When a TV show attempts melodrama, it can be sublime or ridiculous. There is no in-between. The sublime episodes, like The Sopranos’ “Long Term Parking” and The Wire’s “Final Grades,” linger with us. The ridiculous ones evaporate, leaving only a tacky residue.
“Faith” is elevated to sublime status by the writing of Toni Graphia, who has taken charge of so many of Outlander’s best moments. (Claire’s line of voiceover, “I lay back and thought of England,” spoken as she is being thrust into by a king wearing what looks like wallpaper, is the show’s greatest joke to date.) The episode remains sublime because of its impressive acting, primarily by Caitriona Balfe. Whether Claire is screaming with grief over her dead daughter, thinking on her feet to save Monsieur Raymond’s life, consoling Fergus, or confessing to Jamie, she out-Claires even herself.
Though he has far less screen time, Sam Heughan certainly holds his own against Balfe. When he emerges from prison, with a beard to rival Tyrion Lannister’s, Jamie looks haunted and years older. That his curls still look freshly conditioned is the only unrealistic touch.
Yes, Jamie might regret the unintended consequences of his duel with Captain Randall. First, it seems to cause Claire to go into premature labor. After delivering a stillborn child, Claire nearly dies herself of fury and fever in the hospital. She is only saved by the mystical (and secret) ministrations of Monsieur Raymond, who comes upon her at night, risking his own life in the process. When she protests, he shrugs, “These are things you do for your friends.”
The dark, blue-lit scene where Raymond heals Claire, interestingly, reminiscent of her sex scene with Jamie from earlier this season. In that scene, Jamie was recommitting to life. In this one, Claire is.
Nevertheless, she is still furious. How could Jamie have betrayed her this way? How could he have gone after Randall after giving her his word that he would wait? “Revenge mattered more to him than me,” Claire says. “Or his child. […] He may as well have run his sword through me.” Mother Hildegarde gently encourages Claire to strive for forgiveness, but she may as well be speaking to the Cathedral ceilings; Claire’s feelings for Jamie seem to have shattered the same way the hospital’s porcelain Madonna does when she accidentally (and ominously) knocks it to the floor.
After Claire makes it home — in another wrenching scene, during which she must pass with Fergus through a gauntlet of household servants who seem to want to help but are at a loss as to how — she learns the horrifying reason why Jamie went back on his promise. Upon discovering Fergus at Madam Elise’s, Captain Randall forced himself on the boy. It’s not clear which is worse for Claire: Thinking of Randall raping a child, or hearing that Fergus believes everything that happened afterwards was his fault because he couldn’t stop himself from screaming.
Earlier this season, Claire told another victim of sexual assault not to be ashamed. She says it again now. She also says, helplessly, “It’s all right.” Fergus corrects her with a howl: “No, it’s not!”
Of course, one thing is for sure: There is no sea deep enough for Captain Jonathan Randall.
Determined to free Jamie now that she can sympathize with his reason for dueling Randall, Claire asks Mother Hildegarde for aid. That estimable woman, who is more worldly than she may seem, is willing to help Claire get to the king but warns her that petitioning “that mercurial man” comes with a price: “The king may expect to lie with you.”
Claire absorbs this blow like the seasoned boxer she has become. Should it come to that, she tells Mother Hildegarde, she will merely add her virtue to the list of things she has lost in Paris.
What actually awaits a richly dressed and steely Claire in the palace is more surreal than she could have anticipated. At first, King Louis offers her hot chocolate and an orange, and Claire, who is more experienced than young Persephone, seems to know better than eat anything given to her in the Underworld. This is not, after all, Claire’s first visit to hell.
Afterward, Louis leads Claire into a circular chamber and asks her, as la dame blanche, to judge the guilt of two men whom the king suspects of sorcery: The Comte St. Germain and Monsieur Raymond. If she condemns either man, he will be handed over to the royal executioner, who is (literally) standing by. If she missteps, she could be handed over to him too.
Claire knows that the king wants something like a reality show, and she suspects that St. Germain deserves death. But the gruesome end that Monsieur Forez previously described to her is excessive, even for a cartoon villain like the Comte. As the tension mounts, she rouses herself to fully inhabit the role of White Lady and settles on offering both Raymond and St. Germain a cup full of bitter cascara, the official not-quite-fatal potion of Outlander season two. It will incapacitate the men, and perhaps the king’s bloodlust will be satisfied.
Raymond drinks first. When he doubles over, he manages to slip something more definitive into the goblet — something that darkens the stone of Claire’s poison-detection necklace. In the cup now is death. Claire know it. The king knows it and seems turned on by the anticipation. St. Germain, who has no escape, knows it too. His last words before he falls twitching to the ground are, essentially, “Fuck all y’all.”
After the king steps over the Comte’s corpse to tell Monsieur Raymond he is excused — though he must leave and never return to France — Louis takes St. Germain’s advice and, bringing Claire back to his boudoir, pushes her down on a bed. I guess the prospect of getting to make it with the White Lady is too exciting to pass up. In the moment, despite her recent bodily trauma, Claire tolerates the sex. (At least the encounter is brief.) However, she falls apart once she’s safely reunited with Jamie. How will the two of them survive, after they’ve been through so much? When they’ve both been violated, and had their hearts broken, if not also their spirits?
Together, Jamie replies. It’s their only hope.
Issues of guilt, shame, and blame run throughout this season. Is Claire wrong for putting her fears about Frank above her current family? Is Jamie wrong for needing to avenge himself against Randall? To what extent are these characters responsible for their own bad luck? They can’t know, but Claire and Jamie decide they no longer care about trying to stop Prince Charles. The past is bigger than they are — and the future shouldn’t be meddled with. They just want to go home to Scotland. Together.
Have faith, Monsieur Raymond told Claire before he left her in the hospital. Claire and Jamie will always have Faith, or at least a memory of her. And as we saw in a flash-forward, they will soon enough have another copper-haired little girl to ease their pain.