Outlander Recap 303 – All Debts Paid

Boston, 1956. Seven years have passed since the last time we saw Claire. Morning at Chez Settle, and Frank Randall is cooking black pudding in TWO different kinds of fat to try to offset the insidious influence of Madison Avenue on little Brianna.

Claire, still looking crisp and professional, is studying gallbladders, but it doesn’t stop her nabbing a bite on the way to the table. As Frank jokes about either an English breakfast or Dickens as an antidote to Brianna’s excessive Americanism, we get a chance to look at the Randalls closely for the first time since we saw them in separate beds at the end of 302. They are both in crisp white tops and tan bottoms, he a pair of classic khakis and she in a slim pencil skirt. They are clear-eyed and chatty, and for all purposes, a perfectly matched pair. It is only when they begin speaking that the cracks begin to show. Claire, no doubt remembering that this is a person who she used to enjoy spending time with, offers Frank an evening out. She doesn’t have class tonight, she says, why not go see a film about a messed-up family? Or maybe another film about a messed-up singing family?

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Deep Thoughts Outlander 305: Freedom and Whisky

I freaking loved this episode. I wanted to bundle it in something pretty and display it proudly in my home. I need to name a child after it, and then when people ask me “Why is your child called ‘Freedomandwhisky?” I can sit their pristine little tushes down on my sofa and give them a parade of feels. Afterwards we can get drunk together and eat ice cream, and the world will seem a better, happier place. Not to say this was a happy episode, per se. What it was was about identity and change. As Semisonic once said, “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” The revelations in episodes past all have their emotional payoff here, as characters experience new beginnings that come from some other beginning’s end.

Spoilers ahead for episode 305.

Here are five takeaways:

Randall aftermath.  One of the things this episode did really well was to tie up the emotional loose ends of the turbulent Randall marriage. Claire made a commitment to Frank, once upon a time, to forget Jamie. She made a commitment to Jamie to keep their daughter safe, and watch over her. To some extent, keeping each of those promises meant defrauding the other. Her choice (and it was a choice) to stay with Frank up until the end of his life impacted lives aside from their own, and it felt honest and real to see Sandy’s bitterness, hear Joe’s brief, brutal summation and watch Brianna doubt Frank’s love. Even though she is our hero, and despite a keen scientific mind, Claire doesn’t always analyze her own motivations, and usually sidesteps blame when it comes her way. It’s one of those quirks that defines and humanizes her character, and the reason so many people end up entangled in so many shenanigans in her name.

The return of Magical Claire. Not since Master Raymond in Season 2 have we gotten a hint at the book’s allusions that Claire’s healing powers are, at least in part, magical. In that timey-wimey way Outlander has, her examination of Joe’s “pretty lady” bones is mostly instinctual, and it yields some insights that are in no way scientifically derived. The surgery that she encouraged Joe to attempt on his own would have undoubtedly been a failure, as he would have closed without extracting the necrosis she instinctively knew was there. Geillis and Claire were both called witches, and certainly Geillis owned that title much more than her time-traveling companion, but there might be more there than meets the eye. Her notebook is no longer seen as the ravings of a madwoman, but instead a reference manual for time travel, as evidenced by Brianna’s gift of a topaz necklace to aid in Claire’s return. These little moments are touched on very briefly, but very distinctly, and certainly bear watching.

Mommy’s Little Girl. Bree’s statement that she is more her mother’s child than either of her fathers’ is more revealing than she knows. Her “Everything is fine,” to her professors, her intense privacy and her pride are all callbacks to Claire. Certainly that deep breath in the kitchen, echoes Claire’s deep breath at the doors of the morgue after Frank’s death. Children do as we do, not as we say, and she’s certainly learned to suppress intense emotion and get on with it. Despite her very real loss of identity in finding out about her biological father and wondering if she was truly loved, questioning the authenticity of her own story, by the end of the episode the selfishness that has has been her most frequently cited negative trait is beautifully offset by her choice to actively encourage her mother to go back in time and retake the life that she unwittingly interrupted. It is a lovely, generous, action, and it served to endear me to the character in a way I didn’t experience until much later in the books.

