Thursday, December 24, 2015

RECAP: Outlander 1x14 - The Singing Sassenach's Drag Revue

[This was going to go up yesterday, but then I got busy watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it didn't. So enjoy your Christmas Eve article and I will be back on Monday with some Star Wars goodness.]

Oh my gosh, chickadees. We made it. I have finally tracked down a copy of Outlander's fourteenth episode. I'm so happy. Or, at the very least, relieved. Because while I have been looking for this episode literally since October, I wasn't exactly beating the door down to watch it. It's not the happiest of stories.

As you may recall, when we last saw our intrepid Scottish heroes, Jamie had been taken by the English when ambushed in a mission for the Watch. This is bad because as we all remember, Jamie is riddled with outstanding warrants (some of them for murders he didn't commit). His arrest is likely to dump him into the hands of the evil Captain Jack Randall, so Claire needs to find him before that happens. Randall isn't likely to let him live.

Which brings us to how this episode starts: Claire, having just discovered that Jamie has been taken, is gearing up to go off and save his ass before Randall can get him. She's determined to save her husband, but even Claire has to admit that she has no idea how to do that. This isn't an area she's used to and Claire's not exactly an experienced tracker at the best of times. Ian, her brother-in-law and the sweetest person on this show, insists that he go with her. But Ian is injured (hurt in the same attack where Jamie was taken) and his prosthetic is missing. Ian is in no shape to go anywhere. 

Fortunately for Claire, there is still one other person who can help her look for Jamie: Jenny! Jamie's sister knows the area, is a skilled tracker, and generally a badass. She may have just given birth, but that doesn't seem like any reason why she ought to avoid sitting on a horse for like a day straight. Jenny and Claire hare off in search of Jamie, and I start fantasizing about a spinoff show where these two are efficient and badass cops in the modern day. 

Anyway, Jenny and Claire start off their search by going to the last place he was seen: the ambush. It's a pretty grisly scene, with bodies still strewn all across the forest floor, but Jenny is able to pick up enough of a trail to get them going again. Then we are treated to a montage of Jenny and Claire, eighteenth century detectives, riding across the moors.

There is a brief interlude where they stop riding for a bit so that Jenny can release some breast milk. Frankly, I really enjoy this scene, because it posits breastfeeding as something normal that happens all the time. Which it is. Breastmilk is a normal facet of life for some women, and I appreciate the show treating it as such. Claire and Jenny have a nice conversation about children while she pumps her breasts, but the quiet moment is interrupted when they hear a sound rustling in the woods behind them.

The sound is more than just some scout or random redcoat. It's a whole caravan of them, which means that somewhere in there is probably at least one person who knows what happened to Jamie. Jenny and Claire manage to separate one of the men from the others, drag him into a quiet part of the woods, and question him for information. By question, I should note, what I really mean is torture.

While Claire asks the questions, Jenny takes a hot iron to the man's feet - a gross and very effective means of torture. The man doesn't actually seem to know anything about Jamie or where he's been taken, but he does reveal that he's actually a courier. 

One of the messages in his bag does have word: Jamie has escaped and the message calls for reinforcements from Fort William to go searching for him. Claire and Jenny destroy the message, ensuring that Jamie will stay in the wind. But then there's the question of what to do with their prisoner. 

Jenny thinks they'd best kill the man. He knows too much and if released could go right back to his commanders and tell them that Jamie has escaped and might get help. But Claire balks at the idea of actually killing this man. She's a nurse, not a murderer, and she has no desire to change that. The two women are stuck at a standstill until, with a wet sound, they realize that the choice has been made for them. Murtagh is there and has already put the poor man out of his misery.

The women make camp with Murtagh as he advises them of his plans to help with the search for Jamie. It's a little awkward at first, with Jenny angry that she feels Claire is judging her and Claire conflicted about killing that prisoner. Still, they make up when Claire explains that she was more concerned about herself than Jenny. She was frightened by the realization that she would have killed the guard too.

This is some pretty heavy character development for Claire, really. She's finally starting to accustom herself to the brutality of the times she's in. It's debatable whether or not that's a good thing, but it is definitely a switch from her earlier high moral ground. She's just down there in the dirt with the rest of them now, and it's clear that Claire is coming to hate the English just as much as Jamie does.

