A Code in Music
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
In keeping with the Outlander tradition of largely uninspiring titles, the third installment in the show’s second outing is nevertheless aptly named as Claire finds herself garnering useful occupations and Jamie tries to discover those intrepid deceptions for which the French court had become infamous. Those discoveries and pathways are inherently less complex than Diana Gabaldon’s texts (this one specifically being A Dragonfly in Amber), but for the most part Ronald D. Moore and the writers have condensed Gabaldon’s narrative in a relatively clever fashion while ensuring that each episode tells its own, distinct story to boot. Adaptations are not an easy or enviable task and if Outlander has a bout of danger looming over its head, it’s the danger of streamlining narrative junctures so much they lose their inherent suspense and become a token of the inevitable. So far, the season has avoided that trap but it’s one it has to keep in check, just in case it rears its ugly head as the show tries to craft too much of a linear narrative (a key moment of this is when the final piece of the puzzle is the letter “S” that stands for Sandringham). Even if there’s that slight danger, however, the setting remains utterly breathtaking and immersive. It’s astounding that the show never set foot to film in France but somehow managed to use production design and visual effects so effectively that within the episode there isn’t a single moment where it feels that Claire and Jamie aren’t walking the streets of Paris in 1745. Bear McCreary’s continuously impressive music and Terry Dresbach’s costume design are the scrumptious cherries on the top, raising the authenticity of each scene as the actions of characters descend further and further into duplicity.
The hospitals of the eighteenth century were not exactly known for top billing in terms of health rankings, but then again the closest analogue to what is known as the modern hospital brought forth its doors in this century, even though the institution as an idea had been crafted far earlier. Arguably the first hospital was developed in the early segments of the eighth century in Damascus, with a more prominent caring and teaching facility established in nearby Baghdad in the same century. European hospitals specifically began the transformation towards a focus on medical innovations and volunteer hospitals in the eighteenth century, garnering their most prestigious institution of the time in the Vienna General Hospital, which opened its doors in 1784. Medical schooling in the modern sense was still, rare, however, and only in Edinburgh, Scotland were there a large number of graduates at the time. It is thusly perfectly normal to see apothecaries like the one that belongs to Monsieur Raymond sprouting throughout the corners of Parisian alleyways along with charity hospitals like the ones being run by Sister Hildegard, where there were few practitioners of medicine who had been taught those specific arts to begin with. Instead, as Claire discovers to her discomfort yet little surprise, there is a butcher who is quite interested in the medical arts and is, if one if a fan of dark humor, in charge of muscles and bones. All of those sequences are profoundly consequential, easily besting any of the muddling waters of the politics surrounding Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Claire is not a woman who likes to sit about idly and engage in gossip. There isn’t anything wrong with dabbling in the occasional tea party while noting the shocking societal developments of the day, but there are surely only so many times that one can go to such events without getting murderous. Claire is a sharp, intelligent, adventurous woman who has fully formed capabilities in the medical arts and for someone who has been in a war environment (the events of season one count as a different type of war, but one nevertheless), the doldrums of everyday existence can become deafening, maddening in ways that simply drive one crazy. France in 1745 is a far cry from the Scottish lands of 1946 surely but they’re far different from even the Scotland of that exact time. There’s an extreme sense of claustrophobia in some of the shots, Claire finding herself constrained significantly from the moment she wakes to the moment Jamie comes back from Maison Elise, slightly drunk and bursting with information regarding his continuing conversations with Bonnie Prince Charlie. She walks off to the apothecary after discovering Murtagh and her servant Suzette having sex, hoping to procure a sensible contraceptive for Suzette and to find something familiar in a setting that is second nature to her. Monsieur Raymond, noting her distress, questions what is its root cause. “Well, I am an unusual lady,” Claire had noted earlier. “At least I used to be.” The trappings of upper class societal standings don’t belong to her (in a character sense). They simply never have. When Monsieur Raymond first mentions the hospital, her eyes light up brighter than the sun outside. At last there was something to do, somewhere to put her sharp mind to good use. Sister Hildegard, played furiously by Frances de la Tour, looks upon her first as another noblewoman who was bored and came to satisfy her curiosities. It’s an understandable belief of hers to espouse, so she predictably has Claire on chamber pot duty. Claire does so without a single complaint, having understood the healer’s original reading of her quite aptly.
