Wednesday, June 8, 2016

“Who’s Ready?”The art of preparing for battle. A recap of episode 9 by your Aussie blogging lass

OutlanderHomepage Originals By Susie Brown 

As with all episodes in the season so far, Bear McCreary’s musical arrangements set the tone for what is to come. For the first time, the Skye Boat Song is continued past the opening credits not with instruments, but with vocals. 

A growing chorus of male voices take over the melody, as the title image shows carts and boots splashing through muddy puddles. The scene broadens out and we see a group of men trudging through the Scottish hillside, accompanied by Claire and Jamie on horseback. The humming vocals continue as Claire’s voiceover explains the situation: on the way to Crieff to join Murtagh and the Lallybroch men, a number of the Lovat contingent have deserted the company, resenting being ordered into action by the old fox. Young Simon has been sent to try and change their minds, offering the inducement of land at the end of the war. 

If the deserters are indeed persuaded to fight and die for this promise of land, the reformed company will all meet at Perth and join the Stuart army. The set look on the faces of the remaining volunteers, together with the slow and slightly sombre pace of the music indicates that this is unlikely to happen. Nothing about this group shows that they are ready for any type of action.

Murtagh is waiting for them and admonishes them for their lateness, saying that he has been waiting for 5 days and is no longer keen to perform the welcome jig he had prepared for their arrival. It is an immediately lightening of the mood, as Jamie and Claire, arms around each other, move to greet him. The easy trust and friendship between the three is obvious as they discuss the situation. The volunteers that remain are not much to look at. Claire remarks that Jamie and Murtagh will have their work cut out for them in training the Lovat rejects, the old fox having kept the best fighting men for himself. The discussion turns to the personalities of the two Frasers of Lovat, both young and old, Jamie explaining how Young Simon is without his father’s blessing, as Lord Lovat wishes to remain neutral. Murtagh comments that this sounds like the old weasel that he knows well. 

The conversation is interrupted by excited shouts of “Milady! Milord!” and Fergus appears, launching himself at Claire in a joyful embrace. It is lovely to see that the relationship between Claire and Fergus, begun by mutual grief and guilt in Paris, has developed into a closeness reminiscent of a mother and son. Fergus is immediately full of complaints at the treatment metered out by Murtagh, the young boy complaining that he was forced to mend Murtagh’s socks and fetch his meals, and Murtagh countering that he was merely educating the lad as to the finer points of travelling in the highlands. Claire ends the argument with an affectionate “All right, children” and strolls off, her arm around Fergus. Night falls and a beautiful lilting Gaelic melody begins to play, both peaceful and atmospheric as it accompanies a montage of images of the camp at rest.

The following morning, Jamie and Claire emerge from their quarters, Claire commenting that she will instruct the ladies amongst the group to prepare as many banncocks as possible. As they get ready to begin their day, they are subject to another reunion, with the appearance of Rupert and Angus, 

the latter commenting that he has washed his mouth out with whisky in anticipation of a greeting from Claire. She responds in kind, by kissing him soundly on the cheek. She is then engulfed in a bear hug from Rupert, and there are genuine laughs and smiles all round. Given that this episode marks the return of the season 1 highland “personalities”, it is entirely possible that this is a reunion of the actors too. Caitriona Balfe looks genuinely surprised to be swept off her feet and the resulting laughter shared with Grant O’Rourke could indeed be a case of two friends casting off their characters for a second. 

Claire asks after Willie and the other men look uncomfortable. The silence goes on long enough for Claire and Jamie to look worried, the latter moving to put his arm around his wife in support. Finally Rupert breaks the news. He tells them, with equal measures of sorrow and disgust, that Willie has gone and gotten himself married to an Irish lass and has sailed for America with her family. Claire smiles, and suggests that marriage might do them all some good. 

The easy camaraderie halts somewhat with the appearance of Dougal, who announces his arrival by striding towards the group asking if Jamie has a welcome for his uncle. 

In a move designed to reassert his power while attempting to unsettle Jamie at the same time, Dougal tells his nephew that he looks well, “despite the misfortune he has suffered”. Jamie refuses to rise to the bait, declaring that he has never felt more fit. Claire greets Dougal cooly and the strain between the two of them is obvious. Jamie asks if Colum has changed his mind about the rebellion, with Dougal replying that Colum’s mind is his own. The true situation becomes clear - the only ones of the Mackenzie clan ready to “declare their hearts and swords to the glorious cause” are Dougal, Angus and Rupert. Claire’s blunt retort, “What, just the three of you?” leads Dougal to once again allude to Wentworth, stating that she hadn’t questioned their strength when Rupert and Angus had helped to rescue Jamie from under the noses of 200 hundred redcoats. This barb is offset by the comedic stylings of Rupert and Angus, who, in true “I once caught a fish - this big” style and much to Murtagh’s quiet amusement, begin to riff about the actual number of redcoats they had defeated on their own.

