Today we look back at Outlander‘s first quarter by talking Episode 102-Castle Leoch, Episode 103-The Way Out, and Episode 104-The Gathering. This review is SPOILER HEAVY, so if you ever intend on watching or reading Outlander, you may not want to read today’s post. Although I wish you would if you are still undecided. Nothing really “happens” in the first four episodes anyway, except necessary and fantastic world building. Outlander is the best slow burn I’ve ever seen on TV. Starz certainly believes they have a breakout hit on their hands, green lighting Season 2 shortly after Episode 101 aired. Also, I’m a huge fan of whoever does their social media marketing. How many times have networks objectified women to get the male demographic to watch a show ? What’s so amazing about Starz is that they appear to have no concerns at all about objectifying Sam Heughan to stoke the fires of women the world over. (see their Instagram account). All I can say….it’s about damn time!
Some admin: These ARE NOT RECAPS. If you want recaps EW, Hitfix and USA Today have great ones. The best fan recaps I’ve come across for Outlander are the Professional Fan Girls, so I send you their way if that’s what you’re looking for.
Let’s get started shall we?
Episode 102-Castle Leoch — “No promises Sassenach”
First why bother with a recap when the episode titles tell you everything you need to know? Waiting two weeks for the second episode was its own kind of torture-but as cliche as it sounds, it was worth the wait (the whole show is in fact). Castle Leoch’s main purpose: introduce the audience to the supporting cast of characters (Angus, Rupert, Murtaugh, Alec, Colum, Geillis and Laoghire), and most importantly give Jamie a proper introduction. Starting off exactly where the pilot left off proved effective and necessary. In fact Claire wasted no time in standing what little ground she had and in doing so earned her the respect of the true matriarch of the castle-Mrs. Fitz.
What made episode two so great is that it didn’t hit you over the head with character introductions and paced them out with precision throughout the episode, giving non-book readers a chance to meet everyone without being overwhelmed. (Of course Outlander does not have as many characters as GOT, still the supporting cast is large and important). Mr. Moore also knows exactly who is audience is and what they want to see: those important first encounters between Jamie and Claire. They were executed brilliantly. Also it gave us a glimpse of the monster that is Black Jack Randall…foreshadowing for the audience what may come should these characters come face-to-face again. The encounter with Black Jack has another not so readily apparent pay-off for it helps to explain a key point of Jamie’s character-his protective instinct. Given that he believes that his sister allowed herself to be raped in order to spare Jamie’s life, it’s no wonder this guy has a thing for protecting people.
Castle Leoch also veered from the book by allowing Claire to believe she would be leaving the castle in four days with the Tinker, only to have all of her hopes dashed at the end of the episode by Dougal-building the tenuous relationship Claire will ultimately have with the man. The main take away from Episode 102 was this: everything in the show is deliberate just as it is in the book. Even the changes made from Ms. Gabaldon’s original story have the same characteristic, something we’ll see more of in Episode 103.
Episode 103-The Way Out — “Those fillies can be dangerous…”
Out of the four episodes, this one has proved my favorite for the obvious reason…it has the most screen time with Jamie and Claire to date.
Choosing to begin the episode with a Claire/Frank flashback is such a genius move, and again what a way to turn plot devices on their heads…leaving Frank standing on the platform while Claire rides away. They also started with a fake-out…of course Claire would never have told Mrs. Fitz the truth. Normally dream sequences are annoying but in this case it showcased Claire’s precarious situation. We may love Mrs. Fitz, but she would turn on Claire in a second if she learned the truth…and so would everyone else. Claire’s healing montage, juxtaposed with the comic relief provided by the already lovable Angus is effective in developing Claire’s skills as an 18th century healer and the friendship that will result between Claire and other clansmen.
This episode also contained the most prominent change from the book to-date: the mystery of Mrs. Fitz’s nephew’s illness.
Normally such changes would cause book readers to cry foul (non book readers don’t know any better) but in this case it was perfect. Not only did it set up early that people in the village are wary of Claire’s position as healer, it also established her conflict with the priest, Father Bain, who undoubtedly we’ll see again. Furthermore it allowed the show runners to provide an excuse for Jamie and Claire to spend time together and give us more information about Jamie’s background. Since even non-book readers know that eventually Claire and Jamie will get together, giving them much needed screen time is essential if we are to believe their romance later on (remember for most of these first four episodes she’s trying to get back to Frank). Not just for Claire though, but for Jamie as well. Jamie’s facial expressions speak louder than his words ya ken. This episode contained my favorite scene to date: Claire’s teasing of Jamie after she’s spotted him making out with Laoghire.
