Deep Thoughts Outlander 311: Uncharted

Claire’s streak of improbably surviving things that would kill the rest of us continues. This time she lands on modern-day Haiti, her clothes intact and her hair looking way better than it should and narrowly misses the three-day survival deadline. Because she’s Claire, she finds a nutty priest (he literally uses a coconut as a life coach), swans about in a fly robe and manages to be called a whore by an older woman whose only daughter ran away with a priest. That’s right, Mamacita. GLASS HOUSES. While the first half had some of the comedy that I always love to see, the second half was an emotionally satisfying dessert. I would watch the hell out of a Fersali spinoff.

Spoilers ahead for episode 311.

Here are four takeaways:

A quarter hour is way longer than you think. I understand the need to impress Claire’s peril upon the audience, but that’s about ten minutes more than I wanted to spend watching her wander around the island. Just for comparison’s sake, that’s about two more minutes’ more screen time than was spent on Culloden, which was much more of a big deal in my mind. I get that it was to illustrate the passage of time and call back to the peril she was in due to hitting her third day sans water, but I wish we had spent more time with Jamie and Fergus, maybe gotten a hint of the storm that broke the Artemis’ main mast. Instead we got an extremely aversive introduction to the flora and fauna of Hispaniola. I’m not even talking about the snake. It was the ants that made me want to bathe myself in a cloud of Raid. And how is it that it took Claire about two days to find Father Fogden, but only a few hours to run back to shore to find Jamie? Of course, running to meet your sexy gingersnap puts wings on your heels, but I don’t think it adds an engine. Ah, Outlander. You are a time-travel show in more ways than one.

Geography is hard. I can’t tell you the number of maps I looked at to figure out where who was when, or how teensy the Turks portion of Turks and Caicos is when you’re desperately hunting for Cockburn Town. That strugglebus was on a circuitous route. It was nice to see the Americas featured, however, and to recognize and lust after fried plantains. I was, however, confused by the Spanish subtitles. Following the idea that the show doesn’t subtitle Gaelic or Chinese because Claire wouldn’t understand them, but did subtitle the French in Season 2, does that mean Claire speaks Spanish? Why then does Fogden translate for her? (An aside: I must congratulate the actress that played Mamacita for her very convincing Cuban accent. I could tell it wasn’t native, but I couldn’t identify what colored it until I saw she was Spanish and had lived in the U.S. Good job, Vivi.) In any case, because I had to make a visual for my own visual reference, here’s my super highbrow map of this episode, for the map dunces like me.

Eat your heart out, Jenny Fraser. There is a new HBIC in town, and her married name rhymes with “Taser.” Marsali is adaptable and practical, which is a necessity for joining the Fraser clan, but she also is a girl who, as Fergus says, “speaks her mind.” Fiercely loyal, she repeatedly speaks up in Fergus’s defense, first to Jamie, and now to Father Fogden. She is a Jenny Fraser for the next generation, imbued with all the grim shrewdness of a country girl and the genetic bull-headedness and managing nature to see her plans through. What is especially endearing about Marsali, and especially this episode, is her perceptiveness.  Sheh alone, in Claire’s absence had the stones to tell Jamie to snap out of it and trust in Fergus’s love for him last episode, and this episode she finally comes clean to Claire about the real status of the Jamie/Laoghaire marriage, and her fears for her own. Claire and Marsali connect on the very deep level of headstrong women who value their agency, and it did my heart good to see Fergus get what he has long wanted, a woman like madame.

More Frasers than you can stab with a branch. Oddly enough, Jamie and Claire’s reunion wasn’t the emotional high point of this episode. That was reserved for the funny, touching, memorable wedding of Marsali and Fergus. From Fergus’s untidy ponytail to Marsali’s sweet shawl and earrings, to the candlelight in the reverend’s garden are meant to evoke an aura of intimacy and ease. A wedding is a simple thing, really. It’s the building of a relationship that is difficult, and the maintenance of the ties that keep a family together. Marsali’s tart admonishments for Father Fogden are more than a girl mouthing off: they are the impatient nudges of a woman set on getting her heart’s desire, and the fact that this desire is a bastard boy with no last name and only hand speaks to the worth of her character and the love she can give. The fact that Fergus can’t even finish chastising her for her outspokenness before claiming that it is one of the things he loves about her shows the same for him. Jamie and Claire’s exchange of wry glances also tells the audience that Fergus isn’t the only one who appreciates an outspoken female. Finally, Fergus’s quiet admission that he has no last name, and Jamie’s assertive claim that he is a Fraser brought me to tears. Marsali turns immediately, startled. In contrast, her husband-to-be stills, then turns with shining eyes to regard his father before saying his full name proudly for the first time. So the Frasers grow, having lost both a son and daughters, to claim Fergus and Marsali for their own. In turn Fergus, who once sacrificed a hand to keep Jamie safe, now receives the final portion of the lifetime of care he was promised as a boy: the protection of Jamie’s name.

