Season 2 has begun! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode right after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.
I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!
Outlander, episode 203: “Useful Occupations and Deceptions”
The official synopsis (via Starz):
Jamie’s days and nights are dominated by political machinations, while Claire finds solace in her healing skills. As their plan to stop Culloden progresses, the past threatens to derail their forward momentum.
Major plot points:
- Jamie is busy morning, noon, and night running around drinking and hanging out in brothels with Charles Stuart, trying to get close to the Bonnie Prince in order to learn his plans and perhaps find a way to stop them. And when he’s not doing that, he’s over at Versailles playing chess with the French finance minister.
- Poor little Mary Hawkins! Sex seems terrifying (and disgusting) to her, but luckily Claire is there for some sex ed.
- Claire realizes where she’s heard Mary Hawkins’s name before — according to Frank’s family bible, Mary Hawkins married Jonathan Randall (BJR) and is one of Frank’s direct ancestors.
- Murtagh manages to have a little fun with Suzette the housemaid.
- At the advice of Master Raymond, Claire begins volunteering at L’Hôpital des Anges, where she encounters Mother Hildegard (played by the fabulous Frances de la Tour), a nun whose musical talent comes in handy later on.
- Jamie’s new plan to undermine Charles involves intercepting his mail to read all of his secret correspondence and find out where his support is coming from — so he hires a young pickpocket to work for him. Fergus is adorable.
- Jamie and Claire finally have (probable) proof that the Duke of Sandringham is involved with the Jacobite cause, perhaps playing both sides.
- Claire has not told Jamie that BJR is still alive, and when she shares this information with Murtagh, he cautions her not to tell Jamie — but by the end of the episode, it seems that he must be told in order to avoid him finding out by accident. Claire has the opportunity, but for once Jamie is looking happy, and she can’t bring herself to tell him such awful news.
Fergus! I love wee Fergus. It’s funny trying to picture this little cutie as a suave grown-up with a hook for a hand… but we don’t have to worry about that for several years yet.
Jamie and Claire have only been in Paris for a few months, but they seem completely comfortable now acting like lord and lady of the manor, dropping things for the servants to pick up and bossing people around. And do they trust Jared’s servants so completely that they feel free to discuss their plotting against Charles Stuart in front of them? Seems sloppy to me.
Trouble in paradise — Jamie and Claire are at odds for much of this episode. Claire feels useless doing nothing but dressing up and going to tea, but Jamie is pissed when Claire’s not home waiting for him once she does find something to do. Still, by the episode’s end, Jamie has grudgingly admitted that having Claire assist at the hospital is useful as well.
Claire’s visit to Master Raymond, while triggering her return to the medical field, also contains some random dialogue about herbs and their uses. But is it random? Claire questions why Raymond has a particular poison in his shop, and he responds that he lets his customers think they’re buying poison, while in fact he’s selling them non-lethal bitter cascara, which produces a dramatic and immediate effect — thus satisfying the poisoner’s need for vengeance, but letting the intended victim survive. Book readers may recall that this is put to use down the road… let’s see if the same is true in the TV production.
And as Suzette points out, rather saucily, to Murtagh, there’s nothing going on in the bedroom between Jamie and Claire. Jamie is still tormented by his nightmares and flashbacks, it would seem. Meanwhile, Murtagh is getting some! Good for Murtagh, and good for Claire for providing birth control.
The BJR issue is a thorny one. Early on, Murtagh advises Claire not to tell Jamie that BJR is still alive. If Jamie knew, Murtagh says, he’d head straight back to Scotland to try to get revenge, and would most likely end up imprisoned and then hanged. But once they realize that the Duke of Sandringham is involved and that they’ll need to try to get further information from him, Murtagh encourages Claire to tell Jamie the truth. If he encounters the Duke’s secretary, Alexander Randall, it’ll only be a matter of time before Jamie learns the news, so it’s better that he hears it from Claire and Murtagh.
It’s finally occurred to Claire that since BJR is supposed to wed and have a child in 1746, according to the historical documents, then Frank’s existence is in jeopardy if Jamie kills BJR before he can marry Mary Hawkins. If BJR dies without having children, then Frank will never be born 200 years later.
Another episode of great costuming. Claire’s yellow hooded cloak is so rich and expensive looking. She sticks out like a sore thumb out on the streets.
It’s great to see her back in the hospital later on, wearing a nurse’s apron and back to the business of dealing with yucky stuff. It’s funny to see how excited she is about having spent a day lancing boils and tasting urine. Oh, and the baby bump is finally making an appearance, if only briefly visible in a scene where Claire is in her shift for about half a second.
And then there’s Bouton! So even the animal members of the cast have to be ridiculously adorable.
In some ways, this episode was fairly uneventful. There were no big dramatic moments, no stunning visual surprises, no major reveals. The chess game played by Jamie and Duverney is perhaps a good metaphor — the pieces were shuffled on the board in this episode, with strategy and countermoves — but chess itself isn’t all that thrilling from the spectator’s point of view (at least, it isn’t to me).
I’d be more interested in seeing more of the dynamic between Claire and Jamie and the state of their marriage (see below), given all of the pressure and tension, but this episode was mostly about the politics.
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the episode. I did. But while various bits were set into motion, not all that much new or different really happened.
Still, sometimes a bridge episode is necessary to get from one big moment to another. There’s a lot of maneuvering that still needs to happen. And there’s still the big secret hanging over Claire and Murtagh for now — whether or not to tell Jamie that BJR is still alive. Until that bit of information is out in the open, I don’t see how Claire will truly be able to face Jamie and be his partner.
If I didn’t know better, I’d truly be worried for the state of Claire and Jamie’s relationship.
Claire and Jamie are both deeply unhappy in Paris, for different reasons. Claire feels useless as a society woman, life revolving around social visits, tea, and card games, until she gets back to using her medical skills. Jamie comes off like a bit of a jerk at first with his reaction to Claire’s volunteering — but after some thought, I have to admit that he has a point.
Jamie is a man who values honor and honesty above all, yet here he’s been forced into a life where his every moment is spent on deception and betrayal. He’s not a natural-born spy, and he feels degraded by the life he’s living. Yes, he and Claire chose this path for the greater good, to save Scotland and the Highlands from the terrible destruction that Culloden will bring. But knowing there’s a higher purpose does nothing to alleviate the dirt Jamie feels clinging to him on a daily basis as he lies, steals, spies, and hangs out in brothels — all things that Jamie would never do if he were able to be true to himself.
So when he slams Claire for being all giddy about working in the hospital, he’s not wrong. Jamie asks Claire, “When do I get to feel good?” And he’s right. They’re in this together, but Claire seems to have forgotten that Jamie is suffering from his actions just as much as she is suffering from boredom and inaction.
I’m not saying that she’s not doing good by working at the hospital. Clearly, she’s helping people. But she seems to have lost sight of Jamie’s struggle to carry out their mission and what it’s doing to his soul.
Add to that Jamie’s ongoing PTSD, their lack of sexual intimacy, and the looming hell that will break loose when Jamie discovers the huge secret that Claire has been keeping from him, and there’s definite cause for concern about the Frasers’ marriage.
But hey! Let’s end this insta-reaction on a happy note! How much did you love the scene between Jamie and Fergus? Probably not as much as I did!