Outlander Recap: The Feminist Struggle Stays So Damn Real

Photo: Ed Miller/Starz
Episode Title
Castle Leoch
Editor’s Rating

Welcome to our weekly recap of Outlander. Like Game of Thrones, this Starz drama is based on a series of best-selling novels that many viewers have yet to read. We therefore ask that book fans refrain from posting comments that might spoil upcoming plotlines for anyone sampling this show without having checked out Diana Gabaldon’s books yet — and to be civil toward them as well. Thank you for understanding. And now, on to the recap.

Things got really interesting for our feminist time traveler this week and we quickly learned that the feminist struggle has been real for a very long time. The best news about this episode is that we get to see Jamie, chest bared, quite a lot, and what a magnificent chest it is.

As the episode opens, Claire is standing in the squishy, filthy mud of the Castle Leoch courtyard, remembering how the last time she visited the castle, she was in a car. I strongly suspect she was also longing for a shower. There’s some banter among the Scottish men and a Mrs. Fitzgibbons bustles into the courtyard, teasing and greeting the menfolk. She’s pleasantly rotund and comely in a way that lets us know she’s the one who kisses everything and makes it all better within the castle, but with just a bit of matronly edge. Mrs. Fitz makes particular note of the stench of one of the men, thus continuing to address my ongoing concerns about the smell of history. I have yet to see anyone properly bathe on this show and it is disturbing.

Mrs. Fitz gives Claire a hard stare and makes a none-too-subtle comment about Claire’s dress or lack thereof (slut-shaming is not new!), but when Claire reveals she has healing talents, she immediately falls into Mrs. Fitz’s good graces and is sent off with Jamie. Don’t get your hopes up too much. In a room somewhere in the castle, Claire uses her modern-medicine witchery, twigs, berries, etcetera, to dab at Jamie’s wound for the purposes of “disinfecting.” It’s such a pretense. We all know she just wants to see Jamie bare-chested and bless her for this. We want that, too, for Claire, for ourselves.

But alas, there is a sad story to Jamie’s bared torso. Jamie has thick braids of scar along his back because he has been flogged twice, both times because, essentially, the English are evil and corrupt. Four years earlier, in a scene straight out of Braveheart, young Jamie is on his family farm poking at hay with a pitchfork when he hears a scream. He’s a dashing hero, so Jamie rushes to find his sister being accosted by Black Jack Randall. As we noted last week, a woman is always in danger if she is really a woman. Jamie gets into a scuffle with the Redcoats but there are too many of them and they have no appreciation for his sense of decency or honor.

Before long, Jamie is being flogged by Jack Randall, who also pauses to menace the sister. As Robin Thicke taught us, men want what they want. Everybody get up. Eventually, Jamie passes out and the sister agrees to go with Randall to save her brother’s life. It’s an interesting moment in that we begin to learn how Jamie is, like Claire, something of an underdog with a finely honed sense of righteousness. This also really nicely paves the way for Claire to begin falling in love with Jamie even though she is missing Frank and worried her boring husband will think she has run off, back in ye modern times. Jamie offers Claire some comfort, holding her to his bare, dirty, sweaty, bandaged man chest. “Ye need not be scared of me nor anyone else here, as long as I am with you,” he purrs. My back nearly arched at this point. Translation: We are going to have incredibly hot sex very soon.

It’s interesting, though, that the most efficient way, in entertainment, for a man to prove his worthiness as a man is to protect a woman from sexual violence. The device gets tiring.

Once Jamie has been tended to and we’ve had enough of the foreplay, Claire finally gets some rest. The next day Mrs. Fitz wakes her, and it’s time for Claire to be properly dressed — covered in a shocking number of layers, from head to toe in heavy, scratchy, uncomfortable clothing because to be a woman is to suffer. Never forget. When Claire undresses before Mrs. Fitz, the older woman is really curious about Claire’s corset, which we know as a bra and which Claire knows as a brassiere. Times, they are a-changing. “It’s from France,” Claire explains to Mrs. Fitz. That explains so much, even now. The French are a curious people.

