outlander 310 – heaven and earth – thoughts on the episode, sam heughan, caitriona balfe, césar domboy, lauren lyle, 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.”  

Screencaps courtesy of Outlander Online.


NOTE:

This episode was set in 1767 and was largely taken from Chapters 46 through 49 of ‘Voyager,’ while the book didn’t have anything like what happened with Jamie getting locked up by Captain Raines, that storyline was suggested by events in Chapter 51.  The body Jamie hid in the cask of crème de menthe was discovered in a different way ‘off-camera’ (as it were) in Chapter 60.


 

Written by Co-Executive Producer Luke Schelhaas, a veteran writer-producer (most notably of shows Law & Order and Smallville), this is his first script for Outlander.  Despite some pretty major changes (which I will go into further in a bit), Luke must have performed some sort of alchemy to make this episode largely be faithful to the heart of the book’s storylines in this section, while streamlining it as much as he did.

Overall the gist of the episode’s story was a lot like the book – Claire (Caitriona Balfe) gets kidnapped by Captain Leonard (Charlie Hiett) and has to help save a shipload of sick English seamen aboard the British ship the Porpoise.  But there were some pretty major changes, Lord John’s (David Barry) cameo appearance on the ship probably being the most obvious one.  That worked okay, though, as far as his character’s role in his brief appearance interacting with Claire.  Luke had given some of Lord John’s lines to others in a very smart way, so he wasn’t really missed. (Well, he was, but mostly because David Berry’s Lord John is always a delight to see whenever he graces the screen.)

The spirit of Lord John’s admiration for the tireless work Claire did as she saved the lives of so many of the men was there in what Pound and Captain Leonard said to her.  And giving Midshipman Elias Pound (Albie Marber) some of Lord John’s dialogue worked well to help Pound’s growing emotional connection to Claire.

While Claire’s warm relationship with Pound was present in the book, it was more implied there.  In the rendering of that relationship, the series actually improved upon what Diana Gabaldon had written.  In fleshing out what was largely hinted at in the book, the writers gave a more human face to the men who were dying.  Not only that, it upped the emotional stakes for Claire and added to the pathos of her situation.

Perhaps Caitriona Balfe and Alfie Marber’s performances helped elevate the material even further, but Pound’s death in the show was far more heartbreaking than it had been in the book, likely due to how his expanded role humanized the tragic consequences of the disease Claire was fighting so hard against.  The decision to do that was a brilliant one.  It made Pound’s short story arc one of the most heartbreaking of the series, and it gave Caitriona Balfe a platform to deliver another strong performance.

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In another major change, Jamie (Sam Heughan) was pretty busy in this episode, despite the fact that he was barely in this section of the book. What was most remarkable about Jamie here was the fact that what he was up to in this episode was not in the book at all. Yet, it seemed to fit in so well.

(Originally in the book, Jamie sneaks onto the Porpoise to look for Claire.  However, he gets there AFTER she has already jumped ship.  Other things happen without any impact on the main story, Jamie gets thrown in the Porpoise’s brig for his pains, before escaping with the help of Annekje – played by Chanelle de Jager in the show – so it’s probably no surprise they cut it.)

So, Jamie doesn’t sneak aboard a British Man of War, like he did in the book, but the undeniable urge Jamie has to protect Claire, him willing to RISK EVERYTHING to save her, was there.

To me, it initially seemed out of character for Jamie to ask Fergus (César Domboy) help him escape imprisonment and then take over the ship.  However, in the end, it makes sense.   He was trying to move ‘heaven and earth’ to protect her, at the risk of his life as well as Fergus’s.

Fergus was justifiably worried about the risks, but was initially willing (if reluctant) to help Jamie.  Still, it made sense that he finally refused.  The crew was not Jamie’s and the chances would be very slim they could succeed.  Fergus would gladly risk his own life, even Jamie’s life, to save Claire, but never at the cost of Marsali’s.   It was something he couldn’t risk…

So why did Jamie put Fergus into such a tough position? Why did he ask Fergus to risk so much?

It was probably because he had done similar things before (in the show and book), and it worked.

Jamie had rescued Claire with less of a chance of succeeding several times.  First at the witch trial and then again from Fort William.  Those previous times his emotions drove him to take desperate actions, with a very small chance of succeeding, and yet somehow, he still managed to do it.

By his failure to succeed this time, it put the emotional screws to Jamie and we learned more about Fergus and Marsali.  It tested their relationship with each other and with Jamie.  It was a smart change: it added conflict, revealed character and moved the story forward.  As an added bonus, it gave all three actors some terrific emotions to play.

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Thematically, it was nearly a perfect episode.  The title was perfect since all of the varied storylines proved that all the characters were willing to move Heaven and Earth to reach their goals…

And all of the actors did wonderfully in this episode, but Caitriona Balfe especially stood out.  Caitriona played Claire’s varied emotions nearly perfectly, but a few scenes were acted too carefully so they made Claire seem a bit of a stiff at times. That said, overall Caitriona’s portrayal was powerful.  The profound grief she had displayed at losing Elias was especially moving.

Sam Heughan did a masterful job in this episode. Although he didn’t have as much screen time to work with as Caitriona did, he believably took Jamie on quite the emotional roller-coaster.  He went from anger and frustration, to desperation and a deeply depressed despair, to showing love to Fergus and Marsali. There wasn’t a sour note in the entire episode for him.

Supporting players César Domboy and Lauren Lyle were also terrific, as was Albie Marber as Midshipman Pound.

Strong Production Design by Jon Gary Steele, and the gorgeous photography by Cinematographer Michael Swan, made the episode a beautiful one to watch.  The bright tropical sunshine and the dark recesses of below decks gave the scenes on the ships’ fantastic a cinematic level of contrast and depth.

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While not perfect, the episode is one of the strongest of the third season, so I give this episode 4.5 out of a possible 5 British Men of War

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