Despite several juicy plot points—exorcism! clandestine makeouts! rescue missions!—Outlander’s third episode was the first to only negligibly drive the overall narrative forward. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it didn’t feel as though “The Way Out” were hitting us about the head with The Great Bagpipes of Scottish History, going to great lengths to illuminate the customs and superstitions of the time. Two events specifically (one from Diana Gabaldon’s source material and one seemingly cooked up by executive producer-writer Ronald D. Moore), cast our heroine into predicaments in which her 20th-century smarts and sensibilities serve her well—while potentially putting her in even graver danger.
Claire is making herself as at home in the castle as she can, cleaning out her inherited surgery and its bounty of horse dung and powdered human skull. (Personally, I’d rather remain ill than acquiesce to gulping pigeon’s blood.) But not all is well in House MacKenzie, as we learn Colum’s chambermaid’s son died the previous night, having caught a case of the demons (i.e. he was possessed by a spirit from the ruins of Black Kirk). While picking roots and berries later with Geillis, Claire is told that the boy’s friend Thomas Baxter (nephew of Mrs. Fitz) has also succumbed to possession. Savvy Claire is, of course, suspicious of this particular diagnosis.
“Did you ever find yourself in a situation with no earthly explanation?” Geillis asks her.
Claire abandons their errand and hurries over to the family’s home (which she somehow finds unassisted, despite rarely leaving the castle). She tries to administer to Thomas, but a priest, Father Bain, takes over, yelling Latin at the youngster and mercilessly pelting him with holy water. Mrs. Fitz asks Claire to stand aside, and she leaves with regrets.
That horrific scene is intercut with another “signs of the time” scenario—one that’s nearly as troubling. During a later visit with Geillis (this time at her home where Dougal has delivered Claire so she can stock up on medicinals before the upcoming Gathering), she witnesses a boy being taken to the pillory for stealing. The probable punishment? Losing his hand! Claire’s rightly appalled. But it’s Geillis’ husband, Arthur, who’ll be doling out the sentence, and seeing how distressed Claire is, Geillis uses her wifely wiles to convince the flatulence-prone codger to dispense with a bit of mercy. And she succeeds! The lad’s ear will be nailed to the pillory instead.
[EDIT NOTE: Apologies, but I can’t continue this recap without acknowledging those terrific farting sound effects. They were completely ridiculous, and I’m dying to know how they were made. They’re almost, like, artisinal or something. Wet whoopee cushions? A 4-year-old blowing raspberries? Please, someone find out for me!
And back to the recap…]
“You do puzzle me, Claire,” Geillis begins once her husband departs. “You would think they don’t have punishment or pillories where you come from.” Just as she presses to learn more about her visitor’s background, Jamie bursts in, dispatched to bring Claire back to the castle. Outside, the boy’s still nailed to the pillory; he must tear himself off the nail. Um, ouch.
“Mr. MacTavish, your fingers are quite strong I suppose,” Claire says sly. And it’s clear (without benefit of voiceover—thank you!), that they’ve hatched a plan to free him, humanely (and rather hilariously).
Now, we can all sympathize with Claire and her, well, modern sympathies, but she’s not doing herself any favors butting into everyone’s business—ethical concerns or no. And that becomes even more obvious when we return to the Thomas Baxter storyline.
NEXT: She doth protest too much