Outlander – Season 3 Episode 9

Nov 12, 2017 | Posted by in TV
Outlander

“The Doldrums”

Outlander takes to the high seas when Jamie and Claire set sail for Jamaica on a mission to rescue young Ian.

This episode is best described as a bit of a novelty as it completely takes the show away from what is familiar. More or less an entire episode set on a ship is something that hasn’t been done before on Outlander so the change in setting automatically makes it noteworthy since we are getting something different right away.

Outlander

Silly superstitions

In terms of the overall story only the first few minutes and last few minutes are important to the ongoing season narrative. This essentially makes this episode filler from that point of view though important as it reminds the audience that moving between countries in the 18th century wasn’t easy so spending an episode killing time helps add a sense of realism to the show to counter all of the fantastical time travel elements.

One advantage afforded by claustrophobic surroundings is that it forces character development and interactions in ways that more open surroundings wouldn’t. The best example of this is Jamie’s reaction to Fergus’ and Marsali’s (Lauren Lyle) self declared wedding. It’s safe to say that he doesn’t approve of their relationship as he feels they are rushing into things so a good chunk of the episode’s conflict focuses is centred around Jamie’s attempts to prevent the consummation of the marriage so that it is never validated.

This is fairly flimsy as we know almost nothing about Marsali as she was only introduced last week to serve as a complication in Jamie and Claire’s relationship. It’s saved somewhat by Jamie taking on the audience perspective and being as surprised by the relationship as we are. His disapproval doesn’t really make a lot of sense but that has more to do with the show not establishing any meaningful connection between Jamie and Marsali. We know that he’s her step father but that feels pretty empty since nothing about the relationship has been defined. Similarly it has been established that Fergus is a bit of a womaniser though only through dialogue rather than his actions. As such it makes the conversations he has with Jamie feel a little forced.

Outlander

The disapproving stepfather

The implication is that Jamie’s disapproval comes from a desire to look out for his step daughter. He doesn’t want her to look back on this decision with regrets and he also cares about Fergus having taken the young man under his wing many years prior. All of this is well and good and a solid basis for the conflict but it adds to the problem this season has with telling us what motivates characters rather than showing us. Ever since Claire returned there hasn’t been any time to show any of these relationships develop so we have little more than the dialogue to go on.

What does work is the performances. Sam Heughan always does well with the material he’s given so Jamie’s lack of approval for the self declared marriage comes across clearly. It’s clear that Jamie is entirely serious about not giving this marriage his blessing despite the fact that his reasoning is flawed. I’ve said on many occasions that flawed characters are more interesting and Jamie is routinely the poster child for that being true. Everyone around him including Claire calls him out on the fact that he has no good reason to not accept this but Jamie stubbornly sticks to his guns. Sam Heughan delivers the stubbornness wonderfully.

César Domboy really comes into his own as Fergus here. The most prominent appearance was back in “Crème de Menthe” which established his friendship with Young Ian but this episode gives the actor far more to work with. He is mainly used to convince Jamie that his relationship with Marsali is the real thing and César Domboy does so by delivering his lines with complete sincerity; whether he truly feels that way or not is up for debate but Fergus definitely believes it. Unfortunately he doesn’t share many scenes with Marsali to give the audience an idea of how they feel about one another but the fact that he is so adamant to convince Jamie to give his blessing shows some degree of commitment from him.

Outlander

Claire had the Captain’s ear

I also liked Lauren Lyle as Marsali; there’s enough in her performance to reference Laoghaire without being a simple imitation so it’s clear she has been influenced by her mother but has also become her own person. Marsali is a very assertive character who proves to be a match for Claire. The way she calls Claire out on her hypocritical statement about not getting involved in the business of others when that’s exactly what caused all of the trouble and uncertainty within Marsali’s family is great. Claire doesn’t have an answer and seems to realise that Marsali’s assessment isn’t wrong even if she can’t admit it to her.

The majority of Claire’s screen time this episode is spent putting her medical knowledge to good use in treating the various injuries sustained by the crew of the Artemis and trying to care for Jamie during his bout of extreme sea sickness. It’s a good use of the character and allows her to explore the ship as a small world within the show in a really organic way. Since so much time is spent on this ship it almost has to feel like a character in its own right and it definitely does.

Claire’s relationship with Jamie gets some air time in a brilliantly written and acted moment of tranquillity. The scene depicts them looking at the moon discussing what’s up there and being somewhat envious of the constant peaceful barren landscape that exists up there. It also does lip service to Claire missing Bree and just allows the married couple to spend some undramatic time together. There is also the passionate below decks sex scene which comes across as a little gratuitous.

Her medical knowledge becomes the fodder for the cliffhanger ending when the British man o’ war Porpoise commanded by Captain Leonard (Charlie Hiett) who needs help after his crew are struck down by an awful virus that turns out to be Typhoid. Claire goes aboard and the visuals are pretty harrowing; people being violently sick and the general undercurrent of disease about the ship. Claire is able to help them thanks to her medial knowledge but Leonard takes it upon himself to kidnap her and set sail for Jamaica. Luckily they’re bound for the same place the Artemis is which loses the cliffhanger some of its teeth as Claire is reassured before the credits roll. Fair enough she would rather not be stuck aboard the wrong ship but it could definitely be a lot worse. As cliffhangers go it’s more of an inconvenience than nail biting danger.

