Masquerades and Games
I really did not like this episode. Upon first viewing I had no desire to watch it again. Quelle horreur! Right after an episode ends, I always rewatch (again and again) and delight that each one improves upon the last. Episode 5’s “Untimely Resurrection” left me thrilled, exasperated, and eager to see if it could be topped.
This time I was left confused and disappointed.
The social media chorus (mostly book readers?) is praising it and I’m left wondering, as a DIA Virgin, has my ignorance of the story left me feeling bewildered? The tone and pace were up and down and some of the emotional overtones were inconsistent. In the last episode we see Jamie and Claire (from hereon in referenced as “Clamie”) on opposite sides of the room after his stern reproach of “Don’t touch me!” As viewers we were estranged from their recent amorous reunion and rudely brought back to the murky purgatory of their strife. In this episode’s first scene together we find Jamie rubbing Claire’s feet and the air is calm. The former tension was diffused and appeared as if their previous confrontation never happened. Even when he rightfully challenges her argument for temporarily sparing Randall’s life, none of the previous anguish remains. Perhaps we are to infer that they went to bed angry that night and woke up the next morning with their hearts slightly softened?
By the way, I’m glad Jamie rightfully challenged her logic but neither has nailed the core argument that they would not be “they” if there was no Frank! Of course we haven’t been given any real insight of the story’s time travel mechanics yet but come on!
On another note in this scene: Jamie/Sam’s tenderness with Claire particularly when he says the line “I want it to be a man that loves you” struck its bow in my heart. Sigh. Why must he remain fiction?
Also, we already know Claire is going back through the stones! Any emotional depth was completely deflated as she looks bewildered at his request to return if something happens to him. I felt the same way when Master Raymond tells Claire “Hey you’re gonna meet Frank again”! Claire doesn’t understand but the audience does thanks to this season’s first episode. As much as I enjoyed it (Frank and all) I do not understand why we have this knowledge and our protagonist does not. If the first 40 minutes of episode 1 never happened, can you imagine how these two scenes would play out? The emotional stakes would so high! Here they land flat and I’m left disappointed. I wish I never knew that she went back.
As a DIA Virgin (I’ve read the first book a few times), it’s very clear to me that with each episode this season, the writers are cramming in a lot of plot points. This is part of the reason the last few episodes have been so fast! “Best Laid Schemes” is no exception but the tonal shifts are all over the place as we jump between the smallpox scheme, the intimate baby/Clamie moments, meetings with a few friends, the raid scheme, and then finally the duel. Additionally, this ep’s brief appearances of Raymond and Louise are like loose threads. It’s clear that they have been planted to return later but it adds to the tonal disjointedness.
My heart leaped only at the sighting of The Red Coat and the last ten minutes of the episode (including a gun being pointed at Murtagh!). The stakes were high and the tension laser focused as Claire raced off to the woods. It was all that I cared about this week albeit some of the more tender moments: The character development between Fergus/Jamie, the deepening trust between Clamie/Murtagh, and the burgeoning bond between parents/child. Outlander is at its best when the show focuses on developing relationships (among a few other things of course).
I’ve had the feeling that based on how this season ends will clarify the choices in narration and pace that are a little mind-boggling right now. Perhaps this episode will make more sense later as one piece in a bigger puzzle. Trust me, I’ve watched it a few times and though it mellows a little, it’s a wine that I prefer to no longer sip.
Honestly, this season so far makes me extra eager to read Dragonfly in Amber and see how the story is told. For now I’ll remain a Virgin and wait until the right time.