There were a lot of balls in the air of "By the Pricking of My Thumbs," and it was only a matter of time before one of them fell down and hit Claire in the head. I don't think it's a huge surprise that it was Geillis and Laoghaire that finally did her in.
Here are the things Claire's juggling this week: Geillis' witchcraft, Laoghaire's jealousy, and getting the Duke of Sandringham to clear Jamie's name and get Black Jack courtmartialed. We'll take each plot one-by-one:
The Duke of Sandringham
We start the episode with a little coitus interruptus as Jamie and Claire are interrupted by the news that the Duke of Sandringham will be coming to Castle Leoch. The duke is a friend to Colum and very fond of Jamie — but Claire also knows that he's Black Jack's protector. So the proposed plan of having the duke take a letter accusing Black Jack of, well, the things he's actually done to the king's court seems like a poor plan to Claire. Who tries to warn Jamie off, but can't say how she knows that the Duke's not as much on their side as they think.
They prepare the letter anyway, and Claire signs it as Jamie explains that clearing his name means that he and Claire will get to return to Lallybroch, his home. And, hopefully, live good lives away from the intense politicking of Castle Leoch. If we learn anything this episode, it's that Jamie's nuts if he thinks the simple life is in the cards for him at all.
In addition to remembering that the Duke of Sandringham is friends with Jack Randall, Claire also remembers that he was rumored to be a Jacobite himself. So she visits the Duke — without telling Jamie — and very politely blackmails him. He takes Jamie's petition and Claire keeps quiet about his traitorous activities.
When Jamie actually does show up, however, the duke explains that he's been challenged to a duel by the MacDonalds, who are enemies of the MacKenzies. He wants Jamie as his second, despite the fact that Jamie's presence may make violence more likely to break out, not less. The duke tells Claire that it's quid pro quo. Claire responds that if anything happens to Jamie: "Quid pro quo."
Lo and behold, it does. The duel goes off without a hitch — both intentionally miss each other and honor is maintained. But the young MacDonalds present cannot stop making jokes about Sandringham and Jamie having sex. So a brawl ensues, Jamie manages to fell the three who come after him, but he's still stabbed. The duke runs off with the letter and the words "Do tell your wife it was not my fault!"
Simon Callow as the duke was very fun — somehow foolish and politically canny. He does manage to get out of all the trouble he's in without a scratch, after all.
Claire confronts Laoghaire about the poppet — an "ill-wish" — left in her and Jamie's room. Claire tells her to leave them alone, but Laoghaire is determined to free Jamie from the wife Dougal forced him to take. She says that Jamie was hers before Claire arrived, and she means to fix it all. We don't see her until the end of the episode, but that's not a good thing. She's sneaking around in the shadows, planning Claire's downfall.
Laoghaire tells Claire that Geillis sold her the ill-wish, so Geillis isn't as much her friend as Claire thinks. To seek the truth, Claire goes looking for Geillis. And what a pack of truths she gets.
She finds Geillis doing a "summoning" — in a ver flimsy piece of fabric that she then rips off. Geillis tells Claire that a) yes, she's pregnant b) no, it's not her husband's c) it's DOUGAL's and d) the summoning is to "free" Geillis and Dougal from their respective spouses.
Despite all the signs that Geillis is mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Claire promises to keep Geillis' secrets. She's still the only friend Claire's managed to make in the past. Which speaks volumes about Claire's loyalty if not her practicality.
Dougal's wife Maura does end up dying, and Dougal is a complete mess about it. He's drunk, raving, and waving his sword about. Dougal cries out that it's "all his fault" and that she was doomed the second she married him. Claire provides a sedative and a little subterfuge by — help me out commenters, is it Rupert or Angus who drugs Dougal? — and he's out like a light.
Colum's furious. And when Geillis' husband also suffers a mysterious death, he's apoplectic. Claire smells the classic fictional poison smell — bitter almonds and cyanide — and knows it's less magic and more murder. Colum's also wise to Geillis, and orders Colum to leave and take Jamie with him. Jamie's face when he's told to leave again is a rare bit of comedy from this angry confrontation:
This time, it's Colum who throws the parentage of "his" son in Dougal's face. Dougal used it last week, and now it's Colum saying that Geillis' baby is her husband's, just "just like Hamish is 'mine.'" Doesn't matter that Dougal claims to love Geillis, Colum's had it with Dougal's indiscretions. So Dougal and Jamie take off, and Claire's all alone again.
And here's where Laoghaire comes back with a vengeance: Claire receives a letter from Geillis asking her to "come quickly." Claire tries to convince Geillis to leave, since now that Dougal's gone, Colum's going to come after her next. Geillis refuses to leave, and that's when both Claire and Geillis are arrested for witchcraft. And from the look Laoghaire gives Claire, this is all her doing.
Even though he spends most of this episode drunk, Dougal's the connective tissue of all these plots. He's the one close to Sandringham, through the Jacobites. He's the one who married Claire to Jamie, spurring Laoghaire's hate and action. An Geillis, well... we see how that turned out.
We also get a better look at the dynamics between Colum and Dougal. Colum's definitely the smarter one and Dougal's the one who acts from emotional places — love, honor, patriotism.
As for Claire, while her smartest moments this week were her dealings with the duke, her best moment came when she went looking for the baby whose cries she heard. Geillis warns that the baby is a changeling, a fairy baby left outside over night, so that the fairies will return the human baby. Changelings are identified by failing to thrive, and Claire sees that as just a sick baby. She finds the baby already dead and cradles it to her while weeping. Jamie finds her and reminds her that the people in the village have never left their homes, they have superstitions. And if it helps them to believe that their "real" baby is with the fairies, healthy and alive, let them.
Like her continued association with Geillis, this incident is another case of Claire's heart overruling her head, which is Claire's real flaw. Confronting the superstitions of the people around her is what makes her stand out and makes accusations of witchcraft tenable. She could try to blend in more, but then she wouldn't be Claire.
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