Outlander 1.04 Review: “The Gathering”

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Outlander moves a lot of plot; I don’t think I’m breaking convention to say that. It moves things along at fairly brisk but well-sped pace. And I think that’s a really smart thing to do. They have so much plot to cover with a book series as large theirs, it would be unfeasible for them to slow-burn it like Breaking Bad or Mad Men.

And I think that’s the right decision. This show is not like those shows. It’s built upon different premises. Nothing wrong with that, of course; I’m excited for Saturdays at nine just so I can watch the show. It has everything that I love: historical setting, willing character development, strong heroines, beautiful countryside. There’s literally nothing about this show that I don’t like. Yes, even the voiceovers.

I bring this up as another example of the fine work done by the Outlander staff. Even with last episode, which was not my favorite, I think this season has basically been perfect so far. Of course, it has its issues episode to episode, but as a pieces of a larger puzzle its been damn near perfect.

Game of Thrones is another example of that. They put good actors in good material and they let them speak for themselves. Not too many shows are brave enough to do that. Good shows don’t poke and prod at their audience to get them to remember important plot points, and Outlander is no different.

Tonight’s episode was another strong outing. The main plot revolved around Claire’s escape attempt, during a loyalty ceremony called ‘the gathering’. In this ceremony, members of the Mackenzie clan come together and swear fealty to Colum Mackenzie. This particular event hangs heavy over the preceding; every major character has a stake in the way that it goes, even if not readily apparent.

Claire’s is the most straightforward; she need everyone there to escape. She gathers food and plays with children through the woods to get a lay of the land and make sure she knows where to go. She helps her guards get a girl and get drunk, respectively. She acquires a horse for escape, under the guise of needing it for the boar hunt after the gathering. She has to go to the ceremony just long enough to please Mrs. Fitz.

At the ceremony, Dougal MacKenzie takes the oath. He swears oath to his brother and they drink out of the same bowl of wine. Dougal walks off and immediately drinks a different wine to wash the taste out of his mouth. It is clear that Dougal isn’t pleased with having to swear loyalty. But he needs to keep loyal to Clan Mackenzie.

Soon after, Claire leaves the party. She grabs her things but it all goes wrong and she is nearly raped by three drunk men. Dougal Mackenzie, also drunk, tries to force himself upon her. She knocks him out with a stool and escapes to the barn and runs into-

Jamie, sleeping in the hay. He immediately knows what she’s trying to do but it’s impossible; Colum has extra men posted to make sure someone doesn’t attack, but it’ll keep her in just as well. Jamie walks her back up to the castle, but they are snatched up by guards.

It turns out that Jamie was avoiding the ceremony, because he did not want to take the oath. Because he is of Mackenzie blood, he has just as much as take in the throne of Castle Leoch as Dougal. If he takes the oath, Dougal will put him down to save his position as lord when Colum dies. If he doesn’t take the oath, the Mackenzie clan will more than likely brutally murder him for disrespect.

Jamie escapes by swearing obedience but not loyalty, and everything works out in the end, of course, but thats not the point. The show did a very good job in making everything fit together so nicely; it’s not as easy as it looks to weave plot in and out.

The episode isn’t over, though; there is still the boar hunt. Claire saves the life of one man but not another. Jody lies in Dougal’s arms as he bleeds out, and he and Claire comfort him. She asks him questions about home as he fades away, and it gives him a sense of peace. When they return to the castle, Dougal thanks her for that. And then tells him that she’s coming with him on the road with him and a crew to do Mackenzie business.

So, in one episode, we get drunk rapist Dougal and emotionally vulnerable Dougal and enraged younger brother Dougal and political rival Dougal.

In one episode we get kind Jamie (AKA normal Jamie) and politically astute Jamie (AKA normal Jamie OKAY I JUST LIKE JAMIE OKAY JEEZE).

My point is, these characters are full. Dougal is complicated. Jamie is complicated. The plot flows well around these characters. The writing is strong and much improved from the episode before, which wasn’t exactly week in the first place.

I have high hopes, and high expectations, for this show going forward.

See you next week.

[Photo via Starz]

Hunter Bishop is an aspiring television writer and novelist who spends too much time on the internet. Come visit him on Twitter @Hunter_Bishop!
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