Well, as we could tell from the end of last week's episode, this particular installment of "Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser vs. the eighteenth century" was no picnic. Yet, despite all of the horribleness on display this episode, I have to say it's my favorite so far. I mean, it certainly has the most concise plot of any of them thus far, following exactly one storyline.
And for all that it's a whole episode about Claire and Geilis being tried as witches because the local people see Claire's healing abilities not as evidence of scientific progress but as proof she has consort with demons, it's also an episode about women reclaiming the spaces they are forced into. It has some of the most powerful moments of agency in the series so far, and if nothing else it really convinces you that Claire could have done a lot worse when she married Jamie Fraser.
So, with no further ado, what happened in this episode?
To no one's surprise but Claire's, no one sees that. To their eyes she is absolutely definitely a witch. Claire takes some of her frustration out on Geilis, pointing out that if it hadn't been such common knowledge that Geilis made potions and danced naked under the full moon, they wouldn't be there right now. Which is true. But Geilis fires back with the fact that she didn't make Claire come see her that night. She did nothing of the sort. Geilis has a very realistic view of the outcome of their situation.
Well, she has a more realistic view of it all once Claire disabuses her of the notion that Dougal MacKenzie is going to ride in and save them. Claire explains that Colum banished Dougal, taking Jamie along with him, so no one is coming to help them. If Colum closes his doors then they officially have no friends and are screwed.
Geilis figures the solution here is to spend her little time left on earth being friendly with Claire, then, because that makes sense. Claire is less enthused on this topic, and even goes so far as to shiver all night in the hold rather than go to Geilis for literal warmth. Stubborn woman.
The first day of their trial is about as to be expected, honestly. The testimonies heard range from ridiculous to painfully accurate. On the plus side, Ned Gowan, Colum's lawyer, manages to talk his way in and get himself appointed as their lawyer. On the down side, not even Ned's fancy talking can get them out of this. He does a good job talking around and twisting the story to get Claire for being blamed for the death of the changeling child - you know, the baby she found in the woods last episode and tried to save - but even Ned can't work against Laoghaire's big eyes and little sobs about how Claire bewitched Jamie and stole the love of her life.
It's funny. In most other shows I would loathe how Laoghaire has been written. I mean, here we have a character who is a teenage girl portrayed as all the worst stereotypes about teenage girls. She's mean, vindictive, and painfully immature. She's catty. She decided that Jamie was hers and does horrible things to get rid of his wife. She uses her tears and her pretty face to get people on her side. She's underhanded and just generally the worst.
In most shows I would get frustrated about this because it's bad writing. It's writing a stereotype. But it works here in Outlander because, well, Laoghaire isn't representative of anyone or thing besides Laoghaire. There is such a wealth of complex and interesting female characters that it's okay, and even realistic, to have one who is just a total bitch. I can actually really appreciate that, strange as it may seem.
The first day of the trial concludes basically with the understanding that things are better than they were in the morning, but that Claire and Geilis are both probably going to hang tomorrow. Cheerful. So Ned sends them off with a flask of whiskey for the night and they sit in the cell drinking and talking. Claire can't stay mad at her friend, not considering what's happening in their lives, so they really do talk.
Geilis confesses that she genuinely loves and cares for Dougal. He has a mind to match hers and he cares so deeply about Scottish independence. Claire is actually kind of surprised by how political it turns out that Geilis really is, but Geilis reveals that she's been politically motivated all along. That's why she murdered her poor dead husband - he was rich and she could fund the Jacobite cause through him. That's why she settled here in the first place. Geilis will play a role in the rising and no one can stop her, not even death.
The next day brings, as expected, no good news. The townspeople want a witch to burn. Even when the priest comes forward and admits that Claire was able to heal a boy when he was not and he wishes God to forgive him for doubting her, the people still bray for blood.* Ned can't save them. Nothing can.
So, in a moment of terrifying calculation, Ned pulls both his clients into a side room and tells it to them straight: one of them will burn today. There's too much "evidence", and, frankly, the people are too worked up for it to go otherwise. One of them will burn. But it only has to be one.
