Welcome back! Ready for another deep dive retrospective recap? Good. (Cracks knuckles).
Warning: Contains spoilers from Outlander Episode 103: The Way Out. Also contains spoilers from all three seasons of Outlander.
First, a note about the title of this episode. I believe the writers are referencing the Robert Frost poem, A Servant to Servants, (1915). It’s a poem that touches on one woman’s loneliness as she is trapped in a life of housework and tending to the domestic demands of the men in her household…which seems very fitting for Claire’s circumstances in this episode. There is a rather famous line from the poem which reads, “…the best way out is always through.” It’s been heavily interpreted through the years, but to me it suggests that the best way to deal with a challenge is always to face it head on. And that is definitely Claire in this episode. Whether she’s braving the front lines of WWII, a castle in which she is trapped, or a difficult medical case, the best way out is always through.
So here we go. After being in the eighteenth century for the entirety of the last episode we are jolted back into wartime twentieth century with the very modern ambiance of steel and steam. We flash back to Claire saying goodbye to Frank as she leaves for war. Considering the steam engine is one of the most important inventions ever, giving rise to all forms of modern travel (and, arguably, modern warfare), there is no better way to drive home (so to speak) that Claire’s new world is very old.
The opening scene sets up the rest of the episode quite nicely in terms of themes: modern versus antiquated (and science and reason versus superstition and folklore), honesty versus deception, and freedom versus restraint.
Frank basically tells her, Hey, I know people— I can get you off the front lines and have you put somewhere safer. I can give you…wait for it… A Way Out.
But Claire won’t have it. She’s honorable and this is her job so she’s going to do it. We are establishing early that Claire will always choose to do the moral thing given a set of choices. The best way out is always through.
Which is exactly what she does the rest of this episode. She fights to help both Tammas and Novelli (the boy nailed to the pillory). Neither situation is really any of her business but she feels an obligation to help. She does things simply because they’re the right things to do. It’s who she is.
Hmmm…who else do I know who does the right thing out of an allegiance to morality?
Oh, that’s right. It’s only the third episode of the series but we now know that these two are cut from the same cloth.
Note that Claire is off to fight the Germans in this opening scene and later, when she treats Tammas, she’s “fighting” to save Tammas from the poisoning of a German plant. Sneaky, eh?
This is backwards, Frank tells her. It is backwards for the era but it’s very much in keeping with Outlander’s table-turning on expected gender roles. Whereas in fairytales or other classic literature the woman typically waits for the man to come back (princesses asleep under a spell, Rapunzel trapped in a tower, Penelope waiting for Odysseus to return home, etc), in our story the men- both Frank and Jamie- wait for Claire to return.
(Similarly, on their wedding day it is Jamie planning the small details while Claire feels jittery and drinks all day. Later, we see that Brianna is the pragmatist while Roger is the dreamy romantic. For me it’s all really cool and helps keep the story interesting.)
And, like Odysseus, Claire promises to return home from war.
But snap back to the cold open of the eighteenth century, literally:
Mrs. Fitz is helping bathe and dress Claire, despite protestations that she can do it herself. It’s historically very accurate but it is also maybe another way the castle is keeping tabs on Claire— there is nowhere to hide a weapon if someone is helping you get dressed.
Then the episode psychs us out a bit, as we think Claire is maybe confessing her origins to Mrs. Fitz. Annette Badland does an amazing job here as we watch confusion, disbelief, and finally fear wash over Mrs. Fitz.
Alas, it’s only Claire’s daydream and we come-to, realizing that Mrs. Fitz is benignly combing Claire’s hair and informing her about the upcoming Gathering (also conveniently providing a bit of plot exposition).
The fake-out really gives us a glimpse into Claire’s internal thoughts and motivations for this episode, as we see her really struggle with how far to go in certain situations or how much of her past to reveal. Is it risky to save Tammas and draw the ire of Father Bain? How much should she tell Geillis about her past? Is there anyone she in whom she can truly confide?
Angus and Rupert are beginning to realize that following Claire around is much like being a kid and getting dragged around on errands with your mom to the bank and grocery store, which is to say pretty boring and not exciting AT ALL.
