Outlander: The Search

Posted on May 10, 2015

Outlander-Season-1-Episode-14-Television-Review-Tom-Lorenzo-Site-TLOCaitriona Balfe and Laura Donnelly in “Outlander” on Starz

Let’s give it up for Jenny Fraser Murray, people. A woman so badass, her idea of a sitz bath is to straddle a horse and gallop through the Highlands mere days after giving birth. A woman so focused she can express her milk AND tell Claire she’s full of shit at the same time. A woman so hardened she’d think nothing of branding an Englishman’s balls if he doesn’t tell her what she wants, knowing full well she’ll have to kill him when the torture’s done for the day. Jenny Fraser Murray, ladies and gentleman. Cooch of Steel. We smell a spinoff series for Starz. We’re pretty sure an hour every week of Jenny getting shit done, telling people off, expressing her milk and torturing Englishmen is a ratings no-brainer.

In all seriousness, she’s a fantastic character brought to beautiful, charismatic life by Laura Donnelly, and her pairing with Caitriona’s Claire is loaded with chemistry and sparks. It’s a pleasure watching them play off each other and come to a place of great respect and affection. We joked about a spinoff, but for a brief moment last night, we pictured a series with Claire and Jenny defending Lallybroch week in and week out and we found ourselves wondering if they could stretch out this “search for Jamie” storyline for another season or so, just so we could get such a thing. Nothing against Jamie – or Sam Heughan, for that matter – but we’re starting to think Claire becomes a more interesting character when he’s not around. Claire’s freer to be more assertive and bawdy when she’s not attached to him; not because he dominates her, but because in order to have her be assertive around Jamie and have it not be boring, you wind up writing a lot of “arguing married couple” scenes, which aren’t that much fun to watch after a while. On the other hand, Claire and Jenny arguing with each other over tactics and morality is somehow electrifying to watch. Probably because there’s something innately fascinating about two very different women from very different backgrounds finding such common cause that they become sisters.

And as if that wasn’t an enjoyable enough thing to watch, we get treated to the highly unlikely and unforeseen Claire Fraser, musical comedy star, bringing Boogie Woogie to the Highlands with her dance partner, Murtagh Astaire. We admit, we found this whole plotline to be amusing, but so odd as to be unlikely. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea of Murtagh’s to put on public shows and act as a traveling healer/fortune teller, but to go from that to dressing Claire like a man and forcing her to sing as a way of finding Jaime struck us as a fairly weak plan – especially since they apparently had to do it for weeks. We would think the fortune-telling and healing would be enough of a red flag for Jamie to find them. But who cares? In the end, we got to see Claire stand up on stage and say “Oh, FUCK” in abject fear, which is never not a fun thing to see.

But Claire not only got to play at being a traveling performer, in true Hero Quest style, she got to meet the King of the Gypsies (or something) and gain a form of respect from him, as Claire tends to do wherever she goes. In fact, that was pretty much the throughline for the episode: Everybody Respects Claire. Jenny, Murtagh, Seorise the Gypsy – even the returning Dougal, in his own twisted way – they all come to a form of very high respect for Claire after their dealings with her.  Just as Jamie’s life seems to consist of constant payback and punishment for crimes and/or poor decisions, Claire’s life is a series of people meeting her, underestimating her, and walking away with great respect for her, from clansmen to soldiers to gypsies and even to English Dukes. She’s a classic hero and even though she can drive the people around her a little nuts at times, the show never loses sight of that and never fails to support that view at least once an episode.

We have to give credit to the way Dougal is portrayed, because even though he’s a manipulator, attempted rapist, and clearly an asshole, there’s something almost admirable about the way he views Claire. There’d be very little reason for him not to have his way with her against her will, but he wants her to come to him more or less voluntarily, not because he’s manipulating her but because on some level, he wants to feel worthy of her. Given that he apparently had it bad for Geillis at one time, it says something about Dougal that he becomes infatuated with such unconventional and intelligent women. Granted, there are no shortage of strong-minded Scotswomen, and Dougal would know plenty of them, but Geillis and Claire aren’t just strong-willed; they’re almost frighteningly odd by the standards of the day. Virtually any man would be threatened by Claire – and most men are. But we’re meant to believe that Jamie’s acceptance of, and infatuation with Claire speaks well of him as a man, so shouldn’t the same thing be said of Dougal, at least on some level?

Or maybe we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt because Graham MacTavish can GET IT.

Once again, there was a feeling of dominos falling in the narrative. In the world of Outlander, all actions have consequences and nine times out of ten, those consequences aren’t good. So after riding in the Watch because he killed a man who he turned to once to clear his name so he could return to Lallybroch as Laird, Jamie’s in prison and Claire’s riding off with her merry band of warriors to somehow free him. It all feels very meticulously planned and laid out from a storytelling perspective, and it’s one of the reasons the show works so well, even though the episodes can be somewhat overpacked at times.

And finally, an observation: Murtagh makes a wonderful godfather and an only so-so tracker, but he should reconsider any plans to become a dancer or jewelry designer. His efforts in those areas are a little, shall we say … lacking.
 
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[Photo Credit: 2014 Sony Pictures Television Inc.]

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