This week on Outlander, Claire took her best shot at a Great Escape, we got some more insight into Dougal's attitude problem and also our romantic leads held hands for several seconds and it was glorious. Also: I cannot stop humming the theme song.
Episode four, "The Gathering," opens on what I initially assumed were oddly closely-set deer stands because I was raised in the woods and I wrote this recap eating boiled peanuts at my parents' house. But they're guard towers, and Claire is running through the forest. Is this her jailbreak? Nope, we've been faked out again. She's enlisted the local children in "the hunting game," an excuse for reconnaissance. Hamish, Colum's son, notices she's lost her fichu (oh no!!) and her hair ribbon. Because the Brothers Grimm won't start gathering German fairy tales for another 75 years, he doesn't realize they're bread crumbs, left to mark potential escape routes.
But her guards (cranky Angus and puppy-faced Rupert, who are starting to acquire distinct personalities though they still look like members of Lynyrd Skynyrd to me) pout to return to the castle, because they're missing out on the festivities. Leoch is hosting a great big clan gathering and Mackenzies are congregating from thither and yon. It looks like a family reunion of really dedicated reenactors and Claire loves it: "The Mackenzies were simply glad to see one another. Despite my eagerness to leave, my heart lifted whenever I walked through the encampment, and a small part of me regretted my imminent escape."
Dear, do try not to jinx yourself.
Now that Claire's got her route plotted, she's counting on the climax of the gathering, the oath-taking ceremony where the fighting men of the clan swear loyalty to Colum, as her window of opportunity. She's just got to ditch Angus and Rupert; she starts by pointing out a handsome lass making eyes at the pair, having them draw straws for the chance to introduce themselves. Angus wins:
Did anyone else notice the 40s-style music creeping into this episode? There's some jazzy standard in the background as Claire heads to the stables to pick a horse for the boar hunt / her escape attempt. She asks the gruff stable master whether, um, maybe, you know, that guy Jamie whose she bones she definitely does not care about jumping, might be around to help her pick a mount. (wink wink nudge nudge) Cue a strange little lecture about how it's "best to leave Jamie to his own thoughts today, lass." Everyone in this castle is so weird about Jamie, in a way that's out of proportion to Jamie's position in the clan, even if he is Colum's nephew.
Anyway, Claire returns to the surgery and nearly has kittens when, SURPRISE, Geillis is there, toting the bottle of port Claire requested.
Geillis is officially starting to creep me out. She's always there, lurking! Nor does her "I hope I'm not disturbing you" seem especially sincere. She's nosing around Claire's things, taking note of how much Valerian root she's got and her suspiciously well-stocked basket of food and this and that and the other. It's starting to feel a little Single White Female, honestly. Though my nerves are temporarily soothed when she asks if Claire's knocked up, like she's just a good, old-fashioned snoop.
I continue to be fascinated by the show's attitude toward Geillis. She admits she came to Leoch with little but her wits and a some herbal knowledge, but she managed to snare a rich man and now look at her. "The Highlands are no place for a woman to be alone," she tells Claire, and adds that, "Sometimes you find yourself on a path you never expected. Doesn't mean it can't lead you to a bonny place." She proceeds to steal an apple and take a big bite as she strolls off. Might as well have a neon sign over her head flashing EVE! EVE! EVE!
Meanwhile, a reversal of fortune among Claire's guards:
Missus Fitz stuffs Claire into a gown appropriate for the oath-taking ceremony (plaid AND floral—maybe the mixed patterns are historically accurate but they're busy enough to give me a headache) and they're off, Murtagh translating. (I'm still convinced he's determined to play matchmaker between Jamie and Claire.) First up is Dougal, who's lurking in the crowd like a damned undertaker. The moment is weirdly fraught and when he's done, he stalks off and takes a big drink of whiskey from a waiting lackey. Something is up with the leadership of this clan.