Dougal expresses his pride in Jamie’s joining of the Jacobites, saying that it is as if he was watching his own son take his first steps as a man. 

Jamie replies saying that he welcomes their hearts and swords and he will be happy to enlist their help in the training of the men. Dougal states that it shouldn’t be too difficult. It is obvious that he expects to immediately take charge and march the men straight to Charles Stuart. But Jamie is not going to allow Dougal to dictate the pace, saying that the men are not ready for any kind of battle yet, and as they are on suitable land for training, they are going to stay for a time. This catches Dougal off guard, asking Jamie if his mind is set on this course of action, before finally backing down and stating that they will make a fine group of Highland soldiers.

The next scene opens with Murtagh doing his best sergeant major impersonation as he begins to drill the highland men, underneath a tattered and fluttering “Je Suis Prest” flag. 

It soon becomes clear however, that the men are far from ready, unable to form lines and asking when they are going to get real weapons. Jamie, Claire and Dougal are all watching this exchange, but the reaction of each of the three is markedly different. Dougal smirks at Murtagh’s attempts at disciplining the unmotivated group of men and walks away, while Jamie looks on, a little disconcerted at the men’s lack of enthusiasm. But it is Claire who has the strongest reaction. 

As she watches Murtagh barking orders in the men’s faces, a brief image of a WWII company flashes into her mind. Disconcerted, she walks away, towards another part of the camp. Fergus is playing a game of shinty with some of the other men and another image of American soldiers playing baseball appears. It unsettles her enough to stalk into the group of laughing highlanders and drag Fergus away, admonishing her young charge for not collecting water as she had asked.

The training continues, with a montage of activity. The singing returns, with male voices raised in a stirring Gaelic anthem, as Jamie, Murtagh and Dougal all take their turn in instructing the men. Weapons are being forged, the women are preparing musket balls and the general atmosphere is one of anticipation. Around the fire that night, Dougal is determined. 

He states that the men are coming along nicely and that they should march to Charles Stuart without delay. Murtagh immediately disagrees, asking which group Dougal has been surveying, as if this particular group were to meet the British they would either be slaughtered or hanged. Dougal is insistent, telling Jamie that more clans are joining the cause every day, with their leaders jockeying for positions of authority. But Jamie is not about to be swayed by his uncle, saying that he has more important concerns than jockeying for a position at the Prince’s table and refusing to take the men anywhere near the main army until they are ready. The tension between the two is building. 

Also building are the WWII flashbacks (or flashforwards) Claire is experiencing. Many things are triggering her memories, this time the sight of the men eating and being unimpressed at the food on offer. 

In an extended scene, we see the origin of Claire’s “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ” expression, uttered by American corporal Caleb Grant. Claire makes friends with Corporal Grant and his friend Private Max Lucas and the trio companionably discuss their hometowns and the peculiarities of the English language. Back in the present, Jamie encounters Claire in their quarters. It is obvious that she is not herself, but Claire refuses to admit that anything is wrong, saying simply that there is so much to do. Shedding his jacket, Jamie’s clan badge drops to the ground and Claire retrieves it, the badge immediately merges with the cloth badge on the American soldiers’ uniforms. “Je Suis Prest,” murmurs Claire, “I am ready”, but the tone of her voice casts doubt on this statement. 

Jamie crosses to her, apologising for bringing her to the camp and promising her that whatever happens, he will make sure she’s safe and they will get through it. Claire insists that she is fine, but his look of concern shows that he is not convinced. 

The following morning, Murtagh is back at the training, but the men are still only making a half-hearted attempt at their role of soldier. Enter James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, complete with his father’s magnificent coat. 

In a stirring speech reminiscent of “Braveheart”, Jamie wins the men over. He acknowledges what they are thinking and feeling, admitting that he was much the same when he first became a young soldier in France. But then he tells them of his experiences with battle and how a well disciplined and trained army can triumph. His voice builds, spurring them on to have the discipline to stand together, to march together and to fight together, so that they will win. But just as he has them in the palm of his hand, the mood is broken by the scream of a battle cry, “Tulach Ard” and barechested and mud encrusted Dougal, Rupert, Angus 
and some other unnamed Mackenzie supporters come charging into the ranks, scattering them amidst Jamie and Murtagh’s frustrated yells of “Halt!” A highland charge, says Dougal, backed up by Rupert and Angus, is the way to defeat the British. Jamie disagrees, saying that surprise would be necessary for such a charge to work and he doubted that they would be that lucky. As Dougal spits in disgust, Jamie dismisses the men and asks for a word with his uncle in private. 

