During my viewing of Episode 209: JE SUIS PREST, my primary reaction during the entire 55 minutes and 24 seconds was: This is OUTLANDER. While Season 1 focused on and built up toward a personal climax between Jamie and Claire (no pun intended), Season 2 is all about the future of Scotland as we approach (sniff sniff) the climatic ending of Diana Gabaldon‘s Dragonfly in Amber. Of course, Claire and Jamie’s storyline is what truly carries us along and is what most concerns us. Sorry, Scotland. History is written. Claire and Jamie go on.
In this episode, beautifully written by Matt Roberts and finely directed by Philip John, Claire suffers a major case of WWIIPTSD (World War II Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Jamie takes command of the Fraser and MacKenzie troops and delivers the best speech of the episode and perhaps my favorite of the series so far. Dougal returns with no apologies and begrudgingly takes his place behind General Jamie. Fan favorites Angus and Rupert also return, ready to snog Claire and kill some redcoats. But the biggest delight for me is the introduction of my favorite (secondary) character – John William Bertram Armstrong Grey. We’ll be seeing more of his character in Seasons 3 & 4.
While Diana’s novels contain elements of romance – the lovey dovey and adventurous kind – they are first and foremost about relationships and marriage. Family. History. Politics. War. Medicine. Displacement. Sacrifice. All these elements are masterfully encapsulated in this single episode.
JE SUIS PREST opens with Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) leading their dwindling troops toward Crieff to join the men of Lallybroch encamped under Murtagh’s watchful command before moving onto Perth to join the Prince’s army. Many of Lovat’s men have crept back to their homes, having been forced into service. Like every country with no standing army, the troops are made up of farmers, craftsmen, laborers who have no interest in fighting a war to swap out one king, who has little to no regard for their daily welfare, for another king who pretty much feels the same way. Unfortunately, only Claire, Jamie and Murtagh know the ultimate outcome of this war. Hope hangs by a thread they can change the future, but do they truly believe they can make a difference?
The greeting of a wink and a smile from Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) upon the Frasers’ arrival
and Dougal (Graham McTavish) – all ready to pledge their “hearts and swords to the glorious cause.” Like so many underdogs, they feel each Scot can take on ten redcoats. Ah, the glorification of war.
Jamie is much more sensible, perhaps because he knows what’s in store, what’s at stake, what’s to come. Or maybe he’s just smarter than Dougal. Maybe all the above. He knows they can’t march into war with an untrained troop of warrior-don’t-wanna-be’s. What follows is a daily montage of Master Chief Murtagh drilling the troops. Left face. Right face. Forward. March!
Meanwhile, Claire has several flashbacks to World War II. The sights, sounds and smell of Angus’ filthy feet take her back to a time she’d rather forget, has tried to forget, can’t seem to forget. It’s the first time in a while the show gives us a visual reminder of Claire’s future-past. I quite enjoy her walk down memory lane, certainly much more than she does. Like World War II, young men are on the line to serve and die for each other, more than for their country. Once on the line, that’s really who they’re fighting for.
Claire is just as forceful as Jamie in this episode, wanting the men to be prepared, but she’s much more emotional about it than Jamie. Blame it on her femininity if you want. I call it practical sensibility. I’m not a “war is not the answer” kind of person. Sometimes there’s no way out of a situation. I think I’d be exactly like Claire and, hopefully, a lot like Jamie.
It’s obvious to everyone watching, the new recruits have no interest in learning how to be a well-oiled machine, much less individually trained soldiers. Murtagh screams and yells and drills and kicks the men in the arse over and over with no appreciable improvement. Finally, Jamie steps forward. He knows how they feel, he tells them. It’s silly and useless to walk in a unison line, turning together, stopping together. They’ll be dying together, he finally tells them.
Jamie is a real soldier who has seen what professional corps of soldiers can do to each other on the battlefield. Pitting the trained redcoats against a mop of unprepared Scots rewards the English with targets, not a challenge. Jamie’s rousing speech inspires the men. They raise their swords and repeat his battle cry, then run away like a bunch of little girls when a shirtless gang of MacKenzie’s, led by Dougal, charges them from out of the mist.
I’m no history expert, but I don’t think they did that right. Aren’t the Highlanders supposed to flash themselves when they attack an enemy line – psyching out their opponents with a sea of Scottish tallwaggers charging forward? Not that I need to see that.
