Outlander’s seventh episode, “Faith,” is Claire’s Gethsemane. The most outward expression of spirituality in a series resplendent with religious allusions and symbolism, Claire’s agony is shown in flashback and as such is presented in vivid detail, as one might sharpen the senses of memory in a desperate attempt to avoid forgetting even a millisecond, even if it means bringing all the pain and suffering back to the surface.
For much of the hour, we watch her battle a darkness that dances around her, alternately threatening to consume her and seducing her into entering it herself. The opening scene is in 1954, as Claire looks at a book about birds in a library with her young daughter, a girl with long, red hair. Contrasted with Claire’s prostrated state in the forest at the end of episode six. She is physically healthy again, and identifies a blue heron as one she saw back in Scotland, her eyes instantly gazing back to a world she had left before the girl was born.
Back in April, I wrote about faith in my recap of the season premiere, and that its title, “Through a Glass Darkly” was “not just referring to characters within the episode but the viewing experience itself, a commentary on the [senses] that the viewer will receive. It is Diana Gabaldon’s and Ronald Moore’s assurance to keep moving, as painful as it may seem to do so, and to absorb every second.”
Both the opening and closing shot, and many in between, are a God’s eye view of the scene below, the camera gracefully observing the characters from a distance that is at once intimate and detached. The episode is Claire’s recounting from memory, and as such the camera represents a duality of 1950s-Claire standing outside herself looking back and 1740s-Claire fighting to stay afloat in the sea of heartache and grief that threaten to consume her. I don't have enough words to describe Caitriona Balfe's exquisite performance in this episode: I cried each of the three times I watched it, and I cried writing this recap.
This is the ghost story of the season, a sequence of shadows, spectres, and spirits that will live in and around the Frasers for the rest of their lives. I have mentioned the snake from the opening credits before in previous recaps - and here we actually get to see it in a scene - but it has been present since their arrival in France. The serpent represents doubt, and fear, and hate, and shame - and Claire and Jamie must crush its head beneath their feet if they are to find redemption.
When we are transported back to 1744, Claire is on a birthing table in L’Hôpital des Anges, Mother Hildegarde caressing her head and Monsieur Forez working to save her child. No sugarcoating will do here; the sweat, blood, and tears are shown in equal measure, Claire’s lovely green dress that only a day earlier was worn to a ladies’ tea now stained with the fluids of childbirth as her hope is torn from her.
She awakes in a hospital bed reminiscent of the one where Frank finds her in the season premiere: isolated and small. A statue of the Virgin Mary gazes upon her from a nearby stand. Feverish and disoriented, she feels her still-distended stomach as if trying to locate herself, but it is empty again. In her terror, she calls out for her baby and Mother Hildegarde and a nurse rush in to console her with the news that the child was born dead. In her shock, Claire cannot believe it and demands to see the baby girl, whom the good woman had baptized and named Faith so she could be buried on holy ground, even though this was an illegal practice as the child was not born alive. Claire calls for Jamie but he is jailed indefinitely in the Bastille, therefore she must endure this alone.
Regarding Toni Graphia as the writer of this heart-rending episode: I’m not saying a man could not have competently written “Faith,” but this is very much a woman’s story and struggle, unchanged across space and time. This is Eve in the Garden, and Eve is remembering it, and so Eve had to write it. There is an underlying grace in the dialogue that communicates a shared female experience of carrying life and losing it, of consolidating the powerful roles of mother, partner, and lover as seen in Graphia’s wonderful script in Episode 4, “La Dame Blanche,” when Claire and Jamie reconnect physically and spiritually.
About Metin Hüseyin as the director of “Faith”: his five episodes have been amazing this season, and for Ron Moore to pair a female writer and male director was an excellent decision. Hüseyin and cinematographer Stephen McNutt provide a masculine objectivity to a very feminine experience as revealed by Graphia and Diana Gabaldon: the tone of the episode is one of sympathy but also control, as the dialogue is one of insight and power. It is an explosive union in a heartbreaking chapter in the Frasers’ lives, and one ensuring that not a moment will be dulled by trauma, but rather sharpened by memory.
“My sins are all I have left,” Claire tells a priest who comes to deliver the Unction of the Sick. Why confess and bless them away when they are as tied to her current state as her child once was? Grief and guilt are the anchors holding her down and she refuses to let go, like a bird refusing to leave its cage even as the doors are opened. That night, Master Raymond slips into L’Hôpital in disguise and lays his healing hands on Claire in her sick bed, rousing her from a stupor and commanding her participation in healing herself. She sees an image of a blue bird taking flight before her; Raymond replies that blue is the color of healing and that the wings “will carry the pain away if you let them.” As he removes the festering placenta from her womb, he asks Claire to call to Jamie, as if he must be present in name since he can not be present in body. Claire’s aura, Raymond says, is blue like his own, as they are both healers. Before he leaves, he assures her to have faith that they will see each other again.