“The Punisher” takes a timely tour through masculinity tropes

Spoilers for Season 1 of Netflix’s “The Punisher.”

The first time we see Frank Castle in episode 1, he’s split in two: the happy family man, teaching his son to play the guitar, and the lonely, taciturn recluse of Daredevil. These two sides make routine appearances throughout the 13-episode first season of The Punisher. Castle himself changes in minute but profound ways as he interacts with a wider circle of allies and enemies, and the many facets of masculinity the represent (even the women) form the heart of the questions that keep being revisited during this show: Is there a way to fix a broken person? How does a soldier live as a civilian again? Is there a way to thrive after a terrible loss? What is the true measure of a man?

At the beginning of the season, we’re introduced to Pete Castiglioni, “the gimp.” This is the persona that Frank adapts in order to make a living after he’s done visiting revenge on the men who killed his family. Except Frank isn’t living. The lack of violence in his life has left a gap, and it’s one for which he can’t compensate. Long-haired, bearded, and barely verbal, he is engaged in backbreaking work for as many hours as possible to numb the memories of his wife and children that revisit him every time he closes his eyes. He wakes up so many times to his wife sweetly whispering “Hey sleepyhead,” that it begins to cause an aversive reaction to her tenderness. Knowing that the loving vision of Maria almost always ends with her getting shot in the head is a brutally effective way of communicating Frank’s isolation and his unwillingness to connect fully with those who try to care for him. As far as masculine tropes, Frank fits pretty solidly in the anti-hero mold. Apathetic, cynical and amoral, he nonetheless retains an individual code of honor (and a couple of personal attachments) that keep the character from becoming one-note.

Marvel’s The Punisher

Set up as Frank’s  direct opposite in the narrative (and the ego to his id) is his best friend and fellow ex-Marine Billy Russo. Billy was with Frank during their fateful Cerberus assignment, and a witness to his fateful attack on William Rawlins. Where Frank is trapped in a revenge cycle, Billy, an orphan, seemed to shake off his wartime experience with relative ease and is now the head of the private security firm Anvil, a charitable contributor, and an eligible bachelor.  Billy seems to be all that is upstanding in a veteran and a man. It’s not until about the midway point that we discover he’s William Rawlins’ ally and a deeply disturbed individual who has his birth mother drugged in a home as punishment for giving him away. More importantly, he knew of the plans to eliminate Frank’s family and did nothing, despite being close enough to them to be counted among their own. As befits his opposition to Castle, Russo is an anti-villain whose polite, friendly demeanor and occasional honorable gestures belie his capacity for violence. The occasional flashes of what passes for honor (reassuring Curtis that his word has value, caring for Dinah Madani after the death of Sam Stein) are less about morality than ensuring he alone ends up defeating Frank.

One of the most enduring of Frank’s connections is his friendship with Curtis Hoyle (played superbly by Jason Moore), an ex-Corpsman cum-insurance salesman and group therapy leader. It’s immediately apparent the men share a deep trust and respect of each other. Early on in episode one, Curtis tells Frank that “part of the problem” is that “nobody wants to be themselves anymore.” In a show where pretty much everyone is pretending to be something that they aren’t, it’s Curtis, with his artificial limb and all the associated trauma it brings, who is the most true to himself, be it in strength or weakness. Although it’s implied that Curtis is about the same age as Frank and Billy, he is a mentor. He is by far the most psychologically whole and emotionally intelligent of the characters, and as a PoC, I love the significance of casting a man of color as the conscience of these two polar opposites. If Castle is the id and Billy Russo the ego, then Curtis is definitely the superego, navigating a tight course between two facets of the same persona.

