On the D/L – Outlander
Season 1 Episode 9 – “The Reckoning”
Outlander returns for the first episode on air since September. It’s been a long break and I have to say the show has been missed. I’m not often that compelled by period pieces like this but this show has definitely grabbed my attention.
As a return the opening minutes are really impressive. It’s probably the biggest scale action sequence we’ve had on the show and it works really well. Jamie’s infiltration is very tactical and stealthy with enough complications thrown in to ramp up the tension nicely.
The last episode gave us a bit of a perspective shift when we got to see Frank Randall’s experience of looking for his wife in the present of the show and this episode takes it a step further by having Jamie be the central protagonist in the narrative. Jamie takes on the role of the narrator here and the audience gets to learn what he thinks and feels about everything that’s going on.
I really hope that this doesn’t mark a change in focus for the show as one of the things I found most compelling in the previous episodes was Claire’s perspective and the exploration of a strong and dynamic female character as she is ripped from her own time. Changing it up this far in would be a complete betrayal of the greatest strength of the show.
Let’s assume this is a complete one shot deal and our look into Jamie’s thoughts and feelings is something that will be replaced by a return to the focus on Claire by the next episode. As a one shot deal it’s an interesting way to look at the world of Outlander. Up until now Claire has been the audience avatar and she has always been the stranger to this time period and the way it works so having the audience learn as she does has been a great narrative driving device. Now that we’ve had 8 episodes to get to know this time period it can be assumed that enough is known to explore a character native to it.
Jamie acts as a suitable conduit for this sort of shift as he is bound by the traditions of the time but is progressive enough to question them. There have been many examples of him acting in the opposite way to those around him or having different opinions. In a lot of ways he’s as much of an outsider as Claire is, albeit one that is more easily accepted.
His marriage to Claire is something that feels strange to him due to the circumstances of it happening. It’s a show marriage in a lot of ways in order to protect her from Black Jack Randall but Jamie’s the sort of old fashioned guy who believes that being married is a profoundly spiritual experience that shouldn’t be taken lightly. He has a personal interest in making all of this work and he also has feelings for Claire so that inspires him even more.
Based on his experience of the world he finds Claire to be very unusual due to how independent and assertive she is. He’s not used to that with other women so Claire represents something of a mystery to him in a lot of ways. Her assertive nature is something that doesn’t quite work for him in some ways as the men around him expect him to have control over his woman otherwise it’ll be deemed as a sign of weakness.
This is where the episode’s most interesting conflict comes from. The punishment sequence represents tradition vs. desire in terms of how Jamie thinks. He only wants to punish Claire because tradition demands it of him and those around him will see it as weakness if he doesn’t. Claire running away was something that managed to get a lot of the Clan put in harms way and that can’t go unpunished according to their rules. It’s clear that Jamie is uncomfortable with that but he does it because he feels that he must. Claire’s protest really doesn’t make it easy for him but he manages to go through with it.
In the rest of the episode this causes a rift between them as in Claire’s head he is the man who raised his hand to her which to her is fairly unforgivable. She manages to get her own back but it causes Jamie to rethink the way he looks at things. He wants to see Claire as more of an equal and it’s clear that she won’t stand for anything else. I found it interesting how Jamie was willing to question his upbringing and look at what is traditional in a new way.
As always Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan have amazing chemistry together. Their argument early on in the episode was so full of venom and disgust that it was incredible to watch. It really felt like a real argument and there was a definite sense of both parties saying things that they would later regret.
I was interested to see the narrative thread of the Jacobite cause be picked up after what seems like such a long time away from it. Colum made it very clear that he wasn’t happy about it and even questioned the loyalty of his brothers. It was clearly giving some lip service to a plot thread that will be picked up in the coming episodes but I appreciated that it hadn’t completely been dropped.
Less compelling was the return of Laoghaire who is less than pleased with Jamie and Claire’s wedding. She seems to have her heart set on breaking them up and tries to do so by tempting Jamie who is having none of it. There’s nothing wrong with this in concept but so far the execution is pretty bad. Laoghaire is written as being a little too over the top and is hard to take seriously as an antagonist.
A really strong episode that gives a new perspective on the Jamie/Claire relationship by showing the audience how Jamie feels about it.
Flipping the perspective to focusing on Jamie allows a freshness to permeate the episode as we get inside the head of someone native to that time period. If the show sticks with this perspective it will likely ruin what makes it strongest but as a one shot it’s a great idea.
Jamie’s an interesting character in that he’s as much of an outsider as Claire is for different reasons. He is bound by tradition but has a more progressive outlook than his peers which tends to get him into trouble. It’s his progressive nature that allows the dynamic of his marriage to Claire to shift in interesting ways.
When he has to punish her he does so out of tradition but it’s clearly not what he truly wants to do. The ensuing hostility from Claire forces him to consider what he has done and reconsider the way he interacts with his wife. It’s an interesting conflict and creates a fascinating back and forth between these two characters.
The return of Laoghaire is something I could have done without really. She seems a little too over the top in how spiteful she is and stops far short of becoming an engaging antagonist.