Jamie and Claire may look prettier and more glamorous than ever in their new life in France, but the paint is starting to peel on the fantasy. Maybe “fantasy” is a harsh way to put it, since they have an important mission in France and very good reasons for relocating there, but from the moment they arrived and started making plans, it all seemed a little too pat and easy, even for them. They both tend to have a facility with anything life puts in front of them, which is what makes them both such rock stars, but they’re coming up against something they’ve never had to face before as a couple: the settling in of roles as a marriage matures and deals with problems. In other words, Jamie and Claire both have tremendous talent at navigating the world (it’s at least partially why they make such a power couple), but neither of them have shown much adeptness at navigating the pitfalls and dark spaces of the heart, and the strain is starting to weigh on them both.
Jamie is, of course, still suffering from the trauma of his rape and as Suzette deftly noted, the lack of intimacy in their marriage is not insignificant among their problems; especially for a couple like this one, whose entire relationship has been characterized by an overwhelming, life-altering passion for the other person. The Frasers have imposed a very difficult task on themselves – to change history by stopping the Jacobite Rebellion before it even starts – and it doesn’t speak well of their chances of success that they’re both weighed down by trauma and secrets.
Because yes, to our total annoyance with her, Claire still hasn’t told Jamie that Jack Randall, his nemesis and rapist, is alive. Murtagh noted that telling Jamie will almost certainly result in him losing all sense and rushing off to Scotland to enact his revenge, but even that, as compelling an argument as it is, doesn’t really excuse her keeping this from him. Sure, it works for dramatic reasons. We knew the second Sandringham told her about Randall’s fate that it would be a thing hanging over her in the story for as long as possible. And it does tend to make the normally preternaturally savvy Claire look a little naive and dumb for not realizing how badly this could turn out the longer she keeps this from him. But withholding the truth, even though you know the results will be disastrous, is one of those aspects of storytelling that you either accept as a necessity to the story or that frustrates you when it’s overdone. We can spend one more episode watching Claire keep this secret before we start yelling at her.
For the first time in a long time – and probably the first time since she committed to her life with Jamie – Claire is starting to chafe under the restrictions of being a woman in any century prior to the twentieth. Jamie is off playing chess (both figuratively and literally) and hanging out in whorehouses with various movers and shakers while she is seemingly stuck running a house that doesn’t feel like hers and socializing with Parisian women she doesn’t seem to have much in common with. Jamie’s a bit of a blockhead about these things (and never forget, very much a man of his time), so the idea that his wife might not be thrilled with a life in pursuit of the feminine arts (so to speak), hasn’t even entered his mind, even though he knows how singularly intelligent, restless and charismatic his wife is. This dynamic was LONG overdue in the story, as far as we’re concerned. One can romanticize the past as much as they like, but the simple fact of the matter is, for virtually all of western history, unless you were a land-owning white man, you were usually well and truly fucked if you wanted to entertain ideas of railing against the inequity of the situation or improving your lot – or even, as Claire does, fooling yourself into thinking you could exert much control over your life. We always kind of wondered why Claire was so keen to jump headfirst into a world where she had little value, no right to vote or own property, and a higher likelihood of dying relatively young and in a lot of pain. Sure, Jamie’s a hot piece and she couldn’t deny the high-spirited adventures of her 18th Century life, but it’s well past the time that Claire came up against the reality of life as a woman in that time.
Granted, this being the type of story it is, it was never going to do more than glance at the idea of Claire’s relative lack of worth in this society before quickly walking past it. It would make no sense from a dramatic point of view to go all-in on historical accuracy and have Claire shoved to the background while Jamie becomes the hero, but it was good to see some attention paid to the emotional truth of the situation. Claire is a bored and restless 20th Century woman and Jamie is a traumatized 18th Century husband who considers it an insult that his wife doesn’t wait at home for him. We wouldn’t want this to become the status quo or even the focus of the story (indeed, it seemed to be mostly resolved as an issue by episode’s end), but it’s the first truly believable conflict raised in this marriage and we were happy to see it. Heroes, no matter how much we love them or how charismatically skillful they are in the story, need to have emotional arcs that make sense and that sometimes means one or both of our heroes is going to have to act like a selfish jerk every now and then.
There is much more to discuss in this episode, including the fabulous Mother Hildegarde and her harpsichord code-cracking ways (which Lorenzo, who trained in the harpsichord, was almost ecstatic about), not to mention her 4-legged 18th Century MRI, the endless closeups of pus-filled wounds (which we discovered you don’t want to be looking at while you’re eating rice pudding, just so you know), the introduction of Fergus, and most important of all, the conundrum facing Claire regarding Jack Randall. We FINALLY have some sort of time paradox in the story. Usually, time travel tales introduce the paradox fairly early on, but it’s taken a while to get to this point. Granted, she didn’t seem as concerned about Frank’s family line when cows were trampling Jack to death, but we suppose meeting poor Mary Hawkins somehow solidified the problems of mucking around in the time stream. Given that Mary is keen on Jack’s brother, however, we wonder if the Randall family line is more convoluted than Claire realizes. Either way, she’s got a hell of a task in front of her once she informs Jamie of Jack’s status as a non-corpse. She’s going to have to figure out a way to save both of her husbands at the same time. Frankly (no pun intended), that is way more interesting to us than the attempt to stop the Jacobite Rebellion, which is clearly doomed to fail.
Don’t forget to come back for our “Outlander Style” post on this episode, which should go up on Wednesday.
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