Annoyed with the disruption in training, Jamie takes Dougal aside and squarely puts his uncle in his place. Clan Fraser is Jamie’s to lead. Dougal can fall in line or hit the road.
Tail between his legs, Dougal approaches Claire. Very funny if you think about it. The last time they met, he had her in a corner. This time, he has nothing over her. Desperation, I suppose, causes him to ask, nearly beg, Claire to speak with Jamie. Tell the commander of the Fraser troops he needs help – Dougal’s help. He knows better how to lead the men to victory. Claire owes him, really. Warped perspectives are always interesting to explore, though not experience, as Claire shows. She’s in a WWIIPTSD mood and has no time for Dougal’s charms. They were kinda-sorta engaged once. Doesn’t that mean anything to her? It’s obvious he still wants her, if that means anything.
Not so much . . .
For the second time, Dougal is put in his place. Claire claims she doesn’t care enough about him to hold a grudge based on all the wrongs he’s inflicted. She calls him a narcissist who cares more about himself than his country. Says, “F*ck yourself,” with a heap full of venom in her voice. None of that bothers him, except the part about not loving Scotland more than himself. Don’t we just love these scenes between Claire and Dougal? They’re such great adversaries. Claire can say everything Jamie can’t or won’t, out of respect for his uncle. Until . . . no spoilers from me!
The troops begin to shape up over time, but they need to increase the ranks. At least, that’s what Dougal thinks when he shows up in Jamie’s command post with ten new “volunteers.” Grr. Jamie immediately releases the obviously coerced recruits and dismisses everyone else from the room, except Dougal. He attempts to pound through his uncle’s thick skull, the men need more time to be trained.
Talk. Talk. Talk. Dougal is unimpressed with Matt’s well-written speeches. He wants action. This man is/was the MacKenzie war chief? He’s acting like he’s never led more than a cattle raid. And coos dinna fight back. Neither do Jamie’s sentries, he points out. He waltzed right into camp with a “Hiya.”
More grr. Jamie fixes that little problem by assigning the MacKenzies to sentry duty. Dougal is happy to oblige. At least he gets to be in charge of something. The next morning, Jamie punishes the two sentries who allowed Dougal passage with six lashes each. Zero tolerance.
Over the days, we learn more about Claire’s wartime experience as her WWIIPTSD intensifies. I’m fascinated by World War II so love these peeks from Claire’s perspective. She recalls and shares with Jamie a traumatic experience involving her jeep blowing up, resulting in her being left alone on the side of the road, the soldiers with her wounded and/or killed in action, German troops march past, terror prevents her from helping those around her. Jamie is his usual caring and tender self, telling her she’s not to blame for what happened to those soldiers. But it leads him to believe bringing her along is a mistake and offers to send her home to Lallybroch.
Claire refuses to leave. She does not wish to be alone and helpless. Jamie promises she’ll never be alone again . . . but I don’t think they’re thinking the same thing. Isn’t he sneaky?
Jamie likes to pee against the outside of buildings – in case you were all wondering – which is exactly what he’s doing when he’s jumped from behind. I’m embarrassed to admit, I totally forgot about John Grey (Oscar Kennedy) for a moment and thought we’d gone way off script such that Dougal had sent an incompetent assassin to take Jamie out of the picture. Joke’s on me.
Quickly disarming the young man (Yes, that’s the same shaving knife Claire uses to shave Frank and Corporal Lily Liver Hawkins uses to nick Randall in Ep. 106: THE GARRISON COMMANDER. Nice one, Matt.), Jamie takes him into the command post and discovers he has an English not-quite-a-soldier in his grasp. Immediately, he interrogates the young ‘un to no avail. The boy will not give up any information regarding his camp or their armament supplies, not even when Jamie holds a red-hot, manly knife near the sixteen-year-old’s eye. Name, rank and serial number only, kid.
Still on a high from her performance at Beaufort Castle, Claire feigns to be a captive of the Scottish horde and begs Jamie not to harm the young man. She’ll do anything he wants. Jamie plays along (Tell me they haven’t played this game in the bedroom.) and pretends to ravage her. (Tell me the Scots in the room aren’t getting turned on by this little scene. It certainly puts a smile on my face.)
Anyway, John Grey submits and blurts out everything Jamie wants to know, with the help of a few prodding sobs from Claire. In return Jamie grants the young lord-to-be (or he is already a lord?) his life to which Grey announces he will someday repay (Hmm. Wonder when.), then he’ll be free to kill Jamie. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship to me. My only minor disappointment? Jamie does not reveal his relationship to Claire before John Grey is taken off to be tied to a tree near the English camp.
