Episode 704: "A Most Uncomfortable Woman" (SPOILERS!)

Ian and Rachel in Outlander Episode 704

Here are my reactions to Episode 704 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "A Most Uncomfortable Woman".


There are SPOILERS below! If you don't want to know yet, stop reading now.









The episode opens at Lallybroch in the 20th century. Clearly some time has passed since we last saw the MacKenzies -- approximately three years? There is a trailer parked beside the house.

We get our first good look at the older Jem and Mandy, in a scene taken from the very end of A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES:

“MANDY,” she bellowed. “Say you’re sorry!”

“Non’t!” came a high-pitched refusal from above.

“Aye, ye will!” came Jem’s voice, followed by scuffling. Brianna headed for the stair, blood in her eye. Just as she set her foot on the tread, Jem uttered a piercing squeal.

“She BIT me!”

“Jeremiah MacKenzie, don’t you dare bite her back!” she shouted. “Both of you stop it this instant!"

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Epilogue I, "Lallybroch". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

According to the contractor working on the renovation of Lallybroch, the MacKenzies have been living in the caravan (trailer) for two years (!) while the work is going on. He gives them an estimate for the very high cost of the roof repairs. "It's astronomical," Roger says.

I had two thoughts simultaneously: First, this is what you get for buying a run-down old house that is about 10 times larger than what you need for a family of four! And second, if they can find the gold in the Spaniard's Cave, that would certainly be a source of emergency funds!

The title card shows a hand wearing a wristwatch (Bree's) lifting a cloth from the desk in the laird's study. Keep an eye on that desk, it may be important later!

In the woods somewhere in North Carolina, Ian, Jamie, and Claire are setting up camp for the night. Most of the dialogue in the scene with Jamie and Claire comes from DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, just before we first meet the 16-year-old Lord John William Grey.

“How many women of my age do you know who still have all their teeth?”

A grin bared his own excellent teeth.

“Well, I’ll admit you’re verra well preserved, Sassenach, for such an auld crone.”

“Well nourished, is what I am,” I retorted. “Half the people on your estate are suffering from mild scurvy, and from what I’ve seen on the road, it’s even worse elsewhere. It’s vitamin C that prevents scurvy, and apples are full of it.”

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 36, "Prestonpans". Copyright © 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I wasn't expecting to see this here, but it fits. I'm glad they found a place to use it.

Meanwhile, Young Ian is acting uncharacteristically jumpy, imagining that he hears Arch Bug lurking in the woods nearby. "I'm not afraid of you!" he insists, but he certainly is acting like it. Jamie tries to reassure him, but Ian is very much troubled by the idea that Arch Bug might harm Jamie or Claire. We can almost hear the unspoken thought hanging in the air: is Ian putting Jamie and Claire in danger, just by being near them?

In the next scene, back in Wilmington, Lt. William Ransom, Ninth Earl of Ellesmere, is enjoying a night out on the town with his cousin, Lord Henry Grey, who is throwing up, probably from too much drinking. William grabs a broadsheet tacked to a nearby wall -- a copy of the Declaration of Independence, in fact -- then crumples it up and hands it to Henry to wipe his face. "Just about all that Declaration is good for," he says. I thought that was a clever way to drive home the point that William is firmly on the side of the British in the war.

Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of a woman's screams. "Fireship!" someone cries -- slang for a poxed whore. What happens next is every bit as horrifying as it was in the book:

Shrieks came from the whores in the doorway, and they crammed back as Rodham flung the woman down on the doorstep. William lunged and succeeded in breaking through the press, but before he could reach the lieutenant, Rodham had seized the lantern and, dashing it against the front of the house, flung blazing oil over the whore.

He fell back then, panting, eyes wide and staring as though in disbelief, as the woman leapt to her feet, arms windmilling in panic as the flames caught her hair, her gauzy shift. Within seconds, she was wrapped in fire, screaming in a high, thin voice that cut through the confusion of noise in the street and ran straight into William’s brain.

The men fell back as she staggered toward them, lurching, hands reaching—whether in a futile plea for help or in the desire to immolate them, as well, he couldn’t tell. He stood rooted to the spot, his body clenched with the need to do something, the impossibility of doing anything, the overwhelming sense of disaster.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 10, "Fireship". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I thought this was really well done.

