Highlights of Episodes 201 and 202
Spoilers imminent (but we’re mid-season, so it’s time to catch up anyway)
Sparkling Overall Performances:
- Caitriona Balfe as Claire
- Tobias Menzies as Frank
- Duncan LaCroix as Murtagh
- Andrew Gower as Bonnie Prince Charlie–quite the caricature
- (as always) Simon Callow as the Duke of Sandringham
Sparkling Moments of Performance:
- Sam Heughan as Jamie battling the Black Jack Randall demon in ep202
- Lionel Lingelser as Louis XV in ep202–so funny!
Delightful New Characters:
- Jared Fraser, Jamie’s cousin and a wine merchant, resident of Paris
- Prince Charles Stuart, presumptive heir to the British throne
- Louise de Rohan, Claire’s new friend and a marquess
- Mary Hawkins, Louise’s charge and teenager engaged to Le Vicomte Marigny
- Fergus, a young French pickpocket at first named Claudel, whom Jamie employs to steal letters to and from Prince Charles
- Suzette, Claire’s lady’s maid, an expanded role thanks to Murtagh’s expanded . . . ahem, role
- Bouton!, border terrier and diagnostic partner of Mother Hildegarde at l’Hopital des Anges
- and, of course, Mother Hildegarde herself
Production Design, Set Decoration, and Costume Design all demonstrate their usual attention to beauty, detail, and symbolism, with the vibrant results to leave you oo-ing and ah-ing at the sumptuous subjects of Parisian architecture, interior design, and dress.
Costumes Highlight – Every time Balfe appears in a new costume, the eyes feast and many of us drool, a hazard that men of the 18th century must often have encountered with all those low-cut, corseted busts. While show costume design and decoration seem to represent history well overall, the 1700s costumes in particular purposely blend mid-20th century styles into the look of Claire’s wardrobe in subtle but noticeable ways. One of these is a Dior sample Terry Dresbach used for Claire’s silver-jacketed dress with neat black hat in episode 202. See Terry’s website for details.
Jamie also cleans up nicely in his own velvets, satins, and crisp white jabots, along with that clean-shaven square jaw and dimpled chin framing the piercing blue eyes Heughan sports so expertly. And of course, there’s the flowing, curly red hair. * enamored sigh *
Other Notable Elements:
Cinematography: ep201 multi-scene and ep202 Versailles
Film editing: ep201, mainly
Plot outlining and writing — overall, very good with very few flat or off moments
Book fan pleasures: Continued close following of enjoyable original dialogue and narration
Highlights of Great Scenes
Numerous scenes in ep201 and ep202 conveyed emotional depth and effective drama in acting and dialogue. For a sample, the following illustrates my experience of ep201’s . . .
. . . Tears (70%) and Laughter (30%): Moment by Moment.
Cries in Ep201 from the opening moments to 45 minutes in (all of 1948)–that is, moments when tears actually fell from my eyes:
Although the opening scene is gut-wrenching, I was too intent on paying attention and too bewildered and horrified by Claire’s screaming for crying to be an option.
Cry #1 – Claire kneeling and sobbing in the road after coming back to the 1940s and hearing from the passerby that the British had won the Battle of Culloden. Whoa.
Cry #2 – Mrs. Graham reaches and grabs Claire’s hands, the strings rise, and she tells Claire to cherish her experience. It just grabbed me so tightly in the chest like.
Cries #3 and #4 – Frank crying and then pleading with Claire to let them be reunited as husband and wife as he professes his love (violins rising). Poor Frank . . .
Cry #5 – Claire’s reaction to Frank’s condition that she conduct “no more research” into her dead husband Jamie. Not only must she mourn his loss, but now she must not “re-member” either. And yet, a reasonable request, really.
Cry #6 – “I will” let him go, she says. “I accept your conditions.” *Heart tears open.*
Cry #7 – When Claire tries to take off her 1740s wedding ring but cannot. It’s a wonder she doesn’t collapse to the floor again right there.
Cry #8 – Putting away love, into her suitcase, in the form of the other ring she brought back with her that is missing its jewel. So much adjusting, so soon, so sad.
Cry #9 – When Claire sees Frank burning the 18th-century Scottish apparel she wore back through the stones (music rising — volume and pitch). All traces being erased.
Cry #10 / Final heartbreak, and this one may surprise some viewers – The visual transition from Claire taking Frank’s hand as she de-boards the plan in New York to Claire taking Jamie’s hand as she disembarks from the Cristabel in Le Havre, France. (Claire and Jamie musical theme surges.) Some saw this as a moment of triumph, but it is at least bitter-sweet, and I found it somewhat hollow after the absolute gutting perpetrated by the first 45 minutes.
Laughs in Ep201 — from the transition point forward, all in the 1700s setting:
See my list at Five-Phrase Friday (36): Comic Relief in Outlander STARZ ep201.
