Thanks, Lenny, for allowing us to post your review! (www.lenny9987.tumblr.com)
Outlander 309, “The Duldrums”
I’m a huge fan of shipnanigans in the books (and in general) so I’ve been really looking forward to this part of the season and this first episode aboard ship did NOT disappoint! Every element of the episode from the visuals to the music to the story and performances worked, individually and with each other. It’s another stellar example of the deft adaptation we’ve been seeing throughout this season. I only have a few main thematic threads I’m going to pick at this week and then a lot of little things that delighted me but first, my take on the new opening credit sequence which is easily the element of the episode I liked least (aside from seeing and hearing way more vomiting and retching than I ever needed to see on television, thank you very much).
New Opening Credits
I knew that we’d wind up getting new credits this episode so I was prepared for them… mostly. I LOVED the new visuals for the credits—so lush and vibrant in every aspect, lovely parallels to previous bits of credit sequences the other times they’ve changed. But I don’t care for the instrumentation. I was confident the music would change because, as with their time in France, the change in setting makes the instrumentation feel dissonant. Being a HUGE fan of Black Sails and the work Bear McCreary did on that show’s score, I expected something more along those lines for this half of the season, so a lot of my disappointment stems from expectations that weren’t just not met, but were so laughably different from what the reality proved to be. I was expecting/hoping for some flutes, pipes, and fiddles like what we see in the impromptu singalong (right before Claire finds Jamie receiving his acupuncture treatment), maybe some spoons or other instruments one would find or make aboard ship (and all of that couldn’t have been further from what we actually got). But even without going into this with a certain level of expectation, I don’t think I would like this instrumentation. All it makes me think of is commercials for cruises to the Caribbean. I feel like the aim was to pay homage to the islands’ native and enslaved peoples—which is a goal I can respect, even though I disagree with such a choice if that’s what they were aiming for at all—but it came off (to me at least) as being a sanitized and touristy version. With so much of these episodes taking place at sea or among the western-held colonial ports, it only heightens the gimmicky taste it leaves in my mouth.
But really, that’s the only thing in the episode that bothered me.
I’m Not Superstitious, but I Am a Little Stitious: Feeling Control When Powerless
We’ve heard tell many times before about how superstitious the people of the 18th century—and especially those in the highlands—are. It was fascinating to see that taken to a whole other level as we meet the seasoned sailors of the Artemis’ crew. It was a time when that means of travel was prominent and still incredibly dangerous and unpredictable—as we get several glimpses of in the episode. I LOVED the way they used superstition as a way to emphasize the difference between fault and blame—both of which have been very present in the last few episodes as Jamie and Claire confront the pain of their separation and its sources (among other aspects where it creeps up). It also ties both to control and people’s need to feel like they have some say in what’s happening to them, whether it’s logical or not. Jamie and Claire are among the most skeptical of the crew’s superstitions throughout the episode, and annoyed by the captain’s willingness to let the crew have their way in what they see as unjust and ridiculous situations. But they also wield more power and control than many on the ship who have to follow orders and just hope for the best. Jamie is in a position of command over his small group of Ardsmuir men and over the fate of Fergus and Marsali. And he wields that power by withholding his blessing and keeping the would-be newlyweds apart for propriety’s sake early in the episode and then later by talking Hayes down from the mast. With Yi Tien Cho’s help (and a few well-placed needles), Jamie is able to control his seasickness. And when the opportunity for moments alone with Claire present themselves, they both take them and enjoy them. Claire and her ginger tea may not have been responsible for conquering Jamie’s seasickness, but she wields more control over the crew as the ship’s surgeon than most women would expect to have. She goes toe to toe with the captain on several occasions and is able to hold her own, yielding when she chooses and humoring him more than anything.
Yet for these two who have been so dismissive of the superstitions and the control they allow the powerless to feel, at the end of the episode they’re the ones who have completely lost control, as the Porpoise gets underway without returning Claire to the Artemis and Jamie must stand and watch her go. I’ll be interested to see if and how the issue of control and powerlessness is addressed next week.
Jamie and Claire: Finding Calm
As mentioned earlier, one of the places Jamie exerts his control is in the matter of Fergus and Marsali. When Jamie says that it was different for him and Claire because they were forced to marry, Fergus laughs and throws the romantic story he’s heard many times back in Jamie’s face, which is really the sweetest way he could have called Jamie a hypocrite. But I digress. What I love about this scene is how it shows the way that Fergus at least sees Jamie and Claire and their relationship as an example to be admired and followed. He aligns himself with Jamie repeatedly in the scene, most prominently when he says that the reason he hadn’t told Jamie was that he was a coward. When Fergus claims that there are no secrets between him and Marsali, Jamie presses him on whether he’d told Marsali everything. Fergus isn’t lying to Marsali by not telling her about other women he’d been with, but it isn’t full honesty either—something on which Jamie has had a very recent and emphatic refresher. As Claire has been able to move past the Laoghaire incident, Marsali stands by Fergus as well.
