Title: Useful Occupations and Deceptions
Written by: Anne Kenney
Directed by: Metin Huseyin
These season 2 Recaps on Steroids incorporate an OLA writer’s opinion on the episode woven in with information from both the official Starz podcasts hosted by Showrunner Ronald D. Moore along with comments from the official episode script including things changed or edited for television. OLA editorial comments in the ROS recognize and respect the experience of those associated with the show even though we may respectfully disagree at times with their thought process or assumptions. We hope you enjoy these recaps!
The podcast was hosted by Ronald D. Moore (RDM) with guest Anne Kenney who is both an executive producer of the show and the writer of this episode. RDM noted that unlike their typical episode shooting of blocks of 2, this episode was shot as part of a super block of the first three episodes.
The title card for this episode was a game of chess which takes place both literally and figuratively in the episode (as reflected by the title itself). RDM noted that they added more French language to the Skye Boat song and to the imagery in the opening sequence.
Before I get into the recap, I will note that it was interesting to me that both RDM and Anne Kenney seemed to find this episode difficult to write and edit. Both commented that there is so much background information (exposition) in both what was going in historically and the fact that the book is told from Claire’s point of view. In the book you don’t get to see as much of what Jamie has to do during the day, but here they had to show it. I got the sense that they were frustrated with so much plot in this season.
The opening scene shows Jamie coming home very early in the morning only to have to change and do his “day job” at Jared’s winery. This has become the rhythm of their new life with Jamie rarely home and Claire being a bit bored. But she supports it as the scheme was essentially her idea and Jamie is the primary person to carry it out. Anne pointed out that although she is bored, they did not want to make her come across as whiney.
Anne misses Jamie in his kilt but notes he wears the French finery very well. They sometimes pull bits and pieces from other books and so they brought back Sawny, the wooden snake carved for Jamie by his late brother William when they were children.
The scene of Louise, Mary, and Claire playing cards allows for both comic relief at Mary’s innocence and the necessary exposition for Claire to make the mental connection that when Frank showed her his family tree it showed Jack Randall marrying Mary Hawkins. She can barely concentrate after that.
Anne wanted to show a Claire/Frank scene there, and RDM felt it was necessary to feel like a real love triangle. This is where I strongly disagree with how RDM views the show. Once Claire makes the decision to stay with Jamie in season 1, she never once has the desire to return to Frank. She just always wants to make sure that Frank is never harmed in any way as she notes more than once that he is “innocent in all of this.” I think RDM feeling this way explains some writing and editing choices. It’s probably a debate that will continue into Season 3.
Magnus (butler) and Suzette (Lady’s maid) are shown more prominently in this episode (in more ways than one!). I loved both characters and actors. Magnus is so very French when he says zee search for zee little snake continues after Claire returns home. You can tell that he thinks it is quite silly but is loyal to his household as well as his lord and lady.
Murtagh hooking up with Suzette was not initially the plan. Anne thought it might be interesting to have him feel an unrequited love for Mary Hawkins, and although they didn’t play it that way, there is a bit of a reference to it in later episodes. Having Murtagh be with Suzette also gives Claire an excuse to visit Master Raymond again to get birth control for her maid.
The writers discussed how to have Murtagh react when Claire tells him that BJR is alive but that she has not yet told Jamie. They all felt that it was appropriate for him to agree that Jamie should not be told for fear of getting into more trouble. RDM liked the chemistry that develops between Murtagh and Claire in this episode. Originally he had edited the script for that scene to be done on a beautiful balcony that had been built by Jon Gary Steele’s team, but the director chose to keep them inside. It is hard to tell in a podcast, but RDM seemed annoyed by this.
The title card takes center stage as Jamie is playing his afternoon chess game with Msr Duvorney. The setting for these games was shot in a beautiful library in Prague. RDM scouted that location in Prague, but was that there for the actual shoot. (As an aside, I am surprised at how little the show runner is actually on set.)
