Okay, first off, SPOILER ALERT! No, for reals. Watch the episode 2.2 of Outlander, AKA: Not in Scotland Anymore first.
Also, before we get started, I’d like to thank our dear friends at I Love Outlander for all their support of this site. Everybody “like” them on Facebook!
Let’s discuss for a second the absolutely brilliant job of condensation that this episode pulls off. Now as everyone who’s read my first Outlander article, A B Story Problem, knows, I had a tough time with the first third of Dragonfly for a couple reasons. The first, as discussed in my recap of Episode 2.1, Holy Crap, Outlander’s Back!, has to do with the 20-year time jump at the beginning.
But there’s a secondary difficulty for the first third of Dragonfly—and to be clear (with lots of love to the genius that is Herself, Diana) a third of a Diana Gabaldon book is the equivalent of seven dog lives. In Dragonfly, the plot gets doled out at a pace that would make Hugh Grant in a romantic comedy stop sputtering and shout, “Spit it out already!”
A couple examples:
Louise de la Tour de Rohan, hysterically introduced here with the waxing scene (which I’m so glad they kept from the book—what a fun detail)—yeah, in Dragonfly, we don’t even meet her until the 21% point. (Forgive me, I read these things on Kindle. Page numbers mean nothing to me. But if we’re talking about a 900-page book, 21% would be close to 200 pages in.)
Mary Hawkins, our shy little dove (and my goodness, could they have cast a girl who nailed the “Little Bo Peep who’s about to lose her sheep” thing any better than this chick?)– that would be a character we meet about 144 pages into that 900-page version of Dragonfly.
Alexander Randall dropping the bomb on us that his evil brother Black Jack is still alive? Page 180. (PS- Does this guy look like Tobias Menzies or what? It’s the eyes!) And how brilliant to save it for the end of the episode, giving Claire that great cliffhanger moment as we cut to credits.
Oh, and lest we forget, we got to meet Monsieur Raymond—sorry, Master Raymond—right off the bat, including his fantastically set-designed apothecary. Voilà!
We meet everybody in this episode, in a way that may have seemed a bit over-saturated on first watching, but remarkably tracked logically throughout and never left me scratching my head and asking, “Wait, who are you again?” (In fairness, book readers have a bit of an advantage there.) Let’s see, King of France? Check. Minister of Finance and resident foot fetishist, Duverney? Check. All that, and we still make time for this dress:
Oh, and just for kicks, we get see Simon Callow again as the Duke of Sandringham, deliciously eyeing Claire with a mischief in his gaze. Boy, I love this actor.
Right off the bat, Not in Scotland Anymore gets down to business with the great dueling scene between Jamie and Murtagh, setting up not only the social friction between the rough-and-tumble Scots and the pearl-clutching propriety of French aristocracy, but also the central conflict of season two’s arc: namely, “What are we doing in France?”
“I thought we came here to prevent our rebellion,” Murtagh says. “Instead, what have we become? Wine merchants?” And then Jamie reassures him (and us) that, don’t worry, this is all leading to something.
One of the issues that I felt Diana kept rubbing up against in Dragonfly, and that so far the writers of the series have done a great job of circumnavigating, was that the social confines of the day—namely the reduced public role of women—made it very difficult for Claire to be an active participant, let alone instigator, of the action.
I can’t tell you how many pages of Dragonfly feature Claire sitting around her apartment waiting for Jamie to get home from doing something so he can tell her about the thing he did. We do get one instance of this here, where Jamie and Murtagh get back from the brothel with Prince Charles and she’s waiting up to ask them how it went. (My female brain couldn’t help but think, “What did she do all night while they were at the brothel? Fold laundry? Oh, wait, that was me.”)
As any screenwriter will tell you, a passive protagonist is death to a story. And Claire is the protagonist of our story. So the challenge that Ron Moore and gang are going to have to really rise up to throughout this season is keeping Claire active in a way that doesn’t seem inappropriate to the time period.
Speaking of the brothel scene, let’s check that out for a second. Because there’s a lot of exposition that has to get revealed pretty quickly here, and I thought the writers absolutely nailed a way to squeeze it into one scene without boring us to tears, namely by using the Trademarked Game of Thrones method. You know, the one where you throw exposition into a scene where half-dressed prostitutes writhe in the background, ici:
Unlike Game of Thrones, however, where the sexuality of the background players can feel gratuitous, I thought this scene was pretty fun—who knew dildos had been around that long?—and served to introduce us to the complicated character of Prince Charles in a way that nailed his juxtapositions: a man who indulges every lusty impulse while firmly believing himself to be heaven-sent to reclaim the throne of Scotland.
Also brilliant? Having Murtagh “Salt of the Earth” Fraser be the one to out Prince Charles as having never been to Scotland, reminding us, the viewers (and people who haven’t memorized every detail of the Stuart monarchy—how dare you?) that Prince Charles and his father were exiled to Italy and he’s never been allowed to set foot on the land that, as far he’s concerned, God wants him to rule.
Something I’ve noticed Moore and Co do a lot—and they always nailed this with Battlestar Galactica too, BTW—is putting themselves into the minds of their viewers and cutting off any questions or confusions we may have at the pass. Reading Dragonfly in Amber from the perspective of an American and having no use for monarchy in any form, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Why in the hell would the Scots support an uprising that would likely kill them all and only serve—in the best scenario—to put a slightly less obnoxious king on the throne instead of, you know, the super obnoxious British one that was there already?
What difference would it make to the people of Scotland? They still wouldn’t be free (and not for nothing, still aren’t—damn you, England!) Diana doesn’t really address this problem in Dragonfly. So I absolutely loved it when Murtagh said this:
Right on, Murtagh! Right on.
And then we get a bunch of stuff about God’s will because, well, history: monarchy, God, colonialism, manipulation of the masses to serve the will of the oligarchs. That’s not important right now.
What is important right now is that I loved this episode. I loved that the after effects of Jamie’s rape and torture—somewhat too easily overcome in the novel, in my opinion—continue to haunt him here in the devastating bedroom scenes. Rape lingers. It haunts. It’s the nightmare that keeps on giving, and it’s important that Jamie’s recovery continue to be illustrated in these stark and brutal scenes.
I loved that we saw the king struggling to take a shit in front of 30 people.
I loved that Caitriona wore this hat:
(OMG, the costumes. I could just die.)
And that perfect swelling-music moment at the end, where Claire realizes Black Jack is alive, her voiceover taunting us with a premonition of the consequences when Jamie finds out.
Oh, next week, why are you so far away?
PS: Adding some French lines to the opening song? Si brillant!
Here are those lyrics:
Chante-moi l’histoire, D’une fille d’autrefois, S’agirait-il de moi?, L’ame légère, Elle prit un jour la mer – thanks, Internet, for that one.
What were your favorite parts? Let us know in the comments!
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