Episode 5: Rent (…or The Education of a Feisty Sassenach)
Greetings Outlanders! Whew. What an episode. Each one just keeps getting better and better, and this week’s main character, Scotland herself, deserved top billing. Episode 5, ‘Rent’, is such a diverse bag of contrasts that it’s hard to truly put into words. Instead I will paint a picture for you.
Close your eyes. Imagine the most beautiful wedge of dark chocolate cake. Tall, with three layers (I’m a chocoholic) and delectable, thick dark chocolate frosting holding the layers together and blanketing the top. The moist texture of the cake is dark and promises of near ecstatic richness to come. Now take a bite. You didn’t expect it to be horribly bitter, did you? Here, have some water. I know you were expecting an explosion of rich, chocolaty goodness.
This episode, and Scotland herself for that matter, is like that beautiful, appetizing wedge of dark chocolate bitterness. It’s majestically formed and extremely pleasing to the eye but looks can be deceiving. Preconceptions can lead to misconceptions; beauty can lead to danger. She’s not necessarily what she seems to be (but certainly not bitter).
(Ok, is anybody else hungry now? Sorry about that. At least this post isn’t scratch and sniff.)
Join me, as we venture deep in Clan MacKenzie lands, for Episode 5 titled ‘Rent’.
WARNING: There will be explicit photos of nature coming up. If you can’t handle majestic mountains, green valleys and crystal clear lakes then, well, you’ve got problems that go beyond what my recap can do for you. Seek help, immediately.
What an opening scene. We see Claire, quoting ‘Presence in Absence’ by English poet John Donne, as she is gazing onto a loch in the mist. The poem, about a man who is parted from what he loves and the power of that absence on him, might as well have been written for Claire. Here she is, in a far off time (not necessarily place which complicates everything even more), with a group of men who don’t know or trust her (the feeling is quite mutual), all but strong armed into roaming the countryside with them. To make matters worse she’s the only woman. We women really aren’t good with talking to ourselves; we need other opinions, no matter how many voices are in our heads.
We then meet Ned Gowan, the lawyer on retainer for the Clan MacKenzie, portrayed by the brilliant Bill Paterson. I was excited when I heard he would be in this series. I loved him in ‘Wives and Daughters’ (developed a crush on him in that series actually) and he’s wonderful as Ned. Given the instant connection between the lonely woman and the lawyer, we see a chink in Claire’s loneliness. And I’m happy to see that.
We see the first of many contrasts as Ned and Claire are quoting John Donne, in front of the perfect loch (it’s one of those explicit nature scenes I did warn you about) while the kilted men, um, boys, are wrestling and telling dirty jokes. Poor Claire. This is going to be a long, long trip. If only she could tweet about it, get some advice from the girls. Sadly there’s no Wi-Fi in this neck of the woods. At least she can continue her doctoring, giving the good lawyer jimsonweed for his asthma. You go girl.
(Oh and Ned, don’t count on the laird’s men listening to your request for no live pigs. It’s a losing battle; Dougal’s not a DJ. He doesn’t take requests.)
99 Bottles of Rhenish On The Wall, 99 Bottles of Rhenish…
“On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again…” Oh darn it. I promised myself I wouldn’t start singing. I mean, it is a road trip; how can you not sing?? But, trust me, you don’t want me to sing.
Well, the group is moving right along the countryside, and it seems that they also have their own fair share of songs for the car ride… um, horse ride. What, exactly, is the most exciting version of 18th century Highlander I-Spy that one can play? Fortunately Claire doesn’t need it as she continues to make friends with the older lawyer, who came to be of service to Jacob MacKenzie, the father of Colum and Dougal. And the picturesque beauty continues all around Claire as she is still resolved to get back to the stones. Let’s take a moment to stop and admire the beauty that is Scotland.
Never has the visual contrast of acceptance, and rejection, come more into play in Outlander than the scene of Claire, sitting away from the rowdy bunch of men, listening to them switch from English to Gaelic and back, and not understanding a word they were saying. The frustration mounts as she realizes they were purposefully excluding her by holding their discussion in Gaelic. Boys, do you REALLY want to do that to such a feisty woman as Claire?
