Season Two, Episode Three: “Useful Occupations and Deceptions”
Written by Anne Kenney.
Directed by Metin Hüseyin.
[Photos courtesy Starz unless otherwise noted.]
Get in, biatches, we’re going recapping.
This is our third week with the Frasers. As you may remember, this season started with their arrival in France. Episode Two saw them settle into life among the Parisian upper class and begin their mission to prevent the Jacobite Uprising of 1746. We also learned that Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), thief of joy and taker of the candy of babies, is still alive despite being crushed under a door and trampled by a herd of adorable shaggy Highland cows.
“Useful Occupations and Deceptions” opens with Jamie Fraser (Sam Hueghan) coming home from yet another night of debauchery with everyone’s favorite frenemy, Prince Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower). But he’s only home to change and update Claire (Caitriona Balfe) before rushing off to play chess with Monsieur Duverney (Marc Duret), the French Minister of Finance. (As you may recall, Jamie threw him in a pond in Episode Two, which of course makes them friends now.)
Claire, in the meantime, has her own social engagements, including tea and cards with Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermone) and a decidedly morose Mary King (Rosie Day). Eventually, Mary wails that she absolutely can not marry a Frenchman. Every Frenchman, she stammers, has a “thing” that he has the absolute gall to put “between his wife’s legs.” It seems no one ever told the poor girl how babies are made. Mary is adamant that men don’t “do that sort of thing where I come from.” “And where is that?” a giggling Louise asks, “The moon?” “Seaford, in Sussex,” Mary responds.
The reader may remember that Claire’s modern husband, Frank, is from Sussex. Claire is jolted back into a memory of her and Frank (Tobias Menzies), examining the Randall family Bible. At the top of the family tree is the record of Jonathan Wolverton Randall (our Black Jack) getting married to one Mary King. And who did we see Mary talking to in Versaille last week? None other than Black Jack’s brother, Alexander (Laurence Dobiesz)!
So Claire assumes that Black Jack is supposed to marry this Mary King. Because if he doesn’t marry her, then her future husband Frank will have never been born. So Claire must ensure that Black Jack stays alive for at least another year in order to father a child. It’s a real classic Back to the Future situation.
While Claire has been uncovering plot twists over tea, Jamie is back in Versailles and dragging Monsieur Deverney’s butt across the chessboard (metaphorically speaking). He asks Duverney to tell Prince Charles that France will not supply him with funds for the Uprising. Scotland isn’t ready to fight this war, Jamie says, and he doesn’t want to see his homeland pay the price for a Stuart failure.
Back at the ranch, Claire tells Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) that Black Jack is still alive. Murtagh says they should conceal this fact from Jamie, since Jamie is definitely the type to immediately run back to Scotland and give Jack the death he deserves and then be hanged for it. Because blah blah oppressive British rule getting in the way of some good old fashioned revenge.
Claire visits Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon) and runs into the Comte St.Germain (Stanley Weber), who looks just as menacing and fabulously dressed as ever. When Master Raymond finds out that Claire is, understandably, bored out of her skull as a stay-at-home aristocrat’s wife, he points her in the direction of a charity hospital run by nuns.
At the hospital, we meet the formidable Mother Hildegarde (Frances de la Tour) and her infection-detecting dog. Claire spends the rest of the day winning Mother Hildegarde over with her fantastic medical skills.
That night, Jamie is back at the brothel with Duverney and Prince Charles. Jamie’s plan of denying Charles funds goes quite swimmingly until the Prince reveals that he already has several wealthy English supporters. If Duverney supplies the rest of the required money, France will secure an alliance of world-dominating proportions with a Stuart-ruled Britain. This proves too good a deal for Duverney to refuse. Jamie can do nothing but smile awkwardly as his magnificent plan crumbles before him.
He takes out his frustration on Claire when she returns, late in the evening, from the hospital. Claire tells him that she needs a reason to get up in the morning besides drinking tea and hoping to hear some scrap of useful gossip. Jamie isn’t having it though. He wants Claire at home, supporting him in his spy work. They discuss the fact that they need help to get more intel on the Prince and his wealthy backers.
That help comes in the form of child pickpocket and Sassy McSasspants Fergus (Romann Berrux), whom Jamie finds pilfering from the brothel’s distracted customers. Fergus steals letters from the Prince’s messenger, Jamie and Murtagh copy them, and the letters are returned before anybody notices they’re gone.