In the next scene, we're back at Lallybroch in 1980, and Roger is sitting at the desk in the laird's study, writing down what he and Bree and Claire have learned about how the time-traveling works. Fidgeting, he rolls the musket ball from Jemmy's box around in his fingers, and then realizes that it's actually made of gold, not lead! But before Roger can tell Bree about his discovery, Bree comes in with the kids. Jem blames "pixies" (mischievous spirits, called "piskies" in the book) for taking apart Bree's clock radio.

“What are they called in Scotland?”

“We haven’t really got any. Scotland’s got its fair share of the fairy folk,” he said, scooping up a handful of clock innards and letting them tinkle musically back into the bowl. “But Scots tend toward the grimmer manifestations of the supernatural--water horses, ban-sidhe, blue hags, and the Nuckelavee, aye? Piskies are a wee bit frivolous for Scotland."

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 21, "The Minister's Cat". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

In the next scene, William is summoned to meet Captain Ezekiel Richardson, his commanding officer. (Keep an eye on this man, he'll be important later!) Richardson informs William that he is sending him on a mission to deliver messages to three men in Dismal Town, deep in the Great Dismal Swamp, on the North Carolina/Virginia border. The men's names are Cartwright, Harrington, and Carver. (I'm glad that they omitted the fourth man, Washington, from the list. The TV audience would have a hard time believing that anyone named Washington could be a Loyalist!)

Back in the 20th century, we see Pitlochry Dam in Scotland, where Bree goes to interview for a position as plant inspector. This is a terrific scene, and changing the location of the interview from an office to a cafeteria (prompting the interviewer to tell Bree to get him "a cuppa"!) only makes this guy seem even more like what we used to call a "male chauvinist pig". What a sexist SOB!

I'm so glad they included my favorite part:

“I’m afraid there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding, my dear,” he said. “It’s a secretary we’re needing at Pitlochry.”

“Perhaps you do,” she said, giving in to the cloth-clenching urge. “But the advertisement I replied to was for plant inspector, and that’s the position I’m applying for.”

“But … my dear …” He was shaking his head, clearly appalled. “You’re a woman!”

“I am,” she said, and any of a hundred men who’d known her father would have picked up the ring of steel in her voice and given in on the spot. Mr. Campbell unfortunately hadn’t known Jamie Fraser—but was about to be enlightened. “Would you care to explain to me exactly which aspects of plant inspection require a penis?”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "Unarmed Conflict". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I liked the added dialogue in this scene, where Bree gives a master class in how to "sell yourself" during a job interview. She's poised, confident, articulate, and professional, making relevant suggestions for improvement and explaining in detail why she is the best person for the job. Go Bree!!

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Great Dismal Swamp, William is riding alone (at what appears to be a high rate of speed) through the swamp. I love the scenery here! Notice the alligator floating motionless as a log at about 20 minutes into the video.

My first thought when the snake appeared was a) the horse is paying attention, even if William isn't, and b) William really was riding much too fast! So William gets thrown from his horse, and somehow lands on a large stick with sufficient force to embed the stick partway into the flesh of his arm. Owwwww!!!

I can't figure out how he managed that. In the book, the piece of wood that pierced his arm came from the explosion of a large cypress tree nearby, struck by lightning, so there was enough force to explain it. But in this case, he simply fell off the horse and rolled on the ground. How do you fall hard enough to shove a stick of that size through your flesh, from your body weight alone? I'm dubious about how realistic this is. but never mind, because the effect is exactly the same as in the book. He's injured, the wound is bleeding, and there are bits of debris embedded in it, meaning that the chance of infection is very high.

And then William looks up and realizes that his horse, Jupiter, is nowhere to be found. He's alone, without food or supplies, in the middle of a swamp. How is he going to get out of this?

This whole sequence is really well done, very much as I imagined from the book. (See ECHO chapter 36, "The Great Dismal")

Meanwhile, in Wilmington, Jamie encounters Cornelius Harnett, from the Sons of Liberty, last seen in Season 5. Harnett wants Jamie to commit to going north to join the Continental Army. Jamie tries to refuse, saying he has "business of a personal nature" to attend to (i.e., his promise to take Ian back to Scotland), but Harnett won't take no for an answer.

"Rowan County has yet to meet its quota of men, which means we have the authority to compel its citizens to join us."

Wow. I really wasn't expecting that. I've heard of the British army conscripting men by force, but not the Americans. Basically, Harnett is making Jamie an offer he can't refuse. Either he agrees to sail to Fort Ticonderoga the very next day, to join Washington's forces, or Harnett's men will put him aboard that ship by force.

