Tuesday, April 19, 2016

“Unease Amongst the Opulence” Season Two Episode 202, Review!

“Unease Amongst the Opulence”

A recap of episode 202 Dragonfly in Amber, Season Two Outlander!

OutlanderHomepage Originals,
by your Aussie blogging lass, Susie Brown!

From the opening moments of this episode, its title comes into play. We are certainly “Not in Scotland Anymore.” The soaring music of the credits quickly merges into a harpsichord version of the main tune and we are treated to views of opulent dresses and shoes, instead of Scottish wools and tartans. Immediately, we have inklings of the visual feast that lies ahead. It should be wonderful, but something doesn’t seem right.

This feeling only intensifies with the first scene. Jamie and Claire are making love, something that has been as natural to them as breathing. We have been used to witnessing the soul connection between these two and the joy that they have in each other. But again, something is wrong here. Their lovemaking seems forced somehow, a little desperate, even.

And then, in a shocking switch, we see why. Jamie is dreaming and is unable to separate Claire from Black Jack. His torturer is suddenly lying beneath him, moaning in ecstasy. A knife appears in his hand, so Jamie exacts his revenge, stabbing Randall over and over until both men are soaked in blood. At the last moment, when Black Jack appears to lie dead, his eyes snap open once more, fixing Jamie with their stare. With a jolt, Jamie awakens, his own eyes wide, his skin soaked not with blood, but sweat. Claire tries to reassure him, but he wraps himself in his plaid and leaves the room, saying that even though he knows Randall to be dead, he will get no more sleep that night.

(A nod to the acting of Tobias Menzies is needed here. He is barely in this episode, but Black Jack’s brief appearances, albeit in flashback, are so menacing that they immediately destroy any affection felt last week for TV Frank!)

The following morning, an impeccably dressed Claire is preparing to leave the house. We are given an idea of the size of the residence the Frasers now call home, complete with winding staircase, spacious, richly decorated rooms and servants anxious to please. In a brief but amusing scene, Claire promises an increasingly grateful maid that she will attempt to be sloppier in her personal habits, also suggesting that her absence should be long enough for the woman to strip and remake her bed to her satisfaction. Another servant appears to announce the readiness of a carriage to whisk Claire away on her errands. Again, the uneasy vibe raises its head. Claire and Jamie have fallen on their feet, with a grand and expensive lifestyle - but something is not quite right. As Claire looks out of the carriage window while the carriage navigates the cobblestones of the French streets, the landscape looks wrong. We are not in Scotland anymore.

Scotland is also not known for its crocodiles hanging from shop ceilings and this is the sight that greets us when Claire steps into Master Raymond’s apothecary. Beautifully lit to resemble a cave, this long awaited scene does not disappoint book viewers. While the introduction to Master Raymond in the book is longer and comes complete with a visit from a demanding customer, the scene still achieves the purpose of establishing both an alliance and mutual respect between Master Raymond and Claire. As Claire states, she “could do with a friend” and the seeds are sown to suggest that Master Raymond may indeed prove to be one in the future. Dominique Piñon plays the role to perfection, but kudos must also be given to the set and lighting designers here - the rolling staircase, amongst everything else, was superb!

Meanwhile, Jamie and Murtagh are practising their swordsmanship in the park, in view of many shocked French onlookers. A frustrated Jamie is hampered by his injured hand, unable to fight off Murtagh’s approaches like he usually would. It is yet another sign that the King of Men is struggling. But as they sit and talk of Scotland, Jamie is the most relaxed we have seen him to be so far. This is another nod to the importance of the character of Murtagh. It is Murtagh who is able to get a real smile from Jamie, in his naming of Rupert and Angus as “lard bucket and big head” and his stated preference for the animal smells of Scotland over the chamberpot stench of France. Furthermore, in his suggestion of a faster way to stop the rebellion, Murtagh voices how out of place everyone feels. In Scotland, they have been men who have always thrived on action, rather than the political games and endless conversations that they have been forced into in France. Once again we are reminded of how far Murtagh is prepared to go for Jamie - without knowing the true reason for their current modus operandi, he proposes to find the prince and arrange assassins so that they can all ultimately return home. Jamie serves as the voice of logic and reason here, but even while speaking of what they must do, he is more like his old self in Murtagh’s company, finally challenging his godfather to a good old-fashioned wrestle.

