The ninth episode of Outlander – intriguingly entitled ‘The Reckoning’ – certainly lived up to expectations. (Or my expectations, certainly. I would not presume to speak for yours). Beginning with the cliffhanger the loyal viewers were so painfully left with at the close of episode eight – yes, the hiatus was painful – the episode practically raced along, elegantly avoiding the irritatingly frequent pitfall of establishing the whereabouts of each and every character and thus becoming a ‘filler’ episode in favour of continuing exactly where it left off and answering a good many burning questions. My first: how did Jamie get to that window? Answered. How good is that? Hint: excellent. Furthermore, given that we left the two main characters in such dire straits at the end of episode eight, it was a reassuring start, backed up by a wealth of fresh plot points and worrying tensions as it kicked off the remainder of the season.
One of the many things I’ve always enjoyed about Outlander is that it’s difficult to summarise not because it’s overly complicated and thus dull, but because so much happens. Very little – arguably, none of it – passes without comment or consequence, and thus the result is a richly embroidered show devoid of actions somehow taking place in isolation, and for that reason, although its premise may be mysterious time-travel and a lot of vague hand-waving, it feels realistic.
(Or as realistic as a show can get when the dashing young man that emerges as your brave rescuer turns out to not only be dashing but also handsome, intelligent, and in possession of a reasonable sense of humour, because, I mean, come on. What are the chances?).
Additionally, while it is not unjustifiable to claim that Outlander is a love story, it is, arguably, unjustifiable to claim that that is all it is, accompanied by beautiful scenery, a lovely score, and rather a lot of roguish Scotsmen. Outlander may feature a love story, but it’s a story that takes place in a very specific time period, and the largest plot movements are, arguably, not the highs and lows of Jamie and Claire’s relationship, but, rather, the decisions made in regards to the wider context of the war developing around them. That said, the romance in the show is a clear gateway to the full range of emotional, dramatic scenes that so firmly characterised the former half of the season, and for that reason, should not be so easily dismissed.
Nonetheless, it’s made clear in ‘The Reckoning’ that the war that’s been heating up behind the scenes for the entirety of the season thus far is beginning to take a new, important turn, as sides are being chosen and old friends – even family – are finding themselves at odds In the middle of it all are, of course, Dougal and his band of loyal men (I defy you to read that and not think of Robin Hood riding through the glen), Jamie, and Claire, the latter two of which suffer their own disagreement. It’s a tense episode for a multiple reasons, and it is, arguably, clear that even after Jamie’s successful attempt to bring about peace, it’s a volatile situation made worse by quick tempers, and liable to explode at a moment’s notice.
The most obvious development – or at least to me, your loyal reviewer – was the change in perspective from Claire to Jamie. At first, it was somewhat disconcerting, and I missed Claire’s reactions, but to enter into the thoughts of someone like Jamie, quickly refreshing. All we have seen and, arguably, understood, thus far in the show is what Claire has seen and understood, but now, with the shift to Jamie, we are presented with the opportunity to obtain a fuller, clearer insight into a number of things including the motives behind Jamie’s actions, the politics of the time, and the traditions so often made reference to and so rarely analysed. In this episode, however, they are, via the clear division between Claire and Jamie’s beliefs.
This was particularly ‘striking’ (pun totally unintended, but appreciated in hindsight) during the ‘beating’ scene, which was, I have to admit, difficult for me to watch. Initially, it was amusing – Claire wriggling around, Jamie’s enjoyment, the bizarrely cheerfully music – but I quickly began to find it uncomfortable. Prefaced with a ‘do as your told’ talk, and awkwardly reminiscent of a teacher punishing a pupil for untoward behaviour, Claire was very firmly told that she had to obey without reservation in the future, and that her own beliefs on the matter, however valid to her, were of no consequence. In that context, the music was even vaguely sinister, as the viewer was encouraged to take Jamie’s side and pay no attention to Claire’s very real distress as she was forced into an agreement that she definitely didn’t want to make, beaten for a decision she thought entirely justified, and if that wasn’t humiliation enough, faced the rest of the gleefully amused gang. It was a profoundly uncomfortable moment, arguably made worse by the way Jamie made such light of it, and only relieved by how quickly Claire made it clear that a repeat of that kind of behaviour would not be tolerated. (You go, Claire).
That said, an argument could be made for the fact that because the story has been resumed primarily from Jamie’s perspective, the light-hearted music, and their speedy forgiveness of one another is much more acceptable. From Claire’s perspective, the set-up would have lacked justification given her constant protests and clear displeasure, but Jamie regarded the beating as a necessity, and one that once completed, would allow them to move on. It follows from this that the scene, put together as it was, makes much more sense.
Nonetheless, it didn’t work for me, and I was glad that Claire showed no sign of being actually cowed by it.
To conclude, (quickly now, I’ve written too much) even though I took issue with some aspects, it was a strong, fundamentally enjoyable episode.
Bring on next week.