Monday, September 15, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x05 - Claire of the Wild

First, I should probably address my lingering absence from this blog. It's nothing to worry about, not really, it's just that last week I moved into a new apartment, and the internet won't be hooked up until Thursday because Comcast has decided to abuse their power by raising prices and lowering our expectations about customer service. Still, it's quite nice to live in a cute little apartment with two of my favorite people in the world (even if we do bicker a lot like good friends are apt to do). None of this is particularly important or anything, I just thought I probably ought to explain where the hell I've been. I miss you all and also the internet like burning.

The second thing to address is, of course, last week's episode of Outlander. In a surprising turn of events, this is the first episode of the show that I didn't really like. While that sucks, I should point out how rad it is that all of the episodes up until now have been awesome enough to avoid this. Yay!

The reason I didn't like this episode is a bit harder to nail down, but I think it comes from a combination of a couple of things. On the one hand, I am anxious for us to reach a certain plot point that I know is coming and that I know I'm going to enjoy the everloving crap out of. On the other hand, I also found that in this episode the changes they made to the book narrative actually worked against the story and not for it. More on that in a bit.

So the episode opens on a pensive Claire staring out over the loch and reciting poetry. A little bit pretentious, sure, but a girl needs to have a hobby. And when she's stranded in a group of wild Scottish fighting men who are at that moment actively fighting, well, it's not hard to see how Claire might fall back on some prim and properness. On the plus side, she's not the only one who likes the intellectual pursuits. As you hopefully recall from last week, Claire has been dragged along on Dougal's trip across the countryside, collecting rents for the MacKenzie clan. 

Claire and Jamie have come along, for reasons unknown so far to both of them, but so has Ned MacGowan, a lawyer from Edinburgh who works for the MacKenzie. Claire and Ned become good friends by virtue of being the only educated people they know. Also because Claire is a bit of a miracle-worker and manages to find a treatment for Ned's asthma quickly and easily, which would make anyone appreciate her.

The trip across the countryside is a long one, and while Claire enjoys discussing the ins and outs of collecting rents with Ned, there's not much else for her to do. She still can't go anywhere unsupervised, she still doesn't speak Gaelic, and she's still a Sassenach, so no one really ever talks to her. She's isolated and miserable and stuck camping in Scotland in the late fall. Claire needs a hug. Or at least to not have to eat roasted squirrel for a few days and sleep in a real bed.

Unfortunately, while the show makes it clear how unhappy Claire is, it also somehow makes her seem a bit spoiled and ungrateful and whiny, which isn't on. It's not like Claire asked to be dragged around, and then given nothing to do for weeks on end. The show gives her this sort of air of acting like she's better than them, but that seems out of character and also a bit silly. She doesn't think she's better than them, she just thinks she doesn't belong and she's sick of trying to convince everyone that she really really does. Also she is very understandably done with listening to the men making sexist jokes about women. 

Oh well.

In town, we get to see a little of how the MacKenzies collect their rents, and it is unmitigatingly dull both for the audience and for Claire. Incidentally, this is a bit they changed from the book, I think, where instead of just sitting around watching, Claire actually did a service by seeing to any of the villagers who needed healing in all the towns they passed. It's a valid reference point, because having her sit idly here just compounds the weirdness of her presence there, where in the book it actually made quite a bit of sense.

This does lead, however, to the most interesting bit of the episode, where Claire finally finally gets to spend some time with other women, and the setting is very unusual but very interesting. Wandering around the village, Claire happens upon a group of women chanting and working the wool, which means setting the dye in a plaid by working it back and forth on a table. Also they set the dye by soaking the wool in pee, which is gross, but very clever. Claire joins in, and it's clear that even though she has no idea what they're singing, she's glad to be part of something for once.

After the wool's been worked, the women take a break inside and drink some moonshine (that the men aren't to know they have) and have a bit of a gossip about their lives. Claire finds herself incredibly sympathetic to these women, especially when she learns that one child is going hungry because his family had to use the goat to pay their taxes to the MacKenzies, and as a result they have no more milk. The child will likely die.  Claire's heartbroken, and also still drinking, when they ask her to pee in a bucket to contribute to the wool-working fund. As she obliges, Angus barges in, grabs her, and drags her back out.

