Spoiler alert: This post contains plot details from the season three “Outlander” episode titled “Crème de Menthe.”
As the old saying goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” (Though it sounds so much more lyrical in the original French: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.”)
That seemed to be the theme of tonight’s “Outlander” episode, “Crème de Menthe,” which saw an abrupt end to the Frasers’ erotic reunion, their blissful second honeymoon briskly replaced with several figurative cold showers. Now that Claire and Jamie are back together, it’s time to face their new reality, and boy does it come with a bunch of complications not easily forgotten or remedied by frolicking at Madame Jeanne’s brothel.
With all of the drama and emotional baggage Jamie tends to carry with him at any given moment, Claire dropping back into his life just in time to significantly (albeit accidentally) mess with his smuggling gig is par for the course when it comes to “Outlander.” After all, who could forget when Jamie himself remarked to his wife at the start of season two that “Life with you is certainly never dull, Sassenach”?
But dealing with the death of a brutal exciseman and the devastating fire that destroyed Jamie’s print shop in “Crème de Menthe” is going to feel like child’s play for the Frasers once Claire is apprised of her husband’s giant secret. It was alluded to in hushed tones last week -- and most of tonight’s episode too – but just before the credits rolled we found out something that could conceivably send Claire racing back toward Craigh na Dun and the creature comforts of 1968.
Jamie has another wife.
That’s the extent of the information revealed in the episode, and I’ll respect the non-book readers by not dropping any hints as to whom Jamie wed. But if there is any hope of Claire and Jamie getting past this major marital stumbling block, then they’re going to have to sort out their current problems mighty quickly.
Fortunately for these two, if they could just look past their own stubbornness, they would see that neither one has really changed all that much in the past 20 years: Because Claire and Jamie were too busy pining away for each other, they stopped dwelling on the things that drove them crazy about their respective spouse, thus placing their marriage on a glorified pedestal.
Nothing like a determined – and barbaric – exciseman to jolt the Frasers’ relationship back into reality.
The unnamed stranger whom Claire discovered in Jamie’s brothel bedchamber at the end of last week’s episode turned out to be a henchman for one her husband’s smuggling associates. After she successfully fought off his savagely sexual advances (it was so nice for the cliffhanger to not have ended this week with Jamie bursting into the room and rescuing his wife for once), Claire also managed to avoid committing murder (well, at least not deliberately) her first 24 hours back in the 18th century: The exciseman tripped on the stone floor and sustained a massive head injury that rendered him unconscious.
It was here that Claire’s Hippocratic Oath kicked into high gear – and caused the Frasers’ first major disagreement in 20 years. Whereas Jamie has no qualms about letting the man who attacked his wife die of natural causes – or, as he sees it, leaving it in God’s hands – Dr. Randall can’t live with herself if she doesn’t even try to save her assailant’s life.
This urge to heal the sick and injured didn’t come with her fancy Harvard medical degree -- Claire has been this way since the beginning. No matter which side the patient was on, her first priority was always to tend to the ones in need. A good example of this was back in season one, when she attempted to dress the wounds of a British Redcoat she and Jenny captured for information, much to her sister-in-law’s chagrin. It would’ve been nice if Jamie had bothered to remember this noble quality of his beloved Sassenach before he started chastising her about the 18th-century laws that may have slipped her own mind (like how there will be no due process for a woman caught with an unconscious man who is not her husband in a whorehouse).
Despite Claire performing makeshift brain surgery on the exciseman -- in a nifty scene that saw the time-traveling doctor using both smuggled-via-Batsuit 20th-century implements and a circa 1766 drill – her patient ultimately died. We’ll never know if it was because Claire was attempting a delicate, modern-day operation in the decidedly non-sterile environment of the 18th century – or if it was just the fact that brain surgery was never her specialty in the first place. Still, her endeavors to heal the exciseman were admirable in theory, but he was hired muscle for an unscrupulous customs officer who could potentially make things really ugly for Jamie. In short, he won’t be missed.
Jamie, on the other hand, may not be a doctor, but in many ways he too is like Claire when it comes to the natural inclination of saving lives. At the end of the episode, when he gets word that the print shop is ablaze, he doesn’t think twice about running directly into the flames to rescue Young Ian – ignoring Claire’s vehement protests. Now, there’s no comparing someone like Jamie’s nephew to Claire’s ruthless attacker: One deserved to live, the other, not so much. But the point “Outlander” is trying to make here is that after a 20-year separation, the last thing the Frasers want is for their reunion to be cut short by a deadly fire or a vicious assailant. So, call them selfish, but it’s understandable that neither wants to see the other risking their life for any reason whatsoever.
That’s a tough call when you’re Claire and Jamie Fraser though: Because Claire will always be a healer at her core, and Jamie will always be a heroic warrior at his core.
There is, however, an underlying rift between these two that could cause permanent damage to their newly rekindled relationship. Just before Madame Jeanne alerted the couple to the fire in Carfax Close, they were in the midst of a heated argument that personifies the fundamental difference between them. It’s not so much that Claire and Jamie have necessarily changed over the past 20 years, but that their principles are based in two distinctly different centuries.
Soulmates or not, the Frasers have only spent a total of three years together. The other 40-plus years saw Jamie living in the, to quote Claire, “rigid” 18th century, where (as he says), even the whores at Madame Jeanne’s are relatively covered up. Then we have 20th-century native Claire, who just came from a front-row seat to the friggin’ sexual revolution. So as annoying as it is to hear Jamie criticize Claire (and Frank) for “endangering Brianna’s virtue” by allowing their daughter to parade around in a bikini (it never ceases to be funny hearing that word come out of the Highlander’s mouth), we also have to cut him a little slack. Not only has he remained restricted to his own century, but it’s painfully obvious he’s jealous over not being able to raise Bree himself.
But we don’t have to give Jamie too much of a pass on this behavior: After all, as Claire reminds her hypocritical husband, he’s condemning their daughter’s so-called loose morals while bunking in a brothel.
Just as Claire made the choice to accept the archaic ways of the 1700s as her sacrifice to reunite with Jamie, the Scotsman is going to have to do the same: Once he made the decision to a) remain with his from-the-future wife and b) send his child to be raised in the 20th century, that meant he would have to accept that the two most important people in his life would be modern women.
However, forward-thinking as she may be, Claire doesn’t strike me as someone who is willing to play sister-wife to her bigamist husband. After traveling 200 years, she is not going to give up on Jamie without a fight, so get ready for a serious marital throwdown as the story moves to back Lallybroch next week.