A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Outlander returns to its home in Scotland, the cameras sweeping over the long green vistas with Bear McCreary’s stirring music soars across the mountainous landscapes. It’s a tumultuous return, the events of Paris having left behind a scarring that Claire and Jamie need time to recover from but time is a luxury they have yet to be afforded. It’s a bit unclear exactly how much time has passed from their voyage from France, but it seemed to at least have been a decent chunk. Everyone has settled into Lallybroch with a quiet respite. Jamie and Claire had settled into a troubling sort of peace, where they realized that they had done all they possibly could to control Charles in France and perhaps, just perhaps, their efforts may have won out. That belief lasts for about three seconds, however. A letter arrives from Charles Stuart, a published letter whose distribution was surely wide. In it is ascribed Charles’s intentions to lay his claim and armies upon the English throne. By in and of itself the letter would have been alarming enough, proving that the Prince’s intentions to take the English throne for the Catholic cause was far from over. But as if to add further fuel to the fire, he names some of his most ardent Scottish supporters in the letter. For as unintelligent and bumbling as Charles may be, he at least had this stroke of genius (if it indeed was him who had the idea to begin with). Naming his Scottish supporters in a public letter puts them in a bind. Backing out means shaming one’s family name in Scotland and the Highland clans. Sticking put is a declaration of treachery to the British crown and one is compelled to action. The result of that action was made clear with the season’s opening, however, and it helps portend this imminent sense of doom throughout all of the proceedings.
The sense of doom becomes more pertinent when Claire and Jamie decide after the rather quick turn of events at the episode’s beginning that it was imperative for them to not let go of the history they are aware of. Their efforts to stop Prince Charles failed spectacularly amidst the wondrous set designs of Paris. With the letter and its corresponding events unspooling so quickly, they decide that they best course of action going forward would be to turn the tide of the rebellion itself. They couldn’t succeed in preventing it from happening, but what if they were able to turn the tide to victory? But for that they needed more men and clan heads to pledge their fealty to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s cause and the first route that they take takes them to an elderly man who is utterly distasteful in every fashion, who treated Jamie and Jenny with the knowledge that they were bastard born children and inherently subpar. Jamie is ashamed of being a bastard child but Claire assures him that she doesn’t give two quick damns about his parentage. She cares about him as a person and nothing else ought to matter. Being from the future, of course, Claire has a much different idea of social stratifications and their vitality. As a woman, she finds them distasteful and as a nurse in World War II, she sees the equality in life and death in a way a man like Lord Lovat never would. But it’s a burden that bears on Jamie’s soul and parts of his being that lacked a sense of belonging, a sense of self-assurance become enlightened in the face of this new information.
Jamie decides to take himself, Claire, and Fergus to meet his grandfather Lord Lovat. Jenny (!!!!!!!!!!!!) expresses extreme disgust at their grandfather, noting his lust, his greed for Lallybroch, and a general disinterest in being a decent human being in any way, shape, or form. Jamie noes they don’t really have much of an option after the letter had arrived and off to Lord Lovat’s castle they go. Within about three seconds, it’s abundantly clear that Lord Lovat is a rather distasteful man, espousing tendencies that don’t look flattering on a bug, let alone an elderly man whom one would expect may not necessarily know better but would have the social understandings of how to properly behave in such situations. But men like Lord Lovat are so enshrined within their masculine privilege from an early enough age that that societal stratification becomes embedded within their understandings of behavior for the rest of their life. He dismisses Claire from the beginning, noting that he was spending far too much time speaking to a woman when as men they had matters of war to disgust. I love the furtive little look Jamie gives to Claire but as much as she wants to stab Lovat in the gut with his own sword, she leaves with the irony that she knew more about the war that was happening than any of the damned men around her. When Jamie meets Lovat afterwards, he asks for two things in return for supporting Charles Stuart to be the next king if his rebellion succeeded. One was Lallybroch and the second option was Claire’s honor. In another swoop, he made it quite clear that he thought of women as men’s properties and if Jamie consented, then Claire would simply follow suit, willfully or otherwise.
Jamie takes to this offer as well as one would expect, using the legend of the La Dame Blanche to his rescue one more time. It’s a dangerous gamble, one made all the more so as Claire’s witch trial is something that hits far closer to home in Scotland than it did in Paris. But it does provide for a thematic continuation of the dichotomy present between the good and evil imbued within witches (as a theoretical concept put into a practice of reality). Much as she did in front of King Louis XV, Claire puts on a performance with help from Lovat’s seer but it seemingly does not work in front of Lovat, who accepts Colum MacKenzie’s proposal of neutrality above Jamie’s proposal of supporting the Jacobite Rebellion. Colum, a measured man in some respects and a devious one in others, has a point. The Scots have never won a rebellion against the British and the only thing this battle would accomplish is the killing of more people and depending on the scale, heightened British retribution. His proposal of neutrality keeps them safe and as measured of a response he gives here, however, he’s no match in this instance to the cunning of Lord Lovat, who signs the agreement but then finds a lovely loophole to effectively break it. For a bit of time, it had seemed that Claire’s performance and effort had ultimately failed but as they ride through a forest, they see Lord Lovato’s men standing about the trees, their weapons in hand. Claire’s performance has the effect of bringing a spine in Lord Lovat’s son Simon, whom at the end of the hour is effectively given the reigns of Lord Lovat’s men. Either way he wins and it portends a sharply cynical note to end on for a quiet hour that promises absolute tragedy to come.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Sometimes actions can change things.”
+“His black face, the shadow of an axe…”
+Jamie’s scene where he was quietly cradling Kitty in his arms hit every emotional note perfectly. The sequence said just as much as it needed to and it spoke to a greater emotional depth as a result.
-The whole Laoghaire subplot was weak. Nell Hudson is fine in the role, but frankly the moment where Laoghaire talked about getting Jamie’s love back killed that aspect of the episode for me. It’s a stereotypical vengeful female character and in a series full of nuanced, complex individuals, Laoghaire just hasn’t fit in so far. Her handling of Simon at Claire’s suggestion points to one of the least savory things Claire has done and it is uncomfortable to say the least.
Note: Two episodes from now is Prestonpans, so please check in for a longer review with extra historical complexities added in to flesh out the Outlander universe!
Episode Title: The Fox’s Lair
Written by: Anne Kenney
Directed by: Mike Barker
Image Courtesy: Outlander TV News