Saturday, April 23, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire Finds Purpose While Also Keeping a New Secret in 'Useful Occupations and Deceptions'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.03 "Useful Occupations and Deceptions"

Jamie's days and nights are dominated by political machinations, while Claire finds solace in her healing skills. As their plan to stop Culloden progresses, including engaging the aid of a young pickpocket, the past threatens to derail their forward momentum.

Claire has always driven the story forward on Outlander. Except for that one episode diversion to Jamie's point-of-view in the first season, Claire has been active and forcing the plot to advance. She's the main protagonist of the story whose actions cause ripple effects throughout the entire narrative. She's the one who fell through time and had to start over in 18th century Scotland. She's the one who had to rescue Jamie from Black Jack Randall. And now, she's the one who decided to infiltrate French society in the hopes of stopping the Jacobite rebellion before it wipes out the Scottish culture. And yet, the pursuit of that venture means that Claire has to sit back and allow Jamie to be the one delving further and further into this mystery. Claire enjoys being close to the action and the manipulations. She has proven herself well equipped to handle that environment. But now, she's largely been relegated to life with the rest of the ladies in Paris and doing nothing all day long.

Claire's friendship with Louise has been meaningful in her pursuit to infiltrate the ruling society of Paris. Both Jamie and Claire played a part in attracting the Minister of Finance Duverney into a friendship. But Jamie is constantly close to the action. He's the one who has forged a bond with Prince Charles. He's the one being dragged all over Paris all the time. It's starting to wear him down a little bit. All of the political machinations are taking a toil on his spirit. He's barely able to sleep after the constant nights of drinking he has to go to with Charles. He also has to keep Jared's wine business afloat until he returns to the city. All of this is important work. Jamie is committed to it because of his love for Claire. She warns of danger ahead and he's willing to do anything to stop it. But he's also taking on the brunt of the work while she is able to go off and enjoy some fun for awhile.

It's a good thing that Claire finds an opportunity to help people the only way she knows how - through her healing abilities. The normal life as a French lady just doesn't appeal to her at all. She takes pleasure out of her bond with Louise. Plus, she wants to help Mary as she embraces the world for what it truly is. But it's a boring life as well. It's not exciting to her at all. That's why she yearns for purpose. She's still committed to the cause and will help Jamie whenever he needs it. But she's also desperate to find her own thing that she can be happy about. She has the ability to do just that - unlike Jamie who has to stay focused at all times. Claire is able to do very rewarding work at the local charity hospital. She helps the poor suffering from terrible ailments. It's an environment she is very comfortable in. This was her life before traveling through time. And now, she can once again take pleasure from helping people in their time of need.

But this move also creates tension in Claire and Jamie's marriage. They can't afford to let anything distract them as they try to build a better life for themselves and their family. Claire suggested this whole ruse in order to protect the future and ensure that they can be happy for many years to come. But right now, multiple complications are making their way into this dynamic that is affecting their marriage. Jamie believes he's succeeding in manipulating Duvernay into not financing Charles' rebellion. But then, he is blindsided by the potential of Charles having several secret English benefactors who've already raised enough funds. It's a moment of shock and disbelief. Everything he thought he knew has quickly been flipped on its head. He needs Claire's support to deal with this latest setback and she's nowhere to be found. It's great that she has found work in Paris. But she still needs to be focused and supportive of the grand plan. She needs to be there for Jamie. Sure, he has an overreaction to the news of what she's up to. But that's deeply rooted in the unexpected day he has just had.

However, it actually becomes a good thing that Claire and Jamie have this little disagreement about their lives in Paris. First, it sends Jamie back to the brothel to drink away his sorrows. This time though he's not distracted by Charles and is able to notice that Fergus, a young employee at the place, is also a pickpocket. That's a skill that could come quite in handy for the future of this mission. So, Jamie makes sure to enlist his services to make sure he's never blindsided by the Prince again. Moreover, that decision results in Jamie getting his hands on a correspondence with an anonymous English man written in a code. It's a code written on a sheet of music and in German. So, Jamie has to go down to the hospital himself to seek the aid of Claire's new superior, Mother Hildegarde. Fortunately, Claire has just impressed her with her expertise in the field. Sure, it appears like Jamie's request revolves around something shifty and possibly illegal. But she helps nevertheless. So now, Jamie gets the answers that he needs because of the work Claire is doing right now as well. All of this works itself out a little too easily. It's one big convenience in order to help move the story forward. But it's still enriching to the overall experience because of the world building it also accomplishes for both Claire and Jamie.

Plus, Claire is still keeping a huge secret from Jamie that could destroy everything they've been working to achieve. She carries the burden of knowing that Black Jack is still alive. She really shouldn't be surprised. Like she notes here, Black Jack still needs to have a child that will continue his lineage down to Frank. Claire chose not to think about that because she desperately needed Black Jack to be dead in order to move forward with her life with Jamie. But now that she is certain he is alive, she's terrified of what to do. It's a shocking moment that could send Jamie back to Scotland just as quickly as he left. He deserves to enact justice for what Black Jack did to him. Claire chooses to keep it a secret to ensure that Jamie stays focused on the task at hand. But when the mysterious letter points back to the Duke of Sandringham, it seems inevitable that Jamie will be made aware of Black Jack's continued existence shortly. And yet, Claire still chooses to keep the secret. It's going to be so devastating once Jamie finds out. It could really put some strain on their marriage. Tension that they won't be able to fix so easily. But Claire is doing all of this because she loves Jamie and wants to protect their lives together. It's a complicated situation no matter what she does. It's a bomb just waiting to explode in their relationship in the near future. And the set up for it has been pretty fantastic.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Useful Occupations and Deceptions" was written by Anne Kenney and directed by Metin Hüseyin.
  • Mother Hildegarde has her doubts about Claire because she holds a title in French society. But Claire puts her expertise into use quickly into her time at the hospital. She is still adjusting to how things were done in this century but she's able to make herself very useful to the sick citizens of this community.
  • Murtagh has frequently found himself distracted by beautiful woman this season. So, it's not surprising at all that he decides to start a relationship with one of Claire's maidens. Plus, that maiden is very willing to talk about the private moments between Claire and Jamie to Murtagh.
  • Mary continues to be very sweet and afraid of what marriage to a Frenchman will be like. She's very unaware about the mechanics of sex. But that concern quickly goes away as soon as Claire realizes that Mary is destined to become Black Jack's wife. That poor girl.
  • Jamie proves himself to be an excellent chess player. He beats Duverney every single time. He has too much respect for the man to throw a game. And yet, Duverney still might decide to help finance Charles' rebellion because of the enticing offer of unifying Britain and France in an alliance.
  • Jamie being off of his game with Charles and Duverney is also symbolized by him losing a precious snake figurine that he carries with him all the time. As soon as he finds it, his life and cunning abilities return.
  • Fergus is now going to be living with Claire and Jamie as well. He makes quite a first impression on Claire too - commenting on the size of her breasts before being sent away to a room for the night.
  • Claire may be keeping the secret about Black Jack from Jamie but it's meaningful that she shares it with Murtagh. He has stepped up in importance this season and gives both Claire and Jamie someone else to talk to about their lives that are filled with lies right now.