Herself Writes an Episode: Outlander 2.11, “Vengeance Is Mine”

by Jennifer

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With the end of season two imminent, it’s time to staying tying up loose ends and who better than Diana Gabaldon herself to help that process along? This week’s episode features revelations galore and a spectacular end to a problematic presence. Work in some gore, a bit of humor, and Claire playing both badass in charge and a woman in distress and it’s pretty much Outlander at its best.

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One Part Army, Two Parts Deception

Though we know it will end otherwise, the Jacobite Army has made gains since its victory at Prestonpans and is a mere five days from London and the seat of the British monarchy. However, other than just five days between them and the throne also happens to be three chunks of the British army, so there’s that. His generals want to push back into Scotland and seek winter quarters; Jamie, who knows what Claire has told him of the Rising, wants to push forward to London and see if they can change history for sure. However, Prince Charles’s will cannot bend the generals to his side and Jamie and Dougal get exiled to Inverness for their influence over the Bonnie Prince.

As Jamie takes his men back to Lallybroch for the winter with the intent to continue onto Inverness, the group gets waylaid by a batch of British soldiers. The ensuing surprise attack divides the men and Jamie, Dougal, Murtagh, Rupert, and Fergus move on to meet the rest at a crossroads. Unfortunately, Jamie and company find themselves pursued by several British soldiers, who attempt to engage them; they escape, though not without injury, and take refuge in a church. Claire treats Rupert, who loses an eye in the ambush, but they again find themselves surrounded by the British. Jamie offers himself up in order to ensure the rest will be able to return to Lallybroch safely, but they all know Red Jamie will face execution for treason if he’s captured. Claire offers to go in his stead, pretending to be a British woman held hostage, so that the rest can escape. She’ll meet up with them later, right? (If only anything in Outlander were that simple…)

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The British take Claire and all of the men’s weapons and horses, but, at least, they won’t have the church burned down around them or be killed running out of the burning church. The redcoats supposedly will take Claire to their nearest garrison, where the menfolk will fetch her from, but, yikes, a slight hitch: these guys are not quartered there, but at Bellmont, where a rich English gentleman lives. They’ll take her there and ask the gentleman to give her refuge. The only problem is, that rich English gentleman is not only not rich, he’s no gentleman: he’s the Duke of Sandringham. The Duke has been a bit of a thorn in the sides of pretty much everyone he meets, including the British and, well, the Frasers too. The British have soldiers quartered at Bellmont to keep an eye on the Duke and the Duke knows that Claire’s presence will attract Red Jamie and thus the Duke can get the British off his back by producing the notorious RJ.

He’s not going to tell Claire this, of course, so instead he claims that he wants the Frasers to get him out of this hole he’s dug for himself and whisk him away to the Jacobite side. He’s been a Jacobite all along after all. Claire sends a note of distress to Jamie via a beggar that she happens to encounter on the road to Bellmont, none other than Hugh Munro, Jamie’s tongueless friend.  Munro gets the message to Jamie, along with her true location and, by the way, the mass of British soldiers ringing the place. In the process of dealing with the two-faced Duke of Sandringham, Claire also figures out that he’s not only playing both sides against each other, but he’s also responsible for her attack and Mary Hawkins’ rape in Paris. It seems the Duke set that up with le Comte St. Germain since he owed le Comte money and would not be able to repay it straightaway. Once Claire’s figured all of this out, the Duke orders her locked up in the house while they wait for Red Jamie and the trap the British will spring on him.

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The only monkey wrench for the Duke is in all of this is Mary Hawkins herself, who happens to be his goddaughter and current houseguest. Mary frees Claire, who tries to get the girl to help her warn Jamie about the trap. Mary shies away from the risk, but, to her credit, bucks up when she sees Hugh Munro and whispers the warning to him. Claire tries to sneak out through the kitchen, but, oops, the Duke himself is there too, no doubt having a midnight snack of his own. The two have a tense tête-à-tête, which is summarily interrupted by first Mary and the Duke’s valet, the one who raped Mary and attacked Claire, and then Jamie and Murtagh.

