‘Outlander’ Q&A: Claire’s in trouble again
‘By the Pricking of My Thumbs’.
Fresh off his vow to be a more progressive husband, Jamie (Sam Heughan) showed his dedication to Claire (Caitriona Balfe) by performing oral sex on her in the opening scene of Saturday’s episode of Outlander.
Mandi: Before we even get into anything major that happens in this episode, for all the ladies who enjoy a little Jamie in the bedroom time … the first minute or two of this episode is for you.Starz’s Outlander picked up from its eventful midseason return Saturday with another jam-packed hour in which the Duke of Sandringham was introduced and Geillis made a shocking revelation. While watching “By the Pricking of My Thumbs,” the 10th episode of the show’s first season, my mind kept returning to something a friend had said to me earlier in the week. Woman in question is currently being held prisoner on the charge of witchcraft, but if you get her out of this mess safely she’ll gladly tend to any wound you may sustain – she’s a healer, like a Beaton! – and if you get her friend and fellow accused witch out as well, she’ll dance naked for you by the light of the full moon.
The idea of children born and/or raised by the two pillars of perfection that are Jamie and Claire kind of sets our fangirl tendencies into overdrive We also meet the 20 year-old Brianna, who is Jamie and Claire’s biological daughter. If all goes according to plan, you’ll never have to see the brown-haired lass again (can’t speak for the redhead, her husband just died and her lover has been exiled, so she’s lonely), just as long as you play dumb when her ginger-haired husband comes looking for her. With season two starting production any day now, it’s possible that at least one of these two youngsters has been cast, but at least when we caught up with executive producer Ronald D. Moore at PaleyFest, they were still in the casting process. “We have not cast them yet,” Moore told us. “It’s a long chain that gets you to finding the actors, as we went through with Cait [Balfe] and Sam [Heughan]. So while Jamie is no longer narrating the story, we are privy to some Claire-less scenes that wouldn’t have happened in the first half of the season), I’d like to suspect Claire is once again having second thoughts about sticking around the 18th century.
In the midseason finale, Claire disobeyed Jamie’s orders and, as a result, was captured by the British, putting both herself and members of the MacKenzie clan in the line of fire. With such strong acting in all the main parts, including a dozen or more characters that sprang to life almost from their first moments on screen, who wants auditory subtitles that break the spell?
But Claire, who has the distinct advantage of being born 200 years later, wasn’t so keen on this plan. “I’ve heard of him,” she said darkly, thinking back on her conversations with her 20th century husband Frank (Tobias Menzies). “You mustn’t trust him,” she warned, though for obvious reasons, she couldn’t tell Jamie why. There was so much hype on blogs and elsewhere about the appeal of “Outlander” as a long-overdue paean to strong women that the mind pushed back with thoughts of how many times Claire caused trouble, courted danger or generally made an ass of herself being a won’t-take-anything-lying-down kind of modern woman. First she confronts Laoghaire about the ill-wish she left under the Frasers’ bed, which earns her nothing but more of the vindictive teenage lassie’s wrath and, eventually, a one-way ticket to the 1700s version of the proverbial “slammer” on a trumped-up witchcraft charge. Instead, she simply said he was a close ally of Black Jack Randall’s (also played by Menzies) and “a friend of Jack Randall’s can be no friend of yours.” Jamie wasn’t so easily dissuaded, however.
The actor who plays the duke does an excellent job — he had me chuckling a few times, especially after the scene where he makes Jamie his second on the duel. It’s the first time that it wasn’t so much about clues being drawn out like we’ve seen throughout the season; it’s ultimately about Geillis going all out. It more or less makes sense from his point of view, if corporal punishment is something you can support, but it does little to deter Claire’s future actions, as evidenced by the fact that Claire this week disobeys Jamie’s orders yet again and rushes to Geillis’ side when she receives an urgent message suggesting she’s needed. He sought a second opinion from the castle’s resident lawyer, Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson), who said he’d draw up a petition accusing Randall of crimes against the Scottish people.
