‘Outlander’ Season 2 Episode 3 Recap: “Useful Occupations and Deceptions”

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This week’s Outlander wasn’t the most exciting episode we’ve seen, but it took care of important business and set the stage for some inevitably explosive drama.

Relations between Claire and Jamie are strained; he’s going back and forth between Paris and Versailles, and spending more time than he’d like with “that loon of a prince,” Charles, at the Maison de Madame Elise. And Claire is very pregnant and very bored, with nothing but tea with Louise and Mary to occupy her time.

But it’s at one of those afternoon tea dates that Claire discovers young Mary’s unfortunate fate. “I can’t marry a Frenchman!” Mary cries, before revealing just how little she knows about sex (she thinks only Frenchmen are into it, for one thing). Frenchmen aren’t like the men back home, in South Sussex, she says. Claire suddenly remembers why Mary Hawkins sounded so familiar to her when she first met the girl: Mary is an ancestor of Frank’s — and the woman who married Jonathan Randall. Not only will Mary be wed to a monster, Claire realizes that without their union, Frank would never exist. And that means Black Jack will have to live for at least another year.

Back at home, Claire and Jamie still aren’t having sex, but Murtagh’s breaking off a piece of Claire’s lady’s maid, Suzette. After accidentally walking in on them, Claire snaps at Murtagh, then admits she’s upset because she’s learned that Jack is still alive. They agree not to tell Jamie, for fear that he would run back to Scotland and pursue Jack to disastrous results. “You’re keeping a secret to save his life,” Murtagh says.

Claire goes to Master Raymond, the apothecary, to get birth control for Suzette, and is shocked to see him talking to St. Germain. He tells her he’s simply keeping his enemies close. The birth control plot seems to be mostly an excuse to introduce a fatal poison that Claire notices in his shop. Master Raymond corrects her: It’s a poison that he gives to customers looking for something fatal; in reality, it makes the enemy visibly suffer, but not die. Keep your eye on that ricin poison!

Master Raymond also suggests Claire volunteer at a nearby charity hospital, which she happily does. The Mother Superior, Mother Hildegarde, who runs the hospital is skeptical at first. But Claire wins over the nun with her ability to diagnose a patient’s diabetes — or “sugar sickness,” the 18th-century term — by putting a drop of his urine on her tongue. Yum!

She returns home to tell Jamie about her new gig. “I had the most wonderful day!” she cries. “I lanced two boils, changed filthy dressings, and saw my first case of full-blown scrofula!” But Jamie’s not impressed, berating her for working instead of staying home to rest. “It has been a long time since I have felt useful,” she explains. “I need a purpose.” Jamie fires back that he thought their purpose was to stop the rebellion. “What I want when I come home with a problem is to be able to turn to my wife for help,” he says.

It’s a well-drawn argument, and you can understand the way they both feel: Claire is bored and restless, and Jamie is working his ass off and frustrating at the lack of progress he’s making. Plus, Jamie’s from another time; he may be a fantasy TV hunk, brawny and sensitive, but the writers are careful to keep him within the context of his own time, and not to make him a martyr. He accuses her of “indulging” herself “with poultices and potions” while he’s doing the hard work of espionage.

After he introduces the Duvernay, the Minister of Finance, to Prince Charles, Jamie is shocked to hear Charles offer an alliance between Britain and France if the king supports the rebellion. Charles says he has a group of Englishmen who have pledged funds, and Duvernay asks for proof that these men exist. Jamie, Murtagh, and Claire decide they, too, need proof of these men and their funds. They get their wish when, at the brothel one night, Jamie catches a young boy, Fergus, stealing from the customers and offers him a “job”: pilfering letters to and from Prince Charles, copying them, and returning the originals before anyone notices. The plan works, and soon they discover — with the help of Mother Hildegarde, who uses her musical knowledge to crack one of the letters’ codes — that Charles’ boasting about raising funds from Englishmen for the rebellion is true.

The money isn’t enough, but it’s enough to convince the king to get involved. But the worst is yet to come: the letter about the Englishmen is from the Duke of Sandringham — the English aristocrat for whom Black Jack Randall’s brother, Alexander, works. Claire and Murtagh realize that if Jamie meets with the duke, he’ll learn that Jack is alive. Murtagh urges Claire to tell her husband before he finds out through someone else; Claire agrees, but when Jamie returns to the room to toast the trio on their code-breaking skills, she can only smile and return his embrace. But she can’t put off that conversation forever.