Outlander Review 2.09: Je Suis Prest

Hello, everyone! We are in the Outlander  home stretch. Only four more episodes to go. And we get an extra treat: a 90 minutes series finale. I wondered how they were going to fit the alien invasion into only 60 minutes.

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One of the flaws of the first half of Season 2 was that the scenery was unconvincing and kind of cheap looking. But with “Je Suis Prest,” we return to an episode that is full of sparkling emerald grass and the vast blue sky. As luck would have it, those cost nothing and look effortless. Episode 9 feels like a return to the pure, wholesome Outlander that we came to know and love in the first season. By wholesome, I mean of course the riveting Scottish speeches crying for English blood! And the disgusting bodily injuries. Shout-out to Angus’ trench foot.

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Now that the Jacobite rebellion is definitely happenin’, Claire and Jamie have thrown themselves whole-heartedly into the cause. Jamie is trying to train a bunch of rag-tag Scottish farmers who prefer scythes over swords, while also trying to block Dougal from commandeering the whole operation. Claire, on the other hand, is busy leading the female “corps” while they cook, do laundry, and take care of the men’s wounds. Both of our protagonists are in their proper place: Jamie, after all, is a laird of men, and Claire is a natural healer. But even though the glorious scenery of the episode signals a return to normalcy, neither Jamie or Claire want this war to happen, and this sense of anxiety is present in their actions.

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Claire’s apprehension is more obvious than Jamie’s. Her plot this episode revolves around relating her fear of the approaching rebellion to her past experiences as a nurse during WWII. Her flashbacks show that she’s dealt with sudden loss in wartime before, and she’s not ready to do so again. In one scene, Claire has an onset of wartime PTSD after walking through a volley of rifles. Seeing her curled on the ground, hands over her ears, is a reminder that even though she’s left France and its troubles behind, her plucky outside facade is no longer bulletproof. Though her fear of the war is an example of PTSD, there is also a direct connection between her anxiety and the return of Fergus. Early in the episode, we see her scold Fergus for playing an innocent game with the other soldiers. To some, it may seem like a sign of the writers indulging Claire’s “shrewish” nature, but to me, it seems like the sight of Fergus fraternizing with the men, almost as if he too was a soldier, is enough to send her over the edge. It’s a catalyst for her other fears, and brings on her PTSD. The PTSD flashbacks are an interesting storytelling device, but I think the scenes with Claire scolding Fergus, and Claire yelling at Angus for not taking care of his feet, are enough to show how deeply Claire cares for her new Scottish family and how terrified she is of losing them.

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While Claire is silently suffering through her anxiety, Jamie must spend all his time training farmers to be soldiers. Dougal is so focused on the good auld days of Scottish cattle raiding that he would rather send the soldiers to Prince Charlie with only the “element of surprise” as their weapon, but Jamie is determined to train them in the French style, like he learned as a youth. As I said in my last review, I prefer Jamie’s laird persona to his brilliant French schemer persona. His character seems to thrive in that position, and we get to hear some deliciously rolled RRRRs in his wartime speeches. He and Murtagh make a crack team this episode. Murtagh is the bad cop, screaming and swearing at the men, while Jamie’s good cop act inspires them with glorified pep-talks and then scares them away. It would all seem like a cliché if it weren’t so beautifully presented. The two montages are works of art, each scene so brief and airy as if they were each a vignette, and the whole construction punctuated with the rousing Gaelic music. Like usual, Bear McCreary deserves an Emmy for his gift to the world of television soundtracks.

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Jamie and Claire don’t interact much in this episode, but their separate stories make their joint scenes more touching. After hearing Claire’s fears about the war, Jamie promises that he will never leave her alone. The two actors have such a natural chemistry that it’s like watching the discussion of a real couple. I think it’s admirable that Outlander has treated their relationship like a growing organism instead of a static unit. There has been almost no sex the past few episodes, and surprise surprise, when there is sex, it actually serves the plot. Sometimes, the sight of Jamie and Claire touching foreheads is better. When the series shows restraint, it shines.

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The most notable scene of this episode was the introduction of William Grey, a foolish young British soldier who is captured after trying to assassinate Jamie. Jamie attempts to use pain to coerce the boy into revealing his camp’s position, but Claire comes up with a better idea: some more high school level dramatic acting! She pretends that Jamie has kidnapped her, and of course, Jamie goes along with it. William, being a naive little gentleman, gives up his position, if only to save the lady. I like seeing Claire’s playful side, and it’s also a nod to her role as a healer. She’ll do anything to prevent injury, even if it’s to the enemy, and even if it involves her own humiliation.

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Overall, “Je Suis Prest” was a wonderful episode and is for real this time the best so far of the season. It showcased two separate, focused story lines and provided the viewers with beautiful scenery and a lilting soundtrack. And if any sour commentator from the AV Club disagrees because they think Ronald D. Moore has ruined the universe, you can go fight me.

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