The effect of this chosen sequence and emphasis on the 1940s is to propel the audience into a season in which we’re desperate to cling to every positive moment possible between our beloved heroes Claire and Jamie. Although the selections above suggest a tolerable contrast of 70/30 between heartbreak and joy, the experience of it is more like 80/20, or even 85/15.
The darkness and deep sorrow of knowing from the beginning that the Frasers ultimately lose each other at the end of the season invests the viewer more keenly in their 1740s togetherness, and particularly in their luxury and high status, if not quite revelry, as stewards of Cousin Jared’s house and business in Paris while Jared expands his endeavors overseas.
Simultaneously, the heavy weight of the first 45 minutes of Episode 201 brings the audience so low that we’re more than ready for the sex, laughter, diversion, and above all, levity (i.e., frivolity, materialism, beauty, and style) with which Paris is replete.
The hope portrayed in the landing at Le Havre soon gives way, however, to the dark cloud that has followed Jamie and Claire from Scotland into the City of Lights. This shadow hovers ominously as they plunge headlong into political intrigue, double dealing, wariness of whom to trust, and danger amidst new enemies. Their overarching anxiety primarily takes the form of the dual and competing (indeed, conflicting) pressures and strains of Jamie’s recent traumatic past in the hands of Black Jack Randall and of the impending birth of the couple’s first child.
Any normal human being would crack under the weight of it all. Thank goodness this is fiction, and Jamie and Claire are (as Jamie describes Claire to Jared) “sturdy” people.
Good Surprises and Divergences from the Book:
A bold move it was indeed to start season two in the 1940s since the non-book-oriented audience expects to see Jamie and Claire arriving in France after last season’s finale. Bolder still, and risky to some degree, to linger there for so long with the pain and sorrow between Claire and Frank before transitioning back to the past.
Readers of book two, Dragonfly in Amber, may recall that the book also opens in the twentieth century, but 20 years later, when we meet grown-up Brianna and grown-up Roger Wakefield, the Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son. It will be fascinating to see how that time leap element is treated later this season–or next.
Murtagh’s expanded role from book to show honors Duncan LaCroix with well-deserved opportunities to shine.
From start to finish, ep202 is an eye-popping firecracker, ending in literal fireworks. The opening scene of Jamie’s nightmare is disturbing and shocking, particularly when his sure-fire murderous stab-a-thon ends with BJR’s eyes opening, still alive.
The sexual indulgences of the second episode are largely humorous in nature, at times fascinating and at others disturbing, but always of that entertaining levity to counterbalance the nightmares and anxieties that linger.
The ridiculousness of King Louis’ “dressing” comes off splendidly. Lionel Lingelser commands the room whether through melodramatic constipation or royal diffidence and lurid looks. His sizing up of Claire will prove relevant mid-season.
In keeping with a slightly more daringly sexual Claire the show and Balfe have formulated, a nonetheless pregnant Sassenach matches the French women’s sensuality step for step. Between the “third-rib” V-neck red dress she “helped design” that stirs up trouble at Versailles and the more private “honeypot” scandal, Claire’s bold efforts to mesh with Parisian high society prove a shock to Jamie’s more traditional, 18th-century sensibilities.
Speaking of shocks and meeting one’s match . . . .
A Grand, uh, Climax:
Toward the end of ep202, the Frasers’ confrontation with the Duke of Sandringham at Versailles presents great suspense and layered implications, thanks mainly to the writing and to Simon Callow’s stunning performance. The exchange between the Duke and Claire after Jamie and Murtagh walk away is so good, subtle, and biting that it deserves a closer look, which I provide in the next post in this series. I didn’t catch several of the layers until I viewed it a second time myself, so stay tuned!
A compressed plot, especially in ep202, with overlapping events that are more spread out in the book, works very well. Pacing is on track in the first two episodes, along with the undulation of moods. Overall, the progression of scenes does not feel rushed, and it very easily could have. Kudos to the writers and producers for their care and creativity.
Aspects Somewhat Less Than Stellar
While not quite a detractor, I have been less than impressed with Dominique Pinon’s performance as the apothecary Master Raymond. It may in part be the difficulty I had in understanding his French accent when he speaks English. Perhaps it’s the nature of the role as well, and the fact that I’ve seen Pinon dig into meatier ones, namely, as a jealous womanizer in the quirky, surrealist French film Amelie, starring Audrey Tautou.
Le Comte St. Germain, played by Stanley Weber, provides juicy menace, but by the end of ep202, Weber hasn’t had a chance to shine much yet. It’s been mostly slow striding with his scepter, quiet brooding, and hungry, if subtle, murderous looks of “I will get you” toward Claire and Jamie.
A Lowlight of Episodes 201 and 202
The other time problem, which I wrote about concerning last season, this season turns out to be a mere typographical error in ep201 captioning: “Le Havre, 1745” should have read “Le Havre, 1744.” The effect of this sloppiness? Initial confusion and distress give way to disappointment at its cheapening of the series.
However, it was not until ep203 that I found more to critique, though there is still plenty to praise.
Come back next time for more thoughts on subsequent episodes in season two of Outlander STARZ.