Outlander – Season 1 Episode 14
Outlander follows up on Jamie’s capture by having Claire and Jenny go looking for him using Jenny’s tracking skills.
I often talk about how well this show subverts gender roles and the expectations that come with them for the time period that this is set. The reason it comes up so often is because this show is so good at it and seems to have made it a central storytelling aim.
In this case Claire and Jenny take on roles that are usually reserved for men. For instance Claire acts as almost a knight riding on horseback to save the damsel in distress. Only in this scenario Jamie acts as the damsel and Claire is the brave hero who will stop at nothing to protect him. It all sounds a bit cheesy but the episode plays it in a far more sophisticated way than I’m describing it. I’m simply trying to broadly describe the figurative middle finger that this show gives to expected gender roles.
The motivation behind Claire and Jenny’s decision is obvious. Claire wants to save her husband and Jenny wants to save her brother. Keeping it simple is often better than overcomplicating the situation unnecessarily. Claire and Jenny arrive at their decision quickly and immediately take action. After all the needless posturing last week it’s great to see things move so quickly.
It would also be really tempting to have this story be a really dark and emotionally intense but on the whole the episode manages to have a lot of fun with the situation. There are still the introspective moments where characters sit and discuss intense things but on the whole it’s kept pretty light and works all the better for it.
A standout scene is Claire and Jenny playing good cop/bad cop when interrogating a Redcoat. Naturally Claire is the good cop and Jenny is the bad cop because that suits the characters as established. I really liked how the Redcoat really didn’t take any of this seriously because he clearly doesn’t feel that women are a credible threat to him even when they are holding a gun to his head. It all adds to how this show subverts gender roles by having women be underestimated as part of the narrative before showing how dangerous certain assumptions are.
Despite the fact that it’s Murtagh who makes the decision to kill the Redcoat Claire makes it clear that if he hadn’t shown up then she would have done it. It’s a slight cop out to not have Claire go through with it but it sort of works given how sincere her intentions seemed when relating them to Jenny. It’s also made clear that Claire isn’t cold blooded about such decisions as evidenced by the regretful look on her face when Jenny hands her the knife and asks her if she knows how to use it.
Something I wouldn’t expect from an episode like this is the cabaret section. It was a clever disguise to have Claire disguise herself as a healer who traveled around reading fortunes while Murtagh sang and danced for the crowd. Claire uses her fortune teller status to subtly ask questions about Jamie’s whereabouts until they decide that it’s not enough.
Claire becoming a performer who sings the song of “The Sassenach” was really well done and showcases another of Caitriona Balfe’s many talents. Who knew that she could sing and dance as well as act. I thought it was really clever to have the song catch on and be repeated by Gypsies. Naturally this is seen as too much attention and Claire tries to get the Gypsies to stop performing the song but despite the fact that they agree there’s a lack of sincerity about it.
This is one of the period specific aspects of the show that I really like. Naturally back then there was no such thing as recording equipment of any kind so any songs that got repeated were passed on by hearing and repeating. This oral tradition means that songs endure but they change based on a sort of Chinese Whispers approach. The more they get repeated the more they change. I suspect the same will happen with “The Sassenach” which means that Claire could be part of the reason that the story of such travelers has endured for so many years. I love the idea of a pre-destination paradox and like how subtle the setup is here. Obviously Claire isn’t the only person for this to happen to but still it’s interesting to contemplate. Also she sort of manages to invent Jazz music here. Oops!
Beyond that the whole cabaret section of the episode was a lot of fun. The performance art scenes worked really well with some really catchy songs and music. It’s nice to be reminded that people do enjoy their life in this time period and are capable of having a lot of fun.
I mentioned earlier that this episode didn’t shy away from the intense emotional conversations. One of the best was the discussion between Claire and Murtagh where he reveals that he was in love with Jamie and Jenny’s mother and considers them family as a result. This really solidifies Murtagh’s motivation and I really like that loving another man’s wife hasn’t destroyed him or made him a villain type character. Outlander always perpetuates the idea that love is a good thing and a very strong motivator.
Claire and Jenny seem to have moved past their early unease when they were introduced. They spend a lot of time together this week and as a result forge a really strong bond. It definitely feels like a friendship is forming and it’s a very natural one. Claire seems to be so at ease with Jenny that she is careless with her future knowledge when telling Jenny to plant potatoes to fend off the coming famine. Jenny takes this at face value after a discussion with Jamie but also because she is growing to trust Claire. It’s a genuine moment and works really well.
Dougal returns in this episode after being absent for quite a while and it seems he’s just as duplicitous as ever. His apparent soulmate and illegitimate child were apparently burned at the stake recently -or were they?- and he’s wasting no time propositioning Claire when it appears that her husband is lost. Graham McTavish brings such depth to Dougal as always managing to be both sleazy and noble in the space of a few seconds.
Claire is written as being in full control of this situation as she manages to skillfully renegotiate the terms of Dougal’s offer. If he helps her save Jamie and they fail then she’ll take him up on his offer and marry him. Her disgust at the way Dougal is acting is clear but she is able to turn the tables and manipulate him in a really clever way. The scene where Dougal’s men volunteered to help Claire was inspiring and the closing moments where Claire led her team was really badass. I look forward to the rescue next week.
Despite all of the really cool stuff going on in this episode I felt that some of it came across as a little rushed. Dougal’s appearance right at the end was important but it felt a little late in the story to be introducing this element. I think if the show hadn’t been spinning its wheel so much last week then some elements could have been introduced there.
A really strong and fun episode of this show that manages to further the overall story as well as develop the characters involved.
The pairing of Claire and Jenny as they go on the road looking for Jamie was really well done. I loved the scene where they played good cop/bad cop when interrogating the Redcoat who didn’t see them as a viable threat because they were women. It was a great showcase of just how formidable these two women are when they’re together. Seeing their friendship grow and Jenny accepting Claire’s prophetic warning at face value were really great touches as well.
Murtagh was a welcome addition to the story and helped take it in unexpected directions. I had a lot of fun with the cabaret style sequences where Caitriona Balfe got to showcase her singing talent. The songs and music were all really catchy and it’s a nice reminder of people having fun in this time period. Levity is definitely refreshing when used properly.
Claire’s discussion with Dougal was really well done with Claire managing to use her intelligence to turn the tables on him and alter the agreement to suit her. If they fail to save Jamie then she has to marry Dougal. I don’t see this plan failing but I doubt Dougal will be happy when she wins. These characters always have great friction.
At times the story felt a little rushed but this can probably be attributed to the relative lack of development in the previous episode. Some elements from this one could have been used last week and given everything a lot more room to breathe.