Recap, Outlander, “The Wedding” (1×07)

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, ladies and gentlemen.

I read the book. I knew what was going to go down in “The Wedding”. I knew the fireworks that happen after Claire and Jamie’s marriage, and I expected it to be hot based on the chemistry between the two actors. What I didn’t expect was to have it all folded into a brilliantly constructed narrative with a fantastically creative chronology.

Yes, yes, I am the person who just witnessed some of the hottest, most explicit, most exciting sex scenes to possibly ever hit the television screen – and here I am crowing about the narrative structure. But consider: without the way the backstory was layered in through flashbacks, without spending all that time in the room with Jamie and Claire, would their coupling have been so steamy? It’s the storytelling that makes those moments feel earned, rather than just thrown in to tantalize the audience. (But, I mean, good job there too.)

We don’t start with Jamie and Claire, but with Frank and Claire, walking down the middle of a street on the way to lunch with Frank’s parents, when Frank suddenly proposes to Claire, in front of a registry office, that she meet them not as Claire Beauchamp but as Mrs. Frank Randall. Frank is so happy, so in love, so spontaneous in the moment that we’re reminded that yes, he was once a match for Claire in vivacity and passion, at least before the War.

But from that kiss in the middle of an English street we’re swiftly catapulted to one in a Scottish church. The groom is now Jamie, not Frank, and all the joy is drained from Claire’s face. The guests cheer, but Claire is consumed by guilt, fear, and pain.

We spend the rest of the night with Claire and Jamie in their wedding chamber, as they attempt to reach a level of comfort that will allow them to consummate the marriage (again…and again…and again). You see, since we last saw Claire agree to marry Jamie, grab a bottle, and storm off, she dwelled in the bottom of that bottle, and likely several others. She agreed to the marriage, yes, but the wedding was none of her concern. Claire is learning how to survive, but she isn’t going to enjoy it.

Claire is all too happy to pick up drinking where she left off when Jamie comes to the wedding chamber, since consummation is mandatory in order for the wedding to be legal and Claire to be fully protected. Jamie tries humor, then gallantry to win over Claire but he can only watch in wounded disbelief as she drains three glasses of whiskey in quick succession just to be able to handle the idea of sleeping with him.

What Jamie can’t know is that it’s hardly revulsion for him, or a dislike of sex in general that’s giving her pause, but rather her past slipping away from her. No matter from which way she looks at it, in her timeline, sleeping with Jamie means betraying Frank. She made it through the war without straying, but this isn’t a matter of choice. It’s a matter of survival. And although Claire has tried as hard as she could not to lose who she is while she’s been trapped in the 18th century, this first mandatory compromise also happens to be the worst one she can imagine.

So instead, she seizes the past – both hers and Jamie’s, as she asks him about his family and tells him about hers. Only after this – and a brief interruption by Rupert and Angus – does she suggests they go to bed. Jamie, a virgin highly unfamiliar with women’s adornments, needs to be guided through removing her layers of clothes, but not through much after that. Their kissing is passionate, but the subsequent consummation is relatively perfunctory, short, and for Claire, crushing (physically and mentally). When Jamie asks if she liked it, her face can’t mask her anguish, and Jamie mistakes that for dislike rather than inner turmoil. But, done is done, and now Claire is safe from Randall, and so the rest of the night belongs to her and Jamie as they see fit. Now the magic starts.

Over a plate of food (hungover Claire is starving), Claire asks Jamie about his kilt, which leads to him explaining the events leading up to the wedding. The structure is clever because it allows us to keep with Claire’s perspective while she learns more about Jamie; we’re filled in on details of his life as she is. Rather than dispassionately watch Jamie’s actions, we see them as told to Claire, and witness her become more and more at ease with her new husband, and his desire for her.

