Claire Battles a Deadly Epidemic on This Week’s ‘Outlander’
This article centers on Season 3, Episode 10 of Outlander, “Heaven & Earth.” If you’re not yet caught up with the show, be warned: Spoilers abound.
This episode was so mediocre it pains me to tell you about it. It was also filled with ludicrous turns that raise the question: “How much manufactured, lackluster drama is too much drama?”
As the episode opens, Fergus is still trying to gain Jamie’s blessing for his relationship with Marsali. Jamie spies Fergus conspiring with the cook only to learn that Fergus has simply asked for a bit of potpourri to make Marsali’s cabin smell better. As Fergus is explaining what he has been up to, he notices that the man-o-war the Porpoise has set sail—with Claire still on board. Jamie immediately demands the Artemis follow, but Captain Raines tells Jamie that won’t be possible because they cannot keep up; they will rendezvous with Claire in Jamaica. There is a bit of a scuffle between Jamie’s men and the Artemis crew, and the end result is that Jamie is put in a cell below deck until he calms down.
Claire spends most of this episode doctoring and bossing men around, and that is somewhat satisfying because, well, you know why. Jamie spends most of his time in a cell being seasick and opining about the nature of love. On both the Artemis and the Porpoise, silly intrigues foment so that there is a semblance of a plot to this episode.
Over on the Porpoise, things are disgusting and infected and malodorous in the way of history. Every time I pause to think of how history must have smelled, I am grateful for modern conveniences like sewer systems and Glade and bleach—lots and lots of bleach. Claire continues to doctor the sick, and she has a little sidekick, Elias Pound, a boy of only 14 who quickly becomes Claire’s devoted acolyte. Claire has gotten the British ship in order, for the most part, and establishes protocols to keep the spread of typhoid to a minimum. She orders all the men to rinse their hands in grog (ye olde rum) before and after working with the sick, and though they don’t fully understand why, they do it. There is one horrifying moment where Elias rinses his hand in the bucket of grog in which everyone has been rinsing their germ-laden hands and then jams a finger in his mouth and suckles, much to Claire’s chagrin. He wanted “just a taste of grog,” which…my man, what? As soon as Elias did this, I renamed him Dead Man Walking. Also, my stomach churned.
As more men fall ill, Claire is determined to find the source, so she browses the previous surgeon’s logs and figures out that one Joe Howard, who works in the galley, is Patient Zero. The ship’s cook, Cosworth, continues to hate Claire, mostly because she’s a woman and he resents having to follow “a cursed woman’s foolish notion.” When his last galley hand, Howard, is taken into custody to isolate the spread of typhoid, Cosworth gets even saltier. Haters gonna hate.
Outlander would have us believe that nothing can stop true love, but each season there are all sorts of things that do, indeed, get in the way—war, time travel, other wives, and now: implausible sea adventures. Jamie decides he has to mutineer the Artemis to go after Claire and tries to convince Fergus to steal the keys to his cell, offering his blessing to wed Marsali if Fergus will return to his pickpocket roots. Fergus is the voice of reason, telling Jamie that his plan is fucking stupid, only politely. Jamie gets deeper in his feelings and accuses Fergus of not knowing what love is, saying, “Because if you did, you would move heaven and earth, you would risk arrest and death, even hell.” OK, Jamie. OK. Now Fergus is torn between his love for Marsali, his love for Jamie, and common sense. Let us all pray that common sense prevails.
Back on the Porpoise, one of Elias’ friends has died, and he explains to Claire that the last stitch of the bundling they wrap around the dead goes through the nose to ensure that the man is dead. (I feel like there are easier ways to determine a man is really dead, but it’s fine.) He also explains that a friend sews this last stitch. I guess nothing screams friendship like a willingness to shove a needle through a dead friend’s nose.
After 11 men are buried at sea, Cosworth approaches Claire, still salty about having to boil water. This guy is just a total asshole. He warns Claire that there better be fewer deaths in the coming days and it’s like, or what? What on earth is the cook going to do about it? I mean, is he Steven Seagal’s character in Under Siege? Elias intervenes and sends Cosworth back to the galley, and then he and Claire have a glum chat about compartmentalizing.
While they’re talking, a man brings word that the husband of Mistress Johansen, the woman who looks after the ship’s goats (?), has also fallen ill. But it turns out he’s just drunk, having partaken of the newly distilled pure alcohol. Claire loses her shit and curses like a sailor (heh, see what I did there?), then quickly apologizes to Elias’ tender lil’ baby ears. She tells Mistress Johansen, Annekje, how to look after her husband as he sobers up, and also thanks her for tending to the goats, whose milk is helping all the sick men. As she’s below deck, Claire spies a Portuguese flag and wonders if it is from the Bruja, the ship carrying young Ian. Honestly, this episode features just one implausible, overly convenient thing after another.
