outlander 306 – a. malcolm – thoughts on the episode, sam heughan, caitriona balfe, césar domboy, john bell, and the book adaptation

outlander-s03e06-a-malcolm-title-card

NOTE: Spoilers ahead, so read no further if you haven’t seen the episode or read any of the books, especially Voyager.  

Screencaps courtesy of Outlander Online, though the one crop of an original capture is mine.

Engraved Art Courtesy of Wake Forest University Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

Any Twitter and Kindle captures are my own.


NOTE:

This episode was set in 1767 and was largely taken from Chapters 24-27, but the dialogue used when Jamie told Claire about Willie is from Chapter 59.


Review:

Written by Executive Producer Matthew B. Roberts, this episode was probably the most highly anticipated one since “The Wedding,” episode 107.  There was a ton of press attention, and a lot of folks flailing around on Social Media about it.

While maybe not a common choice, it wasn’t really surprising the episode started out at the start of the same day Claire (Caitriona Balfe) finds Jamie (Sam Heughan) at the end of the previous episode, “Freedom & Whisky.”  Much the way the show has used flashbacks and flashforwards before, it draws out the initial moment of Claire and Jamie’s reunion because they had it twice.

I liked the choice a lot, not only do we get to see Claire and Jamie reuniting for the first time in 20 years two times, we also see a little bit about Jamie’s life and his profession as a printer.  The book doesn’t even go into much detail of what his normal day was like before Claire dropped back into his life.

Though, I must say that it was a bit unexpected to see former Ardsmuir prisoners Lesley (Keith Fleming) and Hayes (James Allenby-Kirk) helping Jamie.  It hasn’t been 14 years since they were sent off to be transported in “All Debts Paid” back in 1756, even though Lord John (David Berry) had said that’s how long their indentures would be.  Of course, they call still Jamie Mac Dubh (‘Black Brian’s son’ in Gaelic) like they did in Ardsmuir, but it’s only one of the many aliases he takes on this season.

The episode lifted large chunks of dialogue straight from the book.  As usual, they moved some things around, trimmed other bits, and gave lines to different characters than originally spoke them in the book, but it was overall a very faithful adaptation.

There was a lot of anticipation for this episode in the lead up to its airing mostly because folks thought there would be an epic sex scene.  While that part of the episode didn’t disappoint, like not even a little bit, what I found the most rewarding part of the episode was the emotional intimacy of it.

Claire and Jamie hadn’t seen each other for more than 20 years and things have really changed for them.  They’ve both matured quite a bit since they first met, but they had also developed some comfort with who they are.

Claire missed Jamie, but had still had a sort of contentment with her new life and had become a successful doctor. Jamie had suffered physically, even being near death after Culloden, then he suffered through hunger and imprisonment.  However, after coming back to Scotland, he seemed to have found at least some contentment.

When Jamie was walked through town at the start of the episode, he seemed a man who was confident of his place in the world.  He seemed at ease.  Of course, the dramatic irony is that he doesn’t know that his world is about to be turned upside down.

Once they had gotten to the point where Claire’s return had made Jamie faint, I was as anxious as she looked.  I’ve read the books, all them, more times than I bothered to keep track of, so I knew more or less what was going to happen here, but still…

It was perfectly handled.  She seemed scared to touch him, and didn’t at first. Once she did, he was startled, an echo of Jamie’s reaction in the book.  It was heart-wrenching, and when they kissed and both were in tears, it was tender and quiet and heartbreakingly poignant.

Barely able to hold back tears, Jamie tells her he had seen her so many times, whether in a dream, or while sleeping, while he had a fever, even when he was awake, or at times just because he was so lonely he thought he would die.  Then he held her hand and told her that all those times she had never touched him.  The scene is perfectly played by Caitriona and Sam, and then they kiss so gently and so tenderly, it makes me cry every time I’ve seen the scene.

The scene prior to the post-reunion bonding and sex was a beautiful mix of humor, sadness, sensuality, tenderness, fear, and longing…. It was, in tone, if not in the exact details, a perfect adaptation of the book.

There has been a lot of commentary about why Jamie didn’t fall ‘to pieces’ (sobbing in Claire’s arms) in the show, like the way he had in the book. In the book, Jamie breaks down after seeing photos of Brianna (the adult Bree is played in the series by Sophie Skelton).

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 10.39.40 PMVoyager, Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 24 (Kindle Edition)

In the show, he is visibly shaken, and tears well up in Sam’s eyes, but he clearly didn’t go ‘very quietly and thoroughly to pieces,’ which some people took a bit of an exception to. Some more than quite a bit.

A lot of people have put out opinions on the matter: fans, the press, producers, writers, as well as Sam.  Even Diana Gabaldon weighed in.

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However, in the end, it turns out how exactly that moment played out was Sam’s decision. I’ll talk about that a bit more when I discuss his portrayal of Jamie, but I applaud him for making a choice that wasn’t a necessarily a popular one, but (for him) was the right one to make.

