Review: Outlander S2E13

Dragonfly in Amber



Immediately after watching “Dragonfly in Amber”, I tweeted that I thought it was one of the best 90 minutes of television I’d ever seen. It was an observation made at the height of emotion, while I was simultaneously sobbing loudly, laughing and clapping (yes, I actually sat up on my sofa and clapped as the sun rose over Craigh Na Dun and Claire’s realisation).

I now know without any doubt, that my main trigger - for losing all emotional control in front of the screen - is ‘timeless/impossible love with a heartbreaking goodbye thrown in’. (Doctor Who’s “Doomsday”, anyone? Ten years later I still tear up just at the thought of that one.)

I already suspected this Outlander episode was going to be a lost cause for me objectivity-wise; and I was right: as a fan, I pretty much loved everything. As a reviewer...well I still thought it was rather brilliant. But, after multiple viewings I’ve been able to detach just a little (although still crying, laughing and clapping) so I think I’m ready to admit to a few things I didn’t like, among all the many, many things I did.

I felt we were shortchanged just a wee bit on the eighteenth century scenes. The entire season has been focussed on this day - April 16th 1746 - yet it seemed once we got there, we rushed through it. I’m not talking about the actual Battle of Culloden…that wasn't what the episode was about (and the producers have already said that we will see some of the battle - or at least the aftermath of it - in Jamie’s story during season three.) This episode was rightly about how the people and relationships were affected by that day, and it would’ve been nice to expand on some of it further. As for Jamie - he’s our male lead, and although he was front and centre in the story in both centuries, we actually didn’t see him all that much. (But then, who doesn't always want more Jamie? Obviously they should have made the finale two hours long!)

That being said, I did think it was very clever how the 1746 scenes at the camp played out almost in real time - 90 minutes of that fateful morning, interspersed throughout the 90 minute episode. We felt the urgency. We didn't have time to mourn or discuss Dougal’s death… just as Jamie & Claire didn't [Oh I am still upset about THAT - TVEmpress]. No time either for Jamie and Claire to sit down and debate the merits of sending her back. Time had run out.

In 1968, although the performance was lovely and the sentiment got me all choked up, I wasn’t much of a fan of Claire’s Culloden grave marker chat, I just generally don't like those. (To be completely honest, if I wasn't crying so hard I probably would've rolled my eyes.) On the other hand, I know that some people do that in real life - although it doesn’t quite seem Claire-like to me. Ah well, like it or not, it was done very well.

I could’ve done without the rat-satire-song scene. Yes, I know it’s ‘from the book’ and I suppose it was all about developing their relationship, but Roger and Bree could just have walked into the living room with armfuls of dusty journals and made a joke about the attic, it would have accomplished the same. I would rather have seen that couple of minutes given over to a 1746 scene…perhaps a little more build-up with Dougal.

What a magnificent character we’ve lost in Dougal. I think Dougal was out for revenge on Jamie anyway (for inheriting Clan MacKenzie over him),hearing Jamie and Claire discuss murdering the Prince just pushed him right over the edge. Having both Jamie and Claire complicit in his death was a genius move by the writers - adding another layer to everything they share. There are some places where circumstances from the books can be changed without affecting the overall storyline too much, unfortunately for actor Graham McTavish, all the viewers, and poor old Dougal - his death was not one of those times.

But, two new, long-anticipated characters were introduced. I thought Richard Rankin was excellent, and Roger was very likeable. Remember what Colum said about Geillis and Dougal’s baby? So Roger is actually related to Jamie and Brianna - although many generations removed. And Geillis Duncan - or Gillian Edgars (wasn’t it a treat seeing her again?!) is his many-times-great grandmother. Confused yet? Shouldn’t he have gone ‘poof’ or something when they met at the university or in the pub, you know, weird paradoxes and all that? Anyway - glad he didn’t.

I’m running a little hot and cold on Brianna. Unlike Roger, I did not find her likable - but I’m not sure if that’s a result of what I saw on the screen or just because I didn’t like her very much at this point in the books. To be fair, she was supposed to be a bit of a petulant brat in this episode - so mission accomplished, I guess! I’m not quite on board with the American accent, and I wonder if it stunted the performance at times - there were occasional lines where I suddenly heard ‘acting’ rather than just the character, if that makes sense. Sophie Skelton did have some good moments though, especially once she got right into a scene. It’ll be interesting seeing her grow into the role.

I enjoyed Claire's disdain for that rather creepy Prince Charles wax figure - but it was a lost opportunity not to have Claire add “Mark me” to “He wasn’t that tall in real life”. And if I'd seen my wedding gift in a museum, I'm not sure I could've left without it (especially as we later learned why it had been found on the battlefield). Would have liked to see a later scene where Claire takes it out of her pocket or purse..hehe...I’m sure she could justify taking it!

I’ve got to say, Caitriona Balfe was born to be styled for the ‘60s - she looked amazing. Although - how many coats did Claire bring for what was supposed to be a one day trip to Scotland? I counted at least three…

Other than the ending scenes - in each century - I cried the most when Claire went to Lallybroch. I could see in my mind each memory as she heard the voices (and as an ‘easter egg’ to book readers, the poem that she and Jamie’s voice recited as she imagined him standing under the archway was what he’d had engraved inside her wedding ring). I was in awe of Sam Heughan and Balfe in their final scene - it was raw and honest and sad and beautiful. I lost it when Jamie said “I can't hear anything, Claire”...then he touched the stone...proof that he can't go to the future with her. (But did you notice that both Bree and Roger could hear the stones?)

So anyway, I was already a basket case by the time Jamie was slowing moving Claire backwards toward the stone, by the time he turned her and sobbed out “goodbye Claire”, I couldn’t even see my TV anymore. (Just as I can’t properly see my computer right now. Yep, crying while just thinking about it. So much for objectivity.)

It was a beautifully written, beautifully acted scene. From this moment season two of Outlander is a never-ending circle…you can watch to this point, then immediately turn around and watch the season opener - because from Claire's point of view, that's what happens next

And on that same hillside in 1968, did Claire actually go back through at the end? It certainly could have been taken that way. Whether she did or didn’t go right then, we now know she will - and the scene has now been set for season three.

I’ll conclude by coming back to what I said at the start - regardless of anything that I might have liked to see done a little differently - the fact still remains that as a viewer and fan the other night, I thought it was damn near perfect. What a way to end a season!

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!" You can follow her on Twitter @JulieChaston
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