It seems that Claire has disappeared, freaked everyone out, and earned herself a righteous bitching out from Angus. Also she's clearly a little drunk (like usual, let's be real), and her normally low emotional barriers are completely nonexistent. She tries to take the goat back to the women to save the baby, Dougal catches her, and Claire is in trouble. Dang it. Why is she even here? Basically she gets told off for interfering in business she does not understand, but there's a moment of hesitance when all of a sudden she hears a very English voice.

There's a redcoat in the village, Foster, and he wants to know if Claire is all right. Her argument with Dougal is super loud, after all, and an English lady in the Scottish highlands is a rather odd thing to see. Foster, who seems quite nice, actually, is just trying to make sure she's okay. Dougal assures him that she is, and that's that.

Later that night, though, it seems the matter's not over. Dougal and his men take over the local tavern. And while Claire hasn't got a lick of Gaelic, she knows that what they're doing now isn't collecting MacKenzie rents. It's something else. Something more inflammatory. Something that involves ripping Jamie's shirt off his back and displaying all of his scars to the audience. And then Dougal collects another round of coin from the locals.

Something deeply hinky is going on, and Claire does not like it one bit.

Neither, it should be pointed out, does Jamie, but that's because he was not told his back was a display here, and he did not consent to that. It's only when Claire angrily bitches out Dougal and then prepares to mend his shirt that Jamie speaks up, taking the shirt, and stalking off. So now Claire has even more things to hate Dougal for. Hooray!

The next morning Claire basically tells Ned off for participating in what she thinks is common theft/conning. Ned does nothing to correct her, but happily accepts the charge. He seems weirdly okay with it, too, which bothers Claire the most. No crisis of conscience here! Besides, it's not like they're doing it just the once. From here it's a long slog through town after town, where the pattern keeps repeating.

At one town, they ride up and find a house burning as a group of Scots stand perimeter around it. This is the Watch, a group of Scots who patrol the lands, and they're burning the house of a Redcoat sympathizer. Dougal does nothing but ride down and pick up a few pheasants from the Watch, a payment from this family, because the MacKenzie must be paid, no matter what.

Obviously this sits very badly with Claire, and she nearly causes and incident when she refuses to eat the plundered birds at lunch. Jamie and Murtaugh intervene on her behalf, but it's clear that Angus, Rupert, and the other men are just about ready to string Claire up in a tree and leave her there. Not even a quick chat from Jamie, her favorite person on this freaking trip, can cheer Claire up.

And the train continues to depressing-ville! The next town they visit has been hit hard by the English, just a few days ago. They have nothing with which to pay their taxes. They're apt to starve. But Dougal isn't going to let that happen. In what is probably the nicest thing he does all episode, Dougal hands out some of the profits from his previous taxes to the town, and helps them stave off starvation. Yay?

That night they do the usual song and dance with the coins and the speech and Jamie's back in the tavern, but this time Claire picks up something she'd been missing. They're not stealing the money. They're raising money. For a rebellion against the English.

Well crap.

When she thinks about it, Claire remembers that Frank was blathering on and on about the topic. She's in 1743 - in 1745 there will be the Second Jacobite Rising, and the devastation from the war (which the Scots lose badly), will lead to the end of the clans. Forever. Done. Gone. Suddenly she realizes that the men she's with aren't thieves, they're revolutionaries. But they're also going to fail. And most of them are going to die.

Later, unable to sleep while thinking about the future, Claire hears Dougal and Jamie arguing at the edge of camp. She sneaks up to investigate, and hears that they're talking about Jamie's status as a prop and Dougal's liberties with his body. Blegh. But it's honestly kind of nice (in a depressing way) have these issues addressed and mixed into the narrative as regarding a male person and his bodily autonomy. It doesn't feel out of nature or anything, but it is definitely an important moment about individual rights and all that jazz.

