TV Reaction: Thirteen Reasons Why

Whew. What an intense experience. I just finished binge-watching Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix, and I’m still seeing certain scenes on repeat in my head.

Kudos to Netflix and the show’s producers for bringing the YA novel to the screen with such thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

Warning: This post will include plot spoilers for both the TV series and the book.

I read the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher years ago, at the urging of my then-high school-aged daughter. I remember being really moved and upset by it, but really didn’t remember a whole lot more than the basic plot outline:

Teen girl commits suicide, and leaves behind a series of cassettes on which she narrates all the reasons for her decision to end her life. Each cassette and each reason corresponds with a person who contributed to her suicide, in ways big or small — and her instructions are that each person must listen to the tapes, then pass them on to the next person mentioned, or face consequences.

I honestly didn’t remember much more than that, except some rosy-eyed, not willing to face reality portion of my brain managed to half-convince myself that at the end of the book, we’d discover it was all a ruse — that the girl was really alive and well somewhere, and that the tapes and suicide were a big con to get revenge on her tormentors. Maybe it was the mommy portion of my brain driving me to this wishful thinking — I just recoiled so instinctively from the idea of a teen girl, similar in age to my own daughter, making such a horrific choice.

Needless to say, I was very wrong. Yes, the girl is dead. She really did kill herself, and there’s no magical fix for that.

So… the TV series.

I was able to start viewing it without a whole lot of preconceptions about the plot or characters, since (as mentioned) I was quite fuzzy on the details of the books after so many years. I watched the show with my 14-year-old son, a high school freshman, and that in and of itself was a remarkable experience.

Wow. This isn’t an actual review or anything. For starters, I don’t really review TV. Beyond that, I wouldn’t really know where to start, so I’m just sharing my thoughts and reactions instead.

Let me kick this off by saying that the casting for Thirteen Reasons Why is fantastic. The show really rests on the shoulders of its young cast. Yes, there are adults — parents, school administrators, etc — and they were great too, but it’s largely the teen characters who evoke the emotions and carry the burden of the storyline’s heaviest moments.

Hannah Baker is dead, clearly and absolutely (lest any of my previous fantasies still linger). Clay Jensen is the nice boy who always liked Hannah, and wanted more, but never really made it out of the friend zone and never understood why. When Clay finds the box of tapes on his front porch about two weeks after Hannah’s death, he’s stunned by what he hears. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s #11 on the tapes, so as he listens, he’s also in horrible suspense. He doesn’t think he ever mistreated Hannah, yet she’s included him in her list of “reasons why”. Clay listens to the recordings in enormous pain, as he learns all that Hannah suffered, and even more, comes to understand all the ways he and everybody else let her down or betrayed her trust or weren’t there at the crucial moment.

It’s truly heartbreaking to watch. As told through flashbacks, Hannah is a vivacious, lovely, bright girl when she starts at her new school at the beginning of her sophomore year. And bit by bit, moment by moment, her soul is crushed, by malicious rumors, whispers about being “easy” or a “slut”, abandonment by friends, and moments of physical and cyber bullying — and much more. Any one of those elements on their own would be difficult; as an accumulation, it becomes unbearable.

We also see Hannah’s parents in the aftermath, utterly broken and suffering horribly, searching for any sorts of explanation that might help them understand why their beautiful girl should take her own life. Watching them is almost too much. As a parent, it took my breath away.

I should mention too that there are a few moments that are brutally graphic, but I think necessary. There are two different rape scenes, which are not done in any way gratuitously, but do show unflinchingly just how horrible those assaults are. The final episode does show Hannah’s suicide, and does not pull back at all from showing her take a razor blade to her arms and bleed out in the bathtub. It’s excruciating.

That said, I applaud the producers for not softening those moments. There’s nothing glamorous here. It’s painful and real. The show does a very good job of showing us how the teen brain doesn’t function the way a fully developed adult brain does. For Hannah, there’s no seeing past her present. She can’t even begin to envision a world that’s better than where she is. She internalizes everything and sees herself as worthless, so that even when something good is happening, she can’t feel worthy — and can’t see herself as being able to ask for or get help.

Now, I did have some quibbles with certain elements of the show. In the book, as I recall (and please correct me if I’m wrong), we only see the story through Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s experience listening to them, which he does all in one night. In the show, Clay takes much longer to get through them all, and meanwhile the ten people who come earlier in the tapes all know that he’s listening. There’s a lot of whispering and plotting among these characters who are scrambling to protect themselves and their secrets, and even contemplate finding a way to stop Clay before he can expose them.

That’s all well and good, but there are varying degrees of guilt and responsibility here, and some of the reactions don’t exactly make sense, especially as each tape gets its own full hour episode to explore. Yes, there are some heinous acts described — but some of the reasons are much smaller, pettier things. While I can’t deny that they hurt Hannah, I can’t understand why some of these characters become so desperate to hide the truth, especially as they’ve all listened to all the tapes and know that they’re being lumped together with others who’ve actually committed crimes.

Again, spoilers here:

There’s a top athlete, Bryce, who rapes both Hannah and another girl. There’s Bryce’s friend who stands by while Bryce rapes his girlfriend. With less bad intention but still a terrible outcome, there’s a girl who doesn’t report when she drunkenly knocks down a stop-sign, which leads to a car accident that kills another student. These are all terrible, awful, outrageous deeds.

But then again, there’s Courtney, a popular, perfect girl who abandons her friendship with Hannah when a peeping Tom catches Courtney and Hannah sharing a drunken kiss on a dare. And there’s a boy who publishes a very personal poem of Hannah’s without her permission — and even though it’s anonymous, everyone realizes it’s Hannah’s. Another boy creates and passes around a list of who’s hot and who’s not, which leads to some gross objectification of Hannah and adds to her reputation as the class slut. On and on. Again, I’m not making light of any of this from Hannah’s perspective — but for the other characters, I had a hard time believing that some of them could be so crippled by their own shame over careless or insensitive — but not criminal — behaviors that they wouldn’t turn in the rapist or come together to share the truth with Hannah’s parents.

There’s also a moment of Hannah’s own shameful behavior that’s really hard to forgive. Hannah is IN THE ROOM when her former best friend is raped, and she’s too stunned and frightened to intervene or scream or call for help — and as a viewer, that’s hard to get past. I totally understand that this adds to Hannah’s sense of shame and failure, but it was hard to believe that this happened and that she acted that way.

After the final episode, Netflix had available another 30-minute behind-the-scenes piece that’s quite compelling as well, which aims at its teen viewers directly. Through comments and interviews with the cast, writers, and health care professionals, there’s important information shared about resources, getting help, speaking out, and the finality of suicide, as well as insights into teen psychology and the impact of abuse and bullying. It’s meant to be direct, helpful, and non-preachy, and I thought it was an important wrap-up (which I hope the show’s teen viewers stuck around for). Interestingly, this piece included advice about how to get help, but the episodes themselves didn’t. It would have been better, I think, to also include suicide hotline information at the end of each episode.

Watching the show with my son was really interesting and important. He had no patience for my clueless-parent questions (“does anyone act this way at your school?” or “do you ever feel bullied”), but he did frequently tell me to hit the pause button so he could comment or ask a question. He didn’t always have sympathy for Hannah (“God! Why does she make everything about her? She’s so dramatic!”), but this gave us a chance to talk about depression and victimization and how someone can internalize things to such a degree. We talked about how if Hannah had just had one or two of these experiences, maybe she could have gotten past it, but how it all piled on top of one another until she was drowning.

We talked about whose misdeeds were the worst. Well, clearly, the rapist, but after him, where does the culpability lie, and are there shades of gray? He initially felt really sorry for the school counselor who failed to help Hannah when she came to him on her last day. My son didn’t feel that it was fair of Hannah and Clay to blame him so much for not doing enough. This gave me a good opportunity to talk with him about adult responsibility and the role the school officials are supposed to play. Earlier, we see that this is a man with a stressful home life, but the show doesn’t let him off the hook. Maybe he was distracted, and maybe Hannah wasn’t entirely forthcoming, but this was clearly a girl in distress who communicated that she’d been the victim of a sexual assault and felt that she wanted everything to stop — and he let her walk out of his office.

There’s so much more, but I’ve really rambled on quite a lot already. Obviously, this show really affected me, and has left me with so much still to process and think about. Thirteen Reasons Why is just so well done, and so important. It’s not a sensationalized show aimed at teens. I saw one review describe it (paraphrasing here) as an adult show about teens, and I think that’s right. It’s important viewing, and I can’t stress enough how glad I am that I watched it with my son.

