Episode 104: THE GATHERING is hands down my favorite episode so far this season. It is all about survival. No sex. No gratuitous nudity – maybe Angus. No flirting – maybe a little. No wanton looks – maybe one or two. I loved it!
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) schemes to escape, outwits her shadows, and shows her sympathetic side. Jamie (Sam Heughan) drops his puppy-dog glances at Claire in an obvious effort to take control of his emotions. He displays the serious and gallant side of his character. I melted more than a few times during Episode 103: THE WAY OUT, but my heart pounded during his scene at the Gathering even though I knew the outcome.
REVISION: You see, this is why I love it when people take the time to leave me a comment. In my initial review for this episode regarding Producer Matt Roberts’ script in the series, I wrote
“If I wasn’t sitting down right now, I’d give him a standing ovation. I loved everything about this script, but to keep my review honest – I must admit I did not care for Claire’s line, “There’s no place like love. There’s no place like love.” Otherwise, I thought it was perfection!”
A thoughtful reader reviewed my review and pointed out the timing of The Wizard of Oz release; therefore, I’d like to revise my previous review with this . . .
The Wizard of Oz premiered on August 25th, 1939 – only days before Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1st, leading to the outbreak of World War II.
In my mind, I imagine Frank taking Claire to see it, or perhaps Claire dragging Frank to the theater. It’s a wonderful scene, epitomizing youth and innocence before the world entered the darkness of World War II. The movie is a classic in our time, but to Claire, the line “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home” is something fresh and germane to her situation. This puts an entirely different spin on Claire and Laoghaire’s scene – for me. I realize now why Matt Roberts borrowed the line, and it makes perfect sense.
No, I did not miss the comparison of Dorothy to Claire, or the analogous colorization techniques applied to Outlander. I simply goofed.
Now I must add, I wish we could have had a flashback scene of Claire and Frank watching The Wizard of Oz if for no other reason to see them young and in love – before the war, before the world changed them, before they lost their innocence.
Costume Designer Terry Dresbach posted several new sketches and photographs of the stunning costumes in this episode, including those for a certain author making her cameo appearance, Geillis’ ivory Arisaid, the MacKenzie pin, Claire’s lovely plaid, and of course – Ron D. Moore’s dapper outfit. There are loads of costume goodies on her site. Be sure to dash over there. Personally, I’d love to get my hands on one of the gowns pictured below, especially the one in the middle.
Per protocol, here’s my SPOILER alert. Proceed at will.
THE GATHERING bursts onto screen with drama, suspense, action, and Outlander author, Diana Gabaldon, in her cameo appearance as Iona MacTavish. We start out in the woods with a man in a watch tower, and I am immediately reminded of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Claire is being chased – hopefully not by “Those we don’t speak of.”
Thankfully, it turns out she’s playing with Hamish (Roddy Gilkison) and some of the other children from Castle Leoch while a disgruntled Angus Mohr (Stephen Walters) and Rupert MacKenzie (Grant O’Rourke) watch and wait. The two hairy Highlanders have become quite the sidekicks, offering perfectly-timed comic relief to every scene they steal. Today, they’re unhappy about missing the festivities while Claire runs amok.
As we’ve come to expect after only three episodes, Claire Randall via Caitriona Balfe sports several priceless expressions.
Claire’s voiceover explains her fun and games are merely covert cover for her escape preparations. For several days, she’s been plotting her path to freedom, tying a trail of ribbons to guide her way. Her plans are set. She only needs to rid herself of her shadows – Angus and Rupert. Easily done. She spots the perfect distraction in the form of a buxom young woman.
For once, Ang and Rup are diligent in their duties and don’t notice the woman checking them out. Quicker than a Scot can pull out a flask of whiskey, they are shoving each other aside to gain her singular attention . . . until Claire intervenes and suggests they draw straws for the lady’s, well, hand.
Claire next heads to the stables – where I’d be hanging out a-a-l-l-l the time – to pick out a horse for the hunt (and her escape). Old Alec (Liam Carney) doesn’t seem happy to see her.
“Perhaps Mr. MacTavish can help me. Where’s Jamie?” she enquires. Good question, I say.
“Not here,” Old Alect grumbles and even advises her to “leave Jamie to his own thoughts today, lass.”
