The episode begins with a flashback to WWII: Claire and Frank are parting at a train station as she heads for the front to nurse. Frank is frustrated at this role reversal, that his Intelligence work is an office job and Claire will be the one in danger (perhaps this is the beginning of his feeling of inadequacy to Claire). He acknowledges that no one can influence her once she’s made up her mind and commands her to return to him after the war (i.e., not to die), and Claire promises. This was not in the book but I suppose it shows Claire is used to danger, is stubborn, and has never waited for permission from any male to do what she feels is right. This explains attributes about her that would otherwise seem anachronistic. Also, it helps explain why she feels compelled to return to Frank when Jamie is much more attractive!
Back to the 18th century. As if she doesn’t have a busy castle to manage, Mrs. Fitz is helping Claire wash her hair, and is so motherly that Claire confides in her that Frank is not dead but rather hasn’t been born yet. Claire tells Mrs. Fitz she has fallen through time from 1945 and describes what happened. Instead of reacting with her typical brusque kindness, Mrs. Fitz is horrified, calls Claire a witch and slaps her. Fortunately, it turns out to have been a sort of test balloon or daydream – Claire was just imagining how her confession and request for help might be received and didn’t really confide at all. Tricky, tricky, especially, as her confession has been in the trailer and seemed real.
Mrs. Fitz tells Claire everyone who is anyone in the Highlands is coming to Castle Leoch for a Gathering in a few days. She advises Claire that her work as a healer may endear her to Colum MacKenzie, the laird. Frustrated that Colum is keeping her at Castle Leoch when she wants to return to the Standing Stones, Claire tries to figure out a way to use her 20th century medical knowledge in a non-threatening 18th century way, recognizing that anything too unusual could upset her patients and boomerang on her. Soon there is a regular procession of patients to Claire’s “surgery” in the bowels of the castle and even Colum, who suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome although he doesn’t know it, asks for treatment and Claire provides a soothing massage. (It’s kind of a joke on the audience that we get to see Colum’s unattractive backside when everyone is yearning for more naked Jamie.)
In the Hall that night, there is a Very Awkward Triangle, when Claire sits down next to Laoghaire (it is definitely pronounced Leery) and introduces herself, attempting a friendly chat about cute guys, specifically Jamie, who, unaware they are talking about him, comes over and sits between them. They talk about Colum’s bard (singing soulful songs in Gaelic) and Jamie’s first visit to Leoch when he was a teen, and Laoghaire asks if he remembers her. Jamie, self-deprecating, says that he was a typical 16 year old then, too impressed with himself to pay attention to snot-nosed kids. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he is looking at Claire the whole time he is answering her question, Laoghaire takes the “snot-nosed” comment as an insult. Even worse, Jamie asks Claire to change his bandage (it’s an odd moment to choose, just as the festivities are beginning), and hands Claire’s wine goblet to Leoghaire to dispose of. Once in Claire’s surgery, Jamie explains that he avoids showing his back to people who will pity him but Claire has shown empathy rather than pity. Suddenly shy, he tries to leave, but Claire, a bit intoxicated from Colum’s Rhenish wine, insists on taking off his shirt (excuses) and tells him the shoulder is healing nicely.
The next day Geillis and Claire go out looking for herbs, and Geillis tells Claire the local priest is planning an exorcism of Mrs. Fitz’s nephew, Tammas, who has fallen mysteriously ill after visiting an abandoned monastery. Claire looks skeptical. “Do you not believe in demonic possession, Claire?” asks Geillis with surprise. She tells Claire she believes in the powers of magic and asks if Claire has ever found herself in a situation with no real explanation, “a path you’ve never expected.” Oh yes, thinks Claire, but has enough sense not to confide in someone who has already shown she is a big gossip and is very nosy besides. Worried about the boy, Claire visits him uninvited, and tells Angus (still following her per Dougal’s orders) that a priest said her healing skills were a gift from God. Claire thinks Tammas shows symptoms of poisoning, not of possession but his mother would rather rely on the ignorant local priest, Father Bain, who does not like competition and is furious that his dogmatic and quite over the top utterances about Satan are being challenged by Claire. Claire has made her second enemy in one episode. She is looking extremely fetching, however, with her hair up and a cowl neck scarf to liven up her demure gown.
