Modern manners, codes of behaviour, decorum and rules of etiquette matter in every culture and society – they illuminate and respect the human experience. The word culture has evolved its meaning over time to reflect the means by which the nature of the changes in our society over time might be explored. One of the ways it is happening significantly in our age is through the visual and performance arts.
Visually superb STARZ Outlander, a truly outstanding television series inspired by the books of Diana Gabaldon, has been adapted for the screen by a variety of very talented writers. It has won fans world wide not only through the integrity of its scripts but also the outstanding performances by its cast.
Interestingly the stories of the first seven episodes of Outlander Series 2 are taking place at a period in time when France had taken the lead, changing society dramatically to a less rude way of life. Italian born and living in Paris, the Marquise de Rambouillet (1588-1665) established a pattern of well-mannered behaviour in her aristocratic salon that gradually spread to the beau monde, influencing polite society throughout Europe, England and America by the end of the eighteenth century.
No family is ever exempt from sad or devastating events during its lifetime, and our principal heroes Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) and her handsome Scot Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) to date seem to have suffered far more than most.
STARZ Outlander is giving viewers an opportunity to discover how terrible things can happen when we least expect it, because of our interaction with each other. Often what we say or do sets a chain of events in motion hard to stop and however hard it may seem, the decision makers at Outlander do not shy away from ‘shocking’ their audience, or from revealing the ‘base’ nature of human beings, which can descend into acts of depravity.
Episode 7 of Outlander is one of grace; about healing, about forgiveness and about the unconditional love that eventually helps Claire and Jamie to find a road back to each other through Faith, healing their relationship after suffering great loss.
Many scenes provide an opportunity to gain an understanding of the depth of emotions uncovered when terrible things disrupt, and destroy lives and livelihood.
Please don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers.
In Series One of Outlander the last two episodes revealed the horrors of torture and rape that Jamie Fraser was subjected to in gaol at the hands of English Captain Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies).
They shocked and distressed us all and it was a good thing we had a break to assimilate it all before Series 2.
Claire had collapsed after witnessing her husband Jamie and Black Jack duelling, rushed off to L’Hopital Des Anges by faithful retainer Magnus (Robbie McIntosh) her baby’s life threatened. Now in Episode Seven she has to face the full gamut of her emotions as she loses her and Jamie’s longed-for child.
Superbly written by Toni Graphia and directed by Metin Hüseyin, the viewer is given space and time to experience Claire’s grief and the terrible trauma attached to the loss of Faith, the child named and baptised by Mother Hildegarde as her mother continues to fight for her life.
As Hildegarde beautifully explains to the distressed Claire later, her baby has joined the angels.
This is a powerful episode that as ever, does not shy away from challenging issues demanding an emotional depth from actress Caitriona Balfe rarely witnessed on any screen, and briefly, but nevertheless powerfully, by Sam Heughan,
Giving the female perspective, this episode is brilliantly conceived and realised by the show’s outstanding supporting cast members, Romann Berrux (Fergus), Stanley Weber (St. Germain), Dominique Pinon (Raymond), Lionel Lingelser (Louis XV), Frances de la Tour (Mother Hildegarde) and Claire Sermonne (Louise) also deserve applause.
Everyone rose to such a high level of performance excellence, they ensured this was the most devastating and powerful episode of the second series to date. It is award winning stuff.
Jamie is not there to offer his support, because he has been taken to the Bastille and not seeing him in there, we don’t experience his torment this time. Monsieur Raymond her friend also risks life and limb to steal into the hospital in the dead of night to help Claire. He removes the remainder of the placenta, which hasn’t come away and is causing her terrible complications. After she regains her strength Claire demands to see the tiny body of her baby.
Clutching it in her arms she whiles away the whole day mourning until her friend Louise, who up until now has been seen in a frivolous light, steps up to help her, carefully taking the baby away so that she can come to terms with its loss, is heartwrenching to watch.
Claire also makes it harder for herself by hating Jamie for breaking his word and duelling, without giving him an opportunity to explain why, which is all about her own grief.
Finally at home she is faced with other than her own pain, with young Fergus who brought her cornflowers and asked her to come home she finds is suffering severe nightmares. When she attempts to soothe his distress she discovers the truth, that Jamie had only acted in his young charge’s defense.
The shocking scene we had only imagined in Episode Six is now played out, as we witness Black Jack raping the young child. His depravity doesn’t have any borders he won’t cross to gain personal gratification.
Finally understanding, Claire has to gather all her wits about her so that she can petition the King for Jamie’s release.
Mother Hildegarde, who is a cousin of the royal family comes to her aid once more, arranging an audience although warning her, there will be a price to pay; granting the King her sexual favour.
When she arrives at Versailles it is to find Master Raymond and her old enemy the Comte St. Germain have been arrested. The King wants Claire, Madame Blanche to stand in judgment of the charge of ‘black arts’ against them both.
King Louis XV (1710-1774) is known to have been interested in astronomy, astrology, and magic at this time, and now he takes her through a secret passage to his Star Chamber, a superbly imagined setting; the walls are covered with ancient etchings of alchemy and sacred geometry, while the floor is covered in ancient graphs of astronomy. In the centre is an astrolabe, an ancient instrument used to take astronomical measurements.
Claire has to hold her nerve and think quickly because she doesn’t want the blood of either on her hands because as a healer it’s not who she is. And she also owes Master Raymond her life.
So she offers both prisoners a potion of bitter cascara, which usually causes terrible pain but not death, requesting the King save them both if they survive.
Giving it first to Master Raymond knowing he has built up a resistance to the ‘poison’, as he hands the chalice back to her after doubling over in pain, she turns to give to the Comte.
The stone Master Raymond gave her to protect herself from poison, which she’s been wearing around her neck, suddenly turns black. The Comte knowing its power also knows the potion now contains poison, added by Raymond’s slight of hand, not hers, because the apothecary has taken the responsibility for the Comte’s death from her unto himself.
Forced to drink it and bring about his own demise, the Comte looks into Claire’s eyes knowing that the day he met this unique ‘Sassenach’, his fate had surely been sealed.
The King impersonally receives his sexual favour from Claire then informs her Jamie will be released and that he will negotiate with the English government to also honour the pardon.
Returning home, she has to come to terms with offering Jamie, the man she loves so well her own forgiveness, which means she has to forgive herself first, which is the hardest thing of all to do.
Their ensuing intimate scene of grace and forgiveness is sublimely written and acted, especially as Claire tells Jamie when he arrives home about their child, then about her having to lay with the King to gain his release. She knows now to never shy away from the truth.
Series 2 Episode 7 of STARZ Outlander ends gently as Claire expresses her desire for them both to journey back home to Scotland before together they visit the tiny grave of the daughter they have lost to say goodbye.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016