As they move forward with their plans to stop the Jacobite rebellion, Claire and Jamie embed themselves deeper in French high society. The dull grays and bright greens of the highlands have been replaced with brown bricks and deep reds. Murtagh hates the noise, the smell, the crowded streets, sounding a lot like a Midwesterner who has just moved to Manhattan. Indeed, we are “Not In Scotland Anymore.” We are in the land of steamy affairs and pet monkeys. Welcome to Paris, 1745—dildos are available for rent or purchase.

Claire even makes a friend. Of course, it’s all part of the plan, but Louise de La Tour is a welcome addition to Claire’s circle. She adds a lot of fun and jest to Outlander and even briefly made me forget how much I miss Geillis and her intimate, bouncy banter with Claire back in the Highlands. Louise is sexually open and liberated without apology. She even spreads her legs in the presence of Claire as she’s waxed and groomed by a servant. Claire stares, amused and intrigued, deciding eventually to go bare down there herself. Louise describes waxing thusly: “It’s so warm and so comforting being put on. And so painful when it is pulled off.” She sighs. “Such is life.”

Outlander no doubt indulges in the warm and comforting pleasures of hot wax. The bulk of the episode takes place at a glistening party in Versailles, where Claire and Jamie hope to befriend the minister of finance to further their plot to make sure the Jacobites don’t secure the money required for waging war. Claire wears a breathtaking red dress, deserving of all the lingering attention it gets from the camera and characters. She falls in with, essentially, the mean girls of 18th-century France. One remarks, in French, on the ugliness of the English language then turns to Claire and says, in English, “no offense intended, my dear” with a sweet, forced smile. Louise is their Regina George, and she wears the crown well, played with instant seduction by newcomer Claire Sermonne. The party brims with wealth and sex. The king is here! And, oh yeah, he’s trying to take a shit.

For all the sweeping cinematography and pristine adornments that make it a visually pleasing period piece, Outlander has always been much more than that. A romance, a political drama, a time-traveling adventure—Outlander pulls from many genres. Yes, the show indulges in the pleasures of sex and aesthetics. Pleasure, however, is not steadfast. Outlander is as adept at portraying pleasure as it is portraying pain and suffering. Showing off her newly bare “honeypot,” Claire and Jamie flirt and tease each other, their passion as heated and exciting as it was on their wedding night. But the moment is cut suddenly and piercingly by the sharp blade of Jamie’s trauma. Nightmares of the sexual abuse Black Jack perpetrated against him haunt Jamie at night. But the terror persists in his waking life, too. Claire reminds Jamie that Black Jack cannot harm him anymore. She assures him that one day, he’ll be free of the psychological torment. I believe that Claire believes that to be true—or at least hopes desperately that it is for the sake the man she loves. But the writers of Outlander seem to understand that the healing process after rape is not linear or straightforward. Jamie’s mangled hand might one day be fully functional again, but the wounds that cannot be seen do not seem likely to heal any time soon—if at all. Its sexy sex scenes are undeniably a part of Outlander’s allure, but the show never uses sex for the sheer sake of sex. The sex scenes reflect relationship development and character details, never existing in a vacuum. Jamie and Claire have a passionate connection, but that connection isn’t immune to the effects of the rest of the story.

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The party in Versailles, too, isn’t all pleasure and spectacle. “How romantic!” Louise remarks to an old friend—and past lover—of Jamie’s (he assures Claire it was brief and insignificant in an adorably awkward moment) who won her husband’s hand in a duel. “He’s dead,” the friend snaps back. “Smallpox.” The romance of Versailles is indeed short-lived. The Duke of Sandringham returns, and Claire at first thinks she has the upperhand with the backstabber, reminding him that she knows full well of his support for the Jacobite rebellion. But Sandringham is really the least of her concerns. He introduces her to a young man in his employ: Alexander…Randall, the younger brother of one Jonathan Randall. Alexander reports he has heard recently from his elder brother, the garrison commander. Black Jack is alive and well. The realization hits Claire like a blow to the face. It’s time for the fireworks—the party’s colorful climax! But Claire can’t see their beauty. She just jumps, startled by the sound.

Outlander does romance well, but it doesn’t romanticize the grimmer aspects of its story. Its lavish world is full of terrors—ones that have real, lasting implications for its characters. The ugly parts of its world are just as detailed and pertinent to the narrative as its beautiful parts.

Stray observations

  • “Wine is for drinking, not for selling.” Murtagh is a Highland hero.
  • The blocking and editing of the scene where Jamie pushes the minister of finance into the water is really fantastic. I love that Jamie doesn’t even look until he hears the splash.
  • Murtagh thinks it would be more efficient to stop the rebellion by just assassinating the prince. I’m sure that idea will come back around at some point.
  • Hopefully, those 18th-century dildos also come back around at some point?!
  • For now, Claire opts not to tell Jamie the truth about Black Jack, but she acknowledges that he’s bound to find out. Like her, I’m scared what will happen when he does.
  • Caitriona Balfe could probably wear just about anything and look stunning, but that red dress really is a whole new level of wow on her.
  • I learned shortly after watching this episode that none of the season was actually filmed in France.

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