Highlander Fan Service
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Prestonpans was the awakening the characters in this narrative and by extension some of the audience needed to experience the true cost of the war that had been ingrained into the very fabric of Diana Gabaldon’s novels. Whether or not the Jacobites would have been successful (the season’s opener made that abundantly clear), the story still managed to construct some sense of a willful pall as the Highlanders rolled through the fog of Prestonpans. The talk of a grand victory or indeed any victory at all was dulled from the first blood that was spilled upon that foggy field and indeed even their declaration of an outright victory at the end of the battle, just as Claire had known, cast significant shadows over their darkened future. If she was right about Prestonpans, then she was right about the massacre that awaited them at Culloden. The episode’s opening scene goes over the Scottish camp, swimming in the atmosphere of Claire’s voiceover that duly noted that despite the Scots winning an outright victory at Prestonpans, the expected deluge of support from the Highlanders had yet to materialize. That information cases a significant shadow over the meeting between Bonnie Prince Charlie and his military officers, who all note the fairly difficult position they are in. On one hand, as the prince so ardently notes, they are a mere five days away from London and if they turned back now from the prize of the English capital, then their defeat was all but certain. How could they hope to get this far south again? But as the opposition to the grim prince notes, how could they hope to take London with five thousand soldiers when thirty thousand British troops stood in their way? And, as Claire notes grimly that in spite of their push towards London, it would have been nearly impossible to hold a city that size even if all of their five thousand soldiers had miraculously managed to survive. The prince and Jamie, outnumbered by far, are forced to back down.
The rest of the generals, understanding acutely that Jamie has a greater deal of influence over Bonnie Prince Charlie than they would like, have him and Dougal sent North to garner more provisions. How exactly they would garner them is of no concern to them, they just want to make sure they have a circumstance where Jamie’s influence can be kept in check. How Outlander was going to follow the calm after the storm with three full episodes remaining was a question, but Gabaldon herself steps into the writer’s chair for this expedient, thrilling, and extremely satisfying hour. After Jamie and Dougal’s banishment from the main forces, they camp for about five seconds in the gorgeous Scottish riverbanks. Within what seems to be about five seconds worth of screen time, however, they’re under intense fire from some nearby Redcoats. Their coats, as the Duke of Sandringham so acutely points out, are the stuff of stupidity but they manage to get the Highlanders on the ropes long enough to shoot Rupert. For a moment it seemed that Outlander had pulled an extremely cruel trick and allowed Rupert to be killed off a mere week after Angus, but he miraculously survives and Claire manages to extract the bullet from near his eye. He’s blinded in one eye and he has about three seconds to adjust to that fairly major life alteration before the British discover the church in which they’re hiding. They have two minutes before they destroy the roof and it collapses upon their beings, so Claire uses the same card she did when Jamie was interrogating a certain William Grey. She plays the Englishwoman imprisoned by a band of barbaric Scots and while the Jacobites’s weapons are confiscated, they’re left to live while Claire is taken off to a British outpost.
The Duke of Sandringham, played deliciously by Simon Cowell, is a man of utter repugnance yet indelible efficiency. Playing both sides of the coin with the Jacobites and the British, however, hasn’t proven to be as free of risk as he would have liked and he finds himself essentially under a sort of house arrest arrangement. The Redcoats aren’t technically ensuring that he doesn’t commit further acts of treason, but for all intents and purposes that is exactly why they are there and the Duke is intelligent enough to understand that. He plays his card fairly close to the chest, first making an offer to Claire that he would send a message to Jamie about where they were if and only if they would smuggle him out with them as well. Claire looks abundantly disgusted at the thought and understandably so, but she acquiesces. As one would expect, however, the story is something else entirely and the letter to Jamie was designed by the duke to be a trap to prove once and for all that he was a complete loyalist to the crown. His doorman, revealed to Claire via his birthmark, is another betrayal from a man whose second nature is to, first and foremost, secure himself above all. As it turns out, he owed the Comte St. Germaine a fair sum of money, money that he had no immediate way of paying (the ostentatious lavishness of his home is almost a mockery in this context). Somehow he convinced the Comte that having Claire raped would be sufficient payment for his lost goods and accompanying reputation. If his goddaughter Mary was in some fashion harmed, he couldn’t care less. It’s not as if the Duke is overflowing with genuinely familial love for anyone, after all. It’s an act of extreme barbarism the likes of which the Duke seemed perfectly capable of executing, but it seems far more beyond the pale of his usual sliminess.
This being Outlander, I don’t ever expect much in the sense of what viewers would generally call fan service. I expect the people I care about to suffer horribly, somehow still retain some traits of humanity, and either persevere or die (a.e. Rupert in this episode). I hardly ever expect the individuals who commit heinous crimes and betray those closest to them for something resembling self-gain to suffer for their choices, to get their comeuppance in any true, meaningful sense. Perhaps it’s the knowledge of what awaits our characters at Culloden and the longer wait to the third season of the series, but Gabaldon decided to give the audience two deaths that felt the most righteous and unabashedly so in a significant amount of time. When Comte succumbed to the poison in Paris, there was undoubtedly some satisfaction there but it didn’t feel complete. There was, however much one despised the man, pity for how utterly painful and torturous his death was. A part of the unabashed satisfaction here no doubt arises out of the Duke’s much longer presence on the series and the sheer amount of times he’s thrown the characters we care for to the wolves. A part of it arises from Mary stabbing her rapist and watching him slowly die, a cathartic justice and revenge such complicated stories rarely offer. A part of it arises just from seeing Murtagh so remorselessly hack the duke’s head off with an axe. Murtagh grasps his bleeding head and places it before Mary and Claire, a moment meant to symbolize his apology for not being able to stop the attack on them in the alleyways of Paris. It’s a great, bloody sequence of cathartic character moments for everyone involved, careening towards a pitch-perfect note from Mary that they should depart the manor as quickly as possible, allowing the cover of darkness to shade them before all hell breaks loose the following morning.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The falling wig
+Claire the dentist
+“Are these men not my responsibility, too?”
+“She’s even misspelled help.” Murtagh’s astonishment at Claire’s bad Gaelic was golden
+Out of all the episodes this season, this one truly felt like the characters were most sharply realized and it isn’t a surprise to see Gabaldon’s effort behind this installment
Episode Title: Vengeance Is Mine
Written by: Diana Gabaldon
Directed by: Mike Barker
Image Courtesy: Fanpop