On the D/L – Outlander
Season 1 Episode 2 – “Castle Leoch”
This episode picks up right after the end of the last one and sees Claire arrive at Castle Leoch, the home of the leaders of Clan MacKenzie -name misspelled in last week’s review so I apologise- and has to learn her place in 18th century Scotland.
For the most part this episode concentrates on the differences in the role of women between Claire’s time and the time she now lives in. Claire acts no differently to how she would in the 20th century where she would enjoy relative equality and this causes complications for her as her brash attitude isn’t met with much acceptance. The fact that Claire is English and has such a profound English accent is something that also doesn’t help her to adjust to her new time period. Many of the people around her don’t trust her because of her nationality; in particular Colum MacKenzie believes that she may be an English spy which makes a lot of sense given the time period and the experience that Colum and his men will no doubt have had.
A standout scene in the episode was the dinner scene where Colum tries to get Claire drunk and interrogate her; despite the fact that the scene is two people sitting talking about nothing particularly interesting; the tension is palpable as Colum carries out this interrogation. Gary Lewis injects Colum with barely concealed suspicion and a great deal of intelligenc
e in his line of questioning, making it clear that he doesn’t believe a word Claire is saying. The questions asked are also very carefully chosen as Claire’s story is challenged from every angle. Catriona Balfe plays this scene from the perspective of Claire trying to seem confident when she really isn’t. It’s clear that the interrogation is wearing her down and that she is struggling to keep her fictional story straight. It is also a testament to her strength of character that she doesn’t crumble right away but in the narration it’s plainly stated that she doesn’t know how long she can keep it going.
Generally speaking the episode does this sort of thing well throughout; the contrast of Claire’s perceived role in the two time periods is always at the thematic center of the story and there are lots of good examples of things that are different. It’s interesting that Claire’s attitude also unsettles the other women of this time period and there were
some really good gags like Mrs. Fitzgibbons questioning her bra as it seems like an unusual corset to her or Rupert MacKenzie reacting to her unusual -yet normal for her- attitude. Flashbacks to Claire’s life in her own time help to punctuate these differences in effective ways, the show really does take advantage of Claire being the narrator in ways that benefit the story greatly.
An important thing that is done very well is a constant reason for Claire to stay around; her medical skill is a valuable one for people who are always suffering various battlefield injuries so it makes sense that Colum would want to make use of that resource in spite of the risk of her being an English spy. There’s a particularly good conversation where he tells her that she’s not a prisoner unless she tries to leave.
The pacing of this episode is very deliberate and a great deal of time is taken to tell the story which I feel is a good thing because there’s plenty of story here to explore. The first episode was about getting to know Claire and a great deal of time was taken to do that while this episode is about getting to know the time period and her role within that. I never felt that the episode dragged and the various characters are interesting enough to keep things moving along nicely. Little was done with Jamie other than showing him to be a compassionate man when taking punishment for someone else but the chemistry between them is still strong and will no doubt be expanded upon in subsequent episodes.
This was a very strong second episode that kept the character of Claire at the forefront of everything. It does a great job of showing her trying to acclimate to this new time period as well as the people of this time trying to get used to her. Particular highlights were any time Claire and Colum shared a scene. There are lots of interesting places for this series to go and based on this outing I have no doubt that everything will be well explored.