If last week’s episode was spotlights on a disco ball, this week’s is a nightlight – making everything feel safe, but not bright enough to illuminate the Legos on the floor or scare away the monsters in the hall. And that’s a wonderful thing – we only see part of the plans and schemes, but there’s so much more underneath.
In this episode, everything hints at what’s under the surface. Nothing is transparent, and nobody is comfortable (well, maybe Murtagh, underneath Suzette – good for Murty, gettin’ a little sumpin). I was so much happier with this episode than last – Jamie and Claire are still not on the same wavelength, but you can’t expect that to happen overnight, not with Jamie still recovering. And they’re not yet working together – they’re on the same path, but more of a parallel, and you can see them heading in each others’ direction. Jamie is more the man we expect him to be, and Claire seems to acknowledge that a bit better.
Part of the reason for the attitude shift, I think, is that this episode was written by Anne Kenney, who wrote last season’s The Way Out, The Wedding, and Lallybroch – and she was a big fan of the books before she began work on Outlander (in an episode of The Scot and the Sassenach podcast, which you can listen to here, she says that when she heard about the show, she called her agent and said she’d “walk across hot coals” for the chance to work on it). Ron Moore has mentioned that he deliberately staffed his writers’ room with people who both were and were not fans of the books before they started working on the show (I sure hope they’re ALL fans now!), and honestly, I think it shows! Last week’s episode was written by Ira Steven Behr, who also wrote The Garrison Commander, By the Pricking of My Thumbs and the final two episodes of the season – all of which, I felt, didn’t have a great understanding of the characters’ basic nature or downplayed certain aspects that were important to the reasons that we, as long-time fans, loved those characters (and I’m not saying they weren’t good episodes – there were many things I loved about all of them, but they didn’t demonstrate deep-down understanding of Diana’s tone and characters).
Subtext and hidden agendas are rife in this episode. Jamie’s been spending days and nights with people he’s working against while smiling in their faces – from Maison Elise to the Palace, trying to convince Prince Charles that he’s a loyal Jacobite while plotting to stop him, engaging in “more blether with that loon, the Prince.” All the while, I presume, he’s been handling Jared’s wine business – and he’s looking quite worn out. But he’s remained fairly cheerful about it – or could that just be lack of sleep – while Claire is becoming more and more frustrated by her role, as salon-attender, card-player, and sex-ed teacher. “You never know, today could be the day you learn some bit of information that could have the chance of stopping Charles’ rebellion from happening,” Jamie tries to reassure her. Claire’s doubtful about these prospects, though, and she’s getting more and more bored. Jamie heads off again, but not before realizing that the little wooden snake that his deceased older brother carved for him is gone!
How sweet and innocent is Mary Hawkins, though! She declares that she can’t marry a Frenchman – they do scandalous things to women, she’s heard, and men just don’t do that where she’s from. “And where is that, the moon?” laughs Louise de la Tour. Let’s hope Claire sets her straight – yes, even sweet and gentle Jamie “does that”! Maybe not a whole lot lately, but Claire would sure like him to. And Claire has a revelation – Mary is not who she seems to be, just an unimportant young friend – Claire saw her name in Frank’s family Bible, as the woman who married Jack Randall, and ultimately led to Frank’s birth. It didn’t occur to her before that if Black Jack was dead, he couldn’t have fathered a child who would have led to Frank, although there’s no way that she would have known dates closely enough to have any idea other than that Jack could have had a child before his supposed death by cow. But now she knows – unless Jack lives at least another year, Frank will never exist!
Claire’s certainly not in a good mood following that – probably pointed out to her that she’s not getting any of what Mary Hawkins is so afraid of – and discovers Murtagh’s little romance when she goes to upbraid her maid Suzette for not repairing a bit of lace. The exchange between Claire and Murtagh was a very nice touch – it shows how far their relationship has come, after everything they went through together, searching for Jamie, rescuing him, and saving him from himself. He’s accepted her fully as part of his life, as she has accepted him, he thinks. He doesn’t see himself as servant or employee – “What you do with your time is your concern,” she says. “It’s the middle of the day. Don’t you have anything else you could be doing? I know Suzette certainly does.” Suzette, of course, is an employee, Murtagh is not. But Claire’s not the only one that’s bored – “As a matter of fact, I don’t,” he replies. “Since when have you become such a priggish scold when it comes to frolickin’ between the sheets?” And this is Claire’s breaking point – “You can mind your own bloody business. And remember who runs this house!” Of course, she regrets speaking to him that way, as soon as she says it, and reveals the bigger reason she’s troubled, that Jack Randall is alive. And she doesn’t know how to tell Jamie. How do you tell him? How will he respond? Murtagh is aghast – “What! I saw him lying dead with my own eyes, bleeding on the stones of Wentworth Prison!” Murtagh worries that Jamie will rush off to exact his vengeance, and get himself killed, so they conspire to keep this secret from him – one of many secrets and hidden agendas the episode holds.
