Friday, October 3, 2014

Outlander: The Wedding and Both Sides Now

Given that Outlander is not scheduled to return until April, I decided to go ahead and watch the final two episodes. Seeing them back to back was an exercise in contrast, for The Wedding was as beautifully structured as Both Sides Now was decidedly patchy.

This sense of duality was prevalent throughout The Wedding on a number of levels. Its focal point is the wedding night between Jamie and Claire, with flashbacks moving not only to the wedding preparations, but also Claire’s shotgun wedding to Frank, which he springs upon her on the way to their first meeting with his parents.

By comparison, the Jamie/Claire wedding is a hurried but significantly more planned affair. We see the conditions that Jamie sets for the wedding; his insistence on a ring, a proper venue and a wedding gown for Claire, all indicators that however convenient this marriage may seem on the surface, he plans to take it seriously.

It’s the type of gender subversion that’s been a staple part of their relationship from the start, not only in their interactions but in the way the camera depicts them together.

When was the last time you saw a man and woman
in this position on a romantic novel cover? The answer is: never.

Not since Breaking Dawn (which I have never seen, though I’ve read all the snarky recaps) has a wedding ever been more lovingly filmed, with slow pans over the wedding gown, soft candlelight illuminating the frames, and reverent silence even from the most rowdy Scots.
When the wedding night comes, every excruciatingly awkward moment is captured, every nervous hand-wring, all the heavy breathing, and the longest undressing ever committed to screen. I’ll admit, I had to laugh when Claire’s request to hear about Jamie’s family is suddenly interrupted by her internal voiceover (demonstrating that even the show doesn’t care about Jamie’s family history, especially not when the audience has been promised sex) and that Jamie’s admission of his virginal status is confirmed when his first time lasts about ten seconds. If that.

But the show surprises us by ensuring that the newlyweds don’t stop there. There’s more talk between the two of them, and we learn about Dougal rounding up an ordained priest, Rupert and Angus commissioning a wedding ring, and Ned going in search of a suitable dress. This last one was the most heart-warming; it took place in a brothel and the Madame had a gown left behind by one of their clients. According to her: “it’s best I [never wore it]. No lass should wear another woman’s dress on her wedding day.”
Judging by Ned’s face, he didn’t expect to hear such a sentiment in a brothel, and the episode is full of such moments. Murtagh, in his talk with Jamie, compares Claire’s smile to that of Jamie’s mother; conversely, Rupert’s polite response to Claire’s thanks regarding the ring is soon undermined by his crude comment: “that one looks well ridden” as soon as her back is turned.  

And then there’s Dougal. Dougal, Dougal, Dougal. He needs to stop, and I still haven’t forgotten the corridor assault, but he remains one of my favourite characters. But I mean really, organizing the marriage only to get pissy that he wasn’t getting enough credit for it? Propositioning the bride on her wedding night? Only to immediately punch Rupert in the face when he insults her honour? Look, I can recognize highly inappropriate behaviour in a character, but from a Doylistic point-of-view I can also highly enjoy it.
From sacredness to debauchery, nervousness to enjoyment, warmth to coldness, even lightness to darkness and back again (see below), this was an episode seeped in careful and deliberate contrast.


Which all ironically served as a contrast to the rather messy following episode. Both Sides Now has a lot of material, none of which holds together in a particularly cohesive way.
It begins with Jamie and Claire having a pleasant picnic together in what looks like thoroughly miserable weather when they’re approached by Hugh Munro, a man who claims to have evidence that could clear Jamie’s name.

Then we get a short sequence in which the encampment is attacked by bandits, and an ensuing Chekhov’s Lecture (in which Claire is taught how to use a knife) which might as well have had foreshadowing flashing at the bottom of the screen.
Then comes an attempted rape by two English deserters – this is where Claire’s newly taught knifing skills come in handy, before her realization that the party have come within a hair’s breathe of the standing stones. She makes a run for it, only to be arrested by red coats, thus rendering the entire marriage plan completely pointless.

And throughout it all are “side-flashes” to Frank and his growing despair over his wife’s disappearance. I haven’t read these books, though I do know that they’re in first-person narrative, so I’m assuming that these bits are unique to the television show. And sadly, they come across as a bit redundant. It would have taken only a few shots to depict Frank’s desolation, but they add a sequence in which a young woman offers to take Frank to the Highlander that he saw under Claire’s window. It turns out to be a trap designed to rob him, though there is at least a chilling demonstration of his genes when he proceeds to beat the shit out of his attackers.
And was that a black jack club he was using to defend himself? Ah, I see what you did there!

But it would appear that the rape content I’d been warned about is on its way. Heck, we got two attempts in one episode. I’m not going to start a debate on the whys and how-tos of depicting rape in a responsible manner; suffice to say that I don’t particularly like watching it in any context, and it’s probably going to impinge on my enjoyment of the episodes to come (as I know that more is on its way).
And though I certainly don’t think Claire’s strength is undermined by the fact she’s sexually threatened by male characters, I still think it’s unfortunate that her final scene before the hiatus is being bent over a desk, at Jack’s mercy, spared only by the timely intervention of her husband.

Miscellaneous Observations:
To quote Claire on seeing the standing stones: “Last I was here, I was Claire Randall. Then Claire Beauchamp. Then Claire Fraser.” It’s a typical case of a woman’s identity being wrapped up in her father/husband’s surname, one that reminded me a little of Amelia Pond (who the Doctor would refer to as Amelia Williams whenever things got serious) but given that Claire’s a contemporary of the 1940s, I can understand why she would think in these terms.

The character of Hugh Munro was beautifully played; this show is exceptionally good at breathing life into the most minor of characters. And he gives Claire a dragonfly in amber... I have no idea what the significance of this is, only that it’s the title of the next book, so it must mean something.
Tobias Menzies is incredible. There’s such an obvious difference between Frank and Black Jack, even as a little of that divide was closed in Frank’s beating of his assailants. And that look on Jack’s face – that expression of incredulous joy when Jamie appears at the window... terrifying.

See? Terrifying.


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