Wakefield!) to blackmail the foppish nobleman into bringing Jamie’s Petition of Complaint against “Black Jack” Randall to London (which would clear his name once and for all). If Jamie could convince the Duke to deliver that petition to the Lord President of the Court of Session, then it could lead to Randall’s court marshal or, at the very least, his transfer elsewhere. “With Randall in disgrace, I believe I can take Jamie’s case to court and win him a general pardon,” Gowan declared.
And if Jamie only knew of Claire’s clandestine machinations, maybe he wouldn’t have let his arrogance get the better of him – which ultimately led to a poorly timed road trip shortly before his wife was arrested. After agreeing to be Duke Sandringham’s second in a duel involving the MacDonald clan, Jamie ends up spilling the blood of three separate brothers, all because he can’t take the implication that he may be sexually involved with Sandringham. She’s probably a little too well known, but we will watch and love pretty much anything Gillan is in, so it doesn’t matter to us. (RIP Selfie!) We also immediately thought of , who played Ygritte (RIP again!) on Game of Thrones.
The big tapestry remains the coming Jacobite uprising to restore a Stuart king to the throne of England, along with subplots featuring the intrigue, betrayal, danger, rough justice and brutality that obtained in the times when “Outlander” is set, and the places where it was filmed. Fair is fair, though, lads and lassies, and I assure you Jamie’s deeds go punished as well this episode: For those of you who still aren’t over last week’s spanking, Jamie has now paid for his previous behavior in spades. In an 18th-century world without clutter, the camera also searches out small details: the glean of a horseshoe on a plodding Friesian in a shady lane.
I’m not sure what I’m more upset about. (I like my Outlander love scenes — I can’t help myself!) That naughty Dougal and Geillis Duncan have been up to no good, hence Dougal’s banishment. See, the ol’ dukie apparently has a thing for pretty, strapping boys in kilts, so Jamie figures, “Why not let him stroke my perfect, porcelain cheekbones in exchange for a full pardon? Claire is married to not one, but two amazing husbands – does she even know what rejection is?), but Laoghaire wasn’t having it. “He was never yours to begin with,” she said, adding, “Jamie Fraser was and is mine.” “You’re mistaken, child,” Claire countered. I don’t trust Geillis for one second, and while Claire doesn’t listen to Jamie’s warning to stay away from her, she is betrayed by another, and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out in the next episode.
I wanna be laird of Lallybroch already!” Jamie is so busy prattling on about their future at his ancestral home of Lallybroch and how excited he is to be referred to as “m’laird” (I made that second part up, but it might as well be true) that he fails to notice Claire’s crestfallen face – guess she’s still plotting a second trip to Craigh na Dun after all. The sight of a sickly infant left to die crying in a tree crotch by parents who will comfort themselves later with the belief that fairies took their child to safety and left a dead changeling in its place. Laoghaire denies it all, hurling insults at Claire: “He must have to get himself swine-drunk before he can stand to plow your field,” Laoghaire hisses, earning a slap to the face by Claire. “I shouldn’t have done that. Yes, Jamie is sent away to babysit Dougal, who’s being actually punished for his illicit liaison with Geillis, but that’s hardly a sanction that matches the potential disaster his actions could potentially result in. The duel in question involved the MacKenzie clan’s sworn enemies, the MacDonalds, and because Jamie apparently never heard the phrase “Keep calm and carry on – and don’t take the bait from a bunch of hooligans looking for a fight,” a brawl ensues.
Passion is a key component of what makes “Outlander” work, but passion for its own sake is empty, soon suggesting that it’s much more about ego than empathy. While she’s a little short at 5’4″ (especially next to gentle giants Balfe and Heughan), we’ve always loved her on Castle and would love to see her take on a character who’s a little more dramatic but equally as independent.
