Droughtlander No More: Outlander Returns With a Reckoning
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Outlander is back and started part two of its electrifying first season with a bang, a spanking, and, well, some really hawt banging. I’m pretty sure smoke actually wafted up from my flat screen.
Let me say from the outset that I thought this episode was absolutely brilliant, a victorious return for the series and an emotional and adventurous hour of television that made me tense, made me laugh, made me sigh, and made me more than a bit giddy. But I’m still gonna nit pick the shit outta it because, well, duh.
Warning: Here be spoilers. Don’t read any further if you haven’t already seen the episode.
Adapting a book always has its difficulties and many has been the disappointing adaptation for changing core elements of the story so many readers fell in love with in the first place. From the start, the people behind Outlander have gone out of their way to make the show as true to the spirit and often literally the letter of the book, seeding the scripts with lines lifted from the novels to the joy of all long-term fans. There’s no way–there’s no way–any show is going to get everything in there especially when you’re talking about a book of 800+ pages. Often it’s the spirit rather than the letter of the story that is seen on-screen.
The shift in POV
Episode 9, The Reckoning, is chock full of watershed moments for Outlander that will reverberate through the rest of Claire and Jamie’s journey together. It’s also the first episode to most deviate from the canon starting with the voice-over from Jamie, which sets the tone for the episode as being, for a change, from his point-of-view. I’ll admit to a tinge of disappointment when I first heard this news. Outlander has been heralded for many things, but at the forefront is its near unique celebration of the female gaze. Shifting to Jamie’s perspective is a departure away from that.
But this shift allows the show to employ one of the Golden Rules of Storytelling: Show, Don’t Tell. Readers of the novels are accustomed to the story being filtered solely through Claire’s first-person recitation, which means we learn what happens to Jamie and the others when and if they tell her. On film, that’s quite boring. Showing those events in action has much greater resonance with an audience and that requires opening the point-of-view beyond Claire’s sole perspective. It also allows the show to crack open the wider world of Outlander in key scenes that are pivotal to the ongoing story and that is never a bad thing. If there’s a time to do such a shift, kicking off the show’s return after a six-month hiatus is the strategic moment for it.
Let’s break it down.
Horrocks and The Brothers MacKenzie
While pushed aside for a while in the book, given the flurry of events surrounding Claire’s kidnapping and rescue, here Jamie’s meeting with the British deserter Horrocks kicks off the episode. We begin by seeing what Jamie was doing while Claire was rushing back to Craig na Dun. The revelation of Jack Randall as the murderer of the soldier for which Jamie is accused is now front-loaded so that we the audience have that knowledge and can see it brewing within Jamie as he heads into Fort William after Claire.
Likewise, Jamie’s perspective allows the Brothers MacKenzie, Colum and Dougal, to be brought center stage shining a spotlight on the family politics churning within the walls of Castle Leoch. Dougal’s shilling for funds for Prince Charlie does not go over well with the Laird. The gloves are taken off as the brothers go toe-to-toe with Ned Gowan and Jamie as witnesses. Later, Colum reveals his anger toward Jamie is due to his plans for Jamie to succeed him as laird, a plan not shared by Dougal, being scuttled by Jamie’s marriage to Claire. an Englishwoman. None of which we the audience would’ve been privy to had the story continued solely in Claire’s perspective.
Didja notice no one spoke conversational Gaelic in the episode? That’s because Jamie and the others speak both languages fluidly. Whatever scene he is in, the language spoken in it is one he can understand and, by correlation, the audience also understands. While in Claire’s POV, we understand only the languages she speaks, but in Jamie’s it’s all the same.
Laoghaire’s Expanded Role
Laoghaire is arguably more nuisance than obstruction until…well, we won’t spoil that now, will we? Claire is told how Jamie spoke to her in the hall and set things straight, but with Jamie’s perspective now at the forefront, we see Laoghaire seek Jamie out to literally throw herself at him. Denied by Claire, Jamie is (briefly) tempted, which humanizes him as honor tempted and proven has more value than a mere untested if well-intended vow. Laoghaire is more of a threat here, but also is an example of the kind of woman Jamie would have been married to had Claire not made the scene. His exposure to Claire has already made Jamie a different man, one who is not satisfied by a mild-mannered Scottish girl but instead needs the challenges and complexities of life with a woman like Claire, even if that woman isn’t allowing him into her bed at the time.
