Episode 309: The Doldrums

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Hope everyone brushed up on their Shakespeare! From direct quotes from Hamlet, to references to Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Bard is all over this episode.

As I said a few weeks ago, this season has dealt heavily in Shakespearean motifs– mistaken or false identities, order giving way to chaos, ghosts, etc. It’s difficult to say whether this is intentional or not; Shakespeare, by literary influence, has such a heavy hand in most modern literature. But, since the writers chose to directly quote Shakespeare in this episode, I’m going to assume that most of it is purposeful.

But it’s not all Shakespeare and I promise not to dive too deep or beat you over the head with it. It is Monday, after all. Grab your coffee and let’s get started.

Warning: Contains spoilers from Outlander, Episode 309- The Doldrums

Let’s begin with one of Shakespeare’s favorite devices (besides murder, gender swapping, and vengeful ghosts):

1. Deus ex machinaa person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty

I mean, thank God for Cousin Jared, right? He’s like Outlander’s own personal deus ex machina. You need a luxurious place to stay in Paris while you plot to sabotage the Jacobite rebellion? Here ya go. You need a ship sailing to the West Indies to fetch your kidnapped nephew (and, really, who doesn’t)? There you are. I have many, many cousins but none of them have ever loaned me a ship. I expect this to be remedied by Christmas.

We open with some pretty basic exposition- Cousin Jared has arranged to have Jamie and Claire sail on the Artemis to Jamaica and Jamie is to serve as the ship’s supercargo. They suspect the ship that took Ian to be the Bruja, a Portuguese ship also sailing to Jamaica. The whole gang is here! Lesley, Hayes (who is less than enthusiastic about this whole endeavor), Yi Tien Cho, and Fergus (and his, er, company).

Housekeeping note: Since he is Mr. Willoughby with Jamie and Yi Tien Cho with Claire, I will refer to this character in both ways.

Jamie and Claire check in with each other, emotionally speaking. Jamie offers to take Claire back to Craigh na Dun, which she sort of brushes off because she doesn’t really believe that and neither do I. Correction: I believe he would take her but not without a fight.

Jamie and Claire watch Scotland fall away as the sailors behind them superstitiously touch a horseshoe for good luck. Claire promises I have a very particular set of skills “we will find him.” Jamie begins urping back nausea, which is likely exacerbated by the sudden appearance of one Marsali MacKimmie:


OMG that look. You guys, I might secretly be in love with Marsali.

Fergus and Marsali went and got themselves hand-fasted that morning and are feeling pretty smug about the whole thing. Jamie is less than enthused. Marsali puts Jamie in a no-win situation and it seems the pouty, blonde, manipulative apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. She’s a feisty one, but I suspect that’s one of the reasons Fergus loves her. And, really, Fergus and Marsali are younger versions of Jamie and Claire, are they not? A cerebral, thoughtful man with a passionate, smart wife. Their little elopement is right out of the old Jamie and Claire playbook. And, as we come to learn, Marsali is even wearing Claire’s clothes.

In any case, Jamie decides Marsali will room with Claire and he will room with Fergus– a solution that absolutely no one is happy with.

Between the letter arriving to Jenny at Lallybroch and the one arriving to Laoghaire at Balriggan there are going to be some amazing fireworks around the Highlands. Needless to say, the Atlantic Ocean is probably the safest place for everyone at this point.

Below decks Jamie begins his legendary battle with seasickness. Claire offers him ginger tea, which makes Jamie dry heave just a little bit more.

I have to say, I think the National Ginger Growers Association (as in people who grow ginger, not red-headed farmers; also, I made this association up) have been falsely lobbying ginger as an anti-nausea for far too long. Ginger did absolutely nothing for me during both my pregnancies. These liars must be held accountable (shakes fist).

Jamie surprises Claire with a trunk of her old clothes, brought by Fergus and Marsali from Lallybroch– mostly things she wore in Paris twenty years ago. And this is where I do a little happy dance because I know very soon that they will both be looking FABULOUS.

2. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

Claire gets right to business as the ship’s surgeon, tending to a sailor’s head injury sustained by a deadeye snapping off the main mast line. The sailors obviously blame this on superstition and not, you know, the sheer physics of something heavy and made of wood catching momentum during a wind gust.

Captain Raines is there to support his sailors in their belief of the supernatural, quoting the abovementioned line from Hamlet. Claire’s like, yeah, yeah Shakespeare. I’m English, remember?

So basically the gist of the quote is this: you can’t possibly know everything; some things simply cannot be explained. And that’s pretty much the basis of most science vs. religion arguments. Claire, as a doctor, is fairly rooted in science. But Claire, as a time-traveler, is also pretty well-versed in the supernatural. As much as she views this with some exasperation she probably can’t completely dismiss the sailors’ fears.

3. “Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here! Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear, so soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes”- Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 3

Remember, in the beginning of Romeo and Juliet Romeo is in love with Rosaline. He quickly changes his infatuation to Juliet when he spies her at the party. So here Jamie plays the role of Friar Lawrence, questioning Fergus’s fickleness. Jamie asks, what about all those other lasses (Aileen, Rhona, Cairstine) you loved and bedded not so long ago?

Fergus tells Jamie he doesn’t remember what it’s like to fall in love. Jamie tells Fergus it was different in his day. That probably doesn’t feel familiar to any of us, amirite?

4. “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”- Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

At his request Captain Raines dines with Claire that evening. He again quotes Hamlet and Claire ramps up her eye-rolling game. But, really, this is a quote she should understand best of all. Let’s (briefly) discuss.

“‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ What’s important is that the men believe it.” Why, Captain Raines, you’ve just unwittingly tapped into the whole idea of a placebo effect— something with which Claire, as a doctor, is undoubtedly familiar. If the sailors believe in a superstition then it does hold some truth for them, just as a placebo drug will sometimes make us feel better (I’m looking at you, ginger tea). Since everyone views the world subjectively there is no absolute truth for all people; some things, like superstition, only exist in relative truths.

Jamie has no time for Shakespeare or philosophy because he is puking his spleen out. Mr. Willoughby feeds Jamie a white lie and tells him vomiting will cause testicular herniation, which freaks Jamie out enough to agree to try some Chinese medicine (more on that later).

Marsali and Claire exchange in some pre-bedtime sauciness. Claire calls Marsali out on her cheerful manipulations and Marsali, in turn, calls Claire a meddling whore.

“The whore gets the bigger bed,” quips Claire. And, YES, I will be cross-stitching that on a decorative pillow.

The next morning Claire finds Jamie cured of his seasickness and happily eating breakfast. Claire is silently impressed with the healing powers of ginger tea.

Claire wanders on deck and finds Yi Tien Cho writing poetry. He admits that he has been transcribing his life’s story but he is not yet ready to share it. “Once I tell it, I have to let it go.” Gary Young is playing this character with so much dignity and depth. For all the criticisms of the show this season the acting has really been fantastic.

And, as much as I bitched last week about Jamie and Claire not telling Jenny and Ian the truth, I sort of get it now.  Stories, like art, belong to the masses. Once they are freed they are open to interpretation and everyone’s subjective reality. That particular story is Jamie and Claire’s and the more they tell it the less it belongs to them.

Also, if anyone can translate this Cantonese I would be ecstatic. I crowdsourced on social media but got nothing.


Gah! Gary Young’s face here is hilarious. Everyone is a little bit terrified of Claire. In the best possible way, of course.

Aha! Not the ginger tea, after all. It was Mr. Willoughby, in the Berth, with the Acupuncture Needles. Did you all catch that Clue reference? I was really stretching there.

