Wednesday, September 24, 2014

RECAP: Outlander 1x07 - A Consummation Devoutly To Be Avoided


Finally, finally, finally, it's the episode that I, at least, have been waiting for since the show began! I'm really not kidding about that either. The show has really surprised me with how high quality it is and with the masterful job that Ron Moore and company are doing at translating the source material into a compelling and condensed format. It's spectacular.

But the whole reason I started watching in the first place is because I read the book, and it was fine for a while, but once we hit upon the part where Claire has to marry Jamie in order to save both of their lives and they have this arranged marriage, growing to love each other, have to pretend the relationship is more legit than it is in case the English ask thing...Well, that's where the book really hooked me in.

It's also worth noting that the wedding happens relatively early on in the book, but here it's happening in the penultimate episode of the first season of the show. Since we know that this season (consisting of sixteen episodes, eight aired now and eight in the spring) will cover the entire first season, that does make me wonder if the latter half is going to really cut out the chaff. I mean, that's eight episodes, and there are still four major chunks of the book to go. Actually more like six, when I think about it.

Not to say I wouldn't be amenable to the show deciding that they want to save a bit of this for later and not go through the whole book in the first season. From what I can tell, the next book in the series, Dragonfly in Amber, is kind of not as good as the first one, and very different in tone and scope. So I might be okay with us avoiding that for a bit. Still, like I said before, Ron Moore and company have been doing really well by me so far, so I think I'll keep on trusting them.

For now.

Anyway, this week's episode started off with a bit of a time jump. We left off last week with Claire reeling from the information that she would have to marry Jamie in order to save herself from being brought to Fort William under accusation of being a traitor to the English crown. If Claire marries Jamie, she becomes a Scottish citizen, and then Randall can't legally torture her for information. I mean, he can still do it extra-legally, but it's a little better.

While Claire is totally on board with not getting hate-murdered, though, she's less okay with being forced into a marriage. Yes, Jamie is sweet and kind and exceptionally, alarmingly attractive, but Claire's still in love with her husband, Frank. They had a good marriage, and she's still convinced that she can find a way to get through the stones and return to her own time and her own husband. Jamie's cute, but he's not cute enough for Claire to want to give up the entire life she has waiting for her in 1945.

Plus, we can't forget that Claire is being literally forced into this. It's marry Jamie or die. There are no other options. And the fact that they are both being thrown into this doesn't eliminate the fact that it's a horrible situation. Heck, the fact that Claire and Jamie are friends and attracted to each other doesn't make this situation any more okay. It's not okay. It's gross and a little rapey. But the show trusts us enough to let it stay that way, instead of trying to spoon-feed us Claire's emotional journey.

We open on a flashback to Frank and Claire walking through the streets of Westminster, probably. It's almost strange to see Claire in her natural getup, after so long of seeing her in gowns and tartan. The matching suit and hat are super cute, and she and Frank make a lovely couple. Frank pulls Claire to a stop outside of the Westminster Registry Office, and asks her if she's "ready". 

Claire's confused, naturally, since as far as she knows, they're on their way to meet his parents, whom she has never before encountered. Frank, however, is thinking marriage. It's clear from their conversation that the two of them have discussed it before, and Frank is perfectly comfortable suggesting that they get married. Right here, right now. Claire will never meet Frank's family as anything other than his wife, and the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. Awwwww.

Obviously Claire says yes, because she and Frank have discussed marriage and are on the same page. Because this is a show about realistic relationships and people. Claire's not being ambushed by a proposal, it's more of a joyful spontaneous thing. 

And then we cut straight to the exact opposite of that moment. Where Claire's first wedding was a celebration of love and deeply private, her second marriage is literally all for show. A big church wedding, a fancy dress, a husband she barely knows, and a threat hanging over her head. No wonder Claire's not as enthused about this one. The ceremony is over in a blink, and Jamie kisses his bride while Claire wonders how she got here.

With all of that buildup, it seemed logical that we would follow straight through the wedding, right? Instead, the show jumps ahead wildly, landing on Claire and Jamie's wedding night. We get a quick shot of them kissing at the altar, and then it's straight to bed. Literally, in this case, since they are stuck in a room with very little furniture, and the knowledge that they have less than twenty-four hours to consummate their marriage, or else Claire will be tortured. Definitely not a sexy situation.

Jamie's just as uncomfortable as Claire is, to be fair, albeit for completely different reasons. As we've known all along, Jamie is attracted to Claire, strongly, and now he's married to her. Plus, we now know that he's a virgin, and has no idea what his wedding night actually really entails. I mean, he's got a vague and decent idea, but no details.