I have to admit, this is a very compelling argument, especially when weighed against Jamie's main reason for going to Scotland, to keep his promise to Jenny to bring Young Ian home. They're in the middle of a war, the situation is dire, and they need all the experienced soldiers they can get. There's no particular urgency to their trip to Scotland, other than, perhaps, the desire to go somewhere that Arch Bug won't be able to pursue Ian. There will be time enough to visit family later.

I think this was a clever way for the writers to skip over the very complex situation in Part 3 of ECHO, with three ships, three captains, a bewildering assortment of minor characters, and so much going on that it's hard for me to keep everything straight even after multiple re-reads/re-listens. Not to mention the immense logistical challenge of trying to film all of that! IMHO they made the right decision, to get Jamie and Claire to Fort Ticonderoga as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Jamie, Claire, and Ian gather in their inn room to discuss the situation. Most of Jamie's dialogue here comes straight from ABOSAA:

“You aren’t doing it for the sake of ideals, are you? Not for the sake of--of liberty. Freedom, self-determination, all that.”

He shook his head.

“No,” he said softly. “Nor yet for the sake of being on the winning side--for once. Though I expect that will be a novel experience.” He gave me a sudden rueful smile, and, caught by surprise, I laughed.

“Why, then?” I asked, more gently.

“For you,” he said without hesitation. “For Brianna and the wee lad. For my family. For the future. And if that is not an ideal, I’ve never heard of one.”

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 59, "Froggy Goes A-Courting". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I have always loved this quote, and I'm glad to see it used here. They really needed to make it clear why they are fighting, before they end up with the Continental Army.

Jamie: "But I do ken we willna lose this war."
Claire: "At the very least, I can promise victory."

I like that very much. Also, Ian's heartfelt, "I love this land. I want to fight for it!"

Ian proposes to go overland to NY rather than by ship, to ride through Virginia and meet with the Shawnee, in hopes of securing a position as an Indian scout. This is a change from the book, but I see why they did it: to give Ian a plausible reason to be in the vicinity of Dismal Town, in preparation for what happens next.

Back at Lallybroch, Roger is painting a wall, Jem and Mandy arguing in the background, when suddenly Jem says, "You're so annoying!" A door slams, followed by an ominous silence. (I don't have kids myself, but even I know that this generally means trouble!)

Roger finds Mandy in the priest-hole. Unlike in the book, this isn't actually an underground room, but a tiny alcove, like a narrow closet, with a door with a flimsy-looking lock on the outside. (I assume that, like the Spaniard's Cave, it was built this way for ease of filming.) Mandy is unharmed, just sitting there as though she's playing hide and seek.

Roger turns to Jem. "What have I told you about putting your sister in the priest-hole?" Great line!

Just then Bree returns from her job interview. She's excited that she got the job, but Roger's response seems unenthusiastic at best. Bree realizes at once what the problem is. "[You] want to be the breadwinner."

But it's not as simple as that. Roger is having difficulty finding a role for himself in the 20th century. He was going to be a minister, but now, he no longer believes in predestination, so he has abandoned that idea for the time being. But what else can he do?

"The last thing your father said to me was that there's no other man he'd trust with his daughter. Your mother said, 'Take care of our girl.' I promised them both, and I feel as if I'm failing."

Oh, that's sad! It reminds me of Claire when Bree was young:

And what had I made of myself, what was I making? A mess, that was what. Neither a good mother, nor a good wife, nor a good doctor. A mess. Once I had thought I was whole--had seemed to be able to love a man, to bear a child, to heal the sick--and know that all these things were natural parts of me, not the difficult, troubled fragments into which my life had now disintegrated. But that had been in the past, the man I had loved was Jamie, and for a time, I had been part of something greater than myself.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 7, "A Faith in Documents". Copyright © 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I think this is exactly what Roger needs: a way to be part of something greater than himself. Something to focus on besides his own perceived failures. I think he's at loose ends in part because he has a strong need to help other people -- it's an integral part of his character -- and he hasn't really been able to do that since they came back to the 20th century.

Meanwhile, back in the Great Dismal Swamp, William is not looking good at all. He looks exhausted and in pain. But he continues to slog through the knee-high water, because he has no choice. Eventually he looks up to find Ian and Rollo there, watching him.

The sequence that follows is one of my favorites in this episode. It's very much as I imagined from the book, and most of the dialogue comes straight from ECHO chapter 37, "Purgatory". Except for this bit:

"We've met as well, briefly." I don't know why they keep having Ian say that. It's not true, in the TV show, though it was true in the books. Ian was not present during Episode 406, "Blood of My Blood", when Lord John and William visited Fraser's Ridge.

