“I just love seeing you so happy.”
Full spoilers for Outlander: Season 2 continue below.
Tensions are running high between Claire and Jamie as their deception in France continues. Outlander does a good job conveying to the audience just how much time is passing by emphasizing the growth of Claire’s baby bump, and it’s clear that they’ve been in Paris for a while by the time tensions reach their boiling point.
Jamie is exhausted from trying to keep up with Bonnie Prince Charlie and also stay one step ahead of him. While “Useful Occupations and Deceptions” is mostly Claire’s episode, it follows Jamie as he returns late from brothel outings with Charles Stuart and leaves early to try to undermine Charles’ Stuart restoration plans within the French court.
While he’s off doing that, Claire is doing her best to live in French society, but ultimately she is a bit bored by the things that keep Louise de Rohan entertained. These scenes are fun, but not as sharp as they were last episode, only serving to underline Claire’s unhappiness and lead her to the reveal of Mary Hawkins’ importance in her life.
Claire recognized Mary’s name on their first encounter because she is the woman who eventually married Black Jack Randall and started Frank’s bloodline. This further complicates Claire’s dedication to Frank (and even gives us a nice flashback of the two of them) because she doesn’t want to do something in the past that would prevent him from being born.
In many ways, Claire is torn between her two husbands, and that inner frustration boils over when she snaps at Murtagh at one point. In explaining why she is so run ragged, she tells him about Black Jack being alive, stacking one more secret between her and Jamie.
A trip to Master Raymond for a birth control method not only shows the Comte St. Germain acting suspicious, but also introduces Claire to the best part of this episode: L’Hôpital des Anges. There she meets fan-favorites Mother Hildegarde (played by the exceptional Frances de la Tour) and Bouton, and finds new purpose in her life by working in the charity hospital until late and doing what she does best: helping people.
Meanwhile, Jamie’s deceptions reach a frustrating interruption when Charles reveals he’s secured the necessary funds for his campaign. He comes home and takes his anger out on Claire, but this fight lacks the heat it needs. Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe have great chemistry both in passion and anger, but there’s not as much bite in his interaction to support the disconnect we’ve seen growing between the two of them. Jamie is run ragged by his politicking and makes a good point that he doesn’t get the relief she is getting from her work, but Outlander doesn’t do a great job of playing up either side’s alternate justification and selfishness.
Fortunately they come back together on the same side quickly when Jamie enlists the help of another book fan-favorite, a young pickpocket named Fergus, to help him steal key letters and documents to try to stay ahead of Charles’ plans. (He also brings Fergus into their home, which only leads to good things later.) Through Fergus, Claire and Jamie find proof that the English conspirators are real, but that Charles was exaggerating about how many funds he has, hoping to get more investors to actually get him to the point where he can start a Stuart restoration.
More interestingly, it’s revealed that the Duke of Sandringham is playing both sides of the restoration campaign, which once again brings Claire back to her Black Jack pickle. Does she just tell Jamie? Outlander is trying to sell us on the fact that Jamie is still so damaged from the abuse before and that Claire is too concerned with Frank’s future for her to tell this key information to her husband, but it’s still so frustrating to see this situation clearly heading toward disaster.
Beyond Claire’s trip to L’Hôpital des Anges, Outlander gets into the fun of Season 2 with the spying at the end of the episode. The show isn’t taking as much time getting through the plot as it did in Season 1, but it’s easy to get the sensation that it’s dancing around the juicy material while not diving right into it. Fortunately the parts of the season that are working are working well, and overall it’s an improvement from the already pretty great Season 1.