I hold the world but as the world, …
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.
Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. I.i.
Outlander in Paris has exceeded everyone’s expectations in terms of costumes, set design, and casting (see Linda Merrill). The streets of Paris with their exquisite carriages, wigged footmen, the palace of Versailles with its the great hall are all splendid and magnificent thanks to the work of Jon Gary Steele, Gina Cromwell, Maril Davis and others. Terry Dresbach has outdone herself in costumes for both women and men – lace, frills, embroidered waistcoats, breeches, headdresses, caps, and of course, the sumptuous and lavish dresses with their wide panniers. The newest cast members, playing Mary Hawkins (Rosie Day), Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne), Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon), Le Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber), and Mother Hildegarde (Frances de la Tour) are all marvelous and just as we imagined from reading Dragonfly in Amber. Even though the scriptwriters have taken some liberties with time, and the compression of certain scenes, the script remains fairly close to Gabaldon’s novel.
So, why are we feeling that the first few episodes of Season 2 have left us feeling a bit flat? I was very reluctant to admit this to myself, and noticed that other fans and bloggers have politely tried to not express disappointment by suggesting that the episodes needed a second viewing, or that it is getting better (Candida’s Musings , Erin Conrad). The truth is, the opening three episodes do not match in intensity or narrative interest of the first Season. In Episode 202 “Not in Scotland Anymore,” there were too many new characters being introduced. The episode served as an exposition, as in the first scene of a play, where background information is given. We learn about the reasons why Claire and Jamie are staying in France and about the sophisticated lives of Claires’ French friends, their different approaches to hygiene. In Episodes 203 “Useful Occupations and Deceptions,” while Claire and Jaime play a larger role than in the last two episodes, their relationship is visibly strained. The episode focused on politics and financial concerns again, and on Claire’s boredom and need to find herself a useful occupation as healer.
One reason for this feeling is that these episodes mirror Diana Gabaldon’s somewhat meandering and rambling novels after Outlander (Book 1). Gabaldon’s novels are full of subplots, incidental characters who sometimes become important, but sometimes stay as minor characters. But we also know that the last hundred pages of the novels tend to become faster paced, major things happen to major characters, and the loose ends are often tied up in unexpected ways. So, we will have lots of action to look forward to, as the season should play itself out this way, too.
Another reason that we are somewhat less engaged with the series right now is that our beloved characters, Jamie and Claire, as well as many of the other characters we meet, are not acting the way they usually do. So far in Season 2, the romance between Jamie and Claire has been strained, held back because the producers decided to represent Jamie suffering from trauma. In addition, both Jamie and Claire are engaged in a game of duplicity: trying to be sympathetic to the Jacobite cause and yet secretly plotting for its failure. This deception causes tension not only between them, but also between them and other characters like Murtagh, Jared, Prince Charles, the Minister of Finance, Frances Duverney, and others. It is as if we have entered a world where everyone is like the snake-like Duke of Sandringham, whom we do not trust. In Paris, all is glittery, but not everything is golden.
Episodes 202 and 203 highlight the theme of deception. For example, upon meeting Alexander Randall (Laurence Dobiesz), Claire finds out that Black Jack Randall is alive. But she withholds this vital piece of information from her husband, for fear that he would either go into a relapse or risk his life in order to seek vengeance. Jamie is forced to entertain and carouse with noblemen and the Prince in brothels, coming home late at night reeking of smoke and cheap perfume. This Jamie is very different from the sincere, brave, and romantic young man we fell in love with in the first Outlander book/season. The part that he has to play is a “sad one,” especially as we know what happens to the Scottish clans at the Battle of Culloden.
Even Master Raymond, who is Claire’s friend, has his secrets. Claire sees The Comte at his shop, not sure how well the two of them are acquainted. It is to him that Claire confesses that her life has become more conventional since she has been in Paris. Out of her time, and out of place, we know that Claire deplores convention. She is a twentieth-century woman who has found her calling in helping others. Now pregnant in Paris, working as a healer in a charity hospital is not what Jamie wants her to do.
The necessity for deception is highlighted when Jamie hires Fergus, the French boy who steals from patrons at Madame Elise. The fact that Jamie and Claire now have to resort to the help of a pickpocket in order to help them with their plan to thwart the Prince suggests that in Paris, we have left the pastoral and innocence of Scotland and entered a world where “all the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players;/ they have their exits and their entrances” (Shakespeare, As You Like it, II.vii). It is an intriguing world, but not entirely enchanting or uplifting.
By: Eleanor Ty