Episode #203: USEFUL OCCUPATIONS AND DECEPTIONS introduces three beloved characters to the Outlander saga – our favorite pickpocket Fergus (played by adorable French actor Romann Berrux), Mother Hildegard (the incomparable role taken on perfectly by English actress and, of course, puss-smelling canine medical assistant Bouton (aka Scamp).

Written by Anne Kenney and directed by Metin Hüseyin, this episode feels more like Season 1 to me than the first two episodes do, perhaps because Claire is back in blood and goo and Jamie is trying to take control of his future, as well as Scotland’s. This is a wonderful episode and sets the story on course for the remainder of the season. It’s full of back room political dealings, espionage intrigue, savory scenes of Paris, painted ladies, beautiful costumes and spectacular sets.

We find Claire alone in bed while Jamie returns from yet another night of boozing and carousing with the blathering Prince in the whore houses of Paris. It seems to be where most of the husbands in Paris spend their nights, though Jamie is the only one not cheating on his wife being too busy committing treason.

The chasm between man and wife is still very much apparent, and they are sooo obviously sleeping in different bedrooms. I can’t help but feel the cold McPalace in which they live does not help matters. Jamie stays only long enough to change his stinky vest, pat Claire’s baby bump and tell her to have a good day with the ladies.

Hmf. Claire is sick and tired of hanging out with Louise de Rohan (sassily portrayed by Claire Sermmone), playing cards, drinking tea and talking about what Frenchman do to their wives in bed which is nothing like what Scotsman do to their wives in bed – apparently. Poor Mary Hawkins (brought to life by cutie-pie Rosie Day) is unhappy about marrying an old, Frenchman with wart(s). She’s heard rumors about his intentions and prefers someone like Jamie – a gentleman who never forces himself on his wife. Well, that’s true enough. At least, lately. There’s a definite bit of sexual frustration going on in the Fraser household . . . unless you’re Murtagh. Poor, poor, poor Mary could use a Scotsman in her life. (Couldn’t we all?) More importantly (as seen in a flashback), Mary is Frank Randall’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and the only thing worse than fathering a child with an old, warty Frenchman is fathering a child with Captain Jonathan Wolverton Randall.

Claire returns home from afternoon tea to find a lace article meant for mending has not yet been mended because her lady’s maid is otherwise occupied. I know there’s a big difference between wanting to feel useful and being bored. Claire is a bit of both. Seems to me she could have mended the lacey thing herself, which she ends up doing after walking in on Murtagh FINALLY getting some with her maid Suzette (Adrienne-Marie Zitt). Yay! He so deserves it.

Interestingly, Murtagh is much less embarrassed being caught himself than he was walking in on Claire and Jamie in Episode 110: BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS. He even interrupts his lovemaking session to tell Claire he ain’t sorry. I guess he figures everyone in Paris is having sex (except for Mary), so why can’t he? Makes sense to me.

Murtagh having sex breaks the camel’s straw. When Claire brings up the concept of contraception, Murtagh is dumbfounded.

“Huh? What?” says Murtagh. “You don’t want a bunch of baby Murtaghs scampering around the McPalace?”

“Not really,” Claire wants to say but promises to pick up something for her slutty, er, lucky maid as Murtagh goes back to finish the job.

Off in Jared’s fancy carriage, Claire heads out to the nearest corner drugstore, aka Master Raymond’s Emporium, and runs into the Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber) in some sort of collusion with Master Raymond himself. Claire is appropriately uncomfortable under the steely-eyed glare of the Comte, looking devilishly handsome such that it’s a shame he’s a villain. By the way, though the casting is on the mark, am I the only one who thinks his name could not sound less French? Can’t stop thinking of Stanley Kowalski. (Well . . . I guess I am.)

Inside the shop, Master Raymond (delightfully personified by Dominique Pinon) recognizes Madonna’s – I love the way he says Madonna, always how I imagined it – need for usefulness. After taking care of her personal business – or rather, Suzette’s personal business – he suggests she visit L’Hôpital des Anges, a charity hospital in desperate need of trained medical personnel, especially considering the quality of medical professionals in eighteenth century Fra- everywhere in the world, frankly, at that time.

Claire changes her wardrobe (surely to make us jealous and succeeding), then dashes off to L’Hôpital des Anges with an unhappy Murtagh in tow. He claims Jamie won’t be happy but really he’s sore about losing sack time with Suzette. Or maybe she’s sore . . . there’s a sore joke in there somewhere. After taking a tour of the hospital with Sister Angelique (Audrey Brisson), Claire meets the dedicated and impressive Mother Hildegarde  (Frances de la Tour). Bouton also makes his first appearance, and I know I’m not the only one who gave out a little yelp when first seeing Mother Hildegarde’s furry assistant enter screen.

