This week’s episode of Outlander is not for the squeamish: There’s more than the usual amount of genital bleeding on this installment, which ends on a tense note, leaving us to wonder if Claire’s baby will survive.
“Best Laid Schemes” opens on Jamie’s troubled face as Murtagh informs him Black Jack has been released from the Bastille. Jamie can’t tell him about Claire and Frank — Murtagh still doesn’t know that Claire is from the future — so when he tells him that he won’t duel with Jack after all, Murtagh scoffs, “Your mind changes like a woman in flux.”
Last week’s episode ended with Claire and Jamie at an emotional standstill: He agreed to wait a year before trying to kill Jack, so as not to disrupt Frank’s lineage, but the decision pushed the two apart. This week, while rubbing her feet by the fire, Jamie tells Claire that he’s thought about it, and he’s decided that he doesn’t “owe” Claire a life; she may have saved his life, but he’s saved hers, too. But he’s losing faith in Charles, fast, and he’s beginning to feel that the Battle of Culloden, which the Highlanders will lose, may be inevitable. He’s holding off with Jack not because he feels indebted to Claire, but because he wants her to be with a man who loves her in the event that he perishes at Culloden. He makes Claire promise that if he dies, she’ll go back to Frank through the stones at Craigh na Dun.
Meanwhile, the advanced stage of Claire’s pregnancy doesn’t stop her from continuing to volunteer at Mother Hildegarde’s charity hospital. She helps the royal executioner (remember, in his spare time he saves lives; in his day job, he ends them) prepare a body for burial, and he not-so-subtly mentions that the king has planned to have several “practitioners of the dark arts” publicly drawn and quartered. He describes the “art” of this gruesome killing, detailing how he pulls a person’s heart from his body while it’s still beating: “We wish to please the crowd.” Then, he mentions Master Raymond. Message received: Claire rushes to Master Raymond’s shop and urges him to leave the city at once. He agrees, and bids her farewell: “We will meet again, madame, in this life or the other.”
Claire doesn’t need Master Raymond to help her concoct a potion to simulate the effects of smallpox. Jamie, Fergus, and Claire are pleased with the results, but Murtagh’s getting impatient — he wants to fight with his sword, not with clever “games.” Claire and Jamie realize it’s time to tell him the truth. In a scene that mirrors the season’s first episode, when Claire tells Frank about her time-traveling adventures, we don’t actually hear Jamie and Murtagh’s conversation; we see it through Claire’s eyes, peering through a window at the men talking in the courtyard below. As with Frank, we only hear Murtagh’s reaction to the news: “If you believe your wife to be a witch, then who am i to contradict you?” he says. Then he punches Jamie in the face. “But you should have trusted me with that knowledge from the beginning.” It’s like, you know, a love punch.
Jamie and Fergus manage to sneak onto the ship and spike some of the wine with Claire’s potion. It works, but it also backfires: Charles, with St. Germain, tells Jamie that some crew members have become ill, and asks him to “transport the wine at once.” Jamie has no choice but to agree, so they come up with a plan B: Murtagh and a team of “bandits” will steal the wine en route from the ship to the warehouse. This time, the plan works, and it humiliates Charles, who worries that his failure to secure funds will make him an outcast: “The French honor money only.” Contemplating the prospect of being sent back to Rome — or worse, Poland — Charles starts to cry.
Charles continues to be Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh’s biggest obstacle to their plan, even inadvertently: Jamie and Fergus go to the Maison Elise when they hear that Charles has refused to pay his substantial debt. There, we see Fergus wandering into an empty room, where a red coat that looks an awful lot like Jack’s is hanging. He snatches a bottle of perfume off the dresser, but is stopped on his way out. Then, we cut to Claire returning home from the hospital, where she spent the night at Mother Hildegarde’s insistence. Suzette tells her that Jamie got in a fight “with an English officer” at Maison Elise, and has gone to the woods to duel with him. Claire sees a note left on the bed from Jamie: “I’m sorry,” it reads. “I must.”
Furious, Claire runs back down to the carriage and demands to be taken to the woods. Claire is visibly suffering as the wobbly carriage speeds down the road, and when she finally reaches her destination to find Jamie and Jack mid-duel, she’s doubled over in pain. But having come all this way, she realizes she can’t come stop the fight for fear of causing a “fatal interruption”: “All I could do was wait to see which of my men would die,” she says in voiceover. Having the same actor play Jack and Frank works beautifully in this scene: She’s not actually watching her two men fight, but she may as well be — if Jamie dies, she goes back to Frank; if Jack dies, Frank will never be born.
The scene reaches a fever pitch as Claire cries out in pain just as Jamie stabs Jack in the groin; we’re treated to a tight shot of the knife going in, right before we see a torrent of blood rain down from between Claire’s legs. She asks to be taken to Mother Hildegarde’s just as a group of gens d’armes comes charging through on horseback and arrests Jamie.
We’ve seen what Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh can accomplish as a team, but with Murtagh off to Portugal to sell the “stolen” wine and Jamie under arrest, it looks like our heroes will have to find a way to fend for themselves.