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Sunday, April 19, 2015

OUTLANDER Gets Another Good "Mark"

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Tonight’s OUTLANDER episode, “The Devil’s Mark,” could be divided into two parts. In the first, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) stand trial on the charge of witchcraft, with an execution all but certain. In the second, time travel secrets are spilled and Claire must make a very difficult choice about where she wants to spend the rest of her life. Both are quite compelling, and together, they make for a hell of an hour, more connected than they first appear.

At the start of “The Devil’s Mark,” Claire and Geillis, previously good friends, are on the outs, both blaming the other for the position that they are in. In truth, though, they’ve been keeping secrets from one another. Those secrets come out too late to do any good, but if they’d only confided more fully in each other earlier, they could have been better pals, and maybe a different outcome could have been reached.

See, Geillis is from the future, too; in fact, about twenty-five years further in the future than Claire. This is a huge bombshell that is telegraphed, but not enough that I saw it coming. Her dance in the woods, her knowledge of the supernatural; these things are clues to who she really is. She and Claire have something extremely important in common. Her vaccination mark leaves no doubt that Geillis is telling the truth when she confesses this.

But by the time she does, she is taking the fall for both herself and Claire in court, and Jamie (Sam Heughan) is escorting Claire away from the rioting mob. Claire can do nothing to save Geillis, and as far as Claire knows, she is once more the sole time traveler in the area. However, hearing Geillis spill her guts, in a fashion, makes Claire realize she must do the same, and Claire confides everything to Jamie.

Jamie, of course, is from this time, and has no reason to believe Claire other than his love for her. Even taking for granted that Jamie accepts some things beyond his comprehension, a product of the superstitious time he lives in, it’s a stretch for Claire to expect Jamie to believe anything she says. Yet, he does, fully and without question.

This proves how much love Jamie has for Claire. What is less certain is the love Claire has for Jamie. She’s fond of him, sure, and enjoys their sexy times, but she has not stuck her neck out for him in the same way that he has for her. In “The Devil’s Mark,” I think Claire finally realizes this. She may or may not be able to get home again through the stones, but by making a conscious decision not to try (or at least that’s how it appears), she does something monumental for Jamie, and the tears on his cheeks show how he feels about that.

Claire can be a bit of a jerk, and some may argue that she isn’t doing right by Frank (Tobias Menzies) to stay in the past. Frank loves her, and even if they aren’t particularly close at the time of her disappearance, given their long separation during the war, he isn’t ready to give her up. At the same time, there is no arguing that what Claire has been through with Jamie is significantly more dramatic, and the bond she has forged with the young Scot is probably quite a bit stronger than the one she shares with Frank. For now, anyway.

The fact that now is the time in which Claire makes this decision makes it much weightier. She has just barely survived a sham of a trail in which she lost a good friend. Claire knows what will become of the Scots, the MacKenzies and their ilk in particular, and she has no reason to think she won’t eventually suffer the same fate as Geillis or worse. Claire isn’t just choosing Jamie, she’s giving up safety to be with him. This is super important.

The trial itself is very gripping television. Despite Ned’s (Bill Paterson) best attempt at mounting a defense, something he says Colum (Gary Lewis) would disapprove of, the crowd is with Laoghaire’s (Nell Hudson) lies and the co-accusers that Laoghaire recruits. Until Jamie shows up and Geillis makes a false confession, things look dire for Claire, and it’s all the more frustrating because viewers know without a doubt that the charges are unfounded.

Except, from Laoghaire’s perspective, she might very well believe what she’s saying. After all, she thinks she has Jamie until Claire steals him away. Since Laoghaire believes in witches and can’t bring herself to accept Jamie’s rejection, she might justifiably think Claire is one.

Perhaps it’s good that this civilization didn’t last. As much as Claire might care for certain individuals she encounters and as sympathetic as many of the personalities portrayed are, society as a whole is lacking. Magic and religion rule the day, most people buying into things they are told by people no wiser and a great deal more crooked than themselves. The present has certainly not eliminated all of that, but it’s with a certain amount of (admittedly smug) superiority one can look back at how far we’ve come.

None of that matters in crafting a story, though, and OUTLANDER is crafting a doozy. There is no ‘typical’ hour for the program, “The Devil’s Mark” being as different as any other installment from the others. Its strength rests in the characters and the authenticity of the setting, both of which are done with the highest quality. OUTLANDER remains “must-see,” by far the best program on Starz.

Oh, and Dougal (Graham McTavish) will not be happy his love and unborn child are killed to save Claire. He may not know about the baby yet, but he’ll probably find out. Knowing that certainly provides a bit of a cliffhanger.

OUTLANDER airs Saturdays at 9 p.m . ET on Starz.

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