After a week’s break, Frank Collins returns with a double-bill of Outlander season 2 reviews, covering the fifth and sixth episodes “Untimely Resurrection” and “Best Laid Schemes”…
With a title like “Untimely Resurrection” the fifth episode of Outlander signals to its audience that the longed-for reunion between the Frasers and their nemesis, Jonathan Wolverton Randall (Tobias Menzies), is imminent. However, Outlander likes to tease its viewers, and this episode defers to the disastrous aftermath of the dinner party that provided the climax to “La Dame Blanche“.
The consequences of the brawl that ended Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) attempt to sway the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow) from his affiliation with the Young Pretender, Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower) are considered. Of equal importance, there’s the welfare of Mary Hawkins (Rosie Day), the traumatised victim of rape, and the innocence of the wrongly accused Alex Randall (Laurence Dobiesz) to worry about. Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), Jamie and Alex have all been arrested and slung into the Bastille, but as Claire picks up the pieces only Jamie and Murtagh have returned thanks to their social connections forged with court financier Duverney. Alex has been dismissed from Sandringham’s service and remains imprisoned.
Claire and Jamie are determined to trace the perpetrators of the street attack and any connection to public enemy number one Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber). It seems Jamie’s drunken boasting at Maison Elise about his wife’s powers of sorcery have earned her a fearsome reputation as ‘La Dame Blanche’. While Claire is disgruntled at Jamie’s gossip, the Frasers eventually reason that the gang responsible or the individual giving them their orders must have been eavesdropping at Maison Elise. Murtagh, wracked with guilt over his failure to protect Claire and Mary, vows to track down the gang and uncover its relationship to the Comte.
But this, including the revelations that Charles Stuart has already made a deal with the Comte to increase his war chest with the profits from selling madeira, through Jamie’s importing company, is merely the backdrop to the moral dilemma that Claire must wrestle with by the end of the episode. Selflessness can easily turn to selfishness when you’re attempting to alter the future by changing the past. Claire enters a morally very grey area and this plays to Outlander‘s strengths as a character-led drama.
We get an inkling of how the inevitability of history hangs over Claire when she goes to care for Mary Hawkins. Even Mary senses it, considering that her assault has left her “Ashamed. Like I’m a different person now, and I’ll never be the same.” Claire reassures her she has no reason to feel thus but Mary remains very concerned about Alex’s incarceration. She has written a letter protesting his innocence to be delivered to the Bastille and asks Claire to deliver it for her. However, when she announces that she intends to marry Alex now that she is no longer a suitable bride for a warty old Frenchman, Claire is faced with the prospect of Randall’s line being irrevocably altered through this marriage. She knows that Mary eventually bears ‘Black Jack’ Randall’s child, the forebear of her husband Frank’s generation.
By burning the letter Alex will not be exonerated, an innocent man will suffer and Mary will be steered into ‘Black Jack’ Randall’s clutches. It shows how far Claire has travelled as a character that she even considers this selfish desire. The impact of events is transforming her into a rather scheming individual determined to preserve the future. The big question is how far will she go and how will that affect Jamie?
We next see her walking with Alex, now freed from the Bastille after she has delivered the letter. In one of the episode’s key scenes, she manipulates Alex into believing that his marriage to Mary would be a mistake. You do have to stop and question her motives here as she expertly convinces the young man to cease the relationship to ensure Mary has a child by his sadistic brother. It’s a high price to pay and Claire agrees that Mary “will be devastated”. It’s also interesting how this scene and the later scene with Jamie, where she worries about how good a mother she will be, provide us with a complex view of Claire dealing with the consequences of fate. In Jamie’s gift of the christening spoons there is also an echo of the traditions passed from generation to generation that Claire, in her own way, is trying to preserve.
This is just the opening gambit in an episode that obviously rests on the return of ‘Black Jack’ Randall. While advising Sandringham about the purchase of horses on the Versailles estates, Claire and Jamie have an uncomfortable encounter with their tormentor. Prior to this, Jamie is relieved to discover that the dinner party encounter between Charles Stuart and Sandringham has confirmed what everyone already knows. “He’s an utter arse,” Sandringham adroitly opines of the Young Pretender and is, it seems, not worth investing in.
The return of Randall is a sublime, quite delicious mesh of performance and direction, with the bitterness and anger of the Frasers expressed through Balfe and Heughan’s physicality and Randall’s poison brilliantly portrayed by Menzies. He turns a muted, reflective episode into something more gripping. There is a moment of triumph there too for the Frasers as Randall is publicly humiliated by King Louis XV (Lionel Lingelser in a cheeky, rather arch reappearance). The subtlest moments also have resonance: the way Randall places his hand on Jamie’s chest in the silent challenge to a duel tells you everything about the aggression and possessiveness he has towards Jamie.