Her fever broken, the fog of it lifted from Claire’s mind, her thoughts sharpen and her anger towards Jamie comes flooding back. Hildegarde tells her that the British officer was injured and returned to England to recover, and Claire realizes that since Jack is alive then Frank must be saved as well. She can not forgive Jamie for betraying her in his pursuit of revenge, and Hildegarde cleverly adapts a line from the Book of Micah in urging Claire to have compassion: though the Bible states, “You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea,” she tells Claire that "we" must assume those actions in order to heal and forgive. Claire, for the moment, refuses.
It is Fergus who comes to get her. A child no longer, his face is irretrievably changed. He brings her a nosegay of blue flowers (perhaps Delphinium, a symbolic plant of protection and infinite possibility? I watched this episode with three other people and we cased the Internet to figure out what that flower was) and helps her from the carriage with both hands once they arrive back home. There is a tender moment between Claire and Magnus at the threshold where she takes the hand of the servant who helped her at the Bois and curtsies before him, an act of respect and gratitude rendered more solemn by her gaunt and fragile appearance. The boy maintains a close proximity to her out of protection, though he hides a secret that he dare not divulge yet. For Romann Berrux to execute such an intense, emotional performance at such a young age reveals a maturity beyond his years.
Without Jamie and their child, the home has turned back into a house, and any trace of the child, as with the apostles’ spoons, is hurled into the shadows (“out of sight, out of mind” as Fergus said in the previous episode). Claire, through force as well as choice, is consumed in self, pacing the halls like a sorrowful ghost, until the boy’s cries refocus her attention. He is having a nightmare, but it isn’t broken by waking up. He confesses to Claire what happened at Maison Elise, and we see his memories of Jack Randall’s sexual assault in heartbreaking, terrible detail. Even more awful is that the boy blames himself for everything that happened afterwards, for Jamie’s fury, for the duel, for his imprisonment, for Claire, for the baby. Claire assures Fergus that he did nothing wrong, and she finally sees the reason for Jamie’s betrayal.
Finally tiptoeing outside of her self-focus, Claire approaches Mother Hildegarde with a request for a private audience with King Louis. As the Old Sun King’s goddaughter, Hildegarde has the connection, but she can not avoid the price: Claire will probably have to lie with him in order to gain his favor. Claire agrees to the terms, as she has nothing left.
So begins a pivotal scene in the episode, the climax of Claire’s identification as a woman in Paris. Her audience with the King is the culmination of many steps she has taken since leaving the boat with Jamie and Murtagh months before, and her experience as a stranger in a strange land (both in time and place) is expertly focused by a steady low-angle shot of her long walk through the grand salon at Versailles with its chess tables where Jamie and Duvernay played and discussed politics (and which on a normal day she would not be allowed into unchaperoned by her husband), then through the library with its rows of books of history and geography, stories of other people’s lives and recountings of world events. Her entry into the King’s private chamber is an encapsulation of her singular, mystical journey in and of itself: that she could possibly change history by charming a figure of power whose regard of her is mercurial at best and indifferent at worst.
I wish I could watch this scene with costume designer Terry Dresbach, as Claire’s dress and appearance are as meta as I’ve seen in a season of pointedly beautiful creations. In her time in Paris, Claire’s gowns are as much a statement about her placement in 18th century French society as society’s treatment of her. From the cut to the pattern to the color, what Claire wears is a clever amalgam of self and trend, identity and fashion, 1940s and 1740s. Her wardrobe reveals the means to afford the latest designs of the time with the brains and spunk to insert pieces of her own time into her presentation. As I mentioned in my recap of Episode 202, when Claire wore the famous red dress to the ball at Versailles, she is in a certain regard like the mysterious cloaked figure in Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, as she represents Knowledge and Prescience among the privileged revelers at the party. Claire’s disguise is her persona, and how she adopts whatever preconceptions French society has of her as a woman and society wife in order to infiltrate its ranks.
For her royal meeting, Claire’s dress of vivid blue-green shows enough décolletage to stimulate His Majesty’s pleasure, but the design is respectable enough to denote the matter of business she has come to address. She still wears Raymond’s amulet around her neck, as much for protection as for solace over what she is about to do. Louis’s red-and-gold silk robe stands in gorgeous contrast, though his inclusion of wig confirms the power balance in his favor: their impending intimacy will be at his leisure and benefit. Book fans will enjoy the Voyager references to the delicacies the King offers Claire from New Spain, namely hot chocolate and oranges, but cinephiles will also appreciate the inclusion of the citrus fruit as symbolic of impending death (as seen in films such as The Godfather).