And who really felt like poppin’ Angus a good one this episode? Last episode, as Abbott, he was a riot. In this episode he was the bully who terrorized. I don’t like this side of him, at all. But Jamie, ever vigil over his observation of Claire (especially when no one else seems to care), hates what’s going on with her but he, himself, in a way, is an outsider himself. He knows what it’s like to be excluded; for heaven’s sake the man sleeps in barns while everybody else has a bed. Though a kinsman, he’s a kinsman with a price on his head; his true last name isn’t even MacKenzie; and he’s a very long way from home. It’s his feelings for Claire, which are kept very well from everybody BUT the viewer (oh yeah, I’ve seen the way you look at her you sly thing), that keep him vigil. He’s the only one who talks to her, brings her food, cares enough for her. It’s through Jamie that Claire learns about the motives and apprehensions. To Claire’s amazement, Jamie trusts her, even as he says he knows she’s hiding things from him.
That trust doesn’t really surprise me. Whether either realizes it or not, Jamie is Claire’s Presence in Absence… and for the young, handsome lad, Claire is his Presence in Absence. I love when themes fit beautifully together.
Just Make Your Rent Check Payable To…
It’s Rent Day! Yay!! (Only a happy day for the rent collectors though.) But Clan MacKenzie takes many forms of payment, anything from grain to live animals will suffice. Claire is watching the proceedings with a keen, if somewhat bored, eye. She certainly isn’t used to seeing somebody pay for anything with two fat pigs and a fine goat (I love the exchange between Ned and Claire, who are both remembering their conversation about not accepting live pigs). Finally fed up Claire begins wondering the area and comes across women singing. The women are waulking wool, and the song they are singing is a song to help them work.
Waulking is a process in woolen cloth making that cleanses the wool and makes it thicker. The process that Claire comes across is taking hot urine (yes hot piss), pouring it on the newly dyed wool, and thoroughly working it into the wool. It helps the dye set faster. That’s certainly not something they teach in nursing school; I doubt they teach that in fashion school either. By modern times the a substitute for the acidic properties of the urine are found and it’s no longer needed to whiz on the wool to set the color.
I really hope they wash their hands when they are done.
But whoda thunk it? The women are yet another picture of contrasts. Here they are: it’s rent day, which is huge for the families of the Highlands. The poor farmers work all year round to pay the rent, and sometimes the sacrifice is quite burdensome. Now the women are up to their elbows in urine… and they are happily singing a song. The joy on their faces is palpable.
Despite the bleakness around them, these women have found a joy in just being together, gossiping and preparing the plaid for their clan and it’s very humbling, most certainly for Claire. It is unclear from the episode how often the women are together but I have a feeling this is a yearly tradition, as it’s the only time the farmers can be away to get together. The Sassenach witnesses the kinship and wonders at the joy in their eyes. Very soon she is swept into their enthusiasm and is quickly accepted into the group.
Seems their secret adult refreshment after the roll-the-wool-in-the-urine chore was a bit too strong for the unprepared Claire (who is still probably wondering how she ended up in a hut covered in pee) and she woke one of the women’s babies. Turns out the baby is hungry and teething but it can’t nurse. Unfortunately the goat had been taken for the payment of rent. Claire’s disgust is quickly filed away as she asks about Craig Na dun. When I saw how flippantly it seemed she brushed off the admission for information about Craig Na dun, I was rather stunned. That is not like Claire, to bat off an injustice like that. But her desire to get home is an all-consuming thing for her (not that I blame her). When she heard that Craig Na dun was three days away, she certainly is discouraged. Who wouldn’t be? This was supposed to be a trip that brought her closer to the stones but it seems to only take her further away. Disappointments continue to mount.
Just as she has begun her turn at urine donation (I love the look of confusion on the other women’s face when she said “Geronimo!”), Angus storms in and drags her out mid-tinkle. It’s one thing to interrupt a group gathering; it’s another to bodily drag a woman from a piss pot in front of said group gathering. Let’s just say that Claire is incensed. And when he snaps his fingers at her?! Oh Angus. You have no idea what you’re doing. Do you really want to go there?
Remember the fine goat that took a trip with those two fat pigs? Yeah, it would seem the goat was the baby’s only source of milk and Claire becomes even more agitated when she sees it tied to a wagon. The situation nearly comes to blows over a rather heated (though somewhat hilarious) tug-of-war with Rupert over the goat. Poor goat, getting caught in the middle while Mummy and Daddy fight. No goat should see that.
Suddenly… a British voice. Everybody turns to see a rather handsome gentleman inquiring after Claire’s well-being.
Who is this guy? How’d he get there? And why do I have this ominous feeling at the pit of my stomach?
