Friday, April 22, 2022

“Confounding the Mighty” A recap of season 6 episode 6 by your Aussie Blogging Lass

Book readers have been anticipating this sixth episode of the season, knowing that it would be dealing with a lot of dramatic events: from sickness to scandal, from scandal to betrayal, from betrayal to murder - and, perhaps most importantly, a long awaited hair cut! It was certainly a compelling hour, with stellar performances from Caitriona Balfe and Jessica Reynolds in particular.

The episode begins in the meeting house, with Roger mid-sermon. He is speaking to the congregation, suggesting that God does not consider brilliance, power or nobility to be pre-requisites for becoming a true believer.  Indeed, Roger says, God uses what is weak to confound the mighty. He is a compelling preacher, but the responses from the congregation are markedly different. The Christies, for example, sit solemnly, unsmiling, while Jamie and Claire are relaxed, sharing affectionate glances and holding hands as they look proudly in Roger’s direction.

After the sermon is over, Jamie teases his son-in-law. He says that he only saw one person falling asleep, before telling Roger that he is actually doing a fine job. It is a compliment that Roger values highly.  The two men discuss the various uses of the meeting house, with Roger informing Jamie that the building is being used as both church and school. 

Next, Roger asks if anyone has seen the MacNeill family. Their absence from the service is unusual, so Claire makes plans with Brianna to stop by the cabin later on, and suggests that Lizzie and Malva might accompany them for the walk. Brianna comments that Malva is bound to want to come, the young girl having been glued to Claire’s side since becoming her apprentice. Claire replies that Malva is doing well, although her previous apprentice, Marsali is dearly missed, as are Fergus and the children. 

Roger says that he thinks they will all do well in New Bern, and Jamie agrees, commenting that Fergus will thrive in the print shop and will be happy that he can provide for his family. 

“I should have seen it sooner,” he admonishes himself.

“You love them,” Claire replies. “You wanted to keep them near. There’s no shame in that.”  

Later, Claire, Brianna, Lizzie and Malva approach the MacNeill cabin, but something is very wrong. The cabin is surrounded by crows and there is a dreadful smell, indicating that something is dead nearby.  Claire calls out for Mr MacNeill and opens the door. The stench is overwhelming. Instructing the others to tend to the children first, Claire cautions the women not to touch their faces. The family is dehydrated, so Claire sends Brianna in search of clean water. Mr and Mrs MacNeill are barely conscious, but Mr MacNeill manages to tell her that they have been struck down by the bloody flux. Frustrated by everyone’s inability to swallow water, Claire curses. She is immediately admonished by Lizzie, who tells her that the children can hear and that they need to send blessings to Heaven, not curses. Brianna arrives back with the water, but it is too late. Mrs MacNeill and the baby are already dead. The sombre scene fades and the opening credits begin. 

Claire and Malva are in the surgery, looking through the microscope. Claire has found the cause of the bloody flux and shows Malva the amoeba sample she has discovered. Malva wonders how something so small can cause so much trouble to something as big as a person. Claire replies that once the amoeba is in the body, its only job is to kill cells. 

“What is weak shall confound the mighty,” Jamie quotes from Roger’s sermon, as he enters the room. 

The three of them discuss where the infection may have come from. After explaining to Malva that penicillin isn’t effective against the disease and that she only has herbs to give to those that are sick, Claire tells the others that the source of the infection is usually tainted food or water. 

Lizzie appears and tells Claire that another person has fallen ill and she is needed. As Claire directs Malva to collect bulbs of garlic and honey for honey water, Jamie announces that he will go to the MacNeill cabin to look for the source. He plans to gather the rest of the settlers in the meeting house and tell them to wash their hands and boil their water in the meantime. Claire adds that the settlers should bring water samples from their wells and springs, in the hope that they can get ahead of the infection. 

The next scene opens with a funeral. Claire, Brianna and Jamie stand back watching solemnly, with Claire saying that she is getting terribly tired of funerals. Jamie apologises that they have yet to discover the cause of the sickness, but promises that they will not give up. 