Former NSA analyst, threat, and eventual friend and ally David “Micro” Lieberman first presents himself as a hacker who repeatedly bests Frank in sheer canniness. Over the course of the series, he evolves from a potential threat and a non-fighter into a true sidekick, providing the technical and strategic know-how to help round out Frank’s brawn. Lieberman is also a man protecting a family from a terrible threat by means of an equally terrible lie. Micro has rigged cameras all around his house, so he can keep a big-brother-like watch over his wife Sarah and two children. Early in their partnership, Frank tells David that Sarah said he wasn’t the type “to get his hands dirty,” and this kicks off Lieberman’s emotional reawakening from hermit hacker back to husband and father. It’s the way that Lieberman handles this that’s notable for a male character. David is utterly confident in his professional skills, and endearingly honest about his personal failings. In one of the moments of emotional intimacy that this show does so well, Frank and David get drunk after David’s wife kisses Frank, who she knows as Pete Castiglioni. The two men exchange the stories of how they met their wives, and toast to the fact that “when you know, you know.” David ends the series as the classic sidekick, not only Frank’s partner in his quest for justice, but as a brother-in-arms to take the place that Russo vacated in his life.

We first meet young vet Lewis Wilson at Curtis’s group meeting. Nervous, reactive, and initially pitiful, he becomes a classic insane survivalist. Lewis is meant to populate the far end of the continuum where Frank and Russo live. While Frank is a vigilante who operates mostly outside society’s accepted norms, he has an internal moral compass that is fairly constant. Russo, the other side of that coin, is a seemingly law-abiding, succesful citizen who is in reality amoral, though he also holds his word as inviolate. Lewis goes beyond both of these characters to antisocial anarchy. Lewis is not only a loner, a terrorist and as Karen Page memorably points out, “a coward,” but he is at his heart, someone who has lost complete and total faith in his fellow man. Even the actions he took on behalf of Curtis and his father aren’t enough to save him in the end.  Showrunner Steve Lightfoot called Lewis’ story “a tragedy,” and while it’s easy to condemn his actions throughout the series, he represents a very real segment of modern society that has lost such faith in the system that they try to turn their inner violence outward. Instead, Lewis ends up literally and figuratively destroying himself.

It’s not only the male characters in The Punisher that show some of the pitfalls of what has traditionally been masculine-gendered behavior. Both DHS Agent Dinah Midani and Daredevil regular Karen Page join the party, exhibiting some traditionally masculine traits that work both for and against them.

Dinah, returning to Homeland Security after some time in Afghanistan, is pulling the classic “loose cannon” cop move: investigating something she was told to stay away from. In her case, it’s the cover-up of what ends up being Project Cerebrus, the interrogation-by-torture unit to which both Frank and Russo belonged. It’s alluded to that Dinah came back somewhat damaged from her time in the Middle East, but any time any of the characters attempt to have her unload her emotional burden, she stiffens her upper lip and refuses to discuss it. Instead, she self-medicates in the preferred way of TV men since time immemorial: sex and alcohol. Dinah is so emotionally shut-down that, by the time she realizes she has become attached to her partner, he’s dead, and by the time she trusts herself to break down in front of anyone, it’s Sam’s murderer and frequent booty call Billy Russo. Dinah has the dogged maverick streak of any TV cop on a mission, and she also suffers from the emotional blind spots that come with it. It was extremely interesting to see this tired macho trope given new life in a female character.

After the events of last season’s Daredevil ended with the closing of Nelson and Murdock, Karen Page is now a journalist at the New York Bulletin. Karen has long been an emotional touchstone for Frank Castle (I’m not on board this ship, but even I swooned when he punched the wall), and though their deep affinity could have been played romantically, instead it is sublimated into a more platonic relationship, or storge. Page and Castle are more like beloved siblings than romantic partners. Karen advocated for Frank in an extrememly dark moment in his life, and Frank is one of the few characters that not only sees Karen’s dark side, but accepts it. As Frank himself says, Karen is family, and despite the fact that she’s frequently cast into damsel-in-despair situations, she’s far from the cookie-cutter virtuous type that exists only to remind the hero of what he’s fighting for. Instead, Karen is exteremely empathic, driven and loyal, but she can be ruthless and fierce when the situation calls for it. In a lot of ways, she is a counterpart to Curtis Hoyle, as both are people that Frank trusts implicitly, and for who he doesn’t hestitate to risk his life.

