Welcome back! I am sad to report that the goats take a sinister turn this week. Let’s discuss what was otherwise another excellent episode.
Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander, Episode 312: The Bakra. Some screencap images are NSFW.
Yes, Ian. My thoughts exactly.
I promise I will try to keep this as lighthearted as possible, but that’s a tall order for an episode that deals with kidnapping, rape, slavery, pedophelia, murder, exoticism, and sibling abuse– all situations in which people are being used.
And that’s a pretty cynical theme tying our characters together this week. Ian is used for his youth. Margaret is used for her talents. Yi Tien Cho is used for his Otherness. And slavery? It’s the ultimate abuse.
In fact, it seems this whole episode was designed to make us feel just a tad uncomfortable, with subtle direction and costuming decisions that left the whole thing feeling intentionally just a bit off. The awkward pauses go on a beat too long. The clothes do not fit perfectly– Claire’s dress is a bit too loose, Geillis’s is a bit too tight. The lighting at the Governor’s ball seems a bit too bright. The blood is a bit too blood.
But despite the uncomfortable charge of this episode, it all really works because we are finally seeing the returns of so much investment from earlier in the season. So many of the episodes have luxuriated in character development with not a lot of forward movement. And it has paid off by the time we get to Jamaica– we’ve really established who everyone is at this point and now we have a ton of plot rapidly propelling us toward next week’s inevitable show-down.
But first back to Ian, since he’s the reason we are here. Swarthy Portuguese dudes aboard the Bruja (bruja=witch in Portuguese. Get it? GET IT??) kidnap Ian off Silkie Island. They work on behalf of the mysterious Bakra, who wants the jewel box and also has a penchant for young boys. You cannot take me from my home, Ian shouts– a ghostly sentiment that later silently permeates the slave market scenes.
There are a few different meanings or interpretations for “Bakra” or “Buckra.” In Surinamese it means “white man,” or “boss/master.” In Jamaican Patois it translates to “slave master” or “devil” (fairly interchangeable terms in most contexts). Interestingly, in Urdu it means “male goat.” Considering that goats are a fairly standard symbol of the devil (and we see that played out later with Geillis and the blood) all translations seem very fitting.
Ian arrives in Jamaica and is promptly thrown in a cell with two other unfortunate souls. They tell him that they’re all probably not long for this world as boys who leave to see the Bakra do not return.
John Bell does some amazing work here as someone who is absolutely terrified but also mesmerized and somewhat seduced by the fear.
I almost wish I hadn’t read the novels when they did this gloriously slow reveal- it would have been such a delicious shock as a fan. The leg. Then the familiar-sounding, Scottish- accented voice. Then her name and the deliberate emerging…
Ladies and Gentlemen, reintroducing Geillis Duncan Abernathy.
Do you think she takes PayPal? Because Geillis Abernathy’s Goat Blood Miracle Bath beauty regimen is now the only thing I want for Christmas. You all know I love goats, but if I could be guaranteed to have her bangin’ body and flawless skin you can take my money and pass me the knife.
I mean, SERIOUSLY.
Ian is a boy who is emotionally and literally starving, and Geillis abuses that knowledge to shower him with sexual attention, yummy food, and a bitter-tasting truth serum tea. Geillis has two sapphires from the jewel box and she needs three, which is EXACTLY what I told my husband about our upcoming anniversary. I NEED THREE. Ian lets it slip that Jamie possibly took the sapphire and Geillis is pretty giddy with this revelation.
Science side note: This isn’t really how “truth serums” work. Most of what we consider truth serums are just drugs that lower your inhibition– like alcohol. They generally don’t make you splurge out sensitive information against your will. This is fantasy, however, so (like many things in the Outlander universe) we’ll let this one slide. Based on the time period I would wager that the ingredient at play here in this “truth serum” is one from the Nightshade family.
Marsali and Fergus! Put down that delicious pineapple and go find your wayward step-cousin this instant!
Hello, my name is Kenneth McIver and I come on behalf of Jared Fraser to make everything convenient for you.
