Welcome back! Should we discuss Rent?
No, no, no. Not that one. That’s Rent!
…which is slightly more somber in tone. No exclamation mark.
Dictionary, will you provide some insight into this episode for us?
1. a return made by a tenant or occupant of real property to the owner for possession and use thereof:
2. a split in a party or organized group:
3. a large tear in a piece of fabric:
And there we have it— a highly political episode that examines loyalty, what we feel is owed to us, and what happens when a group is either exclusive or inclusive of others.
Shall we get started?
Warning: Contains spoilers from all seasons of Outlander
So, admittedly, I hadn’t watched this episode in quite some time…a few years, at least. It’s just not one of those episodes I routinely revisit. That’s not to say it isn’t good— I think it is one of Outlander’s best written episodes (I’m really partial to episodes written by Toni Graphia).
On a purely superficial level, I just haven’t rewatched this one as much because it doesn’t have as much romance (read: sexytime fun) as others, although it is the episode where Scotland, Claire, and Jamie all manage to look unfairly gorgeous the entire time.
This episode is loaded with beautiful people in beautiful costumes amid beautiful scenery. So it is romantic in that regard.
Make no mistake, however, this episode is all about politics. In fact, it might be the most political episode of the series to date. It asks what is personal, what is political, what is business, and can we ever separate the three? Rent deals almost entirely with the concept of winning people over and, in the voice of Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is all of life one big political campaign?
Which makes it a fairly relevant episode for our current time. But that might be the point— the more things change the more they stay the same; the political discourse we are having now is far from original. Don’t worry, I’m not about to discuss current politics in this article. But this episode should make us all reflect. In the end we are left to ponder some tough questions: How do family, cultural identity, and our feelings of belonging affect our loyalties? And are we ever capable of change?
We open with Claire reciting a poem by John Donne. This poem goes by a few different titles; “Present in Absence,” is commonly used. It laments the absence of a lover (here, Frank), and reminds us that our loved ones are always with us even when not physically present.
I think the use of John Donne is notable, as he is arguably most famous for his “No Man is an Island” refrain. The episode begins with Claire- seemingly alone among this group of Highlanders from whom she feels disconnected- and ends with her as an accepted (more or less) part of their small community. We are also reminded repeatedly in this episode that the Highlands are no place for a person to be alone.
At the start of the journey Claire finds a kindred spirit in Ned Gowan, played by the intensely wonderful Bill Paterson. He likely reminds Claire of her old life with Frank— Ned has a higher education, quotes the humanities, and hails from the city. Although he has served two lairds of Leoch, he is not a Highlander; he was originally an outsider, too.
Other than Ned, Claire feels fairly excluded from the rent party. They are speaking Gaelic and telling bawdy jokes, so there’s a bit of a language barrier and some gender separation and, truth be told, Claire is (somewhat understandably) throwing herself a little pity party. She’s far from home and misses Frank and just wants to be where everyone knows her name.
Jamie comes over to cheer her up (how could that face not cheer you up?) and offer his friendship, but also remind her that there is a fairly good reason the group doesn’t fully trust her: she tried to run away. And don’t think that was kept a secret for one minute around Leoch— I’m certain rumors immediately flew around the castle about her attempted escape. (Knowing what we know now, I also suspect Geillis probably tipped Dougal off about Claire’s plans; it possibly explains why she ran into Dougal while fleeing.)
They arrive in the first village ready for business. Note how the mood shifts dramatically over the course of this episode. Here everyone is in high spirits— Jokes about paternity! Laughter! Adorable pigs! Later in the episode, when the villages are poorer and everyone is weary from weeks of travel, the tone is decidedly more grim.
Side note: Graham McTavish saying hello to this piglet is hilarious and adorable.
Claire gets bored and decides to wander a bit, discovering that all the estrogen in this village is busy waulking wool- and probably enjoying some time away from the men. Waulking wool also apparently involves awesome singing and drinking ale. It’s like an eighteenth century book club…with urine.
These actors are actual wool waulkers and they’re all completely fabulous. They aren’t immediately or overly welcoming to Claire, but neither are they exclusionary; they are waiting for Claire to prove herself first.
And she does. She hangs back for just a beat before jumping right in, singing a song to which she doesn’t know the words and doing a task I’m certain she has never done before. She pushes herself outside her comfort zone; it would have been very easy just to say no thank you and wander back to hang out with Ned Gowan. Instead she grows as a person and earns their trust. Her perspective shifts just a bit with this new knowledge and understanding, a theme that continues to build throughout the episode.
I also must find this one particular wool waulker and make her my best friend; her face tells me she is awesome and I need to know her immediately.
