My review of “The Gathering”, Outlander Episode 4 Season 1. If you haven’t read the books, then this is full of spoilers and if you don’t want to know anything about the show before seeing it, then don’t read it!!!!
I really enjoyed this episode! A lot of tension that has been bubbling comes to the surface.
The first three episodes’ opening sequence ended with Claire and Jaime riding across the Highlands together and then a pic of the standing stones, whereas this opening sequence ended with a still life of a candle, some plaid and the McKenzie pin.
They mess with us in the opening scene for a few seconds and make us think Claire is on the run but she’s just playing with the kids while scouting out the McKenzie defenses in preparation for her escape later that night. As expected Rupert and Angus continue to play comedic relief.
In this ep Claire proves herself very clever indeed. She reconnoitered her escape route, found distractions for her guards, chose a horse, etc. But she’s not so clever as to have figured out that Jaime REALLY needs to stay away from the castle during the Gathering. Auld Alec warns her in the stables but she either doesn’t get it or she’s just so focused on her own escape she’s not really paying attention to what he’s trying to say. One thing I liked about the sequence of her in the stable and afterward was the background music–a modern (1940’s) ballad provides a nice juxtaposition. Her body may be in the 1700’s but her mind is firmly dwelling on the 1900’s and she still wants to go home.
Claire is nervous as a cat in a room full of rockers, which explains why she is startled by Geillis waiting for her in the surgery. This scene did not occur in the books but it adds quite a lot to the building tension of Claire’s escape because Geillis seems to have guessed Claire’s plans. Geillis continues to pry information out of Claire, much to Claire’s only slightly hidden irritation. Geillis asks about the stock of food Claire has accumulated and the large amount of valerian root (used to aid in sleep). In the book, Claire reasons that her stock of food can be excused away by her need to feed many of the injured and sick people that she will be seeing during the Gathering and she didn’t use Valerian root because she didn’t think she’d need to–the whole clan will be either drunk or asleep. On the show, however, she doesn’t offer an explanation to Geillis for either the food or the Valerian root. Geillis pushes very hard to find out if Claire’s husband is dead but she also ends up revealing a bit about herself. Geillis implies that she came from some other place and that she had to struggle to get there. She also basically says that she married her husband for security that money and his position can buy. And she encourages Claire to adjust to life in and around Castle McKenzie like she did. I was surprised by how much Geillis seems to genuinely care what happens to Claire, advising her against trying to make it on her own in the Highlands. Claire doesn’t, of course, listen and continues to gather things for her escape.
While trying to grab a knife in the kitchen Mrs. Fitz catches her and forces her to change into a nicer dress and attend the Oath Taking ceremony in the Hall. Mrs. Fitz is as eager as a little girl to be at the ceremony and delighted to be all dressed up. Then we see her getting kind of catty with none other than Herself, the author Diane Gabaldon playing Fiona, a woman standing in the upper gallery. This pic below isn’t big enough to see her dress. It’s lovely. You can see a pic of the full thing here.
You could tell that Gabaldon was being very careful to pronounce everything just right. The Executive Producer, Ronald D. Moore, also had a cameo but I couldn’t spot him. When the ceremony begins it’s clear that Colum is proud of his family , his clan and himself. He doesn’t hide his legs, making the long slow walk down the Hall on purpose. He wants the clan to see his legs so that when Dougal kneels and makes his oath, first of all the McKenzie men to do so, it’s clear that Colum is in charge, stunted and twisted legs notwithstanding, and that Dougal accepts this and still supports Colum’s claim to be the Laird. It shows confidence and unity between the brothers even though we know that the relationship is less smooth than they want people to think. Right after giving his oath, kissing Colum’s hands and drinking with Colum, Dougal goes off to the side and drinks almost half a container of something dark and alcoholic as if to clean his mouth out.
Thankfully for Claire (and us), Murtagh is in the gallery to interpret the Gaelic of Colum’s speech. Remember Murtagh is not a McKenzie and his alliance is clearly and solely to Jaime for some reason (we’ll learn why later this season) so it makes sense for him to be upstairs and not among the McKenzie men waiting to take their oath. We get one more appearance by Gabaldon when she shushes Murtagh but he ignores her. Some other things I noticed about the Oath Taking….I didn’t realize how big the quaich that the oath takers and Colum drink from is! I knew in theory how big it was but seeing it for real, makes me REALLY admire just how much tolerance Colum must have. They don’t say it but I believe he has his favorite extra strong Rhenish in the quaich and every single oath taker will take a drink and Colum has to match them. That’s a lot of damn wine! While the rest of the men make their oaths, Claire tries to leave the Hall but Angus doesn’t want her to go at least until he “bags a lass for the evening”. Clever Claire appears to give in and pretends to share a bottle of port presumably laced with a lot of Valerian root.
