Monday, September 1, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x04 - Geilis Duncan Knows Too Much


There is a distinct and meaningful satisfaction that comes from seeing your predictions about a television show coming true. I mention this because, so far at least, my interpretation of how the first Outlander novel would be translated to the screen has been spot on. Sure, I missed the finer details of how the show is making the source material more feminist and that is rad as hell, but the larger points about where they're breaking the story? Yeah. I got that. Because I'm awesome.

Fine, enough gloating, let's get down to brass tacks. What happened this week?

This week, like last week, starts with a misdirect. As we open, the camera pans to show us the sentries as Castle Leoch, nervously scanning the woods. They spot something. They aim their muskets. We see Claire running through the woods. Frantic. Oh no!

Actually, it's fine. The guards were startled, but it's just Claire playing a game of chase with the local kids. The kids, for the record, absolutely adore her. Her watchers, Rupert and the other one, are less thrilled with her antics, and beg Claire to let up and go back to the castle with them so they can enjoy the Gathering. After all, it only happens once every twenty years!

Reluctantly, Claire agrees to go. Because the misdirect was half-true, it seems. She was playing tag, that's true, but she was also finding the weak spots in the sentries' field of view, and plotting her escape. If the Gathering is tonight, then all the clan's fighting men will be drunk in the hall until morning, and Claire can escape. She can make her way back to the standing stones, and hopefully back to Frank.

Guess this episode is going to be the one where she tries to escape, guys! Better hold onto your petticoats.

For those of you just joining us, last week Claire heard a folk song sung by some pretty dude with a harp and realized that this meant she might be able to get back home. It also raised some rather significant questions about why she isn't telling anyone about her journey, since it seems to be a common enough trope in their literature that no one really thinks anything of it. Oh, some lady accidentally time-traveled two hundred years through the standing stones? Right on.

Anyway, this week is the Gathering, a time when all the members of Clan MacKenzie come up to the castle to pay their respects to the laird. Since this means all the men of the clan will be in one particular place at the same time, Claire figures this is the best possible time for her to hare off in search of the future. She also figures that she shouldn't tell anyone why she needs to escape, because she doesn't want to be burned as a witch. And I guess that's a fair point.

The biggest problem standing in her way is that she has now gone from having one guard (Rupert), to having two guards (Rupert and his friend). She disposes of one of them by setting him up with a local lusty wench - for reasons that mildly escape me the woman was interested in him - but she still has to deal with the other. Fortunately for all of her escape plans, Colum has ordered Claire to come along on the hunt tomorrow, in case someone gets gored by a boar, so she can do a lot of very suspicious things and blame them on the hunt.

Like, for example, going to the stables and picking out a horse. Old Alec is there, but for once Jamie isn't, and Claire is a little confused. Hasn't Jamie been pretty much living in the stables for weeks now? That's weird. But Alec tells her in no uncertain terms to leave it alone and piss off. So clearly something is going on. And Claire is going to ignore the crap out of that something going on so that she doesn't get distracted from her escape plan. Right on.

She keeps on making preparations, but when she gets back to her surgery, there's an unexpected guest. It's Geilis! You remember Geilis, the single most creepy person on this show. The lady in question is hovering by Claire's fire and has absolutely been rummaging through Claire's stuff while she was gone. She found Claire's giant bag of food, and isn't that suspicious? 

Geilis makes insinuations. Claire dodges them. Geilis makes vaguely stalkish remarks. Claire reminds herself why they're friends again...

Also Geilis makes a lot more references to her husband's stomach problems than seems overly polite. Like, I get it, your husband gets really bad gas. You don't have to tell me that literally every time I see you.

Geilis manages to hit on Claire's one real weak spot: talking about her husband. Claire doesn't like saying that her husband is dead, since it's not exactly true, but Geilis isn't the sort of character who will settle for being told he's "not alive." So Claire is forced to say it, and it's a testimony to Caitriona Balfe's acting skills that when she says it, it really sounds like a betrayal. She seems wounded to pronounce her husband dead, even if she's been letting everyone think that for weeks.

Possibly months. I'm not great at gauging how much time has passed on this show.

At least this works and convinces Geilis that Claire is deeply in mourning and really unhappy. Which is good? She implies heavily, as is her way, that Claire is barren, and isn't that a nice cherry on the sadness sundae!

Geilis continues rummaging and prying, but she does finally tell us something about herself. When she came to the town she was on her own, had nothing, just her wits and her looks and some knowledge of plants. She married Arthur not because she loved him (obviously), but because he was safe and secure and reasonably nice. Geilis is content with the choices she's made in life, and she wonders if Claire will be too.

And then she spoils this touching moment by making it absolutely clear that she knows Claire is going to run away. So there's that.

Claire ventures out of the surgery one last time to gather her last supply: a knife from the kitchens so that she can protect herself. But she runs into Mrs. Fitz on the way, and it's not like Mrs. Fitz is going to let go of an opportunity to dress her living doll for the biggest event in twenty years! She bustles Claire off and then shoves her into a fancy shmancy dress for the Gathering.