Shipping RedBeard. I loved seeing the further blossoming of Brianna and Roger’s relationship. Series Roger is endearingly geeky and goofy, but that fumbling exterior covers up a deep well of understanding about what it means to be well-loved. Roger may have experienced a lot of pain and loss in his life, but he was also raised with honesty, and the stories he heard held deep, meaningful resonance. Brianna’s worldview has been forcibly shifted, and Roger’s upbringing gives him the means to remain grounded and hopeful in the face of her doubts, without needing to convert her to his way of thinking. He has all the patience of Frank with the emotional intelligence of Jamie, and this is a marriage of viewpoints that calls to the parts of Brianna that are in turmoil. Roger doesn’t deny his pain, and he understands loss. Bree is practical, analytical. Roger is introspective, sensitive. They are uniquely positioned to cover each other’s deficits and reinforce each other’s strengths — and they are cute as sleeping baby mice together.

But the book… I always understand the reasons for changing things from the book, but this was one of few episodes where I only briefly made a mental note, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. Usually there are a couple of lines or edits that will make me wistful enough to crack the books open a bit, but for me at least, Outlander is like Cinderella. There’s the source, the bible if you will, and then there are all the interpretations. The interpretations tell the story, but they also reveal insight into the teller. The things they choose to highlight, the things they leave behind, their own impressions of the past, and current times. One of the gifts of this particular retelling of this story is the ability to see the emotions we have so long held in our minds and hearts transposed onto real faces and bodies. I think this is one of the most exquisitely delicate episodes of this show produced so far, and I really feel it did justice to the wait.

 

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Deep Thoughts – Outlander 304: Of Lost Things

This week is all about those overarching themes. This far into the story and with the print shop looming, Jamie and Claire’s lives are connecting in deeper ways, in best-case scenario decisions, fleeting joys and banked regrets that will turn them into the more damaged, deeper versions of the characters that book readers have been awaiting for some time, and which series watchers will come to appreciate even more as the series expands. Spoilers ahead for episode 304.

Here are four takeaways:

  • Closure. Ten years after the Battle of Culloden, we are seeing some signs that the hatred between the Scots and the English, at least as far as Jamie is concerned, is starting to ebb.  Not only is there the cementing of his friendship with John, but his empathy with Lord Dunsany’s grief about losing a child. Bree and Roger confess their mutual fears to each other, and forge a delicate new connection. In each century, some negative things must first be purged before they can be replaced.
  • The laws of attraction. Isobel wants John, despite Jamie’s warning that soldiers don’t make great husbands, and John will take her, despite wanting Jamie. Roger’s torch for Bree couldn’t burn brighter if he were standing on Ellis Island, and Bree… appears to like him pretty well. Ellesmere wants Geneva because of her appealing pettishness, not thinking it will in any way impact him. Geneva wants whatever part of Jamie she can get, and calls that part love. Aside from Claire, the world is full of romantic compromise that makes the best out of affection and attraction, but not love.
  • Many kinds of parents. Geneva’s desire to have a say in who deflowers her results in Jamie’s first opportunity, however indirectly, to parent a child. That child makes John a father in much the same way that Brianna made Frank one, or Roger the Reverend. All these children are tied together by the love of two people, which will cause a ripple effect in their lives that will alter their very identities.
  • Hard rain, harsh truths. Geneva’s plan for Jamie resulted in a child neither expected, the death of a man, and a shadow over the child that ultimately results in Jamie having to give him up or risk his legitimacy. Claire is putting the professional life she worked so hard for on pause while she searches for Jamie in the past, and that state of suspended animation finally shatters when she decides to throw in the towel and go back to Boston. Roger confesses his feelings to Bree and gets a kiss, but she leaves,, just as he feared. The further the story progresses, the less love is about open hearts, and the more it is about seeing the possibility for pain, and persevering despite it.

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Outlander Recap 302- Surrender

I don’t know about y’all, but I need to have my portrait done by the individual responsible for capturing the Lindsay-Buckingham-level hippie-hotness and general IDGAF-ness of the Dunbonnet. Put that portrait on my grave. Staple it over my wedding photo. I want someone to capture me being that aggressively detached about anything, but instead here I am, writing another novella-length recap of a show that makes me cry like I’m watering a face-garden.