Mr. McIver invites Claire and Jamie to the Governor’s ball that evening, which they initially decline. He also finds them lodging in the not-so-subtly-named Black Cat Inn. Get it? Black Cats? WITCHES? Outlander, I love you so much.
Claire and Jamie decide to check in at the slave market to see if the traders have any knowledge of Ian.
What can I say about this in brevity that isn’t going to sound trite? The slave trade was horrific and the countries that engaged in it are still recovering. As Claire later tells Jamie, it will last at least another seventy years; with very few exception all of the slaves depicted in this episode will spend the rest of their lives without freedom.
Caitriona Balfe plays Claire’s curious revulsion with excellence. Consider Claire’s context: a twentieth-century woman with a black best friend who has just left the United States during one of its most pivotal civil rights movements. What might we be doing that a voyeur two hundred years in the future might look upon with similar contempt? I’ll leave everyone to their own reflections on that.
Claire, in her despair, causes an uproar at the slave market and Jamie purchases a man, Temeraire, to quell the riot. Claire once again becomes a documented figure of history- first with the Deed of Sasine and now with her receipt of slave ownership. As someone who does avid genealogy I must admit that these sorts of things really are often the only way we can trace people who lived before the advent of mass information.
Jamie and Claire promise Temeraire his freedom but first they need his help in obtaining information from other slaves about Ian’s whereabouts. They do a good job of asking his permission, although I doubt Temeraire would view any request from a white man as optional, given his history.
I have to hand it to Geillis– she is SUPER COMMITTED to Scottish independence and she looks pretty damn amazing doing it.
We learn that she has employed Margaret and Archie Campbell to read a prophecy about the ascendency of the next Scottish ruler. And she needs- you guessed it- three sapphires.
Everyone decides to go the ball after all so Temeraire can ask the Governor’s slaves about Ian.
Some notes here about costuming. Fergus, Marsali, Jamie, and Claire are all wearing clothes of Jamie and Claire’s from Paris:
The saffron dress has changed somewhat, which is totally expected since at this point it’s a twenty-year old dress. It also hangs just a bit looser on Claire, which makes sense since she was pregnant with Faith in these episodes. Perhaps the writers are hinting at a possible pregnancy for Marsali– foreshadowing via costuming? Additionally, the saffron dress and Jamie’s paisley waistcoat were both worn in Useful Occupations and Deceptions (Episode 203)— another episode where ghosts of the past threatens to derail plans.
Although the clothes are twenty years old they don’t seem too out of fashion or out of place at the party, and I attribute this to a few reasons. First, Parisian fashion is always ahead of its time, so Jamie and Claire’s clothes in Paris would have been trend-setting. Additionally, I would imagine that fashion trends of the colonies would always be lagging compared to Europe; others at this party are also a bit behind the times fashion-wise.
I combed the Paris episodes to see if Yi Tien Cho is also wearing one of Jamie’s coats but I couldn’t find it. Viewers with sharp eyes can let me know if I missed it, but I suspect it is his own.
Interestingly, Yi Tien Cho stands out in a bright blue. Some might even call it a sapphire blue. To the party-goers Yi Tien Cho, like the gems, is a thing of mysticism.
Claire gives some amazing side-eye throughout this episode. Here she’s rolling her eyes at the Jamaican gentry fawning over Yi Tien Cho’s exoticism, a plan Jamie was counting on as a means of diversion. Again, the writers do a good job of showing that Yi Tien Cho appears to be consensual in this tactic.
Jamie and Claire wait in the receiving line to meet the new governor and OMG THIS LOOK. The whole world seems to fall away around these two as they mentally undress each other. Jamie holds his gaze a beat longer than Claire, driving home the seriousness of its intent.
Also smoldering? One freshly-bathed Bakra with figurative and literal blood on her hands. Dun, dun, dun.
YAY LORD JOHN!
