Outlander S02E12 “The Hail Mary” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video, new episodes every Sunday
Writers: Ira Steven Behr, Anne Kenney
Director: Philip John
Essential Plot Points:
- The English have pursued the weary Jacobite army back to Scotland.
- The Scottish army camps nears Inverness, not far from – you guessed it – Culloden.
- Everyone says the word “Culloden” like there should be an accompanying doomy three-note orchestral sting on the soundtrack.
- O’Sullivan wants the Prince to order the Jacobite army to engage the English at Culloden (duh… DUH… dummmmmm!). Jamie and Murray advise the opposite. The Prince goes with O’Sullivan’s advice. Jamie and Claire can see no way of avoiding the Jacobites’ massive defeat.
- Clare pops into town to fetch medication and bumps into Mary
- Mary’s pissed with Claire because she’s found out that Claire discouraged Alex from proposing to her when they were all in Paris.
- Mary is now back with Alex, and pregnant, but Alex is very ill. His brother, Black Jack Randall, is supporting them.
- Jack asks Claire to tend to his brother but Claire says Alex is near death. The best she can do is alleviate his pain.
- Jack offers Claire information about where the English army is camped and the fact that they’ll be throwing a party for the Duke of Cumberland (making the vulnerable) in exchange for her helping Alex.
- Alex asks Jack to marry Mary, so she and their child will be supported after his death
- Jack initially refuses but Claire (sensing that she can make present-day hubby’s ancestry pan out as it’s supposed to) encourages him to play along. She’s convinced he’ll die at the Battle Of Culloden anyway, so she’s only condemning Mary to a few days of the nightmare husband from hell.
- The marriage goes ahead, then Alex dies, and Jack goes into a rage.
- Back at camp, Colum, also on death’s door, turns up. He tells Dougal that his “son” Hamish will be the next leader of the MacKenzies, but because Hamish is a minor, Jamie will rule the clan in his name – and guide the child – until Hamish comes of age.
- Dougal is not happy, but when he later tries to bury the hatchet with his brother, Colum dies before Dougal has a chance to pour his heart out. (Colum kills himself with a potion given to him by Claire.)
- Jamie convinces the Prince and O’Sullivan to mount an attack on the English at Nairn while they’re celebrating the Duke of Cumberland’s birthday.
- O’Sullivan suggests splitting the Jacobite army in two, and the column under the leadership of the prince (rather suspiciously) gets lost en route and turns back.
- The attack never happens. The Jacobites and the English will meet instead at…
- Duh… DUH… dummmmmm!
“Memories – they remain raw even longer than wounds.” It’s a line that seems to sum up so much of Outlander, especially in an episode where Jack Randall shows no scars of having a sword thrust through his privates, but Dougal is still traumatised by the fact his big strong brother was thrown from a horse as a child and was never the same again. Colum might bear the physical scars of that fall but he’s gone on to become a strong and successful leader; Dougal, on the other hand, still seems to be bearing the emotional scars.
The big question, then, on the Eve of Culloden – which now seems to be an inevitability – is whether the physical or emotional wounds are going to have the greater effect when Claire returns to the 20th Century. Hey, this is Outlander. It’s pretty obvious what the answer is.
This is an odd little penultimate episode of a season. Storywise, the big finale at Culloden is obviously just around the corner but it doesn’t actually feel any nearer or further away than it has since Jamie, Claire and Murtagh returned from France. In fact, when Claire wonders how they’ve managed to put all this effort into changing history and got precisely nowhere, you do wonder if season two has actually been the most elaborate treading-water exercise ever in TV history.
On the other had, a number of plot threads do come together – the MacKenzies’ succession, Black Jack, Mary, the war with the English – ready to be woven into an epic finale. There’s some superb acting in a number of emotionally-charged character moments, and a clever use of the show’s time travel format to drive one storyline in an unexpected way.
Surprisingly, the the arrival of the dying Colum sets up one of the episode’s highlights. Surprising because when he arrives the last thing you think you want in this episode is some guff about MacKenzie succession. But the big scene in which Colum reveals his plans is utterly gripping as Colum proves his political canniness. Even when Jamie sides with Dougal and says, yes, against Colum’s wishes, he would take Clan MacKenzie into the Jacobite army, Colum maintains the upper hand; Colum knows Jamie would never risk his men for a lost cause while Dougal cannot say the same. So this is how Colum has ruled unopposed so long despite his physical weakness.
Later Dougal has an incredibly moving scene of his own, pouring his heart out to his brother, not realising Colum has already taken the poison Claire gave him. Great, great acting.
Meanwhile, Claire still seems to have no sense of the irony in fact that she’s put so much effort into changing history on one hand, while she’s desperately trying to make sure it doesn’t change on the other – as regards keeping the Randall ancestry intact. One of the episode’s cleverer and more entertaining conceits is the way Claire appears callous enough to risk marrying off Mary to Black Jack when, in fact, she’s convinced that Jack will die at Culloden so Mary shouldn’t have to suffer for long. But has it never occurred to her before that her meddling with the timeline could have all sorts of unforeseen, negative outcomes? Including Jack surviving.
