Episode 11 of Outlander Provides a Slight Reprieve from the Battle and Explores the Nature of Villainousness

by: Morgan Barker

The episode moves the rebellion forward. We open after the Highland Army has had a stream of successful battles. They’ve pushed English soldiers out of large parts of Scotland and Jamie is encouraging the Prince to push to London. But this battle has an internal power struggle as the other military leaders are not impressed with Jamie’s close relationship with the Prince. With winter coming, they try to slow the military down as Jamie and Claire, who know what the future holds, insist they press forward.

Jamie’s loud opinion is enough to have him effectively exiled. He receives orders to take his men including Rupert, Murtaugh, and Dougal and ride north to prep for the army’s return and winter camp. He follows the orders and they are set upon by the English on the road. The chase scene is a pleasant reminder of last season’s hijinks, but the darkness of war returns as Rupert takes a bullet to the eye.

They manage to find rest in a church (as I yelled ‘Sanctuary!’ at the screen). The English pursuers surround the church and Claire convinces them that the Scots have taken her captive. She relies on English honor to enact a trade, Claire in exchange for the safety of the Scots. The English agree.

The situation is a set-up, to reunite old characters and tie up loose ends. The English deposit Claire at the home of the Duke of Sandringham. The Duke, a shady character, is an older man, with a taste for fine wine, food, and over-the-top wigs, the Duke is non-threatening from the exterior, but known for working with men of questionable character. He was Black Jack Randall’s benefactor. He’s also a Jacobite, supporting the prince from afar, even though he acknowledges early in the season that the man is a fool.

Being a Jacobite in English occupied territory is not easy on the Duke. He explains to Claire that he is desperate to get away and wishes to strike a bargain. Jamie can come to save her as long as he takes the Duke away as well. Given that this scene opens with a shot of the Duke’s sprawling mansion, his claims stress credulity. It’s hard to believe that Claire falls for this trick, but she writes the letter anyway.

The Duke wants to draw Jamie in and turn in Jamie in exchange for his own freedom. The Duke is only interested in himself. Today, that means being a monarch loyalist.

Once Claire performs her role, he has her locked away. Claire surprisingly encounters her friend from Paris, Mary Hawkins. Yet again, Mary is in trouble. Her godfather is selling her in a marriage to another gross old man. Since Mary is considered “spoiled goods,” they have found the most advantageous marriage for the family and seized it.

At times, seeing Mary is exhausting. Between her high pitched voice and her constant dismay over her love life, from a 21st century perspective, it’s hard to be on her side. Contrasted with Claire, we want to see Mary take some action. Mary represents one of countless women of her era who were used, abused, and sold by their male relations. And given the world she was born into, Mary has little to no power to escape. Earlier in the season, she had no way to get out of her marriage to an elderly man. She only escaped because she was brutally assaulted, raped, and branded damaged goods. That’s how dire Mary’s situation is.

Claire seems to share my brief frustration with Mary. She sees an opportunity for escape and encourages Mary to be brave and do something for once. Mary hesitates because she’s never had the opportunity to take action.

Claire leaves anyways. But her escape route is blocked by the Duke getting a midnight snack. He’s very casual in his own kitchen, The Duke, wigless and wearing a nightshirt, invites Claire to join him. He’s hardly phased by her attempted escape. The Duke’s cool and collected nature as a guard is unnerving. Even more so is the bloodthirsty way in which he asks Claire about how she murdered the St. Germain and whether or not she’s actually a white witch.

The villains of Outlander are scary because they are willing to commit heinous acts of violence. But, at least villains like Black Jack Randall and the Saint German are clearly bad guys, there is never any doubt. They don’t try to hide behind pretensions, they simply act out the brutality they were born into. By contrast, the Duke hides behind a wig and finery, at times plays the role of friend. Only a few episodes ago he asked Jamie to help him pick out a horse. It’s only when stripped down to his nightshirt and sieged within his own home that that Duke reveals his true colors. He’s as ruthless as the others, he’s just better at hiding it.

And now the mystery that has plagued the season is revealed, the men who assaulted Claire and raped Mary in the streets of Paris were sent by the Duke. It was payment of a debt to the St. German and it didn’t bother the Duke at all.

Mary has found her courage enters the kitchen and learns the truth. By this time, Jamie and Murtaugh have also arrived and learn the truth. Suddenly, the concern isn’t about the Bonnie Prince Charlie or the encampment of British soldiers outside, the battle becomes personal again.

It’s Mary who acts first. She rushes forward, plunging a knife into her attacker. Scared and surprised at her own action, Mary is no longer a helpless English lady. Murtaugh, who had promised her vengeance beheads the Duke and lays his head at the girl’s feet. It’s a shocking ending with some of the most overtly brutal violence on the show. And it leaves us with the image of the Duke’s severed head as the screen goes black.

Feminist Rating:

I give it four out of five RBGs. This episode gives Mary and Claire agency to conquer their attackers. You can’t beat that.

Stray Observations:

  • This season has been discarding villains left and right. The St. Germain was poisoned before our eyes. Black Jack was stabbed in the penis; no word on his recovery yet. And now the Duke. In a show like Outlander, a villain is neccessary. I’m curious who the show’s next villain is. I feel like it’s the Bonnie Prince. He bears a lot of similarities to the Duke. He talks a big game, but when it comes down to the wire, he’s only worried about himself. I’m just concerned about how much damage he’ll do along the way.
  • Another contender for villain is history. Claire and Jamie have been frantically trying to change it, but at the rate things are going, it doesn’t seem likely.
  • Distinctive birthmarks and scars seem a bit campy to me. It’s a plot device often used in film and literature and it just seems like lazy writing. I’ll give Outlander a break since they use many genres that have those plot devices. But don’t do it too often Outlander or I may get grumpy!
  • I’m glad to see the Duke of Sandringham gone because he’s a snake, but will miss the talented Simon Callow, who played him.
  • Rest in Peace Rupert’s eye! He’s having a tough season. But really bounced back quickly in making those eye jokes.

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