Anne doesn’t play chess, so the way writers create scripts in this case is she will write “Tech” in the areas where she doesn’t know the chess moves. It is short hand for additions to be put in by those with technical expertise on any particular subject. At work we called them SME or subject matter experts. RDM noted that when writing Battlestar Gallactica scenes, he had many scripts with Tech written everywhere.
Another interesting set notation is that the market outside of Master Raymond’s apothecary is actually the courtyard of the apartment set, just repurposed for these scenes.
Anne commented on Claire’s beautiful yellow dress. She asked RDM where the clothes go after shooting, and he said Sony has an archive of the best or most iconic pieces. Some of the secondary or extras clothing will get repurposed for season 3.
Master Raymond helps Claire and her daytime boredom by mentioning that they need volunteers at the L’Hopital. RDM noted that the hospital exterior was Prague, but the interior is Glasgow Cathedral. It just goes to show you how everyone has to work together to not let the viewer realize that walking into the hospital and actually being in the hospital are shot months apart in different cities. Kudos to the actors and crew.
I loved Claire’s plum suit in this scene; it reminded me almost of an 18th century business woman’s suit. Here she meets Mother Hildegard, played to perfection by 3-time Olivier Award winner Frances de LaTour. (For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, she played Madame Maxim.) RDM noted they saw many French actresses before Frances was cast. Really? You made this icon audition? Apparently they auditioned many pups for Bouton, the diagnosis dog, too. I wonder if Frances had to do chemistry tests with them!
While Claire is emptying bed pans and tasting urine for diabetes diagnosis, Jamie is back at the brothel. He is caught between a rock and a hard place as Msr Duverney and Bonnie Prince Charlie discuss financing the war, and Jamie learns that the prince has been working some side deals to get money. Charles makes Duverney an offer he can’t refuse, and Jamie keeps a (barely) composed face as his plan falls apart before his eyes.
RDM noted that they spent a lot of time discussing the political process of the day because it was “wildly confusing.” As I mentioned earlier, in the book from Claire’s POV all of this plot is exposed as Jamie tells her the story of his day, so they were creating this from nearly scratch.
The script had many, many revisions in this part. In fact, when they were working in the next block of episodes 204 and 205, they had to go back to make more revisions in 203 so that everything lined up properly. Anne noted that they struggled with how to tell enough without making it boring. RDM said that it was like giving a history lesson without giving a history lesson.
(Side comment: Anne and RDM really conveyed the frustration and difficultly of adapting the Paris part of the book. I think we will find that Season 3 will feel more like Season 1 with the major exception that Jamie and Claire spend a lot of time apart in the first third of the book.)
Jamie returns to the house to tell Claire what he learned only to find her not there. They wrote this scene a few ways.
First Cut: Claire discovers an annoyed Jamie. Anne felt it made Jamie look too much like a jerk.
Second Cut: They made sure to show the emotional journey Jamie went through as he waited for Claire so the audience would share Jamie’s stress.
The book version is more 18th century man/20th century woman (i.e. cut 1), but they wanted to show more of Jamie’s side. They also had to get more exposition in there of Mother Hildegard being a musical prodigy and the Goddaughter of the Sun King.
Anne noted that this scene was important because they had to come apart only to come back together. They had extensive conversations with Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe as the two had concerns about how to move forward with the plot. (An aside about Sam and the script, whenever the word baby was written, he changed it to bairn.)
It is important to show that Jamie and Claire are a team but they need conflict and drama too. There were a lot of writer’s room discussions about their “fight” as it gave Claire a sense of what a real 18th century wife would have to deal with. Interestingly, RDM felt that Claire would have been unhappy as a 20th century wife after the war as she would have had to go back to a more traditional role. (I think this is always one of the interesting things about Outlander in that the 18th century husband was often more progressive than the 20th century one.)
Jamie leaves angry after they have their disagreement, and Suzette clues Murtagh in on their problems in the bedroom. Murtagh knows how these two usually are in that regard (he even comments about it when Claire finds him with Suzette) and he is concerned.
