Outlander Review 2.03: Useful Occupations and Deceptions

Hello, everyone! It’s time to return to our favorite Scottish adventurers. Their challenge this episode: hidden splinters, brothel orphans, and the Bonnie Prince. The Frasers can never quite keep a low profile.

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Claire Fraser is more used to setting broken bones than planning dinner parties, so it’s no surprise that by her third month in Paris, Claire is hopelessly bored. The episode opens with Claire kissing a restless Jamie goodbye almost moments after he walks through the door, reeking of smoke and wine from another night spent with the Bonnie Prince. While Jamie gets to flit around Paris and connive with various French ministers, Claire is stuck having tea with Mary Hawkins and Louise, visiting Master Raymond, and not much else. And while Jamie assures Claire that his time spent trying to prevent the Bonnie Prince from starting a war isn’t enjoyable, it’s clear that Claire wishes that she could join him, if only to keep herself busy.

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It’s this lack of purpose that sends Claire to L’Hôpital des Anges, a charity hospital in need of volunteers. The matron, Mother Hildegarde, is at first wary of a gentlewoman like Claire, but after Claire proves her worth by tasting the urine of a patient (yes, you read that correctly) and diagnosing diabetes, Mother Hildegarde gives her more substantial duties. This episode provided some fascinating glimpses of 18th century medicine. Many of Claire’s best moments happen when she’s healing and it was wonderful to see her using her medical know-how free of restraint. Plus, the scene with Bouton, Mother Hildegarde’s infection-sniffing dog, and the man with the hidden splinter, was both disgusting and intriguing. Claire is truly in her element when she’s plucking splinters from a pus-filled wound.

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But not all is pus and games in Paris, as Jamie soon discovers. Though Jamie has spent weeks persuading Duvernay, the Minister of Finance, not to finance the Jacobite Revolution, the Bonnie Prince convinces the Minister to give it a go by promising him that the English have already provided significant funding. There’s little that faux- Jacobite Jamie can do but pretend to be supportive and swat away prostitutes. *Maison Elise gets rowdier and rowdier each episode; last week they were selling home-made dildos, this week they hired an erotic body-painter…what will Elise think of next?!*

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Jamie is desperate to talk to Claire about their new impasse, but she’s having too much fun tasting pee with Mother Hildegarde. So, it is inevitable that with tensions running high, the Frasers would have their first big argument of the season. On the surface, Jamie is angry at Claire for volunteering at the hospital, but if we look deeper, it’s clear that this scene is the realization of frustrations that have been percolating since the end of last season. Claire is tired of being left out of their plan and tired of being overlooked because of her sex. Jamie wants to be supportive of Claire, but he’s still influenced by his 18th century notions of how a wife should behave. To him, Claire’s choice to volunteer at the hospital seems like rash endangerment to her and their unborn child, but to Claire, it’s the only activity that can make her feel useful.

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And of course, there’s the underlying factor: the couple’s lack of intimacy. As the maid Suzette mentions to Murtagh, there’s not much going on between the sheets. Since the beginning, sex has been crucial to Jamie and Claire’s relationship. Without that intimacy, they struggle to connect. The writers have had difficulties portraying Jamie’s complexity in the past, but in this episode, they finally give him the words to express his frustration. In the novels, Jamie has an extremely hot temper. I was worried that they had slightly neutered his character to make him more likeable, but my fears have been assuaged. His fury was reasonable, if not totally justified, especially since, as he pointed out, that this whole lying and scheming business is Claire’s plan and as his wife, it’s not fair for her to abandon him to play doctor.

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Outlander could have resolved their conflict in the span of a few minutes, but it’s not a lazy show. Instead, Claire continues to work at the hospital as if nothing has happened, and Jamie continues to scheme against Charlie. Both are stubborn as mules and neither is willing to change. The tension is perfectly represented in the scene that occurs when Jamie, having come across a nimble pick-pocket in Maison Elise, hires the boy, names him Fergus (Claudel was not manly enough), and brings him back to the house. He doesn’t ask Claire for permission or even tell her of his plans, which involve having Fergus steal Charlie’s letters. And when Claire confronts him, Jamie walks away. They’re out of step literally and metaphorically, and for a couple who is usually so in-sync, that’s sad to see.

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Luckily, the episode is not completely melancholy. After decoding one of Fergus’ intercepted letters (with the help of  Mother Hildegarde), Jamie and Claire learn that the man behind Charlie’s new source of revenue is none other than the wicked devil Sandringham, a.k.a secret Jacobite and Jack Randall’s employer. Jamie is ecstatic at this news, but Claire is understandably worried. She knows that if Jamie confronts Sandringham, he’ll learn that Jack Randall is still alive and seek his vengeance. Even in the midst of their reconciliation, Claire is burdened with her knowledge of Jack’s continuing existence. The question is not whether Jamie will discover Randall’s existence, but when he will discover it. Until then, Claire’s quiet home life is a ticking time bomb.

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But how does it compare to the book? We finally got to see Jamie be Jamie-ish, which means the show is definitely evolving. Book Jamie is quite an intelligent character, so it was satisfying to see TV Jamie demonstrating his aptitude for chess and his code-breaking skills. It was also satisfying to have one episode without too much of Claire’s pig-headedness. I may be wrong, but I think the show emphasizes Claire’s petulance more than the novel did. This episode introduced Fergus, who becomes an integral character later on in the series. The casting is wonderful; Romann Berrux is gorgeous. Overall, I think the episode was tight, concise, and thematically on-point. It’s so far the best episode of season 2. Next week’s episode is called “La Dame Blanche,” and if you know what I know, it means that trouble’s a comin’ to the Fraser household.

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P.S

Anyone else roll their eyes at Mary Hawkins this episode? Gurrrl is in for a rude awakening.

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