There’s also a little bit of a military reference in Claire’s costuming as she tends to patients; note the subtle chevron patterns of her clothes:
Claire always tends to have a bit of a uniform feel to her clothes whenever she’s in medical mode.
A bit more exposition. This is cutie-pie Tammas, Mrs. Fitz’s nephew. He’s distraught over the loss of one of his friends, Lindsay MacNeill, who died the night before. Claire was not called upon to help, much to her confusion and frustration, as most everyone believes the boy’s death was the work of Satan.
Claire is summoned to Colum’s chamber where she walks in on the laird dressing down (see what I did there?) this hilariously bewildered tailor who has the audicity to assume Colum would want a longer coat to cover his crippled legs. This actor’s face is pretty great as he scrambles to make amends. We’ve all pretty much made that same face with our boss at one point, amirite?
Next we are treated to a nice shot of Gary Lewis’s ass as Claire massages Colum’s lower back to help with the pain of his Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome. Colum, like Jamie, appreciates that Claire can help people without pitying them. He invites her to later be his guest at the musical performance in the hall that night.
And who else is at the performance except, of course, one very handsome ginger-haired outlaw and the flaxen-haired teenager who’s crushing on him big time.
This whole exchange is pretty great. Claire and Laoghaire both try to get Jamie to notice Laoghaire but Jamie clearly has eyes for Claire. I love, Love, LOVE Jamie handing Laoghaire the empty glasses to dispose of as he takes Claire back to her room. The LOOK Laoghaire gives him is just so awesome and very familiar if you’ve seen Season 3:
Right? God, Lauren Lyle really nailed that didn’t she? Like mother, like daughter.
Jamie walks Claire back to her room because he realizes she’s pretty drunk and he’s concerned for her safety. She luckily has the excuse to touch him under the pretense of checking his shoulder bandage, and Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ- get a load of that eye-bang action.
Talk about steam engines. Is it hot in here or what?
Next morning! Geillis pops by to pick medicinals with Claire, looking very 1960s without a corset and her long hair. Geillis! Put your hair up! You’re going to get lice!
Angus is getting pretty bored following Claire around all day and his look when he realizes he’ll also be tagging along after Geillis is pretty priceless— similar to the look of a husband who has been dragged along to the mall for the day:
Those herbs look fine! So did the other twenty herbs you tried on! Put them in your basket and let’s get out of here!
Geillis informs Claire that wee Tammus has also fallen ill and the local priest plans to perform an exorcism later.
I’m fairly conceived after rewatching these early episodes that Geillis knows who Claire is all along. She intentionally feeds her leading questions this whole episode in an effort to get more information out of her. Have you never found yourself in a situation that has no earthly explanation, she pointedly asks?
Geillis warns Claire to basically not draw too much attention to herself and to mind her own business (in case, you know, they find themselves at the bottom of a thieves’ hole someday)…advice which Claire promptly ignores.
So off she goes to see for herself, which maybe earns some bad-assery points from Angus, who is equally nervous but also impressed with Claire’s bravery. Although, really, it’s easy to face down a demon when you don’t believe it exists.
Here’s poor Tammas, suffering from the effects of a cardiac glycoside toxicosis, strapped down and being hit in the face with water by the ultra creepy Father Bain. Everyone does such a great job in this scene- Claire as she mentally goes through a list of differential diagnoses, Mrs. Fitz as she weighs letting Claire (whom she trusts) intervene against her deeply-ingrained beliefs, and Father Bain as a rigid misogynist so convinced of his own righteousness that he lets his ego get in the way of his Christianity.
Back at Leoch, Claire is struggling with how to help Tammas in the safest way possible when her thoughts are intruded by two young people sucking face in the alcove.
So what do we think of Jamie catching Claire’s eye while he’s kissing Laoghaire? It’s a fairly faithful scene to the novel, so the question is: is it a look of “oh gosh, you busted me”, or is it perhaps an effort to make Claire jealous? I’m sort of inclined to think the latter, especially coming off their last encounter.
Later, Claire gamely decides to tease Jamie about the whole thing which, of course, is also a bit flirtatious.
I really love this exchange because it’s the first time we see Claire actually living, and not just reacting, to her present life at Leoch.
Also, how hipster are Claire’s eighteenth century shoes? I’ll take some in my size, please!