Aside from the characters themselves, many of the yardsticks of manhood are referenced in passing: Cool-Hand Luke, Moby Dick, the military, a man’s role as provider, even penis size. When Micro confesses that he’s “hung like a moose,” it’s a joke, not a macho assertion. It’s as if the show, recognizing the toxic nature of certain televised masculinity tropes, alludes to them but briefly, and when forced to dwell on them, does so in a way that exposes the damage they can do. It’s a phenomenally thoughtful treatment of one of the more violent comic sources, and really excellent example of television as social commentary. In a world where men are socialized not to show emotion and only express themselves when they’re horny or angry, what a revolutionary thing it is to end the series by having your main character admit to such a perjorative emotion as fear. In fact, almost every character that expresses the traditional agression and violence that has become synonymous with the idea of vigilante heroes ends up being a villain. Even the characters who have worked to regain a working emotional balance, like Curtis and Karen, occasionally show signs of weakness, but their bravery is of another sort. They accept themselves, and keep going. They’re not flashy. They’re not aggressive. They keep their hearts open. They keep speaking for what they think is right, and they accept that there are things that they cannot repair, including themselves. That’s the midline. That is what The Punisher universe sets up as its new masculinity: You don’t have to be hold it together. It’s all right to reach out. It’s ok to think you will never be who you were again, because even if you think you are broken, so are we all in some way or another. You don’t have to be fixed, you just have to reach out. You just have to go on.

Deep Thoughts Outlander 310: Heaven and Earth

This week’s episode wasn’t impactful for any plot-driven reasons. As a matter of fact the biggest plot reveal, Captain Leonard’s intent to arrest Jamie, receded into the background to make room for a resolution to the Fergus/Marsali wedding, a viable plan for rescuing Claire from the Porpoise, and to allow for some much needed character development as we continue to rediscover the expanded Fraser clan.

Spoilers ahead for episode 310.

Here are four takeaways:

The Family You Choose. Fergus and Jamie have arguably been together since the latter left Ardsmuir, and their last moment on-screen when the former was still a child was the touching reminder that Fergus knows Jamie better than anyone. Because we, along with Claire, are still coming to understand the aspects of Jamie that changed in the last twenty years, this episode was pivotal for the audience’s understanding of their unique bond. Fergus is a man, but one with deep love and respect for Jamie, who has seemingly — except for handfasting Marsali — always deferred to Jamie when it comes to decision-making about their mutual paths. Now with Jamie locked up and their fates resting on him, he once more shows the boundless loyalty and insight about human nature that make him such an asset, and Jamie ultimately bestows upon him not one gift, but two: his blessing upon a marriage with his adopted daughter, and a verbal recognition of the depth of their attachment. “Mon fils,” Jamie calls him. My son.

Fersali Is Strong. It becomes clearer every day why Marsali, raised by a mother with a long history of unfortunate decisions in love (and most recently set aside by a father figure she had grown to trust) is attracted to Fergus’s loyal, devoted, steadfastness.  Fergus, raised by women and predisposed to appreciate their individuality, offers her the chance to express herself as a true partner, and to have a marriage where she has input into her future and decisions, unlike Laoghaire. But where Fergus is a pickpocket, teasing out truths and subtly making points, Marsali is much like her mother and her Auntie Janet: a sword that cuts mercilessly to the heart of the matter. She’s not always correct, but she’s fierce and committed: qualities that can’t help to appeal to a boy who grew up with no true sense of belonging and whose only other solid attachment to a woman was Claire Mothereffing Fraser. Lastly, the realest part of this episode was Marsali trying to sneak in a quick deflowering while Jamie was in the clink. I see you, girl. Way to keep it 100.

I Wanna Know What Love Is. Jamie, single-minded in his need to recover Claire after their recent reunion, is almost feral in his insistence that true love means “moving heaven and earth” for the beloved. But he forgets that he isn’t the only one with a beloved on-board, nor is Claire the only life he’s accountable for. Apparently love is also narrowing your depth of focus to exclude everyone in your life but one person. This didn’t ring true to me, but I can understand why it was written this way. If not for some conflict, the plot on the Artemis would have been very dull. Still, it felt less like shrewd, leader-of-men Jamie and more like a plot device. It’s the object of Fergus’s love herself that reminds Jamie of his commitments outside Claire, and the need to step carefully and intelligently around the dual landmines of Jamie’s arrest and Claire’s abduction. Jamie comes to see the wisdom in this approach, and in the effect Marsali and Fergus have on each other. It’s a different kind of love, but just as worth protecting.

