Outlander Recap: The Witch of Blackbird Loch

Future women on trial. Photo: Neil Davidson/Sony Pictures
Episode Title
The Devil’s Mark
Editor’s Rating

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” said British novelist L.P. Hartley. For instance, they try people as witches. (Usually women, but not always!) Rural Scotland in the mid 1700s was still, for all intents and purposes, the Dark Ages. And the Dark Ages looked very dark indeed from the bottom of a thieves’ hole.

Claire and her frenemy Geillis begin the episode tossed into that squalid pit. They fight about who’s to blame. Sure, Geillis has danced naked in the moonlight, praying to spirits; she has killed one woman with a spell (maybe) and one man with poison (definitely). But Claire has that superior English thing going on that annoys the hell out of people. Plus, the long hand of the law only reached in once Claire arrived to warn Geillis to run.

Geillis should have taken Intro to Statistics: Correlation does not equal causation. 

It’s a good thing the women never took Criminal Procedure, though, because then they would probably be even more annoyed at their treatment. No one reads them their rights, presumably because they have none. No one offers them a lawyer or the 18th-century equivalent of a phone call. Their only hope is that somehow Geillis’s lover Dougal will rescue them, or else Claire’s husband Jamie will. Too bad Jamie is off escorting Dougal away, as per the laird Colum’s orders.

“Lie near me. It’ll be warmer,” says Geillis once, exhausted, as they settle in for the night in their rat-infested dungeon. Claire curls up with her misery instead.

In the morning, a mob gathers to escort the accused women to the courthouse, where they are to be examined by dour-looking religious men. (So at least they have the right to a speedy trial!) Then, like a beam of sunshine, lawyer Ned Gowan enters the room. He asks for a mistrial. When that suggestion is rejected, Gowan offers himself as an advocate for the defense.

Geillis’s maid comes forward to testify against her previous employer. Though she seems damning, Gowan dispenses with her swiftly. The next witness is the woman who put her ailing infant on the fairy hill, thinking it was a changeling, and saw Claire cradle and, presumably, curse it. Also damning, but nothing Gowan can’t handle. Then a gentleman accuses Geillis of being an early incarnation of Storm, of the X-Men, able to summon lightning and to fly. Before things can get too out of hand, the judge stops the proceedings for the day, and the women return to the thieves’ hole, this time with a flask of Gowan’s whiskey for warmth. “Drink tonight, Claire,” says Geillis. “For tomorrow our ashes will be scattered to the four winds.”

They discuss Jacobite politics for a while since Geillis, it transpires, has been diverting her husband’s funds for the same Stuart cause that Dougal was passing the hat for. The lovers were brought together by their devotion to Bonnie Prince Charlie. “Come the Rising, I will know I helped,” says Geillis, who regrets nothing.

In the early morning, Claire struggles with the bars of their prison. “If you really are a witch, now would be a good time to use your powers,” she points out. Yes! Like Amy in that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, turn yourself into a rat and escape! Sadly, Geillis never studied Transfiguration at Hogwarts.

Going into Day 2 of this torment, Claire’s hair is holding up great. Her fate looks less good. First Laoghaire testifies against her, then Father Bain, the clergyman whom Claire offended by healing the boy whom the priest was trying vainly to exorcise. “Whore of Babylon,” he calls her. He recounts that he prayed to God to strike down vengeance on Claire, body and soul. But then, turning on a farthing, he admits to failing the boy he was trying to help, while Claire succeeded. He gets down on his knees, giving a tearful confession and asking the community to punish him by sending him away.

Ooh, reverse psychology! It works. The congregation passionately refuses to let him go; the examiners forbid it. And opinion turns even more strongly against Claire.

Gowan gets another recess before the examiners deliver their verdict. Once he has the women alone, he says there’s only saving one of them. “It doesn’t matter what you are, it matters what people think you are,” he explains. Especially when those people want blood. Geillis is “beyond saving.” Claire’s only chance is to turn on her frenemy. Otherwise, “they’ll burn you both.”

Left alone, the women consider. “Why are you here, Claire? This time I want the truth,” says Geillis. Why is Claire in Scotland? Why has she been lying? If Geillis is going to the stake, she’s going with answers. “It was an accident!” says Claire. “I just want to go home.” Without explicitly acknowledging that she traveled through time, she seems to make it clear, and Geillis seems to understand. But “it was an accident” is not the answer Geillis was looking for.

