Thursday, June 23, 2016

“Vengeance is Mine, sayeth the Murtagh...” A recap of season 2 episode 11 by your Aussie blogging lass

OutlanderHomepage Originals, By Susie Brown

For a split second, the title sequence for episode 11 is jarring and uncomfortable. Despite the characters no longer being in Paris, the Skye Boat melody is once again being played by the baroque instruments we were used to hearing in France. 

Fine fashion is back too, with an impeccably dressed servant tidying up an ornate wig. It is only when the wig is knocked to the floor, that book readers can afford a small “in the know” smile. It is a clever nod to what is to come in the episode, but all viewers are right to feel uneasy, as many unpleasant moments lie ahead for the Frasers.

More time has passed since Prestonpans, months, in fact. But the mood established by Claire’s voiceover is a sombre one. Despite the successes they have had, in the form of the acquisition of artillery, cities and garrisons, there is no sign of the sympathetic uprising from either the Scottish Lowlands or Northern England, where the army is now camped. As they were before Prestonpans, everyone is waiting. And, as they were before Prestonpans, the commanders cannot agree on a battle plan. 

There is one marked difference, however, in the meeting of commanders. This time, General George Murray and Quartermaster John O’Sullivan are in complete agreement. 

They have no desire to march on London, despite Charles Stuart’s assertion that the city is within their grasp. The two men are insistent upon turning back, a plan that frustrates Charles to the extreme, remarking to them both that it is a damned inconvenient time to be conciliatory. Jamie alone is in support of the Prince’s plan. He does his best to convince the others, reminding them of their duty to the Prince and the fact that their orders were to march on London and take the city, something which they are a mere five days away from doing. But Murray and O’Sullivan continue to argue, citing the size of the 3 British armies that lie between them, coupled with the fact that they don’t know where these armies are. Jamie remarks that it is unlikely they will meet all three at once and that with luck, they can slip past them all. The leader of Clan MacDonald joins in at this point, stating that they are also outnumbered, with the English armies possessing far more men than they do. Jamie tries once more: if they turn back now, then their support will be eroded and doubt and fear will take precedence. 

Meantime, Claire, watched by Rupert, is performing some much needed dentistry on some of the supporters,. 

It is clear that despite the time that has passed, Rupert is a shadow of his former self. Swigging from a flask and with frequent references to his friend Angus, Rupert attempts to cheer up a young boy waiting for his own dental check-up, but succeeds only in frightening the lad. 

Inside, an increasingly emotional Prince is making a last ditch attempt at convincing the men. He reminds them of the hand of God and how it has always been with them. It is a divine gift to be refused at their peril. Finally, he lays his cards on the table, asking if there is no one still willing to stand by their Prince, their rightful King and their God. Jamie makes a great show of his support, unbuckling his sword, kneeling before Charles and kissing his hand, before moving to stand behind him - but he is the only one. 

Charles is incensed. His voice rising, he screams at the intolerable situation he now finds himself in. He would rather have his body buried in an unmarked grave, he says, than turn back when they have come this far. Claiming to have been betrayed by friends and allies alike, he drops his voice, telling the men to do what they must, but may God damn them to hell for it.

The meeting over, Charles strides from the building, interrupting Claire’s admonishment of Rupert for scaring the young boy to the point where he is refusing to let her look at his teeth. O’Sullivan is trying to placate the Prince, but his royal highness stalks off without speaking. 

Jamie walks over to Claire and embraces her, saying simply, “Sorry, Sassenach.” Giving the prince credit for a fighting heart, Jamie admits that they will not be marching on London. In the conversation which follows, we understand why this was so important: it would have represented a deviation from the history books of the 20th century and therefore a chance to indeed change the outcome of what happened on Culloden Moor. (Indeed, when talking about this episode, Diana Gabaldon remarked that historical reports had indicated that a fearful English army would have run if that event had indeed occurred.) Ross interrupts them, asking if it’s true that they are turning back. In an attempt to keep morale high, Jamie tells them that they are going home for the Winter and promises to see them safe from the British, so that they can return to Lallybroch. 

