Saturday, June 25, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Two Dying Men Come to Claire for Help as She Seeks Information in 'The Hail Mary'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.12 "The Hail Mary"

As Jamie puts all of his efforts into turning the Jacobite army away from the impending slaughter, Claire attempts to comfort the sick Alex Randall. Alex reveals an outrageous plan to save the mother of his child.

The first half of this season of Outlander set up a lot of plot details and mysteries that both last week's episode and this one have had to offer resolutions. Because Claire has knowledge of the future, she has wondered how sweet and innocent Mary would one day marry Black Jack Randall. And more importantly, she knew that the Jacobite rebellion was destined to fail at the battle of Culloden. Last week's episode got overly drawn into the mess of revealing who was truly behind Claire and Mary's attack in Paris. And now, "The Hail Mary" provides even more wheel-spinning leading up to the big battle. Claire and Jamie are doing their best to change the future. And yet, it's looking increasingly more likely that they are going to fail. Of course, the audience knows that is the fate waiting for them because of the cold open of the season. Now, it's just a mystery of how and why Claire gets back to the rocks at Craigh na Dun to travel through time once again. This hour is filled with some excellent emotional beats but it is also plagued with some routine plotting that's pushing everything towards an inevitable fate.

On top of all of this, the time frame over the last few episodes has been very weird. The show has definitely compressed the amount of time actually spent on this war with the British. It was just a few episodes ago where Claire, Jamie and their forces were fighting for the first time. They were plagued by the harsh realities of war. And yet, the majority of the fighting has happened off camera in between the episodes. The army has been fighting for a long time now which the audience learns largely from Claire's voiceover narration. Last week's episode ended with Jamie and Murtagh rescuing Claire and Mary from the Duke of Sandringham's castle. They ended the hour destined to meet up with the rest of the army while on the road. "The Hail Mary" opens with Claire and Jamie joining the rest of the army just outside Culloden as they strategize their next attack. But it's not a straight pick up from the events of last week. Months have passed. The army has had their victories. And now, the time has come for them to fall apart at Culloden. They are weak and starving. The supplies are dwindling and it's affecting the army's ability to be effective in battle. That's a major concern for all of the generals. Supplies are allegedly on their way. But no one is seriously considering waiting for them to arrive.

It's also weird that this is the second episode in a row where Claire is surprised to run into Mary in an unexpected place. It's a peculiar detail. It was effective when Mary was at the Duke's once again betrothed to a man she didn't want to marry. Claire helped pull her out of that situation while also making sure she got her vengeance for her rape in Paris. The plotting wasn't the best. But Mary was a part of Claire's story once again. Apparently, they went their separate ways. Claire rode with Jamie back into battle while Mary left to meet up with Alex again. And now, Claire and Mary are reunited once more changed even further. It's a storytelling decision that happens solely for Mary to get pregnant with Alex's baby. Their love affair was a minor detail in Paris. Claire didn't encourage it because she knew Mary was destined to marry Black Jack instead. And now, Claire has a front row seat to see how that happened. It's just odd and clunky plotting. Claire does her best to ease Alex's pain as he is dying from his illness. He wants his brother to marry Mary to ensure that she and the baby will be taken care of. It's a marriage of convenience. Plus, it shows that Frank isn't a direct descendant of Black Jack Randall - despite looking eerily similar to him. Preserving Frank's lineage was so important to Claire earlier this season. It almost destroyed her life and marriage. She did her best to protect him in this war that spans centuries. And now, she has finally been successful in that regard. Black Jack and Mary wed. It just takes a lot of plotting and manipulating to get to that point.

Black Jack was such a memorable villain last season. He was a very effective threat against the life that Claire and Jamie were trying to build for themselves. However, it almost feels like his story should have ended during the first season finale. This season has used him in very odd and unexpected ways. His presence can still be so unsettling and frightening to Claire, Jamie and the audience. But that's all that he has done this season. He has shown up during awkward times for the protagonists. He has forced them into action in a couple of instances. Claire basically lost her baby while rushing to stop Jamie from dueling Black Jack as retribution for raping Fergus. And now, she is easing Alex's pain before death in order to get details about the British army's position from Black Jack. She plays a crucial role in getting Black Jack and Mary together in matrimony. After a season of complaining about her arranged marriages, Mary still winds up marrying a man she doesn't like nor is attracted to. The time jump between the episodes has also allowed Mary to get to know Black Jack better. But she is still surprisingly shocked when Black Jack responds to his brother's death by beating his dead body. But again, all of this is playing into the fact that Black Jack is destined to die during the battle of Culloden. That's information that Claire has known but hasn't shared with anyone until this point. That's strange. That would hardly be enough justification for going through with the battle. But it's still presented as a bargaining chip during this back-and-forth with him. But again, what's the point? Black Jack hasn't been important this season. It is chilling when he talks about feeling no remorse for what he did to Jamie last season. But that's about it.

