Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 2, Episode 1

s2 poster

Season 2 has begun! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode right after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 201: “Through a Glass, Darkly”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Returning to her own time, Claire must reconcile her future with the life she left behind. Shifting back to 18th century, Jamie, Claire and Murtagh arrive in France, but learn that Paris presents its own challenges.

My take:

Major plot points:

  • Claire is back! We open with Claire lying on the grass at Craigh na Dun. She’s back in the 20th century.
  • The Battle of Culloden is 200-year-old history, and it ended just the same — with a British victory.
  • Frank still loves Claire and wants a life with her, even after she tells him that she married and loved another man.
  • Claire is pregnant with Jamie’s child.
  • Frank’s conditions for a life with Claire: They’ll raise the child as their own, not the child of another man. And Claire must give up her obsessive research into historical records, looking for a mention of Jamie. She has to let him go. She agrees.

Outlander Season 2 2016

  • Back in the 18th century, Claire and Jamie arrive in Le Havre, France. They intend to save Scotland and the Highland way of life by preventing the Jacobite Rising. Basically, they’ll be spies working to undermine Bonnie Prince Charlie.
  • Jamie’s cousin Jared believes Jamie sincere in his desire to work with the Jacobites, and agrees to make introductions, while at the same time setting Jamie up to run his wine business and live in his home in Paris.
  • Claire almost immediately makes an enemy of the Comte St. Germaine by publicly declaring a crewmember from the Comte’s ship to be infected with smallpox. Because everyone hears, it can’t be covered up, and the Comte’s ship and cargo must be burned, according to the law, in order to prevent an epidemic.

Insta-reaction:

Love! That’s the quick version. Besides being ecstatic that the show is back, I simply loved the unfolding of the story, the quality of the production, and the interesting spin on the plot.

The 2nd book in the Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber (which forms the framework for season 2) opens with a scene that made book readers freak out and think they missed something or picked up the books out of order. The book begins in 1968, as a 40-something year old Claire arrives in Inverness with her 20-year-old daughter Brianna, soon after the death of her husband Frank. What? How is it 1968? What’s Claire doing in the 20th century? She just spent 20 years with Frank??? What the hell???

I actually thought the TV show opening was a clever way to both startle the audience and give a context for what happens in the season. Claire wakes up on the grass between the stones at Craigh na Dun, as her voice-over tells us that she wishes she were dead. As she wanders down the road in her sturdy Scottish gown, a car pulls up behind her and the driver asks if she needs help.

What follows is a reminder of just how fantastic Caitriona Balfe’s acting is. Claire has an absolute melt-down on the road, asking the befuddled driver what year it is and who won the Battle of Culloden, then collapses in sobs as she hears that the British won after all.

The reunion between Frank and Claire is affecting and dramatic. Frank has never given up hope, is still madly in love with his wife, and wants her back, desperately.

I know fans, especially book fans, tend to have an anti-Frank reaction, and I get it. We love Claire and Jamie together. We don’t want to see her with Frank. But that’s the story, and while their reunion and resumption of their marriage happens mainly off the page in the book, discussed but not shown, for purposes of the TV production, it feels important to see how Claire resumed her life with Frank.

I’ll admit, though, that I have a hard time understanding why Claire would want to pick back up with Frank. Yes, she loved him in the past, but that was a long time ago. Jamie is, and always will be, the only person who truly owns her heart. Just look at Frank and Claire’s faces when they first see each other: Frank is practically shining with love. Claire is confused, alarmed, unsure — but there’s no hint of love in her face.

Still, I suppose it makes a sort of logical sense. It’s 1948, and Claire is pregnant, without a place, a home, or a cent to her name. She’s completely displaced, and deeply in mourning for the man she loves. She has no reason to doubt that Jamie died at Culloden, so there’s nothing left for her in the past. In the 1940s, Jamie has been dead for 200 years, yet she’s carrying his child. She owes it to Jamie to stay healthy and create a life for this child. Frank is offering her a home and a family, and is a man who desperately loves her and wants to be a father. What are Claire’s other options? In today’s world, she wouldn’t need him quite so much, but then? Being with Frank and raising a child with him seems like the only way forward, and she does care for him, even if she loves another man.