It is obvious to the others that the whole situation has had an effect on Claire, with Jamie commenting that she looks like a ghost and hasn’t been sleeping or eating properly. Claire assures him that she is all right, but it is clear that she is isn’t. Brianna is speaking to her, but Claire cannot see or hear her properly. Suddenly, she swoons. Shocked, Brianna feels her forehead: Claire is burning up. Swiftly, Jamie gathers Claire into his arms and the group hurries away. 

The next montage highlights how desperately ill Claire is. Jamie watches anxiously as Brianna, Lizzie and Malva care for her, trying to reduce her fever. Claire moans and breathes heavily - her temperature is high and she is mostly unconscious. 

A knock on the door signals the arrival of Allan Christie, who has come to take a reluctant Malva home. Jamie tells her to go, as Lizzie can continue to look after Claire, but Malva refuses to leave. Deciding that Claire would be more comfortable in her own bed, Jamie tenderly carries her upstairs. But the fever continues, with everyone taking it in turns to sit in vigil. No-one is saying what everyone fears: could Claire be dying? 

While Lizzie sits with Claire, Malva takes the opportunity to bring some willowbark tea to Jamie. He realises that it is the same tea that Claire had given him when he was ill with the snakebite and Malva encourages him to tell the story. She follows it with one of her own about Hiram Crombie being bitten by a snake that he had smuggled into the church in order to make mischief. Jamie wonders why Hiram hadn’t come to have Claire tend to the wound and Malva explains that it is because people believe Claire to be a witch. 

Jamie asks whether Malva believes the gossip and Malva assures him that she does not. In fact, she wants to be Claire, who she describes as kind, lovely and knowledgeable. She wants to learn all that Claire can teach her, Malva says, before changing the subject and asking Jamie if his grandsire was indeed Lord Lovat, the old fox.

“Oh aye,” Jamie replies. “I come from a long line of traitors, thieves and bastards.” 

“I dinna believe it, Sir,” Malva says. “You seem like a fine gentleman to me.”

The conversation seems innocent enough, but we watch as Malva gazes at Jamie intently, something of which he is unaware.

Claire is dreaming. It is a disturbing jumble of storm clouds, snakes, the microscopic amoeba and a beating heart. Through her delirious eyes, we see a blurry Jamie swigging from a whiskey bottle, as Malva walks up behind him and touches him on the back. Jamie turns to face her, but we cannot hear what is being said. 

It is morning. Roger is sitting with Claire, when finally, her eyes open. Huskily, she murmurs Roger’s name and he is by her side in an instant, putting a cup of water to her lips. After taking a sip, Claire goes to run her hand through her hair, and stops, horrified. Her hair has been hacked short. Roger explains that Mrs Bug and Malva had cut it all off, believing it was what you did to stop a fever. (Given that Malva has been Claire’s apprentice, this doesn’t seem entirely plausible, but Claire doesn’t comment.) Roger adds that he and Brianna hadn’t been there at the time, or they would never have allowed them to do it. 

“Bree was furious with them,” Roger says, “But they truly thought they were helping to save your life.”

Roger stands to go and fetch Jamie, but Claire replies that she doesn’t want Jamie to see her like this. Gently, Roger tells her that Jamie has already seen it, and had not said anything when he did. He had merely cried. 

Claire asks if people are still falling ill and Roger tells her that no-one has fallen ill in the last week. Claire is stunned to think that she has been ill for that long, but Roger tells her that she was one of the last to succumb. With a small smile, he reassures Claire that nothing could make her less beautiful.

Brianna comes into the room and is thrilled to see that Claire is awake. She climbs onto the bed and kisses her mother on the forehead. 

“You are not allowed to die,” she says, adding that Claire had scared all of them.

Claire assures her that she hadn’t meant to, as Brianna tells her that she loves her and can’t be without her. 

