‘Outlander’ Recap/Review: Episode 203, “Useful Occupations and Deceptions”

[This is not a spoiler-free review/recap of the episode. If you have not seen the episode yet, read it at your own spoiler risk.]

Official 203 Claire Caitriona Sam Jamie, Mother Louise

Episode 203, “Useful Occupations and Deceptions”
Written by Anne Kenney, Directed by Metin Hüseyin
Recap: Claire is asleep in bed when she is awoken by the sounds of a carriage outside her window. It is Jamie, returning home at dawn from a night out with Prince Charles. Jamie apologizes, but she does not seem too upset by it, either by her face or words, so we know this is not the first time it has happened. His quick words and swift movements reveal an agitation, and we learn that Prince Charles is insisting on having a meeting with Minister Duverney, and that Jamie has been trying to put off introducing them for as long as possible. He is not sure if the minister will even agree to meet with the prince, but that he has more pressing matters to deal with, such as the inspector coming to see Jared’s warehouses. Then he reads off his laundry list of tasks for the day, which ends with another night out with the prince before he will be home again. All the while the servant is picking up Jamie’s discarded clothing and helping him to dress in a fresh outfit as he talks. (Apparently a new silver and gray embroidered silk vest is all he needs to change in order to start this new day).

Claire seems disappointed and concerned, and Jamie speculates that stopping the rebellion is worth losing sleep. She expresses her worry that it is too much sleep and he assures her that he will be able to sleep on the carriage to Versailles for chess with the minister. Trying to kiss her, she pulls back. He understands, though, since he smells like smoke. She adds that he also smells like cheap perfume (since the place they spend their nights is a popular brothel) and that it is not helping her morning sickness. Hanging his head out of the window on the carriage ride here apparently did not help dismiss the smell still clinging to his clothes and hair. Sending her back to bed so she can rest before tea with Louise and the other ladies, she makes a snide remark and he insists that she might learn something that would help them with their cause. As he is leaving, Jamie realizes that his little wooden snake is missing from his sporran and beseeches Claire to have the servants search for it in his absence. He tells her to give his regards to ‘her ladies’ and he is down the stairs and out the door before he can hear her grumble that they are not ‘her ladies’.

Claire is dutifully at tea later that day, however, and playing cards across the table from Louise in her ornately decorated sitting room. A small monkey plays in its cage behind her and a couple of young women talk quietly on the couch nearby. Mary Hawkins sits beside them, the same pained look on her face that we have seen at our previous encounter with her. All of a sudden the girl blurts out that she cannot marry a French man. Both confused, Claire and Louise turn to Mary to hear more of an explanation. Mary seems hesitant to say more, assuring Claire that Jamie is a king and gentle man and does not ‘trouble’ her in the way Mary has heard French men do. Claire seems to have a suspicion about where this is going, but lets Mary continue. The girl then offers a very awkward description of sex and Louise does a very poor job of hiding her laughter behind her hand of cards. She even mocks the girl, pretending to be shocked by this revelation, and finally laughing loudly at her. Claire, in a more tactful way, tells Mary that they need to have a talk. Mary, upset by Louise’s laughter, insist that men do not do that where she is from.

When she says she is from Seifert, Sussex, Claire suddenly remembers why the girl’s name had been familiar to her when they first met. A flashback to her and Frank and an old Bible he found in his grandmother’s attic, reveals that Mary Hawkins was the wife of Jonathan Randall, and his several times great-grandmother. Claire heads home, realizing that she had always known Randall could not have died in Wentworth, or else Frank would never have existed. She had repressed the knowledge, refusing to dwell on the connection between that evil man and her first husband (yet to be born). Now she understands that in order to ensure Frank’s existence, that Jonathan Randall would need to survive at least another year so he could father a child with Mary Hawkins.

Still agitated by these ponderings, and the knowledge she has yet to share with anyone that Randall is still alive, she returns home. A servant tells her about the numerous invitations they have received for social events that week alone and then returns a lace accessory to her. She studies it for a moment and then asks the servant where Suzette, her hand maid is, because she had given it to her to mend. The servant seems reluctant to answer and Claire finds the girl in bed with Murtagh, unashamed by their nakedness or being caught in the middle of things. Claire storms out of the girl’s room.

She is busy mending the lace herself when Murtagh finds her, hair down and his shirt hanging out of his pants. He refuses to apologize and Claire informs him that his time is his own. She is clearly upset, though, that he is not using that time to help them thwart this rebellion, especially when it is keeping Jamie out at all hours of the night. She also has a problem with him keeping her maid from her work, and makes a smart comment about it being the middle of the day. When he asks her when she became so ‘prudish’ about sex, she blows up at him, reminding him of who runs this house. She immediately regrets her words, though, and apologizes to him.

