Sing me a song of a lass that is gone: Episode 14 of Starz’s OUTLANDER

Warning: Spoilers Silly & Galore

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
O, could that lass be I?

images-1After S1 E11 “The Devil’s Mark” of Starz’s hit show Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling series of novels, I thought the show was going to take off like a meteor for those of us who haven’t read the books and weren’t already huge fans. The witch trial of that episode, with Geillis’ self-sacrifice to save Claire, Jamie’s dramatic and loving gesture to give up Claire so that she could return to her own time through the stones at Craigh na doon — all of it finally was knitted together so perfectly that I thought I would become a fan, if not a fanatic, of the show.

Alas, to my great disappointment, it didn’t happen. No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot fall in love with the show, its characters, or its plot, despite the tremendous promise shown in “The Devil’s Mark.” It has, indeed, become, as writer of Episode 14, “The Search,” Matthew B. Roberts called it, “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

The Good

outlander-jenny-fraser-laura-donnelly-and-claire-randall-caitriona-balfejpg-7f7855_624wScriptwriter Roberts claimed that the “Good” in this episode was Claire (Caitriona Balfe, R) and Jenny (played wonderfully by Laura Donnelly, L), and I admit that, despite the fact that Jenny seems unbelievably mobile after just giving birth to a breech-baby in the last episode, Jenny and Claire seem more competent together than separate. The writers of the show call Jenny and Claire “Cagney & Lacey” as well as “Thelma & Louise,” and the allusions to the latter pair, at least, were obvious is last night’s episode.

images-14Leaving her newborn bairn and crippled & wounded husband Ian (Steven Cree) behind, Jenny led the search for her missing brother, proving herself the more competent of the two women.

Jenny is some kinda bad-ass, lemme tellya.

Wearing a pistol in front at her waist and behind, she knows how to track the bad guys as well as Hawkeye from The Last of the Mohicans, and can tell how close they are by picking up their horses’ droppings, which are “still warm.”

images-15She knows how to sneak up on an enemy encampment and spy, even better than Bond, James Bond.

Unknown-3She knows how to torture the evil Redcoats without blinking an eye,  almost as well as the villainous Black Jack Randall himself.

images-16Jenny’s so good at being “the good” that her behaviour influences Claire’s, causing her to get “tough” and take some serious offensive action rather than always being a victim waiting to be resuced.

imagesThere was some fine female-bonding, led, in E 14, by Jenny. We’ve seen some evidence of this in Outlander before, and it’s during these scenes that some of the better aspects of Claire’s personality come out.

She bonded with women in the drinking & urine-wool-dyeing scene.

images-12She bonded somewhat with Jenny in the clothes-washing scene (and more, later, in the labor scenes).

images-7And Claire bonded with Geillis throughout the earlier episodes.

images-2In fact, if there is a “good” in E 14 as the writer of the latest episode claims, then it’s the relationship Claire develops with other women, who seem to bring out the better qualities in her. In fact, Claire seems to be more independent and efficient when she’s paired with another female, whether it’s someone she respects, like Jenny, or someone she cares for, like Geillis.

But I disagree with the writer who claimed that “Jenny and Claire” were “the good” in E 14.

It was Jenny who was the good, and she was very, very good.

In fact, she was so good, she was bad.

The Bad

outlander-season-1bblack-jack-randall-tobias-menzies2jpg-d12c7b_624wI hadn’t read the article interviewing the writer of E 14 before I saw the show, but after I read it, I reflected on which character might be “the bad.”

I thought Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) was going to be “the bad” this season, since he was shown mercilessly flogging Jamie earlier in the season (Part 1, 2014), but he’s scarcely been seen since. Despite the threat of his raping Claire, she was saved by husband Jamie. He wasn’t in last night’s episode either, so, “the bad” is not yet (consistently) BJR, as fans affectionately refer to him.

images-8I thought Claire might “betray” Geillis” during the Witch Trial, as lawyer Ned suggested, to save her own life, so I thought that her behaviour, in that episode, was going to be “the bad.” But Claire refused to to it, both women were condemned to burn as witches, and then Geillis melodramatically sacrificed herself to take attention off Claire so Jamie and she could escape. So that “betrayal” wasn’t “the bad,” either. And Geillis proved herself to be pretty “good” in that sacrifice, despite her infidelity with Dougal and her murder of her husband Arthur to be with Dougal.

