*SPOILERS AND LIFE NOT AS WE KNOW IT, JIM AHEAD*
Ah life pre-Outlander the TV series was a kinder, gentler time.
Many of us assumed, rather naively, much like Claire Randall Fraser (Catriona Balfe) herself even, that life in the eighteenth century was impossibly, delightfully romantic*, a near bucolic blur of Byron or Keats proportions where everyone strolled companionably through the countryside remarking amiably on the state of the trees or the prettiness of the sky before retiring to their brick fireplaces for home made meals with well-loved kith and kin.
(* And no, by romantic I don’t mean the Valentines Day strain; although we were treated not once but twice to Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire indulging in high romance of the most devoted kind, somewhat unusually fully-clothed both times, showing us once again that they are Utterly and Completely Meant For Each Other.)
Of course a TV series like Outlander, which is as fine and consistently, wonderfully made as Jamie is honourable and apt to take impetuous umbrage, could never let such a misconception stand, and so we, along with Claire, who it must be said has adapted admirably well to life 200 years before her own time, are constantly reminded that life in eighteenth century Scotland was a few hundred bakeries short of the proverbial picnic.
Case in point, the rather noticeable lack of policeman or impartial military forces, and the impossible to ignore presence of mafia-like brigands intent on feathering their own loyalty-to-no one nests at every turn.
Life then was always only one visiting brigade of Redcoats or villainous tobacco-smoking, straw setting on fire, precious food stores chomping band of thieves away from descending into unholy un-policed hell, a fact that Jamie, who is still officially a wanted man, knows only too well.
You only had yourself and those you trusted to stand in the breach and hopefully hold on to what you want with no 911 or 000 to dial in case of emergency.
Even so, it looked like even he was a mite surprised, no, confounded, when he found himself at the end of last week’s episode with a gun pointed at this head by a man who later turned to be one Taran MacQuarrie (Douglas Henshall) who along with his friends had been popping by every few months to offer “protection” to the Laird and Lady of Lallybroch and their hard working tenants.
You know with no expectation of reward or recompense, that kind of thing [insert gallons of facetious undertone here].
Practical as always, Jenny, only moments away from going into labour, accepts the reality of the situation even if she hates the men enforcing that reality, and it took some fast talking from her, and hubbie Ian, who though of good heart and sound morals, rather likes the guys because they still treat him like the man he once was, to convince Jamie to play along with this less than palatable state of affairs.
He is passed off as her cousin, largely because if Taran and company knew who really was, and how much of a reward was dangling carrot-like above his head, they might be tempted to hand him in to the English.
Yep, that’s how unprincipled they are (although surprisingly Taran later rather earnestly swears to Jamie that he would never turn him in to the Redcoats, having seen personally what that an do to a man.)
So with steam pouring figuratively, and later literally when Taran’s gang, who have all the maturity of a pack of naughty two year olds, set a cart of straw on fire to repay him for his justifiably snarky attitude, Jamie is forced to play nice with the men who take a considerable amount of Lallybroch’s hard won resources in return for acting as the next best thing eighteenth century Scotland has to some kind of law and order.
Which is to say if you’re not under the protection of the English or someone with an army, is not much.
Interestingly while Taran sees the world through “What’s in it for me?” tinted spectacles, he is, in his own idiosyncratic self-serving way a man of honour – like Ian and Jamie he fought in France and believes very much in a soldier’s creed of honour; well an elasticised version of it anyway – and Jamie’s real problems come from an Irishman Horrocks (Lochlann O’Mearain) who knows he knows he is the Laird of Lallybroch, knows he is a wanted man and blackmails the hell out of Claire’s beloved.
Or at least tries to; let’s simply say it does not end well for him …
Nor possibly for Jamie down the track when, forced by circumstances beyond his control flowing from Horrocks’ untimely, or more than timely end depending how you see it, to ride with MacQuarrie on a raiding party, finds himself ambushed and taken by the Redcoats in an ambush from which Ian only barely escapes.
Claire of course is blissfully unaware that Jamie is now in harm’s way, having her hands more than a little full inside Jenny – seriously, literally inside Jenny; now that’s getting to know your new family! – helping her deliver what turns out to be her new bonny daughter (and in the process bonding fiercely with her sister-in-law, which is about to come in mighty handy).
It’s here that the eighteenth century, unruly disruptor of romantic notions that it is, rises up once again to remind that childbirth in this age was strewn with all manner of unattractive complications.
Claire, trained in all things medical that she is, takes it all in her stride and with the midwife otherwise engaged looking after a sick relative, ends up getting Jenny through a process that had every chance of being her life, or her baby’s, or sadly both.
It’s messy, there’s swearing, and even a poem by Jenny that is remarkably stream-of-consciousness vivid and descriptive, no mean feat when you’re in utter agony and either walking or crawling around the floor on all fours.
This was not your typical clean TV birth and illustrates that Outlander, much like Diana Galaldon, who wrote the books upon which the show is based and who acts as consultant, is committed as much to historical accuracy as it is to discussing the social issues of the day and getting its characters into and out of trouble in ways that make sense and are true to the time.
One thing “The Watch” did spectacularly well was underline that in this wild and unpredictable world where life is cheap and nothing is guaranteed, you are only as good as the people around you.
In that regard, Outlander‘s Jamie and Claire, Jenny and Ian and those close to them are immensely lucky, having people they love and trust to watch their backs in a world where romantic notions of life usually barely make it past the first ad break.
Quite what will happen to Jamie, whom Claire waited patiently for over three days only find out he wasn’t in any position to return home, will be revealed in “The Search” where Claire, like Jamie before her, pulls out all the stops to rescue her beloved …