outlander 307 – crème de menthe – thoughts on the episode, sam heughan, caitriona balfe, césar domboy, john bell, and the book adaptation

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

I mean that.  This review seriously spoils the end of the novel.

Screencaps courtesy of Outlander Online.


NOTE:

This episode was set in 1767 and was largely taken from Chapters 26-29, the talk about Brianna’s bikini was from Chapter 42, but I discuss Claire’s recitation of the Hippocratic Oath from Chapter 46 (which wasn’t included in the show, but maybe shoulda been).


 

Written by Supervising Producer, Karen Campbell ( a vet of shows “Dexter,” “Covert Affairs,” and “Unforgettable”), who is new to the “Outlander” this year. This episode wasn’t as nearly as enjoyable as 306 had been, but as an adaptation, it had some very smart changes in it.  A lot of the changes made sense, but my main problem was that there were some things that didn’t.

It made sense to introduce Young Ian (John Bell) in the previous episode.  In the book, he was introduced to Claire (Caitriona Balfe) after his father, Ian Murray (Steven Cree) sees her again at the brothel.  Moving Young Ian and Claire meeting to before she sees Ian again, made Young Ian more of an active participant in moving Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) contraband casks out of Madam Jeanne’s (Cyrielle Debreuil) basement which was one of the main aspects of this episode.  In the book, we barely saw him in this part of the story.  It also allowed them to have Fergus (César Domboy) interact more with Young Ian than he had in the book at this point.

Which was an excellent change, since their scenes together were wonderful.  Now that Angus (Steven Walter) and Rupert (Grant O’Rourke) are gone, perhaps they want to set up Fergus and Young Ian as sometime comic-relief characters. If this is what they want to do, it’s a smart move since this episode shows that they have a great chemistry and somehow Young Ian’s naiveté and youthful enthusiasm for life is a good foil for Fergus’s worldliness and Gallic cynicism.

The way they switched up the order of events from how they played out in the book was brilliant.  For example, Young Ian had gone to bed with the girl before the print shop burned, when in the book it was after.  And the exciseman, the one who later broke into the print shop, Harry Tompkins (Ian Reddington) pursuing following Young Ian was a speedier option than what happened in the book, with Young Ian following him.  Also, placing the print shop burning at the end of the episode was a good way to segue to Jamie and Claire needing to leave for Lallybroch.  It also acted as a pretty good cliffhanger for the episode ending.

As much as I like many of the changes in the episode, some things really didn’t make much sense to me. For example, I am not sure I completely understand why they spent so much time on Claire working to save Barton (Ian Conningham), the exciseman who attacked her.  Why spend so much on that when they didn’t show him dying.

I can see why they had her try to save him since, in this portion of the book, except for tending to Margaret Campbell, Claire doesn’t do a whole lot.  Aside from various bonding activities with Jamie (talking, the sharing memories of their kids, and you know – the SEX), Claire mostly takes part in what ends up being a series of comic-relief sort of things.   There was some running around trying to evade pursuit from people chasing Willoughby (Gary Young) and then she is mistaken for a prostitute a few times, which we saw a few times in “A. Malcolm.”

In the book, the man who barged into the brothel was shot by Willoughby and died pretty quickly, but we never learned his name (he had no papers on him when he died).  So, in the book, Claire hadn’t had a chance to doctor the man, but Barton (Ian Conningham) in the series survived his initial injury.

And it’s worth pointing out that Claire hadn’t used a trephine in “Voyager,” and as far as I can recall Claire had never done a trephination in the books. However, Lord John had one done in “Drums of Autumn,” it was performed by someone else and Claire examined Lord John after the fact. So, I guess Lord John probably will not get a depressed skull fracture next season. (I doubt the show will have Claire perform the same treatment twice.)  So, this is different.

So, it seems they added Claire trepanning Barton’s skull to make her doctoring people more of a centerpiece of the episode.  She treated Margaret Campbell (Allison Pargeter), so they added her trying to save Barton’s life.

It was odd Jamie objected so stridently to Claire’s trying to save Barton’s life. I can understand the reasons he stated in the show: if the man survived, it would place her in serious jeopardy of being arrested for assault.  Jamie was right to be worried, but why wouldn’t he state his objection more strongly?

And why didn’t Claire point out that she had taken an oath and that’s why she had to try to save his life? She just says, ‘You understand?’   He clearly really didn’t, although he started to help her anyway at that point.

Claire brings up the Hippocratic Oath up later in the book than this part of the story, it was in Chapter 46 of the book.  She even quoted it in its entirety to Jamie.

