After such an intense and heartbreaking episode as “Faith” last week, the Frasers were due a bit of peace once they arrived back in Scotland. Constancy is what we find in Outlander’s eighth episode, “The Fox’s Lair”: constancy of the land and people, of personalities and natures. Positive or negative, it is a refreshing feeling compared to living in a refined world of strangers whose agendas were hidden behind silken fashions and velvet tongues. Scotland is their home, and there they reconnect with power structures and politics tied by blood and land and wounds that run deep.
Even the revised opening credits connect scenes of war and soldiers across centuries, including Claire performing surgery in the 1740s and huddling on the battlefield, likely from an explosion, in the 1940s. There are hints of future scenes in clips of two male figures leaving an automobile at the shores of a mountain lake, of a bushel of potatoes - a crop Jamie advised Jenny to plant for the upcoming hard years should the Jacobites fail - dumped onto a kitchen table, and of Claire driving a car up to the ruins of Lallybroch. Destruction and renewal, harvest and ruin, all suggest an eternal cycle of life, but at which point are the Frasers?
Compared to the prisons and palaces with which Jamie and Claire had become all too familiar in Paris, the opening aerial shots of the rivers and crags of the Scottish countryside, set against triumphant drums and bagpipes, is both welcoming and cleansing, like an affectionate right hook from Murtagh followed by a bucket of cold water to the face. That first shot of Lallybroch with its chimney plumes of smoke have to be what Jamie and Claire must have seen coming down the slope during their return: a promise of family and food and rest.
Routine and activity provide the succor they need to heal, a natural therapy of soil and water and seeds. Director Mike Barker and writer Anne Kenney (who also directed and wrote, respectively, the “Lallybroch” episode last spring) return our attentions to the small sensory details that accompany our fondest memories of home: the sounds of water cascading over a mill, a pronged hook combing the black soil, the smell of a fresh potato, two noses delicately nuzzling during a kiss. The Frasers had schemed all they could against Charles Stuart and their time abroad nearly cost their lives, so now that they are home again, they delight in the simple things and in work that is more sweat and less talk.
Jenny and Ian (Laura Donnelly and Steven Cree) have had another baby since we last saw them before Jamie's capture and torture in Wentworth Prison, and the presence of children, including Fergus and Rabbie McNab, evokes both permanence and renewal for the growing Fraser family. All too soon, however, their happy family life is disturbed by a letter from Jared Fraser in France in appreciation of Jamie’s efforts towards the rebellion, attached to a copy of Charles Stuart’s declaration of his right to the British throne as supported by the names from the Scottish lairds - including Jamie’s forged signature. This now brands Jamie as a traitor should the Jacobites lose and constricts his options even tighter.
Claire finds Jamie on the grounds of the estate, and wonders aloud if their efforts were all for naught as it looks like Culloden is creeping towards them again. Perhaps they could leave the country again, even take their extended family with them? Jamie reminds her of their duty towards the tenants, who would be left defenseless against the British if the rebellion failed. He reminds Claire of her significance in altering history already, as she prevented an outbreak of smallpox and convinced Louise to bear Charles’s child. Plus, Culloden is not set in stone yet, and they still may be able to change its course on their own soil for the sake of their family and country over the will and presumption of Charles Stuart.
As men begin to leave their homes and assemble for war, it is clear that these are not career soldiers. These are largely men of the land, as their carts reveal a mixture of farm tools and guns. What it also shows is that they are not unfamiliar to defending themselves and their property, and what they hold at stake.
Murtagh will bring the men to Kingussie in two weeks to meet up with Jamie and Claire, who themselves hope to have more troops to deliver to Charles in Crieff. At the prince’s request, they must ask for aid from Lord Simon Fraser of Lovat, Jamie’s grandsire, who is known as the “Old Fox” due to his sly and opportunistic nature. Jenny immediately senses trouble and assures her brother that Lord Lovat “does nothing that isn’t in his best interest and never without a price,” but Jamie counters that compromises must be made when the threat is against their very way of life.
That night, Jamie confesses to Claire that his father was an illegitimate child of Lord Lovat and a kitchen maid, for which he feels shame. Claire isn’t fazed by this facet of the Fraser family tree, but Jamie said she should be, as title and honor are very important to him. He will soon face the inconsistencies of honor that come with titles, but for now his family history, and the rancor within its branches, are enough to bring anxiety and doubt over his upcoming trip.
In a delicately quiet scene which I’m sure will cause ovaries to explode across the globe, Claire wakes up to find Jamie sitting on a sofa on the ground floor, cradling and talking to his sleeping niece. Jenny joins Claire on the balcony as they watch him speak to the infant in Gaelic, whispering things that cause his forehead to crease and his blue eyes to gaze off towards things unseen. As the women connect over “all that might be and never be,” Claire’s eyes moisten over watching her husband care for the child; we recall her conversation with Jamie about the “verdict of history” and the flash-forwards of a red-haired Brianna in the 1950s, and the pangs induced by the scene grow sharper.
Thus, the Frasers set out for Beaufort Castle and Lord Lovat, past ruins of ancient edifices slowly succumbing to the earth. Once they arrive, they are greeted by Jamie’s uncle, Colum MacKenzie (Gary Lewis) whose motives are one of an older man longing to avoid engagement in anything that might disrupt the status quo. Colum is sickly and increasingly frail, but wizened enough to recognize when a battle can not be won, either on the field or in the dining hall. Jamie has interacted with the idealistic and headstrong Prince, however, and though war is not his choice, his participation in it is an inevitable fact.