The show seems to prize these contradictions as ways to add depth and humanity to its often too-good-to-be true leads, while viewing similar contradictions as less endearing in others. Fantasy it may be, but there is creative magic at work too. “Outlander” can even show an 18th century Scot listening to his 20th-century wife describe a future two centuries hence, of airplanes, and elephant sightings and doomed uprisings, and somehow turn the unbelievable into a moment of true beauty. Claire decides to investigate, and after stopping by Geillis’ home and getting a rather rude reception from Geillis’ flatulence-prone husband (I’ve probably said this before, but those ludicrous sound effects are one of my most favorite things ever), she’s told by the housemaid that Geillis will be in the woods just before dawn. What was surprising was that she was pregnant. “I have a lover,” Geillis told Claire once she was done communing with Mother Nature. “It’s Dougal MacKenzie.” She added that she was praying to Mother Nature to ask for their “freedom” since both Dougal (Graham McTavish) and Geillis are married.
In any case, Moore and the Outlander casting team have already hit so many home runs in the actor department that we have no doubt they’ll continue that winning streak. And that’s why this episode belonged to Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) – a character sorely missed since Claire left the Castle Leoch grounds in Episode 105, “Rent.” Claire is reunited with her mysterious, maybe-friend when Laoghaire drops the bombshell that the herbalist Geillis sold her the ill-wish. It’s interesting because you never get to see them together on screen — they barely share screen time — so you don’t see the effects of them being together. Geillis then reveals her secret: The child she carries is not her husband’s but Dougal MacKenzie’s! (Dougal could really start a side business impregnating other men’s wives—seems to me like a much more fun way to raise money for the Jacobite cause…) Apparently the purpose of Geillis’ summoning was to “ask for our freedom. Dougal’s and mine,” she informs Claire. (Dougal is married, FYI.) She then shows off a bauble Dougal gave her—one gifted to him by the Duke, which triggers Claire’s future memory: the Duke was also a suspected Jacobite.
If one sympathizes with the plight of Claire and aches for the thought of her poor heart bisected between two men, shouldn’t that same concession be afforded to Dougal? But unlike the more conservative 20th-century biddies Claire witnessed, Geillis’s sensual writhing of her topless body on the ground is far more gratifying – at least in the fiery-haired Scotswoman’s case. As I mentioned last week, there is a burden on adaptations that forces them to make the best of bad situations, and this is an area where the series must do just that. We wanted to play him a little bit more forward in the show [because] he is set up as this interesting figure that plays both sides against the middle, and you question constantly what side he’s on.
But it’s not just that Sandringham is interested in men but, as Jamie’s story implies, he seems to have a decided taste for younger men, likely younger than generally deemed acceptable. This means that the only homosexual that exists in the show’s universe makes untoward advances to young men and tries to take advantage of his powerful position.
That said, Sandringham’s not actually the first suggestion of homoerotic interests the show has seen, though the other example may have been easily overlooked. When news arrives that Dougal’s wife has died an offscreen death shortly afterward, Geillis is practically giddy, giving Claire mind-twisting lines like, “I don’t know that [the summoning] did [kill Dougal’s wife], I don’t know that it did not.” But it’s her sassy, silent expression with regards to her own husband, the gastro-intestinally challenged procurator fiscal Arthur Duncan, that all but screams, “Yeah, he’ll be dead by nightfall. Upon arriving to rescue Claire from the clutches of Captain Randall, Jamie was met with a torrent of unsavory commentary from Randall, including some curiously pointed statements offering Jamie the opportunity to partake in the proceedings, followed by the observation that he never understood why someone would take a wife. Perhaps these were just words said to enflame an already volatile situation, but if they do serve as more than just surface insults, it implies that Randall has a second hidden face, one that entails an even wider scope of sexual interest than just his sadism.
Between Claire diagnosing cyanide poisoning as the cause of death (she smelled it on him – also, now she’s back to providing voice-over, halfway through the episode? And they were going to pay dearly for their infractions, as Colum reminds Dougal that Hamish is his child before banishing his brother back to his home without a pregnant Geillis for wife or companion. It’s a little disorienting to the viewer) and Colum totally noticing Geillis and Dougal smiling at each other before Geillis emits a belated shriek of horror, rest assured the secret lovers are not getting their happily ever after anytime soon. The formative experience for this character was when she was an Army field nurse during World War II and right off the bat that tells me a lot about who she is, and what she able to deal with.