“And neither can your new grandchild,” Brianna adds, finally sharing the news that she has kept hidden until she was sure it was real. Embracing her mother again, Bree offers to “sort out” Claire’s hair, adding that she looks ridiculous.

The “sorting out” amounts to Brianna trimming what is left of Claire’s hair into a short pixie cut. Jamie is watching, and as he assists Claire back into bed afterwards, he asks her whether she might consider wearing a cap until the hair grows back a bit. Predictably, Claire refuses, declaring that Brianna has done a lovely job and musing that it might be good for a laugh, when people see her hair for the first time. 

Jamie reassures her that she is beautiful and that he loves her. Claire returns his declaration of love, adding, “It will grow back, won’t it?” 

“So it will,” he replies, taking her hands in his.

Claire asks what has been happening and Jamie tells her that he had found a dead elk in the river upstream from the MacNeill cabin, so the mystery of the infection had been solved.  Claire asks how serious the sickness has been and Jamie, after a moment’s hesitation, tells her about those who have lost their lives and those who had remained healthy. Many of the Fisher Folk are still ill, he says, including Tom Christie, who is suffering from fever and headaches. 

Claire asks if she has been delirious and Jamie confirms that she has. She tells him that in Paris, when she had been so ill after losing Faith, she had dreamt of blue herons, which Master Raymond had told her was the colour of healing. But this time, Claire says, she saw storm clouds, her own heart and a snake, which was in their house.

Jamie reassures her that any snake that entered their house would lose its head before reaching the staircase. Like Brianna before him, he tells her that he would be very angry with her if she died and left him.

“Well, I didn’t,” Claire said, “And I won’t.” 

It is daylight, and Claire creeps from her bed, telling Adso the cat to keep it warm for her and not to tell anyone where she has gone. We next see her walking into the Fisher Folk camp, her hair covered by a huge hat, that some viewers have suggested may have been Murtagh’s.  Knocking on the Christie cabin door, she finds Tom writing at his desk. After expressing initial shock at her hair and declaring that she looks like a monk, Tom is surprised that Claire has walked all the way to the camp in a dangerously enfeebled condition to ask how he is. The two compare their illness, which has differed from those who had the bloody flux. Each had experienced severe headaches, fever and extraordinarily unpleasant dreams. Claire is puzzled: she hasn’t seen Tom in a while, so why are they the only two to have this particular illness? Tom is less concerned, saying that at least they have both recovered. But ever the doctor, Claire wants to find out more. She attempts to convince Tom to give her a sample of fecal matter for testing, but Tom is horrified at the suggestion. He insists on walking Claire home immediately, reminding her to put on her hat before they leave. 

Back at the Ridge, Jamie admonishes Claire for walking so far in her condition. Claire defends her actions, telling Jamie that she and Tom had suffered the same disease, but it wasn’t dysentery. Drawing her closer to him, Jamie watches the colours of the sunset, remarking that it reminds him of when he was in the cave and how watching the sun come and go gave him comfort, to know that the world was going about its business. It is the same now, he says, when he hears her rustling about in the surgery. 

“If you were no longer there, or somewhere,” Jamie tells her, “then the sun would no longer come up or go down.”

The reminiscing continues in the next scene, when Jamie sleeps on the floor so as not to disturb Claire’s rest. It reminds her, she tells him, of when he slept outside her door when they collected the rents to protect her honour. Back then, it wouldn’t have been seemly for the two of them to have been in the same room, but this time there is no such restriction. Claire tells him to come into bed and he immediately obliges. He tells her that he is not going anywhere for the next couple of months, adding that he has been asked by the Sons of Liberty to speak at their next Congress to convince others to cease trade with Britain. Claire tells him that having been on the receiving end of his powers of persuasion, she thinks they have made an excellent choice. 

