Outlander – Season 1 Episode 11
“The Devil’s Mark”
Outlander continues to prove itself as a versatile TV show with a slight genre change into courtroom drama for much of it.
Claire and Geillis are in a lot of trouble as they are both accused of witchcraft so have to face trial to determine whether they should be burned at the stake or not. As you might imagine 18th century Scotsmen aren’t intrinsically open minded and objective about such things.
The trial doesn’t go at all well for Claire and Geillis with every piece of evidence only serving to incriminate them further. Cleverly the show calls upon events from the previous episodes to illustrate these points. We are reminded of the fake love potion given to Laoghaire as well as the apparent exorcism that was actually nothing more than medical science among other events. In a typical courtroom drama these facts would be presented as part of the case of the week structure but here the show can really take advantage of the serialised nature of the storytelling and present things that the audience will know very well. It adds a real sense of depth and continuity to the show as well as lending consequences to the events depicted in earlier episodes.
I really enjoyed the courtroom stuff. Ned was on top form as their lawyer with his superior knowledge of both English and Scottish law really working for him. He manages to use the law to shoot down any unfair proceedings in the trial. He can’t put an end to it completely but he can make the hearing a little fairer.
The episode did a really nice job of making the whole thing look really chaotic. There was a lot of noise being made at different points as the audience got more unruly as the evidence unfolded. It all seemed impressively claustrophobic as well. I really felt like I was in there with them and the intensity of the situation was palpable.
I also really liked the subtleties on display. The most notable example is Father Bain admitting he was wrong about her being an agent of the devil and relaying the information about Claire saving the “demonically possessed” Baxter boy. His brief smile indicating that he knew how the crowd would react to this information and how much it would further incriminate Claire. It was really impressively written.
Caitriona Balfe and Lotte Verbeek’s performances were on top form this week with lots of pain and emotion being shown throughout the episode. The best moments for me were the more sedate moments where they sat in their horrifically uncomfortable cell talking to one another in an attempt to both pass the time and take their mind off the inevitability of the situation they are in. Balfe did a really good job of conveying Claire’s anger and desperation in the midst of the trial. It was clear that she knew how hopeless it was all getting and there was nothing she could do to get people on side.
Claire and Geillis’ friendship has been one of the strongest aspects of the show throughout the season. It has been developed slowly over time and as such feels like a real friendship. They have common interests when it comes to healing as well as progressive thinking and their connection is a very strong one. In a lot of ways it’s similar to Claire’s relationship with Jamie without the romantic edge to it -sorry Cleillis shippers- that defines the connection she has with Jamie.
It turns out that there’s a very clear reason why these characters get along so well. Geillis is also from the future and beyond that she is from Claire’s future, 1968 to be precise. Holy crap! What a revelation! The show has developed this idea since the beginning with mentions of other time travelers coming and going so it’s not an altogether rare thing to happen in this universe. I didn’t expect that Geillis would turn out to be a woman out of time as well. The difference with her is that her trip is intentional for reasons that have yet to become clear. She wants to be part of this time period for her own reasons so I’m fascinated to find that out.
Of course that won’t happen if she was indeed burned at the stake. Her sacrificial speech in order to save Claire was really well done. The reveal of the titular “Devil’s Mark” being the scar from a smallpox vaccination was interesting and it gave Claire the information she needed to piece what she had been told together to draw the conclusion about Geillis’ being from another time. I have to say I was glad for the voice over because just to look at it wouldn’t have been all that obvious. I don’t think Geillis will be dead because otherwise they probably would have showed her being burned. I imagine her “devil child” will keep her alive a little longer, at least long enough for us to find out the necessary information.
Are there other time travelers out there? What other time periods are they being plucked from? The possibilities genuinely excite me.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was Claire to open up to Jamie so completely. She tells him the truth about everything and I mean everything. Not only does she tell him that she’s from the future but she tells him about what’s going to happen over the next few years. That includes Culloden and other various hardships about to face the Scots.
Sam Heughan does a really good job of portraying Jamie as overwhelmed by what he hears but trying to keep an open mind. Jamie has always been a progressive thinker and he’s gotten to know Claire really well since she arrived so has no reason to doubt what she’s saying to him despite the fact that is must sound completely insane.
It’s a lot for the poor 18th century man to digest but his focus seems to be on the emotional implications for him. He now knows that Claire still loves her husband that hasn’t been born yet and wants to return to her own time. That’s something he finds difficult to accept because he’s in love with Claire and is completely devoted to her. This devotion manifests in him trying to help her get back home. On a selfish level he wants her to stay with him but she has to do it on her own terms rather than be forced to do so by anyone else. He knows Claire enough to figure out that if she was forced to stay then he wouldn’t really have her.
The scene at Craigh na Dun was especially well performed by both of them with Jamie’s goodbye coming across as completely genuine and the dumbstruck reaction from Claire working really well in showing her inability to articulate her muddled feelings at this point. It was Jamie’s opportunity to tell her how he felt and all she needed to do was listen. You could see the wheels turning in her mind as she tried to rationalise the whole thing.
Her decision to stay is still a little up in the air. It’s unclear whether she actually decided to stay or her attempts to go back to her own time failed. Given that it’s several hours later that she finds Jamie it’s possible that she went back to her time and decided to come back. There’s a few questions there but I expect they’ll be answered soon.
As always Laoghaire comes across as more stroppy than sinister. Her villainy is really boring and her motivations are shaky at best. It seems like every fiber of her being is concentrated on splitting Jamie and Claire up. Every time I see her I just wish she’d grow up.
A really strong episode that shifts the genre into a courtroom drama for much of the episode.
The courtroom scenes were really nicely done evoking a sense of isolation for claustrophobia for Claire and Geillis as they face the judgement of a room full of people who pretty much want them to be guilty. It was clever for the episode to draw on real examples of things that could be construed as witchcraft from earlier episodes. Taken out of context and viewed a certain way they could easily be mistaken as such.
I really liked the subtleties woven into the script such as Father Bain manipulating the facts in such a way that people would conclude that Claire must be a witch from the information presented. His knowing smile was a wonderful touch that really hammered home how sneaky his plan was.
Claire and Geillis were both presented really well here. The stronger scenes for me were the conversations in their cell as they waited for their fate to be decided. Their friendship has grown organically over the course of the series and the connection between them is a strong one as clearly shown here.
The reveal that Geillis is from even further in the future than Claire is an interesting one. It’s different in the sense that he time travel is intentional rather than the accident that put Claire in 18th Century Scotland. Using the smallpox immunisation scar as the big reveal was clever and I like the questions this information brings. I look forward to seeing this explored.
I didn’t expect Claire to open up to Jamie and the poor guy took it well considering. I like that he believed her but was overwhelmed by the whole thing. Having his thought process focus on what this means for their relationship was a nice touch. Jamie wants Claire but only if she is committed to him. It wouldn’t be authentic for him to force her to stay when she might not want to.
The scene where he says goodbye at the stones was really nicely done with Jamie doing all the talking and Claire struggling to make up her mind about what she should do. Her inability to speak said more than any dialogue ever could. Her ultimate decision to stay raises a lot of questions.
Laoghaire represents the only down side to this episode with her annoying jealousy dragging down an otherwise excellent narrative. Her motivations are really typical and boring. If she is to be a villain then there are more interesting ways to approach this.