Recap: Outlander, “The Way Out” (1×03)

How do you survive when everything you stand for, everything you believe, seems antithetical to the world around you? Do you rage against it openly or quietly? Do you even fight at all? These are the questions with which Claire contends in “The Way Out”, as she repeatedly confronts the limitations of 18th century superstition and justice. Jamie tells Claire near the episode’s end, “A man’s beliefs are how he makes sense of life – and death. You take that away and what do you have left?” Ostensibly, he’s talking about the priest’s religion, but really, it applies to Claire’s sense of right and wrong, and how stubbornly she continues to adhere to those beliefs in her predicament.

And, wow, does Claire have a stubborn streak in that regard. While her honor and outrage at injustice is admirable for her character, as far as survival goes, it is absolutely a flaw. Claire lacks adaptive flexibility – the guile that Geillis clearly demonstrates when manipulating her husband into dispensing a milder judicial reprimand – and that continues to earn her suspicion and enemies. The same drive to do what is right that led her to refuse Frank’s offer to pull strings and get her off the front in World War II now leads her to make a mortal enemy of the (slightly cartoonish) Father Bain. It’s the 18th century. Making an enemy of the church does not bode well for a long and happy life. Thankfully, Claire has enough wisdom to stop short of sharing her secret with anyone, because she can pretty clearly imagine the subsequent cries of “WITCH!”.

The rub of it all is that Claire is right. She hopes her efforts to be a good healer would earn first the MacKenzies’ trust and then permission to leave. She has centuries of medical knowledge to work with and adapt to her circumstances. She knows that massaging Colum’s spinal column will relieve more pain than massaging his legs. She knows that the boys who visit the Black Kirk ruins, a suspected enclave of demons, are suffering from poisoning rather than possession – she just needs to find out by what. But varying massage techniques is one thing, and flying in the face of the infallible and inviolable Church is another. Reality matters less than perception; as Geillis says, “People believe the boy is possessed, Claire – you challenge that at your own peril.”

Geillis’ counsel is right, of course – Claire’s insistence on inserting herself into affairs deemed none of her business does her life expectancy no favors. But Geillis’ is a strange concern, accompanied as it is by her wide-eyed (yet hardly innocent) inquiries into Claire’s past and experiences. Geillis is clearly a survivor, but is her brand of survival good for Claire?

Which brings us back to Jamie, and why he is so important, so necessary, for Claire. (Really, all roads lead back to Jamie). Jamie may be a bit of an outsider, but he knows the rules of the game. He’s educated, and more worldly than most of the other people at Castle Leoch, but he also knows better than to fly in face of centuries of traditional beliefs.

He’s also clearly head over heels for Claire, and Claire might be the only one who can’t tell. She futilely attempts to play matchmaker between him and the besotted Laoghaire, but Jamie is such a romantic dolt that he insults the heck out of the poor girl as he focuses his energies on Claire. That doesn’t stop him from making out with Laoghaire later, though, in an uncharacteristically bro-like move. When Claire laters needles him about it, fueled by jealousy of anyone’s intimacy and a longing for her husband, she’s sharply scolded by Jamie’s compatriot. Her teasing is ill-advised; it could end with Jamie saddled to the childish Laoghaire instead of the woman he wants and needs.

In defiance of all warnings and wisdom, Claire saves the life of Mrs. Fitz’s nephew (the lady has a big family), but instead of earning her more freedom, her successful ‘miracle’ and new indispensability tethers her to the castle even more strongly. In despair and bereft of hope, she goes to listen to the bard sing a folk tale that sounds disturbingly like her time-travel experience, which is enough to rekindle her drive to escape by whatever means necessary. That escape can’t come soon enough, because even as she’s earned some of Colum’s trust, other eyes upon her aren’t so charitable.

Odds & Ends

– I find Claire’s gravitation towards Colum’s excellent Rhenish wine to be consistently amusing. I think that Claire would be fun at a pub, but would probably flirt a bit too much with your boyfriend after a few.

– Duncan is the one to tell Claire that she should visit Geillis. File that one away.

– You get the feeling that Frank wouldn’t have even considered pulling strings to get his own assignment changed; it’s a nice reminder of how much he loves his wife.

BOOK READERS ONLY: I’m presuming the storyline about the sick boys eating Lily of the Valley took the place of the changeling one from the book. The changeling episode was dialogue heavy and would have been difficult to make visually interesting, so making the story about young boys instead was a smart move. In general, I find the adaptation choices in this show to be better than most book-to-screen swaps in both their logic and execution.