The scene has further ramifications. Having challenged Randall to a duel, Jamie’s desire for revenge is unfulfilled when Claire begs him to delay his actions by a year to ensure her own agenda, the birth of Mary’s child, is played out. Again, Claire is testing Jamie to the limit and our own sympathies with her reasoning. Their row threatens to split them apart and Jamie feels deeply betrayed by a wife who now realises she has to not only use fair means or foul to scupper Charles Stuart’s plans but also to choose one husband in favour of another to keep the future safe. “Are you asking me to repay you with the life of Jack Randall?” asks Jamie when Claire points out he is still in her debt for saving his life twice. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife, particularly the one Jamie threatens to turn on himself.
‘Best Laid Schemes…’
This reckoning in the following episode “Best Laid Schemes…” sees all of the various plot strands running together, resolving the major matter of derailing Charles’ bid for funding but leaving the Frasers in the worst possible position. When Murtagh discovers that Jamie’s duel with Randall has been postponed he demands a very good reason and, initially, fails to get one. Jamie and Claire decide it is best to tell Murtagh the truth behind their attempt to subvert the Jacobite uprising.
Trust and loyalty are very powerful themes in this episode, from Murtagh’s acceptance of what must be a bizarre story about Jamie’s time travelling wife to the Comte St Germain’s skepticism regarding the young Scot’s allegiance to Stuart and the promise dragged out of Jamie by Claire at the end of the previous episode. Murtagh sums it up to Jamie: “You should have trusted me with that knowledge from the beginning.”
Claire and Jamie’s schemes become ever more desperate. To ensure Charles Stuart does not profit from the sale of the Comte’s madeira, they devise a way to feign a smallpox outbreak at Le Havre and convince the harbor master to destroy the cargo. When this doesn’t quite play out as expected and the Comte insists on the immediate transportation of the wine, Jamie and Murtagh arrange for the cargo to be hi-jacked and stolen. Despite the Comte’s suspicions that Jamie was behind this plot, it seems that Charles is now left with little alternative but to return to Rome or “Mark me. I will take my own life if I am forced to live in God forsaken Poland.”
As the stakes become increasingly higher, there is less time for those quieter moments Outlander graces each episode with. However, they are there. The brief scene between Claire and Murtagh as she confirms that she was born in 1918 and became a nurse in 1939 forges a welcome, much warmer connection between the two characters. Claire’s concern for Master Raymond (Dominique Piñon), after the King’s executioner Monsieur Forez (Niall Greig Fulton) schools her in the finer, rather gruesome details of being hung, drawn and quartered when found guilty of practicising the black arts, further explores and hints at Raymond’s unique ability to read Claire’s fate. Jamie and Claire’s reconciliation after the promise she begged from him, while also indicative of the love between them, reflects on their unborn child’s fortunes as it prepares to enter the world. Forez’s description of ripping out the still beating hearts of his victims provides some powerful symbolism for the instincts driving the characters in this episode.
However, there is perhaps not an entirely satisfactory resolution to the damaging choice that was threatening to break Jamie and Claire apart and their affectionate scene was crying out for more of a debate between the characters. What does emerge is a foreshadowing of the future as seen in “Through A Glass, Darkly” when Jamie asks Claire to promise that, should anything happen to him at Culloden, then she should return to Frank through the stones. Jamie, for all his protestations in the previous episode, seems to have become quickly reconciled to the fact that Claire’s fate rests in the future with Frank.
While Jamie is called upon to pay Charles Stuart’s tab at Maison Elise, with an inquisitive Fergus (Romann Berrux) in tow, Claire becomes irritated by the empty gossip of Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne) and her cronies and their disregard for the Parisian underclass. This again touches on some of the social distinctions depicted in the series. Busying herself in the hospital, she is forced by Mother Hildegarde (Frances de la Tour) to rest and returns home the following morning to discover that Fergus’s curiosity has led him into ‘Black Jack’ Randall’s boudoir at Maison Elise. We don’t know what happens to Fergus but there is a suggestion that Randall has caused some harm to the child and this alerts Jamie to Randall’s presence. We are left to interpret that unpleasant prospect for ourselves.
We speed towards a desperate conclusion as Claire curses Jamie for breaking his promise by challenging Randall to a duel and, in the throes of a miscarriage, she attempts to prevent the fight. That she does miscarry answers the question of why her pregnancy did not show in “Through A Glass Darkly” but it also suggests that she and Jamie conceive again shortly before she returns to the future. To make matters worse, as she collapses to the ground, the gendarmes arrive and arrest Jamie just after he strikes Randall what appears to be a particularly nasty blow to the groin. Will this injury prevent the conception of a child with Mary Hawkins after all?
This is Outlander drawing on all of its genre strengths, knitting together a range of sub plots, pausing briefly for little character moments, and then bringing them together in a suitably gripping cliffhanger. Does Randall die? Does Jamie end up in the Bastille? And where is Fergus? Clearly, Claire and Jamie never envisaged that changing history would get as personal and as complicated and frustrating as this.