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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6 comments

  1. Janet Howe · November 5

    ‘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?”’ So true, one of the things I loved about Diana’s books and I am so glad that they are showing this on screen also. No real marriage is all hearts and flowers–there is a lot of struggle involved in creating a shared life together. Thanks for describing this so well.

    • Connie Verzak · November 5

      Thank you! It builds into the romance after, but it doesn’t always feel like it during, haha.

  2. Kelsey · November 5

    There were a few departures from the book the show writers made in ep. 308 that I was both hoping for and surprised with how happy the changes made me.
    When I read Voyager it always struck me as off that Claire made her way aallllllll the way back to the Stones after their fight – while in the First Book she tells Jamie that she “doesn’t run away from things” after their fight when they returned to Leoch. (Also due to Laoghaire…..).
    I thought it also made more sense for Laoghaire to want to kill Claire instead of Jamie as she conspired to have her burnt at the stake before.
    Honestly, in the books, I never really felt for Jenny and never truly understood why she would meddle in such a strange way by bringing Laoghaire to the house. Laura Donnelly (starting with ep 302) gave me everything and more I could want to humanize Jenny. Her pain, grief, fierceness and loyalty was right front and center, showing me, the viewer, and Claire exactly what the last 20 years did to their family. The writers are tying up all the subplots into neat little bows I never realized I wanted/needed addressed.
    Thank you, Connie, for your recaps – they’re so delightful!!

    • Connie Verzak · November 5

      You’re welcome! It is so enlightening to see these books in the flesh. There are expressions and reactions that clarify so much. Jenny is fierce and protective, and she loves like a tigress. All her woes are product of this, but they are also some of her best qualities.

  3. LizF · November 5

    Thank for your deep thoughts, I look forward to them after every episode. When your recaps post I’ll be sure to check in too!
    I really enjoyed this episode and I hope that the way it all seemed to hang together properly, changing things around but not messing with the heart of the story, bodes well for the remainder of the season.
    Since we aren’t privy to Claire’s thoughts like in the book, the ending scene, while bewildering because ‘dammit Claire, he’s your lobster!’, was important because it realistically gave voice to Claire’s doubts and also, happily, reaffirmed Jamie’s commitment. I’ve also had to remind myself that the show is condensing things so we don’t get the luxury of seeing onscreen the pages and pages of the book that described their journey back to each other.
    See you next week 😉

    • Connie Verzak · November 5

      I have to agree that the book changes here enhanced my enjoyment of the story, for the most part. It does seem like sometimes emotions have to be stronger so they can go a longer distance in a shorter time.