Voyager-Hippocratic-Oath-ch-46

It fit in well with the book at the time Claire talked about it Jamie (when she was going to go over to treat the Porpoise sailors for typhus) but it seems that it would have come in handy to mention that now.  It would have made the ‘You understand’ comment comes off less awkward, but maybe she will bring it up in the episode on the ship where they run into the man-of-war. (Edited: she did, but didn’t quote it…)

But it is worth pointing out that Claire treated Barton with what was a seriously risky procedure in 1767, which was unlikely to succeed.  Given they spent so much time on Claire trying to save the man, why didn’t they show Barton dying?

It seemed an odd choice since the last thing we saw of Claire’s doctoring Barton was her telling Willoughby that the trephination worked to release the build-up of blood in his skull.  Things were actually looking up for poor Barton, then he suddenly died?

It was so abrupt, I originally thought that maybe something had been cut from the scene and it was an editing choice to trim the scene for length, but no. It’s in the script like that.

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It was a perplexing choice.

I also found it odd that Jamie and Claire fought as much as they did about Young Ian.   It’s not something that really happened in the book.   I suppose it helps set up further conflict later, since Jenny (Laura Donnelly) and Ian (Steven Cree) will have something to say about this to Jamie once they all get back to Lallybroch in the next episode. (Edited: they did.)

I really liked what they did with Margaret Campbell.  In the book, there was a sub-plot about her being the sweetheart of a man that Jamie had known, Ewan Cameron.  He was with Jamie in the immediate aftermath of Culloden.  The man had died with the other men executed by Lord Melton (Sam Hoare), but his role in that part of the series was taken by Killick (John Mclarnon) in “The Battle Joined,” so I wasn’t surprised they got rid of that. It adds a lot of complications that really didn’t contribute anything to the main storyline for Jamie and Claire.

In the book, Margaret was simply catatonic when Claire examined her in Edinburgh.  She only perked up when Claire said something about Jamie, since she had known him back during the rebellion.  Giving her visions of tropical tree frogs, blood, and Abandawe foreshadows what will happen in later episodes.  It’s very smart.  It suggests there is more to Margaret than meets the eye, so it better sets up Margaret’s role in any later episode, or episodes, for the non-book readers.

I also liked the way that they changed the print shop burning.  The appearance of Harry Thompkins in the print shop interrupting Young Ian’s romp with the waitress from the tavern, Brighid (Zoe Barker) was an excellent choice. Not only had it combined two parts of Ian’s story in this part of the book (the loss of his virginity and him fighting the government agent in the print shop), but we got to know Ian a little better.

The actual print shop burning was done very well, although Jamie’s printing press wasn’t saved like in the book. With the design limitations of the shop and the improbability of someone being able to quickly disassemble a printing press (they were heavy, sturdy pieces of equipment that were often bolted to the floor), that change made sense.  It simplified things, but will this change will reverberate a bit through the series as they go on.

In the books, Jamie loved that press and even named it.  He called it ‘Bonnie.’  It’s saved from the fire and Jamie leaves it with another printer in Edinburgh for safekeeping before going back to Lallybroch.  After he and Claire make it America, it’s valuable enough that it’s partly why they go back to Scotland so Jamie can retrieve it.  Jamie will have other reasons to go back to Scotland in the future, no doubt, so it isn’t really that big of a change.

I adored that they called back to Jamie’s lines from the first season’s episode, when he talked about seeing her was like it was a cloudy day and then all of sudden the sun comes out.

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One thing that bothers me about the changes they made in streamlining Jamie’s activities in Edinburgh, is that they got rid of some of his aliases.

In “Voyager,” he has a lot: ‘Red Jamie,’ the Jacobite rebel; the ‘Dunbonnet’ hiding from the British following Culloden; ‘Mac Dubh’ to his men at Ardsmuir; ‘Alexander McKenzie,’ the groom at Helwater; ‘Alexander Malcolm,’ printer and fine goods smuggler; ‘Jamie Roy’, the liquor smuggler; and ‘Q.E.D.,’ the seditious pamphlet author.  All this in addition to his real identity of ‘James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser,’ the convicted traitor.  Later in the book, he acquires two more, ‘Captain Alessandro,’ a French officer; and ‘Etienne Marcel de Provac Alexandre,’ French planter.

In the book, Sir Percival knew Jamie only as ‘Alexander Malcolm,’ a printer and smuggler of goods like silk and lace.  If he could have tied Jamie to ‘Jamie Roy,’ a criminal who smuggled liquor, it would have put Jamie into more serious legal peril. That was the reason he worked so hard to hide the casks in Madam Jeanne’s basement.  Jamie couldn’t afford to have Sir Percival figure that he was both men.