Claire reveals all to Jamie, Murtagh, and Mary. Murtagh owes Claire and Mary revenge for the attack upon them and he exacts it just as Mary plants a blade in the side of the man who attacked her. Murtagh takes an ax and relieves the Duke of his head, laying it at the women’s feet.

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“I kept my word: I lay your vengeance at your feet,” Murtagh says.

“I think we’d better go,” Mary suggests.

Too right, Mary Hawkins. Too right.

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“She Even Misspelled Help”

From the first, Ron Moore had offered Herself, queen of all things Outlander, a chance to write an episode and Diana had demurred until this season. Some Sassenachs were heartened by her presence at the helm, citing that Diana would get it ‘right,’ but Herself reminded them that she had to write the script within the canon of the show and not necessarily the books. With that in mind, it is easy to see where her touches are in this episode – Jamie’s prayer over Claire, for example – but one also sees where Gabaldon herself had to stick to the show’s canon and hit the proverbial high points while still maintaining continuity. The episode is entertaining to be sure, with the touches of humor and clever word play that are trademarks of Gabaldon’s writing, but she doesn’t use this episode to wrench control of the narrative and bop Moore and company over the head for their deviations from the book. The locations change, Rupert survives his injury, and the Frasers are sent back to Inverness, not Edinburgh as they would have been in the book, but, for the most part, Gabaldon’s script dances the line between staying true to the story and pushing the television version forward successfully.

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What the television version also brings us in the literal incarnation of characters Sassenachs have come to know as they’ve read the first two books, including the Duke of Sandringham. I’ve seen Four Weddings and a Funeral many, many times since it came out in 1994 and look back fondly on Simon Callow’s performance in that film and in Shakespeare in Love. His voice and carriage are distinctive and he brings a delightful contrast to the Duke: at one moment he is charming and interesting and at others he’s as slippery and destructive as a serpent. His gesture of throwing on his wig when Murtagh and Jamie burst in, as if he didn’t want the dashing Jamie Fraser to see him without it, was just the right amount of humor to make what follows all the more striking. For all of the excellent performances that Heughan and Balfe have put into Outlander in its two seasons, the supporting players like Murtagh and the Duke give the show as dimension as much as its leads do and their performances deserve the affection of the audience as well.

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Lastly, though, I have to speak to one feature of this series, both in print and on television, that I hope viewers and readers see for it was on display here via the script Herself has written. The layers of emotion these characters possess and experience provides as much enjoyment as the action. The story is all about emotion without being maudlin or melodramatic; Jamie’s prayer over Claire does not smack of bodice rippers, but of genuine emotion of a man who understands where his path is leading him and what little control he has over things. The humor of Murtagh’s dismay at Claire’s terrible Gaelic contrasts with his intensity at fulfilling his promise to lay vengeance at the women’s feet. That is the complexity of being human, of the swings of emotion. This show rarely stays on one note, but hits the highs and lows that are familiar to all of us. All of this is born from Gabaldon’s novels and the show can count itself as a success for carrying it forward into the adaptation. It makes a story that I’m familiar with from multiple readings fresh and compelling. If you’re a reader not watching or a viewer not reading, I beg you to pick up the other thing and see for yourself these facets that compel me to fall in love with this story over and over.

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Next Week on Outlander: Very Close to the End Now

Next week’s episode, titled “The Hail Mary,” seems to set up the action as the Jacobite Army and the Frasers hurtle toward the inevitable conclusion we learned in the season’s first episode. We know that something will force Claire back through the stones and, as the show begins to tie things up, it’s time to brace yourselves and stock up on some tissues with haste.

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The season finale is episode 2.13, entitled “Dragonfly in Amber.” This will air on July 9th, rather than July 2nd as originally scheduled. The weekend of July 2nd is also a holiday weekend here in the United States; Starz will run a marathon of season two instead.

The end is nigh, aye, but with it comes the setup for seasons three and four and the introduction to characters that will carry Outlander and Sassenachs everywhere forward for the years to come.

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