Finally The Way Out gave us more insight into the opaque and not-so opaque Geillis Duncan. Her motives regarding Claire are unclear and I think the episode did a great job of keeping her intentions mysterious. The show’s music really strutted it stuff this episode with Gwylln’s beautiful songs in the Hall. Ending with Claire realizing… “hey this song is all about me..” proved a perfect segway into Episode Four where Claire would try to effectuate her much desired escape from Leoch.
Episode 104-The Gathering — “Je suis prest”
Finally we come to The Gathering, the period where the MacKenzie clansmen are summoned to the Castle to pledge their oath to Himself. There were three major events in this episode 1) Claire’s great failed escape 2) the Gathering/Jamie’s conundrum and 3) Claire and Dougal coming to a parlay.
Yes Claire’s great failed escape. While of course all I want her to do is be near Jamie, admittedly I felt sad for her when she came to realize all her planning and scheming came to nothing. The build up to her escape (the first 30 minutes of the episode) pushed several character arcs forward. First Rupert and Angus are now quite comfortable with Claire and have begun to trust her more than ever. I have to say I love these two. Every time they are on screen a big smile comes to my face. Second Geillis’ creeping up on Claire did more for Claire than it did for Geillis. Geillis’ not so subtle intruding questions seems to have finally put Claire on her guard against the woman. Third, Murtaugh’s growing screen time is illustrating that his loyalty lies more with Jamie than any other person in the castle. This will be important later. Next there is Dougal. His aggressive kiss, threat of rape and walloping over the head by Claire shows that his interest in Claire runs in more than one direction. Finally I groaned inwardly when Claire gave Laoghire the horse dung as a “love potion” for Jamie. That’s going to come back to bite Claire in the ass. I’m sure of it.
Remember what I said about Jamie’s face speaking louder than his words? Just when I think Sam Heughan can’t get any better as the real-life embodiment of Jamie, he bests himself in the next episode. You could see and feel his anger when he believed Claire may have been harmed by the drunken clansmen and Dougal in the corridor; in that moment you know he’s completely in love with her. And then the shoulder bump! Jeez, that shoulder bump killed me when he’s praising her for knocking Dougal out cold with the chair. But then we get to one of the most iconic moments of the book when Jamie tells Claire his clan motto:
Moving forward, Jamie’s non-oath taking/obedience granting really racked up the tension no? I mean even though I knew what would happen having read the novel, credit to the show for making me the most nervous I’ve ever been while watching. We then move to the third act, the boar hunt and Geordie’s untimely death. Death scenes can be tough. Mind you I didn’t cry, but my heart warmed to see Dougal caring for his clansmen as he died. Claire too seemed genuinely moved by Dougal’s actions in helping Geordie die peacefully. It is this moment that finally allows the adversaries to declare a silent, but important, parlay. Dougal’s bringing Claire on the road seemed to serve as an apology, non-apology for his drunken behavior in the corridor. But lest we forget…shinty!! I read somewhere (I don’t remember where so I can’t provide a link) that this game served as inspiration for Quidditch, and it certainly seems that way. This scene also allowed Jamie to best Dougal subtly establishing that friendly competition is not all that exists between these two.
Before we go I have two more items of note about the episode. 1) The use of 1940s background music in scenes with Claire served as a reminder that Frank and returning through the stones is always on Claire’s mind–despite her thwarted escape attempt. So bloody brilliant!!! Well done. 2) The cameos! Ron Moore and Diana Gabaldon did a great job. In fact I hope we see Ms. Gabaldon in future episodes.
This Saturday the fun really begins when the group heads on the road. I know I offered little to no criticisms about the show…but for me there aren’t many. If anything Claire’s voiceover is sometimes annoying but by now, I’m used it and for me it blends seamlessly into the background. I said on Monday that this show has eclipsed every show I have loved since I started following television in earnest. I have faith that by the end of the first half of the season I’ll be counting down the days until January. Here is the preview for Episode 105-Rents….Ned!!
We’ll talk Outlander again after episode 108 airs. Until then happy watching. Feel free to give me your thoughts on the comments below.