When last we saw our time-traveling heroine, she was in a brothel being held at knifepoint by a menacing stranger hell bent on doing her harm. It was a thriller of a cliffhanger, setting a tone that unfortunately couldn’t be sustained throughout the plodding “Créme de Menthe.”
But back to the tussle. This being Claire Fraser, she wouldn’t be going down without a fight. So fight she does, wresting the intruder’s blade away and turning it back on him. He conveniently trips and knocks his head on the stone hearth — to all appearances, a fatal blow. Yet, when Jamie returns to the room seconds later, the man begins gasping for air. And despite his attempts on her life, Dr. Claire can’t let him die, at least not without trying to save him. Jamie doesn’t quite understand, but he agree to help.
It turns out this man is John Barton, an exciseman sent at Sir Percival’s command. (You’ll recall Sir Percival as the man attempting to extort Jamie during the last episode.) The two have long had an agreement that Percival would look the other way at Jamie’s smuggling indiscretions. But it seems that earlier spat has rendered their agreement null, so Jamie instructs Fergus and Young Ian to clear all the casks out of Madame Jeanne’s basement — even if it means selling them at a loss. Young Ian is quite the negotiator, though, and persuades a man to buy the lot (with the addition of three casks of créme de menthe) for 75 pounds.
Claire, meanwhile, dresses and makes her way to the apothecary for the necessary roots and herbs needed to perform surgery on Barton. But just like every Duane Reade in New York City, there’s a line. Claire bargains with the man in front of her: If she can go first, she (a healer) will stop by his place later to administer to his ill sister. The man, Mr. Campbell, agrees, and Claire is filling her basket with the necessary supplies. Claire returns to the brothel to find Jamie and Mr. Willoughby unwisely pinning the exciseman to the bed. As she begins cutting into his scalp (yikes), an unwelcome visitor arrives in Madame Jeanne’s fornication foyer: Sir Percival.
He asks to search the premises, and Jamie and Jeanne tell him he’s free to do so. Of course, when he and his henchman descend the stairs, there’s nothing there — save a small puddle of liquid.
“We have a leak,” Madame Jeanne explains. “That’s why we can’t store anything of value down here.”
With Sir Percival stymied (at least for now), Jamie returns to his room to learn that Claire’s valiant efforts were all for naught. The exciseman has died. In that moment, it becomes clear that Claire is struggling to reconcile her 20th-century life as a gifted surgeon and her 18th-century life as a capable yet ill-equipped healer (a common theme in the show’s early episodes). She feels bad for failing Barton. And she feels bad for dropping back into Jamie’s life unannounced and causing such a mess.
“Sassenach, you came thousands of miles and 200 years to find me,” Jamie says. “I’m grateful you are here, no matter the cost. I will give up everything I have for us to be together again.” We’ll soon learn those words mean even more than Claire knows.
Given that the two have just reunited, Jamie is dubious about Claire paying a visit to the Campbells to tend to the ailing sister. He tries to send Fergus along, but Claire blanches.
And isn’t young Ian lucky Fergus wasn’t dispatched to accompany Claire, because who else would explain to him how to seduce his crush, who works at the local tavern.
“Tonight is the night you do more than look!” Fergus tells him of the bonny lass, followed by his three-step plan:
1. Tell her she’s beautiful
2. Get her a drink
3. Repeat 1 and 2 over and over again
And you know what? That strategy actually seems to work! The girl sits down for a bit of whiskey with Ian, before accompanying him back to his room at the printshop, in a first-time scene that was sweetly reminiscent of Jamie’s wedding night.
Claire arrives at the Campbells to find Margaret in something of a trance, babbling about tree-toad lullabies and bloody moons. Her brother Archibald explains that she’s a seer, and that he’s taken to giving her laudanum to calm her down. Claire explains that the drug is too powerful for daily use and that she’ll leave behind a few tea recipes that should do the trick. But Archibald isn’t sure a mere tea will sedate Margaret for their upcoming trip to the West Indies. (Theory: Could this woman be the corpse from Joe Abernathy’s table?) Hopefully we’ll find out the siblings’ significance soon…
Back at the brothel, Jamie tells Claire that the lads have hidden the exciseman’s body in a cask of créme de menthe (hopefully not the same one they bargained away to McDaniel…). Uncomfortable with the death that has occurred as well as the general living situation at the brothel, Claire suggests she and Jamie get a place of their own. Jamie explains that every one of his shillings go to Lallybroch and that the brothel room comes rent-free. Claire seizes the opportunity to suggest she open her own healer business, but before they get too far down that line of conversation, there’s a knock at the door (there’s always a knock at the door), and they’re told Ian (the elder, not the younger) is downstairs.
Ian, no surprise, looks as though he’s seen a ghost when he lays eyes on Claire. He wells up and embraces her: “Is it you lass? We thought you were…”
Yes, yes. Claire retells her tall tale of her post-Culloden flee to the colonies. And it’s not the only lie the couple proffers: When Ian ask if they’ve seen his son, Jamie says they haven’t but promises to send word to his worried family when he does.
But, of course, young Ian is in the middle of something he doesn’t want to be distracted from, but distracted he is nonetheless. He’s mid-coitus with the woman from the tavern when they hear a loud commotion in the printshop. He tells her to run out the back way as he goes to investigate. It’s Percival’s henchman looking for casks. There are none at the shop, but the two tussle anyway, which leads to the man uncovering a stack of Jamie’s seditious papers. Ian tries to stop him from fleeing with the damning evidence, but their continued back-and-forth leads to a fire in the shop, itself a big pile of kindling.
Meanwhile, Claire and Jamie retreat back to their room, where Claire confronts him over his falsehood.
“Since when do you lie to your family?” she asks. Jamie accuses her of being hypocritical: After all, Claire has been lying left and right about where she’s been these past two decades. She excuses it as a little white lie.
“I didn’t realize lies had shades,” Jamie retorts.
And as most messy fights between couples go, the conversation devolves into a shouting match over how Claire raised Bree and that damn bikini and whether Claire fell back in love with Frank when she returned. (She did not.) They probably could have continued until dawn had it not been for word that Jamie’s printshop was ablaze. Jamie runs into the building to rescue a trapped Ian, and emerges with him slung over his shoulder. Ian is able to catch his breath just enough to warn Jamie of the purloined pamphlets. High treason is a capital crime, after all.
Jamie sends Fergus to intercept the goon and have Ned Gowan send word to Lallybroch that he will be returning with Ian. As Jamie contemplates where he and Claire will flee to, Fergus finally reveals what we all have been wondering: “The lady does not yet know about your other wife?”
Sounds like Jamie might have to guzzle some of that créme de menthe for a little liquid courage.
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