Their final bit of conversation, “Have you considered… birth control?” Claire asks, shows how different Claire’s modern thinking is. I loved that addition, and of course, it gives her reason to go back to M. Raymond’s shop, to look for a contraceptive for Suzette. Is anyone else surprised at how candid they are in front of the servants about the plans to disrupt Charles’ rebellion?
And here’s another bit not to take at face value – after declaring to Claire that he and the Comte were rivals, she sees Raymond chatting away with the villain, as delicious as he is, outside their shop, and has to admit that yes, they are acquainted. The look the Comte gives her! Oh my…. if we didn’t already suspect that he wasn’t a very nice person, we should know just from that look, the one that says “I shall eat you up, little girl, for I am the big bad wolf, and you are little Yellow Riding Hood.” In a French accent, of course.
As Claire looks for something to keep little Murtys from running around, she spots a jar of something she knows to be poison, without any other redeeming value. The scene as written in the book would have been quite delightful here – a jealous Countess rushes in looking for something with which to poison her rival – and I think I would have preferred to keep that as it was written, but this serves its purpose – Raymond tells Claire that he may have the poison, but what he actually sells is something quite different – bitter cascara, designed to produce an immediate and vile reaction, but leave no lasting harm to the victim, thus satisfying the purchaser without causing serious problems. (Remember this!)
Raymond understands Claire’s nature very well, given their limited acquaintance. He remarks that it’s usually the other way around, that a servant comes into the shop to find a contraceptive or an abortion-causing drug for a mistress, and she remarks, “well, I’m an unusual lady. Or at least I used to be.” And realizing that she isn’t just an air-headed wealthy woman, he suggests that she may have an opportunity to use her medical skills at a charity hospital, L’Hopital des Anges, which relies on volunteers. “But not all of them are as perceptive as you, or as in need of helping others.”
Jamie’s chess games with cute Minister Duverney aren’t just for fun, either. Jamie wants the Minister’s unofficial help to further discourage Charles. But darn it, Jamie keeps winning! “You know, James, if you desired my help, it would not be a bad idea to lose a game every once in a while,” Duverney good-naturedly grumps. “I respect you too much to give you a cheap victory,” Jamie responds. “I give you permission to respect me less,” Duverney offers. But he is willing to listen to Jamie’s duplicitous suggestion, to tell Charles that the King will not fund a failing endeavour. Duverney is suspicious of why Jamie wants to discourage Charles, and Jamie is honest with him, in this at least. “Scotland and its people can not bear another failed rebellion,” he answers. “We must not invade until we are certain we have the people and resources to win.” The setting for this match of chess and politics was absolutely beautiful, wasn’t it? Whether it was supposed to be a hallway in Versailles or somewhere else, it was stunning. (Matt Roberts discussed this setting a bit in a Twitter Q&A, saying that the crew had to wear slippers while on this set to avoid damaging the floor! You can read that Q&A here. And a footnote: I’ve transcribed nearly all of the Twitter Q&As – you can find the entire list at our dedicated Outlander Facebook page, in the Notes tab.)
Of course, Maison Elise wouldn’t seem to be the big hotspot for political intrigue, but of course it is. What did you think of the painted lady? At first, I wondered if it were going to bug me like the dildo scene from last week’s episode, but the more I looked, of course it was a perfect metaphor for this week’s theme of things not being what they seem. The woman’s backside is painted to look like her front, and she is offered up for examination “en privée.” In this society, which prizes gossip and intrigue and secrets, you have to examine almost anything en privée to learn the truth!
