***Spoiler Warning: This post contains Spoilers for Outlander through Season 2, Episode 13. Spoilers***
It’s been a couple of days since the Outlander second season finale. I wanted to let my thoughts stew a little bit before writing; see which flavors settled in and developed. Among the memorable moments, we finally met Jamie and Claire’s adult daughter, ran into an old and interestingly connected friend, and became well-acquainted with Claire’s fabulous 60s hair (with which I am slightly obsessed) and costumery.
Of the overriding themes of love and loss, anger and sorry, death played a huge role over the episode’s 90 minutes (we might like to have seen stretched to hours), a prelude to the all-too-short goodbye we needed to see play out before our hearts — or Claire’s — could let go. Death was everywhere: in a battle not seen and darkened rooms; present even as it occurred offscreen, grabbing hold without bullets flying or exploding body parts. In a nice change of pace from the weekly boys’ club we’ve had of late, the episode felt almost female-centric. Claire, Brianna, and Gellis/Jillian took center stage, and we need to talk about Caitriona Balfe’s incredible performance, but, first, a few goodbyes …
We got one last look at our Bonnie Prince Charles, ever the fool as he chides Jamie for a last-ditch effort to turn back the tired, hungry soldiers who will die at the Battle of Culloden. As always, Andrew Gower made the most of his few moments, Shakespearing his way through every sentence — one almost expects the actor to bow and accept his due lauding at scene’s end.
Later, we’re forced to bid Graham McTavish’s oh-so-memorable Dougal MacKenzie a terrible, bittersweet adieu. As a viewer and a reader, I felt equally shocked in both media by Dougal’s reaction to overhearing Jamie and Claire discuss possibly poisoning the prince to save the lives of many soldiers and friends. I’ve often felt Jamie’s uncle came to respect (if not like) Claire, and both reading and hearing Dougal refer to Claire the way he does in the scene rang slightly off to me (anyone else?). If only they’d had time to somehow explain … but, truly, MacKenzie probably wouldn’t have accepted the truth as easily as Jamie or Murtagh. The range of emotions and scenes McTavish has shared over two seasons has made him utterly unforgettable, and, though he rages through this scene, it’s the quieter ones like his tentative “Prestonpans” ride toward the English, and his disbelieving, dying moments that’ll stay with me.
I do believe Jamie would’ve rather done almost anything than kill Dougal; the same goes for Claire, who was as horrified at what she was doing herself as she was by Dougal’s murderous intentions toward her (and his nephew). Nonetheless, Mackenzie gave the pair no choice but to join hands in his gruesome slaying … all’s fair in love and war.
Frank Randall, too, is dead, as we and Roger were unceremoniously informed within minutes of meeting the Reverend’s all-grown-up adopted son (and, we later find out, Gellis Duncan’s relative — prediction correct).
For me it was a little disturbing to never come back to the years — or at least some point following the time Frank burned Claire’s old clothing back in 1948 — when Frank was still alive; maybe that will happen in Season 3. Intellectually, I understand that Ron Moore and his writers decided to open the second season as a bridge to this 1968 closing, but, as a viewer, the story feels unfinished. We don’t know what’s Black Jack’s fate is as yet. Frank is disappeared. With as powerful an actor as Tobias Menzies, who made the huge impact he did in both seasons, it’s impossible to believe that either Randall’s story is over (executive producer Maril Davis gives some spoilerish Season 3 details here). Claire and Jamie are certainly the heart of Outlander, but, without Menzies’ presence, there’s a giant hole no one else can fill.
Newcomers Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin brought to life a fantastic, natural instant chemistry between Roger and Brianna: from the second she catches Wakefield’s eye, it is nearly as if no one else exists. And, with a small formal introduction between the characters and the reintroduction of Claire and Roger, mother and daughter begin their separate journeys back to life. For Claire, she’s a mother who’s given up every bit of truth and happiness in her life to raise the one connection she has to the love of her life. Thinking that love is forever gone, and having made an agreement with Frank to put her thoughts of Jamie away in some brainsafe, never to be opened, 1968 Claire is a shell of the woman we’ve come to know. Brianna, wrapped up in anger over lies and misunderstanding of her mother’s lack of emotion, has her own wall of stubborn aggression, and Roger is the magic man to facilitate mother and daughter finding their way to releasing their true feelings, and to each other.
