Outlander Recap: The Duel

Outlander Season 2 2016
Sam Heughan as Jamie. Photo: Ed Miller / Starz/Sony Pictures Television inc


Best Laid Schemes… Season 2 Episode 6
Editor's Rating 4 stars

Why can’t Claire and Jamie spend a full episode in bed together? They haven’t really had a honeymoon, after all — although it’s doubtful any of us has complaints about their wedding night. Every time these two relax, they’re a joy to watch. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan convey a deep, good-humored affection for each other; whether they’re bantering, pillow-talking, or heating up the sheets, Claire and Jamie have the sort of chemistry that’s exceptionally rare on the small screen.

Also, as Claire points out in “Best Laid Schemes…”, bad things tend to happen when they’re apart.

Of course, Outlander must move plot, and plans, and more plans when that first set goes awry. Though many of us would be glad enough to watch these lovebirds play 18th-century Parcheesi, they must go their separate ways.

Claire goes to the hospital, where, instead of diagnosing patients with Mother Hildegarde and her canny canine, she is drafted into a terrifying, corpse-side conversation with the royal executioner. Monsieur Forez takes a macabre pride in his work, and with far more relish than tact, he describes death by being drawn and quartered. Doesn’t he realize he’s talking to a pregnant woman? Claire is made of tough stuff, but even she looks queasy by the time he’s done with his grisly lesson. Perhaps that was his intention. Forez seems to be implicitly warning her about the dangers associated with the dark arts — and perhaps, about her friend Monsieur Raymond.

Because she is as selfless as she is stubborn, Claire hightails it to Monsieur Raymond to tell him to flee the city. Although the little shopkeeper is not as concerned as she is — having not just gotten a play-by-play of medieval executions — he assures her he will follow her advice.

Throughout this sequence, Claire’s pregnancy is not merely prominent but ominous, like a bomb on the verge of detonation. Same goes for a later scene in the episode, when Claire hangs out with Louise and her aristocratic, gossiping friends. Claire rises abruptly at one point, prompting Louise to ask if something has happened with the baby: “Is it time?” It isn’t, not yet. Claire is merely disgusted with the superficial chitchat of Paris’s wealthiest women. But one senses that it will be time very soon, sooner than anyone might like.

Meanwhile, Jamie meets with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the far-less bonny Comte St. Germain to strategize about raising money for Charlie’s campaign. Perhaps they’ll sell some valuable Portuguese wine? Charlie remains insistent that Jamie and the Comte work together, though the two men clearly dislike each other. They certainly have good reasons: Jamie suspects the Comte of trying to poison his wife, and the Comte suspects Jamie of ulterior motives. They’re both right, of course. Jamie is deceiving the prince. He and Claire need to make sure that Prince Charlie never gets his hands on enough money to raise an army, lest he take those Scottish rebels to war against England. And the Comte has been furious at Claire ever since she diagnosed a smallpox among his crew, which cost him dearly in the season premiere.

It’s less clear why the Comte is interested in helping Prince Charlie — or at least in pretending to help him, in the grand tradition of the scorpion and the frog. As a French Catholic, he may prefer a Stuart on the English throne to a Hanoverian, but we have seen no evidence that the Comte reveres anything except profit. He’s a straightforward capitalist, and since it isn’t clear how he directly benefits from Charlie’s success, I wonder whether he too had planned a double-cross. Maybe the smartest thing Jamie could have done was to simply wait for the Comte to cheat Charlie out of his gold.

Regardless, and as emphasized by later events in the episode, neither Jamie nor Claire is the waiting kind. The fate of the Highland clans is too important to leave to chance. First, the Frasers come up with an ingenuous way to fake smallpox in the Comte’s crew so that the harbormaster at Le Havre will, once again, destroy a ship’s worth of cargo. Then, after Charlie gets wind of the malady and suggests Jamie take charge of the wine, they work with Murtagh to round up some masked bandits, who steal the cargo while it’s en route. Murtagh has, by this point, been told of the Frasers’ secret knowledge of the future. The revelation that Claire is a time-traveler (or, as he sees it, a witch) is less destabilizing than one might have expected. But he does take out some frustration on Jamie’s jaw.

The second plan works, up to a point. The highwaymen stickup the train of carriages transporting the wine from Le Havre — and they nearly kill the Comte, who insisted on accompanying Jamie and who is livid at the thought of losing his property yet again. With some reluctance, Jamie saves the nobleman’s life. This earns Jaime no points with the Comte, who is still convinced he is at fault.

The prince merely believes he has been a victim of bad luck, and instead seeks solace at everyone’s favorite whorehouse. (Is Madame Elise’s the only game in town?) Unfortunately, he cannot pay for said solace. Poor Jamie has to drag himself up from breakfast, with Fergus in tow, to bail out his royal friend. And while wandering through the bordello, young Fergus encounters a very familiar red coat.

Meanwhile, Claire keeps herself busy at the hospital, but she is even more pale than usual. Sharp-eyed Mother Hildegarde doesn’t need her dog to know that Claire needs rest, especially once she notices some a few drops of blood, reason enough to keep Claire in the hospital overnight. When Claire finally stumbles home the next morning, it is — in a great scene, full of mounting dread — to a house where each servant averts their eyes. Claire’s lady’s maid Suzette finally breaks the news to her, and a terse note in the boudoir confirms it: Jamie is dueling with Randall in the woods, which must be the Gallic equivalent of New Jersey. (Everything is legal in the Bois de Boulogne.)

The tension continues to mount as Claire, whose distress seizes both body and spirit, races after her husband in the carriage. Neither she nor Jamie has the benefit of Murtagh’s support, since Murtagh is off trying to sell the stolen wine. And terribly, as Claire discovers when she staggers out of the carriage to watch Jamie and Randall slashing at each other with swords, she is too late. If she calls out, she risks distracting Jamie at a crucial moment. But soon, she cannot keep stop herself. Something is very wrong. Claire is bleeding. Randall is too, after Jamie lands a shot in his crotch. There’s no savoring his victory, though. It is time. Immediately after Claire cries for Jamie, the gendarmes arrive to arrest the fighting men. Jamie is helpless to act as Claire, in shock and out of consciousness, collapses to the ground.

As we saw in the premiere, Claire is still pregnant when she arrives home to Frank. In this episode, we also see Claire promise to return to Frank should anything happen to Jamie. Does this mean the pregnancy will survive but Jamie will not? That seems quite unlikely. Like Prince Charlie, we are being manipulated in a high-stakes situation. But luckily for us, what frustrates the Man Who Would Be King makes for very good television.

Outlander Recap: The Duel