Season 3 is here! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon 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 303: “All Debts Paid”
The official synopsis (via Starz):
In prison, Jamie discovers that an old foe has become the warden – and has the power to make his life hell. Claire and Frank both put their best foot forward in marriage, but an uninvited guest shatters the illusion.
Major plot points:
Once again, the episode follows two separate timelines, as we see Jamie and Claire’s separate lives.
In Claire’s world:
- Claire and Frank’s marriage is worse than ever. There seem to be occasional warm moments during Claire’s medical school years, but then we find out that they have an “agreement”, which allows Frank to cheat so long as he’s discreet about it.
- Claire and Joe Abernathy graduate from medical school. At a graduation celebration at Claire and Frank’s house, Frank’s girlfriend/mistress/”harlot” shows up an hour early for her assignation with Frank. A holy row ensues later. Claire felt humiliated in front of her friends and colleagues. Frank reminds Claire that she’s the one who first allowed someone else into their marriage.
- They discuss divorce, acknowledging that their marriage is a sham, but decide to stay together because of Brianna.
- Jumping ahead several years, Brianna graduates from high school, and Claire is a busy surgeon. Frank informs Claire that he wants a divorce, has been offered a post back in England, and want to take Brianna with him. Big fight. Bottom line: Brianna, at age 18, can decide for herself.
- Frank leaves after their fight, and Claire is called back to the hospital to perform surgery. After the surgery, Joe finds Claire to give her bad news: Frank has been killed in a car crash.
- Claire says a tearful good-bye to Frank, and tells him that she did truly love him once. He was her first love.
In Jamie’s world:
- Jamie is a prisoner at Ardsmuir prison. It’s awful. Rats abound, and the men are cold and sick.
- Jamie is the only Jacobite officer in the prison, and is the only prisoner kept in shackles.
- Lord John Grey arrives to take up his post as the new governor of Ardsmuir. His predecessor (Harry Quarry!) lets him know that Jamie is the unofficial chief of the men, and that Grey should seek him out.
- This is the same John Grey (then known as William Grey) who scuffled with Jamie back on the eve of Prestonpans.
- Murtagh lives!!! He’s at Ardsmuir with Jamie, sporting a white beard. He appears to be quite ill, but Jamie is able to negotiate with Grey for medical care for Murtagh.
- Jamie and John eventually develop a respectful relationship, but John misreads Jamie’s openness and makes a slight pass, which Jamie rejects and can’t seem to forgive.
- By the end of the episode, Ardsmuir is being shut down. All prisoners are sentenced to transport to the American Colonies, where they’ll serve 14 years in indentured labor before earning their freedom, if they survive the passage. Murtagh is sent off for transport, but Grey has other plans for Jamie.
- John takes Jamie to a beautiful English estate called Helwater, where he’ll serve his sentence. John now considers all debts of honor paid.
Another glorious episode — perhaps a bit of a slow burn, but full of tremendous performances all around. The character moments are fully realized and heartbreaking and REAL.
Okay, Claire and Frank. What a bitter, sad state of affairs. At the beginning of the episode, as Frank is cooking breakfast and Claire suggests they go see a movie, it seems for a moment as though they’ve reached some sort of pleasant middle ground in their marriage. But no. Frank has seen the movie already, and it’s clear that he’s seen it WITH someone — and that someone is not just a work colleague. Apparently, they’ve agreed that Frank can do as he please and see other people, so long as he’s discreet, and he’s kept his word. And is seems like Claire is okay with this, so long as she doesn’t have to think about it too much. She seems to have perfected the art of denial.
Frank’s discretion slips later on, though. Years later, Claire hosts a party at their house celebrating her medical school graduation. There’s to be a dinner at a restaurant following, which Frank will be skipping… but the dinner is scheduled for 7:00, and Frank thought it was at 6:00. Did he really get the timing wrong, or is this his passive-aggressive way of humiliating Claire? His girlfriend shows up at their house an hour early, and Claire answers the door. Oh, if looks could kill! The girlfriend is shown into the house to stand mutely near Frank while Claire and all her guests walk past them to leave for dinner. Yikes. Painful.
The fight later that night between Claire and Frank is terrible (although brilliantly acted). I read in an interview with Caitriona Balfe that they were going for a “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” feel here, and they really nail it. The years of slow poisoning of the relationship lead to this scene in which Frank is drunk, Claire is angrily smoking, and the venom between the two is fully on display. Frank should never have invited his mistress to the house, of course — especially not on Claire’s graduation night. But really, who can blame him for pursuing love and affection when there is none at all in his home? Claire and Frank are both essentially good people, but they do awful things to each other. In our time, they never would have stayed together all those years. But Frank has seen fathers shut out of their children’s lives after divorce, and he will not risk his relationship with Brianna, despite Claire’s assurance that she would never try to keep them apart. Frank has some justice on his side when he points out to Claire that her promises don’t really mean a whole lot.
Finally, when Brianna graduates from high school, the moment of truth arrives. Frank informs Claire that he intends to accept a post at Oxford and take Brianna with him to live in England… and Claire’s not invited. He wants a divorce, and wants to remarry his girlfriend as soon as he can. It’s a bitter and angry scene once again, and yet another that makes it clear that Claire will absolutely never have room for anyone in her heart but Jamie. We also learn, at least from Frank’s perspective, that between her medical career and her yearning for Jamie, Claire has not been a particularly present mother, something Brianna hinted at at the end of season 2 as well.
Frank walks out, Claire goes to the hospital to perform surgery… and Frank dies. Claire’s good-bye to Frank is yet another quietly heartbreaking moment. She did love him… once.