Other takeaways from the 20th century scenes:

Wee Roger is absolutely adorable. I love how he’s included in these scenes, just so we’ll remember later on that we know him and he matters.

Roger

Frank burns Claire’s 18th century dress, and it made me want to scream! He’s a historian, for Pete’s sake. Donate them to a museum! Those things are valuable!

On a more serious note, when Claire first sees Frank approaching her, she recoils in horror as she sees Black Jack Randall’s face instead. So how is she to move forward and build a life with this man, when every time she looks at him she sees the man who tortured her husband? Seems to me like an insurmountable obstacle. Add to that the fact that Frank seems to have inherited a bit of his ancestor’s capacity for rage and violence. Sure, Frank keeps it in check, but every once in a while it comes out. Claire looked truly frightened by Frank’s reaction to the news of her pregnancy — and the fist he made and the way he loomed over her were no joke.

Okay, when the episode shifts back to Claire and Jamie, my mood improved by about 100%. I can’t help it. They make me swoon.

There’s a terrific scene-change as we see Frank reaching a hand to Claire to help her off the plane that brought them to America, and as Claire reaches out, it’s Jamie’s hand she’s taking to descend from the ship that carried them from Scotland to France.

Outlander Season 2 2016

Claire and Jamie are wonderful together, and Murtagh is right there with them, the faithful, devoted protector. I’d hoped for a few moments of peace and rest for Claire and Jamie — but of course, since I’ve read the book, I knew that wasn’t actually to be.

Here’s where I had a bit of trouble with the TV production. After Jamie’s horrific experience at Wentworth Prison, they escape to the abbey for a few days’ recuperation, then immediately board the ship to France. It can’t be more than a week that has elapsed. And immediately, Claire urges Jamie to jump right into plotting to change the future.

At least in the book, we knew that more time had gone by. After Jamie’s escape, they sail directly to France and he spends a couple of months recovering at the abbey before they start planning their next moves.

So watching the episode, I was almost annoyed with Claire. The man has just been through hell. Give him some time to rest! Maybe take it easy, go for walks in the countryside, ease him back into feeling like himself again. Fine, there isn’t really time — if they want to stop the Jacobite rebellion, they need to act now. Wheels are in motion, so it’s now or never. But still — I was wishing that Claire and Jamie had even a tiny breather to find a way back to health and happiness before all the intrigue and danger kicks in.

I thought the explanation given in the episode for Claire’s plan was excellent. Claire tells Jamie about the disaster that Culloden will bring for the Highland people, and Jamie’s response is to question why they should try to stop the Rising, rather than working to help it succeed. A very good question, and an approach that would feel much more honorable to Jamie. It’s simple, though: Claire’s knowledge of the past and the history of the Rising is surface-level, at best. She doesn’t know the specifics of why the military campaign failed or have enough details about strategy or tactics to be able to pinpoint what they’d need to do differently in order to change the outcome. Given all that, the only option is for ensuring that the disaster doesn’t happen is to prevent it from ever beginning.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Thumbs up! The fact that the show is able to offer surprises even when the source material is so well-known is a huge credit to the production team. The construction of the episode gives us a sense of what’s at stake this season — the future of the Highlands as well as Jamie and Claire’s relationship — and lets us know from the outset that something tragic is on the way. Of course we all hate that Claire has left Jamie  and returned to the 20th century, but as the season unfolds and we see why and how that happened, we won’t be able to shake off the knowledge that a dark end is coming. Talk about setting the mood!

I’m thrilled to pieces (obviously) that the show is back. This looks like it’ll be an amazing season, and I simply can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

And further…

The opening credits — that amazing version of the Skye Boat Song — have been revised for season 2! The images have changed, and the song itself is altered to include a portion in French. I haven’t found the video of it online yet, but I’ll share it as soon as I do!

2 thoughts on “Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 2, Episode 1

  1. I also loved it. It’s been ages since I read Dragonfly in Amber though and it’s the one installment I’m the most hazy on the details. And I completely agree… there needed to have been more evidence of time passing in order for Jamie to get more time to heal. And little Roger! So cute. So excited for this season. 🙂

    • I thought about re-reading DiA, but then decided I’d be able to enjoy the TV production for itself more if I didn’t have the constant comparison to the book. We’ll see. I’m so excited too. I’m already driving my family crazy. 🙂

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