In terms of other pop culture moments, it would be a shame if people assumed that Thirteen Reasons Why is a teen drama (like Pretty Little Liars or many of the CW’s shows). The two TV shows that I was most reminded of, in weird ways, are Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer — two of my all-time favorites. Like Veronica Mars, Thirteen Reasons Why spins a complicated web of causes and effects, showing the seemingly infinite connections between the various characters, and how each decision and casual action or cruelty can lead to unexpected and even devastating effects. (Unlike Veronica Mars, there’s little to no humor to lighten the moments. While Veronica Mars dealt with life and death issues, destroyed reputations, rape, and abuse, its quippy dialogue and characters kept it floating along with a slightly sunnier tone.) I was reminded of the Buffy episode, Out of Mind, Out of Sight, in which a high school student literally becomes invisible after being unseen and unnoticed by her classmates for too long. Obviously, no supernatural elements in Thirteen Reasons Why, but there is a similar seriousness paid to high school power dynamics that resonates as true and important to note.

Clearly, I consider Thirteen Reasons Why to be important viewing! And if you have a high school student in your life, consider watching the series with him or her, and see where your conversations lead you.

So, thanks for sticking with me for my rambles! I’d love to hear other people’s reactions. Did you watch Thirteen Reasons Why? What did you think?

TV Reaction: An outing on Survivor

Pardon me while I amble away from books (shocking!) for a moment while I ponder one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on TV.

If you follow TV news at all, then you’ve probably seen the headlines all over social media last night and this morning. In a nutshell, on last night’s episode of Survivor, one contestant outed another as transgender at tribal council, in a desperate and despicable attempt to show to their tribe mates how “deceptive” the other player was.

It’s been over 12 hours since I watched the episode and I still can’t stop thinking about it. This was truly stunning TV.

The stupidity of Jeff Varner, and his lame attempt to link the other contestant’s personal history to somehow being an untrustworthy alliance member, is astonishing. And I think he realized it within minutes of it all coming out of his mouth — but again, perhaps he was simply unprepared for the outrage he’d stirred up and was operating in CYA mode.

On the positive side, it was uplifting and gratifying to see the other players’ uniformly harsh reaction to Varner. Zeke, who was outed, was absolutely supported, and all the others basically tore Varner apart. Host Jeff Probst did a great job of letting the drama play out, giving Zeke time to compose himself, and refusing to let Varner off the hook by accepting his ridiculous excuse of being desperate to stay in the game.

In the end, in what really seemed like an unprecedented situation, Varner was shown the door and kicked out without the usual ritual of a vote. As Probst noted, a vote was unnecessary. They all wanted Varner gone.

There are some astute and well-written pieces out there already about what happened and what it meant. I have nothing but admiration for Zeke, who managed to show grace toward Varner, who didn’t deserve Zeke’s kindness.

It should be noted that this round of Survivor was filmed last summer, so that all involved had time to prepare for last night’s episode. Zeke wrote a thoughtful and moving piece about his life and his determination to compete on Survivor, and I recommend checking it out, here.

I do wonder, though, why the producers didn’t either a) cut the outing from the episode or b) explain why it was included. I can envision a few different scenarios. Did this tribal have a huge impact on game play going forward? I’d imagine that Zeke’s teammates’ loyalty and support of him was magnified by Varner’s behavior, and might be an important part of the storytelling going forward. If future episodes have the outing and the impact on Zeke as a storyline, then the tribal is highly relevant. Likewise, if Zeke makes the finals (as I’m now really hoping he does), surely the events from last night will be a big piece of his Survivor story — the narrative that finalists pitch to the jury in a bid for the $1 million prize. Further, Zeke and the producers may have discussed the tribal together and reached an agreement, with Zeke’s full cooperation, in terms of what they chose to air.

I’m not pointing fingers at the producers at this point, but I do feel they do their viewers a disservice by simply airing the episode without including any explanation of why those chose to do so and whether Zeke had a say in the decision. Yes, Varner is the one who outed Zeke — but the Survivor production team decided to put it on the air. I’d just like to know why, and I hope with all my heart that Zeke will confirm that he was a part of the decision-making process and gave it his blessing.

In any case, that was a shocking moment, unlike anything I’d seen previously on TV. For my household, it was also a great catalyst for discussion. I watch Survivor each week with my 14-year-old son, and we have fun speculating on strategy, mocking ridiculousness, and cheering for our favorites. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that an episode of a reality competition show would spark a discussion of transgender rights and identity, but it did. The kiddo and I talked about Zeke, what his life must have been like, his courage, and why the outing was such a travesty and betrayal. And the kiddo really gets it, which was gratifying for me to see.

As the day progresses and I read more pieces about this Survivor episode and the fallout, it does seem as though Zeke was deeply involved in the process of bringing this episode to the air, with the Survivor production giving him support and agency in determining how his story was told. I certainly hope that’s the case, and I applaud Survivor overall for its sensitivity to key social issues and flashpoints. (I can’t help but wish that this had been made clearer during the episode itself — even via a text screen at the end — rather than leaving viewers hanging until more statements dribbled out.)

More than anything, I’m filled with awe and admiration for Zeke’s humanity and decency in a moment of shock and betrayal, and for his bravery in sharing his feelings over a matter he had the right to choose to keep private. Prior to watching yesterday’s episode, I was kind of “meh” about Zeke — he’s a fun player to watch, but I wasn’t necessarily rooting for him to win. But now? Team Zeke, all the way! And I suspect I’m far from alone.

For more on the events on yesterday’s Survivor, here are a few thoughtful pieces:

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/12/opinion/outed-as-transgender-on-survivor-and-in-real-life.html
New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/arts/television/survivor-contestant-transgender.html?_r=0
Vulture: http://www.vulture.com/2017/04/cbs-defends-airing-survivor-trans-outing-episode-zeke-smith.html
E Online: http://www.eonline.com/news/843440/survivor-s-handling-of-zeke-smith-s-outing-proves-it-just-might-be-the-most-lowkey-progressive-reality-tv-series-around

 

TV Time: What I’m watching this fall

It’s fall TV time, and the pickings are great! I swore I wasn’t going to get involved with more than one or two new series this season, but I found myself unable to resist adding just a few more.

Here are the new shows I’m loving so far:

this-is-usThis Is Us: This is probably the most hyped new show — it even made the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s newest issue (which proclaims it the best new show of fall after only 2 episodes.). Hype is usually such a turn-off for me, so I held back… but finally had a slow night and gave episode 1 a try.

Boom. Hooked. Man, what an episode. Great characters. Amazing twist. So well done. I watched the 2nd episode as well, and will absolutely be sticking with this one.

Here’s the trailer:

 

Speechless: You know what? This little sitcom about the hyperprotective, activist mom of a teen with cerebral palsy and the way this plays out in the larger family is charming and funny and really quite clever. Minnie Driver kills it as the mother, who means well even though her execution is pretty much 100% over the top. The rest of the family is pretty great too (I love that the husband is played by the guy who plays Kripke on Big Bang Theory!), and the school principal is hilariously nervous and eager to please.

 

The Good Place: I expected to love this comedy, solely based on it starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, and I was not disappointed. Quirkiness rules. The story follows a recently deceased woman who makes it to heaven (the “good place” of the title) by mistake, and who now must frantically try to impersonate a good person to make sure she doesn’t get expelled. I’m a little worried that the quirk and cute might get to be a bit much eventually, but for now, it’s quite good. And has introduced me to the excellent heavenly versions of swearwords, especially “bullshirt”.

 

Westworld: Oh, HBO. This looks like it will be intense. The Western-robot drama is full of mystery and conspiracies and, let’s face it, really disturbing robot scenes. I’ve only seen one episode, but I’ve just gotta know more.

 

No Tomorrow: Only one episode has aired as of now, but it was pretty darn cute. A story of an unfulfilled young woman who meets a free-wheeling guy who’s convinced that the world will end in eight months — the characters are funny and likeable, and the plot is quirky enough to be different without being annoying. It’s hard to judge based only on the first episode, but I’m willing to stick with it, at least for a little while.

 

What else?

Those are my top five. I wasn’t going to include returning shows, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that the 2nd season of Poldark promises to be just as great, if not better, than the first. In just a couple of episodes, we’ve had plenty of dramatic horseback rides along the Cornish coast, plus a shirtless Ross scene, so based on visuals alone, the show is delivering.

