Apr 132015

Ain’ No Party Like a Leoch Party
Having all but exhausted my thoughts on this episode’s first half, let’s get our arses back to Leoch, where the most awkward surprise wedding reception ever awaits us!

While NITB, this feels completely organic, and the cringe-worthy silences are both a brave directorial choice and highly effective.

I can’t get enough of Colum’s strained sneer-grin or Leticia’s stole. I don’t know what kind of animal was used to make it. Let’s call it weasels in honor of the scene that immediately follows this one.

“What’s going on here?” was the question in my mind, not only because this is this a nifty expansion of the source material, but it’s also a slight deviation. In the book, Colum and Dougal are of the same mind when it comes to Jamie diverting himself from succession to Lairdship. They’re both pretty pleased that the lineage is unequivocal once again. They want Jamie back as Laird of Lallybroch at his earliest opportunity, so long as his legal status is such that his head won’t be parted from his body any time soon. You’d think this would be naturally be the sentiment between uncles and their deceased sister’s only living son, but you’d be wrong. The MacKenzie wants Lallybroch in control of an ally because it’s well-placed strategically, should battle come to the Highlands. That’s about as far as their warm and fuzzy feelings go.

TV Colum, however, isn’t so pleased that marriage to a Sassenach has removed Jamie from any possible leadership consideration. Colum harbors the same distrust of his brother that many of the clan members possess, and he’s uneasy about a succession to his son, Hamish, before he’s old enough to handle all of what it entails.

In any case, the Laird and Lady soon depart, and the festivities resume. Not for long however – there are more uncomfortable encounters to come!

Our first Laoghaire scene. Did anyone else shout at their television, demanding that she get that teardrop off her breast? Of course, that’s not the only thing I wanted off her breast. More on that in a bit.

We Must Not Keep the MacKenzie Waiting
Seriously, though, let’s talk about the outrage directed at this poor character. If we’re going to grandstand about domestic corporal punishment being a normal eighteenth century practice, then fair is fair; PDA carried far more import back then than it does now. A heavy makeout session in a public place, witnessed by several people, with the man who spared a woman’s reputation before her entire clan? It might as well be a promise ring. Compound that with Jamie’s ham-handed explanations of his arranged marriage, and who could blame a sixteen year old for pressing the matter a bit further? Now, pressing the matter a bit further in Jamie’s secret place for quiet and solitary contemplation, wearing nothing but a bit of lace around her neck and a saucy little corset? Minx, your name is Leoghaire, and not in the good way. This isn’t Laoghaire’s reckoning scene, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

First, it’s off to Awkward Meeting #3, when all of the rest of the Reckonings begin.

The chapter from which the episode takes its name, after all, is called Reckonings, not The Reckoning. Since the book is from Claire’s point of view, clearly her reckoning is the most important one to discuss. And it’s a Very Big Deal, no doubt. The fact that no major character is spared from a reckoning of their own in the screen adaptation, however, is pretty compelling television.

Any hint that Hamish is secretly Jamie’s son have been wiped from the screen adaptation of the novel, and we don’t learn that Dougal is actually the father until much later in the story.

Colum may have to look up at everyone, but no one looks down on Colum.

Finally, we’re getting a deeper understanding of what the power dynamic between Dougal and Colum means beyond simple sibling rivalry. We’re also finally seeing why anyone of sound mind would prefer Colum’s leadership to that of his hotheaded brother. Both loyal Highlanders, it is Colum that sees that passionate, overt support of the Charles Stuart is a one-way ticket to utter ruin, at least while the Bonny Prince remains holed up in Italy. Just as we learned earlier in this episode, leadership cannot withstand impudence in times like these, no matter how sympathetic one might be to the circumstantial motives (or can it? Because PARALLELS, yo).

This is Dougal’s reckoning. It’s only by holding the one card Dougal has to play over Colum’s head that he’s temporarily excused from the chambers. Were the situation reversed, the pretty tapestries and birds about the room would be splattered with traitor’s blood – not in the Jacobite sense but the MacKenzie blood oath sense. Everyone knows it, which is why everyone is so intent to skedaddle.

