When we last left our hero, she was thrown into a hole. Any crazy witch powers that Geillis was holding back fail to manifest in any useful way. No doubt there’s a lot of spoiled milk and lame horses occurring in Ye Olde Suspicione Towne, but since none of that is actually useful for getting out of a fixer-upper Hobbit-hole, we are left to wonder what’s the use of being a witch anyways.
Oh, sorry, I just slipped into thinking that Geillis is the main character of this story. Must be because her backstory, as we find out, IS SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN CLAIRE’S.
Anyhoo, the gruesome twosome are locked away in a Thief’s Hole which is amazingly not actually the dankest place we’ve seen on this show. Sure, it has a bit of a water problem and the previous tenants (a horde of rats) have not entirely moved out, but is a split level, has a surprising amount of light, and room for a breakfast nook. Are there so few other crimes going on in Suspicione Towne that they have an entire sun-dappled pit free? The accused spend a few days down there and, despite all the extra room, you never hear the gaoler call out “potato thief and wily strumpet comin down – move over.”
These are not punishment-adverse people, mind. We’ve already seen a kid get his ear nailed to a post for general rapscallionry and Larry was supposed to have taken a beating for being a horrible person (longtime Outlander fan Langston Hughes referred to that as a “dream deferred”). There’s obviously an audience for public justice – where are the lead-in shows? Maybe warm up the crowd with a stoning or chopping the hand off a horse thief.
Maybe they skipped all that because the episode is already pretty padded. This isn’t a move the football type thing that I talked about last week, it’s more a “stock scene we’ve all seen before” issue. How many witch trials have we seen by now? In high school, it felt like we had an entire course on witch trials (reading The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter in a single semester). Of course, maybe I’m an outlier seeing as I took a class in college about witchcraft, live in Salem MA, and work in a building that houses one of the better witch trial related archives in the country. So I’m probably not the audience for the extended trial scene we now have to endure.
Let’s go through our Ye Olde Witch Tryal Checkliste, shall we?
- Assembled shouty crowd? CHECK
- Stern judge? CHECK
- Accused we know to be innocent? CHECK
- Lawyer attempting to be rational against all odds? CHECK
- Witnesses with more and more outlandish claims? CHECK
- Someone shouts “Burn the Witch!” CHECK
- Accusers looking shifty as they lie for their own benefit? CHECK
- Someone makes a Monty Python reference? CLOSE
If I asked you to write a period witch trial scene, I guarantee most of these elements would appear in it. It’s a stock scene – pop a few buckles on their hats and you could be doing Salem, or replace the buckles with crucifixes and French accents and you have the trial of Joan of Arc. Really, the tension of the trial has nothing to do with the trial itself and instead has everything to do with the secrets these two women reveal to each other. Geillis admits to Claire that she killed her husband, Claire admits that she’s a time traveller who came back by accident, and then Geillis admits that she’s one too!
That’s plenty of drama, drama that would be unique to the setting of Outlander, that you don’t need the trial. The trial is just a backdrop, a setting. So why waste so much time with it? If you did a scene where two women confess their deepest secrets to each other and set it, say, in a castle, would you spend a lot of your time describing the castle? No, because it’s not the focus. You could gloss over most of the castle with some broad strokes and then move on. I think that’s what they were trying to do with Ye Olde Checkliste, but at some point they got lost in the trees and forgot about the forest.
Claire is a main character. She has zero chance of being burned as a witch. Geillis, yeah, she’s in jeopardy, but as a confessed murderess, you know her days are numbered. If the confessions took place at a castle rather than a trial, there would only be two outs for her – either she has to face punishment for her crimes OR she becomes an out and out antagonist. No matter which option is taken, Geillis as a frenemy to Claire is pretty much over. Claire will not stomach a cold blooded murderer, so it’s punishment or enemy going forward.
That’s the drama of the scene. Rather than heightening that drama, the witch trial serves as a distraction. It’s a circus, a messy circus, and it unjustly claims mindspace from what should be the real focus of this episode: the truth.
And there’s a lot of truth telling going on here. We’ve already mentioned Geillis fessing up to murder, then doubled down with her also being a time traveler. Turns out she came back from the 1960s! Right there we have an entire sprawling plot open up. I was aware of this spoiler but I honestly thought the story would give us more time with it. Remember way back when I complained that Claire was bad at time travel (and being a spy and being a puppetmaster and so on)? Here is a character who, minor blip of being tossed in a hole aside, is actually an intentional time traveler! All the stuff I wanted to know (if you carve your name into a rock that you know you will see in the future, does it show up? Do you suddenly remember the carving? Can you change your past from farther back in the past?) could be answered here. Are there other time travelers? Do we have to wonder about every weirdo we meet now actually being from 1867 or something?
Can Geillis tell Claire about the ‘66 World Cup? That’s Back to the Future II betting fodder right there.
But no, the stupid trial takes all that away. A character who had moved beyond interesting to annoying due to all her obvious I HAVE A SECRET LA LA LA takes a step back into interesting only to be yoinked off stage by crazed townsfolk right out of a Frankenstein movie.
Also, did you notice that Father Bane tells the truth at the trial? I thought that was pretty clever. Dude has enough clout that he could have been all “Jesus told me you hang out with the Debbil” but instead, he told the truth. “Look, I thought a kid was possessed and Claire said he was just sick. Turns out she was right and that made me doubt my faith, so I’m no longer able to be a priest and I have to leave this village all because of Claire.” That twist, along with Bane’s WWE style entry to the trial, made his bit the only non-bog standard bit of the entire ordeal.
Still, we have not even reached the Big Truth of the episode. After getting away from that mess of a trial, Claire tells Jamie everything – about the stones, about how she has superpowers vs smallpox, about the future of the Jacobites, her first/second husband, the whole shebang.
And he believes her! He just straight up listens and believes her. I think this is why Outlander is so popular. It’s not the sex or the coats or whatever, it’s that it has that most rare, possibly fantastical, of things – a dude who straight up listens to what a woman has to say. Talk about ideal. I mean, this entire recap demonstrates my complete inability to just shut up and listen. If I was Jamie, I would have had to been gagged in order for Claire to get her story out. Although, Jamie’s resigned admission that “It would have been easier if you were a witch” shows that he’s a human male after all.
Well, that and his immediate reaction is to FIX THE PROBLEM. “Stuck in the past after touching magic rocks? No problem. I’ll get you back to those rocks. Jamie’ll fix it!” He doesn’t bother to tell Claire where they are going (does she even ask? I thought she was inquisitive and willful and stuff), he just brings her back to the stones and is all “well, get on with it.”
Claire stands in front of the stones and eventually returns to Jamie. We don’t know if she tried to use them and failed or opted to not try at all. How long will the show hang that over our heads? I hope not for very long as they’ve linked stone travel to solar events (she was last here on the Winter Solstice and fell through the stones on the Fall Equinox, I think) so just walking up to the stones on a random day would not work.
Anyways, Claire has made her choice (or had it made for her) and she heads off to his ancestral home of Lollipop or whatever to live out the rest of her days in happiness. It’s been fun y’all, maybe we could switch this blog over to a Daredevil blog? Or the Flash maybe? That has time travel in –
Wait. There’s how many more books?