The McKenzie enigma (it’s your turn, Mr. McTavish)

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I am extremely glad not to have read Outlander books for a reason: I don’t know what to expect when I watch the series. Especially, I don’t know what to expect of my favourite character, Dougal McKenzie.

Dougal is, what I call, a white character with infinite shades of grey. I feel attracted also by the purely evil characters, but the white-greyish ones are absolutely those more appealing. When they appear within the lines of the book you’re reading or in the film or tv movie you’re watching, to quote over-quoted line of Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re gonna get. 

Dougal McKenzie is a leader, it is clear since the first frame: respected by his men, intelligent, decision-maker. But, despite all his qualities, he’s not the laird, but his elder brother who, in Claire’s words, lives borrowed years, as he suffers a very serious sickness. Nevertheless, Colum (I knew I saw Gary Lewis elsewhere… he was Billy Elliot’s father!!!!), like Dougal, is also a leader, and the clash within the brothers is evident to the cunning Claire since she arrives (or rather, returns) to their castle.

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Dougal listens carefully to his brother

During those first days in their castle Dougal clashes not only with his brother, but also with Claire. He’s trapped between two feelings: he knows, as Black Jack Randall does, that Claire is lying regarding her sudden appearance in his lands, but, on the other hand, he feels attracted to her.

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In a first moment the leader overcomes the man: Dougal thinks that Claire is an English spy and gives orders to his men not to leave her alone for a moment, and, when Colum decides not to let her go back to Inverness (most probably on Dougal’s advice) she perceives him as a jailer.

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Deep thinking under that majestical brow

As I mentioned in my previous post on this series, if chapter six is the one of Captain Randall’s “revelation”, chapter four is the one of Dougal’s. He has to swear fidelity to the lair, his brother. And, once more, there’s a fierce battle inside his heart: he is sure that he could be a better lair than his brother, even a better father, but the blood, the family ties and his honour forbids him to oppose his brother in a direct way. That ceremony is not a sweet draught at all for Dougal, and he drinks hard, trying to forget or at least, to make that ceremony hurt a little bit less.

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a sour draught
The oath is a soar draught for Dougal

Right after the oath, Dougal finds some men trying to rape Claire when she is escaping from the castle. Of course, the laird’s brother cannot admit a clan’s guest to be molested and Dougal rightfully kicks their asses off. But once they go this time is the man, weakened by the alcohol, who overcome the leader, and when she wants to go away, he grasps her. Dougal is not attacking her as those men wanted to do, he just surrenders to Claire, embraces her, bending his head, hiding himself behind her, and saying, with all his body I just can’t stand it.

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Dougal surrenders

But after she refuses him he lets her go. He could force her if he wanted to but that’s not the way he would want a woman that not only desires, but that after the hunt of the following he also admires. One of his men is seriously hurt by the wild boar. In a heartbreaking scene, Dougal cuddles with tenderness the dying man in his arms, while Claire, who has seen during the war many men die and knows how to ease their passing, asks the wounded, Geordie, to describe his home.

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After Geordie’s death they return to the castle, defeated and frustrated. Dougal gives vent to his frustration playing with the other men of the clan, including his nephew Jamie, a hard-blows-allowed version of grass hockey. During that game, with the excuse of hitting the ball, Dougal has the chance to shake a little Jamie, who is his nephew, but also an obstacle.

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The day after Dougal feels the need of thanking Claire for what she did for Geordie, and makes her the proposal, or rather, a veiled order, to accompany him and other kinsmen to a tax collecting tour in the clan’s lands.

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During the course of that trip Claire sees Dougal first like a mobster cashing bribes, to realise afterwards that the money was needed to gather an army to fight the English during the Jacobite rebellion. Afterwards, the unplesant meeting with Captain Randall takes place and when finally Dougal and Claire manage to leave he makes her a proposal: according to the laws she can’t be summoned again by Randall the following day if she’s not longer an English subject, but Scottish, and the only way of becoming such is marrying one. When Claire asks Dougal if she would have to marry him, Dougal says a sentence that has passed already to the story of tv:

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Well, I must admit, that the idea of grinding your corn does tickle me, but it’s not myself whom I’ve nominated for the position

And here is where the McKenzie enigma reaches its peak. Most probably Claire would have accepted him in the end (although it would have taken her a little longer… silly lass) but instead Dougal proposes his nephew. And, moreover, in the “wedding chapter” Dougal insists on a sometimes apparently reluctant Jamie to accept the deal. Why? Not having read the books, I can only guess… Loyalty to the family.. to protect not only Claire but also Jamie? I hope to have the answer to the many questions raised by the Mc Kenzie enigma next April.

After all this talk about the character, what about the performance? I have defined Mr. McTavish’s work with these adjectives in a comment to the previous post:

 Majestical. Posed. Elegant. Efficient. Credible.

And also, incredibly attractive. I wouldn’t mind Mr. McTavish grinding my corn. Metaphorically, of course…

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… or not?

PS… Thank you!

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9 thoughts on “The McKenzie enigma (it’s your turn, Mr. McTavish)

  1. Thanks for this — I won’t be able to see it until it shows up on Netflix or something, but this really made me want to.

  2. Graham is just the nicest surprise for me in the series. He is just gorgeous and beyond that he has turned Dougal into this multi layered character. Love him love the show.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Indeed I think he is! I’d love to see more scenes with Tobias Menzies, those few minutes of confrontation during Claire’s “rescue” were awesome.

  3. I first read the books in the 1990’s and have been waiting for 20 years for this story to be brought to the screen. All of the thought-provoking aspects of the Dougal character that you have mentioned are in the book, but I don’t remember him being as compelling as he is in the series. Maybe I was too dazzled with Jamie to notice, but I think Graham McTavish has brought much more to the character for me than I remembered from the books. This time around, I’m almost as intrigued and attracted by Dougal as I am by Jamie!

    1. Thank you for your comment! Most of times the transcription of beloved books into film becomes a complete disaster, but I’ve heard many positive comments about the way Outlander has been adapted to tv. And, if the casting choices are right we can have the most difficult thing to obtain, a character more appealing in screen than in the book!

  4. I agree with Jholland–the series allows much more scope for Dougal to shine. In the book, he is a complicated and not very sympathetic character, as I recall, but I was more interested in Colum.

  5. You don’t need the books, your questions are answered by the shows already aired. While they’ve chosen not to mention one fairly important little detail about Dougal for some unknown reason, his primary motivations for the wedding are shown clearly. Claire has seen him commit treason, and her testimony to Randall would condemn him. “She took a few blows from Randall and kept silent”. Can’t give her to Randall. His nephew is an obstacle to his claim on the leadership of the clan. Married to an Englishwoman, one whose origins and loyalties are suspect, Jamie is no longer acceptable as Laird, and no longer a threat to his power. Not exactly altruistic motives, but coldly logical. The fact that he hopes to get a piece of Claire for himself if he keeps her around is just a bonus. But, having read the books, I have to wonder where he would find the time. Mr. McTavish has done a brilliant job of making Dougal mysterious, multi-faceted and likable, but his greatest achievement in acting this role has been, to my mind, his success in making people believe he was saving Claire, and not his own ass.

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