I particularly liked the discussion about death-songs, which is very close to the book. Including this:

William supposed that Murray was, as he was, imagining himself in such case, tied to a stake, about to suffer appalling torture. He gazed up into the void above, tentatively composing a few lines: I am William Clarence Henry George Ransom, Earl of … No, he’d never liked his string of names. I am William … he thought muzzily. William … James … James was his secret name; he hadn’t thought of it in years. Better than Clarence, though. I am William. What else was there to say? Not much, as yet. No, he’d better not die, not until he’d done something worth a proper death song.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 37, "Purgatory". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Rollo lies down next to William, and Ian smiles. "He likes you. He already thinks of you as family." Of course William has no idea that Ian is actually his cousin.

In the next scene, we're back in Wilmington. (Still? I thought Harnett had said the ship to Ticonderoga was leaving the next morning?) Claire is out doing errands when she quite literally bumps into none other than Tom Christie, who is not dead after all! Tom grabs her and gives her a thorough kiss, much to her shock. My expression on seeing this must have been very much like Claire's -- eyes bugging out in surprise. She's so taken aback that she can't even speak at first. I actually found the kiss more shocking to see on screen than to read about in the book.

They go to the inn where Jamie and Claire are staying and sit down to talk. Most of this scene comes straight from ECHO chapter 19, "Ae Fond Kiss".

Claire asks Tom why he didn't just come back to the Ridge. "I inquired and heard that my son had left, never to return. After everything that happened, I decided it best not to return either." Tom also reveals that he was the one who placed the obituary in the newspaper.

For me, Tom's confession and his willingness to literally lay down his life for Claire are so powerful that they tend to overpower this later scene. But it was well-acted, and Mark Lewis Jones is a pleasure to watch, as always!

The scene that follows, between Jamie and Claire, is really well done, taken almost verbatim from the book. I liked it very much. This is probably the last time Jamie and Claire will have sufficient privacy for sex for quite a while (they're headed for an army camp, after all), so we might as well enjoy it! I'm glad they included the bantering in this scene, which always makes me smile:

“Exactly what do you think I might do to you in bed?”

He scratched his chest consideringly, and rubbed absently at the tiny knot of scar tissue where he’d cut Jack Randall’s brand from his flesh. “Well, so far, ye’ve clawed me, bitten me, stabbed me--more than once--and--”

“I have not stabbed you!”

“Ye did, too,” he informed me. “Ye stabbed me in the backside wi’ your nasty wee needle spikes--fifteen times! I counted--and then a dozen times or more in the leg with a rattlesnake’s fang.”

“I was saving your bloody life!”

“I didna say otherwise, did I? Ye’re no going to deny ye enjoyed it, though, are ye?”

“Well … not the rattlesnake fang, so much. As for the hypodermic …” My mouth twitched, despite myself. “You deserved it.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 19, "Ae Fond Kiss". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

In the next scene, Ian and William arrive at last at the cabin of Denzell Hunter, a Quaker doctor, and his sister Rachel. William is by this time very ill due to the infection in his arm. They've found the doctor just in time.

As they get Wiliam into the house, Ian and Rachel's eyes meet just for a moment, and both of them look a little startled. Rachel, presumably at the sight of a Mohawk warrior showing up in her dooryard. Ian, possibly having a coup de foudre moment? <g> We didn't get to see Ian and Rachel's first meeting in the book, and I really enjoyed their interactions in this episode, especially knowing what will happen later.

Dr. Hunter examines William. The arm looks very bad, and it must be amputated at once, much to William's horror. Ian gives William a rosary to hold, saying, "It'll give ye strength." And then, just as Denzell touches the saw to William's arm, the abscess bursts, spilling pus out of the wound.

I didn't recall this at all, on the first viewing. But sure enough, this is also exactly as it happened in the books:

“Look,” he said, displaying the long, comet-shaped scar on his forearm. “That’s what happens when you get an abscess.”

Both Zeb and the doctor peered at the scar, impressed. It had been a splinter wound, he told them, caused by a lightning-struck tree.

“Wandered round the Great Dismal Swamp for three days in a fever,” he said. “Some … Indians found me and got me to a doctor. I nearly died, and”--he lowered his brows and gave Zeb a piercing look--“the doctor was just about to cut off my arm, when the abscess burst and he cauterized it. You might not be so lucky, hey?”

