- Outlander -9 Reasons Why Geillis Duncan Was 'Outlander's Ultimate Villain
Black Jack Randall was a sadist. Stephen Bonnet was a sociopath. Lionel Brown was an ignorant brute. Though Outlander's most fascinating villain, Geillis Duncan, can also be summed up in a few words ("narcissistic zealot" comes to mind), doing so would be a major disservice.
Like Black Jack, Bonnet, and Lionel, Geillis was a murderous psychopath who caused deep trauma for the Fraser family. She was as much a villain as these men — killing her husbands, kidnapping and raping young men like Young Ian, owning slaves, and planning to murder Brianna. But she also had the distinction of once being Claire's friend... a dichotomy that haunted these frenemies for three seasons.
With Richard Brown teed up to be the next big villain of Season 6 to avenge his incredibly shitty brother's death, now's a good time to remember what made Geillis such an effective character, villain or otherwise.
She Was Admirably Independent
While it's very not cool that she killed her husband in 1968 (clearly, she doesn't have much regard for husbands), it's pretty incredible that Geillis left Greg Edgars when he didn't support her... particularly because she's a Catholic in the 1960s.
Greg had dismissed Geillis' studies, drunkenly saying she should have learned to type or get a job "if she's bored." But Geillis had just discovered time travel and she wasn't going to stand by to be the type of wife Greg wanted her to be after that! It's admirable — even if she loses all points once she kills him.
She (Sometimes) Used Her Powers For Good
In "The Way Out," Geillis sees Claire is disturbed by a tanner's boy losing his hand at the pillory for stealing, so she helps her new friend out the only way she knows how — by buttering up her husband Arthur to get him to lessen the sentence.
While Geillis doesn't really care what happens to the boy and isn't emotionally impacted when he's punished by having his ear nailed to the pillory instead ("Better than losing a hand," she casually tells Claire), she does try to do something nice for someone she barely knows. (Even if she was cozying up to Claire to get her to confess that she is from the future.) And hey, compared to the other major Outlander villains, that's something.
She Saved Claire
The storyline that makes Geillis the most intriguing of all the other Outlander "bad guys" is the fact that she saves Claire during the witch trial at Cranesmuir. She could have let Claire go down with her, but instead, she listens to Ned Gowan's advice and takes the (literal) heat for Claire. She even causes a major distraction by showing off her "mark of the devil" and stripping down, allowing Jamie and Claire to flee the courtroom without any followers.
Her act is a noble sacrifice for her friend and fellow time traveler.
She Was (Almost) Smarter Than Claire
It's pretty amusing to go back to Season 1 and watch Claire not pick up any of the signals that Geillis puts down about being from the future. Without any official confirmation from Claire, Geillis bets big when she flashes Claire her smallpox vaccine scar at the trial — a very quick and effective way to communicate, "Hey, I'm a time traveler too!" while in the midst of being sentenced to death.
(I'd also like to note that, Claire, with her usual foolhardiness, had gotten sucked into a witch trial that she didn't even need to be involved in... well, Laoghaire did have a hand in it. At least when Geillis is tried for being a witch, it's because she actually is one! I digress...)
Geillis eventually escapes her own execution by using a dead woman's body to sub in for her own at the pyre. That's definitely not something Bonnet could have pulled off.
She Was Often Wise
Lotte Verbeek only pops up in eight episodes throughout three seasons, but she's very perceptive whenever she does show up. Below are some of her more sage insights:
- In response to Claire not believing in demonic possession: "I believe there are powers beyond our ken, beyond what we can see, and hear, and touch. Demon, fairy, devil, doesn't matter what name we put on them."
- When Brianna tells Gillian her mother's insane: "A sentiment echoed by daughters everywhere."
- Her farewell to Brianna: "But don't stop asking the hard questions. That's how the world changes."
- On why she risked staying at the pyre after her witch trial: "No one gets to witness their own funeral, let alone their own execution."
- An older, more jaded Geillis on men and the power of women: "Why are men such fools? Ye can lead them anywhere by the cock for a while. Give them a bairn, and you have them by the balls again. But it's all ye are to them, whether they're coming in or going out... a cunt. Well, here's to it, I say. Most powerful thing in the world."
Some of her thoughts are more nuanced than others, but it's these surprising gemstones of wisdom that makes it hard to hate Geillis even when she's doing terrible things.
She Provided Claire With Some Female Companionship
Claire doesn't have time to make many friends with all the time travel, love-making, and plotting, but there's no denying that Claire legitimately considered Geillis a friend and contemporary.
While Claire was always the "white witch" to Geillis' "black witch" (since Geillis wasn't above using her knowledge for nefarious dealings and to help herself), they matched each other in wits and were always down for a nice herb-gathering date.
In the end, even as Geillis is planning to kill Young Ian and Brianna, she's not willing to kill Jamie because of her friend's feelings. "I only spare ye because Claire is fond of you," she says.
She Had A Cause
For better or worse, Geillis is motivated by a Cause with a capital C — she wants a Scottish person on the British throne, what she believes to be her countrypeople's right. As she tells Claire shortly before her death, "We are the chosen, you and I. We have a responsibility to change history. I gave up my child for the cause. You must do the same. This is God's will."
While Randall, Bonnet, and Brown all have their own reasons for doing the atrocities they did, Geillis is the only one acting out because she believes she's doing something for the "greater good." It's delusional, sure, but it makes her character's horrible actions a bit easier to comprehend.
She Was Kind Of Fun!
Without diminishing the brutal acts she committed, there's a reason that Geillis was a breath of fresh villainous air when she reappeared in Season 3: She's outrageous and that's fun to watch!
Whether she's mischievously covering her nose as her husband Arthur farts away or telling Claire that it "looks like I'm going to a fuckin' barbecue" before she's sentenced to death, Geillis is the most amusing villain by far. (Amusingly/morbidly enough, Geillis' ancestor Roger says it smells like "fuckin' barbecue" when he smells Greg's burning body at Craigh na Dun.) Even when she's really gone off the deep end in Jamaica, she greets Claire by quoting Casablanca. That's the spunky Geillis we all know and love!
She Was Majorly Helpful To The Plot
Geillis causes a bit of intrigue in Season 3 since Joe Abernathy shows Claire an 18th-century skull in the 1960s, which turns out to be Geillis' after Claire kills her (time travel is a mind fuck). And without her and Dougal MacKenzie's affair, we wouldn't have Roger!
But beyond these fun connections, Geillis unwittingly helps Claire prove to Bree that time travel is real in "Dragonfly in Amber." This is huge for moving the story along and mending Brianna and Claire's relationship.
If Outlander is going to have more villains (and the Starz series will as it continues to follow Diana Gabaldon's books), perhaps presenting them more like Geillis is a good idea. Rather than a vengeful and very serious, zero-fun Richard Brown, how about focusing on a rather outrageous storyline featuring a new young resident of Fraser's Ridge? Or a betrayal from a certain trusted member of Fraser's Ridge who hasn't popped up much so far?
While none of this excuses the atrocities she committed, I believe Brianna said it best: "Gillian's great. I mean, she's a little crazy on the whole Scottish Nationalist thing, but I liked her."