With “La Dame Blanche,” the fourth episode of this season of Outlander, director Douglas Mackinnon and writer Toni Graphia delve into the feminine mystique as both a source of power and a cause for alarm to those who are threatened by a woman utilizing her trove of resources. Indeed, much of this episode deals with the position of women in 18th century French society and the precarious balance they must maintain between social mores and their own agency. Often, they are given no choices as objects or possessions of men; other times, they can twist the fantasies or illusions of the men in their lives to their advantage. As Claire, a modern woman, continues to negotiate her position both in society and her marriage, her role as healer becomes more intricate as more people lean on her for support. This episode also exposes more of Jamie and Claire's vulnerabilities - realized or not - that threaten both their lives and their plans, like frayed casings causing electrical wires to spark. True to their nature, the two work together to mould unplanned events and unseemly characters to their advantage, and in the process, reestablish themselves as a couple.
The opening scene shows a crouched figure removing the lynch pin from one of the wheels of the Fraser’s carriage. His face is never shown but a red mark or scar on his right hand is visible as he secures the casing on the hub. Clearly, the Frasers are in danger from the start, as any number of factors tugging at their plan to stop Charles Stuart’s rebellion threatens to derail the whole enterprise altogether.
Claire has now accompanied Jamie to his regular chess game with Duvernay (Marc Duret), perhaps to accommodate his toast to her in the previous episode of always being there for him. When Duvernay asks the couple about baby names, it is evident by their surprised faces that they had not discussed the topic. Claire’s pregnancy has been handled differently between them: Jamie treating his wife as either a fragile doll or untouchable Madonna; Claire putting maternal joy second to her husband’s wellbeing and their cause. When the conversation causes Jamie to lose a round, Claire steps back to take a turn of the room with a glass of wine.
Like a snake in the grass, Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber) slithers around the gaming tables with an air of detachment belying his pointed observation of the Frasers. When Claire gets visibly ill after finishing her glass, the Comte’s gaze never falters from the back of the room. Similar to another dark character from last season, he is intrigued and rather enjoys watching others in distress, yet masks it with a perfectly calm and collected visage. I must mention the Comte’s sartorial style, as he often wears rich fabrics in shades of blue or gold, but he wears the clothes fantastically well, instead of letting the clothes wear him as other fashionable males fall victim to throughout the episode. You expect the Comte to dress boldly as a matter of confidence, rather than show.
While Claire is recovering at home, she and Jamie discuss ways to expose Charles for the “delusional popinjay” that he is to potential British and French investors to his campaign. Perhaps her pain, and Jamie’s undivided attention, spur Claire to confess her knowledge about Jack Randall’s existence, or maybe she wants to break the news to him instead of a stranger (or God forbid, the Duke of Sandringham), but Jamie’s elation at the news comes as a surprise. In his eyes, Claire has given him “something to hold on to, look forward to” - that he can regain some control over the man who took so much from him.
“Fantasy” is a term used throughout this episode to describe the deportment or beliefs of several characters. Claire knows that Charles Stuart’s claims of an alliance between France and Britain are a fantasy. Two secret lovers are accused of living in a fantasy world (one even describes the other as a “dreamer”). The cunning Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon) earns his living by manipulating customer’s fantasies of the divine or the damned. Jamie spends his nights at an establishment built around the very institution of turning fantasies into very temporary realities. It is only when the dream is snatched away that the patrons have to wake up to real life.
Remember the brief mention of bitter cascara in Master Raymond’s shop in the previous episode? Claire is positive she tasted it in the wine she drank, and that St. Germain was somehow involved. When she sets out for the apothecary’s shop, her purple hooded jacket with the crimson detailing is a power suit for the 18th century, perfect for a woman unafraid to march straight up to the man who may have provided the poison to the Comte. Raymond admits to selling the powder to an unknown servant and is genuinely concerned for Claire’s safety. In another example of sympathy between the two people, Raymond knows how exposed Claire is to the outside world, both by her physical appearance and her actions, as he, too, is being watched by les gens d'armes and must conduct outside business delicately. As he is steadily growing closer with Claire, he allows her inside his inner sanctum, a hidden room of oddities and treasures collected from faraway places (To production designer Jon Gary Steele: can you make this room for me? I swear I’ll board up my kitchen and we can use a fake refrigerator door in lieu of bookcase). “I’m fascinated by things not of this time,” he tells Claire, his piercing eyes never leaving her.
