When Bonnie Prince Charlie berates his intransigent generals, demanding to know whether they dare flout God's authority, he impresses no one. Perhaps the generals know that when someone resorts to yelping about God, he's probably run out of actual arguments, or perhaps they know that God is not in charge here. The power of narrative is. Narrative dictates that, as the season draws to a close, Jamie and his clansmen must be parted from the army. We must tie up loose ends, such as the story of little Mary Hawkins, ancestor of Claire's 20th-century husband, Frank. And that Claire must yet again be put in peril so that Jamie can ride to her rescue.
The prince may have good reasons for wanting his troops, now within a five days' journey of London, to march on the English capital. But no one else thinks much of his plan, not even Jamie — though he pretends to, still clinging to the hope that he can change the path of history. Far more important, frankly, are the needs of our story. Sorry, Charlie. Don't let the door hit you on that stolen horse's ass on your way out.
Before the prince commandeers Jamie's ride and disappears, he orders Jamie's folks to head back to Inverness. En route, the men are set upon by Redcoats. They flee into the woods with Murtagh keeping hold of young Fergus, while Dougal, in a masterful bit of riding, manages to save Rupert after he gets shot and nearly falls from his horse. The crew takes refuge in a church so that Claire can do some impromptu, life-saving surgery, but the English find them soon enough and threaten to smoke them out. Dougal wants to fight, and the men seem willing to. Claire has a better idea: Maybe the earlier ruse, in which she pretended she was a hostage of the monstrous Red Jamie, will work again.
Jamie refuses to allow Claire to give herself to the soldiers. Of course, she isn't asking his permission. Theirs is a marriage of equals: Both Claire and Jamie are stubborn, brave, and leaders in their own right. The other men recognize that Claire's plan is the only way out and eventually Jamie concedes, standing out of sight as Dougal uses his Sassenach to barter for his men's lives.
After the Redcoats ride off with Claire, the group of Dougal, Fergus, and Rupert go one way, while Jamie and Murtagh go the other. The goal? Get her back. It's touching to see how much Claire matters to these gruff dudes, especially given that she is, in so many ways, the Other. At the beginning of the first season, they saved her after she was assaulted by Captain Randall, but they nevertheless mistrusted and were wary of her. They've come to value her, though, and not just because she's a dab hand at pulling teeth. She scolds them and praises them and makes inscrutable references to cartoon pirates. Moreover, she has proven her mettle as a warrior queen, their very own Boudica.
Claire knows the drill: She may not have any literal breadcrumbs, but she needs to find a way to let Jamie know where she's being taken. When she spots Jamie's friend, the beggar Hugh Monroe, she seizes the opportunity and stages a conversation in front of him with one of the soldiers about where they're headed. Then, once she arrives at the British safe house, she convinces her captor to sneak a message to Monroe on her behalf. Who, by the way, is this captor? The delightfully oily Duke of Sandringham! The original bad penny, as Murtagh puts it. The English doubt the Duke's loyalty — for good reason, since he has none except to himself — so he is ringed by soldiers, kept more or less a prisoner in his own lavish house, with a cook on-site only three days a week. He's willing to help Claire get word to Jamie on the condition that Jamie "rescue" him too. Oh, and Mary's there, because apparently she's his goddaughter.
Yes, all of this requires enough suspension of disbelief to hold up the Brooklyn Bridge. That doesn't matter, though, because it's a welcome break from war. It also sets up some excellent and much-needed confrontations, especially once Claire realizes that Sandringham's servant is the same birthmarked man who raped Mary and attacked her and Murtagh back in France. That double-crossing Duke! Turns out he owed a debt to the Comte St. Germain and, to pay it off, he assumed the task of executing St. Germain's revenge on Claire. The Duke, who is as forthcoming as any Bond villain, assures Claire that she could have been killed in that alley; he commuted her sentence to rape. Claire is not particularly grateful, in part because she's horrified and in part because the Duke also admits he warned the English guards to expect a sneak attack from Red Jamie. "You can be hanged side by side!" Sandringham tells her. "How romantic."
Jamie and Murtagh get Claire's message from Monroe, and manage to decipher her whereabouts from her broken Gaelic. ("She's even misspelled 'Help,'" growls Murtagh, hilariously.) Like Prince Humperdinck of The Princess Bride, Jamie always thinks everything could be a trap — which is why he's still alive — so he and Murtagh do fine without advance warning. They get past the Redcoats with cartoonish, almost anti-climactic ease, and when they make it into the Duke's kitchen, they find all the principals well placed for a showdown. Claire's there, having a midnight snack with the Duke while he entertains her with stories about the various ways people think she killed St. Germain. Mary's there in her nightdress, too: Sandringham's servant caught her trying to give a message to Monroe in the garden, though she claims she was trying to escape yet another arranged marriage.
Sandringham grabs his wig. His more practical servant grabs a knife and Claire. Neither the former's charm nor the latter's violence is any match for our heroes, especially once Claire wriggles free and reveals the truth about the attack in France. Mary sees an available knife and, to everyone's surprise, she uses it to stab her assailant. Murtagh, who you may recall was furious at himself for his inability to protect the women in his care, avenges Claire and Mary and his own honor by hacking the Duke's head off with an axe.
And so all that talk of Red Jamie was a red herring: Murtagh's the one who ends up drenched in gore. Our heroes escape into the night, one step closer to justice. Only two episodes left to find it.