Series Rewatch – Outlander: Season 1, Episode 5 – Rent

Written by Diana Gabaldon, Ronald D. Moore, and Toni Graphia
Directed by Brian Kelly

In this episode, Claire travels away from the comfort of Castle Leoch and sees this era of Scottish history for what it really is among those who work the land for the Laird. It’s also a time when she learns to shed many of her twentieth-century notions and embrace the reality she is living in.

Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is traveling with Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish), Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson), Angus (Stephen Walters), Rupert (Grant O’Rourke), Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), Jamie (Sam Heughan), and others to MacKenzie lands to visit those who weren’t at The Gathering in order to collect the rents. Dougal wanted a healer along in case of any issues. Claire bonds with Ned, but for the most part she is on the outside looking in.

While Ned and the others are collecting the rents, Claire meets the women who are walking wool. They are using hot urine to set the dye. Claire is incited to join in, including drinking strong whisky to replenish the supply. The women sing in Gaelic as they work. Claire learns Craigh Na Dun is about three days away from where they are. When she learns a baby was depending on a goat for milk that was given as rent, Claire attempts to return it to its owner. An argument ensues, and the local blacksmith (Tom Brittney) attempts to defend Claire to Dougal. It turns out he is actually a British soldier.

That night, Dougal meets with the men and speaks against the British, ripping open Jamie’s shirt to show the scars as a way of raising money to fight the King. Jamie resents it but does not show it, stoically tolerating what has happened and even refusing all offers of help. Claire thinks Dougal is keeping the money for himself and the others with them are complicit. They are on the road for weeks. When they encounter The Watch, Jamie makes himself scarce due to the price on his head. However, he is the one who connects with Claire and makes the point that it doesn’t matter where Claire comes from, she’s here now and she shouldn’t be judging things she doesn’t understand.

Claire believes Dougal is stealing money from Colum, and raising money without his consent. She believes he is telling them to give him money to protect them from the English. However, at one point she overhears the name “Stuart” and realizes they are raising money for the Jacobite Army. She witnesses a confrontation between Dougal and Jamie and sits with Jamie afterward. Jamie said a man must choose what is worth fighting for.

As they move along, they find some men crucified as traitors by the British. Dougal stops to bury them. Claire has become more understanding of what’s happening and even sympathetic, knowing from history that their cause is fruitless. She tries to warn Ned without telling him where she is from, but he is dismissive.

A fight breaks out that Claire sees as the men just spoiling for a fight. She is moved when she learns, as she is tending to their wounds, that the MacKenzie men were defending her honor. “You’re a guest of the MacKenzie. We can insult you, but God help any other man that does.” There is a new cordiality between Claire and the men now.

As they are crossing Culloden, Claire recalls visiting with Frank and seeing the marker for Clan MacKenzie. Dougal again confronts Claire about the opinions she is expressing and his worry over what she has seen. As they argue, a detachment of red coats appear, led by the man who was posing as a blacksmith. He asks Claire if she is there by her own choice.

This is an interesting episode in many ways. It sets the stage for the future Battle at Culloden, which Claire already knows how it ends. She has begun to feel something towards the men and tries to warn them of the futility of what they are involved in. This marks a turn away from seeing them just as captors and more in the line of friends. However, the fact that Claire has figured out what is going on worries Dougal in numerous ways. He was content to let her think he was stealing from Colum. When he realizes she knows he is raising money for the Jacobite Cause, she is more of a threat. Claire actually does Dougal a favor, though he doesn’t know it By drawing the blacksmith out with his attempt to protect her, he does not attend the meeting that night and does not see Dougal talk against the British and raise money to fight them. If he had been there, surely Dougal and the others would have been arrested.

It’s these small nuances of changing history without realizing it that makes the show so appealing. This happened early on when Claire warned them of an ambush that saved their lives. Does history keep trying to “fix” itself? Was it destiny that Dougal and Jamie be arrested by the British and that seems to keep cropping up in their path while Claire’s small actions save them? It’s an interesting concept.

Although Dougal still isn’t sure of Claire’s motivations, he’s a bit more comfortable in her presence. Still, he realizes that now that she knows what’s going on she is even more of a threat to them. Even if she is not a British spy, in British hands she could break and tell them what she knows. This will be important later.

All of the acting is excellent. Claire is the lone female in a group of men. It’s something she likely became fairly used to thanks to her work during World War II as a nurse on the front lines. She does not feel like an outsider because of the lack of females in their traveling party, but because of their desire to exclude her, not knowing yet what to make of her. Only Jamie seems friendly toward her, and he even tells her that he knows she hasn’t told them the truth about everything. All this is conveyed not only with the narration, but with body language between them at various times. Angus is aggressive towards Claire for several reasons since he has been tasked with watching her. Whenever she disappears, even if she isn’t running away, it makes him look bad in front of Dougal; he can’t even manage the “easy” job of watching a woman. The dynamics between all of them are excellently portrayed.

The Scottish scenery is beautiful, particularly the snowcapped mountains. They ride along green fields with the mountains in the background and it is just stunning. It’s a contrast to the reality of life in these times, with the violence of The Watch as well as the British. The rents paid to the MacKenzies create an illusion of safety on their lands, but in reality, they are in just as much danger, should the tide turn against them.

This episode features great character development as well as revealing more of what life was like during these times. Claire brings her 20th-century knowledge in, but it’s seen more as stirring up doubt in men Dougal wants to follow him blindly. It’s also the first episode that really leaves the viewer with a cliffhanger.

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