Up ’til now, Jamie’s been at Claire’s beck and call. Something’s different. By the way, I’d like to point out, this stable is a much better location for a roll in the hay rather than the smaller, open air stalls where Jamie and Claire had lunch. Know what I mean?
I have two additional notes to make about this episode. 1) The music. Claire’s mind is on returning to her own time, thus the music following her is a soft, melancholy 40s tune with a voice like Billy Holiday. It’s not out of place at all and fits Claire’s mood perfectly. 2) Jamie. He’s a bit scarce in this episode, but what his scenes lack in quantity greatly make up for in quality. So, we’ll leave him to his own thoughts for now.
Claire trudges back to the castle with the Billy Holiday music in her head. The record screeches to a halt when she is surprised by Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) waiting in her surgery – kind of like a spider.
Geillis’ overactive curiosity steers her into a swift interrogation. No more sipping port and braiding each other’s hair while sharing secrets. Geillis wants to know all there is to know about Claire, and she wants to know now. What’s with all the food hoarding? Is she pregnant? Without waiting for an answer . . . Is the bairn illegitimate? If your husband’s not alive, is he dead? Why don’t you have any children? Are you barren? Are you having trouble sleeping? I’m surprised she didn’t come right out and ask, “Are you from the future?” It’s a good thing Claire doesn’t keep a diary.
In return, Geillis tries the old, I’ll tell you my secrets first. See if that works. “I drug my husband every night to avoid having sex with him. It leaves me free to have a life. Tee hee.”
Claire doesn’t take the bait.
On to the MacKenzie Gathering . . . Claire enters the kitchen in search of a handy weapon and more food – How far away are the stones? You’re traveling through time, not across the ocean. Mrs. Fitz (Annette Badland) catches her and immediately whisks her new Barbie-Claire upstairs to dress her for the big shindig.
Properly primped, they enter the great hall and pass a familiar-looking face – Executive Producer Ron D. Moore as Mr. MacTavish. Mrs. Fitz leads Claire up to the gallery, passing by Mrs. MacTavish (Diana Gabaldon). The two women are obvious adversaries – perhaps both in love with Mr. MacTavish at some point in the past? Another story to be told . . .
For more on Ms. Gabaldon’s big debut, here’s a look inside Episode 104: THE GATHERING with Ron Moore:
Meanwhile, on the main floor everyone is dressed in their finest as Colum MacKenzie (Gary Lewis) makes his grand entrance to a wailing bagpipe. Lots of Gàidhlig in this episode. Luckily, Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser (Duncan Lacroix) stays close to Claire and offers a bit of translation for her and us.
After Dougal pledges his oath to Colum, Claire decides ‘you’ve seen one oath swearing ceremony, you’ve seen ’em all.’ It’s time to make her exit and return to the stones. Translation: Time to get out of this damn corset and back to hot showers, carbon-fueled transportation, and modern medicine. Oh, and Frank! Claire’s been without for too long.
While Rup is busy with the buxom pot stirrer – when did that happen? – Claire whips out a bottle of laced port to bribe Ang and dashes down to her surgery to collect her go-gear. No busybody Geillis this time, but Laoghaire MacKenzie (Nell Hudson) attacks Claire in a dark corridor and holds a knife to her throat – warning Claire to stay away from Jamie. “He’s mine,” she says. “You’ll never have him!”
Okay. That doesn’t happen, but we know it could have. Instead, Leery asks Claire for Love Potion #9 because Jamie will only give his lips to her – not his heart. Talk about greedy.
Claire doesn’t have time to explain why Jamie doesn’t love the young lass. She has to hit the road. So, she offers up a 99¢ bottle of horse dung. Quickly, she tells Leery to sprinkle the potion over Jamie’s threshold – I didn’t know Jamie had a threshold – and recite “There’s no place like love. There’s no place like love.”
I must admit, as much as I love this episode – I do not completely understand the purpose of this scene other than to stall Claire and perhaps show the innocent side of her one-day nemesis. I don’t feel sympathy for Leery any more, but we were afforded some lovely shots of both Claire and Laoghaire.