Turning to Claire, he adds that he will see her safe, no matter what happens. To the viewer, this is an ominous statement, despite its protectiveness, as it brings the events of episode 1 back into our minds. 

The scene that follows, however, calms us all once again. That night, Jamie is standing by the bed, watching Claire sleep. 

In hushed tones, he speaks in Gaelic, asking God to shield his beloved and the child she may one day bear, preserving her from violence and harm, “in this place and every place, on this night and every night.” 

Claire stirs and asks if he is all right. Jamie replies that he just wanted to watch her sleep in peace and climbs into bed beside her. Claire asks what he had been saying, but Jamie says only that it would sound “daft and foolish” when she was awake. When she sleeps, he says, he can say things that her dreams will know the truth of. Claire smiles, takes his hand and draws him closer, as they settle down to sleep. 

It is a beautifully tender scene, every bit as emotional as any lovemaking scene to date and all the more poignant because we know that Culloden is approaching. How many more quiet and loving times will the two be able to share?

The following morning, the unrest begins. Dougal stalks into Jamie and Claire’s quarters with a letter. They are to proceed to Inverness, it says, in advance of the army and obtain winter quarters and provisions. 

Dougal states that this is, in effect, exile. Concerned with Jamie’s influence over the prince, O’Sullivan and Murray have conspired to spirit Charles away before Jamie could speak to him, taking Jamie’s horse into the bargain. Faced with no other choice, and in a sarcastic aside that only Claire (and book viewers) will understand, Jamie asks his wife how long it’s been since she’s visited Inverness.

The army begin their slow procession, their flag fluttering under a rare sunny sky. Camped in new quarters by the water (and in now damper conditions), Claire is removing a fish hook from the hand of a squirming Ross. Rupert mocks the Lallybroch man’s discomfort, calling him a “bairn” and adding that Angus would have ripped out the hook with his teeth. Fergus comments that Angus didn’t have front teeth, so Rupert amends his answer, saying that Angus would have used his gums. 
But the banter stops abruptly when a single shot hits the man on guard duty. The group has been discovered by the British.  Amidst gunfire, Jamie and Dougal give orders, telling everyone to scatter to the woods and meet at the crossroads. Claire tries to go back for her medical kit, but it too is hit by a bullet. Quickly, Jamie, Claire, Dougal, Murtagh, Rupert and Fergus mount their horses and ride. The redcoats pursue them and Rupert is shot in the eye. Dougal manages to leap onto Rupert’s horse, holding the unconscious man upright until they lose the redcoats and it is finally safe to stop. 

Murtagh questions Jamie as to the wisdom of this, but Jamie says that Claire has assured him that Rupert will die if they don’t. By now the group is in sight of an old church and Jamie tells the others to wait for his signal, leaping the stone wall and running for the door. A brief skirmish with the occupant ensues - but it is Ross, who immediately apologises to Jamie for the mix-up. They had waited at the crossroads, Ross says, before also seeking shelter when Jamie and the others hadn’t arrived, hiding their horses in the woods beyond. Jamie tells Ross to see that their horses are hidden as well. As Rupert is helped inside, a hint of his humour returns, telling Ross that he had “decided to take a closer look at a musket ball.”

Claire wastes no time in getting to work. Rupert is put up onto the altar, so that Claire can remove the bullet. 

After a brief moment of despair over her missing knife, Fergus comes to the rescue, handing over his own. Although not impressed that Fergus has a knife, nor that Jamie had given it to him, she has more pressing concerns. Amidst Rupert’s yells as Claire begins to operate, Dougal and the others keep watch. 

Night has fallen and Claire is stitching Rupert’s ruined eye closed, as he muses that one eye is better than none. 

In an allusion to a novel not yet written in 1745,  Claire brands him a pirate, saying that she will get him a proper eyepatch and answering Rupert’s confused question as to whether pirates wear eyepatches by adding that they also have peg legs and a parrot. The humour is lost on Rupert, but not on the viewer.