 

Almost forgot:

My son and I have been watching Son of Zorn, which is ridiculous and absurd… but also kind of hilarious. Check it out:


The ones I’ve missed:

There are a few others I considered checking out, but I just haven’t had time. Top of the haven’t-gotten-to list are:

  • Designated Survivor
  • Timeless
  • Conviction (which I doubt I’ll actually bother with — I love Hayley Atwell, can’t stand procedurals, and the reviews have been pretty dismal)

 

How about you?

What are your favorite new shows this fall? Are you watching any of mine? Let me know what you think!

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TV Time: Adam Ruins Everything

Think you know all there is to know about such topics as true love, the weekend, purebred dogs, and airport security? Think again… or maybe check out Adam Ruins Everything.

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Adam Ruins Everything is a half-hour show on the TruTV channel (new to you? it was to me), hosted by and starring “investigative comedian” Adam Conover. The show first aired in 2015, and is now 17 episodes (and counting) into its first season.

Each episode, Adam… well, he ruins things. As in, he — okay, this graphic explains it better than I ever could:

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Adam takes a topic, and then subjects his “friends” (i.e., the other actors in the show) to a series of explanations and vignettes showing the truth behind the misconceptions and misdirections.

Adam is a goofy fast-talker with unusual hair, and the other actors pose as so-called normal people who just want to enjoy their restaurant dining, trips to the mall, or weddings without Adam screwing it all up by pointing out what’s wrong with each scenario.

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Did I mention it’s funny? It’s hilarious.

And even better, it’s fact-based. As Adam rattles off his intricate explanations, sources pop up on the screen, naming the articles and research from which he pull his facts. Likewise, the show’s website includes a list of sources for each episode, with links to the original material — so skeptics can go right to the source and fact-check Adam’s fact-checking.

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Also, adorably, he features real-life authorities throughout, sometimes appearing as themselves, sometimes in cartoon form, to explain the various truths behind the lies and misdirections and set the record straight.

Here’s a little clip from a recent episode (Adam Ruins Shopping Malls):

Full episodes are available on the TruTV website, here.

My 14-year-old son was the first in our household to discover Adam Ruins Everything, and insisted that I watch it with him. It’s now among our top must-see viewing each week. I’m having a blast sharing it with the kiddo. It’s smart as well as funny, so even when we giggle incessantly, we also come away from each episode with something new to think and talk about. And if we cast a skeptical eye at the world based on Adam’s ruining of what we thought we knew… well, so much the better.

TV Time: The Girlfriend Experience

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Well, that was weird.

But in a pretty good kind of way.

I just binge-watched the new Starz series (I think “anthology” is the term they’re using). Thirteen episodes in 3 days is a lot to take in, even though — fortunately — each episode is only 30 minutes.

So what’s it all about?

Christine Reade is a law student who’s just landed an internship with a prestigious law firm. She’s dedicated and ambitious, and scrimping by on limited funds. She is also, the opening episode makes clear, completely unemotional and uninhibited when it comes to sex. She picks up a guy in a bar, completely calls the shots when it comes to their sexual encounter, and then gets dressed and leaves, despite being asked to spend the night. She doesn’t need his number, and she doesn’t need chit-chat. She got what she wanted, and she’s out.

When Christine’s law school buddy Avery fills her in on how she acquires such fabulous clothes, jewelry, and toys (hint: rich man with lavish spending habits), Christine is cautiously interested in learning more.

And learn she does. Avery introduces her to the world of “girlfriend experience” escorting — basically, charging insane amounts of money to wealthy men who want more than just sex. For a price, they get a gorgeous woman dedicated to making them happy, willing to give them her undivided attention, listen to their hopes, dreams, and worries… and yes, indulge whatever sexual fantasies they have as well.

Christine assumes the name Chelsea, sets up a website, makes a deal with a broker/madam, and quickly starts raking in the cash. Her double life becomes increasingly difficult to maintain, as her escorting business is going so well that she misses class, and an ill-advised workplace sexual entanglement threatens to spiral out of control.

It’s interesting to watch Christine’s transformation, all the more so because it’s impossible to tell what she’s thinking or why she does what she does.

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Money appears to be an issue, but she’s not desperate or in especially bad straits. She seems to be devoted to her law career, and to have the single-minded dedication to succeed, but gives it all up fairly easily when it no longer suits her. Christine is adept at manipulating and maneuvering, turning seemingly catastrophic situations to her own advantage.

She seems to be all about control and pretense. Christine’s ability to adapt, find a way to give another what they want, and come out with what she wants is evident from the start. As we watch her interview for internships, we get a first glimpse of Christine’s innate talent for understanding the best way to please and present herself as the most desirable. This serves her well later on, of course, as she quickly becomes the perfect girlfriend for pay. She never says no. She’s never in a bad mood. When a client asks her if she’d like something, whether a particular sex act or to go on a trip with him or to spend a whole lot more time together, the answer isn’t just “yes” — it’s “I’d love that”.

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But is she actually enjoying any of this? What is she getting from her business that she needs? Is it just about financial security, glamor, admiration? Christine/Chelsea apparently enjoys sex A LOT, but is any of it genuine? She puts on a great act and is always enthusiastically responsive, but it also appears that perhaps the only sex acts she’s truly enjoying are the ones when she’s alone.

She appears to enjoy the company of the men she’s with, but does she? Most of them — the kind with the ability to spend $1,000 per hour for her companionship — seem like spoiled rich jerks who’d rather buy a relationship than work for one. The exception here is an older man, a widower who cares for Christine in a way that seems genuine — and I couldn’t help believing that he touched her heart in a way none of the others did.

Even when Christine’s worlds collide and it seems like she’ll be buried by catastrophic scandal, she manages to pull herself together and figure out exactly what she needs to come out of the disaster not just in one piece, but at a profit. There’s a tremendous piece of acting in here, as Christine is forced to do a walk of shame through the office, holding onto a wall of filing cabinets for support, before having a complete and utter meltdown at her desk. But does she really have a meltdown? Right before the walk, we see Christine first prep herself around the corner, taking deep breaths, before coming out all weak-kneed and devastated. Christine has learned never to show weakness, and if she appears weak here, it’s because she intends to.

By the end of the season, Christine is working independently, consulting financial advisers, living in a fabulous apartment, and in total control of her own life. Is she happy? No idea. But she is successful and seems to be completely calling her own shots.

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Christine is played by Riley Keough**, whose looks transform easily from conservative law intern to super-hot working girl. Her face is a picture of absolute stillness much of the time, and it’s impossible to tell what’s going on behind the surface beauty.

**Daughter of Lisa Marie, grand-daughter of Priscilla and Elvis Presley — and yes, the resemblance is mind-blowing and occasionally distracting.

The look of the show is cool, elegant, and clean-edged. The hotel rooms where the action takes place are all large and uncluttered, with huge windows. Seriously, this series has more rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows than I’ve ever seen. The colors are mostly muted and understated, and everything seems removed from real life and real messiness in a way that fits completely with Christina’s detached, controlled affect.

In the early episodes, we see Christine laughing unguardedly in a casual moment. I can’t remember seeing her laugh at all by the later episodes — but if she does, it’s because that’s what the situation calls for. Like her clothing and her apartment, everything is planned and delivered for maximum effect.

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It hardly seems necessary, but I suppose I should point that anyone thinking of trying this series should be aware that it includes adult content, language, nudity, and sexual situations. The sex scenes are explicit without being graphic — no genitalia on display or anything, but you pretty much see everything but.

I did wish that the show found a way to make plainer how much time had elapses between episodes. Because Starz released all 13 episodes right from the start, binge-watching seems like the way to go, but it wasn’t until I finally listened to one of the “behind the scenes” pieces at the end of an episode that I realized that months had supposedly gone by. Having a better understanding of the time frame of the events would help put Christine’s evolving self into better context.

I did find The Girlfriend Experience pretty fascinating on the whole, even though Christine’s inner life was intentionally concealed and enigmatic. Still, it’s mesmerizing to see a young woman taking such utter control by using her looks, sexuality, and ability to please to gain power in her life.

Meanwhile, I did a bit more Googling about the show, and it sounds as though the use of “anthology” here means that there will be another (or more) seasons of The Girlfriend Experience, but about a completely different set of characters. Um, okay? I got pretty hooked pretty fast on Christine’s weird life, but considering the quality and thought that went into this production, I’d be up for seeing whatever the next chapter ends up being about.