RDM made a comment here in that he didn’t want the show to be about when Jamie and Claire were going to have sex again. But I kind of think they set it up that way by having two BlackJackus Interruptus scenes in the first two episodes.
Jamie returns to the brothel, tired and miserable in both his personal life and his political one. There is a weird body painting scene of one of the prostitutes (which took up too much time, in my opinion) that was RDM’s idea. The one good thing out of this scene is that Jamie notices what our friend young (soon to be) Fergus is up to as the boy deftly cleans tables and pockets. Jamie is at first amused, and then a lightbulb goes off over his head about the value Fergus could bring to their cause.
The book scene of Jamie meeting Fergus is very different with Jamie followed to the dock by a bunch of men and Fergus helping him. Anne felt it was too complicated. I liked the revised scene better but it did mean we lost one of the more iconic lines about entering a brothel with a very big sausage.
The chase scene happened in Scotland. I noticed Sam was slipping and sliding in this scene. I think perhaps those very awesome boots were a little too slick on the bottom.
Romann Berrux as Fergus is perfection in casting. RDM said they wanted someone who was French but could speak English. He commented on the child labor laws that they must follow. I think you have it easier than the showrunner of Stranger Things, Ron.
The funniest part of the podcast was when they said they refer to Jamie’s sporran as his Mary Poppins bag as he keeps so much in there it seems to be bottomless.
Jamie and Fergus make a deal and Jamie finds that Fergus had lifted Sawny in his nightly pick pocketing. They both return to the house where Claire wakes up to the noise and finds Fergus munching away in the dining room. An amusing set commentary here is that the bedroom and the dining room were the same set, so these were obviously filmed at different times.
The distance between Jamie and Claire is literal and figurative as they walk down the hallway, separated by walls in their apartment and in their relationship. This scene was well directed and acted; it made me really feel for both of them. They need each other but have so many things pulling them apart. Jamie explains his plan for using young Fergus (formerly Claudel, which “wasna very manly”).
Fergus begins stealing letters for Jamie and Murtagh who copy them and try to decode them while Fergus returns them. RDM really wanted to show some actual pickpocketing but production felt they couldn’t pull it off. Jamie and Murtagh find some letters that are actually music, and Murtagh remembers that Mother Hildegard knows both German and music.
RDM noted that in the book this scene went on for a very long time (as some scenes do in this book series), and one scene was between Jamie and Claire talking about trust. They were talking about the letters but were really talking about themselves. There was a hint of using it later, but that would be impossible given that it takes place in France.
Back at the hospital, Bouton is diagnosing an infection. The actual pulling of the wood from the man’s leg was filmed later, and those aren’t even Cait’s hands in the scene.
The hospital scene is a turning point for Jamie and Claire. Jamie makes the gesture to come to her this time. Claire backs him up when Mother Hildegard is a little suspicious of the motive for his request. Both appreciate that in each other and once again they realize they are better together.
A little comic relief in the form of Claire knowing a little something about Mother Hildegard’s friend Johann Sebastian Bach. Jamie looked quite proudly at Claire there, as he is reminded at how much more she knows. That was not in the script, but a nice touch there by Sam Heughan.
RDM noted that it is rare for Diana Gabaldon to give a nod to the time travel within the regular plot, and so when she does it is effective.
The music helps Jamie decode the message and discover that the other snake in this episode, the Duke of Sandringham, is involved. Jamie is happy for the progress and grateful for his wife’s support so, as with Episode 202, we end with Claire wondering if/when to tell Jamie that Black Jack is still alive. I felt that for the entire hour, we barely moved forward with the exception of finding out that Sandringham is playing both sides and of course, meeting Fergus. The majority of the episode seemed there for exposition, which we will see play out in the next two episodes. Stay tuned in two weeks for the Recap on Steroids of episode 204.
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Picture sources: Starz