Luckily, she and Jamie do face finally address this possibility at the end of the episode. If Jack doesn’t die at Culloden she’ll kill him herself, she says, and a look passes between them like a clichéd painting of the gunpowder plotters. But you can’t help wondering why they’ve never tried to rationalise these two conflicting aims before. Or why the normally pragmatic Jamie has never pondered, “What if we make matter worse…?”
As with Dougal, there’s an attempt here to show a softer side to Jack too. He’s the one who seems to revel in reminding us all that he’s monster at various times in the episode, almost as if he’s ashamed that his love for his brother makes him look soft and he’s overcompensating. That outburst at the end is definitely overcompensating for something. Does it makes us feels any less loathing for Jack? Frankly no. Knowing that he does have a human side only make his monstrous side even less forgivable.
So, an episode full of very, very strong scenes, but one that felt a little meandering as a prelude to the finale.
- The undoubted highpoint of episode is clearly Jack Randall’s extraordinary outburst following Alex’s death, especially after Jack’s been portrayed as having a genuine love for his brother during the episode. And yet it’s totally in character. Weirdly, pummelling Alex’s body is basically Jack’s way of channeling grief and venting frustration rather than all that crying nonsense. He’s not so much angry at Jack for making him marry Mary; he’s angry at Alex for dying.
- It helps that Tobias Menzies is such a fine actor (and so woefully underused on Game Of Thrones). His drunken conversation with Claire in the pub is an understated acting tour de force; he doesn’t need to rant and gesticulate. From the way he closes one eye so that his alcohol-affected vision can bring Claire into focus (literally and metaphorically) to the chillingly matter-of-fact way he delivers the line, “I know the sound he makes at the last, when he has lost himself. And I regret none of it,” this is masterful stuff.
- Rupert is still pining for Angus. It’s really sweet. But at least now he’s realised that Ross is going through the same anguish.
- As we said last week, Dougal’s a difficult man to like but a fascinating one to watch. His bedside confession to his unhearing brother explains so much about the guy, without excusing him. And when he expresses his frustration that there’s so much in his head that’ll now never have a chance to come out is one of his most genuinely sympathetic moments in the show.
- Colum, meanwhile, may be a duplicitous git at times but he proves how – despite his physical limitations – he has managed to keep his hold on the Clan MacKenzie here with a magnificent display of political and psychological insight.
- Plus his line, “I have lived my life crippled in body, and he has lived his crippled in mind,” is a corker.
- You have to love Murtagh offering to marry Mary. Although it was clearly never going to happen – for all the rather harsh reasons Claire points out – you can’t help thinking Muratagh and Marry would have made a wonderfully odd couple.
- “All that work. All that plotting. How the bloody hell did we end up here?” Good point. But is it a good idea to basically remind the audience, “Well, nine-tenths of the season has been pretty pointless.”
- It’s rare to have to hand out a black mark to Sam Heughan, but his eye-and-eyebrow acting when Prince Charlie decides to press on with Culloden is like something out of a silent comedy. Or Ian Somerhalder in one of his subtler moments.
- The final scene – with the Prince and his part of the army not bothering to turn up to the birthday party – is a bit of a damp squib. Sure, for reasons of drama, the attack on the English can’t happen, and not turning up because he can’t be arsed is something the Prince would do. But as a cliffhanger leading into the season finale it lacks impact.
- Why is there no mention of the injury Black Jack received in “Best Laid Schemes…”? You’d think he’d have a… erm… different walk at least.
- The idea of Alex getting a job on an estate near Inverness seems incredibly unlikely considering his health issues (he wasn’t in a particularly good state when he left Paris). The whole thing (including the throwaway line, “on an English estate”) feels suspiciously contrived just to get Jack back into play in the plot.
- Did Jack really have to offer Claire information about the English army in exchange for her help? She looked like she was going to help Alex anyway out of guilt for how she treated Mary.
And The Random:
- The season finale is actually debuting two weeks’ time.
- The writers seem to have moved the Duke Of Cumberland’s birthday; it was actually on 26 April, ten days after the Battle Of Culloden.
- We’re not sure if this has been made explicit in the series, but in the books it is clear that Jack was left impotent after Jamie thrust a sword though his privates.
- Is there anybody at this point who didn’t think they’s accidentally sat on the remote and switched over to a Cheech & Chong movie?
- This is without doubt the single most stomach-churning thing we’ve yet seen in the series.
- To a large extent, Tobias Menzies was given free reign for how to portray Randall’s moment of rage after losing his brother. “He knows the character so well that we just talked for a few minutes about it, really,” showrunner Ron Moore said to Entertainment Weekly. “We just talked about the intention of the scene and then he liked the script and just went for it. He brought all that inner turmoil and angst to the scene when he just throws himself at the body. That was all him.”
- “It was really intense,” adds Caitriona Balfe. “There was a question about whether or not Tobias would do that or if he would just leave… he had a lot of conversations with the director about it. Rosie and I were just standing and waiting to see what would come out of it and when he did what he did, it was just chilling… The fact that he just straightens his jacket and walks out, it’s so chilling. It was so amazing to watch Tobias film that.”
- Please don’t uncross your legs! Please don’t uncross your legs!
Review by Dave Golder
Read our other reviews of Outlander