Outlander Rewatch: Episodes 115 & 116, “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom A Man’s Soul”

Wrapping up the season!

This is going to be a two-in-one post. covering episodes 115 & 116. With only a few days until the start of season 2, it’s time to wrap up my Outlander rewatch!

OL rewatch

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 15: “Wentworth Prison”

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 16: “To Ransom A Man’s Soul”

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Thoughts and Highlights:

You don’t actually expect me to write a recap of these two episodes as if they’re just TV shows like any others, do you?

I can’t. I just can’t.

These final two episodes are two parts of a whole, showing monumental events that forever change Jamie and Claire.

The events of these two episodes are full of horror and despair, pain and torment, rescue and redemption. My admiration for the entire cast knows no bounds. Their bravery and commitment is evident in every scene, in every expression and movement. There’s a raw honesty here that is breathtaking, even in the most horrible of moments.

From the opening moments, as Jamie faces death upon the gallows:

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… to the gorgeous closing shot, as Jamie and Claire sail into their future:

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… the episodes are stunning and unforgettable.

I’m grateful that the episodes, and the season, end with such a glorious, visually arresting, emotionally uplifting set of images.

Start to finish, season 1 of Outlander remained true to the overall story arcs of the book, as well as to the beloved characters, while infusing the adaptation with life and a perspective of its own. From the strong female character at its center to the journey into Highland culture to the heart of a passionate love story, Outlander has gone from strength to strength, never missing a beat.

The amazing cast, crew, and production team have pulled off a remarkable achievement.

And needless to say, I’m counting the minutes at this point until the start of season 2.

Diana Gabaldon has written eight marvelous books in the Outlander series so far, plus a terrific assortments of related novels and novellas, and she’s working on book 9. I’ll always love the books above all else — but damn, the Starz TV series is making me fall head over heels in love as well.

Here’s to Starz, Ron Moore, Diana Gabaldon, Terry Dresbach, and the fantastic stars of Outlander! Wishing them (and us) many more seasons of Outlandish bliss.

Outlander Rewatch: Episodes 113 & 114, “The Watch” and “The Search”

Changing format a bit:

This is going to be a two-in-one post. covering episodes 113 & 114. Time is tight, so I’m trying to force myself to keep the recapping on the shorter side! One week to go until season 2…

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Outlander, Season 1, Episode 13: “The Watch”

The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:

Jamie finds himself between a rock and a hard place when a redcoat deserter from his past resurfaces. Claire tends to a laboring Jenny while Jamie and Ian join The Watch, resulting in devastating consequences.

My synopsis:

The Watch, led by Taran MacQuarrie, has arrived at Lallybroch. MacQuarrie has mistaken Jamie for a thief doing some breaking and entering, but Jenny soon clears things up with a lie, introducing Jamie as her cousin, Jamie McTavish. Ian and Jenny have been paying off McQuarrie for the past few years in exchange for protection from the redcoats. As extortionists go, he could be worse, although the band of thugs he travels with seem intent on stirring up trouble and getting in Jamie’s face.

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Later, MacQuarrie is joined by the deserter Horrocks, who’s ready and able to blow Jamie’s cover. If the Watch realizes who he is and that he’s wanted, they’ll likely sell him out to the redcoats without blinking an eye. Horrocks realizes that Jamie is at his mercy, and blackmails him. When Jamie goes to pay him off, Horrocks indicates that he needs even more, making it clear that Jamie is safe only so long as he keeps paying. Ian, always there to protect Jamie, runs Horrocks through with a big sword, and the two friends bury him. MacQuarrie doesn’t seem too peeved to find out that Horrocks has been killed, but insists that Jamie join his raiding party to take Horrocks’s place. Ian decides to go along as well.

Jenny is in labor, and the baby is breech. Claire has seen childbirth, and as the midwife is unavailable, it’s up to her to deliver the baby. It’s a looooong drawn-out labor, giving the women plenty of time to bond.

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Jamie and Ian depart with the Watch. Jamie and Claire have a tender good-bye. MacQuarrie and Jamie seem to connect and understand one another, and McQuarrie makes clear that he would never turn Jamie over to the British.

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As they reach the spot picked out by Horrocks for their raid, Jamie realizes that it’s a trap just as their group is ambushed by a band of redcoat soldiers.

Back at Lallybroch, Jenny eventually gives birth to a health baby girl. Three days go by, and the women are getting nervous. Finally, Ian limps into the yard supported by one of MacQuarrie’s men. Most of the men have been killed, Ian reports. MacQuarrie was injured and Jamie wouldn’t leave him — so Jamie has now been captured by the British.

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Claire is devastated, and gazes off down the road, wondering where Jamie is and how to get him back.

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 14: “The Search”

The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:

Claire and Jenny set out to rescue Jamie from his redcoat captors. When Murtagh joins up, they turn to unorthodox tactics to send word to Jamie. When word finally arrives, the news isn’t what anyone had hoped.

My synopsis:

Claire is ready to dash off in search of Jamie. Ian wants to go with, but he’s injured and in no condition to go anywhere. Jenny to the rescue! Despite just having given birth, Jenny straps on two pistols and rides off with Claire in hot pursuit, using her excellent tracking skills to find out where Jamie has been taken.

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Finally, they come across an encampment of British soldiers and see MacQuarrie held as prisoner, but no sign of Jamie. They capture a courier and Jenny tortures him for information until Claire thinks to look in his messenger back for information. They discover that Jamie has escaped, and the message is a request for the garrison at Ft. William to help find and recapture him. Claire is about to treat the wounds of the courier, but  Jenny points out that they can’t let him live. As the two women debate his fate, they hear a sound and turn to see Murtagh slitting the man’s throat.

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With Murtagh there to ride with Claire, Jenny can go back home to her baby. The women part with hugs and affection, but not before Claire gives her some advice about the coming years of hardship and urges her to plant potatoes. Jenny remarks that Jamie had told her that Claire might sometimes tell her things about the future, and that she should listen to Claire. Not weird at all!

Murtagh has an unusual plan for finding Jamie: Stop looking for him. If Jamie is hiding out in the Highlands trying to avoid detection by the British, there’s no chance of finding him. Instead, they need to make themselves very visible so that Jamie will catch word of their presence and come to them. To that end, they travel from village to village, with Claire providing services as a healer and a palm-reader while Murtagh performs atrociously bad dances. They ask everyone they meet if they’ve seen a tall red-haired lad passing through, but no one has.

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They decide to up their game after Claire remarks that Murtagh should “jazz up” his performance. Claire ends up dressed as a boy, singing a popular Highlands song to the tune of “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”. It draws a lot of attention, but no Jamie. Meanwhile, Claire and Murtagh are venting their worry on each other with constant sniping and arguing. Finally, they reach the end of the road and share an emotional moment, as Claire realizes that Murtagh was in love with Jamie’s mother Ellen years ago, and Murtagh confesses that he loves Jamie like a son.

With new determination, they keep looking, and Claire finally gets word of a message to meet at a nearby location. Certain it’s Jamie, she runs to the meeting point…

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… only to find Dougal there instead. Dougal informs Claire and Murtagh that Jamie was captured, and has already been tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang. He’s at Wentworth Prison, and may already be dead.

Claire is ready to rush off, but Dougal stops her for a private word. He declares his interest in Claire, advises her that once she’s done grieving for Jamie she’ll need protection, and asks her to marry him. Shocked, Claire declares that Jamie’s not dead yet. She sees through Dougal’s words, and realizes that if Dougal marries her, he’ll get the Fraser lands that belong to her by marriage. Claire wants Dougal’s men to help her try to rescue Jamie, refusing to give up. Finally, Claire and Dougal strike a bargain: He’ll give her his men, if they choose to go — but if she fails or if Jamie’s already dead, she’ll marry Dougal.

Dougal’s men are reluctant at first, as it seems like a no-win situation, but ultimately Willy, Rupert, and Angus agree to help. The five ride toward Wentworth Prison, a massive fortress that looms in the distance.

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Thoughts and Highlights:

Romance:

Jamie and Claire’s good-bye is sweet and tender — but there’s an ominous feel as well. After they kiss, time slows as Jamie walks off and Claire gazes after him. She may not realize it, but it’s the last time she’ll see him free and whole.

