Sunday, November 12, 2017

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie are Hit with More Surprises Out at Sea in 'The Doldrums'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 3.09 "The Doldrums"

Claire and Jamie leave Scotland, sailing to the West Indies on an urgent quest. When the superstitious crew looks for someone to blame after a string of bad luck, rescue comes from an unlikely source.

It's clear at the top of "The Doldrums" that a significant change is about to happen in this season of Outlander. That already seemed apparent at the end of last week's episode where Young Ian was kidnapped while fetching the precious gems Jamie was hoping to sell to pay for Laoghaire's alimony. And now, this episode begins with a brand new title sequence. The music orchestration is different as well. It's immediately clear that the show is venturing to the Caribbean. It's a bold and exciting new twist for the show. It once again shows Claire and Jamie on the run with a mission. Their lives together are very chaotic but they still find the time to connect with each other. But right now, it's still mostly introduction. It's the beginning of a new chapter in the show. This new title sequence expresses that. It's still the same song it has always been. The instruments that accompany it have changed alongside the visuals. Claire and Jamie aren't in Scotland anymore. They are on a rescue mission. As such, it's exciting and dangerous for them to brave this grand adventure across the sea. The show is venturing into new territories. It's what they need to do in order to rescue Young Ian. He was taken from them and they need to rescue him before his parents start to worry. Yes, it's immediately problematic that Jamie is once again keeping the truth from Jenny and Ian. They deserve to be in the know more than so many of the other supporting characters in this world. But instead, they are stuck in Lallybroch having no idea what's going on until it's too late to do anything different. They just have to sit back and wait for additional word from Jamie regarding their youngest son.

Of course, there is a lot going on in "The Doldrums" as well. There is a lot of plot the show needs to go through - including Fergus and Marsali's surprise wedding, the superstitious crew growing more and more rambunctious and a British ship being stricken with typhoid fever. It's a lot. The show is able to linger on a number of these plot concerns. But it's clear that Fergus' new relationship and Claire being taken from Jamie once more are going to be ongoing stories for the season. The crew and their superstitions is the most effective story of this hour while also being the one that feels self-contained to this particular episode. Even then, it's still a very crowded episode of plot. The pace has once again increased this season. It's something that has been noted over the past few episodes. It's clear that there is a lot of ground to cover in this season. As such, the show has the potential problem of just hitting plot point after plot point without really ensuring that consequences are felt by the main characters. Jamie's betrayal of Claire by forgetting to mention his marriage to Laoghaire is still felt through Marsali being on the ship. And yet, Jamie doesn't seem to be dealing with any repercussions for such poor judgment. As such, it feels like the show is propping Jamie up a little too much as the romantic lead who can do no wrong even when he clearly does. It's a problem more endemic to how much story the show is covering this year.

Fergus' surprise marriage to Marsali is the action that reveals Marsali in this story. She didn't exist as a character last week. She was simply Laoghaire's daughter whom Jamie bonded with upon his return to Lallybroch. Her relationship with him wasn't really contextualized outside of that. It was clear that Laoghaire was desperately clinging onto this false sense of love and handing that down to her daughters. Marsali sees Claire as the whore who has broken up her parents' wonderful marriage. That's naive and a little delusional of her. But it's not Marsali's fault at all. That's simply the perception of the situation she has had because of what she was told by Laoghaire. And now, she's out in the world experiencing everything firsthand and will certainly form her own opinions. Of course, Marsali really isn't a significant character throughout this episode either. It's just clear that Lauren Lyle is a series regular for a reason. But Marsali really only has one interaction with Claire that confirms her beliefs while being perfectly content and understanding in her relationship with Fergus. Jamie is the only one with a problem with this union. He doesn't understand how Fergus could keep this from him. It's cunning of Fergus to throw Jamie's concerns right back in his face with examples from his own past with Claire. Jamie is wrong to try to keep these two apart not because they are some grand love story but because his disapproval will only bring them closer together. There may be a future between them. But it's never something that is explored all that much during the unexpected complications of this journey.

