Deep Thoughts Outlander 307: Crème de Menthe

This week is all about when people stop being polite and start being real. It’s like The Real World: Edinburgh. Claire and Jamie don’t get naked once this episode, but there is a lot of bared insecurity. Their second honeymoon over, the Frasers get down to the business of attempting to find their partnership once more. Despite some initial push-back due to the circumstance, Jamie doesn’t stand in the way of Claire being a healer, and despite disagreeing with the way Jamie handles the situation with Ian, Claire doesn’t blow his cover. But there are little clashes here that highlight the differences in their character, and the manner of lives they have lived when apart.

Spoilers ahead for episode 307.

Here are four takeaways:

Things Get Real. Real Shouty. Now that the thrill of reunion is past, we’re starting to see how some of the Frasers’ years of independence will work against them. These are no longer two young adults, but two middle-aged people with a lot of baggage that colors their decisions. No matter the time, Claire is a healer, first and foremost. Her instinct to save lives without judgment will clash not only with the fluid morality of Jamie’s current career path, but also the rigid gender roles and expectations of the 18th century. It’s not in Claire’s DNA to meekly accept limits, so it’s interesting to note when Jamie defers to her and when he chooses to assert his will over hers, and how that all works out for them going forward.

Bros Before Ho’s. Let me take a moment and fangirl over the joy of seeing Young Ian and Fergus BROTP’ing hard, talking about the ladies, Claire’s badassness and her general propensity for trouble, and the effects of brandy on a man’s mphhmm. Young Ian is an able negotiator in true MacKenzie fashion, but also a sweet peach-faced virgin, and the last time we ran across that combo it worked out pretty well for us. As for Fergus, I’m not surprised at all that he lost his virginity in a three-way, or that he’s got a practical, results-oriented take on art of seduction. What was a very gratifying surprise was hearing Fergus call Ian “brother.” This relationship is one of my favorites from the novels, and I may have clutched at my heart a bit when I heard that word.

Slim Shady. Now I love me some Jamie, but I must admit I laughed out loud at the “I didna realize lies had shades” line. This was a man lying about who he was since well before he met Claire, whose character is largely founded on gauging and reacting to nuance.  It doesn’t mean Jamie is dishonest, but he has always known when and to what degree to fudge the truth. That’s not a sin he can lay at Claire’s feet, who is if anything, a terrible liar. It seems to me that the fact that he didn’t get to parent either of his children should sensitize Jamie to the plight of a worried parent, not the other way around. As for calling back to the bikini and using that to deflect Claire’s pretty dead-on points about Ian, it seemed an obvious ploy to change the subject. Jamie is withholding an actual other wife from Claire, so his overreaction to being called out on a lie seems to stem more from guilt than righteousness.

Fire Sale.  The Print Shop was more than the scene of a sex-a-thon between two baby rabbits. It was also the physical manifestation of Jamie’s new life. Granted, it was largely cobbled together out of lies and treason and held together by prostitution, but there was a beat last episode — when Jamie cleaned the sign — where you could see real pride and accomplishment in what he managed to put together. Claire’s return throws a wrench into his life. He verbally reassures her of his commitment, but the reality of making space for her is more complex. This week, he literally watches that life go up in flames, a fire that ends one of his lives and forces a return home to Lallybroch, which in turn hints at the moment of truth that will likely come next week. In TV-speak, there’s nothing like the reassurance that nothing will happen (“Balriggan is miles from Lallybroch,” Jamie says confidently) to assure that it will.

 

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Deep Thoughts Outlander 306: A. Malcolm

I’m coming off my third re-watch, and it’s almost one pm and I am in my pajamas and I have NO REGRETS. I don’t think anything was ever going to equal the thrill of reading these moments after waiting years for these two to reunite, but there are a lot of nuances in this episode that became apparent after a few viewings, and that’s what I’ll address here. I’m off to a birthday party and then date night, so I won’t be live-tweeting, unfortunately. I’ll get into more detail in the recap when I write that.

Spoilers ahead for episode 306.

Here are five takeaways:

Room for secrets, but not for lies. This is the bit that proved to me the most that these are not the two people who left each other 20 years ago. Claire is no longer the one with secrets, but instead is open, sharing readily of herself and asking questions. Finding out about Willie was a change from the books, but it worked here to establish that, whatever else Jamie is tentative about with Claire, he is at first determined to hold true to the promise he made to her after learning she was a time-traveler. However, his work as a smuggler means that massaging the truth is his stock and trade. Book readers especially will note Fergus’s “What about…”/Jamie’s need to consult Ned Gowan and the seemingly partial translation of Yi Tien Cho’s honorific for his wife.

Tricorns are the suspenders of hats. It’s tough to be back in Scotland and see zero kilts, but it’s even tougher to be back in Scotland and see all the men in mullets and tricorns. Let’s face it, this wasn’t an attractive era for male fashion to begin with, but when you add the hair and the hats to it… It’s just not sexy. I’m sure there’s someone out there with a door-sized Hamilton poster ready to argue with me on the virtues of the tricorn, but it’s fine. I’m crossing my fingers for it to be a blessing in disguise, as these clothes will need to be routinely taken off in order to remind the audience that these men are, in fact, hot tamales. Or whatever the Scottish equivalent of a tamale is.

A many-shaded love. Literally, that one shade is grey. Hold your tricorns up high if you noticed that Claire’s outfit when she returns to Jamie is in the same greys and whites of both her wedding outfits. When Claire was first married, she was largely of the same mind as her husband-to-be, who recognized her as an intellectual equal. Her second wedding was engineered for her and the fussiness of the gown is uncharacteristic for her. Although beautiful, Claire is a woman attracted to simple, classic lines. Even if many of the beats and camera angles hadn’t echoed E107, the clothing here (not to mention the way it was removed) is a clear call-back to that episode, and had the feel of a re-commitment between these two characters. Claire’s dress, once she removes her cloak, is not only firmly in her style wheelhouse once more, but also imparts the fact that she is older, wiser, and ready to be a partner in marriage once more.

Wink to the book readers on this one.

That’s life, isn’t it? When you think you have your shit together…you don’t.

What kind of dog is that? I like that they kept this passage from the book in, even though it occurs later then, and I was happy that it opened the door to Jamie speaking about Willie (not in the books), but I missed the segue they used for the William conversation that, in the books, diverges instead towards Claire’s feelings of loss at having left her daughter behind and Jamie comforting her. He does tell her here that he knew she was a good mother, but this was an emotional beat that was not directly about them and their reunion that I would have very much liked to see onscreen. Here’s hoping they insert it later.

Pros and Cons. I guess the adrenaline of running back to the love of your life after twenty years and some good lovin’ make you forget that the past is full of people trying to kill him. Claire has returned from a peaceful existence in the Boston suburbs back to a world that is lawless in many respects. Even though she is back with Jamie, his warning that he is not the same person he was and the fact that she is accosted in his very rooms serve as a reminder that there is more than a personal re-connection that will need to take place now that Claire has returned to the 18th century. There will have to be a re-calibration to the dangers this century poses, and how and why her husband seems to always draw them to himself.

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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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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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