FRANK: This is backwards. I’m the one who should be headed to the front lines.
CLAIRE: Welcome to the twentieth century.
This episode seems to take up the real fears one might have if ever stranded back in time. This is part of the psychological interiority Gabaldon’s novels have been lauded for, and that many time-travel shows, from Quantum Leap to Doctor Who, don’t deal with directly because much time isn’t spent in any particular place. Here, Claire is thrust into a time that for all intents and purposes in which it seems like she is meant to stay put until the singing stones of Craig Na Dun decide otherwise.
First are the fears related to medicine, and whether Claire (Caitriona Balfe) can successfully “apply twentieth century medicine using only the methods available in the eighteenth” to earn the clan’s trust. The townsfolk either fear her for this particular kind of special knowledge, or embrace it as Colum (Gary Lewis) and Mrs. Fitzgibbons (Annette Badland) do. And yet there are still resistances when it comes to the blurred space between religion and science. When a few boys are accidentally poisoned, the town blames the “cursed” ruins of Black Kirk, an old Prussian monastery, as having seized them “with evil.” Claire, while curing the children, of course makes a quick enemy in the town’s preacher, Reverend Wakfield (James Fleet).
Relatedly is the precariousness childhood. The episode features three boys: the heir to Colum’s lordship, a bread thief nailed to the pillory for his crime, and Mrs. Fitzgibbons’ nephew taken ill by the poisoned plants. The first is taken great care of, especially by his uncle since Colum’s syndrome makes him unable to play and father the boy. The second is treated quite violently, and his hand is nearly taken rather than nailed at Claire’s intervention, to be maimed and impeded in his survival for life. The third in his illness is coddled, and the Fitzgibbon women run the risk of getting on their priest’s bad side in order to save the boy.
As in these two cases, the show oscillates between extreme violence and compassion at the level of the day-to-day. Claire seems especially sensitive to what she deems unnecessary violence, we are led to believe from her time as a WWII nurse. It is also a fundamental disposition towards humanity that she and Jamie (Sam Heughan) share. And the implications were heavy in this episode of what else they might also come to share in the future. Fighting depression and hopelessness, Claire is growing jealous of any attentions Jamie might shed on other women. In a phrase that reminds me much of Othello’s reasoning of Desdemona’s love for him, Jamie remarks to Claire, “you have a knack for making me know you feel sorry for me without pitying me.”
She corrects herself that she is not jealous of him, but “jealous of their intimacy” that she misses in her Frank (Tobias Menzies). That’s the odd thing here: while Claire seems to be operating much on her own two feet in this episode (unlike the last) that she misses her intimacy with Frank seems unlikely. Or at least that desire has not sprung in the last week in the Highlands, but long before while they were separated for years by war. If she recognizes this in herself later in the series, it would prove to offer a lot more options for the evolution of her character than merely missing an emotional context I as a viewer have not been convinced was there to begin with.
It is striking that the episode opens with flashbacks of Claire and Frank parting for their military duties, the uniforms making them odd equals that deepen their story as much as there shared fear at loosing one another in the war itself. The additions of new flashbacks for which the audience does not have a referent, a technique that was Lost‘s bread-and-butter, is extremely effective in building out the parts of Claire’s life we had not yet seen (as I noted previously). I’m interested to see if we meet a Claire before Frank—aside from the snapshot of the girl in an Egyptian archaeological dig—in these flashbacks, and what they might tell us about this “woman” Hamish believes Jamie needs so desperately in his life.
- CITATION: “The Way Out.” Outlander. Television. Directed by Brian Kelly. Written by Ronald D. Moore. 23 August 2014. UK: Tall Ship Productions, 2014. 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: