Last night’s airing of The Gathering puts us a quarter of the way through Outlander. Isn’t it wonderful that Starz is giving us sixteen episodes instead of the anemic ten or twelve that most series seem to get. I think it’s a tribute to the creative team of Outlander that Starz has put so much faith and money into this series. And that Starz wants to be known as an Emmy winning network. They might just get their wish, If not for the actors, surely for the sets, costumes, and music.
So what happened at The Gathering. A lot, actually. Claire is desperate to escape, but she isn’t foolhardy and not looking for a man to rescue her. No, Claire uses the children, including Hamish, and frolics around the guard stations and woods of Castle Leoch searching for escape routes. As you can imagine, Rupert and Angus are not amused, but being they’ve been ordered to follow Claire, they must tag along.
On their way back to the castle, they walk through the bustling camp site of families who’ve traveled to attend the oathtaking. Though Claire is desperate to get back to her own time, she finds happiness amongst the people of this time. We never once hear via voiceovers that Claire hates the limitations of life in the 1700s.It’s likes she’s slipped into this time as easily has one puts on a well-worn pair shoes.
Arriving back to her dungeon surgery, Claire is surprised to find Geillis waiting for her, having brought a bottle of something. Geillis is one of the most intriguing characters of this series. Everything about her is curious, and a bit creepy, ethereally beautiful, and perhaps deadly. A weaker character might confide in Geillis, or trust her, but Claire is not weak, and she is ever cautious when dealing with her. Geillis has been snooping around, and notes the stock of food. She warns Claire that the Highlands aren’t the place for a woman to be alone. She tells Claire that she came to Cranesmuir with nothing but her wits and her knowledge of herbs. That her husband isn’t much to look at, but he’s prosperous and has a good home, and it affords her the freedom she wants. Freedom is the key word here. Geillis doesn’t come right out and say that Claire is planning an escape, but she lets Claire know she knows, and proposes an alternate way to find freedom.
On the hunt for a weapon to take with her, Claire wanders down to the kitchens. With knife in hand, ready to tuck into her voluminous skirt, Mrs. Fitz spies her and tells her she must attend the ceremony as she is Colum’s personal guest. Mrs. Fitz must have a closet full of clothes, because she outfits Claire in the prettiest gown so far this season. I wish I had a better picture, but like anything else, when you’re looking for something specific, it’s always elusive. Terry Dresbach has a lovely sketch and swatches of the material.
Watching from a balcony above, Claire witnesses the Oathtaking of the Mackenzie clansmen. Colum is the laird, head of the Mackenzie clan, and responsible for the wellbeing of all his clansmen and their families. Colum’s disability does not seem to affect his ability to lead the clan, mainly because his brother, Dougal carries out the tasks that Colum cannot. It’s an interesting relationship, and we see a bit of the complexity when Dougal prepares himself to be the first to pledge himself to Colum. Even though he’s surrounded by people in the Great Hall of Castle Leoch, Dougal is always alone. He takes a moment to steady himself before approaching Colum. Does he wish his brother to step down and name him as Laird? Does he wish his brother were whole and hearty and didn’t need him as much? Probably a combination of both, as he clearly loves his brother, but also enjoys his power. After he bends a knee, he moves back to stand alone and takes a long drink of alcohol. Another year pledged, another year of waiting to rule.
Witnessing one Oathtaking is enough for Claire, who wants to retrieve her small satchel of provisions, and get to the stables and make her escape. Angus trails behind her, not wanting to leave the party, and tries to reason with her, and make her stay. Claire produces the bottle Geillis gave her and offers it to Angus. It’s port, she tells him, with a sedative. He has no idea what a sedative is, but enjoys the port, saying it is strong. Claire slips away to her surgery and is just leaving when Loaghaire appears in her doorway. She wants a love potion for Jamie. I wanted Claire to tell her she isn’t that type of healer, because I fear her giving Loaghaire a potion will come back to haunt her later. Remember how superstitious and fearful of witches the people of this time were. But Claire likes Loaghaire and provides her with dried horse dung as a love potion. She tells Loaghaire to sprinkle this on his (Jamie’s) threshold and click her heels three times while saying, There’s no place like love. Two weeks in a row we’ve had Wizard of Oz references. Last week it was Geillis red shoes, and now the no place like love, instead of no place like home.