Given their different emotional states, then it makes sense that the two are on vastly different pages. Jamie starts out by pouring them both some whiskey and toasting to his wonderful wife. Claire drinks the whiskey, and then pours some more. Jamie smiles, thinking that she's going to toast him back, but she just chugs the whiskey, pours another, chugs that, and then gets some more booze ready just in case. Honestly, I'm reminded of a script I once wrote that mentioned drinking so many times that the main note I got on it was "It made me have to go to the bathroom". Claire drinks a lot. I feel like I'm going to start getting sympathy hangovers.

After a minute, Claire stops trying to drown herself, and faces Jamie straight on. "I have questions," she says, and Jamie nods, agreeing that she probably does. He'll answer them, because he knows it's important to her. He even sits down and waits, which is a relatively innocuous action, but in this context it's worth noting that he puts himself in a non-threatening, submissive posture, and let's Claire be the one to call the shots. She's standing, they're approximately equally dressed, and he's given her full access to ask any question she wants.

The first question? "Why did you marry me?" At least that one's got a straight answer, even if the answer he gives is incomplete. We flash back to the day before, and see the moment when Jamie actually decided to go through with it. His reasons? 

Well, simply put, Jamie was protecting Claire. As Ned and Dougal made eminently clear in the flashback, either Jamie marries Claire, or she's done for. We're all very well versed in the stakes by now. Of course, Jamie has conditions of his own. First that all the MacKenzie men stop talking about Claire as a whore, as well as others to be determined later. But mostly, as Jamie tells it, he married Claire because he knows precisely what sort of man Randall is. Better than most.

This answer? Pleases Claire. So does the information that Jamie considers their marriage to be as sacred as any made not under duress. Whatever the circumstances, Claire is now his wife, and he will die to protect her. Knowing this makes Claire a little more at ease - though not much - and she allows Jamie to get closer. Just as he goes in for the kiss, though, she pulls back and says, "Tell me about your family."

What's really interesting here is that Jamie doesn't growl or groan or push forward and just kiss her or any of the other tropes we are accustomed to seeing in this situation. Instead he sort of laughs and then answers her with, "How many generations back?" Rather than this being a scene about a callous woman toying with a man's desire for sex, like it would be on nearly any other show, this scene is really all about consent. Jamie wants to have sex with Claire. He really really does. But he understands that she is not comfortable, is not consenting, and is only there under protest. So he never pushes, he never demands, and he never even complains about her hesitancy.

It would be very easy for this scene to turn and become all about Jamie, but it doesn't. We stay firmly fixed on Claire and her sexual desire or lack of it. Since this is a show firmly rooted in Claire's point of view, as well as in her head, this makes sense. But it also matters from a sociological standpoint, because, again, this is the show demonstrating that it takes the issues of consent and power dynamics seriously. 

By having Jamie cede power to Claire visibly and openly during a scene where he is ostensibly in the more powerful position (by dint of being bigger and stronger and the absolute necessity of sex happening), the show is clearly stating that a good sexual dynamic is one that is safe, sane, and consensual.

It's so awesome.

Anyway, Jamie takes Claire's invitation to talk about his family as the distraction it is, and we go into a very prettily lit montage of his storytelling and Claire's rapt fascination. Because here's the thing: for all that Claire and Jamie have been friendly up to this point, they really don't know anything about each other. Or rather, they know only the deep, heart-level stuff, but absolutely nothing of the basic facts that make up a person. As Claire very shrewdly points out, it might be a distraction, but it also is important. They need to know each other if this marriage is going to work. 

Plus, there's the handy bit where this cuts out like ten pages of straight description that was in the book. I'm not kidding. During the scene of Jamie and Claire's wedding night, Jamie talks about his family for a very long time. It's all interesting to know, but not really that compelling in the moment, and it kills the tension. So good choice to go to montage here. 

Sadly, the moment and the slow growing peace between the two of them is shattered when Rupert and Angus, our favorite drunken Scots (who really have grown on me, weirdly), barge in the door demanding to know if Jamie's still a virgin. Both are absolutely tickled to find the couple still mostly dressed, and proceed to mock the living hell out of Jamie. As he shoves them out the door, it's clear that both he and Claire have been very effectively reminded of the stakes present here. They really need to have sex.

Still, Jamie lets Claire initiate things. And she does. Jamie is all over the awkward, horny virgin who has no idea what he's doing, and Claire is caught somewhere between amusement, arousal, and vague horror at his ineptness. Also we get to enjoy a scene of Jamie trying to get Claire out of her 1743 undergarments, which are delightfully complex and incomprehensible to him. 

