Outlander: ‘The Bakra’


(Original post at The National Student)

The Bakra begins with a change in perspective, as we’re shown exactly what’s happened to Young Ian since his kidnapping. After a long journey as captive to the Portuguese pirates, Ian is taken to see the Bakra, who is supposedly the rightful owner of the treasure Jamie was looking for.

The Bakra is revealed to be none other than Geillis Duncan, the mysterious time-traveller who was supposedly burned at the stake back in the first season.

Geillis was always rather dramatic, and makes her entrance by stepping out a bath of goat blood. It’s creepy, brilliant, and a oneway ticket to a yeast infection.

Geillis interrogates Ian about a sapphire that’s missing from the treasure, which Jamie gave to Lord John Grey following his search for Claire. After plying him with suspicious truth-inducing tea, Ian reveals Jamie’s identity to Geillis and Geillis sexually assaults him.

It’s a pretty explosive opening scene, and the rest of The Bakra is just as action-packed. Back at sea, the Artemis finally arrives in Jamaica, and Jamie and Claire set out in search of their missing nephew. The Frasers encounter the servant of Jamie’s uncle, who offers to help their quest and gets them an invitation to the Governor’s ball.

Claire and Jamie search the slave markets for Young Ian but find no trace of him. What they do discover is the horrifying extent of the slave trade, depicted in visceral detail. Claire is disgusted, and ends up attacking a slaver after seeing his mistreatment of a man named Temeraire.

In attempt to help the man, Jamie buys Temeraire in Claire’s name. Claire wants to free him as quickly as possible, but they resolve to do so in a place where Temeraire will not instantly be recaptured.

The slave market scene is an infamous moment in Outlander’s source material, Diana Gabaldon’s book Voyager. The show has done a decent job of transforming some problematic elements of the books, but the representation of race in Outlander is far from perfect.

Seeing Claire as a slave owner, no matter how well-intentioned she might be, is deeply uncomfortable. Temeraire’s plot is a method of exposition, in which his true purpose is to later deliver information about Geillis rather than stand out as his own character.

Sadly, no space is made in Outlander’s narrative where a nuanced discussion of colonialism might be had.

At the ball, Jamie and Claire encounter the new Governor of Jamaica, who is revealed to be Lord John Grey. He’s delighted to see Jamie, who he’s very much still in love with. David Berry is potentially the highlight of season three; he conveys Lord John’s longing and jealousy without saying a word.

Claire senses the intimacy between Jamie and Lord John, who reminisce about Willie and their time at Ardsmuir. Although things aren’t exactly friendly between her and Lord John, Claire is grateful to him for his defence of her virtue back when he was a teenager.

Claire’s chat with Lord John is interrupted by the presence of Geillis, who’s also attending the ball. She follows her fellow time-traveller outside, and Geillis reveals to Claire how Dougal MacKenzie helped her fake her own death.

Claire thanks Geillis for saving her life, and reintroduces her to Jamie and Lord John. Geillis notices the sapphire brooch that Lord John wears, a token he made to remind him of his ‘friendship’ with Jamie.

Geillis uses Margaret Campbell, the unwell seer that Claire treated back in Edinburgh, to trick Lord John into placing his brooch in her hand. Geillis needs the three sapphires to hear Margaret’s reading, which foretells the rise of the next Scottish king.

Sure enough, Margaret predicts that the next Scottish king will be born on the same day that a two-hundred-year-old baby dies. Geillis can’t make sense of it, but the prophecy is sure to involve the Frasers (or their offspring) somehow…

Geillis flees the ball, and Captain Leonard’s men arrive in search of Jamie. Temeraire reveals that Geillis is holding Young Ian prisoner, and the Frasers escort him to a safer place to free him. Jamie has just enough time to give Claire the pictures of their children before he is found and arrested by Captain Leonard.

The Bakra is a whirlwind, having lost the sprawling elements of previous instalments. The episode is crammed with plot details and feels more tightly focused, if a little bonkers.

I suspect the larger than life nature of this episode will be divisive, but it’s a very entertaining hour of television.

With the return of Geillis Duncan, The Bakra also provides Outlander with what it’s been missing since the death of Black Jack Randall- a compelling villain. If Geillis remains as delightfully unhinged next week as she was in The Bakra, the season three finale is sure to be explosive.


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