Sunday, December 3, 2017

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie Land in Jamaica and Reunite with Some Surprising Faces in 'The Bakra'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 3.12 "The Bakra"

The Artemis finally reaches Jamaica bringing Jamie and Claire much closer to their goal. During a ball on the island, the Frasers encounter old allies, as well as former adversaries who threaten to derail their mission.

Across the three seasons so far, there are many moments on Outlander that may seem particularly impossible or happen solely out of convenience for the plot. It's a story that travels a great distance in time and space. It moves through plot very quickly. That's more apparent than ever before in the third season. This year has spanned over 20 years and has moved the action from Scotland to Jamaica. And yet, "The Bakra" is an hour defined by some pretty miraculous reunions. Some characters reappear after being absent from Claire and Jamie's lives for awhile. Meanwhile, others are new and brief interactions that suddenly have a whole lot more importance now. The story is making it pretty clear that nothing is purely coincidental in this story. Every single action has purpose. Even if something seems meaningless or an odd inclusion in one hour, then a later one will reveal it to be crucial to the overarching narrative of this world. And now, the characters are noting just how miraculous so many of these reunions are as well. Claire and Jamie run into four people from their collective pasts as soon as they land in Jamaica. It's enough for them to question the lives they are living. It seems as if it is destiny for all of them to be drawn to one another. They can't seem to escape the importance they play in this story even though they have no idea what the bigger picture is. Claire and Jamie traveled all the way to Jamaica in order to be reunited with Young Ian. It's been such a personal mission for them. And now, it's abundantly clear that the world wants them in Jamaica for so many more reasons. This place has called out to them. They are about to start a new journey. It's a mission that starts with Young Ian. But it won't be neatly resolved as soon as they find out what happened to him.

The show has been pretty consistent across its last three episodes as well. The story has largely been confined to the adventures at sea. It's been a tale of two ships. It's been a story of convenient plot developments as well. Claire's ship just happens to be carrying the one man who could recognize Jamie as Alexander Malcolm. The Artemis just happens to land on the deserted island that Claire has washed up on. But it's still a story that has largely been confined to Claire, Jamie, Fergus and Marsali. They are the only series regulars to appear. There's been no big reveal as to what's happened to Young Ian. The audience is in the dark just as much as the characters are. But all of that changes the moment that they land in Jamaica. It's so unexpected as well. The twists start happening in the first sequence of "The Bakra." It continues to open this world in ways that are personal but very complicated for the characters. Yes, it's miraculous that Geillis, Lord John and Archibald & Margaret Campbell happen to be on the island. But it still leaves plenty of mystery heading into the season finale as well. There are a lot of things happening that may seem convenient or trivial. But they are going to carry importance. So, some of this episode feels like exposition as Claire and Jamie land in a new environment. But these past connections help the story land in a resonant way as well.

It's also clear immediately that the story is dealing with a completely new Geillis Duncan. In the first season, she was a friend of Claire's. When she was struggling to survive at Castle Leoch, Geillis was a comforting face who welcomed Claire into her world. It was a story that ended in tragedy as well. They both were put on trial as witches. Geillis took the fall and was destined to carry out the punishment. It was this big, elaborate sequence that also proved that Geillis was from the future. It was confirmation to Claire that she wasn't the first person to travel back in time to this place. It wasn't until the second season finale when Claire met a young Geillis in the early 1960s before she made the journey that she saw this larger connection between them. Then, she was simply Gillian Edgars. She was a woman bound and determined to change history. She understood that there were mystical forces at play in this world. She had a just cause and was determined to be an active participant in this story. As such, it should come as no surprise that she is still alive. The narrative never showed the audience her dead body. It's seeming more and more clear that unless the corpse is seen then the audience should always be suspicious about that person's fate. That leaves me pretty sure that Young Ian is still alive somehow. "The Bakra" opens by showing his side of the journey across the ocean to Jamaica. It's harrowing for him. It builds to him meeting Geillis and telling her everything about why he was on the island stealing her jewels in the first place. It's in that moment that reveals Geillis to be more devious than ever before. She's the one manipulating the world to her advantage. She's desperate to be reunited with these precious items because they hold the key to unlocking the secrets of the mystical forces at play in this world.