Then they have sex. While still mostly clothed. It seems...short? Which makes sense of course, but it's still kind of funny to see. Most shows wouldn't be comfortable making their leading man look bad at anything, especially not sex, but the message here is pretty clear: Jamie has no idea what the hell he's doing. He even collapses on Claire afterwards, and she has to push him off because he's like twice her size and she's suffocating.

Afterwards it is positively adorable, as a sort of shell-shocked Jamie admits that he thought sex would take longer, and also that he thought people did it back to front, like horses. Claire pretty much busts a gut laughing, because, well, that's hilarious. But it mostly just demonstrates the fullness of the show's reality. Jamie's seen animals have sex, but never humans, and no one ever told him how it worked, because he's a boy and he's just supposed to figure it out. Technically at this point, he's never even seen a naked woman up close, because Claire is still in her shift.

At least the marriage is now officially consummated, and Claire is now officially a Scot. It's like that one event has changed the tenor of the evening. It was a duty they had to get over with, and now they have. So what now? It's a very palpable relief to both of them, but they still have a whole night to get through. A lifetime, actually, if their marriage vows are to be believed. What now?

It's apparently time for Claire to have a crisis of conscience, because despite Jamie's inexperience, she really did enjoy the sex. And she's not okay with that about herself. So to sublimate her guilt, she decides to go downstairs and get some food. It's the middle of the night. Clearly no one will still be awake and sitting outside their door in order to embarrass them. That would be weird.

By which I mean that everyone is still downstairs, and they let out a series of shouts and screams and jests at her appearance. Jamie takes one for the team, sending Clair back inside and rounding up some food for them both. He puts up with the comments and threatens them all with violence, but it's a stray comment from Dougal that stops Jamie in his tracks. Dougal wants to be thanked. After all, he's the one who set the two of them up. He also tells Jamie to be a bit slower in getting back, so Claire doesn't think she's got the upper hand in their relationship.

What makes this interesting and not just sexist is that we only hear the second half of what Dougal said as Jamie is relaying it to Claire. He's not trying to hide what Dougal said or take it as advice. He rejects the idea that he should be playing games with Claire. He even tells her that she has him wrapped around her finger, and he's fine with it. Again, Jamie demonstrates clearly that he is giving Claire control of the situation. Which seriously just makes him even more attractive.

Claire clearly thinks so too, but she's not quite over her freakout. She lets Jamie touch her hair, which he does with utter reverence. She's giving him opportunities to woo her, the way he would have if they had married in the normal way and not with less than a day's warning. Just as the moment is about to turn really sexy, she turns away and comments that Jamie wore a new kilt today. It's the Fraser colors. Where did he get that?

Cue another flashback, where we see Murtaugh coming through as Jamie's awesome uncle. He refused to see Jamie wed in anything other than his own tartan, so he scoured the countryside for the plaid. They have a touching conversation about Jamie's mother and what she might have thought of Claire, and it becomes eminently clear that Murtaugh is super in love with Jamie's tragically deceased mother. Huh. Not sure Jamie realizes that.

At any rate, Murtaugh approves of Claire (which we've known since episode three or so), and he thinks Jamie's mother would have liked her too. Claire is both surprised and touched by this information. She's even more touched by the information that Jamie made a few demands of Dougal before they could get married. First, that they be wed properly, in a church, before a priest.

There's not a lot of super important plot stuff in this flashback/flashsideways (since Jamie wasn't actually there and is just relaying what he was told), but it's very funny. Dougal and the young MacKenzie whose name I've forgotten dig up the local priest and demand he perform a wedding. Said priest has a nasty cold, is super cranky, and outright refuses. He finally gives in when Dougal offers to put glass over the windows in the church, thus making the sanctuary a genuinely good place to worship. It's funny, but also a reasonably important point about how money matters, even to a priest.

The second condition is a bit more obscure. Jamie wanted a wedding ring made for Claire, but not just out of anything. He wanted it made from a specific key that he had in his sporran. We don't know why, and Jamie denies having any special reason for it (utter lie). Rupert and Angus were the ones slated with doing that task, and the scene is both hilarious and touching. They might be huge, gross, crude weirdos, but those guys truly love Jamie and Claire. They're just terrible at showing it.

The third condition, my personal favorite, was that Dougal somehow dig up a wedding dress for Claire to wear. The problem with this being that they are in the middle of an impoverished Scottish village, with no dressmakers for miles, and no noble ladies to borrow from either. The solution? Ned Gowan goes to a whorehouse and asks to borrow a wedding dress. It's just so entertaining. Seriously. Eventually the women dig up a dress that was never worn, that they took in payment from a nobleman who'd gambled away his money already. Ned takes the dress, and also gets a date for the wedding. 

