The witch craft trial begins and the accusers are lining up to watch Geillis and Claire burn at the stake.
Let’s bitch it out…
‘The Devil’s Mark’ picks up immediately following the events of the last episode, when Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) were accused of witchcraft and imprisoned. It’s clear right from the start that the trial is a sham – a literal witchhunt – and the verdict already determined (after all, you don’t build a stake without intending to use it, am I right?) so it’s no big surprise when things go downhill immediately. Surveying the sea of unfamiliar faces helps us to realize that Claire has actually led a sheltered life since she traveled back in the past; she’s rarely had to mingle with the common folk outside of Castle Leogh. That means, as the the changeling baby from last episode demonstrates, that she’s truly unaware what arguments will help to sway the crowd. This is abundantly clear in Claire’s petulant and defiant attitude, which gets her nowhere and likely even serves to stir up the superstitious people even more.
Thankfully Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson) appears on the scene to help restore some sense of balance to the proceedings. As the litany of character (assassination) witnesses line up to testify to all of the witchy things Geillis and Claire have done, Ned slowly and methodically tears them down, turning their accusations into arguments for the defence. Unfortunately he can only do so much and the outlook for their survival remains as unfavourable as Claire’s remembers from history: simply put, most of the accused did not walk away.
The trial goes from bad to worse the next morning when Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) struts into court to play the jilted lover story line to the hilt. Next up is Father Bain (Tim McInnerny), the priest that Claire butted heads with in 1×03 ‘The Way Out’, who immediately denounces Claire as the whore of Babylon. Then suddenly Bain tells the tale of Thomas Baxter, admitting that she saved the boy where he failed and for a brief moment it seems as though his confession might turn the tide in their defense. Alas it is not to be and Ned quickly determines that the climate has “already turned”. He encourages Claire to cast Geillis as a dark temptress but Claire sees Geillis as a member of her Starling flock, a kindred spirit, and she refuses to betray their friendship, even though it may be the only way to save herself.
The scene quickly turns violent and the mob takes over, stripping open Claire’s shirt to whip her (shades of the corporal punishment that Sam Heughan’s Jamie administered on her in the mid-season premiere). She’s only saved from further lashings when Jamie arrives like a knight in shining armour to defend their marriage rites, but even he can not undo what has already been decided in the court of public opinion. Only Geillis can, in the only way that can satisfy the crowd: by admitting that she is a witch and that she has the mark to prove it. A smallpox vaccination. The titular Devil’s Mark confirms what I thought I heard Geillis mention to Claire during the recess, that she is also from the future – 1968, to be exact. It’s a sad, tragic moment because as soon as Claire realizes that she’s found another time traveler, Geillis is carried away by the masses to be burned at the stake.
The dramatic high stakes of the trial makes for a bit of an anti-climatic second half. Jamie’s rescue necessitates some hard questions, especially after he recognizes Geillis’ mark on Claire. She takes a leap of faith and confides in him the whole truth, detailing how she knows so much about what will happen. Even though we know the truth, it still sounds batsh*t crazy, so it’s a testament to the young Scot that he mostly rolls with it. But hey, Jamie’s a great guy – as evidenced by his refusal of her offer for full sex in favour of pleasuring her manually by the fire later that night (we’ll overlook the fact that it’s still mostly rape-y since Claire was initially asleep when he initiated sex).
The episode builds to an emotional climax when Jamie declares them home after a day’s journey. They’re not, however, at his home; they’re back at Craigh Na Dun and Jamie is giving her the chance to return to her time, away from a world that has nothing to offer her save pain. The best aspect of these scenes is the non-diegetic soundtrack each time Claire moves towards the stones. The buzzing hum builds to a crescendo and really helps to generate excitement about what may happen if/when she makes contact.
Of course this is a continuing series, which basically necessitates that Claire not return to her own time. What’s great is the final fade to black before she makes contact because it tantalizingly obscures her decision. Did she touch the stones and nothing happened so she simply returned to Jamie? Or did she stop herself because she realized that beyond the pain, he is worth staying in the past for? We don’t know (Claire’s voice over doesn’t clarify what happened, so we’re left speculating). All we know is that the pair is together on a journey to Lallybroch, the home Jamie envisions sharing with his wife. The matter of her return to the future has been settled…at least for now.
- With Geillis gone, it’s uncertain if Claire will ever discover how she came to be transported back in time. I’m hopeful that someone else will come around to fill in the blanks, though I find it interesting that Geillis was so adamant that it was worth dying if Claire was there to do something. Did Geillis really think she could change the future by joining with Dougal in the Jacobite cause?
- Proof that Claire is a little too headstrong for the times is visually reinforced in a lingering shot wherein she refuses to accept help from a man as she climbs out of the rocky cell she and Geillis are being kept in.
- Laoghaire manages to use the fact that Claire slapped her against the defence, proving emphatically that even though it was satisfying to watch, violence never pays off.
- Geillis (when Claire asks if the stake is what she thinks it is): “Well it’s not a maple, Claire”
- Ned (chastising Geillis for practicing witchcraft): “The only thing that stood between you and a pile of kindling was your husband and he’s dead.”
- Geillis (when Ned asks them what they’re going to do): “Looks like I’m going to a fucking barbecue”
- Jamie (after Claire explains it all): “It would have been easier if you were a witch.”
Your turn: did you enjoy the trial? Were you annoyed the Claire wouldn’t stay silent or find a better way to make her argument? Distraught that Geillis was another time traveler and now she’s gone? What do you make of Claire’s final decision: did she touch them or did she turn back to Jamie? Sound off below.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9pm EST on STARZ. Next week Claire meets her in-laws