We’re going to go ahead and risk the ire of the show’s fans. It’s scary, and we may not come back in one piece, but here goes:
This was a silly episode of television.
Worse, it was a silly episode of television because it fell into a bunch of very Outlander-specific traps: the use of sex as a plot point, the use of rape as a plot point, weird tonal issues, and historical figures literally dropping out of the sky. Also: Claire does something ridiculous which results in someone else playing an extremely heavy price for it.
First, Claire bites the bullet and tells Jamie about the still-living Jack Randall, prompting the one response out of him she never expected to get: sheer joy. We admit, this was a fun and unexpected turn of events that nonetheless made perfect sense for Jamie’s character (even though the two people who know him best never saw it coming). We’re glad to see this Sword of Damocles won’t be hanging over Claire for the rest of the season. If there’s one thing that annoys us most about serialized storytelling, it’s characters withholding vital information for nothing more than dramatic suspense. Unfortunately, this revelation and newfound energy on Jamie’s part opened up a different, somewhat sillier problem for the Frasers.
Jamie comes home from a whore house with bite marks on his thighs, which sends Claire straight into a “angry jealous housewife” fit that doesn’t suit her character at all and was so stereotypical in how it was rendered that we half expected her to hit Jamie over the head with a frying pan or rolling pin. To be fair, this scenario moved the plot forward on their marital issues and Jamie’s post-trauma difficulties. And it did lead into something that’s been seriously lacking so far in season 2: a long, sensual, beautifully shot and acted sex scene. But the setup was almost painful to sit through, as each actor struggled to make their somewhat unlikely dialogue work. Yes, it’s fine and appropriate for Claire to be hurt and angry that Jamie wound up in a compromising position with another woman, but given the knowledge of what he went through at Wentworth and how badly it’s affected him ever since, it struck us as a bit out of character on her part – especially since she just told him about Jack. It wasn’t so much the anger, but the “How could you? I’m PREGNANT!” way she expressed it. We’re not sure how much sympathy we should expect from a woman of Claire’s time on the issue of male rape and its after-effects, but she’s been depicted as supernaturally empathetic and patient with Jamie’s issues up until now, and she just spent weeks obsessing over how to tell him what she thought was going to be the worst news of his life; news so devastating that she rightly feared for his emotional well-being, not to mention his life. She absolutely has a right to be upset with him over this, but it’s like all the previous episodes’ worth of character interactions were forgotten when this scene was written.
Similarly, Jamie’s fumbling to explain himself (after reacting with surprise to his wife’s wholly understandable reaction) struck us as a bit of character manipulation that served only to drag out the unlikely argument. To be fair, once he found his words, he gave a wonderful monologue on the fortress inside him and what it was like to have been violated on that level by Jack. And like we said, it let to a steamy-hot sex scene, so it wasn’t a total loss. Then Prince Charles dropped out of the sky. LITERALLY.
Yeah, we could’ve done without that bit of silliness ourselves. Especially since his convenient drop-in also had the result of inadvertently revealing his affair with Louise. Let’s unpack this: The one man who is most important to the Frasers’ plans drops down from the roof of their house complaining about his lover and sporting a monkey bite, which so happens to be the pet of one of the few friends Claire has in Paris; a friend who just told her about how she’s pregnant by her mysterious lover’s child while mentioning that her monkey bites everyone in the same conversation. It’s a bit much on the coincidence scale. Then again, this is the episode where the one enemy Claire made in Paris just so happens to hang out with one of her few allies, who sold him one of the non-lethal poisons Claire happened to notice in his shop weeks before; a poison said enemy then used on Claire (presumably). If you go by this story, Paris is populated by about a dozen people, half of whom are in the Frasers’ inner circle, and half of those people seem to hate them.
Having said that, we won’t complain about the scene between Louise and Claire, which was wonderful. The show hasn’t had much time to unpack their rather unlikely friendship, but this scene did a lot of work toward defining it. It was interesting to see how Claire, ever the 20th Century woman, was willing to talk out every option available to Louise, pro and con, which was an expansive point of view somewhat unavailable to an 18th Century woman, even one as high on the libertine scale as Louise.