After a hilarious sequence in which Angus walks in on Claire peeing (honestly, he seems shocked by the idea that women urinate at all), he and Claire argue and an enraged Claire attempts to return a goat to a family with an infant. Her efforts are squashed by Rupert and Dougal; it isn’t personal, it’s business.
Oh, but what have we here? A tall drink of water who steps into the fray…and he happens to be English. He pointedly asks if Claire is being held against her will. He doesn’t know Claire, but he feels compelled to check on her welfare due to their shared accent. It isn’t personal, it’s politics.
The MacKenzie men make a notable show of displaying their weapons— for them it’s personal and politics. The man backs down, realizing he’s outnumbered and in unfriendly territory. The drama abates, but not before this little plot twist:
Dun dun dun. Turns out he is Lieutenant Jeremy Foster and he possibly wins for hottest Redcoat ever.
Dougal holds court among the villagers later that night, making an impassioned pitch of some sort. He’s speaking Gaelic and there are no subtitles, so we are left to wonder (like Claire) what’s going on. All we know is that Dougal rips Jamie’s shirt away, revealing Jamie’s scars and eliciting financial sympathy. The villagers come forward to make donations, which Claire notes go into a bag kept separately from the rent money.
The next morning Claire confronts Ned with her assumption that he and Dougal have a scam going and are cooking the books. Ned basically lets Claire believe what she wants to believe; she’s English and still not fully trustworthy…of course they’re not going to let her in on their Jacobite rebellion plans.
The days go by, more villages, more speeches, more shirt ripping. I’m not complaining about that last one.
But Jamie does. Not unreasonably, he reaches the end of his limit with his back being treated like a carnival freak show. While it’s nothing but politics for Dougal, it’s extremely personal for Jamie. Jamie feels he is at least owed his dignity, while Dougal feels Jamie owes him for what he and Leoch have done for him. And isn’t that so much of what constitutes any political debate— what we feel we are owed?
One day the group descends upon a home that has been destroyed by the Watch, which is basically like the Scottish mafia— they give you protection from the English in exchange for payment; cross them, though, and you need protection from them. Which is exactly what happened here.
The Watch plunders the property, taking what they feel they are rightfully owed. Dougal also takes a cut…Patriotism, Claire asks Ned with disgust? Nope, business, he replies.
It’s just business.
Later, Claire refuses to eat food taken from the plundered property and this really pisses off Angus. Stephen Walters does such a great job here of playing a man who is just shy of being really unhinged. Jamie steps into the fray, talks down Angus, and tells Claire to quit judging things that she doesn’t understand.
Because that’s exactly what she has been doing up until this point. She’s been passing judgement- from her twentieth century perspective- on everything: the rent taking, Dougal’s tavern speeches, the Watch, etc.
And perhaps she’s been doing the judging, to a certain extent, to elevate and separate herself from these people, the Highlanders. Isn’t that at the root of why we ever judge others, to distance ourselves and somehow validate our own identity or choices?
But Claire gets a shift in perspective at Dougal’s next performance, as she realizes that he’s actually raising funds for the Jacobites. It hasn’t been business all along— it’s political.
Claire’s empathy extends further when they later chance upon the grim handywork of the Redcoats. She sees and understands, perhaps for the first time, how deeply personal the idea of a Jacobite uprising is for the Highlanders.
Suddenly, so much of it makes sense. And it plays nicely into the final scene, where we see her re-evaluate where exactly she places her allegiance (more on that in just a bit). But first…
Awww. This scene is one of my favorites. Claire is sleeping alone upstairs at the tavern one night and nearly clobbers Jamie, thinking he is an intruder. Turns out he was sleeping in the freezing hallway, protecting her door (and her body) from drunk ruffians. She suggests he sleep in her room where it’s warm, to which he is adorably aghast. Don’t worry, Jamie, you’ll find yourself in that warm bed soon enough.
The next morning, as the gang gets in a fight endearingly defending Claire’s honor (symbolizing, at last, her acceptance into their group), Claire attempts to warn Ned that the rebellion is doomed to fail. Suddenly, as she stares at the figurative graves of these men for whom she cares, it’s no longer just a history lesson— it’s personal.
Because, in the end, politics is always personal. Business is only business when it’s not personal to you. What we feel is owed to us in this world- whether it’s rent, or our own king on the throne, or the loyalty of our family and friends- depends on our ingrained beliefs, our perspective, and our understanding. And those beliefs ultimately determine where we place our loyalties:
And that is where we leave Claire at the end of this episode— no longer alone, but wondering whose side she is on.