But action soon comes in another form, with news from Jared bringing with it an invitation for Jamie to meet with Charles Stuart. After a wry translation of the letter where he informs Claire that the meeting will take place in a brothel, Jamie and Murtagh (because who would leave home without a Murtagh) arrive at the suggested venue. Amidst the suggestiveness, the floor show and the sex toys on offer, the two men sit at a table with the “Bonnie Prince” and attempt to discuss politics.

Andrew Gower’s portrayal of Charles is spectacular, as it clearly illustrates how dire the Jacobite situation actually is. Charles Stuart is little more than a petulant school boy, sulking when he is told something he doesn’t like and who has never been to the Scotland he wishes to unite.

Declaring himself to be the outstretched hand of God and Jamie to have the heart of a loyal patriot, Charles instructs Jamie to go to the court of Louis XV to be an advocate for rebellion and to secure the support of the French minister of finance in order to fund the campaign. His business concluded, he then goes in search of a woman “or maybe two”, as Murtagh murmurs to Jamie in Gaelic that it is not too late to slit the Prince’s throat.

Back at Jared’s house, Claire, Murtagh and Jamie discuss the situation. Murtagh describes Charles as a dangerous blockhead, while Jamie adds that he wouldn’t trust the prince with Lallybroch’s vegetable patch, let alone the fate of Scotland. Rather than court the minister of finance for support, the trio are determined to ensure that Monsieur Duverney recognises a bad investment when he sees it. Finally Claire muses that if a rebellion can be planned in a French brothel, perhaps it can be stopped at a French court.

The next step then, is for the Frasers to be invited to Versailles.

Enter the characters of Louise de Rohan and Mary Hawkins, beautifully portrayed by Claire Sermonne and Rosie Day respectively. Like the Bonnie Prince, Louise also has a childlike quality, squealing like a little girl, pouting and slapping her “beautician”, as her waxing is carried out, then cooing in delight at the smoothness of her skin. But whereas Charles Stuart’s immaturity is dangerous, Louise’s is endearing. Her sense of fun is infectious and undoubtedly a relief to Claire, given the seriousness of her own life at present. Louise wants Claire to experience the best of everything, promising her a new dress and new social events to attend, all the while extolling the virtues of a totally hairless body, particularly in its allure to men.

Most importantly however, Louise also possesses the connections that Claire needs and it is not long before she insists that both Claire and Mary accompany her to Versailles. Claire wastes no time in ensuring that Jamie can join them, a request to which Louise agrees but comments that

Claire would have more fun without him.

Meanwhile, Rosie Day’s Mary is a masterclass in timidity. Mary is horrified by the boldness of Louise, and her stammering speech and defensive body language bring out the maternal instinct in Claire immediately. The announcement of the young girl’s impending marriage to a wart-covered old man further elicits Claire’s sympathy, but there is something about Mary’s name that Claire can’t place. (This represents a departure from the book, where the significance dawns on Claire almost immediately.)

Another departure from the book occurs with the infamous “honeypot” scene. In the book, Claire’s waxing adventure had ended with armpits and legs, with her then regaling Jamie with tales of Louise’s boldness in waxing the more intimate areas of a woman’s anatomy. But in Diana Gabaldon’s original, more time has passed since Black Jack’s assault; Jamie has had more time to face his demons and he and Claire are closer together. In the timeframe of the series, the two are still largely estranged and Claire has resorted to desperate measures to try and rekindle some intimacy between them. Jamie’s reaction to Claire’s bare “honeypot”, while amusingly played by Sam Heughan at the outset with suitable wide eyes and giggles, doesn’t remain as lighthearted as it does on the page.

