Outlander 1.11: The Devil’s Mark

“And it wasn’t witchcraft, it was old-fashioned poison!”

This episode could have as easily been titled “The Tell” and much as “The Devil’s Mark.” While Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson)is able to turn any piece of evidence thrown Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Geillis’ (Lotte Verbeek) way to prove them as witches on its head, too many coincidences and irrational crowd behavior make it seem as if there is not escaping the pyre. The episode is a sequence of confessions between Claire and Geillis first, then Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan). Geillis confesses to having poisoned Arthur with white arsenic and to diverting money from his accounts for the Jacobite cause. She shows her hand, however, only after Claire has puzzled it out. It was at this point I started to recognize the intentional slippages in diction that reveal neither Geillis nor Claire are from the eighteenth century. The irony of Claire’s accusation (the epigraph to this post) suggests that witchcraft is a newfangled and absurd thing, while poison is the antiquated and ancient way for a women to kill. She’s not wrong, but to eighteenth-century scots, the chemistry of poison would look like something very much from a frightening future.

Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) flashes her smallpox vaccination to both save Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and give her a crucial piece of information.

Gowan tries to use the law to his advantage, even English law which accounted witch trials illegal, but to no avail. He responds, “In England, an accused with is entitled to a defense lawyer, a benefit not afforded in merry old England,” using political sentiment to get access to Claire. The irony is, that Jacobite sentiment shared by the crowd is the same one fueling Geillis, but she has only decided to move the cause forward by other means. The women are accused by Ginny the malcontent maidservant, the cowardly mother of the fairy changeling, a soldier from the Leoch battlements, but it is the heartbroken Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) and the malevolent Father Bain (Tim McInnerny) that seal Geillis’ fate. Despite Gowan’s attempts to turn the Scottish penchant for hyperbolic storytelling against the witnesses, slander and fear prove too powerful. As Claire “looked around the room at these good people, I wondered what it was that made them want to watch us burn. Regardless of the evidence, they only wanted one outcome.”

Claire (Caitriona Balfe) finally confesses her life story to Jamie (Sam Heughan).

In terms of dialogue, this episode brings several rhetorical threads together. Before realizing that no one is coming to save them, Geillis’ gallows’ humor is in full force. When marched past the pyre-in-preparation, Claire asks, “Is that what I think it is?” to which Geillis’ responds, “It’s not a maypole, Claire.” This postmodern sensibility was the disposition that brought the two of them together in the first place. Later, Claire is again accused of being socially aberrant and unwomanly when the judge attempts to silence her defense of herself: “You are an embarrassment to yourself!” Both of these women make their way in the world semi-independently with the aid of covert knowledge, making them essential to the community but also putting them on the fringes of it. As Geillis storms out, resigned to her fate, she says “I guess I’m going to a fucking barbecue!” Recall that Jamie did not know what the word “fucking” meant in just the last episode, and barbecue, while English slang by the 1670s, sounds altogether outside the Scots’ lexicon. If you started to guess that Geillis might be from the future with this close attention to diction, then you were rewarded when not only does Ned give Geillis a few seconds to tell Claire that she is from Claire’s future, 1968, but also that it is possible to travel back home. (Note that later Claire tells us she was born October 20, 1918—oddly enough, my little brother’s birthday.)

Jamie (Sam Heughan) provides Claire (Caitriona Balfe) the means and opportunity to choose which life she wants.

It seems Claire’s tongue spares her in an odd way, being lashed first for her insolence before being taken to the stake. In that time Jamie breaks in to save her, staving off the crowd with two swords and an appeal to their religious conviction: “I swore an oath to God to protect this woman. If you are telling me that you believe your authority to be greater than that of the almighty, then I must inform you that I am not of that opinion myself.” Since the court is under the auspices of the Church, and Father Bain’s was the most powerful piece of reverse-psychology testimony, it is a brilliant rhetorical ploy on Jamie’s part. It also makes good on his fealty oath of the previous episode. The tragedy is that it is only Jamie here returned, without Dougal, and this is perhaps what inspires Geillis to show her vaccine scar, buy Claire time to run, and give in. What’s more, it buys Claire the opportunity to (finally) tell Jamie everything.

One series-long question has been answered: Claire does eventually get a chance to return to the stones.

