Outlander, Season 1, Episode 13, “The Watch”
Written by Toni Graphia
Directed by Metin Hüseyin
Airs Saturdays at 9pm ET on Starz
“You pay one devil to protect you from another?”
The threat is never gone. Jamie thought that he and Claire would be safe once they returned to his home in Lallybroch, but he should have known that, as a wanted man, he can’t hide. McCory and his men of The Watch, who provided us with last week’s cliffhanger, turn out to be scoundrels who offer protection to Lallybroch for a price. As such, we are treated to an episode that is compelling in the moment, but leaves one feeling relatively unfulfilled.
The tension that fills Lallybroch with the arrival of The Watch, and then Hollocks (who, unlike The Watch, knows about the price on Jamie’s head), is palpable, but follows a familiar straight line. We’re waiting for the truth to come out, for Jamie to get too hotheaded and reveal himself (which almost happens), or for McCory to put it together. A lot of words go unspoken, and by the time Ian has taken care of Hollocks and McCory is all the happier for it, it starts to feel like a bit of a waste of time and suspense for a show that so often handles these elements expertly.
What comes off better is Claire’s revelation to Jamie that she doesn’t think she can have children as she tries to handle helping Jenny give birth. This latest secret must feel like just another to Jamie, and certainly an easier one to understand than that she comes from the future. He accepts it immediately, which feels a little too tidy, but works fairly gracefully nonetheless. It helps when the writing is so sticky sweet: “Perhaps it’s for the best. I can bear pain myself, but I cannot bear yours. It would take more strength than I have.” Jamie, you’re too much. It’s an interesting wrench in the gender politics of the show. Claire falls into tears by her perceived letting down of Jamie because of her infertility, which shows that even a modern woman from post-World War II feels the expectation to give her husband a child. It’s more complicated than that (she is very aware of what time period she is now in), but it’s possible that this shows how things have not changed very much in some ways.
Ian and Jenny remain sketched thinly, more often telling us why they are characters than actually showing us. Jenny tells a story about Ian and Jamie when they were younger, how they went undefeated as a team when getting into fights and always had each other’s backs, which helps to further establish their bond, even though it is being told directly to us by neither one. Jenny appears to think she may die in childbirth, certainly a real fear in that time (particularly without a midwife), but that she and Claire are able to bond so forcefully after the tribulations of last week feels somewhat rushed. It’s still difficult to figure out who exactly Jenny and Ian are. That said, there is a great moment after the baby girl is born (Jenny was expecting a boy), and she and Claire look at each other with faces that show happiness at the surprise, but also a more complex acknowledgement of what kind of world this girl is being brought into. Kudos to Caitriona Balfe and Laura Donnelly for making such a tiny moment have real impact.
Though McCory doesn’t care that Ian and Jamie killed Hollocks, he still has them join him on their ambush on the redcoats. McCory seems to have some respect for Jamie, calling him a warrior. When he invites Jamie to join them permanently, Jamie expresses that he would if it weren’t for Claire. This was a curious moment, as it suggests that he feels as if Claire may be holding him back in some way from the kind of thrilling and dangerous life he wants to live. Or, he may have simply been lying to assuage McCory. Predictably enough, it turns out that the late Hollocks planned this as an ambush on them, and most are killed. Ian returns home injured, while Jamie has been taken by the redcoats—in other words, the cat-and-mouse game that we spent this episode playing is rendered meaningless now that he ends up caught anyway. This, at least, offers a path forward for Claire—she must save Jamie.