Sunday, April 17, 2016

Outlander 2x02 Review: “Not in Scotland Anymore” (Bread and Circuses) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“Not in Scotland Anymore”
Original Airdate: April 17, 2016

Well, now I know what nipple pasties looked like in the French court at Versailles in the 1700s, which is not a sentence I ever expected to say.

The same likely goes for Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh, who find themselves in the alien world of Paris in 1744. The visual storytelling of the show really shined in this episode, and everything from the landscape of the gardens to the landscape of woman’s “honeypot” highlighted the differences between Scotland and France.

Claire is great at adapting to new circumstances – I mean, the woman traveled through time and turned out okay – but even she is off kilter in Paris. With servants everywhere, attending to her every need, no one wants Claire to do anything. For a woman who survives by making herself indispensable, that must be a bit frustrating.

Claire’s temporary home in Paris has light streaming in, and when she walks through the halls in her blue gown next to giant windows, it looks like she’s walking in the sky. This alone is different from Scotland, where walking through the halls of Castle Leoch looked dark and underground. The color palette in Paris is bright and sunny as well, with greens as bright as the grass, light blues, and shocking purples.

The colors pop out on the screen just as much as Jamie and Murtagh stick out from their surroundings. No one is taking this transition harder than Murtagh, who complains that the entire city smells like a chamberpot. When he and Jamie practice swordfighting on the well-manicured lawns of Paris – a perfectly normal event where they are from – they create quite a spectacle. Murtagh, of course, reacts to the crowd that has gathered by yelling at them go away -- Jamie, ever the diplomat, says you can’t blame the French for gawking when dueling is outlawed.

The pair make a great team and their attitudes and strengths balance each other out. Murtagh is focused and loyal, but he has trouble fitting into Paris life. Jamie is good at schmoozing and blending in, and he needs someone to help watch his back. Where Jamie goes, Murtagh goes – even when that means a French brothel.

Jamie’s cousin Jared has arranged for the Bonnie Prince Charlie, instigator of the Jacobite rebellion and the very man whose plans Jamie and Claire want to foil, to invite Jamie to a meeting to discuss the political environment in Scotland. The prince isn’t in France on official business, so he can’t make arrangements in official courts and instead invites Jamie to a brothel. (I’d like to say business meetings have changed a lot since the 1740s, but I’m not sure that’s true.)

Andrew Gower does a great job as Prince Charles, playing him as an unbalanced man-child who listens only to God. When Jamie and Murtagh both tell him that the clans in Scotland need more reason to fight for a king in another country than the idea that it’s God’s will, the prince ignores them completely and threatens to unleash his royal wrath. Then, he quickly pivots and hires Jamie, who the prince deems a true patriot, to go to French court and schmooze the finance minister into trying to get the prince money for his army. With this meeting, it’s clear the prince is not going to listen to logic or actual military strategy, so Jamie knows his own strategy must change. After talking with Murtagh and Claire, the team decides the best way to stop the rebellion isn’t to convince the prince it’s not a good idea, but to cut off his funding at the source.

Claire’s job, then, becomes to find their way in to the French courts. Luckily, Claire has made a friend in a free-spirited and rather charming woman who epitomizes the style of the period.

Forgive me a quick detour in French history: Claire and Jamie arrive in Paris 30 years before the American Revolution and 40 years before the French Revolution. The seeds of the revolution are being planted in French society, and part of why the French people become disillusioned with the monarchy is because the monarchy got richer as its people got poorer. The monarchy shows off its wealth in every possible way, but mostly with lavish parties and fashions – which are on full display at Versailles. Versailles itself is luxury for the sake of luxury, with huge decorative gardens, a hallway made entirely of mirrors, and, as Jamie witnessed, even a luxurious royal chamberpot that looked like a throne.

Fashion in Paris was determined by the monarchy and reflected the monarchy’s values. This trickle-down, highly decorative style is nearly as opposite from the Scottish highlands as you can get – it’s no wonder Murtagh is struggling. In Scotland, everything has a function and everyone has a job to do to survive in the unforgiving landscape. In Paris, nearly nothing is for function. Claire’s friend has a pet monkey just for kicks, and she spends money and time waxing her legs and her “mound” – to borrow the 1740s vernacular. (I had no idea that bikini waxes have been around since the 1700s, but based on what we just talked about with luxury in France, I am not surprised that the women of the French court were keen on them.)

Claire, the quickest adapter of the Murtagh/Jamie/Claire trio, is quick to pick up on the French fashion and ways of doing business, and she shows her savvy when she wears that knockout gown to Versailles. The image of Claire walking down the stairs in that gown was breathtaking. And that’s the point: Claire knew that standing out as a stylish and sexy woman would be an advantage at a court that values appearance and sensuousness over substance.

It works for her. The minister of finance notices her and makes untoward advances that Jamie quickly stops by pushing him out into a lake on the grounds of Versailles. Because of Claire and Jamie’s diplomatic skills, they turn this potentially embarrassing event into a way to bond with the minister. They will keep his philandering from his wife if he will befriend them. And with that, they’ve made their first conquest in the French courts.

Also in court, Jamie meets the king (and suggests a way to relieve his constipation), the trio runs into the Duke of Sandringham, and Claire learns that Black Jack is actually alive.

This will certainly throw a wrench into their plotting, and it will definitely affect Jamie’s recovery, which is already precarious. Until next week, mes amis.

Un petite mot:
  • I wish they would stop showing the close up of Jamie’s mangled hand in the “previously on” segment. 
  • The scene right as the opening credits ended that showed a woman getting dressed with the help of a maid was a nice callback to the first time Claire got dressed in Scotland, with the help of Mrs. Fitz. 
  • Wow was there a lot of blood in Jamie’s nightmare. 
  • Claire has made so many friends this episode, including the man who runs the local apothecary.
  • “They never allow their exquisite manners to interfere with their baser instincts.” 
  • Is everyone in charge in France completely unbalanced? Possibly. 
  • “The bite of a man is desirable, but the bite of a monkey, not so much.” 
  • “Your honeypot is bare!” 
  • Okay, Claire’s dress was unbelievably gorgeous, but I am not certain that she could curtsey without accidentally flashing everyone around her.


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