Outlander episode 3×6, “A. Malcolm”
There is a risk when adapting a beloved work from page to screen that it won’t live up to our expectations. Either the casting won’t be quite right (Kristin Chenoweth as Easter, no I WON’T change my mind!!), or the tone will be off (I hear y’all Harry Potter people about the Goblet of Fire thing), or nothing at all will work since Jaime Lannister pushed Bran Stark from that tower back in season 1. Extreme example, but we’re all dealing with the adaptational trauma that HBO has inflicted upon us, aren’t we??
Then. Outlander happens. Friends, we have been #blessed. If you’ve read the books, there are scenes I’m sure you’ve pictured dozens, if not bajillions, of times. If you’ve never read the books, then lucky ducky you because this is all new and you get to fall in love with Jamie and Claire for the first time! Either way, I can’t imagine how this week’s episode could possibly disappoint either crowd.
What a goddamn treat.
This episode flipped the script of last episode, giving us a recap of Jamie’s morning before Claire popped in from 200 years in the future and 20 years in the past. He got up. Got his cravat straightened by a French prostitute (as one does). Went to his shop and got some smelly Scottish dudes to take some treasonous pamphlets to the Papist proprietor of the Three Thistles. And, uh. Printed some shit. Basic, ordinary day in the life of Alexander Malcolm, printer and seditionist.
Then Claire walks in and he hits the floor, like we saw week before last.
When he comes to Claire is bent over him. He still wonders if she’s a dream or a vision, but then she touches him and he realizes she’s not: all the times he’s dreamt of her or hallucinated her in the last 20 years, she could never touch him.
When he fell he spilled his ale all over his pants, so he takes them off. Then he and Claire share like. Oh geez. Okay, I’m gonna quote the part from the book, and it’s basically word for word on the show:
“I want—” He stopped and swallowed, still holding my hand. His fingers found and touched the silver ring once more. “I want verra much to kiss you,” he said softly. “May I do that?”
The tears were barely dammed. Two more welled up and overflowed; I felt them, full and round, roll down my cheeks.
“Yes,” I whispered.
He drew me slowly close to him, holding our linked hands just under his breast.
“I havena done this for a verra long time,” he said. I saw the hope and the fear dark in the blue of his eyes. I took the gift and gave it back to him.
“Neither have I,” I said softly.
His hands cupped my face with exquisite gentleness, and he set his mouth on mine.
Now, look, we all know it’s easy to parrot writing from a book. It happens all the time. What made this so beautiful and moving (to the point that I almost cried) is how well the scene was acted. The score. How it was LIT. Seriously! When they kissed obviously the music swelled, but the light in Jamie’s little shop (which seemed kinda dark for the work he was doing, tbh) went up like they were standing in their own private shaft of sunlight.
Then Jamie’s apprentice walks in, angrily interrupting them because there’s Jamie kissing some strange woman, and he has no pants on. Geordie leaves in a righteous huff, and Jamie goes to find trousers in the back room. He asks Claire to come with him, because he can’t bear to have her out of his sight.
Once there, she tells him about Bree. She has photos, which amaze him, and he’s scandalized when he sees one of her in a bikini! What an odd choice for Claire to bring to show Bree’s 18th century Papa.
He tells her about Willie, but not the details of his conception. She’s understanding, of course, because it’s been 20 years and it wasn’t like he was gonna be a monk. He’s shy about putting on his reading glasses, which is totally adorable, and she tells him she dyed her hair. Of course they honestly both look EXACTLY THE SAME so his assurance that she’ll always be beautiful to him is like…well, geez, I hope so.
Outside the clock strikes, and he tells her he’s late for a meeting. They leave together, and soon run into Fergus, all grown up. He’s amazed and delighted to see Claire, and when she tells him he’s grown into a handsome young man, he says “Aye, I have!” Still Fergus.
He asks where she’s been, and she tells him that after Culloden she thought Jamie and everyone was dead, so she went to the Colonies. Only recently she’s learned the truth, and now she’s back. As Jamie points out, it’s not entirely a lie, because she did go to Boston and she did think Jamie was dead.
Jamie’s Chinese associate, Mr. Willoughby (real name Yi Tien Cho, renamed because his name sounds like a Gaelic vulgarity), has gotten himself into a spot of trouble in the tavern. Jamie pays the sex worker who’s yelling at him for licking her elbow, and he leaves Willoughby and Claire to chat while he heads to the back room for shady dealings.
Jamie pays off some dude in the back room, and the guy insists he’s owed more. Jamie says nah and walks out, but it’s obvious Jamie’s shadier tendencies (whatever they may be now) haven’t changed much in 20 years.
