This episode’s actual title was “The Doldrums,” and while that is accurate, I think maybe they needed a little power-of-persuasion and should’ve called it “The Thrilling, Action-Packed Dance of the Wind Sprites.” Because an hour about people going nowhere feels… awfully like going nowhere, and one look at the name tipped its hand. The mercy of it is that we can recap it fairly quickly.
Grievously, we’ve been denied Jenny’s incandescent rage at the prospect of Young Ian being kidnapped while on Jamie’s treasure-hunting mission. And Jenny herself has been robbed of that, because Jamie decided to send off a letter, justifying not telling her in person by saying they can get moving quicker (uh-huh) and that this way she doesn’t even need to worry for a while until she gets the letter (right), so she can slumber longer in blissful ignorance of the Dread Pirate Roberts (sure). On Jenny’s behalf, I think not letting her tear a strip off Jamie is mean, even just from a therapeutic standpoint. The good news is, if Ian plays his cards right, he’ll come out of this a stellar swordsman with a sexy mask and handsome watercraft all his own.
Jamie has gotten them passage on a cargo ship called the Artemis by agreeing to work as its Supercargo.
Who’s master of the goodies
and open to casual browsers?
Supercargo’s his name, and junk is his game
Both in the hold and in his trousers.
Supercargo is joined by his two rogueish friends from Edinburgh. I realize this show isn’t as powerful if everyone stays alive, but it’s awfully weird to have them kill off Rupert/Eyepatch and his little friend Angus, only to replace them with a discount Little and Large duo that has the same vibe. I am never going to love anyone like I loved Eyepatch and Angus, so could we at least embrace a different archetype? ANYHOO: The harbor master has consulted with the Whatevers and learned that the only three-masted ship that’s been around is a Portuguese vessel, the Bruja, that lives in Jamaica. Jamie reckons it was so low to the water that it must be full and on its way home, and so a plan is laid. They all celebrate that a lad as strapping and bonny as Young Ian could fetch 30 pounds on the open human-trafficking market, meaning that no matter what the Dread Pirate Roberts says, he most likely will NOT kill Ian in the morning.
WHO’LL FETCH A HANDSOME BOUNTY
WHY, YOUNG IAN WILL, HOORAY!
WOULD IT BE MORE IF THEY KNEW I GOT MOUNTY
WITH A REAL BREATHING LADY WHO KNOWS I HAVE THE POWER OF A WOLF IN MY PANTS? MAYBE? NEGOTIATE! IAN!!!!!!
Jamie blames himself for being greedy: going after treasure to pay off Laoghaire so that he could be with Claire. He thinks God is punishing him, although Claire quickly pooh-poohs that notion. She will not, however, give him comfort where they are concerned. Jamie says she is IT for him, but that if she truly wants to leave, he’ll take her to the stones himself. Claire sidesteps this by saying Young Ian is all that matters now, which conveniently buys her some time to have a change of heart.
Willoughby is aboard the Artemis, because that poor guy REALLY wants to be on a ship again after nearly dying when he sailed from China. Anytime he’s about to show up, a mystical-sounding riff on a Chinese flute plays. Remember on Days of our Lives how the evil Stefano DiMera had a theme song? It’s like that, except vaguely racist. Willoughby spends much of his time using water to paint Chinese characters on the ship’s deck. He tells Claire it’s his poetry, and he’s into the ephemeral nature of it all: getting it out there and then letting it go. He’s also writing his life’s story down on a scroll, but he’s not ready to tell it yet, because he isn’t ready to release it from himself and himself from it. I’m telling you all that now because, let’s be honest, I got halfway through writing the summary and then realized I needed to do some restructuring. But if you read all that and inferred that Story Hour is nigh, you are RIGHT.
The framework here is: Stuff goes wrong on the boat to the West Indies. They make Claire a bit rude just for the sake of exposition and having a dissenting voice. She gets on the ship and eye-rolls and harrumphs when all the sailors are hugely superstitious, insisting upon touching a horseshoe before they set sail, speaking to redheads before the redheads address them (somehow Jamie is the only one), and distrusting the presence of a dastardly woman. It seems unlikely to me that the mere concept of nautical superstitions would make Claire scoff so much, especially given that a belief in such is not uncommon in the 1960s — besides which she has played into a White Witch myth AND TIME-TRAVELED THROUGH A BUNCH OF MAGIC ROCKS. If anyone on that boat knows that cosmic juju is real, it’s Claire.
Claire and the captain get into a bunch of arguments about this, including one in which the captain haughtily informs her that as a lady, tradition and legend dictates that she OUGHT to be standing bare-breasted on the deck to protect them all. He gives her a pass because the figurehead has exposed ladyparts, but I’m beginning to understand all this now: Superstitions are made by jerks. You have a bunch of cranky, boozing, rank, scurvy sailors on a ship for an immense length of time; of COURSE you tell them that any woman you run across OWES IT TO YOUR SAFETY to take off her shirt and stand around letting the wind whip her nipples. Of COURSE that is seafaring legend. They would NEVER invent one that involved a man tying his junk to the mast for three moon cycles, or commanding each man to piss in a rum jug at dawn and then drink it to ward off evil. Claire is like, “Whatever you old perv,” but he insists that it doesn’t matter whether any of it’s true. What matters is that people believe it. That man grew up to be L. Ron Hubbard.