Louis is intuitive enough to see and appreciate Claire’s loyalty towards her past and current husband as he kisses both her wedding rings - it will make their transaction much more meaningful - but he also demands her assistance in a judicial matter. Leading her into an hidden sanctum (bravo again to Jon Gary Steele as production designer for the magnificent set) and a Star Chamber with its illumination of mystical and astrological symbols and artifacts. The ironic spectacle of the scene is that the King presents two possible practitioners of dark arts, Le Comte St. Germain and Master Raymond, and commands Claire to use her powers as La Dame Blanche to discern who must be “made an example of.” Le Comte’s hatred towards Claire is so visceral that he seems ready to burst, while Raymond’s connection to her as a kindred spirit is shown through his steady gaze into her eyes.
Though Claire is flabbergasted to be a part of such a display, she immediately adopts the persona the men expect of her (only Raymond sees through it): witch, seductress, female. She assumes the power Louis has granted her only to turn it towards him, a mental sleight of hand that takes advantage of the weaknesses of all men. Evoking Randall’s dialogue from Wentworth prison in the first season, Claire speaks of the darkness within all men - even a king (haha!) - for “without darkness there can be no light.” Her frankness towards Louis comes from a state of having nothing to lose, but also from her position as a woman out of her time, and by mere chance he believes her magic trick. Louis brings out the long-awaited snake from the opening credits, intending to make both men handle it as a test of their faith, but Claire offers an alternative. She makes both of the accused drink bitter cascara as a test, knowing that it will sicken but not kill them. Raymond, however, has come prepared, and he slips poison into the chalice after drinking some of the liquid. Le Comte has no chance and he knows it, and through his tears he bids Claire adieu saying, “I’ll see you in hell” before drinking the poison and collapsing on the marble floor.
Raymond is pardoned by the King, but is commanded to leave France and never return. As he and Claire gaze upon each other for possibly the last time, she quotes the line from The Wizard of Oz: “I’m going to miss you most of all.” If you suspected her narration was not directed at the audience up to now, this all but confirms that.
The only certainty in life is death and taxes, and with the former taken care of, the King now requires her payment. Their coupling is brief and perfunctory: Claire thinking of England (a nod to the surreality of the act) over her husband, Louis deriving as little pleasure as she. When it is over, he decides to pardon Jamie as well as send word to the English crown, thus ensuring the Frasers’ ability to return to Scotland. Their transaction finished, he then bids Claire to leave.
As Claire departs through the library again, she passes a large globe mounted in a wooden stand, and stops to gaze back at the chamber she has just left. I think her look was a realization of choice, of what you choose to do and not do, and the agency that she has taken to produce a result. Things don’t always work out according to plan, and endings are not always happy, but nor are they ever truly final.
Thus, Jamie is released, his ascent up the stairs is stark and solitary, his reconnection with Claire akin to ripping apart a fresh scab. As Claire sits before him, he stands apart from her, facing to the side as if on trial. Though her composure is statuesque, she is not cold, but rather white-hot with anger and grief and remorse, admitting that she did hate him at first while she was in the hospital. Her minute description of Faith’s appearance is less about gloating over her short time with their child than a demand that he share in their heartbreak by experiencing the child vicariously through her. She wants the sea of grief to consume him with her, as it is all she has right now.
The scene of Claire holding and singing to Faith is not only agonizing, but shows how close she came to succumbing to the darkness and pain that surrounded her. Faith was the light that came from her, and Claire didn’t want to let that go. Mercifully, Louise comes to her bedside and convinces Claire to let go of the baby, and the light of her consciousness burns through her as her grief comes to the surface and she sobs in her bed alone.
Against the ever-louder ticking of a mantle clock, Claire's confession of all these things to Jamie is a shared catharsis, as both are tormented over the other’s pain. When Claire tells Jamie that it ultimately wasn’t his fault, or even Randall’s, but her own, it is her way of kicking off the anchors of regret and shame and guilt and swimming towards the surface again. Jamie replies that there is nothing to forgive, and her giving herself to the King to save him was akin to him giving himself to Randall to save her. Neither one can bear the burden of what they have been through alone, nor should they, but in marriage they must live each day together, holding each other up.
They decide to return to Scotland, but not before visiting Faith’s tiny grave in the churchyard near L’Hôpital. Jamie places the spoon of St. Andrew on the marker, and the final overhead shot shows the parents clasping hands over their child as they prepare to leave her. Though their grief is sharp and unending, they retain a silver lining of hope that another child may come, and though the audience knows it is true, the Frasers must step into the unknown together in faith, towards both the darkness and the light.