Murtagh, of course, is always the wisest person in the room. He tells Claire to ix-nay on the easing-tay because Jamie would get in trouble if anyone found out. Plus, Murtagh doesn’t want to encourage a Jamie-Laoghaire marriage because she’d be a horrible wife…a very wise prediction considering, you know, Laoghaire ends up shooting Jamie. Jamie needs a woman, he tells her, and Laoghaire will be a lassie when she’s fifty. A lassie with excellent aim! Zing!
Novel readers know that line originally belonged to Old Alec, but I rather like that they gave it Murtagh here. As Jamie’s godfather it makes sense that he would be invested in this. Since Murtagh also plays such a large role in the television series it seems natural to give his character this ability of insight and foreshadowing early.
Claire feels lonely missing Frank and a bit chastened after talking to Murtagh so she wanders outside for a good cry. Dougal interrupts her and sort of randomly asks if she wants to go into town the next day to visit Geillis and replenish her medicinals. Spoiler alert: it seems a lot less random of a suggestion after we find out Dougal has been banging Geillis.
So, anyway, Claire accepts the offer but it’s not exactly a ladies-who-brunch carefree morning. Geillis won’t stop peppering her with nosy questions, Arthur Duncan keeps farting up in the attic (where I’m sure the air circulation is pretty dismal), and Claire witnesses young Novelli Tanner being paraded through town, scheduled to lose his hand due to thievery.
Seeing Claire’s distress at this most decidedly non-enlightened form of punishment, Geillis uses her feminine wiles to convince Arthur to reduce the boy’s sentence. Thus, the poor kid is nailed to the pillory instead. Which…still seems pretty barbaric to Claire but it’s at least better than dismemberment.
This kid is really selling it, isn’t he? What a great little actor.
Like young Tammas being tied to the bed, Novelli’s sub-plot also ties into the episode’s theme of restraint vs freedom, which is part of the larger theme of Claire trying to escape Leoch.
Well, well, well. What do we have here:
Those are some lovely red shoes, Geillis. Now where have I seen something like that before???
Oh, yes. That’s right.
According to the podcast, the story goes that Lotte Verbeek saw those red shoes in the costuming department and decided that her character really needed to have them…so the whole thing might just be a huge coincidence. But it makes so much sense for this episode, does it not? Claire, like Dorothy, is just trying desperately to get home.
Jamie shows up and Claire shoots him a LOOK that says, Please get me out of here, away from this attic of prying inquiries and flatulent people.
Once socially rescued, Claire convinces Jamie to help free the boy from the pillory. Flush with success, she then asks Jamie to take her to the Black Kirk so she can figure out why Tammas is so ill.
So he does, where Claire does some great detective work and realizes the sick boys must have eaten the Lily of the Valley plants that grow in the kirk. The plant is easily mistaken for wood garlic and it’s highly poisonous.
How sweet and honest is this whole scene with Jamie and Claire? Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan do such a tremendous job in these early episodes of establishing a believable friendship and chemistry with these characters.
From the best-selling book, How to Make Enemies and Alienate the Local Priest.
Claire administers the poison antidote to Tammas, saving his life but also earning the ire of Father Bain. Apparently he has the corner on miraculous recoveries in this town and he’s not about to give that up easily.
Three cheers for Mrs. Fitz in this scene, as she’s clearly done with Father Bain’s hateful bullshit.
Science side note: the antidote Claire administers is from a belladonna, or nightshade, plant. These plants contain naturally-occurring sources of atropine (the Latin name is Atropa belladonna), a drug used extensively in medicine. It would help counter-act the effects of a cardiac glycoside toxicosis from Lily of the Valley ingestion.
Afterward Jamie tells Claire how super impressed everyone is with her miraculous healing abilities and basically Colum is never letting her get out of here now. She has succeeded in earning a small amount of trust from the castle, but her plan is backfired. Claire is frustrated and disappointed in this turn of events, and Jamie is disappointed that she’s disappointed.
I think it should be noted how adorable Jamie looks here.
But, later, a small glimmer of hope. Jamie catches Claire in the hall and adorably saves her a seat and translates the performance for her. The musician sings the tale of a woman who travelled through the stones but found her way back home. And this gives Claire some renewed hope that she might find a way back to Frank.
Just remember to click your heels together three times.
Until next week,