I Am Ready
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The cost of war is great. That much is clear, that much is known, yet somehow it is yet to be completely understood. World War I was a total war that encompassed the entire world (although arguably the War of the Austrian Succession was the first true global conflict). World War I is often thought of as being primarily fought on the European continent, although battles were fought and resources were pooled out of colonies from Latin America to Asia. World War II had no such delineations. The first World War was something the likes of which the world had never experienced, a war where the glory of the battlefield was wiped out by horror at the sheer quantity of ways that human beings could kill one another. There was simply no time to romanticize the glorious march to death in which the poor were the vast majority who were slaughtered. There was no time to write songs about the beauty of firing a gun into one’s charging enemies when poison gas was clogging your esophagus. That is not to say that war before was glorious. It never was, it is not, and it will never be so. But the scale of the first World War truly pushed it beyond the scope of romanticization and left behind nothing but an entire generation that felt lost, drifting amidst the smoke and gas that roared across the trenches with little cause for care. With World War II, the scale somehow grew even more expansive, coming to a screeching halt when two of humanity’s worst weapons yet came down upon two civilian centers. The lack of humanity grew seemingly exponentially from one World War to the next, but it was never lost and that’s perhaps how we, as a species, survived the catastrophe. We have yet to learn, that is for certain, but as long as that common thread of humanity exists between the abundance of salt and smoke, there’s perhaps some form of hope for the future.
Dougal, as slimy as ever, has a foregone fondness for old tactics that simply wouldn’t work in the face of a British army and Jamie lets him know that within about three seconds, even if that lesson may or may not have actually sunk in (I expect not). Jamie, more comfortable in the role of a commander than ever before, takes charge of training, fully aware of the vitality of the task that lays before them and the dangers Claire had warn him of from the future. He makes an admirable leader, all things considered and it’s certainly not just because he’s a protagonist. When Dougal brings in a dozen or so men as “volunteers”, the two sentries are flogged the following morning. The sequence is troubling, in certain part because of Jamie’s own history with the violent practice. But when he’s almost assassinated by a young British officer named John William Grey, he realized that the first he hadn’t thought twice of what would actually occur with all of their unregulated fires and he has himself whipped eighteen times to drive that point home. It’s that unmitigated mark of responsibility and awareness that drives home the authenticity of Jamie as a leader, although the entire practice of whipping in general is discomforting on several levels, torturous in a sense. The assassin in question is about to be tortured himself by Jamie’s hot blade, a dangerous way of thinking that has permeated through the present day and probably beyond. Torture doesn’t yield the answers torturers desire, but that simplistic logic has yet to go away. Claire interrupts the impending torture by pretending to be an English captive and the answers are received. The young officer, however, also promises to repay the debt of his life before killing Jamie as an act of honor against a traitorous rebel.
There are certain aspects of Claire’s existence in the twentieth century that have been consistently at the forefront as she traverses through the eighteenth but one that has yet to arrive at the emotional forefront was the trauma she garnered through her experience as a war nurse. Her healing experience has saved the day a significant number of times but up until she sees the men training to fight the British at Prestonpans, she had managed to block that trauma in some part of her mind. The training of unkempt men and morphing them into soldiers is not a unique turn of narrative events and one that certainly didn’t exude much excitement in the episode’s preview and to date no one has able to do the training sequences as well as Akira Kurosawa. But Matthew B. Roberts’s script makes an intelligent choice in keeping the training grounded in the character traits we have come to know and expect and Claire’s PTSD was the strongest of those choices and arguably the greatest improvement over its source material yet. She remembers the time when she was making food and a soldier behind him had gagged. She remembers smiling at Caleb Grant and Max Lucas, two soldiers who had been separated from their airborne divisions. Each of their actions parallels eerily in the present for her, an eerie reminder of the common humanity within war, no matter where or when it is fought. The editing throughout these sequences is especially sharp, taking the viewer in and out of the present and into the past/future in ways that make the episode feel absolutely seamless. Throughout the episode those reminders destabilize Claire and Caitriona Balfe does an incredible job at bringing the complexities of her trauma to the forefront.
Claire’s most traumatizing war episode, at least in terms of what the show has shown us so far, arrives in the dead of night amidst a darkened, smoking battlefield. For a second only is there some reprieve, some promise of Caleb and Max reuniting with their fellow airborne soldiers before gunfire rains down upon them. An explosion knocks the vehicle out before a temporary cut to black rains over the field. Claire grimly wakes up to note Caleb crouching down beside her as they both anxiously await a German tank to disappear so they can rescue their comrade in arms Max. The disappearance happens but as careful as Caleb is going across the smoky field, he still falls to the ground, shattered by a bullet. Claire remains in the trench but there’s no haunting quiet. She hears Max’s screams of pain reverberating throughout the air, his slowly transitioning into tearful pleas for his mother. “Mama,” he repeats over and over again, his sobs breaking apart the pauses between each word he spoke. Claire covers her ears and burrows down further into the trench, the word “Mama” fading away from her ears. She is found in the morning by an Allied soldier but she can’t speak, she can’t think, she can’t say anything at all. The cut to Claire lying on the ground in Scotland in that same position is a powerful one. Jamie assures her that it was not her fault, but she could never really let that go, that she could have perhaps done something more in that moment. He assures her that her ploy with William saved lives but Claire’s eyes betray the little assurance that statement gave her. As she rides forth to battle, she looks upon Bonnie Prince Charlie’s encampment and remembers that lone soldier in the fields, crying out for his mother so she could ease some of his pain. Claire looks upon the encampment with a heavy heart, knowing that he wouldn’t be the first, nor the last.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The music in this episode was utterly phenomenal. This episode should guarantee Bear McCreary an Emmy nomination, if not a win
+Lovat kept his bad men. Of course he did.
+Angus and Rupert
+“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”
+“First, you see the flash of metal in the Sun.”
+“He is a better man than I.”
+“Fuck yourself.” That was so satisfying on so many different levels.
+Claire’s outburst at Angus’s stupidity was excellent and potential foreshadowing as well, I assume?
+“If… if I go back, then it will just be like lying in that ditch again, helpless and powerless to move, like a dragonfly in amber.”
+Claire kneeing Jamie in the balls
+The debt of William Grey. That sequence’s change from the books is another one I was fond of.
+The sabotage of the cannons
+The Gaelic March
Episode Title: Je Suis Prest
Written by: Matthew B. Roberts
Directed by: Philip John
Image Courtesy: Spoilers Guide