In getting rid of the ‘Jamie Roy’ alias and making Sir Percival angry at ‘Alexander Malcolm’ for expanding his smuggling activities to other towns, it makes the jeopardy less dire.  Yes, this change made things simpler, but also reduces the stakes. So, instead of hanging or transportation, what? Jamie would have to pay a bigger bribe if his hiding the expanded trade to other cities was discovered?

But how would the extra casks in Madam Jeanne’s basement have proved that in any case?  And why work so hard to conceal the casks if losing some profit was the only stated penalty?  It doesn’t make as much sense, so I can’t see why this was a better option than what Diana had in the book.

In streamlining this section of the book in the way that they did, they also got rid of several of these alternate identities in a season that Sam Heughan said is about Jamie’s loss of his sense of self.  He had lost who he was after Culloden because he had lost Claire.  At the tail-end of a two-decade-long existential crisis, Jamie was a shadow of himself, a ghost of a man, in Edinburgh. He said it himself in the series more than once.

Yet, if Jamie loses any of these alternate identities, will it deflate the power of his fully reasserting himself as ‘Jamie Fraser,’ like he does at the end of “Voyager?” Do they risk Jamie’s character arc for the season being less profound than it was in the book?

At the end of the novel, when Jamie and Claire end up shipwrecked in Georgia (after trying to evade a British Man-of-War through a hurricane), he is uncertain which name to give when rescued.  Knowing he’s a wanted man for sedition and smuggling, he doesn’t want to give his real name if he were in a British territory.  So, when they’re informed they’re in the colonies, which I suppose with less risk of discovery by the British Navy, Jamie and Claire are excited by it.  It meant freedom to them, a new start, and for the first time in a long time Jamie gave his name as his own, ‘Jamie Fraser,’ and named Claire as his wife.  The sense of hope for this new beginning and in finally using his real name was a fantastic ending to the novel.

It’s Jamie’s journey in “Voyager” that makes this book my favorite.  I hope they don’t lessen the impact of that before the end of the season.

As for Jamie’s ‘secret’, it makes sense, for the benefit of the non-book readers, for the show to have suggested multiple times that maybe Jamie is hiding something, even though in the book it’s only vaguely suggested.  Ian (Steven Cree) brings it up in this episode, and it’s been brought up before by Fergus and suggested by Young Ian and Willoughby, so Fergus finally mentioning Jamie’s second marriage at the end of the episode was good.

While there were things that I found seriously problematic with this episode’s adaptation of the book, overall this was a capable outing for one of the new writers on the show.

While I don’t usually have too many complaints about Sam Heughan’s portrayal of Jamie, I can’t say this episode was his best.  Yes, there were some very strong moments, I adored his talk with Claire after Barton had died, for example. I loved the way he talked about Claire traveling thousands of miles and across 200 years to be with him.   It was touching, but I didn’t really get where he was coming from during the fight with Claire about Young Ian. I just didn’t buy Jamie being such an idiot when it came to seeing things from Ian and Jenny’s viewpoint.

The same could also be said of Caitriona Balfe’s acting in the same section.  I don’t know, it just didn’t come off as completely well-motivated. I just didn’t buy it her being so hard on Jamie about this.

As I said, I adored John Bell and César Domboy as Young Ian and Fergus.  I’m so happy they have roles which have been expanded from the books.  It’s needed, and they are both charming performers.

Steven Cree was terrific as Ian Murray.  He was only in the episode a few minutes, but I was amazed how much Ian was affected by Claire’s reappearance.

I really like Gary Young a lot as Mr. Willoughby, or Yi Tien Cho.  He gives the character a bit of needed humanity.

While there was much to love in this episode for the show, as an adaptation, I am not sure it was totally successful.  In the end, this episode had felt unsatisfying, despite some of the stellar things it had in it.

I give this episode 3 out of a possible 5 trephines.

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Odd thing I noticed:

– At the beginning of episode 306, “A. Malcolm,” Jamie walked from the brothel to the print shop, and came at the print shop from what (in real life) is the south-southeast end of the close, or alley.  But when Jamie and Claire ran to the print shop at the end of this episode, they came to the close from the other end, the north-northwest end of the close. So, they came in from the Royal Mile and through the little tunnel.

 

I would have thought, both times, that the most direct route from the brothel to the print shop would have been taken so they would have come in the same way…

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