Outlander: Review of Ep. 111, The Devil’s Mark – Doesn’t Hit The Mark

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I was SO ready for this episode. Claire and Geillis, accused of witchcraft,  stuck in the thieves’ hole, their men banished, the fire coming their way… Intense, right? I knew about where this episode would end, not exactly of course, but had a good idea that Claire would make her unbelievable confession to Jamie, and that this would be a major crisis in their relationship…

Yawn.

Oh, stop yelling. Think about it. Let me tell you where it went wrong for me – and where it went right; I’m happy to argue with you. First, let me say that I do try to avoid direct comparisons with the book. In general, I’m ok with the majority of the TV adaptations – if they’re true the emotional honesty of the book; if they could have happened out of the sight of Claire’s point of view; if they make sense or even just make good television. And for the most part, the majority of the changes have been well done, interesting, and emotional. But this episode requires a direct comparison, if our non-book readers are to understand why so many people are so obsessed with this series.

Let’s start with what I DID like. The scenes between Claire and Geillis in the thieves’ hole and in the room off the court were terrific. Geillis’ motivations, her affections for Dougal (and I won’t call it love, because I don’t think this character is capable of love – too self-absorbed) and her ultimate willingness to sacrifice herself for her friendship with Claire were very well done, both from a writing perspective and in Lotte Verbeek’s portrayal. I had been a little unsure of Lotte when we first met her, but I’ve come to appreciate her fairy fey character with a steel core, willing to do what’s necessary for the cause she believes in, even if her actions are immoral. Some would call her evil, but no truly evil character could accept her fate and save her friend at the risk of her own life, as Geillis does. When it seems the only way out for Claire, I loved Geilis’ line: “It looks like I’m going to a fucking barbecue.”

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The heated discussion between Claire and Geillis – “Why are you here?” “It was an accident.” Neither of them told the other explicitly that they were from the future – but you know. And they know, although Claire seemed a little slower on the uptake, not being absolutely sure until she sees the vaccination mark on Geillis’s arm, “the Devil’s Mark.” That too was an excellent scene, with Geillis carted off by the townspeople, eager for blood, screaming that she’s carrying the Devil’s child, her little red shoes visible.

 

Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson) was terrific as well, arguing against the validity of the trial itself. I have truly enjoyed his character – if there’s anyone who completely fit the image I had from the character in the book, it’s been Ned Gowan. My only quibble is that in the book, the trial was more drawn out, and Ned basically filibustered, trying to give rescuers a chance to get to Claire (as he didn’t truly care what happened to Geillis, but he was quite fond of Claire).

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And Leery (I’ve given up trying to type the correct spelling, please indulge me) – he was never yours to begin with you, you spoiled pouting brat! Nell Hudson’s glares, her teary-eyed testimony! But you know she didn’t do this all by herself – and Ned alluded to a conspiracy to get rid of Claire. When Claire asked if Colum sent him, Ned responded that no, he hadn’t, and would be very unhappy to find out he had come on his own. Colum is crafty, and as he said in last week’s episode, he looks after the MacKenzies – he wanted both Dougal and Jamie out of the way so he could get rid of the women who were causing him personal irritation. With Claire out of the way, the roadblock she created to Jamie succeeding him as laird was gone. And he found the perfect, willing accomplice in Leery and her belief that Jamie should be hers.

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Where did the episode go wrong? Start with Father Bain. We hadn’t seen too much of this fire-and-brimstone preacher, but his view of God and his own duty didn’t seem to allow for a change of heart. When he first strode into the courtroom, cassock silhouetted against the window, you knew that hellfire would come with him, and that Claire’s interference with the poisoned young boy would be brought up as evidence of her witchcraft. And it was – but then what was this, the recanting of his belief? Saying that God had told him he had made a grievous error – we know he had, but for him to admit it – seemingly sincerely – created a false emotional beat. His small smile to Claire afterwards, after the assembled townspeople cried out that she must have bewitched him to change his mind, was not a smile of “see, my strategy worked – I know who you really are, but I still want to get rid of you” – it was more “I’m sorry, I wish I had been a better person earlier.” Had he gone with the first attitude, a true-spoken, knowing it wouldn’t be believed betrayal, it would have made more sense for the scene. But as it stood, it lowered the building emotional intensity.

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And the next is just a quibble – where the hell did Jamie come from? He just swooped in and saved his wife – which, of course, had to happen or the show would have been a few episodes short – but some line of explanation – “Ned sent Murtagh with news, and I rode like the Devil himself” – would have made sense (it won’t surprise me, when we have Ron Moore’s podcast to listen to, if he says that something along these lines had been in the show but was cut).