I’m not the only one involved in an unhealthy relationship right now. The main three characters are all in a holding pattern which two of them will break, only one by choice. Also, as advertised, there is a lot of sex, and all of it is sadder than that which preceded it. I’m going to write the publicity department a strongly-worded letter. I was sold a false bill of goods, damn it! Here’s a visual:

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Deep Thoughts: Outlander 303 – All Debts Paid

The bulk of my first impressions have to do not with story this week, but the casting and production. This was the end of the three-episode arc that dealt with the Randall marriage and Claire’s early life in Boston, and to get her back to Scotland, Roger, and the search for Jamie (not to mention to get Jamie through his years of hiding and imprisonment) would take some serious editing. Spoilers ahead for episode 303.

Here are my five initial takeaways:

  • Hats off, Tall Ships. I think this episode more than any other to-date shows the successful complexity of what it can be to adapt a book to a series, hit all the high points and still evoke all the emotion of the longer passages and dialogue that can’t possibly be covered fully when working with limited time and resources. Ardsmuir especially, though drawn very sparingly, communicated both its squalor and the closeness of the men in a very sad, very dear way. The Randall marriage, as well, saw a period of eleven years pass in less than thirty minutes, and it felt very real, even if not 100% faithful to the Voyager novel. The economy in no way detracted from the emotional resonance, and that’s worth applauding.
  • Okay fine, I get it, LJ fans. I have been through YEARS of people telling me that Lord John is the bee’s knees, and I need to read all his books…and I’ve resisted. I just didn’t see it, and I was holding some of his actions in Echo against him, but David Berry’s portrayal just broadcasts this integrity that I find a really appealing trait in a man who is a well-disguised outsider. Maybe his station in life has afforded him some privilege, but his sexuality has also dealt him very bitter blows, and they have ennobled his character instead of rotting it. He is, in many ways, the anti-BJR. It was incredibly touching to see both he and Jamie find the noble heart of each other, and I look forward to seeing more of him.
  • Always take a Murtagh. I’m not ashamed to say I leapt out of my seat like a joyous kangaroo when I heard his voice, and I started flailing my arms when I saw his dear beard and brows. I was so, so, touched that the show brought Duncan Lacroix back for another episode, even if it might be some time before he’s seen again. I know that at some point in life Jamie has to grow to become Murtagh-like himself, but in what has been a very dark first few episodes, it was a welcome ray of sunshine to see such a beloved character again. I hear the rumors about what his role might be in season 5, and all I can say to that is BRING IT. Put him in a pig costume and make him the white sow, I don’t care. I need my Murtagh.
  • Poor Frank. Two paths diverged in a wood, and on one was TV Frank.  So many differences between these two characters. There is a lot of dislike of Book Frank, and it has seemed to some that the TV version has been sanctified in a way the “real” Frank does not deserve. If I have come away with anything from the show, however, it’s that reality is uncomfortable, and the fact that Claire fell in love with another man doesn’t  automatically make the man she chose first into a villain, nor does it make her actions where he is concerned always heroic. There were a lot of shades of grey in the Randall marriage, and I feel like the writers were very successful at navigating difficult subject matter. That scene where Claire’s tear drops on his face, an echo of the same tear he cried the last time she saw him alive? Gut-wrenching. Real. Poetic. I’ll miss the tremendous Tobias Menzies, but I hope to see him in flashbacks.
  • Breecyclopedia. There is so much emotional soil being laid down in these first few episodes about Brianna’s upbringing that explains so much about non-Jamie parts of the character. You can count me among the people who never connected with book Brianna, but the show is illustrating so many of the behaviors that I found bratty and why she needed to develop them. Bree is brash and direct because she lived in the shadow of her parents’ false reality. She is emotionally reserved because she saw the unhappiness of unrequited love in not only her father, but also Claire. She is independent because she had a working mother and intellectual father who encouraged her to make her own choices and think for herself, and she is analytical because she has learned to probe situations and people instead of taking what they say at face value. She is in a way not only three people’s greatest hope for the future, but the product of all their past mistakes… and all their enduring virtues.

 

 

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Deep Thoughts- Outlander 302: Surrender

Back again! Didn’t this one just fly by? It didn’t seem like much happened, but this one was like an iceberg, the majority of its bulk not immediately visible.  Spoilers for Outlander episodes 301 and 302.

