It's late because of the holiday, but I'm determined not to miss a week! Last week, on Outlander, Castle Leoch hosts the first Gathering of the MacKenzies in 30 years, giving Claire a real opportunity to escape back to Craigh na Dun.

Spoilers ahead!

I'm going to come out and say it - Claire is one of the best heroines on TV. She is not one to sit around and wait for something to happen. We see she has spent several weeks preparing and identifying her escape route. (The voice-over was a bit much this episode, but at least we got to hear Caitriona Balfe say "reconnoiter" like a boss.) The Gathering and its attendant activities like boar hunting give her the perfect excuse to gather provisions and supplies, and even pick out a horse.

Did anyone catch the cameos in this episode, by the way? Diana Gabaldon's Scottish accent was passable, and Ronald D. Moore looks nice in dark blue.

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So, how does it go? Well, Geillis Duncan suspects something straightaway, but still seems to be focused on her own machinations, not on outing Claire. Otherwise, Claire successfully fools, drugs, or knocks out anyone in her way during her flight from the castle.

Let's stop and take a moment to appreciate Stephen Walters, who plays Angus Mhor, one of Claire's shadows. He's the best part of this episode. And, fortunately for Claire, he doesn't know what "sedative" means.

Ok, everybody good? Good.

Claire chooses her moment of escape correctly - everyone is in the castle watching the oath-taking, in which all of the MacKenzies swear fealty to Colum, their laird. Well, almost. Aside from the drunken ruffians in the corridor (Dougal included), Claire is stopped by Leoghaire on her way out. Leoghaire wants a love potion to use on Jamie. She's so earnest and sweet, I can't stand it - she doesn't just want to snog Jamie, she wants to move his heart. Claire takes pity on the girl and helps her. Well, I say "helps" - I don't think the love dust she gives Leoghaire will turn any lad's heart, just his nose.

Unless he sleeps in the stables and smells it all the time, of course, in which case it will do no harm. But I have this desperately sad vision of Leoghaire clicking her heels together outside the stables and saying "there's no place like love" with her eyes closed tight. (Balfe's expression as Claire decides to help Leoghaire is just so beautifully Claire, I'm giddy all over again at the casting choice.)

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Claire helps Leoghaire, then continues on her way to the stables to find her horse, where she literally stumbles upon Jamie. (So that's where he's been!) He pokes a big sentry-sized hole in her plans, and teases her for her daring escape, until he realizes how much it means to her. She is genuinely heartbroken. All of that planning, all of that stockpiling of supplies and mashing valerian root sedatives and putting ribbons on trees, shot to hell.

Jamie takes pity on her and offers her what little comfort he can, under the circumstances. "Sassenach" turns into a sort of pet name for her, rather than an insult. Jamie also offers to take her back up to the castle. When she tells him about her hallway encounter(s), we see Jamie drop his characteristic charm for something darker: He goes still, his eyes turn cold, and his voice gets soft with menace. Until Claire breaks the tension by admitting she may have knocked Dougal out with a chair or something.

Jamie, instead of taking Claire back to the castle, guides her to a secret tunnel - he's decided to help her escape. Unfortunately, some clansmen find them and force them back to the castle before Claire can escape. This turns out just as bad for Jamie as for Claire, though...

Jamie, it turns out, was avoiding the Gathering because he didn't want to be forced into the position of either taking the oath, or declining to take the oath. If he swears loyalty to Colum, then he becomes a legitimate contender to be the next laird, and Dougal and his supporters will most likely kill him in the morning. If he refuses to swear loyalty to Colum, a betrayal of his blood and kin, then the clansmen will most likely kill him in the morning. Balancing between a rock and a hard place, Jamie "I Am Ready" NotMcTavish decides to swear obedience to Colum, but not the oath of fealty. He dances between the blades of Colum's and Dougal's clansmen, and comes out unscratched.

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Color Claire impressed - after this drama, she and Jamie have one of those looking-at-each-other-when-the-other-isn't-looking things.

Finally, what's a Gathering without a nice boar hunt? It's less deadly, is what it is. Claire tags along when Dougal and a bunch of men go hunting in the woods. (Just stay away from the strongwine, people!) Claire, inexplicably not mounted on the horse she is leading beside her while frightened wild pigs are galavanting about, treats a leg wound before hearing an anguished scream from elsewhere in the wood. Poor Geordie, gored in leg and abdomen, doesn't have a prayer. Dougal and Claire do what they can to ease his passing. Claire has clearly had too much experience helping dying strangers find peace as their lifeblood seeps into the ground.

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Dougal and Claire have a bit of a bonding moment over Geordie's death. He has decided to take her with him on his quarterly journey to gather rents from the MacKenzie tenants. It's not clear why Dougal wants her on the trip, and I'm a bit suspicious of his motives, but at least Claire's getting out of Leoch, and hopefully closer to the standing stones, and her return to 1945.

Can you believe we're already halfway through this 8-episode run? This makes me sad. I believe the second 8 episodes are going to air sometime in 2015. But, we should see some interesting new goings-on now that the gang have all left Leoch!

Memorable Quotes:

"Je suis prest" - Jamie (or whoever dubbed Jamie's voice)

"I hope you left a good mark so he remembers his error in judgement." - Jamie

Claire: "It's a sedative." Angus: "Is that Spanish?"

Historical sidenote:

At the Gathering, the MacKenzies play shinty, or camanachd. This game originated in 17th century Scotland, but shares common origins with Ireland's hurling. It is still played today and in fact, many of the people playing in the episode are professional shinty players. Some informal sources I read indicated that hockey in North America came about because they started playing shinty on ice in the winter.

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[Refs.: Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition. Q1 2014, p1-1. 1p.; Camanachd Association]