Realizing something more is going on her, he stays. She admits to him the knowledge that  Randall is still alive. He does not believe her at first, insisting that he had seen the dead body himself, but when she explains how she learned of it, he allows that it may be true. He agrees with her decision not to tell Jamie, since the first thing he would do would be to run off looking for his revenge, and end up arrested and hanged, regardless of whether he succeeded in murdering Randall that time or not. She is guilty and distraught at keeping it from Jamie, but Murtagh reminds her that it is to save his life, and that he will keep the secret with her. She thanks him and he leaves to finish his ‘business’ with Suzette. Claire asks him about birth control, but upon realizing his confusion, she determines to retrieve something for Suzette herself.

Meanwhile, at Versailles, Jamie is deep in thought and conversation with Minister Duverney over a chess board. The hall is lined with occupied chess tables, while ladies chat at benches along the side. The minister is commenting about how their funds are depleted by the war with Austria and how the King of France would be reluctant to fund another. He is more interested in chess than politics and brags about beating Jamie in three moves. Jamie comments on the connection between chess and politics, making a move that shocks the minister. He insists he will beat Jamie and there ensues a flurry of movements, the minister appearing desperate while Jamie leans back, relaxed and confident. When Jamie makes a final move, the minister does not hesitate to concede the victory and gets up, as if to leave. They shake hands and we realize it is not the first time Jamie has beaten him at this game.

Jamie tuns the conversation back to his political purposes. He reminds the minister of a promise he had made, offering assistance when Jamie needs it. The minister suggests he tries losing a game sometimes, but Jamie insists he respects him too much to do that. The minister gives him permission to respect him less. Relenting, the minister asks how he can help Jamie, and Jamie asks him to tell Prince Charles what he had just told him. As they talk, they have switched sides and are preparing for another chess match. The minister is confused by this request, but Jamie explains that it is for the good of his people. The minister explains that he cannot speak in an official capacity, but Jamie encourages it to be unofficial and in a location known for secrecy – Madame Elise’s brothel. He says he can tell his wife the truth, that he is out with Jamie, and the minister, liking this plan, turns his attention to their new chess game, bringing the metaphor of chess and politics full circle.


We see Claire again, this time in a run down part of town near Master Raymond’s. Who should be there, whispering about keeping his secrets, but the Comte who she had her run in with in the first episode of the season. Master Raymond sees that they recognize her and they have a tense exchange before the Comte slinks off with his ‘secret’ purchase. When she challenges Master Raymond about his friendliness with his enemies, he remarks that sometimes a common interest requires working with people one does not like or trust.

He brings her inside and she reveals that she is looking for something that would stop a pregnancy. Under his scrutiny, she clarifies that it is for someone else and not for her. Master Raymond is happier with this and sends his assistant to retrieve the contraceptive from his store room. As he is climbing down from his ladder, she inspects a jar of white powder and he, seeming nervous, rushes over to her to take it away. It is a poison and he admits to having it in his store, but insists that what he sells his customers is actually an impostor that causes immediate physical discomfort, but does not actually kill the person. He said that his customers attribute the recovery to spiritual or divine reasons and everyone comes out all right in the end.

Changing the subject, he shifts it back to the contraceptive and she explains that it is for her hand maid, which he finds interesting, commenting that it is usually the hand maid buying it for the lady so she can hide her affairs. Claire prides herself on being an unusual lady, but realizes that she is not so unusual anymore, that Paris has changed her. Master Raymond suggests she try using her medical skills at the charity hospital, since they are always in need of skilled healers. He comments that they depend on volunteers, and that the others are not as perceptive as her, or as much in need of helping others. Claire seems to glow at the suggestion.

Murtagh helps Claire out of the carriage at the charity hospital later that afternoon, and we see the steps crowded with dirty, plainly dressed people, scarfing down the food being handed out by the nuns at the top of the stairs. Murtagh is not impressed, so she tells him to stay with the carriage. He points out how upset Jamie is going to be when he hears about this, but she insists that he will be happy if she is. As she walks away, a beggar approaches Murtagh and he pushes him off.

Inside, the dark halls are lines with rows of sick people lying on cots. One of the workers, Sister Angelique, asks Claire if it is what she thought, and she responds that it is. Claire sees a couple of the ‘physicians’ they depend on, such as a butcher who is there expert in muscles and bones and another man who makes trusses acting as their urinoscopist. She also is introduced to Bouton (played by a cute, little terrier). She is surprised to see a dog there, but Mother Hildegarde is not far behind. Claire explains why she is there, but the Mother is skeptical of her ‘medical expertise’ and asks the Sister to find Claire something to do.