She runs to the captain’s quarters, and because he’s not there, she starts snooping through his things, reading his captain’s log. She finds that it was actually another Portuguese ship, but as she’s reading, she discovers that there’s a man on board, Harry Tompkins, who has identified Jamie as seditious. Claire is interrupted by Cosworth, who—and it gets murky and incredibly terrible here—accuses Claire of…something, but it’s not clear what or why. He says he doesn’t trust her and it’s like, ummm OK? And? Nothing about the Cosworth plot makes sense.
Claire threatens to scream and tell Captain Leonard that Cosworth violated her and he reluctantly lets her pass because of course he does! He’s just the ship’s cook! He is a minor character! Before Claire can process this nonsense, she latches onto this new, silly intrigue of finding Harry Tomkins. But what is she going to do with Tomkins? The captain already knows Jamie has been accused of sedition, right? There is literally nothing Claire can do.
It doesn’t take Elias long to track Tomkins down, and he brings the man to Claire. Guess what? Tomkins is the creepy government agent from the Episode 7, the one who was searching for casks of liquor in Jamie’s print shop before it all burned down. Of course he is on the same ship as Claire. OF COURSE! Claire holds a surgical blade and does a little mustache-twirling interrogation of Tomkins, who doesn’t need to be threatened because he’s bitter and out of fucks to give. Tomkins tells her that there are warrants out for Jamie’s arrest for murder and sedition. That guy Claire killed that Jamie hid in a cask of crème de menthe? Well, his body was discovered. Reread that sentence. It is B A N A N A S. But sure, we’ll go along with it. While she works on a plan to save or warn Jamie, Claire declares that Tomkins is the second source of typhoid and has him locked in a cell too. Petty Claire is my favorite Claire.
Meanwhile on the Artemis, Fergus and Marsali have a sweet little moment where they try to figure out what to do about Jamie and his absurd plot to overtake the ship. There is some kissing and heavy breathing and before long, Marsali is basically begging Fergus to make love to her, but no, Fergus has to be stubborn and true to his word to wait until they marry. (Thanks a lot, Fergus.) Fergus is incredibly loyal, so it will come as no surprise that he skulks over to the captain’s quarters to steal the keys to free Jamie, but, conveniently, he overhears the captain and a couple of men talking about Jamie and how they want to take advantage of Marsali if she were alone, so that’s that. Fergus quickly changes course and tells Jamie he will not let him out, because he is protecting both Marsali and Jamie. Jamie is in a cell, so there is nothing he can do about it but chill out and get a grip.
Later, Jamie is looking at pictures of Claire and Brianna when Captain Raines comes down to release Jamie because he needs “good and able men” to navigate between the islands ahead. Marsali has persuaded the captain to set Jamie free if he gives his word he won’t rebel because she knows Jamie never betrays his word. She also tells Jamie he should be grateful for what Fergus has done for him and reluctantly, Jamie agrees by finally giving Fergus and Marsali his blessing. They can be married, in Jamaica, by a priest. All is well again, on that front. (On and on my eyes roll.)
Since they’re the only two women on board the Porpoise, it makes sense for Claire and Annekje to become friends even though Annekje doesn’t speak English. Claire goes to the goat lady for a chat and laments about Jamie’s troubles—how she has no way to warn him and she’s probably going to be used as bait. Annekje offers to help, saying, “My goats needs grass,” and while Claire doesn’t quite understand what Annekje is saying, pretty much any other sentient person can.
Things are improving on the Porpoise. The rate of infection has slowed and the surviving men are recuperating. Alas, poor Dead Man Walking is not so lucky. Claire finds Elias dead as the rest of the crew celebrates with rousing singing and drinking. As is befitting of a proper narrative frame, Claire is the one to pierce Elias’ nose with a needle as he is laid to rest. Claire is pretty depressed, but her mood cheers when they approach Grand Turk Island so they can replenish the ship’s water stores and the goats can eat grass. Annekje encourages Claire to escape and Claire tries, but she’s quickly intercepted by Captain Leonard who explains in a very British way that he is grateful to her for, you know, saving his ass and the lives of hundreds of his men, but he’s going to kill her husband anyway because solemn oath, duty, blah, blah, blah.
Once again Annekje comes to the rescue later that night, giving Claire some money and a couple of casks to use as a raft, telling Claire to jump in the ocean and swim for land. “I’m sorry, that’s crazy, I can’t,” Claire says, as if this turn of events is somehow crazier than every other thing that has happened over the three seasons of this show. I mean, girl. You literally walk through stones to go back in time 200 years because the best sex of your life happens to be with a man in the 18th century. Jumping in the ocean is one of the least crazy things you can do. Long story short, Claire jumps in the ocean.
Will Claire and Jamie find each other again? Yes, of course they will. Will these terrible plot twists on the high seas cease? No, of course they won’t. Will there ever be sex on this show again? Only if there is a god. Alas, we must wait until next week to see what happens next.
Roxane Gay is the author of Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, and most recently, Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.
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