Gathering the troops, it’s time for another lashing. Someone needs to be punished for allowing John Grey to sneak into their camp. Everyone looks toward the new sentries. Dougal starts to strip, ready to take the punishment, but Jamie steps forward and takes off his jacket and shirt. He holds himself responsible as their unshielded fires are what drew John Grey to their camp. Gotta love a commander who can take a licking.
After Jamie’s flagellation, it’s time for the Highlanders to have a bit of fun. Not so fun for the poor Englishmen guarding the cannons. Jamie returns home with a ring of cotter pins, having built a bonfire with the cannon wheels. Not worried about attracting attention with that fire, I guess.
Thanks to Claire’s ingenuity tricking John Grey into spill his guts, they have surely saved Highlander lives, Jamie tells her. Then he makes us all think we’re about to get a steamy sex scene . . . but it’s time to break camp. The English will be up soon and will not be happy about the Scottish commando raid.
Early the next morning, the Fraser/MacKenzie clan approach the Prince’s camp. Jamie sends Dougal ahead with the honorable job of announcing their arrival. And so it begins . . .
Will Dougal and Jamie ever see eye-to-eye? Will Claire ever get over her PTSD? Will anyone ever find John Grey tied to that tree? Will Angus ever wash his feet?
John Grey will be fine, but don’t hold your breath on the rest – unless you’re around Angus – and do tune in next week for the next battle-packed episode of Outlander.
JE SUIS PREST pays honor to the Dragonfly in Amber novel to the highest degree, and the fact this episode is written by Matt Roberts is no surprise. He seems to have a special kinship with the material and it shows. I know the actors add their own touches to each script during shooting, but Matt never fails to impress with his handling of the characters and the intertwining storylines. If I didn’t know better, I’d have almost guessed this episode was written by Diana Gabaldon herself, which is the greatest compliment I can think to bestow.
Accolades all around. It’s wonderful to have Graham McTavish back. As Claire says, it wouldn’t be Scotland without Dougal. Graham is so good at playing a sympathetic villain of sorts. His heart is in the right place, but his darn feet keep stepping on everyone’s toes. The scenes between Graham and Caitriona Balfe are among my favorites. It’s perhaps one of the reasons Ep. 106: THE GARRISON COMMANDER is one of the best episodes. It has everyone in it, including a scene between Dougal and Randall – the only scene in the series with both unyielding characters.
Oscar Kennedy‘s introduction as Young John Grey is squeal-worthy to book fans, although I know there are a handful of novel fans who do not read and/or care for the LJG series. [Minor spoilers ahead.] It’s unfortunate because the novel(la)s provide a fabulous look into a complex and fascinating character who’s also an integral member of the main series. Critical parts of his background are not revealed in the main story, including his full history with Jamie which is covered very well in The Scottish Prisoner and The Brotherhood of the Blade.
Sam Heughan kicks Jamie up another level in this episode. How does he do it? Just when we think we’ve seen the real James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, Sam shows us there’s still more. It makes sense as Diana continues to evolve the characters in each novel, always surprising, never boring us during their lifelong journey. Jamie and Claire seem to have an endless number of onion layers. Sam gets that and gives us just enough of Jamie until we’re ready for the next layer to be revealed.
Caitriona Balfe takes Claire on a journey separate from Jamie’s. It’s one of the aspects I find most interesting about this episode. They are together but separate. They each have their own demons to fight, Claire’s coming at her from the past and Jamie’s staring at him from the future. They leave each other to their own inner & outer conflicts until finally drawing on each other for support. Their poignant scene where Jamie makes a promise meaning one thing to her and another to him is perfectly done.
Bear McCreary‘s music is a major emotional component in this episode from start to finish. What would Outlander be without him? I do not want to know. For a translation of Bear’s exquisite song selections and a few choice Gàidhlig phrases, check out Mandy Tidwell’s post: Outlander Episode 209 – Je Suis Prest – All the Gàidhlig Bits I Could Decipher
Outlander Episode 210: PRESTONPANS premieres on Starz on Saturday, 11 June 2016 in the U.S.
For more goodness on this episode, check out Jamie’s Top 30 Looks from Outlander Ep. 209: JE SUIS PREST