This ‘something to do’ ends up being emptying chamber pots into a large wheeled pot that she is pushing along. The Mother sees her working and continues to watch as Claire, curious as always, spies a urine sample near one woman’s bed. Wondering what the purpose of a urine sample would be during this time period before litmus paper and the like, she takes a dab on her finger and tastes it. The Mother approaches and asks if she can tell what the woman has. Claire, startled, but not shaken, asks the woman if she is thirsty. She admits she is, and always hungry, but never able to put on weight no matter how much she eats. Claire diagnoses the woman with diabetes (called ‘sugar sickness’ in that time) and informs the Mother that she will not live the month and that there is nothing they can do to save her. The Mother reports that it is the same diagnosis one of the other physicians gave earlier, and is surprised to find a woman who could diagnose like that. She sends her to assist Sister Angelique with dressing another boy’s wounds, rather than continuing with the chamber pot chore.

Over in the brothel, we glimpse a young boy moving through the crowd, pick-pocketing one of the men, unnoticed. The minister is explaining to the prince how the current situation with Austria has caused businessmen to go elsewhere to avoid tax increases. The prince claims to understand, but the minister is distracted by the woman swirling around among the tables. The prince claims he has already raised almost the full amount needed to fund the war, which stops both of the other men in their tracks. The minister, after glancing to Jamie, apologizes for misunderstanding the prince’s situation and wonders what his purpose in meeting is then. The prince brags that wealthy members of the British aristocracy believe in his father’s claim to the throne and have promised him large sums of money. He misinterprets the look on Jamie’s face as relief and awkwardly touches his face. Jamie very calmly removes his hand while covering his expression with a more appropriate one.

Prince Charles offers an alliance with France if the King agrees to fund the remainder of what he needs, after the war is won. The minister, intrigued by promises of an alliance, says he will speak with the king about it. Jamie realizes that his endeavors have failed. Thankfully, the minister insists on evidence first, which Charles readily agrees to, kissing the minister’s hand. They all celebrate the new alliance with a toast.

Jamie, upset by what he has learned, returns home to find Claire still out. He stays up, working on correspondence and the books for the business, but is clearly agitated and concerned with her lack of appearance. It is well past dark by the time she returns, excited and spilling over with stories of what she has been up to at the hospital. Murtagh complains about having to listen to her stories all the way home, and Jamie asks irritably where she has been, not turning from his papers yet. She tells him she was at the hospital, which makes him turn and wonder what had taken her there. Murtagh can sense the tension and excuses himself to get something to eat, whispering an ‘I told you so’ to her on the way out. Claire explains how they needed volunteers and about her skills being useful there. She enthuses about the Mother and the story of the urine sample and tasting it, which Jamie does not find as amusing as she does.

Claire asks him what is wrong, and that she thought he would happy for her. Instead he points out the pregnancy and all the diseases she is exposing their child to. She insists that she thought of these things and that she has no intention of treating contagious patients if they have something she is not immune too already. Jamie does not understand why she would even take that risk, and she explains about how she needed to feel useful and to have a purpose in her days. This nettles him further, as he reminds her about the rebellion they are trying to stop. He wants to know how working in the hospital is going to help them save Scotland. She asks him what he wants her to do, but the best he can come up with is that he wants her home to help him when he has a problem.

At this point he finally explains why is truly upset and how Prince Charles deceived him, too, despite all the time they had been spending together. Claire insists that the alliance between France and England will not happen for another hundred years. Jamie realizes now that Prince Charles is smarter than he had let on to Jamie, has been keeping secrets from him, and has no idea what to do next.

Trying to smooth things over, she apologizes to Jamie who has returned to his books, and begins rubbing his shoulders. She knows this was all her idea and that the work is falling squarely on his shoulders, but assures him she wants to help however she can. That is why he had come home to find her, but instead she was out ‘indulging’ herself. He pushes her hands away and returns to his writing. Not to be so easily brushed off, she walks around to the other side of his desk, facing him. She corrects him, saying it was not an ‘indulgence’, but helping people, admitting at the same time that it does make her feel good and gives her life meaning. Jamie wants to know what gives his life meaning or makes him feel good right now, while he is spending time with the prince to gain his secrets and undermine the rebellion. Ignoring her when she is clearly upset, he storms down the stairs and out of the house.