Back at the castle, while Claire is trying to figure out how she can help the boy, she sees Jamie kissing Laoghaire in a corner.* At dinner, she teases Jamie about his lip being swollen and Jamie steps on her foot to shut her up. After Jamie leaves in a huff, Alec warns Claire to be careful or Jamie might find himself married to an immature girl (due to the watchful eyes of the girl’s father) when he needs a woman. Hint, hint. Claire tells herself she isn’t jealous of Leoghaire per se, just misses Frank, but we know that is not true. Or, at least, not totally true.
The next day Dougal takes Claire to visit Geillis at her home. Geillis warns Claire to steer clear of Father Bain, who sees women as evil temptresses. There is a commotion outside, and Geillis explains that her husband, the local magistrate, is dispensing justice to a boy thief. Arthur is much older than his pretty wife and in poor health. Claire can’t help mentally diagnosing his condition but is more concerned with begging for compassion for the boy. To please Claire, Geillis coaxes her husband to spare the boy’s hand, which might otherwise have been chopped off as punishment. Instead, the boy is sentenced to a mere hour in the pillory with his ear nailed to the framework. Jamie comes to fetch Claire back to the castle, and Claire is glad to escape Geillis’ inquisitive questions about her background. When Claire realizes the poor boy has to tear himself loose from the pillory, she asks Jamie to help. Claire stages a faint to distract the rotten townspeople enjoying the spectacle so that Jamie can free the boy’s ear. In case anyone is wondering, they make a great team!
Claire asks Jamie to take her to the Black Kirk, the abandoned monastery where Tammas was allegedly contaminated by Satan. She finds a poisonous plant, and becomes convinced that Tammas ate some, mistaking it for wood garlic (hard to believe there’s only one poisonous plant in that ominous place!). She asks Tammas’ family if she can give him an antidote, but Father Bain says the boy’s soul will be eternally damned if Claire interferes. Mrs. Fitz agonizes but tells Father Bain that it’s her sister’s house and Claire can try to save the boy.
“I smell the vapors of hell on you,” sneers Father Bain to Claire – I must use this on a guy at work who is clearly one of Satan’s minions – but she saves Tammas and is praised as a miracle worker by everyone else. Claire becomes worried about the combination of awe and suspicion that now follows her (way to keep a low profile, Claire), and feels she is no closer to figuring out how to get back to Inverness and is still under surveillance. Back in the Great Hall where everyone knows your name, Jamie translates the bard’s Gaelic, telling a story about a woman who lived among strangers, touched magical stones and traveled back to a man she had left behind. “She came back through the stones?” asks Claire tremulously. Although it’s just a ballad, this is the sign Claire needs that she must escape back to the stones or die trying.
What’s Important About This Episode:
· The MacKenzie brothers have no secrets: Dougal knows Claire gave Colum a massage and makes a snide comment about taming a feral cat (meaning Claire). He is so creepy!
· Claire’s efforts to be nice to Laoghaire are a waste of energy: of course, Laoghaire hates her for capturing Jamie’s interest. And Jamie is no more perceptive than modern men - he is completely oblivious about Laoghaire’s jealousy of Claire.
· Claire knows, or should know, it is risky to help Tammas but as a healer she can’t ignore someone in need, even if it means arousing the enmity of Father Bain.
· Claire and Jamie’s rapport is more than physical, although the chemistry is still palpable. Their friendship may have begun when she brought him lunch at the stables and he told her about Captain Randall but there is something moving about his telling her she’s one of the few people he will allow to see his back.
* I have always wondered about the incident where Jamie makes out with Leoghaire. How did it come about? Did Laoghaire waylay Jamie in some way? Is he just a normal guy experimenting with a willing young woman? Is he trying to force an interest in someone more suitable than Claire? He is not the type to try to make Claire jealous but it works, whether planned or not.
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