In episode eleven of the celebrated series adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, the cast delivered perhaps the most emotionally resonate moments from the season so far.
When last we saw Outlander's Claire Fraser and Geillis Duncan they were in a jailer’s carriage, under arrest for conspiracies of witchcraft – with Laoghire, as Claire believes, behind the tragic deception. In the season's eleventh episode, The Devil’s Mark, we see the results of Laoghire's scheming as Claire and Geillis are brought before the town to be judged. With their fate resting in the hands of kindly lawyer Ned Gowan, witnesses and crimes are presented to the court, culminating in a battle of both words and influence. And as the sway of the villagers’ opinion turns ominously against the women, secrets are desperately revealed and Claire finally learns the truth about who Geillis Duncan really is.
As it was in Diana Gabaldon's novel, the trial of Claire and Geillis is a powerful and emotional moment in the greater story of Outlander. The desperation of their plight unfolds with authenticity across the screen, bringing the scenes to life with the sort of captivating prowess that will make even the most diehard readers of the novel feel as though they are experiencing this chapter of the story for the very first time. It’s difficult to write about the full scope of this episode’s storyline without unveiling direct spoilers, but I’ll content myself with acknowledging that Claire’s very narrow escape from the stake is, of course, paramount to the continuation of the story. Nonetheless, the events that precede Claire’s flight from a vicious mob unfold with gripping drama and superb performances all around, especially from Lotte Verbeek as Geillis, whose desperate hope – and then, desperate hopelessness – come across to the viewer with almost palpable sincerity.
Throughout the trial, Claire and Geillis must face the wrath of not only Laoghire, but others from the village who are intent on bringing the women down by whatever means necessary – even perjury. The trial unfolds with all of the mayhem and disrepute one could expect of the history as stories are fabricated and rendered into dangerous proof of witchcraft. For Claire, the only bright light in her ever-fading world is in the shape of Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson), whose appearance to stand as her defense proves itself to be the act of a friend rather than the demand of the MacKenzie chief; though what that means for Colum’s opinion of her, Claire can only imagine. And as she discovers, at last, who Geillis really is and why she’s done the many questionable, scandalous things she’s done, we see also how desperately Claire wishes she could change the history that’s being played out before her.
Later in the episode, Claire and Jamie are on the run from the village when Jamie asks her, once and for all, for the truth – always the truth. In this, The Devil’s Mark brings us yet another hallmark from the novel: when truths are finally laid bare, revelations are heart-achingly made, and life-changing decisions are put forth. We see Claire open her heart to Jamie in perhaps the most enthralling scene between the couple so far, in which Caitriona Balfe once again puts her very all into her performance as Claire; it's a scene of spine-tingling honesty, tear-jerking in its sense of hope. In this moment, as Claire offers her all to Jamie and he in turn makes his choice on how to accept her, Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan remind us why their collective portrayal of Diana Gabaldon’s timeless lovers is one of the most talked-about performances onscreen right now. In the moments that fans have waited breathlessly for, the cast certainly didn't disappoint. And as a result, Outlander delivered perhaps its most compelling episode of the season so far.