Outlander’ Starz Episode 2 Review: Women’s Rights Reversal

When watching the second episode (read the “Castle Leoch” episode synopsis first, if needed) of the riveting Outlander series by Starz, it’s fascinating to see the carefully-crafted depictions of life in 18th century Scotland. The costuming (by designer Terry Dresbach) intricately shows not only the large volume of clothing that women wore during that time period, but also the lengthy process that a lady endured, daily, in dressing. Dresbach also gives us a glimpse of both work clothes, as the characters go about their daily work in the castle or outdoors, and dressier outfits in the assembly at the Great Hall. It’s like an amazing 18th Century fashion show! Under the direction of producer, Ron D. Moore, the set designers illustrate life without electricity through all of the candles and torches that are used for lighting, as well as the food that would’ve been consumed and the detailed, historically-accurate furnishings that fill the castle. The combination of the very convincing visual selections mentally draw the viewers into the show and help them to feel a fraction of Claire’s bewilderment and awe at what she’s seeing.

However, the most interesting illustration is the comparison and contrast of Claire to the 18th century women in the show. When Claire arrives at Castle Leoch, her torn white dress from 1945, which the Highlanders all believe is her “shift” or slip, sets her even further apart in similarity from the other women at the castle.

All of their clothes are darker, more thickly sturdy for warmth, and provide much more coverage for them than Claire’s dress affords her. Mrs. Fitz is obviously bewildered and horrified by Claire’s ensemble, and tries to whisk her away to be reclothed. Although Mrs. Fitz’ mission is interrupted by Claire’s demands to rebandage Jamie, proper 18th century clothing is promptly supplied the next morning when Mrs. Fitz bursts in her bedroom to ready her for seeing the Laird. The process of properly clothing an 18th century lady is shown, beginning to end, as Mrs. Fitz readies her. Upon stripping off Claire’s clothes, another time period difference surfaces when Mrs. Fitz asks Claire about her strange “corset.” Claire responds that it is a brasserie from France, which is met with a suspicious, amused glance from Mrs. Fitz. The multiple layers of clothing that Claire will now wear, (a chemise, corset, bum roll, bodice, petticoat, underskirt, over skirt, stomached, stockings, shoes, pockets, mitts and cloaks) versus the relatively fewer layers she would’ve worn in the 1940s is striking, and had to have made her feel even more out of place than she already did. Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for Outlander has an amazing blog about this exact scene of getting dressed that will provide even more insight into this process… It’s fascinating, and provided me with information on the layers for this article.

Claire’s behavior clearly contrasts with her 18th century counterparts constantly, and the reactions from others, men in particular, are priceless. As a 20th century woman that is used to being treated as an equal in society (for the most part) and has spent the past few years giving orders to soldiers in need of medical assistance, she’s used to expressing her opinions forcefully and asking questions when she wants answers. Watching her play mental chess with Colum in his office, as he asks questions about her identity and her reasons for being in the woods is enthralling and vastly different from the interactions women would typically have in this time period with men.

In their discussion concerning the circumstances of her attack in the woods, Colum asks her why an officer, speaking of Jack Randall, would want to rape a stray traveler woman in the woods for “no good reason.” She lobs a verbal ace back his way when she says, “Is there ever a good reason for rape, Master MacKenzie?”, and he quickly apologizes as she smiles confidently. Colum placates her by allowing her to “arrange for her transportation back to Inverness,” so that he can take his time to investigate her identity more fully, believing that she may possibly be an English spy.

Caitriona Balfe delivers these scenes beautifully, and effectively shows Claire’s shock at being treated differently from what she is accustomed. She constantly bumps into chauvinistic norms and expresses her displeasure. Claire is furious when she approaches Rupert about his following her around, and he comments on her tendency to “ask a lot of questions, for a woman,” to which she replies, “So I’ve been told.” She knows she doesn’t exude the demure, submissive presence that others expect from her, and she only decides mentally to acclimate enough to maintain her secrets and draw less attention to herself. In confronting Dougal about having her followed around the castle by Rupert, her outrage and indignation are in overdrive, and are only momentarily quelled when Dougal looks at her with intense malice that unsteadies her. She sasses him about his not knowing Colum’s plans to let her leave the castle for Inverness, which would’ve been very shocking behavior from a woman. Her verbal score her, however, proves to be a Pyrrhic victory, as Dougal conspires with Colum to keep her there for longer. The constant war to force Claire into submission to the will of men and the social expectations of female behavior are an effort to maintain the status quo. Obedience is paramount and expected from women here.Subscribe to the Entertainment email.Don’t miss a beat. Your culture and entertainment cheat-sheet.

The interspersing of Claire’s mental flashbacks to the 20th century aid in showing these differences. In these flashbacks we see the difference in clothes, as well as the much more relaxed social customs concerning male and female interaction. In a quick scene at a bar, Frank and the Reverend are discussing intelligent topics with Claire, such as undercover operations training. The freedom of her situation there contrasts sharply with the 18th century attitudes about a woman traveling alone, or expressing her opinions and inquisitiveness. Not only is Claire battling an alien physical environment, in terms of time period and surroundings, she’s also struggling against the expectations placed on her there as a female.

Although there are an endless number of differences in the two highlighted time periods, Claire also mentally discusses the similarities that are timeless. In watching Dougal play with Hamish, and the innocent joy on both of their faces, she notes the constants of humanity. The eternal nature of the love between a father and child (although the child doesn’t know that his uncle is actually his father) draws her in enough to momentarily feel at peace with her surroundings. Her amused facial expressions regarding to Laoghaire’s wanting to “thank Jamie” after he took her punishment in the Great Hall eludes to the timelessness of damsels in distress romancing the heroes who save them, and the romantic feelings surrounding infatuation. We also see the tensions of power and jealousy through Claire’s eyes, as we watch the MacKenzie brothers silently spar over a decision that has been made regarding Jamie’s place in the castle.

Bear McCreary cleverly inserts musical cues strategically to reflect Claire’s acclimation to her new time period. It can be seen when Claire is out looking for plants, and a reprisal of “Run, Rabbit, Run” plays in a more subdued, vintage style than it on the radio at Mrs. Baird’s did before she went through the stones. This shows that although she is getting used to being in this alternate time, she also mentally exists in another time. The presence of “Loch Lomond” playing softly, as Claire watches Dougal and Hamish play is another example of his tying the emotions of the story to music. The timelessness of this traditional Scottish favorite, filled with affectionate longing, gives a nod to both her longing to return to Frank and her proper time, as well as the longing that Dougal likely feels to call Hamish his son. For more fascinating information and insight into the soundtrack from this episode, check out composer Bear McCreary’s post All about it! It does not disappoint.

The Outlander series has done a magnificent job thus far of juxtaposing two very different time periods. The depictions of surroundings and attitudes that differ are educational as well as fascinating, while the enduring constants of human nature connect us to the characters and plot in a more personal way.