‘rather gracefully for such a tall man…’  It was a nice setup for the next episode, ‘A. Malcolm.’

Directed by Brendan Maher, the acting was nearly flawless.  The only problem I had with it was with Sophie Skelton, who seemed to be not quite in sync with scene partners Richard Rankin or Caitriona Balfe early in the episode. However, in the more emotional moments, she was much more effective.

I was genuinely moved by her later scenes with Caitriona, with Brianna sitting on the couch with her mother and again when Claire was packing to leave.   It seems that Sophie has gotten a better handle on her character.  So, it’s a shame that it’s not clear whether we’ll see her and Roger again this season. (The last we see of them in the book is when Claire leaves them at the stones in “Voyager.”) I hope we get something else this season, even if they have to bring in more bits from Drums of Autumn to do so. It would be a shame to halt Bree and Roger’s character progress at this point.

As usual, Richard Rankin was wonderful. In the book, Roger thought of finding the information on Jamie like he was a knight in some fairy tale laying the head of a vanquished dragon down at the feet of Brianna, but it didn’t end up like that either in the show.  He played Roger’s confused dismay at Claire’s anger and anguish very well.  Richard’s chemistry with Sophie was more apparent in this episode than in ‘Of Lost Things,’ so again I am sorry it looks like we may not get to see more of Roger this season.

Caitriona Balfe was stellar as Claire.  She perhaps laid it on a bit thick in the scene with Richard Rankin when Claire said she couldn’t leave Bree, the emotional angst seemed to come from nowhere, but in the rest of the episode she was solid.  The final scene with Brianna and Claire as they hugged brings tears to my eyes each time I’ve seen it.

Sam Heughan was in the episode very briefly, but he was terrific.  I can’t wait to see what happens when he wakes up in 306, “A. Malcolm.”

One of the best parts of this episode were the costumes, Designed by Terry Dresbach.  The 1960s period was a wonderfully elegant one for women’s fashion.  The best look for both Claire and Bree were the outfits they wore for Frank’s memorial fellowship award ceremony.  The fishnet stockings on Sophie added a touch of youthful whimsy to the scene, and Claire’s vintage Valentino coat was gorgeous. It’s a nice touch the rectangular metal buckles on her shoes echo ones commonly worn in the 18th Century, although I don’t think that was visible in the episode like it is in this episode still from STARZ.

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Probably the costume I appreciated most, however, was the ‘batsuit’ designed by Claire, based on a riding habit design popular in the 1700s.

Terry Dresbach posted this image on Twitter:

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Echoing a man’s coat and waistcoat, combined the high neckline that Terry seems to like to see Caitriona in, fits very well in with the more pragmatic design than the choice Diana had in the book for Claire.

In “Voyager,” Claire purchased what was no doubt popular at the time, a Jessica Guttenberg dress, and the designer produced dresses vaguely reminiscent of 18th Century fashion.

jessica-guttenberg-dressIt was why Diana had her do it, however, as such thing go, they were generally made from very thin and garish fabrics…

 

 

Perhaps it might have worked okay, with the right fabric choice, and not drawn too much attention, but the fabric is so thin on those kinds of dresses.

The fabric would have been so insubstantial that Terry posted on Twitter that there was no way she could put Caitriona in that….

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No way would a Jessica Guttenberg dress be warm enough in Scottish weather.  The problem was a practical one for the designer, but it was also one that was more in keeping with the way that Claire has developed in the show, different from how she had in the book.

Show-Claire has had been more hands-on with clothing.  She had (as she explained in the episode) made Bree’s Halloween costumes and school pageant costumes, so she has experience using a sewing machine. Bree’s holiday costumes aren’t something that was addressed in the book, but she had made Jamie’s shirts in “Voyager” because she thought of what it took to make one when thinking of what Jamie might have been wearing when he was in Ardsmuir.   She knew how to make clothing.

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So, I like the idea of Claire taking the matter into her own hands and developing something she would not be able to buy.  The dress itself is brilliant, slightly flawed in execution (like an amateur seamstress might make it).

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But the design fit the time period she was going to, and Claire would have known it would.

A woman’s riding habit echoing a man’s military uniform was a design concept that was more or less unchanged for a large chunk of the 18th Century.  In fact, Claire had worn similar outfits in season two, which was during the 1740s.

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And Geneva had worn several versions of a riding habit in 304, ‘Of Lost Things,’ set in the late 1750s.

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A riding habit is timeless, attractive, practical, and would not have drawn any undue attention to Claire in 1766. I hope it solved the problem of keeping Caitriona Balfe warmer and drier in notoriously cold and wet Scotland.  It certainly looks fantastic, which is good since we will probably be seeing this costume a lot the rest of the season, given its prominent placement in season three promo and magazine shoots.

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The episode had some of the most heartbreaking moments of the series so far, and there wasn’t a single wasted moment, aside from a few missteps, so the episode was nearly perfect.  Aided by Toni Graphia’s stellar script, fabulous designs by Production Designer Jon Gary Steel, Terry Dresbach’s costume design for the show, and fantastic acting, the episode is one of the strongest so far.

5 18th Century Women’s riding habits out of a possible 5

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Odd things I noticed:

– In the opening surgery scene, Claire needs desperately to find some necrotic tissue and delays the closing off a ‘bleed’ to do that, even as the patient’s blood pressure drops and she’s apparently on death’s door.  Why would she do that? I’m not a doctor, but I’m sensible enough to realized that the necrosis surely could wait until after she had ensured that the patient wasn’t going to bleed out in the meantime…

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