Her being in the charity hospital, however, angers Jamie, who feels that she is placing herself in unnecessary danger by doing so. His extreme frustration with himself finds Claire as an avenue for him to channel that very frustration and anger towards, even though he knows there is little that Claire was at fault for as far as his circulations with Bonnie Prince Charlie were going. The meetings with Charlie quickly became these monotonous avenues where he kept delaying the inevitable meeting with Monsieur Duverney until at last it became impossible to do so. I would tire of a conversation with the Prince in about three seconds so Jamie keeping it up so far is an accomplishment, especially in a locale like Maison Elise’s. Jamie understandably feels like he’s exhausting himself trying to accomplish something that seems to constantly evade his grasp, no matter how far he extends his arm and it is something that he doesn’t entirely comprehend, either. At the latest meeting, as if to add to his pain, the Prince dropped a bombshell that he had English funds to help him secure his throne. It took the rug out from underneath Jamie, deepening that sense of utter hopelessness and cluelessness he was already sinking into. The wounds from Randall’s attacks hadn’t healed and here he was, in a foreign country trying to fight against a war that would deliver his country freedom if successful. He is doing all of this on the foundation of his staunch trust in Claire, on the belief that this seemingly dubious endeavor will work out after all and save the Jacobites from mass slaughter. It isn’t right for him to take his anger out on Claire and he comes around to that towards the end, but that aspect of his frustration is difficult to argue with.
Jamie and Murtagh craft an investigation to see how much of what the Prince was claiming was truth, or indeed if any of it was true at all. At first glance it seemed like a puzzle they couldn’t solve, a puzzle that couldn’t possibly be a simple piece of music. It was, after all, a music piece written in German that was mailed to England. It simply couldn’t be that simple but neither he nor Murtagh knew an ounce of German. That clever piece of music espionage, however, leads them straight to where Claire is healing a man’s deceptively healed wound with Sister Hildegarde in attendance. Sister Hildegard uses the music of none other than her good friend Johann Sebastian Bach to uncover the keys to unlocking the music piece’s puzzle – the keys of the music piece itself. The “S” reveal is fairly convenient in that regard, but Claire and Murtagh’s realization of what it could mean when Jamie sat down with the Duke of Sandringham is a somber one. She almost says the truth but pivots at the last moment, delaying the inevitable truth about Jack Randall because Jamie was so happy in that moment. Claire knows Jack has to survive another year so he could marry Mary Hawkins, because otherwise Frank wouldn’t exist. Her feelings of hatred were obliterated in that moment by that startling realization. Murtagh had noted that Claire can’t tell Jamie the truth or he would race off to Scotland for vengeance, leaving their work in France behind in his wake. Claire denies it in that moment, but she knows as much as Murtagh does that their work became far more complicated in just a moment.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The opening symbolism of the chess knight
+“I know what that means.” I don’t know why, but this line was hilarious.
+What was snatched from the table? That had to be significant for the camera to linger there.
+“They’re not my ladies.”
+“And where is that? The moon?” Louise, killing it.
+Why is everything so gorgeous?
+“Pretense of fidelity…”
+“Long on rhetoric and short on specifics.” Every election.
+“I’m surprised you have heard of him.”
+“I’m afraid his music is not the sort to endure.” Claire’s smile is a perfect reflection of the audience right there
+Using Fergus as a spy is a pretty decent plan, all things considered
+All of the sequences in the hospital were brilliant
Episode Title: Useful Occupations and Deceptions
Written by: Anne Kenney
Directed by: Metin Hüseyin
Image Courtesy: Outlander TV News