Outlander, Episode 10: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

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On Outlander, the story continues as Jamie aspires to receive an official pardon, Claire attempts to save an abandoned child, and Geillis’s mischief puts lives in peril.

Jamie and Claire (Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe) in Outlander, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (© Starz)
Jamie and Claire (Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe) in Outlander, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (© Starz)

With the Starz original series now back in full swing after its midseason break, viewers have been swept back up into the 18th century Scotland of Diana Gabaldon’s novels. The season’s tenth episode, By the Pricking of My Thumbs, sees Claire and Jamie reunited after tension drove a distance between them; and their truce, it seems, comes just in time for new duels and dangers to steal into their lives. When the Duke of Sandringham, a friend and ally of Clan MacKenzie, arrives in Scotland Jamie hopes to play upon the duke’s fondness for him at the chance of receiving a pardon, eliminating the price on his head and rendering him a free man. Claire, however, is less trustful of the duke, recalling his name in Frank’s discussions as an advocate and protector of Black Jack Randall. While Jamie is drawn into his efforts to gain the duke’s help, Claire learns unsettling new secrets about Geillis Duncan that draw a dangerous new light onto her friend when tragedies begin to strike.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs sets viewers up for a pivotal moment in Claire’s story, lingering in details and suspicions while also revealing surprising truths about some of Clan MacKenzie’s most central members. It’s ultimately a wonderfully nuanced episode as it makes the good and bad of the story’s mysterious characters a little more clear. Geillis Duncan is revealed to be less trustworthy than she appears, while Laoghaire also shows herself to be more than determined in her attempts to free Jamie from Claire’s grasp. As we return to Claire’s perspective and narration, we step again into the mind of an outsider (or a “sassenach”, as it were) in a time and place where dangers lurk at every turn. When Claire finds an abandoned child, we learn alongside her of the fierceness with which the 18th century villagers believed in their homeland’s legends and folklore, sometimes to a desperate and tragic end. This was a particularly harrowing scene, though handled with compassionate storytelling and graceful performances.

Simon Callow in Outlander, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (© Starz)
Simon Callow in Outlander, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (© Starz)

This episode gives a face to the previously-discussed Duke of Sandringham, who is played with aplomb by the always superb Simon Callow. As Claire works to make sense of Sandringham’s relations with both the British crown and the Jacboite cause – essentially, his relationships with both Colum and Dougal MacKenzie – the audience is given renewed insight into the political complexities of the time. Dually, when Claire conspires to intercept Sandringham before Jamie makes his case, she once again utilizes her keen knowledge of history and her surreptitious courage in an attempt to turn circumstances in her favor (a talent she will need in the future, to be sure).

Graham McTavish and Gary Lewis in Outlander, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (© Starz)
Graham McTavish and Gary Lewis in Outlander, By the Pricking of My Thumbs (© Starz)

One of my favorite elements of the show has been seeing the relationship between brothers Dougal and Colum MacKenzie brought to life on the screen; Graham McTavish and Gary Lewis (who portray the brothers, respectively) always manage to capture the tension, adversity, and also the deeply-rooted respect that the MacKenzie chief and war chieftan share. Every scene they share becomes especially riveting through the complexities of their relationships and the secrets they may be keeping from each other, their blood-closeness combined with their political and emotional isolation.

Continuing on with the genre-bending journey into history, the latest installment in the Outlander story delivered more romance, mystery, and intrigue while leaving viewers on the edge of their seats as we anticipate Claire and Geillis’s future in episode eleven, The Devil’s Mark.