Outlander, Season 1, Episode 11, “The Devil’s Mark”
Written by Toni Graphia
Directed by Mike Barker
Airs Saturdays at 9PM ET on Starz
“I just wasn’t ready.”
“The Devil’s Mark” is easily one of the strongest episodes of television to air so far in 2015. It is a bit of a wild ride, split between the first half, in which the series turns into The Crucible with the witch trial of Claire and Geillis, and the second half, as Claire reveals the truth to Jamie and must choose whether she will go home to her time or stay with him. Things that have been simmering for some time finally come to a head, everything all out there all at once, and it is predictably thrilling and exceptionally executed.
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Let’s talk about Geillis first, and Lotte Verbeek’s typically remarkable performance. Viewers learn that she is a Jacobite, which is mildly surprising. It has long been hinted at, however, that she knows more than she lets on about Claire’s situation, and it becomes clear as day that she is from the future when she says, “Looks like I’m going to a fucking barbeque,” especially after Jamie asked Claire last week about the meaning of the word “fucking”. Tragically, once Claire finds someone she can uniquely relate to in this violent and dangerous world, Geillis is taken away after she confesses to being a witch to save Claire. This revelation is a game-changer, though, in that it suggests Geillis and Claire may not be the only ones from the future—or that the audience, at least, cannot be sure of anything or anyone.
Geillis also feels like a true loss because of the strong friendship developed between her and Claire. As compelling as Claire and Jamie’s relationship consistently is, to have a complex friendship with another woman in this time and place felt extremely valuable, both to Claire and to the series. Geillis being committed to the Jacobite cause and insisting that Claire living on, instead of her, will mean something also suggests that she came here on purpose to change the course of history, which would have been incredibly interesting to explore (though perhaps others in the cause are on the same mission). It seems very likely, however, that Geillis will return from her supposed fate, as she’s seen being carried by the bloodthirsty townspeople, but the episode does not show her burn, or even make it to the stake.
And that’s only the first half! Because Claire has the same scar as Geillis from their smallpox vaccinations, the devil’s mark, she chooses this moment to reveal everything to Jamie, in a gigantic leap of trust and faith. Interestingly, he doesn’t call her crazy, instead believing her immediately. He doesn’t understand, and says as much, but he trusts her in the same way, paralleling her huge leap. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan are at their best here, expressing urgency, affection, and distress in measured but striking ways. Heughan’s face expertly moves from blankness to confusion to acceptance in only seconds, while Balfe’s chaotic earnestness feels just right for such an earth-shattering moment. Going forward, this truth presents an exciting new dynamic between our central duo, who are now even further bonded in their shared secret. How will Jamie’s attitude change?
Jamie brings Claire back to Craigh na Dun so that she can go home, and though it’s clear she won’t just go, because then the show would be over, and the episode ends with her returning to Jamie by the fire, these scenes are nonetheless imbued with great sadness and emotion. Again, Balfe and Heughan make an otherwise standard scene extraordinary, as the passion and ache feel palpable, the hard choices all the more tangible. As Outlander continues to flit between a jumble of genres, whether it be adventure, science-fiction, historical epic, or legal drama, the strongest material remains the connection between these two as seen through Claire’s eyes. One cannot hold back tears as Claire is about to touch the rock, when Jamie grabs her back and tells her he just wasn’t ready. We are so rarely quite ready for people to leave, but we normally don’t have the chance to grab them for one last moment together.