The Prince is certainly full of his own secrets, isn’t he! When Jamie brings M. Duverney to squash Charlie’s hopes of getting money from Louis, the Prince surprises Duverney – and Jamie! “Wars are expensive,” Prince Charles begins. “Aye, Very expensive. In blood and gold.” And Charles drops the bomb – “Which is why I would never approach His Majesty King Louis with empty promises or empty pockets. Rest assured, I have already secured the vast majority of funds for our cause.” This has Duverney’s attention, doesn’t it! But Charles has another ace up his heavily embroidered sleeve – the offer of an alliance between France and England upon winning the throne, should France provide the additional funds he needs. Wha the???? And now Jamie and Claire have to figure out who and how to stop it. But the Prince doesn’t see Jamie’s disbelief for what it really is. “My friend James is astonished. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see the look of relief on your face, James.” He’s about to see another look on Jamie’s face if he doesn’t remove his regal hand from said face! You can almost see the shudder of revulsion go through Jamie as he gently takes the hand off his cheek and put it down on the table – a beautiful, small gesture that says so much about Jamie’s feelings for Charles and the memories of another hand put on him.
So we now have a turn of events – Claire is excited and feeling useful; Jamie is feeling like someone just played a nasty game of Chutes and Ladders with him. And Jamie returns home to discuss this new development, and she isn’t there! You can see him getting more and more irritated as he walks through the house calling for her. And when she finally arrives, bouncy and happy (and in another beautiful dress, with a fabulous little hat), the gnashing of teeth is almost audible. “The carriage ride home was filled with delightful tales of blood and pus and gangrenous toenails,” Murtagh relays. And he says to Claire in an aside, “I told you he wouldn’t like it.” And he doesn’t – what the hell is she doing, around sick and diseased people, breathing in their gerrrrrms, when she is with child???? Wasn’t expecting that, was our Claire – she thought Jamie would be happy that she found a useful way to spend her days. “It has been a long time since I felt useful. I need to feel a sense of accomplishment. I need a purpose,” she argues. “Purpose??? I thought our purpose for being in this God-forsaken city was to stop the rebellion. Tell me, how will lancing boils and tasting urine help us to save Scotland?”
What about me? I spend my days and nights wheedling and flattering a man so I can gain his secrets and undermine his cause. When do I get to feel good? When do I get to find meaning in my day?
And when Jamie stomps off, back to Maison Elise to drown his disappointment in Claire’s behavior and ponder his next steps, he spots a little serving boy making his way through the customers, taking more than dirty glasses and used dishes. Jamie has a brainstorm – they need information, and this boy can help them get it. AH!!!! FERGUS! This beautiful young man, who will be a major heartbreaker in a couple of years, is the brothel-born-and-raised FERGUS! And nobody looking at him would think this angelic face would lift wallets and… wait, what is this? Sawny? Fergus took Jamie’s brother’s snake? Kids need toys. So off Fergus goes, blackmailed into Jamie’s employ, with a new job and a new name. “His name is Fergus. Well, actually, Claudel, but we agreed that wasn’t very manly.” And Claire’s first meeting included a lovely compliment on the beauty of her breasts. This was really a great little moment – it worked on the “ladies” at Maison Elise – of course it did! The child has much to learn about non-brothel society. And when asked for an explanation – “Hired him? Because every fine house needs a pickpocket, I suppose?”, Jamie tells Claire his plan. “That’s a good plan,” she says, slightly surprised. That’s what Jamie needed, a little bit of support!
So Fergus grabs letters, and Jamie, Claire and Murtagh read and decode – until they come across something they don’t quite get. A musical code? But Murtagh remembers that Mother Hildegarde, the formidable matron at Claire’s Hopital, was a musical genius, and Jamie sets off to beg a favor. We get another little incidence of things unseen and under the surface – literally – as the adorable diagnostic dog Bouton makes his debut, finding a bit of infection in a man’s leg. (This would have been a nice place for another fan fave scene, where Jamie meets Bouton – would have been great to have some of these little bits included.) But Mother Hildegarde agrees to look at the music, after another bit of support of Jamie from Claire. The piece is an inferior copy of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (listen to a bit of this below), with unusual and unnecessary key changes. The code is in the music! The key is the key!
J.S. Bach, Goldberg Variations
And the message is understood: negotiations have been concluded with three partners, who have agreed to contribute £40,000 to the cause – not enough to fund the entire campaign, but enough to make King Louis feel as if this will not be a failure. But who are the three partners? And who is the mysterious “S” who has signed the note – can it be the dastardly Sandringham? And Jamie, finally excited by this breakthrough, turns to Claire, and makes a toast reminiscent of their wedding night – “to my wife, who is always there when I need her,” and again, like the wedding night, Claire can’t respond. She can’t bring herself to crash his world into shards with the news about Black Jack. He’s sure to figure it out when he sees Sandringham and Alex Randall, but… just one more moment? Maybe one night that they can be together? Unhappiness is sure to follow.
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