Murtagh and Suzette, who have been canoodling nearby, watch him go. He comments that he had known that would not go well, and Suzette chimes in with her knowledge of their marriage bed (which we know is not good since he is still having nightmares about Jonathan Randall whenever they grow intimate).


Back in the brothel, we see the young boy again, and this time Jamie spies him pick-pocketing the wealthy patrons. The boy is small and quick, and almost eludes Jamie in the subsequent chase through the nearby homes, but Jamie outwits him and catches him anyways. The boy threatens to tell his wife that he has been sleeping with the prostitutes if he tries to turn him in to the police, but Jamie knows Claire will not believe that. Instead, he tells the boy he will inform Madame Elise about his actions, and the boy seems genuinely scared, insisting that he does not do it every night, just those when they are very busy and the men are very drunk. Jamie expresses his interest in the boy and, after assuring the lad that he does not mean it the way the boy thought at first, offers him work. Turning the boy upside down, he shakes everything from his pockets to the ground and then tells the boy that he will not pick-pocket for anyone but him now. He lets him keep everything now spilled on the ground, except for the little wooden snake he recognizes as his own. After spying the snake and being confronted with his theft, the boy asks Jamie how much he will pay him, and their agreement is secured.

Clarie is tossing and turning in bed at home and then hears a crashing downstairs. She hurries down to investigate and, as she is wearing a very thin gown, it is possible we are starting the see the swelling of her pregnant belly. She finds the boy in the large dining room, eating a chicken leg as he props his feet up on the table. He jumps to his feet and bows, complimenting her on the size of her breasts. She pulls her robe more tightly around herself and Murtagh smacks the boy on the head, pointing out that he said the same thing to Suzette. The boy is confused, seeing it as a compliment and that the women in the brothel are usually flattered by his comments. In fact, his compliment to Suzette is how he received the chicken. Jamie, appearing in the hall outside, instructs Murtagh to take the boy upstairs where Suzette is making him a bath in the servants’ quarters and finding him something to sleep in. The boy bows again to Claire and wishes her a ‘good night’ before Murtagh whisks him away, followed by a word of caution from Jamie about guarding his sporran from the boy.

Jamie tries to walk away, but Claire asks him for clarification on the boy’s presence. We learn that the boy has been renamed ‘Fergus’, since his given name is not a masculine enough one. We also learn that he has hired him to steal the letters men carry to and from Prince Charles so they can better learn his secrets. Claire compliments him on the good plan and he simply thanks her and heads upstairs to bed.

A montage ensues, where we see Fergus pick-pocketing letters, Jamie spending time with Prince Charles who continues to spout his political rhetoric without revealing details of his plans, Claire in the hospital with Mother Hildegarde, and Jamie and Murtagh trying to piece together the parts of the rebellion from the letters and if there is actually an English conspiracy as Prince Charles claims. Staying with them, we learn that others are eavesdropping on these letters before they are, which is why the letters are in code. However, it is a code Jamie can easily break, but there is nothing substantial in the letters. One letter, though, contains a sheet of music written in German. Both of them are clearly tired, but this sheet of music catches Murtagh’s attention. Jamie suggests finding a music teacher who can also speak German, and Murtagh knows of someone, but not someone Jamie is going to like having to ask help from.

In the hospital, Claire is helping examine a patient who seems to have a secondary infection somewhere, but that they are having difficulty locating it. Mother Hildegarde brings Bouton over and instructs him to smell the patient’s mouth. He does not seem to find anything interesting there, so she asks the dog to inspect the rest of the man, warning him to be careful of the man’s broken leg. Sniffing the offending limb, Bouton immediately begins to bark. Claire protests that the wound seemed to have healed perfectly, but when Mother Hildegarde squeezes on either side of the small scab, it opens immediately with pus. Claire reopens the wound with a scalpel and we are rewarded with a view of even more pus. Using forceps, she reaches into the wound and removes the cause of the infection: a dirty, rusty nail. Mother Hidegarde is impressed over Claire’s lack of concern over the pus and blood, as well as the lack of hesitation in using the scalpel and forceps on him.

Jamie finds her there and Claire is concerned by his presence. He seems reluctant to ask for help. It is Mother Hildegarde that Murtagh has recommended he show the music to. She takes them to the piano in her quarters, but is hesitant to assist with something illegal or dangerous. Claire vouches that Jamie would not be asking if it was not important, and the Mother trusts her. Mother Hildegarde recognizes the work as she plays it as something a friend of hers had sent her recently. She is referring to Johann Sebastian Bach. Claire surprises the Mother by recognizing the name, since he is not famous and his work is not popular yet. She remarks that her friend’s work is clever, but lacks the heart. The music Jamie had brought her was a poor imitation of Bach’s work, with frequent key changes, some for no apparent reason. They realize that the key to the code in the letters is related to the key changes in the music.

