A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Outlander’s first foray into an entire hour set in France traverses from the smelly docks of Le Havre to the smelly streets of Paris in 1745, transforming the entire landscape of the series in a way it hasn’t done since Claire first departed from Craigh na Dun in the series opener. The Paris of 1745 is a shock to Claire on a daily basis and running Jared’s household for three weeks did absolutely little to allow that shock to subside. It was more than just pure culture shock, however. The last time Claire was in Paris was in 1945, when the news of World War II’s official end broke. She remembered being deliriously happy and drunk, not being able to climb the Eiffel Tower because it had still been closed due to the Nazi occupation. Now she was in Paris a hundred years before it was even built to an originally tepid reception, trying to avert yet another war fought on behalf of a prince who holds his vital political meetings in a brothel. The shock of finding herself amidst Jacobites that were certainly doomed by the upcoming Battle of Culloden was matched, not emotionally perhaps, but certainly in perspective as Claire realized that in forty years the very streets her carriage was riding in would be coated in blood from the French Revolution. Claire’s voiceovers rarely lead to a significant sense of poignancy as they often revel in informing the audience of emotional and plot heft, but this specifically was a pointed moment, something that Caitriona Balfe’s expressiveness can’t convey by itself, no matter how brilliant and tacile. Amidst the bodice-ripping, lavish costumes, and breathtaking production design, the true glimpses of what it truly means to be in a time period completely lost from one’s reality, what it means to look around and known an inevitable doom that one simply can’t stop from happening.
The boundaries of some control, however, seem to be in Claire’s and Jamie’s hands when it comes to the Jacobite Rebellion and if him and Murtagh were reluctant to adopt Claire’s ideas of stopping the rebellion now, their meeting of the infamous Bonnie Prince Charlie solidified that espousal. Charlie is an idiot, a bumbling aristocratic fool whom, outside of having the aforementioned meetings in a brothel, is far too concerned with the ideals of eighteenth-century French dildos and not the upcoming series of battles he has to fight against the mighty English to garner the Scottish throne. His bumbling stupidity is a direct indictment of the aristocrats descended from the lineages of the so-called divine rights, crafted by wily monarchs to justify their untold powers but truly believed by idiots like Charles who believe wholeheartedly that they will be placed upon a throne because God willed it so. Each and every single question that Jamie brings up is a valid point of consideration, underlying with the fair reality that thinking of fighting the English is quite different from actually fighting them and winning enough to the point where victory becomes invetiable. And even then it’s hardly assured. Each question is answered with Charlie’s pompous repetition of the divine right to rule, a divine right that is his by no measure whatsoever and certainly not by the measure of actual achievement. “Have you actually been to Scotland?” Murtagh asks the wannabe king (to paraphrase) and his uncomfortable reaction leading towards the inevitable “No” is cringing to behold. Jamie and Murtagh share an uncomfortable reaction between one another, their eyes visualizing as mirrors. They hold Scottish independence near and dear to their hearts and certainly more so than Charlie ever could and to hedge their bets on a French noble who cares more about prostitutes than political strategies of battle is a poor idea to say the least.
The plans center exquisitely upon, as all political plans do, the matters of finance. Monsieur Joseph Duverney enters the picture, a bumbling boorish fool who seems quite incapable of handling himself in social presences. But before Claire meets the French finance minister, she has to find a way into Versailles itself and her ticket is the sharp, bombastic Louise de la Tour, Marquise of Rohan. She’s a brilliant, crackling new character introduced in a session of honeypot waxing, full of absolute wit and no sense of societal notions of female shame whatsoever. She gets Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh into a ball at the famed French palace that put all other palaces to shame, snagging an audience with the minister in about two seconds. I have noted Outlander’s costuming before, but Terry Dresbach truly outdid herself here with the lusciousness of her costuming and Claire’s red number hit every single note beautifully. All Louise had to note was the word “red” in French and the minister knew exactly where to go, if completely ignorant of what he should do. His foot fetish beginning was wiped out swiftly by Jamie but far from the disaster of the ship burning last week, the minister finds himself promptly apologetic, perhaps in large part due to Jamie being there and a potential scandal with his wife (although one would imagine that he would keep his own vulgarities out of public sight and it arguably doesn’t get more public than eighteenth-century Versailles). He agrees to become the friend of Claire and Jamie as a repayment apology, which is all the well considering where this could have gone. While the Minister of Finance lacks the understanding of consent, the King of France finds himself unable to take a shit. Jamie hilariously suggests porridge to relieve his constipation, which might very well earn him some bonus points after what I consider to be an extremely unnecessary display of public humiliation.
The input of actors into their characters can be a tricky field to navigate. Certain actors don’t have that degree of connection to their characters and the writing they receive while others are decidedly on the other side of the spectrum. Caitriona Balfe noted in an interview that the writers originally had Claire and Jamie return to a more candid sort of affair earlier on in this season and this episode provides a solid case for it happening in this specific instance. However, Balfe felt that it was too early for the couple to return to anything resembling sexual normalcy and it’s a valid point to make. Rape is traumatizing and different individuals have different coping mechanisms, different time frames from when they can approach normalcy, and perhaps most critically of all, extremely varied support systems of individuals who understand their trauma and pain and don’t ask anything in return for that understanding. Such is the relationship between Claire and Jamie. For a moment there I was surprised when the episode opens up on the two of them having passionate sex but slowly the scene transforms into something grotesque and Claire transforms into Black Jack Randall. Jamie is horrified and stabs his rapist repeatedly until blood is swimming throughout the room but Randall doesn’t die. It’s a moment of perturbing foreshadowing. Claire and Jamie attempt sex later on in the episode after Claire had her own experience with the honeypot wax but slowly she transforms once more into Randall. It’s an understandable, slowly moving pathway towards normalcy but the arrival of the Duke of Sandringham unravels it fairly simply. He wretchedly revels in his quite reveal of Randall being alive before departing the scene. Claire worryingly looks upon Jamie as fireworks go all around the famed and infamous French palace, wondering how long it would be until he inevitably found out the truth.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The beautiful overhead shot of Paris
+“So much cynicism for one so young.” The foreshadowing here is delicious.
+“Wine is for drinking, not for selling.”
+“You kill the prince, you kill the rebellion.”
+“Above all else, a leader must be dicisive.
+The music. Oh, the music.
+“It’s not too late to slit his throat.”
+“It’s so warm and so comforting being put on and so painful when it is put off. Such is life.”
+The opening shots of Versailles
+“He’s dead. Smallpox.”
Episode Title: Not in Scotland Anymore
Written by: Ira Steven Behr
Directed by: Metin Hüseyin
Image Courtesy: LA Times