(From WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 58, "Castrametation". Copyright © 2014 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I like the next scene, with Ian and Rachel getting to know one another, very much. Izzy Meikle-Small is very good as Rachel, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of her. Ditto for Joey Phillips as Denny Hunter. They are two of my favorite secondary characters, and I think the casting people have done an excellent job. Looking at Rachel and Ian standing face to face, it occurs to me that they're almost the same height. Even this early in their relationship, they fit well together. <g>

Back at Lallybroch in the 20th century, Bree notices that the biscuits and crisps (aka cookies and potato chips) are missing from the pantry. Jem says the culprit was the Nuckelavee, a horse-like demon found in folklore from Orkney. After some discussion, Bree and Roger decide not to question Jem further about it.

At the Hunters' cabin, Rachel is helping William to shave, and remarks on his unusual red beard. This scene comes mostly from the book (ECHO chapter 38, "Plain Speech"), with one exception.

"I very much doubt that roses find their petals to be as perigynous as a red beard," William says. This word is not in the book, but when I looked it up, I only found definitions related to the characteristics of petals, nothing about itchiness or lack thereof. I think the writers were trying a little too hard to have William display some of Lord John's penchant for unusual words. Good idea, but it just didn't work in this instance.

I like the star-shaped appearance of the scar on William's arm. Very distinctive!

Rachel says that she and Denny will be leaving soon to join the Continental army. She mentions that their neighbor, Samuel Cartwright, is also a Patriot. This is a shock to William, because Captain Richardson had sent him into the Great Dismal to find Cartwright. If he was a rebel all along, then Richardson sent William into rebel-held territory on purpose. But why would a British officer do something like that?

Claire's voiceover in the next scene, as the army marches toward Fort Ticonderoga, is based on this passage from THE FIERY CROSS, at the Battle of Alamance:

People who don’t believe in telepathy have never set foot on a battlefield, nor served with an army. Something passes unseen from man to man when an army is about to move; the air itself is live with feeling. Half dread, half eagerness, it dances over the skin and bores the length of the spine with an urgency like sudden lust.

(From WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 58, "Castrametation". Copyright © 2014 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

And with that, the episode ends as Jamie and Claire arrive at Fort Ticonderoga.
I hope you enjoyed this recap. Look here for my recaps of all of the OUTLANDER episodes, and please come back next week for my recap of Episode 705.

Looking for a place to discuss All Things OUTLANDER? Check out TheLitForum.com, formerly the Compuserve Books and Writers Community. You have to sign up in order to read or post on the forum, but it's free. For more about the forum, look here.


Anonymous said...

Great recap!

Roberta Hoffman said...

I lived in NY and loved the Fort Ticonderoga set - amazed they found such a place in Scotland to film it - There is a ferry there in modern New York State that takes your car over to Vermont - a favorite spot for me and my children!!!

Rebecca Scarborough said...

Thank you, Karen for a great recap--all of them, in fact. This is the first episode that I have been able to watch without streaming tears. I suppose the tears are a result of the long hiatus. I am a fan of both the books and the TV series. I hope to live long enough to read the last novel. I'll die happy if I can.

Anonymous said...

I thought the first time William met Ian was as a young child when he and Lord John came to the ridge not long after his mom died. I don't remember which book. Remember the snake in the privy with the gun. Jamie made Ian go into the latrine to retrieve the gun. Also, you do an amazing job....

Karen Henry said...

The "incident of the snake in the privy" didn't happen in the show. I love that scene, though!


CT said...

I too was intrigued with the conscription. I did a deep dive into that subject and found that The Continential Congress authorized what they called a levy in Feb of 1778 for a 9 month term. The states could offer land or money to fill the ranks of the local militias. A substitute could indeed be given. North Carolina was one of the states that used this authorization.

Anonymous said...

Great episode and recap. I have read the books so I can follow all the back&forth but I'm wondering if those that haven't are keeping up with the stories unfolding. Your recaps should be required reading. Also, the production is great this season. Well cast, excellent acting, each scene paced well and the scenery fantastic. Well done!

Storrme said...

I liked this episode, I especially like the way they got the rosary into Williams possession since Jamie did not give it to him earlier. I also liked the similarities between Jamie's denial of amputation and Williams. I wonder if Ian was thinking the same. I agree that it may be a bit confusing for people who have only watched the show to hear Ian speak about and to William as tho they have met, because we never got to see that scene, it was hilarious in the books.

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