As a side note, where does Mrs. Fitz keep finding these dresses? I mean, Claire's everyday clothes seem pretty reasonable, since she's a fairly average size for those times (a little skinny and tall, maybe), and she only really has the two dresses, but she has way more formal clothes than the average lady of the day. Is Mrs. Fitz just stealing stuff out of the laundry so she can put them on Claire? Are there women of the castle who keep being mystified because their clothes disappear, and then they see them on Claire, but are afraid to say something because Mrs. Fitz is in charge of everything? Food for thought.

Okay, I will say that watching Mrs. Fitz dole out backhanded compliments to ladies she doesn't like in the hall, and then shoving people around so Claire gets a front seat is hilarious. Claire and Murtagh are her two pets, and she's very happy to treat them as such.

The Oathtaking begins with Colum's dramatic entrance - notable here because he chooses to walk the full length of the hall instead of slipping in close to his seat. Colum continues to make it clear that he does not see his bone-disease as making him less fit for duty, or see it as anything to be ashamed of. He's still the laird, and they will treat him as such. He then welcomes the men to Leoch, and starts the Oathtaking. Dougal is the first to come up, since he's Colum's brother and it's symbolic and all that. Dougal swears his sword and blood to Colum, and all that's well and good. They drink the ceremonial wine, everyone cheers, and Claire gets bored.

She decides now is the time to escape. But she does still have one minder to get rid of. That's where the port she got from Geilis and all the drugs she has access to in her surgery come in. She gives the dude drugged wine, and then watches as he absolutely chugs it. That's that problem taken care of!

Now she just has to get out of the castle, get down to the stable, steal a horse, dodge the sentries, and make her way thirty miles or so across unfamiliar country swarming with patrols and English soldiers. No big deal.

And of course she doesn't even make it out of the castle before disaster hits. First it comes in the form of Laoghaire asking Claire to make her a love potion to cast on Jamie. Claire sort of stutters for a minute, then grabs some random stuff and makes up a spell (that adorably references The Wizard of Oz) to get Laoghaire to go away. Cute. Besides, since Claire has no intention of sticking around, why shouldn't Laoghaire and Jamie end up together? She's all right with the concept, even if she has made it abundantly clear that she wants to climb Jamie like a tree.

Next, Claire can't even get out of the castle because she's accosted by drunken clansmen who want to rape her. Of course they do. But Dougal, who has made his feelings on rape very clear already on this show (he's not a huge fan, but it's more of a timing thing than a moral objection), shows up and fights them off. Unfortunately Dougal is also drunk. He kisses Claire against her will, which is interesting since we didn't even know he liked her, but he draws the line at actually raping her. What a gentleman. Yuck.

Still, our Claire can take care of herself. She brains Dougal with a chair and keeps going. Right on, girlfriend. She manages to make it all the way to the stables, and she's really close, so close, when WHAM. Claire trips over something hard in the dark. And then the thing tries to stab her.

Oh hey! It's Jamie, hiding in the stable!

Jamie is the only one to immediately suss out what Claire is doing and call her on it. He's a bit disappointed that she's running away, but he's more concerned that she hasn't thought this through. Claire is incensed by the implication that she didn't plan enough, but Jamie quickly reveals that she really hasn't. Sure, all the fighting men of Clan MacKenzie are up at the hall. So obviously Colum hired extra guards. And when they discover she's missing, which they will, they'll have the whole clan after her. It won't end well for Claire.

Unshockingly, Claire is devastated by this, and rails against Jamie. It's perhaps the first time that Jamie really understands that Claire isn't just complaining. She really and truly wants to leave. Desperately. She's not being dramatic. Well, she is being dramatic, but there's clearly something pretty intense going on. And Claire has no intention of telling him what that is.

Still, Jamie is very happy to escort Claire back up to the castle and make sure she doesn't run off. Because he looooooooves her, let's be real.

The only problem with this plan is that in escorting Claire up to the castle, Jamie himself walks up to the castle, something we are coming to see was very much not in the plan for tonight. He was sleeping in the stables for a reason: to avoid this. But he's found and set on by men of the clan immediately, and those men aren't about to let Colum MacKenzie's nephew skip the Oathtaking, are they?

We're treated to another little glimpse of shirtless Jamie as he changes into his full MacKenzie attire and Claire fumes in the background. While it's sad to realize that Jamie's being forced into this, it's super cute to see the two of them working as a team on this. Claire dismisses the men and controls access to Jamie while he steals himself for whatever is about to happen. Because the thing that's definitely not going to happen is Jamie swearing himself to Clan MacKenzie - he has his own clan. And he reminds Claire of this when he tells her his clan's motto: Je suis prest.*

Back in the hall, Claire runs into Murtagh and admits that she's the reason Jamie is here. Murtagh, Jamie's constant companion and probable relative, is devastated to see Jamie in the hall, and explains to Claire why this is such a bad thing. Basically, because Jamie is the laird's nephew, he's up there in the succession when Colum dies. Obviously neither Colum nor Dougal want this, but since Colum's living on borrowed time, it might become an issue soon. And Jamie is tragically very popular and a great leader. He would be a big draw, and Dougal might not be able to secure the succession for himself and Hamish.