So who, in an episode modeled after the iconic The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, were the bad?

Were the Redcoats “the bad”? Not in last night’s episode: Jenny took care of them before they had the chance to do anything bad.

Were the Gypsies “the bad”? They delivered Claire the message they’d received that had been intended for her. That was honorable, considering they stole her routine, and even though they wanted more money for the message.

I looked at the article again.

According to the writer of “The Search,” the “bad” was Murtagh.

outlander_s01e14_stillMurtagh (Duncan Lacroix)?

The “bad”?

Really?

Jamie’s godfather, who was revealed to have been madly in love with Jamie’s mother and to have given her two beautiful bracelets as a wedding gift, the bracelets that Jenny gave Claire (in a quite unbelievable gesture) last episode? Murtagh who tells Claire that she’s not the only one who loves Jamie? Murtagh who revealed that he considers Jamie to be a “son”?

That Murtagh is the bad?

Unknown-1No, I don’t think so.

I’ll tell you what was “the bad” in E 14: the silly, time-wasting, throw-away-plot antics (“shenanigans,” the episode-writer called them) of Claire singing some weird-o version of “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” while dressed as a boy.

UnknownYeppers, I kid you not.

That was Murtagh’s plan for “searching” for Jamie: to have him dancing, badly, and — after Claire told him he needed to sing a song with more of a beat — to have Claire singing, even more badly,  and dressed as a boy, while traveling around the country so that Jamie would “hear” of them and get them a message. (Claire tells a man from a country with some of the oldest and most famous folk-music in the world that he needs to sing a song with more of a “beat”? Please, somebody, tell me that was not in the book.)

In any event, Claire’s singing routine was so bad, I found it difficult to get through the episode.

It was so “bad,” it was boring.

And we hadn’t even gotten to “the ugly” yet.

The Ugly

images-4For a couple as in love with each other as Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan) claim to be, they sure do bicker a lot. And I mean a lot. Like virtually all the time. When they’re not having sex. And they’re not having nearly the amount of sex they had when they first got married. In fact, after the “oral pleasure” scene which opened E 10, the two haven’t had relations at all. At least, none that the viewers have been shown, and I assume that’s one of the reasons for the popularity of the show (and the books): to show this fabulous, fantastic, fantasy sexual relationship between the two.

But bickering?

Oh, boy, do they ever.

In fact, beginning with E 12 after Jamie took Claire to his ancestral home of Lollybroch, it’s almost all they did. Jamie got all Laird-ly with his sister Jenny and her husband Ian, who was a childhood friend of Jamie’s. He also got all Laird-ly with Claire, comparing himself, at Lollybroch, with the MacKenzie at Castle Leoch. Basically, Jamie told Claire in no uncertain terms that she was to keep her mouth shut in public if she disagreed with him, though he implied that she could throw crockery at him in private (as he claimed Letitia did to the head of the Clan MacKenzie, her husband Colum, in their private chambers).

So… the basic message was this: don’t disagree with me in public; throw crockery at me in private. Ouch. What a dreadfully ugly message. I think I’d prefer the bickering, as much as I dislike it, to the passive-aggressive violence of thrown & broken crockery. In any event, I don’t see Jamie & Claire’s attraction to each other, especially now that the sex seems to have disappeared.

But the bickering… Yeah, that seems pretty “ugly.” Their love has disintegrated into virtually constant bickering or separations. In E 14, I was waiting for them to find each other, be briefly happy, then start picking at each other again.

But what do I know?

That’s not the “ugly,” as the show’s episode-writer intended it.

I haven’t read the books (and so am blogging only on the Starz version of Outlander). I’m not one of the show’s writers, who are apparently looking to other successful dramatizations for inspiration in writing these episodes. This week, it was the Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, because E 14 had “the horses and the guns.” (You can read the original article for yourself by clicking on the link to it above.) Last week, producer-writer Toni Graphia apparently based Jamie’s character and behaviour on that of the characters in HBO’s wildly successful (though unevenly written) The Sopranos.

What, according to the writer of E 14, was “the ugly” in “The Search”?

