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 1.10: By The Pricking Of My Thumbs

“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.

Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) gets a good slap for calling Claire (Caitriona Balfe) a “witch” and “cold English bitch.”

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.

Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) attempts to ask Mother Nature for “our freedom, Dougal and mine.”

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.

Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) puts on a convincing performance when her husband keels over in the main hall, finally done in by her slow cyanide regime.

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.