Hard As An Acorn
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
By the Pricking of My Thumb was an unusually busy episode of Outlander and that change of pace helps it tremendously. The main deficit on the show has been its extremely leisurely pace, which on one hand did allow for the narrative to breathe freely but on the other hand it also created the impression that it was taking a significant amount of time for major narrative propulsion to kick in. The six-month midseason break wasn’t helpful in that regard, either, but the return in terms of pacing has been definitely improved. While last week’s episode was revelatory in spots, the focus to Jamie’s perspective was notably jarring and largely unnecessary. Thankfully that alteration was short-lived and this week we’re back to Claire’s bitingly sharp assessments of the world around her and her surviving in a completely different era through her wits. That is where the show’s true strength lies and it shines through here. Claire’s world seems a bit safe at the opening of the episode as Jamie is giving her oral sex, with Richard Clark’s camera slowly mixing flesh with actual cloth to create a scene of unmatched, natural erotica. But just in case the audience had forgotten that the era of eighteenth-century Scotland is hardly the best place for an English woman from the twentieth century, as the episode comes to a close there’s a definitive panic that seeps into every frame.
As the title is suggestive of, By the Pricking of My Thumb is largely concerned with the thematic construct of treachery, whether that be through the political maneuverings of the British aristocracy or witchcraft. Treachery as it is has played a fairly understated role in Outlander so far, with the first half of the story’s beginning throwing it out from time to time but largely taking its leisurely time to arrive in full swaths here. The first eight episodes also took a bit longer than necessary to dole out of all the character work that needed to be established, but at long last that foundational work is allowing the narrative to propel forward and move a plethora of story threads and characters together. Since witchcraft and moving characters forward have been mentioned, Thumb not only brings back Geillis Duncan (who has been gone way too long), but gives her the co-starring spot with Claire to boot. Geillis is an intriguing, wily character of her own, hiding behind numerous veils. Even by the end of this episode, where several of those veils have fallen to the wayside, there is an extreme aura of mysteriousness that clings fastidiously to Geillis as if in tease to its very audience that far more revelations are yet to come. That the episode manages to construct that into the narrative is genius.
Treachery in the form of witchcraft is a fairly serious crime in the olden days, where popular methodologies of dealing with a witch involved burnings at the stake or throwing her into the river to see if she drowned or not. Geillis has been viewed with a suspicious eye in the town, but she’s never given them a palpable reason to elevate that suspicion into anything. That changes quickly. Claire at first stumbles upon Geillis performing a pagan ritual that is reminiscent of the druids at Craigh na Dun. It’s a beautiful, eerie sequence that perhaps hints at a much deeper connection between the two women. Claire notices that Geillis is pregnant, but she reveals that the baby is in fact Dougal McKenzie’s. Outlander has barely crossed over into the realm of fantasy and magic, the surest link between the fantastical world and the real one being Claire’s journey back in time. But quietly this episode suggests that those links may be far more real than we think. Dougal’s wife, who had been living separately from him for quite some time, mysteriously dies, sending Dougal into quite the drunken fit of grief. At a gathering afterwards, Geillis’s husband Arthur Duncan chokes to death within seconds and there’s little Claire or anyone else was able to do to save his life. Geillis hesitates for a second before crying out in grief, but for Collum it only takes a singular glance to grasp the reality of what had occurred and for Claire a single whiff of almond-based cyanide.
If Geillis used treachery to clear the pathway for her union to Dougal (which Collum ostensibly forbids), then Claire uses less murderous methods to get her own way. The Duke of Sandringham makes an appearance and Jamie seizes upon the chance to gather his support so he could get a pardon and go back to his ancestral home. Claire hesitates upon hearing the Duke’s name – he shares a friendship with Captain Randall of all people. Jamie agrees to proceed with caution but something stirs in the back of Claire’s head. She remembers Frank mentioning that the Duke was a secret Jacobite supporter. Quietly she uses that information to her advantage, securing a petition for Jamie on the gambler Duke’s account. But the Duke himself isn’t a newbie on the power block, as evidenced by his catchphrase “quid pro quo”. He ensnares Jamie in his gambling debt duel with the McDonald clan, which proceeds without harm before a typical hotheaded brawl erupts and Jamie gets a bit of a slice of a McDougal sword. It just gives Claire another moment of bandaging Jamie up before he leaves to garner a pardon. Claire’s wits have won for now, but she still has a beating heart full of sympathy that is sometimes easy to take advantage of. Laughaire does so and as the episode draws to a close, Claire and Geillis find themselves locked in a wagon, awaiting trial for witchcraft.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Opening on a cleaned gun
+“I told you I’d never ask you for anything you didn’t wish to tell me.”
+Murtagh’s suggestion of hanging Randall has its merits
+Claire slapping Laoghaire was oh so satisfying
+Is Geillis seeing Laoghaire the ill wish foreshadowing? Book readers will know what I’m talking about.
+The charming chamber pot
+The score was absolutely beautiful tonight. Hats off to Bear McCreary
+“You could have joined me, you know.”
+“It was the icy wind whispering over my nipples.”
+“…Mother Nature, of course. To ask for our freedom.”
+“I have no wish to do you harm. You’re my friend.”
+The sequence with the changeling child was absolutely heartbreaking, foreshadowing the fatal costs of superstition
+“A day’s walk away.”
+“How much Jacobite gold did Dougal McKenzie pass along to you?”
+“I don’t know that it did and I don’t know that it did not. And neither do you.”
+“Our Majesty’s Court.”
+“I can’t damn the captain without damning myself.”
+The peacock cake
+The sword fight from the intro!
+“Do tell your wife it was not my fault.”
+“Come back to me, James Fraser.” That doesn’t sound ominous at all.
+“It’s positively cruel.”
+“Your concern touches my heart, but it is misplaced.”
+“You’re a feisty little wench, I’ll give you that.”
-The Laoghaire scenes continue to tick me off. This is one are where the script has a profound lack of intellect on display.
Title: By the Pricking of My Thumb
Written By: Ira Steven Behr
Directed By: Richard Clark
Image Courtesy: Outlander TV News