Outlander S02E06 “Best Laid Plans…” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video, new episodes every Sunday
Writer: Matthew B Roberts
Director: Metin Hüseyin
Essential Plot Points:
- Monsieur Forez, the King’s executioner who volunteers at the charity hospital, freaks Claire out by describing in loving detail how he’s going to hang, draw and quarter some criminals accused of dabbling in the dark arts. He hints that he knows of Claire’s reputation as “La Dame Blanche”.
- Claire quickly visits Master Raymond at his apothecary to tell him to flee. He agrees.
- Jamie tells Claire what every viewer was thinking last week: that her, “You owe me a life!” plea was unfair and not even mathematically logical. Then he says he only promised not to kill Black Jack for a year so that if he – Jamie – is killed at Culloden, his child will still have a loving father in the future – Frank.
- Jamie tells Murtagh that Claire’s from the future and Murtagh’s somewhat surprising quite cool with this.
- Claire mixes her fake smallpox concoction then Jamie and Fergus secretly administer it to the crew of the Comte’s ship.
- The scheme works but before the authorities are alerted to the “outbreak” the Comte tursn to Prince Charlie for help to secretly transport the cargo of wine… and in an ironic twist, the Prince then turns to Jamie. Time for plan B.
- Murtagh hires a band of brigands and they pretend to be a gang of highwaymen. They intercept and hold up the wagons transporting the wine.
- The Comte smells a rat but Jamie causes a diversion letting Murtagh and co escape with the booty.
- While waiting for Jamie to return, the heavily pregnant Claire works at the hospital rather than have to listen to Louise’s vapid friends natter on.
- Claire is so weary that Mother Hildegarde convinces her to rest overnight at the hospital.
- Jamie returns to a Claireless home and is immediately called out again; Charles needs someone to pay his massive debt at Madame Elise’s brothel. Fergus accompanies him.
- While Jamie deals with financial matters, the light-fingered Fergus enters a room to see it there’s anything worth pilfering… and someone we don’t see approaches him menacingly (though a familiar red jacket can be seen hanging from a hatstand suggests strongly what’s just about to happen).
- Claire arrives home and hears that Jamie is duelling with Jack in the woods. She immediately demands a carriage take her there.
- She arrives in time to see Jamie stick a sword into Jack’s groin.
- Then the gens d’armes arrive and arrest Jamie for illegal duelling and Claire doubles up in agony, apparently miscarrying.
Some promises are impossible to keep, as Jamie discovers this week. Especially if the promise involves Black Jack Randall, who keeps changing the goalposts by doing something new and loathsome. And so an episode in which it looks like everything is going swimmingly for Team Scupper Culloden, ends with the entire plot being turned upside down. More arty critics will surely be drawing parallels between the fact that both Jack and Claire end the episode bleeding profusely from their sexual organs; the rest of us are left picking our jaws up off the carpet after a tense, series of sequences punctuated with blood-drenched shocks.
Things open slightly oddly with Jamie remarkably sanguine about the promise he’s made to Claire about not killing Jack for a year. He’s rationalised it to himself, but, pleasingly, when he comes to explaining things to Claire, he starts off by flinging her spurious,“you owe me a life” argument back in her face. Yes, she saved him but he’s saved her too, many times – do the maths, sassenach. Cue Claire looking uncomfortable and viewers thinking we’re going to get that big rift in the relationship promised last week.
But then he says something along the lines of, “If I die at Culloden I want you to be able to return to the future and for our child to have a loving father in Frank, so I’ll keep my promise not to kill Jack.” Blimey, that’s some lateral thinking going on there. On one level it make him comes across as the most magnanimous, selfless, adorable lug in history. On other it makes him come across as unrealistically saint-like.
And so that big rift in their relationship is put on hold for 45 minutes as they continue to work together like some 18th century Mission: Impossible team, coming up with hairbrained schemes to ruin the Comte St Germain and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s plans to fund the Jacobite uprising. It all gets a bit farcical at times but in a fun way; this is the closest Outlander has ever come to a blockbuster historical movie romp with highwaymen, fake poisoning, double-crosses, disguises and twists. It’s clearly been designed as a bit of lightweight adventuring before the show’s signature trauma kicks in again.
Largely, it works. More fun could have been had with the outcome of the fake smallpox outbreak but apart from that it’s a thoroughly entertaining action adventure episode. It also give Fergus a lot to do, and he’s huge fun to watch; as it turns out the writers are just setting him up for a fall. Bastards. But as a piece of carefully orchestrated scripting it perfectly sets up its sucker punch.