Outlander

A tranquil moment

Captain Leonard is a good character so far. His youth and inexperience is interesting as is the fact that he has been promoted because everyone of a higher rank is no longer available. It’s a difficult situation for someone so young and he’s forced to make the best of it. Charlie Hiett plays the right blend of terror and faux confidence as he has to manage the situation as well as his crew. His decision to kidnap Claire is a very impulsive one and it’s clear that he’ll have difficulty dealing with her confidently aggressive personality though she will also be motivated by her promise to care for the crew so it’s clear that there will be some conflict there.

The Artemis Captain, Raines (Richard Dillane) was another interesting addition. I found his approach to dealing with superstitions to be fascinating. It’s established early on that the crew are a superstitious bunch who feel that women and redheads are bad luck. Touching a horseshoe is a mandatory exercise for everyone on the crew to ward off bad luck as well.

It all seems ludicrous and Raines doesn’t disagree but he also acknowledges that it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. If his crew swear by their superstitions then there’s absolutely nothing he can do to stop them. He points out that they aren’t a naval ship so people are largely there on a voluntary basis to make money. If a crew decides to mutiny then the Captain can’t stop them so observing the superstitions becomes very important to keep order on the ship.

Outlander

Not going anywhere

The superstitious nature of the crew becomes a significant source of tension in the mid point of the episode. It starts when the wind dies down to the point that the ship can’t move and the crew start to unravel. Weeks of being stationary cause paranoia to sweep through the ship and the added problem of a significant portion of their water supply becoming tainted doesn’t help matters. What ultimately happens is that the group start looking for someone to blame.

Suspicions start to fall on Hayes (James Allenby-Kirk) who can’t remember if he touched the horseshoe or not. It gets to the point where he is convinced that he is to blame and is ready to toss himself overboard. Thanks to some intervention from Jamie that doesn’t happen but the ordeal shows just how dangerous mob mentality is in an enclosed place where people leap to outlandish conclusions. It’s not something easy to battle against and the fack that the Captain has pledged to defer to mob mentality adds to the urgency of the situation.

The resolution to this was excellently done with the passionate delivery of Mr. Willoughby’s life story. It’s a fascinating tale really well delivered in a wonderfully directed scene. Gary Young is completely captivating and the way the crew are stunned into silence feels believable enough. Foreshadowing this moment earlier in the episode by establishing that the story would only be told once before being let go of completely was a nice touch and added weight to Mr. Willoughby letting the paper containing the story blow away in the newly restored wind. This act could also establish Mr. Willoughby as a good luck charm for the crew since it is immediately followed by the reappearance of wind and plenty of rain. Superstition can definitely be used to the advantage of those who understand how it works.

Outlander

Letting go of the past

Mr. Willoughby has a lot of meaningful scenes in this episode mostly connected to Claire who notices him writing poetry on the deck using water. The whole point is that poem is meant to exist briefly before being lost forever. On a symbolic level it relates to the notion of experience being fleeting and not able to be truly remembered. Everything should be celebrated in the brief time it exists then people should move on. Mr. Willoughby’s poetry signifies that belief for him and establishes him as someone who constantly looks to the future. It’s very significant when you consider how Jamie and Claire in particular are spending a lot of time holding onto the past to an unhealthy degree. Claire seeming to appreciate this philosophy might suggest that she is willing to move on from everything she is holding onto. Outside of the philosophical it was a lot of fun seeing him apply acupuncture to Jamie to help him with his sea sickness.

I mentioned earlier that Claire’s medical position was a natural insight into the small world of the ship; this proves necessary because it is such a fascinating little world full of larger than life people and a palpable sense of community to it. I know very little about long sea voyages in the 18th century but I imagine that this episode gets it pretty close in terms of showing how deeply unpleasant it can be. The conditions are cramped, the ship is constantly dirty and the people become increasingly irritable as time goes on.

Visually this episode is stunning with a beautifully crafted interior for the ship itself and some stunning shots of the vessel at sea. According to what I’ve read ships from Black Sails were used which makes sense in terms of getting enough resource to make this believable without breaking the budget. I’m also aware that the Artemis was built especially for the show which makes it all the more impressive that it blends in with ships used for a show with huge production values. All in all an impressive turn for this show on a visual level.

Outlander

Unexpected visitors


Verdict

A solid episode that is elevated by the novelty of a vastly different setting and excellent production design. The plot surrounding Jamie’s lack of acceptance of Fergus and Marsali’s self declared marriage is somewhat tedious though boasts some impressive performances from those involved. The problem here is that not enough work has been done on the background of these relationships to make them resonate in any meaningful way. Despite that the characters are good and the individual scenes are entertaining enough in their own right.

The two Captains are great characters in their own way. Captain Leonard is compelling because he has so much to learn and has been thrust into a less than ideal situation where Captain Raines stands out with his approach to superstition and the recognition that letting his crew sort out problems on their own is the only way to deal with them. The episode does an excellent job building the small world of the ship through Claire’s interaction with it as surgeon which then plays into the somewhat underwhelming cliffhanger ending.

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