The banter abruptly ceases however, with Murtagh’s discovery of a light outside. All too soon, the single light becomes many. They have been found, the English soldiers coming towards the church and demanding that they all surrender. If they do not, they are told, then the English will set fire to the thatched roof. Briefly, the group discuss their options. Dougal is for staying and fighting, but Murtagh disagrees, saying that anyone not shot running through the door will be burned when the roof caves in. Jamie announces that he is the one with the price on his head and that he will give himself up in exchange for their freedom. Dougal tells him not to be a hero, stating that Jamie would have two choices if he does this - the hangman or the headsman. But it is Claire who gives them another option, screaming out to the English soldiers and claiming to be a British subject. 

Desperately, Jamie tries to stop her, but Claire reasons that as a hostage, she can be exchanged without harm to anyone else, citing the incident with the young John Grey as an example. Jamie remains unconvinced, saying that there is a difference between a boy and the soldiers. 

Dougal is on board however, and shouts back to the English that they will not give up their hostage, words that cause Jamie to strike him. Murtagh is the next to reason with Jamie, saying that the soldiers will not hurt Claire, but escort her to a place of safety, from which she can later be rescued. Still Jamie refuses to give Claire up, but in a show of defiance, she has the final word. She is Lady Broch Tuarach, she says, and the men are her responsibility too. It is impressive stuff and stubborn Scot or not, Jamie is forced to agree.

Dougal goes outside to bargain with the soldiers. They will release the hostage, the widowed Mistress Beauchamp who they had found and placed under their protection, in return for their horses and the immediate departure of the English. Inside, Jamie tells Claire not to look so guilty, as she is a bad liar. Fergus suggests that Claire should faint, so that she can’t be questioned. Dougal returns, telling Claire that she will most likely be taken to the British garrison at Hazelmere and Jamie promises to come and fetch her as soon as possible. 

He takes Claire in his arms to carry her out, but is stopped by Dougal, who says that if Jamie is recognised by the soldiers then they will not honour the bargain that they have made. Reluctantly, Claire agrees and kisses him farewell, saying that they must trust in finding each other again soon. An impatient Dougal takes Claire into his own arms to carry her out and we see how hard it is for Jamie to let this happen. He watches from inside as the rest of the group leave the church and throw down their weapons, to the taunts from one of the soldiers. Explaining that Claire has fainted from the shock, Dougal hands her over, charging the captain personally with her protection. The Englishmen make to depart, offering a word of advice, saying that the Highlanders should go home and resume their lives as peaceful, loyal subjects of the crown. But Dougal can’t resist a passing shot, saying that they will do that when the crown is being worn by the true king. 

Claire “wakes” from her faint and after assuring the English that she is unharmed, she leaves with them, taking one last look back at the church as she rides away. The coast clear, Jamie emerges from the church, saying that he will look for a horse along the way and instructing Dougal and Murtagh to gather the rest of the men and head north to Keswick, where he will meet them, once he has rescued Claire. 

But Murtagh will not be ordered, saying that he is going with Jamie. Dougal agrees, saying that Jamie will need help in getting Claire from the garrison. It is Rupert who lightens their departure, calling out to Jamie that when he finds Claire, he is to “give her a wink from me, eh?” 

Although she has been trying to keep track of where they have been going, Claire’s voiceover announces that she has lost her sense of direction in the dark and that while she knows she should be leaving some sort of trail, she is “short of breadcrumbs.” The English soldier tells her that they are stopping in Creich for the night, as the horses can go no further. 

When they reach the inn at Creich, Claire is startled to see a wanted poster of Jamie tacked to the door.

(This is also a little nod to episode 8 in season 1, where a similar sketch of the mysterious wanted Highlander is shown to a drunken Frank Randall in a pub.) But Claire’s arrival has not gone unnoticed. Lurking in the shadows is a familiar face, that of the beggar Hugh Munro. He immediately recognises Claire and we can see that he is shocked by her unexplained appearance without Jamie by her side. He eases back into the shadows as the door closes, his face a picture of concentration.

The next morning, Claire is woken by another soldier, Lieutenant Barnes. The captain has received orders in the middle of the night, so the plans have changed. She is now to be taken to Balmont, which is on the way to their destination of Keswick. It is an old house, owned by an Englishman who is bound to give her shelter. We can see the concern on Claire’s face: how will Jamie find her now?