“Is there someone else up there we can talk to?” “No, now go away or I shall taunt you a second time!”

Not so fast, there, Red. Time for you to be called to the carpet. Did you think that the most discourteous marriage toast of all time was the last you’d have to endure with regard to the new missus?

I know this isn’t how the book went, but roll with it. It’s not just about the succession issue. It’s that, by submitting to Dougal’s scheme, of which Colum was no part, Jamie is now complicit to Dougal’s brash, usurping ways. What’s more, it’s another nose-thumbing to the English that Colum will have to navigate the ramifications of, sooner or later.

For all the times, many by necessity, that this production is over-simplifying the nuances of the source material for the sake of television pacing, this is the opposite. In a remarkably quick series of scenes, a lot of this story’s layers are laid bare. Mazel tov.

Think Again
Speaking of being laid bare, or rather the opposite of that, the freeze-out of the tester bed continues. I love that TV Claire is written and that Cairtoina Balfe is playing a dutiful wife, helping her husband navigate the perilous situation he’s in without relenting on her own front. I, for one, always thought that Claire forgave Jamie a bit too quickly in the book. I’m not saying that there’s any virtue in holding a grudge, but what Claire endured on her Very Bad Day would take me, a lessor woman, a great deal longer to get over.

The world, that understandable and lawful world, was slipping away

William is appropriately made to answer for what he thought was loyalty but was seen by the rest as insubordination. Young Willie needs to be taught his place in the pecking order, too. And this is Reckoning #4.

Even Murtagh gets his time in the woodshed. “Spoken like the unmarried man you are,” indeed. The Jamie of even a few days be for wouldn’t have questioned Murtaugh’s counsel, but such as it is, our boy’s coming into his own. Crossing streams on the sides of castles notwithstanding. Reckoning #5.

Seems that all of Jamie’s book learnin’ and tutelage are coming home to roost. This isn’t a true Colum come-to-Jesus, because he’s still Colum after all, but he sure gets schooled by Secretary of State Fraser on how to resolve the brother’s impasse. Reckoning #6.

Do you know the origins of the phrase “All is forgiven”? It’s derived from the Agony column, a kind of old-school Missed Connections that ran in The Times, the British newspaper, in the late 19th century. Apparently, a catchphrase of the same time period riffed on the common theme of the typical Agony column posts: “Come home, Oedipus, all is forgiven. Love, Mother” which would be followed by “Over my dead body, Father.” Learning that, I named the first half of this episode’s review All Is Forgiven, alluding to the fact that, most of the time, All is not necessarily forgiven right away. P.S. The name of Oedipus’ mother is Jocasta, which just so happens to be the name of Jamie’s remaining living aunt. I just got a tickle at the coincidence.

On to Reckoning #7. Colum returns the gold to Dougal, but not without reminding Dougal of just how foolhardy he finds his brother’s derring-do. Furthermore, he invites the Duke of Sandringham to visit Leoch so that he can get a first-hand assessment of the Jacobite situation. Just because it’s the theme of the episode and he doesn’t want to be left out, Ned puts himself in line for a Colum MacKenzie take-down. Ned praises Colum’s strategy just a bit too effluently. Could his nose have been any browner? I don’t remember the exact line now without watching the episode yet again, but the general gist was, “simmer down, kiss-ass.”

Reckoning #8. Murtagh may not know when and when it’s not wise to strike a woman, but he called it plain on this count. Laoghaire is going to be a “lassie until she’s fifty,” and even then she’s going to be Bad News. She’s like a tractor beam for ill-considered lapses in judgment and and manifestation of baser instincts. If she didn’t leave so much disaster in her wake, she’d be laughable if not downright pitiable.

Repeat after me: There is No Excuse for Corporal Punishment. There is No Excuse for Corporal Punishment. Say it a few more times if you need to.

Now, having said that, and playing purely by eighteenth century rules, how do you think this would have played out if Jamie hadn’t stepped up and taken Laoghaire’s punishment in The Hall? I bet dimes to dollars she keeps her shirt on and doesn’t place the hands of married men on her bits or pieces.

