The Blue Heron
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Religion is a powerful force in society, regardless of however one’s own proclivities tend to react towards the institution itself. There are those who are religious to the pivoting of fanaticism, losing all rationality and logic in the steadfast belief that their way is the only way towards enlightenment, whatever one may believe that to be. There are those who are religious in that they follow a decree but do not bind every aspect of their life to a fanatical tinge. There are those who practice some of the laws of their faith and ignore the ones they find to be cumbersome. There are those that don’t believe in the law of any religion but find faith that there is some sort of higher being, a spiritual guide whom keeps an eye on the humans living below. Then there are those who don’t believe in religion or in God at all but have faith in other things. Faith, as this episode of Outlander so deftly proves, is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if it is borne out of a religious provocation or otherwise. What matters is the strength of it. In eighteenth-century Europe, however, there was an inherent interconnectivity between religion and faith. They are just as inseparable as one imagines Jamie and Claire to be, intertwined as if a serpent eating its own tail. The society of Europe, whether it was in Scotland, France, or the far reaches of the continent in Tsarist Russia, was a heavily religious one. Daily lives were at the mercy of the Bible, the teachings of the Church (regardless of denomination) governed everything from before the moment of one’s birth to after they had closed their eyes forever. This in turn had the additional side effect of inducing severe paranoia and superstition, risking the potential of one achieving a place in Heaven and escaping the eternal damnation of Hell. Anything unnatural, anything that truly raised doubts on the existing social order was suspect of heresy and witchcraft. It was seen as evidence and the penalty for that loss of faith was often fatal, as Claire herself discovered as she narrowly escaped the clutches of burning at the stake for the “crime” of witchcraft.
That faith arrives in a different form of sorts, when the worst Claire had imagined with King Louis XV’s thirst for executions arrives in a stunningly shot sequence (complete props for Metin Hüseyin’s Emmy-worthy direction here). Claire arrives like a guardian angel of God into a starry abode, glistening as if the very stars of the heaven were sprinkling downwards onto her. Their white, shining rays glisten above the heads of Monsieur Raymond and the Comte St. Germaine. Claire, realizing why Jamie had dueled Randall (below) has Mother Hildegarde secure a private audience with the king, whose own superstitions were awoken by the legend of the La Dame Blanche. While the label of a witch had nearly condemned her to death in Scotland, here the label of a witch comes to her favor. Claire presents herself as the White Witch, a practitioner of God’s magic. The Comte’s poison, she reasoned, did not work on her for she was a warden of the heavens. King Louis keeps his faith in this legend, asking her to see if either of the men that were standing before her had indeed practiced dark magic, if they were guilty of a deception towards the Bible and Jesus Christ himself. Claire has all the reason in the world to despite St. Germaine and save her friend Raymond but Claire is, despite everything, a fairly decent human being. She couldn’t bring herself to kill a man in cold blood, especially when he was standing right before her. King Louis XV has enough faith in the Bible to where he brings out a serpent, noting that the Bible told him that whomever handled the serpent and did not die was harboring a soul clean and pure. Anyone with half an ability to find reason can see where the trap lay so brilliantly in its convenience. The snake was sure to bite whomever it wanted at its leisure. Claire, probably being the most rational human being in that room, comes up with another idea. Whomever drank the poison and survived had that clean soul. She, after all, had done it. The king surprisingly agrees and Claire mixes her trusted concoction of bitter cascara. The king, however, wanted a show and Raymond knew as much. He bowls over in pain but manages to slip a smidgen of poison into the cup. Claire’s stone necklace turns dark but there is no option left. He drinks the poison, dying a miserable, slow, painful death.
