“CLAIRE: You don’t really think it had anything to do with that summons of yours, do you?
GEILLIS: I don’t know that it did. I don’t know that it didn’t. And neither do you.
CLAIRE: I know it is a coincidence, and a sad one. Nothing more.”
The title of this episode of course comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It comes from the mouths of the weird sisters, portending something wicked is on its way just before Macbeth enters the room. It begs the question: what is the wicked thing coming this way? It is also a reference to an Agatha Cristie novel (1968) about spouses covering up for mad lovers. The two references encapsulate the major plot points of the episode: Dougal (Graham McTavish) and Geillis’ (Lotte Verbeek) efficient dispatch of their spouses in order to be together, and the series of supernatural elements woven into Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) everyday life.
The episode opens with two inciting incidents: a) Claire gives Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) a good slap across the face for the ill wish planted under her bed, and b) Claire catches Geillis dancing the same dance she saw at Craigh na Dun under the full moon. The rhetoric of ownership from the last episode continues when Claire tries to reason with Laoghaire that Jamie was “never yours to begin with,” of which Laoghaire is still unconvinced despite Jamie’s rejection. Claire realizes that Geillis is pregnant while watching her dance, and Geillis confesses it is Dougal’s child—”he belongs with me.” In asking Mother Nature for “our freedom, Dougal and mine,” Geillis seems to collapse the Jacobite cause for Scottish freedom into with her union to Dougal. While the moment reinforces their freindship, Claire is clearly unsettled by the destructive power of desire to “own” a lover one cannot have evident in both women.
Less overt are the moments of healing and poisoning, both kinds of sciences to which Claire and Geillis have unique access, and for which they are made suspicious. Throughout the episode we see Claire routinely mending (Jamie), soothing (Dougal), and otherwise using her medical knowledge to promote life (Arthur Duncan and the changeling babe). Geillis seems to be primarily using the same knowledge set to curse (Moira McKenzie and Claire) and kill (Arthur). Does this speak to the quality of their characters, or the culture in which they are enmeshed? The changeling debate troubles this question. Hearing a baby squealing in the woods, Geillis explains it is, ostensibly, a sick fairy child the parents have left out in the hopes their real, healthy child will be returned in its place. Geillis warns her not to go to it, but Claire of course does, and is horrified to find the baby had frozen to death moments before she arrived. She rocks it back and forth, whispering “I’m sorry” for who knows how long (suggested by cross-fades) until Jamie arrives. She seems somewhat comforted by the notion that for “the parents it might comfort them a bit to think it was the changeling that died, and their child lives forever with the faeries.” Claire’s access to twentieth-century science provides her with a different moral compass than that of eighteenth-century Scots, who need these kinds of myths to explain the viccisitudes of illness and assuage their grief.
Another plausible “wicked thing” (at least according to the rhetoric of the men who become very aware of who has access to their “hindquarters”) is the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow). That he is a homosexual is common knowledge, but his Jacobite sympathies less so. It seems a stroke of luck that Jamie stands his second in a duel in which he is missed at very short range. The duel breaks out into a “common brawl,” whereby saving the Duke Jamie ensures his petition for pardon will make its way to London by his hand. That, and the fact that Claire is with Geillis (tricked by Laoghaire) when guards come to arrest the latter, are both cases wherein more than mere coincidence seems to be at work. No one is left “spotless” after the duel however. Colum (Gary Lewis) figures out that Dougal is with Geillis and suspects that they had a hand in their spouses’ deaths. Dougal spills the beans that she is carrying his child and a ploy for sympathy, but it backfires. He is exiled to his home estate, which Jamie to police his behavior, away from both Geillis and Claire as assurances for their good behavior. So while individual “wicked things” (fairly and unfairly so) populate the episode, we are left with a clear sense that the real “wicked thing” on its way is a witch trial.
- CITATION: “By The Pricking Of My Thumbs.” Outlander. Television. Directed by Richard Clark. Written by Ira Steven Behr. 11 April 2015. UK: Tall Ship Productions, 2015. STARz cable channel.
- Like my writing about television and/or Outlander? Check out my essay, “Claire Kens Well,” in the the collection, Outlander’s Sassenachs: Essays on Gender, Race, Orientation and the Other in the Novels and Television Series, available now from McFarland.
- Check out the promo clip for this episode below: