Outlander has delivered some great episodes already, but “The Devil’s Mark” will probably go down in history as one of the best. Every moment brought us closer to the edge of our seats, until we ran out of edge and ended up on the floor, gaping at the screen.
The trick to this episode was that the fact that there was a witch trial wasn’t the twist. Nor was it really a twist that someone ended up burning. The twists were everything else.
Last week’s episode ended with Geillis and Claire being arrested for witchcraft. Claire isn’t exactly pleased with either the situation or with Geillis. She doesn’t believe that Geillis is a witch, because she doesn’t believe in witches. But she knows Geillis is guilty of murder.
With that, we are off to the trial. And we get our first surprise appearance of the episode:
Ned is amazing this entire episode. He as much as tells Claire that Colum didn’t send him, Colum’s not going to lift a hand to help. But he showed up anyway. He gets himself appointed counsel for the defense by playing on Scottish hatred of the English — reminding them that Scottish law gives accused witches a defense, not a luxury given in England.
From the witnesses, we get a parade of all the little things we’ve seen all season that are pretty damning from the perspective of 18th century Scottish people. Geillis’ maid testifies about Geillis and Claire gathering herbs and Claire handing a potion out to Geillis’ husband. She adds something we already knew: Geillis was more than willing to sell potions and spells to people.
Ned manages to turn her accusations into the words of a disgruntled employee who has been dying to get a new job at Castle Leoch.
We then get the consequences of Claire going after the changeling child left in the tree. The mother testifies that they kept watch and saw Claire pick the child up, sullying it so the fairies wouldn’t return her real baby. Ned turns that into the mother being able to stop Claire and not doing it, which means the blame lays with her. He consoles her by saying she at least knows her real baby is safe in the land of fairies. Ned is so good, and it seems like he might actually turn the tide, which seemed impossible when we started the trial with people singing “We’re going to burn the witches.”
The next day, we get Laoghaire. And remember when Claire gave her that spell to make Jamie love her? The one based on The Wizard of Oz? Laoghaire turns that into evidence of her witchcraft, along with the added detail that Claire did the spell to make Laoghaire lose Jamie to Claire. As far as Laoghaire’s concerned, she was Jamie’s intended and Claire stole him.
Ned counters that she’s just a broken-hearted girl, which Laoghaire admits but says that it’s all because of Claire’s witchcraft.
That would be bad enough, but then who should show up but:
And he gives a powerhouse performance. He says he thought Claire was an agent of evil. But then she did what he could not: When he delivered last rites to a child he believed possessed, she realized it was poison and saved him. He says he’s not fit to serve the parish and asks to be cast out. He’s eminently believable, and there’s a pause after he prostrates himself where you think he might have saved her.
Not so! It’s determined that only a true witch could have turned a holy priest against himself. He’s told to stay and Claire? Claire is in deep trouble. Like Ned, he knows his crowd and it was exactly the right thing to do. If you doubt that it was his plan, I give you Tim McInnerny’s smirk:
Ned calls for a conference, and says that’s it. The ballgame’s over. The only out now is to save one of them. And everyone knows that Geillis is a witch, and they’ve known it for far longer than Claire’s been around. If Claire says she was bewitched by Geillis, she’ll go free and only Geillis will burn.
Look at these smug assholes.
Geillis and Claire have a moment to themselves, and Geillis demands answers from Claire. She, Dougal, and Colum all know Claire was lying about who she is and how she got here. That’s why Colum’s letting this trial go on. Claire says it was all an accident, she didn’t come here for a reason, she just wants to get home. She doesn’t even know if that’s possible.
Ned comes back in to say they don’t have any more time, what’s the decision? And Geillis says possibly the best line of the show thus far: “Looks like I’m going to a fucking barbecue.”
Claire refuses to turn on Geillis — as is consistent with everything we know about her stubbornness and loyalty. They’re pronounced guilty and sentenced — Ned leaps in front of them with a pistol, because Ned is a badass lawyer — and Geillis turns to Claire and says she does think it’s possible to get home. And drops one hell of a bombshell “1968.”
Claire gets dragged to the center of the courtroom, is stripped to the waist, and is whipped. And that’s when Jamie shows up out of nowhere to stand between Claire and the mob. He promised in front of God to protect her, and he thinks that’s a higher power than this court.
Geillis then stands up and says that Claire’s not a witch, but she is. She pulls down her sleeve to show the “mark of the devil” on her arm — a smallpox vaccine scar — and then rips her dress off to proclaim that she carries Satan’s baby. She tells Claire to run, and she and Jamie run off as Geillis makes the sacrifice play.
With the knowledge that Geillis comes from 1968, there’s a lot that makes sense. Geillis’ liberated attitude, her affection for Claire as a fellow traveler, even her warnings to Claire about not interfering with the changeling ritual. The rituals she performed she believed in because, of course, one sent her here. In one of the scenes of them in their prison, she also makes very clear to Claire that what attracter her to Dougal was his commitment to Scotland and the Jacobite cause. After Claire says it was all a mistake, Geillis says that Claire didn’t come here “to change anything.” But Geillis did. Geillis came back in time to change Scotland’s fortunes. She fit in better than Claire, but not completely.
Plus, the whole “fucking barbecue” thing. That was a big hint.
While we have to lose Geillis, the lost potential is devastating. Just when Claire really isn’t alone and there’s proof her time travel isn’t just a fluke and that she isn’t delusional, Geillis is gone.
Claire and Jamie flee. Jamie tells Claire that he’s seen the same mark on her that Geillis claimed as the mark of the devil. Claire takes this moment to unload everything. That she’s from the future. That she knows the Jacobite cause is a lost one and who Black Jack’s allies are because of that. And, of course, that her husband’s out there. Jamie realizes that Claire was trying to get home when she was caught. The realization that he punished her for that horrifies him.
Which, okay, we’d all prefer if he just recognized the general wrongness of that spanking episode. But, given that we’ve had Jamie rhapsodizing about returning to his home and the life he and Claire could have there, it makes total sense that he’d recognize and sympathize with Claire’s desperate attempts to get to her home.
He takes her to Craigh na Dun, stopping her just as she reaches out to touch the stones. Jamie says he shouldn’t have done that, he just wasn’t ready. He tells Claire that her time, her world, and Frank are all on the other side. The only thing on this side is violence and danger. He leaves, and Claire stares at her two wedding rings again, like she did after her (second) wedding night. Claire decides there is something on this side for her, and goes back to Jamie, and with her “On your feet, soldier,” we’re off to Lallybroch.
With Claire deciding to stay, we have to wonder if she’s going to pick up where Geillis left off. Gellis introduced the idea of changing history. Claire’s acted this whole time like the events she knows of are immutable facts. Geillis treated it as a guide to change it all. I’ll bet the truth is something in between — just by being in the past, Claire’s changed things. Small things, but she’s affected history nonetheless. Saved a boy’s life, brokered the deal with the Duke of Sandringham.
I could also do without Jamie constantly showing up out of nowhere to save Claire. It’s becoming repetitive and, especially this week, way too convenient.
Finally, I have to say I was going to pick an MVP from among the secondary characters in this episode, but I can’t. Bill Paterson made Ned smart and brave, genial and a badass. Lotte Verbeek very nearly broke my heart when she gave Geillis up for Claire. And Tim McInnerny slayed as Father Bain.
This was so close to a perfect episode and a lot happened in very short time.
*No, that joke’s never going to get old.
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