Outlander season 3, episode 9 recap and review: The Doldrums


Like the crew members of the Artemis, Outlander is stuck in stasis in “The Doldrums.”

Chalk it up to seasickness, I guess.

“The Doldrums” is not great. It’s not terrible or anything: it’s just forgettable. The beginning and the end of the episode are significant, but the rest of the hour could be scrapped with no issue. We needed to find out what happened to Young Ian after the end of “First Wife” and we needed to see Claire be taken hostage by the British sailors. Besides a few fun moments with our heroes, Fergus, and Fergus’ new wife, Marsali, the remainder of “The Doldrums” is pure filler.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a filler episode — all series have them — but if Outlander is going to spend an hour effectively standing still then it should be an hour like “The Wedding” or “A. Malcolm.” Those types of stories are a lot more fun than hanging out with the testy crew of the Artemis.

Let’s talk about some of the episode’s plot points:

Mutiny on the Artemis

Life at sea seems truly horrible. You’re trapped on a ship for months at a time, forced to share close quarters with dozens of other people, and don’t have access to a shower. And, per Outlander, superstition runs rampant amongst sailors — if you deviate at all from what they consider the norm, you’re going to be blamed for everything that goes wrong.

This what Claire discovers when she and Jamie set sail for Jamaica on the Artemis (not the Voyager as I’d originally assumed). Jamie is bad luck because he has red hair. Anyone who doesn’t touch the horseshoe is bad luck because the horseshoe is magic, obviously. Yi Tien Cho is bad luck because he’s not white. And Claire is bad luck because she’s a woman. But she at least could improve her position if, as the captain suggests, she walked around with her dress open. Wait, you didn’t know that “a woman’s bare breasts calms an angry sea”? Well, you’re the only one, apparently.

Thanks to her medical prowess and lack of squeamishness, Claire eventually earns the respect of the ship’s crew. But things get ugly once the wind dies down and the Artemis stops moving for weeks on end. As the food and water run out, the stir-crazy crew becomes convinced that someone did not touch The Magic Horseshoe at the beginning of the journey and that the ship is doomed until the aforementioned unlucky culprit is thrown overboard.

The Yi Tien Cho dilemma

Which brings us to the most cringe-worthy, problematic scene of the episode. Yi Tien Cho aka Mr. Willoughby (Gary Young) is the one who prevents a mutiny on the Artemis. After declining to tell Claire about his pre-Scotland life earlier in “The Doldrums,” Yi Tien Cho rings the ship’s bell, gets everyone’s attention, and finally shares his story.

Here’s the short version: In celebration of his poetry, Yi Tien Cho was asked to join the household of the emperor’s second wife, a great honor. But, in hold with tradition, he would have had to be castrated in order to serve. He refused to do that because of his great love of women, and ended up leaving China. As we’ve seen, Yi Tien Cho has not led a particularly happy life since. “The golden words of my poems are taken like the clucking of hens, and my brushstrokes for their scratchings,” he reveals about his experience in Scotland. “And the women disdain me as a yellow worm.”

Yi Tien Cho’s arc would have worked much better if it had actually been an arc, not a two-minute scene shoehorned in mid-episode. There are some interesting ideas here: the role race plays in 18th century Europe, how Yi Tien Cho’s reverence for women clashes with his anger and resentment towards the white women who reject him, and the unique hardships immigrants face. However, when those ideas are presented all at once, it feels like Outlander getting the Yi Tien Cho storyline out of the way as quickly as possible.

It’s a strange, off-putting scene and the character apparently only shares his story for the crew’s benefit, which is dangerously close to fulfilling the Magical Asian trope. Bottom line: Outlander is capable of much better. It’s disappointing that they didn’t provide more depth for Yi Tien Cho or for his storyline.

Again with this?

Um, are they seriously going to separate Claire and Jamie again? As of “The Doldrums” they have been reunited for only four episodes — and have been fighting for the last two. Really, Outlander? Are you going to rip our heroes apart every time you need a story idea?

By the end of this week’s installment, Claire has been kidnapped by a crew of redcoats with a mean case of typhoid fever. The ship’s captain is desperate to restore his sailors’ health and decides his best bet is to forcibly keep a surgeon on the vessel.

This is reminiscent of several previous Outlander plotlines. In early season 1, Dougal and Colum took Claire prisoner as Castle Leoch’s resident healer. Claire and Jamie, of course, have been separated a few times, most recently for the 20-year stretch that kicked off this season. And Young Ian was literally kidnapped by sailors last week.

I understand that series will occasionally repeat themselves either by accident or in order to achieve some deeper poetic meaning. But come on, Outlander, you’re only in your third season. Try to be a little more creative.

Next: Outlander S3E8 recap and review: First Wife


  • Considering the name of their ship, you’d think the crew members would be a little more welcoming to women, especially forceful women like Claire and Marsali.
  • Most Swoon-Worthy Line: “I know your story,” Fergus reminds Jamie. “If you were forced to marry m’lady, then I am forced to breathe. My heart, it is forced to beat.”
  • Judging from his success with acupuncture, I guess Jamie’s not afraid of needles anymore. Or at least he prefers needles in his face to seasickness.
  • I’m no Brianna fan, but I’m glad that Claire confesses that she misses her daughter “terribly.” It would be weird if she never mentioned Bree or expressed regret about leaving her.
  • With his bright eyes and quick wit and her intelligence and sharp tongue, Fergus and Marsali’s relationship parallels Jamie and Claire’s in an organic, non-annoying way (unlike Bree and Roger). Marsali’s dressing-down of Claire is particularly fun: “You drop out of the clear blue sky, sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, ruining my family, and now you’re minding your own business?”
  • Also, Fergus and Marsali are the saving grace of the Yi Tien Cho scene: “What’s a eunuch?” “I’ll tell you later.”
  • Why exactly did Yi Tien Cho’s story calm the angry mob? Were they just distracted enough to forget their troubles for a moment or did Yi Tien Cho remind them that — because they all enjoy objectifying women’s bodies — they really aren’t so different after all? (Which, ugh.) Either way, that scene really is a mess.
  • Biggest Surprise of the Episode: Claire’s hair has grey streaks again. And here I thought Outlander was going to have selective memory about our heroes’ actual ages.