Outlander: “Useful Occupations and Deceptions” Recap and Critique

Useful Occupations and Deceptions
Bouton’s twitter debut

This week’s episode of Outlander, “Useful Occupations and Deceptions,” moved around a lot but didn’t accomplish much in the way of plot development. The only serious developments were Jamie and Murtagh’s developing a plan for stopping the Jacobite uprising and Claire’s realization that the stammering Mary Hawkins is actually her 20th-century husband Frank‘s ancestor. Claire’s inner monologue describing the implications of Mary Hawkins’s lineage represent another brief return for Outlander to the Fantasy genre, back from Romantic Historical Fiction. Also, Claire and company met Mother Hildegarde (Frances de la Tour)–the harpsichord-playing nun with a keen medicinal sense–and her dog Bouton–who can apparently smell infections (woof).

“Useful Occupations and Deceptions” – The Recap

While Jamie works to figure out a way to cut off funding for the Jacobite uprising, Claire feels unfulfilled in her life as an 18th century Lady. Of course, Claire’s lack of fulfillment may have something to do with her lack of intimacy. Jamie is still recovering from his rape at the hands of Black Jack Randall and is even unavailable lately as a bed warmer due to the demands on him in his twin roles as wine merchant/4th-dimensional battler of history.

Jamie’s quest to alter history keeps him out at brothels a fair bit: it seems this is where Charles Stuart holds most of his meetings. In one such meeting involving Jamie, Joseph Duverney, and Charles Stuart, Charles reveals that the Jacobite cause can now boast of having three wealthy English backers. This information catches Jamie off guard, convinced as he is that the only way the Jacobites will get their funding is through King Louis XV of France. Determined to learn the truth of Charles’s claims, Jamie enlists the services of a young pickpocket who will steal letters to and from Charles.

Back at the Fraser house, Claire’s sexual frustration builds to a fever pitch when she walks in on Murtagh and her Lady’s maid, Suzette, “frolicking between the sheets” as Murtagh puts it. After snapping at and then apologizing to Murtagh, Claire tells him that she recently found out that Black Jack Randall is still alive and can’t decide whether to tell Jamie or not. Murtagh commiserates but doesn’t offer much insight into the matter. As Murtagh returns to Suzette, Claire makes her way to her new friend Master Raymond‘s apothecary shop in order to get Suzette some prophylactics.

Claire runs into her newly minted nemesis, le Comte St. Germain, at Master Raymond’s whose ship was burnt after Claire identified it as being infected with smallpox. The two exchange frosty glances and pleasantries but nothing more. Master Raymond excuses his dealings with St. Germain reminding Claire that their shared profession often demands that they deal with a number of people they’d rather avoid. Raymond provides Claire with Suzette’s prophylactics and suggests that if Claire’s feeling unfulfilled that she volunteer her services as a healer at L’Hôpital des Anges, a nearby charity hospital run by nuns.

Useful Occupations and Deceptions
Claire’s into some freaky stuff

Claire’s new volunteer work makes her unavailable one night to help Jamie try to determine how to go about stopping the Jacobite uprising. So, when she comes home after a long day of tasting urine and exposing her unborn child to any number of infectious diseases, Jamie is a bit miffed. Claire agrees to avoid helping anyone who’s infectious–that’s always easy to do when treating the ill–and to try to be more available to Jamie.

At tea with Louise de La Tour and Mary Hawkins, Claire remembers why she recognized Mary’s name: she saw it in Frank’s family tree. More surprising than the realization that she’s been having tea with one of her husband’s ancestors is Claire’s memory of who Mary Hawkins’s husband was/will be, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall. This means that Claire must not prevent the naïve Mary Hawkins from marrying the sadistic Black Jack. Otherwise, history would be altered in such a way as to prevent Claire from ever traveling back in time, because if Frank had never existed then Claire would have never gone to the circle of stones that brought her back to the 18th century.

While Claire treats wounds and is treated to the spectacle of Bouton’s diagnostic skills, Jamie intercepts letters to and from Charles. One such letter is written in musical code and (wouldn’t you know it?) the only person who can help interpret the code is Mother Hildegarde. Mother Hildegarde, after some “Baroque-ass” name-dropping–apparently she corresponds with Bach–, is able to identify that the piece of music changes keys wildly. So, Mother Hildegarde determines, as Jamie notes in a particularly uninspired bit of script-writing, “The key is the key.” The letter is decoded and the three learn that Charles’s English benefactors are real. The man who sent the letter turns out to be the Duke of Sandringham intent upon meeting Charles.

Sandringham’s involvement bolsters Jamie’s spirits, positive he can convince the Duke that the Jacobite uprising is a bad investment choice. Unlike Jamie, it’s not all smiles for Murtagh and Claire. The two realize that if Jamie meets with Sandringham then he’ll also meet Alex Randall, the Duke’s servant and Black Jack Randall’s brother, and it won’t take long for Jamie to learn that Black Jack isn’t dead. When Jamie leaves the room, Murtagh insists that Claire tell him that Black Jack is still alive. Instead, she simply remarks on how good it is to see Jamie so happy.

“Useful Occupations and Deceptions” – My Critique

Although “Useful Occupations and Deceptions” featured one of the show’s rare discussions of time travel, the only content that sets Outlander apart from similar Romantic Historical Fiction shows like The Tudors, my general complaint is that it’s too much of the same in a season that seems obsessed with setting the stage. And, it was a strange choice to have Claire note that she recognized Mary Hawkins’s name in “Not in Scotland Anymore” and then to confirm the relatively obvious reason for her recognizing the name in “Useful Occupations and Deceptions.”

Also putting my kilt in a twist is a problem I’ve been having with this season in general. As it seems that the Jacobite uprising could be unstoppable, why don’t Jamie and Claire just retire to a safe place, have several children, and raise them as Scots? That seems a more positive way to ensure that Highland culture survives. “Useful Occupations and Deceptions” should’ve addressed this problem if only by having Jamie or Murtagh dismiss the notion of leaving as cowardly.

Michael Bedford
Michael Bedford
Under intense scrutiny by the Temporal Authorities, I was coerced into actualizing my capsule in this causality loop. Through no fault of my own, I am marooned on this dangerous yet lovely level-four civilization. Stranded here, I have spent most of my time learning what I can of the social norms and oddities of the Terran species, including how to properly use the term "Hipster" and how to perform a "perfect pour." Under the assumed name of "Michael Bedford," I have completed BA's with specialized honours in both theatre studies and philosophy, and am currently saving up for enough galactic credits to buy a new--or suitably used--temporal contextualizer ... for a friend.