There are two noteworthy points about Jamie's conditions. First is that they all, to some extent, are about Claire. He wants their marriage to be legitimate, hence the priest, but he also wants to honor Claire, hence the ring and gown. Second, all of these requirements take time. Sure, Dougal sped it up by outsourcing a lot of the legwork to his men, so most of these things were happening simultaneously, but still. Jamie stalled for time, because he knew that Claire wasn't ready. He gave her as much time as he humanly could.

Claire, of course, used that time in the most Claire way possible: she got super duper drunk.

Jamie's more than a little horrified that Claire remembers almost nothing of her own wedding, but Claire comforts him with the knowledge that by the time they go to the wedding, she wasn't actually drunk, she was just hungover. She remembers most of it. Totally. Probably. Like definitely at least half.

He, of course, remembers everything. And it's through Jamie's adoring eyes that we finally see the whole wedding. The moment he first sees Claire outside the church (wild-eyed and kind of baffled to find herself there). When they walk inside, Claire leading the way and walking herself down the aisle as Jamie follows close behind. Standing before the priest. The vows. The ring. The handfasting. The kiss. 

The only part we see that Jamie doesn't remember is the part that Claire can't forget. Right before they walk into the church, Claire takes a moment, composes herself, and then slips off her wedding ring. Her other wedding ring. Because Claire cannot forget, even for a moment, that she is already married.

And then Jamie and Claire have sex again. This time it's not contractual or obligatory. It's because they want to. As with all other steps in their relationship, Jamie lets Claire set the pace, and obligingly strips for her so that she can see his naked body. We the audience get some gratuitous butt ogling, but the focus of the scene is on their interplay. They're learning how to work as a couple. They're learning what they each like. It's sweet.

Also steamy and sexy, as it is a sex scene that's well shot and involves two very attractive people being very attracted to each other. I'd describe it here, but that would be gratuitous. And I have it on good authority that I can't write a good sex scene anyway. Suffice to say that they have lots of sex, seem to be enjoying it, and Claire is definitely in control. Yay!

After, Claire finally does venture downstairs, and finds herself alone for the first time in a while. The room is mostly deserted now, complete with mangy cat eating the leftovers from the wedding feast. Then the spell is broken as the inn's door opens and Dougal stumbles in, just back from his meeting with Randall. While Randall is extremely displeased to know he can't haul Claire off and torture here, he is going to abide by the law. Claire is happy to know that, like an enormous weight is off of her. It wasn't in vain.

Of course, Dougal spoils the moment by reminding Claire that even if she is married now, she can still "sample other pleasures." Gross. Claire responds, shocked, that she's married to Jamie. His nephew. Isn't this kind of super weird? The whole moment just underlines that while Claire does have some allies in this time, she's not out of the woods yet. It also shows how important Jamie's insistence of Claire initiating their relationship really is. Because Dougal doesn't wait. He kissed Claire without her consent once, and now he's touching her face and caressing her without her consent again. 

The only thing that really saves Claire's dignity in the moment is the arrival of Rupert, who offers her congratulations and best wishes on her wedding day. She thanks him for that, and for the ring. It's like these two characters, who've hated each other for so long, suddenly are seeing each other as people. I like it.

I also like the symbolism of Claire, wrapped up in the Fraser plaid, being faced with intimidation from Dougal, war chief to the MacKenzies. It makes clear that even though she's now legally a Scot, Claire is still an outsider. She does not belong. 

As Claire goes back upstairs, Rupert returns to form and makes a comment about how "well-ridden" Claire looks. Claire basically shrugs it off and keeps walking, because she's heard worse and it's just Rupert, but Dougal is incensed. He smacks the hell out of Rupert while Claire watches, and then banishes him from the room, staying behind to swig at wine and be generally very threatening. Clearly this bit about Dougal being obsessed with Claire is going to come up again.

Back in their room, Claire can't sleep, and her angst wakes up Jamie. He has one more revelation for Claire before the night is through: a wedding present. He gives her a beautiful pearl necklace that his father gave to his mother. Claire's touched, and they have sex again. Claire's still on top. Just saying.

The morning is all sweetness and light until, as Claire is picking up her wedding dress so they can pack and go, she hears a clink. It's her other wedding ring, having fallen out of the bodice where she stuffed it. The ring nearly falls through a crack in the floor, but Claire saves it, only to stare in horror at her hands. She has two wedding rings. With shaky fingers, she slides the loose ring onto her right hand, and then sits there, staring.

She is not okay with this.

End of episode.

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