And of course, things start going wrong, ending in the ship cruising into a doldrums — a term for low-pressure areas where all winds go to die, stranding ships for lengthy periods of time. Which, in an era without Coast Guards and motors and radios, is catastrophic. It descends into mayhem. Line snap! The water supply gets tainted by their plumbing (while Claire and Jamie and the Captain still enjoy wonderful gourmet-looking meals). Dental floss? GONE! WiFi signal? NOTHING! NOW THEY WILL NEVER FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS ON STRANGER THINGS. So the entire crew starts hunting for the traitor they think didn’t touch the horseshoe, thus consigning them to a watery grave. Claire thinks this is so dumb that she wonders aloud why they can’t all just touch it now, again, and be done with it. Fortunately no one says YOUR BREASTS ARE ALL THAT CAN SAVE US and instead they just scoff that it’s too late and they’ve already enraged the gods.
So instead, they pick on NotAngus, who starts to stress out so hard that he can no longer remember WHAT he has touched recently. As they clamor for him to be tossed overboard by the captain — Jamie fights this — Angus crawls down the neck of an ale bottle that may or may not also have waste matter in it, and climbs up one of the sails, where he perches and drunkenly announces over and over again that he clearly caused all this and really truly will jump rather than let them suffer his ill-luck.
Any minute now I’ll dive off this thin mast.
Then you shall be rid of me at last.
There’ll be no more curse
No grudges to nurse
And you’ll have one less man in the cast.
No really! I’m going off right now!
You’ll be rid of this sack on your prow!
Don’t tell me to stop
I’m gonna drop
In just one second, you’ll be like, ‘WOW.’
But first can I just say O WOE
I AM REALLY THE WORST, AND IT SHOWS!
You mustn’t intevene
With this sad death scene.
Even if you want to, please just let me go.
Okay this is it I shall die.
Sliding off will be easy as pie.
Here we go, one leg off,
Now the other I shall doff
From this pole where I oh thank God Jamie seriously how fucking many more verses did I need.
Even Javert is like, “Dude, either shit or get off the props.”
Jamie drags NotAngus to safety, and the entire boat is enraged. Things are getting uglier than Marsali’s attitude. Just then, Willoughby’s finely tuned MegaDoppler notices a bird flying close to the water, and he knows this means that the wind will soon return. So he rings the bell to get everyone’s attention.
There once was a man named Willoughby
Whose prose is so florid and pillowy.
He’ll tell you his tales
While you’re all stuck a-sail
Then the wind will kick up cool and billowy.
This is exactly what happens. He buys them time until the wind returns, and he does so by SOMEHOW getting an entire ship full of ragey stankpiles to quiet down and listen to him talk about how hot women are and how pissed he is that he can’t get any. Apparently he was a writer whose skill with the quill was undeniable; it drew the attention of the Emperor’s second wife, but in order to be in her loyal service, he had to consent to being a eunuch or be executed. Unfortunately for Willoughby, his parts had just been awakened by the divine bloom of the female form “like lotus flowers! The taste of their BREASTS, like APRICOTS. The scent of a NAVEL in the WINTER. The WARMTH of a MOUND that FILLS YOUR HAND LIKE A RIPE PEACH.” This is the weirdest soft-core fruit porn ever.
He continues, though, because he’s really into his own words. He escaped to Scotland — only to find it peopled with crude, boorish mutt-women (“coarse as BEARS”) who aren’t impressed with his rhymes, don’t realize they could accept delivery of a supernaturally gifted man-scroll, and “regard me as a yellow worm, so that even the lowest of whores will not lie with me?!?” While discriminating against him for his ethnic differences is gross even if it’s also apt for the time, I feel like maybe – just maybe — if he stopped trying to sneak free licks of prostitutes’ elbow pits, or ranking his prozzies high to low, or implying that they should be grateful to shag anyone who can rub two syllables together, their wrong-headed notions of him would have better odds of erosion.
Finally, his yawps of impotence complete, Willoughby soberly notes that in choosing his manhood, he has lost everything else: honor, country, and mound. “Sometimes I think,” he sighs, “not worth it.” Then he stands up and hurls his life story into the sea. The winds pick up the pages and signal to everyone that they can set sail again. I don’t dislike Willoughby, and the actor gave that his all, but it would’ve amused me if that bit of grandstanding — it was eternal — was not timed so perfectly, and instead the sails started flapping before he emotionally climaxed.
