Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What price a secret? Deception on a grand scale. Season 2 episode 3 recapped by your Aussie blogging lass!

OutlanderHomepage Originals 
By Susie Brown, Aussie Writer 

Like its predecessor, this episode opens with the transitioning  of the theme song from the credits into a French arrangement of the Syke Boat melody. This week the transition is achieved through the rich sound of strings, complete with confident, elaborate embellishments to the usual tune.

This also gives us an insight into what is to come. This music sounds more assured, but still ultimately false. In short, it’s a deception. 

Claire wakes alone in bed, to the sound of horses in the courtyard, followed by Jamie’s raised voice. She comes to the top of the stairs in time to see him striding towards her, barking orders to the servants as he does so. We can very quickly see that Jamie’s mood is quite different from last week, at least when it comes to his commitment to the plan that they have undertaken. This Jamie has a lot to do - it is the epitome of the “useful occupation” that the episode’s title suggests. He holds his arms out to servants as drinks are put into his hand and his old vest is taken off his back and replaced with a new one. He is confident, decisive Jamie, very much the “laird”, yet we are left with the feeling that this is another deception. 
His actions remain brisk and not overly affectionate, even when Claire intercepts the servant dressing him to button his vest herself. He places a brief hand over Claire’s belly, instructing her and “the bairn” to rest before she meets her ladies for tea. Claire replies with sarcasm that she wouldn’t want to be late for tea. Jamie further placates her by commenting that perhaps today could be the day that she learns a vital piece of information for their cause. Claire asks where she would possibly get this information. Her intimation is all to clear to the viewer: Jamie’s current occupation may be useful; hers is not. But Jamie is distracted and does not seem to notice her dissatisfaction. Their connection is still fractured and their relationship still very much off-kilter. 

The exchange that follows is confusing, as it can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. In searching through the coin purse attached to his belt (French fashion’s equivalent of a sporran) Jamie discovers that something is missing. As he hurries back down the stairs and off to his next appointment, Jamie instructs Claire to begin the search for a small wooden snake carved with the word “Sawny”. He indicates the size of the snake with his fingers, stating that he has had the snake since childhood.
There is certainly an argument to be made that this is a continuity error from season 1. Claire has definitely seen the snake before, as Jamie’s sister Jenny had pressed it into her hands during labour, explaining how their elder brother had carved it for him, complete with the pet name “Sawny”, a Gaelic play on words for one of Jamie’s middle names. 

Later in the same episode, Claire had passed it on to Jamie and he remarked that he hadn’t seen it since he was about 5. The same snake ultimately ended up in the box of Jamie’s possessions that was handed to Claire at Wentworth prison. Given these significant appearances, it is highly unlikely that she would forget about the snake, to the point that it would need to be described to her. Is this an error on the part of the writer and director?

An alternative argument though, is that the exchange serves to heighten the distance that now exists between the couple. Has Jamie actually forgotten their tender exchange at Lallybroch? Is his need to block anything associated with Wentworth so strong that he would forget the inclusion of the snake amongst his possessions? Similarly, is Claire so desperate to put the past behind them that she chooses not to correct him and remind him that she doesn’t need a description in order to search for the carving? This is an equally valid theory. Regardless of which one is true, Jamie is soon halfway down the stairs, shrugging into the coat that his servant is holding out for him, asking Claire to give his regards to “her ladies.” And then he is gone, missing Claire’s exasperated response: they are not “her” ladies. 

Another point open to interpretation concerns Jamie and Claire’s penchant for discussing their plans in front of the servants. While we were told in the previous episode that Jared had chosen his servants with care, ensuring their discretion, the fact remains that anti-Jacobite sentiments are being discussed in a Jacobite household. The main servants are certainly capable of understanding English and so could, given the right circumstances, inform on the couple. Given the care shown towards maintaining the deception at all other times, this seems like an odd exception to the rule. It could though, be argued that this is merely indicative of how well the Frasers have taken to their deceptive new life. They are now acting as the lord and lady of the house in every respect, including the way they treat the servants as being virtually invisible. 