Yeah, I was looking forward to seeing Sam Heughan play that moment as described in the book, so I was a bit disappointed about it. Still, Jamie was visibly moved and tears welled up when Claire told him about his daughter.  It was not the wrong choice.  Just a different one.

One other change was a pretty big one, Jamie telling Claire about Willie (Clark Butler).  In the book, Jamie telling her comes a lot later in the story and it was Lord John Grey (David Berry) who first tells Claire, not Jamie. For that reason alone, I adore this change.

Jamie had so many things to worry telling Claire about, and as the book readers know this is mild in comparison to what he still hasn’t yet disclosed, but it was probably best news about Willie came from Jamie himself, not Lord John.

Otherwise, the show had no big departures from the book. I am amazed sometimes just how much of the book is included in each episode, even with as much streamlining they do.

One particularly nice change they made was that Willoughby (Gary Young) is not the largely racist stereotype he is in the book.  He understands English and can actually speak it fluently, but he didn’t in the book. That was probably partly done for expedience’s sake since Willoughby will not be as dependent on Jamie in the show as a result.  That is better for his character, and there will be no wasted time in Jamie having to say things twice, once in English, another time in Cantonese (the character speaks Mandarin in the book, but Gary speaks Cantonese).

Another change was that they got rid of a couple of the other aliases that Jamie worked under as a seditionist and smuggler, ‘Alexander Malcolm’ being his printer alias in the book, ‘Jamie Roy’ being the smuggler alias, and then there was the Q.E.D. alias.  (That’s an initialization of the Latin phrase ‘quod erat demonstratum,’ or ‘thus is shown’ or ‘that is proved.’) It’s the alias he wrote under as a seditionist.   In ‘Freedom & Whisky’ you could see the ‘Q.E.D.’ at the bottom of the text in the pamphlet that Roger (Richard Rankin) found, but Roger didn’t mention it when Claire asked who the author was which in retrospect is a bit odd since it was on the page…

outlander-s03e05-freedom-and-whisky-journal-page-2Screencap by Outlander Online, cropped by me.

So, now Jamie’s just ‘Alexander Malcolm’, which covers everything so he is no longer ‘Red Jamie,’ or ‘James Fraser,’ in Edinburgh.  Getting rid of the extra aliases really didn’t cost them anything in terms of the story; in fact, it will likely help them streamline things. Jamie explaining stuff like all his names would take time, so it will probably work out okay.  It was a relatively minor change.

The sex, as had been anticipated, was beautiful.  The way the scene played out, it echoed “The Wedding” episode in many ways, but there was a more complicated mix of emotions that played out.    Jamie was right, he and Claire knew less about each other than they had when they first had wed, so they needed to reconnect emotionally, not just physically.

And, like in “The Wedding,” their increasingly intimate physical interactions enhanced their emotional bonding.  Writer and Executive Producer Matt Roberts said in an interview that he had wanted to let the episode ‘breathe.’   So, he just wrote the script without unduly worrying about its length. He also said they more or less let the actors take the lead on how things played out and they minimized any scene trimming and it worked very well, but it made for a really long scene.

The first scene in brothel bedroom is the 12th scene in the script, and lasts an extremely long time as these things go.  It starts near the top of page 26 and lasts through Claire and Jamie falling asleep at the beginning of page 39. That’s more than 13 pages, which is an ice-age in TV writing.

Kudos to the show for pushing for what they wanted to get out of the episode.  It helped Sam and Caitriona’s performances, and gave the actors time to more fully develop this part of Claire and Jamie’s reunion.

It was well worth the effort and the time they gave it, the scene was beautiful.  The scene was everything it was in the books, at times humorous, sad, joyful, raunchy, loving, and tender.  And if it’s even possible, I loved the show even more because of this episode.

1080p-outlander-s01e01-God Loves Us

 

Although, I adored the episode I must say that the way it ended was somewhat odd…

First, a very happy Claire went down to eat breakfast with the working girls.  It was lighthearted, a bit naughty, and fun. The ladies were all extremely likable and I liked how welcoming and helpful they were for the new girl. This scene is very close to how it plays out, at least in the first part, to how the book did.

And then afterward, there was that guy (Ian Cunningham) rifling through Jamie’s things.   His menace isn’t as serious at first as it ended up, but the man threatening Jamie and grabbing Claire by the throat, intent on rape, seriously turned the stakes up a notch or two.

The dichotomy between those two scenes was jarring, perhaps on purpose, but it made the episode end on a somewhat sour note for me.

Despite that, the episode is one of my favorite ones.  (I keep saying that this season, sorry for being a broken record.)  It laid the needed groundwork for further complications in the next few episodes,.  It was a beautiful adaptation of this section of the book.  Matthew B. Roberts did a masterful job writing the episode, aided by the brilliant performances from Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe.

And Sam Heughan was brilliant.  Jamie went through quite the range of feelings, and he navigated Jamie’s complex emotional journey in this episode like the extremely gifted actor he is.  Probably my favorite part of his performance, was when Claire first arrived.  He went from shock, his eyes wide, to wonder, to cautiousness and fear, then to joy and shyness, all within a few minutes.