Not that Claire gives two flips. She ditches Angus by baiting him with some drugged port and he's down for the count. (Let's not get too heavy-handed with the drunken Scots stereotype, OK, Outlander?) She's almost out the door when Laoghaire, appears wanting a love potion. She pawns some horse dung off on the girl and she's off.
But she's not even out the castle before she's set upon by a bunch of menacing drunks. And who should appear but Dougal? Didn't figure the old buzzard for a knight in shining armor. Except he's not quite. After dispatching the drunks, he promptly pushes her against a wall and, clearly in his own cups, tells her "there's a penalty to pay" and makes a pretty goddamned aggressive move. She slaps his teeth down his throat and, rebuffed, he tells her to go, "before you pay a greater price." When he notices her suspicious bundle, she knocks him over the head with a stool and hauls ass.
This is how you know Outlander really isn't a romance novel—if it were, a powerful man like Dougal (someone more easily able to protect Claire) would be the hero, and this would've been a steamy scene. Instead, he's just another patriarchal pain in her ass and sensitive, comparatively powerless Jamie is the clear love interest.
She's finally to the stable when who should she trip over but the missing Mr. MacTavish, dozing in the straw? No wonder this episode felt so slow, with how late he appeared. I hope everyone else took a big swallow of her rosé when he said, "No, Sassenach. Just me."
He points out that, hello, duh, of course Column has posted extra guards in the woods. Claire lashes out at Jamie and then he even apologizes: "If I offended you, I'm sorry Claire." Perhaps the first time in history that phrasing has sounded sincere! We should all have good-natured, broad-shouldered men with quick grins to talk us out of our ill-informed schemes. And oh my stars and garters, that shoulder nudge he gives her when she confesses she knocked Dougal out.
So Jamie says he'll escort her back inside. He's leading her into some tunnel — and we get A WHOPPING SEVERAL SECONDS OF HAND-HOLDING THIS IS BIG — when they're set upon yet again. It seems like yet another crew of disorderly drunks when, wait, it's Rupert! They're not here for Claire—they want Jamie to take his turn in front of Colum. They carry him off to change, and there's gratuitous hotness:
Claire goes back to the great hall where an aggravated Murtagh explains what has sailed over Claire's head: Hamish doesn't automatically inherit the title when Colum dies. The clan can pick anybody who's eligible. If Jamie swears loyalty to Clan MacKenzie, he's eligible. Dougal has every intention of taking over, and he'll cut Jamie down if that's what it takes. But Jamie can't exactly appear before Colum and not swear his loyalty, either—the gathered men of the clan will knife him, if he does. Guess now we know why everyone's so weird about Jamie!
If he'd just stayed in the stables this whole quandary could've been avoided. Good job, Claire. Luckily Jamie is able to troubleshoot the moment, offering not his vow but his obedience to Colum as kinsman and laird. All this, and brains, too.
The next day, it's time for the boar hunt, which Claire refuses to take seriously until she's damned near killed. (Wild pigs are mean as hell. Fact.) Here we get to see Claire in combat-nurse mode, and without a lot of heavy-handed talk about the European theater and the horrors of war, you get a sense of just how man young men she's helplessly watched die violently. She's made of stern stuff, Claire is. Plus, after an entire episode of his acting like a dick, I found myself with a very, very grudging respect for Dougal as a leader of soldiers. These men matter to him.
They soberly return from the disastrous hunt and Dougal immediately shucks his coat and joins a brutal round of proto-lacrosse, which ends in him and Jamie knocking the hell out of each other. But respectfully, I guess? This is how you hash it out with your bros when fantasy football won't exist for another 350 years.
Claire's sulking in the surgery, considering the possibility she's stuck forever, when Dougal appears. He's obviously developed a new respect for her skills—and he's also realized she's seen men die in combat. He wants her to come along as he makes the rounds of MacKenzie lands, collecting taxes. (It seems pretty likely that he also wants to keep an eye on her.) And so they're on the road again!