In the morning, Jenny is off. She has a newborn to care for, after all, and she can't spend more than a few days away this early on. Claire understands. She and Murtagh will continue the search on their own, more hopefully now that Jamie has escaped and is probably roaming around the highlands. Before Jenny goes, though, Claire takes a moment to give her some prescient advice, embracing her newfound role as a prophet. She tells Jenny to plant potatoes, to sell off unfertile land, and to prepare the estate. A war is coming, and a famine. People will die by the thousands. Claire wants to make sure that Jenny and Ian are prepared. Jenny is confused by these instructions but agrees to them. Her sister-in-law might be a very strange person, but she's not been wrong yet.

So Claire and Murtagh go hunting for some Scottish lunkhead. There is, though, one problem with Jamie's escape: now that he's hiding from the redcoats, he is also effectively hiding from them. He can't go back to Lallybroch or Castle Leoch or any of the places Claire is actually familiar with. The safest thing for Jamie to do is to go deep in the highlands and hide, but that means there's little chance of Murtagh and Claire stumbling across him. What to do?

The solution, when it comes, is genius in its simplicity: Murtagh and Claire aren't going to look for Jamie, they're going to make Jamie come to them. By traveling throughout the highlands making as much noise and stir as they can, they hope to draw Jamie out and bring him home. Their first gambit - traveling slowly through the towns with Claire being publicized as a doctor - fails to work. Claire questions people as subtly as she can (pretending to read their palms and asking about tall, redheaded men), but no dice. So it's on to Plan B.

Plan B is not Claire's favorite plan.

Plan B involves Claire dressing up in men's clothing and singing a bawdy drinking song in every village they can find. She doesn't love it. It's humiliating and weird, but it works. Huge crowds come out to see the "Sassenach" sing about penises and old Scottish tropes, allowing Claire and Murtagh to more effectively search for Jamie.* But then trouble comes.

It seems that having an Englishwoman dressed as a boy singing a dirty song really is too good an idea to pass up, so when Claire and Jamie come to a new town they discover, to their dismay, that someone else has got there first and is doing the exact same thing. A man they happen to recognize from one of their earlier stops is there and has brought along a Scottish dancer, to mimic Murtagh (though there's a running joke that Murtagh is actually a terrible dancer and this guy is pretty good) and an Englishwoman dressed as a boy singing that stupid song. Claire is furious. With two different people singing this song - which happens to be a song Jamie knows really well from childhood - how will he know who to come to?

So Claire and Murtagh sit down with the imposters. The man in charge, who calls himself a "gypsy", insists that he has done nothing wrong. What he's doing is just good business. Claire demands they stop because she really needs that particular song to get through, but the gypsy isn't interested. Even when she pays him a lot of money and admits that she's doing this for love, he still doesn't seem all that likely to actually stop.

A disagreement over this issue is what forces Claire and Murtagh into their first real fight. Murtagh thinks that Claire should go back to Lallybroch and await news. Murtagh will shadow the imposters and wait for Jamie to make contact. But Claire refuses to go. It's not until they realize they've visited literally every town in Scotland that Claire finally breaks. If Jamie is still out there, they've had no word. It's then that she and Murtagh blow up at each other.

Basically, he calls her a spoiled child and she screams that he's clearly never loved anybody in his whole miserable life. Naturally that isn't true, and Murtagh tells the long sad story of the time he fell in love and the girl married someone else. As the story goes on, though, Claire realizes that parts of it are familiar, particularly the part where Murtagh mentions killing a boar to impress her and making bracelets out of the tusks. Claire has those bracelets; Jenny gave them to her. They belonged to Jenny and Jamie's mother.


I guess Murtagh really does know what it means to lose someone, and he insists that he sees Jamie as his own son because of it. Fair enough. Claire and Murtagh make up and even reconcile over the loss of the money. Claire finally gets to wear her own clothes again as they make their way back home.

They're not quite back yet when the gypsy stops them in a pub. He sits right down and makes himself heard even over Claire's indignant demands that he leave them alone. It seems that a message has come to his company, meant to be delivered to the singing Sassenach. He assumes that meant Claire, not his singer. The message tells Claire and Murtagh to go to some caves nearby, caves that Jamie has been known to visit. Claire and Murtagh are absolutely thrilled.