Ahem, sorry. To everyone’s surprise Lord John Grey turns out to be the new Governor of Jamaica. There is so much to say in regards to the exquisite acting going on here. Lord John can barely repress his excitement at seeing Jamie. Jamie is surprised and joyed to see his friend, but a flicker of disappointment washes over his face when he learns that Willie is still in England. Claire observes their reunion at a small distance, respectfully silent as the two friends reconnect. She is also slightly jealous at the obvious intimacy of their relationship. Small flashes of jealousy also pass over David Berry’s face as Lord John realizes that Claire’s return means he has possibly been usurped as one of Jamie’s closest confidantes.
Claire does a wonderful thing here. Rather, it’s what she doesn’t do that I think is really nice. When she finally asserts herself into the conversation she does not touch Jamie or intertwine her arm or hand in his. That is, she does not attempt to show possession, which is what I think a more insecure woman might do. Claire can respect this relationship and not deem it as a threat to her marriage.
We also learn that Lord John has kept the sapphire surrendered to him by Jamie and he wears it close to his body as a token of their friendship. It’s very endearing and also makes us somewhat sad for his unrequited love.
Yi Tien Cho and Margaret Campbell have a nice moment here, both recognizing that the other is a special outsider in this world. We’ve already diverged so much from the novel, so please let these two have a happy ending together where they can drink piña coladas, write poetry, and take long naps on white sandy beaches.
Lord John and Claire have a few moments alone and they both tacitly acknowledge their mutual love for Jamie and dance around the triangular nature of this relationship. They also reminisce about the Battle of Prestonpans, and I’ve always thought that Lord John is a pretty good sport about having had his arm broken and his feelings humiliated. Good times.
But Claire has little time for small talk because JESUS H. ROOSEVELT CHRIST GEILLIS DUNCAN IS ACROSS THE ROOM. This is turning out to be one helluva high school reunion.
Caitriona Balfe’s face here is phenomenal as it slowly morphs into WTF HOLY CRAP.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…
Quit the Casablanca crap and tell me why you aren’t dead, asks Claire. I’m paraphrasing here. When I binge-watch the season during the next Droughtlander I may play a drinking game for every time Claire says “I thought you were dead.”
Geillis fills Claire in on how Dougal helped her escape the pyre and then how she fled to Jamaica and also probably murdered her third husband. Claire, for her part, can barely process this. Geillis also conveniently and smoothly lies about Ian’s whereabouts.
Terry Dresbach has said before that Geillis wears costumes, not clothes, and I think that’s pretty evident here. Her whole life in the eighteenth century is like one long dress-up. She doesn’t belong here and she views herself as an outsider who is here to manipulate history.
“Ook-lay at-tay is-thay itch-bay!?!”
This was a wonderful scene with these four. Claire and Jamie exchange some noted LOOKS while Lord John, in his naivete, is gracious and friendly to the intensely crazy woman obsessed with his sapphire.
Lord John rather reluctantly agrees to Geillis’s demands that his fortune be read, only finally relenting at the behest of the crowd. He’s already a skilled politician, perhaps buoyed by his joy of reuniting with Jamie.
Margaret Campbell seems to become possessed as she takes hold of the three sapphires, and David Berry’s face transforms from one of patient amusement to guarded caution. Margaret predicts the rise of a Scottish ruler upon the death of an “issue” that is two hundred years old at the time of its birth. Ho hum. To whom could we possibly be referring?
Now might be a good time to stop watching Dark Shadows and find yourself a hidey-hole. Some crazy lady in the eighteenth century is plotting your demise. It happens to the best of us.
Jeez. These two can’t eat pineapple or make out. Captain Babyface Leonard shows up to arrest Jamie and Fergus rushes off to warn Jamie and get everyone off the premises.
Temeraire informs Jamie and Claire that Ian is being held at Rose Hall and Claire belatedly realizes that perhaps maybe everyone in Scotland was right about Geillis this whole time.
With Jamie and Claire’s blessing Temeraire escapes into the jungle along the maroon path. Captain Leonard catches up with them and arrests Jamie, but not before Jamie gives Claire the pictures of Brianna and Willie for safekeeping. They are separated yet again.
But somehow I think it will all work out. And you know why? Because of this one little shot they’ve provided in the opening credits that we have yet to see:
It’s gonna be great.