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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