Claire (Caitriona Balfe) tries her hand at being an outlaw…and a singer?
Let’s bitch it out…
My, wasn’t that was a strange episode of Outlander? I love how every other episode of this series literally reconfigures its cast and setting. In the case of ‘The Search’, we ditch 90% of the regular cast and follow Claire on an episode-long search for an unseen, but much discussed Jamie (Sam Heughan). The result is a very different kind of episode: heavy on gorgeous scenery and characterization and light on plot (at least until some startling developments near the end).
Things kick off with Claire making the impulsive decision to track Jamie on her own from Lallybroch. Ian (Steven Cree) tries to reason with her, but we all know that Claire is too head-strong to be dissuaded, especially when it concerns Jamie. Ultimately Jenny (Laura Donnelly) ends up accompanying her, which provides some great female bonding opportunities. Jenny proves surprisingly adept at tracking and even better at torturing Red Coats, which makes for an interesting conflict when she and Claire disagree how to handle a courier who might have valuable information about Jamie’s location.
There’s a lot of discussion about the power of love in ‘The Search.’ Obviously it’s the driving factor behind Claire’s desperate trek, but it comes out in other forms, as well. Jenny proves that the love between Fraser siblings is nearly as powerful and while she and Claire may favour different methods to accomplish their goals, their desired outcome is the same. Ultimately the women are spared killing the courier when Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) shows up and the episode shifts gears as one traveling partner is swapped for another. Suddenly we’re watching a wacky buddy-comedy about a pair of performers as Murtagh and Claire hit the stage in an effort to draw Jamie to them via word of mouth.
Narratively this is such an unusual change of pace. At times I nearly forgot that I was even watching Outlander! Sure, the focus on these efforts is never lost (Claire reads palms as a way of divining information about a certain red-headed Highlander), but the sudden focus on performing in various towns certainly makes ‘The Search’ stand out from the other fourteen episodes we’ve seen. Gone are the Red Coats and the politics and in their place are dealings with Gypsies and jaw-dropping, beautiful scenery as Claire and Murtagh wander around the Scottish countryside. It’s all the more unusual because for the better part of its runtime, this is a two person show. Jenny and Claire dominate the first third, then Murtagh swaps Jenny out for the remaining two thirds.
It’s only when the Gypsies reveal that they have intercepted a message intended for Claire that the traditional Outlander narrative returns. Claire and Murtagh race to the meeting point to discover not Jamie, but Dougall (Graham McTavish) waiting for them. In a bit of controlled exposition dump, Claire learns that Dougall has been hedging his bets regarding Jamie in an effort to secure Lallybroch for his Jacobite army – he doesn’t care that Jamie has been captured, moved to Wentworth prison and is scheduled to hang in the immediate future. Admittedly this isn’t exactly a surprising development – we’ve seen Dougall working his own angles since the show premiered. While his conversation with Claire is riveting thanks to the performances of both actors, it still feels mildly anti-climactic to spell out Dougall’s plans in such a clear-cut fashion.
The end of episode bargain the pair strike is intriguing. Claire proposes to take a group of willing men to spring Jamie and if she fails (or he is already dead), she will accept Dougall’s marriage proposal. I don’t entirely understand why Dougall would agree to this, since it seems far more likely that Claire will get herself killed in the process (perhaps he simply understands at this point just how stubborn she is?) but regardless of motivation, we’re headed for a prison break!
- Anyone else get a medieval Scottish Thelma and Louise vibe from Jenny and Claire’s adventures? I would gladly watch these two reunite for another solo mission.
- Kudos to Outlander for once again breaking down the traditional boundaries of what you see on TV. I can honestly say that I have never seen a woman lactate on screen before – it’s refreshingly honest because this is exactly what Jenny, as the mother of a newborn, would need to do. Her ability to ride a horse so easily after giving birth is something I question, however…
- Anyone feel a bit bad for Taran MacQuarrie (Douglas Henshall)? I know that he’s a bandit and he essentially got Jamie into this situation, but seeing him wounded in the Red Coat camp knowing that neither Claire or Jenny will lift a finger to save him made me a bit sad. Perhaps we’ll come across him again in the future.
- The simple scene set at the beach campfire when Murtagh confesses his love for Jamie and Jenny’s mother via the tale of the boar tusk wedding bracelets is extremely well done. Emotional, confessional and memorable. Plus its a nice variation on the episode’s theme regarding love as a powerful motivating factor.
- As AV TV Club states, Claire looks damn good in drag. I also particularly like her
jauntybonnie performances, especially how she mortified she looks the first time she performs before slowly becoming more comfortable as time passes.
- Finally, we get some fairly explicit references to the war two years out when Claire tells Jenny what to do to prepare: grow potatoes and sell land for gold. I love that Jamie inferred to Jenny that Claire might tell her strange things and that she should do exactly as Claire says, even if it makes no sense. Protect Lallybroch!
- Claire (when Murtagh tries to rationalize her singing): “Oh stop quoting the Bible, it doesn’t suit you.”
Your turn: did you like this unorthodox episode? Would you be down for more Jenny/Claire adventures? Did you miss Jamie? Were you surprised by Dougall’s marriage proposal? And should Claire be forced to wear boy’s clothes and sing every episode? Sound off below.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9pm EST on STARZ. As the preview below reminds us, there’s only two episodes left. Next week Claire and co. infiltrate Wentworth prison and #JackIsBack