Ned tells Claire to claim that Geilis bewitched her. Geilis really has no reputation to speak of with these people, so there's probably no saving her. But Claire can save herself if she condemns Geilis to die. Claire's not into this idea, and obviously neither is Geilis. So when Ned gives them a moment alone to talk, Geilis has something very important to ask Claire: Why are you here?
Geilis has known that Claire was lying about her intentions and appearance in Scotland all along, and she's made that clear, but now she demands to know, once and for all, why Claire is here. Claire, sadly, has no good answer to give her. Even the truth, that it was an accident, is no help. That's not what Geilis wanted to hear. She wanted to hear that Claire is here to help the rebellion. She wanted to hear that there was a purpose or a plan. She's basically begging Claire to reassure her that her death won't be in vain, and Claire can't.
Which is how we get Geilis, furious, storming back into the courtroom and what she knows will be a guilty verdict, spitting out the words, "Looks like I'm going to a fucking barbecue."
If you're thinking that this is a strange thing for a woman in the eighteenth century to say off the top of her head, well thought. It's kind of an odd moment.
But there's a lot going on. The women go back out and find that, yeah, they're facing a guilty verdict. Ned sets the stage for Claire to get herself off by blaming Geilis, but when the time comes Claire just can't do it. She refuses to deny her friend, even while Geilis is calling her an idiot.
That's not to say that Claire is going quietly, though. As they pull her off the dock and towards the stake where she'll be burnt, Claire yells and swears so much that they decide to punish her. The men rip her dress down the back and flog her while Claire screams out and Geilis is forced to watch. It looks like everything is over until...
A familiar head of red hair shoves his way through the crowd and kicks the attackers off his wife. Jamie freaking Fraser, back from who knows where and who knows how, has his sword out to defend his wife because, you know, he swore before God that he was going to do that. And, to be fair, it's not like the court can argue with that statement. Much as they clearly want to.
Still, Jamie is in contempt. It looks like they're going to meet a messy end together when Geilis yells for everyone to stop. With a final look at Claire, Geilis does the thing it didn't seem possible to do: she both gives in to the crowd and also takes back her agency. She starts confessing. She tells everyone that she is a witch and Claire did nothing. Claire was bewitched. She raves about serving Satan and being a servant of evil. She pulls down her sleeve and shows "the devil's mark".
It's only then that Claire puts together what I think a lot of us suspected by then. See, Geilis' devil's mark is a very familiar size and shape. Because it's not a birthmark or a normal scar. It's the scar from a smallpox vaccine.
Geilis knew Claire was from the future all along. She just didn't know why. Geilis herself was from 1968, the number she whispered to Claire when they were in the dock. She must have come back to try to change the past, to make it so that the Scottish rising succeeded after all. It's why Geilis was always so suspicious, why she felt so otherworldly and out of touch. It's why she perked up when Claire quoted Nathan Hale's words from 1776: "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Geilis recognized that because she must have learned it in history class.
The courtroom obviously goes nuts while Claire is staggering under this revelation and Jamie is basically dragging her away. In the chaos, Jamie and Claire flee. Geilis goes so far as to tear open her dress, revealing the pregnancy, and declare that she has had consort with the devil and is bearing his child. She is pulled away by the crowd, screaming and naked, sobbing but also laughing? Because if Geilis Duncan is going to die as a witch, condemned for being a powerful woman who no one understood and much liked, she's going to die on her own damn terms.
It's not until Jamie and Claire are out in the woods that they stop long enough for Jamie to see to the welts on Claire's back. They're not bad, just shallow, but he is so sad that she had to receive them. He's also in need of answers. Mostly to the most obvious question: Is Claire actually a witch?