You can’t name an episode “Surrender” and expect me not to sing-yell the Cheap Trick song of the same name over the credits, but that was one of few moments of levity this hour. Neither Mommy nor Daddy are all right, to be honest, although at least one of them is pretending to be. Things are kind of a hot mess.

Here are five things I noticed:

  • The sound of silence. There is an economy of dialogue in this episode that feels very expectant, and very appropriate to an episode about difficult choices and transitions. The silences keep waiting to be filled, and sometimes never are. Sometimes awkward and painful, sometimes redemptive, they evoke the inner dialogue that is driving some of the less-than-noble actions our characters are taking onscreen. Their hearts speaking what the mind cannot bear to have uttered.
  • The Wild Man of Lallybroch. Six years into hiding in a cave, Jamie’s gone full First Blood. He’s surviving somewhere between the first and second levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The Jamie we know is a man who felt deeply about his connection to his culture and his family. When Jamie and Claire were still in Paris, Fergus became their adopted child in all but name. Jamie sent both Claire and Fergus off to safety, but when he lost Claire, Fergus in turn lost Jamie. Fergus’s injury (and the birth of wee Ian) serve as wake-up calls to Jamie not only by reminding him of his connection to Claire, but by reminding him that there are still people in the world that he can love and care for.
  • Representation matters. Much like I did when I first read the novels, the friendship between Claire and Joe Abernathy made me tear up when I saw it onscreen. Not only is Joe a well-defined character and a good role model, the traits that make him stand out in his own time closely echo Claire’s story throughout the novels: an intelligent, scientific mind, insight into the human heart and the stubbornness to face down a society that thinks less of him because of his biological makeup. Really looking forward to seeing their friendship progress over the next few episodes.
  • Romeo and Juliet was overrated. Sure it made for a great play, but I have to confess that I’m not one of those girls that thinks that wasting away for love is necessarily that idyllic. While it reaffirms the stereotypical idea of True Love, when you see it acted out in real bodies and see it happening to someone you admire, you realize that it may be the romantic choice to pine, but definitely not the emotionally healthy one. There is an idea here that Claire and Jamie’s love for each other is so strong that nothing else can motivate them or make them truly happy, but they are both protecting something they can no longer have, and that’s a choice with real consequences for the people who surround them. I was glad to see Claire seem to move on by the end of the episode, even if she continues to miss Jamie. I’m hoping to see Jamie move on some in the next episode, as well.
  • She’s not with you, but are you with her? This is the beginning of the end of Frank’s love for Claire, right there in that single bed. Back when she disappeared through the stones, he still had her to some extent, perfectly preserved in his memory, the best possible version of his wife. Now she’s with him, he is losing her because she doesn’t love him, but also because he has begun to willingly give up on the things he can no longer bear to accept. Frank wants Claire, but he doesn’t want this version of her. Claire wants a husband, but not the one she has. It’s an example of what happens when we build human beings into unattainable ideals. People will disappoint, and love is forgiving, but neither is a well that can be drained dry.

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Outlander Recap: 301 – The Battle Joined

In the post-episode discussion, Showrunner Ron Moore says he named this episode “The Battle Joined” as an umbrella metaphor that covered both Culloden and the Randall’s attempt at saving their marriage. It also works as a metaphor for Jamie and Claire in their new lives apart. This episode is about disruption and tragedy, but it is also about rejoining life when you want so badly to isolate yourself. Of finding an anchor in people and callings when a part of you would rather disappear, about feeling pain when all you want to do is numb yourself and ignore it. “The best way out is always through,” said Robert Frost, and this is a painfully detailed reminder. In life, there is no escaping the consequences of your actions, even if they live only in your heart.

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Deep Thoughts- Outlander 301: The Battle Joined

Aaand we’re back! I’ll be working on my recap this week and hope to have it done before 302 airs, but in the meantime I wanted a place to unload my first-watch musings. These are notes that I make while watching the episode that sometimes don’t make it into the recaps as fleshed-out thoughts or theories because I am rushing to get it out or because they’re more serious. If you’re interested in those, now you can look for them to post directly after the show’s EST/CST airtime. They will include episode-specific SPOILERS, so beware.

