I’ve been rather fangirl-swoony in my reviews of Outlander up to this point. Counting the hours until the series return, I really wanted to glow about Both Sides Now, but I just couldn’t. Even this episode still outmatches virtually every other program on the air, but it I didn’t find it to be in keeping with the incredibly high standards it’s set for itself.
I kind of liked this episode until I started to dissect it. I respected that the source material from the book posed quite the challenge. At the least, detractors can’t say this episode didn’t move along. As I got into writing this review, however, I started to really resent a lot of the choices made to adapt these chapters for the screen. These realizations of mine have only made my appetite for this Saturday’s return of the series all the more keen. All of the early feedback for Episode 109, The Reckoning, is overwhelmingly positive.
And Now for Something Completely Different
Up to this point, each of the shows have covered two or three chapters from the novel. As if tackling six chapters heavy with action and exposition weren’t enough, Both Sides Now begins with the Story Expansion to Beat All Story Expansions.
Here’s what I liked about seeing Frank’s efforts to find Claire. He’s ex-MI6, so we suppose he’s a real crime-fighting detective extraordinaire. If anyone could find Claire, he could. He’s also (rather stereotypically) English, however. While he’s far less condescending than his evil ancestor, Frank still holds a subtlely, even subconsciously dismissive air of superiority over the Scots. He finds their ways to be charming and quaint, as if they’re put on for his amusement. While researching his genealogy, he has no compunction whatsoever, neither for what he suspects nor what he discovers about the ways of Jonathan Wolverton Randall, Esq. When everyone upon whom Frank is relying for assistance fails to come through to his satisfaction, he drops all pretense and treats them like the rubes he’s believed them to be all along.
When Mrs. Graham tells Frank her theory on Claire’s disappearance, it’s the last straw. Nevermind that it was his idea to go the stones on the eve of Samhain. I don’t expect him to believe Mrs. Graham outright, but he doesn’t even begin to entertain it.
You might think I’m being too hard on Frank. He’s frustrated, distraught, desperate, and lonely after all. What have you to say, then, to the leering, lascivious look he gives “Sally” at the pub?
What say you, then, to the brutality with which he attacks his would-be assailants in the alley? Justifiable defense, sure at first, but the way he carries on with the pummeling and grips Sally’s neck afterward? Even this we might attribute to the snapping of his last nerve. But exacting all of this with that baton-club thing that he just happens to be carrying? Too much.
Here’s what really put it over the edge for me: That blunt stick he used is called a BlackJack. GET IT? Because SYMBOLISM. He’s using his BlackJack.
Ronald D. Moore has said on a number of occasions that the flashbacks to 1945 are used to help the audience understand why Claire is so persistent about returning to her own time. Huh. In 1743, she’s loyal to her wedding vows, she’s constantly under bodily threat, and she’s having to prove that she’s neither chattel nor spy on a daily basis. Why wouldn’t she go back? Hunky Jamie? Granted, I understand that he would certainly give me pause. Ultimately, I’d only need to be knocked over the head, assaulted, manhandled, insulted, imprisoned, stalked, assaulted again, and married off in order to properly set my intentions. But that’s just me.
I’m not sure how this flashback—performed with stirring, complex depth by Tobias Menzies despite the absurdity of it all—serves this purpose.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
Does this look like the “strained politeness” described at the beginning of Chapter 16?
I know we can’t see every union of our newlyweds, so non-readers may not understand this, but suffice it to say that by the time this passage occurs in the book, Claire is sore. At the risk of making too vague a reference to the book, there is no talk of hedgehogs on the show. Snaps to TV Claire for being DTF (sorry, I just don’t know another way to put it), but let the lady have a break! If a woman had written this passage, you can be absolutely sure that the bit about rubbing an oxter over a horse’s nose would have made the cut. I’m not alone in thinking that the line, “Does it ever stop, Claire? The wanting?” was not captured in the context it was written in the book. Jamie’s not talking about being horny (okay, he’s not completely talking about being horny). He yearns. Yearning and horniness are not the same thing.