He takes Claire “home,” which happens to be a room in a brothel. He assures Claire that he’s not a customer there; in fact, they’re his customers, and they keep a room for him because of that. She doubts him at first, but eventually comes to believe him.
They eat and reminisce about old times, then basically recreate their wedding night. Like that amazing episode, it’s slow and shy and tender. When they’re finally naked and Jamie gets Claire in bed, he knocks her in the nose with his forehead. They have a laugh, and after another cute false start, the old magic rushes back and things get steamy FAST.
Later Jamie tells her that he’s a smuggler of all things alcoholic. That’s how the brothel is one of his best customers: not only does the Madame buy from him, she also lets him store his illicit wares in her establishment.
There’s clearly something Jamie’s holding back, but Claire tries not to let it bother her. She assures him that she’s back for good, to be his wife, and he seems both overjoyed and slightly nonplussed by the idea.
He leaves the next morning on mysterious business, and Claire is later interrupted by Ian Murray, Jenny and Ian’s 16-year-old son. She explains who she is, and he’s astonished. He, like everyone else, thinks Claire died. He tells her some of the old women at Lallybroch claimed Claire was a faerie, and he asks if she went back home to faerie land. She tells the same story about going to the Colonies, and he accepts it. He also seems…something…off, maybe, and he scurries out.
Claire wanders downstairs, and the sex workers take her for the (slightly older) new girl and give her a bunch of tips and tricks on how to take care of clients and client-related aches and pains. Eventually Madame Jeanne appears, and she’s horrified to see Mr. Malcolm’s wife sitting with the “common doxies.” She sends Claire back to her room.
When she gets there, some swarthy, unsavory fellow is ripping the place apart. He mistakes Claire for a sex worker (again) and says he’ll see to her shortly. When she insists she’s Jamie’s wife, he asks where Jamie’s ledgers are. She doesn’t know, of course, so…he threatens to rape her. Naturally!! And that’s how the episode ends.
Okay, well, I don’t know how much I really need to say here?? I think y’all MIGHT have figured out that I loved the episode overall. Maybe? Was I too subtle?
Okay, things I especially loved:
The score. Always excellent, but the moment Jamie first sees Claire and her theme plays it just. Murdered me. Murdered me with music.
The acting. Sam and Cait are so beautiful together. I would really like to know how many screen tests and readings they did with different actors before they found two who were so perfect not only individually as these characters, but together. Jamie and Claire are Outlander, and the show knew it had to absolutely perfectly nail this casting. It did.
My son Fergus. All grown up, and still perfectly Fergus.
Some things that didn’t work quite as well, because I’m gonna nitpick a bit:
Jamie’s big secret. It’s obviously somethin’, y’all! Book readers know what it is, but like…okay, it’s been 20 years?? Why is Outlander (and by that I mean source material here) so obsessed with Jamie’s “purity”? He was a virgin when he married Claire, and now 20 years later he’s had sex with maybe 3 women since Claire left (FOR GOOD AND EVER), and one of those women raped him. I mean, I love that Jamie isn’t some womanizing rogue who screws anything in a skirt, but it’s okay if he didn’t chain himself to Claire’s memory for 20 years and pine away.
Imagine if Claire were being held to this standard! Which, strangely, she’s not. Jamie does ask about her marriage to Frank. Claire sort of implies that it was unhappy without going into details, but Jamie basically expected her to be married to the man she loved before him and living a regular married life. But Jamie isn’t really allowed that luxury, because the narrative insists he remain “pure” for Claire, both physically and emotionally.
My problem here isn’t as much with the show itself as with, as I said, the source material. They’re taking all of this directly from the book, and Jamie’s shame at being with anyone except Claire is obvious when you read. Stop that, Diana Gabaldon! It’s unfair!!
Okay, anyway, nitpick #2: Claire’s been back less than 24 hours and she’s already being threatened with rape. Like, it happens. Especially from shady individuals clearly up to no good, and you in your shift and shit. But STILL. Why is this brothel letting strange men just wander the rooms anyway? They don’t have security? Wouldn’t it be prudent to NOT let strange men wander around threatening rape? That just sounds really bad for business.
I’ll end on something else I loved. Like the wedding episode, this episode was direct by a woman, and it showed. Long, loving, fire-lit shots of Jamie’s butt. The sex scenes all filmed with exquisite sensitivity and beauty. The undressing scene was a study in patience, anticipation, and discovery.
I loved this episode, y’all. They kept us in suspense by taking a break last week, but it was well worth the wait. Keep it up, Outlander. You’re doin’ the Lord’s work.
Episode Grade: A+, 5 stars, huzzah!!