Finally, we get the line that us book-lovers sorely missed from the wedding episode – the honesty speech. Jamie tells Claire that he knows there are things she likely can’t tell him, and that he believes their relationship has room for secrets, but not lies, and asks her to promise that when she does tell him something, that it will be the truth. That line fit beautifully into this scene. Claire’s revelations of her actual background were very well done, very true to her heart. And Jamie’s reaction – belief, sorrow for what she’s been through, apologies for having beaten her when she was just trying to get home – was also very believable. His depth of emotion for this woman he loves, and the range of feelings that pass over his face, was remarkable. How would you react? He trusts her, and everything they’ve been through so far has been very intense and emotional. While completely out of his experience, Claire being a time traveller explains so much to him, and after all, he is a Highlander, superstitious, believing in spirits, despite being an educated man. He’s also willing to accept that she doesn’t love him as he loves her, and believes that despite her feelings for him, she is still desperate to return to her own time. And as difficult as it is for him, he decides to give her what she needs.

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However – this is where I have the biggest problems with this episode. The difficulties are more in the way the scenes were written than with Sam Heughan’s acting, but I never – not once – saw these huge depths of emotion and raw feelings that should have been present. And when he finally leads her to the stones, and grabs her back when she reaches for them, saying “I wasna ready yet, ye ken” – the episode just died, emotionally.

Part of this is, I think, Ron Moore’s decision in the first episode to not use any kind of stronger device to depict the travel through the stones. In Episode 1, he used the image of a car accident, with the car tumbling over and over, to illustrate Claire’s harrowing experience. Yes, that image is in the book, but it’s only part of what Diana Gabaldon described. And having shown it as a mildly disorienting, but ultimately no big deal event, he continued that description here.

Read how Diana described this exact scene in Outlander:

Now that I was standing here at last, I wanted to be anywhere else. The standing stones on the hilltop were invisible from below, but they seemed to emanate a subtle terror that reached out for me…’I came near the split rock (she tells Jamie), and I heard a buzzing, like bees –‘ It was still like bees. I drew back as though it had been the rattle of a snake. ‘It’s still here!’ I reared in panic…Chaos reached out and grabbed me. The sun stopped whirling behind my eyes at last, and the shriek faded out of my ears. I felt too sick to sit up or open my eyes… It was still an effort to speak, and I felt heavy and disoriented.

And Jamie’s reaction:

‘Oh God, Claire! I thought you were dead, sure. You… you began to… go, somehow. You had the most awful look on your face, like ye were frightened to death.’ He cast a glance of fearful loathing at the stone. ‘You didn’t believe me after all, did you?’ (Claire says to him) ‘It’s true, though.’

Jamie had told Claire he believed her story of being a time-traveller. And he did, in the way we believe our children when they tell us their stories. But until he SAW her begin to fade and to “go,” he hadn’t completely been convinced. And now he was. The viewer needed to see that, to understand that now, no matter how unbelievable the things she’ll tell him will be, that he’ll have no doubts about them.

 

But in this episode, we didn’t get that – while some of the words are in the script, the depth of emotion, the intensity of belief, the desperation he felt at letting her go are all missing. When he turns and walks down the hill, we don’t see him again, aching and soul-sick. Again, from the book,

He stopped and stood motionless for a minute, fighting to control his face. It was white and strained and his lips were bloodless when he turned back to me… I watched him until he disappeared into the oak clump, walking slowly, like a man wounded, who knows he must keep moving, but feels his life ebbing slowly away through the fingers he has clenched over the wound.

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And their reunion, when Claire realizes that, despite Jamie telling her that there’s nothing in this world for her, that this IS her whole world? Once again, completely missing the intensity you would expect of a woman who has just turned her back wholeheartedly on her old life, to wholeheartedly turn toward the man who is her true soulmate. “On your feet, soldier”? That’s what she says to him? It just didn’t ring true. I know from looking at comments from people who watched the episode early on Starzplay or On Demand that many felt this was a two-tissue-box episode, worthy of every award that could be brought down upon it – but I sincerely believe they’re projecting the feelings they had when they read these highly-charged, true bombshell scenes in the book onto an adaptation of them that was more like the poppers you toss on the sidewalk than the huge starburst fireworks it should have been.

What did you think? One of the best – or a let down?

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Erin Conrad