Regardless of these theories, the next scene opens with Claire and her aforementioned “ladies”, in the form of Louise deRohan and Mary Hawkins. The three women are playing cards and it becomes all too clear that Claire is right - she is unlikely to learn any meaningful secrets from this social circle.

The inexperienced Mary is expressing her horror about what French men do to their wives in bed, much to the obvious amusement of Louise. As Claire is about to embark on a kindly “birds and the bees” talk, Mary’s identity suddenly dawns on her.

In a brief flashback scene, we see TV Frank telling Claire that her beloved husband “got his start” with the marriage of Jonathan Randall and Mary Hawkins. This is a clever turn of phrase, as it specifically highlights Claire’s fears. If Black Jack is killed before 1746, then Frank will never “get his start” and will therefore, never exist. This adds another dimension to her dilemma as to whether to tell Jamie that Black Jack survived the stampede at Wentworth.

A series of departures from the book occur at this point. Claire arrives back at the house, and her servant provides her with a list of things that have happened since her departure, including the progress of the search for the “little snake wooden creature.” On being handed a piece of mending intended for her maid Suzette, Claire, now every inch the lady of the house, stalks into Suzette’s quarters, only to find Suzette “entertaining” Murtagh in her bed.

The resulting conversation with an indignant Murtagh begins badly, leading Claire to immediately apologise for her unforgivably rude behaviour, stating that she is not herself. She then shares the reason why: confiding in Murtagh the news that Black Jack is alive. Murtagh immediately counsels her against telling Jamie, insisting that rather than living a lie as she fears, she is keeping a secret in order to stop Jamie from returning to Scotland to exact his revenge, an act that would almost certainly result in him being hanged.
 It is a secret, he says, that he will keep too, and the two share a gentle moment - Murtagh is comforting, Claire grateful. Perhaps uncomfortable by this emotional honesty, Murtagh quickly excuses himself to go and finish his business with Suzette, momentarily puzzled by Claire’s suggestion of birth control. Suddenly Claire finds herself with a new mission: to go and purchase contraception for her maid! 

Meantime, Jamie is playing chess with Monsieur Duverney - and winning. Their conversation revolves around politics, which Jamie suggests is just chess on a grand scale. 
Duverney jokes that if Jamie wants his help, perhaps he should lose a game or two, this easy conversation demonstrating that the two men have formed a friendship. Duverney is surprised to hear that Jamie wishes the rebellion to be actively discouraged, but is convinced by the reason: that Scotland and her people cannot stand another failed rebellion at this point and must wait until a victory can be assured. Jamie asks Duverney to inform Charles that King Louis has no intention of funding a rebellion and quickly suggests that such a meeting could take place at the brothel of Maison Elise. 
Seeing his friend’s eagerness to visit the establishment, he sweetens the deal by offering Duverney a ready made excuse for his wife: that he has merely being out with Jamie playing chess.

Claire arrives back at Master Raymond’s, only to be reacquainted with the Comte St Germain, who is just leaving the apothecary and fixes her with a piercing stare as he passes. Claire is initially suspicious of the Comte’s presence there, but Raymond comments that sometimes it is necessary to deal with people he neither likes nor trusts. This is a situation that Claire knows well and she soon follows him inside.

The following scene achieves a number of important plot points, although it does so in a different way to the book. Claire is introduced to the many potions available from the apothecary, including the more dangerous ones. By describing the way in which he deals with customers who wish to poison their enemies - giving them an unpleasant but non-lethal alternative - Master Raymond earns Claire’s admiration as both a canny businessman and a humanitarian.
When talk turns to Claire’s dissatisfaction at her current conventional lot in life,

Master Raymond suggests that she put her medical skills to use at L’Hopital des Anges, the charity hospital run by nuns that relies on medical volunteers of varying skills and motivations. Claire leaves Master Raymond’s armed not only with contraception for Suzette, but also with a new purpose.