Enter the hero of the hour, in the form of Hugh Munro. Having waited outside all night, Hugh wastes no time in running towards Claire, as if to beg from her.

She recognises him immediately, but he is knocked to the ground by Lieutenant Barnes. Admonishing him for his brutish behaviour, Claire goes to help Hugh up, murmuring urgently that Jamie will be looking for her at Hazelmere. Speaking in true over emphasised pantomime style, Claire then tells Barnes that she still doesn’t understand the need to go to Balmont instead. With a brief conspiratorial nod to Hugh, who returns it in understanding, she follows the Lieutenant towards her supposed sanctuary.

But a rude shock is awaiting Claire when she gets to Balmont. The owner of the old house turns out to be none other than the Duke of Sandringham, who is at his pandering best as he tells the Lieutenant how pleased he is to able to help out the British. 

He does not query Claire’s name, saying with only the hint of emphasis that he will be pleased to offer “Mrs Beauchamp” the hospitality of his humble home. All saccharine formality is quickly abandoned with the Lieutenant’s departure however. In a far more contemptuous tone, the Duke states that he needs a drink, a sentiment echoed by Claire. 

Meanwhile Jamie and Murtagh have found some horses to steal. As they decide which horse for which man, Murtagh remarks that they are now traitors, murderers and horse thieves. He asks whether it has ever occurred to Jamie that taking Claire as his wife might not have been the wisest thing that he’s ever done. 
“No,” Jamie answers. 
It is a simple reply, but one that says much about their relationship. There is nothing that Jamie would not do for Claire’s sake - and indeed, it is another ominous hint to the rapidly approaching future. 

Over dinner, the Duke is lamenting his change in fortune. He only has two servants now and the cook is only available a couple of days a week. Answering Claire’s query as to why he had chosen not to reveal her real name, the Duke remarks that he could never send her to the Tower and adds that it “quite took the curls out of his wig” when he had been there himself. That visit was, he explains, a misunderstanding over his loyalties, but it explains why there is such a large redcoat presence surrounding his estate - every entrance to the house is being watched. But the Duke has another reason for not revealing Claire’s identity. Assuming that Jamie is coming to free Claire, he wishes to accompany them both and escape from the soldiers’ scrutiny. Surely, he tells Claire, she must realise that in his heart of hearts, the Duke is a Jacobite. It is an announcement that Claire openly scoffs at. 

The Duke adds that he doubts very much that Jamie knows where she is, but Claire, presumably putting all her faith in Hugh Munro, disputes this and muses that it is possible that Jamie could be riding through the gates at that very moment. The Duke tells her that if that were true, then Jamie would be riding into a trap. He offers a solution, whereby a message can be sent without the soldiers knowing, but only if Claire will guarantee that he will be taken from Balmont to a safe haven. 

Reluctantly, Claire agrees, and uses the provided quill and paper to pen a note in Gaelic, a precaution, she says, against the messenger boy being caught before he can deliver the letter. She further instructs that it must be given not to Jamie himself, but to a beggar called Munro, who will be somewhere on the road between Creich and Hazelmere. If Munro gets the letter, Claire says, he will be able to deliver it into Jamie’s hands. 

The exchange is interrupted by the entry of another familiar face, Mary Hawkins, who rushes at once to Claire. It is soon established that Mary is in fact, the Duke’s goddaughter. Excusing himself to deliver the correspondence, the Duke remarks that his goddaughter has news to share - she is to be married. 

Taking Claire by the hand, Mary leads her urgently to the kitchen, the only place she says, where she feels that she is not being listened to or watched. Quickly, she explains her desperate plight. 

She does not wish to marry Mr Granger, the man to whom the Duke has promised her. Granger is a wealthy merchant, Mary explains, who will only accept “soiled goods” because he wishes to attach himself to the wealthy family of a duke. Claire correctly surmises that the man is also a loyalist, meaning that the Duke continues to play a double game, seeming to support both the Jacobites and the Loyalists as it suits him. Claire promises to do what she can to stop the wedding from happening. 

