After seven episodes in Paris, this week our lovebirds are back in Scotland — is it just me, or is Jamie’s accent thicker? — in a slightly overstuffed episode. Our first indication of the location change comes with the opening credits, which now feature war drums instead of the string arrangement we’ve heard since Season 2 began, plus images that hint at the new battle Claire and Jamie are about to wage.
“The Fox’s Lair” opens with some beautiful shots establishing the return to Scotland. Claire and Jamie have been recovering from the loss of their child at Lallybroch with Jamie’s sister, Jenny, who’s just had another baby. We’re plunged into the action right away, as Jamie receives a notice of support for Charles Stuart’s cause — and his forged signature is on it. “The names on this are traitors to the crown,” Jenny points out; if the British catch him, he’ll surely be hanged.
Claire and Jamie get the sinking feeling that the Battle of Culloden, which they spent so much time in Paris trying to prevent, is inevitable. Claire suggests they leave Scotland, but Jamie hasn’t given up on changing the future just yet — he points out that Claire has already done just that, preventing an outbreak of smallpox in Paris and using her medical knowledge to save the life of Thomas Baxter, Mrs. Fitz’s nephew, back in Season 1. He tries to persuade her to stay and fight “for our family, and for Scotland.” Claire mulls it over, saying, “They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” But, Jamie counters, “I’ll wager ‘they’ have never travelled through time.” I love how the writing — Sam Heughan’s delivery — render Claire’s time-travelling abilities a sexy little joke rather than a bizarre plot device.
Against Jenny’s wishes, Claire and Jamie set off to ask for the help of Jamie’s “grandsire,” Lord Lovat; the siblings don’t have the best relationship with the untrustworthy “Old Fox.” The conversation prompts Jamie, later that night, to tell Claire that his father was a bastard; his real grandmother was a kitchen maid, and his grandfather is known to have his way with his housemaids. Jamie is ashamed that he hadn’t told her about his tainted lineage, but Claire just laughs and tells him she doesn’t care.
There’s a particularly touching scene when Claire wakes in the middle of the night and spies Jamie sitting with Jenny’s baby girl. The image of rugged Jamie sitting by a fire with a tiny little baby, speaking to her in Gaelic, is pretty much porn for women. Jenny sees Claire watching from the top of the stairs and tells her you can pour your heart out to a baby, “the way you talk to them before they’re born. You know.” The scene is beautifully written by Anne Kenney: Jenny continues, “A man has to wait until the child’s born. And then they hold their bairn [child] and feel all the things that might be and all the things that might never be. And weep, not knowing which ones will come to pass.”
As Claire and Jamie prepare to set off for Lord Lovat’s estate, we find out they’ve brought young Fergus along with them from Paris. Thank you, Outlander, for letting us hold onto this beautiful child! At first, he’s told to stay behind at Lollybroch, but he begs Claire: “I belong with you. Isn’t that what you told me, milady?” She protests, but Jamie says he’s right, and instructs Murtagh to bring him with the other men. It’s left unsaid, but both Jamie and Fergus are victims of rape at the hands of Jack Randall, a connection that Jamie won’t forget.
Claire and Jamie arrive on horseback at Lord Lovat’s castle. (She’s saying something in voiceover but I was too distracted by the sight of these two magnificent beasts trotting through the Scottish Highlands. The horses are nice, too.) There’s immediate tension between Jamie and his grandfather, who’s not pleased that his grandson has chosen a Sassenach as a wife — to which Jamie replies, “I have known you to take a wife by means of rape and trickery.”
The episode tries to fit in a lot of exposition in one hour, and it’s a little hard to keep track of the plot when we’re plunged into Scotland so quickly, meeting new characters and revisiting ones we haven’t seen in a while. “The Fox’s Lair” revisits last season’s drama surrounding Claire and Laoghaire (pronounced “Leary”) MacKenzie, the young girl who’s infatuated with Jamie and who put in motion the events the led to Claire’s (literal) witch trial. Jamie’s uncle, Colum MacKenzie, tells Claire that he had nothing to do with that, and that he had Laoghaire beaten for her actions. Later, Laoghaire apologizes to Claire and tells her she’s found God; Claire wearily accepts, saying, “I don’t hate you, Laoghaire; I pity you.”
Meanwhile, Jamie may loathe his grandfather, but he needs his help gathering troops to support the rebellion led by Charles Stuart. Lord Lovat says he’ll help in exchange for Lallybroch; Jamie isn’t so quick to give up his ancestral home, but then his grandfather counters, “Lallybroch, or your wife’s honor,” threatening to have his men attack Claire. But Jamie has a secret weapon in his back pocket, namely, the superstition of the Scots: He tells Lord Lovat that his wife is “La Dame Blanche,” and that any man who tries to rape her will have “his privates blasted like a frostbitten apple and his soul burned forever in hell.”
Claire devises a plan to help persuade Lord Lovat’s son, Young Simon, to stand up to his father and join the rebellion; then, Lovat may send his men to help the cause, as Jamie says, “if only to protect his heir.” But the boy lacks confidence, and for that, Claire has a solution: Make him feel like a man by attracting the attention of a woman. She enlists Laoghaire to help, instructing her not to use sex to get into Simon’s good graces but to boost his ego by other means. “A woman does have more to offer a man than her body,” she says. “When a man is in love, he craves his lover’s approval. He wishes to please her. To be heroic in her eyes.”
She introduces Simon to Laoghaire and leaves them to flirt while she takes refuge in the church. There, she speaks to Lovat’s Seer, Maisri, an old woman who says she’s beaten when her visions don’t please her master. She captures Claire’s attention when she tells her that sometimes, she can actually change the future, not just see it; she describes a recent vision in which an executioner appeared behind Lord Lovat, preparing to kill him.
Lord Lovat has agreed to sign a neutrality pact between the Frasers and the MacKenzies, with a provision that Lallybroch will be his. “Sign it,” he tells Jamie, “and you’ll have your men for King James.” Colum warns him not to sign away his home for a war he doesn’t know he can win; but Jamie wants to protect his people, and is about the sign when Claire pretends to have a vision. She repeats what the seer told her about the executioner; she says that in her vision, his death will come at the hands of King James. He calls her a witch and threatens to cut out her tongue, but his son stops him, standing up for Jamie and evoking their duty to their country. “I will fight for King James,” Young Simon declares. “I will fight to change the White Lady’s vision. Even if you will not.”
But not long after Claire, Jamie, and Young Simon set off, they confront a long line of Lord Lovat’s men. Lovat approaches on horseback and admonishes his son to “go see to your men”; with a look of regret, Young Simon does as he’s told. “The Stuarts will credit Lovat with supporting King James, should they win” Jamie explains. The episode ends with Claire wondering if she and Jamie have already changed the future.
“The Fox’s Lair” seems like a bridge to the next part of Claire and Jamie’s adventures in Scotland. The seven episodes in Paris, by contrast, felt a lot lighter on plot, which leads me to believe the Paris episodes were drawn out simply to justify what must have been very high production costs. Those episodes were beautiful to behold, but it’s nice to be back in Scotland, even if it looks like the final stretch of Season 2 may be a bloody one.