Alex isn't the only character dying in this episode either. His death really isn't that important or shocking. He's just been a minor presence this season who has simply complicated a plot dynamic that was destined to happen. Meanwhile, Colum arrives at the camp gravely ill. He has arrived seemingly to get a potion from Claire that will kill him. He wants his suffering to end. He wants to escape this pain in as simple a way as possible. She delivers this death to him because he is remorseful for how he treated her last season. Again, he hasn't been an important character at all this season. But his presence on the show has been important in the past. His arrival here feels like the show setting up future story as well. So much of this season has focused on changing the future. Claire and Jamie's efforts to stop the rebellion from reaching the battle of Culloden have seemingly failed. But the show is still planning for the future which suggests that things won't go as terribly as everyone has been predicting. Of course, that's not surprising given Claire escaping to the future. But Colum's presence makes it known what the future has in store for both Dougal and Jamie. Colum wants his son, Hamish, to take over the clan. He wants Jamie to serve as his guardian and mentor until Hamish reaches adulthood. He bestows that honor on Jamie instead of Dougal. That just causes even more brotherly tension during Colum's final moments alive. Dougal just wants to understand. Their lives have gone in separate directions. And now, he'll never be able to understand his brother's rationale because he dies before consoling him. He spirals in rage which could prove beneficial on the battlefield. Or Dougal could be joining his brother in death just as quickly.

The show is building to the battle of Culloden for the season finale too. It's adamant about doing so as well. Whenever Jamie comes up with a different strategy or tactic, a new plot contrivance appears that puts everyone back on the path towards Culloden. It's almost as if the past is messing with him and showing him that time cannot be changed. It gets in the way of character work as well. Prince Charles and the other generals in the room don't have unique identities and personalities that make this debate engaging. Not enough time has been spent on them and making the conversation multi-faceted. So whenever they have to agree with Jamie, they do. And whenever they don't, they don't. There's not some big rationalization behind their decisions. That's especially detrimental to Prince Charles. His friendship with Jamie has been important. Jamie has gotten him to change strategy before because of his impassioned speeches. But now, that doesn't seem to work for reasons unknown. He comes up with a great plan to attack the British army while they are celebrating their general's birthday. But Prince Charles is still caught up in the civility of the situation. War hasn't seemed to change him in the same way it has on the soldiers. He still wants to bring the general a bottle of wine when he is taken prisoner. But this battle doesn't happen because Charles foolishly leads some of the men and gets lost in the woods. That's such a contrivance to ensure that the battle of Culloden moves forward. It doesn't build a whole lot of tension. It just ensures that the battle is going to happen. It gives Claire and Jamie something to fight for. But it's mostly just interesting to see how things finally go awry enough to force Claire to travel through time back to Frank.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Hail Mary" was written by Anne Kenney & Ira Steven Behr and directed by Philip John.
  • As they are talking about suicide, Colum brings up Geillis Duncan to Claire. It's about time someone did that. That signaled immediately that she would resurface again in the story. And not surprisingly, Colum mentions two seconds later that she survived the trial and gave birth to a son. So now, how is she going to reappear to complicate Claire's life?
  • Murtagh offers himself up as a prospective husband to Mary. He doesn't like her. But he's willing to do that to give Claire the satisfaction she needs about Frank's survival. And yet, she is easily able to talk him out of it.
  • Mary is mad with Claire for just a minute because she got in the way of her and Alex's happiness together. Claire says she had her reasons for doing so - aka making sure Mary married Black Jack instead. And yet, she offers Mary no explanation at all.
  • It really was chilling to watch as Black Jack talked about his torture and rape of Jamie to Claire. She has heard so much about that night from Jamie. It's not meant as a scene to make Black Jack more sympathetic. He's wonder if he can keep that darkness from Mary and honor Alex's wishes. He won't because he just loves those dark impulses too much.
  • Again, why doesn't Prince Charles want to wait until the French supplies arrive to reinvigorate his army? Is he that desperate to win that he's not thinking clearly? If so, that really hasn't come across all that well.
  • If Black Jack somehow survives the battle of Culloden, Claire agrees to help Jamie kill him because he no longer needs to wait to take his revenge on him.