Outlander: Ep. 309, The Doldrums Not Just Lack of Wind, Review

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OK, worst cruise ever. The kids are acting up, the only entertainment is down to a potential lynching or storytelling on the deck. The water’s got a funny taste. But hey, if my man looked at me the way Jamie looks at Claire…. I could ignore all the other stuff. Except for the typhoid. That might be a deal breaker.

Let’s put this episode into the rankings – definitely better than 307, not quite as good as 308… falling somewhere in between those two. The story often felt like the wind-less Artemis – going nowhere. Nothing resolved, not furthering the overall story line, not offering the best amenities… The Doldrums has a lot to enjoy, but left me with a fair number of questions. Why the whole Jonah story line? For that matter, where did the doldrums come from? From an episode structure standpoint, the logical place to end this one was where they did – the cliffhanger of Claire stuck on the Porpoise, pulling away from the Artemis. There are 100 pages of Voyager (in the paperback edition) between the time Ian is captured and the Porpoise comes on the scene. If you rehabilitate Mr. Willoughby and ship Archie and Margaret Campbell off to the West Indies early, there’s a good chunk of those 100 pages. If you remove Duncan Innes and his ailments, there’s another chunk. So what’s left that COULD have been included from the original storyline? What would have made sense?

If you haven’t read the books, you won’t know there’s anything missing. But if you have, you’ll realize we’re missing some little scenes that were not necessary to the overall story – Claire visiting Mother Hildegard and Faith’s grave; and a scene that gave us clues about the origin of the treasure on Silkie Island – but that might have moved the episode in a way that this episode never really did. What would you have preferred, the original scenes or these new bits and pieces?

Moment #1: Jamie Loves Claire, and Claire Loves… to Brood

I’m getting really tired of this. Yes, it’s hard, and yes, there are challenges, but did you think he’d be quietly settled into a life of being a boring printer, and you could just walk in the door and take up from where you left? As Jamie said to Claire last episode, “when was it ever easy?” The best predictor of future events is past performance. You make a leap like this, and you take what comes. Unless he doesn’t want you. But that’s obviously not the case. And I don’t like what Claire’s brooding is doing to Jamie – he’s turning into a love-sick adolescent, instead of remaining the strong man he had finally become in the first half of the season. The closest I’ve seen TV Jamie written as the man that book Jamie was is in the Ardsmuir and Helwater episodes. “Will we be? Happy?” he asks her, on the docks. (And seriously, Jared must be a fairy of some kind. They didn’t even bother to age him at all.)

 

With her crossed arms and thousand-league stare, what is she contemplating? What is there to think about? What are the writers trying to do? OK, I get that Laoghaire was a surprise. And I had a terrible thought today, what if Claire came back, and Jamie was actually HAPPY with Laoghaire? Sorry. Didn’t mean to give you nightmares. But REALLY. What’s so hard? She knew about the lack of hot water. She was under no illusions about Jamie’s family. Toilet paper, lack of television, no anesthesia. Yes, leaving Bree was nearly impossible. Is that it? ALL of it? I think all of us who are mothers, or daughters (or sons) have a hard time contemplating never seeing our loved ones again, and I know there are many of you living with just that awful thing, so you understand that pain far better than I can. But there’s no doubt about Jamie’s feelings. And the heart of this story is Jamie and Claire’s love for each other. Screw with that, and what do you have?

By giving Claire doubts beyond the shock of his marriage to Laoghaire, the writers are playing with the very foundation of this story. If Claire can have such severe doubts so soon after her return, when this is all she’s really longed for over the last 20 years, can we, the fans, ever trust that she’ll commit herself, whole-heartedly? Can we trust that the writers understand that this is not a house built on sand, but on a bedrock foundation? After all, there are seasons and seasons to go, trials, tribulations, disasters, emergencies, oddities, some supernatural happenings – and we have to believe that love conquers all in order to have faith in the entire production.

I really don’t want to go through five, six, seven more seasons wondering if this is the event that will finally shake Claire’s tenuous commitment to the man who is supposed to be her soulmate and send her running for 1900s Boston. Yes, I want adventure, and excitement, and I’m willing to take maddening and irritating characters and settings, as long as I KNOW, for absolute sure, that Jamie and Claire will find their way back to each other. Don’t give me this crap. It doesn’t enhance what I’m sure is planned as a lightning strike moment of surety. It’s not a “will she or won’t she” premise. The “won’t she” needs to go away, double time.

All the lovely moments between Jamie and Claire in this episode – moments we’ve been dying to see, moments we had way too few of in Seasons 1 and 2 – and I’m not talking about sex, I’m talking about the connection and the growing, the touching, the looks – can only give fans a hollow feeling if we think Claire might not really mean it, might not follow through. WE love Jamie. We can’t stand to see him hurt yet again. And we can’t stand to see him mooning after her (even though the moonlit scenes were beautiful), worrying that even something so small as having his seasickness cured by someone else, rather than Claire’s remedies, would be another rock on her scale of Should I Stay or Should I Go.

