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Date Posted: 20:43:53 06/26/16 Sun
Author: Shadow
Subject: Episode 212 - The Hail Mary

Written by Ira Stephen Behr and Anne Kenney, Directed by Philip John

This is an emotionally dark episode, marked by deaths and desperation as we enter the final days before Culloden. I think that, despite the elaborate lushness of the sets and costumes of the Paris episodes, this may be the most visually stunning episode of the season. It is a technical masterpiece. It is beautifully lit and photographed, filled with images that are reminiscent of old paintings. The editing is exquisite, tight and flowing, enhancing the parallels and pathos of the story. The writing is excellent. Some of the speeches are heartbreaking, and there are many absolutely brilliant performances. I liked it very much and I really don’t have anything negative to say.

Five months have passed since the Jacobite army was poised to attack London. The army has retreated constantly and now lies outside of Inverness near to Culloden field. They are exhausted, starving, and demoralized. It is three days before the final battle. Claire is despairing but Jamie is still trying to find a way to thwart the history books.

While shopping for medical supplies in Inverness, Claire encounters Mary Hawkins also buying medicines. She tells Claire (somewhat defiantly) that she has left her home to be with Alex Randall whom she plans to wed. Alex is ill and she has been caring for him. I was impressed with how mature Mary has become, though she is also rather bitter and angry. She is certainly a far cry from the bashful stuttering girl who was appalled and embarrassed by Louise’s nudity. Claire asks to visit Alex to apologize for interfering in their wedding plans in Paris.

The war council is divided. The quartermaster advocates an attack on Culloden field while Jamie considers it suicide. The general concurs. Jamie reminds everyone of the French gold that is supposedly en route and advocates breaking the army into smaller units to hide and rest and await the refit that the money would permit. I think this is the first mention of the existence of the French Gold that will figure so prominently in future seasons. It was neatly written in here and Jamie’s logical plan was well-presented, but the prince is itching for battle and overrules the idea in favor of his quartermaster’s plan. I found Charles fascinating in this scene. Mostly all he did was sit and listen, drinking his wine and playing with the fire, until he rose and declared himself a man and a soldier while holding his sword as if it were a teacup and not a weapon. Beautifully directed.

Claire arrives at Alex and Mary’s boarding house just in time to prevent Mary dosing the boy with arsenic tea. Alex looks terrible—-clearly dying. Emaciated, pale, coughing blood. Claire takes over Alex’s medical care. The tension in the scene climbed to an amazing degree when Jack Randall, in civilian dress, walks into the room, on leave to see his brother. Both Cait and Tobias can convey a world of words without speaking and it was riveting. Mary tells Claire that “Jon” has been wonderful to them, seeing that they are sheltered and fed. Watching Jack with Alex was astonishing. He was tender and gentle—a completely different man from the BJR we know and despise. Claire, ready to leave, is stopped by Mary asking how soon Alex can return to work. When Claire tells her that he won’t, Mary reveals that she is pregnant. Jack gently tells Mary that Alex is calling for her. Rather than endure conversation with Randall, Claire leaves. BJR follows. When she tells him that the boy cannot be cured BJR insists that she can at least ease him. He uses the innocents involved—-Alex, Mary, and the child— as his appeal. Claire demands a trade; information on the British army in exchange for Alex’s care. This is an interesting change from the book. On one hand, it takes something away from Claire’s innate goodness to think that she would have denied Alex her care because of her contempt for his brother, yet it also makes her seem a bit more human. Tobias and Cait played the entire scene very well. Regardless of how many book purists will find this change offensive, I feel it worked well for the show.

Jamie is incensed by the discovery of BJR’s presence in Inverness, but takes his information and decides to seek corroboration from his own spies. Afraid for Claire’s safety with BJR should Alex die under her care, he reluctantly allows her to tend the boy with Murtagh as her bodyguard.

That night at camp, a very debilitated Colum MacKenzie arrives and asks to see both Jamie and Dougal. Here is another wonderful performance. Colum is, in his own way, as ill as Alex. His energy is flagging, he is edemic, and his body is failing. His wit remains sharp. Learning that Dougal is not in camp he commends Jamie on handling Dougal’s weaknesses effectively and asks to see Claire privately while they await Dougal’s return. Once alone, Colum tells Claire of the fate of Geillie’s baby and begs a bottle of poison from her to end his own life when he can stand no more pain. She complies.

