Outlander: Ep. 209 Review, Je Suis Prest, But Not Everyone Else Is

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I’m feeling so much better this week. Aren’t you? Dougal’s back and causing trouble, Angus is still a git, and our strong, commanding Jamie is showing himself! So for now, while we’re stuck on the field at Crieff, let’s talk about this episode. (This week’s review may be shorter than usual… there’s a band rehearsing directly underneath me, and I may have to escape.)

The reunion with Murtagh and Fergus was wonderful – Fergus complaining that Murtagh made him mend socks and fetch his meals, the gall of the man! And it’s obvious that Claire and Fergus forged a special bond in those weeks after he got her to come home from the hospital – a young boy happy to see the only parents he has ever known.

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Quite a bit of time this week was given to exploring Claire’s PTSD – triggered by the sights and sounds of men once again heading off to war and death, and only a short time removed from her experiences in the 1940s, Claire is having a lot of trouble – understandably – coping. Flinching at the sound of gunshots, snapping at Fergus for taking some time to play, and bitching at Angus about his feet (although… this one would be normal for any of us) – no, she hasn’t turned cranky without justification. A casual walk through the camp becomes a gauntlet through an enemy attack, and she finally has to face what happened to two young Yanks she has befriended when their Jeep is attacked by Germans. Finally, lying curled up in a ball, fingers in her ears, she realizes what has happened to her. Caitriona is terrific here – every subtle blink, every recoil shows you how hard this is for Claire.

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But when Jamie tells her that he’ll send her back home, she insists that she can’t do that either. “If I go back, then it’ll be just like lying in that ditch again,” she says, “helpless and powerless to move, like a dragonfly in amber. Except this time it will be worse. Because I’ll know that the people out there dying alone are people I know. People I love. I can’t do that, Jamie. I can’t like in that ditch again. I can’t be helpless and alone ever again.” She echoes what Jamie has just been through – this is her blade of grass, her fortress, and she needs to prove to herself that she can rebuild and survive.

Outlander Season 2 2016

Outlander Season 2 2016

Jamie is in his element – in command, a leader of men. His concern is more that these men, who are not soldiers, have a chance to survive what he knows to be coming. Throw untrained men at the disciplined British, and it will be like tossing red meat to the lions at the zoo. And is there perhaps an element of delay here? If he keeps them on the field at Crieff training for long enough, will they possibly miss some of the fighting to come? “If we have the discipline to stand together, to march together, to fight together, I know we will win. Together.”

Outlander Season 2 2016

Outlander Season 2 2016

Murtagh is his drill sergeant – and how wonderful is he here! Barking out orders, insults and, eventually, praise – “I’m beginning to feel proud!” However, one line bothered me – at the beginning of the drills, Murtagh tells the men, “James Fraser himself taught me these drills” – is that supposed to mean something to these men? The long-lost, and very young, grandson of the man who sent them off to this thankless job? A man they know nothing about? Now if it had been, “King James Stuart himself…” that would have been a different story. But at this point, the men don’t have any reason to respect Jamie’s military knowledge, and don’t know anything about his background as a soldier. They will soon learn, though! And by any chance, did Claire give Jamie some military drill info from the future?

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Dougal, Rupert and Angus return! You can see the muscles in Jamie’s jaw twitch when he sees them coming, but as long as Dougal can be made to stay in line – and this is a big question mark – they’re welcome. Of course, the older man  expects to jump into the top spot, but I love the way Jamie holds his ground, and tells Dougal that these are Fraser men, they will only follow Jamie, and Dougal is expected to behave like any other soldier in the company.

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This doesn’t sit well with Dougal at all – he attempts to blackmail Claire into influencing Jamie by using the “bargain” they made in the cave against her. I was a little surprised – not completely, but a bit – at the depth of the anger Claire has toward Dougal. Yes, I think part of it was her PTSD, and I know most of it was his refusal to personally participate in Jamie’s rescue – but he did allow his men to go with her, when he easily could have refused. “If I ever thought of you, Dougal Mackenzie, then I might hold a grudge for all the things you’ve done to me. But I don’t. Because of your affliction.”

