By Valérie Gay-Corajoud, very loosely inspired by the article written by CM Houghton. outlander 303 – all debts paid –
The episode begins with a surprisingly happy scene between Claire and Frank.
Frank is introduced as the good husband at home, preparing breakfast while Claire is immersed in reading her medical books. While they are having lunch quietly, she offers him a movie session, suggesting by her cheerful tone that the household is going well. The weather is nice, they are both smiling, but the mask will soon fall, because Frank admits to him having already seen the film with someone else. "We had agreed that we would be free," he said in his defense... "I try to be as discreet as possible."
Claire says nothing, offers a semblance of a smile that fools no one.
We then understand that this glimpse of domestic tranquility is only a façade and that this marriage is maintained only by a thin veneer of civility. They remain married not only out of convenience, but out of necessity, as every successive scene of the twentieth century shows.
The different scenes run through long sequences of their disintegrating marriage:
So there is this very embarrassing breakfast, then the unexpected and humiliating appearance of Frank's mistress at Claire and Joe Abernaty's graduation party followed by a strong argument when Frank returns in the evening, drunk and bitter. There's also Brianna's 16th birthday party where there is growing unease as much as Bree's high school graduation where Claire and Frank seem more distant than ever as they sit side by side.
Finally, there is this terrible confrontation when Frank says that he plans to return to England taking Brianna with him and asks for divorce.
All this is interspersed with scenes in 1755 and 1756, where Jamie is now a prisoner at Ardsmuir.
We meet the new governor of the prison, who is none other than John Grey whom we had not seen since the episode "I am Prest" when he was only 16 years old.
We also find Murtagh, the big surprise of this season since in the books, Diana Gabaldon had him killed during the battle of Culloden.
The series therefore decided to replace the character of Duncan Innes who, in the saga, had little place in Jamie's life. This subtsitution avoids voice-overs by giving Jamie a permanent interlocutor. An interlocutor knowing Claire's secret to whom Jamie can report Duncan Kerr's words about the gold of the French and the white witch.
However, Murtagh did not remain Duncan Innes' only substitute for long. It is, in a way, an amalgam of many characters that dot Jamie's life throughout the books, allowing the series to avoid scattering into too many secondary characters, in the same way that Frank's many alleged mistresses in the book became a single love affair with Sandy.
Simplifying and focusing characters and events is probably why the writers also sent Jamie to Helwater as the other prisoners are transported to the colonies while in the book, Jamie stays behind for several months until Lord John can arrange his parole.
In the book, Jamie is angry and embittered at being separated from his men, even though he is relieved not to have to deal with his epic seasickness during the months it would take to cross an ocean. The series, meanwhile, offers a painful separation from Murtagh and his other companions in misfortune while he himself is brought to England by Lord John.
It is worth noting the strange choice of the writers to have Jamie walk behind John, rather than give him a horse, as the author had done in the original version.
Even Diana Gabaldon talked about it in a comment on her CompuServe forum.
The Lord John dragging Jamie behind his horse for three days... teh show's trusty consultant pointed out to them (Whith assorted logical arguments) that this was ridiculous.
At the very least, doing such a thing meant that John couldn't travel faster than Jamie could walk. (And the prison has more than one horse; we've seen them.)
Why would Lord John inconvenience himself to such an extent, given that he doesn't have any apparent animus toward his prisoner (this made-explicit when they finaly stop and John tells Jamie his arrangements) ? Also, given that John Has made these arrangements personnaly and vouched for Jamie to the Dunsanys, what's the point in having him arrive completely disheveled, plastered with dirt and whith rope burns on his wrists all thigs calculated to make it harder for him to be accepted by the servants he's meant to work with ?
No explicit response to that, but normally when they don't answer a logical argument, it comes down to a simple, "we want the visual". Somebody in production had a vision of Jamie being dragged behind a horse and throught that would look dramatic, sooo...
In the book and at this point in the story, Jamie is more or less resigned to living. He no longer has the death wish that plagued him in Culloden, and he is also more committed to life than he was hiding in the cave on the outskirts of Lallybroch.