They’ve both learned a lot from that incident though they still express a few doubts and fears in its wake. When Claire opens the trunk to find that Jamie kept her clothes from France she is surprised by the sentimentality of the gesture (especially when selling such fine clothes would have put money in the Lallybroch coffers when it was desperately needed). It is a thorough contrast to Frank who packed Claire’s things away in a suitcase and left them on the bed at Reverend Wakefield’s while he went back to Oxford. While for Frank those clothes are perhaps tainted by the search for Claire and the insistence of many that she must have left him for another man, Jamie’s associations with Claire’s clothes from France are similarly full of memories of a difficult time in their marriage as they struggled to recover from his Wentworth ordeal and ultimately lost their first child. In both cases we’ll get to see Claire re-don those clothes but to very different effect. When she again wears the clothes that Reverend Wakefield and Mrs. Graham had saved for her after Frank left them behind, it is with resignation as she watches Frank burn the clothes she’d been wearing the last time she was with Jamie. I look forward to seeing her emotional reaction as she dresses in her old clothes from France for the first time in twenty years.
Jamie fears what Claire will do if she feels a lack of purpose so when her tea fails to cure his seasickness and Yi Tien Cho’s acupuncture succeeds, he hides it from her. Where last time Claire reacted with hurt and betrayal to Jamie’s deception, here she is thoroughly amused and is able to reassure him that it’s not her feelings about him that have thrown her for a loop in her return. Even as the ship is becalmed and everyone else’s emotions and tensions are running high, Jamie and Claire are relatively calm in their relationship (if a bit sexually deprived). When Claire feels homesick for Bree, Jamie is there holding her. When they’re at dinner and the captain brings up the issue of the crew calling for a Jonah, they’re on the same page in terms of protecting their people and standing up for reason over emotion where people’s lives are at stake. As Jamie ascends the rigging to urge Hayes back down to safety, Claire calls for reasonableness on the deck and tries to push the captain to act on what’s right and will protect a life rather than what will placate the crew. Their bumbling in the hallway as they finally find time to be alone and intimate together. There’s another bump when the acting captain of the Porpoise seeks medical advice and assistance and Claire proposes to go aboard ship to examine the ill men. Jamie bristles, not wanting to let Claire out of his sight (even after weeks/months). But when Claire lays out her reasons for going, Jamie listens and doesn’t dismiss her or diminish her feelings on the matter; he understands and finds a way to connect her situation to his own personal experience while still ensuring she is aware of his concerns and fears.
Having reached a point of calm and understanding in their relationship, it’s time for external factors to start assailing them. Seeing how the show tracks their relationship after they’re reunited following the incident with the Porpoise will be interesting given how Jamie’s biggest fears for her leaving the Artemis have been realized.
Yi Tien Cho: Becoming the Jonah
For me, the most emotional moment of the episode was Yi Tien Cho finally telling his story and then releasing the pages into the finally rising wind. It built so beautifully through the episode and tied up the Jonah thread so perfectly. Watching Yi Tien Cho writing poetry on the deck with water is such a compelling image to start with. The water quickly dries and the words of the poem are lost—words only he can read and appreciate. Claire asks him about what he’s writing and what it is written on the scroll he keeps with him.
YTC: I’ve been scribing the story of my life in China so that it will not be forgotten. A story told is a life lived.
C: Will you tell it to me?
YTC: Not yet. Once I tell it, I have to let it go.
That written account of his life is all that’s left of who he was in those years.
This scene is before the wind dies and they spend weeks stranded on a calm sea. As the crew look for someone to blame and something to do to restore the balance of luck they feel has been upset, the first they look towards are those who are Other with Yi Tien Cho high on the list as he pulls the acupuncture needles out of Jamie’s face, though they move on to other targets and home in on Hayes. As the tensions rise following Hayes near suicide on the mast, Yi Tien Cho spots a sea bird (was anyone else half-expecting it to be a pelican and does anyone recognize what bird it actually was?) and quickly realizes that the weather will soon break restoring wind and bringing fresh water. When he draws new characters on the deck, they do not dry showing that the air is heavy with coming moisture. But he also realizes the crew won’t wait unless someone makes them and so Yi Tien Cho makes himself the sacrificial Jonah cast into the sea by sharing his story at last. As he told Claire earlier, a story told is a life lived. He mesmerizes the crew long enough and deftly enough to defuse the situation thanks in no small part to the wind rising as he finishes and casts those pages with his life written upon them into the air and off to sea. A life lived and let go.
This single aspect of the story made the episode for me and I couldn’t help getting incredibly choked up over it all, something I was not expecting given how it’s all handled in the book. It reminds me a lot of the honeypot scene in Dragonfly in Amber and how the show, in adapting it, brought so much weight to something that was quite different tonally in the books. The way they’ve brought Yi Tien Cho to life and the performance of Gary Young elevated an episode that already thrilled me beyond measure. Definitely WAY up there for this season (which I am so happy and relieved has been solid, well-developed and executed and just plain consistent in a way that Season 2 wasn’t).
— I will think of Marsali as “the baggage from Lallybroch” for a LONG time.
— I had a very different reaction to the Goodnight Moon section. I mean, it is incredibly moving but my immediate response was, “I didn’t realize Goodnight Moon was that old” (and yes, I googled it’s publication date because that really threw me for a minute) and it also gave me Written in the Stones feels because it was so close to a scene I’d written in that (God Bless the Moon).
— A little part of me wondered if Jamie and Claire finally banging was going to be what got the ship moving again (especially if Claire bared her breast during their sexytimes, haha)
— OMG Pound is such an adorable baby of a Royal Navy sailor! I’m already emotional over his looming death (unless they change it? *she pondered hopefully*)
— I can’t wait to see LJG next week and I’m desperate to see more of Claire and Marsali’s relationship evolution.