Saturday, May 9, 2015

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire Does Whatever She Has to Do to Be Reunited with Jamie in 'The Search'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 1.14 "The Search"

Claire and Jenny set out to rescue Jamie from his redcoat captors. When Murtagh joins up, they turn to unorthodox tactics to send word to Jamie. When word finally arrives, the news isn't what anyone had hoped.

"The Search" follows a weird structure - in which the beginning and end of the hour are fantastic while the middle stretch is something completely different and odd. The transitions from great to odd and back again occur the moment a past character reappears on the screen. In the beginning, Claire and Jenny are a fantastic duo doing whatever it takes to track the redcoats who are keeping Jamie prisoner. And then, Murtagh shows up to kill their hostage and that begins his and Claire's campaign across the country to gain attention and find Jamie again. Things then pivot again when Claire finally gets answers after she goes to the meeting point for Jamie and only sees Dougal again. It's a strange structure that is deliberate even though its a slog to get through the middle part in the hopes of things turning around again. The beginning and end of the episode justify its entire existence. But it's just so odd for the episode to break up such strong tension for the sake of uncertainty and then bring it back to where everything started in the end again.

It's great that the episode begins with the two most important women in Jamie's life going to rescue him by themselves. It's a powerful statement. These are two very capable and strong-willed woman who believe that they can rescue Jamie before he ever reaches Wentworth Prison. They both are willing to do anything in order to bring him back home safely. That includes torturing and killing a man. It's a brutal sequence where Claire isn't entirely comfortable with what needs to be done. She's resourceful enough to know when they can stop. But that doesn't take any of the weight off from what they need to do next with this redcoat messenger they've taken hostage. Claire understands that it needs to happen but still needs to grapple with the reality of it all. Murtagh appears suddenly to take that choice and that guilt away from the two women. He pops up with seemingly all the answers on what Claire will have to do next to be reunited with Jamie.

That's probably what makes the middle stretch of the episode so problematic. It is literally just Claire and Murtagh flailing around with a scheme that they hope works and gets Jamie's attention. But there's not enough substance and payoff to justify it running as long as it ultimately does. The show gets a ton of value out of the gorgeous scenery around the two of them as they travel from town to town to perform for the villagers and gain a reputation. Before she left to return to Lallybroch, Jenny told Claire to do whatever it took to bring Jamie back home. And yet, whatever it took was ultimately just Claire doing some minor healing, falsely reading some palms, Murtagh dancing horribly and Claire getting up on the stage as a sassanach performing a Scottish song. That song holds no true meaning to the audience. And yet, the basic function of this plot hinges everything on Jamie recognizing that song and coming to be with Claire once more. It doesn't work because the audience has no understanding or connection between Jamie and this song. When her act gets stolen by traveling gypsies, Claire is furious and pleading with their leader to perform something else. She wants to believe that they can be trustworthy people. And yet, it's all based on the importance of this one song.

There's also no tension in the middle part of the episode. When everyone believes that Jamie is being held prisoner by the redcoats, there's an urgency in all of the characters' actions. They have to do this in order to save his life. With the information that he escaped and is roaming around the countryside, there is still a mysterious aura surrounding the proceedings. It's just not as captivating. Jamie's journey of trying to avoid the redcoats while also trying to reunite with Claire must obviously be dangerous and filled with peril. And yet, there's not enough effort in showing how this whole experience has a toil on all involved. It's told solely from Claire and Murtagh's perspective. Yes, they have that moment at the end of their journey when they get to the ocean. They are frustrated that their scheme hasn't payed off yet. But so much of it was played as conflict for the sake of having conflict and not as something that was meaningful towards advancing the story forward.

The episode was able to find a strong sense of momentum, tension and urgency again in the concluding scenes. That was entirely because of Dougal's surprising return. The last the audience saw of him he was being banished for going against his brother's word and grieving the death of his wife. Now, he has established a life for himself as a smuggler just trying to help advance the Jacobite cause. His words carry weight with Claire because he comes bearing the truth. No one else was capable of telling her what she desperately wanted to know. Claire may hate Dougal with every fiber of her being. And yet, he's the only person who was able to give her this information - that Jamie has been captured again and was convicted of murder at Wentworth Prison. Of course, that also comes with Dougal selfishly thinking about his own future and how Claire can be a part of that. He wants Claire to marry him because Jamie will likely be killed soon - if he's not already dead.

Claire simply can't believe that. After everything she has done, that can't be the end to the story. She has traveled across the country and done things she never expected to do all in the name of love. It's tragic that her actions led to his capture - and that's a fact that gets very minor concern on her part. But she still desperately wants to save him. All she wants is her husband. And now, she is the one planning the rescue attempt. Their roles have been reversed. It's fitting that the people who helped rescue her at the start of the 2015 episodes are also the ones she approaches to save Jamie. However, it's only a small collection of people - Claire, Murtagh, Willie, Anghus & Rupert - going up against one of the most formidable prisons of the country. It's a daunting task that accelerates the tension and excitement leading into next week's episode. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Search" was written by Matthew B. Roberts and directed by Metin Hüseyin.
  • Jenny pumping the milk out of her breast was also a very odd scene that was suppose to keep the memory of her having just given birth fresh in the audience's mind.
  • Claire's "Oh fuck" response to getting up on the stage for the first time was hilarious and fantastic.
  • Claire knows more about Dougal's relationship with Geillis than anyone else. And yet, that knowledge and how she cleverly uses it against him doesn't do anything to change his mind in regards to what needs to be done for Jamie.
  • Unsurprisingly, Caitriona Balfe has a lovely singing voice.