Outlander doesn’t shy away from tackling the hard subjects. And that’s definitely a good thing, because the books are full of difficult moments, contradictions between what was done “then” and what is done “now.” That juxtaposition, with Claire in the middle, frequently creates tension and trouble, and we know we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Slavery, and attitudes toward it, is without a doubt a hard subject, with repurcussions and consequences that still echo, nearly 150 years after it was abolished in the US. (It was abolished in the UK about 30 years before, in 1833.) You wouldn’t expect Claire’s attitude to be anything but disgust toward such an abominable practice, as she was not a woman of the 1700s, but of the 1900s – and most recently of the US in the infancy of the Civil Rights movement. So life at River Run, with its 152 slaves, was, predictably, impossible in a moral sense for her.
However – and from the few comments I read today about this episode – I seem to be in the minority opinion here about this episode. Yes, there were a few things I liked about it – John Quincy Meyers was terrific (although raise your hand if you missed his hernia surgery on the dining room table during the party); Ian’s questions about the Indians was interesting foreshadowing; and Ulysses, as played by Colin McFarlane, was great, just as I pictured him in the books.
But beyond that, I really didn’t like this episode at all. I’m not too fazed by this – even in great TV shows, like Outlander, you’ll come across an episode or two throughout a series that just doesn’t do much for you. Sometimes, they’re just blah – don’t leave you excited, but don’t really turn you off. And sometimes, they’re like this episode was for me – the first time I watched it, I felt like this was my least favorite of the entire series.
On rewatch, it maybe went up in my ranking a notch or two – maybe it’s not THE worst – but it’s still in my bottom three. Your mileage may vary; feel free to leave your comments below (remember that everyone, including me, is entitled to their opinion – discussion is encouraged. I don’t want to hear, though, “if you don’t like it, stop watching!” Because that’s not the case. I just don’t like this episode).
There was so much that was charming in the book, that would have been interesting to see – I realize that not everything can go from paper to screen, but too often, I feel like the production throws out Diana’s ideas and makes up things, or blows up shorter scenes until they’re incredibly thin, like a balloon (The Search, The Watch, Frank’s mistress….). I missed Jamie teaching Ian Latin as they float down the river; Jenny’s letters; Jocasta’s meticulously-arranged skeins of embroidery thread and her rigorously organized possessions, so that she can have independence at moments and not rely on Ulysses for many things.
And instead, we got an episode that was preachy, screechy, and bloody. From the minor to the major:
Maria Doyle Kennedy looks great as Jocasta – no problem there. (And River Run, inside and out, was spectacular.) But her accent was horrible. And her performance was flat. Her natural Irish accent seemed at war with the Scottish accent she was trying to use. She’s the sister of Colum and Dougal – you’d expect that they’d coach her to sound as close in dialect to them as possible, but it was a weird, unrecognizable hybrid.
The scene between Claire and Jocasta, as Phaedre is fitting the dress on her, was awkward. I really didn’t like Jocasta pushing Claire to praise River Run. That just doesn’t seem like something a well bred woman would have done. The conversation was a vehicle, certainly, for the writers to get Claire’s issues with slavery out in the open. But there had to be a better way.
Do you watch Doctor Who? Last Sunday’s episode featured a strong female, an intergalactic pilot, and her android consort. Sorry, Jamie seems to be turning into an android consort. He’s tentative around Claire, seemed to be begging her to consider Gov. Tryon’s offer of a land grant, deferring to her frequently. Even the opening scene, where Claire comes up from the living quarters on the riverboat and consoles a pouting Jamie, bothered me. She got attacked too, and all he could say was that he couldn’t protect her (shades of the near-rape shortly after they got married). Jamie’s issues with being Jocasta’s heir were more complex than not wanting to own slaves – he’s a one-dimensional lightweight at this point. Is he still worried that Claire will leave him and go back to the 1960s?
And finally, my biggest issue – the exclusive focus on slavery and Claire’s dilemma became preachy and overbearing. She overstepped, albeit with the best of intentions and moral high ground, but without any understanding of the admittedly brutal local law. Once again, Claire leaps before she looks, assuming the world will follow her, or at least not caring that they won’t. She’s difficult and unlikeable (not that book Claire is always liked, either, but at least she grew and learned to, occasionally, hold her tongue). I felt her dilemma, I sympathized with her, the death of the slave Rufus was touching. I appreciated the tenderness Claire used toward him asking about his home and his sister, like she did when Geordie died at the boar hunt in Season 1, but that couldn’t make up for the preachy, crossed-arms attitude of the episode.
So we’ve started the season with two desperate, grim episodes. Two hangings, several deaths, a mob with torches – how about some sunshine? I’m hoping that next week’s episode will include a Brianna & Roger scene I’ve been waiting for and has been teased in promos. This season will have many difficult, heart-wrenching moments, but needs to be interspersed with those homely, life-affirming scenes that Diana does so well. Can we start having some of them, please?
THIS WEEK ON TIBS RADIO!
The Outlander Gab on the Air will feature some of our fandom’s fundraisers. The generosity of the Outlander world is overwhelming, and there are some really creative and exciting campaigns out there. We’ll discuss this week’s episode, and take your calls about the show, your group’s favorite charities, and more. Join us at 9 pm Eastern/8 pm Central – click here or go to the Live Radio tab at the top of our website for the link to click and listen. If you miss the show, go to that same Live Radio page, and click the links to listen to past episodes!
Follow me on Twitter: @ErinConrad2 and @threeifbyspace
Join our Facebook group – Outlandishly Three If By Space!
Subscribe to get instant notice of new posts
Share this article using our Social Share buttons above!