Saturday, April 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie Throw a Dinner Party that Doesn't Go According to Plan in 'La Dame Blanche'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.04 "La Dame Blanche"

Claire and Jamie throw an elaborate dinner party intended to derail investors in Prince Charles' war effort. Claire's revelation that Jack Randall is alive sparks Jamie in an unexpected way as he and Claire struggle to regain their physical intimacy.

Outlander has used rape as a traumatic storytelling point a couple of times now across its two seasons. This is a show unafraid to show both men and women enjoying the pleasures of sex. But it has also used the destruction of that intimate act in order to raise tension and violate the characters to their deepest core. It was very well handled when Jamie was forced to subject himself to Black Jack Randall in order to ensure Claire's safety. The ramifications of that action are still playing out in the narrative. "La Dame Blanche" addresses these psychological concerns and issues head on and with frequency too. Jamie's rape was a very personally devastating action. But now, the show is once again going to that well with Mary in order to have Claire and Jamie's elaborate dinner party go terrible awry. It's still a meaningful action that will have major personal repercussions moving forward. But the wheels are spinning just a little bit too much throughout this hour for it to truly work.

It's meaningful that the show has spent so much time invested in Jamie's recovering from his assault at the end of last season. He has struggled with being intimate with Claire. Memories of that night with Black Jack continue to plague him. He is committed to the mission in Paris. That's the only thing that is keeping him going at this point. But Jamie's issues take a significant turn in his episode. Claire finally tells him that Black Jack is still alive. It's great that she didn't keep that a secret for very long. Secret keeping is never all that great of a story. Plus, Jamie's reaction to the news is so surprising. He's actually excited that Black Jack is alive. He's not determined to head back home as quickly as possible to finish his tormentor off - like Murtagh suggested last week. But he enjoys the idea of one day being able to kill the man who took so much away from him. It's a dark headspace. But it's also a revelation that allows him to move forward with his life again with more purpose and excitement.

Of course, it's a little problematic that Jamie learning Black Jack is still alive is what ultimately cures him of his sexual trepidation. Claire has been very patient with him. She understands what he is going through - as she experienced trauma from Black Jack as well, just not to the extent Jamie did. And yet, the way the show chooses to address Jamie's willingness to have sex with Claire again is very weird. He returns home one night with bite marks on his thighs. He's trying to show Claire that he is willing to be intimate again. They can once again enjoy the pleasures of sex together. But it's just a plot detail that occurs in order to cause a fight between the couple. It's meaningful in that they finally get to express what they've been feeling lately to each other. Jamie is very eloquent in how he describes himself following the assault. It's this big moment. And later on, they do get to fuck again and it's very passionate. Hopefully, this marks the end of Jamie's lingering emotional crisis regarding Black Jack - even though the despicable man is still out there in the world and could cause harm at any moment in time.

It's not long after Claire and Jamie reunite sexually that they are pulled back into the political machinations of Paris. Prince Charles literally comes crashing through their window seeking some minor medical attention. It continues to showcase how pompous and determined he is with his beliefs. But it also provides Claire with some valuable insight. She has learned that Louise is pregnant with her lover's baby. And then, Charles inadvertently reveals that he is Louise's lover. After that revelation, Jamie and Claire concoct a plan to get Charles to lose his temper at Louise in front of all of his potential investors for the Scottish rebellion. It's a plan that can destroy the lives of the people Claire and Jamie have really gotten close to as of late. Claire even wonders if it makes them bad people. They are doing a bad thing for a good and virtuous reason. But again, the question still lingers especially because it seems the universe is determined not to let this dinner go as planned.

It's here where the episode starts to feel a little too plotted in order to create big moments of tension and surprise. On the day of the dinner, Claire leaves to go to the hospital following a major accident in the city. She continues to impress Mother Hildegarde with her skill set. But her leaving for the day largely provides the show an opportunity to talk about how Mary has found love with Alex Randall. That innocence is still so pure. It is then swiftly and violently taken away from her because Claire's carriage just so happens to break down. While walking home, Claire, Murtagh and Mary are attacked by masked assailants. Murtagh is knocked unconscious while Mary is raped. Claire is forced to watch in horror. This is a swift and destructive turn to take with Mary. She has been so anxious and worried about what her future would be like married to an older man. But this takes that away from her. Her virtue has been destroyed because this awful thing has happened to her. Now, she'll never be able to find a man of stature in French society. It's something that Claire gawks at while trying to help Mary. But it's still something that exists nevertheless.

Mary's rape also holds significance in how it disrupts Claire and Jamie's dinner party. On its own, it's a tragic action that promises to change how the character is perceived in this world - and how it may lead to her marrying Black Jack Randall in the future. But the show gives it more importance than that once she wakes up and her screams cause a physical fight during the dinner. Jamie and Claire are slyly pushing the necessary players into conflict around the dinner table. The Duke is having a joyous time while Charles wants to take everything as seriously as possible because he believes it's his birthright. Charles is upset about the news that Louise is pregnant - information that Jamie outs according to the plan. And yet, this does not create a scene that would force the Duke to consider cutting off his English funds from Charles' rebellion. Instead everyone is quickly distracted by Mary and Alex fighting in the other room. As if one rape wasn't enough to change her perception, now she is inflicted with a second. The second is only in the eyes of the dinner guests who believe Alex is violently destroying her body. That's not true at all. But now, it won't matter because the rest of society will believe it to be true. And then, Jamie is at the center of the ensuing raucous which forces the civil Charles to leave as quickly as possible. So, it's just one big disaster. That ending is thrilling because it leaves things uncertain for Claire and Jamie. It's just a little too perfunctory and forced getting to that point to make all the effort really seem worth it.

Some more thoughts:
  • "La Dame Blanche" was written by Toni Graphia and directed by Douglas Mackinnon.
  • On top of everything else, Claire is poisoned during the opening minutes of the episode. It's the first time she really shows any concern for the well-being of her baby. Everything works out and she is still focused on the mission. But it's a complication that shows her actions aren't going unnoticed in Paris.
  • St. Germain seems to be the new antagonistic figure to Claire and Jamie this season. He's angry because Claire forced the destruction of his ship in the premiere. But he largely serves as an unnerving presence. He hasn't done anything directly and definitely that hurts Claire or Jamie. It's all still very speculative.
  • Claire worries that Master Raymond sold St. Germain the poison he used to hurt Claire. But he shows her that he's still a trustworthy ally by giving her a mystical necklace that will change colors in the proximity to poison.
  • Raymond also opens himself up to Claire as a believer in magic and mysticism. He provides comfort to Claire as she worries about Frank and what will happen to him should Black Jack die before meeting Mary. But the prophecy also tells Claire that she will see Frank again - which the audience already knows is true.
  • Why is Mary even with Claire at the hospital in the first place? Claire has taken Mary under her wing a little bit. And yet, Mary's at the hospital to give a helping hand for a second and to inform Murtagh in the delay. It's reasonable that Mary would attend the dinner party. But it's just too weird that she's just by Claire's side - except that it sets up the later assault.
  • The assailants only flee once they realize that Claire is "la dame blanche" - whatever that is. Claire doesn't have time to ask around about what that means but she probably will soon.