My review of Outlander Season 1 Episode 5 entitled “Rent”. If you haven’t read Outlander and the subsequent books there are spoilers below. You are forewarned.
Claire is on the road with a group of the McKenzie men to collect rents from tenants on McKenzie lands. Dougal has another motive as well that takes Claire a bit to suss out. He’s basically rousing up the countryside and collecting money to fund the next Jacobite uprising. If you’re not familiar with the Scottish uprisings of the 1700’s the series might be a bit confusing but I think the show does a good job of explaining what’s going on (here’s a primer if you want to know more). Suffice it to say that Claire has landed in a much larger maelstrom that seems to be sweeping her up into it.
|The opening scene shows Claire quoting from John Donne (one of my favs) and Ned joining her to finish it. The weird thing about it is that I couldn’t tell if she was in the past or the future until Ned stepped into the frame. It gave me a weird sense of dislocation. I wonder if anyone else had the same feeling. Ned was a character I enjoyed in the books and we get to see his relationship with Claire. We are shown his good nature, his devotion to Dougal and the Jacobite cause and his desire to be kind to Claire. And it’s no wonder that Claire enjoys his company because as this episode makes clear, the men she’s with care little for her female sensibilities, except perhaps for Jaime, by telling ribald jokes accompanied by rude gestures in illustration. It’s not that she’s not used to such ribaldry surely since she’d been a army nurse in France. I think it’s more that she doesn’t really like these men that she’s with (again with the exception of Jaime and Ned). Indeed that’s what this episode is about–Claire coming to understand and sympathize with the Highlanders as they travel through the gorgeous countryside.|
|This process, however, takes a while. In the beginning she sits separate from the men when they eat and listens to their bawdy jokes from afar most of which are spoken in Gaelic, which is on purpose and she knows it. It only reinforces her feeling of being a captive. She accepts the exclusion and does nothing to counter it because she intends to make her time with them brief. But it still bothers her as she tells Jaime, “they hate me”. He tells her they don’t hate her but they certainly don’t trust her. Jaime himself indicates he doesn’t trust her not to run and he knows she has secrets but he doesn’t think she’s a spy. The news that Jaime can read her intentions so clearly disturbs Claire.|
The first village they show them in Claire is bored watching the long line of tenants turn over small coins and goods but not so bored that she doesn’t notice that Ned has two bags instead of one for collections. Hearing some women singing she wanders off to find them and gets involved in waulking wool.
Imagine my surprise to find that the women use hot piss to set the dye into the wool and that piss is their very own. I always thought they used horse piss. I simply could not have done that work. Claire takes to it with no problem and receives a warm welcome into their circle. Even though they accept her, she is still clearly a stranger making toasts that they don’t understand at all like “Bottom’s Up” and “Geronimo” (this one made my Native American boyfriend guffaw). Claire uses the conversation to find out how close Craig Na Dun is but she’s still three days away. She is enjoying herself, drinking strong tipple and even adding to the piss bucket, until Angus interrupts her midstream and angrily removes her from the hut. She’s angry about being so rudely and abruptly removed. Claire must surely miss other women and feeling like she is a part of something. So it’s no surprise after being chivied by Angus that when she arrives at the horses she’s angry and had enough with being pushed around.
She decides to return a goat to the family it was taken from because a baby needs it’s milk but the men are not having it. Rent comes first. Dougal as usual just orders her to shut up and get on her horse. I liked how much gumption she showed but I think had she not been so comfortable with the women and perhaps a little tipsy that she would not have attempted to take the goat. Anyway, it shows how strong willed she is and how she is starting to fight back although she’ll need to learn to pick her battles better. But knowing how the books go, I know that Claire will never back down from doing what she thinks is right even if it costs her and those she loves dearly.
|And speaking of the trouble she gets into, a bit of trouble that will come back to haunt them later makes it’s appearance in the form of a British officer who inquires if Claire needs assistance. Since Claire and the officer are the only two British citizens in the area, there’s naught the officer can do at that moment. Claire is smart enough to keep her mouth shut. So He backs off and Dougal’s party leaves. I wonder how they will be using this new character. I’m willing to bet that we’ll see him again as he could be serving to fulfill several different English officer roles from the books. I’m eager to find out what his name is because I think or at least it will give us a clue.Then the episode gets to an important part of the story, where Dougal starts asking for money from people in an inn and using Jaime’s scarred back as a showpiece. Claire is so certain that Dougal is using Jaime to scare the townsfolk into giving him money for protection and that his main purpose is to line his own pockets.|
Jaime, just like in the books, is not happy with it at all but what can he do? He took an oath to obey the McKenzie while he’s on their land and he needs Dougal for now. As to why he’s upset, as he said earlier in the season, he doesn’t let people see his back because they never see him as a whole person again. They just see the scars. And it makes people pity him and a proud man doesn’t want anyone’s pity. Another reason we learn later in this episode that it makes some people think Jaime is a coward for having let them whip him and he should have fought back until they killed him. Some people think they would rather have died than let the British “use him so”. So, Jaime hates the attention and so does Claire because she’s come to see Jaime as a friend and she cares about him. It also makes Claire distrust Dougal all that much more. If she didn’t realize how ruthless he was before, she ought to now.
