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As the episode begins, we see Claire alone, reciting “Present in Absence” by John Donne as she faces a beautiful loch.
To begin with, it seems that she is totally alone… No other sound is heard besides her voice… this silence is symbolic of the isolation she feels in the presence of her traveling companions, as she doesn’t view life the same way that they do, and doesn’t “hear” their words when they speak Gaelic. The peaceful solitude is broken as Ned Gowan (Go here to learn about his costume on costumer, Terry Dresbach’s blog) the aged lawyer for Clan MacKenzie, joins in on the recitation and makes her acquaintance.
Claire lights up at the realization that she has made a connection with someone, after feeling so isolated on the road with the MacKenzie Highlanders. The civility of their recitation of a cultured, classical work contrasts sharply with the nearby highlanders who are rowdy in their lewd teasing of a young man, Willie, who is on his first trip “on the road”. Coupled with being the only female in the traveling party, as well as the only Englishperson, Claire has been made to feel even more alien than she already does as someone displaced from her proper time. Isolation stems from the misunderstandings that Claire and the MacKenzies have about the other’s motives and identity; their values and expectations are at odds. The keys to their eventual connecting are acceptance and respect, which are kindled during this episode’s journey.
Throughout the episode, we see Claire attempting to make connections with others to dull the pains of isolation, but obstacles continually thwart her efforts. During mealtimes around the campfire, Claire sits a noticeable distance away from the men, and her moods alternate between melancholy, frustration and indignation, as they pointedly use Gaelic and discuss what are thought of as “men’s topics” to exclude her. When she mentions to Jamie that she thinks the Highlanders all hate her, he gently corrects her, saying that they don’t trust her, and makes the case of why he doesn’t completely trust her, either. Although she has a connection with Jamie from their shared experiences and romantic chemistry, this admission adds to her feelings of isolation and likely disappointment that he doesn’t trust her, either. Her hostility grows against the MacKenzies and she lashes out at them in response to this treatment. In one of the villages where the MacKenzies have come to collect the rents, Claire wanders off in search of company and joins the women in walking (working) wool.
She succeeds in connecting with them through helping them with their task and is rewarded with their gratitude, pleasant company, and tipple. Even though her beautiful, clean clothing contrasts with their rough, homespun work clothes, and her phrases are very different from theirs (their “Slaínte mhor” versus her “Bottoms up”) they managed to bond over commonalities. Just as her needs to feel useful and a sense of community are being met, Angus bursts in on their gathering and sharply rebukes Claire for not stating where he had left her earlier. As he forcibly removes her and drags her back to where the rest of their traveling party is waiting.
Indignant at this treatment, as well as the MacKenzies accepting a goat as rent payment from a family that needed it’s milk for a baby, she screams at him to let go of her, and begins trying to wrestle the goat away from Rupert. Dougal verbally overpowers her, and then mocks her by calling her a drunk Sassenach, in an attempt to both discredit and alienate her. Her anger and disgust for the MacKenzies grow, for Dougal in particular, as she watches them solicit funds in the evenings after rent collection from their “tenants”.
Due to her lack of knowledge of Gaelic, she misunderstands their motives, thinking that they are demonizing the British to scare the people into giving them money for protection. Dougal’s callous action of ripping Jamie’s shirt from his body to illustrate the scarred handiwork of the Redcoats furthers Claire’s anger against them. She longs for the time when she can reach Craigh na Dun and go back to her own time, where she can escape this hostility and alienation. Later she sees Dougal procure two chickens from The Watch as payment for the family’s rents (The Watch has just burned their home for being traitors or Redcoats sympathizers). Claire, thinking he is merely taking advantage of a bad situation, refuses to eat the “stolen” chickens at dinner, and has a serious physical altercation with Angus, when he angrily berates her for passing judgement on his actions. Jamie comes to her after this, and gives her very sound advice for any situation her life as well as ours, saying that she shouldn’t judge what she doesn’t understand, and that she is “here now”, not where she comes from, and that she needed to remember that. Through his admonitions, she is forced to consider that maybe her ideas concerning life and society aren’t the only acceptable way to live, and that it’s not always her place to criticize it. When she sees two dead Highlanders who have been crucified onSt. Andrew’s Crosses , she begins to understand the Scots’ determined mission to return their king’s line to the throne, and restore a sovereign Scotland.
Seeing her traveling companions tenderly cut the dead men down and give them a Christian burial moves her, and she mentally (via her voiceover) acknowledges the brutality and injustice the Scots are enduring at the hands of the British.
As the episode progresses we see Claire begin to gradually acclimate to her new situation, and subtle signs of her assimilation into the time and place in which she’s been thrown. Her sudden recognition of “long live the Stuarts” in Dougal’s speech after picking up bits of Gaelic is pivotal in changing her perspective on the Highlanders, in that she realizes that they’re raising funds for a rebellion, and not extorting money from their kinsmen as The Watchdoes. She begins to see them as rebels fighting for freedom from the oppressive British army, just as she is seeking freedom from both the imprisonment of her time travel situation and the suspicious eyes of the MacKenzies. This new insight launches both feelings of sympathy, and protectiveness in Claire, as she wonders what will become of all of her traveling partners at Culloden in 1745. She wants to warn them, and prevent them from being slaughtered, and also tries to understand their foolhardiness as she talks to Ned Gowan about it, but he is unmoved. When Claire discovers that Jamie has been sleeping outside her door to safeguard her against drunken guests, she realizes that values her as a person he cares about, and doesn’t only think of her in regards to her national identity, even though he affectionately calls her “sassenach”. Claire returns his kindness by offering him her blanket, and we see their bond being strengthened, as their mutual respect and admiration grows. A reflection of the other Highlanders’ acceptance of Claire occurs the next morning, when the MacKenzie men defend her honor after another group of men called her a whore. She initially doesn’t understand the cause of the uproar, thinking that they were just looking for an excuse to fight. As she is bandaging their wounds, Murtagh tells her they were defending HER honor… that she’s a guest of the McKenzie, and they can insult her, but that any other man that does will be dealt with. This revelation visibly affects Claire; she is both honored and surprised, but accepts their actions as an olive branch of sorts. We see her successfully attempt to bond with the men shortly thereafter by joining in on their bawdy joking. Her witty jab about Rupert’s “left hand getting jealous of the right” both stuns he men and sends them into gales of laughter. She has successfully taken a step towards earning their affection and acceptance as belonging with their crew.
At the episode’s end, Dougal confronts her as she’s washing in the river, alone. He demands to know why she has so many political opinions and rebukes her for sowing “seeds of doubt” about the Stuart restoration among his men. His reactions emphasize his desire to both understand and control her actions, as well as his fascination with her. As Claire begins defending herself against his charges, a group of Redcoats walk up to them, forcing Dougal to stand down.
A young man, whom they encountered previously in a village, but is now in his soldier’s uniform, asks her again if she is being held against her will. Claire’s answer (to be seen in the next episode) will determine the fate of the men she’s traveling with, and also reveal the extent of her new affections for them and the level of respect she has for their mission as Jacobites. As she begins to acclimate an assimilate, her perception of her own identity will be challenged and likely continue to change.