I was riveted by this entire scene. We’ve been in Claire’s head for so long, it’s shocking to see her finally in a situation from which she can’t talk or reason her way out. It’s a harsh wake up call to the peril to which she’s at risk in this brutal era. And then to see her from Jamie’s momentarily helpless perspective as he’s forced to watch Randall abuse her while he, Jamie, waits for his moment. It’s offensive and frightening and it’s meant to be. The standoff between Jamie and Randall crackles with things left unsaid that, for the moment, only the two of them now. Randall is repulsive and terrifying and he taunts Jamie mercilessly. All of his crimes against Jamie and his family flit across Jamie’s face as he barely holds himself back, particularly when Randall mocks him with “only risk brings the possibility of reward,” an adage that no doubt has deeper meaning for them both that is yet to be revealed.
I will nitpick that I dislike the change made with regard to the pistol. Jamie goes after Claire bare-handed with an empty pistol because he used it to kill a soldier on his way in and didn’t stop to reload once he heard Claire scream, a small but key detail. There was a blood cost for Claire’s disobedience, one Jamie bears, and one that no longer exists in this version of events.
If there was one scene that paid off in ways no long-term fan could truly have expected, it was this first major confrontation between the married couple. It’s blistering, violent, painful, unhinged, and passionate. Jamie and Claire both are out of control, all the fear and pain and anger they’ve set aside till now bursting forth. They were already brewing before Claire got kidnapped thanks to the assault in the glen, which Jamie isn’t afraid to throw right at her. Having escaped Randall now, it’s the first time they’ve been safe enough for those feelings to finally be violently released on each other.
Sam Heughan does such amazing work in this episode, you can almost hear the lines he doesn’t speak from the minute shifts in his expression first in the confrontation with Randall but especially during this verbal brawl when he goes from inchoate rage to emotional devastation in moments. You can see the huge effort he exerts to avoid hurting Claire even when she wails on him. His offended pride, outright rage, and emotional turmoil are tangible and after the scuffle, he trembles with uncharacteristic vulnerability as he confesses “you’re tearing my guts out. Claire.”
Caitriona Balfe is likewise at the top of her game, perhaps more so for not having the voice over with which to explain Claire’s feelings. None is needed either as everything she says and does is so fiercely displayed. Mere hours from being attacked by Randall, Claire yet she still goes toe-to-toe with Jamie, at one point smacking him across the face in unhinged rage and pain regardless of what retaliation that might bring. There are so many things happening between them here, so many layers being revealed and torn apart until they both practically bleed onto the ground. And let’s just pause for a moment in appreciation for Claire’s jutting chin.
The Spanking Scene
We’ve been waiting for it and here it is. In the near ocean of publicity that has flooded the press this week for Outlander (and huzzah to the Starz publicity machine on a job well done there), much was made of “the spanking scene.” It was repeatedly referenced by cast and producers as a pivotal shift for Claire and Jamie’s relationship and rightly so. It’s a major turning point in their story together, the outcome of which sets the parameters of their marriage as they endure cataclysmic events on the near horizon. But here is where I think changing to Jamie’s point-of-view was detrimental to the proceedings.
Of all the things I’d considered about the spanking scene, I never expected it to be…well…played for laughs. The music cue was jaunty. Claire’s disbelief at what was happening was so incredulous as to border on amusement. The scampering around the bed felt like an 18th-century episode of Benny Hill. The struggle was real. The fight, fierce. Claire was pissed and she got more than her own in including a solid kick to Jamie’s nose that made me grin. But given as it was framed from Jamie’s perspective rather than from Claire’s, the whole emotional approach was considerably lighter bolstered by the repeated cuts to the peanut gallery below getting their just deserts from Claire’s humiliation. Claire and Jamie are both right from their respective positions and while Jamie feels justified, he isn’t being malicious (however much he’s enjoying it). Claire is suitably outrage and offended with a healthy dose of “oh hell no!” And if I’d never read the book, I would have found it all to be disturbingly entertaining but executed with an attitude and explanation I could understand if not approve.
