“…fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have thee crown’d.” —William Shakespeare MacBeth
This week’s installment of the adventures of Jamie and Claire Fraser was a fantastical story told in lush colors, exotic climes, and preternatural coincidence. As much as I lamented the improbable story told in “Uncharted”, I rejoiced in this week’s improbable events and coincidences because there was a substantial metaphysical theme, a thread of supernatural commonality that held the whole thing together and kept me wondering what new surprise fate had in store. Outlander does not often focus on its fantasy aspects. The standing stones and Claire’s ability to time travel have almost always been in the background. This week in “The Bakra”, the show wisely decides it is time to deal with its fantasy roots. Claire told us in “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” that the only way she could make sense of all that had happened to her was to believe that it was all for them, she and Jamie belonged together. The universe has conspired to make it happen and this week we saw more evidence that there are powers at work here that surpass our understanding. This episode finally allowed the story to deal with its sci-fi elements and the fact that Jamie and Claire’s story transcends the rules of time and physics. When Jamie wonders out loud, “Maybe it’s because you came back through the stones”, he is leading us all down a path that leads to an intersection of the lives in this story. They are all attracted to each other, pulled together like magnets for a purpose. The story effectively reminded us, at every turn, of its own past and the feelings and meanings associated with those “ghosts”. In “The Bakra” episode 3.12, the ghosts of the past, present, and future all had a role to play in the fate of our couple.
Gellis a ghost from the past and the future
Currently, we know of only two time-travelers in this story and I was struck by the difference between the two. Claire is an accidental traveler. She had no idea she could travel and therefore no plans. She comes back a second time to be with Jamie and for no other reason. She does not purposely try to affect history. We all know how that went when she did try to, I’m fairly sure at this point, she believes that it cannot be done. However, she obviously does make a difference to those around her. She heals and is a woman out of her time with knowledge of the future, but the big events are just too convoluted, too many variables.
I don’t think Claire dwells on thoughts about the “why” of her ability to travel, she has “compartmentalized” it. She has put it away, so that she can live her life. She accepts it as part of her reality and like the practical person she is, she moves on. It is part of her, but certainly not her identity.
The episode starts with letting us know what happened to young Ian. We find out he is being taken to the Bakra because she likes young boys. What followed was worthy of every Grimm’s fairytale ever told. We meet our first ghost, our second time-traveler Gellis, the Bakra, who was not burned at the stake. Ian is no dummy, but he is no match for the witch Gellis who has been practicing her seductive powers for decades and across centuries. I hope we will get to see how this unwanted and forced sexual experience will change Young Ian.
Gellis is a deliberate time-traveller who has completely identified herself with her magical ability. I’m not sure how Gellis discovered she could time-travel or if the knowledge was something passed down to her. I wonder at her back story. Is she the child or grandchild of a traveler from the past? Was she groomed to save Scotland? So many questions. The Gellis we see in this episode is one who has taken on the mantle of “The Bakra” and is using it to her advantage. She believes herself to be different, special, and has cultivated her image, embraced the mystery and expanded her knowledge of and belief in the magic she is so obviously part of. Unlike Claire, Gellis believes she can change the future. It is why she is in the past. She is here to save Scotland.
I once wrote an article about how evil is represented in Outlander. In that article, I talked about the differences between the villainy of Black Jack Randall and Gellis. My conclusion was that Gellis was the more insidious and therefore, the more evil.
There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that both BJR and Gellis are perceived as villains. But, personally, I find Gellis to be the more insidious. I doubt there are very few people who meet BJR who do not recognize the need to be careful in his presence. The man practically drips malevolence. Gellis on the other hand keeps her nature very well hidden under a quirky wit and charm. Claire is fooled by her and as a result so are we, at least for a while…
… In many respects, she appeared to be “normal” even being a friend to Claire. But, on further “interviewing” (when they were kept together before the witch trial) we see the “matter of fact” way she describes killing her husband and her zeal for the Jacobite cause. Not unlike the Nazis, she has bought into an ideal, a belief and given over her thinking to bringing about a free Scotland. What ever she needs to do to make that happen she does. She sees her actions as justifiable and the damage she inflicts collateral. To me, it is this lack of remorse that labels her as evil and…maybe she is mentally ill. She represents the idea that evil can come in many guises including a person who believes their actions are going to right an injustice and make the world a better place.
She is the proverbial snake in the grass biding her time and waiting to take victims unawares.