This bit about Dougal being a narcissist sounded very speech-y and contrived. Is Dougal a narcissist? The definition, “pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes,” does, in part, seem to fit, but I’m not sure it’s self-admiration that motivates Dougal; there’s a difference between narcissism and self-centeredness. Dougal decides on a course of action, and chooses not to listen to anyone else’s opinion. I don’t think he sees himself as the best and greatest – he was able to give his brother his loyalty, rather than plot to take Colum’s position from him. He’s able to take a breath and accept Jamie’s leadership – not without a battle – but he does see that Jamie is a formidable man (and is probably very glad at this point that Colum was never able to put Jamie forward as his successor!). Dougal defends himself to Claire: “I do love my own reflection. But make no mistake – I love Scotland more. And I would give everything – everything – I have and ever will have, including my life, to see a Stuart back on the throne.”

And finally! We meet one of many fans’ favorite characters (behind Jamie and Claire, of course), Lord John Grey. Sneaking into an armed camp, alone, shows the bravery that marks him in later books. But he’s easily defeated, and questioned. And this is the episode’s final clunky moment for me – when Claire, who obviously has developed a taste for the dramatic, steps up and plays a lady kidnapped by this band of ruffians, to play on Lord John’s sense of chivalry and propriety.

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The only objection I really have to this scene is that in the book (and I’ve avoided comparisons until now), this was Jamie’s quick thought, and not Claire’s. It’s another example of reducing Jamie to bit player. I can see the discussion in the writer’s room – how will non-book-readers react when Jamie uses HIS OWN WIFE this way? Will they accept it better if it’s Claire’s idea? Maybe. But because, in the book, it was a surprise to her (and Jamie tore her bodice down the front, a la BJR humiliating Jenny), it was written as much more convincing than it came across in the show. I’d really like to hear from episode writer Matt Roberts how this change was decided on. It may seem like a minor point, but are we going to continue to see Claire use dramatics to achieve a goal? This was the third episode in a row.

LATE EDIT: From an interview with Matt Roberts in the Hollywood Reporter, Matt described why this scene was changed: 

It was all because of Claire’s PTSD story. In the book, Jamie initiates ripping her bodice off. He uses her as the ploy to extract the information from John Grey. But when we were writing the episode, it felt wrong for Jamie to do that after the scene just prior when Claire is having this emotional catharsis. Plus, we also tested that out in prep and our bodices are so well made that none of us could rip the bodice. It wasn’t going to happen in the way it was described in the book anyway. So Claire just gives Jamie that little nod to give him the okay to go down this road, and I wanted to keep the tone of the book where Jamie takes it just a step too far and it was reminiscent of the first season spanking scene.

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But the commando raid makes up for any defect in the otherwise well-done Lord John scene. Imagine being the British Army, waking up the next morning to find your heavy artillery sitting on the ground, effectively turned into statues, wheels nowhere to be seen. And yes, Jamie, all of us, as well, weren’t expecting you to tell Claire to get dressed – but we sure don’t want you caught with your pants down when the Redcoats come looking for you!

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I appreciated Dougal’s immediate acceptance of his own culpability in letting Lord John sneak into camp, and his concern for his nephew when Jamie began doling out punishment, insisting that he also be flogged. But Jamie is a leader – and a leader understands that his men need to see that he accepts responsibility for the camp, and doesn’t just blame everyone else for mistakes. The men, just beginning to come together as a unit, need to see that their commander puts them first, and that’s what Jamie did.

As the now-disciplined force moves to meet the other clans for battle, this same instinct for command leads Jamie to give Dougal – who, I think, has surprised Jamie with his ability to accept the younger man’s leadership – the honor of riding forward and greeting Prince Charles. Jamie knows that Charles respects him and will welcome him, he has no fear on that score, but Dougal needs that recognition as a clan leader and loyal subject. That gesture goes a long way with Dougal.

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I want to add a note about tonight’s music – Bear McCreary’s always fantastic score was enhanced this week by the vocals of AfroCelt Sound System singer (and rapper) Griogair Labhruidh, who was uncredited in the show (have to admit I found his name only because I saw that another Outlander fan had posted it in one of the groups). The piece toward the beginning sounded like one of the songs that Gwyllyn the Bard sang in the first season (although not the same singer), and the final scene of the episode gave me chills, knowing what was coming, with the haunting Gaelic piece. I hope this is included in a Season 2 CD. Here’s Griogair performing Airde Chuain:

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Erin Conrad