But I have read the book and know that, overall, the spanking scene lacked Claire’s deep feelings of insult and betrayal. Instead, her disgruntlement is presented as if she’s merely in a wifely snit. Never mind that she was manhandled and nearly raped at knife point by Randall only hours earlier, now the one man she trusted above all is set on whipping her bare ass with his belt. He practically has her in the same position as Randall put her on his desk. So the POV change has a greater impact than merely being a storyteller’s shift to add something fresh. Because we see it from Jamie’s perspective, Claire’s emotional and physical violations from the “spanking scene” are…diminished. And that has a ripple effect.
In the book, Jamie goes to great pains to make himself vulnerable to her, a key component to their reconciliation. When Claire threatens him with the dagger, Jamie takes it from her and uses it to swear fealty to her, a profound moment as Jamie puts Claire above tradition and clan and laird and all other members of his family no matter what. In the episode, he merely states that things between them maybe should be different from what tradition has raised him to value so when Jamie immediately follows that up with his oath of fealty to Claire, it doesn’t quite feel earned.
Losing Claire’s perspective of these events means losing the internal work Claire does to reconcile herself to what she thought she knew about who Jamie was and who he actually is. Likewise, Jamie hasn’t humbled himself to Claire and she hasn’t expressed just why she’s so hurt and angry at him. We know Jamie’s been thinking and making decisions based on what he’s seeing in the clan and between the Brothers Mackenzie and due to what happened with Laoghaire, but Claire doesn’t and this lack of insight into Claire’s emotional progression is key. We haven’t seen the growth they should have done together to add weight and consequence to that fealty. When Claire takes the dagger to him (while also in rather dominant command of his balls), it’s an oath tied into angry sex rather than one offered from an emotional commitment that defies what tradition demands a husband should do and be with his wife. And that changes the dynamic.
You Are My Home
Whatever emotional fallout may have been lost in those scenes due to the absence of Claire’s perspective is arguably made up in this beautiful scene where Jamie reveals the meaning of Claire’s wedding ring. I’m not as bent out of shape as others about the changes made to the ring’s origins and meaning. Tying it to Lallybroch gives it much more weight than some pretty Latin engraving from Catullus, romantic as that is. Jamie is an outlaw. He hasn’t slept under his own roof in years and with Horrocks’ revelation, he may never again be able to go home. Which leads to this beautiful moment.
Now, now we can see Claire’s emotions all over her face. Claire has always been adrift, first with Uncle Lamb then with the war. She was just starting to settle down to a solid marriage and family with Frank, looking at vases and considering their home, when she was swept back to the turmoil of the 18th century Scotland. Now Jamie not only offers her his home, should they ever be able to return, but grounds their renewed union on the idea that wherever they may be, home is each other.
Angry Make-up Sex
As fierce and vicious as the fight at the beginning, Claire and Jamie’s make up sex was–strewth–so intimate and raw, it was almost embarrassing to watch. And like the earlier fight, lines lifted from the book added to its authenticity and depth. It should’ve been corny to hear those words articulated on the screen but it really, really wasn’t.
Claire bringing a knife to a gun fight was…all right, look, it was hot. Frankly, I’m not opposed to how she wielded it either or the strategic timing of that wielding. It also stands in juxtaposition to the spanking scene too. It’s Claire now who is mixing pain and pleasure to drive home to Jamie the extent of his offense against her and just how serious she is about what will happen should he do it again. She’s drawing a line at what she will and won’t tolerate from him. He concedes–he’s hardly going to object given he basically said the same thing minutes earlier. Their resultant lovemaking is passionate and fierce. They’ve said the words, now they consecrate them physically, literally pounding out their reformed connection on each other. This is their reckoning, a fight for dominance both only win by yielding bodies and souls to the other.”I am your Master and you are mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.”
Not if you’re doing it right, lad, no.
And boy, did they (overall) get The Reckoning right.
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