Recap: “The Gathering” begins with an ominous scene as two guards overlook the woods surrounding the castle grounds. A figure runs through the woods, seemingly in distress. Nearly drawing their arms, the guards stand down as Claire and a group of children emerge from the woods. Among the group of children is young Hamish, who notices Claire has lost small pieces of clothing. She brushes off the loss to the child, but she has actually secured them to branches in the woods to mark a path as she plans her escape from Castle Leoch.
Rupert and Angus are eager to return as festivities are underway for the Clan MacKenzie’s gathering and Claire eventually concedes to their desire to head back. Walking back, Claire reveals she already has her escape route planned, but is still trying to find a way to distract her constant companions. Nearing the grounds, Claire points out a woman who seems to have taken a liking to her companions and after drawing sticks, Angus comes out the victor, leaving Claire with Rupert.
Moving forward with her plans, Claire must secure a horse for her journey. Under the pretense of selecting a horse for the upcoming hunt, Claire finds Alec at the stables and selects a horse named Brimstone for her purposes. Claire inquires after Jamie, but is warned he is best left to himself until after the gathering.
Claire returns to the cellar and finds Geillis waiting for her with the bottle of port Claire asked for. Her visiting friend takes notice of Claire’s stockpile of food in the cellar, which Claire brushes off as simply not wanting to trek through the castle for a mere bite of food. Geillis prods Claire with unwelcome questioning, even wondering if she is fleeing to France due to an illegitimate pregnancy. Tension grows between the pair as Claire takes offense to Geillis’ insinuation and faces a bombardment of memories of Frank. Geillis continues on and spots a large supply of Valerian root, which she uses as a sedative for her husband, and divulges the proper preparation technique to Claire. Geillis shares a bit of her own history of her arrival to the village before being kindly dismissed by Claire. She is clearly aware of Claire’s plan to escape and warns her that the Highlands are a dangerous place before taking her leave.
Claire sees the gathering in the hall later that night as the perfect time to escape since a large portion of the clan will be distracted by the festivities as the men of pledge their allegiance to Colum. Heading to the kitchen, Claire attempts to secure a knife as a potential weapon for her travels, but is interrupted by Mrs. Fitz’s arrival. Mrs. Fitz wonders why Claire is not dressed for the gathering before whisking her away to prepare for the event.
Though Mrs. Fitz’s intervention may have been a hindrance to her plans, Claire hopes her presence will loosen her ties to Angus and Rupert. Mrs. Fitz greets Iona MacTavish before pulling Murtagh from his isolated spot and situating him between her and Claire on the landing. Colum enters the hall and makes his way towards the front of the crowd where Dougal, his wife Letitia, and son Hamish wait. With the arrival of Colum, Dougal takes his place among the crowd as his brother addresses the clan. Colum begins his speech with a rousing cry of “Tulach Ard!” as Murtagh translates for Claire. Colum welcomes the MacKenzies to Castle Leoch and praises their strength, knowing he could not ask for a better group of men to fight for the clan should the need ever arise. After proclaiming his pride as their laird, the crowd cheers before Dougal moves forward to make the first oath. Other men follow suit, including Angus who falls inline with the others. Claire takes her leave when Murtagh tells her all the oaths are the same, but runs into Angus on her way out of the hall. He has no interest in missing out and asks her to stay a bit longer. Seemingly resigning herself to her current location, Claire takes a swig from a bottle before sharing its contents with Angus, who downs most of the port that she has laced with a sedative. Angus is oblivious to her meaning and continues to imbibe before rejoining the crowd.
Leaving the halls, Claire returns to the cellar to gather her provisions, but is surprised by the appearance of Leoghaire at the door as she attempts to leave. The young girl wonders if Claire has a concoction that will open a man’s heart, referring to her interest in Jamie. Claire tells Leoghaire to wait as she returns to the cellar to riffle through her cabinets. She bottles some dried horse dung, knowing no on will be able to know the difference. Returning to Leoghaire, Claire tells her to sprinkle it at Jamie’s threshold, tap her heels together, and recite “There’s no place like love. There’s no place like love.” After her slight distraction, Claire continues to move quickly through the castle, but stops when she stumbles upon a group of drunk men. They try to assault her and, despite Claire’s attempts to stop them, they continue until Dougal arrives and dismisses the men. Dougal, who is clearly inebriated, turns his attention on Claire, but stops short when she slaps him. He backs away, telling her to go before she “pays a bigger price.” Claire’s glance turns towards her discarded bag on the ground, which also catches Dougal’s attention. Claire slams a piece of wood against his head and knocks him out before he has a chance to react and makes for the stables.
When Claire reaches the stables, she is tackled by Jamie who immediately guesses her plans. Revealing her well-thought out escape, Jamie commends Claire on her attempt, but warns Colum has posted additional men around the grounds, making her escape impossible. Claire is not deterred until Jamie reminds her the best trackers in the clan are currently residing at the castle and they will catch her. Resigning herself to imprisonment for the moment, Jamie offers to escort her back to the castle. Jamie notices Claire hesitation and laughs off her concerns about Dougal since he would probably never admit to being overtaken by a woman.
