The Wine Bandits
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Dueling was considered to be a rational, chivalrous action in which gentlemen would resolve any or all disputes they may have with other gentlemen of their ilk. Within the purview of modern sensibilities, there is little about dueling that seems rational but for a fairly lengthy amount of time it was what the ultimate fate of one’s honor could be predicated upon. And honor was above everything. Various forms of codes and rules were established on dueling, such as the practice in Ireland where a code was kept in the pistol case just in case a duel happened to arise. The practice made its way to England in the sixteenth century, where Queen Elizabeth I outlawed it shortly thereafter in 1571. The success of that specific measure remains murky, however. The practice itself had become entrenched in the cultures of various European aristocratic circles, which in turn engineered them to a privilege of protection in civil matters such as prosecution over a death that occurred during a duel. In France, for example, King Louis XIII outlawed dueling in 1626 but the practice continued well into the late stages of the eighteenth century within forest groves just like the one where Claire found Jamie and Randall facing off one another. There was up until the revelation of that not-so-clandestine clandestine meeting in the woods a consistent emotional thoroughfare that portended certain doom. There’s always something about several things going in the direction of our protagonists that gives birth to a certain amount of uneasiness to add onto the plethora of trepidation that already exists in plentiful abundance. The two main endeavors to chop off the chances of Bonnie Prince Charlie are fairly successful and both times it feels surprising, as if the writers were feeling particular generous with their largesse. Then the climax appears and it seems almost foolish to believe for a single second that would happen.
The plot structure of Outlander’s episodes have recently become a bit clunky and Matthew B. Roberts’s script for Best Laid Schemes falls into the same trap. In certain sequences, there’s less of an organic flow from one scene to the next but instead it feels like the writers are hitting off checkmarks on their to-do-list. As a result, plenty has occurred in the past two episodes but it doesn’t strike as being as cohesive as some of its parts. There’s a thematic and emotional thoroughfare that holds the episode together, however, which is certainly more helpful but those two by themselves don’t create a cohesive structure entirely. The two primary schemes laid out by Claire and Jamie to entrap Bonnie Prince Charlie’s wine business seemed quite likely to be the ones where the episode’s not-so-subtle title would come into play, but they were executed to near-perfection, despite the absolutely shaky ideas to begin with. It’s not as if Claire’s fake smallpox idea wasn’t a good one, it was great, but it just seemed like something where so many things could go wrong that it almost defied logic that nothing did (I was sure, for example, that Fergus would be caught applying the mixture inside the coats or there would be at least two sleeping/drunk guards or something of the like). It’s understandable that the writers wanted to lull the audience into a false sense of security and an accompanying dread throughout the hour for the climax’s twist to land as hard as it does, but that doesn’t require the security in the episode’s early outings to be so lax. But at least there’s Sister Hildegard, always a welcome presence who becomes the closest thing Claire has to a true friend in Paris and certainly one of the more stable, intelligent people she now needs by her side more than ever before.
If I wasn’t fond of how the episode was structured, I still have to give mad props for the show’s depiction of the relationship between Claire and Jamie. It’s so rich and layered that no emotional beat from either Caitriona Balfe or Sam Heughan falls flat. Each emotive beat works towards the episode’s greatest strength, beginning with Jamie and Claire’s conversation about the promise she garnered from him, the promise to not harm Jack Randall for a full year. Jamie feels despondent that their plans to halt Bonnie Prince Charlie may not come to fruition. The man was a brattish, entitled aristocrat but he had the zeal and the ferocity that would give people cause to at least invest in him, if trusting him definitely seemed like a step too far. If Jamie were to die in the fields of Culloden Moor, he wanted someone to be there for Claire, someone who loved her and wanted to be with her. She should have Frank by her side if anything happened to him. It’s a touching moment haunted by the knowledge that the Jacobites will lose the battle in spite of Claire’s efforts and it seems for that particular moment that Jamie had come to at least a bit of peace with Claire’s request that he not duel Black Jack Randall in the forest. She promises him, biting back tears, that if the time came, she would go back through the stones. That’s what makes the ending pack that further punch. Jamie is drawn back to Maison Elise because of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s debts and Fergus wanders right into a room apparently inhabited by Captain Black Jack Randall. There was enough time for him to get a message to Claire that read simply: “I’m sorry. I must. -J.” A horrified, despondent Claire rushes to the duel, her pregnancy pains becoming more unbearable by the minute. She bleeds as the duel is fought, watching with pained eyes for which one of her loves would be eviscerated. Jamie stabs Randall in the penis in a moment of symbolic and literal triumph but there is hardly a moment for Jamie to take pleasure in his revenge. Claire collapses amidst the trees as the thundering of the officers rages into the forest, blood pooling down her legs as her vision slowly fades away into nothingness.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+I love Claire’s warning to Monsieur Raymond and the executioner mentioning it and the welcome subtlety that Claire’s warning may not come to the conclusion she hopes for.
+The readying torch at the beginning
+“Pleasure is not the word that comes to mind.”
+“I wouldn’t want to bear that burden.”
+“The timing was suspect.” The Comte St. Germaine’s not a complete idiot, I’ll give him that. +“I will mess his happy face.” So will I, Fergus.
+/-Jamie’s confession to Murtagh is something I would have liked to see in complete. It felt unfinished. His scene with Claire, however, was excellent.
-“Practitioners of the dark arts.” There is such a thing as too much foreshadowing and this combined with the lack of subtlety around the word “witches” is getting too much
-The sequence where Claire is silent and Louise is chatting away with the other women about who’s having sex with whom is a prime example of a sequence that felt like it was just thrown in there. I share Claire’s disgust, but where does that scene come from?
-Murtagh disappeared off screen?
-Charles’s whining about having to live in Poland got on my nerves. The pitying cry of an aristocrat moaning about not having a throne doesn’t stir my emotions whatsoever
Episode Title: Best Laid Schemes…
Written by: Matthew B. Roberts
Directed by: Metin Hüseyin
Image Courtesy: Fanpop