Outlander recap: The Way Out
Claire gets a lesson (or two) in 18th-century superstitions and customs.
Despite several juicy plot points—exorcism! clandestine makeouts! rescue missions!—Outlander‘s third episode was the first to only negligibly drive the overall narrative forward. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it didn’t feel as though “The Way Out” were hitting us about the head with The Great Bagpipes of Scottish History, going to great lengths to illuminate the customs and superstitions of the time. Two events specifically (one from Diana Gabaldon’s source material and one seemingly cooked up by executive producer-writer Ronald D. Moore), cast our heroine into predicaments in which her 20th-century smarts and sensibilities serve her well—while potentially putting her in even graver danger.
Claire is making herself as at home in the castle as she can, cleaning out her inherited surgery and its bounty of horse dung and powdered human skull. (Personally, I’d rather remain ill than acquiesce to gulping pigeon’s blood.) But not all is well in House MacKenzie, as we learn Colum’s chambermaid’s son died the previous night, having caught a case of the demons (i.e. he was possessed by a spirit from the ruins of Black Kirk). While picking roots and berries later with Geillis, Claire is told that the boy’s friend Thomas Baxter (nephew of Mrs. Fitz) has also succumbed to possession. Savvy Claire is, of course, suspicious of this particular diagnosis.
“Did you ever find yourself in a situation with no earthly explanation?” Geillis asks her.
Claire abandons their errand and hurries over to the family’s home (which she somehow finds unassisted, despite rarely leaving the castle). She tries to administer to Thomas, but a priest, Father Bain, takes over, yelling Latin at the youngster and mercilessly pelting him with holy water. Mrs. Fitz asks Claire to stand aside, and she leaves with regrets.
That horrific scene is intercut with another “signs of the time” scenario—one that’s nearly as troubling. During a later visit with Geillis (this time at her home where Dougal has delivered Claire so she can stock up on medicinals before the upcoming Gathering), she witnesses a boy being taken to the pillory for stealing. The probable punishment? Losing his hand! Claire’s rightly appalled. But it’s Geillis’ husband, Arthur, who’ll be doling out the sentence, and seeing how distressed Claire is, Geillis uses her wifely wiles to convince the flatulence-prone codger to dispense with a bit of mercy. And she succeeds! The lad’s ear will be nailed to the pillory instead.
[EDIT NOTE: Apologies, but I can’t continue this recap without acknowledging those terrific farting sound effects. They were completely ridiculous, and I’m dying to know how they were made. They’re almost, like, artisinal or something. Wet whoopee cushions? A 4-year-old blowing raspberries? Please, someone find out for me!
And back to the recap…]
“You do puzzle me, Claire,” Geillis begins once her husband departs. “You would think they don’t have punishment or pillories where you come from.” Just as she presses to learn more about her visitor’s background, Jamie bursts in, dispatched to bring Claire back to the castle. Outside, the boy’s still nailed to the pillory; he must tear himself off the nail. Um, ouch.
“Mr. MacTavish, your fingers are quite strong I suppose,” Claire says sly. And it’s clear (without benefit of voiceover—thank you!), that they’ve hatched a plan to free him, humanely (and rather hilariously).
Now, we can all sympathize with Claire and her, well, modern sympathies, but she’s not doing herself any favors butting into everyone’s business—ethical concerns or no. And that becomes even more obvious when we return to the Thomas Baxter storyline.
NEXT: She doth protest too much
With their thrilling scheme complete, Claire asks Jamie for one more favor: To go to the Black Kirk to investigate those supernatural rumors. There, we’re informed that the hunky Scot isn’t just a pretty face—he’s educated too. Sure, he grew up with the fairy tales and fables of the Highlands, but he also had a tutor who taught him Latin and Greek. He, better than most of his clansmen, understands newfangled thinking. He goes on to tell Claire that he paid a visit to the Kirk as a lad, to prove his manhood, admitting that—in addition to marking their territory, so to speak—he and his chums would eat the surrounding berries and wood garlic. When Claire examines the latter plant, she discovers it’s actually Lily of the Valley, which is poisonous. Claire returns to the Baxters’, and this time her efforts are allowed: She gives Thomas an antidote, to Bain’s chagrin, and she’s dubbed a miracle worker by Mrs. Fitz.
To the best of my knowledge, this story isn’t in the books. Perhaps it was added to establish an antagonistic relationship between Claire and the priest—one which will come to bear later on if the source material serves—but cramming the episode’s two main events (the exorcism, the pillory) into one hour feels like overkill. Claire’s a fish out of water—we get it. Where this episode really succeeds, though, is further establishing the growing rapport between Claire and Jamie. They had a couple really great exchanges, the best of which was no doubt at the dinner table, after Claire spied Jamie kissing Laoghaire (whom he seemed very uninterested in earlier in the episode).
“Your lip looks a little swollen, Jamie. Did you get thumped by a horse?” Claire asks.
“Swung his head around when I wasn’t looking,” Jamie answers as he presses on her foot under the table.
“Aw, those fillies can be dangerous,” she replies coyly.
Jamie awkwardly excuses himself, leaving one of MacKenzie’s men to give Claire a gentle scolding, saying that Jamie could get “more than a bloody nose” if Colum finds out he’s snogging Laoghaire.
“Like a wife?” she replies.
“Maybe. That’s not the wife he should have,” he answers. “He needs a woman. Not a lassie. And Laoghaire will be a girl until she’s 50. I’ve been around long enough to ken the difference very well. And so do you, mistress.”
In one of her now-patented voiceovers, Claire explains that she teased Jamie because she was jealous, not of Laoghaire but of the pair’s intimacy. (Even in the 1940s, though, I doubt kissing in a hallway could be deemed “intimate.” But okay.) Coupled with a flashback to her and Frank in happier times, it’s easy to believe Claire. Almost. But, in this case, she seems an unreliable narrator. Her treatment of Jamie is classic schoolyard teasing. How would embarrassing Jamie make her feel better about Frank? It wouldn’t.
Though humbled by their exchange, Jamie doesn’t seem to be too upset about the drubbing, as a few nights later he grabs Claire’s hand and leads her to a seat next to his as the bard plays. He explains the meaning of the pretty Gaelic tune: It’s about a woman who disappeared through stones on the hill. She traveled to a distant land where she lived among strangers who became friends and lovers. And then one day, she passed back through the stones to her home.
“She came back through the stones?” Claire asks breathlessly. “They always do,” Jamie responds.
And despite nothing more than the encouragement of a folk song, Claire is buoyed: She resolves to find her way home without help. Or die trying.