This episode was a classic Outlander premiere in the sense that it sets the tone for the story going forward. My joy at the return of the series was quickly tempered by the barrage of emotions it evoked, but overall I was left with a real sense of anxiety. The last words uttered in the final scene are a hint that things will get much worse before they get better.

Here are five things I noticed:

    • An all-inclusive look at war. A significant portion, about twelve minutes of what we first experience as viewers is given over to the aftermath, reality and moments preceding Culloden. The bodies of the men, piled haphazardly on the field and shot from every possible angle, (including aerial) are like the bones of the earth bared to the elements. The sheer disconnect on Jamie’s face, which Sam does unnervingly well. There are moments of ridiculousness, and even brief humor. There are times it is hard to look. It’s frustrating, and tragic, and terrible. All the emotions that will be called up by events going forward are called up like soldiers themselves to stand in line and await their resolution. It humanizes violence in a way rarely seen on television, by making it familiar and alien all at once. Outlander turns another trope on its head. Brilliantly done.
    • Tobias Menzies, master of the unexpected. It’s no secret I love this actor to bits, but even I was shocked by the unexpected emotion in Jack’s face when he passes, how he reaches out to Jamie with yearning. Black Jack as created by the unique partnership of Tobias and the writers is such a complex character that even knowing all he has done, there is a brief moment of sincere empathy for his depth of feeling, even as I cringe at the amount of time they spend in the parody of an embrace. Even in this, though, Randall is thwarted. Despite lacking the strength to move his most hated enemy off of him, Jamie does manage to hold on to a token of his wife, the dragonfly in amber (Easter egg) that was their wedding gift from Hugh Munro back in Season 1. As much as Jack (and later his descendant Frank) wanted their relationships to be exclusive, there would always be a third party present.
    • First sign of old Jamie. The first time post-battle that Jamie’s face shows something other than despondency and resignation is when he overhears Killick and Rupert talk of the British patrolling. Is this fear for the men of Lallybroch, despite Murtagh saying they were safe? Fear for Murtagh himself? Or just general concern because it is in his nature to gather information, and now he knows the fate of any men left wandering is likely death? In an otherwise spotless episode, this pulled me out of the narrative for a bit. If you have any theories, put them in the comments!
    • Things fall apart. It starts with tremulous hope, but the devil is in the details of the Randall marriage. The almost unseen clasp of Frank’s hand on Claire’s shoulder. Claire’s dismissive “I’m fine.” The reminders of past hurts and the past itself, when both had been promised away. So many little betrayals, all done in the name of good faith, of reaching out for understanding from a partner that results instead in that partner feeling misunderstood themselves. Little resentments, nominally forgiven but hoarded like nuts for the winter of their discontent. It’s a fascinating study of a marriage doomed to fail, that still surprises with its sudden moments of true tenderness shown by people who are both good, just unequal to the promises they have made each other. Tobias and Cait are doing minute, exacting work and it’s mesmerizing.
    • I’m not crying, you are. The one time I cried sobbing tears this episode was not at all what I thought it would be. Rupert Thomas Alexander (thought: these two MacKenzies were likely named after the same Alexander, here’s a tissue) MacKenzie exited the world with singular grace. We watched Jamie, Claire and Frank all rail against fate in some way, and act in ways that were at times, beneath the best of their characters due the stress of a terrible situation. In the aftermath of what must be a crushing defeat for a patriot, with all his hopes crumbling around him, Rupert rescues Jamie and sets him at ease about the death of Dougal, chooses to stay with the men when he could escape, tries fruitlessly to advocate for the boy soldiers, and finally, makes a joke that even causes dour Melton to flash the shadow of a grin in the terrible execution of his orders. How fitting and tragic that a character who was so frequently the source of so much comic relief meets his Maker in the midst of this terrible carnage with an amused nobility. It was a heartrendingly appropriate goodbye to the last of the Mackenzie Highlanders, and a note-perfect performance.

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Outlander Character Appreciation Post: “Black Jack” Randall

I know what you’re likely thinking. We don’t usually celebrate demons come to earth no matter their flawless ability to rock thigh-high boots, but Captain Jonathan Wolverton Randall’s birthday was yesterday, and I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves to be Prince of Darkness  for a Day on their special day.

Or the day after, if I’m busy that day.

