The Ether Experiment

Droughtlander is finally over, and we can resume our spirited discussions and reactions to a new season of Outlander! So here are some of my thoughts about Episode One, Echoes.

Claire appears to have recovered (at least on the outside) from the attack upon her at the end of Season Five. She is back in her surgery, treating patients, and working on a process of creating ether, which will be used as an anesthetic.

It must be a labor-intensive and costly endeavor based on the intricate glass tubing and large-necked globes she’s using to create and extract what she needs. She has a small book where it appears she’s been documenting the process and procedure so that she can replicate it.

What took me aback is that she is experimenting on herself, alone. Claire is a healer, a respected and much-needed member of the residents of Fraser’s Ridge. So many depend on her! She’s been training Marsali, who knows that some of Claire’s methods are unconventional compared to what she knows from her own time, but she is devoted to Claire and willing to follow her instructions. Why wouldn’t Claire include Marsali in her experiments? It does not appear that there are side-effects that would harm Marsali or her unborn baby, if that was Claire’s reason for excluding her–she would know that from her medical training.

Why would Claire endanger herself by experimenting with such a potentially lethal drug and process? Why not experiment on a rabbit, goat, or sheep? Why is she experimenting alone, on herself, when so much could go wrong? It seems to be reckless and irresponsible behavior coming from a surgeon who knows the power of such drugs, even when they were used in the safety of a modern-day hospital setting. Jamie is witness to this when he enters Claire’s surgery and has to shake her to full consciousness. Claire seems unconcerned with what has happened, only that it worked as she documents the fact that she was unconscious for three or four minutes in her small book.

Is Claire’s experimenting a recipe for disaster? Later on in the episode, we see her use it as a means to escape the distressing flashbacks in her sleep. So, she may be healed on the outside, but there’s still a lot of inner chaos to deal with. She’s not confiding in Jamie, and she’s self-medicating to deal with the aftermath of the trauma she endured; she told him “you don’t feel anything,” which Jamie may have missed as a red flag related to Claire’s emotional well-being. He may have accepted it as a medical explanation regarding the process, but we (the viewers) see that there’s more to it.

Claire helped Jamie heal his soul after Wentworth Prison by going “into the darkness” with him. Will it take something similar to help her overcome or at least make some sort of peace with her own demons? Perhaps. Who will it be that steps in and helps the one whose mission it is to help others? My concern is that there is a huge difference between oil of lavender and ether in terms of their basic properties. Oil of lavender isn’t fatal if applied liberally to the skin. Ether, on the other hand, has the power to kill.

Image credit: STARZ

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