Jamie attempts to bring Claire back through a hidden tunnel, but they are discovered by a group of clansmen. The pair struggle until someone knocks Jamie out and brings him back to the castle. Claire stands beside Jamie as he outfits himself in new clothes under the watchful eye of the clansmen. Before Claire takes her leave, Jamie recited the Clan Fraser’s motto (“Je Suis Prest”), causing her to worry about what he has to be ready for. The oaths continue in the hall as Claire rejoins Murtagh and alerts him to Jamie’s presence. Claire notices tension building among the crowd as Murtagh pulls her aside to explain Jamie’s predicament. Since the clans are tanist and Jamie has MacKenzie blood, he could become a possible successor to Colum if he were to pledge fealty to the laird. Though Claire sees no harm in this, believing Jamie to be a good candidate, Murtagh explains that Dougal wishes to become laird and would have Jamie killed to keep him from becoming Colum’s successor. He also cannot decline the oath since he is Colum’s nephew and a healthy young man. Claire wonders why he simply did not leave Castle Leoch and Murtagh reminds her of the danger Jamie faces from Captain Randall and the Red Coats beyond the castle’s walls. Jamie’s uncles would not have pushed the matter had Jamie stayed hidden, making Claire realize her part in his current predicament.
Jamie reaches the head of the hall and kneels before Colum and Dougal. Gathering his courage, Jamie stands and pledges to be loyal to his kin, but does not offer a vow to Colum. His actions do not sit well with the others in the hall, but Colum breaks the tension with a smile and shares the drinking bowl with his nephew. This elicits applause from the crowd and the merriment resumes as Jamie and Murtagh leave the hall.
The next morning brings the boar hunt and Claire joins the men on their endeavors as healer. The men trapse through the woods, banging their shields with bows and spears at the ready. The racket continues until a man’s scream tears through the air and Claire arrives to tend to the wound. Another scream sounds and Claire takes off in search of the injured party. As Claire moves through the woods, she encounters a boar herself, but is saved by a shot from Dougal’s rifle. Claire attempts to catch her breath before following Dougal towards the injured man.
Dougal cradles a man named Geordie as Claire attempts to tend to his wounds. The injury to his leg would heal, but Claire realizes the abdominal injury will be fatal. Dougal, knowing his friend will not survive, unties the binding to allow the blood to flow freely and shorten the man’s suffering. The two friends reminisce about their past and Claire does her part to comfort the man by asking about his home as he dies peacefully in Dougal’s arms.
The somber hunting party returns to the castle grounds where a field game has already begun. Relieving himself of some of his more cumbersome clothing, Dougal joins the game alongside Jamie, Murtagh, and Angus. Dougal quickly narrows in on his nephew as the two use the game to work out their aggressions with each other. Jamie finally overtakes Dougal, sending him over his shoulder and to the ground.
Back in the cellar, Claire recognizes her chance for escape has passed and resigns herself to being a prisoner for the time being. Though her prospects of escape are slim at this time, she is not ready to give up. Dougal surprises her with a visit, commending her work as a healer and the kindness she showed Geordie upon his death. As she did with Geillis, Claire attempts to dismiss Dougal, but there is more to his visit. Dougal and his men will be leaving the next morning to collect rent from those unable to attend the gathering and he informs Claire she will be joining them on the road. The next morning, Dougal and his men set off on their trip with Claire in tow. She hopes this journey will take her closer to the stones, knowing that she cannot fail again in her attempt to return home.
Review: While “The Gathering” is another suitable episode in the series, it has the unfortunate distinction of airing on the heels of “The Way Out,” which I consider to be the best episode so far. There is nothing glaringly wrong with the episode, but it lacks the same “oomph” the previous episode offered. A large part of this is the absence of Jamie (Sam Heughan) from the episode. Heughan’s portrayal of Jamie is delightful, from his searing glances and adorable aloofness, and his presence is missed while not on screen. The scenes between Jamie and Claire are always wonderful to watch and their measured interactions in these early episodes only build on the anticipation for what is to come.
Rupert and Angus continue to provide an element of levity to the show, but the standout in “The Gathering” is Graham McTavish. Though his character is generally marked by tension and stoicism, Dougal’s scene with Geordie was a bittersweet respite for the character and an exemplarily performance from McTavish. Though Murtagh has limited screen time, Duncan Lacroix made an impression during this episode and provided a great deal of guidance for Claire and the audience during the episode’s festivities.
Both Diana Gabaldon and executive producer Ronald D. Moore appeared in cameos during “The Gathering,” a welcome treat during the episode. Playing Iona MacTavish, Gabaldon’s appearance was quite a sizable part when compared to other author’s cameos, and included a brief exchange with Mrs. Fitz (Annette Badland). Gabaldon played her part well, and even if she is not immediately recognizable to the average viewer, she fits right into show. With no dialogue and tamed hair, Ronald D. Moore is a bit trickier to spot, but the camera does linger on him long enough that he is easy to catch upon a second viewing.
It may seem inconsequential, but it was wonderful to see scenes from the show’s opening titles play out during the episode. From Jamie and the field game to the men during the boar hunt, it is interesting to see the images in context. It will also be interesting to see how the titles evolve during the second season, should they decide to changed the sequence.