Images:

The entire labor and delivery sequence is so well done. I particularly love this shot of Jenny, making her pregnancy look both real and beautiful, as she describes the intimate sensations of being pregnant:

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In “The Search”, Claire looks full-out adorable in her “drag” get-up:

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Here’s a closer look at that amazing coat and vest:

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Key points:

Major facts that the episodes get on the table:

  • The Watch is dangerous, but also holds up its end of the bargain by protecting the lands that pay them off.
  • Ian and Jamie fought as mercenaries together in Europe years earlier, which is how Ian lost his leg.
  • Claire is afraid that she’s unable to have children, something she tearily confesses to Jamie after he shares his dream of a large family. Jamie being glorious, selfless Jamie, he immediately reassures Claire that he’s fine with not having babies, so long as he has her.
  • Murtagh is completely loyal to Jamie (and to Ellen’s memory), and will do anything to protect Jamie.
  • Dougal is creepy and stalkerish as he tries to seduce Claire, basically declaring Jamie dead in advance and advising her to give up hope. He seems to have gotten over Geillis’s death already.

Memorable lines:

Episode 113:

Jamie, telling Claire why it might be best if she can’t have children:

“I can bear pain myself, but I couldna bear yours.”

Saying good-bye:

Claire: “Haste ye back, or else.”

Jamie: “Or else what?”

Claire: “Or else I’ll follow you, I’ll drag you back by your thick red curls, and you won’t like it one bit.

Episode 114:

Murtagh: “You think you’re the only one who loves Jamie? He’s a son to me.”

Character impressions:

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Jenny is one bad-ass woman. From the way she handles her pistols to getting on horseback three days post-partum to the casual stop by the side of the road to express breastmilk, Jenny is tough, determined, and committed to doing whatever she needs to protect her family.

McQuarrie seems a decent guy. His men seem like thugs, but McQuarrie is a former soldier with a sense of honor. And — added bonus — he’s played by Douglas Henshall, who’s always wonderful.

Takeaway:

We don’t see Jamie at all in “The Search”, and it’s a very effective way of keeping the tension high. We have no more idea than Claire does whether Jamie is alive or dead, free or a prisoner. The little bits shown of Claire singing and dancing may be amusing, but the desperation behind the roadshow is always apparent.

Claire is determined to find Jamie and save him, and it’s 100% believable that she’ll do it or die trying.

Outlander Rewatch: Episode 112, “Lallybroch”

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 12: “Lallybroch”

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The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:

Reunited, Claire and Jamie make their way to Lallybroch – Jamie’s family home. Reality quickly sets in, and old wounds are reopened between Jamie and his sister, Jenny.

My synopsis:

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A glorious opening: Claire and Jamie, riding a single black horse, gallop across the most breathtaking Scottish countryside. It’s sunny and bright, and so are Claire and Jamie. They indulge in some truly cute and silly conversation in which, among other things, Jamie learns about flying in airplanes, and the fact that he’s married an older woman.

“When I’m 40, you’ll be 245!”

As they arrive at Lallybroch and catch sight of Jamie’s family home, a darkness descends as Jamie remembers the last time he was at Lallybroch. Once again, we flash back to the day that Jack Randall showed up, whipped Jamie and assaulted Jenny, and then dragged Jamie off to Ft. William.

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Visually, the flashbacks are stunning — in greys and sepias, with the flashes of red on the British soldiers the only color.

As they walk into the yard at Lallybroch, Claire greets the small child at play, and a very pregnant Jenny runs to greet Jamie and embrace him. It’s been four years without a word. Jenny introduces her child, wee Jamie, and big Jamie immediately gets upset. He’s heard rumors, you see, that Jenny was left pregnant by BJR, and so he jumps to the conclusion that Jenny’s given her bastard child Jamie’s name “to be a reproach” to him for leaving her in harm’s way. And he wants to know whose bastard Jenny is carrying now. “Mine,” says Ian Murray, Jamie’s childhood friend, as he limps forward on his wooden stump to greet the new arrivals.

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It’s a tense homecoming, and to be honest, Jamie acts kind of like a jerk here. Jenny’s not so great either, referring to Claire as a trollop and giving her the stink-eye. As the two couples sit together, Jamie asks Jenny to tell him the truth about what happened with BJR. More flashbacks: Jenny went into the house with Randall and went with him upstairs. He was gross, sticking his bloody fingers in her mouth, and she took a chance to bop him over the head with a candlestick, but was unable to escape. BJR threw her on the bed and unbuttoned his trousers, but was unable to… umm… stand at attention. Jenny started to laugh, somehow realizing that this would further make him unable to perform. She laughed in his face until he knocked her out, and when she awoke, he was gone, and had taken Jamie off to prison.

Further tension: Claire tells Jamie he should apologize to Jenny for how he behaved when they arrived, which pisses off both Jenny and Jamie. Jenny wants Claire to stay out of her business with her brother, and Jamie pulls Claire aside and tells her not to shame him in front of his family and servants. He’s Laird here, and she needs to be respectful. They reach a tenuous understanding — Claire can be bossy and argumentative as much as she wants when they’re in private, but in public, they need to be seen as Laird and Lady.

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Speaking of which, Jenny insists that Jamie and Claire moved into the Laird’s bedroom (which had been hers and Ian’s), but there’s clearly still tension between Jenny, who’s been running the estate all these years, and Jamie, who just waltzed in and expects to be right back in charge.

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Jamie is overcome by memories once again as he and Claire settle in, and he tells Claire about the last time he saw his father, who lies buried in the Lallybroch graveyard. Flashback: When Jamie was being held at Ft. William, after his first flogging, Jamie’s father came to bargain for his release. As Jamie is being led to a meeting with Randall, he encounters Brian in the hallway. Brian, clearly devastated, kisses Jamie and tells him “Remember to pray. I’ll stand by you no matter what happens.” Jamie is brought to BJR, who tells him how worried his father is about him, but informs Jamie that sadly, there’s no chance that Brian will be able to arrange to get Jamie released in time to save him from a 2nd flogging.

Jamie is still in agony from his first flogging. BJR tells him that it’s a shame that they two have gotten off to such a poor start. Jamie doesn’t understand at first where BJR is going with all this, although he eventually figures out that Randall “likes to play with his toys.” Finally, BJR makes it plain what he wants from Jamie:

“Give over to me. Make free of your body. And there will be no second flogging.”

Jamie admits to Claire that he considered it. He was in horrible pain, and knew there was much more on the way, perhaps enough to kill him. And he figures that an episode of “buggery” would probably be less painful and over more quickly than a flogging, and then he’d be set free. But he could still feel his father’s kiss on his cheek, and knew that his father wouldn’t want him to let Randall break him, and so he couldn’t do it.

On the day of the flogging, Dougal was there, and so was Brian. As Jamie fell unconscious, they thought he was dead, and Brian collapsed (apparently a stroke). Jamie never saw his father fall, and didn’t see him buried. He’s blamed himself for his father’s death ever since.

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Back to the present — there’s a tense dinner, and the next day is Quarter Day, when the tenants come to pay their rents. It’s a festive occasion, as the Laird has returned, and Jamie and Claire are fussed over and given gifts. Claire interferes when she sees a small boy being abused by his father, and later Jamie acts like a big man by giving back the rents to the tenants because they had a hard year.

Jamie stays up drinking with the local men until the wee hours and comes to bed very drunk, which is, quite honestly, adorable. Claire gives him some major side-eye, but secretly smiles over how gosh darn cute he is.

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The next day, he’s not quite as cute due to being extremely hungover. Jenny is disgusted with both of them — Claire, for disrupting plans she’d been making to take care of the boy Rabbie, and Jamie for giving back the rent, which is what keeps the estate running and ultimately provides land for the tenants to live on.

“Do ye think life just started when the two of you walked through that door?”

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Jamie’s head hurts and he growls at everyone, including poor Mrs. Crook, the housekeeper. The bread is awful because the mill isn’t working, so Jamie storms out to go try to fix it. Something is jammed in the waterwheel and Jamie strips down to just a shirt to dive underwater and try to get it moving again. Claire and Jenny are waiting for Jamie by the millpond when a group of British soldiers ride up. The officer offers to help and is about to dive in as well when the wheel starts turning, so they ride off. Once they’ve gone, Jamie resurfaces — very, very cold and naked. Jenny yells at him at first, until she catches a glimpse of his scarred back, at which point she runs off

That night, Claire has a middle-of-the-night hallway conversation with Ian, and they commiserate on how hard it is to be married to these hard-headed Frasers. Claire goes back to her room and dumps Jamie out of bed, telling him he’s been acting like a jerk and he needs to shape up.