That is, they're thrilled until they get to the caves and discover it wasn't Jamie who sent that message. It was Dougal. Dougal MacKenzie, brought down to hiding in a cave like a common outlaw because he won't stop canvassing for the Jacobite cause. He sent for Claire and Murtagh to tell them their search is useless. Jamie was captured days ago while trying to make his way to them. He's been sent to Wentworth Prison and sentenced to death. Needless to say, Claire doesn't take the news well.

But it gets worse. Jamie's execution is scheduled within a day or so - they have very little time to do anything. Dougal isn't particularly interested in helping either. Instead, he gives Claire a proposal. He tells Claire that with Jamie dead there is no one left to save her from Jack Randall, and so she should marry him. Yup, that's right, Jamie's uncle starts creeping on his wife before Jamie is even dead. Gross.

Claire reacts much the same way, with horror and indignation. To be fair, Dougal does have some good points. The Frasers really can't protect her, and as much as she hates him, he is the only one who will keep her safe. Still, there's something fishy there. It takes Claire a minute, but she realizes that Dougal has an even grosser ulterior motive in this. He wants Lallybroch. He wants the Fraser lands that belong to Jamie and if he dies belong to her. That's why he told Jamie that Jenny had born Randall's child (not true) and kept him away for so long. Dougal MacKenzie is an asshole.

Obviously Claire isn't about to agree to his proposal. She is, however, willing to make a deal. Dougal has a group of men with him, men that she knows love Jamie. Claire gets to take the men and attempt to break Jamie out of prison. If she fails and Jamie dies, she'll marry Dougal. If not, she and Jamie get to live happily ever after. Dougal takes the deal.

Of course, it's another thing entirely to get a bunch of people with common sense to join a suicide mission of breaking into an English prison. Claire's rousing speech is met mostly with apologies and suggestions she, you know, take it down a notch. It's only when Willy, the youngest member of Dougal's crew, agrees to go that Angus and Rupert agree too. Sure, there's only five of them (counting Murtagh and Claire), but they'll make the best attempt they can.

And what a reversal there too. Remember back at the beginning how Claire was treated with so much disgust. Rupert and Angus shadowed her every move. They harassed her. On the road they treated her like an ignorant child. Things got better after she married Jamie and again after the awful "discipline" incident, but this is the first time we really see the men accept Claire as one of their own. Everyone has come a long way in this season. The relationships have seen such clear reversals. I love it.

Anyway, the episode ends on a hero shot of our five adventurers staring up at the massive walls of Wentworth Prison, clearly wondering what the hell they've gotten themselves into this time. 

Guess we'll find out next week!

Some final thoughts on this episode: This episode really solidifies Claire's emotional arc this season, as well as the arc of her romance with Jamie. She came into the season on a high moral horse. She's all righteous and sure of herself and convinced that her ways are better. And they definitely are better in a lot of places (like medicine, for example). 

But the season has weathered her. Claire has changed. It's pretty clear now that even if she wanted to go back, Claire wouldn't fit in 1945 anymore. It's very telling that when Dougal is laying out her options, not once does Claire seem to consider going home. She is a part of this time now. This is her home.

And then there's her romance arc. Up until this point, all of the big romantic gestures have been on Jamie's side. He was the one saving her all the time, getting her out of harm just in the nick of time. Whether it's British soldiers or witch-hunting locals, Jamie has been the one sacrificing for their relationship. This episode shows the turn of that. It's about Claire rescuing Jamie and doing the big romantic gestures right back for him. In a big way, this is the episode where we really see Claire choosing Jamie. Staying for him was a big deal, but so is dressing up in drag and doing a one-woman show across the highlands.

They've come a long way, is what I'm saying. And there's something really nice and progressive about watching a show where the final heroic acts of the season are done by the woman. She's the one who has to save him this time. It doesn't by any means make Jamie a weaker man; it just just means that this is a partnership of equals. And that's great.

*One of the funniest moments in the whole episode comes when Claire tries to convince Murtagh to jazz up his dancing act by singing "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B". I was really hoping that was going to be the song they had Claire singing.


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