Like one magician divulging trade secrets to another, Raymond reveals his sleights of hand used on more gullible customers, but his sincerity of concern shows when Claire asks about the future of “friend” named Frank, and he consults mystical bones. Notice in this scene that Claire mentions she has witnessed the practice of reading bones before in Africa with her uncle, although it was with chicken bones in place of sheep knuckles, and Raymond never openly considers this extraordinary or even odd. Instead, he rolls out a zebra pelt on which to read the bones’ message. Where in Paris are zebras to be found? As Claire stands under ancient runes written on the sanctum wall, Raymond says that she will meet Frank again, to her shock. The irony for Claire is what weight she places in such mysticism, exemplified by the amulet Raymond gives her that changes color in the presence of poison. “Some call it a necklace, some call it magic,” he says. What does she believe?
Fortunately, Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne) provides enough frivolous drama to distract Claire from more intense problems, and also reveals Claire’s sensibilities when it comes to women’s rights and sexual health. When Louise reveals an unexpected pregnancy by a secret lover, Claire responds in a pragmatic, nonjudgemental way. I couldn’t help but notice the difference in the two women’s dress: Louise in her ruffles and gold detailing; Claire in a deep plum dress with clean lines and wide sleeves. Claire’s look is more low-maintenance and yet, more composed and figure-flattering, as Louise’s personal style can lean towards a wedding cake in all its frosted ornamentation. Claire admits to knowing how to terminate a pregnancy if that is what Louise wants, but asks her if there is any chance she could raise the baby with her husband, Jules (Howard Corlett). For the first time, Louise anguishes over her limited options: if her husband finds out the truth, she could be arrested or even sent to a convent. Louise admits she wants the baby, but knows a future with the father is a fool’s paradise. There is a slim chance she could convince Jules that the baby is his, though she wonders “How will I raise a child with a man who is not the father?” Claire responds with “all that matters is the child is brought up with love.” Now, it is the audience’s turn to sit in anguish.
Thankfully, our anguish can be suspended briefly due to Jamie digging his own grave that evening after coming home primed and ready for his wife - to everyone’s relief after months of platonic affection - but sporting fresh bite marks on his thighs. While Jamie assures his wife that he didn’t partake in the offerings of the acrobatic biter and that his arousal is a positive step in the right direction, Claire is horrified that her husband would need the initial stimulation of a prostitute before coming home to her. Jamie repeatedly flubs his argument until at last admitting to Claire that he had finally started “to feel like a man again,” to feel like he could lay with his wife without seeing Jack’s face. Of course, Claire is not thrilled that it took a whore to accomplish in one night what she had not for months, and this only exacerbates her isolation with the pregnancy.
For only the second time since his sexual assault and torture by Randall, Jamie reveals the spiritual turmoil he continues to endure after the physical wounds healed. As cinematographers Neville Kidd and Stephen McNutt wisely shot the actor’s profile in close up, Claire serves as confessor as Jamie describes the remnants of his “soul’s fortress” since Wentworth, and the depths to his self-induced isolation as a means of survival. As he chose to retire to a small nook off the parlor for the night, I had to wonder what Claire was thinking about how to help him. The entirety of her physical and emotional burdens are laid out in this scene, and she must have searched inward for someone in her past who had a connection to Jamie, who had also shared in his pain. As she holds her stomach, I can only imagine she was thinking of Jamie’s sister, Jenny.
Toni Graphia wrote “La Dame Blanche” as well as “The Watch” last season, in which Jenny goes into labor, and you can see the connections between the episodes. As her pains grow sharper and longer, Jenny tells Claire what it is like to be pregnant in a moment of pure revelation that linked them in womanhood:
"Towards the end, when the child moves a lot, it’s a feeling like when yer man’s inside ye. When he comes to ye deep an pours himself inside ye, and that throbbing begins. Feels like that, only much bigger, like it’s him you’ve taken into ye instead. That’s what they want sometimes, ye know. They want to come back."
Claire goes to Jamie that night, the moonlight casting a soft blue light over his small bed that symbolically serves as his own sanctum, a place where he can feel withdraw and feel safe. As she delicately climbs on top of him, she tells him to come find her, and he does. Her pregnancy unites them again, physically and spiritually, as Jamie is refocused towards his creation rather than destruction. His fondness for her breast in this scene reminded me of the “lay your head, then” quote from the book as Claire becomes mother and lover and womb of protection at once, assuming the burden he had placed on himself.
