Wine and Whiskey
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
La Dame Blanche takes its title from a French opéra comique composed by the famed François-Adrien Boieldieu. The script itself was based off Eugène Scribe’s adaptation of at least five of the works of nineteenth century Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. The Monastery is a romance written during the time of Mary, Queen of Scots, centered around an abbey at the time of the Scottish Reformation. Guy Mannering centers on the adventures of a boy kidnapped by vagabonds at the age of five after he witnesses a murder that whisks him away from his inheritance as a laird. The Abbot concerns itself with Mary, Queen of Scots’s imprisonment, escape, and defeat and a parallel story of a young man spirited away by romance. The novels coming together in a combined story at all is a surprising feat, but the elements from these three and more of Sir Scott’s work fared well with an operatic adaptation that garnered the spirit of the source material with faith, even if by simple process most chunks were left on the cutting floor. All of those elements are on display in some significance or another throughout the series, from the Scottish politics to the desperation of monarchs who in more ways than one lacked a country to rule to the man who wants to turn back towards the land where he can be a laird once more. Perhaps that’s reading far too much into something that the production team didn’t intend, but it’s there and the reading works fairly well for the episode in question. The ending of the opera concludes with a bright note ending for our protagonists, a reunion after they successfully have thwarted their enemies and reviled their dastardly two-faced behavior. Perhaps I am biased towards bittersweet endings but I sense that the conclusion of Outlander, however Diana Gabaldon arrives at it, will be decidedly less triumphant and more bittersweet, more contemplative.
Claire is the titular La Dame Blanche of the episode, the name that rings throughout the darkened Parisian alleyways when the attackers realize who she is. The legends of the Les Dames Blanches themselves (in metaphorical relation to the opera itself) are found within numerous examples of French lore, particularly within the Celtic regions of Normandy and Brittany. They share some characteristics with the banshee legends of Ireland and Valkyries of Norse mythology in their connotations with death, such as their wailing being a symbolic understanding of impending fatality. Norman traditions at times have the Dames in the roles of trolls and sphinxes, where they guard a bridge and only allow the passerby passage if they answer a riddle truthfully. If they refused, they met their demise in watery depths below. In other stories, the La Dame Blanche is a sorceress, a wise woman and a healer whom, as a character points out in the novels, “she sees to the center of a man, and can turn his soul to ashes, if evil be found there.” The metaphorical connotations with Claire in this particular role in relation to death have their origins from the first moment Claire realizes that she was in eighteenth century Scotland, from the moment she realizes that everyone around her was doomed to die. She recognized the inevitability of that circumstance in the starkest manner when she arrived on a Scottish road in 1948, realizing that the Jacobites had still lost the Battle at Culloden to the British. She remarks upon that once more when she rides her carriage through the streets of Paris and it’s a role that she can never cast away whenever she’s in the past. Plot-wise, however, the metaphorical meaning is a bit bemusing in its execution. There’s nothing that establishes beforehand why Claire is called “The White Lady” when she’s residing in Paris, whose populace has always been overwhelmingly white. In the books, there is a piece of plotting that ties directly into this French legend, but just in case it comes back in the future, I’ll avoid spoiling it here.
The role of a healer specifically, however, are more obvious and blunt in their execution and as a result they’re just better handled on screen. Claire is a healer by trade, a woman of immense wisdom and fierceness. Her work at the charity hospital earns her the gratitude of Sister Hildegarde, whose early dismissiveness of this random noblewoman was understandable, even if the audience that knows Claire laughed at the presumption of character. It’s an integral part of whom Claire is, of her strength of character in how much she cares about others with little care to herself. The sorcery part, on the other hand, is inherently tied to misogynistic conventions around the traditionally acceptable roles of women. Women were and are, according to these conventions, supposed to remain within the home and the hearth. They ought to be soft spoken, invisible, virgins for their husbands. Their role is to serve as a daughter, a wife, and a mother. Individuality is out of the question. An existence arrives only out of relationships with superior men. Anytime a woman bucked those societal conventions, there was the label of her being a sorceress, a witch who dared to be her own individual person. Women healers, as we saw on the last season of Outlander, were often thusly even more subject to the fear, paranoia, and superstition that surrounded the medical arts and the consistent tension surrounding Claire’s visits to Monsieur Raymond consistently pivot towards that understanding coming back to fruition. Comte St. Greniere, the Frasers’s first enemy in France, becomes as despicable of a figure as one imagines him to be here, making a note of the necklace Claire was wearing to be a necklace of magic that warded off poisons. That he slipped a low toxin poison to Claire was evident but the magic pivot is a slight bit of foreshadowing that’s going to make the French expedition much worse for Jamie and Claire.
