For the first time since the pilot, we get to leave the confines of Castle Leoch and its immediate surroundings as Claire takes to the road with Dougal and his men. Whereas last week felt heavy on explanation and plot devices, in “Rent” we get to ease snugly back into the very fascinating psyche of our hero.
I’m starting to really appreciate the leisurely pace of Outlander. I didn’t take issue with the pacing last week because it was slow; I took issue because it was inconsistent and largely aimless. Though not as tight as the wonderfully constructed “The Way Out,” “Rent” returns to Outlander’s strengths by focusing in on the characters, their stories, and their emotions. I’m once again reminded of Ronald D. Moore’s previous work on Battlestar Galactica. While the constant threat of a cylon attack and the hardships of war permeated every scene, the battles and airstrikes weren’t what made Battlestar one of the best sci-fi series of all times. It was the characters, their relationships, their hopes and dreams. In the same way, Outlander is a character drama. It focuses sharply on the fears and desires of its protagonist, creating an intimate series.
“Rent” brims with these wonderful character vignettes (until a particular “twist,” which I’ll get to in a moment). In the episode’s best scene, Claire joins the women of a local village to work wool and sing a Gaelic working song. It’s an intimate look at the private lives of women in this particular time and place, a glimpse of 18th century women’s communities often left out from historical books and historical fiction alike. And with the exception of when she’s practicing medicine, Claire’s time with these women is one of the only times we see her truly enjoying herself and feeling at home in her new surroundings. She revels in the closeness between the women and gladly participates in their work and illicit drinking. Claire’s delight in these scenes makes its sharp interruption all the more powerful, as she’s yanked away from a moment of peace and faced yet again by constant threat of danger.
Using the context clues around her and some convenient memories of historical conversations with Frank, Claire pieces together that Dougal and company are Jacobites, a group of political rebels who hope to restore a Catholic king to the thrones of England, Ireland, and Scotland. In Claire’s own words, she realizes the men’s actions on the road aren’t criminal; they’re political.
Which, fine. It’s an interesting enough twist, and one that lends itself to fun future developments. Will Claire try to change history? Will she succeed? Will her knowledge of how shit goes down for the Jacobites lead her to confess to someone she trusts the truth about her origins?
But within the context of the episode, the twist is used mainly to exonerate the clansmen and, most problematically, Dougal. Claire spends most of the episode thinking they’re stealing money out of greed and that Dougal uses Jamie’s lashed back to scare people into giving him money. When she realizes they’re early Jacobites, Claire sees the men in a whole new light. She’s so determined to make the new distinction that she gives us the “political not criminal” spiel twice. People remarked last week that the hunting scene forges a new respect-fueled bond between Claire and Dougal
“History be damned,” Claire’s new lawyer friend Ned says when she tries to tell him history indicates the Jacobites will lose. Historical fiction like Outlander, by its very definition, shakes up history. The blend of real events with new characters and stories makes Outlander a fun historical adventure. But the show can’t ignore it’s own history. And the writers trying to make Claire sympathetic to Dougal’s political actions completely ignores the fact that, just last episode, he tried to rape her. He may have forgotten, but Claire certainly hasn’t. And yet over the course of this episode, she starts to respect him and rationalize his actions on the road as if his actions in the castle happened in a vacuum. For a show that otherwise has been very thorough and smart about character development, making Claire sympathize with Dougal seems awfully lazy and ineffectual. History be damned, I guess?
- Claire gets drunk and steals a goat. For feminism.
- Speaking of drunk Claire, who’s the greatest, I love how down she was to be the next urine volunteer. I’m mostly just glad Claire got to have a little fun this week even if it was only for but a moment.
- Mad props to Claire for the classic it’s-warmer-in-my-room line, and damn Jamie for not going inside! I can’t believe we’re still waiting for these two to get it on.
- Sorry I didn’t know what shinty was last week.
- Claire’s travel coat is everything. The costumes in general have been magnificent.
- I miss Geillis.