Compare such soul-bearing intensity to the scene immediately following, as the Stuart (Andrew Gower) escapes his lover’s house by traipsing across rooftops like a cat burglar, seeking the Fraser’s home so they can mend his wounded hand and heart. For a man so intent on overthrowing a king and ruling Britain, he certainly gets blubbery over rejection and a tiny monkey bite. He also opens himself up to the Fraser’s advantage, as Jamie intends to “use his broken heart to break his bank” at their upcoming dinner party where powerful people will see the prince’s buffoonery on full display.
Claire isn’t the only one with insight into human behavior; Fergus (Romann Berrux) shows more of his old soul in the form of the Artful Dodger as he and Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) have a conversation about women while waiting outside of L’Hôpital while Claire is at work. One forgets that Fergus has grown up in a brothel and can spot artifice a mile away, but he has probably witnessed more heartbreak and painful situations than most men four times his age - which is why he teases that Murtagh will probably die “alone with your hand.” Though Murtagh grumbles that a man “doesn’t concern himself over the affairs of women,” he’s talking with a probable expert on them.
This episode showcases the true class of both Claire and Jamie, as they conduct themselves with a natural grace in any situation from the coarsest of environments, such as Claire’s bedside manner in the hospital, to the most refined parlors, as when Jamie greets his dinner guests as Claire walks home due to a broken carriage (from the episode’s opening scene). Among guests of rank and title, festooned in opulent costumes and sniffing the air, Jamie is comparatively more dignified in a black suit and light-grey waistcoat. As his physical stature dwarfs the other men in the room, so do his manners supersede any regal bearing, especially from the foppish Charles Stuart and Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow still killing it as the pompous, shrewd divining rod of how uncomfortable people can get in one crowded room).
As sex was featured earlier in this episode as a means of healing and reconnection, it later is used as an act of violation as Claire and Mary Hawkins (Rosie Day) are attacked by masked men on their way home. After Murtagh is beaten unconscious, Mary is raped and Claire restrained before the men realize she is the titular character, a “white lady” akin to a witch. Though the men were only too eager to ravage a young woman, they flee from Claire in order to save their souls. Apparently, their damnation would only occur through the mystical advances of a woman, rather than their own actions. When the three make it back to the house, Claire is infuriated when Jamie refuses to get help out of concern for the girl’s reputation, which will be ruined if word of her stolen virginity reaches her uncle, fiancé, or "polite" society. As Raymond mentioned in the previous episode (and Charles before that), it is the illusion of purity or chastity that society demands in order for a woman to conduct her sexual activities derrière le rideau. Once the fantasy is shattered, even by force, that woman is forever marked as damaged goods. Luckily, Alex Randall (Laurence Dobiesz) is at the dinner party as secretary to Sandringham, and he declares his love to the unconscious girl at her sickbed while Claire and Jamie try to keep the dinner running smoothly below.
As with most dinner party scenes in movies or television, the conversation between guests is a chess game of power plays, politics, and innuendo. While the Comte is conveniently sat next to Claire on one end, the Rohans are near Jamie on the other, with the Prince and the Duke facing each other in the middle. At a rare pause between Sandringham’s incessant blather, Jamie announces Louise’s pregnancy, to which an astonished Charles continues his downward spiral by making a lewd joke about the Marquis being a man “in the dark” and biting into a peach as Louise looks on, embarrassed. The Comte recognizes the necklace around Claire’s neck and its true meaning, signifying either his involvement in the mystical arts or his familiarity with Raymond’s secret room. Before Claire can address it, Mary wakes up and in her medicated stupor runs screaming downstairs as Alex tries to calm her down. The men at the party assume Alex has attacked the hysterical girl and start to scuffle right next to the fireplace. In another testament of class over title, Alex, who is regarded as a servant by his employer who won’t allow him to eat at the Fraser’s table, shows more tenderness towards Mary than her uncle and fiancé, who declare her ruined.
Ultimately, though Jamie regains the wheel on his old self and renews his commitment to the cause with vigor, Claire remains the mast upon which he leans, and she either commands most of the scenes as either counselor or healer, or takes charge after unforeseen events (as with her and Mary’s attack) with a steady hand. As I stated earlier with her night with Jamie, she has taken much of the emotional burden upon herself, and despite her well-intentioned stubbornness must remember to look after her own health, as well as accept her husband’s help in turn.