Definition of Rent:
1: To grant or gain temporary possession and enjoyment of something in exchange for payment.
2: An opening made by or as if by rending.
3: A split in a party or organized group; schism.
4: A rock musical based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème.
I wish I were clever enough to have noticed the multiple meanings of this episode’s title right away. This very website’s flagship show, Mad Men, is rife with subliminal messages and symbolism, after all. It’s the examination of such that drew me to to Basket of Kisses as a reader, long before I became a writer.
On its surface, Rent is about the Highlanders, under the leadership of War Chieftan/captor Dougal, roaming about the clan countryside collecting payment due in exchange for protection provided by the MacKenzie. We soon learn that “protection” has a few different meanings, however. Claire notices that Ned Gowan keeps two bags (which might as well be figurative since live pigs don’t fit in bags; they acquire quite the caravan of bartered bounty during their travels). One bag is for rent; the other is to hold funds for the Jacobite cause.
It doesn’t take long to see how funds for the Jacobite cause are raised. Dougal is the very model of a rabble rouser, using the Gàidhlig that bonds these people together, excluding all outsiders (including us, folks–we don’t get subtitles because we are also Outlanders, but if you really want to know what’s being said, Àdhamh Ó Broin has a website with myriad links to info on all things Scot). The crescendo of Dougal’s locker room speech whips everyone into a frenzy, with his climax being the renting of Jamie’s garments to reveal the literal marks of whips lain upon Jamie’s back by the oppressive British Redcoats.
This episode was written by Toni Graphia, who is also a series co-executive producer. Unlike her preceding wordsmiths, Graphia’s resume is decidedly more badass–the former writers’ family, courtroom, and cheerleader dramas notwithstanding. In addition to being a member of the Battlestar Galactica and Carnivàle contingents, her accomplishments also include several Grey’s Anatomy episodes, the entire series of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and notable work on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, China Beach, Mercy, and several TV movies.
Possibly reading too much into things (I can tend to do that), all of these shows present characters, predominantly women, who are constantly under threat, often losing battles against insurmountable odds. Just how many feckless, reckless encounters occur in this episode?
- Ned vs. asthma (thornapple, AKA Jimson weed FTW)
- Young William vs. bullies
- Dougal vs. Jamie’s shirt
- Jamie vs. Dougal
- Jamie vs. Tree
- Claire vs. Angus (re: shriveled Easter rabbit)
- Claire vs. Jamie (re: stolen food. “Doesna matter where you come from. You’re here. Don’t judge what you don’t understand”)
- Claire vs. Angus, Rupert, Dougal, goat, et al. (of all the times to call her a drunk Sassenach, this was not the occasion. Haven’t you seen her put away Rhenish? One “bottoms up” isn’t going to put a dent in Claire’s BAL)
- Claire vs. Dougal (re: “Clan business, none of yours”)
- Claire vs. Ned (re: time before female advocates/solicitors will exist)
- Ned vs. Dougal (re: pigs)
- The Watch vs. extorted cottage dwellers
- “Traitors” vs. Redcoats (not in the book, but deeply moving)
- Claire vs. Jamie (re: which side of the door one sleeps upon. Claire with the candlestick in the hallway FTW. Great scene straight from the novel, except that it’s only Scots, not English dragoons in the tavern below.)
- MacKenzies vs. other perverted jerks in the tavern (One scraped shin, one cut eyebrow, one split lip, one bloody nose, six smashed knuckles, one sprained thumb, and two loosened teeth. At least these are shared by the men on the show. In the book, these injuries are all Jamie’s.)
- Claire vs. Ned (re: futility of a Scot uprising)
- Claire vs. Dougal (re: sowing seeds of doubt)
- Finally, Dougal vs. Foster
Things are coming apart at the seams, both literally and figuratively, although it will be a while before the skirmishes of the day reach their bloody conclusion. It’ll be just more than two years’ time, not to put too fine a point on it. To drive this point home, we see a flashback to Claire and Frank walking Culloden Moor. It was on this flat, open boggy, field that more than two thousand Highlander lives were lost in a battle that essentially spelled the end of the rebellion and the Highlander way of life.
On a more thematic level, there is schism taking place within Claire, as well. There is no 1940s music in this episode, and the two flashbacks serve to demonstrate her acknowledgement, almost resignation to her new circumstances. I loved that, in recalling her Jacobite discussion with Frank and Father MacKenzie, it was Frank who asked, “What were you doing in the desert?” Unlike other flashbacks, we see that he’s not the only one with knowledge of history.
