Well, Sassenachs, the day has come and our long droughtlander has concluded. It is time to join the battle. Every now and then I doubt my Outlander obsession. I think that maybe I am just too deep in having gone through the journey of the books countless times. Then I see a new episode and I realize that it really is one of the best crafted shows on television. Every element is consistently breathtaking. From the scripts, to the camera work, to the locations, to the costumes (oh the costumes!), to the acting. There are few shows on television that keep so many elements to the same standard of excellence episode after episode. Now that I am done gushing, let’s move on to my top 5, you know, so I don’t really have to stop gushing.
The episode starts immediately following the battle of Culloden. Jamie is lying on a battlefield surrounded by piles of slain men, buried under the body of an English soldier. As we see him regain consciousness (I can’t believe the sigh of relief I gave even though I knew he’d survive), he begins to relive the battle through flashes. We see everything that happened, from him sending his men back to Lallybroch, to his final conversations with Bonnie Prince Charlie. In between we see many fights and even run in to Murtagh out there in the thick of it. The pinnacle of the flashbacks is when Black Jack Randall is dragged off of his horse and, in all of the chaos, meets Jamie’s eye. Both men know this is the end of the road. That destiny has brought them to this, and their fight to the death ensues.
In one of the most stunning shots this show has given us, a mortally wounded Black Jack collapses forward into Jamie’s arms and down they go. The body pinning Jamie to the battlefield is that of his worst enemy, finally vanquished in battle. Back to the present, Jamie envisions Claire walking across the field to tend to him. It is really Rupert and he helps Jamie to a house with other wounded soldiers. In the book Voyager this is where we meet up with Jamie. He doesn’t immediately remember the scenes of the battle. For the screen a more substantial telling of Culloden is necessary. I am glad they used it to kick off the episode.
2. Tobias Menzies Is Still The Best
Back in the 1940s we see Claire and Frank house hunting. This is actually a fun and sweet scene as we see them both working to find their new normal. Tobias Menzies makes a funny joke in a great American accent. I suddenly realized that with Black Jack now dead within the story, and since we know from season two Frank’s years are numbered, we’re fast approaching our last scenes with Tobias Menzies.
Changing anything to keep him around is entirely impractical. I’m going to miss his skilled and nuanced performances. He is one of my favorite actors in the entire show. I am always glad to have him in an episode, even if we are not set up to root for either of his characters. He is so strong in later scenes that he really stole a lot of the show for me in this episode.
3. Remember Sexism Sucks!
In my intro I pointed out all of the things this show is amazing at. But my next item is something I don’t really like about the direction of the Boston scenes. We all know sexism exists. Most of the audience is aware that the challenges of sexism, while always present, are very different between her two lives. We all know Claire has never received that well. We all know that, after earning her own status and respect in the past, a transition to 1950s America is bound to be hard on her. It felt so heavy-handed in this entire episode. Her new friend talking about how to best cook for your husband. Frank’s boss talking on and on about how women working in professional careers is laughable. The reality of labor and delivery wards at the time.
Yes, these are all things Claire would really encounter. These are all very real obstacles for her and they will drive her in the future. For now, they just left our dynamic leading lady sulking around in half her scenes. I know we need to build the environment, but I really felt like she was more of a prop to demonstrate how terrible it was rather than and engaged human this time around.
4. A Surprising Savior
Jamie’s long-held sense of honor catches up to him. Rupert and Jamie arrive at the cottage of wounded soldiers. They are soon discovered by the English. We are immediately led to believe that the man in charge, Lord Melton, works to his own rules of honor and duty. Melton does not intend to hang the men as traitors. The men will be shot as prisoners of war. I know they end up dead either way, but this is a very strong distinction, and one I would guess not all men would grant.
As we mourn each gunshot with Jamie, we are soon down to the last few that are unable to walk. Lord Melton recognizes Jamie. It turns out he is the older brother of John William Grey, who Jamie encountered on the eve of Prestonpans (Check out what I had to say last year in Number 3 of that recap) and owing Jamie a life in return he arranges to bribe a wagon to take our favorite ailing Scot home to Lallybroch. Lord Melton assumes he will die on the way, but at least he will have done the honorable thing for his family.
5. Final Moments
I personally would have switched the last two scenes of the show. We see Jenny and Ian leaning over the wagon to welcome Jamie home, then switch to the hospital as Frank brings in the baby to Claire. The nurse comments on the baby’s red hair. Claire and Frank share an uncomfortable look, then cut to the credits. I do get that at the heart of things, it is Claire’s story. But the cut felt weird to me. I think I would have liked if that had happened first. Then we cut to Lallybroch and see Jamie’s red hair in the wagon. And finish with the same shot of the crest over the entrance to Lallybroch. I already know at least one person who disagrees with me on that point. So feel free to jump in to the comments and let me know what you think!
And that brings us to the end of the series premiere. Sadly we all saw the carnage on the field. We are led to believe the only survivors made it to that cabin. We need to acknowledge that Murtagh was not there. That flashback of him and Jamie in battle is likely the last we will see of our favorite dour companion. It is hard to focus on one loss out of the entire battle. But it will be a hard transition for Jamie, and for us fans. It is not an exaggeration to say may of us love the personality Duncan Lacroix brought to life. I’ll see you next week readers, when I’m supposing we will need to talk about Jamie’s hair in that preview!