The next day, Jamie is visiting Brian’s grave, and Jenny comes to join him. Jamie hands Jenny the rent money, which he has recollected from the tenants, and offers to smooth things over with wee Rabbie’s family. Jenny tells Jamie that he did the right thing with the boy, and they begin to make up.

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Jenny apologizes to Jamie: “I was wrong, and I’m so ashamed.” She’s blamed Jamie all these years for Brian’s death. She thought Jamie must have shot off his mouth or done something to deserve the punishment he got… but when she saw his back, she realized that he was tortured by an animal, and that he was not to blame. Jenny feels that it’s her fault that BJR sought to hurt Jamie, in retaliation for her laughing at him when he tried to rape her. If she hadn’t laughed at him, would he still have had so much fury? Would things have been different for Jamie?

As it turns out, Jamie has blamed himself for Jenny’s rape and Brian’s death all these years. As they talk, they realize and accept that neither of them is to blame, and that Black Jack Randall is the one who’s responsible for their family’s pain and suffering. Jamie and Jenny embrace and truly forgive one another, and can finally enjoy their reunion with love and happiness.

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At night, Jamie and Claire share a private moment in their room. Claire is beginning to feel at home at Lallybroch. Jamie tells Claire that he knew he wanted her from the moment he first saw her, and loved her from the moment she first wept in his arms. He’s loved her ever since, and loves her more every day.

For the very first time, Claire tells Jamie:

“I love you.”

Claire wakes up the next morning with a smile, and goes downstairs to find Jamie… standing in the main room as a strange man holds a pistol to his head.

Cliffhanger! Jamie is in danger, and that’s the end of the episode.

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Steam factor:

Nothing explicit, but the romantic moment between Claire and Jamie is very swoonworthy, especially their declarations of love. And okay, the naked-Jamie-in-the-water moment is hot, but I’m not giving into the urge to objectify Jamie Fraser any further, so you’ll have to look somewhere else for that visual treat. (Hint: Google “outlander jamie naked”. You’re welcome.)

Fashion statements:

There’s a wonderful moment in the episode when Jamie and Claire are in their glory as Laird and Lady greeting the tenants — and it’s a great visual touch to have Jamie wearing his father’s coat:

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For some reason, I’m just really in love with the fasteners on Jenny’s cloak in this scene:

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Key points:

Major facts that the episode gets on the table:

  • Jenny married Jamie’s friend Ian and has a child with him (and another on the way).
  • Jenny and Ian have been keeping Lallybroch going all this time.
  • Jamie has some major daddy issues and lots of guilt.

Memorable lines:

As Jamie and Jenny forgive one another, Jamie tells Jenny that he would gladly have been killed if it that could have kept Jenny safe from Randall. Jenny’s response:

“And if your life is a suitable exchange for my honor, tell me why my honor is not a suitable exchange for your life.”

Jenny to Jamie, as the two make peace:

“Welcome home, Laird Broch Tuarach.”

Character impressions:

Jamie and Jenny love each other deeply, but they’re both so hard-headed and quick to anger that they almost miss the chance to reconcile. It’s wonderful to see how their two more sensible spouses pave the way for them to admit their hurt and fear and find a way back to one another.

We get yet more insights into BJR’s desires and how he functions. He’s a danger to anyone who winds up in a situation where he holds the power. As Jamie rightly observed, BJR likes to toy with his victims, and causing fear and pain is obviously what turns him on.

Claire and Jamie!! Hearing Claire finally say that she loves Jamie is amazing!

Takeaway:

It’s a nice, warm scene finally at Lallybroch, so of course danger and trouble must be looming! Jamie and Claire get almost no time to enjoy normal life together. Claire reminds us early on that Jamie has a price on his head still, and Jenny asserts that he’s safe at Lallybroch, because there’s not a single tenant who would betray him. Uh oh… foreshadowing?

Outlander Rewatch: Episode 111, “The Devil’s Mark”

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 11: “The Devil’s Mark”

OL rewatch

The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:

Claire and Geillis are on trial for witchcraft. Jamie manages to rescue Claire, but not before she discovers a secret about Geillis’s past.

My synopsis:

Boom! Claire and Geillis are dumped in the thieves’ hole — a dirty, smelly, rat-infested hole under the ground with a locked iron grate across the opening. The women are angry at each other and trade accusations.

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Geillis believes Claire is to blame:

“I kept your secrets, Claire. You should have kept mine.”

Claire points out that Geillis isn’t exactly spotless — she did, after all, murder her husband. Geillis doesn’t bother denying it, and in fact, owns up to dosing Arthur with white arsenic for a while now, building up to the final dose of cyanide. She’s confident that they won’t remain in the hole long — Dougal will come and take them both away from there.

Claire is horrified, and tells Geillis the cold, hard facts: Dougal is gone. Colum has sent him away, and Jamie too.

“No one is coming, Geillis.”

They spend a wretched night, but things don’t look better in the morning. In fact, things only get worse, as they’re hauled out of the thieves’ hole, dragged through the streets of the village with their hands bound by leather thongs, and brought into the church for a trial. As they’re led through the village, they pass the stakes erected in the town square, with branches being piled around them. It’s always handy to have a pyre ready when you’re trying witches.

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The courtroom/church is packed with angry townspeople who seem to find a lot of satisfaction in shouting angrily at the two women. There are no familiar faces in the crowd; Claire sees no one there from Castle Leoch. As the judges (priests, apparently, or some sort of religious figures, in any case) start the trial, there’s an interruption as Ned Gowan barges in. Ned points out that witch trials are no longer the law of the land in Scotland, but the judges are not impressed, as this is a religious matter. Ned insists on acting as defense lawyer for both women, and the trial commences.

First up is Geillis’s serving girl, who tells tales of women from the village coming to Geillis for charms and amulets, and reports seeing Claire in league with Geillis, with the two women chanting “ominous incantations” Ned discredits her testimony pretty easily, pointing out how she’s a disgruntled servant who’d been seeking other jobs and is now getting back at Geillis for not paying her more.

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Next is a young, grieving woman — the mother of the dead child Claire found on the fairy hill. The woman describes seeing Claire pick up the child and speak words over it, and the next morning it was dead. She claims that she’d left the ailing child for the fairies to take back, so they’d return her own child to her, but with Claire’s witchery, the fairies didn’t bring back her own child.  Ned offers sympathy to the woman, but gets her to admit that the child was too ill to survive and that Claire did nothing.

Still, the crowd continues to shout “Witch!” at Claire and Geillis, and Claire shouts back that she’s a healer. The courtroom is outraged that Claire is speaking out, and Ned cautions Claire to stay quiet and let him do his job.

Another witness comes forth — a man who swears he saw Geillis call down lightning as she laughed in a storm, then fly into the sky like a bat. The crowd eats it up, of course… and the court is adjourned for the day. Back to the hole go Geillis and Claire, along with a flask from Ned to help them keep warm.

Geillis’s optimism from the previous day is gone:

“You still don’t understand, do you? They mean to kill us.”

Claire questions Geillis. Why has she done the things she’s done? Was it Dougal that she wanted? A better position? Money? Geillis scoffs — as Arthur’s wife, she had a respected position and plenty of money. In fact, she managed to divert over a thousand pounds from Arthur… for Scotland. Geillis is a Jacobite, dreaming of a Stuart king back on the throne.

“Come the Rising, I shall know I helped.”

She has no regrets, she declares. Claire responds by quipping, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” Geillis seems amused as she comments, “Nicely put.” Ah, a hint!

As the women bond over their miserable situation, Geillis asks Claire if she truly loves Jamie. It’s his name she cries out in her sleep. The two women huddle together to keep warm. As they’re pulled from the hole the next morning, it’s clear that they’ve reconnected. They describe themselves as a flock of two, and promise to protect one another. It’s a moment of shared affection and peace, before they head back into the storm.

Things at the trial take a dismal turn. Laoghaire strolls in as the next witness. She tells the court that she came to Claire for a love potion to open Jamie’s heart, and declares that she was the one that Jamie was meant to marry. But Claire took the potion herself, hexed Jamie, and stole him away from her. Ned tries to dismiss Laoghaire as just a heart-broken girl, but the crowd is on her side and Laoghaire seems gleeful to be getting revenge on Claire.

