It’s time for blackmail and witchcraft as Claire (Caitriona Balfe) tries but struggles to fit into the past.
Let’s bitch it out…
Since it’s inception, Outlander has had an odd relationship with the supernatural world. This is a show about a spell that accidentally causes Claire to travel hundreds of years into the past, but the majority of the show is dedicated to realistic depictions of daily activities such as the collection of dues, feasts, fights and – frequently – sex. There are some supernatural elements lurking on the fringe which helpfully remind us that Claire did not arrive in this new life in an entirely normal fashion, but we’ve rarely seen such an overtly supernatural episode as ‘By The Pricking Of My Thumbs’.
Half of the episode falls into what I would call “normal” territory, in that it has no interest in supernatural elements. Jamie (Sam Heughan) learns that the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow) is visiting and, aware of the man’s…shall we say fondness for Jamie, the young Scot writes a petition to clear his name. Jamie wants to use Claire’s charges against Black Jack in support and, despite Ned’s (Bill Paterson) reluctance and Claire’s hesitation, he moves ahead with the plan.
In reality the Duke is meant to be visiting Colum MacKenzie (Gary Lewis), but everyone knows he’s there as much to meet with Dougal (Graham McTavish) to discuss Jacobite stuff (last week’s tension between the brothers pays off here). Claire is able to use the Duke’s association with the political fringe movement and his association with Black Jack to press her advantage and get her husband’s plea heard. Unfortunately for her, Sandringham is a savvy little bastard who still manages to find a way to use Jamie’s predicament to his advantage. Turns out that the Duke has an outstanding debt with rival clan the MacDonalds and he has been challenged to duel. The event in question winds up being surprisingly tame, but Jamie’s presence as the Duke’s second rubs the hot-headed MacDonald boys the wrong ways, resulting in unexpected bloodshed. Initially the skirmish seems comical, especially the Duke’s uncomfortable reaction, but the implications are far more dire when these events collide with the episode’s other major story line.
I’m referring, of course, to Laoghaire’s (Nell Hudson) revenge against Claire for “stealing” Jamie. In hindsight, Laoghaire’s retaliation should have been clear from the start to both Claire and us. She’s the obvious culprit when you consider who benefits from the events of the episode, but she’s easy to forget because of all of the Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) drama. After the initial confrontation between Claire and Laoghaire in the kitchen, Laoghaire completely disappears from the narrative until she returns like a mustache-twirling villain for the final scene.
In between we learn that Geillis has been keeping a secret: she’s been carrying on an affair with Dougal and they’re pregnant. In some ways this is a cute match-up, or it would be if both parties weren’t already married. Neither partner proves to be a problem, however, since they both wind up dead before the end of the hour. After Dougal’s wife dies suddenly (we never even meet her!), he seems genuinely upset and Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) has to sedate him with drugged wine to save the castle furniture from Dougal’s wrath. Geillis makes no such attempt to appear distraught after her husband dies suddenly from cyanide poison during the Duke’s feast (or at least not initially). Claire and Colum both catch a very obvious secret smile between the lovers before Geillis remembers that her husband is barely even cold and lays on the grief-stricken widow act. The secret is out, however, and its reveal sets up the last act spectacularly.
The romance between Dougal and Geillis provides Colum with the excuse he needs to take revenge against his brother and banish him. Colum also uses the opportunity to punish Jamie for attacking the MacDonalds without his permission, which by extension is a message to everyone to remind them who is in charge. In doing so Colum unknowingly removes the two individuals who would stand up for Claire and Geillis, which opens the door for Laoghaire to exact her own revenge by accusing the pair of witchcraft. It’s a surprisingly smart move from the young girl since both Geillis and Claire are known for their knowledge of potions (in hindsight, Claire’s involvement in subduing Dougal bites her in the ass). With Dougal and Jamie gone, it should be interesting to see how the ladies will get out of this latest snafu.
- This show is great, but literally opening with a few minutes of moany/groany cunnilingus certainly won’t silence the naysayers who claim it’s nothing more than mommy fantasy-porn. Of course, we could just tell them to f*ck off. Either that or educate them on the value of sex-positive portrayals of female sexuality and remind them that this shit is hot!
- Everyone knows that Claire is a cold/prudish woman (she’s reminded of it twice here). Perhaps if she wants to blend in a little more, she might consider wearing some more relatable clothes? That fur-trimmed, velvet jacket is hardly the kind of outfit that endears her to the poor people around her.
- Laoghaire has the last laugh, but in the short run, I must admit that watching Claire slap her is very satisfying. Sure, Claire immediately apologizes, but let’s be honest, Laoghaire totally deserves it.
- I can totally see Geillis and Dougal as a couple, but their fights would be genuinely terrifying considering how big their respective personalities are.
- My one big complaint in this episode (aside from a few meandering, pacing issues) is the changeling baby storyline. I get that it’s an opportunity to highlight how superstition affects daily life during this time period and compare it to Claire’s modern medical rationality, but it still feels oddly shoehorned in.
- With that said, the Scottish woods certainly look gorgeous when the fog machine is set on high, no?
- Geillis (describing the pleasures of her ritual): “Must be the icy winds over my nipples. Makes them harden like acorns.” Claire: “So I can see.”
- Duke (after Claire threatens him): “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most luscious neck? It holds your head so prettily. It would be a shame to separate them.”
- Duke (fleeing after Jamie battles the MacDonald boys): “A duel is one thing. A common brawl is another.”
- Jamie (after Claire hurts him while stitching him up): “Quiet anger can be quite effective.”
- Dougal (watching Jamie kiss Claire goodbye): “I said kiss her, do not swallow her.” This sounds much funnier with a Scottish accent
Your turn: did you figure out Laoghaire was behind the revenge plot early, or just when you saw the note Geillis supposedly sent? Did the dead baby in the woods feel unnecessary to you? Did you enjoy the Duke’s introduction? Was the duel comical to you before the brawl got started? And how will Geillis and Claire get out of this jam without Dougal and Jamie to help? Sound off below.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9pm EST on STARZ. Next week we’ll start the #OutlanderTrial