Also on board: Fergus. And he’s brought with him a stowaway in the form of Marsali, Jamie’s stepdaughter and Fergus’s new wife. Well, okay, it was just via handfasting, and they haven’t consummated yet because the opportunity hasn’t presented itself — I mean, because of course they want Jamie’s blessing. But they’re very excited to be off having sex on the high seas… uh, I mean, helping locate Young Ian. I gather he and Marsali couldn’t bear to be apart, even though she appears to have the personality of a plantar’s wart and is half his age. For real, didn’t we peg Fergus as 29 or 30? And we believe Marsali to be 16? I get what she sees in Fergus — he’s French, he’s hot, he clearly knows his way around a honeypot, and he represents adventure — but I am not entirely sure why or when Fergus grew so attached to Marsali. Firstly, if he met her around when Jamie married Laoghaire, she’d have been 13 or 14. She’s barely older than that now, and she’s a pill who believes his beloved milady to be a supernatural witchy hooooooooor.
I hate the way you snap at her with your mother’s angry teeth.
I hate the way you wear your skirts with all those underclothes beneath.
I hate that we are on this boat with no sign of a bath
I hate that you will spend this time bathing only in your wrath.
I hate that you were an infant when I was losing my V,
It’s kind of gross to think about that much, actually.
I hate how you talk to milady
Because she’s a goddess brave and fair.
But most of all I want to have sex with you
Because I love you suddenly, because you are female, and because you are there.
Both Fergus and Marsali make impassioned pleas to Jamie to accept them, but he seems to have a hard time believing Fergus would ever want to commit to Marsali. I know he’s being protective of her virtue and he’s afraid Fergus is fickle, but it also comes across like she’s the Ann Veal of Scotland and he’s confident she’s truly forgettable, and that Fergus — WHO IS THIRTY NOW and older than Jamie was when he pledged his eternal wangvotion to Claire — will not be able to resist the lure of better ladyfolk. Fergus points out that, yes, while he’s supped on many a filly’s baby back ribs, he’s been wicked chaste since committing to Marsali. He says their courtship began “last August,” and if Claire came through the stones shortly after Christmas, do we think it’s… January? “Last August” could be four mere months ago (as later implied by Jamie when he refers to it simply as “since August”). WhAT AN ETERNITY. HOW DID HIS BAGUETTE NOT CRUMBLE FROM STALENESS AND MOLD.
Jamie is aghast and insists the ship dump her in another port so she can return home, but Marsali says she’ll tell everyone that Fergus bedded her: “I’ll either be married, or ruined.” She gives him the MOST smug look here, too. She really is Laoghaire’s daughter. Unfortunately she and Fergus have the chemistry of a lamp and a salt-shaker. Still, Jamie refuses to let them share quarters, so to everyone’s collective horror, he announces that he’ll bunk with Fergus and let Claire and Marsali pair up. This does not go well. Marsali’s attempts to suck up to Claire, in the event that she might sway Jamie, are transparent; when Claire calls her out on it, Marsali executes a perfect backward three-and-a-half pike into her favorite well of insults:
There was a white witch so impure
Her presence I could not endure
She stole my stepdad
My mum’s gone quite mad
And she’s generally a sick twisted hooooooooooorrrrrrrr
Nothing works. Even when Fergus makes clear to Marsali that he’s no virgin, and she’s all, “No big deal, I hope I won’t be much longer either,” Jamie won’t budge. Because that is the theme of this episode: nobody moves.
And yet the stillness benefits Jamie and Claire. It’s the first time since her return that they’ve had nothing to do but, well, each other. They’ve nothing to do but wait, and think, and talk, and be, and nowhere to hide. And the frost between them thaws and is replaced by a playful banter and lots of ship-side cuddling. Jamie starts the voyage hurling into a bucket, because he’s seasick — Jamie, I feel you, son — but then Willoughby teases him that the only cure for that is castration. And then one day, after Jamie mysteriously feels better, Claire comes upon Willoughby slowly sawing off one of Jamie’s testicles. No, not really. He’s been giving Jamie secret acupuncture. And it’s working. Because this improves Jamie’s mood considerably, he and Claire get to giggling through the ship’s halls and eventually engage in a mighty daytime pounding in her chambers. Later, as they somehow lie alone on this crowded ship of fools, they agree that their magic connection is forever, and he fawns over the silver streaks that are now shooting through her dark hair.
Their bliss is short-lived, because no sooner are they on their way than a British vessel boards them. The very young acting captain informs them all that the ship has been stricken with plague, which presumably he has thoughtfully delivered to them now as well, and they need a doctor because guess whom the plague killed? Right. Claire does a little digging and determines that they have typhoid, which she can’t catch, so she agrees to canoe on over to the fetid death barge and fix it all up. This involves telling them to boil all their water, hose off the sick, let them dry off above decks, and then… hope some of them don’t die. I gather it’s not fixable and she’s just trying to stave off further contamination. But if you have ever watched TV before, you know that our hero on one ship and our heroine on another does not bode well: The young captain engages in CHICANERY and sets sail with Claire aboard. He promises they’re both going to Jamaica, that he has contacted the ship to say that Her Majesty’s Navy guarantees Claire safety until they reunite, and that he just needs her help more than they do right now because he’s an oily teenager and she’s basically the only mom he could find. So now Claire and Jamie are separated without a way to communicate, they only managed to have ONE sexy-time romp that we know of before their parting, AND MARSALI SCORED OWN ROOM. The horror.