I’m starting to see a pattern. I go to bed Friday night and then wake up around two with the knowledge that I could be lying in bed watching the current episode of Outlander. The temptation is too great and I put in my headphones and turn the screen to an angle that won’t wake my husband and then adjust my pillow for my first viewing. After the episode, I fall asleep dreaming of what I saw. I wake early Saturday morning and watch again, this is when the ideas begin to percolate and I start making notes. All day long, I’m thinking about what I saw. I don’t want to be influenced by anyone else’s thoughts so, I don’t read any reviews, recaps, etc. until after I’ve had my third viewing on Saturday night with my husband and written my reflection. After I hit the publish button on Sunday morning, I begin reading what other folks thought. There is a lot more out there to read than last season, but I still find myself gravitating to the same authors; Angelica Jade Bastien of the NY Times
A year ago, I wrote an article about Tom and Lorenzo’s reviews of Outlander. https://wordpress.com/post/bethwesson.com/2581
I read their first review at http://tomandlorenzo.com/2015/03/how-outlander-finally-won-us-over/ and found it to be one of the most insightful and honest reviews I had read. Now please understand, I am particularly fond of the books by Diana Gabaldon and therefore, pretty invested in the success of the series. It doesn’t make me the most objective of readers, however, I’ve read enough ( there is an understatement) reviews to know when someone is piggybacking off of the latest gossip about the show or relying on the latest pop culture cliché to meet a deadline or sound particularly “critic-like”. I came to their article with some Outlander review reading under my belt and I found their writings to be refreshing.
I felt like they got the show. They were able to make accurate predictions and seemed to understand the characters. They saw beyond the bodice-ripping-time travel labels given to the series. I have found that I mostly agree with them and can usually be seen nodding my head “yes” the whole time I’m reading their reviews. So, I was totally surprised when their response to Outlander episode 4 “La Dame Blanche” was so different from my own. In fact, I was troubled by our difference in opinion and have given it some point by point thought.
Point one: the difference between us
My view of the show isn’t rose colored, but it certainly is colored by my knowledge of the books. Tom and Lorenzo afford me the novelty of watching the show vicariously without “book goggles”. However, I really didn’t have to wait until Sunday to read Tom and Lorenzo’s experienced TV critique to understand the response of the non-booking reading viewer, because my own barometer of the episode’s success was sitting in a lazy-boy across the room peppering me with questions. I had to stop the show and let the DVR take over, so that I could explain what was happening. That has never happened before. I was so taken with what I saw as an effective adaptation of the story that I failed to see that he didn’t see what was going on. His defensive comment, “Well, it’s a lot to take in if you haven’t read the books!” should have been my first clue that something was amiss. As much as I loved this adaptation, upon reflection I am able to see how my husband would be confused.
I blame the number 13.
The show-runner was given 13 episodes to tell this story. As a result, the writers have had to do the near impossible and fit the complicated story told in Diana Gabaldon’s huge book (it is 39 hours on audio) into 13 fifty-five minute segments. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is worried that the number thirteen is an unlucky one for those charged with bringing this couple’s relationship to the soul deep level it needs to go!
As a book reader, I am thrilled with what they have done, but this might be the first episode that the non-book reader was truly at a disadvantage. It just might be possible that my “book goggles” were beneficial watching “La Dame Blanche”. I believe that I probably unconsciously filled in the storytelling gaps because things that were obvious to me weren’t obvious to my husband and Tom and Lorenzo.
Point 2: Claire
We’re not sure how much sympathy we should expect from a woman of Claire’s time on the issue of male rape and its after-effects, but she’s been depicted as supernaturally empathetic and patient with Jamie’s issues up until now, and she just spent weeks obsessing over how to tell him what she thought was going to be the worst news of his life; news so devastating that she rightly feared for his emotional well-being, not to mention his life. She absolutely has a right to be upset with him over this, but it’s like all the previous episodes’ worth of character interactions were forgotten when this scene was written. http://tomandlorenzo.com/2016/05/outlander-la-dame-blanche/
Episode 16 is back to haunt the series again. Claire going into Jamie’s darkness continues to be a very important missing piece in this puzzle. Because they chose not to let Claire trick Jamie into fighting his demons at the end of the last season, they were left trying to fit his recovery into a season already packed with plot points. Personally, I feel they have successfully shown and given respect to the fact that Jamie would not have just bounced back from his trauma and shown how it would have affected his intimacy with Claire. Jamie was still going to recover because he got to fight back and his wanting to have sex with his wife again would have followed just like it did in the book.