The following conversation shows just how far Jamie has come. Dougal expects to be able to dismiss his nephew’s concerns and take charge, telling the younger man that he has been training men for longer than Jamie has been alive, so he knows more about the process than Jamie does. But Jamie is adamant. “No,” he counters, “you don’t.” Showing that he now deserves to wear the laird’s coat, Jamie declares that the men are his clan, answerable only to him. Furthermore, he gives Dougal an ultimatum. If Dougal wishes to fight with Clan Fraser, then he must obey Jamie’s orders without objection. 
If he can’t, then he should be on his way. This is a side of Jamie that Dougal has not seen before and it both annoys and unnerves him. With a quiet “As you say,” he walks off, leaving Jamie alone. 

This is a brilliant scene, superbly acted by both Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish. Keeping the title of the episode in mind, it is clear that Jamie is now ready to be the true leader of his clan, whereas Dougal is far from ready to relinquish control to his nephew. 

Indeed, Dougal heads straight to Claire and attempts to assert his control via manipulating her instead. 

He tells Claire that Jamie is struggling, but too proud to ask for help. Claire could, he suggests, remind Jamie that Dougal can help him. When Claire asks why she should do that, Dougal plays his trump card. She should do it, he says, because of their agreement in the cave while Jamie was prisoner, adding that he would wager that Claire had never told Jamie of his generous offer to look after her as her husband, nor her own promise to be Dougal’s bride if Jamie died. 

But Claire will not be manipulated. Speaking with an icily quiet voice, Claire informs Dougal that she and Jamie share everything. Dougal expresses surprise, saying that if Jamie took no issue with it, then he is the better man. Claire agrees wholeheartedly, telling Dougal that truer words have never been spoken. 

What follows is another beautifully acted scene by Caitriona Balfe and Graham McTavish. In an unnerving speech, Claire brands Dougal a narcissist, unable to rise above his own ego and self gratification. His wish to restore King James to the throne, is not for Scotland, she says, but his own self interest. Claire tells him to stop trying convincing people of his patriotism and suggests in no uncertain terms what he should do instead. In response, Dougal is equally quiet and fervent. 
He does love his own reflection, he admits, but he loves Scotland more. He would give everything he has, or anything he ever will have, including his life, to see a Stuart back on the throne.

Finally, the training is bearing fruit. Jamie, Murtagh and Dougal are encouraged by the progress of the men, who at last are beginning to march as a disciplined unit. 

Now the focus shifts to the firing of weapons. The British can get off 3 rounds a minute, Jamie tells Murtagh, so the men must be trained to be faster. Taking the opportunity to chat to his godfather in private, Jamie shares his concern about Claire, whose mood is changing from day to day. Murtagh agrees that she hasn’t been herself and suggests that it may take more than simple questioning to prise the truth from her.

And indeed, it is more than a question that initiates Claire’s next reaction. 
Rupert and Angus are examining the condition of Angus’ feet, which are covered with, as Angus says, “everyday filth.” On sighting them, Claire is disgusted,telling Angus that he could develop trench foot, which could in turn lead to gangrene and amputation. Angus fails to understand the seriousness of the situation and Claire becomes increasingly agitated. The face of Angus morphs into one of an American soldier and she is once again back in the second world war, educating largely disinterested soldiers about the importance of looking after their feet. 

Brought back to the present by Angus’ maniacal laughter, Claire loses her temper completely, curses at Angus and stalks out of the tent.

That night, as Rupert regales everyone with an off colour story, Dougal stalks in, proudly leading some new recruits. Jamie is immediately suspicious, wanting to know why a group of strangers have succeeded in getting past the guards and when Dougal tells him that he merely waved and was allowed to pass, Jamie tells Murtagh to send the sentries to him. Next Jamie questions whether the volunteers are indeed there of their own free will, explaining to the men precisely what will be expected of them. He tells them that if they do not wish to stay and fight, they should leave immediately and no one will think any less of them. To a man, the group departs. 