The scene that follows is full of intimacy and gentle conversation, beautifully portrayed by Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. Jamie brands Claire’s short hair very arousing, but says that it is but one of the things that draws her to him. When she presses him for the other reasons, Jamie tells Claire that she is brave, always having been bolder than was safe. She is as fierce as a badger, he says, and proud as Lucifer. When Claire comments that arrogance and ferociousness hardly amount to a catalogue of womanly virtues, Jamie continues. She is very kind too, he says, and very clean, although not much of a cook. Laughing at Claire’s faux indignation, he asks her to list some virtues that he might have forgotten. Claire suggests gentleness and patience, but Jamie disagrees, branding her ruthless rather than gentle and certainly not patient. Finally, Claire presses him for her most endearing trait. 

“You think I’m funny,” he says.

“I do not,” she laughs,

Serious again, he tells her that above all creatures on earth, she is faithful. 

“So are you,” she answers. “It’s quite a good thing, isn’t it?” 

The sickness finally over, the weeks pass and the people on the Ridge begin to relax, as Claire’s voiceover warns us of the slowly approaching Revolution. Jamie and Roger are preparing to go to the Congress, with Roger sharing that he is more than a little excited to being part of what he, Claire and Brianna know as a historic event. 3 delegates will be selected for the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and Claire comments that she will accompany Jamie to that one. 

Suddenly, a wagon pulls up to the house. It is the Christies and Jamie goes to greet them. But Tom is not in a cordial mood. He tells Jamie that they need to speak privately. Jamie replies that anything spoken to him can be spoken to Claire as well. Tom agrees and stalks into the house. 

Once inside, Tom tells Jamie that Malva is with child and that she has sworn not to name the father except in Jamie’s presence. Claire asks how far along Malva is, but the young girl keeps her eyes downcast. Her brother steps up to her, saying that all will be well, but she needs to speak. Malva raises her eyes to Jamie, who gently asks her to say who the father is and that she will not suffer for it. 

But when Malva speaks, her words shock everyone. She asks Jamie how he can say that, when he knows the truth as well as her. It takes a minute for the realisation to dawn. Jamie is stunned when Malva names him as the father, then immediately apologises to Claire for hurting her. 

Allan Christie steps forward.

“Your husband’s ruined her,” he says, when Claire asks what the hell Malva is on about. “The child’s his.” 

He tries to swing a punch at Jamie, but is easily felled by the older man. 

Malva then begins a tearful, but plausible story, about how she had been tending to a very ill Claire and had come across a grieving Jamie. Feeling sorry for him, she touched his shoulder and asked if he needed something to eat or drink, but then realised that Jamie was already drunk. For an instant, Claire remembers being delirious and seeing Jamie by the window with a bottle in his hand as Malva approached and we see confusion cross her face. But when Malva says that Jamie had taken her up against the wall as Claire lay sleeping, Claire slaps the young girl across the face and runs from the room.

Jamie turns to Tom. If Malva is not mad, he says, then she is a clever liar. Malva knows that no one will believe her if she cries rape. With this Malva agrees. It isn’t rape, she sobs, but says that she had given him comfort. 

Again, Jamie says to Tom that if Malva is with child, it is not by him. He wants to know who it could be, but Tom knows of no one, adding that Malva has said that the man in question had her more than a dozen times. Jamie replies that she has lied more than a dozen times.

But then Malva shares details of Jamie’s body, including the scars on his back, thigh and ribs. Viewers know, of course, that this knowledge comes courtesy of Malva’s voyeurism when Jamie and Claire made love in the stables, but Jamie is momentarily floored by the detail. How does she know this? Allan goads him further, challenging Jamie to prove Malva wrong. 

Tom asks whether Jamie is prepared to put aside his wife, and at Jamie’s “of course not” response, says that they will draw up a contract, where Jamie will provide for both Malva and the child. When he also suggests that Jamie could take the child for Claire to bring up, Jamie tells him, with barely contained fury, to take his daughter and get out of the house. 

