Recap: Outlander, “Rent” (1×05)

Never before this episode had it struck me quite how unrooted Claire is. From what we’ve seen of her life up to and including her time in 1743, she’s never had a firm sense of belonging. She grew up traveling with her archaeologist uncle. She married Frank relatively young, and not long after was torn away from him to nurse on the front during the Second World War (and seemed rather solitary in the one glimpse we see of her there). She was on her second honeymoon, trying to reconnect with Frank, when she was whisked backwards in time 200 years. Now, as an English woman, she’s about as much of an outsider as can be traveling with a group of Scottish highlander men from a different time. I get why Claire is, this week, kind of a mess.

Tonight’s episode stomped on my heart for Claire’s sake over and over again, as she managed to forge connections only to have them destroyed or forcibly removed. She bonds over the poetry of John Donne with lawyer Ned Gowan (while the uncultured philistines wrestle and make sexual jokes nearby), elated to have found a kindred soul – but Ned turns cold when she tries to dissuade him from continuing to participate in the Jacobite uprising out of legitimate concern for the MacKenzies’ lives. The women working wool readily accept Claire into their fold; as far as they’re concerned, her willingness to work and her gender are the only things needed to recommend her, but she’s literally dragged away, drunk and furious, by an equally enraged Angus. Even Jamie loses patience with her at one point, criticizing her obstinacy in place of his usual steadfast but honest support.

The highlanders are as crass and boorish as you would expect a group of rough and tumble fighting men, unused to traveling with women, to be. But much as they don’t understand Claire, she doesn’t understand them, and she lets her worst opinions of Dougal cloud her assumptions. Claire sees the men as villains and captors, people who rip away the livelihood of the poor, so she easily makes the leap to thinking them criminals embezzling from Colum, hardly better than the mercenary Watch, when she witnesses their ‘special’ evening collections in the villages. While Claire is often admirable, verging on noble, the show doesn’t shirk away from the negative consequences of her less desirable qualities – her stubbornness, her righteousness, and her propensity to drink a little too much among them. She’s much less of a dispassionate and virtuous narrator than in the books, something I attribute to a combination of the writers and Caitriona Balfe’s interpretation.

A funny thing happens, though, once Claire puzzles out a single Gaelic phrase – “long live the Stuart” – and puts together her current circumstances with historical ones she learned about from Frank and the Reverend. Once she recalls that the MacKenzies and all the other clans are doomed to see most of their men die and their way of life destroyed, the men take on the shine of political rebels destined for a tragic fate in only three short years. One of the things I’m most glad about is that the show rejects the “Butterfly Effect” school of time travel – Claire is fully well aware that she can’t nor shouldn’t try to stop the rebellion, but she becomes hellbent on getting the MacKenzies out of harm’s way. The trouble is, her comprehensive knowledge of English military superiority and her discouragement sends up more red flags. In a bit of irony, it’s when Claire lets go of her prejudices and myopic focus on her own journey to try to help the MacKenzies as selflessly as she can that she loses all of the trust that she had earned from Dougal.

In another unexpected turn of events for Claire, when she finally stops trying to seek companionship on her own terms, and adjusts to those of the highlanders, she’s finally successful. When a group of highlander men not affiliated with the MacKenzies (presumably the same ones that may have had designs on her virtue the night before) calls her a whore in the tavern, Angus of all people leads the MacKenzies in a brawl to defend her honor. Since the whole thing transpired in Gaelic, Claire had no idea until she was tending their wounds afterward, and Murtagh laid it out plain for her (as he does), and Claire, for once, is rendered speechless. See, Claire may be a sassenach, but she’s the MacKenzies’ sassenach, dammit, and nobody else gets to insult her.

Claire further cements her place among the men with a bawdy joke about Rupert’s masturbatory practices, sending the man into peals of laughter and impressing Jamie with her ability to adapt. Just when she starts to feel safe, though, her world is upended again. English Lieutenant Jeremy Foster, whom she encountered in a village weeks before, interrupts her riverside showdown with Dougal over her true identity – but this time he has backup, and Claire is free to answer the officer’s inquiry about her well-being truthfully. The trouble is, the truth may no longer be quite so apparent to Claire. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Odds & Ends

– The costume, hair, and makeup departments get an A+ this week for their work making Claire look like a woman on the road, varying her hairstyle and garb according to how much help she might have found in arranging it. As someone with hair naturally much like Claire’s, I’m sympathetic to how it’s in practically in ringlets one day and requires a hasty updo the next.

– When Claire finds Jamie sleeping outside her room, it’s probably the first time that I’ve felt her starting to get legitimate romantic-like feelings for him. I dig the pacing of this relationship.

– It’s really fortuitous for Claire that she was/is married to a historian, isn’t it?

BOOK READERS ONLY: I went back to check, and Jamie DEFINITELY wasn’t in the final shot of last week’s episode, but my memory failed me about why he absolutely HAD to be on this trip (the scars, among other anticipated things). I’ve gone back and reread the upcoming the parts of the book, so I’m back in touch with the particulars. Also, I think I can finally tell angry Angus, jovial Rupert, and tell-it-like-it-is Murtagh apart. They aren’t exactly like their book counterparts, so it can be hard.