After the excitement of Young Ian being carried away and Jamie being shot by Laoghaire, “The Doldrums” is a much calmer episode. But all is not smooth sailing, as we see.
The episode (which débuts a new title sequence!) picks up shortly after we left off, with Jamie and Claire getting ready to go after young Ian. Jamie tells Claire he sent word to his sister about their predicament and they meet up with his cousin Jared, who has hooked Jamie up with a job. Jared knows the only ship Ian could be on is the Bruja and with the way it sits low on the water, that it’s heading home to Jamaica. After assurances from Jared that Ian is worth enough money to insure his well-being, Jamie, Claire, Fergus, Yi Tien Cho and some men from Ardsmuir climb aboard and set sail for the West Indies.
Once onboard, the men behave somewhat oddly: speaking to Jamie before he speaks to them, ignoring Claire altogether and rubbing a horseshoe as they pass. Claire,-who is apparently the only person in any time who doesn’t know how superstitious sailors are-complains to Jamie about being “invisible.” Jamie explains that women and redheads are considered bad luck and makes sure she also touches the horseshoe. I have no idea why Claire feels the need to be condescending to the men she’ll be with for weeks but hey, she agrees to touch the horseshoe. Jamie is glad to see Fergus when he comes up from below deck, but much less so to see Marsali, Laoghaire’s oldest daughter, follow. Jamie sputters in shock when the young couple tells him they’re handfast (an unofficial, but legal marriage). Jamie insists on dropping Marsali off at the next possible port, but she refuses, telling him if he does that, she will tell everyone that Fergus bedded her. It’s not true, but the truth doesn’t matter much for some things. Jamie reluctantly agrees, but tells her that she’s going home as soon as they get to Jamaica. To further protect her virtue, he declares Marsali and Claire will share a cabin. This goes over fantastically with Claire, who hasn’t had a good lay for twenty years and now wont be able to sleep with her own damn husband.
While at sea, Jamie’s seasickness gets worse and Claire makes him a special tea. The two talk about Fergus and Marsali; Claire tells Jamie they probably don’t know each other well enough and all this togetherness might change their minds about each other. During this exchange, a sailor gets hurt and the whole crew starts talking about how someone didn’t touch the horseshoe. Claire again pooh-poohs their beliefs and also challenges the captain’s authority simultaneously. Seriously Claire. You were in the army for fuck’s sake; if you don’t have the sense to not mock superstitions, you should at least know about how chain of command works.
Anyway, the captain invites her and Jamie to dinner, but Jamie is too sick to go. While at dinner, Captain Raines again explains to her the whole “horseshoe” situation. It doesn’t matter one whit if he or Claire believe the superstitions. What matters is that the men do. And if they do, it’s true. It’s as simple as that. If touching a piece of curved iron is what it takes to give them ease, then who the hell is Claire (or anyone) to take that from them?
Meanwhile, Jamie is trying to talk Fergus out of marrying Marsali (with basically no good reason why). Fergus hoped Jamie would be happy for him and scoffs at the idea that Claire and Jamie’s nuptials were in any way ordinary.
Jamie makes some comments about Fergus’s past and the younger man says he’s told Marsali everything, minus the whole “other lovers” bit. He does state emphatically he hasn’t been with anyone since they started courting. Jamie still says no and perhaps it’s a dash of karma that when next we see him, he’s puking his guts out. Yi Tien Cho finds him and after telling him of the super awesome results he could get from all the retching (torn muscles and twisted testicles, yay!), Jamie agrees to try something other than Claire’s ginger tea.
Later on in the girls cabin, Marsali graciously offers Claire the bigger bed. Claire, presumptuous as ever, assures her that she doesn’t have to get in her good graces in the hopes of getting Jamie’s approval. “It’s none of my business, after all.” Look, I gotta admit, I’m about done with Claire this episode.
I’m not the only one though, as Marsali lets her have it. This woman drops out of the clear blue sky and with no explanation, destroys your family. Then, when you have the manners to offer her the larger bed, rather than graciously accepting, she assumes ulterior motives. Claire is making friends everywhere. The next morning, Marsali and Fergus again go to Jamie (who is feeling much better) to ask for his blessing. Fergus told Marsali everything, and the young woman is taken aback when Claire takes their side, telling Jamie to let them give it a go. Jamie still refuses for reasons and leaves the disappointed couple in haste. Because there are a lot of places to get away to on a ship.