Moment #2: Fergus Settles Down

If Jamie is the King of All Men, Marsali has the new crown as Queen of Eyerolls. How terrific was lovely young Lauren Lyle! She definitely has enough fire to carry her through everything we know is coming. And the show’s casting did a terrific job finding an actress who is believable as Laoghaire’s daughter! She didn’t quite seem young enough (Marsali is supposed to be 15), but we can’t have everything. She throws it all at Jamie, holding her ground, telling him that she’ll declare Fergus has slept with her. “He hasn’t, but I’ll say it anyway. So I shall either be married, or ruined.”

And oh, is our Fergus in love! He tells Jamie that, despite his previous dog behavior, he has restrained himself and not yet bedded the lass. “Doesn’t that count for something?” he asks. He knows what true love is, having seen it up close. “If you were forced to marry Milady, then I am forced to breathe. My heart, it is forced to beat,” he says. “You yourself told me that you wanted her more than life, from the moment you saw her. You didn’t need time. Neither do I.” But Jamie insists, shamefacedly, that Fergus has to be honest with Marsali about his past, a lesson he learned recently.

Marsali has yet to forgive Claire, or Jamie, for “ruining” their family and embarrassing her mother, and I loved when she tried to pretend sweetness and offered Claire the larger bunk. Claire sees through it, of course. The route to friendship and respect won’t be easy for these two, but it will be fun.

Moment #3: The Doldrums

A bit of license was taken here. Unless the Artemis was seriously off course, they would never have hit the actual area called The Doldrums, because that would have been quite a bit further south than they would have gone (the Doldrums are 5° north and south of the equator, and Jamaica is 18° north). But it’s a convenient bit of storyline. And I’m not a sailor, so what do I know, but I’m sure it could happen outside of that 10° spread.

But what did this entire middle section of this episode do for the story? I’m not sure I have any answer for that, beyond “not much.” I really enjoyed Mr. Willoughby – Yi Tien Cho – telling the story of his life, but it was done as a diversion and stalling tactic, to defuse the anger the crew had toward their “Jonah.”  We never saw enough of the persecution this character endures to be sympathetic to him. We didn’t see the 18th century racism, the the disdain shown, the accumulated anger that leads him, in the books, to commit barely forgivable, but potentially understandable acts. So this iconic moment is reduced in importance. It’s not a redeeming moment for a character who has endured unimaginable hardships – it’s a fairy tale. And if you’re wondering where Ping An, the pelican, is, read this interview with Matt Roberts from the Hollywood Reporter.

And the Jonah storyline. Hm. Sailor superstitions can be very interesting to learn about. Bare breasted women, touching the iron… but it didn’t advance the story, in ways that something else might have. (And as “touching the iron” comes up in a different place in the books, it makes me wonder if won’t come back, or if it will, and we’ll understand it better at that point.) It actually becalmed the narrative, took the wind out of… OK, sure, it gave us time for those wonderful Jamie and Claire moments, but what else did it do? I would have rather had the bit that’s missing from before the departure of the Artemis, where Jamie and Claire gain some crucial information on where the Silkie Island treasure came from. Or more of Fergus and Marsali, and Jamie’s reaction. Maybe a moonlight stroll for them as well. Maybe all of the above.

Lesley and Hayes aren’t as interesting as Rupert and Angus, but for some reason, this show needs its Laurel and Hardy, its Abbott and Costello. OK, its Dumb and Dumberer. Lesley and Hayes are all that’s left of Jamie’s Ardsmuir crew from the book, and they’re needed going forward, but can they not be so cartoonish?

Moment #4:  The Porpoise

Not much to say about this – I thought this piece, once the wind is finally blowing both literally and figuratively, was very well done. Captain Leonard and Mr. Pound were both suitably, shockingly young.  The horror of the hold was obvious, and between Jamie vomiting from seasickness and the typhoid stricken men, I regretted my choice to watch the episode with my husband immediately after breakfast on Sunday. (One small change from the books baffles me, though – Captain Leonard says that of their 400 men aboard, 80 have died; in the book, the Porpoise carries 600 men, and a much small number – 30 – have died. An exaggeration for shock effect, I suppose.) A small question, though, niggles – if both the Artemis and the Porpoise are going to Jamaica – and in the books, they weren’t going to the same place – what happens on board the British ship that leaves Claire standing on a beach in her shift? Hmmm!


Thank you to Outlander-Online.com for allowing us to use their screencaps of episode 309!

For an actual account of a Scotland to West Indies passage, just a few years after Jamie and Claire’s, click here!

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Erin Conrad