|The next day Claire talks to Ned about his “creative” bookkeeping methods and Ned pretends she’s guessed correctly when in fact she’s not exactly got it all figured out. Ned is a little condescending to her by letting her think she’s right. Then he gives her a kind of backhanded compliment by saying that she has a shrewd mind and argues well and if they let women practice law, she would have made a good lawyer. Claire rejoins with “they don’t let them practice YET” and Ned parts her company by saying, “It’ll be a few centuries before that happens”. And once he’s out of hearing Claire says out loud “Only two”. It only took two more centuries. How many generations is that? Too many.Claire says that weeks pass with them on the road and began to really despair because she had no way of knowing where she was and the men continued to exclude her. At one point they stop to see some men burning a house and pilfering the belongings of a family. It’s the Black Watch (here’s more info on them) and Claire gets a lesson in politics of the day. The Black Watch get paid to protect people’s cattle and they’re Scotsmen that don’t like people cooperating with the British and passing along information but at the same time if they were to learn about Jaime and the price on his head, they wouldn’t hesitate to turn him over for the reward.|
The Scotsmen she’s with accept it as a matter of course but Claire is incensed because in modern times this kind of behavior is illegal and not tolerated. Dougal also falls in her eyes once again because Dougal takes his cut from the Watch and Ned tells her it’s “business” not thievery. So once again her modern world view makes it hard for her to understand and integrate into life in the 1700’s.So Claire has her dander up again and at dinner when Angus offers her some of the birds that Dougal received from the Watch she refuses it and calls him a thief. I guess she’d reached her breaking point but she doesn’t realize what kind of tightrope she’s really walking until Angus pulls a knife on her and calls her a judgmental whore. Jaime steps in and manages him with a little humor and lightness but it’s a near run thing. Jaime confronts her afterward and he reminds her that where she comes from doesn’t matter, because she’s there now and she needs to stay out of things that she doesn’t understand. Jaime’s right and he never fails to tell her what she should do. That’s one of the things I always liked about their relationship was that he never, ever failed to tell her something even if she didn’t like it. And she really didn’t like being told to deal with the fact that she’s there and to leave her nose out of their business.
They continue from town to town collecting rents and doing the “rousing speech and Jaime exhibit”. Except this night Claire recognizes something in Dougal’s Gaelic speech–“long live the Stuart” and she finally understands that Dougal and his men are not thieving or extorting money from the people, they’re fomenting rebellion. This softens her heart a little bit because if there’s anything Claire understands its the urge to rebel against something unfair. Later that night she overhears and spies on Jaime and Dougal arguing. Jaime is finally telling Dougal he won’t let him use him any more. But Dougal reminds him of his oath and tells him that even though Colum isn’t there, Dougal represents him and that’s the end of it. It was curious to note that when Dougal tries to get Jaime to say he supports the Stuart cause Jaime doesn’t respond at all and it leaves us wandering what he really thinks about all this rebellious talk. In the end, Jaime decides not to push it further but it irks him to the point that he starts punching a tree to get his frustration out. Claire can’t help but intervene because he’s going to hurt himself and she feels sorry for him. She asks him why he lets Dougal keep using him and his answer is that Dougal is his uncle. Clearly it’s more than that but Jaime does say that at some point, a man has to choose what’s worth fighting for and for him that’s family. We saw him stand up for Jenny and in a way, it’s Dougal. I’m sure the rebellion is on his mind as well. If it came to it and the clans go to fight he’ll go but if they don’t, he’d probably just want to stay home and live his life in peace. He’s the epitome of the reluctant warrior. One other thing that I noted in this scene was how the sparks were flying between them. He tells her to go and get some sleep but she’s reluctant. He’s trying very, very hard to keep distance between them because he doesn’t want to get involved with her and he respects her. And while she consciously doesn’t want to either, she has got to be very lonely and they can identify with each other in a way. To make matters worse they can’t help but be attracted to one another. Poor Jaime is being such a gentleman.
Claire’s sympathy grows when she sees two Scotsmen who were executed and probably tortured by the British on the road to the next town. The more she sees the way the British treat them the more her sympathy will grow. Later that night Dougal tells people in an inn about what they found and they rake in a lot more money but Dougal’s ire is genuine–he’s fairly twitching with rage as he recounts how they found the bodies.