As it is, she was sufficiently embarrassed at Jamie’s rejection, rendering Reckoning #9, but instead of leaving her properly chastised, she is now a Woman Scorned. And you know what they say about them.

Jamie Did a Bad, Bad Thing
Say what you will about the choppy chronological rollercoaster this episode was for viewers expecting a play-by-play lifted verbatim from the pages of source material. Not being that person myself, I can’t imagine how the spirit of this sequence could have been captured more masterfully. It belongs at the end of the show because it’s the natural climax of the story. For however we arrived at this point, dear God we came.

Yes, those puns were entirely intended.

Seriously, though, when Jamie swears his oath to Claire, the mix of innocent expectation and drop-dead high-stakes sincerity is breathtaking. He’s doing the single most solemn thing he knows how to do in order to earn his way back to the only good thing in his life.

I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a calloused cynic, but I didn’t buy the forgiveness Claire grants in the novel, at least not right away. It took until the iconic line, “Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own,” that I finally bought that Jamie understood what he’d gotten himself into with the business of all-encompassing love.

And then we get the answer we’d all been expecting regarding Claire’s ring and the key from which it was made. It’s the key to Lallybroch, which Jamie used to make sure Claire knew that his home would be as much hers as his. So what if it isn’t thistle-engraved? This deviation from the novel let the visual of Claire’s two rings stand in for all the instances we knew that she was thinking about and conflicted about her two loves.  It’s a very touching moment to hear Jamie explain what he’d done. His reckoning, the tenth of the episode, is complete…

…or not so fast. We have one more Important Line to work into the show. If someone who knows better can set me straight, let me know, but having Claire deliver the “I’ll fry your heart for breakfast” line in this way had to be the idea of a dude in the writer’s room. Whoever it was probably thought it was sexy-cool to have Claire go sadistic in order to be assured of getting the right answer from her man. Well, it was not sexy, and it was not cool. It implies that Claire uses her sex to gain power. It implies that she got Jamie’s compliance because he was inside her at the moment of inquiry. It takes the self-assured and capable Claire and turns into a manipulator of the lowest sort.

This may be the first time I’ve done this during this blog series, but I am going to whine a bit about this change. In the book, Claire lulls Jamie into the pretense of forgiveness in order to get him close to her. That’s when she, dead serious, pulls the knife on him and levels her threat. Upon hearing it and knowing there is no messing around, Jamie makes his pledge right then and there with the very blade she had wielded. Now that is how you make amends after all of what’s transpired. How hard would it have been for this to be more book-accurate? Claire pulls a dagger from the vanity, Jamie makes his oath, and sexytimes ensue?

But then, they do ensue. Boy Howdy they do. It’s so damned satisfying a scene, that I am more than happy to make like Elsa and Let It Go.

All is forgiven.

If only Laoghaire felt the same way.


  6 Responses to “Outlander: The One With All The Reckonings—A Review of Episode 109 (Part 2)”

  1. I’ve read the books (and I’ve read the first four boos a couple of times), but it’s been over 10 years. I’m really glad that I have read them and that I understand the plot but I think it may be a good thing that it’s been a while… I think it’s much easier for me to enjoy the show, if it were fresh in my mind I would be constantly comparing the two. The passage of time allows me to appreciate the things I remember without focusing on the differences (which I know I would do). I’ve thought about reading them again but I think I might let a couple of seasons go by before I do. I’m enjoying the show so much that I hate to risk it! Thanks for a really well thought out (and well written) review. I’ll be sure to keep reading!

    • Thank you! There is a lot of hand-wringing out there, grading the show based on how true it is to the book. That’s not my bag. I’m trying to learn something about storytelling from some of the best in the business, here. By comparing and contrasting how the spirit of one story is being conveyed in a new medium, I’m discovering the benefits and drawbacks of various approaches. A compare-contrast review like mine may not be for everyone. I can appreciate the viewer who wants to simply enjoy each Outlander for what it is. The theater-English-communications nerd in me won’t let me do that, I’m afraid. I’m just glad that my musings have an appreciative audience 🙂

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