It is the last confession of the episode and the one that everyone has wanted: from the townspeople, to Colum, Dougal, Murtagh, and Geillis. Jamie has never put attempted to force her to explain her presence, and so there is something poetic about the fact that she tells him everything regardless of the risks: “I’m not a witch. But after you hear the truth, maybe you’ll think differently.” She is impervious to smallpox, knows the day Black Jack will die, and the failed outcome of the Jacobite cause because she is from the future. Jamie openly believes her despite not understanding, because for him this is what he defines as trust. In this way he uses religious logic—that we must trust in God without evidence—to be compassionate towards Claire in the most challenging of moments. It rattles his cage when he realizes he beat her only for trying to get back to the stones, and to her surprise takes her to Craig na Dun to give Claire what she has “always wanted, to go home.” He can’t tell her he doesn’t love her, but doesn’t say that he does, nor try to convince her to stay: “There is nothing for you on this side, nothing but violence and danger.” It is hard to imagine such a selfless act coming from Frank—and perhaps that is why Claire takes her time in that cosmic circle of stones to debate, and finally choose, a future with Jamie, regardless of the evidence.


Outlander 1.9: The Reckoning

“I’ve always known I’d live a life unlike other men. When I was a lad, I saw no path before me. I simply took a step and then another; never forward, never toward some place I knew not where. And then one day I turned around and looked back, and saw that each step that I had taken was a choice: to go right, to go forward, or even to not go at all…The sum of those choices become your life.”

Reopening the second half of the Outlander‘s first season is an episode about masculinity, ownership, and justice, told from Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) perspective. The opening lines echoed Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) from the first episode of the series: “Strange the things you remember.” In different ways both monologues meditate on choices, arguing that the moments we remember are the ones where a number of different routes were available, each a very different life. Entitled “The Reckoning,” a series of decisions are made that determine the course of the remaining season: Jamie’s rejection of Laoghaire (Nell Hudson), Colum (Gary Lewis) returning the bag of Jacobite gold to his brother (Graham McTavish) to suture burgeoning clan factionalism (assuming there is no chance in hell the Bonnie Prince would be coming to Scotland any time soon), the resulting summons of the Lord Sandringham to assess the state of Jacobite sympathies, and the reveal to Black Jack (Sam Menzies) that Jamie is back in England. The reckonings—the actions of estimating things to come—at the center of this episode are the choices made to heal rifts, Colum with Dougal, and Jamie with Claire.

Claire (Caitriona Blafe) and Jamie (Sam heughan) struggle over the rhetoric of ownership that dictate the sexual politics of the eighteen century.

The episode includes one of the most controversial moments from the books: the spanking of Claire. (See comments in Salon and Jezebelamong others.) It is a complicated moment of spousal abuse necessitated by the larger militia group: in a place and time where it seems only a bag of gold (if that) can make people obey, Jamie suggests violence—cropped ears, flogging—are the only ways Claire can “know” what she nearly cost “to all the men” and give them “justice” for the risk they took in saving her from Fort William. When we frame the episode in terms of justice, the question becomes clear: why do the men need to be justified in their risk?

Jamie (Sam Heughan) attempts to rationalize Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe’s) spanking to her.

Claire’s spanking is a symptom of a larger political issue with the clans: because they are falling a part and loyalty to their chief becomes increasingly unclear, morality and fealty are no longer virtues enough to justify actions. Jamie demonstrates his loyalty to Claire by saving her and to his clansmen by punishing her. This does not justify the violence, of course, but does put it in a context. The weakness of this structure of justice through spousal “taming” is complicated in two ways. First, Jamie attempts to reason with Claire and rationalize the ethics of her punishment with belt in hand. Second, after a thorough struggle in which Claire kicks him in the face and says “I’ll never forgive you,” the scene concludes with Jamie saying as he spanks, “I said I was going to punish you; I dinna say I wouldn’t enjoy it.” Both moments juxtapose Jamie’s traditions (belt and spanking) with his inherent feminist respect for Claire (rationalizing and playing on their pre-established aggressive sexual relationship).

Dougal (Graham McTavish), Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson), and Jamie (Sam Heughan) are surprised by Colum (Gary Lewis) with their Jacobite earnings.