As such, it's important to remember that Jamie took one of the sapphires from the box and gave it to Lord John. He did so while he was a prisoner under John's watch. The two formed such a close bond of friendship over the early part of this season. It's a bond of trust and understanding. A true companionship that means something once they immediately see each other again. Claire can see that bond right away. They can't hide their true feelings from one another even when others are in the room. John is surprised by how much Jamie has told his previously dead wife about the life he lived far away from her. He's curious about how Claire is still alive and has reunited with Jamie. It's the exact kind of curiosity that Jamie and Claire have regarding their own reunion with Lord John. It's such a curious time for all involved. And yet, Lord John's presence gives Claire and Jamie hope that they have an ally on the island. They won't have to fear that they are working against a world that only wishes to capture and punish them. Yes, that's still a main part of this story. They are racing against time to find Young Ian and leave on the Artemis before Captain Leonard finds and arrests Jamie. It's a very precarious situation that is all building up to the ball that Lord John is throwing. That's the event where all of these reunions take place. Claire runs into the Campbells and later realizes that Geillis is the mysterious benefactor they mentioned previously. Jamie runs into Lord John and asks for his help while Geillis is seeking to take his sapphire. And then, Claire runs into Geillis and immediately has questions about her survival.

It really is such a powerful story. Again, it's all completely convenient and forced drama. But it works because of the audience's understanding of the characters and the awareness that everyone involved has about these latest developments. The show knows that it can't just mysteriously have Lotte Verbeek's name in the opening credits. It needs to have that opening sequence of Geillis seducing Young Ian for information before that can happen. Again, that reveals her to be a much different woman than the previous iterations Claire, Jamie and the audience have interacted with. Now, she's forcing her fortune tellers to do their jobs whenever she tells them to. She views them as the only people who can give her mission for Scottish independence more purpose. Of course, that comes with the added twist that Margaret previously told Claire her own fate. It's a future that includes a cave that is elsewhere on the island. So, the story is obviously building to that more than it is to some grand return to Scotland where the Frasers are happily reunited. The conclusion of this episode also isolates Claire once more. Again, it's a familiar plot device of this show. There is so much power in Jamie and Claire being together as a couple that can conquer the world. But now, their mission is what unites them. They are still in love and supportive of each other. But they aren't as affectionate as Fergus and Marsali are. That's a key difference from the people that they were. They can still see when the other is in pain. But this is also a story that is bound and determined to always inflict pain onto them. It could become very annoying very quickly over the course of the series. Everything must come back to how rewarding it feels seeing these two reunited. But now, the show is heading into its final episode of the season with Claire and Jamie once again apart. They may be on separate paths once more. Jamie's is leading him right back to a prison cell where his friendship with Lord John may help him escape. Claire's is leading her to a confrontation with Geillis about what happened to Young Ian. Of those two, Claire's is the more exciting one because there is so much uncertainty to it. With Jamie, it's pretty clear that he isn't going to deal with any lingering consequence. But with Claire, she is going to have to make some big decisions that could effect the lives of this family in some pretty profound way.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Bakra" was written by Luke Schelhaas and directed by Charlotte Brandström.
  • The conflict between Claire and Geillis right now is defined by Geillis lying to Claire about what happened to Young Ian. Claire knows that she has been mislead by someone who was previously her friend. And yet, the conflict could grow even deeper if Geillis found out that Claire and Jamie were responsible for Dougal's death and not the battlefield at Culloden. That's a huge revelation that suddenly is important once more.
  • The grand prophecy that Geillis is after basically says that a Scottish king will rise as soon as a man celebrates his 200th birthday. It's a little surprising how crazy Geillis initially sees that considering she is a time traveler. It basically just confirms that time travel will play a part in this story once more very soon as well. So, that could lead to renewed purpose for the life Claire left behind in the 1960s.
  • The story about Claire being faced with the slave trade feels like something completely extraneous and unnecessary. It's her dealing with the realities of this world. She takes pity and wants to help. But it also seems inevitable that the man Claire and Jamie buy and free will eventually have more to do in the story as well. So, it seems very unlikely that he'll remain a freed slave in the mountains for very long.
  • It can't be a coincidence that Geillis' new last name is Abernathy. Claire's doctor friend in the future is Joe Abernathy. There must be a connection there somehow. And speaking of Joe, there is still the lingering business of those bones of a white woman that were sent to him that were discovered in a cave in the Caribbean and have been there for 200 years. That makes it seem like all of this is building to a deadly conclusion.
  • In addition to all of these shocking character returns and surprising role reversals, it's just so simple and unexpected to see Mr. Willoughby reaching out to Margaret Campbell. He sees the harsh treatment from her brother. He reaches out with sympathy. It's so nice and heartwarming. Sure, there's the sense of tragedy that looms over this entire narrative. But it's nice to have moments of hope like this included as well.