I was a little flip to compare this episode to the musical tale of bohemian exploits in late ’80s (that’s the 1980s, of course), but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some merit in the Rent vs. Rent analogy. Both productions are remarkably atmospheric, which is really saying something about Outlander Rent given the gorgeous cinematography of the entire series. Just as Claire had begun to get her bearings in 1740s Scotland, she is shown that castle living’s a breeze compared to life on the open road.
What’s more, we learn a great deal about the characters and the interplay of their politics in both productions. In the musical Rent, we see characters react very differently to tragedies, as well as how they respond when pressed into paying what they owe. Through the brawls, bawdy tales, power grabs, and such in Outlander Rent, we get a similar volume of perspective on what life in the 1740s Highlands really entails.
Book vs. Show synopsis:
- In the book, Dougal’s proposal to take Claire on the road is meant to conclude with taking her to Fort William willingly, no tinker ruse involved.
- Book Claire realizes the rebellious sentiment of Dougal’s nightly fundraising right away, remembering her history lessons about the Bonnie Prince Charlie, pretender to the throne.
- Wool waulking in the village isn’t in the novel. I love this scene for so many reasons. While this practice, which thickens, softens, waterproofs, and sets the dye, occurs wherever wool fabric is produced, it is only in Scotland that music became so strongly associated with it as to become an important cultural feature (thank you Wikipedia). It’s easy to get distracted by the use of urine (already being phased out by this time period in more civilized places but still common practice in remote areas like this), the delightful singing, and the serious shade being thrown by the women at the table. There are two pretty solid examples of foreshadowing symbolism in this scene, however, that I never would have noticed had I not done this bit of research.
- A tradition holds that moving the cloth counter-clockwise is unlucky. Before Claire sits down, the pass is to the left. Sure enough, once she sits down, the rotation shifts to the right. I’m not saying that she caused the change, but there’s no doubt that it did change.
- The waulking process is followed by stretching the cloth on great frames known as tenters, to which it is attached by tenterhooks. This is where the phrase “being on tenterhooks” comes from. It means to suffer from suspense.
- The brawl in the tavern, discussed above, also happens under different circumstances in the novel. Book Jamie takes offense at something he overhears during one of the rabble-rousing sessions. When someone implies that he shouldn’t have allowed himself to be used by the English as he’d been, he snaps. The brawl didn’t involve the entire crowd, just Jamie, his initial adversary, and a few others who jump into the fray. The crowd of onlookers, unbeknownst to Jamie, begin to wager on the outcome, and the event becomes the evening’s main event. Later, Murtagh gives Jamie his share of the winnings.
- Speaking of punches, the tree punching scene that takes place after Jamie confronts Dougal is a bit different in the novel. It’s Claire who suggests hitting something inanimate to release his frustrations, she remembering a Captain Manson from her own time doing the same thing when rationed goods didn’t arrive per schedule.
- The joke that Claire cracks about Rupert’s jealous hands is so very cool, albeit an invention for the show. Yes, it’s awesome that she’s becoming an accepted presence, if not a member of the clan outright. There’s also a whiff of Stockholm syndrome about the scene, though, as well. I do have to give a shout-out to the animal coordinator and/or the fortuitous circumstances that let the horse’s laugh get caught on camera. I lose myself in a fit of giggles every time I see it.
- Not as much a matter of book vs. show, but it’s worth noting that the poem Absence, hear thou my protestation was attributed to John Donne for centuries, but research published by Scottish literary scholar Herbert J. C. Grierson in 1912 argued that the poem was actually the work of the far lesser known John Hoskins. Is it a heads-up move on Claire’s part to attribute the poem to Donne when talking to Ned, lest she rouse Ned’s suspicions about her? Is the attribution a writer’s room move to get the far more prolific poet’s name mentioned, since he coined phrases such as “for whom the bell tolls” and “no man is an island,” sayings that have endured and apply to Claire’s plight? Yeah… I don’t know, and I have kind of bored myself pondering it this long. It it worth closing this blog post with the poem in its entirety, however, since the stanzas following that which Claire and Ned recite are even more precient than than the first.
Absence, hear thou my protestation
Against thy strength,
Distance and length:
Do what thou canst for alteration;
For hearts of truest mettle
Absence doth join, and time doth settle.
Who loves a mistress of such quality,
He soon hath found
Beyond time, place, and all mortality.
To hearts that cannot vary
Absence is present, time doth tarry.
My senses want their outward motions,
Which now within
Reason doth win
Redoubl’d in her secret notions;
Like rich men that take pleasure
In hiding, more than handling, treasure.
By absence this good means I gain,
That I can catch her
Where none can watch her,
In some close corner of my brain.
There I embrace and kiss her,
And so I both enjoy and miss her.