Of course, one of my favorite lines of the episode was uttered by Angus (the mad beastie that he is): “Or maybe your lugs need cleaning out?”
(What are lugs, exactly? Are they what I think they are?)
Time for an explicit, gratuitous nature shot (yeah, I already warned you…)
He’s Your Nephew, Not a Circus Display
After collecting the rent, it’s party time. Time to pull out the disco ball and platform shoes (no… wait a minute…). But the prevailing language is Gaelic and Claire has no idea what Dougal, the life of the party, is doing. It’s when Dougal, much to the surprise of the lad, grabs Jamie’s shirt, rips it open (to display his back) and passes around a collection bowl like church on Sunday morning, that Claire believes he’s exploiting a weakness of his own nephew for monetary gains…and lining his own pockets behind the back of the Laird. As if his coffers weren’t already full enough, Claire is disgusted by the exploitation of it all.
But what’s so heartbreaking to watch (and it’s still difficult for me to see) is the embarrassment, the shame in Jamie’s resignation of his exploitation by his uncle. The broad, tall, seemingly unafraid Highlander just sits like a statue, a pawn of his uncle. Even after nearly everybody leaves, Jamie is still, his head bowed, refusing to look at anybody. Remember, he didn’t want Alec to see his back because he didn’t want, nor need, the man’s pity; Jamie certainly doesn’t want it from perfect strangers either.
As the rent collection/Jamie-exploitation-for-monetary-gains continues on through the episode (my heart breaks whenever I see Jamie like this), Claire, who is getting better with Gaelic (out of necessity), hears something that gives her a start. “Long live the Stuart!”
She finally realizes: the nightly exploitation of Jamie’s scars weren’t for the criminal benefit of the clan; they were for the political benefit of Scotland, to fund an uprising that Claire knows is futile. We are reminded of such in a flashback (or forward? It can be very confusing sometimes), of discussions between Claire, Frank and Reverend Wakefield.
But what a brilliant use of the Outlander theme song, ‘Skye Boat Song’, at this realization moment. Even now I am crying as I write this because of the sadness of what is to come, the eventual destruction of the clan system and perhaps the people that Claire, whether she wants to admit it or not, have to come to love. I can’t even imagine the pain, the hurt, the heartbreak Claire is experiencing. She knows everything that will happen… and for all the power that she can wield with that information she’s just as helpless.
The realization of Dougal’s motivation reminds me of that perfect (looking) piece of cake. The richness of contrasts that I was talking about is in this realization. Claire, who has already (begrudgingly) developed a respect for Dougal, comes to understand the man even more. And I believe that Claire, and certainly myself, have come to understand Scotland a bit more too. Behind the rocks, between the mountain peaks, below the streams and along the valley paths, is more than the beauty of the land. Within each crevice of Scotland lies the conflict between the Scots and the outsider; brother versus brother; human versus animal; human versus God. The beauty of nature versus the darkness of conflict, of war, of hate, of greed. Scotland is, and of itself, a land of contrasts.
POP UP EYE CANDY MOMENT!!
After all that serious talk, it’s time for some gratuitous eye candy…
Thirty Pieces of Silver
Whew. I needed that little break. Ok, back to the recap. Hidden between the cracks of the mountains are divided loyalties, false loyalties and, well, no loyalties at all. But the name of the game in the Highlands is survival, and the making of unholy alliances (and labeling them as ‘business’), well, you do what you have to do. And Claire, first discovering the Watch (a ‘home guard’, a group you pay to look after your cattle) and their deceptive loyalties, is sickened and disgusted. Who wouldn’t be, after learning they would turn Jamie in for any price? It’s the events that Claire has to live through, and not learn from her historian husband, that helps her see through the veils all around her.
And what she sees she doesn’t like. Trying to reconcile her value system with the system around her is quickly making her even more seemingly enemies with the clan MacKenzie. It’s only Jamie, with his kind heart, that sets about to educate her that she needs to change her thinking because she isn’t home and that she needed to stay out of what wasn’t her business.
An Unexpected Kindness
If the woman hadn’t been through more jerks than an old wooden rollercoaster, Claire is violently pulled back when Dougal is moved (for whatever reason) by the plight of a village further down the road. The people are scarce and clearly disheartened.