While Claire was sleeping off that epic bender, Jamie was taking the lead on making sure she – and he – got a proper wedding. Every element that he insists on, from the Fraser tartan to a ring forged from a mysterious key to a gown and a church – is designed to reclaim some of his lost past and family pride. Jamie isn’t the only one who recalls his hidden Fraser name and family with fondness; Murtagh, heretofore gruff and blunt, softens considerably at the mention of Jamie’s mother, Ellen, and swears that Claire smiles just as sweetly. You get the idea that this is the highest praise he could bestow.

Plus, we get a hilarious scene of Ned Gowan, Mr. Moneybags, negotiating for a dress in a whorehouse, and ending up with a little something-something for himself besides.

It’s when Jamie describes his utter joy upon seeing her at the church that Claire is truly swayed. (Though, I could have done without the sun bursting out of the clouds as a lighting effect. Jamie’s voiceover was heavy-handed enough.) Jamie remembers Claire’s beauty and his happiness. Claire remembers slipping Frank’s wedding ring into the bosom of her dress and being torn into a million pieces. Dougal is mostly just very annoyed.

When Claire and Jamie come together this time, it’s entirely on Claire’s terms. She orders him to strip, and we follow her gaze and her hand as it travels around Jamie’s stark naked body. (If anyone is curious how to show the female gaze when it comes to nudity, here’s your master class.) She exerts the same level of control once they make it to the bed.

THIS PARAGRAPH REDACTED FOR DECENCY’S SAKE. (Seriously, if you watched the show, I should not have to describe this.)

Following Jamie’s satisfaction, he falls immediately asleep, and Claire, hungry again, wraps herself in Jamie’s plaid and makes her way downstairs. (This particular post-sex ritual is the least glamorous part, and will therefore probably be the most familiar to viewers.) Downstairs, Dougal, back from informing Randall of Claire’s new national status, once again tries to persuade Claire to avail herself of his pleasures. Thankfully, a drunk and bumbling Rupert enters just in time, and Claire escapes upstairs unmolested but disconcerted.

Jamie awakens to find Claire sitting by the window, still wrapped in his plaid, staring out at the night. He chooses this moment – the perfect one – to give Claire his mother’s pearls. They are precious to him, and so is she. Back at the beginning of the evening, Jamie told Claire he married her to save her from Randall, but this gift (and our observation) proves that there was so much more behind his decision. As he said, Jamie only planned on marrying once, and if Claire wasn’t the one, he’d have refused and she’d be marrying Rupert. They make love one more time, upright, and this time it’s completely mutual. Claire wraps Jamie’s plaid around the both of them; they’re together in this now.

Which makes the last scene of the episode everything. The next morning, full of happiness and post-coital glow, Claire shakes out her gown and nearly loses Frank’s ring in a crack in the floorboards. She falls to the ground, a wedding ring on each hand, destroyed. She had forgotten. Only for a night, but she had forgotten. And she has no idea how to go forward.

Odds & Ends

-Jamie thought all sex happened from behind because that’s how livestock does it. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WITHOUT SEX ED, PEOPLE.

-Director Anne Foerster is relatively new to directing television. Considering the dearth of female directors in episodic television, I’m glad that Ron Moore chose to use a woman in an episode where a female sexual experience was key. Foerster comes from a visual effects and cinematography background, and I’m excited to see the work she does on future episodes (including next week’s midseason finale).

-Dougal when Jamie announces he has conditions before their marriage: “Christ, it’d be easier to kill ye both!” Dougal, you aren’t wrong.

-Swoon-worthy lines coming out of Jamie’s mouth: “I said I was a virgin, not a monk.” Upon seeing Claire in her (stunning, perfect) wedding dress: [hand to heart] “Your servant.”

-BOOK READERS ONLY: I was surprised that Claire and Jamie didn’t promise honesty to each other after their wedding, as that was the most important takeaway from the book (well, besides the lovemaking). However, that’s an easy thing to move to a future conversation. Another big change is Frank and Claire’s wedding, which was in the same church as Claire and Jamie’s in the book. Making this change is consistent with the way that the show has tried to make a Frank a stronger character; it looks like we get more of that next week.