The most lavish elements from the episode take place over the much touted dinner sequence, lavishly produced and crafted as one has come to expect from Outlander’s production team. The dinner itself is well-executed, the revelation of Louise and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s affair leading to an awkward trump card that Jamie and Claire are able to play up to full effect. But the most consequential sequence may be that of Claire and Jamie finally having sex again. Jamie’s rape had an additional effect of creating a rift between him and Claire, where every time he tried to be intimate with her, he just saw Captain Randall. Claire informing him of his survival doesn’t make him angry. Instead, it gives him something to hold onto for hope and that galvanizing streak reignites his libido in a whorehouse. Claire is understandably angry and frustrated and when Jamie counters that she doesn’t understands his frustrations, she retorts that she wants to know. How otherwise would she be able to help him? Jamie’s confession that when he was raped, he felt a part of him that was always there was violated. He doesn’t know where it is or what it was, but when it was stolen from him, he felt it ripping out from his being and the vacancy it left behind became a gaping, open wound. He walks away but Claire at last is able to understand exactly what and how Jamie felt, that connection that had in some sense been broken between them itching towards a reformation. Claire drops her robes in the doorway, her bare back lit beautifully against a dark blue hue. She gravitates quietly towards Jamie and the two reconcile their sex in a beautiful sequence. It’s a sex scene television often doesn’t depict, one with a pregnant woman involved, but it’s done with a beautiful tenderness here that the episode absolutely earns.
The most problematic element to the episode arrives with the tonal imbalance that disrupts the dinner. Mary, Claire, and Murtagh were ambushed in a darkened Parisian alleyway. All three of them struggled and fought back but Murtagh was knocked out cold. Claire was pinned by two of the men while one of them raped Mary, yelling in ecstasy “A virgin! I’ve got a virgin!” It’s a stark, dark moment in the script they don’t thankfully make light of, understanding the gravitas of what was happening, especially in contrast to what Jamie and Claire had gone through just earlier. Virginity being held as some sort of virtue has long been another case of misogyny embedding itself into the fabric of society as another way of making the lives of women that much more difficult. It’s an orthodox, disgusting concept designed by a patriarchal society to keep women’s sexualities in check so as to give men another claim of ownership over a woman’s body. The attackers lift Claire’s hood and suddenly they scream about the White Lady. One of them makes a cross across his chest and the other screams about salvation. The fact that they just participated in a violent attack that included the rape of a young girl completely flies over their head but that’s what patriarchy does. It dismisses the consequences of rape as if they never existed. To protect her from societal shame, Claire and Jamie take her from the backstairs into a room, leaving her with Alex Randall for protection and help while they take care of the dinner downstairs. That goes about as well as one would expect and all of Alex’s mistaken attempts to help Mary arrive at a time when the last thing she could stand is a man’s touch. The dinner guests storm in and what it looks like to them is that Alex is raping Mary and a brawl erupts. The tone changes abruptly and the music jumps up to a jovial beat, which ends up making very little sense in context of what has preceded it. It’s a serious matter, rape, and the show overall has done a good job of understanding and exploring it. The creative decision on the episode’s ending makes even less sense in that regard. Having a rowdy brawl playing like a comedy, leading to awkward cut on Claire’s face is simply baffling, undercutting the tension, the drama, and the trauma that came along with it.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Lambert and Dalhousie are both names I wouldn’t expect from Claire and Jamie’s child.
+“The outcome is so terribly obvious.”
+“They are watching us… The king is not fond of the mystical art.”
+“I’m fascinated by things not of this time.” I loved the juxtaposition of that line.
+“You will see him again.”
+The consequences for adultery for Louise are another great touch from writer Toni Graphia on what ruin a woman faced for the crime men committed on a regular basis in whorehouses with absolute impunity.
+“Oh, I know what sixty-nine is.”
+“I’ve been going through all of this on my own.”
+“My fortress had been blown apart.””
+“Come find me, Jamie. Find us.
+“I’d rather gathered that.”
+“Does this make us bad people?”
“The way I see it, we’re doing a bad thing but for a good reason.”
“Isn’t that what all bad people say?”
+The transition into the dinner was nicely done.
+“You will die alone with your hand.”
+“It’s hardly her fault she was raped.”
+/- The sequence where Monsieur Raymond and Claire are using the bones to reveal to her that she would see Frank again was fascinating. I like how they averted just saying “African” and specified that Claire had made the connection to the Zulu people. The show avoided the stereotypical “African mysticism” here by a hair’s breadth. Hopefully they avoid that altogether.
-The interaction between Murtagh and Claire when she tells him that she revealed the truth to Jamie was really awkward. I expected a conversation there at least.
Episode Title: La Dame Blanche
Written by: Toni Graphia
Directed by: Douglas MacKinnon
Image Courtesy: Fanpop
*Thanks to Outlander Lists and Timelines for their clarification on specific parts of the legends, which I wanted to clarifying source just in case my understanding of the La Dame Blanche legends was unclear.