Saturday, June 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Jamie Struggles to Train His Soldiers Before the War Begins in 'Je Suis Prest'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.09 "Je Suis Prest"

Claire and Jamie reunite with the Lallybroch and MacKenzie men as they train. Jamie's power struggle and Claire's personal battle weigh upon them, but new information comes when an Englishman pays a visit to their camp.

Claire and Jamie have been to war before. Claire during her years as a combat nurse in World War II and Jamie during his youth in France. They failed to stop the Jacobite rebellion from happening during their time in Paris. So now, they have to prepare for war once more. But this time they are the ones leading the soldiers into battle. They've come to accept that winning this war is the only way to ensure the preservation of the Scottish culture for years to come. They want to build their lives together in this country. Scotland is now their home. But now, they have to accept war as a part of their lives again. Something that brings about lots of meaningful change in "Je Suis Prest" for both of them - whether they are willing to admit that or not.

Claire and Jamie left Lord Lovat's castle defeated by failing to enroll his men to this cause. And yet, they still walked away with a ton of confidence knowing that they can change the future. That's what they've been trying to do this whole season. And now, it seems that is finally coming to fruition. They are in charge of over a hundred soldiers now. They have to make sure that they are ready and willing to fight. That makes for quite a thrilling episode that is also filled with so much wonderful personal conflict. Claire and Jamie know they can't just rely on the battle tactics that have worked in the past for the Highlanders. They know they have to be better than that if they have any hope of emerging victorious in this battle. Claire and Jamie need to stay and lead these men. They have to put aside all of their personal anguish in order to do so. And that is a lot more difficult than it initially seems for both of them.

The Jacobite rebellion is sweeping over the countryside as support grows every day. Though not everyone is willing to participate in such treasonous actions. These soldiers are not only risking their lives but those of their family and loved ones as well. This is so much more than war. This will determine the future of an entire country and its people. Some of the soldiers are brimming with pride. They are glad and honored to be fighting to preserve their culture. Their lives could change so much by this war. But they are willing to take that risk nevertheless. It's now Jamie's responsibility to train them and prepare them for what comes next in this war. It's not going to be easy. These men lack discipline and proper training. The British army has had years of training. Jamie really only has a few days before he reunites with Prince Charles to lead these men into combat. It's a very tense situation for everyone involved. Jamie proves himself to be a very effective leader. He's stern and strict when he needs to be. He knows exactly what to say to get his men to take that the procedures of walking as an army seriously. But he's also fair as well. He knows the stakes of this war. He punishes anyone who jeopardizes this encampment. That includes him. He's willing to take the same lashes as punishment as his men. That just goes to prove that he is the right man for the job. He's inspiring in a way that will make people rally around him.

However, Jamie is constantly thrown into conflict with Dougal, who makes his debut for the season to fight for this noble and just cause. Colum wants nothing to do with this rebellion. He thinks it will fail just like all the previous attempts. Dougal doesn't share that cynicism. He still believes in this cause with every fiber of his being. He's proud to see Jamie as a leader of the rebellion. He's no longer a puppet for Dougal to use to spread his message across the countryside. But Jamie and Dougal are not equals in this rebellion. The roles have shifted. Jamie is now the one in command. If Dougal wants to fight by his side, he needs to listen to and obey Jamie's orders. That's a lot more difficult than it originally seems to Dougal. Jamie has changed so much since they last encountered each other. Jamie wants to do things differently in order to ensure victory. Dougal wants to embrace the same strategies of the past because they are the way he knows how to fight. Jamie relies on Dougal's expertise in order to help train his men. But Dougal wants to leave and join the big army after one day of training. Jamie needs to make sure that all of these men will serve their country proudly and won't just die immediately on the battlefield. Strategy is going to be so important if Jamie and Claire want to be successful in changing the future. They are already changing the minds of the people fighting alongside them. But they still have a long road ahead of them. Dougal has proven to be a problem and he'll likely continue with that behavior moving forward as well. Jamie is proud of what he has done to turn his men into soldiers. They gladly follow him into battle when the situation calls for it. But Dougal is still going to be a problem as long as he is a part of this war.

Jamie is able to thrive in this new environment. Yes, his changes hint at exciting darkness for the future and a willingness to embrace it. But he's still the man who Claire loves. Meanwhile, her struggles at the training camp are much more psychological. Her service in World War II gave her the skills that have helped her survive in this world. And yet, the show has never really dug deeper into what happened to Claire during that war. This episode provides the most meaningful glimpse yet into that time that changed her life. She was pulled into some brutal situations. She formed friendships with fellow officers only to watch them die right in front of her. It was truly a traumatic experience for her. She has never really had the time to process what happened to her during the war. After it had ended, she was more concerned about what her future with Frank would be. They had spent more time apart at war than during their marriage. Before she got any answers though, she was pulled through time and has been fighting to survive ever since. But now, she can no longer avoid these painful memories. War has come to her yet again. These men aren't like the previous ones. They are more stubborn and stuck in their ways. And thus, they are much more likely to be killed on the battlefield.

The parallels between Claire's two wars really is a great plot thread running through this episode. It highlights the isolating quality she is feeling at this moment. She is an important and crucial player in the Jacobite rebellion. It's because of her that Jamie doesn't have to torture a spy for information about a nearby camp of enemy soldiers. And yet, Claire doesn't have a meaningful job to do when it comes to training the soldiers. Jamie, Murtagh and Dougal can all focus on creating the best men for this war. Claire is largely relegated to making sure they have the proper supplies. That's an important task. But it also allows her to wallow in her painful memories as well. She's reluctant to share with Jamie what she's going through right now. It's so meaningful that Claire is the one having wartime PTSD in this episode. It's a nice reversal of the typical gender story. But it still causes her so much pain and anguish. She can't turn back now. She is a part of this war. She has to find a way to accept what's about to happen. Her drive and strength breaks down as she has to deal with foolish and naive soldiers - some of whom she now considers to be friends. She lashes out at them. It's significant that she loses her cool and speaks like a person from her time again. It takes so much restraint in order to blend in with this society. She can't deal with all of it here. Jamie is able to listen to her story and help her decide what her future should be. But ultimately, it's going to be up to her if she can handle the true costs of this war.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Je Suis Prest" was written by Matthew B. Roberts and directed by Philip John.
  • As soon as Claire and Dougal reunite, he reminds her of the deal they made the last time they saw each other in the cave. Should Jamie die, she'll have to marry Dougal in order to stay safe in Scotland. It's important that Dougal brings it up. But will it mean anything moving forward?
  • In addition to Dougal, Rupert and Angus also make their debuts for the season. Claire and Jamie are happy to see them again. But is anyone else? Last season, they were largely interchangeable with Murtagh. But now, Murtagh has really grown in importance and is a more fully realized character.
  • Jamie catches William Grey before he kills him at the camp. He's not an English spy but is more than willing to collect the reward on Jamie's head. But after his failed attempt, he now owes a debt to Jamie - something he intends to honor and then kill Jamie. It seems like an extraneous plot point right now but could be important later on.
  • It seemed pretty clear early on that the flashes of Claire's past would end tragically. But it was still amusing watching Claire and her new friends talk about the weird differences between how the two societies call the same food. 
  • It wouldn't be a training episode without a full-on training montage where Jamie's army of soldiers become trained warriors after a ton of hand work. It was pretty effective too.