The messenger carrying Claire’s letter gallops through the night, following the directions from a man he meets along the road until he comes across Hugh. The beggar quickly overpowers the messenger and forces his staff across the man’s throat, only letting him up when the letter is explained. It was written, says the messenger, by Claire Beauchamp and is intended for James Fraser. These are familiar names, of course, and Hugh quickly takes the letter and disappears into the night, leaving the disgruntled messenger muttering about the lack of a tip!

Back at the Duke’s house, Claire is waiting to speak to Sandringham about Mary’s impending marriage. The Duke appears, with servant in tow and announces that the soldiers may be retreating from their currently obvious position. Claire remarks that she had thought the soldiers were there to keep an eye on the Duke, but further discussion is halted when Claire notices the purple birthmark on the servant’s hand. It is the same one that marked the man who attacked Claire and Mary back in Paris. 
Claire asks how long the man has been in the Duke’s service and midway through his answer, Sandringham snaps at Danton, “She recognises you!” This is a clear admission that it was he who was responsible for arranging the attack. The Duke doesn’t bother to deny Claire’s accusation, adding that it was unfortunate that his goddaughter was there, further implying that Claire had been the target all along. Sandringham explains that it was because of a debt he owed the Comte St Germain. With no money to repay the debt, he had offered to arrange the attack, telling Claire that she should be grateful - the original plan that involved killing her outright, but he had persuaded the Comte that rape was sufficient revenge. Danton chimes in at this point, reminding Claire that it would still be an easy matter to kill her, if necessary. 

In a low voice full of hatred, Claire says that the Duke will regret sending the guards away once Jamie arrives. It is then we learn of Sandringham’s latest duplicity. He has not sent them away, merely into hiding. Jamie will be riding into a trap. 
The soldiers will capture him, Claire and Jamie will both be hanged and the Duke will appear a proud loyalist. The scene ends with the Duke instructing Danton to lock Claire into her room. It is a deliciously evil piece of acting by Simon Callow.

Jamie and Murtagh are riding through the night on their stolen horses, when a man steps into their path. It is Hugh Monroe, who has obviously been waiting for them. Greeting his friend, Jamie asks what the devil he is doing there. Hugh presents Claire’s letter, explaining in their shared sign language that he got it from a messenger. 

The two men begin to try and decipher Claire’s words. It is clear that her grasp of Gaelic is not good, but it is good enough for them to understand the situation. Hugh confirms that he knows where the Duke’s house is and they set off, but not before Murtagh adds that Claire hasn’t even spelt the word help correctly!

A distressed Claire is walking around her bedroom prison, when she notices Hugh in the grounds below. Suddenly, Mary appears, asking why Claire has been locked in. Claire answers that she doesn’t have time to explain, saying that she has to get out before the soldiers hiding in the grounds reach Jamie. Mary asks for Claire to take her along and Claire agrees, deciding that they must each leave by different doors - Claire by the kitchen and Mary out front. Claire explains that Hugh is in the grounds and that if Mary finds him first she must tell Jamie that it’s a trap. But Mary is horrified at the thought of speaking to a beggar, telling Claire that she couldn’t possibly do it. Exasperated, Claire tells her to remain inside and be quiet. 

Using a secret exit concealed behind a painting, Claire makes her way to the kitchen, only to be met by a de-wigged Duke, eating his supper. 
Her escape foiled, Claire has no option but to join him, enduring Sandringham’s gossiping questions about the demise of the Comte St Germain. 

Obviously having had a change of heart, Mary enters the kitchen. Thinking quickly when she sees her godfather, Mary stammers that she had only wanted something to eat. Impatiently, the Duke piles some food onto a plate and instructs her to go to bed, as he and Claire are having an amusing conversation. With a meaningful look at Claire, Mary departs, but not to her room. Instead she goes out the front door and is met by an English soldier, who is immediately hit from behind. It is Hugh. Mary has just enough time to garble a message that Claire is in the kitchen and that it is a trap, before Danton appears and grabs her. Mary struggles with him long enough for Hugh to drag the unconscious officer out of the way and then screams that she will tell her godfather if Danton doesn’t let her go. 

