Outlander The Doldrums Review
Starz’s Outlander: Season 3, Episode 9: The Doldrums, like the France episodes of Season 2, expanded the scope of Outlander once more while also showcasing why Yi Tien Cho / Mr. Willoughby (Gary Young) was a salient character. When Mr. Willoughby was introduced on Outlander, the viewer (who had not read the Outlander novels) may have written him off as a side character of no significance i.e. cultural window-dressing. Those viewers would have been completely mistaken. The Doldrums contained Willoughby’s spotlight moment and it was seized upon in a surprising and marvelous way.
Mr. Willoughby’s story about his previous life, his current situation, and his love of all women (and their body parts) was the best moment of The Doldrums. Not only did Mr. Willoughby have the crew of the ship captivated and stunned, the viewer was as well. That’s a rarity. Action, drama, and love scenes, for various reasons, can stun, can captivate but a character doing so simply telling another character about their past (or a past event) is uncommon. When it happens, it speaks to the quality of the writing at-hand and its delivery on-screen. Thor “The Swede” Gundersen extreme weight-loss / Andersonville remembrance in Hell on Wheels had this effect as did the moment in The Hateful Eight when Sheriff Chris Mannix spoke about Major Marquis Warren’s prison escape. With Mr. Willoughby’s story, the viewer of The Doldrums was given a short but effective narrative that contained drama, sorrow, humor, and with a theatrical flourish, hope.
Captain Raines (Richard Dillane) in The Doldrums turned out to be, like Mr. Willoughby, a character of hidden depths. In George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Fire and Ice novels, its narrative landscape is littered with well-written secondary characters. It would seem that Diana Gabaldon‘s novels have them as well (I have not read the novels yet), illustrated by the numerous and colorful characters in Season 2 of Outlander and by Mr. Willoughby and Captain Raines in The Doldrums. Raines was intelligent and logical, using superstition and myth as tools to help keep his crew in line, happy, and focused. Raines recognized a kindred intellectual in Claire but also that her presence on his ship was problematic. The question was, if Claire, a woman, and James “Jamie” MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a red head, were such problems, why let them on your ship in the first place? Money? If it was for money than Captain Raines got what he paid for.
Like the maelstrom in Episode XX. of Black Sails, superstition became a character in The Doldrums, so much so that everyone in the episode had to adapt to it’s presence. Superstitions, like religious beliefs, are exceedingly powerful, but when present in a life or death situation, they can over-ride an individual’s lawful rights, common decency, and morals. Through the superstition-fueled, supposed presence of a “Jonah” on the Artemis, it was intriguing to see a mob created from scratch and mob mentality infect all of its members i.e. the desire to kill or see killed the individual labeled “Jonah.”
Another secondary character given room to breathe in The Doldrums was Marsali MacKimmie (Lauren Lyle), whose sass craved a broad path and created a distinct impression on the viewer. Marsali threw “whore” at Claire Beauchamp Randall/Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) with the indignation of the aggrieved but not with the effect – anger and a verbal fight with Claire – that Marsali desired.
Having escaped one type of conflict and fever for others abroad the British man-of-war Porpoise during The Doldrums, Claire Fraser once more initiated the expansion of Outlander (or rather, someone else did and she was its victim). As the Porpoise began pulling away from the Artemis, one storyline was split into two again, like the Claire / Frank Randall and Jamie Fraser / Still Alive But Alone storylines at the beginning of Season 3. An argument could be made that Outlander is better with multiple, parallel storylines running coterminous or with a single storyline that allows all of its characters to play off of one another.
I’m of the opinion that whatever creates positive, motivating drama for Outlander is the best move that should be made. Claire and Jamie’s first split did that. I have no doubt that their second split will do the same.
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