This also explains the hostility between Dougal and Jamie, as well as the deep and meaningful tension about Hamish's (Colum's son) parentage. The succession is a big deal, and no one wants it messed with. The thing is, now that Jamie is in the hall, it's not like he can avoid swearing loyalty. If he swears to the MacKenzies, then he's a MacKenzie and could be laird someday. If he doesn't, then the MacKenzies will kill him for clan honor.

Whoops.

Murtagh and Claire basically fret in a corner for a while, but when it comes time for Jamie to take his oath, it seems their fretting was for nothing. He's a slick customer, and Jamie manages to both pledge to Clan MacKenzie and yet also keep himself out of the line of succession. Smooth move, kiddo. I give you a lot of props for this. He makes it clear that he is loyal to his own clan, but he pledges his sword to Colum under the bounds of kinship. And that works. People accept that. Yay!

The next morning everything seems different. Now that she's not run away, Claire actually does have to go to the hunt, and she's irritated by the whole thing. Still, it seems that boar hunting is more dangerous than she'd originally assumed. Claire has to save one boy whose leg has been gored, and then quickly runs off to find that another man has been savaged. The boy will live, albeit with a limp, but the man isn't going to recover. Instead, Claire and Dougal, who knows the man well, hold him while he bleeds out in the forest.

It's a disgusting scene, but also really interesting, for the main reason that for the first time Dougal sees that Claire has a lot of value to the clan. He's just been going along with Colum's assessment, but now he sees that she can do combat medicine. He can use that. Of course, on the other hand, why does this schoolteacher's wife know how to do combat medicine?

I think it's also quite interesting to note that Claire doesn't take this opportunity to run off. I mean, she could, actually. The hunt is a better option than the day before, because with all the commotion in the woods, and the fog, and the blood everywhere, it would be surprisingly hard to track her. 

She could run off in the name of getting lost in the woods for a good long while before she got in trouble. But as we noted last week, Claire can't ignore a person in pain. She would never consider running off when there was someone who needed healing. It's impossible for her. And so she doesn't.

Dougal and Claire make their somber way up to the castle and happen upon a game of field hockey. Jamie and Murtagh are playing, and Dougal apparently decides that the best solution for his angst at watching a friend die is to grab a stick and start smacking the hell out of Jamie in the name of "winning the game". It starts off friendly, and becomes increasingly less so as the game goes on. 

There's this fine line between healthy competition, and an uncle and nephew trying to beat the crap out of each other with sticks. Everyone there knows it. Jamie might have diffused the tension last night, but he's not out of the woods. Colum and Dougal still know he's a threat, and he's being reminded of that.

Claire goes back to the surgery, and is getting comfortable with the idea that she might be stuck there forever when Dougal comes in and point blank says what he's thinking: "You've seen men die before, and by violence."

She responds equally simply. "Yes. Many of them."

And now all our cards are on the table. Claire is sick of pretending to be just a simple schoolteacher's wife, but she's not willing to explain precisely what she is. For whatever reason, Dougal respects her forthrightness more than her protestations about dignity and being a lady. So he puts his cards on the table too. He's leaving the castle tomorrow to collect rents throughout the clan lands, and Claire is coming with him. She might yet get to escape.

End of episode.


*Incidentally, this is my clan's motto, because half my family is Scottish, and this is our clan. Just a sidenote, but reading these books makes me kind of happy because it's pretty much reading about my family's history. I mean, really literally. Same clan, same path from Scotland to France to America, same historical events. It's kinda rad.

5 comments:

  1. Geilis continues rummaging and prying, but she does finally tell us something about herself. When she came to the town she was on her own, had nothing, just her wits and her looks and some knowledge of plants.

    Is Gellis another time-traveller?


    She responds equally simply. "Yes. Many of them."

    Once again, one of the fascinating things about this setup is that *she's* the one who's lived through warfare *they* could barely imagine.

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    1. Whatever she is, she's sketchy as hell.

      And yet it wasn't personal for her. I like the idea that Claire is completely blase about death in battle, but torture still can horrify her, because the brutality of WWII was so automated and mechanical and horrifically impersonal. The way the English torture prisoners is disgusting to her because it's deeply personal and individual.

      Again, bless this show and their research/writing staff.

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  2. I want a tattoo of that gif. That's a thing, right? Internet can make that happen.

    Also: completely rad side-note about your family history. In an absolutely absurd way, it will help me finish the damn books, knowing they somewhat align with the histories of people I know.

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    1. The internet can totally make that happen. As for my family history, I appreciate how the books have actually mirrored what happened to my family, but it's still a bit weird to read about it. Like, it gets me invested in the characters and the story, but it makes it so all I really care about is the way back when stuff, not the timetraveled to the present stuff...

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  3. I assume we're keeping this a spoiler-free zone for those of us who have read all the books, right?

    One of the things I enjoyed about this series was the portrayal of Dougal, whom I had a bit of a hard time picturing from the books. And this episode was an interesting exploration in how manly Scottish men dealt with death and emotion - very interesting to watch.

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