Jamie admits he didn’t tell Claire about the acupuncture because he didn’t want her to doubt her self-worth and be sad and return to the twentieth century. Claire gives him (and us) the reassurance that we’ve been waiting for– her return has been confusing but her love has never been in question. Well, I’m very glad we could finally clear that up. Please go have hot sex now.

…not yet. The Artemis has hit the doldrums, rendering it to a standstill.

This is Hayes realizing that all his fears about sailing are coming to fruition. He forgot to touch the stupid horseshoe and the anxiety is written all over his face. He survived Culloden, Ardsmuir, and indentured slavery only to have it all come down to this.

Science side note! Skip ahead if you like:

The Doldrums, officially known as the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone, is a pretty fascinating phenomenon. Where the trade winds from the Northern and Southern hemispheres meet around the equator (about 5 degrees north and south of the equator) the air is calm and hot. Hot air holds more moisture, so that’s why we have a band of rainforests and humid, tropical air around the equator. As the air rises and cools the moisture is “squeezed out” in the form of rain and tropical storms. The dry air eventually settles at 30 degrees north and south of the equator, in the areas known as the horse latitudes. This is why we have our major world deserts- Mojave, Sahara, Arabian, Kalahari, etc- at these latitudes. Isn’t weather neat?

This was a very sweet scene. I think if I were to find myself in another century I would find great comfort in the moon and stars being unchanged constants. Claire tells Jamie about space travel and about reading Goodnight, Moon to Brianna and Jamie accurately ascertains how much Claire misses her.

Also, I’m very glad Claire quoted Goodnight, Moon and not Runaway Bunny. That one is a bit creepy.

The doldrums drag on for weeks and the drinking water becomes contaminated. There are rats floating below decks and the crew goes on half-rations. Not surprisingly they go looking for a sacrificial lamb- a Jonah to be thrown overboard.

The anxiety and fear get to be too much for Hayes and he climbs the mast, threatening to jump. Claire and Jamie accurately diagnose this as Pure Craziness, but Captain Raines is unwilling to stop it; an assisted suicide is preferable to a mutiny.

Jamie successfully talks Hayes out of jumping but the crew threatens to throw him overboard anyway. Until…

Yi Tien Cho plays them all.

He rings the ship’s bell and begins telling his life’s story. And this is enough of a WTF moment for the crew to stop their fighting and pay attention.

Yi Tien Cho recounts of being a renowned poet in Imperial China but having to flee when he refused to become a servant (and a eunuch) in the Imperial Household. Turns out Yi Tien Cho likes women. Like, a lot.

(“What’s a eunuch?” Oh, Marsali, I DO love you)

Notice the breeze gradually picking up in everyone’s hair as he speaks?

“By not surrendering my manhood, I have lost all else. Honor, livelihood, country. Sometimes, I think, ‘Not worth it.'”

Hmmm. Who else has surrendered almost everything to come to a faraway land where they have to fight for respect and a livelihood? I wonder…


That was an exquisitely beautiful shot…

…but it wasn’t magic. Yi Tien Cho quietly admits to Jamie and Claire that he saw a pelican flying low to the water, signalling a change in humidity and barometric pressure.

5. “Be as thou wast wont to be. See as thou wast wont to see”- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 4, Scene 1

As Yi Tien Cho’s papers fly away the wind fills the sails and the rain begins to fall. His story belongs to them all now. He has sacrificed his individuality for the greater benefit of the group- a pretty major theme in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play that also deals heavily in magic and superstition.


This was my face last year when our drought finally lifted in California.

As the doldrums end we finally have forward movement- both of the ship and our characters. Jamie and Claire find a moment to themselves and THIS is what they (and we) have been waiting for. They are laughing and intimate and happy. FINALLY.  More of this, you two.

Erm, maybe not so fast. A British man-of-war, the Porpoise, signals on the Artemis. Captain Leonard, who appears to be fourteen, boards and informs them that their entire ship is dying and they are desperate for a surgeon.


You rang?

