Saturday, April 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie Have a Surprising Reunion with the Duke of Sandringham in 'Not in Scotland Anymore'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.02 "Not in Scotland Anymore"

Life in Paris is not without its trials as Jamie struggles to triumph over his past. A fortunate meeting with Prince Charles presents opportunities, while the Duke of Sandringham's presence brings complications.

Outlander has embraced a lot of changes this season. The Scottish and French cultures are very different atmospheres. The show did a phenomenal job depicting the beauty and devastation of the Scottish highlands last season. And now, Claire and Jamie have moved on to Paris in the hopes of preventing the Jacobite rebellion. It's a massive change at the heart of the narrative. But it's still thick with emotion and beauty as the duo explore this new world with wonder and intrigue. The city is so much different than the world they came from. Claire has gotten used to adjusting to new surroundings. She had to do it in Scotland and is able to do it here in Paris with relative ease. She's the one making so many friends throughout the city in the hopes of getting close to the key players in the rebellion. The culture shock is a little more difficult for Jamie and Murtagh to handle. But that's what makes this episode so engaging and fun to watch. It's a massive change but it still feels consistent with the style and perspective the show told stories last season. It's incredibly personal to Claire and Jamie. That shows through even though this hour is largely about introducing the new supporting players important to this story.

In Scotland, the people live off of the land and respect brutality in order to survive. They are a culture that is constantly faced with destruction at the hands of the English. The various clans make up the region with several key people being able to hold titles and ownership of the land. In France, it's a culture of elegance and sophistication. The architecture of the city is vastly different than anything in Scotland. It's a different environment where one city is the hub for the entire region. But that civility and eloquence is also matched with a very sexually adventurous and open community. This episode is much more sexual graphic and detailed than anything that happened last season in Scotland. Sex is a huge plot point in this show. The two cultures have different views on the subject - while Claire and Jamie are in the middle of the story just doing whatever they need to do to keep their marriage healthy and happy.

Claire and Jamie's integration into French society is going well throughout this episode as well. There's the near constant threat that everything is going to go wrong at a moment's notice. But right now, the two of them are just finding their bearings as they prepare to stop this rebellion that is destined for defeat in just a few months. Jamie and Murtagh are able to meet with the man behind the charge, Prince Charles, too. It's a fantastic scene that happens in a brothel of all places. Jamie and Murtagh believe in fighting in order to protect the Scottish culture. Jamie is going along with this plan because of the danger Claire warns of while Murtagh trusts that Jamie is doing this for a good reason. They are trying to be open and frank with Charles while also getting him to see the potential error of his ways. And yet, Charles is a man with a severe God complex. He comes from royalty and believes he has been chosen by God himself to shape and rule the world. He's horrified by England continuing to have a non-Catholic on the throne and is determined to remove the King from power and restore order in this universe. He's very boastful about all of this. But he's also a simple man with no real world experience or hardship. He's never been to Scotland. He doesn't really know about the ideals the Scottish people are fighting for. He doesn't have any kind of strategy except God being on his side to lead him on the path of victory and justice.

Meanwhile, Claire is busy making friends who can introduce her to all of the important people in French high society. She befriends fellow healer, Master Raymond, who also happens to be an enemy of Le Comte St. Germain. She also has the pleasure of meeting Louise de Rohan and her niece Mary Hawkins. Their introduction is another really interesting scene where sex is a prime focus. It adds a nice fun layer to the proceedings as these key players are being introduced. It's important that Claire becomes friends with Louise because she can introduce her to the Minister of Finance - who would need to fund Charles' rebellion. Jamie made it clear that almost nothing could change Charles' ideologies on the rebellion. So now, Claire and Jamie have to find a new way to undermine its chances of success while in Paris. All of this is building to an extravagant party in the French court. Claire is able to wear an exquisite dress that makes Jamie and Murtagh quite nervous. Meanwhile, the guys get to spend some quality time with King Louis while he's having difficulties going to the bathroom. It's an absurd scene but quite amusing as well.

But the narrative isn't solely focused on the future either. Claire and Jamie have done a fantastic job at becoming a part of French society. Their covers are still intact and they are meeting with all of the important people. But their pasts still hold the potential to destroy everything they're working for right now. Sure, Claire and Jamie have a very awkward first meeting with the Minister of Finance. He's trying to seduce Claire and Jamie pushes him off of the balcony to the water below. And yet, he still remains a friendly face to them on this endeavor. The same cannot be said once the Duke of Sandringham makes his reappearance in the narrative. At first, he was a man Claire could manipulate in order to get what she wanted. But he ultimately undermined Claire and Jamie's hopes of a happy future and marriage together at Jamie's home. The scene is fraught with tension when Murtagh notices the Duke has arrived. It's a sequence that shows that Claire is still more than capable of handling this man as he continues to disrupt her life with Jamie. But that's not even the most surprising reveal of their chance encounter.

The Duke's new secretary happens to be Black Jack's younger brother, Alexander. He lets it slip that Black Jack is still alive. He didn't die like Claire and Jamie were led to believe when they broke Jamie out of prison. That's a shocking reveal that rocks Claire to her core. She can handle the Duke showing up again as a potential thorn in her side. But Black Jack has caused her and Jamie so much pain and trauma that she doesn't know how she should move forward knowing that he could show up at any time. Jamie is still haunted by the trauma Black Jack put him through. The show does overplay that anguish a little bit throughout this episode. It's meaningful that it's not something that just goes away. But it also feels more important than all the previous times that Claire has had to deal with sexual assault and harassment in this world. He's not used to and is thus lingering on all of those harrowing memories. It's just a little problematic. But it also teases a number of very enticing things to come. Claire and Jamie left Scotland for France on a mission. But now, their pasts may be catching up to them. That may be the thing that ruins everything they've wanted to accomplish in Paris. And now, Claire's not sure how to react or whether or not to tell Jamie the truth.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Not in Scotland Anymore" was written by Ira Steven Behr and directed by Metin Hüseyin.
  • Black Jack is a vial and horrible man. But his brother, Alex, is introduced in a rather sweet way. He is first seen flirting with Mary and seems like he's forming a genuine connection too. But then, that sibling reveal happens and makes one wonder if there is darkness inside of him as well.
  • All of the French characters have really interesting and playful entrances here. Charles first appears in a brothel where the entertainment is an advertisement for dildos. Louis is in a crowded room of loyal servants and guests watching him trying to go to the bathroom. And lastly, Louise is getting her entire body waxed in front of Claire.
  • The conversation about personal grooming is also fantastic. It's playful and amusing when it's Claire watching Louise go through the process. But it's also very exciting and mysterious when Claire shows Jamie her new look in bed and he's taken aback a little bit.
  • Claire also recognizes Mary Hawkins' name but can't remember from where. That's an enticing tease that signals she'll be very important later on.
  • Murtagh doesn't really like Paris at all. It's too crowded and smells weird. He just wants to embrace the simple idea of executing the King and Prince and returning to his Scottish home. But that drive for violence really stands out in French society and not in a way that Claire or Jamie wants right now.
  • At the party in French court, Jamie also runs into an old friend, Annalise, who immediately seems very flirtatious and a new threat to his marriage with Claire. It's perhaps an element that really isn't necessary right now. Though Claire's face during that moment is pretty great.
  • Gotta love the symbolism of fireworks going off just as Claire learns that Black Jack is still alive.
  • I forgot to mention it during the season premiere last week but the opening title sequence and music have been updated this season to reflecting the change in location. It's different and takes awhile to get used to but is still very powerful and effective.