Outlander, Season 1, Episode 4: “The Gathering”
The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:
As the Castle prepares for The Gathering, Claire plots her escape. But after a dangerous encounter with a drunken Dougal and an unexpected run-in with Jamie, her plans are dashed.
We open on a scene that seems fraught with peril. Claire is running through the woods, breathing hard, seemingly desperate. Is she in danger? Is someone pursuing her? Yes, there are pursuers — but they’re not at all dangerous. Claire is playing games with the castle children, rollicking through silly chases with them, laughing and making herself the center of attention. But does this mean that Claire has settled into castle life and accepts that she must stay there? Not a bit. She’s a smart cookie, that Claire. She’s using the forest games to learn the routes in and out of the castle, leave behind ribbons and other items to mark her path, and study the sentries’ habits and schedules. Claire is determined to escape Leoch once and for all, and figures that the Gathering will provide her with the best opportunity, while the men of Clan MacKenzie are busy and distracted.
Still, Claire can’t help but feel that she’ll miss the community and the people she’s come to know over the past several weeks, the “simple joy” she sees as the folks gather to share food, songs, and games, the pleasure they seem to take in spending time together.
Geillis shows up early for the Gathering, surprising Claire in her surgery and making a lot of pointed statements. It seems as though Geillis knows exactly what Claire is planning, and questions her without ever saying exactly what she means. Claire is on her toes around Geillis at this point and send her on her way, but this is yet more evidence that all eyes are on Claire.
Claire plans to run off while everyone is attending the Oath Taking, a formal ceremony during which each man present swears his allegiance to Colum as Laird of the clan. Claire’s plans are foiled by the doting (but interfering) Mrs. Fitz, who drags Claire off to get properly dressed and then takes her to watch the ceremony. Finally, Claire slips out (after dosing her guard Angus with port laced with valerian root, a sedative) and heads for the stables. Her plan is to steal a horse and escape under cover of night.
This does not go as planned. First, Claire encounters a group of drunk and randy Highlanders who want to have some fun with Claire. She’s not having it, and neither is Dougal, who comes along and kicks their butts. But Dougal is quite drunk as well, and after getting particularly handsy with Claire, she bops him over the head with a stool and makes her escape… only to trip over Jamie, who’s been sleeping in the stable in the hopes of lying low until the ceremony is all over.
Jamie talks reason to Claire. She’ll never make it, if she tries to escape. There are guards posted throughout the woods. She has absolutely no chance of getting away without being noticed, and if she’s caught escaping, her treatment as an honored member of the castle will change dramatically, and she’ll end up locked up as a prisoner. Claire is forced to recognize the futility of escape — for the moment — and agrees to return to the castle with Jamie as an escort, as it’s clearly not safe for her to be out alone while there are so many drunk and horny men out and about.
Alas, the two are found, and Jamie is bustled off to the castle to take his oath before Colum. No big deal, am I right? thinks Claire. Nope, she’s wrong. This place is just teeming with political machinations. As nephew to the Laird, if Jamie takes the oath, he’ll stand a good chance of being next in line to be Laird himself, which would not sit well with Dougal and Colum. But if he refuses to take the oath, it’s a huge insult, and the MacKenzie men will have his blood. Basically, he’s screwed. Either way, he ends up dead.
Not to worry – Jamie can maneuver with the best of ’em. When Jamie gets to the front of the line, he tells Colum that he cannot make a pledge to him, as his loyalty is already given to the clan whose name he bears. But, he can offer friendship, and swears to be obedient to Colum and to serve the MacKenzies as long as he is on MacKenzie land. After a tense moment with lots of hands hovering over sword hilts, Colum smiles and drinks with Jamie. Whew! That was a close one.
The next morning, a large group heads into the forest for a boar hunt. Claire is brought along, because boars have very sharp tusks and the skills of a healer are likely to be needed. And they are. A man named Geordie is gored by a charging boar, and at first Claire thinks he’s treatable so long as she tourniquets the leg — but then she sees the blood on his shirt and looks beneath to see that his stomach has been ripped open as well. It’s fatal, she tells Dougal — and in a moment of surprising tenderness, Dougal holds the dying man in his arms, talking to him and giving him comfort until he passes. It’s a rare bonding moment for Dougal and Claire.
On returning to the castle, Dougal works off his rage over the loss of his friend by jumping into a very lively (and dirty) shinty game. This is one of my favorite action sequences in Outlander — check it out:
Finally, Dougal visits Claire in her surgery and praises her help with Geordie. He tells her that he leaves the next morning to travel through the MacKenzie lands to collect the quarterly rents, and he’s bringing her with him, as it will be good to have a healer along. Once again, Claire’s hopes rise — away from the castle, on the road for weeks, will she finally have the escape opportunity she’s been looking for?
Author Diana Gabaldon and show creater Ron Moore each had cameos in this episode, and Diana even had a brief speaking part. They both looked fab all done up in period costume:
This episode was pretty low on the steam factor, unless you count Angus and Rupert pulling straws to determine who gets first crack at the lovely wench stirring the pot of soup.
Once again, gorgeousness abounds! Can we just talk about the awesomeness that is Geillis? Her look changes so greatly from scene to scene, but you can always tell that she’s in control, but never just part of a crowd. First, she looks practically perfect as a presentable, proper wife of an important man, during the scene in which she visits Claire in the surgery:
But at the Gathering, her hair is down, and she’s wearing this amazing, flowing dress that sets her apart from the crowd even while not straying too far from what’s acceptable. All that, and a sly little hint of Jacobite loyalties, too — that brooch on her shoulder features a painting of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s eye.
Claire certainly look beautiful in her pretty party clothes:
And even Mrs. Fitz gets dolled up for the special occasion!
And as the riding party leaves in the final moments of the episode, Claire has yet another new garment. Check out the fancy fur on her traveling cloak! (Jamie looks pretty dashing too, with the jaunty angle of his cap.)
Major facts that the episode gets on the table:
- Clan politics is serious business that can get you dead.
- Jamie is Dougal and Colum’s nephew, and if not officially a MacKenzie, he at least has the MacKenzie talent for manipulation and maneuvering one’s enemies.
- Dougal’s drunken pawing at Claire seems to reveal an unacknowledged desire on his part for the lovely Englishwoman. Claire had better watch herself around him.
- Healing in the Highlands gets pretty intense, and boars are deadly.
- Murtagh always has Jamie’s back.
Laoghaire asks Claire for a love potion, something to “open a lad’s heart to a lassie”. The kissing part is going fine, for sure, but she needs help “moving his heart forward.”
Claire is in too big of a rush to worry about Laoghaire, and gives her a concoction of horse dung, telling Laoghaire to sprinkle it near the man she wants, click her heels together three times, and chant:
“There’s no place like love, there’s no place like love… “
Gaellis’s matter-of-fact storytelling seems to contain a warning for Claire:
“The Highlands are no place for a woman to be alone.”
With each episode, we see more and more sides of Dougal. Here, he’s the loyal brother at the side of his chief, but he’s also a political mastermind who isn’t afraid of a little murder if that’s what it takes to hold onto power. He’s never shown any tenderness toward Claire before, but between his drunken fumbling and his reluctant acknowledgement of her help with the dying man, we get the sense that he wants her and that he sees her as valuable.
Claire still wants to escape and return to Frank more than anything, but she has also adapted quite a bit to her new surroundings and has carved out a place of respect for herself. Her friendships and entanglements with the Highlanders will be complications if she wants to see her plans through and get away.