Left alone, Dougal questions Jamie’s actions. They must conscript, he says. But Jamie will not take men from other clans, not have men fight for something that they don’t believe in. Dougal says that they can make the men believe, but Jamie disagrees. A man who fights for his own beliefs, he says, is worth ten of any man forced to fight for someone else’s. But Dougal is impatient, saying that all he hears is words and no action. 
When Jamie says the men need more training, Dougal suggests that Jamie is doing a poor job, given that he just brought 10 armed men into the camp. Jamie agrees, adding that it will not happen again, as he is ordering Dougal and his men to be in charge of sentry duty. Biting back a further retort, Dougal claps Jamie on the shoulder, saying “Done.” 

The following morning, Jamie, with laird’s coat back on, announces to the assembled crowd that the previous sentries, Ross and Kincaid, will be punished for letting strangers into the camp. Murtagh proceeds to deliver 6 lashes of the strap to each man. 

As everyone begins to flinch at the sound, Claire leaves, looking distressed. Jamie notices and follows at a distance. More men are practising the firing of the muskets and Claire jerks at the sound of each shot. Jamie notices this too and continues to follow, whilst still calling out instructions to the men behind him. 

By now Claire is very distressed, her breathing shallow. She holds onto a cart for support and we are shown the final war scene. 

Giving a lift to Corporal Grant and Private Lucas, Claire’s tank is fired upon and an explosion throws them all from the vehicle. Claire wakes in the darkness, to the sound of men calling out for help. Corporal Grant is with her, who tells her that Private Lucas is on the other side of the road somewhere. Claire says that they can’t leave him behind and Corporal Grant agrees, but that the enemy will see them as soon as they try to cross the road. Claire says that she will go - as a woman, she won’t be harmed. But Corporal Grant refuses. 
Waiting until the enemy tank begins to move, he tells her to “stay put” (an interesting nod to Jamie’s similar request in season 1) saying that he will return for her. She nods her agreement and he moves out. Immediately, there is gunfire. Peering over the embankment, Claire sees him fall, followed by another explosion that sends her back to her hiding spot, curled up in the foetal position, entreating the wounded soldiers screaming for help to shut up. She is found at daybreak by some other Americans, who can’t believe she is out there on her own. Severely traumatised, Claire can do nothing but lie there and shake, to the increasingly concerned questioning of the soldier. 
The “Maam?” changes to “Mo Nighean Donn?” as Claire is discovered in a similarly foetal position by a very concerned Jamie. 

Cradling her gently, as if she is a wounded bird, Jamie waits for her shaking and distressed breathing to slow. When she is calmer, Claire shares her feelings of guilt with Jamie. She knows that she would have been killed had she tried to save the soldiers, and it was that knowledge, she says, that allowed her to close the door on the incident until now. It is the training of the men, she says, watching them be turned into soldiers, that has brought back the memory of Max Lucas crying for his mother as he lay dying. 

For two years she has been trying to stop the war from happening, but now that it is here, she’s not sure if she is ready to go to war again. Immediately, Jamie seeks to reassure her. She won’t have to go to war, he says. She has fought her war and they will fight this one without her. He plans to have her sent back to Lallybroch, but Claire refuses. She likens going back to lying helpless in the ditch all over again, powerless to move like a dragonfly in amber except that this time the men who might be dying are people that she knows and loves. She won’t lie in that ditch again, she says. She can’t be helpless and alone ever again. 

As always, Jamie understands her and accepts this without question, promising that whatever happens, she will never be alone again. Tearfully, Claire says that she will hold him to that and Jamie, kissing her on the forehead, tells her that she has his word.

The post traumatic scenes experienced by Claire are taken from bits and pieces of exposition in Diana Gabaldon’s books and sewn together into one coherent storyline for this episode. It is a masterstroke by writer Matt Roberts, as it provides an extra depth to Claire’s character. We see both her vulnerability as she is forced to relive past events that she has never dealt with, as well as understand her motivation to stay where she is, by Jamie’s side, even if she still doesn’t feel ready for war. It also adds a deeper layer to the relationship of Jamie and Claire. As Claire had remarked to Dougal earlier in the episode, the two really do share everything and they are a formidable couple because of it. (It is scarcely worth mentioning how well this revelation scene is acted by Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan - as actors, they are so in sync with each other, that it is impossible to imagine them being anything but brilliant!)

Whilst attending to some private ablutions, Jamie is suddenly set upon by a lone attacker. Jamie has no difficulty in overpowering his assailant and it soon becomes obvious that he is a child. 

