From the confines of her beautiful home, in the shadows of her lovely bedroom, Claire wakes up alone at the sound of her husband, Jamie, returning from his nightly jaunt at Maison Elise. With its wallpaper and linens of grey-blues and aubergine, the room should be a den of peaceful comfort, but with Jamie absent so much, the cool tones only exacerbate the cold distance between the couple. It isn’t that they don’t try: extended looks and simple gestures - as when Claire nudges a manservant away so she can help her husband change his wardrobe - show the channel of communication is still present, but a whisper-thin, invisible barrier exists at present, preventing true reconnection.
In the third episode of Outlander, "Useful Occupations and Deceptions," directed by Metin Hüseyin and written for television by Anne Kenney, Jamie’s pursuit of information to stop the rebellion has consumed his time and attention, and having Claire settled in a routine of home and social events sets his mind at ease for her and their child’s wellbeing. Unfortunately, he is married to Claire Beauchamp, a woman who dislikes any routine which has her sequestered from mental and physical activity. The expectations of a society wife and an endless succession of salon afternoons and dinner parties remove her from the plan she initiated, thus she will not remain passive for long.
During one such card game with Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne) and Mary Hawkins (Rosie Day), the young girl confesses her fears of marital obligations to her older mentors in a scene that reveals as much about the child bride’s innocence as the very real plight of women at that time. Marriage as a business, social, and political transaction left little room for tenderness or romance - that is what affairs were for. When Mary speaks of a man “forcing his wife to endure something like that” in regards to sex, Louise’s feigned shock is contrasted with Claire’s sympathetic reaction, though both women share proactive sexual attitudes based in their respective time periods. That’s probably the one thing that draws Claire to Louise, and keeps surprising her, as well.
Throughout the episode’s first act, as Claire’s frustration builds, I kept recalling a scene from 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons (a film adapted from a play adapted from an epistolary novel about sexual politics and conquests in pre-Revolutionary France) where the Marquise de Merteuil, played by the marvelous Glenn Close, explains the motivations and methods behind her persona to ex-lover and current-partner-in-aristocratic-drama, the Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich in a role he positively devours). They are discussing how her identity evolved in French society and she explains that her rapacious ambition emerged as a means not merely to survive the society she was thrust into as a teenager, but to excel in a world that offered her little choice as a woman. In her words,
“I practiced detachment, learned how to look cheerful while under the table I stuck a fork into the back of my hand. I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn’t pleasure I was after, it was knowledge.”
Though her motives are different from that of the Marquise, I imagine there are and will be many instances where Claire will look for the largest fork to thrust under the table.
One of the surprising elements of this episode was the attention paid to Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), a character as resistant to duplicity as inaction. And action he does get! You have to feel for him as a lonely, single man far from home, but three cheers to being unapologetic about his tryst with Suzette the lady’s maid and confronting Claire about being a “priggish scold.” There has long been an honesty between Claire and Murtagh since their search for Jamie before Wentworth in season one, and just because the former doesn’t like something doesn’t mean the latter is going to stop. In fact, he returns to finish the job. Thanks for being thorough AND considerate, Murtagh. Consider Claire’s position, too: she’s hormonal, she hasn’t been intimate with her husband in some time, and the maid is having fun while the mistress finishes the mending.
In this lavish world where she and Jamie must also become “virtuosos of deceit,” there must be an outlet for which to breathe as their true selves. For Claire, an opportunity arises when Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon), whose unblinking eye on his waistcoat looming eye-level as she sits in his shop, suggests she lend her medical expertise at L’Hôpital des Anges, a charity hospital run by nuns and staffed by volunteers. Filmed in Glasgow Cathedral, L’Hôpital is right up Claire’s alley, with the rows of beds and stalls housing the city’s indigent sick and wounded.
Claire seizes this opportunity to scrub herself free from the powder and perfume of polite society and get back to the grit of her natural talent in healing. Under the watchful eye of Mother Hildegarde (Frances de la Tour), Claire rolls up her sleeves and accepts the less exalted tasks of the profession: bedpan duty. This is essential Claire: never one to shy away from menial or dirty work in hopes of the opportunity to showcase higher-order skills or knowledge.
It is here that we see the crux of her and Jamie’s frustrations: both straining to accomplish something, to achieve tasks that build upon each other. Notice that for Claire, her relief comes from direct contact with patients again: to scrutinize, feel, smell, and even taste for symptoms. The close quarters of the hospital provides a succor of sorts from the distance in her bedroom, and being needed and appreciated gives her purpose and lifts her spirits. As an army nurse, she was used to being elbow-deep with the blood and the bones and the piss. She also flourishes in the proximity of Hildegarde, a woman of superior intelligence and venerability, whose character is equally practical and intuitive. A musical prodigy, Hildegarde has entered into a profession (through choice or necessity, it is not stated) in which single women could be respected and encouraged to learn, one in which their sexual prowess is not a factor in their personal achievement. In a way, Claire’s time with Hildegarde in the hospital is cathartic to her soul, as she sees a woman who shares and acknowledges her gifts.
On the other hand, Jamie is entrenched in a different kind of muck, as his dealings with Monsieur Duverney (Marc Duret), the Minister of Finance, and Prince Charles (Andrew Gower) amount to hours of inebriated “blether” and “wheedling” and “flattering” in the hopes of a shred of information to the progress of the rebellion or involvement of the French crown. Sam Heughan lost visible weight this season, as the physical and mental strain of late nights and pressure-filled meetings shows in Jamie’s thinner face. There is a brief moment where Charles, impressed by Jamie’s shock towards his admission of financial support for his quixotic rebellion, reaches to stroke the right temple of Lord Broch Tuarach, to which his rage can hardly be restrained as he calmly removes the Stuart’s hand and places it on the table. Jamie is confident that Duverney will see through Charles’s pontifications, but as he is dealing with two men enraptured by wine, women, and songs of glory, his frustrations reach the breaking point as the minister is intrigued by the exiled royal’s promises of triumph and alliance. “It would change the world,” Duverney surmises. “I will give you the world!” Charles exclaims. Jamie looks ready to throw up.
If one good thing were to come from Jamie’s brothel dealings, it is the discovery of the young foundling, Fergus (Romann Berrux), who has grown up in the brothel and is a master pickpocket. If anyone can gain access for Jamie to the Stuart’s secrets found in written correspondence from foreign benefactors, it’s the moppet with the mass of curls and sticky fingers. Claire’s introduction to Fergus shows the boy eating a drumstick with his feet perched on her dining table, but he quickly stands and compliments her bosom, so I won’t bust his chops just yet. He comes from a world where flattery is the grease of business, and he was grasping for another piece of chicken.
When Jamie goes to Claire and Mother Hildegarde for help in solving a riddle hidden within a piece of music, both arguments underlying the tension between the couple are seen at once. Claire longs for activity and purpose, but her natural stubbornness and self-sufficiency need to take the well-being of her unborn child into account. Jamie wants his wife to be accessible to him after long hours of frustrating work, but he knows the woman he married and realizes that sometimes he must go to her. The Frasers are not back yet, but they have reached an understanding and that is a foundation upon which to build.
The continued friction between the couple made this episode an unsettling one - the leering eyes of the Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber) and the mention of poisons of varying severity at Raymond's shop didn't help the dark clouds forming over the Parisian sheen. The secret of Black Jack's existence that Claire and Murtagh share continues to be kept from Jamie, but it is a specter looming over the couple that will come into the light soon, especially with the advances they are making in their plan.