In the screen version, Jamie and Claire do indeed begin to be affectionate, but all too soon the spectre of Black Jack reappears in Jamie’s mind, bringing the lovemaking to an abrupt halt. Rather than a moment of levity, the scene ends in a moment of despair and distance.

Despite their continued tension in private, the Frasers need to maintain their social appearances. Two weeks later, Louise’s dressmakers have worked their magic and Claire descends the stairs wearing her infamous red dress.

As it does in the book, the dress has the desired reaction. Jamie is incredulous at the amount of cleavage on show and remarks that Claire will need a bigger fan than the one she currently holds. We are also treated to a beautifully comic reaction from Murtagh, who gawks at Claire with his mouth open, until Jamie slaps him. It is another splendid piece of acting from Duncan Lacroix, who makes Murtagh more endearing with each scene.

Following their arrival at what is obviously the utmost of social occasions, Louise sweeps through the room, boasting of her connections to all the noble families and promising to introduce Claire to anyone she wishes. Seizing the opportunity, Claire mentions the finance minister’s name and while Louise warns of Duverney’s “rather gross sensibilities”, she promises to find the man, should he be in attendance.

At this point, a whirlwind in the form of Jamie’s ex-girlfriend, Annalise, flings herself into Jamie’s arms. What follows is an exquisite piece of uncomfortable acting by Sam Heughan. Jamie squirms his way through an embarrassing retelling of a duel he once fought for Annalise’s hand, while Murtagh smirks at his discomfort and Claire makes comments with exquisite icy politeness. Annalise is useful in one respect though. She offers to take Jamie to meet King Louis, by virtue of her friendship with the Minister of the Royal Household. It is an opportunity that cannot be passed up, but Claire has been rattled enough by Annalise’s affectionate touching of Jamie’s hair and clothing to insist that Murtagh go along too.

The Dressing of the King is a male only affair and Jamie and Murtagh soon discover that nothing is private in the royal rooms. King Louis, beautifully portrayed by Lionel Lingelser, is found on a commode in the midst of some digestive distress. His Majesty’s demeanor is reminiscent of the petulance of Charles Stuart and Murtagh and Jamie find themselves disbelieving of the personalities around them, Murtagh wondering aloud whether Jamie will be lucky enough to wipe the royal behind. Instead, Jamie convinces one of Louis’ entourage to introduce him to the king, whereupon he suggests that a regular diet of porridge might cure the King’s current malady.

As he did with Charles Stuart, Jamie’s manner with the king is that of a slightly admonishing parent, answering Louis’ grumpy rejection of “peasant food” with the comment that it might be the perfect time to start to cultivate a taste for it. Once again, we are left wondering at the ineffective leaders so far introduced in France. Louis and Charles are no substitute for Colum and Dougal MacKenzie and the Frasers are definitely not in Scotland anymore.

Meanwhile, Claire is enduring the conversation of the women of the court, who are discussing the amorous nature of one of the male guests, as well the various names for the “male member”. The women reject the English terms that Claire suggests and deem the English language in general to be “unmusical”. Unable to bear their chatter any longer, Claire leaves to get some air, but not before she and Louise witness Mary Hawkins in conversation with a man other than her intended. Louise also spies the French finance minister and true to her word, proceeds to engage Monsieur Duverney in flirtatious conversation. Interpreting Louise’s comments to mean that Claire is anxious for an amorous encounter with him, Duverney sets out to find her.

The encounter does not go as planned on any level. Claire soon finds herself fighting off Duverney’s advances, who in turn finds himself tossed into the pond, courtesy of Jamie, who has reappeared just in time to see the finance minister attempting to see down to Claire’s navel. As Claire and Jamie watch the man they had hoped to win as an ally wade out of the water, complete with sodden wig, Jamie remarks that he had known the red dress would cause trouble.

