One of the most appealing things about Outlander is how dense a television show it is. Each episode is packed to the rafters with narrative and we’re continually amazed at how much ground gets covered each time. This quality served the episode well, because it wasn’t just telling two different tales at the same time; it was working in two different genres. And for the most part, it pulled it off, except for some pacing issues.
Last week’s episode found Claire, after a series of adventures, mishaps and downright terrors, suddenly stuck in the middle of a family drama. And while we had a little fun in our recapping of it, we liked the relatively slower pace and lower stakes because it gave Claire – and by extension, us – an opportunity to get her bearings and learn more about the time and place she’s living in. We appreciated that the show could take a left turn like that and still have it all feel organic – and more importantly: necessary. In fact, we’d say that’s another of the show’s great strengths; it knows what it needs to show you in order to keep you in the story. Just as you’re saying “How is Claire (or Geillis) getting away with this kind of behavior in this time and place?” the story shows you the answer. And just as Claire makes the decision to spend her life with Jamie, the story plunges her – and again, us – into revealing exactly what that life is going to entail by giving us Fraser family squabbles as well as a crash course in being the Lady of Lallybroch. We can see why the books have such ardent fans, if the show is any indication. There’s an almost telepathic quality to the way the story unfolds, giving the audience exactly what it needs as it needs it.
So just as we found ourselves complaining last night that Claire had become a background player and that suddenly this heretofore very female-oriented show had become quite the dick-measuring contest, along comes Jenny to give us the deep (and we do mean deep) lowdown on just what if feels like to be pregnant and give birth. And like everyone in this world, her everyday conversation is like a form of poetry so her musings on the matters range from “like a wind in your belly” to quickening “like a fish on a line” to birth “like your man coming deep into you.” “That’s what they want sometimes,” she says to Claire, on the subject of men and vaginas. “To come back.” We don’t know what’s more on point for the character here; that she nailed Freudian theory a century-plus ahead of it or that in the middle of a hard labor she couldn’t shut up for more then ten seconds. Jenny and Claire’s relationship feels natural and real to us. Far more so than the dance she was engaged in with Geillis. At the end, when Claire kissed Jenny after graciously receiving those hideous bracelets, we loved that Jenny shied away from her and seemed vaguely put off by the kiss. That’s not how love is expressed in Jenny’s world. Kind acts, service and nagging are how Jenny expresses love; not overt displays of affection. It was a lovely character moment that felt very true. We’d have hated Hallmark Channel hugs and kisses after everything they’d been through together.
And don’t front. Those bracelets were hiddy. We loved Claire choking out a “They’re very … unique.” She’s a judgmental lady with a taste for fine accessories. What’s not for us to love?
Meanwhile, on the sausage side of things, the boys were all waving theirs around and slapping each other in the face with them. Metaphorically speaking. Jamie is once again livid to discover that Ian and Jenny made decisions about running the house during the time he was in exile; decisions he doesn’t understand but nevertheless lashes out at. Jenny has no great love of the watch, but ever the practical one, she understands what sometimes needs to be accepted in this world in order to survive. Without painting the people of this time and place as a bunch of mouth-breathing barbarians, the show does a very good job of describing a world where violence is a constant threat and shifting political alliances, ignorance or lawlessness can destroy a home and family seemingly at a whim. There’s that constant level of tension, which is why the gates of Lallybroch were so prominently featured this episode. The only respite from a harsh world is home and family. There’s only In Here and Out There. This sense that there’s danger at every turn in this world. Violence around every corner. Treachery in almost any interaction. Family is both solace and protection from a relentlessly hostile world. It’s why so much time is spent showing things like laundry and cooking and childrearing in this story. Not just because the audience is primarily women, but because it’s built into the story’s philosophy that households and families are a bulwark against a violent and unsure world.
But Ian doesn’t just accept the inevitability of the watch, he likes and seems to admire them a little. Part of that is because MacQuarrie doesn’t treat him like a pity case, which we would imagine is more than reason enough, but there’s clearly another part of him that misses soldiering and action. He may have come close to losing it after killing Horrocks, but he seemed to jump at the chance to ride with the watch in penance for it, even though his wife was in the middle of labor.
As for Jamie, we wouldn’t claim he deserves any of his treatment, but you can see why he’s constantly falling into trouble of one sort or another. You can also see why Claire fell so hard for him. Like her, he’s a bit impulsive, can’t keep his mouth shut when he probably should, and has a deep moral core that expresses itself in grand offense whenever it’s challenged. Even after being told by Jenny, Ian AND Claire to play nice with the watch for a few days, he was brawling with them inside of a few hours. That’s just the way Frasers roll. And in a way, you can’t blame Jamie for being reckless sometimes, because it really does seem like the world’s out to get him. Every action he takes always seems to have the worst possible repercussions. He looked to Horrocks to get him pardoned, then he wound up burying him after Ian killed him for being such a danger to the family, then he winds up riding with the watch because MacQuarrie discovered the killing, then he got ambushed by the redcoats. That poor boy just can’t get a break. Luckily for him, the women in his family tend to be badasses.
The only real criticism we have of this highly entertaining hour is the pacing issue we noted earlier. While it’s true that they manage to pack an astonishing amount of story in one episode, for whatever reasons, they slowed things down considerably in the last ten minutes, relying on some excruciating slow motion to drag out something that wasn’t all that big a shock anyway. Come on, who really thought Jamie was going to make it home unscathed? Go get your man and bring him home, Claire.
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[Photo Credit: 2014 Sony Pictures Television Inc.]