I think yes, but your mileage may vary. This week, in “Vengeance is Mine,” either a lot happened, or very little, depending on your point of view. Let’s see if we can keep track of all the moving parts.
To start things off, the Jacobites are squabbling - again - about their next steps. Several months after Prestonpans, they’ve made it into northern England but their forces haven’t multiplied to the degree they might have hoped on their march with glorious purpose down from the Highlands. It’s either press forward to London, bringing their 5,000 men against potentially 30,000 British troops, or retreat back to Scotland.
In a desperate bid to change anything about the Rising, Jamie throws in on the side of marching to London alongside the Prince. In response, the commanding officers send Jamie and his men off to Inverness to do very important things other than bend the Prince’s ear.
Jamie and the Fraser troops march off but are caught by surprise by some British soldiers and are forced to split up. Our gang of Frasers/MacKenzies (FraKenzies?) gallop off with a small band of soldiers in pursuit. When Rupert gets injured (i.e. gets a friggin musket ball to the eye), the group has to shake the British and then try to find a place to treat his wounds.
They hole up in a church, and Claire treats Rupert (who’s like, “ow! Well at least it wasn’t my good eye,” even while there is a friggin musket ball lodged in his eye). Then the British show up with torches threatening to burn them out of the church if they don’t surrender. (The shot of the soldiers through the window in the firelight, showing the fire splitting up into multiple torches, was brilliantly chilling.)
When it seems they must choose between British captivity or fiery death, Claire provides a third option by screaming out in her nice posh British accent. This gives the British soldiers pause long enough for the FraKenzies to formulate a plan. Similar to the encounter with young Grey a couple of episodes ago, Claire pretends to be a hostage of the Scots; this gives the group leverage to negotiate their safe exit from the church. The British are perfectly willing to believe a British woman wouldn’t throw in voluntarily with the Jacobites so the ruse works. Jamie agrees to come find Claire once the British garrison drops her off in a nearby town.
Alas, the garrison changes plans so Jamie is going to go to the wrong place to find Claire; that is, until Hugh Munro, the cheery beggar Claire first met on a rainy hilltop right after she and Jamie married, shows up. He is able to help Claire get a message to Jamie that she’s not going where he thinks she’s going. And then Claire rides off with the British soldiers to the home of a completely random English nobleman who will surely agree to shelter Claire...
That’s right, Claire finds herself being hosted by our good ol’ buddy the Duke of Sandringham, the flip-floppiest of flip-floppers. The opportuniest of opportunists. The advantage-takerest of advantage-takers.
(This is when Simon Callow steals the episode. Seriously, his jaw must be tired from chewing so much scenery.)
First the Duke plays along; he doesn’t reveal to the British that he knows Claire under a different name, and he claims he wants to go with Claire when Jamie rescues her. He helps her send a message so Jamie knows to come to his house. (Claire cleverly encodes the message in some kind of phonetic Gaelic and signs it Sassenach.) However, this allows the Duke to then warn the British that the infamous Red Jamie is coming so they can set a trap for him. He keeps playing both sides against each other for the betterment of his own situation.
By the way, did you know that the Duke is Mary Hawkins’ godfather? Yep, she pops up, traipsing about the empty house complaining about yet another arranged marriage. And she gets to be there for the revelation that the Duke’s valet is the evil Frenchman who attacked the two women in Paris. It turns out the attack was arranged by the Duke so that the Comte would forgive a debt. The Duke graciously reduced the mission from murder to rape - we should be thanking him for saving Claire’s life, you see.
So Claire is stuck in a giant house with tiny, fearful Mary Hawkins, the scheming Duke, and the sneering French rapist, while Jamie is about to walk into a trap.
Except...he doesn’t. He and Murtagh slip past all of the British troops to get inside the house and find Claire.
The Duke tries to talk his way out of the situation yet again, but once the truth about the Paris attack comes out, all bets are off. Wee Mary drives a carving knife into the evil Frenchman when no one is looking, and then Murtagh beheads the Duke with an axe.
The foursome run off, leaving the Duke and his Frenchman henchman to be discovered by the British in the morning or something. Rescuing complete.
Next week, Black Jack Randall comes back out of the woodwork, when we are only three days from the fateful battle.
I was a bit dissatisfied with this episode, and I think I found out why in the “Inside the World” featurette: Diana Gabaldon wrote the episode. It actually hewed pretty closely to the book, but that just means we went through a lot of plot contortions to get some closure we didn’t really need. (Finding out where the attack in Paris came from.) Our characters are mostly where they would have been otherwise: Jamie and Claire still have to stop Culloden; Murtagh, Dougal, and Rupert are fighting alongside them; the only real difference is that they have Mary Hawkins in tow. And there is one less eyeball between them. Except for explaining why that birthmark warranted a close-up in the earlier Paris episode, “Vengeance is Mine” felt like 60 minutes we could have used for more important things.
(And before my fellow book readers say anything...yes, I know why Mary Hawkins still needs to be hanging around. But can’t she just pop up in Edinburgh without all of this sneaking about the countryside scheming and passing notes and whatnot?)
The only reason I’ll let the show get away with it is because of Simon Callow.
“It is intolerable! I’d rather be run through by a British bayonet and have my body buried in an unmarked grave than turn back after we have come this far. But I see now that I am betrayed by both friends and allies. You do what you must, but may God damn you to hell for it. I have nothing more to say.” - Prince Charles
“God, shield my beloved, my white dove. And the child she may one day bear. Preserve her from violence and from harm. In this place and every place. On this night and on every night.” - Jamie
“There’s no much I can say waking that willna sound daft and foolish, Sassenach. I can say things while you sleep. Your dreams will ken the truth of them.” - Jamie
“I decided to take a closer look at a musket ball.” - Rupert
“Am I not Lady Broch Tuarach? Are these men not my responsibility too?” - Claire
Murtagh: “So now we’re traitors, murderers, and horse thieves. Tell me, does it ever occur to you that taking Claire to wife might not have been the wisest thing you ever did?”
Jamie: “No, it doesn’t.”
“The last thing I would do, my dear, is to blurt.” - Sandringham
“I kept my word. I lay your vengeance at your feet.” - Murtagh
All images via screencap.