Saturday, May 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie Return to Scotland for the Next Stage of the Rebellion in 'The Fox's Lair'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.08 "The Fox's Lair"

Claire and Jamie call upon Jamie's grandsire, Lord Lovat, in an attempt to elicit support. However, a visiting Colum MacKenzie has other plans, and Lord Lovat's manipulations ensure that his own interests will be served.

Paris has been the central location so far this season on Outlander. And yet, Scotland is home to Jamie and Claire. So, it's not surprising at all that the narrative has built to the two of them returning to the country where they met. They fled to Paris in order to escape the horrible situation with Black Jack Randall as well as to undermine the Jacobite rebellion before it destroys the Scottish culture. They've been dealing with some big issues this season with no understanding if all of their hard work will lead to anything. They believed they had stopped Prince Charles' rebellion. And then, they were dealt the crushing blow of losing their baby. Last week's episode was so emotional and devastating. It's not surprising at all that they've decided to retreat to the comforts of home once more. Their time in Paris was nice. They've made friends there that they were likely keep in contact with. And yet, Lallybroch is home. That's where they want to raise a family together. That's were they want happiness in their lives. That's where they want to be.

And now, Claire and Jamie have returned to Lallybroch. It allows the show to bring back a number of characters from the first season while still keeping things focused on the story at hand. Some time has passed since the previous episode. Claire and Jamie are still devastated by the loss of their child. But they've started to rebuild their lives in Lallybroch with Jenny, Ian, Murtagh and Fergus by their side. It's great that they brought Fergus back with them. They are providing a home for him that's much better than life on the streets of Paris. It's hard for Claire and Jamie to be happy right now after what they've lost. And yet, it seems like they are on the mend and moving forward with their lives once more. Of course, it's not long until upsetting news finds them again and forces them into action once more. It seems that their actions in Paris haven't stopped the rebellion. Charles has issued a letter in Scotland asking for the soldiers to rise up against the English throne - and uses Jamie's name to inspire hope and confidence.

It's meaningful that the Jacobite rebellion is entering the next stage of importance. In Paris, it was largely a thought amongst some high-ranking members of French society. Charles believes in the cause with all of his heart. He wants to restore a proper king to the throne of England. Claire and Jamie wanted to stop him because they know the rebellion is destined for failure. They don't know the specifics but they know it's building to a bloody conclusion at Culloden. They don't know if they've changed that outcome at all. The audience knows they haven't. So, it's a little difficult to feel as hopeful as the characters do with their circumstances by the end of the episode. And yet, it's also significant that now Jamie and Claire are working to make sure the rebellion succeeds. That's a massive change from their strategy in Paris. Now, it's gotten too big for them to stop. Jamie's life is on the line too. Because Charles lists his name, he can be killed as a traitor to the English crown. He and Claire just got back home. And now, they are in danger of having to leave all over again. There's barely any time for them to relax and enjoy the comfort of their family.

Despite changing locations, this episode is still largely about the political machinations of the Jacobite rebellion. But now, it's about the Scottish clan leaders and not the respected society leaders in Paris. That's a major change. The clan leaders are the ones actually fighting this war for their independence. They have the men to fight. They also have to carry the burden of their deaths should they lose. The Jacobite cause hasn't been successful in the past. Prince Charles comes in with all of these promises. But he still doesn't have a ton of financial support from France. So, it's largely up to Jamie to build excitement amongst his fellow soldiers. It's a position he has been in before. But now, he's a much more active and vocal part of it. He's speaking out for the rebellion. He's not just using the scars on his back so Dougal can make a profit. Dougal is one of the few characters from last season not seen here. He was the main voice for the Jacobite cause and he's been sidelined by his brother, Colum. Colum doesn't want to get more of his men killed in a war they can't possibly win. That creates interesting conflict with characters the audience understands and knows how difficult it is for them to disagree.