As Claire tries to sleep in a room upstairs by herself (finally she has some privacy!) she hears someone outside her door only to find and step on Jaime who is sleeping outside on the landing. He’s there to protect her from the “attentions” of the drunk Scotsmen downstairs. She offers to let him come into her room and the scandalized look on his face is priceless. Once again Claire forgets she’s in the VERY Catholic world of the 1700’s where a woman is either a virtuous Madonna or a whore and there is little room between. Her reputation is of paramount importance not just because of what people think but also her own safety. See, Claire still doesn’t get it. And if I recall from the books it takes years for her to fully grasp that how she sees the world and how different it is from the reality of the past endangers her–frequently. Claire teases him a little and offers him the blanket off her bed and in doing so their hands meet. Once again sparks fly but remember we’re on a slow, slow burn. Of course, he goes back to sleeping on the floor with the door closed.
|The next morning over breakfast Claire admits to Ned that she knows they’re raising money for the Jacobite cause and tries to tell him that it’s a fact their rebellion will fail without revealing that she’s from the future. Meanwhile some townsmen at the next table are talking and laughing and the McKenzie men stand up and proceed to beat the ever living daylights out of them. While patching up the McKenzie men and scolding them for acting like children, Murtagh tells her that they were defending her honor because the townsmen were talking about her being a prostitute and wanting to have a go at her.|
In the book it’s different. Jaime decides on his own to sleep in front of her door to protect her and the other McKenzie men have nothing to do with it. Also he tells her that since the men downstairs already think she’s a prostitute (in their mind why would a sassanach wench be traveling with a group of men if not in their “employ”) they wouldn’t think Jaime was being gallant but that he was simply waiting his own turn. At this point in the book Claire was already feeling kindness and loyalty of a sort to the McKenzie men but that’s not how it’s paced in the show. So obviously the show has to find a way to engender a sense of gratitude in Claire not only towards Jaime but the McKenzie men as well to get her feelings up to the same point as she was in the books before they have another run in with the British. Anyway, it was bonny pub brawl if I ever saw one and it was fun to watch. I was a little surprised that Claire didn’t apologize when she found out it was on her behalf but at the same time how the hell was she supposed to know since she doesn’t speak Gaelic?!
The next morning you can tell that relations with the men are improving because it’s not long before Rupert is telling a story about a threesome that he had and Claire pipes in with a wee joke about his likely propensity for self-pleasure. It takes them a minute to realize she’s joking but once they get it, they find it quite funny. As they get ready to mount and leave the inn Jaime tells her it is three days ride to Culloden moor. Claire recalls her visit to the battlefield of Culloden two hundred years in the future with Frank. There she saw the headstone that said Clan McKenzie where dozens of their bodies will be buried en a mass grave three short years in the future. These men who have been feeding her, defending her with their own bodies and with whom she is earning some respect and camaraderie with are changing in her eyes and her pity and fear for them is growing. Note at the end of that scene who are the three men the camera lingers on when she wonders what men will die on that battlefield–I wonder if they will be the men who do actually die at Culloden.
When they make camp for the night Angus actually helps Claire unload her belongings in a peace offering sort of way. Claire goes to wash up at the rive and Dougal comes down to confront her about who she really is and why she has been talking to Ned about the rebellion and sowing the seeds of doubt. She continues to insist she’s not a spy and says she’s trying to save their lives. Dougal is genuinely curious but before she can question him further the two of them are surrounded by dozen British soldiers on horseback. The same officer that we saw early on in the village has returned and this time he means to ascertain if she is in distress and have his own curiosity sated. He finally identifies himself as Lieutenant (or is that Leftenant?) Jeremy Foster, which is not a character I remember from the books. Dougal does his best to pull his McKenzie authority but it’s no good. It’s up to Claire to decide what to say to the British and that’s where the episode ends–just as she opens her mouth to answer. The music at the end is dissonant bagpipes building to a crescendo that goes into a slow mournful tune heavily featuring drums, presaging the violence that will no doubt occur in the next few episodes.
Ultimately, even if I hadn’t read the book, I seriously doubt she would endanger the McKenzie men. Whatever they’ve done to her she doesn’t feel they need to die for it. Furthermore she can’t say as she blames them for rebelling. And finally there’s a very practical reason why she’d say she’s okay. The odds of her escaping harm and getting away from the McKenzie men to go back to Craig Na Dun while wandering around the Highlands are infinitely higher than the odds of her avoiding harm in the clutches of the sadistic Captain Randall and escaping from within the strong walls of Fort William. She’s smart enough to know that she’s probably better off with the McKenzies. Unfortunately for her, it looks like from the previews that the British officer isn’t going to believe her and will cart her off to see Black Jack Randall anyway.
A good part of this episode was not in the books…the British officer, the goat, the waulking, the way the Black Watch are encountered and portrayed, the crucified men, etc but it’s actually refreshing to see the same ideas and plot points get communicated in new ways. I think they did a good job of it. I have read some online saying that it’s running too slow but I keep coming back to this point….how slow is too slow? I don’t need someone to die or explosions in every episode to make it interesting. However, I can see many who don’t already love the story as I do who won’t be able to hang in until the bigger plot points are reached. It will be their loss as the show is Starz biggest hit to date and has already been renewed for Season 2. As usual, I can’t wait for the next episode!