After Claire’s tendency to speak up at the wrong time made her an enemy last week, “Not in Scotland Anymore” thankfully sees her using sass at the correct moment. When she meets Master Raymond, her penchant for making instant enemies works in her favor, as he’s delighted to hear that she’s antagonized Comte St. Germain, too. The two subsequently bond over hating all the same people, and we immediately like Master Raymond.
Later in the episode, Claire and Jamie even have a role reversal, with Claire acting as the diplomatic one and Jamie as the gauche one, when Outlander briefly turns into Mr. Bean and Jamie shoves the Minister of Finance into a fountain. More on that in a bit. Overall, Claire’s sass is at a good level this week; she doesn’t get in her own way.
If the setting and costumes alone don’t indicate that Outlander is a very different show this season, the nature of Claire’s second new friendship — with the wax-happy Louise de Rohan — does.
Season 1’s largest flaw (aside from ending with a two-hour rape and torture fest, which, unlike Black Sails, makes it difficult to recommend Outlander on the basis of, “You must watch this show, just wait until you see the season finale!”) is its pacing. For every stunningly elegant intimate episode like “The Garrison Commander” or “The Wedding,” there’s a shaggy hour in which characters wander aimlessly and meaningful events are sparse, like “Rent” or “The Search.” Season 1 is still superior to the book, but at times it feels overly beholden to its source material. Outlander is by no means alone; that’s a common trait in adaptations.
But Season 2 feels far less beholden, trotting at a more confident pace. This is partly because Starz astutely realizes these seasons don’t need 16 episodes, and partly because Dragonfly in Amber’s pacing and structure is even more bizarre than Outlander’s — which means it must diverge more from the book by necessity. There’s also less danger of pissing off fans this time around, because even the most book-revering fan can acknowledge that starting a novel with 200 pages of a deeply disorienting, snail-paced focus on characters nobody cares about does not a compelling story make.
Claire’s association with Louise de Rohan, then, is emblematic of this Season 2 shift. In Season 1, Claire’s friendship with Geillis built gradually over several episodes. Here, Claire’s voiceover simply tells us Louise is her new friend, and we’re dropped right in. Telling instead of showing is usually frowned upon in storytelling, and it might become a problem in the future, but so far it’s working. The show is flexing its muscles, and the results are a more confident tone.
Meanwhile, with Murtagh….
Murtagh steals this episode, from his complaints about the way France smells (“assess and armpits”) to his political savvy (telling Jamie, as Prince Charles walks away, “it’s not too late to slit his throat”) to his silent facial expressions at the nipple dress, to his sarcastic comment when he’s invited to witness the dressing of the king (“wouldn’t want to miss that”). If every episode this season devotes five minutes to Murtagh complaining about France, it will be time well spent.
Not all the zany humor works in “Not in Scotland Anymore”— the poop scene feels like it belongs in a Saturday Night Live skit and Jamie’s Minister of Finance fountain-shove, while hilarious, is disconcertingly slapstick for Outlander’s tone — but every scene with Murtagh is golden. Duncan Lacroix didn’t get to show off his deadpan comedic chops much in Season 1, but they’re at full force here.
Possible book spoiler, I can’t remember if Murtagh dies at Culloden, but if so, I sincerely hope the show changes that. Outlander needs him. On the other hand, if he does die, I know another Starz show he’d make a hell of a pirate on.
Je suis prest
Though Season 1’s “Je suis prest” has become a classic Outlander gif, there is a lot in this episode that Jamie is not prest for.
He’s heartbreakingly not ready to resume a normal sex life after his trauma, as we see with his flashbacks to Black Jack. And on a more comedic level, he’s not ready to handle the free-spirited ways of the French court and the way Claire embraces the culture, first with her waxed “honeypot” and then with her dress.
Jamie has always been a borderline impossible role. The Outlander writer’s room literally calls him The King of Men. Everything about his character is a heterosexual female fantasy: He’s brawny yet well-read, sensitive yet fierce, controlling yet supportive, the strong silent type yet also chatty, and — most improbably — virginal until recently, yet dynamite in bed. He must embody all these contradictory qualities but he must also be a believable human man. That’s an absurdly difficult order, and it’s to the credit of the writers and Sam Heughan’s performance that he always rings true.
“Not in Scotland Anymore,” shows just why he works so well. When he gets indignant about Claire’s dress, it could land uneasily upon our modern ears. A man who tells his partner, “you can’t go outside dressed like that” is a signpost of an unhealthy relationship if there ever was one.
But part of what makes Outlander intriguing is its willingness to challenge the viewer. Jamie is never incredulous or boringly perfect because Outlander doesn’t make it easy to embrace everything he says or does. It trusts the viewer’s intelligence enough to revel in ambiguity. The show wouldn’t be a truthful period piece if he seemed like he’s read Gloria Steinem. Jamie is, in many ways, a man beyond his time, but he’s also a man of his time. We could scorn him for being controlling —some undoubtedly do — or we can grapple with the fact that he sometimes says things it’s difficult to get behind today.
Jamie Fraser is indeed the King of Men, but in many ways, he’s also just a guy. It’s the intriguing tension between the two that makes him a consistently captivating character.
- How do we feel about the new French-ified opening? At the risk of sounding as grumpy as Murtagh, I’m partial to the classic version. Scotland is the main draw, after all.
- Jamie on his past dueling days: “It was just one really small insignificant duel.”
- Murtagh mentions missing Rupert and Angus. Don’t we all.
- Black Jack is still alive, and has a brother who doesn’t seem evil yet. This is terrible news for poor Jamie and good news for the plot.