However, so much of this episode plays as exposition. Jamie and Claire go to see his grandfather, Lord Lovat, to get his support and men for the rebellion. But a ton of time is spent on painting a much grander picture of the Fraser family tree. Lovat is not a nice man at all. He's reckless with women and plays both sides for his own nefarious benefit. It's important to understand that Jamie's father was a bastard and that's what fuels so much of his relationship with his grandsire. And yet, it's not particularly exciting either. Jamie needs to do whatever it takes in order to get Lovat's support. That story builds to Jamie needing to make a choice between the rebellion and Lallybroch. He can either get his war but lose his home or keep his home but lose any hope of a war. It's not a meaningful or agonizing decision though. Lovat wants Lallybroch for some reason. But his motivation is largely kept in secrecy. So, he mostly comes across as a one-note character who stands in the way of what Jamie and Claire want right now. That has been a frequent plot device on the show. Sometimes it works better than others. This instance just wasn't that meaningful.

Claire and Jamie's time with Lord Lovat also allows Claire to reunite with Laoghaire for the first time since last season's witch trial. The trial was one of the emotional high points of the first season. Claire had worked so hard to earn the trust of the people at Castle Leoch. And yet, they all turned on her as soon as Laoghaire brought forth a claim of witchcraft. Jamie was able to save her from the grim experience. But major consequences still fell onto Geillis Duncan - who was found guilty of the crimes while also revealing to Claire that she too was from the future. That's a plot thread the show hasn't picked up again. Geillis was sentenced to death but that was never shown to the audience. She could still be alive. Claire doesn't ask either Colum or Laoghaire about what happened to her. The trial is still fresh in her mind too. Now, she's much more accustomed to using her reputation as a witch to the benefit of her and Jamie's cause. That's what helps Lovat make his final decision in the matter by the end of the episode. But it still doesn't do enough to liven up the Laoghaire subplot. She and Colum insist that she has changed. She is begging for Claire and Jamie's forgiveness for what she did. And yet, she is still a young and naive girl desperately pining after Jamie. That had its purpose in the past. But now, it just feels like something the show has outgrown - while also suggesting it could somehow be important once again.

In the end, it never really feels like the events of "The Fox's Lair" are important. Of course, they are going to be. Lovat and Colum will be important players of the rebellion moving forward. So it's important to understand their relationship with Jamie. And yet, this hour was a lot of talking back and forth about whether or not Lovat will give Jamie the troops he needs to support Charles. It's a story that gets tangled up in Lovat's son needing to raise up against his father. Plus, Claire has a big display of mysticism to force Lovat into action. But again, it just feels like manipulation to get the audience to care when it's increasingly harder to do so. When Claire tells Lovat her grim vision about him, he responds by siding with Colum and giving up hope of taking over control of Lallybroch. It's a crushing defeat for Jamie. Only it's not. Just a few minutes after that happens, it's revealed that Lovat is giving Jamie his men for the war. He's doing so because no matter the outcome he will come out as a winner. All of that is thanks to Claire's big display at the castle. But again, why should the audience care? Now, Jamie heads off to reunite with Charles in Scotland with an army of soldiers by his side. He and Claire are confident they can change the future. But again, it's a mission doomed for failure. It will be interesting to see how it fails due to the emotional connection the audience has with the two leads. But that's really all that this story is doing right now that is significant to the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Fox's Lair" was written by Anne Kenney and directed by Mike Barker.
  • The aftermath of Claire losing the baby really isn't addressed a whole lot. When it is though, it's the best moment of the episode. Claire and Jamie have no trouble having sex again. But it's just as meaningful that Jamie wants to be a close and protective uncle to Jenny and Ian's new baby.
  • The Lallybroch episodes last season weren't that great - especially since they came after Claire's trial. But Jenny and Ian were standout characters. So it's nice to see them again. It's a little too brief though.
  • Fergus is proud to continue to serve Claire and Jamie. They want to protect him as a son. And yet, they don't keep the dangers and reality of the world from him either. In fact, they allow him to accompany Murtagh and Ian on their mission for the rebellion.
  • Claire is confident with the trick she pulls against Lovat because she got the vision from his seer who refused to share it with him. That shows just how serious he takes the supernatural forces in this world. Plus, Claire has a lot of fun in that moment as well.
  • Colum wants Jamie to promise that he won't send men into a needless massacre for his own selfish reasons. Jamie wants to believe he can change the outcome of this war. But he's being stubborn and reckless about it too. Something which Colum notices right away.