After Dougal leaves, Claire comes down to chat with Jamie, who's punching the trees and generally acting his age (the dude's only 23, after all). Claire asks why he's letting Dougal use him like that, and Jamie doesn't really answer, he just makes it clear that he doesn't like it, but he is choosing his battles. Not much else happens in the scene, but the sexual tension is positively stifling.

Knowing their real purposes on this trip does a lot to make Claire more sympathetic to the men around her. Sure, she knows they're doomed, but she does support their choices. They want to be free. Who doesn't? And when the company rides up to find a pair of Scottish "traitors" hung out on crosses by the English, she mourns with the rest of them. Dougal has them cut down and buried. Claire is silent.

The campaign continues as planned, but there is a distinct downside to being the only English person traveling with a company of men riling people up against the English. While Dougal did a great job at stirring things up downstairs at the inn, Claire's not all that safe sleeping in her room upstairs. She hears a noise in the hall and, grabbing a candlestick to defend herself, rushes out into the hall to confront it.

She steps on Jamie, winding him, and they both have a moment of utter confusion. It turns out that Jamie had the same fear Claire did, and decided to sleep in the hall outside her door to keep her safe. Claire is touched, but thinks he's being weird. Why not just sleep on the floor in her room where it's warm? This suggestion adorably flusters Jamie, who is absolutely horrified by the thought that he could damager her reputation like that. Claire doesn't give two craps, but she knows he does. So, with the sexual tension still blistering, she hands him a blanket, thanks him, and goes back to bed.

In the morning, they all take breakfast in the inn, but something weird is going on. While Claire asks Ned why he let her believe they were thieves rather than the truth, some men in the corner start to shout Gaelic insults. A few more rounds of this, and suddenly there's a full on brawl on her hands. Ah, the Scots.

Claire wastes no time in patching everyone up when it's over, nor does she skimp on the recriminations and chastisements. She basically berates all of them for being idiots who fight. But then Murtaugh calmly points out that she is the reason they were all fighting in the first place. Those other men called her a whore. And while the MacKenzie men may not always like Claire, she's theirs. They're the only ones who get to insult her.

It's touching. In a weird and kind of insulting way.

So Claire decides to reach out to them a little. As they're saddling the horses, and the men are making jokes and ribald comments, Claire, with her battlefield honed sense of humor, fires an insult back at Rupert. The men stand there, stunned, as Claire smirks and Jamie just beams at her. And then they all bust a gut laughing as Rupert proclaims that he's "never heard a woman tell a joke before!" Which is really more an indictment of Rupert than of female humor.

The mood is quickly broken, though, when Claire realizes where they are. They are standing at Culloden field, the spot of the Battle of Culloden, where the clans were finally defeated. It's the spot that ended the hope for Scottish independence for two hundred years. She's not so chipper now. She's grown to care for these men, and they for her, and they're going to die. 

Down at the stream, where Claire is trying to get a wash, Dougal walks down to confront her yet again about her origins and purposes. After all, she's been asking Ned some very suspicious questions. Claire comes back by trying to warn him about the uprising, but Dougal has the faith of the revolutionary, and can't hear her points.

Just as she's about to just give up and start yelling the future at him, a band of Redcoats emerges from the trees, surrounding them. It's Foster, again, and this time he has reinforcements. He asks her, once more, if she's all right.

And that's where the episode ends.

I found this to be my least-favorite episode so far, but on rewatching it, it's not so much bad as it is not as good as the others. This one is straight politics and very very slow character development. I wish there had been more scenes like the women working the wool, but no, it was mostly about Claire's internal political views, and that's a bit dull for a show to cover. Important, true, but dull.

I will, however, point out that this episode is very timely. The referendum on Scottish independence is coming up very soon, and while I have my own particular opinions on that subject, it certainly seems appropriate to take this moment to ruminate on the past.

Just saying.

A very picturesque cliffhanger...


  1. He asks her, once more, if she's all right.

    I rather like that Foster isn't willing to take Dougal's word for it, although I imagine it's more to do with Claire being English than Dougal not getting to speak for her welfare.

    1. Foster is a really interesting character, and one that I appreciate having been added to the story. When I think about it, there are no really sympathetic or good English characters in the book, and that seems oddly one-dimensional. So he's a great addition. Also cute.

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