Claire and Murtagh soon arrive at the hospital and Claire goes inside, ignoring Murtagh’s warning that Jamie will “not like it.” In the book, Jamie has given his blessing, albeit reluctantly, but in this version, it represents another secret that Claire is keeping, at least initially. In the book, Mother Hildegarde does not speak English and Claire has arrived, with Mary Hawkins in tow, as one of a number of other volunteers, all of whom quickly leave as the reality of the situation dawns on them. Here, Claire is alone, but the rest of the scene plays out in similar fashion to the book, with Claire impressing Mother Hildegarde not only with her ability to diagnose a woman with diabetes - known as sugar sickness in the 1700s - but also to complete other menial tasks without complaint. At last, Claire has found  her “useful occupation” and it transform her. She stands taller, walks with purpose and her face seems more peaceful and less agitated.

Over at Maison Elise, Jamie and Duverney are talking with Charles Stuart (although Duverney is frequently distracted by the ladies of the establishment) and Duverney is, as he had promised Jamie he would, speaking of the current difficult financial situation. Here though, we see a different side of the Bonnie Prince. Gone is the petulant school boy, replaced by a man who is determined and excited by the support he has managed to gain from members of the British aritsocracy, almost enough, he says, to finance the entire campaign. 

Far from begging King Louis to fund a struggling rebellion, Charles makes an enticing offer: if Louis will support the Jacobite cause and provide the remaining funds, Charles will offer France an alliance with Britain after their victory.  It is a master stroke and one that will, as Duverney says, “change the world.” He agrees to speak to the King on Charles’ behalf, as long as he can have evidence of the supporters Charles has mentioned. Jamie masks his obvious concern at these developments with skill - he is becoming more practised at deception as time goes on. 

Jamie arrives home to an empty house, his calls for Claire going unanswered. As time passes, we see his frustration growing. When Claire arrives home, bursting with excitement and full of tales regarding the hospital, Jamie admonishes her. He accuses her of endangering the baby, ignoring her plea that she needs to feel useful and remarking that her duties at the hospital will hardly help them stop the rebellion. Claire asks what he wants her to do, given that she can’t very well visit Maison Elise with him. Jamie responds angrily that he wants to be able to come home when he has a problem and turn to her, despite the fact that he delivers this entire speech and the next turned deliberately away from her. Jamie outlines Charles’ plans, remarking that the man is “more canny than he seems.” 

Claire attempts to placate him, massaging his shoulders and assuring him that she will help in any way she can, even though she knows that all of the tasks currently fall to him. But rather than relaxing into her touch, Jamie deliberately removes her hand from his shoulders, with a biting comment that that was why he had come home, only to find an empty house while she indulged herself with potions and poultices. Still, he hasn’t looked at her. Not to be deterred, Claire moves in front of him to defend herself, saying that she has finally found some meaning to her day. But Jamie is furious, asking when he can find meaning in his day, instead of spending his time flattering a man in order to gain his secrets. He stands abruptly and stalks from the room. Never has the distance between the two of them been more stark and it is heartbreaking to watch. Murtagh and Suzette witness the end of this exchange, the latter remarking that it is impossible for there to be love in a marriage when love leaves the bed. This comment, as well as informing Murtagh of the seriousness of the situation, leaves us in no doubt that the relationship is struggling on all levels. Kudos to all the actors for their work in this scene. Even the book readers amongst the fandom must be starting to despair - when will Jamie and Claire ever be happy again?

Jamie has returned to Maison Elise, where he is a picture of misery, drinking alone at a table and fending off advances from the ladies. A young boy catches his eye and we see the child’s pickpocketing expertise through Jamie’s eyes. Interested, he follows the boy outside, leading to a subsequent chase through the streets.
Once caught, the boy threatens to go to the police and tell Jamie’s wife that he ruts with whores. Jamie counters by informing the boy that while Claire would not believe such a story, Madam Elise would be very interested in the exploits of one of her servants. This changes the boy’s demeanour instantly, begging with Jamie not to turn him in. Jamie explains that he is not interested in doing that, or in the young boy’s body, but that he wishes to offer him a job. Confused, the boy asks what he will be doing and Jamie replies that it will be similar to what he is doing now - stealing, but for him. Swiftly, he picks the boy up and shakes him, upending the spoils from his night’s work onto the cobblestones. Amongst the contents is a small wooden snake - the same one that Jamie has been missing. Undeterred by this discovery, the boy asks what he will be paid. 