It seems the redcoats do their fair share of pillaging and plundering, and the village is left with some money but not much else, clearly not enough to make full payments, and hardly any food to speak of. Not only does Dougal take it upon himself to help one family, he helps them all, distributing the rent payments of grain to everybody so they can eat. Could the Sassenach be getting to him? But boy, that woman has gall, questioning the motivations of his seemingly altruistic behavior. I’m not sure I could do what she does. I believe just as strongly as she does but I’m genuinely scared of Dougal.
Time for one more explicit, gratuitous nature shot!!
Talk About Falling for Each Other
On a much lighter note: this episode is certainly not without its wonderful Jamie and Claire moments: little snippets of conversation here and there; guarded looks (the majority from Jamie). But my favorite scene of this week’s episode is of Claire awakening, in a bedroom above a taproom in the village they are staying in that evening, to the sound of somebody outside her door. Grabbing a candlestick she throws open the door… and once again falls over Jamie who is sleeping outside her door.
For the number of times she’s tripped over Jamie, I’m surprised she hasn’t permanently mangled him. Oh Claire. Do you not see what you have in your midst? You have an honorable, handsome lad who is protecting you from the half-drunk men in the taprooms below.
She is instantly flattered (was that a little giggle I heard Mrs. Randall?) and invites him to sleep in her room. Horrified and worried about her reputation he vehemently refuses but agrees to take her blanket.
As she passed him the blanket their hands touched.
When I first saw this touch, I was reminded of the verbal touches between Wesley and Buttercup on The Princess Bride, the ‘as you wishes’. Perhaps theirs is “I’ll be right here.”
He was telling her so much with that touch. Of course she didn’t catch on like Buttercup did with Wesley (granted, Claire’s more complicated than Buttercup) but she did feel it. It gave her pause.
But oh the power of a touch. You can see the emotion just underneath the surface. What he feels for her is powerful, fierce and true.
And Dear God I’m jealous. Sigh. Is it hot in here??
Ballroom Blitz (…er…. Taproom Blitz)
The morning after, Claire comes down to breakfast to find two camps of men eating: the clan MacKenzie on one side, another group of men, outsiders, on the other side. As Claire spoke with Ned, the outsiders were obviously making obscene remarks. It reached a breaking point when Angus (of course it would be him) attacks one of them and all hell breaks loose.
It was after this fight, as she is admonishing the children, that Claire learned the reason for the fight was the Sassenach herself. The men called her a whore and the boys were defending her honor. Well, Claire couldn’t have been more astonished. When she asked why I loved Murtagh’s answer:
Just when Claire didn’t think they liked her, they at least gave her enough honor to fight for her, under the guise of ‘as a guest of Clan MacKenzie’. I, myself, think the men really see themselves as her protectors, however begrudgingly they do so. In their minds, Claire can be insulted all they want by her but God help any other who insults her. Claire is, once again, humbled. Seems the feisty woman is getting schooled, proper-like, on the ways of the Scots… and the surrogate family she has yet to realize she finally has. These men have become the family she never had.
And the grandiose proclamations of sexual experiences takes a new turn as she throws a whopper at Rupert. Claire now smiles at the men, and the zinger she throws is a way of thanking them for the defense of her honor. The men know it, too, and because she did it their way they not only accepted the apology but accepted her more completely into their family.
I loved the look on Jamie’s face though.
He couldn’t believe she said it and couldn’t wait to see their reactions.
He thinks she’s witty… and he likes it.
Don’t I Know You?
A face from before makes a re-appearance as the Englishman we met earlier shows up… with his band of Merry Men. He, once again, asks Claire if she is alright and if she is with the MacKenzies willingly. She opens her mouth to answer and…
The Exclamation Heard Around The World was, “NOOOOOO! YOU CAN’T END IT THERE!”
Oh this show.
Trying to sort out everything will take awhile but I can see that so much of the episode was in preparation for the episodes to come. The story is so rich, so full, that there really aren’t any ‘transitional’ or ‘throwaway’ episodes. Each episode is important and provides information we need along the way. I loved the visual, and story, contrasts throughout this episode. It made the story complex and it really had me thinking.
I’m sad to say that this is the last episode recap I will be doing for this first set of 8 episodes. I will be back to recap for the next half. I have really enjoyed writing for you, and I, once again, apologize for the windiness of my vocabulary. However, I do believe that to do full justice to this series I must cover so much of it.
The next episodes are really going to get good. I can’t wait to see what happens, and how it is handled.
Now, I’m off in search of cake.
Cheers my loves!
GIF Source: minxinheels tumblr