What’s more, one element of Jamie’s character, his abiding respect for the presence of Frank on Claire’s mind and his deference to his memory, gets only cursory mention in Episode 102 Castle Leoch. Fine. What’s less acceptable is the absence of Jamie’s backstory. No mention of France whatsoever. No further mention of the MacKenzie machinations regarding the succession of lairdship. No talk of the Black Watch. I can forgive not seeing Jamie tickle trout or play plover-whisperer (these are not euphemisms, non-readers), but not seeing the political story line develop is really starting to gnaw at me.
Thank goodness for Hugh Munro. If you thought that Tobias Menzies had range, take a look at Simon Meacock’s IMDB profile some time. I’m cool with supplanting the rabbit gift with the Dragonfly in Amber (because SYMBOLISM, although this is actually in the book, at least).
I can also accept the rearranging of circumstances surrounding the news of Horrocks. The explanation of the Gaberlunzies was really endearing, too.
Waterweed and Weaponizing
I get it. The MacKenzies are rough and tough. Are you telling me that absolutely no one got so much as a scratch during the Grant raid, though? I suppose we’ve already seen Claire in medical mode enough already, but leaving this particular triage sequence out of the show means that Jamie doesn’t get to tell his wife, “Ye did a braw bit o’ work tonight, lass. I was proud of ye.” Bummer. What’s more, leaving all mention of brass rods and waterweed out of the show (yes, these are euphemisms, non-readers) is another missed opportunity. Claire has a real struggle between instinct and propriety through these chapters. However brief, this one one of the hotter, and also one of the more conflicted Jamie and Claire trysts. Risking blasphemy by re-appropriating the Biblical passage, let’s just say that Claire’s flesh is willing but her spirit is weak. I think this is a very informative scene—one I would have liked to see.
Other particulars: 1) I wanted to see Jamie throw his sword. 2) I did like Ned’s glee at having ended the raid with his gunshot, though.
The corollary to this scene is The One When Claire Learns to Shiv.
How many of you could have done with less of Angus explaining anatomy to Claire, and more with a training montage, including the bag of bull hide-wrapped wool studded with wood? Are we really to believe the combat nurse needed to be told where to put the sgain duhb, but the MacKenzies didn’t show her how it actually feels to stab someone, especially on the fly or under duress? What’s described in the novel is not only rollicking but also far more believable.
Skipping the Waterhorse chapter entirely (no biggie IMHO), we move on to the Deserted Glades. I guess that non-readers are going to have to wait to find out “Who Shot
JR Jamie?” And when are we going to see the Signature Jamie Wink? Answers to these questions will have to wait, because we have to contend with Harry and Arnold, the redcoat deserters. If one is taught self-defense in one scene, she’ll likely be defending herself in the next.
I have absolutely no complaint with how this scene is depicted. The camerawork is particularly amazing. The fast-cuts and axial work done in editing heightens the feeling of peril and shock the characters experience here. Catriona Balfe’s performance, fragile and shaken yet consoling and capable, is just perfect.
Just as believable is the anger coupled with fear she experiences at the news that she’ll be left behind while Jamie and the others meet with Horrocks. Her moment-to-moment depiction of her disgust with chauvinism and her injured pride, along with with her elation at realizing her whereabouts? Wow. Now, if Jamie had leveled the threat against her from the novel, “If you leave that copse before I come for ye, I’ll tan your bare ares wi’ my sword belt,” this would have been just perfect. After all, FORESHADOWING.
What I didn’t buy as much was hearing Frank through the stones. Yes, it’s sweet. It’s just a little overbearing.
Un Mauvais Quart d’Heure After Another
The adjustments made to dialogue in this final scene are entirely within bounds and expertly executed. Claire outsmarts, Jack spits, Jack outwits, and then Claire is once again in peril. We lose the “torture by bladdar” line, but we gain an interesting cat-and-mouse exchange regarding the Duchess of Sandringham.
We don’t get to hear Claire tell Jack to “get stuffed,” nor do we get the line, “Oh, it’s like that, is it?” The show hasn’t fully delved into the fact that Claire realizes in that moment: “He wasn’t going to enjoy it unless I screamed, and possibly not then.” No doubt we’ll get into that in the second half of the season.
Most importantly, we get Jamie in the window. Thank goodness we’ll be getting him down in less than three days’ time. I’m counting the minutes until then.