Of his wife’s discipline he thinks initially “Justice done. Problem solved.” But of course it isn’t so easy, especially once they return to Castle Leoch to the ire of Colum and he’s booted from Claire’s bed. Colum assumes the Jacobite gold given to him by a loyal member of the rent party was skimmed from the rent collection. He is convinced that it was raised honorably eventually, but rages still against Dougal making political decisions for and on behalf of the clan without his consent. Dougal confirms his fealty to his brother on the same dirk from episode four, “The Gathering,” but won’t apologize or back down from his Jacobite sympathies. The scene is followed by a snowy confrontation among the men, both ganging up on the snitch and excising the Fraziers, Jamie and Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), from debates of fealty. The question is openly asked: to whom are you loyal—to Dougal, Colum, or Scotland?

Angus (Stephen Walters) suggests the clansmen will eventually need to choose between their Chieftain and War Chief.

At this juncture Jamie is placed in a situation where his next step will have implications for Colum and the clan, for Laoghaire, and for Claire. In his attempts to assuage clan politics, Jamie effectively counsels Colum to “remove the source of the immediate conflict by making a gift of the gold” and allowing Dougal to “play the rebel.” It is his first successful role as a political advisor, perhaps forecasting a major theme for season two if the show continues to follow the general arc of the books. The actual gift-making is less than smooth however, as Colum questions the oath fealty Dougal swore on his dirk but a month earlier, insulting Dougal by implying he buys back his brohter’s loyalty by returning him the Jacobite gold. Having found success with his clansmen, Jamie contemplates how to approach the open wound between he and Claire, only to be interrupted by a near-naked Laoghaire. Jamie is tempted by her last-ditch effort to bed him, but ultimately decides otherwise as a show of loyalty to his marriage.

Dougal (Graham McTavish) restates the terms of his fealty to Colum (Gary Lewis), framing them as also a show of loyalty to Scotland.

And an overt show of loyalty it is. At the gathering of the clans, Jamie did not swear a traditional oath of fealty to his uncle, being a clan leader in his own right (if not for the price on his head). Suggesting that peace has become more important to him than custom (and the power of consent), Jamie apologizes for the spanking by saying to Claire “maybe for you and me it has to go a different way.” Uncertain of his “next step,” he instead takes out his own dirk and, inspired by Colum and Dougal, makes that traditional pledge of fealty to Claire. Claire is unimpressed by the vow, and without a model, Jamie asks if she simply does not want him anymore. In that moment Jamie makes himself an object of ownership rather than continually trying to assert and revise the terms of his ownership over Claire.

Jamie (Sam Heughan) unsuccessfully attempts to heal wounds by mimicking his laird’s vows.

The following negotatiation of this rhetoric of ownership and consent is complex. Claire does acknowledge she wants Jamie, and Jamie confesses that her ring is made from the key to Lallybroch: Claire has the key to his kingdom; in other words, he does not own it without her. Next Jamie says: “I want you so much I can scarcely breathe. Will you have me?” It is then that Claire pins him to the floor, holds him down by the throat, and they begin to have sex. With her other hand she reaches for his dirk again and holds it to his throat, saying “If you ever raise a hand to me again, James Frazier, I’ll cut your heart out and eat it for breakfast. Do you swear?” He swears, then turns her over, saying “I mean to make you call me ‘master.'” As they cuddle on the floor after climaxing together, Jamie says to Claire, “It seems I cannot possess your soul without losing my own.” Bouncing back and forth in this moment is a rhetoric of ownership and loyalty for which the two need their bodies into order to negotiate. As in episode seven, “The Wedding,” these characters revel in the possession of the other, the objectification of their bodies and presence. This episode tests the darkness inherent in that kind of mutual ownership within a military culture at the hands of brutal “English justice” exhibited on Jamie’s back. In the mutual ownership of one another, they seem to agree to consider the other exempt from freighting justice for outsiders—outlanders to their emotional island.

Fealty, justice, and sexuality collapse together when Claire (Caitriona Balfe) holds Jamie (Sam Heughan) to a new oath.

But Scottish justice is no better nor exempt, especially in its violence against women (if we recall episodes one and six). That Jamie has made a promise to keep one-sided violence out of their relationship is one thing. But the larger question at hand in light of the spanking, problems of fealty, and this sliding scale of justice, is to ask where is the role of punishment in this culture? In culture more generally? It seems relevant that Jamie punishes Claire while he himself is an escaped convict; the narrative continually pulls the two of them back to a space of incarceration and discipline. If the show continues to follow the general arc of the books, this season will end again in Fort William. In many overlapping ways the series is turning into a consideration of violent discipline in the shaping of masculine identity as much as it is the subjection of women to the implications of that violent formation.