We established in Crème De Menthe (Episode 307) that Claire feels duty-bound to treat the ill or injured, no matter the circumstances. She assures Jamie that she will be safe on board the Porpoise; she suspects they are dying of Typhoid fever, a disease for which she’s been vaccinated. Jamie understands how important this is to her and agrees to let her go.

Another science side note! Again, feel free to skip ahead!

There is a wee bit of a plot hole here. Typhoid fever is caused by the bacteria Salmonella Typhi, one of many subspecies of Salmonella bacteria. Unlike other vaccines that are extremely efficacious at preventing disease (such as the smallpox or polio vaccines), the vaccine against typhoid does not completely prevent disease– it is only about 50-80% effective. Which means Claire would still be at risk, especially considering she is in close contact with contaminated persons and contaminated food and surfaces; her exposure to the bacteria would be enormously high. Maybe she does know this but minimizes her risk to Jamie so he will still let her go? For the purposes of fiction we will suspend our disbelief. The point to be made here: modern medicine is amazing and has given humans superpowers that were undreamed of 250 years ago.

Also, Ship’s Fever (which the captain originally suspected) and Typhus (which Jamie confuses with Typhoid Fever) are the same disease. They are not the same as Typhoid fever and are caused by a different bacterial infection, spread by the human louse. Again, yay for antibiotics.

Claire boards the Porpoise and it’s immediately clear that the situation is pretty desperate. Everything appears undermanned but in fairly good order above deck. But below…

The men are drowning in their own vomit and bloody diarrhea.

Claire agrees to stay and help for a few hours and Captain Leonard enlists Mr. Elias Pound to be her assistant. Dear god, the ship is being run by the Muppet Babies.

Captain Leonard decides he needs Claire too much and leaves with her on board, essentially kidnapping her.

“It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.” Understatement. Of. The. Season.

So there we have it! Jamie and Claire are separated- again. I’m sure someone, somewhere wants them dead. And the chances that Claire has a comb and toothbrush in her little bag? Probably slim to none.

Whew! Are you still here? Thank you for sticking with the long read. With your knowledge of Shakespeare, global wind patterns, and infectious bacterial disease you will no doubt be the hit at all of your holiday parties. You’re welcome.


A belated Happy Veterans Day to our service men and women. My father was an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam and now he’s basically the World’s Most Awesome Grandpa. My brother-in-law and sister are currently stationed in Japan with the Navy. They are a constant reminder of the sacrifices our military families make for us every day. My sister has a cool blog about their military life in Japan. You can read it hereSláinte.


8 thoughts on “Episode 309: The Doldrums”

  1. Entertaining and thoughtful, as always. I liked the way you tied in the scene in “Creme de Menthe” that so many complained about. The reason that scene was included was the set up for this episode (and many more in the future, of course), establishing her as being unable to forego her oath even in serious situations such as this. I’m sure you’re right that she was minimizing her chances of catching typhoid because she didn’t want to worry Jamie. And the way they used Mr. Willoughby’s story and expertise in this episode is truly the main reason he had to be part of this show. Thanks for your recap (and I just loved your imagery throughout).


  2. this is the 3rd review of episode 309 that I’ve read so far today, but the only one that made me laugh out loud and tied in the Shakespere. Bravo!!


  3. A thoughtful and funny review. I laughed out loud at, “The whore gets the bigger bed,” quips Claire. And, YES, I will be cross-stitching that on a decorative pillow.”. I may may have to pull out my embroidery needles as well. I enjoyed the Shakespearean references as well. Thank you for a good read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your reviews- especially when then mention the ITCZ :-). Why yes, I am a meteorologist, how did you guess? Anyway, thanks for the entertaining and educational reviews! Goodnight, Moon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was immediately reminded of another Shakespeare quoting ship’s captain…Kahn of Star Trek fame. Either ship’s captains have a compilation of the Bard on every ship and the time to read or they are so boring writers everywhere borrow some intelligent words for them to quip.


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