To better understand the analysis in this review, be sure to read this synopsis Of “The Way Out” (Outlander Episode 3) before reading it if you haven’t seen it yet!
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As a woman who embraces her career as a nurse, Claire bases her beliefs on scientific fact. When she lands in the 18th century Scottish Highlands, she finds a culture who’s beliefs are firmly rooted in an odd marriage of Catholicism and superstition. Claire knows that she must tread lightly where the Highlanders’ beliefs are concerned or risk being labeled a heretical witch. In looking at the multitude of situations that are centered around the clash between faith and fact in Episode 103 of Outlander, one can better understand the impact it will have on Claire and the series’ other characters.
In adding a scene that doesn’t appear in the Outlander Novel, Executive Producer Ron D. Moore both answers the question of why Claire didn’t try to enlist someone to her her with her plight, and also shows the fear that she’s experiencing in this new world. When Mrs. Fitz slaps Claire in her daydream, it’s symbolic of the assault that her sense of logic undergoes from the madness of her new situation and dealing with the Highlanders’ beliefs. Claire’s role as healer in the castle is a tenuous one; in trying to apply her modern knowledge she is constantly halted by the antiquities of both thought and objects at hand. When she first takes inventory the 18th century “surgery”, she finds many herbs that she knows to be medicinally helpful as well as countless ones she deems as unsanitary and useless. After she culls the things she has rejected, she asks Rupert and Angus to dispose of them for her. This is symbolic of her wishes to disprove and help them reject their superstitious, unscientifically-founded beliefs. While standing with them in the kitchen, she learns of a young boy’s death, and the Highlanders and a Mrs. Fitz all attribute it to demonic possession. Claire, who doesn’t believe in this sort of thing, is visibly bewildered by the strength of conviction with which they offer this conclusion. They also cross themselves whenever speaking of anything to do with the Devil, partially to superstitiously protect themselves from and in part to show allegiance to the God they serve. Claire encounters the same superstition-based beliefs when she speaks with Colum, the castle’s Laird, about the same matter in the next scene. After calling it the work of Satan and crossing himself, Colum asks Claire if they have demons in Oxfordshire, where she claims to comes from, and she wryly replies that they do, but that they “call them Scots”. Colum laughs at her wit, but her silence on the matter indicates again that she doesn’t associate the Devil’s actions with the ills of life.
When Claire is picking berries with Geillis Duncan, they discuss the MacNeil boy’s death as well as the Baxter boy, who had accompanied him to the “Black Kirk” before he took ill. Geillis reveals that Baxter is now ill with evil, just as his friend had been. Claire is in disbelief that Geillis also believes this is the reality of the situation. Geillis makes the point that there are things that happen in this world that we can’t explain. She emphasizes to Claire that if everyone else believes that the boy is possessed that it doesn’t matter if he’s actually only physically ill. She also comments that both of them should stay away from the house, because going there would cause people to wonder if they were somehow connected to the evil at hand.
After abruptly leaving Geillis, Claire goes to the Baxter house to examine the sick boy. She finds him bound to the bed with ropes and alternately unresponsive or writhing with hallucinations. Mrs. Fitz and the boy’s mother are both terrified by the sight of him struggling with evil and torn between comforting him or staying back to keep from being possessed themselves. The frightening figure of Father Bain enters the room to perform an exorcism on the boy. Claire is irritated both by the priest’s narcissistic self-importance and her perceived futility of his actions. She leaves the house exasperated.
The next day, Claire goes to Geillis’ home to get herbs in preparation for the Gathering, and they discuss Claire’s visit to the Baxter home. Geillis reiterates the point about man not being able to understand many things in this world, and instructs that she should stay away from Father Bain. She says that he has no mercy in his heart and that he views all women as temptresses that must be beaten daily by their husbands. This reflects the stereotype of associating witchcraft with women after the sin of Eve.
Later, after asking Jamie to take her to the Black Kirk, she asks about his personal beliefs on the subject of demons, and he makes the point that he has been educated well, but that his beliefs as a born Highlander make him hesitant to tempt fate by talking ill of the Devil in his own Kirk, and then crosses himself. Claire sees here that if she tries to educate the people in her midst about the medical knowledge she possesses that it will likely fall on deaf ears. After discovering the likely culprit of the Baxter boy’s poisoning, she takes a leap of faith of her own by going to his home with what may heal him. She goes head to head with Father Bain again, as he attempts to save the boy’s soul. He labels her desire to save him blasphemy, and that HE is God’s representative. After Mrs. Fitz steps in and demands that Claire be allowed to work, the boy responds well to Claire’s antidote and wakes up. Bain is soured by being upstaged and tells the women that Satan likes to upstage God with things like this. He vows that God will have the last word, and one gets the impression that he’s planning vengeance on a more personal level.
In discussing Bain’s actions with Jamie, after the fact, he reminds Claire that Bain’s beliefs are how he makes sense of the world, just as she does with hers. He asks her if things are so different where she comes from, and she replies that they aren’t. This illustrates the universal timelessness of this clash and the need of humanity to make sense of our surroundings. To end the show, we see Claire trying to make sense of the similarity between her own incident of time travel and the one in Gwyllyn’s song that Jamie translates for her. Although the concept of time traveling is illogical, Claire now knows of potential evidence that other time traveling has occurred in history, which appeals to her need for facts. The irony of her taking hope in a folktale shows the necessity of both facts and the unexplainable in our lives, as well as those of the characters in Outlander.
Once again Terry Dresbach has outdone herself with the costuming in this episode. She emphasizes the austerity of Father Bain with his all black priest’s ensemble. The simplicity and lack of detail intensifies the extremes parameters with which he views the world, and also in how others see him, and by association, may see religion. The inflexibility and lack of deviation in his appearance serve as a visual depiction of his solemn view of God. Even Bain’s name is a reflection of the paradoxical nature of his character, which plays on the word “bane”, which means a source of distress. Geillis Duncan’s elaborately luxurious are both a visual reminder and tool of her attempts to attract the attention of others. She uses her wealth and social status, which are seen in the exquisite fabrics of her clothes, to manipulate others and seduce them for her own purposes. Dresbach completes Geillis outfit in one scene with a pair of red slippers, which is a brilliant nod to the shoes in The Wizard of Oz. Geillis is rumored to be a witch by the villagers, and Claire has been essentially transported to a completely different world, just as Dorothy was in Oz, which allows the allusion to work on many levels.
The soundtrack, composed by Bear McCreary, beautifully emphasizes the tension between belief systems as well. The violent, malevolent music that plays whenever Father Bain is involved in a scene impacts the viewer’s perception of his motives and nature. The hypnotic melody of Gwyllyn’s tune about Fairy Hills, heard at the end of this episode, has musical similarities to “Claire and Jamie’s Theme” but isn’t exactly the same. This reminds us that, although her time travel story is similar to this one that it’s not the same, and it could end differently than the folktale. Will Claire go back to her own time? Only time and Outlander will tell. While many shows paint intangible beliefs as ridiculous and only represent scientific fact as being noteworthy, Outlander shows the benefits of keeping one’s mind open to the myriad of possibilities that exist in our world.