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From bad to worse — next is Father Bain… who, surprisingly, seems almost to be saying that Claire isn’t a witch. He tells the story of Claire saving the boy that he was trying to exorcise, and exclaims that he has failed God and the congregation, and therefore he’s giving up his post. It’s all a sinister, clever ruse. As Father Bain announces his departure, the crowd yells for him to stay, and shout that this is yet further proof that Claire is a powerful witch who has even managed to enchant and hex such a godly man. The crowd is incensed, the judges seem ready to pronounce a decision, and Ned calls for a recess.

He takes Claire and Geillis into a back room and tells them the harsh truth. The climate has turned ugly, and the only chance for either to survive is if one turns against the other. He bluntly tells Geillis that she’s beyond saving, given her history and reputation in the town, and advises Claire to denounce Geillis and accuse her of tricking Claire with her evil ways. Otherwise, they’ll both be burned. Ned leaves to give the women a moment to consider.

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Geillis, full of emotion, questions Claire. Why is she here? What is the real reason? She knows Claire is hiding something, and now she must tell the truth! Claire tells Geillis that she is there by accident, and her answer deflates Geillis. So she doesn’t want to change anything? Is it really all for nothing? She seems to accept Ned’s recommendation that Claire save herself by giving up Geillis.

As they return to the courtroom, Ned announces that Claire has something to say. But after a moment’s pause, Claire states that Ned is mistaken – she has nothing to say. The women are found guilty and condemned to death. As the crowd swarms around them, Geillis turns to Claire and tells her, “I think it is possible. 1968.” What does this mean?

The crowd goes nuts. Claire yells that they’re all murderers, and the judges decide to give Claire one last lesson on her way to the stake, ordering her to be “stripped and skelped”. Her dress is torn down the back, and she’s held still as another man begins to whip her. Claire cries out in pain — but then the door bursts open, and finally, Jamie is there! He storms in, defies the crowd with sword and pistol, and stands over Claire to protect her.

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He’ll be attacked in a second himself, but then Geillis offers the ultimate distraction: She yells out that Claire is not a witch, but she is — and pulls her gown from her shoulders to display what she calls a devil’s mark, but which Claire recognizes as a smallpox vaccination scar.

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Geillis continues to shout about serving the devil as she strips off her clothes and shows her pregnant belly. She’s bearing Satan’s child! As the mob rushes her, Geillis mouths the word “Run!” to Claire and Jamie, then continues to scream as she is lifted and carried out, providing enough cover for Claire and Jamie to make an escape. There’s nothing they can do to help Geillis. They escape on horseback, riding fast and far from the awful village.

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Finally, Jamie stops in a glade to tend Claire’s wounds. It’s a first — Claire is injured, and Jamie’s the one providing care. At last, they talk. Jamie asks Claire for honesty. He knows that there are things that she maybe can’t tell him, but whatever she does tell him, let it be the truth. Are you a witch, he asks. He’s seen the same mark on Claire that Geillis has.

No, she’s not a witch, Claire tells him… and tells him the truth. She was born on October 20 in 1918. She’s from the future. Jamie confesses that he doesn’t really understand, but he does believe her. He asks to know more, and she tells him everything — about the war, about Frank, and about the stones at Craigh na Dun, as well as about the Jacobite cause and the disaster of Culloden.

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Jamie realizes to his horror that when she ran away and ended up captured at Ft. William, she’d only been trying to get home, to her own time and to Frank. He feels awful that he beat her for this, now that he knows why she did what she did. He tells Claire how truly sorry he is, and vows that no one will harm Claire again.

They ride hard for several more days, leaving Leoch and the trial far behind. Jamie describes Lallybroch and what their life could be like there. They camp at night, and Jamie holds Claire by the fire, tracing her face with his fingers, gazing at her as he touches her and gives her pleasure. The next morning, he asks Claire if she’s ready to go home… and walks her up a hill so that she can see where he’s taken them. They’re back at Craigh na Dun.

“It’s what you wanted. What you’ve always wanted. To go home.”

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Jamie takes Claire by the hands and leads her to the stones. As she’s about to touch the main stone, he pulls her back for one last embrace. He wasn’t ready, but now he knows it’s time for them to part.

“There nothing for you on this side. Nothing, except violence and death. Good-bye, Sassenach.”

And he walks away. Heartbreak!

Claire sits by the stones, looking at her hands with her two wedding rings, touching each in turn, deep in thought. She looks back toward Jamie, and looks toward the stones. We see her walking toward the stones, and then all goes black.

Next, we see Jamie sleeping by his fire. And then there’s Claire, saying “On your feet, soldier.” She’s made her decision — she’s staying with Jamie. She asks him to take her home to Lallybroch. In tears, Jamie takes Claire in his arms for a kiss and a loving embrace.

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Holy moly, what an emotional roller-coaster of an episode!

Steam factor:

That scene by the fire! It’s sexy and tender at the same time, and while all the clothes stay on, it’s a fairly explicit depiction of sexual exploration and gratification.

Fashion statements:

Claire  and Geillis are dirty and bedraggled most of the episode, wearing the same clothes they had on previously, so I wouldn’t say this was an episode for high fashion!

Key points:

Major facts that the episode gets on the table:

  • Geillis is from the future! There have been hints, but now Claire knows for sure. Apparently, Geillis is from 1968, although with her on the way to being burned as a witch, Claire has no opportunity to find out more.
  • Laoghaire shows her true colors, willing to bring about Claire’s death if it means she gets a shot at Jamie.
  • And the biggest moment of all: Claire has the opportunity to finally go home to Frank… but chooses Jamie instead.

Memorable lines:

Geillis, after Ned asks what she’s going to do:

“It looks like I’m going to a fucking barbecue.”

Laoghaire to Claire:

“I shall dance upon your ashes.”

Jamie, in heroic rescue mode:

“I swore an oath before the altar of God to protect this woman. And if you tell me that you consider your authority to be greater than that of the Almighty, then I must inform you that I am not of that opinion myself.”

Character impressions:

It’s all there, isn’t it? Geillis did murder her husband, but she considers herself justified by her devotion to Scotland and the Jacobite cause. Her morals are definitely shady, but she comes through for Claire in the end, sacrificing herself so that Claire can live.

Laoghaire is a vengeful little trollop. Ugh.

Jamie is brave and true, and listens to Claire with an open-heart. He believes her because he loves her, and trusts her to tell him the truth, whether or not it makes sense to him.

Takeaway:

LOVE! Claire finally has a real decision to make, the ability to choose her future, and she chooses Jamie. It’s a wonderful moment, and the confession scene between Claire and Jamie really gives us a chance to see how far they’ve come and how much trust and devotion exists between the two of them.

Geillis really shines in this episode, thanks to the amazing work of Lotte Verbeek. She does an extraordinary job of portraying Geillis as a powerful, driven, enigmatic woman, who may be delusional in her beliefs and aspirations, but ultimately is willing to give her own life to save her friend.

Outlander Rewatch: Episode 110, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs”

Outlander, Season 1, Episode 10: “By the Pricking of my Thumbs”

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The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:

Jamie hopes the newly arrived Duke of Sandringham will help lift the price from his head, while Claire attempts to save an abandoned child.

My synopsis:

The episode opens on a private moment. A very private moment. Claire and Jamie are in bed, and let’s just say that Murtagh’s unrelenting pounding on the door is not at all welcome. Jamie, ever diligent, opts to ignore the door until he finishes the task in front of him, with apparent great success. Whew… is it getting hot in here?

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The news from Murtagh is important, though. The Duke of Sandringham has arrived. He’s always been fond of Jamie (hinting that he was *wink, wink* very fond of some of Jamie’s attributes), and perhaps he’s be willing to help get the price lifted from Jamie’s head. Claire warns Jamie not to trust the Duke blindly — she knows from her time with Frank that the Duke was suspected of being a secret Jacobite supporter, and also of being a protector of Black Jack Randall’s. Jamie promises to be cautious, but he’s also puppy-dog excited at the idea that he could be free and could finally take Claire home with him to Lallybroch, where they could have a good life and be happy.