Fortunately, no harm has been done in this regard. Duverney is full of apologies, which Jamie and Claire are all too pleased to accept. With their mutual declaration of friendship and the promise of future games of chess, the
conversation is halted by the arrival of the King, now off his commode and
striding about regally, accompanied by a women sporting a dress complete with pierced nipples. For the second time in the episode, Murtagh is rendered speechless, but this is shortlived, his expression quickly changing to one of anger.

Jamie follows Murtagh to see the object of his wrath, managing just in time to stop Murtagh from drawing his sword on the Duke of Sandringham.

They are soon joined by Claire, who like Murtagh, is not at all pleased to be reunited with the Duke.

Under Claire’s icy stare and with Murtagh pacing behind them, the Duke assures Jamie that it was Black Jack Randall who had intercepted the petition of complaint that the Duke should have delivered to the authorities. Jamie agrees to let bygones be bygones and the conversation shifts to the reason for the Frasers’ presence in France. After Jamie has agreed to sell the Duke a case of fine port, Claire quickly dispatches Jamie and Murtagh to have a drink with “their new friend” the minister of finance. Left alone, any further pretense at civility is abandoned and the Duke and Claire trade icy threats, with Claire pointing out that as an English aristocrat, the Duke is actually a traitor to the Crown.

It is the Duke who ultimately has the upper hand in the conversation however, with the introduction of his new secretary, one Alexander Randall, the younger brother of Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall. In the books, the appearance of Alexander happens in front of both Claire and Jamie and is a total shock, by virtue of Alexander’s exact resemblance to his older brother. Here however, the shock comes in another way. The Duke mentions with considerable relish the fact that Claire and Randall are very well acquainted, to which Alexander comments that he must tell Jonathan of his own meeting with Claire.

This is Caitriona Balfe’s turn to shine, as she portrays Claire desperately trying to hang onto her composure during the remainder of the exchange. As the sound of ominous discordant strings builds in the background, Claire asks for clarification, saying that she had heard Randall to be dead. Oblivious to the shock he is creating by his answer, Alexander explains that his brother had suffered wounds in the line of duty, but praises Jack’s hearty constitution for his subsequent recovery. At this point, the fireworks begin and the Duke and Alexander take their leave, with the Duke fixing Claire with a malevolent smile as he departs.

Both Simon Callow and Laurence Dobiesz play their parts beautifully in this scene. Simon Callow is by turns deliciously insincere and downright vengeful, to the point where we thoroughly understand Murtagh’s earlier labelling of the Duke as Judas. Meanwhile, Laurence Dobiesz has Tobias Menzies’ vocal patterns and facial expressions down to a tee. He is entirely believable as the younger Randall brother who seems to have no knowledge of his elder sibling’s sadistic personality.

The episode ends with Claire searching the crowd for Jamie, wondering desperately what will happen when Jamie discovers that Black Jack still lives and musing whether or not she should even tell him, for fear that his need for vengeance will eclipse their plans to stop the rebellion. This represents a considerable departure from the book, where the appearance of Randall happens without Claire being warned ahead of time and negating the need for a secret to be kept from Jamie.

Indeed, there are a number of “off book” moments in this episode. In interviews, Diana Gabaldon has expressed the opinion that it would have been virtually impossible to do a literal transcription of the book, and that Ron Moore has done an expert job in creating an adaptation that leads the characters towards the major events which need to happen in order to faithfully retell the story. This episode seems to be the beginning of this process.

Definitions of the word “unease” include the terms ‘not easy in body or mind; uncomfortable; restless; disturbed and perturbed’. All of the main players are showing considerable unease throughout this episode and it is an overall mood that is transferred to the viewers as well. In a nutshell, we are definitely not in Scotland anymore.

NB. This recap was written by Susie Brown, a teacher-librarian and writer who lives in Australia. She felt considerably uneasy throughout this episode!

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