Well, no, she's not. And Jamie believes her when she says it, but he has to point out that if Geilis had the "devil's mark" then so does Claire. It's true - Claire has a smallpox vaccine scar. It's then that Claire decides to tell her husband the truth once and for all. All of it. She tells him she's from the future. She tells him that she can walk through a room of the dying and the dead and not get sick because of medicine so advanced it might as well be magic. She tells him she traveled to the past via the stones. She tells him actually and honestly everything. And you know what Jamie says at the end?
"I believe you."
Hell freaking yes, Jamie Fraser is a good husband and a good man. Yes, he has his moments of lunkheaded macho man posturing, but this is his response when his wife basically tells him she's a magical timetraveler from the future and that she's not a witch, no, but something even worse and more complicated. He believes her. He even makes a joke. "It would have been a good deal easier if you'd only been a witch."
With all that Claire has told him, it's clear that Jamie has much to think on. But he does take a moment to apologize to her for his actions when she ran away and he beat her for bringing such trouble on them. He gets now that she was trying to get back to the standing stones and go home, and he is distraught to think that he beat her for wanting that. It's such a good thing to want!
The truth having finally come out, Claire finds herself much happier and more content, even with the circumstances, but nothing is actually resolved. Now both of them are outcasts from their communities. They can't go back to Castle Leoch, and Jamie still has a price on his head. So, what now?
Well, Jamie thinks they should go to Lallybroch, his family home. And Claire is amenable if not thrilled. But before they get there, Jamie has a surprise. In the morning, after some very sweet and tender sex the night before, Jamie takes Claire up and over a hill and shows her...the stones. The very stones she came through and that she's been trying to reach since the first episode. They're finally within reach and he even walks her right over to them.
It just makes sense, is what he tells her, although we the audience can see how much Jamie clearly doesn't want Claire to go. She's not of this time and she has the opportunity to go back home, to her first husband and her life and world. She can be safe and happy and not constantly living in fear in an uncertain world full of danger. Claire should go.
Seriously, Jamie Fraser is really cementing himself as the posterboy for ideal love interest here. He lets Claire decide if she'll stay or go, but makes it abundantly clear that she shouldn't stay just for him. She should go where her heart feels it belongs.
Which leaves us with Claire, in shock, staring up at the stones and contemplating her two wedding rings. It's a beautiful, basically silent scene, as we think through with her the possible futures she could have. Apparently decided, Claire gets up, walks to the stone and then -
We cut to Jamie crying gently by the fire where they camped the night before. And with Jamie we start and smile to hear Claire demand that he get up. She didn't go after all! She came back for him! There's nothing really to be said, as Claire's decision is abundantly obvious. All she says is that it's time for them to go to Lallybroch.
So take a wild guess what next episode will be about...
Like I said above, this might be my favorite episode of the show so far. For all that it's about a horrible historical thing - witch trials - and how women suffered and were punished for stepping outside of society's very narrow prescription of who they could be, this is also an episode with a lot of important feminist moments. Geilis choosing how she will go to her death is a very powerful scene. She knows she'll die, so she decides she wants to die on her terms because of something she actually did. She's amazing.
And the scenes where Jamie is faced with a story that is ridiculous and absurd and hard to swallow, and simply turns to his wife and says, "I believe you"? They're like a balm to the soul for any woman who has been told that her story is too outrageous and too ridiculous, for anyone who has had a loved one refuse to understand. There's a power in just being listened to, and Jamie Fraser gets it the hell right.
Through it all, we have Claire, dependable and solidly pragmatic Claire. She's so strong. She refuses to sell out a friend even when it means she'll die. She tells her husband the truth even though he might call her a witch and abandon her. She chooses to go back to him even though she knows their lives will be hard and probably short. She chooses at every venture the hardest option. Because it's the right one.
A good episode all around.
*This was one of the more confusing plots of the episode. Because, he seems sincere, but then he sits down and there's this nasty look he shoots her. The people then respond to his testimony by saying that it's super obvious she bewitched him, and from the look on his face he is pleased with this result. So, I guess he was hoping to get Claire burned at the stake but he wanted to do it with a clean conscience? That's messed the hell up.