This episode pulled a neat trick: I honestly thought Claire's escape attempt would be the whole episode, but there was a lot more going on than just that. Only in Outlander is a Great Escape-style plan the least interesting thing going on.
Claire's voiceover this week acted as a trope we recently declared needed a long rest: The plan for a heist (or an escape) being described as we see it happen. Not only am I so over the voiceover, this use meant it was around for a lot more and we were literally listening to a description of what we were seeing. Completely unnecessary.
And Claire's plan, but for some information she couldn't have had, wasn't that bad of one. In another show, she might even have succeeded. As usual, Claire's very resourceful and excellently competent in this episode. She's been using her play with children to mask her reconnaissance of her escape route. She's got a store of food in her healing room for when she does leave. And she's gathered a root that acts as a sedative for her guards. She also gets the hostler to point out a good horse for her, she'sone who isn't fast but has stamina. But has to be watched because "she'll bolt for home." Once Claire's got herself in horse form (her mare's even called "Brimstone," which is parallel to the soon-to-come accusation that Claire's a witch), she's good to go. She'll use the revelry associated with the gathering of the MacKenzies as cover.
Once again, I'm fascinated by Geillis. She stops by to give Claire some port, which she's going to spike with the root. Geillis first asks if Claire's pregnant and if that's why she's got food stored. She guesses that the illegitimate pregnancy is why Claire is so desperate to leave. Once again, Claire states that she's never been unfaithful to her husband, which Geillis points out makes no sense if her husband's dead. And, again, there's the distinction between Frank being "not alive" and "dead." Pushed into it by Geillis, Claire's willing to say that Frank's dead.
There's a lot of subtext here. Claire obviously can't think beyond getting home and that means thinking of her time as real and her husband as alive. But if she's able to concede that being in 1743 means Frank is as good as dead, she's not cheating on him. Plus, we already know (from the conversation they had about her possibly having an affair during the war), that Frank is surprisingly understanding of extenuating circumstances. Which lays the groundwork for her eventual relationship with Jamie.
Geillis, as always, is very observant. She warns Claire that the Highlands aren't a place for a woman to be wandering alone. But she also gives her a better way to brew up her sedative. (I was tickled that Claire flat-out tells her guard that she's giving him a sedative, knowing that he wouldn't know what that meant.)
Of course, Claire runs into obstacles in her flight. First is Laoghaire, who asks Claire for a love potion. While I yell at my screen for her not to do anything that isn't healing and does sound like witchcraft, Claire gives Laoghaire some dried horse poop and instructs her to chant "there's no place like love." (That, and Mrs. Fitz's passive-aggressive "You look so good in that dress. I remember how well it looked the last time you wore it" were the funniest parts of the episode). Laoghaire dispatched with, Claire is cornered by some men. Dougal shows up to dispatch them, and then takes his opportunity to assault Claire. And as bad as that is, her slap stops him. Until Dougal sees pack she's made for her escape, bends down to look at it, and she ends up beaning him with a stool.
Given that she needed to be rescued minutes earlier, I loved seeing Claire immediately regain the upper hand over Dougal. Twice.
And then the final problem: Claire is apparently as distracted by her voiceover as I am, since she literally trips over Jamie in the stables. He informs her that she can't escape as planned: the gathering means extra guards and the best trackers in the clan are currently visiting Castle Leoch.
As Claire's escape fizzles into nothingness, we have a whole new plot to deal with: She and Jamie are set upon by a group of men who force Jamie to attend the gathering and give his oath to Colum. Jamie was in the stables, hiding, because if he declares his allegiance to the Clan MacKenzie, his MacKenzie blood would put him in contention for laird after Colum. Which Dougal would kill him to prevent. But if he shows his face and doesn't swear his allegiance, Colum might have him killed for that.
Just as Claire, and us, find this out. Jamie, as TV Tropes would put it, takes a third option. He swears obedience to Colum and keeps his allegiance to the name he was given, rather than the blood of his mother's clan. Colum accepts this, and the crowd stands in for the audience, cheering at Jamie's success.
The last plot we have to wrap up is the hunt. Claire's not a huge fan of hunting, but she helps with one man who gets gored in the leg. And then goes running when she hears the cries of another man in pain.
As Claire abandoned her guard to run alone in the woods, I turned to my roommate and said "Over-under that she gets attacked by the boar and is saved by Jamie?" I was only partially right, as it's Dougal who shoots the boar and saves her. And it's Dougal who is cradling the injured man, a friend of his.
This man's death scene is so well done. In every respect. The effects of the man's injured leg and abdomen are gruesome. His last words with Dougal, where he gets the latter to admit to sleeping with his sister is a touching nod to their friendship. And Claire getting the man to talk about his home, which he describes beautifully ("heather so thick you can walk across without touching the ground"), as he dies made me tear up.
And, as Dougal notes, Claire's ability to comfort the dying reveals that she's dealt with violent deaths before. Despite everything about Claire's escape and Jamie's scrape with death, this episode was all about Dougal for me. I have no idea what's up with him. Frank's ancestor, Jack Randall, is clearly just a bad guy. Jamie, with his standing up for others, is clearly a good guy. But the MacKenzie brothers are more puzzling. Colum first appeared to be kind, but he's proven far more wily than expected.
We know that Dougal will save Claire from assault, and then try to take advantage of her himself. We also know that he's determined to take over the leadership of the MacKenzies after Colum, and that he's willing to kill for it. But he was very tender with his dying friend, and I think the episode-ending field hockey brawl with Jamie is an expression of his frustration and grief more than just wanting a chance at Jamie. And Dougal also decides to take Claire on his tour of the Highlands, wanting to have a healer who keeps her head in a crisis with him. So he's willing, despite his suspicions, to use Claire's skills and respect them.
Dougal's decision to take Claire with him also means that Claire is getting to leave Castle Leoch, even if it isn't how she imagined she would. And that we're sure to get new stunning locations in the next episodes.
If anyone came into this series with the assumption that it was a bodice-ripper, they're surely disabused of that notion by now. This episode was part-jailbreak, part-political thriller, and part-medical drama. There's been a lot more violence lately than romance. (Which, kudos to the effects and make-up departments, but my squeamish eyes had to take a break after the hunt injuries.) I'm loving the supporting cast as much as I love the leads. And I love the leads. As I've said before, Catriona Balfe doesn't need the voiceover to convey her character's inner life — you can mute the whole escape attempt and get everything from her face. To be utterly shallow, which isn't fair because Sam Hueghan had to do a lot of heavy lifting in the oath-taking scene, the moment that took my breath away was the look on his face after he beat Dougal in the field hockey fight.
As Claire says: Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. More that, less gaping leg wounds, please.