As the second season of Outlander has inched closer to bloody conflict, the show hasn’t really addressed Claire’s previous experience on the battlefield as a nurse during World War II. In this week’s episode, preparations for war with the British evoke traumatic memories for Claire.
The episode takes its title, “Je Suis Prest,” from Clan Fraser’s motto, which translates to “I am ready.” At the outset, it’s not clear that Jamie’s men will be ready: he brings them to his uncle Dougal’s camp to toughen them up, reuniting with Murtagh and Fergus. The camp — nestled among striking hills and surrounded by a misty grey fog — makes me happy to be back in Scotland.
Dougal’s happy to have Jamie fighting by his side, as he tells his nephew, but tensions mount as it becomes clear that each man wants to assume leadership duties. Jamie and Murtagh get to work whipping their bedraggled men into shape; like a Scottish Stripes, they act as drill sergeants, training them to march and fire their weapons in unison. Gonna need a montage!
Jamie gives his men a rousing speech, describing the soldiers he saw in Paris marching together, “so pretty you want to smile.” But, he says, “Then they fired the first volley,” and their bullets came down “like a sheet of metal rain cutting down men left and right.” He evokes both the glory and the horror of war simultaneously, trying to make his men understand why they need to be disciplined: For the sake of their honor and pride, but also for the sake of their lives.
Just then, Dougal comes rushing forward in a “Highland charge” with a handful of his men, naked except for kilts and covered in mud. “You take them by surprise and you put terror in their hearts!” Dougal says. But Jamie says they won’t be able to take the British by surprise, so the tactic won’t work; Dougal fires back, “I was teaching men to fight when you were still sucking your mother’s tit.” Jamie stands his ground, telling his uncle to respect his orders or take his men and leave.
But the sights and sounds of men preparing for battle are taking a toll on Claire. Her mind keeps disturbing her with flashbacks to her time on the battlefield during WWII, when she befriended two American soldiers — one of whom exclaims, “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” when he takes a look at the canteen’s terrible food.
Outlander has always payed close attention to how past traumas linger in its characters’ psyches, and in “Je Suis Prest” Claire is flooded with memories as she struggles to adjust to life at war. Jamie tells Murtagh that he’s worried about his wife; one day she seems her usual bright self, and the next she seems sapped of energy and purpose. She’s starting to get snippy with the soldiers, angrily yelling at them to take better care of their feet so they don’t get trenchfoot: “Did you hear what I fucking said?”
Meanwhile, Dougal continues to clash with both Jamie and Claire. Claire confronts Dougal, calling him a narcissist and accusing him of wanting to restore King James to the throne for selfish reasons. “Fuck yourself,” she concludes. Dougal counters that he would give his life for Scotland, and to see a Stuart take the throne.
When Dougal brings ten new recruits to the camp, Jamie tells them that if they haven’t come free and willingly, they should leave; all ten leave. Later, Jamie disciplines the men on guard duty for letting the ten strangers into the camp without so much as a question. As a military leader, Jamie, who’s been flogged to the point of unconsciousness, has to order his own men to be flogged.
One day, as the men fire practice shots, Claire has a panic attack in the fields, and in a flashback we discover the root of her PTSD: She and her American friends were attacked by a German tank while traveling; she ended up crouching in a ditch with one of them, the other having been tossed out of sight. She insists they go find him, and offers to go herself — he tells her to stay put and runs to get help, but is immediately shot. She was left there, crouching, as he screamed in pain, pleading not to be killed.
The memory takes over, and Jamie finds Claire crouching in the fetal position on the grass. She tells him what happened, and why it’s all coming back, explaining, “I closed the door on that night, walked away. And I haven’t looked back ever since until now.” Jamie tells her that she’s already been through a war; she doesn’t have to come along for another. She can go back to Lallybroch and wait it out.
But Claire doesn’t want that. She insists that if she goes to Lallybroch, she’ll be “helpless and powerless to move, like a dragonfly in amber.” She couldn’t bear to stay behind while people she knows and loves are dying. “I won’t lie in that ditch again,” she says. “I can’t be helpless and alone ever again.” Jamie, of course, promises her she’ll never be alone.
It doesn’t take long for Claire to put herself to use. The soldiers get a break when Jamie captures a 16-year-old English boy trying to slit his throat in the night — the boy calls him “Red Jamie” and a “traitorous rebel.” Jamie threatens him with a knife held to the fire, asking who he marches with and where they’re going. Claire helps him get the information he needs: She storms in, calling Jamie a “sadist” and a “Scottish barbarian.” Jamie threatens to “ravish” his “prisoner” in front of the boy while Claire feigns struggling (and gets in a serious blow, causing Jamie to mutter, “Sassenach!”). The boy relents.
Since Dougal’s men were on watch when the boy snuck into the camp, they must be punished for their carelessness. But Jamie decides he needs to be punished, too — the boy was drawn by his men’s campfires. He instructs Murtagh to whip him, too: “Six lashes for our unshielded fires. A dozen more for my carelessness.”
All that’s left for them to do is sneak into the British camp, steal the wheels off their cannons, and set off for Perth to join Prince Charles Stuart’s army. “No turning back now, Sassenach,” Jamie says as they ride up to the castle. “I’d say not,” she replies. “Je suis prest.” Up until recently, Jamie and Claire were determined to prevent the battle that lies ahead; now, they seem to be rushing headlong into it.