As the weeks go by, Claire does her usual doctoring and making medicines, and one day walks in on Jamie and Yi Tien Cho in a compromising position. Not that kind, but the whole “sticking needles in someone’s face” kind. Yi Tien Cho apologizes profusely and skedaddles and Claire asks Jamie why he didn’t tell her that he was using acupuncture to cure his seasickness.
Jamie tells her that he didn’t want to hurt her feelings over the tea not working and since they were in such a tenuous place, didn’t want to give her any other reason to think coming back was a mistake. Claire assures him that loving him was never the problem and that while it’s been frustrating and confusing, she doesn’t regret it. Suddenly the ship stops moving and they rush above deck, Jamie still looking like a pin cushion. All is still as Captain Raines informs them that they’ve lost the wind and an ominous pall washes over the crew. They are convinced someone didn’t touch the horseshoe and that they’ve got bad luck as a result. This will end well, I’m sure.
The weeks pass and still there is no wind. The men get restless and anxious and tensions ratchet up when all but five barrels of water go bad. The men decide to flush out the Jonah that is causing the bad luck and throw him overboard. They settle on one of Jamie’s men, Hayes, and in flight, Hayes scurries up the mast. By the time Jamie gets there, Hayes is drunk and kinda agrees with the crew that perhaps he’s bad luck after all. Jamie climbs his ass up the mast and convinces Hayes to come down. I’m not sure whether it’s anything more than fear of Claire should Jamie go in after him or what, but the crew is still riled up and ready to mutiny if they can’t kill someone. Just as the situation is about to escalate beyond coming back, a bell rings and Yi Tien Cho tells his story.
Earlier, Claire asked him to tell his life story to her, but he refused, saying if he told it he would have to let it go and he wasn’t ready yet. Now, Yi Tien Cho holds all the men aboard the ship rapt as he tells the story of his life. He was a poet. So brilliant that the Emperor’s second wife wanted him in her household. It’s a great honor one can’t refuse on pain of death but it also requires men to become eunuchs. Yi Tien Cho was not about that shit at all as he loves women. He also doesn’t want to die; under cover of night, he leaves, never to return. Now that he’s in Europe, facing bigotry and seeing none of the beauty of his home, with no woman willing to bed him, he wonders if it was worth it. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and I absolutely love what the show is doing with this character. Willoughby could have easily been an extremely problematic caricature for them and instead the writers and Gary Young added so much more. I appreciate it so much. Just when it looks like he’s about to jump ship, Yi Tien Cho instead throws the writings of his life overboard and they’re carried away by…the wind. The curse is broken! Tensions are down! How did he do it?? Turns out Yi Tien Cho knows some shit about birds and weather. He saw a low flying bird and noticed his water poetry on deck wasn’t evaporating quickly, which means rain.
Everyone onboard the Artemis is ecstatic when the rains come, including Jamie and Claire who head below to get some private time. Afterwards, Jamie admires Claire’s hair, grey and all, and Claire tells him he’d be king of all men if he said that in the 20th century. Nice little nod to the fandom, there. Jamie is absolutely the king of men.
Things don’t go well for long though, because this is Outlander. Soon a short-staffed, British man-of-war flags them down asking them to heave-to as the youngest captain in the land comes aboard. They aren’t looking to press men into service, but begging for a surgeon. A plague has broken out and after scolding him and getting a list of symptoms, Claire agrees to go over and check things out. Claire sees all the sick men just puking and shitting where they lay, which is the number-one way to beat illness in the 18th century. After examining some men, she goes to the captain with a plan of action to contain the illness. She even offers to stay a little while and help them organize. While she is coordinating in the galley (with whom seems like a giant asshole who cooks) the ship starts to move. That’s right. Captain Training Pants decided that he needed her services for more than an hour. He tells her that he’s desperate and since they’re all going to Jamaica anyway, no harm no foul, right? Clearly this dude has never met Jamie.
This episode’s title was quite fitting, actually. Everything is at an impasse and nothing is moving forward. I gotta say, I’m really excited to see more Fergus and Marsali. I have to admit I really like her and look forward to seeing her and Claire’s relationship evolve.
Side observation: I love love love how Claire’s clothes become less confining as time passes by onboard the Artemis.
What did you think? Did “The Doldrums” give you the doldrums?