Saturday, April 4, 2015

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Jamie Rescues & Punishes Claire While Falling More Deeply in Love with Her in 'The Reckoning'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 1.09 "The Reckoning"

Jamie and the Highlanders rescue Claire from Black Jack Randall. Back at the castle, politics threaten to tear Clan MacKenzie apart and Jamie's scorned lover, Laoghaire, attempts to win him back.

It is a brilliant move to tell the first episode of Outlander post-hiatus from Jamie's point-of-view. The harshness of the events in this episode would have played much more severely if the show continued to be told solely from how Claire sees this world. Giving Jamie this amount of time to shine as his own character gives him an importance than is completely necessary before the show heads down the next stretch of its journey. Jamie is just as important a character as Claire. Sometimes that wasn't completely true in the first half of the season. But this episode adds such great depth and complexity to Jamie that it makes me that much more invested in the two of them as the leads and as a couple.

Jamie showing up in the window of Black Jack's castle just when the nefarious British captain was about to rape Claire was a rousing moment to end the last episode on. However, it was also a tad over-the-top. Claire was whisked away suddenly and violently to Black Jack. Despite her best efforts, he was still able to use his powers to suppress her. Jamie showing up allowed the hero of the story to make a valiant and epic return. However, it really was important for this episode to begin by showing us how Jamie got there in the first place. From him learning Claire had been taken to seeing him and the rest of the men sneak into the castle, it was a very exciting way to open the first hour back. Claire is his wife and he is bravely doing whatever he has to do to get her back - despite the consequences it could mean for him.

The rescue is a thrilling set piece where both Jamie and Black Jack are trying to prove that they have the upper hand. Jamie with his gun pointed and Black Jack with a knife to Claire's throat. In the end though, Jamie is able to win by tricking Black Jack into dropping his knife and picking up the gun which isn't loaded with real bullets. The chaos of all of this is stimulating and exciting. Claire and Jamie literally have to leap off the edge of the building in the hopes that there really is water below. They took that chance in order to survive. And they do - naturally, of course.

After this daring rescue, things become more personal and complicated. The thrills are never that high again - but they also don't need to be. The rest of the hour depicts a story of intimacy and loyalty. It is different than the excitement of the first sequence. But both sides of the narrative are completely relevant and in keeping with the totality of the piece in an earned way. In his life, Jamie has learned what it means to be a man by the clansmen around him and in his desperate desire to stay alive and avoid capture again by the British. He is grateful to Colum and Dougal for allowing him to live amongst Clan MacKenzie even though he refuses to pledge his loyalty to the laird. He is a man who knows what is expected of him from the community and the time around him. And yet, he is also displaced from the community. He is a man who stands out because he is on the run. That one fact is keeping him from experiencing any kind of a normal life.

And yet, that's also the reason why Dougal arranged to have Jamie marry Claire in the first place. He can't offer her much except for protection from the British which is the one thing she really needs. Claire is misplaced in time. She has adjusted to the world around her but she's still a modern woman trapped in the harsh ways of the distant past. The two of them do have an honest and genuine romantic connection. Their wedding and night of passion proved that. But the realities of life have put stress on their relationship much sooner than any typical marriage of the time. He needed to rescue Claire from Black Jack because that's his duty as a husband. And yet, he also truly believed that he has to punish her for getting captured and forcing the other clansmen to risk their lives to save her.

It's a rather intricate and delicate discussion about punishment that is incredibly relevant to the time. Claire is never going to be a wife who is always subservient to her husband. She has already opened him up to new horizons. And yet, he believes the spanking must be done in order to appease the fellow men of the clan. He had already forgiven her for everything that had happened. As his narration tells us, he is falling more deeply in love with her in every passing moment. As long as she is okay, he is happy and willing to forgive her for whatever she has done. Those are his internal feelings. They are a crucial part in making us understand why he feels the need to carry out this punishment. He needs to do things in the way that things have always been done. He doesn't have the desire to do them. But it is what gets the rest of the clan to embrace Claire once more.

However, that spanking also puts quite a strain on their marriage. He is hoping for Claire to see the reasons why he had to do it and then be happy that things have gone back to being normal. It's not that simple though. Claire is furious that Jamie would believe this to be okay. Jamie has never been in this position before so he is torn over how to be supportive of both his clan and his wife. It's a tricky balance that he internalizes but still struggles with. His narration begins the episode declaring that every day a man makes choices and the sum of those choices make up the story of your life. That's a well spoken piece of wisdom. This episode shows Jamie having to make several choices - to rescue Claire, to not kill Black Jack, to support Colum or Dougal, to spank Claire, etc. He makes a firm stance on all of those issues. He saves his wife and keeps the clan from tearing itself apart over differing ideologies.

And yet, no situation is more complex and complicated than the state of his marriage to Claire. He has the desire to be the perfect husband for her. He can't offer her that much in life but he still wants to offer her a unique experience. He doesn't want to do things the way they have always been done because he has so much respect and love for Claire. She is teaching him new things every day. She is slowly but surely stealing away his heart. At times, that is scary and terrifying. He doesn't always know how to react. The day after the spanking he thinks they can have sex like nothing just happened between them. Things aren't that easy though. He has to work hard in order to be the perfect husband for her. He doesn't know what all that means. But he does know that he wants to be loyal to Claire. That is a big gesture coming from him. His presence in this clan could become very unsettling to its laird and war chief. Jamie has no desire to take those positions of power away from Dougal and Colum but the option is still open that one day he could. And yet, he is willing to swear to be with Claire. He wants to have her as long as she is willing to have him. That is such a progressive idea to showcase. She is accepting of that pledge but also makes sure that the message is really driven into his head by pointing his sword at him during his most vulnerable state - aka halfway through sex with her. It reminds us that Claire is a powerful character who never should or will be treated like a regular woman of the time. He understands that now and will do whatever it takes to protect her and the love the two have.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Reckoning" was written by Matthew B. Roberts and directed by Richard Clark.
  • Upon Jamie's return to Castle Leoch, Laoghaire is very upset that during his trip away he married another woman. She was saving herself for him and is so desperate for his love. That's really all she can think about. Jamie being presented with this other temptation while things between him and Claire aren't good was a little cliche. But Jamie remained the perfect gentleman in telling Laoghaire no.
  • Hamish really is Dougal's son as Dougal reveals that fact in front of Colum, Ned and Jamie in order to try to win back the gold he collected for the Jacobite cause.
  • Of course, Black Jack would wonder if Jamie would show him the art they created together on his back again.
  • A British deserter claims that Black Jack is really the one who killed the man Jamie is charged with murdering.
  • It's also such a powerful statement for Jamie to say that his home is now wherever Claire is.
  • The idol Claire finds under the bed after sex symbolizes pain and death which could be too on-the-nose foreshadowing of what's to come. For the moment, it means the situation with Laoghaire isn't going away anytime soon.