As last week’s season premiere involved restraint, “Not In Scotland Anymore” examines power in matters of sex, politics, and society. Especially important is how power is negotiated between the genders within the French elite, and the craft women must employ to stay in control of their status within the intrigues and melodramas of courtly life.
From the beginning, director Metin Hüseyin amps up the Gothic aspects of Diana Gabaldon’s story with its focus on Jamie’s continuing physical and spiritual torment and Claire’s struggle with the confines of domesticity and the patriarchal structures and restrictions of the society in which she must not only flourish, but manipulate if her plan is to work.
The opening scene shows no mercy towards the character or the audience as Jamie’s nightmares continue: he and Claire are engaged in passionate love-making, one where they watch and respond to each other, only to have Claire’s body replaced by Jack Randall. Enraged, Jamie grabs a dagger and stabs him fiercely and repeatedly, blood streaming down his hair and face, darkening his features until only his blue eyes are clearly visible, bulging and wild. When Jamie jolts awake, his marital bed still harbors the ghost and he must leave it for the rest of the night. “He’s alive in my head,” he tells Claire, who assures him that Jack is dead, “I canna get him out.”
Claire’s focus on her husband’s health, in addition to the annoyances of running a household, especially one so lavish and populated with servants for every imaginable task, push her into the city in search of a remedy. Prague, used as a stand-in for Paris on the show, and its labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets and hidden shops in the Old Town, largely unchanged for hundreds of years, give the city an otherworldly quality that will prove in later episodes to be as dreamlike as menacing.
Claire herself notes the ethereal position she finds herself in as she walks through a city that she had (would have?) traveled to centuries later, at the end of World War II. She had intended to visit the Eiffel Tower, but Hitler had closed it during Nazi occupation and it was not yet open at the end of the war. In a wink towards military history, Prague was one of the few major European cities to emerge from WWII largely unscathed by aerial bombing, and Josefov, its Jewish quarter, was intended by Hitler to be preserved as a museum after his retirement. If Claire was walking up the Royal Route towards St. Vitus Cathedral, Josefov would be just over the river behind her.
Her knowledge of herbs and medicines lead her to an apothecary named Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon), whose shop is exactly as one would picture it: a crocodile suspended from the ceiling, high shelves and vials organized by ailment, and a moving stepladder that traverses the length of the room. The two share a natural sympathy as healers and Claire makes her first true friend in the city, and Raymond alerts Claire that her name has not remained sequestered to Jared Fraser’s house.
Then, there is Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), doomed by his unyielding faithfulness to Jamie to endure the “asses and armpits” stench of a city as far removed from the soil of bonny Scotland as one could get. Any time he is out of his Scottish dress, he looks itchy and uncomfortable. Wisely, screenwriter Ira Steven Behr does not reduce Murtagh to mere comic relief in this episode, but tempers his funnier lines with an underlying sadness in wanting to get back to the home for which he is fighting in France to preserve. His fencing scene with Jamie in a city park shows the frustration on both their parts: Jamie struggling physically to regain strength in his damaged hand, Murtagh venting emotionally over the risk they are taking in Paris.
As Hüseyin and cinematographer Stephen McNutt often frame Jamie in medium or close shots to show the internal struggle he is enduring, Claire is usually given a wide angle lens, both to magnify the architecture of her wardrobe and her skill at navigating the crowd in a room. To gaze upon her gowns and hats and gloves is to appreciate the intricacies that costume designer Terry Dresbach devotes to each of her creations. Claire is shown in clean lines and bold cuts, from the Dior-inspired coat and skirt she wears to Master Raymond’s shop to the famous red dress she helps design for the ball at Versailles. Both the dress she wears to a friend’s boudoir and an outfit she wears when Jamie gets a surprising and advantageous invitation reminded me of Marlene Dietrich in their balance of masculine and feminine structures: Claire is from a time where fashionable celebrities like Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis wore pants and vests, and war rationing meant regular women adopted men’s fashions for work as well. In everything Claire wears, we see a bit of agency she is reclaiming over her placement in such new surroundings.