A Life Wasted. The surprising emotional heart of this episode didn’t center around one of our regulars, but rather a supporting character we met at the very end of last week’s episode. Elias Pound isn’t much younger than Young Ian, but he’s much worldlier, having lived half his life at sea. The combination of dutiful soldier and tender young man seems designed to pull at a mother’s heart, and it certainly affected Claire. I can’t imagine she didn’t think of the children she has cared for in her life, and the one she now seeks. Claire is a mother whose children are not with her, and Elias is a motherless child. Pound’s plaintive question about Claire’s ability to “remain calm in the face of so much death” is precisely the kind of question one asks of a parent when trying to make sense of the world, and his gift of the rabbit’s foot is both a callback to the accidental bunny theme running through this season (Jamie at Culloden; Bree’s bunny) and a heartbreakingly chivalrous gesture by a boy who is gamely attempting to be the best man he can, before his time runs out.

Outlander Recap 304 – Of Lost Things

I can’t go on.
I’ll go on.
~Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

We stumble. We stutter. We rise. We are lifted. ~Anthony of Padua

 

Scotland, 1968. At the Reverend Wakefield’s house, Roger get his link analysis on, narrowing the Jamie search window to 1766 by theorizing that time has passed at an identical twenty-year rate for both Jamie and Claire.

Brianna and Claire are looking though prison records, but there’s no mention of Jamie. As they talk, Fiona stops by with tea and scones, and her admonishment to Roger to eat more prompts Bree to vividly imagine those two frolicking like shih tzu puppies.

Her expression is so syrupy that Roger winces at the unspoken implication, but Claire doesn’t notice at all. She has found Jamie’s name on the prisoner list for Ardsmuir Prison, number 7, James Fraser. Looking through the prisoner rolls, Roger determines he was there from 1753 to 1756, when the prison closed. He and Bree head off to celebrate with some whisky, and a hopeful Claire is left alone to ponder the possibilities.

Helwater Estate, England. 1756. Lord Dunsany, his wife and two daughters arrive at the estate after an Italian holiday. Dunsany asks Evans, his butler, to bring “the new groomsman” to him at the house. That message telephones its way down the chain of command until the head groom gets to a serious Jamie, who is going by the name Alexander MacKenzie and sporting the entire front half of Molly Ringwald’s hair from Pretty in Pink.

John Grey told Dunsany that Jamie had fought at Culloden, spared John’s life and was honorable. Dunsany lost his son Gordon in the rebellion. Jamie concedes that “many good men were lost on both sides,” and Dunsany replies that he respects a man who fights for a cause. It comforts him to think that Gordon died for what he believed in, and as far as he’s concerned the end of the war meant an end to the quarrel — but not Lady Dunsany. She never got over her son’s death, and “carries a great hatred for any Jacobite.”

As Dunsany speaks, it’s obvious that the mention of his son still pains him, as well. Jamie picks up on it, commenting that the “pain of losing a child never leaves you,” and confessing that he’s lost two of his own. Dunsany seems touched, and after a moment of quiet reflection, resolves to tell his wife that Jamie is just a groom that came well-recommended by John, and not a prisoner. “But you are a prisoner, MacKenzie. Mind you don’t forget it.”

(more…)

Deep Thoughts Outlander 309: The Doldrums

This week was that rare combination of emotion and action that has made this series so impossible to pigeonhole. Is it a love story? Yes. Is it an adventure? Yes. Does it have seafaring lads singing a raunchy tune about a perverted lobster? YES. There were a few shortcuts taken in order to move the story along (see you next season, Murrays) that felt jarring, but other changes to the novels paid off beautifully.

Spoilers ahead for episode 309.

Here are five takeaways:

Comic Relief. Outlander is pretty heavy fare, and while in the novels a lot of humor comes from Jamie’s wry observations, the show’s version of Jamie either doesn’t have time or chose not to be as light-hearted as the one in the novels. To that end, I was happy to note that we have a new Laurel & Hardy-esque pair in Lesley and Hayes (or as I like to call them, Alt-Rupert and Alt-Angus). We first met these men in episode 305, but it was this episode’s sub-plot with the iron that provided a few details to color in these relationships: Lesley and Hayes are close, with the former more in the leadership role and the latter more of a traditional dunce with a heart of gold. Jamie is also close to these men, as evidenced by his climbing up to coax Hayes down and his promise that anyone trying to get to him would have to first go through Jamie.  Unlike Rupert and Angus, these men are entirely loyal to Jamie, and going forward will hopefully fill in some of the missing years at the prison for Claire’s (and our) benefit.

