Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Outlander enacts sweet, bloody vengeance

Outlander
TV ReviewsAll of our TV reviews in one convenient place.

“Vengeance Is Mine” has some trouble gathering steam in the very beginning, but once it gets going, it’s an unstoppable force, an episode full of tension that brews into action. It all starts with a high-stakes horse chase and only gets more charged and thrilling from there. After getting trapped in a church by British soldiers, Claire hatches a reckless plan to give herself over to the redcoats, pretending to be a hostage and becoming the bargaining chip Jamie, Dougal, Murtagh, Rupert, and Fergus need to walk free. Jamie first wants to hand himself over, knowing there’s a valuable price on his head, but Dougal exasperatedly tells him to stop being the hero. When he doesn’t back down, Claire jumps in. “Am I not Lady Broch Tuarach?” she booms. “Are these men not my responsibility, too?”

Despite the social politics of their time, Claire and Jamie have always been on equal footing as characters. Claire might not be allowed in the war room when the men are talking strategy, but she is an essential part of this army—not only because of her medical expertise but because of her strength and bravery in tough moments like this. Caitriona Balfe is always radiant and magnetic in these grand Claire moments—a force to be reckoned with. Claire and Jamie have suffered together. They have won together, too. They’re both the heroes, and they both have made sacrifices for this war. They’re inextricably bound to one another. With all the chaos and calamity of war, Jamie and Claire haven’t really had time or emotional space for the passionate sex scenes Outlander has become known for, but their connection is still palpable, is still one of the most compelling forces on the show. The scene earlier in the episode of a shirtless Jamie praying over her is intimate and lovely, tinged with sadness but still providing some light in an otherwise very dark time. And then the confidence with which Claire assures him they will find each other again as she hands herself over to the British is wholly convincing. Outlander often requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but never when it comes to the unwavering love between these two. Claire knows he will find her because she knows how hard they both fight for each other.

And he does find her, but not before an unsettling reunion with the Duke Of Sandringham. The Duke of Sandringham is obviously a detestable man, but as a villain, he isn’t all that compelling. I’ve never really liked storylines that involve him, because the way his evil is played with a strange comedic bend just doesn’t really fit the overall tone of the show. A lot of that has to do with his slow, dramatic delivery and his unflinching sarcasm. But the Duke borders on cartoonish. Admittedly, the casual and snide way he confesses that his servant was one of the rapists who attacked Claire and Mary in the street—which the Duke arranged as a way to pay his debt to the Comte St. Germain—makes for a chilling reveal. The Duke is just as monstrous and uncaring of others’ pain as Black Jack is, but his wickedness manifests differently. But again, this kind of over-the-top, theatrical villain doesn’t really fit the story. Black Jack is pure evil, but there’s something viscera and even grounded about his villainry, even as his depravity pushes him past humanity. He crawls under your skin. He can knock Claire and Jamie completely off their balance with so much as a look. The Duke is far less compelling, far less affecting.

But oh does his death scene satisfy. Outlander can get very gory when it needs to, and Murtagh’s violent beheading of the Duke is a moment that demands such gore. Because it isn’t just a gratuitous death scene played for shock value. There are real emotions, real character implications that imbue the beheading. Murtagh does it for the debt he feels he owes Claire and Mary for failing to protect them that night.

Best of all, Mary takes vengeance into her own hands and stabs her rapist to death. I worried Outlander had cast Mary aside. My ongoing concerns with rape in television have to do with agency and character, and so far, the attack on Claire and Mary felt so much like a plot development. With the exception of the one scene Claire and Mary shared after the fact, when Claire told her what happened was not her fault, it just didn’t seem like Outlander was all that interested in telling Mary’s story, in making her trauma a real part of the show’s narrative. She seemed to only exist on the show in order to fill the role of victim in this storyline.

Advertisement

But Outlander does not so easily forget characters—even small ones—and I should have trusted the writers with this one. Season two has proven over and over that characters from the past will always find their ways back into Claire and Jamie’s lives. Even when characters die on this show, they live on in the hearts and minds of other characters. A small but powerful thread in “Vengeance Is Mine” is how Rupert can’t stop talking and thinking about Angus. Death is not dismissed on this show. Death has real ramifications on the emotional states of these characters, and as Outlander gets deeper and deeper into this war, that’s important. More characters are bound to die, and their deaths should matter in order for the stakes of it all to be palpable.

Mary has been gone from Outlander for a little while, but she has not been forgotten—nor has the brutal assault been forgotten either. Mary takes that blade into her own hand, kills the rapist herself as if almost by instinct, as if it’s the only thing she knows she can do in this situation. Outlander gives Mary power in this moment. Outlander gives Mary control over her own narrative. Mary and Claire are both held captive in the Duke’s home during the middle parts of the episode, but both manage to reclaim power. They both are valiant heroes in their own stories, and even though Jamie and Murtagh come through to rescue them, Mary and Claire are their own knights, too. They’re every bit as essential to the scheme to get them both out of that house as Jamie and Murtagh end up being. Outlander continues to empower its female characters—characters who typically would be overlooked or boxed into rigid roles in a war story. But Outlander is not telling a typical or conventional war story right now.

Advertisement

Stray observations

  • Okay I know I already said “high-stakes horse chase” but can I just reiterate that this episode literally includes a high-stakes horse chase?! And I was on the edge of my seat as if I was watching Fast & Furious: Highlander Edition.
  • The music in this episode is great.
  • Fergus smartly suggests that Claire pretend she fainted as she’s given over to the British. Fergus is so great.
  • I hope Mary is sticking with Jamie and Claire for a while.
  • Rupert’s little nod and toast to the heavens after mentioning Angus is devastating.
  • Is it just me or was Dougal not acting very Dougal in this episode? The characterization of Dougal is oddly inconsistent.
Advertisement

Share This Story