Claire knows she’ll have to do much more than simply put her signature on a piece of paper to win her husband’s freedom, so she pays a visit to the Duke—unbeknownst to Jamie. And by the smell of almonds – a sign of cyanide poisoning – nothing could have been done to prevent it anyway. “What I found was anything but a grieving widow,” Claire ruminated in voiceover.
Clearly, homosexuality in Scotland in 1743 was regarded as profoundly different than it is today, even as the jeers and jokes and punchlines speculating on a man’s sexuality aren’t so different from those one might expect to find in a typical modern day locker room. When the Duke doesn’t take her Black Jack bait, she surprises him with one last bit of future knowledge: “How much Jacobite gold did Dougal MacKenzie pass along to you?” she asks. See, Claire’s knowledge of the future may have helped her with Jamie’s earlier predicament, but she forgets sometimes that she’s living in a God-fearing era, and no scientific proof or fancy book-learnin’ can dissuade any lawman if the person in question has been accused of witchcraft. As a novel, “Outlander” is very much of its time, and the series seems to be having some trouble fully extricating itself from the politics of the early ‘90s. Colum (Gary Lewis) kicked Dougal out of Castle Leoch and forbid him from taking up with Geillis, who hadn’t been nearly as subtle about the whole murder thing as she thought.
The duality that stands as the bedrock for “Outlander” is what makes it brilliant and complicated, far from the shallow romance it could easily devolve into, but the key to the show becoming a lasting success centers around whether or not they embrace the complexity of the concept for all characters equally. And, just for good measure, Colum sent Jamie along with him as punishment for that whole duel business with the Duke. “You’ll leave that wife of yours here,” Colum ordered. Geillis, of course, can’t contain her joy over these turn of events. “It’s a tragedy, no doubt,” she says only partially hiding her dumb grin.
But if Laoghaire lived in 2015, oh, boy, destroy your iPhone and delete your Facebook account, Claire – and you’d best do the same with Jamie’s – because Laoghaire would have already started an “I Hate Claire Fraser” page and have her own profile claim “Laoghaire MacKenzie and James Fraser are in a relationship.” Judging by Laoghaire’s shift-less riverside temptation of Jamie last week, it’s safe to say she would not hold back from sending him naked selfies if she had the technology to do so. She received a letter from “Geillis” and went to check on her. “‘Twas not me who sent it,” Geillis declared merrily. “I suspect someone’s playing a prank on you.” And what a prank it was. Because the post-war world would have forced her into another role: they tried very much in the world after the second World War to return it to just the way it used to be.
She delivers the most lackluster apology of all time and is unsurprised to realize, upon being arrested for witchcraft alongside Geillis Duncan, that she had been set up by the young woman. They told women, “No more working in factories, it’s time to go home and you’re going to be homemakers again.” And a lot of women had trouble with that transition and I think Claire wouldn’t have really enjoyed that. Moore: I don’t think she would have known that about herself in the beginning, because when the pilot starts in, going home and doing that is what she’s planning on — I think that’s what they were all planning on doing. If I scrub your back, I’d expect you to see that mine is equally spotless.” Excuse me while I scrub the resulting Duke shower scene from my brain. Once she’s arrived at the Duncan home, Geillis, dressed in the sexiest black, lacy widow’s gown in all of Cranesmuir, with a devilish pair of red shoes to match, is all, “Uh, I didn’t send you that message, but, hey, I killed my husband and I’m going to have my lover’s baby, so let’s eat, shall we?” Ignoring Claire’s admonitions to flee the area, Geillis naively swishes around her apothecary, insisting Dougal will protect her.
You had to get your pound of flesh, didn’t you,” she says. “If anything happens to Jamie during your little duel, quid pro quo.” The fete is interrupted when Arthur Duncan begins choking. It’s just too bad we’re 200 years before Arthur Miller’s time – because it doesn’t look like the concept of hard evidence is going to work in Claire and Geillis’s favor next week.
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