The show has taken a slight departure from the book and it is a brilliant one, the Brahan Seer prophecy that predicts a free Scotland. It is obvious that the show is centering everything around this prophecy and it is connected to Jamie and Claire and a two hundred year old child that must die for a Scottish king to rise. Is this the reason for all that has come before? Fate has brought them all to Jamaica, a place ripe for magic, and Jamie and Claire and …Bree are in real danger from a zealot Gellis.
Ghosts of Paris and Culloden
Once again, the costumes told us a story. We see Jamie and Claire dressed in remnants of their past and it calls back memories of their time in Paris. We are reminded that their time at Versailles was about espionage and that these clothes had been part of a disguise and a lie that cost them both dearly. Seeing them dressed in this finery made me uncomfortable. They seem ghosts of themselves and it contributed to the sense of foreboding, everything is familiar and yet, slightly altered. Although the clothes are beautiful and they beautiful in them, they have come to represent an ugly time full of loss and pain. They tried to change history and failed and lost each other.
Ghosts of Jamie’s past
I still miss the conversation between Lord John Grey and Claire on the Porpoise, but felt this adaptation worked. John becomes part of the story and fated to be here in Jamaica with the third sapphire. His reaction to seeing Jamie was perfect, his acceptance that Claire was Jamie’s every heartbeat was quite frankly, heartbreaking. Claire has to be wondering what happened between these two men that Jamie hasn’t shared. I don’t think John’s role is done here and I predict he is fated to free Jamie.
Ghosts of the present
I’m not sure if I’m talking about ghosts now, but rather old souls. I loved the connection between Yi Tien Cho and Margaret. It makes sense to me that he would recognize her rare soul and she his. Fate has once again brought two outsiders together and I’m sure that together they will play their part in stopping Gellis.
The thing between them that they cannot name
In an interview, Caitriona Balfe commented on Claire’s experience of Jamie. She said it was so powerful as to be almost metaphysical, a reality beyond what is perceptible to the senses. They recognize it and feel it, but they cannot name it. I felt the moment between the two in the reception line spoke to that reality. It is always there between them no matter what is going on around them and in that moment they felt it and its strength. What it is between them feels magical and mysterious. Plus, it was sexy as hell.
The ghosts of all our pasts
A few weeks ago, I wrote a reflection on season 3. I did some lite research into what criteria is used to measure quality TV. I discovered that Outlander fit all of the criteria established by TV expert Robert Thompson. I thought about that criteria this week when I watched episode 3.12 “The Bakra”. I found myself mentally checking off the boxes of criteria once again. However, one particular area stood out for me, “It contains sharp social and cultural criticisms with cultural references and allusions to popular culture. It tends toward the controversial. It aspires toward realism. ” I’m amazed how timely these episodes are despite having been filmed for the most part over a year ago. I’m sure I’m not the only fan who is struggling with the political situation in America and both dismayed and grateful that the bigoted, racist underbelly in our country has been brought into the light. When my shivers over the goat blood scene reminiscent of “True Blood” settled, I was impressed by the timeliness of the social commentary in this story and its own timelessness.
We have all seen scenes of slave trade in modern film. I have found it no less disturbing for having seen these types of scenes before. The show did not shy away from showing us the reality of the times, but I did not envy them the difficult task of deciding what they wanted to say about this reality. We see Claire, a modern woman whose best friend was a black man, walking through a slave market. I am not surprised that despite her need to remain under the radar, she could not contain her sense of outrage or her need to do something. We are upset by seeing people of color caged, branded, and treated less than human on our TV, but forget this isn’t just our past, things really haven’t changed, our country remains one of white privilege. People of color are still caged, branded, abused, and treated less than others. Claire becomes the metaphor for what it will take to change this reality. White people need to rush into the fray and confront other whites. I appreciated that Jamie and Claire treated Temeraire with respect and concern. The irony that Claire became a part of history as a slave owner was not lost on me.
Gellis zealotry feels timely to me as well. She would not be the first person to give over her thinking and ability to make rational choices to an idea and a belief. I currently see a lot of people with power unconcerned for anyone standing in the way of their goals. The poor, marginalized, and sick are blamed for their circumstances and become collateral damage in the name of “the greater good”. This episode focused on Jamie and Claire’s ghosts, but I couldn’t help but feel the episode spoke to ghosts of all our pasts that continue to haunt us today, racism, sexism, bigotry, and abuse of privilege and power.