Saturday, April 18, 2015

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire & Geillis Face Witchcraft Accusations as Claire Reveals More of Her Truths in 'The Devil's Mark'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 1.11 "The Devil's Mark"

Claire and Geillis are on trial for witchcraft. Jamie manages to rescue Claire, but not before she discovers a secret about Geillis's past.

When she first appeared in eighteenth century Scotland, Claire was accused of being a witch by the people at Castle Leoch. She proved her worth with her extensive knowledge as a nurse. However, she was still a prisoner to Colum and Dougal. Over the course of the first season so far, she has won over some freedom. Of course, the majority of that came from being a married woman to one of the more respected men of the clan. Because she and Jamie were married, the looks of suspicion and bodyguards following her everywhere stopped. She had achieved a certain amount of freedom that came out of this growing intimate relationship. It's not the life she envisioned having. But she has found happiness again with Jamie. She trusts him and he trusts her. Clan politics have disturbed the natural balance of the show in the previous two episodes. Dougal and Colum are at odds and that forced Claire once more into a severely oppressive and traumatizing situation.

Claire and Geillis being arrested for witchcraft was a shocking move at the end of the last episode. This episode fully commits to digging deep into the mindset of the community around them. They fear a witch more than anything else in the world. They have their own beliefs and someone appearing and telling them that they are wrong is the single most destructive thing to this environment. Even without evidence, once the citizens of the village make up their minds about Claire and Geillis being witches, there's no telling them otherwise. This trial fully is one of public opinion. Anyone is able to come forward with accusations at Claire or Geillis. Some are factual while others are completely preposterous. Geillis' servant comes forward and is able to tell hours of stories of suspicious behavior her master has committed over the past few years. Laoghaire is able to spin a tale of her being the love of Jamie's life until Claire got in the way. The people of this community listen to everything that the witnesses have to say without pause. They don't question whether or not it's true. They just want a sensationalized story. It's exciting to them to burn a witch. They believe that they have been tricked by these women. And now, they're getting their retribution by exposing them and burning them alive for their supposed crimes.

It's a very oppressive atmosphere where the people of the village no longer see Claire and Geillis as people. They see them as witches who must be burned at the stake. Once that accusation is flung, there's no convincing them otherwise. The audience knows better. All of Claire and Geillis' actions have rational explanations. But they aren't able to voice those explanations. The system doesn't care about them. The system sees Claire speaking up for herself as her embarrassing herself and dooming her to a more swift judgment and punishment. Ned is valiantly trying to help Claire and Geillis. He has formed a true bond of friendship with Claire and doesn't want her to suffer for crimes that are untrue. He is a man who can operate in this system. He's a man the show desperately needed to have on Claire and Geillis' side. Without a lawyer representing them, the whole system would be battling against Claire and Geillis without any regard for what they have to say to defend themselves and their actions. It's a very brutal experience.

The only person Claire and Geillis can sympathize with is each other. This is happening to both of them. Both are doing different things to handle these charges. Claire speaks up multiple times to tell her truth while Geillis largely sits in silence. Initially they want to blame each other for this happening to them. Geillis believes Claire brought the warden to her home while Claire believes Geillis had tempted the people of the village with this suspicion long before she arrived in Scotland. Neither one of them wants to be thrown into the hole and not treated like a human. And yet, they have to rely on each other in order to make it through this experience. The idea of people being stronger in numbers is uplifting even though there's two of them versus a whole village certain of their guilt. They are in this together. Claire truly does consider Geillis to be a friend. Sure, she's eccentric in a way that Claire simply doesn't understand. She sees the customs of these people as foreign. And yet, Claire is still willing to stand up for Geillis because she knows that there are no such thing as witches. Even when she's given the opportunity to save herself, she chooses to stand firm by Geillis' side.

That's what leads to the episode's biggest revelation: Geillis is from the future just like Claire. She originally comes from 1968 and believes her journey back in time is a mission to change the past. This season Geillis has always been overly suspicious of the circumstances surrounding Claire's arrival. And now, it's abundantly clear why. She sees Claire as a woman just like herself. She was never able to confirm that suspicion until their lives were on the line. And then, Claire fully admits that her appearance in this time was just a mistake. She doesn't believe she can change anything. She only cares about going back to her own time. It's an honorable gesture for Claire to then refuse to turn against Geillis. In a matter of moments, she comes to terms with both of them suffering this fate. Geillis can't accept that though. She puts on a performance for the courtroom fully confessing to the crimes of witchcraft and saving Claire in the process. The reveal of "the devil's mark" shows Claire that Geillis is a time traveler just like herself. And yet, there's nothing more she can do for Geillis. Jamie whisks her out of the room while the mass hysteria of the village reaches its peak and carry Geillis to the stake.