With the Season 3 premiere less than a week away, let’s briefly dwell on one of the more disturbing villains to ever cross our screens, and why we find him so compelling.

  1. Evil : Good :: Villain : Hero. I can’t really underscore this one enough. The worse your villain, the greater your hero. We have some characters on the show that occasionally act in a morally questionable way (I’m looking at you, Mackenzies), but Jack’s C.V. would make Ghengis Khan clutch his pearls. A great villain helps define the greatness of the hero, and shapes his story and the heart of the conflict. In the Instagram snap that is Outlander, Jack is the Lo-Fi filter with the contrast turned up to 99.

2. Order vs. Chaos. Whenever something awful happens, like two additional months being added to a   hiatus, we like to rationalize as to cause. Very rarely are we comfortable with chaos. Jack is a military man, a product of order, and yet he actively seeks chaos. Jamie is the product of a volatile life, but becomes a reasoned man of the Enlightenment. The ballad of Jack and Jamie is the product of one key interaction that echoes over the course of their time together, building and intensifying to its inevitable end, a yin/yang that reaffirms both sides as it consumes and changes both its participants.

3. England vs. Scotland. This one is pretty obvious, but a lot of the atrocities committed in the name of King and country are echoed in Jack’s attempts to subdue and possess Jamie. “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious,” in the words of Oscar Wilde. By framing their struggle (and its eventual conclusion) as part of the rise of the Jacobite rebellion, Jack becomes the embodiment of English aggression and tyranny, his disregard for Jamie’s humanity a symbol for the colonialist exploitation of the Scottish people.

4. Wild Card, B*tches. Just when you thought Jack was almost unnecessarily evil, we get a tiny birdhouse in the dark mine of his soul. Jack has a very real ability to love, his honest affection for human puppy and Randall white sheep brother Alex brings a confusing humanity to what might have otherwise been a very black & white portrayal. Even his reaction upon Alex’s death speaks to his inability to deal with the depth of his emotions, and the pity and horror he engenders in Claire and us as an audience just wraps another layer around a character that is already a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

5. Tobias MOTHERCOUNTRY MENZIES. Someday if I live long enough and reality TV continues to evolve on its same path, there will be a show that combines great acting and even greater acts of derring-do, like having to act your way out of a flour sack suspended over a river filled with man-eating piranha. When that day comes, there is only one man for the job, and his name rhymes with OhHellas Yeszies. Menzies brought an almost reptilian horror to this character while grounding him in the sort of cavalier matter-of-factness of a bureaucrat, the combination of which took “Black” Jack Randall from a sinister shadow into a three-dimensional villain for the ages.

Honorable mention: The Black Jack Wig, the best wig on Outlander.

Rock on in the ninth circle, BJR. Please salt the earth on your way out.

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Outlander Promo Recap: Parallel Lives

Hey all, thanks for the well-wishes, and here’s payback in the form of an unnecessarily long promo recap.

The title of this promo is more than a righteous Magic:The Gathering card. It’s also the nickname for Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, a series of biographies of famous men that highlighted their similar virtues and failings, and a fascinating study of morality and choices. It’s an apt lens through which to view this season of Outlander, in which Claire and Jamie struggle to make the most of their choice to separate, consequently exposing the best and worst of themselves (and those closest to them). It’s a reminder that our heroes are no more human than any of us: sometimes disturbingly fallible, others heartrendingly persistent. Plus I hear there’s a lot of sex.

Let’s dig in.

The promo opens on Claire and Bree, presumably on a plane back to Boston after their visit to Scotland. Caitriona Balfe narrates, letting us know that when we last saw the character it was 1968, right after her character discovers Jamie didn’t die at Culloden. Both Randall ladies seem immersed in thought.

Information like that has a way of jump-starting one’s fantasy life, and Claire gazes out of her plane window while Bree reassures her that they “will find him.” Don’t pat yourself on the back, kid. Everyone finds Jamie eventually. He’s pretty noteworthy.

Cut to Bree and Claire researching at what looks like a library with Roger. This promo needs more Roger. If this keeps up I am just going to start Photoshopping his face onto vases and stuff. Here he is, color-coordinating not only with the rich wood paneling but also Bree’s vest. I assume he’s the head researcher because he’s the only one who can read fluent Scottish noises.

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