Compare her look to the tufts, ruffles, and bows adorning the fashionable French women of the time, especially her powerful friend, Louise de la Tour, Marquise de Rohan (a marvelous Claire Sermonne). As miserable as Murtagh is to be in Paris, Louise thrives within it, her demeanor ever confident and playful and flirtatious. It is Louise who occupies a brief montage at the title card of this episode, being dressed for the ball by a maidservant. Parties and social events are her home turf, and she commands the in-field advantage with her wit and charm. When we first see her, she is getting her legs and nether-region waxed in front of an awestruck audience of Claire and a young, shy girl named Mary Hawkins (Rosie Day), who is Louise’s ward during the social season. Mary is about to be married to a rich older man - in Louise’s opinion, a wise match, as Mary can have wealth and status and take any number of lovers as diversions.
Nowhere is power most pivotally negotiated among the French elite as in matters of sex, and this episode features this interplay in both the political and social sphere. From Louise’s lectures about de rigeur body styling to clandestine meetings in a brothel, the definition of wife versus sexual creature is shown in stark contrast. It is no random decision that Jamie is invited to meet with Prince Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower) at the Maison de Madame Elise: the exiled royal wants to size up a potential ally in an intimate setting, and where else but an establishment where men are expected to act duplicitous? Conversely, Jamie and Murtagh get to witness what a foolish horndog the Stuart truly is, his weak chin and watery eyes a stark contrast to the intense gaze of his guests. While Charles speaks of divine right to the Scottish throne and God’s will that he unite the clans against England, his fellow Scotsmen try to reason with him against rebellion. As foolhardy and illogical as Charles is, his love of wine and women and foppish style (the salmon-pink silk lounging coat is perfect) indicate a man aching to regain the benefits of title and rank, but with a natural weakness towards the “baser instincts” he so admires in the French.
The culmination of the episode is the ball at Versailles, where Louise has arranged for the Frasers to attend and meet King Louis XV (Lionel Lingelser, who commands a bizarrely intimate scene where an audience gathers in his chambers to watch him suffer a bout of constipation). As it is the couple’s one chance to make a first impression, and to establish their place at Court, they must look and act the part. Claire’s ascension down the steps in her sang-du-Christ red dress is straight out of a 1940s period drama, a bit like Loretta Young descending the staircase on her variety show. Ironically, as sensual and striking as the dress is, it reflects the dark underbelly of the episode in its inclusion at the royal ball, where Claire mingles among people whom she knows will face a revolution mere decades later due to the extravagance and decadence of the elite. I couldn’t help but recall The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe as Claire assumes the form of the mysterious figure in red, gliding through the rooms of extreme wealth and power, carrying the burden of knowledge of what will become of French society (as well as the Scottish people) if things do not change.
No one exhibits the decadence and hedonism of the period more than the French King and his mistress Madame Nesle de la Tourelle (Kimberly Smart), who appear at the ball in matching gold with the woman's dress cut low enough to showcase her breasts with nipples pierced by ornamental swans. The "wonderful vulgarity" of Madame Tourelle's costume (to borrow a description from Charles Stuart) communicates power, position, and a cheeky reference to decorum - as adherent to the fashion of the day as a manipulation of a woman's place in the relationship.
In essence, death, or a lack thereof, is the last thing she encounters when an old acquaintance, the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow), appears to her and Jamie and reveals the truth regarding prior events that cut Claire deeply. She also meets Sandringham’s new secretary, a sickly young man named Alexander Randall (Laurence Dobiesz) who was seen earlier talking with young Mary Hawkins. Alexander is revealed to be Jack Randall’s brother and the countenances of Dobiesz and Tobias Menzies are as similar physically as their characters’ personalities are different. The big reveal from Alexander is that his brother is still alive and kicking (Jamie has left the room by this point, but Claire is in shock). Sandringham’s leering eye upon Claire as she reacts to this news accomplishes more than any dialogue would, and we know the whereabouts of the Frasers will not remain secret for long.
The final scene, as Claire returns to Jamie during a fireworks show, illustrate the burden of prescience - as well as the news of Randall - which she carries on her delicate shoulders. All the other party guests are consumed by the spectacle, as they are “more trusting and foolish than (she is)” as Master Raymond had pointed out. For the first time in the episode, we truly sense the isolation of Claire, and the separation between her and Jamie grows wider.