Review: Outlander

Season 2 Episode 1 -Through a Glass, Darkly

Contributed by Julie Chaston

After a “droughtlander” that seemed to last forever, season two of Outlander has finally arrived on viewing screens worldwide. The last month has been a cornucopia of publicity riches, as cast and producers traveled the world promoting the beloved show. We’ve been promised everything from opulence to intrigue, deceit to heartbreak...and surprises that will resonate with viewers whether they have read the Diana Gabaldon books or not.

So, did it deliver? Well yes, it did...and it was good. Really, really good. The first surprise hit right away: instead of starting where season 1 ended (Jamie and Claire on a boat in the eighteenth century, leaving Scotland for France), we found Claire back in the twentieth century, devastated and bewildered. Book-readers realized immediately what was happening; non-book-readers were probably as bewildered as Claire...and yet it was equally compelling for both sets of viewers.

This episode was deliberately structured like the first episode of season one: Frank and Claire for the first two-thirds, Jamie and Claire for the rest. Cries of “too much Frank” were inevitable from some corners, but they were largely drowned out by the brilliant performances of Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies - an actor who is fast climbing to the top of my personal watch list. Frank’s joy at Claire’s return, his anger upon finding out she’s pregnant, and his eventual acquiescence were handled with such care and depth by Menzies that the audience couldn’t help but feel compassion for this oft-maligned character. 

Claire is understandably distant as she grieves the loss of Jamie and surprisingly out-of-place in her own time. She looks and feels uncomfortable in her modern clothes and appears more disorientated being back in “noisy” 1948 than when she first set foot in 1743. Other than a few outbursts of frustration, Claire is more passive with Frank in the 20th century than she was with Jamie, or any man of the 18th...Almost as if she left the best part of herself behind. An interesting contrast with the feisty, glowing woman we see with Jamie by the end of the episode. For the viewer it was as if “suddenly, the sun came out” [*wink wink*]

Also worth noting that Claire didn’t agree to let Jamie go because Frank asked; rather she did it because Jamie had told her she must. Even in letting him go, she was giving Jamie precedence over Frank. Likewise, the ‘reaching hands’ shot - already an iconic Outlander image from the first season - served as an on-screen transition between centuries, but also as a metaphor for Claire’s feelings towards the two men in her life. Claire hesitantly reaches for Frank’s hand in 1948, but enthusiastically connects with Jamie in 1744, acknowledging that this time, this relationship, was her real choice - and the heart of the show.

Meanwhile, back in 1744 France, Jamie uses his horribly scarred back [voluntarily this time] to convince his cousin Jared to provide the introductions to high society Jacobite leaders he and Claire will need to set their plan in motion. Said plan being to somehow prevent the Battle of Culloden in 1746 – which, for all intents and purposes, led to the end of the Scottish Highlander’s way of life. Nope, doesn’t sound difficult at all… Jamie thinks they need to find a way to win, until Claire points out that they’re better off sabotaging events and try to stop the Battle from ever happening. And so begins the deceit... Jamie also manages to come out of the deal with a job, a decent income, and a Paris house. Yay nepotism!

As always, Sam Heughan knows instinctively how to play Jamie - for now cautiously, as a man trying hard to recover from the horrible events of last season with Black Jack Randall. Jamie is definitely still broken, but we see glimpses of his former self - especially in his sense of humor and when defending Claire. But Outlander’s famously erotic love scenes are on hold; Jamie appears to be fighting the Black Jack demons when it comes to being alone romantically with his wife.

Claire’s been busy too. The doctor in her takes over when she discovers a smallpox outbreak on the docks - but once again her mouth gets the better of her, and she manages to make an enemy of a prominent ship owner - the Comte de Saint-Germain. His embroidered pink finery is but a taste of the opulence to come, and we certainly haven’t seen the last of this dangerous new character.

So the stage has been set. Viewers now know what happened to Claire after she went back through the stones to Frank; I imagine most of the rest of season two will lead us to why she went...and I can’t wait to see it.

Julie is a British-Canadian, currently living in Toronto. She enjoys walking, reading, wishes she had a TARDIS & believes aliens are probably already here. When it comes to TV "It's all about the characters!"
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  1. Well you got me! Totally thought I was reading an Ali review, until the end when I saw the blurb about you and went Huh? Great review.

    1. Should I say 'thanks' because you thought the greatness was coming from me? haha

  2. Haha, I'll just say thanks to both of you! Fun to write.


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