Outlander: “The Gathering”
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Caitriona Balfe (Starz)
Caitriona Balfe (Starz)

Outlander: “The Gathering”

Listening to someone describe an escape plan is not very fun

C+

Outlander

"The Gathering"

Season 1, Episode 4

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“The Gathering” opens with Claire running through the forest playing a make-believe game with the children of Castle Leoch. When the game is interrupted by her shadows instructing her they all need to get back to the castle, Claire tells us, in voiceover, that the game with the children is all a ruse so she can figure out how to best escape Castle Leoch. But we don’t need Claire to explain why she’s playing the game; the scheming is made completely clear by her quick glances at the men who keep watch around the forest’s perimeter and by the haunting shot of her hair ribbons tied in various trees, marking her path.

Claire spends most of the episode explaining exactly how she plans to escape Leoch, and it turns out listening to someone explain a heist isn’t nearly as exciting as watching one unfold. I’ve been able to reign in my voiceover rants over the past few weeks, but this time, the narration is too distracting and too unnecessary, slapped atop an episode riddled with structural problems.

At first, the episode centers on Claire planning and executing her escape. But a little over halfway through, Jamie tells her she’s in over her head. She eventually agrees to let him take her back to the castle, and just like that, the heist is over and we’re suddenly watching an entirely different episode about some ceremony weighed down by overly complicated politics and plot. Jamie has to swear his loyalty to Colum, but doing so means he’s next in line to be laird because of some political loophole or something, and that means Dougal will kill him but if he doesn’t swear his loyalty to Colum, then Colum will kill him because honor or something. I don’t know! I don’t care! Especially since Jamie’s life only hangs in the balance for approximately 30 seconds, because homeboy finds yet another loophole and manages to give Colum his loyalty but only sort of...enough to make Colum not want to kill him but not enough to make Dougal want to kill him.

And then the episode switches gears again and we’re essentially watching a third episode about “the hunt,” an annual hunting trip taken by the fighting men of the MacKenzie clan and led by Dougal during which they kill wild boars for food. Turns out, the hunt is just a plot device to get Dougal to see how useful Claire is (because she can watch a man die, which I guess in Dougal’s book is how one proves they are super hardcore). So he invites her along for a trip across the highlands, which is where we’ll presumably pick up next week.

Of course on a show like Outlander there are going to be episodes with a lot going on, but the three major plots here have nothing to do with each other—no common theme, purpose, or tone. And none of them have much momentum to them. Claire’s escape literally goes nowhere. The gathering and the threat it poses for Jamie amounts to nothing. The hunt at least sets us up for next week, but not in a way that’s necessarily exciting or suspenseful.

Scattered throughout the structural mess, there are a few cogent moments. Geillis makes a quick appearance and, as usual, shows off her power of intuition by reading Claire like a book. She also explains that she only married her husband for his power and now she’s free to do whatever she wants. Geillis should be the queen of this castle.

In the episode’s most disturbing scene, Claire narrowly escapes a mob of threatening men only to be sexually assaulted by a very drunk Dougal. She manages to knock him unconscious, and when she tells Jamie about the attack, he pretty much laughs it off, saying Dougal won’t remember anything in the morning. The way people regard rape as commonplace—almost expected—in this setting is terrifying. Last week (and every week, really), I commented on the significance of seeing this story unfold through the eyes of a woman. In “The Gathering” Claire continues to face—and conquer—obstacles particular to her not only because she is an outsider but also because she is a woman. I don’t mean to suggest men can’t be victims of sexual assault; they can be and are. But if, say, Frank had been the one transported back in time, it’s likely that he could have been able to use his maleness to give him more power as a “sassenach” than Claire can as a woman. She isn’t just fighting against the distrust and violence and uncertainty that threaten her; she’s fighting against a society imbued with rape culture and sexism. Claire is a feminist hero we all deserve.

Stray observations:

  • I know Claire encouraged her shadow to hook up with that woman so that she could keep him busy, but I like to believe she did it because she is very sex-positive and wants everyone in the castle to be engaging in healthy, consensual sex go Claire!
  • At the end of the episode, all of the men play field hockey but with NO RULES.
  • I love when the 1700s scenes are scored by 1940s music. Very nice touch.
  • Last week, I felt bad for Laoghaire. This week, she just comes off as hapless and dumb, asking Claire for a love potion to make Jamie want her romantically instead of just sexually. At least it led to “there’s no place like love”—the episode’s only (intentionally) humorous moment.
  • Oh, and just to add to the ridiculousness of the Jamie/gathering plot: Apparently, if he had stayed hidden in the stables and skipped the ceremony entirely, he’d be in the clear. Loopholes, loopholes, loopholes.
  • On that note, if anyone wants to comment on the historical accuracy of all the rules associated with the gathering, please do.
  • Jamie’s clan motto translates to “I am ready.” I, also, am ready...for Claire and Jamie to finally hook up. Seriously, how much longer do we have to wait?!
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