We also won’t complain about any scene with Master Raymond, although we’ll note with something of an eyebrow raise how quickly the show turns toward the mystical out of left field. This isn’t a criticism, especially since it would be an unfounded one. Mysticism is built into the very DNA of the story, since it all hinges on Claire traveling through magical stones into the past. It’s just something of a surprise when it rears its head again because the show is so economical about its use in the story. Ninety-nine percent of the narrative as presented is straight-up historical melodrama, but when that 1% of what’s inartfully called “genre” storytelling pops up, it always forces a slight recalibration of our settings. It reminds us very much of the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, which was built on a semi-supernatural base (what with the zombies and dragons), but used the extranormal very sparingly in the story so as to get audiences not necessarily primed for that kind of thing fully invested. It’s certainly used very well here. It’s good to get a reminder that this all comes to an unhappy end for Claire, who winds up back in the 20th with Frank before it’s all over. It certainly adds another layer to the ending as we find out that Claire knew (or was told, at least) that it would end up this way.
So the episode wasn’t all bad. We’d probably grade it a solid B based on those two scenes alone. Unfortunately, the silliness in the opening few scenes was only a prelude for the silliness to come.
Of course we’re not referring to Mary’s rape as silly – although this story is quickly reaching critical mass on the rape-as-plot-point scale. The argument can be made that this is a time in which women had no recourse at all against the act and that it almost certainly occurred with greater frequency. But considering how much of this season – not to mention the (pardon the term) climax of last season – centers around Jamie’s rape and his long journey to get over it, we can’t help being a bit miffed that the very second Jamie recovers from it, someone else in the story gets raped. The very episode in which Jamie’s traumatic reaction to his rape is put to bed (so to speak) another character’s traumatic reaction to her rape derails the entire story. This isn’t a criticism so much of rape being in the story again as it is a criticism of the timing and the somewhat repetitive plot points.
Worse – BY FAR – is how much of this, we’re sorry to say, can be laid at Claire’s feet. We literally muttered “What the hell?” when Claire announced she was going to the hospital to work on the very day she was hosting a formal 18th Century French dinner party (an ENORMOUS undertaking that she has never done before nor has she any familiarity with). One can argue how admirable it is that Claire felt the call of duty when she heard that people were hurt. And that’s true, for the most part. But it also speaks to how ridiculously reckless Claire can be. This wasn’t, after all, just any old dinner party. It was the one event upon which their entire plan hinged; a plan that would have saved thousands of lives if they pulled it off. This was not the day for her to be pulling another shift at the hospital, no matter how talented she may be. There will always be people getting hurt. Any medical professional – especially one with combat experience like Claire – knows they can’t run off and save everyone and that prioritizing is the only thing that makes sense.
Don’t even get us started on why she brought Mary with her or why she thought two finely dressed and clearly wealthy women could simply stroll through the streets of 18th Century Paris after dark. From a narrative perspective – and strictly from a narrative perspective, because none of what we’re saying here applies to the real-world act of rape and its consequences – none of this made the slightest bit of sense. It was simply a way of moving the characters all over the chess board in order to secure a specific outcome.
And while we’re listing complaints, we may as well point out how annoyed we were by the massive time cheating going on in the story. The dinner party was well under way when the rape occurred, but somehow Claire revived Murtagh, got Mary home from halfway across Paris in the dark, took her up the back stairs, tended to her, and got herself dressed and her hair styled in time to seat everyone for dinner. Unless the cocktail portion of the evening was four hours long, we call major shenanigans.
And finally, after depicting the horrifying act and the victim’s traumatized response to it, the episode – and the dinner party – ended on a somewhat implausibly (and tonally odd) farcical note as Jamie and Murtagh beat half the male guests into unconsciousness over a misunderstanding.
We get that the story calls for roadblocks and complications along the way. And in fact, we’re intrigued by quite a few of the various strands, especially the fate of Alex Randall (and the possible reason for Jack’s return), the meaning of “La Dame Blanche,” the implication that Master Raymond knows more about Claire than he should, and (on a somewhat lesser scale because it feels like such a distraction) the ongoing war with the Comte St. Germain. But there was too much questionable plotting and character work in this one for us not to notice it; especially as it’s such a rarity to encounter these specific problems in this series.
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[Photo Credit: Courtesy of Starz]