We also get the Comte and Bonnie Prince Charlie doing what they do best: frowning and being a self-obsessed prick, respectively. Claire gets to be all judgementally in front of Louise’s airheaded acquaintances. Jamie gets to be heroic and quick-thinking. Until that red jacket, this feelgood Outlander.
It was never going to last.
We can’t blame Jamie. Even though we don’t know quite what happened between Jack and Fergus (Outlander being coy? Who’d have thought?) it was quite clearly ghastly and couldn’t help but light Jamie’s blue touch paper. We can’t blame Claire. She doesn’t understand what’s happened to Fergus (less than us!) and if she did, she’d probably be more understanding. Instead her anger at Jamie breaking his promise brings on her miscarriage (though there hints it may have happened anywhere this certainly seals the deal). And though Jack isn’t killed, he certainly doesn’t look like he’ll be fathering any children any more.
Then the gens d’armes arrive and arrest Jamie for duelling… which carries a sentence of death.
I’s perfect storm of good old-fashioned melodrama ramped up to 11. Let’s see Jamie talk his way out of this one…
- The duel was great. In fact the whole final sequence from the moment we see the red jacket is powerful, shocking and utterly compelling combination of growing dread.
- Jamie calls Claire up on her absurd “You owe me a life!” moral blackmail (and then ruins it a bit by not following through, but at least he mentions it).
- You have to love Murtagh’s disgust at being forced to dress like a French ponce.
- Was that modern-car-chase-style skid that the carriage does when Claire’s rushing to the duel for real or CG enhanced? It looked both a little bit silly and impressive at the same time.
- How refreshing for Outlander to take a restrained approach to the whatever abuse Jack visited on Fergus. Presumably the writers felt they were forced to because a child was involved (so there are some lines they won’t cross) but the power of suggestion is arguably even more chilling as your imagination fears the worst.
- Jack being skewered through his manhood – now that’s poetic justice.
- The little Fergus/Jamie bonding scene over breakfast was so sweet we should have worked out that meant something tragic was about to happen immediately.
- Outlander rarely does out-and-out comedy scenes but Claire subjecting Jamie to her fake smallpox concoction was pure sitcom and Sam Heughan certainly proved his comedy chops with some great expressions.
- Louise de Rohan’s friends are vile but in a perfect love-to-hate-them way.
- Jamie and Claire seem remarkably okay with each other at the start of the episode after the big, relationship-threatening revelations at the climax of last week’s episode.
- We’re not entirely convinced that Murtagh would believe what Jamie tells him about Claire quite so readily. Let’s just call it “dramatic contraction” – saving us endless scenes of Claire having to prove the truth. However, the punch and the “should have told me sooner” gag… one huge cliché.
- We’re still having problems accepting that a woman as heavily pregnant as Claire would willingly work in that incredibly unhygienic-looking hospital.
- Suzette’s stage instructions this week seemed to be a long list of, “Enter, looking worried”s. It was getting a bit silly after a while.
- The scene with Jamie and Fergus administering the fake smallpox fell a little flat. It was so unexciting you can’t help wondering why it was needed at all. It could have been covered with about two extra lines of dialogue but presumably it was meant to be another Jamie/Fergus bonding opportunity.
And The Random:
- Bitter Cascara, which Claire uses in her fake smallpox concoction, is a well-known laxative. However, the tree it comes from is native to North America and it wasn’t widely exported to Europe until the late 1800s. But we already know Master Raymond has a lot of stuff in his shop he shouldn’t have.
- “Mark me, I will take my own life if I am forced to live in God-forsaken Poland.” Wondering why sad-faced Prince Charlie has such a gripe with Poland? He was, in fact, half-Polish. His mother was Maria Clementina Sobieska, one of the richest noble women in Europe of the seventeenth century. She was wife of James Francis Edward and the granddaughter of Jan III Sobieski – one of the greatest Polish kings who would lead the famous Battle of Vienna against the Ottoman Empire in 1683. There is even a portrait of Prince Charlie in the National Portrait Gallery in London in which he’s wearing the typical dress of a Polish nobleman. What Charlie’s real thoughts of Poland were remain lost to history but her certainly spent very little time there.
- Viewers who haven’t read the books may have been puzzled why Claire’s bump here is way, way more visible than in the 20th century sequences in the season premiere. Well, we get the answer to that at the end of this episode: the pregnancy that Claire admitted to Frank is another future pregnancy.
Review by Dave Golder
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