Covered in a cape and making her way through the dark hallways of Castle Leoch, Claire is almost out when she’s assaulted by men who aren’t the type to take no for an answer. She’s pinned against the wall by them, and seconds away from rape when Dougal drags them off of her and sends them packing. Until this scene, I hadn’t really thought of any alternative reasons for Dougal to want to keep Claire. He’s stated he thinks she’s a spy, and wanted to keep her close. But in this scene, which I thought was extremely powerful, it is obvious he desires Claire. The way he bends his head to rest against her shoulder and touches her face like she’s the most beautiful and fragile thing he’s ever encountered. He wants her and he wants her now and feels it’s his due since he saved her from ravishment. Claire fights back and slaps him. Dougal moves away from her and leans against the wall. I wish I could express how well Graham MacTavish, the actor who plays Dougal, conveyed anger and desire with his eyes. It’s clear the ladies don’t deny his advances. He’s stated that he doesn’t rape women. Claire’s refusal of his advances only makes him want her more. Claire has to get past Dougal before she can leave. Always clever, she stares down at the satchel and when Dougal looks away she bashes him over the head with a chair.
Finally, free of the castle she’s makes her way to the stables and trips over a sleeping Jamie. He explains her plan is foolhardy as Colum has increased the guards posted through the woods, and the best trackers in the clan are in attendance. They will find her before morning. But she can’t return, because she knocked Dougal out. I loved Jamie’s grin as he explains Dougal was drunk and probably wouldn’t remember, even if he did, he wouldn’t want to admit a woman got the best of him. Jamie escorts her back, but before she can enter through a tunnel, Jamie is discovered by clansmen and forced into going to the great hall.
We still don’t truly know who Jamie is, because we’re seeing everything through Claire’s point of view. But as she watches Jamie stand in line to bend a knee to Colum, Murtaugh explains that Jamie can’t pledge his allegiance to Colum, because to do so could put him in line to be the successor of Colum. Hamish, Colum’s son, is too young to succeed him. Dougal would be an obvious choice, but Jamie does have a claim if he pledges to the MacTavish clan. If Jamie takes the pledge, Dougal would kill him. If Jamie doesn’t pledge, the clan will. Jamie parses his words carefully and doesn’t pledge, but does say he will obey Colum while he is on MacTavish land. Colum is highly intelligent and wants to keep all options open, so he accepts Jamie’s non-pledge.
Claire’s presence is commanded at the boar hunt. She isn’t happy about it, but follows along with her medical supplies. A young man is gored in the leg by a boar. Claire wraps the wound and is about to take him back to the castle when she hears a man screaming in agony. Remember she’s a World War II nurse. She’s seen the wounds caused by the clash of human bodies against bullets and bombs and poison gas and the machinations of industrialized war. She rushes through the woods and into a grouping of boars. She can’t see them, but can hear them, angry and frightened and ready to attack anything. Seconds before she is gored by a rushing boar, Dougal shoots the beast and it falls at her feet. She is left heaving, unable to gain a full breath in the confines of her corset. She steadies herself and goes to find the injured man. Dougal is holding him as Claire inspects his wounds. He’s been gored in his leg and gut. Claire signals to Dougal that he won’t live.
Dougal has impressed me almost as much as Jamie. The right arm of Colum isn’t just an enforcer, he’s a strategist, and has many layers to his personality. Dougal is loyal to his clansmen, and holds the dying man telling him he won’t leave. Claire asks the dying man about his home, and turns his mind, as much as possible, to something beautiful. The two of them, Claire and Dougal, stay with him until he dies.
The scene is sober as the hunting party – the dead man covered on a horse’s back – arrives back at the castle. A game of Shinty is underway. The perfect way for Dougal to release his tension, anger, and whatever else is seething beneath his exterior. He throws himself into the game and focuses all his aggression on Jamie. Remember when Jamie took the thrashing for Laoghaire? How harsh Dougal was with him. Well, we now understand a bit more why Dougal has it out for Jamie.
In her surgery, Claire attends to her herbs and potions when Dougal enters, telling her she’s soon to be freed from her dungeon-like quarters. He’s decided to take her with him as he collects the rents for Colum. She isn’t sure of his motives, but surely there must be a way she could escape while on the road.
The last scene of this episode is Claire riding out from the castle. Will she ever return? Will she make her way back to the stones?
My thoughts about this episode. The 1740s in the Highlands of Scotland was a dangerous place to be. There were no antibiotics, no knowledge of germs, or the benefits of basic hygiene, of infection. Anything could kill you. Much of your destiny was determined by birth. What clan you were born into. The wealth of your family. Not to mention gender. Women, even the strongest, needed a man. Time and again we’re reminded of this fact in the show. Without the MacKenzie’s, Claire would be in the clutches of Black Jack Randall. But were they really her rescuers? Yes, and no. I cringe at what Captain Randall would subject her to, but she’s now a prisoner of the MacKenzie’s. How will she escape?
Unfortunately there is much more that happens in each episode than I can relay here. The lushness of the sets, and costumes, combined with great acting and music is a feast for the senses.
Be sure and check out my giveaway of a signed copy of Outlander.
I haven’t found a valid preview of Episode Five – Rent. I’ll upload to a post once I do.