A sharp edit back to Alex’s room shows Alex suffering a severe coughing attack. Cradling his brother protectively Jack snaps at Claire as she performs some interesting medical procedures with smoke, reminiscent of season one when she aided Ned Gowan’s allergies similarly. Seeing the two Randall brothers side by side, I was struck by the resemblance between the actors. The casting here was extraordinary and I’m sure the makeup team made an effort to enhance it. Alex asks Jack to wed Mary so that their child might bear the Randall name. The look on Jack’s face is both appalled and horrified, something I never thought to see in Black Jack’s countenance. Alex, who knows his brother well, understands that look and declares that the darkness he fears is merely a wall to protect the tender inner self that Alex knows and begs him to care for that which is most precious to him. Shocked, Jack refuses and stalks out. Alex has another coughing fit and Murtagh is tasked to follow while Claire helps Alex.

Dougal returns to the camp and Jamie imparts the news about Cumberland’s birthday party and that Colum is in camp.

After leaving Alex, Murtagh leads Claire through the city in pursuit of Randall. Scandalized by the thought of BJR marrying Mary, Murtagh offers himself instead. This was a lovely speech and Duncan Lacroix did a great job with it. Claire reminds him they are at war and that a British soldier’s widow is due much more than a ragtag highlander traitor. She then confronts BJR in a pub and persuades him to go through with the marriage, reminding him of her curse. This is another brilliant scene. Tobias and Cait have an electric chemistry when they are in a scene together that just compels attention. Tobias gives a great speech about a world where monsters thrive and beauty and purity are mired in poverty and death. The camera work and lighting here are gorgeous, revealing Jack’s face perfectly balanced in light and shadow as he captures Claire’s arm to prevent her exit and decry the powers of darkness and light.

Again, we cut back to Colum, now with both Jamie and Dougal in attendance. The tapestry over the bed caught my eye—beautiful. There is a truly lovely medium shot of Jamie standing by the fireplace as he listens to Colum speak to his brother, both present and apart from the conversation. Colum declares Hamish his heir with Jamie as guardian. Jamie’s shock is palpable as is Dougal’s outrage. Jamie renters the frame in a two-shot with Dougal showing their agreement that Colum has chosen wrongly. Both men agree they would bring the MacKenzies to war, but Colum points out that if it was clear the cause was lost Jamie would abandon the war to save what men he could while Dougal would not. The camera stays with a subtle emphasis of alliance as the two men agree, then shifts focus and slowly separates back to single framings as Jamie and Dougal slowly come to see Colum’s point and accept his decision. The performances here are again wonderful and intense. Colum’s comment about two brothers— one crippled in body, the other crippled in mind— is a striking echo of BJR’s reflection on monsters and purity and could be equally applied to Jack and Alex.

A brief comment on the wedding of Jack and Mary. While I regret the loss of the interaction between Jamie and BJR and the leavening of the bitterness between those two men that is present in the book, this scene fit the tale as it is being told here. Few words are said beyond the classic wedding vows but the subtext in the actors is phenomenal and fascinating to watch. Mary’s heartsick despair, Black Jack’s shock and resignation, his momentary hope that Mary will refuse the vow, Alex’s yearning to see this done and his quiet peace….the entire scene was incredibly intense.

Meanwhile back at the War Council, Jamie broaches his plan to surprise the British at the tail of General Cumberland’s birthday bash when the troops will mostly be drunk and unprepared. Some great performances again and while the quartermaster is once more revealed to be an idiot, at least he agrees to the plan. Although…considering his actions later I can’t help wondering if his substitution of himself to lead the second prong of the attack was a subtle and deliberate sabotage to force the Jacobites into his longed-for plan to attack at Culloden. On the other hand, the guy is an idiot so he might have truly gotten lost…ah, well. Sadly, we do get the first (and blessedly last) “Mark me” statement of the episode in this scene. On the bright side, the camera work here was again outstanding. The framing, lighting, and costumes put me in mind repeatedly of paintings by the old Dutch masters. It was a visual feast. Well worth watching again just to look for those little stills.

From this we cut to Dougal’s heart to heart talk with the dying Colum. I was utterly struck by the beautiful way the light from the shuttered windows gilds Dougal’s face as he posed by the fireplace with his drink in hand. Graham McTavish played this scene to perfection. His face is so expressive and mobile. The twitch of an eyebrow, the curl of a smile. His long speech to Colum about being his brother, the impact of his illness, was wonderful. There was so much emotional depth and richness in his voice and features that you could almost see the memories along with him. It was heartbreaking to see his emotional cascade from memory to irritation at Colum’s lack of response, then the outpouring of love, fury, grief and despair that concludes with him saying something like, “you leave me alone in the dark and all I wanted to say remains trapped (in my head) forever.” This is the sound of utter loss. It is the cry of devastation.