At the end of the day, Jamie and Claire are the star attractions, as well they should be. What little we saw of Jamie throughout the episode was commanded by Sam Heughan’s powerful presence; his inner strength somehow as visible to the eye as his kilt or his curly show locks. At his finest when he tells Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix is another actor who makes the most of every small scene) his plan to come back and die with the Jacobite army, and, again, steeling himself to say “goodbye” to Claire, Heughan infuses Jamie’s expressions with determination and, at the same time, a heartbreaking softness.
It was Caitriona Balfe’s marvelous performance that carried us most of the way through “Dragonfly in Amber”, and it is this gifted actress’ incredibly expressive countenance that nearly always belies Claire’s conflicted emotions. As reserved and outwardly calm as Claire remains at episode’s start, so do her feelings gently and sweetly begin escaping, playing out over Balfe’s face like a concerto violin whose single notes begin to escalate, echoing an increasing heartbeat. Toward the climax in both timelines, as Jamie rushes 1746 Claire toward Craigh na Dun’s imposing stones and 1968 Claire likewise follows Gellis’ path just in time to see Duncan flash away, Claire is again moved by her husband’s intense focus …
… giving her nearly no choice but to agree to parting for the sake of their child.
Watching relative newcomer Balfe evolve before us has been our absolute pleasure; her transformation into Claire Randall intensified exponentially over the course of these two seasons, culminating in her gorgeous, nuanced performance here. I can’t imagine anyone, reader or not, who hasn’t been moved by Balfe’s raw emotion this year — from Claire’s losing the first Fraser baby to the moment she tells Fergus he is their son, just as if he’d been born to her; from her restrained, masked pain at the beginning of this hour (plus) to the final shots of her freely dropping tears as she says goodbye, or realizes Jamie might have lived through Culloden’s battle — Balfe has swept us along on her emotional journey. Without her amazing, emotive skills — Balfe throws herself entirely into this character — the series simply wouldn’t work.
And, oh, those kisses … I’ve no idea if Balfe and Heughan are anything more than friends, but they sure do kiss like they are. We all want to believe real love is alive in a troubled world, and, when Claire and Jamie kiss, we do.
At episode’s end, faced with strange, inexplicable experiences and mounting evidence she and Roger have gathered themselves, Brianna finally believes her mother and the pair tell Claire about their discovery that Jamie could still be alive, albeit back in the 1700s.
And, with that, the promise of this small, new hope brings light to Claire’s eyes, and our mad desire to see it play out in Season 3. I don’t know about you, but I can’t hardly wait.
The one false note that director Philip John (Being Human, Wire in the Blood, Ashes to Ashes, Downton Abbey) hit was that ever-so-corny closing shot (last gif ^) of the sunlight coming up between the stones and then shining off Claire’s eyes; between that and the angelic singing, it was like getting hit over the head with a Lifetime hammer. We prefer the subtleties, please.
“We have to go back!” Whether on purpose or not, thank you for that iconic Lost reference, once uttered by Jack Shepard on that other time-tripping series.
Finding out Claire’s tear smudged the Lallybroch deed made me a little teary.
I’m glad Sophie Skelton’s Brianna is a tad bit warmer than book Bree, whose near first utterance in Dragonfly is: “You bitch!” to her mother.
It was also nice to actually see Lotte Verbeek’s Gellis/Jillian actually show up, even if only for a short couple of scenes. In Gabaldon’s second installment, the group doesn’t actually encounter her; rather, they meet and get information through her nasty, drunken husband (also changed in demeanor through James Robinson’s depiction of Greg Edgars).
I wasn’t a fan of the quickie. I get that the series only had so much time to cover a wealth of material, and that Claire and Jamie would have wanted to make love one last time. Considering Balfe herself nixed an up-against-a-tree suggestion, I’m surprised she thought this was really any better. It felt less rushed or urgent by circumstantial necessity than thrown in simply to exist. There’s a fine line that was — in all fairness — extremely difficult to tread. For me, it added nothing to the scene, so it might either have been better executed or even left out.
Loved the period-appropriate opening scene featuring Emma Peel and The Avengers. Moore said he’d wanted to have Star Trek’s Scotty (James Doohan) in his kilt on the telly, but a little digging informed him it wasn’t actually on (in the UK) in 1968.
That scene with Fergus! I know they’ll be casting an older version for the new seasons, but I truly adore Romann Berrux in the role.
I’m going to go sob until we get new episodes, which may be sooner than you’d think. Read some ***Spoilerish*** Outlander Season 3 details here.