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literary inklings

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Outlander: Useful Occupations and Deceptions


A note on spoilers: Please be aware that while I work diligently to avoid extensive spoilers in my recaps, these entries will discuss each episode's plot and may include key details from the show's first season as well as the books on which both seasons are based.

"What is politics but chess on a grand scale?" Jamie (Outlander, Useful Occupations and Deceptions)

Tensions are rising in the third episode of Outlander's new season as the weight of the Frasers's burden begins to impact Jamie and Claire's relationship. As Claire struggles both with the restraints of a conventional life in 18th century Paris and the burden of a secret she must keep from Jamie, she finds herself short on patience and long on time. For Claire, her role as a noblewoman in Paris can only contribute to their scheme by way of idle gossip gathered over tea. With only the option of supporting Jamie behind closed doors, Claire must resign herself to a seemingly less useful existence for the time being – or else, to do as she has always done and find a way of injecting herself into a place of purpose in the surrounding events.

Jamie and Fergus in Outlander | © Starz
Jamie and Fergus in Outlander | © Starz

Jamie, meanwhile, is in an almost completely different set of circumstances as he attempts to thwart the Stuart prince’s doomed campaign. Dividing his time between schmoozing Duverney over chess in Versailles and keeping a watchful eye on Charles Stuart in Parisian brothels, Jamie is running himself ragged in hope of making progress towards saving Scotland. When an encounter with Duverney ultimately allows Jamie to reveal his true feelings to the financier about the likelihood of an extreme Jacobite failure, the two chart a new course to persuade Charles that his best option is to give up his charge. King Louis, Duverney says, is not interested in financing any more foreign ventures, but the prince surprises Duverney - and indeed, a gutted Jamie – with the revelation of funds from British conspiracists who seek to help put a Scottish king on the throne. Worse yet, Charles seems to have won over Jamie’s only French ally when he offers an alliance between France and England upon his ascension to power on the expectation that France will support his campaign with additional finances.

As Jamie deals with the fallout from Stuart’s subterfuge, Claire is on a mission of her own, with better results. Encouraged by apothecary owner Master Raymond to seek solace by putting her skills as a healer to use, Claire ventures to a charity hospital where viewers meet the indomitable Mother Hildegarde (brought to life here by the wonderful English actress Frances de la Tour). Initially viewed by Mother Hildegarde as perhaps a naïve and self-indulgent noblewoman, Claire quickly gains her respect when she diagnoses a young woman with “sugar sickness,” the diabetes of the day, and yet years away from effective treatment.

"You're keeping a secret to save his life. And if it keeps the lad from running off in a blind fury only to meet his maker at the end of a rope, I’ll be keeping that secret with ye. Murtagh (Outlander, Useful Occupations and Deceptions)

Mother Hildegarde in Outlander | © Starz
Mother Hildegarde in Outlander | © Starz

Despite Claire’s enthusiasm over her newfound usefulness, the Frasers broke viewers’ hearts when an inability to share Claire’s optimism sent a sleep-deprived and desperate Jamie on a tirade against her cause. It’s a scene that reminds the audience that, although our handsome Scot is every inch the dashing hero, he is also still very much a man of his own time, complete with 18th century opinions of what a woman – particularly a pregnant woman – ought to be doing. It’s hard not to make the connection, too, that Jamie could be clinging to the busyness that keeps him out of bed as a means to avoid more nightmares involving Black Jack Randall.

For all of his admonishment, Claire is undeterred in her resolve to work with Mother Hildegarde, and she soon finds new inspiration in the matron’s stalwart, forward-thinking example. It falls to Jamie to face the error of his behavior when Mother Hildegarde, once a great musical prodigy, becomes his only means of cracking a diabolical code hidden within a piece of German sheet music. Said music, of course, was acquired after Jamie confronted a young pickpocket at Stuart’s beloved brothel and hired the lad – whom he calls Fergus (Romann Berrux) – to intercept correspondence to and from Charles in an attempt to avoid any more unpleasant surprises in the future. His hope, also, is to disprove the prince’s claim of British support; but Charles, Jamie soon realizes, is much less the fanciful and privileged idealist, and instead something much more cunning, deceptive, and dangerous.

In an episode adapted by writer Anne Kenny and directed again by Metin Hüseyin, Outlander once more compels its audience into rapt attention as it moves effortlessly through the intricacies of history and the vast landscape of emotion. We celebrate and commiserate with the Frasers in turn as they edge closet to victory, though we hold our breath in the episode’s final moments as Claire realizes that a turn in their favor also means she must reveal the secret she has been keeping from Jamie – lest it reveal itself.