Monday, 8 September 2014

OUTLANDER, 1.5 – 'Rent' • the future path to the past

Monday, 8 September 2014

written by Toni Graphia | directed by Brian Kelly

We got a sense of the long-term plan for OUTLANDER with episode 5, beyond Claire's (Caitriona Balfe) inevitably doomed intention to time-travel home by touching the stones at Craigh na Dun. The famous Battle of Culloden is three years hence, and Claire remembers it will mark the demise of the Clan MacKenzie and the Highlander way of life. This gives Outlander a deadline and something nasty looming on the horizon, and one assumes the eight source novels haven't reached that grisly conflict with the British army just yet—so does this mean Starz are angling towards making a half-dozen seasons, or so?

The road trip began with "Rent", as Claire was forced to accompany suspicious Dougal (Graham McTavish) and his hairy men, as they spent weeks visiting numerous villages to collect rent. Claire spent most of the episode behaving sanctimoniously, as she believed the MacKenzie's are extorting "protection money" from the poor and occasionally thieving to line their own pockets. However, I was pleased to see this storyline send things down a more unexpected path, with Claire slowly realising Dougal's actually more interested in cultivating a native hatred of the English redcoats. It's not extortion, it's recruitment for a future Jacobite army.
JAMIE (to Claire): It doesn't matter where you come from. You're here.
Much of the show is about the social/culture clash between Claire (a 20th-century outspoken woman) and the comparatively primitive Scots she finds herself living alongside, but this was the first episode that felt like she was learning and understanding more about their ways. Some of their behaviour's undoubtedly crude and difficult to appreciate, but it's not quite so barbarous as she's quick to believe (well, some of the time). For instance, Claire joined a group of female villagers in performing an old ritual with urine-soaked fabric, managing to overcome her disgust when the feeling of community spirit it evokes became infectious.

I also liked how some of the MacKenzie clansmen started a brawl in a tavern, which she later discovered only started because they were defending her honour from a rude local calling her a whore. While there's still mistrust in the air, it's increasingly clear these gruff men actually like Claire deep down. Not least handsome Jamie (Sam Heughan), of course, who took it upon himself to sleep outside her bedroom door to discourage any drunken, xenophobic Scots wanting to rape her.

Overall, this episode may have come at just the right time. I like where the relationship between Claire and the MacKenzie's is heading; there was nice support from Bill Paterson as Scottish academic Ned Gowan (who ironically ended the episode less enchanted with Claire, because she dare question their chances of defeating the Brits); and it ended on a good cliffhanger with Claire and Dougal surrounded by redcoats. She could very easily escape back to England with her own countrymen if she tells them she's being help captive by the MazKenzie's, but I'm guessing she won't—as that will presumably secure Dougal's trust in her.

I'm also now wondering if Outlander will eventually edge towards changing history, and have Claire's knowledge of the future work in the Highlander's favour when the Battle of Culloden is fought. She isn't a military tactician, but surely they'd stand a chance if she somehow got them modern weaponry. Or is that end-game too fantastical for this show? Whatever happens, "Rent" worked well to reaffirm some of my misgivings about Outlander in recent weeks. It still has its problems ('voice-overs for the hard-of-thinking' and extremely coincidental 'history lessons from Claire's husband in 1945'), but its heart is in the right place.

6 September 2014 | Starz