We might as well start with the title of this episode, picayune though this complaint might seem at first glance. “Best Laid Schemes?” Hardly. As we watched Claire brightly poison her willing husband while her de facto extended family of Murtagh and Fergus looked on indulgently or later, as we watched Murtagh knock a willing Jamie (who volunteered for a disturbing amount of punishment this episode) unconscious while posing as a highwayman, we muttered something to the effect of “These people are all nuts.”
At least Murtagh had the good sense to say the same thing when he rightly noted how complicated and unlikely all their schemes are becoming. Then again, Murtagh wound up believing Claire’s story immediately, which is indicative of the kind of world these characters live in; a world of heightened drama and theatrics, not to mention a world of mysticism and intrigue. It’s the nature of a story like this to flood you with unlikely events and reactions in order to sweep you up into the operatic drama of it all. So while we might be side-eyeing that episode title, we recognize that the almost ridiculous nature of the Frasers’ ever-escalating schemes is a feature of this story, not a bug. We find it helpful, at those times when the show gets a little up its own ass, to remember that one of the many inspirations for the story (in a small way) is Doctor Who, which is a show practically defined by its tendency to get up its own ass. Despite the panniers and court intrigue, this is still a wildly fantastical adventure and romance tale at its heart.
So, okay: The Frasers, having failed to stop the Battle of Culloden from happening by throwing a dinner party, have escalated their plans to the level of poisoning innocent people and then later, engaging in literal highway robbery. But that’s not even the craziest thing that happened this episode. Nor, sadly, is it the darkest part of the tale. Because when things go bad for the Frasers, things go spectacularly bad.
Again, we might have had some quibbles with how quickly everything Jamie and Claire accomplished turned into a giant dumpster fire, but the writing has done an excellent job of setting everything up all season long; from Jamie’s post-trauma state and their subsequent marriage problems, to the St. Germain war, to the return of Jack Randall and Claire’s sudden concern for her first husband’s well-being, if not very existence. In addition, it was becoming increasingly clear (we mistyped “increasingly Claire” and spent a good five minutes pondering whether to leave it because it seems so appropriate somehow) that Claire has been running herself ragged in ways a pregnant woman in the 18th Century probably shouldn’t. Which isn’t to say she’s at fault for what looks to be a miscarriage; just that the writing has meticulously set everything up to get us to that awful final scene where everything went to shit.
In fact, we noted how well-constructed this episode was because all of our questions and emotional reactions seem to have been expertly anticipated. When Murtagh rightly noted that their constantly shifting plans make no sense and they ask too much of him to accept them without explanation, we noted that they needed to come up with some sort of explanation immediately instead of waving him off all the time. When Fergus got hooked into the Frasers’ scheming on a fairly deep level, we noted that they were putting that poor boy in an awful lot of danger rather recklessly. When their plans moved from poison to highway robbery, we declared it all but inevitable that everything was going to fall apart soon. And when we noted that this was the episode in which it became clear that Claire’s 1945 pregnancy wasn’t the same one as her 1743 pregnancy (because the show made a point of depicting how much further along she is in the past), the question of her two pregnancies was all but answered by the end of it. All of this was set up and then dealt with in the episode in a deft, brisk manner we can’t help but admire. In fact, we had one major criticism about the writing of the episode that Jamie himself snatched from our lips and stomped into the dirt.
See, we found it too much to accept that Jamie and Claire would leap right back into a more or less healthy marital state after the enormous betrayal that ended the previous episode. From where we were sitting, Claire had made a fatal mistake in asking her traumatized husband to delay his vengeance so that the man she left for him could live. And we struggled with the question of why Jamie would even consider acquiescing to her on this, let alone why the two of them bounced back so quickly from that cold and angry confrontation when she asked him to make such an outrageous sacrifice. But he said it best himself, in a masterful bit of both foreshadowing and calling back to the season premiere: he’ll save Frank’s life so that Claire will always have an option in case things go badly for her in the 18th Century. He’s smart enough to know that a widowed woman – especially one as unconventional and bullheaded as Claire – would have a terribly difficult time of it in his “present day.” And she’s smart enough to know he’s right. And this decision became all the more tragic in the end, when he simply couldn’t keep his promise to her.
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[Photo Credit: Courtesy of Starz]
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