Outlander, Season 1, Episode 10, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs”
Written by Ira Steven Behr
Directed by Richard Clark
Airs Saturdays at 9pm ET on Starz
Playing with perspective is a common trope in TV. Lost, and countless imitators, used this as its primary storytelling device, telling its story from a different character’s point of view in every episode. This can be an incredibly rewarding way of unravelling episodic stories, allowing individuals to briefly take precedence, giving them greater significance and nuance, and letting the overarching plot move forward incrementally. This approach is not suitable for all shows, however, which Outlander learned all too well last week when it returned from a six-month hiatus.
The audience was thrown into the POV of Jamie, who is a great character, but is made much more so when he’s seen through Claire’s eyes. It was an interesting choice to have this episode be the one where viewers hear his narration and follow his story more closely, for the complex sexual politics of the show (which have consistently been the most refreshing and intriguing part of the series) reach a bizarre point. Outlander has been rightly heralded for its outstanding sex scenes, which are better and more equalizing than perhaps anything else on air.
The sexual violence Jamie inflicts on Claire in last week’s episode, though, felt terribly mishandled. It made sense that it happened, but the music was strangely cheery, and it seemed as though viewers were meant to take some kind of pleasure in the clearly non-consensual act. Jamie, after all, accepts the label of sadist later on. Claire regained her power in the relationship in the final scene, holding the sword to his throat as she demanded her agency, but the whole thing seemed as if it could have been avoided if it had all been encountered from Claire’s perspective.
This week’s episode returns to a kind of neutral ground, without any actual narration from Claire, but mostly following her as she navigates this world in larger ways than she has yet to confront. It’s clear the episode is in different hands immediately, as it opens with Claire in the midst of sexual pleasure, slowly revealing that Jamie is between her legs. As is typical of the show, the scene is shot with intimacy and compassion, focusing on Claire’s experience and refusing to rush it. It feels passionate in a way that TV sex very rarely does.
The episode is also plot-heavy in a way that Outlander always isn’t. Claire is a power player, unbeknownst to anyone except the Duke of Sandringham, whom she essentially blackmails into helping Jamie take down Captain Jonathan Randall. Jamie doesn’t yet realize just how much Claire saves him, finding ways to assert her power in this old world. The Duke is a ridiculous character (he uses the word “poppycock”), played with great energy by Simon Callow, but their scene together is absolutely electric, as Callow and Caitriona Balfe play off each other so well that one hopes this isn’t the last that’ll be seen of him.
Geillis Duncan also returns, wicked and wonderful, seemingly pregnant with Dougal MacKenzie’s child, and scheming with him to murder her husband so they can be together. Played elegantly by Lotte Verbeek, Geillis is a fantastic character for Claire to interact with, because she exhibits such freedom and confidence in a place and time that does not welcome it, and Claire certainly seems to envy her in some way, or at least can connect with her for that reason. She seems genuinely awed by the quasi-Pagan summoning ritual Geillis performs in the woods, and goes to her in the end despite Jamie’s warnings. Of course, Claire gets captured and taken away with her for doing so, but that only makes next week feel even further away. Hopefully they wear more coats like the ones in the photo above.