Finally free of her guards Claire grabs her escape bundle, rushing out the surgery only to run into Laoghaire. Laoghaire is there to ask her for a “love potion” to use on Jaime, to “move his heart”. Apparently Laoghaire can move his parts but she can’t make him love her. This is very different from the book if I recall. Laoghaire never approached Claire for anything like this but had approached and received something from Geillis, which I believe was a curse of some sort that Laoghaire puts beneath Claire’s pillow in the castle. In the book she is trying to make Jaime stop loving Claire and love her instead. In the show Claire gives her a small bottle of horse dung because Jaime would never notice the smell in the stables. She tells Laoghaire to sprinkle it on his door and tap her heels together three times and say “There’s no place like love”. This is obviously a clever reference to the Wizard of Oz a movie first shown in 1939. This reference will become more appropos than Claire will like later in the season.
As she’s trying to rush through the Hall’s she comes across three very drunk McKenzie men with rape on their minds making Claire drop her bundle. Dougal rescues her and forces a big grabby and slobby kiss on her. He’s just about to let her go when he notices her bundle on the floor. Knowing the jig is up, she clobbers him over the head with a small chair knocking him out cold. In the book she doesn’t drop her bundle or he doesn’t see it and she doesn’t have to knock him out–he simply lets her go and he thinks she’s gone back to her room. Either way, it probably won’t matter but I guess we’ll see.
She finally gets to the stables only to be thwarted by Jaime, whom she steps on him on the way to her horse. He tries to reason with her to stay and she finally expresses her frustration and anger. She’s just a sassanach and doesn’t belong there. He offers to take her back to the Castle even though it’s really dangerous for him to be anywhere near the castle, on this night in particular. Claire admits to knocking Dougal out and Jaime just laughs it off saying Dougal will never remember it anyway
Jaime also says and does something interesting. He says, while rubbing the back of his head, “I hope you left a good mark so he remembers his error in judgement”. This makes me think they will be including something from the book that they haven’t directly mentioned yet….that is that Dougal tried to kill Jaime not that long ago and Jaime has a big thick scar on the back of his head from it. In the books, it’s why Jaime’s hair is shorter than everyone else’s…because they shaved his head to treat the wound, which almost did kill him, and it was just growing back when he met Claire.
So, ever the gallant Jaime tries to escort her back via a secret tunnel to avoid the guards and clansmen but they get caught by Angus and a couple of other men. The one man tries to manhandle Claire and Jaime leaps to her protection knocking the guy out only to be knocked unconscious himself by Angus. Inside they make him change clothes and he tells her that he can’t wear the McKenzie motto and instead tells her his own motto, “Je suis prest” or “I am ready”, but still doesn’t tell her his real full name.
His delivery was perfect and I was “Je suis prest” meself afterwards if’n you know what I mean! I’m finally convinced they couldn’t have found a better actor to play Jaime. Sam Heughan really is perfect in this role.
Back in the Hall, Claire is still clueless as Jaime enters the Hall and the entire McKenzie clan takes notice of his presence. Murtagh finally explains to her that no matter what Jaime does, whether he takes the Oath or not, he’s likely to lose his life as a result. If he doesn’t pledge the clan will be offended and kill him. If he does, he’d be declaring himself to be in line for the Lairdship, which would threaten Hamish’s claim, Colum’s son. Hamish doesn’t have a lock on the position. In tanistry, blood does sort of matter and Jaime is a McKenzie through his mother (she was Dougal and Colum’s sister) but that alone is not sufficient. The clan’s opinion also matters and they must choose the most vigorous and worthiest adult for the position. Jaime would certainly qualify, but he doesn’t want it because he stands to be Laird of his Father’s own estate (except for the wee bit of trouble having to do with a price on his head, which he is trying to find a way out of).