Another high point of his performance was a bit later, after Jamie and Claire had gone to the back room.  Jamie was clearly overwhelmed by Claire’s return, he hardly knew what to do first, and his wide-ranging emotional responses, often in a very short period of time, were all perfectly played by Sam Heughan, but it didn’t play out the exact way the writers had intended.

While Sam’s decision to NOT have Jamie break down in the print shop scene was different from the book, and even how it was scripted, it doesn’t mean it was wrong.

outlander-306-falling-to-pieces-scene-script-page-11

In his own defense on the decision, Sam said he felt a more restrained treatment of the scene was the right thing to do.  He also clarified that this wasn’t a decision made in a vacuum. He pointed out that television is a collaborative art form.

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How he spoke up in reaction to the initial criticism, even when the fan reaction seemed to turn against the writers for apparently slamming Sam for not playing the scene as written.  (To be fair, the writers had later clarified they were disappointed the action that described Jamie as falling to pieces – like the line from the book – wasn’t filmed, but they had nothing but nice things to say about the power of Sam’s performance.)

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 6.39.56 PM

His comments in his own defense, and in defense of the writers, show that Sam is a confident artist secure in his interpretation of the character and how Jamie’s actions in the scene worked with the story overall.  A younger, less experienced, or less capable actor may have not reacted as gracefully, nor be as certain that his decision was the right one.

Aside from that and the addition of Jamie telling Claire about Willie, the scene was otherwise pretty close to the book.  Which was good, since it needed to be.

Claire and Jamie needed to reconnect emotionally and physically and doing it believably and in line with how it played out in the book, was mostly the point of this episode, and it beautifully succeeded in that regard.  It was a brilliant mix of solid writing, powerful performances, detailed design, and a delicate touch in the direction that made it work as well as it did, but Sam Heughan delivered yet another outstanding outing as Jamie.   He is SO GOOD.

As good as Sam was, so was Caitriona Balfe as Claire.  She’s had her rough moments in some of the previous episodes this season, as I’ve said, but she was flawless in this one. Her best moments were with Sam, as Claire tried to navigate through what is a particularly emotionally fraught time.  She’s understandably unsure of herself as she tries to reconnect with Jamie, with all of her fears and insecurities.  Like Jamie, Claire was nervous and hopeful, at times almost shy with Jamie and then bold and sexually aggressive.  Caitriona played the mix of emotions perfectly.  It was an absolutely fabulous performance from her.

And the casting gods (or the show’s Casting miracle-worker Suzanne Smith) have been spot on in bringing César Domboy to play adult Fergus (last seen as a teenaged Romann Berrux) and John Bell to play Young Ian Murray (last seen as a baby in ‘Surrender’).  They both had brief introductions in this episode, but what little we saw of them was close to perfect.

César said recently in an interview he based a large part of his performance on the one by Romann Berrux, who had played the younger Fergus earlier in the series. César was terrific, he perfectly played Fergus’s lusty self-confidence and unconditional love and devotion to Claire and Jamie. I can’t wait to see him further develop his character throughout the rest of this season and in the seasons to come.

John Bell’s introduction as Young Ian was also close to perfect.  In the novels, Ian has a buoyant personality, is very good-natured and deals with things in a very straightforward manner.  John showed several of those aspects of young Ian’s character in his brief interaction with Claire, but really it was just a hint of what else he might bring to the part. I can’t wait to see what he’ll do for the rest of the season.


This was certainly one of the top episodes of the season, if not the series, and I give this episode 5 18th Century Printing Presses out of a possible 5.

outlander-s03e06-a-malcolm-18th-cent-printing-presses


Odd things I noticed:

– Young Ian was born in 1752 during ‘Surrender,’ episode 302, and this episode is set in 1767.  So, he would have been 14 or 15 here… In the Podcast, which I don’t usually listen to but was curious this time and was surprised when the producers said they made him older on purpose, rather than have him being 14.  If his age was such an issue, why didn’t they have him born in 1750 instead?

– Claire graduated medical school in 1958, and Brianna was born in 1948, so she should have been 9 (if the graduation was in May, that is, since Brianna was born in November), not 7 like Claire said.

– Hayes and Lesley were last seen in Ardsmuir in episode 303, ‘All Debts Paid,’ and were supposed to be sent off to the Colonies as indentured servants, as Lord John had explained, for a 14-year term in 1756.

 

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One thought on “outlander 306 – a. malcolm – thoughts on the episode, sam heughan, caitriona balfe, césar domboy, john bell, and the book adaptation

  1. Great review CM! I thought it was epic also. And the new characters are well cast and Yi Ten Cho especially with all the pre- season angst. Agree Cesar and Jon B are sweet. And the printshop itself. The setting and the workings of the shop. Even having Sam/ Jamie set ink. Was awesome. Thanks for the balanced review!

    Like

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