Claire’s faith is completely broken this episode and even at its closing moments it’s far more fractured than together, resembling at best a broken, crumbling mirror pressed haphazardly into its original frame. She gives birth to a stillborn child and it’s haunting to see her asking quietly as to the whereabout of her child as her voice gets progressively louder and louder. A nurse notes that the Virgin Mary herself had lost a child but she had not lost her faith. It’s not the thing Claire or anyone would want to hear in that moment, but it’s a thematically powerful note to add. The breaking of the Virgin Mary’s statue is a bit on the nose, but in keeping with that thematic unity, it works remarkably well. Mother Hildegarde notes quietly that she had baptized the child, despite the illegality of her actions, with the name Faith. It’s irony, a note as Claire says, that perhaps Mother Hildegarde had a much stranger sense of humor than Claire had given her credit for. She falls into a deep fever and Mother Hildegarde brings in a priest, just in case Claire’s days are numbered. The priest asks if Claire has any last confessions she wished to make so she could unburden herself of any sins. “My sins are all that I have left,” she responds dejectedly. For all she knew, she had lost her husband. She had lost Frank if Randall was dead from the duel. She had lost her daughter. She had lost her faith, in everything it seemed, but some of her faith in the goodness of others is rewarded nevertheless. One night, Monsieur Raymond sneaks into the hospital, curing Claire when her death from puerperal fever seemed imminent. The nurses praise God but it is an ironic moment that that reward of faith came from what surely looks like witchcraft, an art and act judged to be so completely against God himself. It is little wonder then that she goes to such lengths to save his life from a superstitious King but even that has an additional price. For a moment it seemed that King Louis XV had asked her for her favor, but he demanded sex. Mother Hildegarde had warned Claire as much but by that juncture, she no longer cared for the ideas of morality. Paris had already taken enough away from her. She acquiesced quietly, knowing full well that her consent or lack thereof was of no concern to the French monarch. She lay there in misery as Louis XV raped her (that was not consent, for heaven’s sake), pulling down her gown without comment. She had bought Jamie’s freedom much in the same way he had bought her safety with Randall.
The crux of this magnificent, turbulent hour was as always the primary relationship between Claire and Jamie. When she lay in the hospital, traumatized by the loss of her child, she hated Jamie. She hated that revenge mattered more to him than she did, or their child. She had asked for a year and she knew how difficult it was for her to ask and for him to agree. But nevertheless, he had promised and then he broke it with what seemed like utter impunity. And then one night, as she was walking the lonely, darkened corridors of her home, she heard a scream. Fergus was screaming in his bed and Claire learns that while he was at Maison Elise’s, he had seen lavender perfume he wanted to bring home for her. And then Randall appeared. He had ordered a prostitute but not Fergus. He nevertheless proceeded to rape the child in what is the most horrifying thing that has ever happened on this series. Fergus cried that he was responsible for Jamie’s imprisonment but Claire embraces him tightly, refusing to allow Fergus to blame himself for something that was absolutely not his fault. The knowledge that Jamie had dueled Randall to punish him for what he had done to Fergus becomes the fulcrum that pivots Claire towards bargaining for his release from the Bastille. But when Jamie comes back home, he finds a stone-faced, hardened Claire standing in the doorway. He wants to know if she hated him, she notes that she did but then she had begun to blame herself for all the tragedies that had befallen them. She describes to Jaime their daughter Faith, the way she looked, the way her tiny little head fit into the cusp of her palm except for her ears. She remembers the lullaby she sang to her child, the quiet words as she graced her child’s features. as Louise fulfilled the responsibility of a dearest friend. Both Claire and Jamie realize just how much they’ve lost in Paris, but as he notes, the only way they could live with the pain is if they carried it together. It may not be possible, but it’s the only thing they could truly hope would bring them some sort of solace. They place one of Jenny’s spoons onto Faith’s grave marked with St. Andrew’s insignia, leaving behind a bit of Scotland before they voyage back home with a bit of faith in one another if nothing or no one else. Bravo, Outlander.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The opening in 1954 Boston was exquisite, but I won’t say much more on the matter
+“When were you in Scotland, Mama?” Oh Brianna, that’s a loaded question.
+Blue the color of healing, the heron’s wings carrying the pain away
+“I am no Madonna. I have no child.”
+“God says we must revel in mercy. Tread sins underfoot and hurl inequities into the sea.”
“I’m not sure there’s a sea deep enough.”
+The sequence where Claire returned home was beautifully heartbreaking
+Chocolate and oranges
+There were a lot of gorgeous overhead shots this episode
+The welcome return of “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ”
+“I’ll see you in Hell.”
+“I’m going to miss you most of all.”
+I did love Claire’s grabbing of an orange as she departed the King’s chambers. Never down, always defiant.
+All the books
+The ticking clock
+“Mother Hildegarde let me see her, so I wouldn’t have to imagine.” Oh, my heart.
+“I forgave you a long time ago.”
+I’d be remiss if I didn’t note how utterly magnificent Caitriona Balfe was in this episode. The entire cast always brings it but this was something truly, utterly sublime.
+Claire Sermonne has been fabulous as Louise and despite her only appearance being in Dragonfly in Amber, I hope she comes back in some capacity. The same goes for the unabashedly great Frances de la Tour as Mother Hildegarde.
-Claire’s voiceover during the poisoning sequence was completely unnecessary
-Jamie’s beard looks ridiculously like cheap CGI. Did all of their budget go towards costuming? That’s okay, btw, because Terry Dresbach is killing it.
Episode Title: Faith
Written by: Toni Graphia
Directed by: Metin Hüseyin
Image Courtesy: Film Book