Unfortunately, Dougal doesn’t know or doesn’t care what Jaime’s real views are about the matter. Dougal had always assumed he would become Laird once his brother Colum died, which everyone assumed wouldn’t be much longer, and he always felt threatened by Jaime’s presence any time he was near Castle Leoch (Jaime did spend a lot of time at Castle Leoch as a child and Dougal was his foster father but that was when he was a child and not capable of becoming the tanist). And Dougal is, as we have seen, ruthless and probably not above killing Jaime to secure his own position. Claire still questions the wisdom of Jaime being anywhere near the castle, but she’s forgotten Jaime has a price on his head and there was no other safe place for him. If not for her, Jaime would have been out of the way in the stable, staying there until the Gathering was over and the danger of being forced to take the Oath had passed.
While Claire gets all this explained to her and Jaime waits in the line of oath takers looking positively scared, Dougal enters the Hall rubbing his sore head and stands beside Colum. Thankfully Jaime is pretty damn smart. He refuses the oath and says he’s pledged to the name that he bears but he pledges his obedience to Colum as kinsman and Laird so long as he is on McKenzie lands. After a moment of tense silence Colum accepts the vow and offers the quaich to Jaime who drains it in one long draught. Everyone seems happy except for Laoghaire because if Jaime had become part of the clan, she could marry him. But since he rejected it, the odds of her father ever consenting to the match just evaporated. Jaime leaves the Hall intact with Murtagh.
The next day as another modern song plays in the background we see Claire joining the boar hunt. Scoffing at the danger, Claire enters the forest and while rushing to the aid of an injured man ends up face to face with one of the creatures. Thanks to Dougal, who is a fair shot, she lives to tell the tale. Trying to recover from the shock, she tries to help a badly injured man, named Geordie, only to realize that she couldn’t save him. So she stays there to comfort him while Dougal holds Geordie in his arms as the poor man bleeds to death. This is an important bonding experience between Dougal and Claire that serves a number of functions including once again proving her worth to the clan and that Dougal still doesn’t know enough about her.
The next scene was lots of fun to watch but wasn’t in the books. Coming back to the Castle with Geordie’s body and the dead boar, Dougal spots Jaime and several others playing a game of Shinty (which is akin to the Irish game of Hurling if that clears it up for you at all). You can just see the pent up frustration and anger in Dougal’s face as he rips off his gear and rushes into the game like a man with a mission.
I understand why Dougal is frustrated having just lost his friend but it took me a while to figure out why he’s so mad at the guys playing the game. It occurred to me that maybe he’s angry because they’re goofing off instead of being on the hunt and providing for the castle. Maybe he felt his friend might not have died if these other men had joined in the hunt or maybe he wished it had been Jaime who was dead and not his friend Geordie. Or just maybe he was simply letting off some steam. Whatever his motivation, Dougal proceeds to enter the game, knocks out several players and then basically tries to beat the crap out of Jaime.
I laughed my butt off when Murtagh catches Angus about to step in and help Dougal cheat so he takes his Shinty stick and gives Angus’ “wee ones” a good scrape with the admonishment to “play fair”. Jaime for the most part is trying his best not to hit or hurt his uncle but Dougal shows no such compunction, repeatedly hitting Jaime with his stick. All the spectators can see Jaime taking the beating without backing off (just like he did when he took Laoghaire’s punishment in the Hall) and without being disrepectful to his uncle until he’s had enough of it. Then he gets under Dougal with his Shinty stick and lifts Dougal straight up and over onto his back. Jaime, ever the good sportsman helps Dougal up, but it’s clear that whatever is between them is still brewing.
Remember what I said about the clan picking the most vigorous and qualified man? Well, Jaime has shown on several occasions that he’s not only the bigger man (psychologically speaking) than Dougal but he’s also shown that he’s the better man and could best Dougal in a fight. So Dougal will stay wary of Jaime as a contender for control of the clan McKenzie.
Finally back in her surgery Dougal talks to Claire and confirms what he already knows to be true–that Claire has seen many men die by violence. He thanks her for trying to help Geordie and for comforting him in his final moments. This surprises Claire and then he surprises her again by telling her that he’s taking her out on a trip around McKenzie lands to collect the rents from tenants who couldn’t make it to the Gathering. He says he wants her along because of her healing skills and because she’s good under stress. One can assume that there will be illegal and dangerous activities in the offing besides just avoiding the Black Watch like cattle rustling and Jacobite recruitment. Claire might not be thinking of all that because she is so excited about getting closer to her goal of Craig Na Dun and returning home to Frank. But Dougal has other motivations for taking her “on the road” as well that will play out in the coming episodes. The final scene is them riding off at first light with Jaime in front of Claire and Murtagh, turning to look back.
Each episode just gets better in my opinion and makes me eager for next week’s installment.