In the series, this is less obvious. We feel that Jamie can't shake his sadness at losing Claire to such an extent that even saying her name is painful. It is also because he no longer wants to live without her that he offers his life to Lord John after his escapade to the island of seals. Jamie lives for others, as a chef and friend, but he experiences no personal happiness.
It is in this state of mind that he is hired at Helwater, as an employee rather than a prisoner, but what does it change for him? At least he has the opportunity to take care of the horses, which he has always loved to do.
David Berry, in his debut as Lord John Grey, proved to be the perfect choice for the role. His Lord John is dignified, honorable, and his budding feelings for Jamie are perfectly readable and subtle, which was really paramount. This particular moment when John lets go and puts his hand on Jamie's is a very important passage that marks, paradoxically, the beginning of their friendship. John's tears when Jamie leaves the room informs us of his great sensitivity. We also know that the trauma of BJR's rape largely provokes Jamie's reaction.
The progression of their relationship towards a beautiful friendship is all the more important. It is in full awareness of the romantic feelings that John feels for him, that Jamie will finally let himself go to a trust and a great affection. That is to say if Lord John deserves this mark of favour.
It turns out that there is a real chemistry between the two actors that greatly contributes to make us love the couple of friends that form Jamie and Lord John.
In a way, it is John who allows him to get out of his gloom. Since Culloden, he was just a survivor who found meaning in his own life only by caring for others. His relationship with John allows him to regain some of his identity, and it allows him to be more serene by the time he arrives in Hellwater.
Throughout the episode, Sam very skillfully took Jamie from one emotion to another, sometimes even during the same scene. From Jamie's joy when he tastes pheasant with a Bordeaux wine sauce, to his devastation when John refuses to kill him, to his quiet bond during chess games with John, followed almost immediately by his revulsion when the latter dares this ill-timed gesture.
In this scene, the tension behind holding back his emotions while emotionally broken is evident. It can be read as well on his face as in his body. Sam's game is really impressive.
Meanwhile, in the 20th century, everything accelerated. Nothing will be able to appease the couple that Claire and Frank have been forming out of duty for years. The difference is that Brianna is an adult and Frank hopes she will agree to follow him to England. He will be able to live with Sandy, this woman who has the merit of loving him.
But fate will decide otherwise. Frank is killed in a car accident. Claire mourns him, confesses to him that if not his greatest love, he was the first.
We, the spectators, are placed in the delicate situation of rejoicing at the death of a man who has done nothing wrong, except to imprison Claire in a hopeless life. In a way, her death sets her free.
Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies were remarkably accurate in this episode.
They knew how to interpret this immense pain of each other, whether in silence, in an erzats of acceptance or during disputes in which the entirety of their resentment could finally be expressed.
It is difficult to know how Claire really felt about Frank who had, in the end, only the flaw of not being Jamie. Yet she has loved him in the past, enough to never take off her wedding ring.
What remains of this love? Gratitude for taking such good care of Brianna?
Be that as it may, Catriona's acting sublimates this clash of contradictory feelings: sincere sorrow and relief at no longer having to fear the estrangement of her daughter.
Tobias is just as wonderful in his portrayal of Frank and that's to his credit because the character is deliberately unpleasant. (Just read the heated discussions about it on social media).
Even if, subconsciously, we (fans) wish that Claire does not love anyone but Jamie, it is indisputable that Frank is an honorable man and that the disappearance, for the reappearance of Claire in his life was dramatic.
No matter the reasons that pushed him to accept this disastrous life as a couple. It doesn't matter if it's for selfish reasons, especially to be Brianna's father... His life is complicated and he suffers. He makes it clear, they are a couple of three, and he has never managed to drive out of their lives the ghost of Jamie, the same ghost that appeared to him years before in Inverness.
Tobias' two farewells, one as Black Jack on Culloden Moor, and the other as Frank in the Boston of the 60s are sublimated by Tobias' playing.
It is also worth noting the beautiful work of Terry Dresbach, the costume designer of the first seasons of the series.
It was important to show us Claire in 20th century clothing that evokes a certain lifestyle. Claire is now a doctor, she is the wife of a recognized historian. They live in a beautiful Boston apartment. It is an understatement to say that her quality of life is different from what she lived alongside Jamie, especially in the run-up to the Battle of Culloden.