Goodbye, Scotland.  Once again the opening credits signal a change in the feel of the show, but unlike the more subdued, classical-sounding theme that served as a transition into Season 2’s Paris, this time the main melody is laid over the beat of African drums. That, coupled with the images of African dancers fading into the druids at Craigh Na Dun, signals more than a change  in the geographical location of our characters. It is also a shift from a more Eurocentric worldview to one that is more inclusive of other people and cultures than the show has been to-date. Some of those attempts are bound to stumble for a multitude of reasons (the mispronunciation of Bruja by noted polyglot Jamie grated, for example), but one of the most successful examples occurred this episode, and is the focus of my next bullet.

The Life and Times of Yi Tien Cho. Willoughby’s character in the novels was no doubt accurate to the time, but as a person of color, that can take an emotional back seat to wanting to see stories about your culture that are not only departures from stereotype, but have real power to inspire and educate. Early on in the episode, Yi Tien Cho’s acupuncture serves not only as a way to heal Jamie’s seasickness, but as the catalyst for the final healing of the wound that lay between Jamie and Claire. His plaintive “Once I tell it, I have to let it go,” coupled with the final release of his carefully calligraphed pages into the sea, bookend another moment of healing. The tragedy of Yi Tien Cho’s self-imposed exile echoes not only that of the men on ship, themselves hailing from many different countries, but that of Claire, Jamie, Fergus and Marsali, who have each left behind their countries and cultures in the name of goal.

Very superstitious. In another nod to Outlander’s evolving world view, Captain Raines and Claire have a conversation about superstition, luck, and faith that is really at its heart a conversation about the past vs. the future, and about privilege vs. disadvantage.  Claire is an educated woman, who has the advantage not only of knowledge of the future from her travels through time, but of the insight that science gives into the workings of the body. Raines has a different kind of insight: knowledge of the delicate framework of belief and comfort that keeps men united when no other obligation holds. Both have their place and value, but Claire unwisely underestimates the importance of the latter in the 18th century. Science versus faith isn’t a discussion anyone has won yet, nor are they likely to; but it’s a fascinating discussion between two intellectual equals about one of the great debates of the ages.

The Power of Love. All the props to Lauren Lyle for her portrayal of Marsali. Not only is the resemblance to Laoghaire eerie, but her mannerisms are all there. While she is as forceful and demanding as we’d expect, it’s really Fergus’s patient conversation with his foster father that was the most touching callback to the impatience and folly of young love. Fergus not only calls Jamie out for lying about not wanting Claire, his pointed eyeroll when Jamie reminded him to be honest with Marsali was AMAZING. Jamie has gotten into the habit of lying for survival, and the fact that Claire remains ambivalent about their future early on must contribute to his wariness. The light touch in the three moments this episode that pull them back together before their separation via Porpoise (Claire’s touching reassurance of her love when she finds him with the acupuncture needles, their conversation by moonlight and finally, their touchstone sexual reunion) resonate so deeply, reminding us of the complexity and span of their love. Not only does it defy time, but even the limits of their own bodies, as the child they had and separated to protect out of love serves once again, even in her absence, to bring them back to each other.

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Deep Thoughts Outlander 308: First Wife

This week, the series came roaring back with the goodness. Last episode was the troublesome middle child in the Fraser Reunion Trilogy, but this week resolved all my issues with 307. 308 was all the things I love about Outlander: real talk, athletic sex that serves the story, a successful Bechdel test, emotions, Science!Claire and more fun words (kebbie-lebbie, Hogmanay) than you can shake a stick at.

[Quick personal update: Still doing the recaps, just very slowly. I knew the moment the series changed from summer to fall that I would likely not be able to keep up, so for the meantime there are these, and recaps to come when life slows down.]

Spoilers ahead for episode 308.