When the Old Fox finally arrives, he immediately rouses suspicion - which is how he prefers to be. Tall and spindly, Simon Fraser (played to the hilt by Clive Russell) is a physical combination of the actors Robert Shaw and Patrick McGoohan, gleaning strength from the defensive reactions of others to his acerbic tongue and brutish demeanor. Women are two things to him: sexual objects who must remain silent, or mystical, sexless beings with the power to portend his future in the most advantageous way. He quickly dismisses Claire from the room to talk politics with Jamie and Colum.
As Colum’s presence at Beaufort is surprising, it is Laoghaire MacKenzie (Nell Hudson) whose sudden appearance is most unwelcome to Claire. Sparing no crocodile tears in her act of contrition to the woman she tried to have burned at the stake, Laoghaire does not convince Claire in the slightest. Rather, she earns more of Claire’s admitted pity over “the dark places you must have inhabited in hopes of getting something you will never have.” That statement must have burned within the girl’s gut for hours after Claire left her cold on the landing.
Here’s the thing about Laoghaire: her asset is her youth, and time will see to that. She’s not bright but she’s determined, and she also possesses an awareness of “second-rate goods that had to be sold in a hurry” (to borrow a line from Anne of Avonlea). As Murtagh said last season, she will be a girl until she is fifty, and her stubborn immaturity is only matched by the dogged pursuit of unrequited love. When Claire informs Jamie of her presence, he takes no mind of her histrionics.
Claire is allowed to take an ornamental part in the dinner that evening, as long as she remains silent. The Old Fox sits at the head of the party, shrewdly eyeing his guests as they debate involvement in the rebellion. He is as attentive to the different arguments as to the reactions, as he pits relative, neighbor, and rival against each other to winnow out the true agendas. His gathering was not to make a decision as much as size up the players in such a perilous political game, and when he is satisfied, he banishes talk of politics for the night.
The only time he invites a woman to speak are his sessions with his seer, Maisri (Maureen Beattie), a wild-haired woman with ice-blue eyes that seem to never shut. When she reveals something the Old Fox doesn’t want to hear, he beats her for it which is always smart as it guarantees nothing but the truth as fit for the fist. As Simon proposes the aid of his men for the deed to Lallybroch, and then for Claire’s honor (“the only use she’s good for”), Jamie pulls out a clever move by informing his grandsire that she is a “white lady,” which he knows will both inspire the man’s apprehensive respect and grant Claire a measure of protection against the Old Fox and the men of Beaufort.
Utilizing every advantage, Claire appeals to Laoghaire’s devotion to Jamie by asking the girl to help his cause by endearing herself to Simon Fraser the Younger (James Parris) who longs to prove himself as valorous to his father. Perhaps the girl can spark his chivalry into action - though not in a sexual way, Claire assures her. They devise a meeting outside a small chapel in the woods of the property, where Simon, Jr. proves to be as sentimental as Laoghaire is dense. While the two engage in awkward flirtation, Claire waits inside the chapel where she finds Maisri catching a moment of sanctuary. She reveals her vision of Lovat’s execution to Claire, though she couldn’t tell if it was at the hands of the British or Scots. “An action can change things,” she admits concerning the constancy of her visions, which mostly ring true.
Back at Beaufort Castle, Lovat has had two documents drawn up: a neutrality pact between his and Colum MacKenzie’s people, and a deed for the property Lallybroch. Jamie has to decide which his grandsire will sign. Fortunately, Claire interrupts the proceedings by having a dramatic vision of Lovat’s death. Jamie defends her as having the “power of the old ones” rather than black magic. Enraged, the old man charges at Claire intent on cutting out her tongue, but he is stopped by his son who defies his father and says that they can fight to change her vision.
As Claire’s manipulation of men’s perception of her continues to be of opportune use, so does Lord Lovat live up to his nickname. Though he signs the neutrality agreement with Colum, he supplies his son with troops to lead the next day, a strategy that will absolve him on both sides. Again, he gets his way, but this is no country for old men, and the time will come when inaction will not prevent the executioner’s axe.
Before Jamie, Claire, and young Simon depart, Claire asks Jamie to thank Laoghaire and he hesitantly agrees. Fortunately, Laoghaire is of mature and sound mind and accepts his superficial gratitude indifferently. HA! A woman scorned burns brightest when she is making a fool of herself, and she tells him of her hope that “one day I can also earn your forgiveness,” and as he departs she adds, “and your love.” Disregarding every hint that Jamie is just not that into her, Laoghaire retains the determination of an ox that might eventually wear down the soil upon which it treads. Never underestimate a woman who is aware of the limits of her choices and assets and refuses to distinguish between teenage lust and mature love.
So Jamie will deliver both his and Lovat’s men to Charles, though his fight is not the same as the Prince’s. He will be defending his family in the face of an exiled royal’s romantic fantasies of throne and conquest. Jamie and Claire may be deep into a situation they did not ask for, but they are being proactive instead of reactive as they ride out to reconnect with Murtagh, Fergus, and the men of Lallybroch, towards a future they cannot yet see.