With the Christies gone, Jamie goes to find Claire in the stables. He has been trying to work out what to say to her, he says. He refuses to apologise for something that he hasn’t done, but asks whether she believes what Malva has said, worried because she had run from the house. Claire tells him that she had been in shock, and that if she had stayed then she might have killed Malva. 

Claire tells Jamie that she saw Jamie and Malva by the window while she had been ill, but had thought it a hallucination. If Jamie could lie with a woman and then lie to her about it, Claire tells him, then everything that they have together is a lie. 

“I don’t belong here,” she says, beginning an impassioned and tearful speech. “Brianna and Roger don’t belong here and Jemmy shouldn’t be here. But yet here we all are, all of us, because I  loved you more than the life I had. And because I believed that you loved me in the same way.”

Claire challenges Jamie: is he going to tell her that it isn’t the truth? 

“No,” says Jamie. “No, I won’t tell you that.” 

But he does have something to tell her, and haltingly confesses to lying with Mary McNab in the cave, the night before he turned himself into the Redcoats. Jamie explains how Mary had seen the true love between himself and Claire and how she hadn’t wanted to betray that. 

“She gave me tenderness,” Jamie says. “I hope I gave her the same.” 

Claire replies that she is sure that he would have, but wishes that he had told her about it. Jamie tells her that he hadn’t been able to think of a way to tell her where she would understand, but Claire assures him that she does understand. She also believes him about Malva, not only because of the love between the two of them, but because she knows that he would never have turned his back on a child of his own blood, no matter how it came into the world. 

“So,” she says, “What do we do now?” 

Jamie replies that they must find out the truth of what happened, if they can, adding that by daybreak, the whole of the Ridge will know about the accusation. 

“But no one will believe it,” Claire says.

“They’ll all believe it, Claire,” Jamie replies. “I’m sorry.”

Meanwhile, Brianna and Roger are walking in the woods. Brianna in particular is furious. Why would Malva do this? Roger answers that Malva either doesn’t want to marry the real father, or she wants to go after Jamie’s money and property. 

Brianna asks Roger if there is any way that Jamie could have done this. She recounts the story of Frank Randall and the woman who had gone to his commemoration at Harvard, the woman who, Brianna had been shocked to discover, Frank planned to marry.

“Jamie Fraser is an honourable man,” Roger says, “And he loves your mother deeply.” 

“See that’s just the thing,” Brianna replies. “I would have sworn that Daddy was too.” 

Claire has arrived at the Fisher Folk camp and approaches Malva. She tells the young woman that she thinks Malva has made a mistake, but not with Jamie. Malva says that she has been branded a whore, made to stand up in front of the congregation and confess. Perhaps it is Jamie who has made the mistake, and Malva has to carry the blame?

Calmly, Claire tells Malva that she believes Jamie completely, the two of them having been through things that Malva could never imagine. She tells the young woman that she is sorry for whatever Malva is going through that has made her so desperate as to do what she has done. 

“I care about you,” Claire continues. “I see in you this clever young woman, full of curiosity and enthusiasm. And I was proud to be your teacher.”

Malva turns away, beginning to cry. Claire tells her that it is not too late to tell the truth, and that it will be all right. She starts to turn Malva back towards her, as Malva shakes her head. 

“No, it can’t be,” she says. “It can never be.”

Suddenly Allan comes out of the cabin, telling Claire to get away from Malva. If Claire hadn’t tried to teach Malva her devilish ways, he says, none of this would have happened. Allan says that Malva has told them that Claire makes potions to bring people back from the dead and that she has seen it happen. To Claire’s disgust, Malva immediately turns on her, supporting Allan’s statement and agreeing that Claire is a witch.

“We know what happens to witches, don’t we Malva?” asked Allan.

“Aye,” Malva replies. “We do.” 

This is too much for Claire. 

“Stay away from my family,” she says, her voice low and menacing, as she turns and walks away.

The gossip at the Ridge is in full swing. As Jamie had predicted, everyone has believed Malva’s story and Jamie is being spoken about in disparaging terms. Overhearing some of the men talking, Ian comes to Jamie’s defence.