The scene were Jamie comes home “marked’ was definitely more lengthy in the book and Claire’s patience was tested repeatedly which might have made her reaction more understandable to viewers. She would accept his story only to be faced with more “evidence” at every turn. Because they were already having sex, this scene as presented in the book was more about the jealousy of a woman who felt neglected and a bit afraid her husband had crossed a line in the “game” they were playing.
To me, “Up until now” are the key words in Tom and Lorenzo’s paragraph. The woman has had a lot to deal with and this had to feel like a betrayal of all of her efforts, patience and trust. Yes, Claire has been shown to have a great deal of empathy, but quite frankly, what would any woman have done faced with this kind of evidence, let alone a woman who is pregnant and lonely and scared she has lost the husband she knew and loved. We might want to give her bit of lee way for overreacting. I didn’t see this as out of character at all. In fact, it felt pretty natural to me! She overreacts, but true to Claire form she owns her feelings and takes action.
The TV series use of this almost comical moment, (a typically Jamie moment as it never occurs to him that Claire might not be as happy as he is that he felt lust for a prostitute! ) to set up a serious conversation about the aftermath of Jamie’s trauma was inspired adaptation. It worked in the book and I thought it worked in the episode.
Point 3: Claire, reckless or stupid
I felt Tom and Lorenzo had some valid points:
…Don’t even get us started on why she brought Mary with her or why she thought two finely dressed and clearly wealthy women could simply stroll through the streets of 18th Century Paris after dark…
Upon reflection, this was one of those times my book knowledge filled in the gaps. I knew that Mary had been volunteering with Claire for quite awhile, but to be fair that was never explained or if it was I missed it! And, they couldn’t get a carriage because they were all being used to transport victims…once again, not explained. However, I thought it was totally in keeping with Claire’s personality to believe they would be safe walking. After all, they weren’t alone … Murtagh.
…how much of this, we’re sorry to say, can be laid at Claire’s feet. We literally muttered “What the hell?” when Claire announced she was going to the hospital to work on the very day she was hosting a formal 18th Century French dinner party (an ENORMOUS undertaking that she has never done before nor has she any familiarity with). One can argue how admirable it is that Claire felt the call of duty when she heard that people were hurt. And that’s true, for the most part. But it also speaks to how ridiculously reckless Claire can be.
This was definitely an issue with the time compressing. This wasn’t their only party and Claire did have experience planning dinner parties at Jared’s. She knew she wasn’t needed and was going somewhere where she was. It wasn’t just another day at the hospital, it was a crisis. She did explain, but … giving this one to T&L her reasons for leaving weren’t made clear.
Point 4: royalty literally dropping from the sky
Prince Charles is on the roof!
…Yeah, we could’ve done without that bit of silliness ourselves. Especially since his convenient drop-in also had the result of inadvertently revealing his affair with Louise. Let’s unpack this: The one man who is most important to the Frasers’ plans drops down from the roof of their house complaining about his lover and sporting a monkey bite, which so happens to be the pet of one of the few friends Claire has in Paris; a friend who just told her about how she’s pregnant by her mysterious lover’s child while mentioning that her monkey bites everyone in the same conversation. It’s a bit much on the coincidence scale.
I can see what they are saying, too neat, too convenient, okay, but…too silly? I thought there were several moments in this episode that showed us how humanly frail we all are whether we are dressed in silk and bewigged or not. The sophisticated worldly Louise suddenly seemed very young when talking to Claire about her pregnancy and likewise a disheveled Charles scrambling around on a roof ; very young, very human. He is climbing out windows like a teenager one minute and expecting to be treated like royalty the next. His “God is always testing me line” was very revealing of his character and motivation. I felt a bit of sympathy for this slightly delusional young man when he reaches out and touches his “friend James” face. How does one deal with being told you are the outstretched hand of God all your life? The scene wasn’t as silly as it seemed on the surface. (however,loved Jamie’s response to Claire’s comment about a bite epidemic. It was classic Jamie humor!)
Here’s the thing,… each episode should be able to stand on its own. It really shouldn’t matter whether you have read the book, I shouldn’t have had to stop to explain what was happening (still not convinced my hubby doesn’t need to pay more attention). Here’s the other thing, …reading a book, watching a movie or TV show is really very personal. We each bring our own experiences, values, and beliefs to the situation and that makes critiquing a pretty subjective process overall. I would have left to go with Claire to help at the hospital, but maybe Tom and Lorenzo would have stayed to plan the dinner party ( and maybe get a chance to wear one of Terry Dresbach’s costumes) .
Here’s the final thing, T&L gave the episode a B. A “B” is far from a failing grade. One “B” episode in an “A” show?
This teacher is rounding up!