Mother Hildegard makes a quick appraisal of Claire – rich, bored housewife who’s never worked a day in her life and won’t last an hour in the hospital, much less 30 minutes. Nevertheless, Claire is put to work cleaning bed pans and, trooper that she is, does not complain. However, Mother Hildegarde’s opinion of Claire raises more than a few notches when she diagnoses a patient’s diabetes by tasting their urine. Forthwith Claire is promoted to help with bandaging and is later allowed to perform a minor surgical procedure removing the world’s largest splinter from a man’s leg after Bouton sniffs out an infection.

Meanwhile, Jamie is spending his time playing chess with Minister of Finance Deverney (Marc Duret) while trying to enlist his aid in convincing Prince Charles to abandon the idea of rebellion. He convinces Deverney to take an official meeting with the Prince at Maison Alise, the Minister claiming he hasn’t been there in months. (Yeah, right.) Unfortunately, Prince Charlie pulls a fast one when the gentlemen are together and announces he has the backing of “several wealthy and influential British aristocrats” financing his family’s claim to the throne of England. This is unwelcome news to Jamie who feigns happiness hearing of the rebellion’s good luck.

Upon returning home, Jamie is unhappy to find Claire not waiting for him, barefoot and pregnant. Hours later, Claire breezes into the parlor, happy she’s been up to her elbows in boils and blood, finding a purpose for her life and making herself useful. Argument ensues. Jamie is indignant about having his wife and unborn bairn around a bunch of infectious people. In addition, her working at the hospital does not help their real purpose for being in Paris then does the only thing he can do – he storms out of the house.

Lucky for us (and Fergus) he goes back to Maison Elise to drown himself in a bottle of whiskey when he could have just gone to another wing of their mansion to get away from Claire. Light bulb. Jamie confronts the little pickpocket in a back hallway, after which a chase occurs reminding me of an episodic crime show where the cop approaches a suspect and tells him from 10′ away he wants to question him, whereby the suspected suspect runs tail because he’s been given ample time, warning and distance to get a head start. But after giving chase, Jamie pops out of nowhere, snags Fergus in an alley and body slams the lad onto a table. Can you smell what the Scot is cooking?!

And after a bit of attempting to blackmail each other:

“I’ll tell your wife you were at a whorehouse,” threatens Fergus, “if you don’t let me go.”

“I’ll tell your mistress you’ve been stealing from her customers,” Jamie shoots back.

Jamie wins although I don’t truly believe Fergus would use a threat like that considering (again) every husband in Paris hangs out in brothels practically every day of the week. Rather than shake hands, Jamie shakes Fergus upside down, recovers his stolen wooden snake Sawney, hires the pickpocket to steal documents and moves him into the Fraser McMansion where he eats chicken, puts his feet on the furniture and compliments every breast within sight.

Days . . . weeks go by, Jamie and Murtagh scour through stolen encoded dispatches and letters addressed to the likes of King Louis and Prince Charlie, making no sense of any of them because, duh, they’re encoded. To make my short recap even shorter, with the help of Mother Hildegarde they are able to find the code key and decipher the letters, several of which are signed simply with a mysterious S – reminding me of the mysterious Mr. F. (If you’ve never seen the hilarious Arrested Development, I insist you dash off to watch it . . . after you finish reading this, of course.)

The mysterious Mr. S is making promises of support, but who could it be . . .

“Sandringham!” Claire and Jamie exclaim together which really she and/or both of them should have known all along.

It’s easy peasy now, Jamie thinks. All they have to do is meet with Sandringham and convince him the rebellion is a bad investment. Time for champagne to celebrate the new plan, but let’s not talk about the last time Jamie and Claire struck a deal with Sandringham which went more wrong than a deal could possibly go wrong.

Oops. Claire and Murtagh haven’t yet told Jamie that Black Jack Randall is still alive, the dirty bastard being a quick healer and all. When Jamie meets Alexander Randall . . .

Stay tuned for the next exciting Outlander episode where I have a feeling Jamie’s fragile world will be ripped apart upon coming face-to-face with his dark nemesis, Captain R.

I know I planned not to do recaps for Season 2, but the mood struck me. This episode played much smoother and more balanced to me than the first two of the season. Episode 201: THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY is, well, dark. There was no way around it, it springboarding off Episode 116: TO RANSOM A MAN’S SOUL – the darkest of episodes. The show is unable to take the same amount of time Diana Gabaldon does in her novel to heal Jamie’s insides and outsides. Episode 202: NOT IN SCOTLAND ANYMORE shows us what nightmare visions he’s having which is something we do not witness in the Outlander or Dragonfly in Amber novels, not having any Jamie perspectives.

I enjoyed the second episode, especially the expansion of Duncan Lacroix‘s Murtagh and Jamie’s run in with Annalise, but it all felt a little “off” from the flow of Season 1. I’ve been wracking my brain all week, trying to determine what it is that bothers me about the episode, but I’ve been unable to pinpoint it exactly. The only thing which comes to mind is the comedy. While Episode 202 is visually stunning, I found the humor to be a bit forced – portrayed more slapstick than Outlandishly witty. Most of you probably disagree with me, but it was my first impression watching it – so I’m sticking with it.