Back at home, Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh pour over the notes, now that they know how to decipher the code. The deciphered letter proves that Prince Charles’ claim is real, and is signed by someone named ‘S’. While the promised 40,000 pounds is not as substantial an amount as the prince had bragged, it might still be enough to convince the minister and the king to fund the remainder of the amount needed. The author talks about being back at the end of the month to solidify the deal. At the same moment, Claire and Jamie realize that ‘S’ is most likely the Duke of Sandringham, who they have had previous dealings with. This letter reveals that he is playing both sides, protecting himself no matter who ends up winning the war. Jamie believes he can convince the duke that it is a bad investment, which would stop the rebellion as planned. Excited, he hurries into the adjoining room for some whiskey to toast with.

Murtagh whispers a reminder to her about who works for the duke, and how meeting with the duke and his assistant will open Jamie to the knowledge that Jonathan Randall is still alive. He insists that she should tell him now, before he finds out himself, but she is hesitant. When Jamie returns, though, gushing about how good it feels to have solved one of the problems they are facing, she cannot do it. They toast to Mother Hildegarde and to Claire, for being there when he needs her. Jamie catches the glance that Murtagh and Claire share, but she brushes it away and he kisses and hugs her. She shares a look over his shoulder with Murtagh, who is displeased, shaking his head.

Official 203 Claire Caitriona

Review: So far I have been thoroughly impressed by this season, as much so as last season. It is tough to see Jamie and Claire struggle with their new roles, and exciting to see if they will be able to succeed in their goal of changing what we all know to be history. I am thrilled to see how they will be interpreting the remainder of the season as we move along, but so far I think they are doing a wonderful job with catching the feel and intent of the book, even if they do make little changes to help condense the story (which is a HUGE book, as are they all – not that I’m complaining one bit).

One part I have always loved about this series is that Diana Gabaldon wanted to show a marriage through her series, not just the precursor to it. If you think through most of the shows and movies and books we see today, the marriage is the end goal. But here, we get to see a married couple struggle through life together and strive towards mutual goals. It still carries the tension and drama, but focuses on things other than their feelings towards one another. We know now how strongly they love each other- Season 1 has proven that- but here we get to see some of the tensions and misunderstandings that come with marriage. It is a tension I can relate to, and am glad to see, since even the most ‘perfect’ of pairings can experience those roller coasters of emotion. It is one of things I love about this series and am glad to see portrayed so well in the show. Of course they fight and disagree, but that has no bearing on their love for one another. I believe Diana Gabaldon’s work is really being done justice by this tv adaptation so far.

Next week’s episode, titled “La Dame Blanche,” airs April 30th on Starz.

Claire and Jamie throw an elaborate dinner party intended to derail investors in Prince Charles’ war effort.  Meanwhile, Claire’s revelation that Jack Randall is alive sparks Jamie in an unexpected way as he and Claire struggle to regain their physical intimacy.

Source (Photos and Clips): Starz

  • Carolyn Anderson

    Not liking the show this year. I have read all the books but Episode 3 fell on its face.

  • Lori

    Anne Kenney has a knack for looking at the source material and turning it at a specific angle so that it ties together and keeps us wanting more. Episode 203 has been my favorite of this season. Okay, so it’s early yet, but upon the first viewing, I wanted it to keep going. I think it is very difficult for those of us who have read the books (maybe more than once) to separate the books from the series. We have certain expectations, so we are holding the show to some pretty tough standards. That might not be the case if Diana’s books were not so authentic and detailed, but there it is. I do think the television series stands on it own and will continue to do so as this season builds. Episode 202 had some laugh out loud moments and I loved them, but all three installments have ended with Claire looking perplexed and frightened over a new dilemma. When this occurs in the books, you get to keep reading if you chose to see how it turns out. We don’t know exactly what lies ahead in the series and that’s the joy of the ride. Our beloved characters are out of sorts and out of their comfort zones, but they’ll sort it out.

    The introduction of Mother Hildegarde, Bouton, and Fergus were a delight. I think I have a crush on Marc Duret (Duverney). As with season one, the casting is phenomenal. How do they do it?
    The sets (inside and out), props, and costuming are masterpieces. It makes my head spin and I work in this industry, so I know what it takes to make these things happen. As brilliant as the actors are, a lot of praise should be heaped on the behind-the-scenes folks and the extras.
    Now…where is our Season 3 announcement?!?