Deep Thoughts Outlander 312: The Bakra

By now, I should know that Claire or Jamie telling the other that they won’t be separated again ends with them being separated again, but what can I say? If loving this show is wrong, I don’t want to be right. We finally arrive in Jamaica, and get to revisit characters, outfits and plot points that went a bit MIA for a while. We also got to check back in with everyone’s favorite Scottish Regina George, and their favorite Lovelorn English Lord, and our first-ever (if brief) POV from a character other than Jamie and Claire. In truth, Young Ian’s time with Geillis represents a kind of Wentworth in his life, and these experiences cause the character to grow in ways that will be very exciting to see onscreen. Finally, the introduction of the prophecy of the Brahan Seer (referred to as The Fraser Prophecy in the books) marks the beginning of the story’s shift past Claire and Jamie as a couple, to encompass their entire dynasty and what it potentially means to the future of Scotland. One more episode to go!

Spoilers ahead for episode 312.

Here are four takeaways:

Return of the Mack. The Mackenzie plotline we last revisited in the 1960s with descendant Roger Wakefield picks up once more with the re-appearance of his five-times great grandmother Geillis. Geillis is now an Abernathy, having black-widowed her way into what I can only assume is a goat plantation on Jamaica and being referred to by the Jamaican patois nickname of “Bakra,” which means slave driver (literally ‘back raw’). It’s a thrill to see her, mostly because Outlander excels at the Morally Irreverent Villain, and the story overall is better when our heroes are, well, being heroes. I know Geillis is evil and probably a sociopath, but I just love her. I didn’t even get angry when Claire basically provided her a plot outline at the Governor’s reception, because there was a true closeness and friendship between these women. The seminal difference is that Claire values human life, and Geillis doesn’t (it’s a small distinction, but pretty important). Geillis’s #1 concern is still putting a Scottish ruler on the throne, and the fact that she speaks more affectionately of Dougal’s testicles than their child should probably tell Claire something. That, and all the husband-killing.

More Things on Heaven and Earth. It’s been hinted at for a while now, but this week Outlander slides feet-first into the religious cultural collision of the Caribbean.  A rich native culture fused with African traditions from the slave trade and European religions to create spiritual practices that fascinate people even today. The first hint came back in 306, when we first met Margaret Campbell and she prophesied about Abandawe, the cave that Father Fogden would later tell Claire was used for sacred rites. The alligator skeleton last episode was a callback to the one that hung in Master Raymond’s shop.  Jamie himself heard talk of a “white lady,” equating her to Claire, and not an actual witch. For all that they are 200 years apart, Claire and Jamie are both highly pragmatic, and except for the stones, have yet to experience the collision of magic and spirituality that so vividly color the Caribbean experience of spirituality. It’s an entirely new worldview, and it’ll be interesting to see how each character processes and interacts with this new take on spirituality.

The Importance of Being Other. The slave market was as hard to watch as I anticipated, but I didn’t anticipate the line that would make my head snap back. The slave merchant’s disdainful “What do you take me for,” in response to Jamie’s inquiry about selling a white youth was so matter-of-fact and time-appropriate that it instantly set the scene.  It was, like the men and women lined up like so much window dressing, a ruthlessly effective way to make a point about these people’s standing and significance in the world at that time.  So, too, is the way that Yi Tien Cho is first addressed at the Governor’s reception, the young woman marveling that “Goodness, he even speaks English” when the ‘he’ in question is standing right in front of her. The show slightly alters the circumstances of both characters, but there are lovely allusions to both Yi Tien Cho’s and Temeraire’s humanity that are doled out with respectful kindness. Temeraire’s assistance is requested, not demanded. Terms are set up that he is free to accept or reject. Jamie and Claire refer to people as “enslaved,” and to him as a manservant.  Yi Tien Cho is given a formal, respectful introduction by Jamie at the ball, and, despite his claim that he came to a place where women reject him, he finds a mutual admiration and understanding in fellow outsider Margaret Campbell.

The Jamie Fraser Fan Club. I wallowed in Lord John’s return like a pig in mud. Beautifully embroidered, sapphire-accented mud. Not only is the chemistry between Sam Heughan and David Berry electric, but add Caitriona Balfe to the mix and it’s like I’m back in high school and someone just shouted “Fight” down the hall. I am desperately craning my neck trying to find every nuance of expression and hear everything that is being said. The warmth between Jamie and John is so gratifying to see, because it is obvious that Jamie appreciates this man not only for the care he gives his son, but knows of his feelings for him and is tenderly solicitous of him. There is a true bond there, and while Claire is at first as warm as Jamie, it doesn’t take her long to notice that John’s attachment to her husband is more than friendship. When John speaks to her and very subtly attempts to test her relationship with Jamie by alluding to their great shared secret…and finding out Claire knows everything. Claire in turn gently but pointedly asks for clarification on the ‘gift’ of the sapphire, and John admits Jamie surrendered it after he went searching for her, thinking she had come back, “And now you have.” Claire’s smile is kind, but her eyes are solemn, and her words, an unmistakable warning. “Yes. I have.”

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.”

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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 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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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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