Dougal.

outlanderdougal-mackenzie-graham-mctavishjpg-c995a3_624wNow, the episode-writer admits that the actor who plays Dougal — Graham McTavish — is a “very handsome man,” but that it was his behavior in asking Claire to marry him that was “ugly.” Dougal wants her to marry him after Jamie’s dead,  of course, since he’s apparently already been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death, if he hasn’t already been executed — so that Dougal can have control of Lollybroch.

images-11Not that he wants it for himself. After all, he asked Claire to marry him in the tunnels filled with goods that he’s smuggling to raise money to bring back Bonnie Prince Charlie. So, he clearly wants Lollybroch for the same reason: to return the Scottish king to the throne. And he must only want Claire to get Lollybroch, despite the fact that he’s made several passes at her already, including one on her wedding night.

That is apparently what makes him “the ugly.”

On
The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
and Starz Outlander

I respectfully disagree with the writer of E 14 “The Search.”

You know what I think is the “ugly”?

The writing of this show.

It’s the “bad,” too.

In fact, I’m starting to look forward to the feared and rumored “Wentworth Prison” episode — despite the violence that people say will be in it — because, at least, something will happen.

You know a show’s writing has deteriorated to a bad and ugly place when a woman who’s survived incest and rape by parents of both sexes is beginning to look forward to an episode that is rumored to include rape, sodomy, and torture.

Why do the writers of Starz Outlander feel it necessary to look to other successful shows and films in order to write each episode of this show? I think it’s distracting and unsuccessful, at the very least, as well as insulting to the books, the readers, and to the audience of the show.

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
O, could that lass be I?

Yes, it soon could be. Only I won’t be gone through the stones at Craigh na doon. I just won’t be watching Starz Outlander on Saturday nights. Maybe I’ll just get the books and read them instead since fans are so passionate about them.

I hear Gabaldon’s Outlander books are not based on either The Sopranos or on Sergio Leone’s classic Western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

And now at my back I hear Tuco (Eli Wallach) as he’s standing in the cemetery on a wooden grave-marker, a rope around his neck, trying not to lose his balance, desperately screaming, “Blondie” as Clint Eastwood’s character rides away on his horse with his own portion of the stolen gold…

Cue Ennio Morricone’s memorable soundtrack…

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4 Comments

Filed under Actors, Books, Movies/Television, Outlander, Violence

4 Responses to Sing me a song of a lass that is gone: Episode 14 of Starz’s OUTLANDER

  1. Once again, I am in complete agreement with you. Spot on with every point and well said. Bravo! *all I could think of during Claire’s singing was OMG…the extras in that scene had to listen to that for days and days during rehearsal and act like they were enjoying it…a LOT! I felt bad for Cait too…being forced to play the fool but NOT as bad as I felt for Murtagh (who is my hero in the book and such a no-nonsense, serious sort who would never, ever act so stupid. *puts face in hands and weeps*

    • Dear Denise,
      I was even more horrified to hear the writer of the episode refer to her singing as “shenanigans” — WHA??? Is he trying to tell us that there weren’t enough good scenes in the book to fill the entire episode, and that he had to fill E14 with “shenanigans”? I felt very bad for Cait, and bad for the actor who plays Murtagh, whom I think is wonderful, but worse for the audience of the show. What on earth are the show’s writers doing?
      Dazed and confused,
      A x

  2. Jo

    Reading your brilliant post I find myself thinking that Outlander has done something strange in its first season. Something that other shows rarely do. Instead of striding out the gate and putting its best foot forward, instead it has done some kind of trip, stumble and limp mix that I find off-putting and somewhat surprising considering its fore-runner. But then I have always believed that romance as a genre is a tough one. Not to be taking lightly because it can so easy devolve into some kind of cheesy twaddle. I think Ron Moore should have done his homework before embarking on this project.

    I agree with you completely. Laura Donnelly is a gem. I don’t know how she took a potentially thankless role and turned it into such a compelling performance. Murtagh blew me away as well.

    On the flip side, I find I didn’t miss Sam Heughan (surprisingly) but what really sealed the deal for me was Catriona Balfe’s song and dance routine. I’ll be honest, I never was quite a fan of her portrayal as Claire. Rather underwhelmed by it to be honest. But yesterday’s performance was so sub-par that it will take a miracle for me to watch season 2. Melodramatic I know, but the truth.
    The relationship between the two leads without the sex scenes leaves me waiting desperately for the sex scenes. LOL. I don’t think that’s a good thing but an accurate description of their relationship in my humble opinion.

