Outlander S02E03 “Useful Occupations And Deceptions” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video, new episodes every Sunday
Writer: Anne Kenney
Director: Metin Hüseyin
Essential Plot Points:
- Jamie is becoming weary of galloping around France to endless meetings with various power players while Claire is growing bored stuck at home in Paris, having her do her own darning because her maid is too busy shagging Murtagh.
- During a typically facile piece of socialising, Claire realises that naive young Mary Hawkins is the destined to marry Jack Randall and become her 20th century husband Frank’s ancestor.
- Claire visits Master Raymond’s apothecary to procure some contraception for her maid. She’s shocked to see the Comte St Germain leaving the shop but Master Raymond argues he’s operating a “keep your enemies close” policy.
- Claire is also shocked to find poison amongst Master Raymond’s stock but he says he never actually sells it.
- When Master Raymond hears that Claire is bored he recommends Claire should volunteer at the nearby charity L’Hopital des Anges.
- Jamie arranges a secret meeting between French finance minister Joseph Duverny and Prince Charles, thinking he has convinced Duverny to come up with an excuse why the French will not give money to support the Jacobite uprising against the British.
- But Charles gives some serious sales spiel to Duverny, claiming to already have won the support of some key English noblemen and promising a French/British alliance once his dad James is King again.
- To Jamie’s horror, Duverny falls for the spiel and agrees to help finance the uprising.
- But when Jamie arrives home to offload his anger onto Claire she’s not there…
- She’s spent all day lancing boils and supping urine at the charity hospital; also gaining the trust of the frosty nun in charge, Mother Hildegarde.
- Jamie is not happy that his pregnant wife is spending time in a hospital full of sick people tasting other people’s urine. Claire, of course, looks crestfallen but utterly ignores him and gets back to puss and piss duties next day.
- Jamie needs to know if Charlie was telling the truth about having the support of English noblemen. He employs a young pickpocket who’s been operating at a local brothel – whom he nicknames Fergus – to steal letters from men in Charles’s inner circle.
- Many of the letters are written in code. One especially tough code is in the form of a piece of sheet music. Luckily Mother Hildegarde knows her sheet music and helps Jamie decode it.
- It seems to show that the Duke of Sandringham is secretly giving funds to both the English and the Jacobites (so that he’s backed whoever eventually proves triumphant).
- Jamie must meet with the Duke… Meaning Claire has to decide whether or not to tell Jamie that Black Jack Randall is still alive before he finds out from the Duke’s secretary, Randall’s brother Alex.
For better or for worse this episode is always going to be, “The One Where Claire Drinks Urine”. (Admittedly, she doesn’t drink it so much as just taste it but that’ll go by-the-by in any pub conversation.) Yep, while Jamie’s knocking back wine to justify his time in France, Claire is savouring the bouquet of other people’s diseased piss.
In a way it’s a good thing that the episode goes all Casualty 1745 in the Claire segments because all the puss-sniffing dogs, oozing wounds and urinary infections are a wonderfully gruesome counterpoint to Jamie’s rather humdrum politicking. Even when the politics are taking place in brothels it all feels a little prosaic and workmanlike. For a show that spent two episodes being uncomfortably in-your-face with male rape, it’s surprising coy when it comes to the debauchery of Parisian decadence of the period. (In fact, he main nudey scene of the episode is literally and figuratively very arty.)
The big “negotiation” scene is hardly The West Wing. Jamie preps Duverny to say no to Charles’s request for money; Charles makes loads of airy-fairy promises; Duverny agrees to help fund the uprising. Considering Charlie comes across like a man who couldn’t put on his wig on without a servant to tell him which side of his head his face is on, you’d think Duverny would need a little more convincing. But hey-ho, the plot demands Jamie needs to have another of his legendary strops so that’s the way the discussion goes.
Plus, this all leads us into the fundamentally silly but nevertheless entertaining “coded letters” part of the plot. Young scamp Fergus looks like a promising addition to the cast, not least because of marvellously misjudged attempt to impress Claire on their first meeting by complimenting her breasts. He has a lot to learn.
Murtagh points out that the letters they’ve stolen from the English have been opened at least three times already, judging by the state of the seals. The big question here, though, is not who else has been taking sneaky peeks but whether the English are being portrayed as so dumb now they don’t notice what some hairy Scots warrior has; that they’re letters have been opened at least four times now?
