I fervently wish “By the Pricking of My Thumbs” had been Outlander‘s midseason premiere, because it was exactly the kind of episode that highlighted everything wonderful about the show’s world. There was romance, humor, duels, death, legend, witchcraft, and the right kind of smacking (as in, handing a girl who is trying to steal your husband). The plot is still whizzing by, but it’s also being formed in a way that will at least carry out through several episodes.
The other positive thing about “By the Pricking of My Thumbs” was how everything connected. Claire and Jamie’s relationship is back to pure love and romance (after the steamiest of steamy opening scenes), and they even start scheming together in order to clear Jamie’s name. Claire uses her knowledge of the Duke of Sandringham’s (Simon Callow) political leanings that she learned from Frank to, essentially, threaten him with blackmail. It works, thanks too to his appreciation for Jamie (it was a nice twist, actually, that he was being blackmailed for his political leanings, and not his sexual ones).
But the Duke would have his pound of flesh (which Claire lashes out at him for it later), and calls for Jamie to be his second in a duel with the McDonalds. As was the tradition, the two paced out and shot lazily at one another so that no blood would be spilled, apologies would be extended and accepted, and drinks would be had. Except, the bad blood between the MacKenzies and the MacDonalds runs deep, and Jamie ends up brawling with them afterwards. Some of Outlander‘s best scenes are its brawls, which are violent yet comically played. Dougal’s mourning for his dead wife, for instance, was augmented to absurdity, with Claire being brought in to drug him (thanks to Angus getting the sedative into the drink). It wasn’t a tragic scene, but a oddly funny one, just like Jamie’s brawl — which also happened to leave him with a new scar.
But the Frasers didn’t have time to celebrate their cunning as a couple for long. We learned in this episode that Gellis has been having an affair with Dougal, and is carrying his child. Her witchy dance in the night (which had a nice visual callback to Claire crouching and watching the other ritual dance to start the whole story) apparently had its desired effect of killing off Dougal’s wife as well as her husband, Arthur (although she had a more direct hand in the latter). Their obvious plot caught Collum’s eye, who then exiled Dougal for the nonce, making Jamie go with him.
We all knew when Jamie told Claire not to see Gellis while he was gone that she was going to go, right? And that when she got the letter, we also all knew who it was from, aye? But regardless, it was a neat way to get the two women together. With their protectors gone, Gellis and Claire are snatched up to be tried for witchcraft, with a smirking Laoghaire watching as they are carted off. It was just another example of how, no matter Claire’s assertiveness and capabilities elsewhere (calming down Dougal, threatening Sandringham, laying the smack on Laoghaire, stitching Jamie’s wounds), she’s still living in a very dangerous and unpredictable time.
There was a lot of plot in “By the Pricking of My Thumbs” and not a ton of character development, but it still was an hour that was a lot of fun, and set up plenty to come in these final episodes of the back-half of the season. The Jacobite cause is still stirring, while Jamie’s fortunes are still tied to Black Jack Randall. The drama surrounding clan MacKenzie is far from simmering down, and Claire continues to find new ways to be trapped in peril (although it’s not all that hard). Even this far into the season, it still feels like the adventures are just beginning.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very Good
Musings and Miscellanea:
— That opening scene, though …!
— Murtagh bursting in to talk to Jamie and seeing Claire all snuggled and post-coital reminded me of college.
— “And now I’m afraid I must be off; a duel is one thing, a common brawl quite another” – Sandringham, who cracked me up.
— “I was expecting noisy displeasure but — aragh! — quiet displeasure can be very effective …” – Jamie.
— There were a lot of bared breasts in this episode. Game of Thrones wishes it had this much extended nudity.
— I don’t know what that situation with the baby/changeling was in the woods, but it was very sad.
— “Not even a blind man would say she was bonnie, but she deserved better than me” – Dougal.
— Mrs. Fitz needs to keep her scheming granddaughter in line!
— “I’m not about to offer up my hind parts” – Jamie.
— “Poppycock!” – Sandringham.