    As to the remaining two episodes, I am sure they will be filled with tension and angst but what I would like to ask is…what’s the point? The inconsistencies and drawn out tensions and repetitive ‘search and rescue’ attempts are getting tiresome. And the sexual violence…bah. None of these can take the place of good, solid storytelling which is what the first season of any show needs.

    • Dearest Jo,
      I have to say that I was so disappointed in E 12, after the stunningly fine E 11, that I thought I must be imagining how boring it was. Or, I thought, perhaps E 12 only seemed boring because “The Devil’s Mark” was so spot-on: acting, writing, plot, everything. Then E 13, with Jenny’s endless talking during labor — a breech-baby labor at that. I thought I was being too hard on the show, and blamed my response on the fact that I’d never read the books.

      Then I read on some of the forums that the writer of last week’s episode had based Jamie & Ian’s characters / histories / actions on The Sopranos. What? Why not base those things on Outlander? I couldn’t believe it. Until I read the articles myself. That is, indeed, what the episode-writer said she’d done.

      Then came last night’s episode. The writer said it reminded him of a Western and likened it to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly because it had “horses and guns”? Uh… How come he didn’t liken it to something like Braveheart, which is more symbolic and set in the same country?

      I realize that books and film / TV series are different forms of art; that actors, directors, and producers have their say (producers have the most); that books have to be adapted for the screen; that Hollywood has the contractual right, when it options a book, to make any changes it deems necessary, to characters, plot, dialogue, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get all that. (One of my own books was optioned, so I know exactly what a Hollywood book option contract says.) But then I think of the Oscar-winning Madame Bovary, starring Isabelle Huppert, which was so close to the Flaubert’s classic novel that it even had the ironic Voice-Over, and I wonder what is wrong with the writers of Outlander.

      I, too, wonder what in the world the producers and writers of Outlander are trying to do. The writers are stumbling, limping, and tripping — which surprises me since they have the story from the books to guide them. I think all this stumbling, limping, and tripping is because they’re looking to other successful shows and movies instead of exploring and conquering the new territory they’ve been given.

      Can you imagine a Romance that did not depend solely on the constant separation-search-reunion of the hero & heroine? What about one that did not rely solely on the sexual chemistry of the protagonists and their ability to climax simultaneously? What about a Romance in which the two protagonists were not physically perfect and stunningly beautiful on the outside but, rather, were beautiful and intriguing people on the inside? What a brave new world that would be, eh?

      Except for the fact that it’s been done: in Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre, in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and even in Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, where the real love comes from the betrayed Charles for his unfaithful wife Emma, who doesn’t even notice that he exists, unless it is to annoy her. Any of these books — all of which have been adapted into fine films — could have served as guidelines for the writers of Outlander. I guess they never heard of those books — or films — before…

      I’m more impressed by the acting of the minor characters than by that of the protagonists, and last night’s episode was no different. Some of the minor actors have been working for years and are only now getting some of the attention they deserve because of the show they’re in. They deserve credit for the superb work they’re doing.

      I didn’t miss Jaime either, which is sad since he’s supposed to be the protagonist, and was delighted to see Dougal in the cave (he’s a sexy man, though). I don’t know if Dougal is always hitting on Claire in the books, but in the show it surprises me since he’s supposed to have an eye for the lasses, and CB as Claire doesn’t strike me as attractive, especially when she pouts. And she cannot sing. I don’t know if that was intentional on her part for last night’s episode, or if she really cannot sing, but that was worse than listening to a cat screech.

      Yeah, I guess when you start to miss the sex scenes, which were hokey to begin with (all that moaning and “screaming,” endless bare-ass-shots, followed by ridiculous etymological questions on the meanings of words that have been in the English language since, at least, the time of the Anglo-Saxons), then you know the show is going downhill faster than a train without brakes on icy tracks…

      Only 2 episodes left? Well, we know the last will have as much of a cliff-hanger as it can, though I’ve no idea what it’ll be. And I don’t know what the Wentworth Prison eppy will have besides graphic violence, including torture, rape, and sodomy, so, yeah, I’m with you. I’d definitely settle for some good old fashioned story-telling.

      Hugs,
      A

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