The indignant sixteen year old, whilst denying that he is a spy, says that he saw the light of the campfire, came to investigate and recognised Jamie, who he describes as “Red Jamie, an unprincipled and traitorous rebel”. Jamie asks who the boy marches with, but despite a broken arm, the young man refuses to divulge any information and states instead that he’s prepared to die. Jamie of course, has no intention of killing him, but begins to try and scare the information out of him, by heating his knife over the fire and holding it near the boy’s face. 

At this point Claire appears and begins a performance where she names Jamie a “Scottish barbarian” and offers to surrender herself, should Jamie let the boy go free. Jamie catches on to Claire’s plan quickly and the two of them put on an amusing display, whereby Jamie pretends to ravish his wife and Claire pretends to resist. 
This is too much for the young boy, who agrees to give information if Jamie will let the English woman go. He introduces himself as William Grey, the second son of Viscount Melton. He is travelling with 200 infantry, travelling to join General Cope’s British army and attempts to scare the Highlanders off by warning them of the heavy armourment the British are carrying. Grey also divulges the British soldiers’ position, saying that they are camped 3 miles to the west.  The information received, Jamie orders that Gray be taken in the direction of the camp, to be tied to a tree about a mile away if he is telling the truth and to have his throat slit if he isn’t. 

As he is dragged away, Grey says that he owes Jamie the debt of his life, but once the debt is discharged in the future, he will kill Jamie. With a bow, Jamie remarks that in that case, he hopes they never meet. 

After Grey has been dragged off, it is revealed that it is Dougal’s men who had let the young boy through the lines. 
Jamie says that this level of carelessness cannot continue and that punishment must be carried out. Dougal begins to prepare to receive this, but Jamie surprises them all by stripping off his own shirt and instructing 

Murtagh to inflict 18 lashes of the belt upon his back - 6 for the uncovered fires and a dozen for his own carelessness. It is a calculated move that earns him even more respect from the men. 

The punishment carried out, Jamie and the others begin to prepare to slip into the English camp. 

Dougal brands this a fine idea, expecting to join the raid. But at this point he learns his own punishment - he and his men are to remain behind on sentry duty. Dougal is incredulous, but Jamie is every inch the commander now and issues this as a direct order. It is yet another example of how ready Jamie now is to lead his clan into battle.

The raid goes without a hitch, the Highlanders slipping in and out without detection and helping themselves to the wheels and cotter pins from the canon carriages. Returning to the camp, Jamie, his face still blackened, shows the trophies of war to Claire. 

He tells her that this success is due to her selflessness - by allowing herself to be “mock molested” in front of William Gray, she forced his confession of where the British soldiers were. It is an action, he says, that will save lives. But just when it looks as if he is going to express his gratitude in another way, 

Jamie tells Claire to get dressed. They need to get moving, he says, before the British awake. 

The final scene of the episode is a majestic sight. With the stirring melody of a Jacobite anthem playing behind them, Jamie leads his men towards the Stuart camp. Banners waving, Jamie raises his sword and the men follow. Jamie, Claire, Dougal and his men, Murtagh and Fergus ride, with the rest of the party marching. 

But this time they walk tall, striding with purpose and carrying weapons. No long a band of undisciplined cotters and farmers, they are now Jamie Fraser’s men. The Stuart camp appears below them and Jamie calls Dougal forward. He asks his uncle to do the honour, ride ahead and announce their presence to the Bonnie Prince. This is a conciliatory gesture, not lost upon Dougal, who gives his nephew a brief nod and smile of gratitude, before cantering down the hillside. 

Jamie turns to Claire, remarking that there is no turning back now. Claire agrees, quoting Jamie’s clan motto: Je Suis Prest. And this time, they are.

This episode contained a number of written for television scenes, but each of them served to complement Diana Gabaldon’s original words. The episode provides the chance to examine the concept of readiness for battle and the impact that this process has on all the characters. 

Jamie has come into his own now, every inch the leader of men that book readers have long known him to be. Claire has faced her fears from her previous war experiences and has emerged with the determination to never lie helpless again. She needs to be with those she loves and will both draw strength from and give strength to them. Dougal has been made to take on the role of follower, rather than leader. Of all the characters, it is Dougal who is probably still not ready to be subservient, but seeds have been sown in this episode that will come to fruition later in the season. The stage is set. Let the battles commence. Je Suis Prest. 

This recap was written by Susie Brown, a teacher librarian and children’s writer who lives in Australia. Her favourite part of this episode was watching Jamie’s inspiring speech to his men and noticing just how well that Laird’s coat suits him now. 

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