There’s always a chain of command and Claire is taken to meet Colum MacKenzie, who runs things in Castle Leoch. He’s the brother of Dougal, who we met in the first episode, and there’s some strange intrigue between the brothers though it’s not entirely clear what. In truth, it is hard for me to care about any part of this show that does not involve Claire and Jamie having sex.

As she waits in Colum’s chambers, Claire gets all CSI on the situation (assessing clothes and weapons and so on) to figure out when she is. She finds a book, and because she’s a modern lady, she can read, and thus learns the year is 1743. In one of the least plausible moments of the episode, she begins sifting through her knowledge of history (or maybe she really did pay close attention in school and to Frank’s endless droning) — she’s before the American Revolution and blah, blah, blah, history is not my expertise, but who is king? When Colum finally arrives and begins to interrogate her real subtle like, Claire guesses correctly that the king is George II. She is the coolest cucumber ever, still unflappable, still knowing what to say and how and when, which is good for her, I suppose, if not really hard to swallow.

Colum, like most of the Scots, is wary of Claire and her story about being accosted. Claire gets, as she should, rather indignant as the discussion turns to rape. She asks, very pointedly, “Is there ever a good reason for rape, Master MacKenzie?” Oooh! Burn! She also tries to negotiate transport back to Inverness and is told that she’ll be taken there in five days. It all seems too easy and, well, it probably is because Outlander has been renewed for a second season already so clearly, Claire is probably going to stick around. Also, she hasn’t had sex with Jamie yet.

How ever will Claire fill her time in the 18th century? Claire tells Mrs. Fitz she wants to find Jamie to “change his bandages,” which I can only hope means strip him bare and have her way with him. My hopes are quickly dashed. Jamie is out at the stables, taming a horse (subtext) and he explains, about the lively horse, “She’s just a girl with spirit,” (more subtext). Ahh these girls with spirit. Mare or woman, they must be broken. She and Jamie sit and chat and spend more time getting to know each other with their clothes on, which is hugely disappointing.

There is a blur of Claire negotiating life in the castle. There’s intrigue and mystery and danger lurking about. Toward the end of the episode, Claire is gathering herbs and such because women are gatherers. She reflects, “I found a quiet sense of pleasure in touching growing things once more.” I will just leave that there.

As she fiddles with some mushrooms, Claire meets Geillis Duncan, a woman who is something of a witch, but is really just a bad ass who knows important things and is the 18th-century’s version of Planned Parenthood. If you’re in a way, go see Geillis is the word in the village. That night, the new besties attend that century’s version of The People’s Court, Judge Colum MacKenzie presiding. A girl’s father has accused her of “loose behavior” and he wants Judge MacKenzie to punish her for disobedience. Jamie once again proves his manliness by protecting a woman’s honor. Women, we are but pawns in the market of masculinity. To save the girl from the lash he volunteers as tribute. I mean, he volunteers to take the girl’s punishment, and proceeds to get his ass kicked by a friend who is silently instructed to pull a Johnny, sweep the knee move by punching Jamie, twice, in his bullet wound. Oh, poor Jamie. Women the world over would do whatever it takes to ease your pain. I am a woman the world over, Jamie. I am here for you now and then and forever.

The episode ends with Claire thinking she’s finally leaving the castle, but she has to slow her roll because Colum summons her to the room where the previous healer worked, the room where Frank not so long ago worshipped Claire’s vagina. She realizes she’s not going to get away from the allure of Jamie’s pectorals that easily. The castle needs a healer so here is where Claire is going to stay.

Looking ahead:

  • Where do these people go to the bathroom? Wait. Don’t tell me.
  • How much longer, seriously, do we need to wait for Jamie and Claire to get down?
  • See the previous question.
  • See the previous question.
  • See the previous question.

Roxane Gay is the author of Bad Feminist, a collection of essays that debuted this week at #13 on the New York Times list of paperback non-fiction best-sellers.