The humor in Episode 203 feels much more natural, especially between Claire and Murtagh, who continues to steal the show. I adore the scenes in L’Hôpital des Anges and hope we are treated to many more. Fergus’ introduction is a joyous addition. I can’t wait to watch him ride the cannon if indeed that scene makes it into the show.

USEFUL OCCUPATIONS AND DECEPTIONS refreshes my excitement for Outlander and puts the show onto a solid track. It lacks sexual enthrallment, as if Jamie and Claire have left the honeymoon phase of their marriage, but we know that’s not really the case. Jamie’s internal wounds are still festering, and we’re all suffering for it as we should be. We have to be satisfied with the knowledge when he and Claire are back in the sack (if I may be so crude), it will be powerful and more than satisfying.

Outlander Episode 204: LA DAME BLANCHE premieres on Starz on Saturday, 30 April 2016 in the U.S.

For more goodies on this episode, check out Jamie’s Top 30 Looks from Outlander Episode 203: USEFUL OCCUPATIONS AND DECEPTIONS

15 thoughts on “A True Fan’s Review of Outlander Episode 203: USEFUL OCCUPATIONS & DECEPTIONS

  1. Hi C, thanks for your insightful reply. Would never abandon the show !!! I still think it is the most entertaining thing on television, and a masterpiece in its own way (mostly to do with the Sam & Cait dynamic– those two could read the yellow pages and make it sizzle!! They really create sparks every time they interact as Jamie and Claire. Although I think it is a real shame that the producers aren’t spending enough time in scenes with just the two of them– that is were the true gold lies, in my view). Getting the J&C casting and dynamic right was THE most important thing about the show, and the producers got that very right. But overall the producers seem to be toning-down a lot of the romance from the book, and pumping-up a lot of the other elements. (they seem determined to make the show “not a romance”) I eagerly await the rest of this season, am sure I’ll love it no matter what they do…

  2. So far I still love the show, but a little less than I loved it last year. It’s very hard to pinpoint why, exactly. I think it may even have to do with the directing, actually. I didn’t like Metin Huseyn’s episodes from last year (I think they were the Watch and the Search?) I found both of those episodes last year slightly “off” and not compelling. Same with eps 1 and 2 of this season, which he directed I think. Slightly off and not massively compelling…

    1. I’ve heard similar comments regarding the directing; however, I very much enjoyed The Watch. While I’m sad there was no time to expand upon or explore Jamie and Ian’s relationship, I liked what they were able to pack into Lallybroch and The Watch. The first two episodes of this season were certainly a bit “clunky.” I think that’s what comes from not having the time to resolve Jamie’s situation last season. The humor didn’t work in either episode and felt forced. I think episode 203 and 204 are terrific in different ways but both get the show back onto the right track. I think (and hope) the rest of the season reinvigorates your dedication to the show – not that I believe you were planning to abandon it entirely.

  3. Totally agree with you on episode 202. Too much silly humour I thought and of course I always wonder what non-readers think of it.
    Sets and costumes amazing but I didn’t ‘love’ the episode. The red dress scene was not as dramatic as I pictured but again so much in the book that couldn’t be included on film in 57 minutes. Still even though my stomach was in knots watching this Ep and 203 I love how the story is unfolding. The challenges for the writers must be incredibly daunting at times needing to honour Diana’s books and characters while retelling on a way that fits the medium.
    I too loved Ep 203 more and felt reconnected to the journey C&J

    Thanks so much Candida. Enjoy reading and hearing your perspective
    Till next week then

  4. I know the TV show is different from the books but I sooo miss the take charge Jaime. The one who has all the answers. Claire seems to be the one deciding and tell Jaime what to do. Fergus is the only idea Jaime has had in 3 episodes.

  5. Great recap. I’ll admit I was a little sad when you said that you wouldn’t be giving your reviews of each episode anymore, so I’m really happy to have them back. Unfortunately, this will be a season of tragic episodes…

    1. Thanks, Jerri. Yes, life has been quite hectic lately. Was very glad I was in the right frame of mind to do this episode. Things are calming down a bit.

  6. And….we’re back! And so is Outlander! And so are you (Harrah!!)
    (patience for the J and C intimacy 3-beat – Jamie will get out of his head soon, I predict)

  7. I fell off the couch laughing when Jaime told Murtagh to “Watch your sporran.” as Murtagh led Fergus into the kitchen. Then right after that when Jaime told Claire that “His name is Fergus. Well, actually it’s Claudelle, but we both agreed that wasna very manly.”

  8. Nice recap. I completely agree that this is the best episode of season 2. Anne Kenney truly understand this story and these characters and it shows in her writing.

    1. Indeed! The first two episodes are a bit clunky in places, mostly due to how Season 1 ended, but there’s nothing we can do about that except endure. They’re on the right track now!

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