It's a painfully traumatic climax of the courtroom drama that is then immediately paired with a simple and intimate scene between Claire and Jamie. She has no idea what has happened to Geillis back in the village. Jamie has taken her away from there. His only concern is in protecting his wife. He has his own suspicions about her. But he does honestly love her. Claire now knows the full truth about Geillis and that has shaken her more than the threat of death from the trial. She was not alone in having this unexplainable thing happen to her. And now, she'll never know more because the two have been separated. One destined for death and the other destined for protection and love. Claire doesn't know how to react except to trust Jamie with the full truth.

Claire telling Jamie the truth about where and when she came from was bound to happen. Their romantic connection has been genuine, but the truth about her has always put some distance between them. She has always been struggling with being out of place in time. That was her own personal struggle. She couldn't confide in anyone about what happened to her because that would have only painted her as a witch much sooner. Now she has the love and respect of Jamie. The whole concept of time travel is foreign to him but he's willing to still be respectful of Claire. He recognizes that this is incredibly personal to her. So much has happened to her since landing in this foreign land. She has carried so much of that weight that it's a relief to finally share it with someone. Jamie is fully a part of this time but he's more open to what Claire has to say. He doesn't want to throw away their marriage just because everyone else believes she is a witch. In fact, he is willing to listen to everything she has to say about her life without judgment. He has questions and is still likely puzzled by a lot of it. But his willingness to listen is placed in stark contrast to the courtroom where no one cared to listen to her.

That's uplifting and a totally deliberate part of the episode's structure. It could be seen as weird having the first half of the episode be all courtroom drama and the second be an intimate exposure of Claire's truth. It works seamlessly though because of Claire being at the center of it all. She doesn't know what has happened to Geillis. But her truth right now is incredibly personal and finally getting it off her chest is wonderfully comforting. She's made peace that she may never return to her home from the future. She has enjoyed her marriage as much as Jamie has. She has accepted this as her new reality and she does genuinely love it. And yet, it's also inspiring to know that Jamie is willing to give her the one thing she desperately wanted when she first appeared in this time - a chance to return to the rocks at Craigh na Dun.

After telling her truth, Claire was content to listen to Jamie talk about his home and the life they could live together with his family. It's one where they would always be on the run because there's still a price on his head. But as long as she is with Jamie, that's enough. However, Jamie proves himself to be a wonderful man of character by bringing her to the rocks to see if she really can return to her time. It's a selfless act. He's placing her needs above his own. He recognizes that this is what she wants and he has a willingness to give it to her. That action proves that he is a very honorable man. It's easy to see why Claire now has uncertainty over returning to her time period. She loves Jamie. This world may be brutal and horrifying to her, but Jamie is enough to keep her in it. The editing of the ending makes the audience uncertain if Claire touches the rock to see if she can return or if she choices to head back down the hill to his campsite. It's a genuinely earned moment where Claire has to make a decision. She choices Jamie. She doesn't even try touching the rocks because her love for Jamie outweighs the love for her home time period. That's empowering. Claire goes on a huge journey throughout this episode. But she ends in a place where her choices cause the most action and that's the most exciting and empowering aspect of the show.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Devil's Mark" was written by Toni Graphia and directed by Mike Barker.
  • While the people of eighteenth century Scotland see Geillis' mark as a sign that she's loyal to the devil, Claire sees it as a vaccination mark that confirms where Geillis is truly from.
  • Claire doesn't really know how to explain a vaccination to Jamie but that's her opening to tell him the full truth about her and it's so wonderful for to finally do that.
  • Since Geillis' body isn't shown being burned, she's still alive, right? A character isn't dead until the audience sees their cold corpse.
  • It's so obvious that Laoghaire's whole testimony is an act of vengeance against Claire. And yet, the only person to see through it is Ned who calls her out on simply being heartbroken and nothing more.
  • The testimonies do offer a ton of great callbacks to stories from the previous episodes that could easily be misconstrued as witchcraft - like Claire giving Laoghaire a love potion, Father Bain's failed exorcism, etc.