One letter contains a code written in musical notation. The Scottish boys can’t make heads or tails of it. So they take it to Mother Hildegard who is, very conveniently, an accomplished musician. This allows Jamie to see the good work that Claire is doing at the hospital. (Again, very conveniently.) After a long explanation that I honestly didn’t follow at all, Mother Hildegarde works out the cipher.
The letter turns out to be from Duke Sandringham of the Enormous Wigs and employer of Black Jack’s brother. Sandringham assures the Prince that he has secured the funds for the Uprising and thus gives the Frasers the next piece of their puzzle.
Jamie is elated and immediately calls for a celebration. Murtagh urges Claire to tell Jamie about Black Jack, before Jamie meets Alexander Randall and learns the truth for himself. But after seeing Jamie finally happy both with her and their mission, Claire remains silent.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t entirely thrilled with this episode or some of the plotlines it introduced. Generally speaking, this episode jumped around quite a bit, which made it difficult to be invested in any one scene or moment. The overall plot to take down the Jacobites didn’t progress a great deal either. We did officially discover that Sandringham is financing Prince Charles. However, we already knew that Sandringham was a secret Jacobite. That makes this a minor revelation at best and not really worthy of being the climax of an entire episode.
I particularly didn’t understand the whole Mary King/Black Jack Randall issue. While I understand Claire’s concern, I must remind her that the whole point of being in Paris is to change the future by preventing the Uprising. And I feel like stopping an Uprising would change the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.
After the Uprising, for example, the English did a serious number on the Highlands. This resulted in a wave of Scottish migration to the North American colonies. If Claire and Jamie succeed in their mission, how many North American people will never be born? Even if Black Jack does marry Mary King and even if she does bear his child, who’s to say that, because of Claire’s actions, that child somehow never has children?
That’s the problem with time travel. You’re never quite sure what you’re changing just by existing in the past, to say nothing of stopping a war.
There’s also the tiny fact the “Mary King” is about as average an English name as you can get. Surely there could be more than one “Mary King” in Sussex. Maybe Black Jack’s Mary wasn’t from Sussex at all?
Clearly, none of these concerns have yet to occur to Claire. I find this odd, given her analytical mind. But I suppose her love for Frank and residual guilt over leaving him could be clouding her judgement. And we are in television, a land where true coincidences are very rare. So it seems likely that our Mary is Frank’s ancestor.
Apart from The Mary Issue, I’m not entirely on board with the current tension between Claire and Jamie. It’s an all too common trope in sequels and second seasons. The hero couple spends the first season dancing around each other, building sexual tension, and battling the obstacles that keep them from being together. In the end, it seems like happily ever after. But the second season inevitably brings trouble to Paradise.
Not that Jamie and Claire had exactly reached Paradise by last year’s finale. Jamie was crippled and traumatized and they were fleeing Scotland for their lives. But they had at least hashed out many of their relationship issues and seemed to be on firm footing with each other.
In this season, these two are understandably under a great deal of pressure. Claire mentions that Jamie is constantly away from home and losing sleep, which can’t be good for his already serious PTSD. She is clearly quite concerned about him. But even so, it doesn’t seem like Claire to keep such a dangerous secret like Black Jack from her husband just to maintain his happiness.
Jamie will react negatively when he finds out Jack still lives, that’s for certain. But how much worse will his reaction be when he finds out that Claire broke the promise of honesty that they made to each other in season one? It would also be much better for Jamie to learn the truth from someone who loves and supports him rather than being blindsided in a meeting with the Duke of Sandringham.
Claire is intelligent enough to know all of this. And yet she keeps up the annoyingly common “lie to someone you love in order to protect them” trope. This crops up in a million different stories and never once have I seen it end well. Again, this doesn’t seem like Claire’s character at all. Instead this seems like a rather lazy way to keep up the trouble between Claire and Jamie. Honestly, I’d rather see these characters, and the Outlander writers, explore the many external threats they’re facing rather than focusing on a forced storyline that audiences have seen time and again.
I’m hoping that Claire’s deception is short-lived so she and Jamie can work it out and move on to more important matters. In the meantime, I’ll be singing the Outlander theme song over and over and figuring out how many grocery trips I have to skip in order to book a Scottish vacation.
See you next week!
Outlander airs every Saturday night at 9/8c on Starz.
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