'Outlander' recap: 'By the Pricking of My Thumbs'
The Duke of Sandringham comes to town.
The Slap. The Dukes of Hazzard. How to Get Away With Murder. Tonight’s Outlander rolled three TV shows into one. It was a stuffed episode, to be sure, but one that managed to keep the momentum going after last week’s action-packed return.
And speaking of action, we must start with that opening sequence. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. When I spoke with Ron Moore a few weeks ago, he mused that there would be no topping the wedding episode. But after the midseason premiere’s dagger-sex and tonight’s, uh, face-plant, Moore may have underestimated their efforts. These new episodes are certainly rising to the occasion.
Jamie’s amorous actions, however, are interrupted by a persistent banging…on the door. It’s Murtagh, come to tell him the Duke of Sandringham has arrived to take council with the Laird. Jamie sees this visit as an opportunity to argue his innocence, but Claire—with her 20th-century insight—isn’t convinced Jamie will get the justice he deserves, given that Sandringham is an ally of Black Jack Randall’s. Jamie persists, and hatches a plan with Ned:
“I can draw up a petition of complaint accusing Randall of crimes against the Scottish people—your wife included—and of transgressing his majesty’s laws,” the lawyer explains to Jamie. “If you can convince the Duke of Sandringham to deliver that document to the Lord President of the Court of Session, that could lead to a court-martial of Black or at the very least a reassignment far from Scottish soil.” With Black Jack in disgrace, Ned thinks he will be able to win Jamie a pardon.
Meanwhile, Claire has some justice of her own to mete out. She finds Laoghaire in the kitchen and confronts her about the ill-wish left under the bed. Laoghaire denies it all, hurling insults at Claire: “He must have to get himself swine-drunk before he can stand to plow your field,” Laoghaire hisses, earning a slap to the face by Claire.
“I shouldn’t have done that. Sorry,” Claire demurs, but the hit prompts two confessions from Laoghaire: 1. That she is indeed responsible for the ill-wish and 2. that she purchased it from Claire’s supposed friend Geillis Duncan.
Claire decides to investigate, and after stopping by Geillis’ home and getting a rather rude reception from Geillis’ flatulence-prone husband (I’ve probably said this before, but those ludicrous sound effects are one of my most favorite things ever), she’s told by the housemaid that Geillis will be in the woods just before dawn. And that is where Claire finds her, wrapped in a gauzy shift, dancing with torch aloft—a very similar scene to the one Claire witnessed at Craigh na Dun back in the 1940s. Oh, and Geillis is visibly pregnant.
“You can come out now, Claire,” Geillis beckons to the hidden Sassenach when her ritual is complete.
Geillis then reveals her secret: The child she carries is not her husband’s but Dougal MacKenzie’s! (Dougal could really start a side business impregnating other men’s wives—seems to me like a much more fun way to raise money for the Jacobite cause…) Apparently the purpose of Geillis’ summoning was to “ask for our freedom. Dougal’s and mine,” she informs Claire. (Dougal is married, FYI.) She then shows off a bauble Dougal gave her—one gifted to him by the Duke, which triggers Claire’s future memory: the Duke was also a suspected Jacobite.
NEXT PAGE: Let’s Duke it out
As they continue to walk home through the woods, a feeble cry rings out. It’s a baby, abandoned in the cold. Or rather, according to Geillis, it’s a changeling. The superstition goes that when a fairy steals a human child, it leaves a fairy child in its place—one that doesn’t grow. But if that child (the changeling) is left out over night, the fairies will return the human child. Claire goes to the child, despite Geillis’ warnings. But she’s too late. It’s dead. (Book readers know this is one good deed that will not go unpunished…)
Jamie finds a sullen Claire in the woods clutching the infant. He puts the baby back where it was found and takes Claire home. At the castle, he presents Ned’s petition for her to sign. Claire knows she’ll have to do much more than simply put her signature on a piece of paper to win her husband’s freedom, so she pays a visit to the Duke—unbeknownst to Jamie.
(As an aside, kudos to Outlander‘s casting director for the inspired choice of Simon Callow as the Duke. He is simply fabulous.)
Once again, Claire uses the fact that men underestimate her to her advantage. When the Duke doesn’t take her Black Jack bait, she surprises him with one last bit of future knowledge: “How much Jacobite gold did Dougal MacKenzie pass along to you?” she asks.
That gets his attention, and after a few rounds of verbal sparring, the two toast to Jamie restoring his good name.
When Claire returns from her audience with the Duke, she learns that Geillis’ summoning has worked—at least in part. Dougal’s wife has died from a fever, and he’s gone mad in the hall, swiping his sword at whoever comes near. At Colum’s behest, Claire spikes a bottle of spirits with a sedative, and after a mighty swig, the war chieftain goes down like a foal trying out its legs for the first time. Geillis, of course, can’t contain her joy over these turn of events. “It’s a tragedy, no doubt,” she says only partially hiding her dumb grin. Geillis says that she and Dougal can be together. But something will have to be done about that husband of hers…
Jamie’s now working his own charms on the Duke, presenting his petition. The Duke’s response: “Favors must be returned in kind. If I scrub your back, I’d expect you to see that mine is equally spotless.” Excuse me while I scrub the resulting Duke shower scene from my brain.
Anyway, the Duke’s request is that Jamie accompany him to his duel with the MacDonalds (he owes them some money). Jamie consents.
With the business done, for now, it’s time to party. A great feast has been laid out at Castle Leoch in the Duke’s honor. Claire uses the opportunity to confront Sandringham: “You bastard! You had to get your pound of flesh, didn’t you,” she says. “If anything happens to Jamie during your little duel, quid pro quo.”
The fete is interrupted when Arthur Duncan begins choking. Claire rushes to him, but he’s beyond help. He dies on the floor, smelling of bitter almonds—the telltale sign of cyanide poisoning. Dougal smiles at Geillis across the room.
NEXT PAGE: On the way to Exile Island
The next day, Jamie makes good on his word and stands by Sandringham’s side for his sham duel. After the pistols are discharged (and no one’s injured), the two groups walk off, but not without a bit of ribbing. (Note: I did not say “good-natured ribbing.”) Jamie lets fly an 18th-century “yo mama” joke, and it’s too much for the MacDonald boys. They attack him, and he single-handedly fights off, like, three or four of them while the Duke just watches. As Jamie lies on the ground writhing from a stab wound (“merely a scratch,” Sandringham coos), the Duke says he will honor his end of the bargain and scurries off with Jamie’s petition in hand.
Back at the castle, Jamie gets a spanking (figuratively, unfortunately) when Colum hears of his scuffle with the MacDonalds. His punishment: He’s to accompany Dougal back home. Dougal’s home home. Dougal’s being banished because of his relationship with Geillis. And just to make sure Jamie behaves, Colum insists Claire stay behind.
Without her guide to the 18th-century, it’s not too long before Claire falls into danger. She’s sent a bogus note about being needed at Geillis’ home. But when she arrives, she and the newly widowed woman are arrested for witchcraft—as Laoghaire watches from the shadows. All that’s missing is the evil cackle…