Meanwhile, after two episodes of married bliss the rules of drama mean that Claire and Jamie must now start sniping at each other. One of the maids casually mentions that their bedsheets prove there’s been no bedroom action recently and so the writers’ room throws up its arms in despair wondering how they’re going to pad out the episodes now that Anglo-Scottish rumpy-pumpy is off the menu. More puss and wee-wee, probably.
A lot of the new characters – Master Raymond, the Comte St Germain, Prince Charlie, Louise de Rohan, Mary Hawkins – are reduced to one-scene wonders this week. A lot of these scenes are great fun, especially Claire and Louise’s hilarity at Mary’s horror about what Frenchmen do with their willies. It’s all good stuff but you can’t help wishing we could get to know the newbies a bit better, especially Charles. It’s like we’re getting a series of historical selfies rather than really getting to know them.
With the closing moments, though, the disparate plots start drawing together promising that some real fireworks are just around the corner. Although it’s perfectly understandable why Claire wouldn’t tell Jamie about Jack still being alive there’s no good way that he can find out.
So, once again, “Useful Occupations And Deceptions” is an episode packed full of great moments that feels just a little unsatisfying a whole. For the moment, it feels like a show designed for binge-watching rather than weekly watching.
- The Master Raymond scene is much more fun and much more intriguing than its actual dramatic content would suggest it should be. Dominique Pinon is truly bringing the character to life.
- Likewise, the “frosty but wise” boss who gradually and gracefully realises that our hero is a decent person is a trusty old TV trope, but Frances de la Tour brings an extra dimension to Mother Hildegarde.
- Lots of wonderfully yucky historical medical stuff to put you off your TV dinner – all way too realistic.
- The secret messages written in sheet music is a delightfully silly gimmick.
- Fergus could prove to be a lot of fun.
- Mary’s naivety about sex is uncomfortably entertaining.
- Claire’s worries about the complexities of time travel – if Jack had died then Frank couldn’t exist – is a welcome doff of the cap to the butterfly effect but the show’s probably sensible not to get too obsessed with paradoxes for the time being
- “He’s a pickpocket. His name’s Fergus. Well actually it’s Claudel but we agreed that wasnae very manly.”
- “Jamie, I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve had the most wonderful day. I lanced two boils, changed filthy dressings and saw my first case of full-blown scrofula.”
- Mother Hildegard happens to be a musical German in Paris who’s acquainted with Bach, just when Jamie needs a musical German speaker in Paris to interpret some sheet music that’s a variation on Bach’s Goldberg Variations. That’s handy.
- We get that Claire is a modern, forward-thinking, independent woman, sure, that you have to have some sympathy with Jamie about his pregnant wife working around sick people. How does she know someone’s not contagious before she treats them? Can she really vouch for the hygiene of the place?
- Bloody chess analogies – there really should be an embargo on “pawn” metaphors in TV drama for at least two decades.
- In general, the underlying plot this season still seems to be meandering listlessly. There are too many variables and elements all in play all not moving forward much.
And The Random:
- Bouton – the name of the dog – is French for button. In the books he’s described as a cross between a poodle and a dachshund. This is not a cross between a poodle and a dachshund. It’s much cuter.
- Master Raymond uses the word contraception which wasn’t coined until the late 19th century. This may not be blooper considering a similar anachronism was used in season one, and look how that panned out
- If you’re thinking that the Comte St Germain plot is on a bit of a slow burn, Caitriona Balfe promises The Hollywood Reporter that this, “will all come to fruition in episode seven. He is her foe this season. He blames her for the destruction of his ship and all the cargo, the financial loss that comes with that. And he’s a very dark character. We will find out later just how dark he is. Claire isn’t fully aware yet how dangerous he is but she’s starting to. She’s starting to notice.”
- Mother Hildegarde is played by the legendary Frances de la Tour, who came to fame in the ’70s sit com Rising Damp but has also been seen in such films as Hugo, Alice In Wonderland, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire and The Book Of Eli.
- Does anybody else think that Fergus looks like Doctor Who’s Nyssa of Traken in this shot?
Review by Dave Golder
Read our other reviews of Outlander