“Jesus Christ, Claire.”
We couldn’t help it. The words just flew out of our mouths in unison. We laughed when we both said it, but then we realized that the very best Outlander episodes tend to cause that exact phrase to erupt from our lips. At her best – at the story’s best – Claire will always say or do something that is both correct and maddeningly self-absorbed or reckless. And falsely accusing Jack Randall of raping Mary Hawkins (after convincing his brother Alex to break up with the girl — after she was raped, not to mention after he was jailed for false accusations of rape that arose directly out of Claire’s actions and decisions) just to prevent Jamie from killing him and thus wiping out the Randall family bloodline is one of the most ridiculous and maddening things Claire has ever done. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that the twists and turns in the story have reached fairly ridiculous levels, as indicated by that previous sentence, which must sound like total gibberish to anyone who hasn’t seen the show.
Is Claire right to want to save her 20th Century husband Frank from the oblivion that can only come with time travel? Yes, for the most part. From her perspective, she left Frank to be with Jamie and it’s very likely she’s holding on to some guilt over that decision. We’re sure she feels the very least she can do for her first husband is ensure that he gets to continue to exist. Sure, she’s being somewhat selective in her moral justifications, because as Jamie rightly pointed out, their entire plan hinges on radically changing the future. Getting all indignant about Frank’s chances in the new timeline is understandable, but slightly hypocritical of her. By preventing the Battle of Culloden, she is no doubt risking wiping out entire family lines simply because of the huge shift in history. She’s trying to have it both ways here by ignoring the theoretical ramifications of her plan and focusing just this once on one actual ramification she didn’t bargain for.
Is Jamie right to be absolutely furious with her for demanding that he delay facing his rapist and torturer long enough to allow the man to theoretically impregnate a girl currently traumatized by rape in order to secure a family line that will result in the birth of her first husband in about 160 years? Christ, is he ever. We’re surprised he didn’t take her over his knee and spank her again.
It seems to us that Outlander is always a much better story when it deals with the dilemmas and repercussions of time travel, as it does with this episode. When it’s just about plotting and scheming in the 18th century, it can get a little tedious at times. We get the sense that a good deal of the show’s fans aren’t loving the political machinations of the second season, with its finery and French manners, as much as they enjoyed the high romanticism and adventure of the Highlands-based first season. Personally, we’re enjoying the turn toward court intrigue (for the costumes, if nothing else), but even we have to admit the politics of it all is a bit dreary – especially since we know the Frasers’ plans to prevent the Battle of Culloden are doomed to fail.
But when the story digs deep on what it has to be like for a woman of the 1940s to attempt to navigate the 1740s, that’s when the real fireworks start. All the dinner parties and scheming sessions in the world aren’t going to have half the dramatic power of, say, Geilis from 1968 revealing the truth of herself to Claire just before making the ultimate sacrifice to save her, or Claire weakening Jack Randall’s knees by revealing that she knows the exact hour and manner of his death. These are highly powerful moments that work because they shock us out of passively watching the story like any old historical drama. They remind us both what’s unique about this story and also that the heroine at the center of it has a particular power within it. So when Claire faced off against Jamie after revealing what she’d done to prevent him from taking the rightful vengeance owed to him (vengeance that she, as his wife, knows he absolutely needs in order to be whole again), the plotting that got us to that moment was outrageously convoluted to the point of nonsensical, but it didn’t matter, because the moment itself was one of the great dramatic scenes of the series. We held our breath as it played out because for the first time, we could truly see the grand love story of Claire and Jamie come to a crashingly bitter collapse under the weight of all their highly unique problems.
And that confrontation scene worked so well in part because it was set up so beautifully. Most of season 2 has been bound up in the Frasers’ occasional marital difficulties as well as Jamie’s long recovery back from his trauma. We know that there’s an unhappiness running under the surface for both of them. They may be living fabulously, but they’re still living in exile, and can’t seem to cross a street without making a mortal enemy or two. So all that emotional stuff swirling around these characters made for a stunning bit of context when Jack Randall literally sauntered back into the story. It was a fabulously tense scene, well played by all the actors involved, especially the dearly missed Tobias Menzies (the Comte is lovely to look at, but not as delicious to hate as Black Jack). It’s notable to us that Claire once again underestimated Jamie by assuming the mere sight of Jack would send him into a bestial rage from which all reason flees. How charming and perfect to see him briskly walk into that hellpit of a scenario with a smile and a bow to the King.
We guess our point in focussing solely on these two scenes is that nothing else in Outlander matters, not the political machinations or the fates of peripheral characters or the history porn; not the convoluted and unlikely plotting, the too-heavy reliance on rape as a story point, or the occasionally questionable intimations about gender and sex. This is a story about the romantic, emotional and yes, even sexual repercussions on a small handful of people when time travel and history come crashing up against each other. And when the story reminds us of that, and the show does a particularly good job of depicting that, we get some really entertaining (if occasionally maddening) television.
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[Photo Credit: Courtesy of Starz]