Claire is working in her vegetable garden, when she looks up and thinks that she sees Lionel Brown. It isn’t him, of course, but Ian, who has come to find her. Ian says that he can’t bear to hear the things that are being said about Jamie. When Claire tells him not to worry and that things will come right somehow, as Jamie can’t possibly be the father of Malva’s baby, Ian replies that it could in fact be his. He goes on to admit to Claire that he had slept with Malva one time, after she had paid him attention and he had wanted to feel again. But he had known it wasn’t right and had told Malva that he still loved Emily. 

Ian asks Claire if his scorning Malva may have been the reason for her accusing Jamie, but Claire reassures him that this situation isn’t his fault. Still, Ian is determined to do the right thing, declaring that he will marry Malva and be a husband and father for the baby’s sake. But Claire tells him that it might not be his child, as Roger had seen her with Obadiah Henderson, and there may well have been others. 

“But it might be mine,” Ian says, offering to talk to Malva to try and help Jamie. But Claire advises against it, saying that she wants to talk to Jamie first. 

The weeks pass, with the settlers on the Ridge refusing to look at Claire. Jamie and Roger return from the conference, each talking about the sheer amount of alcohol involved in a conference that plans to overthrow the British King. Roger tells Brianna that Jamie openly declared himself for liberty, but despite his eloquent speech, he was not selected as a delegate, due to the fact that the gossip about Malva had preceded them. 

In their own house, Jamie isn’t worried about his lack of selection, telling Claire that he has much to do at the Ridge. Kissing her palm, he asks Claire how things have been for her while he has been gone. 

“I’ve managed,” she says.

But Brianna tells Roger the full story. The settlers have been awful to Claire, refusing to come to her even when sick. 

“Bloody ungrateful,” says Roger, “after all she’s done for this community. To have so little faith.”

Claire’s voiceover tells us that she has chosen to believe that this will pass and that someday, people will have forgotten. But she cuts a forlorn figure, standing alone in an empty surgery, with no-one outside waiting to see her. She heads to the microscope, when she hears the voice of Lionel Brown in her head. Unsettled, she moves to the door, where she sees Malva Christie walking towards the house. It is all too much. Shutting and locking the door, Claire goes to the ether bottle and mask, wanting to escape from the situation completely. 

But this time, the ether does not bring pure oblivion. Claire loses consciousness as Malva begins to knock on the door, but before she knows it, the figure of Malva is standing over her, threatening. Malva tells Claire that she knows what Claire is doing, and that it isn’t medicine, but of the Devil. Malva taunts Claire. Claire is old, Malva says, with grey short hair and veins that stick out on her hands. Claire is dried up inside, Malva continues, and that’s why Jamie has turned to her. Malva tells Claire that she has pleased Jamie over and over and that everything that has been Claire’s will be hers. But Claire presses a scalpel to Malva’s throat, promising to kill the younger woman if Malva ever comes near her or Jamie again.

Slowly, Claire wakes, and we realise that the altercation with Malva has been a hallucination. Going outside, Claire heads to her vegetable patch, and is horrified to find the body of none other than Malva Christie, her throat slashed and her lips blue. Without stopping to think, Claire performs a caesarean right there in the garden, trying desperately to save Malva’s unborn child. But it is too late. As the music swells, a sobbing Claire kneels with a lifeless baby in her arms, and her lifeless protege at her feet. 

It is a disturbing end to a disturbing episode. Many have died in this hour - some by natural causes, others by more sinister means. The good name of Jamie and Claire Fraser has been tarnished by scandal, and gossip has people turning against each other. 

Who will ultimately triumph? Will the weak overcome the mighty? With only two episodes left in the season, it promises to be a dramatic finish. 

This recap was written by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher-librarian, who lives in Australia. While she is no fan of Malva Christie, she would like to congratulate actress Jess Reynolds, who managed to portray all her complexities - and actually engender some sympathy! 

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