And the Jamie story:
Ardsmuir is just as awful as we’d expect. The men are sick and cold and starving. And yet, when John becomes aware of the rats in the cells and orders a guard to have cats brought in, thinking he’s doing good by getting rid of vermin, Jamie points out the flaw in the plan: The prisoners count on the rats for food. They’d rather endure the filth and the bites and not lose the meals the rats provide.
Fan favorite Murtagh, who dies at Culloden in the books, is alive! Although not doing very well, with a nasty cough and seemingly very weak. Still, it’s wonderful that he and Jamie are together. Jamie does the best he can to care for Murtagh and the other prisoners, remembering his lessons about medical herbs from Claire. It’s sweet to see Murtagh speaking of Claire, although the pain on Jamie’s face — poor man has really nothing to live for.
Later, after a piece of the plot that involves a dying man who may know the whereabouts of missing gold and a prison escape — an overly convoluted piece of the story — we see an incredibly powerful scene between Jamie and John. Jamie makes clear that he realizes who John is after all, and basically begs him to settle the debt between them by ending Jamie’s life. As John holds his sword to Jamie’s throat, there’s an almost ecstatic look that crosses Jamie’s face. His suffering will finally be over. It’s not to be, though — John is far too honorable to hurt or kill an unarmed man.
John and Jamie develop a friendship of sorts as they meet in John’s chambers to eat, play chess, and have Jamie serve as the informal representative of the prisoners. They’re evenly matched in terms of sensibility and intellect and seem to truly enjoy one another’s company. Jamie finally opens up about his wife, and John shares the story of losing someone himself. Without being 100% explicit, it’s clear that this “particular friend” who died at Culloden was a man that John loved. All might have been well, had John not misinterpreted Jamie’s sympathy as perhaps something more than just compassion. John places his hand on Jamie’s, and Jamie threatens to kill him if he doesn’t stop touching him.
Oof. Poor John. The tears running down his cheeks! And poor Jamie too. Had Jamie not had the experiences he did at the hands of Black Jack Randall, perhaps he could have more kindly declined John’s interest. But this situation is all too familiar for Jamie: He’s a prisoner, at the mercy of a British officer, with no power of his own, subject to a redcoat who holds his life in his hands. It’s just too much. Of course Jamie reacts with coldness and the threat of violence. This is a man who suffered PTSD from his torture for years — given his past, he actually shows a great deal of restraint!
Oh, it was heartbreaking to see Jamie pulled off in one direction while Murtagh is taken off in another. They didn’t even get to say good-bye! A sentence of transport could easily be a death sentence — many of those being shipped to the colonies won’t survive the journey. John is again sparing Jamie from possible death, both from his sense of a debt to the man as well as the emotional connection he now feels for him. Jamie may not realize it yet, but John has given Jamie a gift with his new terms of imprisonment at Helwater.
Minor complaint: John rides his horse with Jamie led behind with a rope attached to his wrists as they travel from Ardsmuir to Helwater… for three days? Are we really to believe that John would drag Jamie along like that for so long? Maybe the show producers were going for dramatic effect, but it actually seemed ridiculous to me (and — book note — Jamie rides a horse too in the book version), and not in keeping with John’s sense of dignity.
I do need to watch this episode again. (I watched in on my phone while on a plane, and missed some dialogue — and the tiny viewing screen resulted in my not recognizing Murtagh until about halfway through the episode!). I’m sure I missed some key moments, lines, looks — these episodes are all so rich, and deserve full attention!
I am thrilled that the show is keeping Murtagh around. Based on the events of the books, I feel certain that Jamie and Murtagh will reunite later this season and that Murtagh will have an ongoing role in the story. There’s another character from the books he could easily replace, and given that Murtagh is a fantastic character whom fans love, I think it’s a safe bet that we’ll see more of him.
This episode was light on action, but that’s okay. The character moments are really what matters here. For once, I’d say that at least on my initial viewing, the Claire parts were even more powerful than the Jamie parts. The slow, tortured disintegration of Claire and Frank’s marriage is so painful and so well done. Tobias Menzies has done a phenomenal job as both Black Jack and Frank, and it’s sad to think that his time with Outlander is now over (although there’s always the possibility of flashbacks, I suppose). Claire and Frank should never have stayed together, and although they did so with the best of intentions, they were simply miserable for much of their 20 years together.
In the books, we’re led to understand that Frank was unfaithful to Claire throughout their marriage, post-time-travel, and we don’t particularly have sympathy for him. (Diana Gabaldon has also alluded to readers only getting Claire’s perspective in the books, so how certain can we be that Frank cheated at all?) Here, Frank is definitely involved with someone, but it’s unclear whether this was multiple affairs or one long-lasting relationship. It’s easier to feel sympathy for TV Frank — he’s in a loveless marriage, through no fault of his own, and lord knows he’s tried to reconnect with Claire. He seems to have had her blessing to seek love (or at least sex) elsewhere — Claire only minds when his outside activities impact the illusion they’re maintaining of having a happy home. As someone who never cared for book Frank or felt much compassion for him, it’s good for me to more fully see the pain the man suffered all those years and his basic decency in the face of an impossible situation.
It’s interesting that the show hasn’t kept Claire and Jamie’s stories in perfect parallel, time-wise. Claire’s story is now caught up to where we saw her at the end of season 2, more or less. I assume we’re ready to pick back up with her, Roger and Brianna searching for signs of Jamie in the historical records. Meanwhile, there are still quite a few significant years ahead for Jamie, most of which I believe will be covered in next week’s episode.
All in all, I continue to be impressed with season 3. The story structure is being handled with great care, and the acting is out of this world. No one wants to see Jamie and Claire apart for too long, and yet, the work the cast is doing in conveying the sorrow of their lives is A+ material.