This episode reminded me of Claire herself — deliberate, thoughtful, and willing to take its time. And, like Claire, we learned a bit more about Jamie’s past and the kind of man he is.
Claire feels, rightly so, as though she has fallen down the rabbit hole. Unsure what year it is, or even what day it is, she is struggling to come to terms with the fact that she has traveled through time and ended up in a place that is at once familiar and at the same time wholly strange. She realizes quickly that she must adapt to survive.
Nowhere is this decision better portrayed than in the scene where Mrs. Fitz dresses her. Gone is the now ruined white dress and the modern corset (what an apt description for a bra!). Claire is stripped bare, literally and metaphorically, and then transformed into a woman of the 18th century, complete with layers of skirts, a bustle, and another kind of corset. Her hair, which has been hanging loose since we met her, is put up. The overall impression is much more formal and restrained.
The other major difference is Castle Leoch itself. In 1945, it is a ruin. In 1743, it is a fully functional estate, peopled by those in an “alien world” where “life is not so different after all.” Yet, it is a dark and shadowy place, filled with tension and distrust. Within the walls of the castle, Claire is surrounded by those whom she doesn’t know, doesn’t trust, and who don’t trust her.
The dinner scene does a brilliant job at creating this tension. Using an interrogation technique “as old as time,” Colum and Dougal try to ferret out Claire’s secret. She stumbles, but holds her own, unaware at the time how wary these two men are of her. It isn’t until they forbid her to leave that the penny finally drops.
In contrast, away from the castle and out in the open air, Claire finds two people she instinctively trusts. Geillis is her age, interested in the same things as she, and able to help Claire understand what is happening around her at the same time as not allowing Claire to make some fundamental mistakes in protocol and judgement.
The other person is, sigh, Jamie. He is completely open with Claire, telling her the hard truth about who he is and why he is at the castle. Even she questions his honesty, but he simply tells her that he trusts her. Of course she responds to that. Who wouldn’t?
Jamie’s backstory is horrifying. The scene with Black Jack and the whip was extremely hard to watch. The fact that the gore is kept to a minimum made the scene even more powerful, especially as we had just seen the end result on Jamie’s back in another extremely well done scene. As Jamie removes his plaid, he does so in a way that invokes removal of one’s clothes. By baring his back to Claire, and telling her the unvarnished truth, he is allowing himself to be both physically and emotionally vulnerable.
Claire responds to this vulnerability by allowing herself to be vulnerable. For the first time since she came through, Claire cries. It is telling that, when Jamie asks if her husband is not alive, Claire does not lie. Because, of course, Frank is not alive in this time and this place. But, she does not say that he is dead. As she cries in Jamie’s arms, my heart broke for her.
It is interesting that we witness Jamie being brutalized twice in this episode, and both times he endures it to save a woman pain. He allows himself to be flogged twice in a vain attempt to stop Black Jack from raping Jenny, his sister. He allows himself to be pummeled in the castle to save Laoghaire from the humiliation of being beaten “in front of everyone she knows.” What makes the latter beating more poignant is that he barely knows this young woman.
The battle lines are beginning to be drawn. On one side, we have Colum, Dougal, and the men who do their bidding. On the other, we have Claire and the two people she has come to trust. The tension between these groups comes to a head during the beating. Note that it is Dougal, not Colum, that allows Jamie’s beating to go on much longer than even the man beating him wants it to. Once it is over, it is Geillis who leads Claire to Jamie, the back way to avoid gossip. She is being oddly protective of a woman she barely knows.
Not a lot actually happened in this episode, but it worked because Ron Moore has made the choice to hold tightly to Claire’s perspective. She doesn’t know whom to trust; nor do we. She does not understand Gaelic; most of us do not. She reacts to Jamie’s trusting her by trusting him; so do we. She is intrigued by Geillis and is open to being her friend; as are we.
As Jamie’s flashbacks were simply his telling Claire his story, the only time we leave Claire and her perspective is when Frank and the Reverend Wakefield are looking for her. I’m not sure if Claire is imagining this is what is happening or if we are meant to take it as fact. Either way, it’s a quick jump.
This was an exceptionally good second episode. It continued to draw us into the story, began to set up some good drama and tension, introduced us to some wonderful new characters at the same time it fleshed out the ones we met last week. I loved it. Three and a half out of four picnics in a haystack.
Bits and Pieces:
— I want to avoid spoilers for those who have not read the book. To discuss differences between the book and the show, foreshadowing, or anything else that might spoil the story, head over to my review of the novel.
— Starz announced this week that the show has been picked up for a second series. The numbers for the pilot were, I suspect, very pleasing to TPTB who wasted no time tying everyone down for another year.
— The castle being used for the exterior shots is Doune Castle in the Stirling district of Scotland. It was built in the 14th century and is now a ruin. It has been used several times before, notably in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and, more recently, as the set of Winterfell in Game of Thrones.
— I love Claire’s quick review of history when she realizes what year she is in. Impressive knowledge of the times.
Mrs. Fitz: “Come with me. We shall find you something to eat, something to wear that’s a bit more… well, a bit more.”
Claire: “Is there ever a good reason for rape?”
It's a shame that Moore can't figure out what is annoying and what is not. This podcast is terribly difficult to listen to. Not only is the ice clinking away, he is listening to the episode with the sound on. This means that, unless you can get your episode to sync perfectly (which I could not), there is a disconnect.
Moore is joined this week by his costume designer (and wife) Terry Dresbach. As someone who spends as much time as possible in t-shirts, sweats, and flip flops, clothes hold very little appeal for me. Having said that, it is interesting to listen to what costume designers do, the choices they make in terms of color and fabrics, and how important it is that the clothes match the time and the location.
WARNING: This podcast is filled with spoilers, one of which is huge. If you do not know the story, listen at your own risk.
ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.