Ned Gowan considers the best way to proceed. Even with the Duke’s backing, it would be next to impossible to prove that BJR is the one guilty of the murder Jamie’s wanted for. But perhaps there’s a different approach. If Jamie and Claire swear to a complaint again BJR, itemizing his cruelty and abuse, and have it presented by the Duke, BJR would be disgraced and would likely be recalled from the Highlands, perhaps even court-martialed or sent somewhere far, far away. And if BJR is disgraced, a general pardon for Jamie would be possible. This seems like the best chance they have for finally clearing Jamie’s name.

In the kitchen at Leoch, Mrs. Fitz is ecstatic over a new apron given to her by her granddaughter Laoghaire. Claire arrives and asks to speak with Laoghaire alone, then accuses her of leaving the ill-wish under her bed. Laoghaire denies it. Claire tries to be nice to the girl at first, telling her that she was misguided in thinking that Jamie had feelings for her, but Laoghaire insists otherwise:

“The truth is, he was never yours to begin with.”

“That’s a lie. Jamie Fraser was, and is, mine. And you did us both a wrong past bearing when you stole him away.”

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Their confontation ends with a big slap right across Laoghaire’s face, and Claire apologizes with a very not-sorry “sorry”. Laoghaire is well and truly pissed now, and tells Claire that yes, she was the one who placed the ill-wish, and furthermore, she got it from Geillis Duncan, supposedly Claire’s friend. Claire warns Laoghaire:

“Stay away from me and my husband.”

Claire goes to visit Geillis to find out the truth, arriving to find Geillis out, but Arthur Duncan rummaging about looking for a treatment for his usual gastric yuckiness. The serving girl tells Claire that she’ll find Geillis in the woods at night while the moon is full. And so Claire does, spying on Geillis as she lights fires and chants a prayer to the Earth Mother, dancing and rolling on the ground in a sort of religious ecstasy, clad only in the overshawl and brooch she’d worn at the gathering. Claire watches in shock, especially as Geillis’s near-nakedness reveals a distinct baby bump.

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Geillis acknowledges that she knows Claire is there, and tells Claire that she has a lover — Dougal MacKenzie. It’s his baby that she’s carrying, and she’s prayed to Mother Nature to ask for freedom for herself and Dougal so they can be together. Geillis admits selling the ill-wish to Laoghaire, but claims that she didn’t know who it was for.

The two women continue to walk through the woods, and Claire asks more about Dougal. It turns out that Dougal is married, but he keeps his wife back home at his estate while he lives at Castle Leoch. As they walk, Claire hears a baby’s cries. Geillis warns her to ignore it: They’re near a fairy hill, and that must be a changeling, not a human child. Claire insists on looking for the baby, and Geillis takes off. Claire finally finds the baby, but it’s dead already from exposure, having been left out all night. Jamie finds Claire cradling the dead baby and makes her put it back in its hiding place, explaining the superstitious nature of the local people, and making it clear that it could be dangerous to ignore these superstitions, even knowing that they’re ridiculous.

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Claire and Jamie sign the document outlining BJR’s crimes. Later, unbeknownst to Jamie, Claire pays a visit to the Duke of Sandringham, during which she insinuates that that the Duke’s reputation could be harmed if his support and connection to BJR were revealed. He calls Claire’s statements “libelous falsities”, but after the two exchange some veiled and not-so-veiled threats, it seems that the Duke will help Jamie after all.

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Claire returns to the castle to find everyone in a tizzy. Dougal has just received word that his wife has died of a sudden illness, and he’s going nuts, raging with grief and guilt, highly drunk, and flinging his sword about whenever anyone gets near. Colum wants Claire to do something to calm him down, so she slips a sedative into some wine which Dougal guzzles, sending him into a heap on the floor.

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Geillis acts as though all this is great news. “Can you believe it?” she asks Claire. It’s like her prayers have been answered, and now she and Dougal can be together. Claire reminds Geillis that she has a husband, but Geillis basically shrugs that off. No big deal.

Now it’s Jamie’s turn to visit the Duke. He’s always delighted to see Jamie (he apparently has an eye for pretty young boys), and would be happy to help Jamie out… in exchange for a wee favor. It seems that the Duke has a debt he owes to the MacDonalds, who’ve demanded satisfaction in a duel. It’s just for show, the Duke hastens to reassure Jamie. They’ll fire pistols off to the side, everyone’s honor will be satisfied, and that’ll be that. In exchange for helping Jamie in his case against BJR, Jamie must act as second to the Duke in the duel.

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That evening, there’s a banquet at the castle in the Duke’s honor. Everyone is dressed up and fancy, and it’s quite an evening… until Arthur Duncan begins to choke and then collapses on the floor, foaming at the mouth. He’s dead, and Claire catches a whiff of bitter almonds, the tell-tale scent of cyanide. While everyone else is focused on the dead man, Claire spots Geillis and Dougal exchanging a meaningful glance.

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Back to the Duke’s duel. It’s a simple and straightforward formality, but afterwards, the MacDonald lads get rude and insulting. When Jamie responds to their taunts with a diss against their mother, the swords come out. The Duke scampers off (a duel is one thing, but a common brawl quite another), and it’s three against one. Jamie holds his own until the fight is over, but he comes out of it with a nasty wound on his side.

Claire must stitch Jamie up once again, and she’s pissed. Jamie is summoned to Colum’s chamber, where Colum reams out Dougal for his stupidity in carrying on with Geillis Duncan. Colum exiles Dougal back to his own estate until the scandal blows over, and orders Jamie to go with Dougal, along with Rupert and Angus. And just to make sure that Jamie is doing Colum’s bidding and keeping Dougal out of trouble, Colum insists that Claire remain behind at Castle Leoch.

After a loving and tender good-bye, Jamie rides off, but not before warning Claire to stay away from Geillis Duncan. There’s a good chance that Colum will go after Geillis, and Jamie doesn’t want Claire anywhere near when or if this happens.

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So, naturally, Claire goes rushing off to Geillis’s house after receiving a note summoning her — only the note is a forgery, not from Geillis. Claire begs Geillis to pack up her belongings and leave. She’s in danger — but Geillis dreamily replies that “Dougal will never allow anything to happen to me. To us.”

A banging on the door — it’s the warden. Geillis is arrested for witchcraft, and so is Claire. As they’re shoved into a barred wagon to be taken away, Claire catches sight of Laoghaire peering around the corner with a very satisfied little smirk on her face.

Steam factor:

The opening scene is intimate and explicit, showing a lot without showing anything that can’t be shown on TV. It’s an intense, passionate moment, and shows the deepening connection and trust between Jamie and Claire.

Fashion statements:

Claire looks amazing with her fur cowls and cloaks, but Geillis really takes the cake in this episode. From her filmy shawl in her woodland ritual to the point-hooded cloak in the woods to her black-and-white dress at the end, Geillis continues to have one of the most unique looks on the show.

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Key points:

Major facts that the episode gets on the table:

  • Laoghaire is out to hurt Claire, even to the point of endangering Claire’s life.
  • The Duke is slippery, and it’s impossible to know where his loyalties lie or whether his pledges of help can be believed.
  • Dougal gives into his passions despite the consequences, and Colum can’t stand it.
  • Jamie dreams of taking Claire home to Lallybroch, where he’ll once more be Laird and Claire his lady.

Memorable lines:

The Duke, to Claire:

“Has anyone ever told you you have the most gorgeous neck? It holds your head so prettily. I’d hate to see them parted.

Dougal, watching Jamie and Claire having a looooong kiss good-bye:

“I said kiss her. Dinna swallow her.”

Jamie, as Claire silently glares while she stitches his wound:

“Ye’re not normally a closed-mouth woman, Claire. I expected noisier displeasure. But, quiet anger can be very effective.”

Character impressions:

The differences between Colum and Dougal are very clear in this episode. Dougal thinks with his heart and his… um… other head, but Colum always takes the rational, logical approach. Emotions be damned — it’s the well-being of the clan that always comes first.

Geillis seems foolishly indifferent to consequences here. She’s usually so aware of actions and reactions and how to take advantage of any situation, but she seems to let her reliance on Dougal and her hopes for their future blind her to the real risk, not just of murdering her own husband but of making Colum angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Claire seems much more settled into her marriage to Jamie. They’re happy together, and she wants him.

Takeaway:

While the situation with the Duke of Sandringham may bring either safety or greater danger to Jamie, the ultimate threat in this episode is against Claire. Jamie is now conveniently out of the way, while Claire’s been arrested and accused of witchcraft. Claire lacks a protector, and unless Jamie returns in a hurry, she may not last.