Here are five takeaways:

The Gideon of Scotland. For a dude who is nominally childless, Jamie sure does have a lot of kids. Only William and Brianna are of his body, but besides Fergus and now Young Ian, we find that he has played father figure to Laoghaire’s two daughters, and that he was upset when his nephews didn’t recognize him upon his return from Helwater. Jamie genuinely loves children, and enjoys their company. The two young men closest to him, Young Ian and Fergus, differ in that one was bred in a whorehouse and is no stranger to crime, and the other raised in a peaceful home, with only the stories of his uncle’s (mis)adventures to aspire to. The real kicker with children is that as much as you counsel them with words, it’s the actions that they mimic, and Ian Sr.’s advice to Jamie to be mindful of Ian’s love and tendency to follow him “like a puppy” proves to not only be accurate, but premonitory.

Dishonorable Second Wife. Whatever else you can say about her (mouth like a sailor, cute daughters, fine ability to sew a pleated cap) maybe the most relevant thing, to me, is that Laoghaire MacKenzie MacKenzie MacKimmie Fraser is a woman who courts unhappiness. I never hated this character like a lot of people did. I have a lot of sympathy for her early unrequited love of Jamie. I think her setup of Claire was more heedless than evil. To me, she is more of a cautionary tale about the dangers of drawing self-worth solely from the object of one’s affection. As a young woman, Laoghaire let her feelings for Jamie and an assumed moral superiority over Claire draw her into sinful and criminal behavior. As an adult, holding on to her unhappy union with Jamie supersedes everything. She is not above using her children, a gun or the law. And I don’t think it’s because Laoghaire truly values what Jamie provides. She’s an attractive woman, and could still marry elsewhere. The reason Laoghaire balks at giving Jamie up is because having him is the sole thing that has given her life meaning, and if he goes, he takes her identity with him.

Ghosts of Past and Present. For all the comparisons that can be legitimately drawn between Frank and Laoghaire — most obviously the fact that they both failed miserably in their chance at happiness because the person they loved would never love them back, and their resulting bitterness — what struck me most deeply was their differences. Frank wanted to make things work with Claire, but ultimately decided to let her go. Laoghaire and Jamie seemingly struggled from the very beginning, but even when the end was inevitable Laoghaire turned to violence rather than accept the inevitable. Frank and Claire both struggled to put parenting Brianna first, while Laoghaire thinks nothing of subjecting her daughters to their stepfather’s humiliation, leaving Jamie to console little Joan and assure her of his love. It’s not the first time I’ve thought that, after all is said and done and for all her own suffering, Claire was much luckier in their life apart from each other than Jamie.

If You’re Coming for Jenny Murray, Make a U-Turn. The world according to Jenny Murray might have shades of grey in it, but probably only two or three. She is, without a doubt, the best representation of the moral compass of the time. Jenny’s greatest asset is her ability to see directly into the heart of a matter. Her greatest failing is her resistance to applying that insight inward.  She may have seemed hard, but when Claire first came back, Jenny gave her a brief opportunity to come clean. When Claire attempted to resume their old closeness without its accompanying honesty, that door shut tight. Instead, Jenny hastened to arrange matters to lance the infection she saw poisoning her family.  Not even Ian agrees with the way she dealt with the situation, but where other people have self-doubt, Jenny has a gold-plated statue of herself giving herself a thumbs-up. I may not always agree with her, but she speaks a lot of truth (love her pointing out that Claire went looking for Jamie last time she was told he was dead, and that by leaving him, she left the rest of his family, including Jenny herself). I can’t help but love a woman whose f*ck field is so very, very fallow when it comes to anything other than her family.

The Power of Love. One of the things I have always loved best about the story of Jamie and Claire is that neither is perfect in anything but their love for one another. Time and again it has served as both an inspiration and a reality check. As much as we all love to call him the King of Men, it’s instances like this that show how Jamie gained the wisdom he did to truly earn this moniker. He and Claire were not married long before their separation, and though his delay in telling her the truth was understandable, so is Claire’s disappointment. These are two people who have risked much to be together, and though it would be tempting to make their reunion all wine and roses to compensate for their time apart, it felt very satisfying to finally see the depth and complexity of these feeling exposed and discussed. Unlike last episode, this all flowed, it all felt rooted in genuine emotion. This is the part of marriage that almost no one shows on television: the constant reaching out, past hurt and pride, that ties each pearl and sinew of a lifetime together. The look, touch, or words from one heart to another to say, “Are you still in this with me?” “Are we okay?”

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