That complication is the wind suddenly disappearing while the ship is at sea. There is no land in sight. The crew believes that someone didn't touch the lucky horseshoe before they left for this journey. They believe their travels have been cursed. These superstitions are apparent early on in the episode and are clearly going to cause tension. And then, that's exactly what occurs. Claire is skeptical but still manages to find a way to communicate with the crew in a way that they can all understand. Her skills as a doctor are still put to good use - even though Jamie prefers Willoughby's cure for his sea sickness than Claire's. It's important in the story that Claire isn't the one ostracized in this community because of a foolish and limited system of beliefs. She has fulfilled that position in this narrative far too many times. She's a progressive woman in the 18th century and that has frequently ruffled some feathers. Of course, the blame ultimately falling on one of Young Ian's friends isn't that meaningful. He's not really a character. Nor is his survival something that is all that meaningful. And yet, it does lead to the most significant moment of the episode. Willoughby has only been on the show for a brief while. But he's quickly become a character of vast interest with a compelling story. It's empowering to see him speak to the crew about his tragic backstory of falling in love with the female body only to be denied what he wants in his home country because of tradition and in English society because of how buttoned up everyone is. He has yet to find his place in the world. He has the respect and appreciation of Claire and Jamie. He is able to steer the ship's crew away from making a dangerous mistake in killing one of their own. But it's a moment that informs the audience of so much about this man and the life he has lived up to this point. It's poetic while also tragic.

And then, there is yet another twist with the British ship appearing and signaling that it needs assistance right away. There's a nice history lesson with how controlling and demanding the British navy could be at this time. But it's not what everyone is expecting either. They see this ship signaling for compliance and figure that the ship's crew is about to decrease in a significant way. It holds the potential for Claire and Jamie to be separated once more. There's the fear that Jamie will be drafted because he's an able-bodied British subject. But instead, this ship is seeking assistance because it is plagued by disease. It's a disease that Claire knows about because of her knowledge from the future. It puts the urgency right into her corner because she's the only person who can save lives right now. She is still choosing to uphold the oath she took when she became a doctor to save as many lives as she can. She ventures to this other ship hoping to offer her knowledge and assistance for a little bit before returning to Jamie and their mission together. And yes, she does come in handy. But her words are what ultimately leads her to being separated from Jamie once more. It's an expected twist that the show has done many times before. Claire and Jamie have spent a lot of time apart but have always managed to find their way back to each other. They've just reunited after 20 years. Nothing can break their bond even though their reintroduction to each other has been awkward and complicated. It probably won't be long until they're reunited. The ships are headed in the same direction. But the new captain is sailing as quickly as possible which creates the illusion of distance between Claire and Jamie. There is uncertainty and intensity because of this decision. Claire is doing her best to save lives. But it comes at the expense of her own once more. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Doldrums" was written by Shannon Goss and directed by David Moore.
  • The captain of Jamie and Claire's ship is a very interesting man as well. To him, it doesn't matter if he believes in the superstitions alongside the rest of his crew. He knows them and respects them because he needs to keep order on his ship. He can't risk a mutiny and lose control while out at sea. That's the burden he must wear. But it makes him a little powerless as well because he doesn't know how to address the growing tension onboard.
  • Cousin Jared wasn't an important character last season. Certainly not important enough to be recognized here. And yet, he does show up to give the update on the ship that took Young Ian and to provide the ship Claire and Jamie will use to sail to Jamaica. It's a nice bit of family connection that doesn't ultimately mean much. It just proves that some things still are the same as well.
  • Fergus and Marsali haven't had sex yet. And so, everyone is debating on whether or not they are actually married. It's a conversation for the era as Fergus says he'll lie and tell everyone that he has bedded her just in order to earn Jamie's approval. She can either be married or be destroyed by rumors. Older Fergus has proven to be more of a free spirit. And so, it's interesting to see what a stable relationship does for him.
  • It's a bit hypocritical for Jamie to be preaching honesty to Fergus about his past when he hid so much from Claire about his life back in Lallybroch. And yet, there is so much power that comes from the conversations that Claire and Jame have throughout this episode. He compliments her grey hair and makes her very special and beautiful because of it. She details mankind's recent trip to the moon and the beauty that they brought back with them. Those conversations are quite special.
  • More importantly though, Claire and Jamie do have sex again. It comes in such an awkward and unexpected way as well. They have no idea if someone will walk in on them or if someone will hear. But they don't ultimately care either. The passion has returned even though there is still so much awkwardness in their new relationship.