When Gowan opens the door because he can’t hold the mob back any longer, Geillis sweeps past Claire, saying, “Guess I’m going to a fucking barbecue.” It’s a hilariously inappropriate thing to say in the 1740s, but it’s an applause line nonetheless.

Gowan tells the court that Claire has something to say. Claire, though, cannot bring herself to lie and betray her frenemy. The examiners condemn both Claire and Geillis to death. Gowan makes a bold if futile attempt to stop an entire mob with a one-shot pistol; after he is subdued, and Geillis tells Claire that she thinks it is possible to go back – “1968!” she hisses, as in, presumably, the year that she traveled through the stones – Claire loses it. She screams at the court that they’re all murderers. The temperate, religious men conducting the trial react by ordering her to be stripped and beaten right there in the courthouse.

As men hold Claire and rip the back of her dress to whip her, Laoghaire tells our heroine, “I will dance upon your ashes.” Well, then, I hope you break a heel, you petulant devil-child.

Once more we have to watch as an 18th-century man beats a half-naked Claire. This time there’s an appreciative crowd cheering as each strike lands. Geillis is horrified, but powerless. At last — at last! — Jamie bursts through the crowd with a “Let her go!” I hope you brought more than the power of your voice, Mr. Fraser.

Oh, good, he did! He pulls out two swords and, while holding them both ready, manages to be clever. “I swore an oath to God to protect this woman,” he says. Surely the judges don’t think their authority is greater than the Lord’s?

Taking advantage of the confused silence that follows, Geillis makes an announcement. “This woman is no witch. But I am! I confess! … I took advantage of the ignorance of Claire Fraser.” She pulls down her sleeve to show what she calls a “mark of the devil,” but which Claire knows to be a smallpox vaccination scar. It is true, then, Claire understands: Geillis must be from the 20th century, too.

Getting into the spirit of the thing, Geillis rips off the front of her dress and proclaims, “I am the mistress of Satan! I carry his child!” Never mind anything I said before; the only class Geillis had to take was Theater 101, and she must have aced it. The crowd goes wild. Jamie hustles Claire out and away.

Someone thoughtfully grabs the velvet altar covering to drape over Geillis’s prostrate form as the mob carries her above their heads to the pyre. That’s the last glimpse Claire has of her frenemy, covered in a cross as she crowd-surfs to her death.

Alone in the forest, Jamie tends to the cuts on Claire’s back. He asks for honesty. (The line in the book, which is one of the best lines in the whole series, is, “Respect has maybe room for secrets, but not for lies.”) Claire agrees. So, Jamie wants to know, is she a witch? He knows she has the same scar on her arm that Geillis showed the crowd.

Poor Claire — after all, she has been through a lot — loses it. “I’m not a witch,” she says, tears in her eyes. But she can do things, and she knows things, because … “I’m from the future.” She doesn’t think he’ll believe her, you can see it in her face. But he does. Gallant Jamie! He bounds up and says, “I don’t understand it, but I trust ye. I trust your word, and I trust your heart.” This is like the nicest thing he could have possibly written in her yearbook.

It gets better: She tells him everything, the whole story, and he listens. He finally understands why she disobeyed him and ran off. He holds her while she cries. The two actors, it should be said, are marvelous here in a very challenging scene.

Together, Claire and Jamie escape on the horse Jamie thoughtfully brought with him, heading towards and talking about Lollybroch, Jamie’s estate. They pause for some hot, grinning fireside sex, which bumps this episode up from four stars to five; and then, the morning after, Jamie asks her, “So, Sassenach, are you ready to go home?” When Claire says yes, Jamie leads her to the top of a hill where, instead of a farm, she sees the stone circle. He brought her to Craigh na Dun.

Jamie examines the stone at the center of the circle, sword drawn, but to him it’s nothing but a rock. For Claire, it’s different. If she hears the buzzing sound and touches the stone, she’ll be gone. They kiss one last time and Jamie tells her to go.  He’ll wait by the camp until nightfall to make sure that she’s safe.  

For the first time she since got swept away to Oz, Claire can click her heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home,” and be back in 1945 with all that entails: steamy showers! Penicillin! Habeas corpus! But Claire has fallen in love with her not-so-cowardly lion. What should she do? She looks at her hands, considering both her wedding rings. She thinks, one hopes, of medieval superstition, and the lack of central heating, and the fact that women are, at this point in history, chattel — and those who are less lucky are slaves outright. She makes her choice.

Jamie is sleeping by the fire when she comes upon him. Both of them are crying. “Take me home to Lallybroch,” she says, before letting the makeup sex commence.