Alone in bed once again, Claire is disturbed by the sound of smashing china. She wanders through the halls, coming upon the young boy sitting at the dining table eating a chicken leg. After bowing low and complimenting Claire on her physique, the boy is finally introduced by Jamie as Fergus and taken off to the servants’ quarters by an equally unimpressed Murtagh.

On questioning Jamie further, Claire is informed of the next part of the plan: Fergus will use his pickpocketing skills to acquire letters which Jamie will copy and then return, in the hope of gaining vital information. Claire compliments Jamie on the plan and it is the first time that he actually looks at her and half smiles. It is a glimmer towards reconciliation, but is quickly extinguished when he bids her good night and leaves the room.

Over the following days, the plan is put into place and life takes on a new normality. Fergus steals the letters to be copied; Jamie continues to keep the company of Prince Charles and Claire spends her days at the hospital, where she continues to impress Mother Hildegarde and her companion, 
the dog, Bouton, who is himself blessed with the medical abilities to locate infections by smell. 

When Jamie comes across a letter with a code hidden in a piece of music, it is to Mother Hildegarde that he reluctantly turns, at Murtagh’s suggestion. He arrives at the hospital just as Claire has completed, with Bouton’s help, a minor operation and asks Mother Hildegarde’s help in decoding the music. She in initially reluctant, in case she is getting involved in something dangerous or illegal, and for the first time, we see Jamie and Claire begin to work together. Claire assures Mother Hildegarde that her husband would not ask for help unless it was for a good reason. Satisfied with this assurance, Mother Hildegarde begins to play the piece. 
What follows is a scene interspersed with humour to a modern audience, as the older woman comments on the piece’s similarity to one called “Goldberg Variations” written by her friend, Herr Bach, whose music she fears will not stand the test of time... 

Once given the clue of continuous changing keys, Jamie and Claire manage to solve the puzzle and Jamie translates the message, while a puzzled Murtagh looks on. The message proves the existence of English supporters and offers a sum of £40000 to the Jacobite cause. This also reveals Charles’ earlier claims to have almost enough to fund the rebellion to be an exaggeration, but one that still shows that it is indeed a possibility if the support is given. 

The letter concludes with the single letter “S”, a supposed signature, which Jamie and Claire decode almost simultaneously as Sandringham, reaching the conclusion that the Duke is hedging his bets both for and against a rebellion. Jamie immediately plans to talk to the Duke, to try and convince him that he is making a bad investment. 

In the final moments of the episode, the final deception is revealed. Buoyed by their first real progress, Jamie goes in search of drinks for the three of them to celebrate. Murtagh and Claire discuss in hurried whispers the new problem: if Jamie does indeed go to the Duke and happens upon the Duke’s secretary, in the form of Alexander Randall, then he will undoubtedly be told that Black Jack lives. They resolve that Claire must tell Jamie the truth immediately.

But when Jamie returns, alcohol in hand, he makes two toasts: to Mother Hildegarde and to Claire, for always being there when he needs her. 
Claire opens her mouth to tell him the news, but her courage fails her, telling Jamie instead that she loves seeing him so happy. He responds by kissing and embracing her.

The final shot of the episode is Claire’s glance at Murtagh, before briefly closing her eyes in despair. At last, Jamie is happier and in her arms, thanking her for being there for him - and every fan, both book reader and tv only viewer, both understands and despairs with her. It is a brilliant ending, hinting at many more twists and turns ahead. 

Many reviews have commented on the cohesiveness of this episode and the high enjoyment and engagement factors that it brings. As mentioned earlier, there are also many deviations from the book in this hour of the series, but all of them are superbly crafted so that even though the method of the execution may be different, the things that need to happen to further the plot have either occurred or have been set up. 
Murtagh has been clearly established as a confidante to Claire as well as a protector of Jamie, and this is a wonderful expansion of his character. “The old Jamie” has begun to return at last - but will he forgive Claire and Murtagh’s ultimate deception? No matter how the producers choose to play this out, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be a compelling journey, worthy of Diana Gabaldon’s original. 

NB. This recap was written by Susie Brown, a teacher-librarian and writer who lives in Australia. She couldn’t have told Jamie either! 

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