Outside, Hugh has delivered his message. Telling the beggar to stand watch, Jamie overpowers the guard on duty, draws his knife and heads towards the kitchen entrance, where the Duke is still regaling Claire with his favourite tales of her supposed abilities, including bewitching a broomstick. Danton drags Mary into the room, saying that he found her on the doorstep. 

Once again, Mary thinks quickly, stammering that she had been trying to get away because she couldn’t bear the thought of marrying Mr Granger. The Duke repeats his earlier instruction, telling Mary to go to bed. Then the kitchen door opens. It is Jamie.

Everything happens at once. Danton grabs Claire and puts a knife at her throat. 

The Duke grabs his wig, jamming it unceremoniously onto his head. Jamie drops his weapon, but Murtagh also enters and the confusion allows Claire and Jamie to overpower Danton. Claire screams that he is the man who attacked them in Paris. Mary watches, shocked, as the Duke implores everyone to act rationally. Recognising the danger he is in, Danton tells Jamie that it wasn’t his fault and that the Duke had made him attack the women. Claire confirms this, saying “It’s true. 

He arranged the attack to pay off one of his debts to St Germain.” Jamie knocks Danton unconscious before rounding on the Duke, who desperately tries to convince Jamie that the Comte had had far worse things planned for Claire and that he would never condone such a thing as rape. But Claire calls him out on his lie, telling Jamie that rape had in fact been the Duke’s idea. 

Jamie rips the wig from the Duke’s head, saying “Aye, I do know you” and adding that the Duke would say anything to anyone to save his own skin. 
His hands are around Sandringham’s throat. Mary, meanwhile, has picked up Jamie’s discarded blade and is staring at it intently. Equally intent is Murtagh, who has drawn his own blade while standing silently behind the Duke. Jamie notices this and releases Sandringham, pushing him in Murtagh’s direction.

The closing minute of the episode is filled with the taking of vengeance. 

Mary drives her knife into Danton’s torso, while Murtagh, swapping the knife for an axe, fulfills the promise he had made to Jamie in Paris. As his godson watches silently, Murtagh beheads the Duke in two beautifully gory swings. With a formal nod to Jamie, his face splattered with blood,  Murtagh then advances towards Mary and Claire and lays Sandringham’s head at their feet. “I kept my word,” he says, “I lay your vengeance at your feet.” 

There is a beat of silence, the enormity of the events sinking in. But it is Mary, no longer a timid mouse, who breaks it. With no hint of her stutter, she says quite calmly, 

“I think we’d better go.” Without another word, the four of them leave, as the camera pans down to the Duke’s headless corpse. Vengeance is indeed theirs.

In the days before her episode screened, Diana Gabaldon wrote about the process of writing the screenplay. She told her readers that she had needed to work within the framework that had already been established in the season so far. It was a message to those fans still desperate to see the action play out exactly the same way on screen as it does on the page. It doesn’t. But it also doesn’t matter anymore. 

In writing the episode that she did, Diana Gabaldon clearly demonstrates why she is so talented. The two main plot points - Claire giving herself up as a hostage and the ultimate assassination of Duke of Sandringham - still occur. But the path is different. Along the way, other characters get to shine in moments that don’t exist on the page. Rupert is shot in the eye, rather than receiving a mercy killing at Dougal’s hand. As a larger character on the screen, Rupert has been given an extra storyline - finding his way back to himself after the death of his friend. Hugh Munro is allowed a moment of heroism on screen, instead of his capture and hanging on the page. It is wonderful to see Hugh play his own part in the ultimate vengeance and indeed, it was something that the actor who played him, Simon Meacock commented upon (see our separate interview). Lastly, Mary is allowed to gain back some control over her destiny, being given her own moment of vengeance in the slaying of her attacker. All of these changes to the books only serve to enhance both the characters and the heightening stakes of the overall plot, yet it is achieved with enough subtle in jokes and asides that would be understood only by readers of the books. And perhaps best of all, the beautiful scene where Jamie prays over a sleeping Claire, is still there. This was an episode where Diana Gabaldon proved that no matter what the format, “Herself” is a masterful storyteller. 

This episode recap was written by Susie Brown, a teacher librarian and author who lives in Australia. It has taken her a long time to get here, but she’s finally put down the book and is enjoying every second of the series!

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