Moving on to more pivotal scenes . . . Claire comes upon a nasty Highlander using the corridor as a urinal. Before she can flee to safety, she is surrounded by a gang of nasty Highlanders coming out of the walls to which she is pressed against. They spit Gàidhlig in her face, no doubt telling her what they plan to do to her. Poor outnumbered Claire is rescued by Dougal MacKenzie – who always seems to pop up whenever she’s alone. First he rescues her, then he tries to take his reward. What a guy! Where’s Jamie when you need him? Thank goodness his uncle didn’t raise him.
When Dougal get handsy and kissy, Claire gets slappy then knocks him out over the heid with a convenient stool in the hallway. With Dougal out cold, she’s free to make her escape to the stables.
Rather than go through the beats of the second half of the show, which I more amusingly cover in Jamie’s Top 30 Looks, I want to say simply how pleased I am with the performances of Mr. Heughan and Ms. Balfe throughout the entire episode, especially during the scenes in the stable, in the “dressing room” and the great hall during Jamie’s oath pledging.
In the stable scene, Jamie and Claire play off each other in a very different way than in their previous intimate encounters. A definite change is apparent in both characters. Jamie’s schoolboy looks are gone. Claire is still desperate to get home, but her eyes are opening to what’s in front of her for the first time. This is no lad with a crush. He’s a man, and he proves it in this episode.
With each scene that follows, Claire’s eyes open wider. She senses something dangerous is happening as Jamie prepares to attend the Gathering, but he goes to great effort to protect her from the truth, making jokes and telling her not to worry.
The audience is given a reminder of just how far this man is willing to go.
Finally, we come to Jamie’s climax in the show as he enters the hall to take his place in front of Colum. It’s a well-orchestrated scene as he makes his way through the crowd with Murtagh and Claire providing dialogue. Jamie’s tense expressions tell us what he’s thinking and feeling every step he takes toward his potential death.
Co-Executive Producer Maril Davis asked what our favorite scene in the show was. I went with my gut – as I often do, and picked this one:
Jamie is never quite in focus and is mostly off screen for half the shot. He gives Murtagh a big smile and a smaller one to Claire. Less than an hour ago, he thought he was a dead man. He doesn’t stay to drink or flirt but leaves with the only man with whom he entrusts his life. It’s a short yet powerful scene with only one line of dialogue delivered by Murtagh, “I’m getting too old for this.” Claire’s eyes are wide open.
In the same way SASSENACH swept me into its story, THE GATHERING kept me thoroughly engrossed from beginning to end. I knew what was going to happen, but it didn’t diminish the intensity of the experience.
Claire’s relationship with Dougal also takes a great leap in this episode, crossing different levels of intimacy than that with Jamie. She witnesses Dougal at his most vulnerable not once but three times. I consider his stance at the Gathering more vulnerable than not, or Jamie’s life wouldn’t be in danger. In the end, Dougal approaches Claire with a much-earned respect.
To the makers of the Starz Outlander series:
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the dynamic range the actors are taking these characters through, being so well-written in the novel. But I am. Each week, I watch the characters grow in ways I didn’t think would be visible without dialogue. The subtly of each expression, touch, glance, and emotion speaks volumes.
I pay attention to the details you painstakingly add. I see what you are doing in each corner of the screen. I understand this story means as much to you as it does to me. I am in awe of how delicately you are putting it together.
But it’s not only the actors, producers, writers, cinematographers, and directors making this show superb. It’s the people working in locations, art department, props, costumes, hair & makeup, electrical, grip, camera, music, sound, video assist, special effects, visual effects, animal wrangling, stunts, the ADs, the PAs, the drivers, and the caterers, too. We see the messages from the producers hailing the efforts of the cast and crew toiling in adverse conditions. It makes me smile because I know how dedicated and close they all are. Frankly, it also makes me a bit sad not to be up to my knees in mud with them!
If the filmmakers and cast wonder whether their largest to smallest efforts are noticed, I for one am hear to yell, “YES!”
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander is the heart and soul of the television series, but Tall Ship Productions, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, the entire cast and crew brought it to life in a way I don’t believe anyone thought possible. I wrote in my initial review for SASSENACH this show is groundbreaking because of the quality and care given to the first episode. With this latest addition to the series, you managed to surpass your own standards.
Bravo and thank you.
Episode #105: RENT airs next Saturday, 9 September at 9:00 pm EST.