From one deathbed to another, the scene cuts to Alex’s bedside where he is gasping out his final breaths, watched by a stoic Jack, a heartbroken Mary, a pitying Claire, and a dour Murtagh. In utter contrast to Dougal’s elegiac eloquence not a word is spoken through the entire scene. As Alex’s breathing stops, BJR chokes on his own grief and fights to remain stoic and dignified. He is a man unable to handle soft emotions, for whatever reason. He reverts instead to an emotion he can express—rage— then snaps with a brutality that is terrifying as he pummels his brother’s corpse for dying and causing his pain. It was horrific and monstrous, and watching the scene I heard Dougal’s final words echo over and over in my head. “You leave me alone in the dark and all I wanted to say remains trapped forever.” Tobias was simply amazing. He made that scene work and he made me feel sorry for Jack. So broken. So utterly broken.

Another finely lit scene was the brief farewell between Jamie and Claire before he leaves to join the army in their midnight maneuvers to surprise the British. He is naturally appalled by the notion of Jack and Mary wed, but Claire reminds him that Randall will die on Culloden field and if they succeed in changing things she will willingly help him bleed the man as she promised in Paris. Jamie’s eyes almost glow, contemplating this.

The episode ends with the army marching in darkness and waiting, waiting, waiting. At last Murtagh arrives to announce that the prince and the quartermaster got lost in the dark and turned back. There will be no surprise attack. Culloden is the endgame. Jamie has failed to alter the facts as Claire knew them.

A final note about changes the show has made in relation to the books.
I have tried as much as possible to let go of the source material and judge the show on its own merits. It isn’t easy, since I long ago lost count of how many times I have reread the books and I know them so very well. Since the series premiered I have avoided rereading the older books to give me some distance from Diana’s vision and let the show shine in its own right. The TV series is good drama and pulls interesting nuances from all of the characters as they have been presented in this telling of the tale. They are not quite the same characters from the books, but then they haven’t been the same from the beginning of season 1. They have been changed by the needs of the format, the inspiration of the creative team, the interpretations of the actors, and the vision of the directors. While the characters are not exactly the characters we knew and loved (or hated) in the books, they have their own life and power here. I find it helps me to think of the series adaptation as the offspring of the book, a child with its own life and goals separate from the parent and the parent’s notions of what the child’s life should be. It still retains something of the lessons and values learned from the parent but it is not the parent. I don’t know if this will help anyone else find some peace with the changes that the show has imposed upon the books, but I thought I would toss it out there to contemplate.

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[> I enjoy your weekly critiques very much. They are very thought provoking and exceptionally written. -- CarolSR, 05:54:09 06/27/16 Mon

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[> I, like you Shads, am not reading any of the BOOKS during the TV series so as to not rail against the changes. I haven't watched this episode yet but your recap is excellent as always. Our very early board banter about bringing OUR BOOKS to the scene could never have envisioned such an exceptional rendition. -- PD, 06:58:10 06/27/16 Mon

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[> Wonderful Shads! I look forward to your synopsis and commentary every week. Thank you for this act of love. -- Mia, 06:11:33 06/28/16 Tue

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[> As always, Cait and Tobias play the most amazing scenes together. And punching a dead body?? Really??? Who came up with that brilliant piece? Oh my. -- Swarl, 06:24:42 06/29/16 Wed

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[> [> I'm not one, but some people see BJR's love of and care for Alex as a redeeming quality. I believe he's evil through and through and that scene solidified for me. Poor Mary, having to be Mrs. BJR, even for only 3 days. Thank you for these wonderful summaries!!! -- Kathy in PA, 03:42:29 06/30/16 Thu

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[> [> As I understand it from reading an interview with him, it was Tobias' idea to react with violence rather than tears. I might be wrong on that, but I think it was originally written to follow the book, having Jack dissolve into tears. Tobias felt that the explosion of rage was far more interesting. Let me see if I can find that article... AHA! found it! inside for the link to a really great interview>>>> -- Shadow, 09:55:39 07/05/16 Tue

Vulture interview with Tobias Menzies


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[> I also really enjoy your recaps - such insight! -- Kel, 13:39:07 06/29/16 Wed

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[> Subtile foreshadowing in Murtagh’s offer to marry Mary – SPOILER >>>>> -- Kel, 13:41:50 06/29/16 Wed

When Murtagh offers to marry Mary, Claire replies something like – what would being the widow of a Scot who committed treason do her and the baby.
Yet, since we know Claire is pregnant with Bree, that is what she is facing.
If Frank marries Mary, the chances of Mary and the baby surviving, which means Frank will be in the future providing a safe place for Claire. If the baby does not survive, no Frank, and no safe place for pregnant Claire either.

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